Frequently Asked Questions

About Me

General Writing and Publishing

Young Adult and Middle Grade Fantasy

Nonfiction

Picture Books and Board Books

American Sign Language and Interpreting

 

 



Are you a full-time writer?

Maybe one day! Right now, like many writers, I have a day job. I am an American Sign Language interpreter, as well as a freelance editor, librarian, storyteller, and workshop presenter in addition to being a writer. If you’re interested in learning more about how my day job inspires my writing, check out this interview.
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Where do you live?

I grew up in Maryland (USA) and have lived here most of my life. Right now I live in Baltimore.
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Do you have any pets?

I have three glorious cats named Pancake, Mary, and Gruntle.

     
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Will you be appearing in my area anytime soon?

Find my complete calendar of upcoming appearances here.
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Will you visit my school/library/community group?

I am always happy to visit readers! I offer various in-person programs and workshops, as well as virtual visits through Skype and Google Hangouts. Find more information here.
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What’s your favorite color?

Yellow.
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Favorite book?

I can’t pick just one! Some of my very favorites are The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Watership Down by Richard Adams, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steivfater, and A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro.
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Favorite Movie?

It’s a tie between The Muppet Movie and Becoming Jane.
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Favorite TV show?

My forever favorite: Fraggle Rock. My current obsession: Sanditon.
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Where can I order signed copies of your books, or get a signed bookplate?

You can order a signed copies of my books, special bundle deals, or signed bookplates from the Deaf Camps, Inc. Online Bookstore – and all proceeds go toward scholarships for campers at Deaf/ASL Camp. Read more about the amazing work of Deaf Camps, Inc. here.
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How did you start writing?

When I was young, I loved to imagine and create new worlds, and I loved to write – but it didn’t occur to me until much, much later that those things made me a writer. Back in the days before the internet (yes, I am that old!), my cousin and I would write actual letters to one another. Only our letters were not simple missives, oh no – we did a lot of what I now know is called world-building. That’s because, even though we were best friends, we only really got to spend one week a year together, when she would come with my family to Ocean City, MD for a week each summer. And every year, we would create a new pretend game, with new characters. One year we were international beauty pageant contestants. Another year she was the princess of a small European country and I was her lady-in-waiting. (That one actually inspired a novel – maybe that’ll get published someday!) And in the seemingly interminable months from September to July, we would write to one another, letters upon letters: letters from each of us to the other, but also letters from our characters to each other. And we’d include supporting documents too: menus from banquets our characters attended, application forms they had filled out, catalog pages showing clothes they would wear…you get the idea.

In the early 2000s, I was active in the Harry Potter fandom as one of the administrators of the Sugar Quill. I also wrote a LOT of fanfiction. Writing fanfiction gradually morphed into writing original fiction.

Along the way, I also published several resource books for educators, librarians, and parents.
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What is your writing process like?

I usually start out doing a lot of research and world building, making tons of notes, and focusing on the characters and their backstories. I make an outline of sorts, but it’s not so detailed that I consider myself a true plotter. Usually when I start a first draft, I have a good idea of the emotional beats of the story, but not of the plot itself. The first draft, for me, is all about figuring out the characters and how they relate to each other. Plot is something to be cleaned up later. As I write, there are many turns that come up that I don’t anticipate. In fact, there is a moment near the end of Sword and Verse that several readers have cited as their favorite moment in the book, when Raisa does something that surprises everyone around her. While I was writing it, I was just as surprised as the characters in that scene, because I’d had no idea she was going to do that either!

I do a LOT of side-writing too – when I get stuck, I go back and write scenes from another character’s point of view, and it always clarifies the main story for me. It’s a time-intensive way to work, but it’s the only way I know how. And it gives me lots of extras to share on my website!
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How did you find your agent?

Here’s a post that tells the whole story.
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Do you write longhand or on a computer?

I write my notes longhand, but I have awful handwriting. (I am aware of the irony in the fact that Sword and Verse is all about beautiful scripts…) I do all my drafting and revision on my laptop.
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How did you meet your critique partner and co-author, Manuela Bernardi?

You can read the whole story in this interview.
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I want to be a writer. How can I get published?

The first step is to write the best story you can, and then find a critique group or critique partner to help you polish it. Then do your research! I highly recommend this post by editor Harold Underdown to get you started. It’s well worth your while to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and attend live events in your area, or webinars available to everyone worldwide. You can also find more resources on my Resources for Writers page.
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Will you critique my manuscript?

I offer manuscript, query letter, and synopsis critiques through my website. See my complete rates and policies here.
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Where did you get the idea for Sword and Verse?

I have always been fascinated with libraries and their history. In the early 2000s, I was reading about ancient libraries, particularly the library of Alexandria, and I came across a mention of an ancient library composed entirely of letters. And I thought, “What if there was a library full of letters written to the gods?” That was the seed of the story. In fact, the original title was “The Library of the Gods”. And then I thought about how this culture would have a special script used only for communicating with the gods, and how that would impact everything else in the society. The world developed from there.
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Is there a love triangle in Sword and Verse?

This is probably the question I get asked most often when people learn that romance plays a part in the story. No, there is no love triangle (although at least one character wishes there were – you’ll find out who in Dagger and Coin).
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Sword and Verse reads like a standalone. Why did you decide to write another book set in that world?

I fully intended Sword and Verse to be a standalone. (Among other things, it does not have a cliffhanger ending!) But as I sat down to figure out what to write next, Soraya Gamo, who was a secondary character in Sword and Verse, started demanding her own story.  It made sense – her life had been turned upside down by the events of Sword and Verse and I wanted to see what happened next, not just for her, but for the people of Qilara.
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Is Dagger and Coin a sequel?

Though it does pick up about 30 days after Sword and Verse ends, I think of it as a companion novel rather than a sequel. That’s because it focuses on a completely different character and a new part of the story. There are still plenty of challenges left for the council to face, not least of which is learning to trust each other. The consequences of decisions made in Sword and Verse come back to haunt them as well. Sword and Verse is about upending an unjust society; Dagger and Coin is about the much more difficult task of building something better in its place.
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How do you pronounce _______?

You can find a detailed pronunciation guide to Sword and Verse here. I also recommend the audiobook, beautifully narrated by Emily Rankin.
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Why aren’t there maps in Sword and Verse and Dagger and Coin?

Because decisions about things like maps and illustrations and endpapers are made by the publisher, not the author.
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Where can I read extras and deleted scenes?

Check out the extras page here.
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Did you really invent the scripts in Sword and Verse?

I really did! Developing the different types of writing was one of the most enjoyable parts of building Raisa’s world. Here are some samples of the different types of script in the story:

Samples of the lower order symbols.

Samples of the lower order symbols.

This is a sentence in the higher order script. Laiyonea uses it as an example when teaching Raisa.

This is a sentence in the higher order script. Laiyonea uses it as an example when teaching Raisa.

And this is Raisa's heart-verse, which is written in the Arnath script.

And this is Raisa’s heart-verse, which is written in the Arnath script.

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How long did it take to get Sword and Verse published?

Over 10 years! I wrote the first draft in the early 2000s, started shopping it around to agents in 2005, and finally obtained representation in 2009. My agent and I spent four years working on revisions (I am a tortoise when it comes to revision) and got the deal in 2013. Then of course came more revisions with my editor, and the book was published in 2016.
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Are any of the characters in Sword and Verse based on real people?

There are bits and pieces of people I know in all of my characters, but only two I can specifically identify as being inspired by real people. Raisa was very much inspired by my mother. My mom is one of those people who may seem meek and quiet and agreeable on the surface, but has a will of iron underneath. I knew I wanted to explore that kind of strength in Raisa. We see so many female characters in YA who exhibit physical strength, and that’s great, but there is more than one way to be strong.

The other character is a minor one, but she means a lot to me. It’s Anet, the woman Raisa meets in the tombs. She is based on my friend Annette, who passed away a few years before the book was published (and to whom the book is dedicated). Annette was an early reader of the book, and I tried to work that character in over multiple drafts in tribute to her. It wasn’t until the final draft that that scene came together, and anyone who knew Annette will recognize her in the description of Anet’s laugh!
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Why do you write Young Adult books?

I have always been interested in telling stories about characters figuring out who they are and how they relate to other people while holding on to their own sense of self. And that’s pretty much the main concern of YA, so it’s a good fit!
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Who designs the covers of your books?

As with most traditionally published books, the covers of my books were designed and illustrated by professionals at the publishing house. Typically the author has very little involvement in the cover process, other than to offer some initial ideas (as I did with Dagger and Coin) and small tweaks (as I did with the symbol depicted on the cover of Sword and Verse). For some of my books, I haven’t even seen the cover until it was posted on an online retailer website! I am happy to let the professional artists do their job, while I do mine by focusing on the writing.

Here’s the artist behind the covers of Sword and Verse and Dagger and Coin, Colin Anderson, discussing how the cover of the first book came together:

“This is one of my favorite covers I’ve done. Heather Daugherty, the senior designer at HarperCollins, provided me with a very comprehensive brief on her vision for the book. I wanted to create an epic feel for the cover. I initially presented 10 concepts. Some had swords, others had medallions or symbols. The challenge with creating this cover was getting all the important elements to work together. Heather had mentioned that she saw the background as an important element to bring the cover design together, she mentioned words like ancient, desert, warm, palace with secret corridors, etc. This gave me the color palette and mood for the cover. I think the sword shattering the earth creates such a powerful image, and with the symbol that Heather designed (based off the author’s description), it all hints at mystery and secrets.”

Colin Anderson is an extremely talented photographer and digital artist working out of Australia. You can find more of his work here.

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How did you get the idea for She Spoke: 14 Women Who Raised Their Voices and Changed the World?

All credit for the idea of the book goes to David Miles, who was publishing director of Familius Press at the time. He had the brilliant idea to use the sound-book format, usually reserved for books about farm animal sounds and the link, to create a book for older readers that would highlight the voices of inspiring women.
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How did you and your She Spoke co-author, Manuela Bernardi, write the book together from different countries?

We split up the profiles and wrote them separately, but when it came time to edit, we did it the way we always work: collaboratively. We shared our drafts via Google docs and then met via video chat to talk through the edits live, and every time it was an inspiring experience.
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Do you pick the illustrators for your books?

Nope! The publisher selects the illustrator – that’s their job. It’s actually very rare for the author of a picture book to have any contact with the illustrator at all. Typically the author will receive an early copy of the cover and perhaps samples of the illustration style, and then will be able to review the final layout when the illustrations are done. While the author certainly can register any significant objections she might have, it’s ultimately up to the publisher what happens with them.

In the case of the Little Hands Signing series, however, the situation is different. Familius Press understood from the beginning that accurate depictions of American Sign Language and Deaf Culture were crucial to book, and agreed to me being involved with the illustration process from the earliest stages, as well as having an ASL/Deaf Culture Advisor and an Early Childhood Advisor sign off on the final book. That means that the illustrator sends me the illustrations at several stages during the process, so that I can give feedback to ensure that everything is depicted with utmost accuracy.
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What was the inspiration behind The Runaway Shirt?

This story was inspired by a game my own toddler used to play: hiding in the laundry basket and pretending to be a shirt. I, of course, would play along and try to fold the shirt, which would always giggling madly while unfolding itself. One of my favorite picture books is Pete’s a Pizza by William Steig, and I always thought this story would lend itself to picture book treatment like that. Though my own little shirt is now a teenager, I hope other families will enjoy this playful story.
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Will there be more books about Nita and her family?

Yes! More signing adventures are coming, featuring food signs, family signs, and more!
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How can I get started signing with my young child?

I have so many resources for you! Check out my ASL resource page for videos, articles, activities, and more!
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Do you have Deaf people in your family?

No, not a one. I grew up in a hearing family and did not actually meet a Deaf person (that I remember) until I was 24 years old. I probably knew the ASL manual alphabet from Sesame Street, but that was it!
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How did you learn sign language?

The year was 1999, and I was a children’s librarian at a public library. One of our regular patrons was a Deaf kindergarten teacher who would often come in to get books for her classroom. No one on our staff knew ASL, so I would communicate with her using written notes and gestures. But I was frustrated and felt I could do better. So I started taking ASL classes at a local community college, simply to help me communicate better and be a better librarian. And then I fell in love with the language. Two years later, I volunteered at a camp for Deaf kids, which I loved, and that really cemented my commitment to learning the language and training as an ASL interpreter.
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Where do you work as an interpreter?

I work in a variety of settings, but mostly government, business, medical, education, and theater. It never gets boring!
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Is sign language universal?

No, not at all. There are many different sign languages in the world, just as there are many different spoken languages in the world. And each one of them has its own unique grammar unrelated to spoken languages. Some sign languages do have similarities to one another due to historical connections. For example, American Sign Language, which is used in the United States and Canada, is most closely related to Langue des Signes Française (French Sign Language). This is because the first Deaf teacher in the United States, Laurent Clerc, was from France, and he had an enormous impact on the development of sign language in this country.
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How long does it take to become fluent in ASL? To become an interpreter?

It takes just as long to become fluent in a sign language as it does to become fluent in a spoken language – maybe longer, because for most hearing people, it’s not just a matter of learning vocabulary and grammar, it’s a matter of doing those things PLUS training your brain to process language visually instead of just through your ears. The more time you spend around fluent signers, the more quickly you will learn.

Becoming an interpreter takes even longer. To be an interpreter, you have to be fluent in the languages you are interpreting, PLUS you need to develop the skills to listen to the message, take in the deeper meaning, and find the most equivalent form to put that message into in the other language. It takes a lot of practice!

For me, it took about four years to reach a basic level of fluency in ASL, and then three more years to finish my interpreting degree. And then I worked with mentors for another year to improve my interpreting skills before I achieved certification. It takes a lot of time and dedication!
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Can you tell me more about this Deaf Camp you are always talking about?

Deaf Camps, Inc. is a volunteer-run nonprofit organization that runs residential camps at Manidokan Camp and Retreat Center in Knoxville, MD (not far from Harpers Ferry, WV). Deaf Camp and ASL Camp run at the same time, and the campers have lots of interactions with one another as they participate in fun camping activities like hiking, swimming, rafting, archery, zipline, and more. Deaf Camp is for Deaf and hard of hearing campers and is conducted in American Sign Language. ASL Camp is for campers who are learning ASL and is appropriate for campers at any level of signing ability. Both camps are open to ages 7-19. I have volunteered with Deaf Camps, Inc. since 2001, as a counselor, director, and board member. I am currently the Director of the Interpreter Internship Program. Because Deaf Camps, Inc. is entirely run by volunteers and is a nonprofit, we often hold fundraisers to raise money for our scholarship program.
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