Announcing my next book... THE IMPOSSIBLE CARAVAN!!!

 photo credit: Charlie Cox of Irish Rose Farm



Hello, dear readers!

I can finally announce the news I've been hinting at for a while now (and which some of you already know via Facebook and Twitter)! Here's the official announcement of my new book deal!!!

Children's: Middle grade
Americas Award-winning author Laura Resau's THE IMPOSSIBLE CARAVAN, in which an indigenous boy and a Romani (Gypsy) girl form a friendship in rural Mexico that spans the rest of their lives and embraces magic, music, and predictions of impossible destinies, to Andrea Davis Pinkney of Scholastic, in a good deal, at auction, in a two-book deal, by Erin Murphyof Erin Murphy Literary Agency (world).

(Expected Publication Date: Fall 2015.  And note that the title might change!)

You guys, I'm so excited!  This is a new publisher and editor for me, and I've heard incredible things about them both.  I've been working with Andrea on revisions this summer, and I keep pinching myself because she is a dream to work with... this whole experience, in fact, has felt like an abracadabrant dream.

I got the idea for this book about 15 years ago, when I was living in an indigenous region of Oaxaca, Mexico, teaching and doing anthropology research.  I met a 96-year-old healer named Maria Lopez Martinez, lovingly nicknamed "Maria Chiquita," and her daughter, Fidelina.  We immediately hit it off, and after Maria Chiquita gave me a limpia (spiritual cleaning involving chanting, praying, and beating me with bundles of herbs and spitting on me with alcohol), she and her daughter told me I reminded them of the gitana (Gypsy/Romani)  women who used to visit their Mixtec village in the mid-20th century. They launched into enchanting stories about the caravans that would show outdoor movies and tell fortunes and bring joy and excitement to their community.

 I could only find this small-resolution image of the three of us

I ended up becoming good friends with these women, and although Maria Chiquita passed away a year later, I went to her cabo de anno (that double nn is supposed to be an n with a squiggle above it but I can't figure out how to do that in blogger!)  This was a beautiful candlelit gathering a year after her death in which we honored her spirit.

 "Drops of Wax" illustration by Emma Shaw Smith

Maria Chiquita had a big effect on my life, and I ended up weaving her stories about the gitanas into a short story called "Drops of Wax" for Cricket Magazine-- my first big publication.  Fast forward about ten years, after I'd published seven books and was struggling with what I thought would be my next book-- a YA fantasy that my writing friends and I referred to as THE CHOCOLATE BOOK  (or, THAT  #$&*! CHOCOLATE BOOK).  This was the spring of 2013, and man oh man, was this book giving me trouble!  It was super-intricate, jumping around in time and space, leaping from one character's point of view to another... and then there was crazy-complicated fantastical world-building I was getting lost in...

Around that time, I took a trip to Half Moon Bay, California for an author visit and walked along the succulent-covered ocean cliffs.  It had an almost magical effect on me... I started getting vivid glimpses of a new story.... a story that was for younger readers, and involved the Romani (Gypsies) and a Mixtec village... and it felt graceful and fun and soul-soaring to me.  I decided I needed to give my poor brain a break from THE %*&!@ CHOCOLATE BOOK, and this new story was the perfect project.  I jotted down bits of dialogue and scenes and imagery in the little notebook I carry around with me, and started getting really excited about it.  It felt deeply special to me--  after all, the novel had been brewing in my unconscious mind for the past fifteen years.  I'd written that short story, but I'd always had the sense that I wanted to weave some of its basic elements into a full-length novel someday... and the day had finally come!

The book was a pure joy to write... I ended up finishing a solid draft by the fall-- in less than six months, which is really fast for me.  Then, for a few months, I asked some smart and generous writing friends to critique it, and I did a few revisions.  By the winter, my agent was reading it, and then, in the springtime of 2014, Andrea Davis Pinkney made the offer. Then I had to sit on the news all summer long until the contract was signed and the deal officially announced. So... it's been a fruitful and exciting year!

SO many people have helped me with this manuscript... the acknowledgments will be looooong! My friends in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca were enormously helpful, and I feel bowled over with gratitude.  And my writer friend, Ron Cree, contributed awesome real-life stories about some unusual pets he had as a kid-- this helped me with "character development" of the rescued skunk and duck in the book.  (You can read his hilarious stories here and here.)

The abandoned, injured gosling my family and I rescued back in May 2013 was also a big inspiration for the duckling character in the story.  Here you can see photos of Baby Goose Grape (and also read another true, funny waterfowl story.)

My friend Charlie Cox helped with some of the Romani (Gypsy) elements in the story-- he lives on a farm on the outskirts of town, and has Romani vardos (caravans) and Gypsy horses!  Here's a post I did after he invited me out to his farm and graciously showed me his vardos.

 Photo credit: Charlie Cox of the Irish Rose Farm

I've been interested in Romani cultures around the world ever since reading anthropologist Isabel Fonseca's ethnographic book BURY ME STANDING in the mid 1990's.  It made me aware of the misconceptions about the Romani as free-spirited wanderers, and gave me a better understanding of the societal challenges they've faced, historically and current-day. And then, as I did research for my novel, I was fascinated to learn more about the Romani through books, oral histories, and documentaries (the recent movie Papusza was wonderful and moving.)

Researching this book was the first time I used a Pinterest board to collect images, and it was really helpful.  Here are a couple images from the board that helped me visualize the Romani girl in my novel.

(Unfortunately, a problem with Pinterest is that it can be hard to find photo credits for images-- I don't know who took these pics, but if you do, let me know, and I'll give credit.)

 I imagine the girl in front resembles my main character-- I love her confident, almost sassy expression!

Okay, I think this post is long enough for now! I have more inspiration/research background to share with you later, though...  some of it involves my vintage Viewmaster and slide collection, actually. ;-)

On that note, I will bid you farewell!  Thank you for coming by and sharing in my happiness... and I hope you're enjoying these first bits of fall.


One Book One Unionville: The Queen of Water!

The Queen of Water inspired art by student Terner Thompson

Hey, guys!

Just got back from an author visit to Unionville, Pennsylvania for their One Book, One Unionville program.  I was honored that they chose The Queen of Water for their first year!  The program was initiated by teachers at the high school, and they did a great job of getting the entire school and community excited about the book. 

I gave two assembly presentations for students, giving a behind-the-scenes look at the book, and then did a third presentation in the evening for community members.  I loved everyone's enthusiasm and insightful comments and questions... such a treat for me!

The goal of the program was to "promote student success by instituting a new academic tradition, creating a sense of belonging through shared experiences, providing opportunities for school and community interactions, and encouraging students to further reflect on citizenship and engagement."

The high school students and faculty read the book over the summer, and then had discussions and projects related to the book.  I also did two Skype visits with community members at the local public library.  The program was well-publicized through the town's newspaper, and a number of book clubs chose to read and discuss the book. My visit was the culmination of months of reading and discussing the book.

I was thrilled and a little nervous that Queen would be the first book of the new program-- I really wanted it to be successful so that the community would continue with this program for years to come.  Thankfully, the feedback was really positive about the book selection and my presentations... I'm excited to see what book they choose for next year!

One of the coolest parts for me was to talk with readers and see how they connected with the book.  

Student Terner Thompson did this amazing illustration, inspired by the end of the book. He wants to be an animator.  I think he'd make an incredible one, judging by this masterpiece. 

In the school library with wonderful administrators and the talented Terner

with the delightful librarian Diane (who styled her hair and chose her pretty water-themed blouse just for my visit!) She presented me with this gorgeous book on Longwoods Gardens.

Awesome student projects were hung around the library... I always love seeing interesting activities that teachers come up with and the creative ways students approach them.

Zoom in on the above pic, and you'll see this great scene with Cheetah the goat fending off angry dogs! Love this!

And another close-up-- such a beautiful drawing. My interpretation is that it's young Virginia curled up on the sheepskin rug that she imagines is Cheetah. That's the night when she first comes to the Doctorita's house and is feeling lonely and scared.

I have to admit, I get a little thrill when I see the words "The Queen of Water: The Movie."  This student cast Salma Hayek as the Doctorita-- she's a great actress, so I think she'd be able to pull it off.  Ah, maybe one day....

Here's a close-up of part of a project-- I thought it was so cute-- Virginia on the forbidden red sofa watching the forbidden MacGyver, hahaha!

This newspaper activity looked fun... there's an article about the winner of the Queen competition, as well as a review of the Hotel Otavalo, MacGyver gossip, and new classes at the Republica de Ecuador school.  

Thank you, Unionville, for your warm welcome!  I was so impressed with your great energy, and wish you lots of luck with future One Book One Unionville programs!


P.S. I wasn't sure who to credit for the above student projects and artwork, but if you see yours, let me know, and I'll credit you in the caption!  ;-)

New Pics of Maria Virginia's Family, Good News, and Events!

Hello dear readers!

I've been meaning to share these photos with you for a while now... Maria Virginia (my co-author of The Queen of Water)  sent them to me back in January. She just finished up her ninth out of ten semesters for her degree in clinical psychology-- so proud of her!

Love this pic of Leslie  (Maria Virginia's baby) in traditional indigena garb!  So sweet...

Here's Maria's mom in the very house where Maria spent her early childhood in a village outside of Otavalo, Ecuador.  This is the cooking area of her parents' home (which was a setting in Queen.)

Below is baby Leslie is with her paternal grandmother-- it looks like they're in her house, in another village on the outskirts of Otavalo.

Here's Maria's dad holding Leslie in another area of the house where Maria spent her early years.

Here's Maria with more close relatives.

Maria, husband Tino, and baby Leslie at their home in Otavalo.


Maria's wonderful 9-year-old son, Yanni, with his little sis.


 Baby Leslie with her dad, Tino and brother, Yanni, in their living room...

So great to see them together and happy!

OK, a couple quick news items:

Thai rights for The Queen of Water were sold to Sanskrit Books!  So, so  excited about this! I absolutely cannot wait to see our book in this beautiful language!  

My essay "Barren in the Andes" won second place in the Solas travel writing awards!   This is an essay I'd been wanting to write for years, but due to the Notebooks deadlines, I didn't have time to do it till last fall. It felt really good to finally write it, after all that simmering inside me. Note that this is meant for adults, not the usual teen/kid audience, so be warned... you can read it here if you're curious.

If you're in Fort Collins, check out my article in the latest issue (Spring 2013) of Fort Collins Magazine.  It's called "The Wonder-filled Soul of Les Sunde," and it's a profile of the man whose ideas on creativity and alive-ness have had a huge impact on me these past few years. You can pick up the free mag in any of the magazine boxes in Old Town. Here's the link to the full article (p. 51).  So happy about this piece!


*This Saturday,* March 30, at 2 pm, I'll be doing an event at Old Firehouse Books in Old Town, Ft Collins with Jeannie Mobley, fabulous author of Katerina's Wish! We'll talk about our books and writing for teens and older kids, and field any questions you have.  Chatting and signing will ensue.

My NCW workshop on Creating Vivid Worlds was rescheduled to April 7, from 1-4 pm.  Register here.

Saturday, April 6 -- Chicago. Litworks: A Teen Lit Festival. 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. This begins at Eisenhower Public Library and moves to Ridgewood High School at noon. Other authors there will be Matt de la Pena, Alex Flinn, Mark Crilley, Jennifer Bradbury, and Brent Crawford. Details here. Free for teens, $5 for adults. 

April 19-20-- Pikes Peak Writers Conference, Colorado. Presenting two sessions, and possible panel. Details TBD. Registration required.


I think that's it for now!  Happy spring!


Oprah and California Pics!

Hey, guys!

Just got back from a delightful week-long vacation to northern California. On my arrival home, I heard the happy news that The Queen of Water is an Oprah book pick for ages 12-14!  The book's in great company-- some of my all-time faves are also on the list, like Feed by MT Anderson. Very big honor!  The list was compiled by the ALA Children's Book Council and the Association for Library Service to Children (but I like to think that Oprah herself might feel inspired to read it, too.... :-)

Lil Dude

So, my vacation.  It was fun! We've had a hot and fiery and smoky summer here in Fort Collins, so a trip to the coast was just what my family needed.  The weather was deliciously foggy and cool-- I got to wear sweaters and scarves and jeans!  Bliss. I still managed to get sunburnt, though... on my bottom lip of all places! (Bright side: some people pay big bucks for this beestung look.)


Ian and Lil Dude and I met up with our dear old friend (from middle and high school) and her family, and explored beaches just south of San Francisco.  We spotted seals, sea otters, anemones, dolphins (or porpoises?), and all kinds of sea birds.  Oh, and this funny creature that kept popping up and disappearing, and reminded me of that game whack-a-mole (but no whacking occurred).

I love looking at and touching small things that make patterns, like these blue pebbles on a beach at Punto Lobos...

 And these succulents on the hills by the beach at Bean Hollow...


And these pretty, tiny treasures I gathered...

Ian enjoyed swinging giant ropes of kelp around, lasso-style...

Lil Dude spent hours playing catch with the waves.... he'd run back and forth with an exuberant smile, shouting "Oh, dear! Oh, dear!  Oh, dear!"  He can't pronounce his r's, which made it extra-amusing to witness.


Relaxing on the rock crags...

We swung by the Santa Cruz boardwalk so Lil Dude could go on some rides... brought back memories of my own childhood summer vacations in Ocean City, Maryland.  Rides, mini-golf, funnel cake, softserv vanilla cake cones with rainbow sprinkles, fresh-squeezed lemonade.

The drive along Route 1 is so breathtaking... we went a couple hours south of San Francisco-- down to Carmel-by-the-Sea, stopping lots along the way (including sweet Half Moon Bay, where I've done author visits). I'd love to drive farther south sometime, to Big Sur and beyond.

Lil Dude is such an enthusiastic traveler-- really bold and adventurous-- although his favorite parts of any trip are usually the hotel breakfast and pool. Here he is giving me a kiss on top of a  stone "castle" we found on the beach, where he declared me a queen and him a knight. He's precious... and believe it or not, he'll be starting kindergarten next week. Gulp.


I didn't bring my laptop on the trip, which was really nice... I just read and scribbled a bit in my notebook and thought and dreamt of my book-in-progress-- just what I needed.  Now I'm feeling like I have a better perspective on it, and more confidence that my brain can handle the intricacies of this story (I was starting to have doubts before...) I think the waves and wind and salt and sand did my brain some good.

Thanks for reading!  Oh, and if you're in the Maryland area, please come chat with me at the "Baltimore Bred" panel discussion (5:30, Saturday, Children's Stage) at the Baltimore Book Festival at the end of September!!!