That moment.

One of my favorite movies is Julie & Julia. Not just because it’s about cooking, or because it was written and directed by the transcendent Nora Ephron, or because it stars Queen Meryl Streep. I love it because it’s about writing, and specifically, about the arduous process of writing (and rewriting) a book you love, and then trying (and trying, and trying) to get it published. I love just about every scene in the movie, but the one that brings me to tears every time is the last one: Julia is cooking in her kitchen when Paul brings in the mail and hands her a package. She opens it, and inside is a finished copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. You can see how choked up she gets, and then she and Paul laugh with joy.

You can therefore imagine my reaction when this arrived a few days ago:



Yes, it’s a finished copy of The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters: The Jolly Regina. This book took years, and more effort than anyone will ever know.

I talk a lot about the craft of writing here, and the process of publishing, and the not-always-skyward trajectory of this author’s career. But I would like to take this moment to celebrate what just might be the very best part of it all, when your “baby” is finally born, and you get to hold it in your arms. It is a feeling like no other. Truly, I weep, with relief and with joy.

And then, as ever, I get back to writing.

Naming Names

An idea for a story is a little, crackling miracle. But you have to do something with it, sooner rather than later, before it flames out. For me, the next step in story development is to pick my protagonist’s name. For me, naming the main character (or characters) brings them and the story into  existence.

I have a thing for names. My own name has been a source of frustration for me, for as long as I can remember — it’s hard for people to spell and to pronounce. Because of this, I’ve become obsessed with remembering names and their proper spellings and pronunciations, and this has led me to an interest in names in general. And finding just the right name for a character gives me a singular thrill — it’s as if that perfect match lights a figurative match to my idea.

When I envisioned a story about a boy obsessed with cars…of course, his name needed to be Otto.

A story about a lonely porcupine? Well, hello there, Mr. Prickles.

A story about table manners illustrated in a retro style, featuring two well-mannered children? Welcome, Evie and Simon.

When I first conceived of the story that would become THE INFAMOUS RATSOS, I knew I wanted my characters to be loosely based on my grandfather and his brother, Ralph and Louis Rizzo, so I knew they would be boys named Ralphie and Louie. Then I recalled the character of Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy, and voila! I not only had the last name Ratso — that name inspired me to make the characters rats. As for the other characters, I hope you can tell how much fun I had naming Florinda “Fluffy” Rabbitski, Chad Badgerton, and Tiny Crawley, as well as the grownups — Big Lou, Miss Beavers, Mr. O’Hare, and my personal favorite, Mrs. Porcupini. The animal characters in THE INFAMOUS RATSOS are much more anthropomorphized than anything I’ve ever written before, so their names had to be the right combination of human and animal (and funny). I like to think I got them just right.

With the protagonists of my upcoming middle grade series, The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, I couldn’t find human names that seemed boring enough, so I started thinking about non-human names. I knew I wanted a “J” name and a “K” name, so it didn’t take long for me to hit on Jaundice and Kale, and then I was on my way. Those names really set the absurd tone of the story. Some of the other character names are an homage to Herman Melville’s work — Princess “Kwee-Kweg” is a riff on Queequeg from Moby Dick, Millie Mudd references Billy Budd, and Mr. Bartleby the mail carrier is an allusion to the story “Bartleby the Scrivener.”And of course, the mysterious pirate Captain Ann Tennille is a wink to this throwback. (Most of my Bland Sisters jokes — name-related or otherwise — are for kids, but every once in a while, I like to throw out a little funny for the grownups. More to come on this mix of humor.)

What are some of your favorite character names?




Falling Behind

I’m the kind of person who likes to deliver ahead of schedule, so you can imagine how I feel about falling behind in my work. But that’s where I am now. A combination of unforeseen (though totally necessary) additional rounds of revision on two projects and a nasty bout of pneumonia has left me with a lengthy To-Do list and an abiding feeling of panic and dread.

The way I see it, the more work I have ready to send out, the more potential earnings I have coming in. Stagnation = starvation. And I’ve told you all about my mantra; anything or anyone that might get in the way of “making it happen” (even myself) is intolerable to me. So the state I’m in right now is excruciating.

But, you know, everything is a lesson. Being a creative person — or any person with any kind of life goal, really — requires hard work and determination and perseverance, but it also requires resilience. So I’m learning from this less-than-ideal experience, figuring out just how I’m going to regroup, and trying to work out a new schedule that accommodates my past-due projects and some new deadlines on the horizon. Through it all, I keep reminding myself that all I can do is my best. That’s all we can ever do, right?



Making It Happen

Hello, friends. So, as I mentioned on Monday, I ended up taking a vacation last month, and then getting a terrible cold on said vacation. Because I can never leave well enough (or sick enough) alone, my cold morphed into viral bronchitis, which then morphed into pneumonia. I just started taking antibiotics — fingers crossed that they clear things up FAST.

Unfortunately, my revision of the second Bland Sisters story was due last month, when my bronchitis was at its worst; while my wonderful editor did give me a few extra days beyond my original deadline, I still felt awful and foggy-headed, AND it turned out that my husband was away for the whole weekend prior to my revised due date. I ended up hiring a babysitter for the duration, locked myself in the bedroom with my laptop and a big box of tissues, and got to work.

This is not to say I didn’t take care of myself. I ate lots of soup and applesauce, and took naps whenever I could. Also, I stopped caring about the fact that the house was messy, or that I never really unpacked our suitcases from our trip, or that I was basically living in my pajamas. BUT. I also knew I had a job to do, and that job was writing. So I summoned all the physical and mental strength I had, and I made it happen.

Many (many!) years ago, I ran for Student Council President in high school. My slate’s slogan was “We won’t just watch things happen — we’ll make things happen.” Since then, “make it happen” has been my mantra. It’s what I say when I really want something. It’s what I say when I’m facing any kind of adversity. It’s why I get frustrated when I encounter people who live passively, as if they’re sitting by a river, waiting for whatever they want to float by. Sorry, friends, it doesn’t work that way. Not only do you have to jump in, you have to be willing to swim against the current. You have to be willing to get swept away. You have to know you’re going to get knocked down, over and over and over again, and still get back up each and every time. Sometimes, you’ll get back up and realize your bathing suit is missing and feel like everyone is laughing at you. Sometimes, the water will feel SO COLD and it will get into your lungs and you’ll start coughing and sputtering and feel like you’re maybe drowning. But still, even then.

Come on in, friends. The water’s fine. (Well, it seems fine now. But if and when it isn’t, you’re strong and you’re ready and your bathing suit is securely fastened.) Let’s make it happen.

Travels with Shame and Inadequacy

Last fall, as I was drafting the second book in the Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters trilogy, I read BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert. (Go get yourself a copy RIGHT NOW. I’ll wait.)

BIG MAGIC is tremendously inspiring and comforting, as it looks at the creative process from an almost spiritual point of view. On at least one occasion, Elizabeth Gilbert name-checks Brené Brown, so when I finished the book, I decided to check her out. Boy, am I glad I did.

Brené Brown is a researcher, educator, and public speaker who specializes in topics of shame and inadequacy. Those two have been my jam (and by “jam” I mean “bane of my existence”) for as long as I can remember, so Brené has become like my brilliant, golden, straight-talkin’ angel.

In particular, I’ve read I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), The Gifts of Imperfection, and Daring Greatly. Though the first deals primarily with shame, the second with imperfection and inadequacy, and the third with vulnerability and courage (i.e. how shame and our fears of inadequacy and imperfection hamper our ability to be emotionally vulnerable/courageous), all of these issues are so intertwined that it helps to read all three back-to-back. They are The Lord of the Rings of emotional healing.

I’ve also watched both of Brené Brown’s TED talks on the power of vulnerability and listening to shame, which are among the most popular talks TED has produced. And they’re not specifically for artists, so even if you don’t consider yourself a creative person, please watch them. Because, unfortunately, shame and inadequacy are equal-opportunity tormentors.

Of course, I still struggle, and I probably always will. When you’ve been conditioned to feel that what other people think of you is more important than what you think about yourself, that failing or being imperfect (or even just making choices that don’t meet someone else’s standards) makes you a bad/unlovable/inadequate/shameful person, and that vulnerability is weakness, life (and especially a creative life) can seem joyless, if not completely impossible. I’m grateful I’ve been able to refresh my perspective, whether as a byproduct of trauma (losing my job, being diagnosed with cancer, losing loved ones) or in more benign ways (surrounding myself with supportive friends, seeking therapy, and discovering wise teachers like Elizabeth Gilbert and Brené Brown). But those negative emotions will always be a part of me. I can only do what Elizabeth Gilbert advises, regarding fear — the feelings of shame and inadequacy might always be in the car with me, but I can’t allow them to drive.

I do have a lot more to say about the emotional side of writing, and the topics of shame and inadequacy and emotional vulnerability/courage in particular; how I deal with them, and how, sometimes, I can’t. In some ways, it’s seemed a bit off-topic (the self-imposed topic being “craft”), but it really is an intrinsic part of my creative process, as much as research and drafting and revision might be. So, do you want to hear more? If so, I am happy to oblige.


Host Your Own INFAMOUS RATSOS Party!

Hello, friends. So, after I posted about last Saturday’s INFAMOUS RATSOS launch party, with the photos of all the goodies I made, I wondered, would anyone be interested in the recipes and instructions?

And then I thought, maybe classrooms and book clubs might want to host their own Infamous parties, where they could talk about the book together, enjoy yummy treats, and make some Kindness Cards for those who might be in need of a pick-me-up — a senior center, for instance, or a children’s hospital. Wouldn’t that be the best thing EVER?

Well, whatever your interest might be, here are all the recipes, and all the instructions for creating all of the activities. Let me know if you have any questions — and of course, if you DO have a party based on my stuff, take some photos and send them to me! Even better — post them online with the hashtag #theinfamousratsos!

Without further ado, let’s get this party started!


Mr. Porcupini’s Prickly Pickle Dip


Illustration from THE INFAMOUS RATSOS, copyright 2016 by Matt Myers.


1 tablespoon of fresh dill

1/3c diced dill pickle

5 tablespoons dill pickle juice

2 8oz packages of cream cheese, softened

1 bag of pretzel sticks


Put the dill, pickle, pickle juice, and cream cheese in a bowl. Mix until fully blended. Refrigerate for a few hours, to allow the flavors to mingle.

When ready to serve, garnish bowl with pretzel sticks to resemble a porcupine!


Mr. O’Hare’s Mini Carrot Cake Cheesecake Cupcakes


Illustration from THE INFAMOUS RATSOS, copyright 2016 by Matt Myers.

makes 48


1 box of carrot cake mix, prepared accordingly

2 8oz packages of cream cheese, room temperature

2 eggs, room temperature

1/4 cup sour cream, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla


Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Prepare carrot cake mix.

In a separate bowl, blend all other ingredients together.

Using a teaspoon, fill each mini cupcake tin halfway with carrot cake mix (I used mini cupcake liners; if preferred, you can go without and spray the tins, but I can’t promise they’ll pop out easily!). Finish with a dollop (teaspoon full) of cheesecake mixture.

Bake for 20-20 minutes (check oven regularly) until the cheesecake topping just starts to brown on the edges.



Tiny Crawley’s Tiny Chocolate Chippers


Illustration from THE INFAMOUS RATSOS, copyright 2016 by Matt Myers.

Makes 50 cookies


1 box of chocolate chip cookie mix (I swear by Ghirardelli’s), prepared according to box


Using a teaspoon (teaspoon should be half-full of cookie dough each time), drop onto cookie sheets (I line with parchment paper), then roll each into a ball.

Bake at 325 for 10-12 minutes (ovens may vary).


Fluffy Rabbitski’s Carrots in a Blanket

ratsos.happy fluffy

Illustration from THE INFAMOUS RATSOS, copyright 2016 by Matt Myers.



2 sheets of puff pastry, thawed according to instructions

24 baby carrots

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon of olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 425.
  2. Toss carrots in olive oil, dill, salt, and pepper. Spread out on baking sheet, and bake for 20-30 minutes until roasted and a bit soft.
  3. Open up pastry, cut each sheet into 12 pieces. (Make sure each piece is long enough to roll up the carrot, but narrow enough that a little bit of carrot pokes out at each end.)
  4. Roll up one carrot in each pastry strip. Dab a bit of water on the end of the pastry strip to seal. Place each wrapped carrot seam-side down on baking sheet (line sheet with parchment paper).
  5. Bake 15-20 minutes, until crisp and golden.
  6. Serve with honey mustard, your favorite dressing, or on their own!


Big Lou’s Big Ole Fruit Platter and Louie and Ralphie’s Easy Cheeses


Illustration from THE INFAMOUS RATSOS, copyright 2016 by Matt Myers.

Each serves 15


Fruit (whatever you prefer, but be sure to include strawberries and grapes), cut into bite-sized pieces

3-4 different blocks of cheese (varieties up to you), cubed

An assortment of crackers


Arrange separately or together on one platter, as one big happy family! Garnish with strawberries and grapes.




Be creative! As an example, you can see how I set everything up below. Download, print, cut out, and fold these party food labels to let your guests know just what treats you’re serving!IMG_1263


Photo Booth Fun

In the interest of time, I ended up buying all my props from Amazon, but if you’re feeling particularly creative, you can make your own!

You’ll need:

Masks (I bought 2 of these and 2 of these)

Signs (I used 12 of these chalkboard signs, and wrote on them with these chalkboard paint markers)

A backdrop (the bookstore provided one for me, but you can make your own with a white sheet or large piece of posterboard, decorated any way you like)



Time to pose! Make sure everyone tags their photos with #theinfamousratsos before posting!


My friends and I, playing with the photo booth props. Say CHEESE!


Match Game

A fun little activity for younger guests, using this downloadable sheet. Make a copy for each of your guests, then provide  markers or crayons so you can all color them in and draw lines between the Ratsos’ pranks and their (ultimately-grateful!) victims.

Kindness Card

A lovely project to decorate and give to someone (a parent? a sibling? a neighbor? a teacher? a friend?) who might need a little extra kindness. These cards can be used on their own as sweet tokens, of course, but they’re also great to give along with baked goods, little gifts, or other kind gestures (snow shoveling, yard work, chores around the house, etc). You could even choose a worthy cause before your INFAMOUS RATSOS party (such as a senior center or children’s hospital) and have everyone make the cards while they eat the treats you’ve prepared.

You can download the cards here, then just cut each sheet in half and fold each like a card. Provide some crayons, markers, stickers, glitter, etc etc, and your guests can decorate however they like. Don’t forget to address and sign them! Use your imagination and Be Kind!

Whew! That’s it. Hope this was helpful. FYI, I’ll put all of this up on a designated INFAMOUS RATSOS Pinterest board next week when I have some more time, so it’s easy to access.








Adding the Eggs

So, I’ve been given a month (!!!) to revise my novel, the second in the Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters trilogy. Like everyone else, I get tense and sweaty when faced with the prospect of revision. But when I’m doing it, it actually seems kind of…fun?

I do hate the first read of editorial comments, where it all feels so overwhelming and potentially impossible. As Kate DiCamillo has said of the editorial process (which I tried not to take too personally!), “It feels like I’ve already baked a cake, and now you want me to add eggs!” To assuage this feeling, I set aside the editorial comments once I’ve finished reading them. This cooling-off period is crucial, because A.) I need this time to CALM DOWN, and B.) it’s at this time, when I’m not writing or even thinking about writing, that my brain comes up with the best ideas. I make sure to write down any and all of them in my journal.

Once I feel as if I have a refreshed outlook and some innovations, I review the editorial comments again and break them down into tasks. And then I read through the manuscript again, with those tasks in mind. This is where it seems like a game (or where I’ve somehow convinced myself that it’s a game!), where my goal is to find just the right places to incorporate the editorial suggestions. After I’ve reviewed the manuscript and made all my notes re: where to cut and change and insert text, I go through the whole thing again, chapter by chapter, and get to work.

I know I mention Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird all the time, but it really has been an indispensable writing and revising tool for me. I tend to get easily overwhelmed and discouraged, so dividing the work down into bite-sized tasks is the only way I can get through a project, in writing and in life.

All righty, then. I should get back to revising. Wish me luck — I have a week and a half to go!

Anatomy of a Setback

So, I mentioned the terrific time I had at ILA16 this past weekend. But I didn’t tell you about a little setback I experienced.

The whole reason I was attending the conference was because Abrams invited me to sign advanced reader copies (aka ARCs) of The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters: The Jolly Regina. I was psyched to do this, because it was a great opportunity to build some buzz and connect with educators; plus, the conference was in Boston, just a hop, skip, and a jump from Providence. After I got the invite from Abrams, I contacted the team at Candlewick Press and asked them if they wanted me to do a signing for The Infamous Ratsos as well; they did, though by that time it was too late to get my Ratsos signing on the official ILA schedule. Of course, that didn’t matter to me — I was thrilled to have the chance to be a part of the ILA scene, and to spread the word about the book. Plus, I knew I was already doing the big official signing at Abrams; I could promote my afternoon Ratsos signing to anyone who got a signed ARC of The Bland Sisters that morning.

And then, Saturday afternoon, the day before I was due to attend the conference, I got a call from Abrams with bad news: they’d shipped three boxes of books to ILA, and one had not turned up. What was in that wayward box? You guessed it. Among other important materials, The Bland Sisters ARCs had gone MIA. Of course, this was no one’s fault (except, possibly, the shipping company), and I’ve been in publishing (and on the publishers’ side of the fence) long enough to know that these things happen, which is what I told the very apologetic Abrams contact who delivered the news.

But after I got off the phone, I thought about the situation some more. And the more I thought about it, the more bummed I felt — my inner Eeyore took over, and started telling me, “Of course this happened to you. Your career is doomed.” And then I really started to worry — that a big opportunity to build buzz had been lost, that the success of the series launch had been compromised, that I was going to seem like a total lame-o at the conference, and that my Ratsos signing was going to be a bust. “Why even bother?” my inner Eeyore wondered. (This is his favorite refrain.)

It was not my finest moment, but I have been operating at a disadvantage lately, due to a cocktail of unpredictable perimenopausal hormones and the fact that we’ve been nighttime training our toddler, which means I’ve been waking up at 2am each night to take him to the potty. So I have been tired and cranky, and when tired and cranky have a party, Eeyore is bound to show up. The best way for me to shut it down, and really the only way, is to take a nap. I’m just glad I was in close proximity to my bed at the time, and far away from any sharp implements or heavy machinery.

The nap worked. When I woke up, I was still a little bummed, but I felt ready to turn things around. On the bright side, my cancelled 10am signing meant that I didn’t have to take the 7am train to Boston (the only one that Sunday that would have gotten me to the convention center on time), giving me an extra hour or so to sleep in — so when my rescheduled train encountered a forty minute delay, I had the wherewithal to roll with it. The train made up some time in transit, so I wasn’t completely rushed, and all my events went smoothly. Better than smoothly, in fact. I had a great Abrams-sponsored lunch with some esteemed educators, where I passed around the one Bland ARC I did have. Then, at my Ratsos signing, we went through eighty books in under an hour! (And Abrams will be sending all interested parties an ARC at a later date; I like to think that sending the book separately will make it seem more special.)

As writers (and as creative people in general), we spend so much of our time making our work the best it can be, so we can give it the best chance for success in the world. But even the best chance of success isn’t foolproof. Talent and effort and ingenuity are key, as ever. But as I’ve learned the hard way (more than once), it’s just as crucial to have patience and resilience. And to know when it’s time to take a nap.

Gettin’ My Head Around It

So, I have not one, not two, but THREE manuscripts to revise this summer. The big one is the second story in The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters trilogy; I just got editorial notes late last week, and the revision is due on August 1st (yep, you heard that right). The other two aren’t under contract yet — they haven’t even gone out on submission. One is a new chapter book, and the other is a contemporary middle grade novel.

I know what you’re thinking. Um, this seems like a lot to do in a little over two months. How are you going to manage? Also, are you CRAZY? 

Well, yes, I am a little bit crazy. I am a writer, after all. But I know I can make all of this happen, with some simple strategizing. Here’s my plan of attack:

  1. Print out and review editorial notes (whether they’re from my editor on the Bland Sisters 2, from my critique partners on the chapter book, or my own notes on the new middle grade) and take a day or so in each case to get my head around them.
  2. Read through each manuscript and flag pages and make notes where I think I can incorporate the aforementioned changes.
  3. Think about how long I have to tackle each project, and calculate how many chapters I need to address each day of my revision window (making sure to give myself some room for unforeseen delays).
  4. Stick to the schedule and DO THE WORK.

I have more time these days, since my son is in summer camp five days a week, so I’m not feeling as overwhelmed as I’ve been in the past. It DOES make me a little nervous that I’m going to be working on more than one project at a time, but I’ve done it before, and really, I can think of worse things to complain about. And of course, on top of all of this, I will make sure to blog about my progress, so we can all see just how successful I am at making all of this happen!

Have you ever had more than one deadline on your calendar? Got any advice for me?


On Not-Writing

I’ll admit it: I haven’t written a word in almost a week, other than these here blog entries. Part of the reason is that my husband was away for four days, so I was working mommy and daddy duty for the duration. But part of the reason is because I was busy doing all the other things a writer with a book (or two) on the horizon has to do. To wit:

  • I’m delivering a seminar in a few days, so I’m getting a Powerpoint presentation ready.
  • I’ve designed and ordered hundreds of promotional bookmarks.
  • I’ve been emailing with publicists about bookstore events and Skype lessons and upcoming conferences and sending out advanced reading copies of my books.
  • I’ve been compiling mailing lists for advanced reading copies of my books, and drafting letters to my writing and publishing and media friends, asking them if they want to be put on those mailing lists.

While I hate being in a state of not-writing, I am grateful for these endeavors; they get my name and my books OUT THERE. Because while writing is fulfilling, so is paying the bills, and the only way that’s going to happen is for people to take notice of my books and buy them, and then read them and talk about them enough that other people will buy them.

In the past, I have been hesitant about assuming this promotional role, as it has felt desperate and futile. But I can’t think that way anymore — literally, I cannot afford to fail, so I cannot afford to not try anything and everything, no matter how squicky it makes me. So, over the coming months, if I start sounding like someone in a mall kiosk trying to sell you hair extensions or cheap sunglasses or a cell phone cover, I hope you’ll understand it’s part of my job. And while my books won’t protect your eyes or your cell phone or make your hair look like a Real Housewife’s, they will exercise your brain and your funny bone, so I hope you’ll still check them out.