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A Great 4th Grade Book Club Chat

A little while ago, I participated in a fourth grade book club led by an elementary school teacher. The book club meets once a month before school to eat donuts and fruit while discussing the book they read that month. Sometimes, they’ll Skype with the author of that book, and in February, I was lucky enough to be that author.

Here’s the book club with The Daring Escape of the Misfit Menagerie!



And here’s their great set-up! How much do you wish you could be part of this club??


I had such a great time talking with the students of the club. It made me wish I had a program like that when I was in school! I was so inspired by their thoughtful questions that I decided to answer several of them here on my blog as well. Thanks for chatting, 4th graders!

Who is your favorite character in the book and why?

     There’s no doubt about it: I’m partial to Wombat. I just feel for him. He loves Tilda so much and he means so well—but he can be so oblivious! I chuckle a lot when I’m writing about him. I do have to say, though: there’s a new animal character that shows up in the sequel to The Daring Escape of the Misfit Menagerie, and he just might give Wombat a run for his money.

Is there going to be a sequel and what is it going to be about?

     There is! The sequel is called A Valiant Quest for the Misfit Menagerie. In it, the Misfits take off on a quest that leads them through a wild forest, a packed city center, and the biggest toy store in the world. Along the way, they encounter danger, adventure, new friends—and, of course, lots of toys!

     You can find a fun pre-order contest for A Valiant Quest here!

How does it feel to have kids reading your book?

     Amazing, incredible, exciting, stupendous…I could go on and on. The books I read at this age had such a life-long impact on me. I love knowing that now a book I wrote has a chance to make that kind of impact.

Who or what inspired you to write this story?

     My very first dog, Willow, was a big inspiration to me in writing about the Menagerie. She was a real part of my family growing up. It was from her that I learned that you don’t need to speak the same language to be a true friend. I thought about my relationship with Willow a lot when writing about Bertie’s connection to Smalls and the other animals.

How did you come up with the word, “Bajumba”?

     I love this question. One, because no one’s ever asked me that before, and two, because I have no idea! I was writing one day and it just popped into my head, and I knew I had to put it down on paper. For me, some of the best parts of my stories come into existence in that way. In fact, that’s how the character of Susan came to be.

Do you have any pets and if so, what kind?

     I have a tiny poodle named Maple who does an excellent job at keeping me company while I write. She is pro at sleeping for hours on end while I type away next to her!

Why did you include an evil character like the ring leader?

     This is a great question, and one I’m asked often during school visits. I included the evil character of Claude for many reasons, but the one I think is most important is that he provides a window into what Bertie’s future could look like, if he makes the same choices as Claude. Claude wasn’t always evil. In fact, once he was just a little boy like Bertie. But hard things happened in his life, and when they did, Claude chose to become angrier, to grow meaner. Until one day he was no longer that sweet boy, but an angry, mean ringmaster.

     In this book, many bad things happen to Bertie—just as bad things once happened to Claude. Bertie is faced with a choice. He ran rise above the bad and hold on to who he is what makes him good. Or he can give into the bad, and let it change him the way it changed Claude. I think making that choice is the most heroic thing Bertie does in this book.

 How did you come up with the chapter titles?

     In every chapter, I would find something that jumped out at me—a funny scene or an interesting phrase or a new character, for example—and then use that as the title. It was fun way of drawing attention to it!

Do you have a special place that you like to write?

     I love to write while looking outside, so I often write in my kitchen where I have a great view out the window. I also have a coffee shop that I like to write in. It serves the best chai lattes in the world!

What gave you the idea for the Lloyds?

     With the Lloyds, I wanted to show what happens when someone blindly follows someone else. The Lloyds aren’t mean, exactly; they just never think for themselves. They do whatever Claude tells them to—without first thinking it through or wondering if it will hurt someone. In that way, they end up being just as evil as Claude.

How long have you been writing?

     I have been writing for as long as I can remember—and I have been reading for just as long. Books and stories have always been a huge part of my life, even before I decided I wanted to be a writer. Which leads me to our final question…

What advice do you have for children who want to write?

     READ! Read everything and anything, as much and as often as you can. Reading makes you a better writer. It’s a rule I still follow to this day.



To celebrate the launch of TRUTH OR DARE, I have promised to list 5 embarrassing facts about myself on my blog. So…here goes nothing!

  1. I love pigs. So much so that, as a kid, I once waged a campaign to convince my parents to buy me a potbellied pig. It included research, presentations, the whole works. Sadly, I did not succeed.
  2. I was a member of the vegetarian club in college. We hung posters all over campus that said “Say No to Veal!” When my then-boyfriend-now-husband found out what I was doing, he had a FIELD DAY with it.
  3. The Disney Channel is my guilty pleasure. And not just one show either. Good Luck Charlie, Jessie, Austin & Ally, Dog with a Blog, Shake It Up…I’ll pretty much watch any of them.
  4. I’m a control freak. This is the hardest part of being a writer for me, because I can’t always control when an editorial letter will come, or what my deadlines will be, or how much work revisions will entail. I just have to go with the flow…a concept I am not very familiar with.
  5. I’m also kind of a germaphobe. It’s not a full-fledged case, but let’s just say I don’t go anywhere without my antibacterial lotion.

Now that I have THAT off my chest, here is the very last Dare of the Day:


I was dared to get on the public bus and start singing at the top of my lungs, while making eyes contact with as many people as possible. I chose  to sing ‘happy birthday,’ because it was the only song I could think of in my state of utter mortification! 

Dare of the Day: 5.13.13

Today’s the LAST DAY before TRUTH OR DARE goes on sale! Which means this is the second to last Dare of the Day… Enjoy!!


I was once dared to spend an entire day wearing fuzzy, zebra-print footie pajamas, without telling anyone why. All I can say is I had a lot of interesting conversations that day!

Guest Post by Liz Coley

Today I have a special guest post by Liz Coley, author of Pretty Girl-13! Thanks for sharing a “scene from you life,” Liz!

You can visit Liz’s website here, and check out the awesome trailer for Pretty Girl-13 here.


Scenes from a Life: Trying Parents

By Liz Coley

My parents were WWII kids, literally and culturally. My dad was the only child of Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe. My mom was one of six children of an English country vicar; she still remembers rationing and the Blitz. Both were raised, an ocean apart, with thriftiness that even Mr. Scrooge could applaud. When they joined forces as parents, they were careful with money to the point that they could afford to send the four of us kids through private school and private college without any debt. They valued funding our education over transient and optional pleasures that other people in their bracket took for granted—eating out, buying new clothes, girls’ haircuts, manicures, etc. If we ever splurged on pizza, we skipped the pepperoni because that was an extra dollar fifty. At most, we had fast food once a month. If we bought soda, it was store brand. If we bought clothes, it was at JC Penney, not Nordstrom. Mom packed five brown bag lunches every day before she sent us out the door. She even cut my fourteen cent Hostess apple pies in half so they’d last for two days.


This relentless parsimony set us a great example, of course, and ultimately gave each of us the greater gift of debt-free education. There’s no doubt, however, that their frugality made it harder for me to blend in as an ordinary teenager.


Unfortunately our private school had no uniform. While I bought into the principles and values that my parents lived by, that didn’t make it any easier to get through eighth grade with two pairs of pants, one skirt, two white tops, two print blouses, and two pairs of shoes. Theoretically, according to the mix-and-match plan, that would be 3x4x2 = 24 options. But the pants were those 1975 favorites rust and burgundy. The print blouses were identical except that one went with the rust pants and one with the burgundy, effectively ruling each other out, the blue knee skirt only went with the short-sleeved or long-sleeved white top, and you couldn’t wear a skirt with knock-off wallabies. So in effect, ignoring shoes, there were eight top/bottom combinations. With careful rotation planning and cooperation of the southern California climate, I could go a week and a half without repeating. At some point, my parents may have intuited from my wistful remarks about classmates having $300 a season clothing allowances that I was feeling a little shabby by comparison.


I suppose this was the year they realized they had a teenaged daughter, because they tried in small ways to be more “with it.” My school used to hold a traditional fund raising luncheon fashion show with Sacks Fifth Avenue using kids and moms as models, and somehow I was included in the group. I graced the runway in a light blue knit pair of pants with a knit picture vest. It was kind of cheesy and matchy-matchy, but what did I know? Come Christmas, I opened a large box and found, much to my surprise, that my parents had purchased the outfit I’d worn. Their expectant grins said it all. The ensemble was undeniably dorky, but hey, that increased my combinations to eleven. And there was another surprise under the tree. Even though they deplored anything except classical music, that same Christmas, there was David Cassidy’s Cherish album, about three years past his sell-by date. “We know you like his TV show,” they said.


I smiled and appreciated that they were trying. And I knew they cherished me.


Liz Coley writes fiction for teens and for the teen in you. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband, her teenaged daughter, a snoring dog, and a limping old cat. The two boys have flown the nest for college and graduate school. When she’s not involved in writing-related activities, she can be found sewing, baking, shooting photos, playing tennis, and singing.


More Dares of the Day!

In honor of TRUTH OR DARE going on sale in LESS THAN A WEEK (!!!!), and my being behind on posting dares…I’ve decided to post this week’s dares all at once. So here they are: 5 daring stories of real, live dares!

I was dared to answer the door in my underwear for the pizza delivery guy…I can’t believe I actually did it!

I swallowed four goldfish — gross but true. :/


Back when I was in HS, my friends and I used to dare each other. One time my friend dared me to confess my love to the first person passing by the hall. I did and I remember it like it was yesterday. The first person who passed by was the sister of my crush. I was so embarrassed because my crush thought all the time I was *stalking* him or tongue tied around him, it was because I liked his sister!

I dared my crush to run around in his underwear outside my house… I was soooo surprised he did it. It was really cold, but I have to say he looked amazing shirtless!!!!!!

And for a week of dares, a happy ending:

I once dared a friend of mine to ask the guy she liked out. Obviously, this wasn’t an easy dare (it could get messy), especially for my friend. But, she surprised me by asking him out right away. She timidly walked over to her crush. I saw her converse with him for a minute, smiling and gesturing, and then she FINALLY walked back with a smile on her face. By that time, I was agonizingly waiting to find out what he said. I asked her, and she simply replied, “He said yes!” I was so proud of her. I realized at that moment that dares can be a good thing (though embarrassing at times). She at last told me the whole story of what he said at a sleep over. She said that he had liked her too, and he was actually dared to ask her out a week before, though he was too chicken to ask her out in fear she might say no. We laughed our heads off after that story. They are now boyfriend and girlfriend (11 months!), and I couldn’t be happier for her.

Dares of the Week: 4.24.13 – 4.26.13

Today is a dare bonanza…I’m posting Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday’s dares all at once!

We were watching Johnny Depp in “Cry Baby.” All my friends and I were lusting over him. He’s such a hottie. I was dared to lick his lips on the television. I did it right as my best friend’s hot older brother walked in the room. Dust on my tongue, red cheeks, I whispered hi.


I dared the nicest person I know to dine and dash. I had payed the restaurant beforehand though, so it wasn’t actually theft, but it was so fun to see her struggle with it!


My friend and I dared each other to say “I have genital warts” in public. Whoever said it the loudest won. We started out whispering and it ended with me screaming at the top of my lungs that I had genital warts in a very crowded part of down town! So embarrassing!


I’ll be taking a week off from posting dares,  but they’ll be back on Monday May 6! And in the meantime, you can check out the the TRUTH OR DARE e-sampler: the first 5 chapters for free. Here are some of the places you can find it: 

KindleNook, (for Apple, Kindle Fire, Android, Nook, Kobo, PC, Mac, Sony Reader)

Dare of the Day: 4.22.13

Today’s dare of the day is…

I ran through Walmart in a bikini screaming random things like “The dogs are on the roof,” while the security guards chased me around. No worries, I didn’t get caught. ;)


And don’t forget: the TRUTH OR DARE e-sampler is available for FREE, starting now! Here are some places you can find it: 

KindleNook, (for Apple, Kindle Fire, Android, Nook, Kobo, PC, Mac, Sony Reader)

Dare of the Day 4.19.13

Today’s dare of the day is…

My friend was once dared to stick her bare butt against the car window while we were driving on the packed freeway. She did it too, and kept her dignity! I think she probably found it funnier than the rest of us.


And don’t forget: the TRUTH OR DARE e-sampler is available for FREE, starting now! Here are some places you can find it: 

KindleNook, (for Apple, Kindle Fire, Android, Nook, Kobo, PC, Mac, Sony Reader)

Dare of the Day 4.17.13

Today’s dare of the day is…

We were watching Johnny Depp in “Cry Baby”.  All my friends and I were lusting over him.  He’s such a hottie.  I was dared to lick his lips on the television.  I did it right as my best friend’s hot older brother walked in the room.  Dust on my tongue, red cheeks, I whispered hi.


And don’t forget: the TRUTH OR DARE e-sampler is available for FREE, starting now! Here are some places you can find it: 

KindleNookGoogle Play, (for Apple, Kindle Fire, Android, Nook, Kobo, PC, Mac, Sony Reader)

Dare of the Day: 4.16.13

Today’s dare of the day is…

One time at one of my old middle school friend’s birthday parties, we dared her to lick her feet for ten seconds and she DID IT! We took some pictures and showed everyone at school and we all laughed about it, including her! Best dare ever!


Check back again tomorrow for your daily dose of dare!


And don’t forget: the TRUTH OR DARE e-sampler is available for FREE, starting today! You can find it here:


LOOK, here it is on my Kindle!!!