All posts by Traci Bold

I write picture books and young adult books. Also a proud mother of two exceptional daughters, a loving old dog (RIP 7-10-15) and wife to my BFF, my hubby. Member of SCBWI, 12x12 Picture Book Challenge, ReFoReMo, NaPiBoWriWe, NaNoWriMo, Picture Book Blueprints, middle/Grade Blueprints & Storystorm. Writing for children brings me great joy as I hope my stories will bring my readers the same kind of joy. Besides writing and researching I love spending time with my family out in nature and reveling in all that Mother Nature offers, especially watching animals in their natural habitat. On July 10, 2015, my loving old dog, Brittie, crossed the rainbow bridge, joining my previous dogs, Coalie and Natasha before her. She will always be my muse. "Thank you Brittie for always listening to me read my stories and giving me your opinion with a smile, yawn or turning your head. You are my best babe, always and forever. I love you girl." My motto for anyone pursuing writing as a career, #justkeepwriting #justkeepwriting.


With Middle Grade Author, Sandy Brehl 

Friday, December 15, 2017

The ABC song is one of the first fun songs we teach our children to sing. Why? Because the alphabet is the backbone for learning to read and write. For some people, reading and writing is not fun at all. 

My new series, ABC’S OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD offers a new way to have fun with the alphabet. Every week, a children’s author, illustrator, literary agent or editor will 2-200x300share their ‘top of the head’ answers to the ABC category list they were given, A to Z. Following their answers, I ask a few questions to gain a little insight into their world.

Feel free to play along, maybe your answer off the top of your head will match theirs. Enjoy!

Today, children’s fiction author of the middle grade historical trilogy about the first year of German occupation of Norway in WWII as seen through the eyes of a young girl, is Sandy Brehl!!!

odins promise BjornsGiftFrontCoverFinal2.indd mari's hope

Below is Sandy’s category list from A – Z and her answers off the top of her head. 

[Message From Sandy: An advance warning: a knowledgeable professional once said I was a wildly divergent thinker, and I interpreted that as having too many favorites in life…]

APPLIANCE:  heavy duty mixer

BAND INSTRUMENT:  (hard to march with a piano- I was drill team!)

COLOR:  denim

DAY OF WEEK:  Thursday

EVERY CHILD: is gifted, challenged, and could be yours. Treat them all that way.

FUNNY WORD:  strumpet

GAME:  Jeopardy, especially kid-made versions

HISTORICAL FIGURE:  Martin Luther King, Jr.

INSECT: cricket

JAMMING SONG:  Most 60’s music

KNOW HOW TO:  feed an injured hummingbird

LAUGH (WHAT MAKES YOU):  Kids and word play

MOST LIKELY TO:  be ambivalent (I tend toward “yes, but”)



PLAY:  Soccer with my dog

‘Q’ WORD:  Quisling

RHYMING WORDS:  cerise and chemise



UNUSUAL ANIMAL:  platypus        

VILLAIN:  Goatman

WISH:  Superpower:  ability to control time

X WORD:   Xerox

YELLOW (SOMETHING):  sundrops (common name for evening primrose)

ZANIEST THING YOU’VE DONE:  zero- I don’t do zany well (see M above)

ME:  Sandy, you have bodacious timing with your word choices. Meaning, while reading your category followed by each answer, the process that went through your mind as you answered, is shown (of course your advance warning played a part). Speaking of time, your wish for a superpower is fantastic! What would be your first order of operation if you could control time and why?

SB:  My students loved exploring potential “superpowers” and this was always my choice. It was especially true as education became so time-and-testing accountable. I wanted to “stop the clock” so we could pursue creative and curious questions, but then resume the “required” work with time reset for us all. I especially would have used the power to provide more recess time, more often. Play is a superpower in itself.

Currently, my time superpower would relate to writing. It would work like this: when doing something engaging, I could continue until choosing to stop, then reset time back to the point I need it to be. I have no doubt that writing, researching, and anything I enjoy would be even more satisfying and fun if I didn‘t have a nagging voice in the back of my head reminding me of other things I should be doing or when I’ll have to stop. 

Alternately, when anything miserable or stressful is happening, I’d fast-forward the experience. I’m not so concerned with eliminating negatives in life, but I’d love to be able to “get through” hard times, especially for those I love, as quickly as possible and move on with life.

At the time I’m writing these answers, I’d launch my annual holiday cookie-baking project and then reset time to the present, with everything baked, packed, and ready to deliver! (See pix) 

ME:  Those cookies look delicious. I think you need Hermione Granger’s time turner!

I have to ask, what was your drill team like? Was it military, high school, college? And, true, carrying a piano while marching would be difficult so I am trying to figure out if you played the piano at the end of the field, for the drill team. Can you give us some insight?

SB: It was a precision-formations team, and our coach was a former marine drill sergeant. I participated three years in high school and one year at Marquette when they were trying to get a unit started. 

ME:   Gotcha! And now, Marquette’s drill team is still going strong.

Do you have a photo of you and your dog playing soccer? Does your dog use his nose to push the soccer ball to you or his paws? kaffefootball.3. copy (1)

SB:  My twelve year old Sheltie has been slowed by arthritis, but he still wants to play several times each day. He uses paws, body blocking and nose. He’s got great moves, even now. He’s best in goalie position, guarding that ball for all he’s worth, which doesn’t require as much running. 

ME:   He is adorable! Bless his heart for not giving into age. We can learn a lot from him. 😊 I bet he loves being by your gardens as well! It’s apparent you enjoy gardening. Sundrops are beautiful! And hummingbirds love to visit them in wee hours of sundropsmorning before the flowers close for the day. Was it near the sundrops that you found an injured hummingbird that you nursed back to health? Please tell us about that experience.

SB: Good hypothesis, Traci, but the two don’t really connect. Sundrops are great at spreading, so I have expanses of them in various parts of the yard. Their resilience and indomitable cheeriness feels like I’m surrounded by happy face emojis when they are in season.

The hummingbird story comes from the years (long ago) when I was state and federally licensed to rescue and rehabilitate Wisconsin and migratory birds and mammals. 

I got a call about an injured hummingbird and hurried to retrieve it, (not very optimistic). It was crouched on the sidewalk during a summer storm, not even able to stand. That meant it was likely a back or brain injury, although it could have hummerbeen the result of pesticide poisoning.  

Recovery for hummers is challenging, requiring hand-feeding, special feather care, bathing, and perching arrangements, with long periods of exercise. Here in the Midwest, rehabbers are less likely to work with hummers, although California and SW states encounter hummers in danger much more often than we do here.  [This photo of a juvenile female Anna’s hummer is similar to how Sandy handled the ruby-throated hummingbird she found and rehabbed. Photo credit: 

The happy ending to my summer-long story is that Hummer eventually regained full strength and health, rehabilitating throughout August in a large outdoor enclosure. After releasing to the wild, he continued to feed in my yard with other hummers for a few weeks before they gradually migrated in September. 

Anyone who is intrigued by this little anecdote should read FASTEST THINGS ON WINGS: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood, by Terry Manear. I reviewed it on Goodreads, here:

I could have listed it as a favorite nonfiction in the alphabet above.

ME:   Wow! I didn’t know you were a wildlife rescuer and rehabilitator. I am in awe of you. And yes, the book, you mention is fantastic! Thank you for recommending it to me. Hummingbirds are my favorites.

Going from sweet little beings to naughty ones. You wrote Goatman as your villain answer. Goatman was the main villain in your trilogy. What can you tell us about him?

SB: Goatman was a necessary evil, actually.

The overwhelming enemy in my trilogy is the threat to Mari and her family, village, and country, a threat posed by Hitler and World War II. But in a great story the antagonist needs to be more personal, more immediate, and more able to be directly confronted than a broad concept can provide. 

In Odin’s Promise, Mari is threatened by the sudden invasion of her previously safe homeland. In that first year, when she is only eleven, she faces the greatest danger from a pair of patrolling soldiers, nicknamed The Rat and Scarecrow. In that book and onward I was intentional about portraying soldiers as individuals, as having separate identities and motivations. Part of Mari’s journey in that first book is her growing awareness of that truth. She learned to guard her words, her trust, and her actions, even among presumed friends. 

In the second book, Bjorn’s Gift, Mari interacts with one of those lifelong friends on a daily basis, one who not only poses a danger to her but also becomes a puzzle to be solved. 

In the final book, Mari’s Hope, three long years of war remain, much of it an endurance test with increasing hardships. My challenge in that book was to find ways to turn a long slog into a dramatic story, one with an immediate threat to Mari and her village. One with an personal and ever-present antagonist.

That is the German soldier, Goatman. 

Among the many ways locals resisted the Germans and their propaganda campaign of friendship was to mock the occupiers behind their backs, including assigning derogatory nicknames. Even so, I was determined to portray this necessary threat as an individual. He is despicable, but is also flawed. It’s giving nothing away to say that he is an alcoholic, which accounts for many of his actions. I wanted to be sure that young readers could sort out the all-encompassing evil of German policies and actions from the additional threats of an individual soldier living right next door to Mari. 

ME:   Mari is a wonderful role model. I fell right into the trilogy from the start of Odin’s Promise and…I learned a lot! I also learn quite a bit from the game show JEOPARDY which is your game answer. If you were asked to be on the game show, JEOPARDY and could choose between the adult version or kids version, which would you choose? For me, it would be the kids’ version, which I would still stink at.

SB: Oh, easy-peasy. The kids’ version, of course. As I watch the televised version I’m often astounded at how many of the questions could be answered by my elementary students. jeopardyI maintained an open door policy in my classrooms, inviting volunteers and encouraging special support staff to work in the room with us rather than remove individuals to a hallway. I couldn’t begin to count how often the adults would comment on learning things they never knew before.

Kids loved hearing that, and also quizzing the adults! It was fun to see how well kids eventually developed those descriptive statements, ones that included critical information and could have only one correct response- in the form of a question, of course..

That’s not as easy as you might think.

ME:   That format does not sound easy to me at all. It is learned skill. Your students are lucky to have a teacher like you!

The 60’s were a turbulent time in our history. Since you wrote Mari’s trilogy, are you by chance working on more historical fiction? And, just for fun, if you were to write a synopsis using answers from your category sheet, what would the story be about?

SB: I have story ideas from the 60’s, and from other earlier eras. Some come from personal experience, from stories I hear, or from great books I read. For those interested in stories set in the sixties, I recommend Gayle Rosengren’s COLD WAR ON MAPLEWOOD STREET (Cuban Missile Crisis).

I didn’t intend to write more about Norway. And yet… I have several works in progress with that setting, including picture books and a novel in verse. 

I didn’t set out to write historical novels, but I did want to share stories (and some amazing research) about the courageous people in a corner of Norway. The personal stories I heard while there were completely surprising to me.  Even so, I expected to tell those stories in that debut book, ODIN’S PROMISE, which involves only the first year of the German occupation.

But readers insisted on a sequel. That led to more research, to collecting more anecdotes, and eventually I wrote a two-part sequel. The second book involves the next eighteen months in which the German claim of protective friendship falls away, replaced by threats and severe new laws. It was during that time period when all but a few lucky escapees of the small Jewish population in Norway were deported to the concentration camps in Germany, from which few returned. 

Using that background and what I’ve indicated earlier, here’s the best I can do for an ABC synopsis of Mari’s Hope: (only 8 words from the list) 

In the final years of World War II, Mari walks a treacherous line as a doctor’s helper and participant in local resistance activities, putting her in heavy-duty jeopardy. She travels beyond the district borders, meets a young girl in need of friendship and advice, and survives a disaster in Bergen, Instead of playing soccer or romping with her dog, Mari must face a friend’s betrayal as well as the snooping and threats of German soldier, Goatman. Even when her hopes waver, Mari has no ambivalence about standing up for her family and for Norway.

ME:   That is an excellent synopsis Sandy! I actually find that I have learned more from reading historical fiction than I do reading straight up non-fiction history. You still have to base your fictional stories on fact to lend credibility to the story. And you have a wonderful knack for it.

Thank you, Sandy, for being a contestant today!

Readers, thank you for stopping by! You can learn more about Sandy and her books here:

And you can follow her on social media at:

Have a fantastic weekend everyone! Cheers to making it count. 🙂 





[Word of the day stories are prompted by a Word of the Day selection by any of the online dictionaries. Once a word is chosen, I set my timer to write and edit a story in one hour, no more time than that. The idea behind this is to promote just getting the ideas written as that is the biggest hurdle for most writers.]

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

sustain – verb


  1.   to provide with nourishment
  2.   keep up, prolong
  3.   to support the weight of; prop; to carry or withstand
  4.   to buoy up
  5.   suffer, undergo
  6.   to support as true, legal, or just
  7.   to allow or admit as valid


Archie gathered the white fluffy stuff into a mound. The more he tried shaping it into a ball, the more the white fluffy stuff spread out. It was no use. No snowman today.

The next morning, fresh new fluffy stuff piled on top of the old. Archie called his friends.

“New snow! Come over and help me make the biggest snowman ever. With this much snow, we can build a whole family!”

Archie’s friends, Barb and Gloria, rushed right over, decked out in winter attire.

“This is his bottom half.” Archie pointed to a low mound of snow.

“Where?” Barb asked.

“Did he melt?” Gloria asked.

Archie squinted his eyes. Only one thing to do, try again.

“Good point. Let’s build a new bottom.”

Together they rolled, they patted, they pushed, and they smooshed.

They shoved and their big ball of snow fell apart.


Gloria was the first to say it. “It’s too fluffy.”

Then Barb, “Won’t stick.”

Finally Archie, “We need to nourish the snow with more moisture.”

“Huh?” said Gloria.

“We need water,” Barb said.


Out of the shed, they each grabbed a bucket, filled it with water, and doused the snow pile.

Quickly they patted and smooshed but the snow turned into ice. They heaped fluffy snow on top and tried to form a ball but no use. The ice was not sticky, just hard.

They gave up and made snow angels.

The sun peeked out, warmed the tree branches and sent droplets of water on top of the kids.

“That’s it! The sun will melt the snow and then we will have enough moisture for the snow to stick together,” said Archie.

Barb and Gloria agreed. They waited, then rolled.

Not sticky enough.

They waited some more, then rolled.

Still not sticky enough.

They waited until dusk, then rolled and rolled and rolled.

Finally, they had a big ball of snow.

“Tomorrow we can finish the rest,” Archie said.

The temperature dropped overnight.

Barb and Gloria arrived the next morning, holding a bag of accessories for their snowman, ready to work. Archie met them outside.

“This won’t take as long. Let’s roll.”

Barb gathered the snow but it had become fluffy again. She formed and the ball fell apart.

Gloria tried. She rolled a ball, patted it, added more snow and it fell apart.

Archie tried with the same results as Gloria.

They gave up and made snow angel after snow angel all over the yard. Tired, they flopped onto untouched snow under the tree and rested.

The sun was out and warmed the trees, sending more droplets of water to the kids below. They laughed as they caught droplets in their mouth.

“I think it’s ready for us to make the tummy of the snowman,” Archie said.

Together, they rolled, pushed and patted a smaller ball into shape.

They lifted the ball onto the bottom of their snowman.


The smaller ball plopped right through the bigger one, creating a doughnut.

“What happened?” Gloria asked.

“The bottom ball did not have enough weight to sustain the weight of the smaller ball,” Barb explained.

“You sound like our teacher,” Gloria said.

“We need more water but in little bits.” said Barb.

That gave Archie an idea. He ran into his house and came back with a spray bottle.

“I’ll spray the bottom ball while you two shape it.”

“What about the snowman’s tummy?” Barb said.

“It can stay where it is. We’ll make a new one.” Archie answered.

Archie sprayed. Barb and Gloria shaped.

“I’ll test it,” Gloria said, plopping her behind right on top of the partial snowman. She didn’t sink in. “Now the tummy.”

Archie sprayed, Barb and Gloria rolled. Gloria sprayed, Archie and Barb rolled.

“Perfect!” they said in unison.

They lifted the snowman’s tummy into place. Time to make the head.

Barb sprayed, Gloria and Archie rolled.


They placed the head on top. It stayed put.

“Time to give him a face,” Barb said. Gloria took the accessories out of the bag.

Barb dug out holes for the charcoal eyes.

Gloria pushed the carrot in for the nose.

Archie smoothed a black shoelace across for a mouth.

“Perfect!” they said.

Until the carrot fell off.


“The carrot is too long for the hole you made Gloria,” Archie said. “The hole can’t sustain the length of the carrot.”

Gloria smiled. She bit off the fat end of the carrot. And took another bite. Then just one more. She stuffed the carrot into the hole.

“Perfect!” she said. And it was.

“What should we name him?” Archie asked.


“Perfect!” And Fluffy was.


Until a squirrel climbed up three days later and stole the carrot nose.


Thank you reader for stopping by today! I hope you enjoyed this short story. If you have written a short story in a 60 minute time frame, using this Word of the Day word, please feel free to share it in the comments. 





 With Fiction & Non-Fiction Picture Book Author, Janet Halfmann

Friday, December 8, 2017 

The ABC song is one of the first fun songs we teach our children to sing. Why? Because the alphabet is the backbone for learning to read and write. For some people, reading and writing is not fun at all. 

My new series, ABC’S OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD offers a new way to have fun with the alphabet. Every week, an author, illustrator, literary agent or editor will share their ‘top of the head’ answers to the ABC category list they were given, A to Z. Following their answers, I ask a few questions to gain a little insight into their world.

janet 5 web use 8x10Feel free to play along­, maybe your answer off the top of your head will match theirs. Enjoy!

Today, we welcome Janet Halfmann to the ABC Game. She is the author of many fiction and non-fiction picture books, many of which are about animals. But not all.

[And this is timely: she has a special holiday promotion going right now and your opportunity for this ends December 15!  Signed Books for the Holidays  ] 

Here are a few of my favorites:  


Below is Janet’s category list from A – Z and her answers off the top of her head.


BIRD:  cardinal

COLOR:  blue


EXERCISE:  walking

FLOWER:  sunflower

GAME:  Scrabble

HOLIDAY:  Thanksgiving

ICE CREAM FLAVOR:  Death by Chocolate

JELLYBEANS ARE:  rewards at my grandson’s school

KNOW HOW TO:  use my green thumb

LIQUID:  rainwater

MONTH:  January

NON-FICTION BOOK:  Once Upon an Elephant’


PRINCE:  frog

QUOTE:  Love your neighbor as yourself

REPTILE:  skink



UNUSUAL COMBINATION:  homemade sour pickles and milk

VACATION SPOT:  secluded cabin in the woods in winter


X WORD:  xylophone

YEAR AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: 1967, 1969, 1973, 1985—the years our kids were born

ZODIAC SIGN:  never can remember these signs

ME: I have to ask, have you ever tried homemade sour pickles and milk?

JH: Yes, this combo was a favorite when I was a child. I would bite off a piece of pickle, take a gulp of milk, savor the two together, and then swallow the concoction. My mother and I used to can lots of pickles from our garden and also put many in a crock for eating fresh.

ME: I used to can pickles with my mom too! Our dogs hated the smell though.

Many of your books are about animals. One of my favorites happens to be about the animal in your reptile answer: skink. Have you ever held one and what were your research methods while writing this book?

JH: I have never held a skink nor would I want to because the fright would likely Skink_187 copymake the critter snap off its tail. Growing the tail back takes a lot of the skink’s energy. I had never seen a blue-tailed skink before I wrote the book, but I have seen them since when we vacationed in Florida and Mississippi, where they are more plentiful than in Wisconsin where I live. In Mississippi, we were climbing the steps of a monument when one of the people in our tour group saw a little skink and picked it up to put it out of harm’s way—and sure enough it snapped off its tail! I was heartbroken! 

I decided to write “Little Skink’s Tail” after writing an educational nonfiction book about all kinds of skinks. In researching the first book, I became fascinated by skinks and their ability to snap off their tails, which kept on wiggling to distract predators. In researching both books I read a lot of books and online articles about skinks, especially those written by scientists and naturalists in the field. I also spent a great deal of time trying to come up with just the right fun phrase for Little Skink to say about each animal tail that she tried on while waiting for her tail to grow back. 

ME: Awww. Poor little skink. You make a great point about dealing with wildlife. Thank you! You portray animals beautifully in your books. As you said, you read a lot of books and did immense research, which shows you are an avid reader. You wrote Sandy Brehl as the author of the last book you read. What is the title of the book and what about the book did you like?

JH: The book I read was “Odin’s Promise,” and I’m now in the process of reading the second book in this middle-grade trilogy, “Bjorn’s Gift.” I need to get busy because the third book in the set, “Mari’s Hope,” is now out. 

I must admit that most of the extra time I’ve had in the twenty-one months since our newest grandson was born has been spent in playing and spending time with him—and every minute is delightful. He’s inspired several new stories, which are waiting for publishers. 

To get back to “Odin’s Promise,” I liked how the book made me feel so close to eleven-year-old Mari and her family, and care so much about what happened to them. I also liked learning about the Norwegian resistance during World War II, an aspect of history I was unaware of before. 

ME: I finished that trilogy two weeks ago. Like you, I learned an aspect of history I had never known about. The trilogy is amazing!

Speaking of amazing . . . you have a green thumb! Makes sense how rainwater came to mind first for the liquid category. Having the knack to grow things, to me, is a superhuman power. Therefore, you are a SuperHero! Do you have a garden (s) and what would we find in your garden(s)?

JH: I grew up on a farm and my family always had a large garden. As the only girl in the family, I spent a lot of time with my mother in the garden. I also have had a garden most of my adult life, and have one now. I have a fairly large vegetable garden with veggies for using for meals and also for making spaghetti sauce, chili, and other dishes for freezing for the winter. I also have flower gardens, and especially like to grow edible flowers, perennials, sunflowers for the birds, and plants for butterfly caterpillars. 

ME:  You connect with the earth, another reason we get along so well! And we have game choices in common. I love to play Scrabble!  Do you play Scrabble and when you do, do you play for the most points per word or try to play unusual words?

JH: My husband and I play Scrabble to relax in the evening, and play mostly for the fun and togetherness of it rather than to be competitive. We both get excited when one of us is able to form a long word or create a play with lots of points.  

ME:  I like the way you play!  😊 And it’s perfect for cozy evenings in a secluded cabin in the woods in winter. Is this a vacation spot for you or is this a bucket list vacation spot? Would you choose to be connected or disconnected to internet and television while vacationing?

JH: My husband and I got married in January and usually try to go away for days or a week for our anniversary. We love to stay in cabins and the more secluded the better because it then seems like the whole world is ours. We like TV to watch movies and I like the internet to keep at least a bit up on the news and to find information on things to do around us. But mostly we enjoy the solitude of the cabin and its natural surroundings.

ME:  Sounds enchanting! A wonderful way to celebrate your anniversary.

I chuckled when I read ‘frog’ as your Prince answer. I expected a name to follow that category but you delighted me with your answer. And I agree that 1967 is a great year! (I was born that year as well. :))

You have a warm sense of humor, which also shows in your books. Can you share with us your next book due to come out? Have you infused a little humor in it as well?

JH: My next book is a true story and very serious, so it doesn’t have any humor. But Midnight Teacher jacket front coverI am prouder of this book than perhaps any of my others. Titled “Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School,” the book will release this February from Lee & Low Books and is illustrated by London Ladd. It has been many years in the making, and is the story of an enslaved woman who ran a secret midnight school in Mississippi in the mid 1800’s under fear of being whipped for her actions, and who continued to teach after the Civil War. Her complete story has never before been told, so I feel so honored to be able to share it with the world. Plus, I recently found out that the book got a STARRED REVIEW from Kirkus Reviews, which I hope will attract lots of attention for this amazing woman’s story.

ME:  Congratulations on the upcoming book and the starred review!!! I will definitely be preview-1buying this book! Many of your books have earned awards.

Thank you Janet for being this week’s contestant! It’s always a joy to connect with you.

JH: Thanks so much for asking me to be a part of this fun series. I’ve enjoyed getting glimpses into the “book” lives of those who have participated before me, and I hope others enjoy learning some unique things about me and my books.

Readers, if you would like to learn more about Janet and or/her books, please visit her website which has a special

“SIGNED BOOKS FOR THE HOLIDAYS!” promotion going on right now, which again ends December 15, 2017.

You can also find her on these social media:



Thank you for stopping by. Have a fantastic weekend everyone!


(p.s. Books make fantastic gifts for all ages because there’s a book for everyone.)




furious – adjective 

[fyoo r-ee-uh s]

1 : very angry

2 a : very powerful or violent

   b : very active or fast
Long ago, the landfill in Titustown had filled up. The town agreed that they needed to do something better with the garbage than to fill up land with it because it would fill up too fast. The solution was to build a large incinerator that would burn the garbage that could not be recycled in one way or another. But the only land large enough to hold it, belonged to Gortok the Greedy, as the townspeople nicknamed him, and he refused to have that ugly incinerator on his property.
The only solution left for the town,  was pile all of the garbage on the only open lot in town that still belonged to it. Which was right next to Gortok the Greedy’s house.
Gortok wanted more than anything, for the mountain of garbage behind his house to disappear. He hated the sight of it and the smell was atrocious. The town had been using the lot as the dump for too long.
The mountain just grew…
and grew.
and grew.
And now, the smell was coming into his home.
So Gortok made a wish.
“Mother Nature,  please make the garbage go away.”
A few days later, Mother Nature granted his wish.
The wind came from the outskirts of town and blew in with a fury.
Garbage from all over town rose up from the streets, the gutters, the lawns, everywhere, and landed on top of the mountain.
The town was clean. But Gortok the Greedy’s property smelled worse than before.
In a huff, Gortok walked to work. On the way, he unwrapped his granola bar, ate it then tossed his wrapper to the ground. He then he popped open his juice box.
Mother Nature was not happy. She sent the wind out once again.
The wind picked up the tossed wrapper and whipped it at Gortok.
The wrapper hit him square in the face.
“Who threw that?” Gortok asked, expecting to find kids near. He grabbed the wrapper and whipped it to the ground again. He finished his juice and threw the plastic bottle as well.
Furious at Bartok’s behavior, Mother Nature once again sent wind out to do her bidding.
This time the wind blew the bottle at Gortok, hitting his leg, and the wrapper hit his arm as he walked.
Gortok kicked the bottle and flung the wrapper.
“Enough!” he shouted, though no one was near to hear.
At the factory, a newspaper flew through the air, landing against the door Gortok was opening.  He threw it onto the walkway and went inside.
Mother Nature decided she had had enough herself. She told wind what to do and wind got right to it.
It was quite late when Gortok left work. He was half asleep as he walked home and fell exhausted into his open doorway.
In the morning, a cool breeze woke Gortok up. He noticed the sweet smell coming in from the open doorway.
“This is unusual.”  He shuffled around his property. His jaw dropped open at the sight of the lot behind his house. The mountain had disappeared! Mother Nature had granted his wish. He did his happy dance, jigging and jagging around his lawn.
That day, Gortok whistled as he walked to work, saying hello to his factory workers as they walked past, plugging their nose. [He should have been more concerned as to why they were not on the job.] 
Around the corner, he found out why.
The mountain of garbage now covered his entire factory.
He was bewildered until he remembered his wish.
Gortok made his way through the garbage, into the factory and got right on the phone.
The headline on the next newspaper read,
The opening sentence of the article said,
‘Gortok Industries to start making incinerators for home use after finishing a large scale incinerator for the town’s garbage which will be built right on Gortok property.’
Mother Nature did not help Gortok with the garbage this time.
Gortok cleaned up the mess himself.


With Children’s Author, Mary Amato

The ABC song is one of the first fun songs we teach our children to sing. Why? Because the alphabet is the backbone for learning to read and write. For some people, reading and writing is not fun at all. 

My new series, ABC’S OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD offers a new way to have fun with Mary amatothe alphabet. Every week, a children’s author, illustrator, literary agent or editor will share their ‘top of the head’ answers to the ABC category list they were given, A to Z. Following their answers, I ask a few questions to gain a little insight into their world.

Feel free to play along, maybe your answer off the top of your head will match theirs. Enjoy!

Our contestant today is children’s author, Mary Amato! Known for her spectacular humor and heart books and series.




But these aren’t all. Here are a few more to tease you:



Below is Mary’s list of categories from A – Z along with her off of the top of her head answers.

ANTONYM FOR AWFUL:  chocolate cream pie

BREAKFAST CHOICE: chocolate chips, melted in oatmeal

COLOR:  purple, I know, but I just don’t get tired of it


EVERY CHILD: should get to grow up


GENRE (MUSIC): gothic film score (I’m writing a spooky book right now)

HAPPINESS IS…: singing harmony with people you love (but only as long as they can sing in tune)

INVENTION:  the 0.5 mm Pentel deluxe mechanical pencil with Sliding Sleeve

Technology, but I wish it would come with a cap because the tip of lead breaks off in my purse.

JUNK FOOD:  BBQ Potato Chips or Salt & Vinegar Potato Chips

KEEPSAKE:  my parents’ love letters, not gushy, just adorable


MOST LIKELY TO:  multi-task! Why can’t I stop? Right now, I’m filling out this form while cooking dinner, listening to a podcast, stretching my neck muscles, and chastising myself for not getting enough done.

NATURAL WONDER’:  the fact that every single kid has a unique personality. This blows me away every time I do an assembly at a school and look out at 247 kids. 

OUTDOOR ACTIVITY: the only thing I ever do is walk. It’s enough for me.

PICTURE BOOK:   into That is Not a Good Idea by Mo Willems right now, and I wish he hadn’t written it so that the idea could fly into my brain, but I’m also glad that he wrote it because it’s hilarious.

Q NAME:  Quinnie

RIVER:  Styx

SPORT:  Solo Synchronized Swimming

TOOL:  belt

UNIQUE ANIMAL:  platypus

VISIBLE FROM YOUR WINDOW:  A porch swing with a sign on it that says “It’s probably not a good idea to sit on this.”

WISH:  to live in the Netherlands for three to six months

X-RAY VISION (BENEFICIAL, YES OR NO & WHY?):  Archenemy of Imagination

YUMMY TREAT:  dark chocolate, always and forever

ZANIEST THING YOU’VE DONE:  filled out this form

ME:   You had me at ‘I’m writing a spooky book right now.’ (and all of the chocolate answers ) My absolute favorite books and stories to read are spooky ones, so when your book comes out, please e-mail to let me know so I can buy it!

Okay, on to a more serious subject: Why should people not sit on the porch swing outside your window?

MA:  Since you love spooky things, you might want to sit on it. The swing creaks and moans as if it is made of the bones of sad dead people who might get a kick out of collapsing into a heap whenever someone sits on them.

 ME:   You are correct…I now want to sit on it. 😊

What specific months would you want to live in the Netherlands for? And would you watch or participate in solo synchronized swimming while you were there?

MA: February, March, April, May, June, and July would take me from pensive winter into the tulip-induced ecstasy of spring and then the sweet lull of summer. I wouldn’t swim there if you paid me. Too cold.

 ME:   Great answer!

Curious, why Tuesday?

MA: Tuesday is my favorite work day. On Monday I’m still in a Sunday fog. By Wednesday, I’m thinking about Thursday night, which is when my husband and I go to the farmer’s market and a beer tasting. Tuesday is my favorite work day because I’m focused only on Tuesday. 

ME:   Tuesdays are the perfect work day; perfect too for the imagination to let loose because I am not thinking about Friday yet (well maybe a little).

I agree that x-ray vision is an archenemy of the imagination. Another superpower would be better. If you could have any superpower, which one would you choose and why?

MA:   Flying without a doubt. I wouldn’t do anything with it. Just enjoy it.

ME:   Oh the sights you would see if you could fly!BBQ potato chips

What do you think about BBQ potato chips with a dark chocolate chaser?

MA: No way. I’m a total purist with class. They have to be separated by at least ten minutes and a glass of bourbon. 

ME:   Agreed, except for the bourbon. Ate too many bourbon balls as a kid which did not taste good coming up.

Using as many of your answers as possible, will you write a synopsis for a children’s book off the top of your head?

MA: A lonely Dutch pencil named Quinnie wants to find a cap for her  head so that her lead doesn’t keep breaking. As she sets off, she faces many obstacles along the way—horrible people that abuse her by using her for boring things like keeping synchronized swimming scores, tracking pollution levels in the River Styx, and listing ingredients for junk food. But with the help of an adorable harmony-singing platypus, on a lovely Tuesday morning she finally makes an origami cap out of dark-chocolate bar wrappers that is sturdy yet stylish. This captures the attention of a nice young man named Jack who proceeds to use the pencil to write love letters to his wife-to-be Jan. They have a child who becomes a children’s book writer and continues to use the pencil to write stories with humor and heart. The End. 

ME:  I really want to read that story now, endearing and humorous! I also smiled when I read that a keepsake for you is your parents love letters. Would you ever write a young adult using those letters as mentor texts for the book? And speaking of possible projects, please elaborate on any upcoming projects you have right now.

MA:   I have a YA coming out next fall called Open Mic Night at Westminster Cemetery, which is also a musical. A new funny series for ages 7-10 called Lucy McGee will debut next fall, as well. I’ve finished the first two books and will work on book three after the holidays. I’ve just written the first draft of my first adult novel, which I’m revising now. As for future projects, I have three or four I’m trying to decide between.

ME:   Wow! You have been busy!!! I have so much reading to catch up on in the next few years. 😊 OPEN MIC NIGHT AT WESTMINSTER CEMETERY sounds intriguing. The fact that it is a musical is phenomenal and great for theater everywhere. I hope it goes to Broadway!  

Mary, this has been delightful playing the ABC Game with you. Thank you for being a contestant!

Readers, if you would like to connect with Mary on social media you can find her:

Twitter: @maryamato

If you would like to know more about her and her books go here:


p.s. Books make great gifts throughout the year for all ages.

Thank you for stopping by today’s edition of ABC’S OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD. If you like this post, please share it. And feel free to leave a comment for Mary or me.

#justkeepwriting #justkeepwriting







Word of the Day Story to Begin Again

Hello readers!

Starting in December, on Tuesdays, I will revamp my ‘Word of the Day’ stories. 

My idea behind this is to encourage you to just get your words written for whatever writing project you are doing. It’s just for fun. I hope to bring out the joy of playing with words.

The hardest part of writing is getting the initial words written. Therefore, as a writing prompt, I will be using the word of the day from either Merriam-Webster or or Learner’s, to write a short, short story using that word(s) and then edit it one time in 60 minutes [no editing while writing the story, just write]. The story will be far from perfect but hopefully, enjoyable to read. I may take a little extra time to add photos or artwork of mine that fit the story.

Speaking of the story… it may be anything such as whimsical, funny, off the wall, sad, happy, philosophical; the word of the day kind of commands the writer, what story it wants to be in. 

If you choose to share your Word of the Day story, please add it to the comments section of the blog post. Please also feel free to leave constructive comments as well.

Have a funtastic week. See you on Friday for the next round of ABC’S OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD.





This website promotes positive thinking. Negativity works against creativity and is not allowed on my site. Any negative comments will be deleted.


With PB, CB and NF Author, Deborah Underwood

Friday, November 24, 2017

The ABC song is one of the first fun songs we teach our children to sing. Why? Because the alphabet is the backbone for learning to read and write. For some people, reading and writing is not fun at all. Deborah and cat


My new series, ABC’S OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD offers a new way to have fun with the alphabet. Every week, a children’s author, illustrator, literary agent or editor will share their ‘top of the head’ answers to the ABC category list they were given, A to Z. Following their answers, I ask a few questions to gain a little insight into their world.

Feel free to play along, maybe your answer off the top of your head will match theirs. Enjoy!

Happy Friday  Everyone! Today’s  contestant, Deborah Underwood,  rocks the picture book world in both fiction and non-fiction, chapter books and co-authors the SUGAR PLUM BALLERINA series,  with Whoopi Goldberg. 


CQB Ama here comes teacher cat a balloon for isabel  good night baddies interstellar cinderella has a cow saved your life ballroom dancing sugar plum fairies plum fantastic sugar plum ballerinas toebox trouble

Below is Deborah’s list of categories from A – Z and her answers off the top of her head.


AUTHOR:  John Green

BERRY: Strawberry

COLOR: Indigo

DOG BREED: Bernese mountain dog




HAPPINESS IS: a purring cat

INVENTION: Fountain pen


KINDNESS…: Attention




OPPOSITES: Ignorance and knowledge

PIZZA: Vegan cheese, pesto, black olives, mushrooms!

QUIET PLACE: Muir Woods   

RHYMING WORDS: Awesome possum


TREE: Sycamore

UNUSUAL COMBINATION: Xylophone and peanut butter 


WISH…: More kindness in the world

X NAME: Xavier

YOUNG ADULT BOOK: Landscape with Invisible Hand



ME:   Not many people know indigo as the color between blue and purple in the rainbow, which also happens to be my favorite color. Is it your favorite color too and if not, is there a special reason it came to the top of your head?

DU:   I love all blues, but my favorite is probably closer to teal. I was always fascinated with the word indigo, though. It sounds so elegant! I never knew quite what it meant when I learned about the rainbow when I was a kid, and honestly, I’d still be hard-pressed to pick indigo out of a color line-up.

ME:   Like you, as a kid, I never knew the name to my favorite color. I learned it when I taught my kids the colors of the rainbow. And, since you named it as your COLOR answer, it is the color of your dialogue on this post. 😊

Many of your non-fiction children’s books are about animals and the environment.     And from your answers and your photo,                 animal secrets                                                                    it’s easy to see how much you care about them.                                           Muir Woods is a National Park and one  I’ve never been to. Please tell us about it. 101 ways to save the planet


DU:  Oh gosh, it’s just gorgeous. Its redwoods are the main draw, and they’re spectacular. There’s an easy walking path between two hillsides–accessible but often quite crowded. But you can hike up the hills and find solitude. The thing that strikes me most is the quiet. Since I live in a city, it’s rare that I get to hear silence, and it’s a real joy to experience that.

ME:   I picture a slice of heaven from your description. I just added it to my bucket list to visit. 

You also cite that happiness is a purring cat. eaaster cat                                        I understand that. I love animals too though I am more of a dog person. When Tara Lazar’s STORYSTORM was PiBoIdMo, you were Day 17, 2014’s guest blogger. And you told us how your ‘HERE COMES…CAT’ series came to be. Your cat, Bella, was your inspiration for the character. In this wonderfully humorous CAT series, will she ever get a guest starring Bernese Mountain Dog?

here comes valentine catDU: Ha! I suspect not, but in HERE COMES VALENTINE CAT, Cat ultimately makes friends with the dog next door. Cat had misjudged Dog, and, to Cat’s credit, Cat realizes the mistake and rectifies it.


 ME:   Cat has a good heart. I wonder if Cat likes snow? I wonder if Persephone likes snow. Her time of year is upon us. We know she goes to the underworld during this time, which doesn’t sound like much fun. What do you do for fun during this season?

DU:  The loss of daylight saddens me, but I’ve decided to surrender to it this year. I just read a book about hygge, the Danish art of coziness, for lack of a better English term. I’m planning to put up little white lights, get some candles (battery-operated ones, because of Bella), put on my fleece socks, curl up, and enjoy this more contemplative time of year. But I’ll also make a few outings to holiday shows, and I love looking at holiday light displays.

ME:   That sounds wonderful! I will follow suit.

Have you ever played the xylophone while eating peanut butter or is there some other connection between this unusual combination? 😊And if not, was it the flute you played when you were a street musician?

DU:   No connection at all; it just seemed unusual. I suspect peanut butter on the xylophone would alter its tone. Maybe someone should write a piece for prepared xylophone. I played flute through high school and a bit in college, but when I was a street musician, I sang and played guitar. 

ME:   I suspect you’re right. You have so many talents, Deborah, and know how to embrace your creative side. Now, embracing your silly side, using as many of your category answers as possible, off the top of your head, will you write a quick children’s story.

DU:  Once upon a time, John Green’s Bernese mountain dog found an indigo strawberry. Every day, he took the strawberry through the pine grove, down to the shore, and showed it to his sea turtle friend, Persephone. But one day a purring cat, wanting attention, pierced the strawberry with a red fountain pen and ran away with it. Because of that, Persephone and the dog chased her into Muir Woods. Because of that, the cat hid behind a tourist who was spouting off about wisdom and knowledge. Because of that, the tourist sneezed and gave the cat’s location away. Until finally they caught the cat, took back the indigo strawberry, and told her she could only eat kale for a week as punishment. “Awesome possum,” said the cat, who knew a children’s author who would let her trade the kale for cat food. And ever since then, the dog and Persephone have been more careful with their precious indigo strawberry.

(Thanks to my friend Kenn Adams for his story spine, an excellent tool for writers—Google it!) 

ME:   You are incredible Deborah! I can see this as a published story. And thank you for the excellent writing tip! I googled and bookmarked.

A fantastic start to the world having more kindness in it is by giving children more thoughtful and kind books to read. What new projects do you have coming up?
DU:   I have a bunch of books in the pipeline: MONSTER AND MOUSE GO CAMPING,

M&M cover Amazon

illustrated by Jared Chapman; SUPER SAURUS AND THE EGG, SS ama illustrated by Ned Young; PART-TIME MERMAID illustrated by part time mermaidCambria Evans; WALRUS IN THE BATHTUB, illustrated by Matt Hunt are all coming out next year. And I’m thrilled that READING BEAUTY, a companion book to INTERSTELLAR CINDERELLA that will be illustrated by Meg Hunt, is on the way, too. 

Thanks so much for asking me to play the ABC game, Traci! 

ME:   Thank you so much Deborah for playing ABC Game with us today. This was a great start to the weekend. 😊

Readers, if you would like to learn more about Deborah and her books look here (Books make wonderful gifts for all ages): 

You can also find her on social media here:

Twitter: @underwoodwriter


Thank you for stopping by today! 

If you enjoyed this edition of the ABC Game, please share it!

Have a fantastic weekend!













With Author/Illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton

nessayellow5 (1)

The ABC song is one of the first fun songs we teach our children to sing. Why? Because the alphabet is the backbone for learning to read and write. For some people, reading and writing is not fun at all. Which is why I came up with my ABC game. My new series, ABC’S OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD offers a new way to have fun with the alphabet. Every week, a children’s author, illustrator, literary agent or editor will share their ‘Top of the head’ answers to the ABC category list they were given, A to Z. Following their answers, I ask a few questions to gain a little insight into their world.

Feel free to play along, maybe your answer off the top of your head will match theirs. Enjoy!

Our ABC game contestant today is Vanessa Brantley-Newton, author and illustrator of dont let auntie mabel and let freedom sing and also illustrator of numerous picture books and chapter books  the youngest marcherone lovethanksgiving for emily annthink bigthe hula-hoopin queenmagic trash  ruby 1

mary had a little glam

ready to read    to show a few.

Below is Vanessa’s list of categories from A – Z along with her answers.

ANTONYM FOR AWFUL:  Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

BEST SONG EVER:  Feeling Good


DAY OF WEEK:  Friday


FRUIT:  Grapes


HAPPINESS IS:  being loved


JEWEL:  Ethiopian Opal

KINDNESS…:  Is a must

LAUGH (WHAT MAKES YOU):  Stories told by my favorite Comedian Arnez J

MUSICAL:  Daddy Long Legs



PIRATE NAME:   Black Jack Shellac

QUIET PLACE:   Old country house

ROCK:   River


TREE:  Cedar

UNUSUAL COLOR:   Magenta  



X NAME:  Xena



ME: Welcome Vanessa! Wow! As I read your Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious category sheet, I answered them off the top of my head too and we had three in common: Friday (I love Fridays!), Venus, and cedar. I am envious I did not think of Bugs Bunny though. Is he one of your favorites and if so, why?

VBN:  Oh my gosh is one of the very first cartoon characters that I would fall in love with! I love the antics and the comedy of him. 

ME:  Bugs is the coolest! Speaking of cool, I’ve heard you sing; you have a beautiful voice. It’s uplifting and soulful. Makes sense you chose FEELING GOOD as the best song ever. But there are a few songs with that same title. Which one is the song for your answer? When did it become the best song ever for you?

VBN: Feeling Good by Nina Simone! I first heard this song many years ago. It was something about the way Nina sang it. It was a song of course, but poetry at the same time and even after that is was a story for me. It created word pictures for me. It speaks to my soul as an artist.

ME:   I understand why! That song resonates loving life. Makes sense why that’s the best song ever for you since your love for life shines through you and your illustrations as well as your love for uplifting music too. I’ve heard you sing…you are wonderful! You fill your audience with joy. 

I cannot place the musical DADDY LONG LEGS, but the title suggests it could be about a dancer, a basketball player, a musician, or an arachnid…will you tell us about it?

VBN: I am a big fan of musicals and this one has two of my favorite actor/ dancers in it. Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron.

Daddy Long Legs is a stage musical based on the novel of the same name by Jean Webster. It was written by John Caird, with music and lyrics by Paul Gordon. Set in turn-of-the-century New England, the musical tells the story of orphan Jerusha Abbott of the John Grier Home and her mysterious benefactor who agrees to send her to college, who she dubs “Daddy Long Legs” after seeing his elongated shadow. Under the conditions of her benefactor, Jerusha sends him a letter once a month, describing her new-found experiences with life outside the orphanage.

ME:  I cannot believe I did not recognize that musical classic! Leslie and Fred were incredible! Like your ‘G’ and ‘H’ answers, that story is filled with love. I’ve read numerous picture books you have illustrated and in each one, love shines through your illustrations and you also infuse humor. I’m not sure you can share any of Arnez J’s stories, but maybe you can share one of your favorite stories with us that makes you laugh.

VBN: I come from a very religious background and so much stuff went down at church. First of all it was like going back into the 50’s when you walked in. It was filled with characters that I still remember! My mom use to make the most delicious Pineapple Upside-down cake this side of heaven! Oh my goodness, it was truly to fight and die for!! Okay, so the Pastors wife was a very spiritual woman and pious. I never saw her ever come out of her face at anyone, but this Sunday my mom had made her cake and brought it to the church social. Well, other members had brought their cakes too, but there was something magical, spiritual, almost life altering about this cake. Now, my moms’ cake was famous at our church and everyone always wanted seconds and third of this cake. The Pastor’s wife didn’t treat my mom the best and was a little smug when it came to my mom, but something would come over this poor woman when it came to my mother’s Pineapple Upside-down Cake!! The Pastor’s wife would sneak downstairs to the kitchen and tell the other women to hide my mother’s cake. It was my mom’s joy to see people eating that delicious cake! So mom comes down stairs to the church kitchen and see’s everyone else’s cake except hers and of course she went to investigating where the cake might have gone. These where church women mind you, so they didn’t want to lie, so no one answered. She asked again because there were people asking about it? “Where is Sister Shirley’s Pineapple Upside-Down? We’ve been waiting the whole service for it.” So my very bold mom rushes into the church kitchen to find her cake hide in the back of the fridge in somebody ‘s cake carrier with the Pastor’s wife’s name on it! I guess we all have weaknesses! LOL!

ME:  Wow! The poor Pastor’s wife was sick with jealousy over your mom’s delicious  cake. She must not have known the secret behind your mom’s cake was that it was made with love just like Mother Nature makes things. Such as the Ethiopian Opal. Is there a tidbit or story behind this answer? Could this tidbit or story have anything to do with Captain Jack Shellac? 😉

VBN: LOL!!! I just love Ethiopian Opal. The pinks and blues and greens are just beautiful. All the colors that I love all mixed into one beautiful opal. That is all I know. Nothing deep! Tee hee~! 

ME:   They have an ethereal quality. Somehow I think maybe someday, one will appear in one of your beautiful books. 😊 I am adding to my mustread list of books, and need to know if the SOLO book you named is the one written by Kwame Alexender?

VBN: YASSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!! Magnificent Book!! Get it and read it. 

ME:   Yay, I was correct! I just added it to my list.

When I read ‘Walruses:… rock’, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious images floated through my mind. Like your newest books this year that I have not read yet… jada jones 1  a night out with mamaearly sunday morningsasha savvy loves to code I am leaping into the future here…what can you tell us about your current or upcoming projects? (am hoping a walrus appears in one of them soon.) Feel free to use art here to show us or text to tell us.

VBN: So, I really love relationship stories. Grandma and granddaughter situations because I spent a lot of summers with all of my grandparents and they were totally interesting to me!!! So I wrote a story about a little girl who is interested in what is in her Grandma’s Purse and so goes the name LOL!! I love all things retro, but as a child I didn’t see myself in children’s books in the 60’s, Not until Ezra Jack Keats came out with The Snowy Day. I also loved Madeline, but she never had a black friend and this saddened me deeply because I always thought that she and I could have been great friends. So, with the help of Nancy Paulsen and Random House Books I will be doing a book about the black Madeline so to speak. LOL! Her name is Jewels. I am very excited about this book! It will be done in pen and ink and I can’t wait to share it with the world. I haven’t worked on it yet, but I can share some images from Grandma’s Purse due out in Jan 2018! grandma's purse


Clone of Grand...B2B_tmp002

ME:   So glad you gave us a sneak peek into GRANDMA’S PURSE and your new black Madeline book! 

Thank you Vanessa for playing ABC’s OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD! This was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious fun! We can’t wait to enjoy your new books. 😊

To learn more about Vanessa and her or her books, you can find her at:


Thank you Readers for stopping today. If you enjoyed this edition of ABC’’S OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD, please share it and leave a comment for Vanessa or me.

#justkeepcreating #justkeepcreating














With Young Adult author, Charlotte Bennardo 

Friday, November 10, 2017

The ABC song is one of the first fun songs we teach our children to sing. Why? Because the alphabet is the backbone for learning to read and write. For some people, reading and writing is not fun at all.  Char-0026

My new series, ABC’S OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD offers a new way to have fun with the alphabet. Every week, a children’s author, illustrator, literary agent or editor will share their ‘top of the head’ answers to the ABC category list they were given, A to Z. Following their answers, I ask a few questions to gain a little insight into their world.

Feel free to play along, maybe your answer off the top of your head will match theirs. Enjoy!

Welcome young adult/middle grade author, Charlotte Bennardo, to today’s edition!  

Blonde ops        sirenz        Sirenz Back in Fashion FINAL

Below is Charlotte’s category sheet and her answers off the top of her head.

ANIMAL:  squirrel

BODY OF WATER:  Caribbean Sea

CANDY:  Snickers!

DECADE:  90s

EVERY CHILD…:  should have books!

FISH:  Dory!

GAME:  Scrabble

HAPPINESS IS…:  a cup of chai, a good book, a purring cat and fuzzy blankie on a cold day.

INVENTION:  pool heater! Can swim spring & fall!

JUNK FOOD:  ice creammmmmmmmm

KNOW HOW TO:  house paint like a pro.

LAUGH (WHAT MAKES YOU):  Slapstick humor like ‘Home Alone’

METAL:  18k gold…

NUMBER (FAVORITE & WHY):  11-my birthday is 11/11, I was born in the 11th hour.

OUTDOOR ACTIVITY:  swimming in my pool! (or the Caribbean…)

PASTIME:  crafts- used to do them, now, no time, I’m writing!

QUIET WORD:  Library!

RANDOM THOUGHT:  Is it too late for tea and cookies?

SYNONYM FOR GREAT:  fantabulous!

TOY:  yarn – and a cat.

UNUSUAL COLOR:  peacock green  

VILLAIN:  Darth Vader

WISH:  can’t tell you. yet.

XANADU FOR YOU:  beachside, Caribbean, book in hand, cold drink, tropical breeze.

YELLOW THINGS:  sun! daffodils! Little girls’ dresses! Easter eggs!

ZOO:  Berlin Zoo

ME:  There is a common word in your answers…Caribbeanbeach And since you have a series out…

Evolution Revolution 1  Evolution revolution 2  Evolution revolution 3

 I am guessing you like series. Have you ever wanted to be in the ‘PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN’ movies?

CB:  Sailing the seas! Adventure! Treasure! And I get to swing a sword? Who wouldn’t?

ME:  Good point! If Darth Vader snuck into the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies, what do you think he would want to accomplish?

CB: He’d have a big black ship and be the baddest pirate and control all the seas…

ME:  Darth definitely has his work cut out for him then. But what a fun book series it would make! I believe there would be a slapstick element to it. Like you, I love slapstick humor, especially the HOME ALONE movies. They are fantabulous! Every time I paint in our house, visions from those movies make their appearance and I pray I don’t dump the paint. You say you can paint your house like a pro. What is your current color palette and have you ever painted a room in an unusual color?

CB: My living room is sage green, family room beige, dining room is pale golden yellow, kitchen is peach, my office is a mauvish-rose, my bedroom in Tuscan gold, and my master bath is a Tuscan-orange. But the most unusual was when I painted the bedroom in metallic, burnished gold. (I was going for an Egyptian theme, but the hubs hated it… Not a man of vision.)

ME:  Not the colors Darth would pick but definitely ones I love! Your house sounds serene.

Why did you pick the 90’s as your decades answer?

CB: So many good things were going on! Had my 3 boys, was able to write full time, I was feeling great- and I hadn’t lost anyone I loved…

ME:  I agree, it was a good decade. 😊 And cool new toys were being developed. But one of the best toys ever came long ago…a ball of yarn. kitten So many uses and so fun to watch a cat play with. Is it too late for tea and cookies?

CB: Never! I was trying to be sensible by not eating after dinner (but that never works out).

ME:  Sensible is never much fun. What happens if you combine Snickers and ice cream?

snickersyum scooping ice cream

CB: Children magically appear.  

ME:  HAHAHA!!!! Best answer ever! I hope your boys read this post. 😉

I know you are not supposed to tell what you wish for but can you give us a tiny clue? And if not, will you tell us about any upcoming projects you have or give us a juicy tidbit of fun news?

CB: Have to sew my lips together on the secret (for now), but I can tell you I have a new middle grade series I’m working on, fractured ‘classics.’ The only thing juicy was the dead mouse my cat gifted me with. The bug might have been juicy; she ate it. 

ME:  Cats know how to present, don’t they? At least your cat was thoughtful enough to take care of both pests for you. Not sure if she was intending on you eating the mouse and was sharing it, or instead being selfish in eating the bug, but it’s the thought that counts.

As for the new middle grade fractured classics series…YAY!!!!!

We will look for an announcement about your secret on your webpage!

Thank you so much Charlotte for playing the ABC Game with us and letting us into your world. By the way, HAPPY BIRTHDAY one day early!!!!! We Scorpios rock. 😊 (Mine is the 14th) 

Readers, thank you for being a part of this blog and catching up with Charlotte today! If you would like to know more about her including her social media and how to buy her books, her bio is below.

Until Hollywood calls, Charlotte lives in NJ with her husband, three children, two needy cats and sometimes a deranged squirrel. The Evolution Revolution trilogy: Simple Machines, Simple Plans, and Simple Lessons are her first solo novels. She is co-author of Blonde Ops (St. Martin’s/Dunne) and the Sirenz series: Sirenz, Sirenz Back In Fashion, (Flux), and one of 13 authors in the anthology, Beware the Little White Rabbit (Leap). To put books in the hands of kids, she contributed to the fundraising ebook anthology of horror, Scare Me To Sleep. She’s written for magazines and newspapers, and has given presentations and workshops at NJ SCBWI conferences, schools, libraries, and other venues. Currently she’s working on sci fi, historical, fantasy, and time travel novels for middle grade, young and new adult readers. Connect with her on Twitter (charbennardo), Author Charlotte Bennardo on FB, on Pinterest and Instagram as Charlotte Bennardo, and through her blog, 

Have a fantastic weekend everyone!!!


With Freelance Editor & Humor Author, Chuck Sambuchino 

The ABC song is one of the first fun songs we teach our children to sing. Why? Because the alphabet is the backbone for learning to read and write. For some people, reading and writing is not fun at all. 

My new series, ABC’S OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD offers a new way to have fun with the alphabet. Every week, a children’s author, illustrator, literary agent or editor will share their ‘top of the head’ answers to the ABC category list they were given, A to Z. Following their answers, I ask a few questions to gain a little insight into their world.

Feel free to play along, maybe your answer off the top of your head will match theirs. Enjoy! 

Our contestant this week is Chuck Sambuchino, Chuck-webformer longtime editor for Writer’s Digest, now freelance, author, and authority on how to get published and build your author platform. 

Get-a-Literary-Agent-LARGE-195x300 2017-CWIM-228x300 2017-GLA-230x300 create your writer platform

Below are his list of categories from A – Z and his answers off the top of his head.





EVERY CHILD:  deserves safety and love.

FAVORITE FOOD:  Chicken Fingers




JAMMING SONG:  “Jane Says” by Jane’s Addiction


LAUGH (WHAT MAKES YOU):  Sassy humor, a little on the dark side

MONSTER:  Clowns



PICKLES (YES OR NO):  Hell no.

‘Q’ WORD:  Quick

ROCK BAND:  Van Halen


TOY:  Story

UNIQUE COLOR:  Burnt Sienna 

VIRTUE:  Compassion

WORDS OF WISDOM:  Enjoy your youth.

X (word that begins with):  Xerxes. “Pharoah coulda saved your ass.”


ZANIEST THING YOU’VE DONE:  Get obsessed with pickleball.


ME:  Immediately after I read your answers, I thought of your three hilariously tubular books:        how to survive a garden gnome attackred dog, blue dog when when clowns attack a survival

I have read them all. In theaters now is the cinema remake of Stephen King’s IT which correlates with WHEN CLOWNS ATTACK: A SURVIVAL GUIDE. Did Stephen’s book have any part in you creating your clown book?

CS: Ohhh yes. I saw “It” (the TV miniseries) when I was about ten, and it scared for me at least a decade. My parents had no business letting me see that film when I was so young. It traumatized me. I never forgot about it. Several years ago, I pitched a book on how to survive a clown attack. The publishers passed on it. So I paid a local book designer to design a creepy mock cover for the book. Then we passed that mock cover on to same publisher, and they said, “My God, these people are HORRIFYING! We must publish this!” It was good to know my anti-clown movement touched a nerve. 

ME:  Many people belong to your anti-clown movement.

Onto clowning around: I didn’t know chickens had fingers. (Sorry, had to write it). Anyways, your favorite food is chicken fingers and you named Heavenly Hash as an ice cream flavor. I’ve seen numerous people dunk their chicken strips into their Frosty at Wendy’s and wondered if you do the same with chicken fingers and Heavenly Hash ice cream?

CS: Never tried it. Frankly, I love them both so much that I don’t want to mix the two. Sounds dangerous. Too risky. 

ME:   I agree: great as stand-alones, period. Like pickles. I don’t like them on anything. As a relish, yes, but as a pickle, no. You don’t care for pickles, yet you are obsessed with pickleball. Would you please elaborate on this?

CS: Totally different things. Pickles are icky. Pickleball, which is a sport similar to tennis, is addictive and awesome. If you’re looking for a sport to get involved in, look online for local pickleball leagues.

 ME:  Thank you for the explanation. Honestly, I had never heard of pickleball until I read your answer. I had to look it up to make sure you weren’t pulling my leg.

I noticed on your category sheet you didn’t answer HISTORICAL FIGURE. But when I read your list further, you had named one: Xerxes. Xerxes 1, also called Xerxes the great, was born in 519 BC as part of the Achaemenid Empire which he became fourth king of. What can you tell us about the Xerxes you quoted? My guess is he is not the same Xerxes but I could be wrong.

CS: My answer is basically a joke, which goes back to the fact that I crack jokes at any opportunity in life. My exact answer given was “Xerxes. Pharoah coulda saved your ass.” I love movies, and thus I love quoting movies. In the film Go (1999), characters are playing a game that involves naming famous figures. Someone is challenged with naming a figure that begins with the letter X but cannot name anyone. A little later, another character, chiming in, suggests Xerxes the Pharaoh, adding that this “Pharaoh coulda saved your ass.” I just always liked the line, and the movie. By the way, if you recognized that line before I explained where it was from, then you are awesome.

ME:  Laughing. I do remember you having a great sense of humor when I attended your Midwest Writer’s Workshop. And, I’ll take the ‘awesome’ compliment as I did recognize the line but could not remember where from. 😊 My daughters are phenomenal remembering lines & quotes from songs and shows/movies but I do not share that talent. I am guessing you also have a talent for playing trombone?

CS: I played trombone for six years in marching band and concert band. I am Lower Brass til I die. If you were also a bando, then you are awesome. 

ME:  Lost my awesomeness. ☹ My spry 93 year-old neighbor says “Youth is wasted on the youth” which is similar to your words of wisdom answer. Do you agree?

CS: The exact quote is “Youth is wasted on the young,” attributed to either Shaw or Wilde, depending on who you ask. And yes, I agree. I’m at this weird age where I can see my five-year-old daughter growing up so fast and I can also see my parents growing old. I now realize that time is now more valuable than ever. I want to enjoy these years. I am getting back into sports more (pickleball!) because I don’t know how long I will be able to play with all the gusto I want. So yes, enjoy your youth. 

ME:  Good advice! 

Using as many answers from your category sheet as you can, please write us a synopsis of a book you would like to write. And, what projects are you currently working on?

CS: Right now, I am working with my agent to prepare some kidlit nonfiction book proposals. Since I left Writer’s Digest in early 2017 (after twelve years there), I have become a full-time freelance editor. So nowadays, I help people with their books and queries instead of writing my own. (This could change, but right now this is the course and I love it.) 

Very quick synopsis: “Jenny gets Van Halen to play at her Toy-Story-themed Sweet Sixteen birthday party and perform their unreleased new hit, ‘Burnt Sienna Pickleball Clowns.’ ” That’s about all I got right now.

 ME:  Good to know. Writing queries is not the most fun for many a writer so your services are greatly appreciated.

Thank you so much Chuck for being a contestant! Best of luck to you on your new endeavor. One last thing, where can writers find you online for your editing services and/or social media outlets?

CS: Just visit That website has details on how to contact me if you need help with your query, synopsis, proposal, or manuscript. Also, I still teach at about 12 writing conferences a year, so you can visit my website to see where I’ll be in the future and good writing conferences all around the country. 

ME:  As an attendee to one of Chuck’s conferences, I can affirm they are worth going to. Check out his website and see how he can be of help to you if you are a writer. And if you are looking for a great humorous read, check out one of his humor books shown above.

Readers, thank you stopping by today. Have a tubular weekend!

#justkeepwriting #justkeepcreating