Interview with author Carol Wulff

By Gloria G. Adams

Carol Wulff, LSW is a Licensed Social Worker and mother of a child with anxiety.  Remembering how painful it was to witness her child’s mind racing just to get through the simplest of tasks, she vowed to one day write a book to help others learn how to tackle those annoying “what-if ” thoughts. Cognitive reframing — seeing the same situation in a new way — empowered her child to manage the anxiety and approach new situations with confidence.  She created William, The What-If Wonder to help children learn how to use their power to change their view and see past their worrisome thoughts.  Carol lives in Medina, Ohio with her husband and three children.

What inspired you to write William the What-if Wonder? What do you want readers to take away?
My son was my inspiration to write this book.  At a young age he worried about every new situation.  Birthday parties, sleepovers, and going to school were difficult for him.  But once he learned how to manage his worry thoughts through “cognitive reframing” (or seeing the same situation in a new view), he began to conquer each new situation like a boss!  It took a lot of courage, but the end result was that it allowed him to be a kid again.  The worries no longer managed him, rather, he managed his worries.  I wanted to help other children believe that they too can conquer their worry by “bossing it back.”  The book sends the message to kids that they have the power within to think past their worries.

Why did you choose to publish it independently?

I try to think that it’s not because I’m a control freak, but maybe it was! With the subject I address in my book it was important that I always had control of how it was presented.  I was also very sensitive to how I wanted William to be portrayed as I did not want a gloom and doom looking character.  I was afraid by turning him over to a traditional publisher I may lose control of his image. I have the utmost respect for traditional publishing but for me independent publishing made the most sense.

What were some of the challenges you faced with publishing it?

To begin with, I knew nothing about publishing.  I only knew I had a message to kids and parents that needed to be delivered.  The road to publishing is overwhelming when your first step is turning to Google and typing in, “how to publish a children’s book.”  The flood of information to sort through was at times unbearable.  So honestly, in hindsight, it was sorting through all the steps and understanding all the choices that are in front of you. Just learning the terminology of the industry took time.  It was also challenging to balance business with passion.  This means I had to become my own CEO.  CEO’s have to care about things like image, budget, strategy, and outcomes.  That’s a whole different role than that of “author”.  But it was a good challenge and I came out of this feeling rather accomplished that I was able to wear both hats.  It was a learning experience for sure and I could have never done it without partnering with those that have gone before me in the indie publishing world.  They were an amazing support system throughout the journey.

What is your writing routine?

My best creative time is when I’m mowing the grass!  That doesn’t help in the winter months of course but I have at least 90 minutes a week in the summer to let my creative thoughts wander.  I also think a lot while driving.  I have note pads in my car, by my bed, in my kitchen and I jot my thoughts down as they float through my head.  I do not write every day but it’s always on my mind.  My writing area is in the office at home and it’s usually late at night when I get the most accomplished. 

What authors inspire you?

Allison Krouse Rosenthal.  I was very saddened by her death.  She brightened the world with her words. I especially like her book entitled I Wish You More. Her words are inspiring and will leave a mark on your heart. 

What are some of your favorite books?

I love the book Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller.  Her subject matter hits home with me as I collected baby potatoes in my sock drawer when my Dad and I were harvesting the garden back in the day! Also, another book by Allison Krouse Rosenthal, Dear Girl. I gave this book to both of my college age daughters. It’s so hard to pick favorites!

When you aren’t writing, what do you like to read?

Any children’s book of course, but on the flip side I enjoy reading autobiographies, and biographies.

What are you working on now?

I decided to make William, The What-If Wonder a series.  I have been asked by parents, grandparents, teachers and therapists to create more books that deal with the many worries that an anxious child might experience.  Currently William, The What-If Wonder, On His First Sleepover is in the making!   Our illustrator is now working on it as we speak.  My goal is a 2020 release. We have several other topics to cover so I think I will be writing for a while!

What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as a writer?

That’s a big question!  The subject of anxiety can be emotional when talking to a parent and how it affects their child. I have spoken with many parents and witnessed many tears including my own.  But my most rewarding experience took place at a book signing.  A first-grade teacher was buying a book for her class.  Her husband asked if she would buy him one. She chuckled and said, “you can read mine when we get home.”  He replied, “No, I want my own, because this is the first time I have learned what I can do to help calm the worries in my head.”  He came back to me before he left the book fair and hugged me. He told me that in all the years he has struggled with anxiety, my book has provided him the words he needed to help himself. It was humbling to know the message in my book was so far reaching.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

If you feel there is a story or message inside of you that needs to be told, then tell it.  Passion will drive you to the finish line.  Meet others who have gone before you in this publishing world.  Their insight is valuable and they “know the ropes.”  Attend a workshop on how to write a book (lots of local offerings). Do not rely on family to read your material and provide feedback. They will tell you it’s good even if it’s not. You must reach out to strangers who will be brutally honest.  Your worst critique will be the most valuable.  And yes, it will hurt, discourage you, and probably make you really mad.  But it’s that type of feedback that will take you to the next level.  

Short and Sweet:

Pantser or Plotter? Pantser - the momentum of building the story keeps me motivated.

Guilty Food Pleasure? Merry Mint Sundae from Mary Coyle’s in Akron, Ohio.  (Peppermint candy ice cream with hot fudge sauce!)

Favorite Hobby?
Star gazing.  Is that a hobby?  I can’t keep my eyes off the sky no matter what time of day it is!

Dog or Cat person? Dog!

Who would you like to have dinner with (living or dead)?
I would like to have dinner with Benjamin Franklin!

Do you do your best work in the morning, afternoon, or evening? I do my best work in the late hours of the evening. 

Find Carol on social media:
Twitter:      @whatifwonder
Instagram:  @thewhatifwonder

Interview with Agent and Author Jacqui Lipton

                                     by Gloria G. Adams

Jacqui Lipton is an associate literary agent at Storm Literary Agency, a law professor, and the director of Authography LLC®, a company dedicated to helping authors and artists with legal and business issues. She writes fiction and law books and holds an MFA in fiction writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts as well as a Ph.D. in law from Cambridge University. She loves reading and writing speculative fiction and is the mother of three children and (apparently) three cats. She has written over half a dozen academic legal books, and her new book, LAW & AUTHORS: A LEGAL HANDBOOK FOR WRITERS is forthcoming from University of California Press. She writes the "Legally Bookish" column for the SCBWI Bulletin and the "On the Books" column for Luna Station Quarterly. She also teaches and blogs regularly on writing and related topics for Savvy Authors.

Jacqui’s website:
For agent submission guidelines, go to:

What inspired you to write your first book?

That depends on which kind of book you’re talking about. My first law textbook was written because I had to, as part of my academic/professional job, but it married my past career in finance law with my academic interest in intellectual property law and dealt with secured finance deals involving intellectual property! The inspiration for my first novel (YA sci/fi) was also borne out of my day job when I had attended maybe one too many male-dominated legal meetings and I said under my breath, “This would be a whole lot easier if women were in charge of the world.” That led to my sci-fi society in Inside the Palisade where men had been banned from the city and women were in charge of everything.

Who are some authors that you admire?

Oh, that’s a tough one. There are just so many. In YA, I love some of the speculative fiction/magical realism authors like Marie Lu, Leigh Bardugo, Tahereh Mafi, Alex London, Shaun David Hutchinson, Adam Silvera, Nova Ren Suma, and Veronic Rossi. In adult sci-fi, I really like Karen Lord and Hillary Jordan. Maggie Shen King’s An Excess Male blew me away recently. In mystery writing, I love Tana French, Elizabeth George, and Jane Harper.

Why did you decide to become a literary agent?

I interned for an agent for almost three years: Susan Hawk who specializes in children’s literature from picture books to young adult, both fiction and nonfiction. She was a wonderful mentor and teacher both about developmental editing and about the publishing industry. That gig came hot on the heels of finishing off my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at VCFA. Because I have both a creative and business-y type background, agenting is really a wonderful way of marrying my interests in the creative side of writing with the publishing/business side. And having a legal understanding of contracts, commercial and intellectual property law is a big bonus!

What’s on your bucket list as an author? As an agent?

That’s a REALLY tough one: PASS! No, seriously, I’d love to just rep the best work I can as an agent and get some terrific books in readers’ hands. Of course, this is a business and I’d like to make some money for my authors, but I really want wonderful books to get published and read. If I could get one or more letters from children who are reading my work (as an author) or my clients’ work (as an agent) saying how a book really changed their lives or made them see things in a new way, that would be the perfect reward. In terms of my legal writing, I love it when folks tell me that a column I wrote or a workshop I gave really helped them with something they were dealing with. I guess that’s not much of a bucket list. It’s kind of an ongoing thing, but that’s why I love being part of this industry.

Why do you use a pen name?

I’ve actually dropped the pen name in recent years as I’ve committed full time to the publishing industry as an agent, consultant, editor, and author. I did use a pen-name in the past (K.C. Maguire) when my main career was in legal academia and I didn’t want my author/editor persona and my academic career to get tangled up. Now, that I’ve pretty much consolidated my day job with my publishing work, I ’ve said goodbye to K.C. My social media, writing, agenting, professoring etc. is now pretty much all under my real name.

What kind of books do you like to read?

My tastes are pretty eclectic and I’ll actually pick up pretty much any book that comes to hand. I also tend to read books all the way through whether they’re riveting or not, so the pile on my nightstand is out of control. I have a particular love for science fiction, romance, magical realism, and mystery. But I also read pretty much anything else, and have a growing interest (both as a reader and writer) in nonfiction, including memoir and personal essay writing.

What book has influenced you the most?

Another PASS! Hmm. That’s a tough one. It’s probably trite to say but The Hunger Games really opened my eyes (and those of a lot of other people) about what was possible in the YA realm. One of my favorite books, I think because of its beautiful lyrical writing and YA/adult crossover appeal is The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, again because it shows how much the same book can appeal to widely different levels of readers. I do love books that parents can talk about with their children, particularly as I have three children at home who are all avid readers.

What was your most unusual or funny experience as a writer or agent?

It’s actually hard to think of a funny experience. Most memorable writing/agenting stories have a lot of angst in them! I think my most memorable story is when I was looking for an agent myself and had submitted a proposal for a book that many people thought I’d be better off self-publishing because it was aimed at such a niche market. I’d sent it out to a dozen or so agents, and received a handful of lovely, supportive personal rejections saying the book was important, but it would be difficult to place with a traditional publisher and I might be better off … you guessed it … self-publishing. Then, an agent who I hadn’t submitted to at all contacted me while I was on vacation and asked if I was interested in talking to her about it. Her partner had pulled it from the slush pile and passed it along to her. That agent was the amazing Jane Dystel, founder of Dystel Goderich & Bourret. She ended up not only repping the book but selling it too.  So look out for LAW & AUTHORS: A LEGAL HANDBOOK FOR WRITERS coming out in 2020.

What work do you wish you had written? Why?

I don’t think there’s ever been a book I wish I’d written; although, back in my younger life, there were certainly some plays and musicals I wished I could have written (or at least written something half as good). It turned out I wasn’t a very gifted musician, and I was a bit stilted with dramatic dialogue back in the day. One well-meaning reviewer of my college work said: “She has a great voice, but she doesn’t have anything to say yet.” Hopefully, I either have more to say now, or at least I can help people with something to say get their work out into the world.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to writers and/or aspiring agents?

Don’t give up. The publishing industry is a tough one, due to shrinking budgets and lots of competition for eyeballs. But, at the same time, there are more opportunities than ever to explore avenues like self-publishing (including self-published audiobooks), as well as more opportunities to find online writing groups and other critique assistance. There are tons of writing competitions you can enter and get feedback, tons of information for people trying to learn how to write a query letter, or a book proposal. It’s all there for the taking. So if your career isn’t taking off the way you want it to, keep plugging along and do it in a constructive and productive way. Find out what you need to know, and where to get the help you need, and go from there. Same for agenting. I did so many informational interviews with so many generous agents along the way as I figured out whether or not this was a career I wanted to pursue. I interned. I went to conferences and networked. I read up on how the market works: Publishers Weekly and Publishers Marketplace are great resources. Keep at it and keep learning.

Short and Sweet:

Pantser or Plotter? Pantser. Plotting is for revision!

Guilty Food Pleasure? Crème brulee or white chocolate; or crème brulee WITH white chocolate.

Favorite Hobby? Reading of course.

Dog or Cat person? Cats all the way! (Dogs are too much work!)

Who would you like to have dinner with (living or dead)? Julia Roberts or Margaret Atwood; better yet, both of them together!

Do you do your best work in the morning, afternoon, or evening? Evening for writing; morning for paperwork.

Music and Writing

By Lana Koehler

Music can evoke memories and influence perception. Music can also inspire creativity. Here is a list of music that, when you listen to it, has the ability to transcend time and space. And, as authors, isn’t that what we want our readers to do with our writings?

Copy and Paste each link for best results!
Best overall list:

Music to listen to while writing sci-fi:

Happy, upbeat music to write for young children:

     My personal music mixes (all jazz, all the time!):

                Why you need to listen to music when you write:

                             Stay in your own genre of music and other suggestions:

Meet the Author: Charles Colman

Interview by Gloria G. Adams

Bio: C. H. Colman has collected stamps since the age of five and loves imagining the events detailed in those tiny pictures. Stamps feature as illustrations in two of his books. A former executive, business author, and lecturer, Charles has published three books for children. These are The Bald Eagle’s View of American History; Flaked Out: The Story of Cod, and Newfoundland; Amundsen of the Arctics. Charles is a long time member of SCBWI. He lives in Kentucky, across the river from Cincinnati. We're excited to welcome Charles to the Six Pens blog today!

What inspired you to write The Bald Eagle’s View of American History?

I love history and stamp collecting. I wanted to write a book that communicated the broad sweep of American history. While searching for a theme, I sat down with my stamp collection and stamp catalogues. I immersed myself in those images, windows onto history, and realized that the bald eagle was a viewpoint from which I could tell a story. The chapters in The Bald Eagle’s View of American History are inspired and organized around stamp images.

Tell us a little about your journey of working with Charlesbridge Publishers.

Charlesbridge is a high-class organization. My editor, Judy O’Malley (who has since retired) was both a professional in her industry and my cheerleader. Judy had seen my nonfiction work during a session at a weeklong writers conference. She approached me and asked if I had some nonfiction ideas that I’d like to show her. She loved Bald Eagle, and we went from there.

What made you decide to publish your next two books independently?

The short answer is that both of these non-fiction books were too limited in their audience to pay out financially for a publisher. The reason I say this is that a Canadian publisher accepted Flaked Out but then withdrew the offer (can you imagine how I felt?) when the marketing department said it couldn’t sell enough books to pay out the production costs.

What are the pros and cons of that process for you?

Well, since you asked. The major negative for me, strangely enough, is that I cannot gain entry to the major book fairs with my independent books. When Bald Eagle came out, I loved selling and promoting at the Buckeye Book fair. I loved introducing Bald Eagle at the ALA national conference.

Another con is that independently published books are not of the same technical quality as a main line publisher’s. Color reproductions are not vibrant. Paper choice is limited. Without spending a lot, you can’t produce a hard cover book.

The major stress of independent publishing, at least for me, is making sure my book is good enough to put out there. I no longer have Charlesbridge to prepare my work with a fact checker, a copy editor, an editor, a book designer, and an artist. Having said that, Judy and I are friends, and she has continued to coach me.

The major pro of going independent is that you guide the process from start to finish. It is a thrill to do this, but like the fugu fish, the addictive tingle can turn deadly. By this I mean I’m scared of publishing an inferior product and always regretting it. I’m scared of assuming that everything is going to somehow turn out well on its own. So I’m careful. My critique partners Jean Daigneau and Gloria Adams save me again and again. My two independent books have sold sufficient copies to pay my costs and make a profit. The first, Flaked Out, sold well with the help of the philatelic community and Amazon’s amazing online worldwide storefront. The Newfoundland press and Kirkus gave Flaked Out good reviews. You have to pay for a Kirkus review, by the way. They are unbiased. See the Kirkus website for more info. My second book, Amundsen of the Arctics, has also done well thanks to Amazon and a good Kirkus review. It sells well in England because of the British interest in how Amundsen beat the British explorer Scott to the South Pole.

You’ve worked on both fiction and non-fiction; do you enjoy writing one more than the other?

I’m a research nut, so I love nonfiction the most. Even my as yet unpublished science fiction is based upon a research idea.

What are you currently working on?

I’m very excited about my current project, My Ugandan Hill (MUH.) It is a non-fiction
account of my childhood years in Uganda. I am going to publish independently because I have found it very difficult to sell MUH to publishers due to the memoir nature. My now-retired Charlesbridge editor has looked through the manuscript and given me invaluable advice. My critique partners have provided great perspective. I’ve paid Kirkus for a copy edit. I will also pay Kirkus for a review. If the review is a good one, I will place an excerpt on the back cover of MUH and publish via Kindle Direct.

What books or authors have influenced you the most?

Black Potatoes by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. This nonfiction book won the Robert F. Sibert medal.
It has a wonderful narrative bibliography that inspired me to do likewise in my books. This narrative style is particularly useful in MUH. My perspective is “Author Looking Back.” This requires a balance between the age-appropriate author's explanations added directly into the story versus historical context presented in the back matter. Bartoletti’s approach accentuates a pleasing conversational style.

What was your most unusual, gratifying, or funny experience as a writer? How about a touching experience?

There I was at the ALA National Conference sitting behind my pile of books, all ready to sign. Unfortunately, the long lines had formed in front of other authors. No one stood in front of me. It was nearly ten am. Signings were about to start. Luckily, one of those popular authors with a long line was seated right next to me. Linda Sue Park turned and asked enthusiastically about my new book. Was it my first? Was I excited? I nodded, somewhat star struck. Linda smiled, and said she was going to tell each person who bought one of her books to sidestep over to me. Her lineup was my lineup. How kind of her was that?

What is your writing process like, from inspiration to final product?

A lot of my inspiration comes from history. At first, that inspiration was tied up with stamp illustrations. My process is inspiration-secondary research-outline-primary research-writing-first draft-lots of revisions tied up with lots more research-critique group feedback-more revisions and more research.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to other writers?

My advice has to do with independent publishing. Don’t try this unless you are ready to do some preparatory work. Get connected by attending conferences and joining a critique group. I would have had no idea of my many failings as a writer had I not done these things. Also, take a professional approach to your publishing. Pay for a copy edit at the very minimum to ensure that your work is accurate and free of errors. Check out the Kirkus website for one example of the types of editing services available. Get a review. Make your book the best it can be before you put it out there.

Short and Sweet:

Pantser or Plotter?


Guilty Food Pleasure?

Dairy Queen monthly blizzard

Favorite Hobby?

Stamp collecting

Dog or Cat person?

Both, for sure.

Who would you like to have dinner with (living or dead)?

Beatrix Potter. Can you imagine the animals that might join us? Peter would steal the salad, however,
and I’d have to interrupt my conversation to chase him.

Do you do your best work in the morning, afternoon, or evening?

Morning. Sipping a cup of coffee, at a table with no view to distract me.

Self-Publishing: Pros and Cons

By Gloria G. Adams

Self-publishing has changed the face of the book publishing world dramatically over the past two decades. The process itself has undergone several transformations and improvements. It has not only made it possible for anyone to become a published author, but it has created whole new businesses and income streams for those who facilitate the processes and marketing of independently published works.

One of the biggest inroads has been in the area of respectability. As the world has seen authors make fortunes and become successful in selling their work on their own, traditional publishers have taken notice and become somewhat more accepting of the fact that their competition is here to stay. Many review journals now offer opportunities for reviews of independently published works, and Library Journal’s Self-e program has paved a path to inclusion of self-published eBooks in libraries.

Although a type of wall, or at least, a fence, still exists between traditional publishers and independently published authors, more opportunities for equal consideration are available today than they have ever been before. And out of this has come a new breed of authors, those who publish in both worlds, the “Hybrid Author.”

Since I now find myself a member in this new congregation, I’d like to share some pros and cons of writing and publishing on both sides of the fence.

Reviews and exposure
One of the major differences is exposure by way of reviews. Traditional publishing houses are able to get reviews in major review journals and widespread exposure (and thus, many sales and large distributions) for their books. Bookstores are willing to buy many of those books as long as there is a “return” policy for the books that don’t sell. Libraries order most of their books based on reviews in the major review journals.

The self-published author, on the other hand, must do most, if not all, of the work in order to get reviews and exposure and sales. He or she must either be business savvy, learn how to do this well or have enough money to hire others to do it. While there are avenues for free reviews, such as blogs, or reviewers on Amazon or Goodreads who are willing to do free reviews, most places charge money for reviews, such as Kirkus (prices range from $350-$1149) and other, less well-known venues.

Royalties and Advances
Traditional publishers typically, though not always, offer advances against royalties. This gives the author some money up front, which is a nice perk. What it means, though, is that your book has to sell enough copies to pay back the publisher before you will earn any royalties. Percentages for royalties are usually fairly small (5-15%). An agent can often negotiate higher royalty rates, but the agent will take a cut (usually 15%) of your royalties, as well as your advance. You also have no control over what your book will sell for.

For our book Ah-Choo!, my co-author, Lana Koehler, and I got a 5% royalty, which we had to split. For our book, priced at $14.95, we each received $0.37 per sale.

In self-publishing, of course, there are no advances. Royalty rates are advertised as being higher, but you still must pay for services, whether it’s to a printing company or a print-on-demand platform such as Amazon KDP, Ingram, Barnes & Noble, etc. Some, like Ingram, charge set-up fees. In addition, you can’t just arbitrarily choose your selling price; there will be a minimum charged by the platform, so you must determine from that how much you want to charge. And, your cost must be competitive in order to sell any books.

How does this translate in dollars and cents? I published my book, Photo Plots: How to Write Great Photo-inspired Books and Stories, through Amazon KDP in both eBook and paperback. The minimum price that I was allowed to charge for the paperback was $10.75. I priced it at $12.95. The royalty rate is 60% on Amazon for the author. But the reality is that it’s 60% minus Amazon’s cost. My royalty comes out to only $1.32. The eBook, which I priced at $3.99, gives me a royalty of $1.40. For a paperback picture book, priced at $7.99, I make $1.14.

Frequency of royalty payments is usually every six months for traditional publishing, but every month through print-on-demand platforms.

While traditional companies will garner greater exposure for your books and usually provide you with marketing materials, such as bookmarks and posters, the bulk of marketing still falls to the author. Unless you are a famous, best-selling author, you must arrange for book signings, speaking engagements, school visits, and any other types of marketing on your own.
For self-published authors, marketing can be the hardest part of this journey, because you, as the publisher, must do everything to market your book. If hiring a publicist is within your budget, it may be one of your best investments.

Control over your book
This is one area in which self-published authors have an advantage over traditionally published authors. You not only can choose the platform(s) on which you want to publish, but also your book price, your covers (back and front), what the inside will look like, and, pretty much everything else. You can even make changes to the text, photos, and cover AFTER you’ve published your book. The only things you can’t change are the title, sub-title, author, and ISBN.

In addition, you get to choose when to publish your book. Lana and I waited 2 ½ years before Ah-Choo! came out. I waited one year for my other picture book, My Underpants Are Made from Plants, to show up in the eBook database at Schoolwide, Inc. But in 2018, I published eleven new books through my independent publishing company, Slanted Ink. And I loved creating my own books, on my terms, on my own timeline.

So, whichever path you choose, whether it’s traditional, self-publishing or both, make sure you research thoroughly and know what you’re getting into. But mostly, take time to enjoy the journey.

Check out Gloria’s website for her independently published books and resources for writers at

Interview with author Toni Buzzeo

By Laurie Knowlton

I'd like to introduce a new friend, Toni Buzzeo. I met Toni while in Florida. Prior to meeting Toni I'd read a preview of When Sue Met Sue, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers. The article caught my attention because of my love of fossils.

Not long afterwards I met Toni. When I entered her home I saw her author copy of new book sitting on her coffee table. I picked it up immediately, recognizing it. “I know this book!” I said. “I read about it!"

We quickly became friends, talking about writing, publishing, a love of fossils! After enjoying our time together, I knew our readers would love to get to know Toni also.


New York Times bestselling children’s author Toni Buzzeo has published 27 picture books for kids as well as 11 books for teachers and librarians. Toni and her books have won many awards, including a 2013 Caldecott Honor for One Cool Friend, illustrated by David Small. She writes for a broad audience, from the very youngest readers through elementary-aged children. Her characters are sometimes real and sometimes fictional, sometimes human and sometimes animals whose experiences echo those of a human child. No matter what, her characters are as lovable as the children Toni writes for. Before publishing for children, Toni was a Maine elementary school librarian and college and high school writing teacher. Now she lives and writes full time from her charming writing cottage in Arlington, Massachusetts. For lots more information, visit

What inspired you to write When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex?

After I published A Passion for Elephants: The Real Life Adventure of Field Scientist Cynthia Moss (Dial, 2015), I knew that I had found a publishing niche I wanted to continue to occupy—telling the stories of inspiring women scientists in illustrated picture book biographies. So, I put out a call to my school librarian community on the LM_NET listserv and asked for suggestions. When someone mentioned Sue Hendrickson, I dug into preliminary research and loved what I found—that she was yet another self-taught scientist, like Cynthia Moss, another woman so strong and independent that she devoted her life to the work she trained herself for, in Sue’s case, a life of discovery. A major event of that life of discovery was her encounter, in 1990, with the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever uncovered. Not only did she use her skills and knowledge as a paleontologist, Sue also trusted her intuition—the entirely internal sense that the cliff, seven miles away, was calling to her, as indeed, it was!

You have two very different books about dinosaurs: No T. Rex in the Library and When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex. Can you share some insight on the similarities and differences in writing these two books?

Would it do to just say that they are completely different in every way? That is almost true, actually. While No T. Rex in the Library (Simon & Schuster, 2008) is fiction with a young character who misbehaves in the library and brings a T. rex to life from a book, thus causing ensuing impossible events such as a broken aquarium and knights doing synchronized swimming in the spilled pool of water, When Sue Found Sue (Abrams, 2019) is nonfiction, featuring the accurate story of Sue Hendrickson’s life, from her shy and lonely childhood to her astonishing and unlikely discovery of the largest T. rex skeleton ever uncovered.

However, it is true that a single author—me!—wrote both of these books. And that author is not even a huge dinosaur-nerd. While I think dinos are cool, and I am curious about them, they aren’t the thing I am most passionate about. Actually, the thing I am most passionate about is writing.

I noticed you have several series books. How is writing a series different that a single title?

The answer is different depending on the genre. For the fiction books I have written in series, the Dawdle Duckling (Dial) and Adventure Annie (Dial) books, there are several advantages. First, as the fiction author, you already know your character and how he or she will react to the situations you put her or him into. And, to some extent, you know the secondary characters. You may even know the setting. The challenge in that can be to come up with unexpected plot twists that challenge the well-known character.

For nonfiction, such as my Whose? (Abrams Appleseed) series, what you have at the outset is a predictable format. For each of these board books, for instance, I know that I will be focusing on six professions and that the professions will be revealed through a guessing game which will require the young reader to identify the tools or vehicle that the professional uses to accomplish her or his work. Beyond that and the requirements of a rhyming text following a prescribed pattern, the content is entirely unique.

What is the most exciting event you had as a writer researching for a book?

My first published book, The Sea Chest (Dial, 2002) in which a ship’s captain and his wife cast their baby upon the ocean waves in a sea chest to save her life, was based on a legend from mid-Coast Maine—a legend that many Mainers believed to be true. As a certified librarian, it was important to me to get to the bottom of the mystery and determine whether I was writing a fiction or nonfiction book! I was delighted when I met Barbara Skinner Rumsey, former director of the Boothbay (Maine) Regional Historical Society who was able to share with me her work in trying to answer that very question. She had done extensive research that included reading page-by-page and word-by-word the lighthouse keeper’s log books from the decade in which the shipwreck was said to have occurred. Barbara found no record of such a storm, no record of a lost ship, and no record of a baby washing ashore on that lighthouse island. My question was answered, and I got to share vicariously in Barbara’s search!

What was your favorite book as a child?

My favorite books as a child were any of the Beverly Cleary books then in print, including Beezus and Ramona, all of the Henry books, and especially Ellen Tebbets.

What do you like to read now?

I read all genres of children’s books, picture books, middle grade, graphic novels, young adult, and nonfiction. But I also love adult literary fiction, memoir, and the occasional inspirational/lifestyle/philosophy book.

What advice do you have for new writers?

My strongest advice is to take yourself seriously as a writer. In order to do that, you need to join our professional organization, SCBWI (, take as many classes as are available to you and which apply to your work—both locally and online—and attend writing conferences regularly. You also will want to find a critique group (SCBWI can help with that too) and use your membership in that group to learn as much as you can about the revision process and the importance of revising work over and over as you peel away each layer of the onion.

What do you do when you aren’t writing?

I love to read. One guilty pleasure is to get up in the morning, make a cup of coffee and, if it’s warm enough, sit out on the back porch (or during my Sarasota, Florida winters, on the lanai) with the sun shining in and read whatever book I’m immersed in until the coffee is gone. If it’s cold here in Arlington, Massachusetts (early spring/late fall), I prop myself up in bed with the mattress warmer on and drink that same cup of coffee while I read. Guiltiest pleasure of all? A second cup of coffee and more chapters. That hardly ever happens though. I’m too much of a first-child rule-follower, even when the rules are my own!

I also love to work with fiber and fabric as my alternate creative outlet, and I spend time every day playing with each of my young grandchildren.

What is the best investment you’ve made in your writing career financially or time wise?

I’ve invested both time and money in attending conferences and workshops all over the country. They’ve given me new knowledge and often new opportunities. There’s no discounting how much there is to learn at every stage of one’s career.

What author do you wish you could sit and have a conversation with?

See my answer to my favorite book as a child. I would love the opportunity to sit down with 103-year-old Beverly Cleary and ask her about how she weathered such a long and successful career and what advice she’d have for someone like me, with 27 books in print and two more under contract.

Short and Sweet

Panster or plotter?
Guilty Food Pleasure? Cake with lots of frosting
Dog or cat person?
Best time to work? Mid-morning or late at night