Five Things About The Jolly Regina: The Bland Sisters


Art from The Jolly Regina, by the brilliant Jen Hill.

Ahoy, mateys, and Happy New Year! My holidays were peaceful and lovely — hope yours were, too. Believe it or not, I have another reason to celebrate — my first novel (!!!) debuts IN SIX DAYS. If you haven’t heard already, it’s called The Jolly Regina, and it’s the first in a trilogy for middle grade (8-12-year-old) readers called The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters.

I thought I might take the next few days to give you a little behind-the-scenes of the process of writing the book. Today’s entry concerns the stars of the production, the Bland Sisters themselves.

So, I have a sister, and we used to make books together; I wrote them and she illustrated them (she has since retired from the business). About ten years ago, we launched a series of books about two sock monkeys named Rocko and Spanky; they drove a motorcycle-with-sidecar and inhabited a very silly, kitschy, retro world, filled with all the things we loved. We were really proud of these books, so it came as a bit of shock when the reviews came out — one of the reviews of the first book in the series said that the illustrations were “bland.” Look inside the book here and tell me if you agree. (Hint: You won’t, because the illustrations are dynamic and hilarious, and my sister was/is a genius.) Getting a bad review is part of the life of an author or illustrator, so my sister and I eventually laughed about it and forgot about it and moved on.

About a year later, when the second book in the series came out, we got some good reviews. But we also got some not-so-great ones. One in particular stood out, because it came from the same aforementioned review journal, and because this review said that the narrative was “bland.” There was that word again! We were frustrated, because 1. It didn’t seem as if the reviewer (in either case) “got” the book at all, and 2. “Bland” is just about the worst insult you could lob at me or my writing. You’re not supposed to let the bad reviews bother you, but I have to admit, I was pretty angry. I sat down at my laptop. And then I did what I always do: I tried to find humor in it.

I started writing a little scene about “The Bland Sisters,” two girls named Jaundice and Kale who enjoy plain oatmeal and weak, tepid tea and cheese sandwiches on day-old bread, and who pass the time by darning other people’s socks and reading the dictionary to each other and watching the grass grow. It made me laugh, and then I shared it with my sister, and she laughed, too. My little writing exercise had served a purpose; that bomb of a review had been diffused. But then something unexpected happened.

Jaundice and Kale Bland had more to say. A LOT more. So I wrote another scene, in which there’s a knock at the door, and the Bland Sisters have to decide what to do. Of course, they open it. But then I had to decide what happened next; what would be the most unexpected development for two unassuming, homebody sisters?

Pirates. Of course, it would have to be pirates. But not just any pirates, my imagination (and feminist spirit) told me. It would have to be lady pirates.

Once the pirates appeared, the story really came to life. It was one of those rare and beautiful experiences where the writing just poured out of me. And it was So. Much. Fun. I think about that experience a lot, and I do all I can to recreate that feeling of “flow” when I’m writing now.

So I have to be thankful for bad reviews, in a way. They force me to consider my work from someone else’s (however flawed, ha ha!) point of view. They motivate me to do better next time. And they fill me with righteous indignation — which, in my case at least, is the ideal creative fuel.

Fun facts:

  1. Like Jaundice and Kale, my sister’s name starts with a J, and mine starts with a K. (Bland Sisters illustrator Jen Hill’s name also starts with a J, yet another reason I am lucky to have her in my life.)
  2. I am a little bit like Kale, in that I can be a bit of a homebody. And I tend to part my hair on the side.
  3. I am not like Kale in that I HATE cleaning.
  4. My sister is very resourceful, which is why I gave Jaundice the smock with all the handy pockets.
  5. I’m not really a fan of cheese sandwiches — unless it’s grilled cheese, or, ideally, a croque monsieur or croque madame. Then you REALLY have my attention. But the Bland Sisters seem to love them, and so do Louie and Ralphie Ratso, the stars of my chapter book series, THE INFAMOUS RATSOS.

TOMORROW’S POST: More about dictionaries and the Bland Sisters’ loyal companion, Dr. Snoote!

“Why Does This @#%& Happen to Me?”

Hello, friends. Is your life just brimming with holiday merriment these days? (And by “merriment,” I mean total and utter chaos.) Mine is. Here’s an example.

This past weekend, my brother-in-law came for a visit, which was awesome. But it’s the first time we’ve had an overnight guest in a while, and our guest room doubles as my office. And the guest room/office was a complete mess that I’ve ignored for too long (confession: YEARS), so I had to spend some time cleaning. It took me a week to clean it, in fact — though I had to clean at night, since I spend my days working and running after a very active toddler. Needless to say, I didn’t get a lot of sleep in the lead-up to the visit. And then, on Saturday, our kiddo came down with a cold.

I went to bed exhausted on Saturday night, but I was woken up at 2am by the kiddo crying for me. “Woken up” is an overstatement; I stumbled out of bed only half-awake and headed in the direction of the crying as quickly as possible. This was a mistake, for several reasons.

  1. As mentioned, I was only half-awake; I’m not even sure my eyes were open.
  2. I was moving way too fast.
  3. So fast, in fact, that I neglected to open our closed bedroom door.

WHAM. My face, particularly my nose, came in full contact with the door, a la Wile E. Coyote after the Road Runner paints a picture of a tunnel on a rock.

While my husband attended to our son (who, it turns out, just needed a tissue), I spent the remainder of the night writhing in pain in the fetal position with an ice pack on my face, moaning “Why does this @#%& happen to me?” and “Do you think I broke my nose?”

Luckily, I didn’t break my nose; I just hope the headaches and bruising clear up by Christmas. As for why this @#%& happens to me, I can only come to one conclusion — that it continues to give me stories to entertain you.

P.S. Speaking of entertaining, on Friday I will be posting a schedule of my upcoming events and appearances to promote The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters: The Jolly Regina. I’ve been brushing up on my pirate talk, so I hope I might see you!

Five for Friday

Hello, friends, and Happy Friday. I’ve been struggling with a weird cold for the past few days, but I’m happy to say that I’m finally back on my feet, and back to work on the final (?) Bland Sisters novel. This weekend, I’ll be heading to Maine for my annual getaway weekend with my BFF, featuring lots of good food, shopping, and plenty of bubbly. Are you finding some time to “treat yo’ self” this holiday season? I hope so.

Speaking of treats, check out these five links:

  1. So important, especially these days.
  2. I’ve relied on this stress reliever forever. Feeling validated…and also, hungry.
  3. Just bought this for my kiddo. It’s a position we can all agree on, no?
  4. If you’re feeling anxiety about the state of our world and are looking for a way to stay politically active and connected, consider joining Order of the 1460 on Facebook.
  5. 48 tips to Keep Calm and Be Like Ina (aka my mantra).

Have a great weekend — see you again on Wednesday! xo

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.

The Weekly Peek

Hello, friends. I know it’s been a while, but it’s taken me some time to recover from the trauma of the election results (though, tbh, I doubt I will ever fully recover) and figure out what to say about these trying times. It comes down to this: I am here. I am angry (and sad, and scared, but mostly angry). And I am ready, as ever, to MAKE IT HAPPEN — and by that, I mean being educated and vigilant, and using my words, to speak truth and voice protest to those in power, and to continue writing stories that promote kindness and equality. If you know me at all, you know I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, even one as seemingly-insurmountable as the one we now face. I hope you’re ready to make it happen, too, in your own way.

If you’re up for a little distraction, here are a few bits of news from moi:

The Jolly Regina (the first in The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters) has been named to the Winter 2016-2017 Kids’ Indie Next List! Friends, this is a HUGE honor, because 1. Everyone knows that independent bookstores kick ass, 2. Have you SEEN the other books and authors on the list? What brilliant, amazing company!, and 3. It thrills me that the Bland Sisters already have fans — and incredibly smart, discerning fans, at that!

I have three manuscripts out on submission right now — two picture books and a new chapter book series. Fingers crossed for some good news.

For the foreseeable future, I will be working on the third (and final?) book in the Bland Sisters trilogy. I’m sure I’ll have LOTS to share about this process in the coming months.

Recently, I got a little something in the mail that I can’t wait to share with you. To be revealed on Wednesday!

That’s it from me. How’s YOUR week shaping up?


A Little Break

Hello, friends, and Happy Monday. Just an announcement that I’ll be taking a break from blogging for the next three weeks, as I catch up on several projects.

In the meantime, if you need a little distraction, I highly recommend binging on The Kettering Incident (Gothic creepiness in modern-day Tasmania) and Goliath (a legal thriller from David E. Kelley, starring Billy Bob Thornton).

Enjoy! And see you in November!

Five for Friday

Hello, friends, and Happy Friday. This weekend, we’re going to get a pumpkin for the kiddo, and some apple cider and cider donuts for the grownups. On Sunday, I’m going to make my homemade tomato sauce and meatballs, which seems like the perfect way to spend a crisp fall afternoon.

As the election draws closer and the atmosphere grows more tense (and in some cases, more delusional), we all need to find ways to take a break from it. To that end, here are some links to distract you:

  1. The more you know.
  2. Also fascinating.
  3. More cheese? Yes, please!
  4. Booooooooooooks.
  5. I don’t know about you, but this makes me feel better.

Here’s to being comfy and cozy (and slow and steady) — have a great weekend!