One night when my good friends, Larry and Myra Karp, came to dinner, Larry asked me, “How do you spell kidnapped?”  I replied, “k-i-d-n-a-p-p-e-d.”

He explained the reason for his question. He had been proof-reading galleys of his next book, King of Ragtime, and the spell-check system on his Word Perfect software had highlighted kidnapped. It gave the correct spelling as kidnaped. That looked wrong to Larry so he did what any good writer would do. He got out his Webster’s Dictionary and looked it up. To his surprise, it said that both versions are correct but the preferred spelling is kidnaped. One P. He changed the spelling throughout his book, but it continued to bother him.

We decided to see what happened with Word, which I used on my computer. I typed in kidnapped, ran the spell check, and it was okay. When I wrote kidnaped, the spell check said it was incorrect. Next we got out my Webster’s Dictionary. In my edition, both versions are correct but the preferred spelling is kidnapped.

Larry and I also looked up Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic book which, as we both thought, is Kidnapped, with two Ps. We found many other books with kidnapped in the title and none were spelled with only one P.

This incident made me realize once again how difficult it can be for a writer to get the details right. Larry and I care deeply about using proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation. In this case, his sources disagreed with mine. While kidnapped and kidnaped are both correct spellings, kidnapped is more commonly used. It would be my preference because if I came to the word kidnaped in a book, it would stop me. I would think about the spelling, rather than the story.  Larry agreed and changed every kidnaped in his book back to kidnapped.


I’ve had several letters this week from readers who want to write fiction. They all say basically the same thing: they get an idea, write a beginning, and then can’t figure out what to do next. The story bogs down in the middle so they give up and start something else. “How do you do it?” they ask. “How do you write a whole book?”

It isn’t easy. Not for me, at any rate. I know of a few writers whose first drafts flow from their fingers to the keyboard with no hesitation, but I am not one of them. First drafts are difficult for me and I sometimes resort to small motivational tricks to keep myself going.

I am currently writing a middle grade novel called HOW I WONDER. That may not be the final title but I have to call it something while I’m writing it. As often happens, I had the book about half finished when it seemed to be dragging. The fast action ended and I didn’t know what should happen next. I like the book and didn’t want to give up on it so I set a goal to write 1,000 words per day on HOW I WONDER.

A word count showed that I had 24,736 words at that point. I wrote the date, May 25, on a piece of paper, with the number of words beside it. Then I got to work. I told myself I didn’t have to keep what I wrote. If it was awful, I could always delete it later but I had to get 1000 words down. At the end of that day, my count was 25,753.  Since then I’ve kept track of how much I write each day.

I was up to 33,832 words when my editor called to ask if I was working on a new book. She’d just come from an editorial meeting and hoped I might have something new for her soon. Because I was immersed in the plot, I was able to tell her exactly what HOW I WONDER is about and also how close I am to being finished. She asked for a formal proposal so for the next two days instead of writing 1000 words a day on the manuscript, I wrote a synopsis, revised the first chapter, and chose a representative section from the middle of the book. Those three items went off to my agent, who will read them and send them on (assuming she doesn’t see a problem) to the editor. Then I returned to the book itself, which is currently at 36,223 words.

Having a positive editorial reaction to the basic premise of HOW I WONDER gave me fresh energy to finish the book, but it was the day-after-day act of writing 1000 words that prepared me to respond enthusiastically when asked if I was working on a new manuscript. If I had not made myself be productive, I would not have been able to explain the book so well or to be specific about when I could deliver a final manuscript. I did not know this editor was going to call, but because I had been working regularly, I was ready for the call when it came.

Many people, myself included, want to have written a book. There is only one way to make that happen.  One at a time, you have to put the words on paper. 


There were two peacocks in my yard yesterday morning. If you have read The Ghost’s Grave, you will know why I began laughing when I saw them.  They belong to my neighbors, and I often hear their raucous cries, but I had never seen them on my property before. They wandered to the bottom of my porch steps, then looked up at the house before they ambled back home.  I had already written The Ghost’s Grave when my neighbors got their peacocks and, as far as I know, these birds are not anyone’s reincarnated relatives.

A fawn was born here yesterday. I saw the pregnant doe grazing, mid-morning. Then she settled down in the tall grass, where the deer often sleep. I was writing and have a view of that area from my office window. I looked out every so often, and she was still there.

After about an hour, she got up and walked toward my window, with a brand new fawn!  When they were out of the tall grass and on the area that I mow, she stopped to clean him. She licked every inch of that fawn, while he (she?) stood on wobbly legs and looked around at his first view of the world.

The fawn is tiny – I’d estimate two feet from nose to tail, and about two feet high. When I got my camera and tried to take a photo through the window, Mama deer heard the shutter click and led her baby off into the woods. The fawn is adorable!


I found a snake skin yesterday. It is from a garter snake, about sixteen inches long, and it is intact, including the head. I had never seen a snake skin outside of a museum, so I am excited to have this treasure. I didn’t bring it in the house because I was afraid it would be the victim of a cat attack; I have it on a shelf in the garage.

Of course, this discovery sent me on line to learn all about how snakes shed their skins. It is a fascinating process. When I look at all the wrinkles I’ve accumulated with age, I think the snakes may have the right idea.

Three deer curled up in the long grass behind my house this afternoon and took a nap. They slept there for over two hours.

The lilac bush outside my office window is in full bloom. It attracts the hummingbirds, and I love having a close-up view of these tiny birds as they feed.  And, yes, Yo-Yo Bird is still flying up and down by my front porch.  Life on a wildlife sanctuary, even a small one like mine, is never dull.

More good news for The Ghost’s Grave.  It has just won the Nevada Young Reader’s Award. I am the first author ever to win this award three times. What an honor! Thank you to the children of Nevada.


The good news keeps coming. I learned today that Escaping the Giant Wave has won the 2008 Young Hoosier Award. This is the fifth time that one of my books has won in Indiana, a new record for me.

The five winning books represent three publishers, and include two mysteries, one memoir, one adventure story, and one novel that I don’t know how to categorize. (I only write them; someone else has to figure out what they are.)

Here are my Indiana winners, and the year that they won:

1992 – Nightmare Mountain

1995 – Horror at the Haunted House

2001 – Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio

2007 – Abduction!

2008 – Escaping the Giant Wave


I love to read. When asked what I do in my spare time, my answer always begins with, “I read a lot.”

For many years, I’ve kept a book journal. It’s a simple spiral notebook where I list the title and author of every book I read. I began the journal in June, 1990, because my friend, Mary, and I, who see each other only once a year, are both avid readers. We like to discuss what we’ve read, but we can’t always remember every title. We decided to start book lists and bring them to our yearly reunion. We’ve both done this ever since. I also note the months as well as the year when I read each book. I wish I had started my book journal earlier. It would be fun to look back and see what I was reading at various times in my life.

Once I began listing the books, I developed an urge to note those I especially liked, so they get a star next to the title. Doing this reminds me of the piano teacher I had when I was little, who pasted a gold star on my music if I played it without mistakes. I am stingy with my stars and give them only to books that I really loved.

Since those of you who pay attention to this blog are also readers, I thought you might be interested in knowing some of the books I’ve starred. I am listing only books for adults. I read a lot of books for kids, too, but I know many of the authors personally. It’s harder to be objective when reading a book by a friend.

 Here, then, are a few books for adults that I especially liked:

Jim, the Boy  by Tony Earley

Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund

The Good, Good Pig  by Sy Montgomery

Loving Letters from Ogden Nash: A Family Album  by Linell Nash Smith

The Habit of Being  by Flannery O’Connor

I am also a fan of Julia Spencer-Fleming and eagerly await the next book in her series.


I could have titled this entry, “Still More Good News” because, yes, The Ghost’s Grave  has won another state young reader award! This time it’s the South Dakota Prairie Pasque Award. Here’s the list of state winners, so far: New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Washington, Tennessee, and So. Dakota. It is also nominated in a couple of states that have not yet voted.

This is the third consecutive year that I’ve won the South Dakota award. I’ve won three times in other states, but never consecutively, so this is a different kind of first for me.

Here is how I got the idea for The Ghost’s Grave:  About a mile from my house there is an old cemetery, and the whole last row of gravestones has the same date of death. The people buried there were all coal miners who were killed in a mine explosion. The first time I visited this cemetery, I got curious about mining accidents, so I began to do research on coal mining in my area.

I also did some research on the cemetery itself, and I discovered that one miner lost a leg in an explosion. His leg is buried in this cemetery but he lived out his life elsewhere, and when he died, he was buried in a different location.

I had been wanting to write a ghost story, and once I read about the leg, I knew how I wanted to create my ghost. Willie is an old coal miner who tries to convince Josh, my character, to dig up Willie’s leg and rebury it with the rest of him.

Like most of my books, The Ghost’s Grave  used many incidents from my own life. The tree house that I describe in the book is an actual tree house that’s in my woods. My husband built it for our grandchildren.

The stray cat in the book is also based on my own experience of finding a mother cat and her kittens in the woods, and taming them. 

I even had a neighbor once who actually shot a bat in his kitchen!

Good News!

The Ghost’s Grave has won the 2008 Sasquatch Award, given by the Washington Library Media Association. It is exciting to win a children’s choice honor anywhere, but especially so in my home state.

 I also like the fact that I won’t have to board an airplane in order to attend the conference and accept this award in person.

I am thrilled. Lucy’s tail is wagging. Pete, Molly and Mr. Stray are purring.  Hooray!

Author School Visits

About a year ago, I put the announcement on my Web page: “Peg has retired from doing school visits.” My hope was to have fewer requests so that I didn’t have to say no so often. It’s difficult to decline invitations that I would enjoy accepting.

I do get fewer requests now, but I also get a lot of inquiries that begin, “I know you don’t do school visits any longer, but….” followed by the reason why that particular school should be the exception to the rule. Kids often point out that I would not have to talk to the whole school – I could come only to their classroom.

I quit doing school talks because of my problems with post-polio syndrome. When I get too tired, it strains my already weak muscles and causes further damage. Muscles weakened by polio are not like normal muscles. For most people, the way to increase muscle strength is to exercise, to use those muscles more. It’s the opposite for me. The more I tire my muscles, the more strength they lose, permanently. I recently had a thorough evaluation at a post-polio clinic. The main advice the doctors gave me is that I MUST cut back on my activities if I hope to continue to walk.

I will continue to accept awards in person, when possible, and to speak at major conferences. My last school visit will be in May, in conjunction with a fund raiser for the Humane Society (Pete the Cat’s alma mater.) It’s a good school to end with because the librarian invited me to my first young author day, many years ago. We have come full circle.

Most people my age, even those with excellent health, have already retired. Physically, I should retire but mentally, emotionally, I am not ready.  Saying no to school visits is not true retirement for me. I never set out to have a career as a public speaker; my job is writing.

Writing is not a typical profession; it is a way of life. I spent many years laboring unheralded, years when I would have been thrilled to be asked to speak anywhere. Now, when my books are popular and my presence in demand, why would I want to quit?

Writing a book is challenging and exhilarating. I enjoy the process as well as the results.  I have retired from doing school visits, but I am not retiring as a writer.  


I did something extremely difficult today. I cancelled my trip to Missouri to receive the Mark Twain Award.  Words are inadequate to express how disappointed I am to miss the conference of the Missouri Association of School Librarians. It would have been my second Mark Twain Award banquet, and I cherish my memories of the first one.

The reason I am not flying to Missouri is that I’ve had a relapse of the pneumonia that I had last month. This time I recognized the symptoms and went to the doctor right away. Recurring pneumonia is a serious medical condition for anyone but my history of bulbar polio makes it even more dangerous for me.

My doctor usually states my options, and then lets me make up my own mind. This time he flat out said, “Cancel the trip.” I know he is right. Flying is difficut for me under the best conditions. Leg braces + a cane + limited stamina do not add up to a person who can rush through airports or tolerate delays easily.

 My acceptance speech is written, my two workshops are planned, my pet-sitter is booked,  I have a plane ticket and a reservation where I park my car. I even lost three pounds so I’d look better in my good black pants – but, alas, I’m not going.

I know the wonderful people in Missouri who have put so much time and effort into preparing for this conference are disappointed, too, and I hate letting them down after I had promised months ago to come. 

Twice before in my many years of speaking, I’ve had to cancel. Once I was scheduled to be the luncheon speaker at a conference in Oklahoma when my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Surgery was scheduled for the day of the conference. I stayed home, over my mother’s protests. I was with her when she died the next day.

The other time I was on my way to the Plum Creek Children’s Literature Festival in Seward, Nebraska. This is an exciting three-day affair where I was scheduled for numerous school visits, autograph sessions, and other events. Carl and I were already in Nebraska when we got word that our ten-year-old grandson (now 15) had a brain tumor and was being taken to Children’s Hospital in Seattle. We turned the RV around and headed home.

The people in Oklahoma, Nebraska and Missouri  all reacted with compassion and understanding. Nobody whined or said, “How can you do this to us at the last minute?” Instead, they sent me their love and good wishes. Without exception, I was told that I had made the right choice.

I won’t be accepting the bust of Mark Twain in person, but I still have the thrill of winning it. The clever, discerning, literate and wise children of Missouri chose Abduction! as their favorite book this year.  What an honor! How exciting! No matter whether I’m on a podium, wearing those black pants, or at home in my fuzzy green bathrobe, Mark Twain Award day is a special event.  Thank you, Missouri.