Thursday, October 7, 2010

Kids Ask the Greatest Questions

Recently, A VAMPIRE IS COMING TO DINNER! 10 RULES TO FOLLOW was reviewed on and I was asked twenty questions by a three-year-old (who had just a little help from his mom!)  The questions were great and so much fun.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Do you use crayons or paint?
Crayons. I love the way they smell.

I thought vampires were mean, the one in your book isn’t. Why?
In A VAMPIRE IS COMING TO DINNER, the illustrator and I are having fun with the vampire, so he isn’t a mean one. In fact, you might end up feeling a little sorry for him at the end when he just wants to take a nap!

Did your dad ever blow anything up at your house?
My dad was a scientist, but as far as I know he never blew anything up at our house or at his laboratory either. He did discover a medicine called Polymyxin, however (Neosporin) but he only got $1.00 for this discovery which is why I’m not hugely rich.

How come the kid in the book seems to play a lot of tricks on the vampire?
The boy in the book is afraid of the Vampire so he wants to outwit him. He thinks if he plays tricks on the Vampire, the Vampire won’t hurt him. Of course, the Vampire is really quite friendly.

Are you writing another book?
I have a new book coming out next year called LITTLE GOBLINS TEN, illustrated by Jane Manning (Harper). And I’m writing a book now that is a little bit scary – for teenagers!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Do a Blog tour, Go on Vacation and wear Comfy Clothes all at the Same Time!

One of the benefits of a blog tour is that you don't have to leave home (or change  out of your comfortable clothes) right?  But recently, when my family and I took a long-awaited trip to visit old friends in Ashland, Oregon, I actually got to meet reviewer Marya Jansen-Gruber, the editor of Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Review in person at her lovely home in Ashland.  It was just a coincidence that after she'd agreed to review my book on her website, I discovered she lived in Ashland.  So I got to go on vacation, meet a wonderful children's book reviewer, personally hand her a copy of my new book, and wear comfortable clothes all at the same time.  That's the kind of blog tour I can go for!  You can read Marya's review of A VAMPIRE IS COMING TO DINNER! at

Monday, July 19, 2010

If You're Thinking of Writing for Children...

...the rewards are sometimes beyond what even you can imagine.

Last week I received an email from a graduate student in Texas.  

"I'm a 25-year old grad student," she wrote, "my parents are selling the house I grew up in, and I've been asked to 'clean out' all my childhood books to give away...I came across my worn copy of your book Just Plain Penny and started reading it again immediately.  Right away, memories of a long, hot summer spent reading that book over and over came to me.  I remember how much I loved to pretend to be Penny and wished I had bright red hair and freckles.  What's more - I realized I still love the book and plan to keep it...I just wanted to write and say how much I still enjoy our book - almost 20 years after I first received it!"

We had just moved to a farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the summer I began Just Plain Penny.  The view outside my writing room window was one I had dreamed of since I was a child living in suburban Detroit, longings I invested my fictional character with.  "In the distance," Penny imagined, "fields of ripening corn and alfalfa would cover the hills with a patchwork of gold and green."

I loved writing Just Plain Penny but I never dreamed that somewhere in Texas a little girl would spend the summer reading and rereading the book.  Even further from my thoughts was the possibility that 20 years later, the book would still hold meaning for her.

Several years ago, I received another letter from a film producer:

"Every year during the holidays I am reminded of Noelle of the Nutcracker," she wrote.  "I make some hot tea, pull out my copy of the book and read it with a big smile on my a young girl growing up poor in Indiana, I dreamed of being a ballerina, oh, and of having my dolls talk to me!  Now that I think of it, the fact that I became a film producer and find great joy in bringing other people's creations to life probably is somewhat routed in the lessons I learned from you."

Who could imagine that the books we write from our own dreams, fantasies, and realities could transform the lives of children, who in turn grow up and touch the lives of others?  As my friend and fellow author, Kay Winters says, "Way leads on to way."

Friday, June 4, 2010

Publishers Weekly Review of A VAMPIRE IS COMING TO DINNER!

A Vampire Is Coming to Dinner! 10 Rules to Follow
Pamela Jane, illus. by Pedro Rodriguez, Price Stern Sloan, $7.99 (16p) ISBN 978-0-8431-9964-2
After a Nosferatu-like vampire announces an unexpected visit to a boy's house...what follows is a list of rules... which appear on flaps within antique golden picture frames. Kids will delight in lifting each flap to reveal retro-styled spreads in which the boy outwits the vampire at every turn--welcoming him with spotlights, candles, and lamps ("Make sure all the lights are off") ...the book is a ghoulishly good time. Ages 3–up. (Aug.)

Friday, May 21, 2010

I Didn't Know Vampires Were In – Honest!

Now that I'm due to have a vampire book out in August (fun, not scary, for 3-7 years olds) everyone keeps telling me how timely my book is, because vampires are "in".  I'm really excited about that but when I conceived of the book and later, when I wrote it, (pre-TWILIGHT) I had no idea that vampires were so popular.

The book began, as noted in an earlier blog, with a game I used to play with my daughter when she was little.  "Tickle me, Mommy," she used to say, when she got home from school.  "Please?"

So we played the vampire game.  I'd tell her a vampire was coming to dinner and she ought to be a good host and, well, let him have something to eat.  Or drink.  And she'd do her best to keep me from tickling her neck.  Many years later, and gradually, the idea of A VAMPIRE IS COMING TO DINNER grew out of that game.

Now that my daughter is sixteen, she doesn't ask me to tickle her when she comes home from school anymore.  But I think she's pleased that she inspired a book and I sure am glad we played the game way back then.  Because, sometimes, playing is the most important work a writer can do.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Stories Find Us

PENNY Story and pictures by Marjorie Torrey
(Howell, Soskin, Publishers, 1944)

The books you read when you're a child and the world is vivid and fresh make a lasting impression (as do the films; I never recovered from seeing "Titanic" – the 1953 version which was amazingly good, although there were no spectacular special effects.)

When I was three or four, I had a picture book about a princess with pink high heels and I never forgot that shade of pink.  Even now when I see that particular hue, I think of the princess with the pink high heels.

Like hundreds of other kids, I wanted to go to OZ; I wanted a closely-knit family like Betsy in the Betsy-Tacy books; I wanted to find a penny that would grant my wishes – even half a wish, like the kids in Edward Eager's Half Magic.

In 1972, when I was a young adult, my house burned down and I lost all my childhood and adolescent poems, journals, and stories.  My beloved childhood china doll, Rosmyrelda, also perished in the blaze.  Rosmyrelda was named after a doll in a book I'd read as a child about a little girl taking a train trip with her favorite doll, Rosmyrelda.

After the fire, I searched and searched for the book which I remembered being  called simply Rosmyrelda.  But I had no luck finding it.

In 1990, I published my second book for children, a middlegrade novel entitled Just Plain Penny.  Shortly after the book came out, I heard from a rare book dealer who had finally found the book I'd been searching for. But as it turned out, the book wasn't named after the doll, but after the little girl.  And her name?  Penny!  My own Rosmyrelda was gone, but a book lost in time had come home to me.

The stories find us; we find the stories.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

More Funny Rejections

The recent rains in Rhode Island flooded the basement of a friend of mine who lives there.  Somehow she managed to escape the surging waters, overflowing streams, and flooded roads surrounding her farm, and drive down to visit me in Pennsylvania.  When I asked her if she wanted to go out to dinner, she said, "No, let's just stay home and laugh about my basement."

My friend wasn't being facetious.  She just has the ability to laugh at things that don't go her way.  I guess that's why I like to laugh at rejections.  It's good therapy in a tough world, and some of them really are funny.  You can read about my funniest rejections, but last night I got to thinking up more.

I once had twelve picture book manuscripts rejected in one hour, by telephone. That's an average of one rejection every five minutes – an all-time record!  I've had manuscripts accepted in three days and others after 125 submissions.  When I wrote a chapter book about my parakeet, Winky Blue, my editor at the time told me it was too slight for a book, and would make a better magazine article.  But Mondo Publishing accepted it, and then asked for five more.

What is your funniest or most entertaining rejection?  Please leave a comment and tell us about it!  Then hopefully you'll soon be smiling about an acceptance.

Monday, March 29, 2010

I'm Not Eavesdropping; I'm plotting!

My teenage daughter was less than thrilled when I told her that I was thinking about chaperoning an overnight school trip so I could listen to the kids talk.  It would help with the y/a novel I'm writing, I explained.  I would never get their inside jokes she countered (and what fun is it to have your mom come along anyway?) When I thought about it, I realized the inside jokes didn't matter.  Well, it didn't matter if I got them or not.  What mattered is that they have them, just like my friends and I did when we were teenagers.  The heart of a story comes, for me, from my own childhood and adolescence.  The rest is window-dressing.  

When I visit schools, kid ask where I got the idea for my "Winky Blue" books published by Mondo (grades 2-4).  The truth is, I always wanted a baby brother or sister.  In my mind, a baby would add a cozy link to what in my mind was our less-than-ideal family. When no baby came, I decided a pet was the next best thing.

My new parakeet, Winky Blue, was the first pet that was solely and deliciously my own. Like a typical stage mom; I had huge ambitions for him. I wanted him to be a hero and catch crooks and save people from drowning. He would have his own TV show, like the famous collie, Lassie. To help structure the story in my mind, I went to the library in search of a book about a little girl or boy and a parakeet. But I couldn’t find one, so I bought a small spiral notebook from the dime store and began to write the adventures of Winky Blue. I never dreamed that I would one day write a series of six books about Winky and his little girl, Rosie, in which I described just how I felt about my beloved bird:

“Rosie felt proud and happy to be in charge of Winky’s life, and his future. She got up three times during the night just to make sure he was all right. Each time Winky was sleeping soundly under his birdcage cover. Finally, Rosie fell asleep and dreamed of a magical land with a brightly-covered Ferris wheel and a shining lake. And in the middle of all this was a treasure, something warm and real and alive. Winky Blue.”

My first real-life adventure with Winky was to teach him talk. The instructions that came with my “Teach Your Parakeet to Talk” record said all you had to do was put on the recording and leave your parakeet alone for a while, and presto! He’d be talking like a pro. I couldn’t wait to get started. On Saturday morning, I set up the record player next to Winky’s cage and carefully put on the record.

“Congratulations, boys and girls!” boomed a man’s deep voice. “You have taken the first step in teaching your parakeet to talk.”

“Cheep. Goofunkle!” chattered Winky, hopping back and forth on his perch.

“Teaching your parakeet to talk will take a little time,” continued the voice, more serious now.

I hope it doesn’t take too long, I thought. I want to start having exciting adventures with Winky right away.

“I will repeat one phrase over and over so that your parakeet will learn to say it,” the voice on the record went on. “And now I suggest you leave your bird alone for half an hour so it can pay attention to the lesson.”

“Hello, how are you?” the man said slowly. I tiptoed out of my room, carefully closing the door behind me, while the recording droned on and Winky chattered away in parakeet language. I decided to give him a full hour to let the lesson really sink in.

I opened the door later in high hopes. I just knew Winky Blue would be a quick learner.

“Hello, how are you?” a voice greeted me.

It was the man on the record.

“Cheep!” chirped Winky, pecking at his mirror. “Woofitz-woopstum. Nootfunkle!”

My face fell. Winky hadn’t learn a single word!

At the time I was terribly disappointed, but looking back I saw something funny in the high expectations of a little girl for her very ordinary parakeet, and for the possibility of drama (like me, Rosie is not a patient person) when illusion collided full-speed into reality. When I wrote the first Winky book, No Way, Winky Blue! I dropped the talking episode into it, just the way it happened.

The hopes, fears and dreams we have as children don't change much with each new generation. It's just the outer details that change, the window dressing. But anyway, I decided not to go along on my daughter's field trip, a decision I'll probably regret when she's in college and I'm struggling to finish my y/a.

Winky Blue Goes Wild
Mondo Publishing
Illustrations copyright by Debbie Tilley

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

School Visits

School visits can be many things – exhilarating and inspiring come to mind.  But they are, above all, just plain fun.  It's not only that you, the author, get the opportunity to share so much of your life and creative process with your readers, but that they share so much with you – their projects, dreams, plans, hopes and disappointments.  Even, as in the case of a recent visit to Don Gill Elementary School in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania – a cake for one of your characters, Winky Blue, the lovable but mischievous parakeet in my six-book series published by Mondo Publishing.

I hope to write many more books about the adventures of Rosie and her parakeet, Winky Blue.  And I hope to have many more school visits to share with the students my books and stories (but not too much more cake.)

To read all about my Winky Blue books, visit my website.

A Vampire is Coming to Dinner – Uninvited!

A VAMPIRE IS COMING TO DINNER! 10 RULES TO FOLLOW (ages 3-7) is now available for pre-ordering at so if you're expecting a vampire (invited or not) this is your chance to get ready for a night of pranks and surprises. It is best to be prepared!

The book was inspired by a game I used to play with my daughter when she was little; I would try to tickle her neck and tell her a vampire was coming for dinner. The first rule in the book is one I'd be wise to employ myself: STAY CALM!

It's amazing how much editing a little book that only has a few hundred words requires. My smart and very patient editor, Brooke Dworkin, was a tremendous help with this.

For my other children's books and school visits, please visit my website

I Can Get There from Here: The Power of Children's Books

Every Christmas my father bought me a first edition Oz book for a dollar, from the Silver Shack, a used bookstore in downtown Detroit. The Oz books were the highlight of my Christmas, the key to a land of unimaginable excitement. I can close my eyes now and breathe the yellowed, slightly musty smell of those books, with their promise of magic and adventure.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was the first in the series by L. Frank Baum, but Dorothy wasn’t the only child to find her way to Oz. In later books, children arrived from all over the U.S. I fully intended to make it there myself before I became an adult. I wasn’t sure exactly how it would happen, but I had faith that it would.

One Christmas vacation, I was curled on the floor of my bedroom in my new red pajamas eating an apple and reading The Emerald City of Oz, the sixth book in the series, when I came to the last chapter, “ How the Story of Oz came to an End”. It described how the author, Baum, had received a personal note from Dorothy:

"You will never hear anything more about Oz, because we are now cut off forever from all the rest of the world. But Toto and I will always love you and all the other children who love us. Dorothy Gale."

I stopped chewing mid-bite. I didn’t move or even breathe as the enormity of what I had just read sunk in. The whole universe seemed to stand still with those terrible final words – "we are now cut off forever from all the rest of the world." I was locked out of fairyland forever, stuck in the real world trying to coerce ordinary life into a story.

The Emerald City of Oz was published in 1910, so by the time I read Dorothy’s letter, Oz had been cut off from the rest of the world for forty-five years. But to me Oz was breathlessly immediate, and everything that happened was happening right now. (Later, Baum decided to continue the series after one of his readers suggested Dorothy send him more Oz adventures by wireless telegraph.)

I must have known Oz was fiction. I was nine years old, after all. But a part of me believed that the fairyland existed on some plane, and that I would get there before I reached adulthood. Other kids had made it – Betsy from Oklahoma, Button Bright from Philadelphia, Trot from California. Surely there was room for one more kid to squeeze in before the door to Oz was slammed shut forever.

The way Oz was cut off, Baum explained in The Emerald City of Oz, was by making it invisible to outsiders.

“But how can you do it?” asked Dorothy. “How can you keep every one from ever finding Oz?”

“By making our country invisible to all eyes but our own,” replied [Glinda] the Sorceress, smiling… “We will be able to see each other and everything in the Land of Oz…but those who fly through the air over our country will look down and see nothing at all.”

That was the chink in the wall, the crack in the door left ever so slightly ajar. Oz might be invisible to most people, but if you looked really really closely, you could glimpse it shimmering through the fabric of reality, a parallel universe to the ordinary world we lived in. You might not be able to live there, but by watching closely and paying attention, you could at least catch sight of it now and then.

Searching for Clues: Classics of Our Time

Our imaginations were shaped by the great classics of our time, such as The Clue of the Broken Locket, in which Nancy Drew, detective, won the respect of her distinguished father and the admiration of the local police with her quick wittedness and courage. My friends and I combed the neighborhood in search of a clue that would lead to a hair-raising mystery – a scrap of paper, a footprint, a rusty key. But nothing panned out. Then one night, a car slowed down on our street (there had recently been a kidnapping in a neighboring town). Quickly and resourcefully, I jotted down the license number. Then the mysterious automobile sped away!

We waited for the next episode to unfold, but nothing happened. There was no second chapter, no subsequent clue. The entire story line collapsed.

Stories in books were more satisfying than life with its disappointments and dead ends. Nancy Drew never discovered a clue that led nowhere and she never had to face having the entire plotline collapse around her. I wonder how resourceful and quick-witted she’d have been then?

Coming Home to Children's Books

In 1980, when I moved to New York, I enrolled at Fashion Institute of Technology to become a fashion designer. My new artist’s portfolio bulged with shiny pinking shears, pins, and colored chalk. But the work was grueling and the stiff mannequins draped in muslin had little connection to the dazzling creations floating in my head. Late one night, after a long day at work, my German draping teacher eyed the mannequin I was draping for the fourth time.

“Zat pin has no meaning!” she cried, pointing accusingly to a pin I had just stuck in the mannequin.

I took that as a deeply existential statement about my future as a fashion designer, and quit. Now what was I going to do?

During my lunch hours at the law firm I worked at, I browsed through Scribner’s Bookstore on Fifth Avenue, climbing the winding stairway to the second floor to read in the comfortable armchairs. I found myself drawn to the children’s section and the books I’d grown up with –– the OZ books, the magic books by Edward Eager, the 
Betsy-Tacy stories. Finding them was like rediscovering old friends. I remembered the first time I opened a Betsy-Tacy book, I was nine going on ten). 
“Going on ten seemed to be exactly the right age for having fun,” I read. Those were the most exciting, the truest words I ever read. And they were in a book!

For some reason I had never read the Betsy-Tacy high school stories. But now, twenty-four years later, I submerged myself in Betsy's high school world, the one I wish had been mine. Family, friends, heartaches and crushes – it was all so innocent and fun, the perfect escape from the loneliness of New York. But I couldn't locate the last book in the series, 
Betsy's Wedding. Betsy’s life, so vividly evoked, was incomplete and unfinished without the last book. I had to have it. The bookstore said the book was out of stock. The publisher said it was out of print.

 Finally I found it in the Staten Island branch New York Public Library. I immediately called and reserved it. But I couldn't bear to wait for the machinery of the New York Public Library system to grind into motion. I would take the ferry to Staten Island and get the book myself.

On a gray, misty Saturday in early March, I made the trip, watching impatiently as the ferry plowed through the cold, choppy waters. Couldn't the engines go any faster? What if someone else took out my Betsy book first? What if the Staten Island branch burned down before I got there? When we finally docked, I ran all the way to the library. I didn't open the book until I was on the ferry again, headed back across the bay. Even then I hesitated, holding the book tightly in my lap. 
Betsy's Wedding was the last in the series. When I finished it, there would be no more new Betsy-Tacy adventures to discover. But at last, sitting on the hard ferry bench, my face wet with foam, I began reading.

“Almost choked with excitement and joy, Betsy Ray leaned against the railing as the S.S. Richmond sailed serenely into New York City's inner harbor,” I read. “The morning was misty, and since they had passed through the Narrows, she had seen only sky and water—and a gull, now and then…”

I looked up at a gull swooping over the gray water. New York of 1980 had vanished. It was 1919, and I was a young woman returning from a long voyage, and anxious for her first glimpse of New York. I smiled to myself and went on reading.

“My heart is turning home again, and there I long to be…”