Three Questions with Robyn Hood Black

RHB Head Shot 2012 CREDIT  photo by Sandy FryI first met Robyn Hood Black virtually, when she contacted me via email after looking up my information through SCBWI. A poet, author, and artist, Robyn and her husband were considering moving to Beaufort, and she wanted to ask a fellow kidlit author some questions about the area. Thank goodness Robyn decided to make the move!!! She is a wonderful person, a great writer and she runs a business all writerly types will love: artsyletters.  I’m so excited to have Robyn with us today to answer questions about the businesses of writing and art. Her answers, and a bio detailing her published works follow, so keep on reading! 

1. Robyn, you are an artist, a poet, an author, and an entrepreneur. I recently visited you at your studio (one full of great old books, typewriter keys, and all sorts of things that make authors drool )and wondered how you came up with the idea of combining your love of the written word with the love of art. Can you tell us about that?

???????????????????????????????I’ve done some version of art and writing my entire life, and have never quite been able to choose between the two!  I’m probably a writer first, and I did finally pick an English major over art in college at Furman. (But I took a bunch of art classes as well.) I’d still love to illustrate my own text one of these days – working on that, in fact.  Even as a child, I had an entrepreneurial streak.  My sweet mother carted me around to gift shops, where I sold little pine bark sculptures with rocks painted as birds, with a shiny coating over all.  (I still love gloss!)

???????????????????????????????In 2012, with an empty nest looming on the horizon, I decided to launch my art business, artsyletters.  I’d done art shows and commissioned work in my 20s, but for this adventure I wanted more of a focus, and a trademark, too.  Who were my people in the world?  Writers!  And poets, teachers, librarians, and book lovers.  It seemed a natural venture to create things with a literary bent, and I find I have far more ideas than time to execute them.

red door collage arch macl 2 kami c (1)I like using books and words and letters as subject matter for drawings and prints, and I also relish using actual vintage texts to create mixed media pieces.  Somewhere along the line I went to the dark side and started altering old books and excerpts.   I enjoy bringing these physical, historical elements to life in a new form.  I might be working with a text published in the 1800s or the turn of the last century, and I always swim in questions – what was going on in the world when this was written or published?  Were we at war? Who might have read these words in their parlor or library or school?  Who might have touched this very cover or page through the years?

2. It sounds like every project is a result of your love of words! What has been the best thing about starting a business that caters to literary types?

wren on books with color kami c (1)The best thing has been that I tossed these things out into the universe, first at art shows and through my Etsy shop, and my “target market” caught them!  My first customer at a show was a professor at a small local college; she bought several bookmarks to give to members of that school’s first class of English majors.  At that same show, a young boy picked up my “Twas brillig…” bookmark and recited “Jabberwocky” by heart!

Those were fun exchanges, and several of my Poetry Friday friends have bought items, sometimes as gifts for each other.  They have been so incredibly supportive. (I personally think the Kidlitosphere is home to the most wonderful folks on the planet.)

XO on manual net c kami c (1)I’ve sold just about every altered-text mixed media piece I’ve made, and I look forward to making and offering a lot more of these in the new year.  It’s been humbling when an unexpected connection is made with these; a Rilke quote presented in a way that encouraged someone facing a challenge, for instance.  I’ve come to understand that these pieces, which I make with care and awe for the words that inspire them, will sooner or later resonate with someone because of his or her own story, and I love that.

 3. I know you love poetry, and some of your art even features found poetry. What is it about poetry that inspires you?

The Poet collage RHB kami c (1)How much time do we have? ;0)

I was one of those nerdy kids who loved poetry from – forever!  The older I get, the more I appreciate poetry’s ability to so efficiently and eloquently make connections – that’s really what poems do, isn’t it? Offer an image or phrase that makes you see/feel/think about something in a new way?  I primarily write poems for children, but a few years ago I fell under the spell of haiku, and I regularly submit to contemporary haiku journals.

My first poems published in a book for children were in Georgia Heard’s THE ARROW FINDS ITS MARK (Roaring Brook, 2012).  I will forever be grateful for that open door to the world of found poetry.  It’s completely addictive (and something students enjoy trying).

When I make my “books as doors” collages, I include some kind of short found poem inside along with bits of vintage bling.  Last year, a dear friend bought one of the fairy door (miniature book) sized ones, which had a vintage fairy illustration and these altered words:  “I think your/wings are/strong enough/to carry/you.”  She sent it to a friend out West battling cancer.  That touched me deeply, and I’d like to create more of these kinds of works.

If you can't make it to Robyn's Beaufort studio, you can always visit her Etsy store.

If you can’t make it to Robyn’s Beaufort studio, you can always visit her Etsy store by clicking HERE.

For fun this month, I put together a few tiny ornaments in vintage oval frames with a wee print of my “Writer Mouse” image on one side and some “micro found poetry” (?) – just a few words highlighted in text, on the other.  The texts were from the late 1800s – I think the shortest was, “reindeer travel/upwards”…  Each of these sold on Etsy this past week; I have a couple of those tiny frames left and might conjure up new ones this weekend.  I have time, right?

Robyn in her studio.

Robyn in her studio.

Robyn Hood Black is a children’s author and poet living in coastal South Carolina. Her books include Sir Mike (Scholastic Library, 2005) and Wolves (Intervisual Books, 2008). Her poetry appears in The Poetry Friday Anthology , The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, and The Poetry Anthology for Science (compiled by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, Pomelo Books, 2012, 2013 & 2014), in Georgia Heard’s anthology of found poems, The Arrow Finds Its Mark (Roaring Brook, 2012), and in leading haiku journals. One of her poems will appear in a board book compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins to be released from Abrams in 2015. Her fiction has appeared in Highlights and her poetry has been featured in Ladybug and Hopscotch. She enjoys encouraging young readers, writers, and artists through school visits and speaks to audiences of all ages. She’s been active in SCBWI forever. She also creates “art for your literary side” through her business, artsyletters.

You can find Robyn on her website:

Her blog:

Her Etsy store:

Thank you for joining us today Robyn!

Laurisa White Reyes: Thrilling Readers and Writers

IMG_1496bLaurisa White Reyes is a mother of five, an author MG and YA novels, and editor of Middle Shelf Magazine. Her career path is not surprising, considering she always enjoyed reading and writing. She wrote her first poem when she was five, and didn’t stop! She has written freelance articles, was a magazine staff writer and newspaper editorialist, and has worked as a book editor. Laurisa joins us today to discuss her novels, editing magazines, and belting out Broadway hits!

1. Your YA thriller, CONTACT, came out in July! What is your main character, Mira, like?

Contact bookMira is the 16-year-old daughter of a politician and former CEO of the company that cured mental illness and depression. So she is always in the spotlight, and that’s a tough place to be for a girl whose greatest desire is to be as far away from everyone as possible. For reasons unknown to her, she uploads other people’s psyches with a single touch, an overwhelming and painful experience that drives her to attempt suicide. But deep down she longs for personal connections.

 2. I can’t imagine writing something meant to make the reader’s heart race. How do you build suspense when writing thrillers?

When I was writing my first novel, The Rock of Ivanore, several years ago, I happened to be reading The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Brown is the master of suspense. I could not put that book down! I spent a good amount of time studying his writing techniques and trying to apply them to my own work. A few things really jumped out at me. First, begin and end chapters at climactic moments. The opening lines need to grab the reader, and the end should compel the reader to turn the page to see what happens next. Second, take risks. In other words, killing off key characters or letting the story take an unexpected direction enhance the thrill of a good story. I love reading books that demand to be read, so I want to write them, too. One thing I do to achieve that is to go through my first draft and chop chapters at the most pivotal moments.

rock3. Prior to writing CONTACT, you wrote two MG fantasies THE ROCK OF IVANORE and THE LAST ENCHANTER. Can you tell us about making the shift from MG to YA?

I wrote the fantasy series when my oldest son was about eight years old. (I’m working on Book 3 now.) I wanted to write a story he would enjoy. He’s seventeen now. Actually, four of my five children are teenagers or young adults. Since I’ve always read what my kids read, I started reading a lot of YA books a few years back—and I loved them! So I decided to try my hand at it. CONTACT actually began as an experiment to see if I could write a novel without an outline. I’d say the experiment was a success.

 4. We’d love to hear about some of the advantages and disadvantages of publishing with small presses! Would you share some of what you’ve learned?

The biggest disadvantage of publishing with small presses is simply lack of money. After working countless hours on a book for two or three years, I’d really like to earn a little back for my effort. But small presses just don’t have the kind of budgets that the big publishers do. Fortunately, there are a lot advantages to publishing with a small press, including being part of a team or a family. Both my publishers included me in just about every step of the publishing process, including the cover designs. Also, they are my books’ biggest cheerleaders, and my friends.

Middle Shelf Magazine

Guess who is in this issue? Click HERE to check it out.

5. Despite releasing a YA novel, middle grade is still something you love. As the Editor of Middle Shelf Magazine, you have to keep your finger on the pulse of what is going on in the world of MG fiction. What kind of things do you look for in putting together Middle Shelf Magazine?

I have several objectives for every issue of Middle Shelf. The most important is to shine the spotlight on books that might not otherwise get the attention they deserve. There are many wonderful stories out there that are self-published or produced by small presses. Kids are often exposed only to books with huge marketing campaigns or that are written by famous authors. While MS certainly includes some of those as well, we pay particular attention to the books you won’t find on the best-seller lists, but that ought to be there.

Yes! This is what I mean by thrilling authors! 😉  Now Laurisa, can you finish these sentences for us?

My favorite writing tool is my padded wooden lap desk, the best Xmas present my husband ever gave me.

My favorite female character is Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. She is feisty and self-centered, but is also ferociously loyal and will fight to defend the people and places she loves.

Something I do that seems nerdy, but is actually really fun is to sing Broadway songs out in public. I’ll sing in the store, at restaurants, or just walking down the sidewalk. I do it because it embarrasses my children. Sometimes they’ll even clamp their hands over my mouth to get me to stop.

Thank you for sharing your experience with us today Laurisa! I have my Broadway musical song request ready for when our paths cross. 🙂  To find out more about Laurisa, visit her website and her blog or find her on FACEBOOK.  You can find her on Twitter HERE.

For great middle grade reads, check out Middle Shelf Magazine too!





Amy Ludwig VanDerwater: Poet and Nature Lover

Amy Ludwig VanDerwaterAmy Ludwig VanDerwater is a wonderful person. I can say this because I spent a weekend with her many years ago at a poetry workshop run by the Highlights Foundation.  In 2012 our poems were united under one cover when we each had a poem included in the collection Nasty Bugs, published by Dial. Amy, a writing teacher, loves poetry, spending time outdoors, family, and making things. Her collection of nature poems, Forest Has a Song, was a Golden Kite Honor book and won the Cybils Poetry Award. 

I know you love poetry! What do you like best about it?

I love the way great poets plant and tend each word with care.  I like poetry’s power and brevity and the way one can find a poem to match every emotion and experience.  Reading poems helps me never feel alone.  Writing poems, on the other hand, allows me to braid my feelings and observations with a variety of literary techniques; I adore the puzzle of rhyme and meter.

FOREST HAS A SONG was clearly written by someone who loves nature. What was your primary inspiration for writing the poetry in this collection? 

Forest Has a Song

A year ago today on Earth Day we featured this book and a special poem by Amy! See it HERE.

We live way out in the country, south of Buffalo, NY, and our family spends lots of time out in the woods.  My husband Mark, a science teacher, teaches us about the plants and beasts, and this book simply mirrors out the wonder I feel again and again, each time we hike together.  When I visit schools and share puffballs and owl calls with students, I feel my wonder ripple outward and hope that children and parents and teachers will make joyful plans to poke around in nature.

I hope so too! It seems that most of us spend too much time inside these days. Do you have advice for teachers and parents who want to share more poetry with their children?

Please just do.  Share what you love!  Tuck poems into the nooks and pockets of each day.  Poems are small; they fit into the folds of our hearts.  Offer children poetry that spans the range of human experience, from sadness to delight.  This is how children will know that poems can be friends and that they, too, can find poems to match their moods and worlds.

Amen! One way parents and teachers can share poetry easily and freely is by visiting your blog, The Poem Farm. Can you tell us a little about that?

I began The Poem Farm blog  in April 2010, as a place to write a poem each day for National Poetry Month of that year.  I did indeed write a poem each day of April 2010 and liked doing itso well that I continued writing a poem and mini lesson each day for 365 days, from April 2010 – April 2011.  This is how The Poem Farm established itself, and I continue to share poetry, lessons, and children’s poems regularly in my corner of the Internet.  This month (April 2014) finds me in the middle of a project I call THRIFT STORE LIVE, a series of 30 poems each about an object I’ve found in a real thrift store.  The Poem Farm blog is a place for me to experiment with writing and to connect with children, families, and teachers.

And you live on a real farm! I’m sure this gives you lots of inspiration for The Poem Farm. What is that like?

We actually call our home Heart Rock Farm, but it is also really The Poem Farm in 3-D.  We live in an old farmhouse on 24 acres in Western New York, and we’re usually growing something (latest – gooseberries), making something (latest – butter lambs), or caring for something (latest – newish bunnies).  It’s a heavenly spot with four real seasons, and we feel very grateful to have lived here for the last ten years.

Okay, now I want to come visit!  Just for fun, can you finish these sentences? 

Two of my favorite poets are Naomi Shihab Nye and David McCord.

Two of the best poetry books to share with children are ANOTHER JAR OF TINY STARS: POEMS BY MORE NCTE AWARD WINNING POETS, edited by Beatrice E. Cullinan and Deborah Wooten –  and KNOCK AT A STAR: A CHILD’S INTRODUCTION TO POETRY edited by X.J. Kennedy and Dorothy M. Kennedy.

When I write poetry, I usually do not how I will begin.  I write my way into a poem.

I read poetry daily because I hope it will help me become a better person and a stronger writer.

My favorite writing tools are black pens, unlined notebooks, and quiet.

One tip I have for aspiring poets is read the kind of writing you hope to write.  Let the words of favorite poems become part of you.  Learn from others, and listen to the whisperings of your own spirit.

Thank you for your inspirational answers Amy!

As with most nerdy chicks, there is much more to Amy than we were able to cover in one interview. Please visit her comprehensive website to find out more about her and check out her blogs, The Poem Farm and Sharing Our Notebooks, a fascination blog featuring the notebooks of writers, illustrators, and more. You can see my notebooks HERE.

Teachers, check out this teaching guide for Forest Has a Song!  Finally, if you are concerned about too much standardized testing in school, you will enjoy Amy’s opinion piece featured in the Buffalo News. Happy National Poetry Month everyone!




Marybeth Cornwell: Executive Influencer

Marybeth CornwellIf you have ever been in a Walmart, a Sam’s Club, or a Lowe’s Home Improvement store, you’ve probably seen Marybeth Cornwell’s influence. As Walmart’s Senior Vice President/GMM Ladieswear, Intimates, Jewelry & Accessories, Marybeth is responsible for sales and profitability of the multi-billion dollar ladieswear apparel business at Walmart. She is also on the Board of Directors of The Walmart FoundationSoNA, the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas and Hope Cancer Resources.

A member of the President’s Global Council of Women Leaders, Marybeth has had an amazing career in marketing and merchandising. I am thrilled that a woman who has been so successful in the corporate world is willing to share her knowledge here on Nerdy Chicks Rule!  Thank you for joining us today, Marybeth!

1.       You’ve held Vice President or Sr. Vice President positions at Walmart, Sam’s Club, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Lexington Furniture, and Hanesbrands, Inc. Can you attribute your success in marketing and merchandising to particular skills or talents?

In all these roles, I have had the opportunity to work with products that directly impact customers in their everyday lives.  I think I have a knack for seeing through a consumer’s eyes regarding product design, color & trend, product assortment, display, and packaging.  I adore shopping :), so I get to do professionally (with a very large checkbook) what I love to do in my personal time!

I don’t think I would have been as successful working with a product that is more abstract, like financial services.    I would, however, enjoy being a researcher.  It’s close to the consumer and I am so nosy.  🙂

2.      Speaking of consumers, whether they know it or not, most of our readers have seen your influence in the products offered by major retailers like Lowe’s and Walmart. What are the challenges you face when trying to select products for your company to sell?

Well I never thought of it that way but, thank you, that makes me very happy.  I love to see my products in use.  (Apparel merchants especially love to crowd-watch and report sightings of their products back to their teams.)

Anyway, as a merchant or product manager, you must have the ability to set your personal preferences aside in order to maximize sales by giving your customer what they want and need – for a great value.  Since retailers are closer to the customer than suppliers (who sell through us and can only see their sales numbers) we spend a lot of time representing our customers wants and needs to the manufacturing community.

3.      I toured your alma mater, Wake Forest University, with my son this year and was so impressed with the academic atmosphere. Which college experiences best prepared you for entering the business world?

Hands down, it was the combination of small class size (I had one TA teach a class, and that was only a lab – in undergrad through business school) and leadership opportunities at Wake.  The school is the perfect size – large enough to offer the resources of a major institution, but small enough to allow a student to be a leader.  I was the Pan-Hellenic President, a founder of the Volunteer Service Corps, active in student government and more.  This was great preparation for business.

4.      I can see why! I understand you have always been a voracious reader. How has that helped you excel?

Marybeth CornwellI think I am supposed to say something esoteric like “well, I taught myself Mandarin” or some such.  But no, I think reading (I prefer almost exclusively fiction) allows me to completely enter another world and relax.  Reading gives my brain time to breathe and fiction, in particular, expands my creativity.

A side benefit is connecting with colleagues who are also bookworms.  One of my key suppliers has a CEO who is a first rate bibliophile and we always start our meetings discussing our latest reads.


5.    Actually, I love that you equate needing to relax with reading! As a Senior Vice President of the world’s largest retailer, you must have an outstanding work ethic. Can you share any work habits that have helped your career?

Well I got started early – I’ve had a job since I was 15 and had to apply for a special work permit.  I worked every weekend through high school, full time in summers, and throughout college and grad school.

I think I have been late to work less than a handful of times and I’ve never been a clock watcher.  I am willing to put in the hours I need for my team to be successful but I still have an active personal life.  In my current role I arrive at work just after 7am and leave after 6pm.  Then there is travel (domestic and international), commuting, our monthly Saturday Morning Meeting, etc.  What I love is that no day is ever the same, and the pace is invigorating.

That said, most people are surprised to know that I rarely take work or reading home and I am passionate about taking every single minute of vacation time.
6.     It sounds like you’re able to combine hard work with fun in your career. So can you share something you like to do that might be considered a tiny bit nerdy, but is actually really fun? 

I love designing a good spreadsheet whether for work or personal use.  I was famously horrible at math until I learned Excel in grad school back in the early 90’s…oooh…each cell is like its own little calculator!  Serious geek territory.  I could finally “see” the math and I was hooked.

Maybe there’s hope for me in math! I love these answers. Thank you, Marybeth. I also want to thank your lifelong friend, Nerdy Chick Nancy Kennedy, for introducing you to us.

Marybeth has agreed to come back in October to talk about being a Breast Cancer Survivor, so keep a lookout for that upcoming post.  


Marissa Christie, Super-clever-go-getter

mcMarissa Christie’s official title is Senior VP of Marketing and Communications at the United Way of Bucks County, but she’s more commonly known as the woman who succeeds at everything she goes after! I met Marissa years ago and was immediately impressed by her intelligence and her willingness to think outside the box. We’re so happy to have Marissa here today at Nerdy Chicks Rule to talk about mentoring, advocacy, and gourmet snacks…

As Senior VP of Marketing and Communications at the United Way of Bucks County, you work on projects to help the community. What are your favorite things to advocate for?

That’s a hard question! I really care deeply about all of the projects I oversee, but I think right now I am most passionate about the Bucks County Women’s Initiative. It’s a great group of women who come together to make a difference in the lives of girls. We raise money and fund things like the #girlSTEM Conference to connect girls with women who work in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math professions; a program called Empower U. that helps low income girls get fit; and Teens Leaning In to help young women learn confidence and leadership.

What kind of opportunities are out there to help empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)?

There are so many opportunities, formal and informal. Informally, I think my best tip is to find women who are doing interesting things and then ask a lot of questions. When I was in my 20s, I met this author at a book store. She really impressed me, so I asked if she would have a cup of coffee with me after her book signing. I asked a lot of questions and through that process, I got some really great, really empowering advice.

It may be a little nerdy, but sometimes you just need to say: “Hey! You’re interesting and you are accomplishing cool things. How can I do that?” Most people – especially women who have had great mentors themselves – will give you all kinds of helpful information and contacts.

That’s really great advice. Too many people don’t ask for help — when help is often just a question away! Moving on, though, what is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a nerdy chick?

I was recently named one of my community’s “Forty Under 40”. It’s a list of successful, dynamic people who make a difference. I know I am on that list because I work hard and always focus on learning things that make me better at my job. Nerdy, but true!

That’s so awesome! But let’s change gears for a second…Tell us about a fictitious nerdy chick you admire and why you admire her.

Oh, man. There are so, so many. I guess one of my all time favorites is Meg from A Wrinkle in Time. She is so smart and so mathematically gifted, but she’s also really in touch with her own emotions.

Do you have a personal “theme song,” perhaps one that speaks to your inner nerdiness?

I love a lot of music, but I guess what probably speaks to my inner nerdiness most is my fondness for anything from the musical Into the Woods. I really like the song “Moments in the Woods.” Part of it goes:

Oh! If life were made of moments,

Even now and then a bad one!

But if life were only moments,

Then you’d never know you had one…

Tell us a four-word descriptive phrase you would like people to associate with you.


Love it! If someone gave you $75 and you could only spend it on you, what would you do with it?

I’d spend it on expensive gourmet treats at Whole Foods..

You are so smart — that’s a perfect thing to do! Can you tell us one thing you buy at the grocery store that you cannot live without?

Too hard! I literally eat anything and I am just not fussy.

Well, I guess we finally stumped you. 🙂 Thank you, Marissa, for joining us today. We really enjoyed talking to you!

To learn more about the fabulous programs Marissa works on, visit the United Way of Bucks County. And on March 13, 2014, Marissa and I will be at the Bucks County Women’s Initiative’s Shaping Futures: Mind, Body & Spirit event which will help to fund all sorts of pro-nerdy initiatives throughout the Bucks County area. Come join us!

Three Questions With Rebecca Petruck

I met wonderful Rebecca Petruck a few years ago at a novel writing retreat, and have been fortunate enough to cross paths with her several times since at writer events. I’m thrilled to share that Rebecca Petruckher debut novel, STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, forthcoming from Abrams in May, is already making a big splash as an American Booksellers Association Indies Introduce New Voices selection and a Spring 2014 Kids’ Indie Next List selection. Knowing Rebecca, this doesn’t surprise me at all. 

STEERING TOWARD NORMAL is the story of eighth grader Diggy Lawson and the year he attempts to compete with a calf in the Minnesota State Fair — the same year Diggy’s family life is turned upside down when a half-brother he didn’t know he had moves in with he and his father. You can read a more about it HERE! But first, check out Rebecca’s great answers to these three questions. Thanks for joining us today Rebecca!

1.      I always think the best books touch readers on an emotional level. How will readers connect with your main character, Diggy?

Diggy thinks he’s a tough guy but is all heart. Diggy’s mom left him as a baby in a very public way that has become part of the town lore, so her absence is always present for him. He pretends it doesn’t hurt, especially because he has a good situation with his dad, but it never leaves him. So when something happens that seems to threaten Diggy’s relationship with his dad, he’s not as prepared to deal with things as he thinks he is. Which, frankly, I think is pretty true for all of us.

What ends up helping Diggy most is something that hurts him, too. He raises and competes show steers. Competitors spend several hours a day every day with their animals, and the steers become like a beloved pet. But a steer is only and ever market beef. Every year, the steers, especially champion show steers, are sold to the packer and slaughtered. Why would kids do this year after year? Fall in love with an animal and care for it as a best friend, knowing it will be sold? What I heard from all the competitors I met over the years is that it is the cycle of life, and that they had a year to love the steers and give them a better life than what they would have had on a feed lot. Despite the pain—loading day is called the “Day of Tears” for a reason—the kids cherish the time they have with their animals.

 Approaching a situation like this year after year and learning how to cope with the heartbreak has prepared Diggy to cope with other difficult situations. He doesn’t realize it, of course, and there are times when he wants to give up, but raising steers has taught him how to keep his heart open, despite the inevitable pain, and that ends up being the gift he shares with and that saves his family.

2.      What’s something you like to do that might be considered a tiny bit nerdy, but is actually really fun? 

NerdyChicks_papercityscapeI love to work with paper. I’ve long collected beautiful paper, and I have drawers of pages ripped from National Geographic magazine. When a close friend died suddenly from cancer, I organized a project to fold 1,000 origami cranes, in the tradition inspired by Sadako Sasaki, and I folded most of them from the Nat Geo pages I had saved. I also love paper engineering and have tried my hand at learning basic paper construction. One year I folded book bursts for holiday gifts for everyone. And in playing with all the manuscript pages I recycle, I’ve been slowly building a cityscape from paper tubes [image included]. I’d really like to try book sculpting, too, and I aspire to own a piece by Su Blackwell one day.

I love art because to me it is another kind of storytelling, and the pieces I collect personally all have something to say. So I’m particularly thrilled and inspired by the blending of books, paper, and art. Because the paper art I enjoy also has a technical component (folding, cutting, building), when I tinker with paper and books it is like putting my brain on notice that both sides have to do their fair share of the work.

3.      You’ve been a cheerleader, but also love books and have participated in math competitions! Do any of your characters have nerdy sides?

I think the real question is, “Do any of your characters try to be ‘popular’?” All of my characters are geeks and nerds, even the ones who don’t think they are, just like me. I approached steering toward normalcheerleading with the same nerdy determination I approached Mathcounts, 4-H, and sticker collecting.

The thing about cheerleading was that I thought it would “legitimize” me in some way by proving to people I could be “cool.” What I learned, though, was that I was already cool. I had great friends and made more friends, not because I was a cheerleader but because I let them get to know me. I had been intimidated about talking to certain people because I had put them above me in my own mind, not because they had put me lower in theirs. 

It was a good thing to learn in eighth grade because by high school I was over it. Sure, there were people I was nervous about talking with—mostly very cute boys—and most of my friends were theater and choir geeks because theater and choir are AWESOME. But my best friend was a “guidette,” and I had friends from a variety of groups. Though the groups definitely existed, they just weren’t that important for a lot of us, and I think that is even truer for students I see today.

Those answers were so great that each one could have been its own separate blog post!  I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Steering Toward Normal. To find out more about Rebecca, visit her WEBSITE, particularly her Creativelings page where she maintains a haphazard list of things she finds interesting.

Some other things that interest her are:


Show Steers:

#30mdare—because it’s fun and all are welcome! (A Twitter writing challenge Rebecca started!)

Fair warning: If you follow Rebecca on Twitter or Facebook, you will find yourself sucked into the many interesting articles she posts! Thanks again Rebecca. We’re looking forward to seeing STEERING TOWARD NORMAL out in the world. 



Dr. Jo: Accessible Physical Therapy

IMG_0703 (1)I met Dr. Jo a few years ago when invited by my friend, her sister, to dinner. I knew I was in the presence of a super smart family before the appetizers were served. At the time, she was enjoying her career as a physical therapist. She is still loving that career while working at a private university in their Sports Medicine Department! But now she has found a way to give almost everyone access to physical therapy with her website Ask Dr. Jo. I checked out the website as soon as I heard about it and was happy to find exercises there that applied to me! I’m not sure I want to reveal just how many…. but I’ve never really thought about doing exercises, for example, to help with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. The easy-to-use design of her website helps gives you an explanation of what might cause your particular pain and a description of helpful exercises in both written and video formats.  I started doing exercises right away, and as soon as I finished, I contacted Dr. Jo to see if we could host her on Nerdy Chicks Rule. She said yes! 🙂 Now, let’s get to know her better… 

1. Thanks for joining us today, Dr. Jo! In 2012 you took your knowledge as a physical therapist online to help people. Ask Doctor Jo is now approaching a million hits! What does your site offer visitors?  

My website, which my super talented brother helped me create (he also does all the filming and editing), is designed to show correct techniques for physical therapy exercises and stretches through engaging how-to videos.  It is meant to be fun, educational, and simple without overwhelming people. 

The reason I started this website was to continue to help people as much as I can. More and more often, health care professionals, especially in the therapy field, are getting road blocked by insurance caps, limited visits, and very high co-pays for patients. Sometimes there is just not enough time to give all the instruction a patient truly needs. This website is not designed to make people stop going to their doctor or therapist. It’s just to help along the way. Nothing beats a professional PT instructing you in person where they can make sure you are doing things correctly.

2.       I love the concept and it is great to see a site like yours do so well so quickly! What is your vision for the future of Ask Doctor Jo

I am still waiting on a call from Dr. Oz or Ellen to show the world what physical therapy is really about, and that it is not just gimmicky things like ultrasound or a miracle gel that fixes everything. I am also expecting to have billions of views surpassing Justin Bieber, Jenna Marbles, and even Kid President, and being known as the most viewed YouTube sensation ever.  But seriously, I really just hope to continue to help people who might not otherwise be able to get the proper care they need because of the barriers mentioned above.

3.       I think you’ll be helping people for a long time in the future. Now let’s talk about your past influences. Your experience as a college athlete influenced your decision to pursue a career in physical therapy. What do you see as other advantages sports offer girls?  

Sports not only taught me to be a stronger person physically and mentally, but it also taught me you can accomplish great things with teamwork.  In life, you have to work and deal with people you might not be friends with, and unfortunately people you don’t like.  This is the very same lesson you learn in sports.  Teammates might not like each other, but they have to work together to win the game.  It is a great life lesson to learn at an early age.

Sports also teach you to be mentally strong.  You might not win every game, but you learn from it and play better next time.  It also taught me great time management, especially in high school and college.  Sometimes school itself can stress you out, but adding in practices and traveling…and more practices on top of that, really makes you have to use your time wisely.

With all that said, I think sports offer girls an outlet to be tough, strong, and hold her head up with pride.  It allows her a way to sweat, bleed, and get dirty.  Then step off the field, get cleaned up, and be a beautiful and proud strong woman!

4.       What advice would you give someone looking for a career in physical therapy?  

You have to have patience, and you have to be a social person.  Physical therapy can be confusing and scary for a patient, especially if they are hurting.  I have rarely had a patient able to do an exercise or stretch correctly the first time, even athletes.  Sometimes you might have to demonstrate several times and actually put patients in certain positions before they get it right. Sometimes they don’t ever get it right, and you have to be able to modify it for them. It’s not because they are being difficult, it’s because they are hurting or they just don’t understand.  If you get frustrated easily, this is not the career for you.

You also have to be able to keep a conversation going.  Many times, a patient is hurting so badly that they can only think about the pain.  If you can distract them with conversation, it not only takes their mind off the pain, but it also builds a connection with the patient that makes them feel comfortable with you and trust you.

Anyone considering a career in physical therapy should observe some physical therapists in several different settings including a hospital, a skilled nursing facility, and an outpatient clinic.  I think many people believe that physical therapists only work with athletes and everything is exciting and high level.  That is just not the case, so it is very important to see how each setting works.

In the end, it is one of the most rewarding jobs you can possibly have.  There is no greater feeling than seeing someone go from not being able to walk or perform everyday activities to them walking out of your clinic pain free after the last visit.

5.       I’m imagining that your patients who walk out pain free have an even greater feeling! On a more personal note, what’s something you like to do that might be considered nerdy, but is actually really fun?  

OMG!  I think Nerdy might be my middle name! I actually really enjoy going to physical therapy conferences and taking quizzes.  On my iPhone, I have a Board Exam prep app.  It asks physical therapy type questions to get you prepped to take your license exam.  It sounds really nerdy, but I think it keeps me sharp and up-to-date on the newest stuff out there in the PT world.  I really want to teach one day, so I feel like I need to stay sharp.  And it really is fun to see how much you remember!

I think a lot of our followers can relate to your enjoyment of conferences! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge here on Nerdy Chicks Rule.

To find out more about Dr. Jo, or to try out some of her exercises, check out her website HERE or her YouTube channel HERE. She is currently running a contest to celebrate her millionth visitor, so you could even win a fifty dollar Amazon gift card!

doctorjo_header (1)

“It is pretty fun being silly and goofy, and helping people along the way!” — Dr. Jo




Three Questions with Tameka Fryer Brown

1493016_10202452286851546_1492077939_nTameka Fryer Brown is the author of the recently released picture book, My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood (Viking, 2013). This beautiful, colorful book features Jamie, an artistic kid whose moods are reflected in the colors of his crayon box. She’s also an awesome mom. I know this because we have commiserated all fall over the college decisions our high school seniors have to make. Tameka has given me some great mom-to-mom advice, and if you keep reading, you’ll benefit from it too. Thanks for joining us today, Tameka!

1. I love your use of color in this book. What made you decide to make color so important to Jamie, your cold plummain character?

I have found that every character I create reflects me in some way. I love bright, vibrant hues—especially those of “rainbow” colors. I didn’t think about it while writing, but I realize that color is important to Jamie because it’s important to me.

From a craft perspective, I thought the vehicle of color would be an engaging, sensory-rich way to describe feelings.

2. What is your absolute favorite thing about creating relevant fiction?

Sharing my perspective and having it be heard—or read—by people I wouldn’t have the opportunity to communicate with otherwise. Creatively speaking, it doesn’t get much cooler than that.

3.       Having met you at conferences, I know you’re an amazing mom with amazing daughters. What tips do you have for moms working to raise children today?

Thank you so much, but I’m definitely more blessed than amazing. These are some things I’ve learned along the way, though:

  • Don’t be so hard on yourself. Moms aren’t perfect, nor are we supposed to be. We’re supposed to do the best we can every day, with a commitment to doing better as we learn better.
  • You’re not raising children…you’re raising adults. It’s important to keep that in mind when determining what acceptable behavior is and what it isn’t. If it won’t be “cute” as an adult, actively discourage it while they are children (and still impressionable).
  • Start giving your kids chores early! Not only will it make life easier for you, it will equip your children to be self-reliant and better able to balance life’s responsibilities later on. (I’m playing catch-up on this one.)
  • When you’re exhausted, skip the non-urgent stuff and rest. Dust bunnies don’t argue and dishes are very patient. (I’ve got this down to a science.)

As always, I love Tameka’s advice!  I too have failed on the chores front. Younger parents, heed this advice and save yourselves!

You can find out more about her by visiting her WEBSITE, checking out THE BROWN BOOKSHELF, visiting her FACEBOOK PAGE, or following this link: .



Kathy Temean: Author, Illustrator, Consultant

Today’s interview is a bit of a collaboration…SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) is doing new “Author Spotlight” pieces to highlight authors and illustrators everyone should know about. The Regional Advisor of the New Jersey SCBWI chapterLeeza Hernandez (an author/illustrator extraordinaire and a Nerdy Chick herself! If you missed Leeza’s interview one this site, click HERE to check it out) featured the wonderful, energetic, fabulously nerdy Kathy Temean, and to go with that profile, we’ve got an interview of Kathy here at Nerdy Chicks Rule!

kathyTemean_headshot1Kathy is an author/illustrator and retired New Jersey SCBWI Regional Advisor. She is the author/ illustrator of Horseplay and many magazine articles and artwork. Individuals, major corporations, and businesses have commissioned her artwork. Kathy is the owner of Temean Consulting,, a company that creates websites and helps writers and illustrators market themselves.  She publishes a daily blog WRITING AND ILLUSTRATING, which offers valuable tips on everything you need to know about writing for children. She also conducts interviews with agents, editors, authors, and illustrators in the field. Kathy writes MG and YA novels and illustrates children’s books. Yogi Berra written by Tina Overman and illustrated by Kathy came out in September. Welcome, Kathy!

So, Kathy, you’ve been involved in children’s publishing for a very long time. How do you see the books that are being published today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)?
Girls are very lucky today. The books written today for them are excellent and there are so many good choices for teens. I think they are reading more because of the great books and writing that reflects their world and the type of strong girls they want to become.

Very, very true. Tell us about a fictitious nerdy chick you admire and why you admire her.

I have a lot of nerdy real life chicks I admire, but I guess for a fictitious one, I would chose Lily Hancock from “Lies Beneath” written by Ann Greenwood Brown. Lily never gives up, even when she falls in love with a murderous merman who is planning to kill her father to revenge the death of his mother. She works through all of it to find a way to make things work.

51uKvEvPtmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_We agree — more people should understand how important creativity is to success. Now, in addition to being an author and illustrator, you are also an art educator. How do you see arts education as being important for today’s kids?

I feel any kind art builds creativity. Creativity helps in everything you want to do in life and spurs new ideas to get you where you want to go. Most people don’t give that any thought, but I have used all the creative things I learned in art with every job I’ve had to be successful, so “Yes,” I think the arts are just as important as the rest of the curriculum in school and is especially important to children who may not excel in other subjects.

What’s something you like to do that might be considered a little bit nerdy, but is actually really fun?

I collect cows. Yes, cows, but not real ones. Ever since I was in Chicago and saw ‘Cows on Parade,’ I have been into cows. I would like to buy a big concrete cow for my front lawn and decorate it each month, but I know my neighbors will go crazy and torment me about it. Is that nerdy enough? Perhaps someday, I will do it in my backyard.

What is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a Nerdy Chick?
Years ago when I worked for Kraft Foods, they were giving away a Lincoln Continental as a prize, so I talked a car dealer into letting me take one of their cars into an Acme Food Store and building a big display of Kraft Food around it. There was a lot of coordinating to pull that off. We even had to take the front windows out of the storefront to get it inside the store. I won a big award for that accomplishment.

Thank you, Kathy, for being with us here today, and for sharing your thoughts. To learn more about Kathy, visit her website (, her blog ( or follow her on Twitter: @kathytemean. And to read Kathy’s interview with SCBWI, click HERE, and to learn more about SCBWI, click HERE.

More Authors Give Back-to-School Advice

Break-These-Rules-CoverLast week, we posted some advice from authors for kids heading back to school. Not only did we get a lot of great feedback on that post, one of our brilliant authors, Kathy Erskine, tipped us off to a great new book (which she has contributed to) called Break These Rules: 35 YA Authors on Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself, edited by Luke Reynolds. If you haven’t discovered this book yet, we highly recommend it. It is Nerdy Chick-Approved!

Since last week’s post was so well-received, we decided to run a follow-up this week. So, without further ado, take a minute to listen to what these five fabulous authors have to say.

If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?

leeza dog goneLeeza Hernandez, author of DOG GONE!: “Middle school: DUCK! High school: You might not be good at that and that’s okay. It in no way means you are a failure, simply do your best!”

IMG_2566bear-snores-on_256Karma Wilson, author of BEAR SNORES ON: “Value yourself. You’re not trash, even if you make mistakes. The best way to stop making mistakes is to value yourself enough to stop making stupid mistakes.”

Magic-Brush-Yeh-Kat-9780802721792 297310_10150320631406460_1375238351_nKat Yeh, author of THE MAGIC BRUSH: “I actually think I received the perfect piece of advice already at that age (though I was not really able to figure out how to use it till much later). A dear and wise-beyond-her-years friend gave me a little card with a tiny painting and the quote: ‘Being myself includes taking risks with myself, taking risks with my behavior so that I can see how it is I want to be.’ I think we were 13 or 14 at the time. She knew I was struggling and feeling stuck so she made the card for me. I still have it.”

monstoretara lazarTara Lazar, author of THE MONSTORE: “Baggy pants and permed hair is not a good look.”

burining emerald jaime_pic_4x7Jaime Reed, author of BURNING EMERALD: “Stop worrying what everyone thinks about you. You’ll barely see any of these kids again in six years anyway. It’s not worth stressing out over. Seriously. Just do you.”