Monday, September 26, 2016

NF4NF Conference -- a realm of Neffer Love!

Thursday night, September 22, 2016, I landed at Houston's Hobby International Airport and met my volunteer driver from the NF4NF team, Balaka Ghosal. 

Balaka had a warm smile and a face beaming with kindness and intelligence.  She put me at ease instantly, then introduced me to the couple who would be riding with me, Jeff and Nancy Sanders, and I realized I'd noticed Nancy before.

As she walked past me on the flight from Las Vegas to Houston, I noticed that Nancy, like Balaka, had an infinitely warm smile -- and a really neat t-shirt.  Her husband was just as kind.

I thought, something rare was about to happen.  And I was right.

Earth mother and author Pat Miller had invited me to be a part of the NF4NF Conference, so I'd been adopted into a very special writing family -- the tribe of Neffers. 

I've done other conferences before, many of them, like Highlight's legendary Chautauqua events were and are exceptional.  But there was something about this intimate gathering in Rosenberg, Texas that drew warm people like moths to a life giving flame.  That something was the tone Pat Miller so clearly set.

We were all equals, and we were all at the conference for the exact same reason -- to share what we had with one another.  The workshop teachers -- Pat Miller, Candace Fleming, Peggy Thomas, Nancy Sanders and I may have been a little better published than some of the conferees, but that wasn't the point.  The point was, we all cared about writing nonficton, and we all wanted to do better.  We were there to elevate the art form and each other. 

By lunch Friday, I had more than 30 new friends.  When I left Sunday I had a new family. 

If ever you have the chance to join Pat Miller's Neffer family, don't hesitate.  You'll learn a lot about succeeding in the world of nonfiction writing and you'll understand, in the realm of Neffers, you're never alone. 

Thank you, Pat and all my Neffer friends.  I am beyond grateful for you all.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

My best friend, Andy -- aka Andrew Smith

In the summer of 1976, the bicentennial year, I graduated from Newbury Park High School in Newbury Park, California.  So did my best friend, Andy Smith -- Andrew Smith, the meteoric Young Adult author.  We went out that night.  We had dinner, we held hands and wandered the sidewalks of Westwood, shopped at Pier I, and we laughed.  We always laughed.

None of that was new.  He was the best friend I ever had.  We did a LOT of things together.  We ate lunch together -- remember your wheat jeans and the ketchup packet, Andy?  We had German class together and, eventually, journalism -- the academic pursuit that would become my life's work.  We babysat Troy together, a third grader with Cerebral Palsy.  We went to Disneyland and pretended to be Star Wars extras.  We went to Magic Mountain and rode the first loop coaster on earth backwards.  We bugged each other at work -- him at Carl's Junior, me at the Music Loft.  We went to see THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE at the drive in theater and we saw INDIANA JONES at Mann's Chinese.  Neither of us slept the night we saw the EXORCIST in the same theater.  We even bought his Toyota Celica together. 

Until I met Andy, my school life was bleak.  I was bright, but shy and maybe a little silly.  I'd endured four middle schools before landing at NPHS, and my emotional bruises were obvious.  My eyes were always on the ground.  Invisibility was my primary goal.  But Andy saw past it.  Andy saw me, and I loved him for it.

In time we drifted apart, but the truth is, I never stopped thinking about him.  I missed him just about every day of my life, and started looking for him when the Internet made that possible in the mid-1990s.  My detective work failed.

Then, out of the blue I got a phone call.  Andy had seen my author website and tracked down my phone number.  I don't remember the exact quote, but he said something like, "I'm glad at least one of us did it."  I told him I always thought it would be him.  But he was a high school teacher in California, not a writer.

"Where's the novel?" I asked.

"What makes you thing there's a novel?" he replied.

"Where's the novel," I repeated.  Fiction had always been his first love, and I couldn't believe that love had really ended, even after all those years.

"It's in the drawer," he said.

"Get it out," I said.  "We're going to get it published."

That was GHOST MEDICINE, and the rest -- IN THE PATH OF FALLING OBJECTS, STICK, THE MARBURY LENS, PASSENGER, WINGER, GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE and 100 SIDEWAYS MILES (so far) -- is literary history.  I may have given him a spark, but Andy fanned the flames.  He had the will, the determination and the sheer talent to catch fire.   

Today, the Boston Globe announced that his latest novel, GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE was this year's Horn Book Award winner for fiction, and I had to smile.  Even in high school, I knew Andy was destined to be a writer.  He made me laugh, sure, but he also had depth beyond his years or his peers, depth that drew me to him.  In fiction or nonfiction, he had something to say, and smart people listened.

So I want to congratulate him on this award and every marker of success he's enjoyed and will yet experience.  I am so glad you're a part of my life again.  And while I respect that you are Andrew Smith now, I'm glad you'll always be a little bit Andy, to me.

See you in November!



Sunday, May 25, 2014


I’ve done this once before, so forgive me if it seems silly.  But when Susan Goodman asked me to join her team for this round of THE WRITING PROCESS BLOG TOURS, I couldn’t resist.  Susan sent me to David Elliott’s blog to remind me of the four questions, and he reminded me that lots of other great authors, like Carmen Oliver, and Sara Zarr, are also taking part. 

So here’s my latest take on THE WRITING PROCESS, in four questions.  I hope you’ll also explore my friend’s Claire Rudolf Murphy and Kenn Nesbitt as they offer their points of view on the same four questions. 

Onward to excellence.  


What am I currently working on?

For a writer who has written more than 40 nonfiction books, it’s amazing for me to admit, I’m working on three 12,000 word novels – fiction inspired by true stories – for Andrew Karre at Darby Creek/Lerner for the first time in my life.  And while I’ve written several fictional YA short stories, this really is a first for me.  A challenging, exciting first.  So I’m pretty excited about it. 

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

On the fiction front, we’ll have to wait and see to answer that question.  On the nonfiction, it’s easier.  Most writers of young reader nonfiction search for “award winning” topics to document.  I wouldn’t mind winning awards, but that’s not my niche.  I look for topics that will draw kids into the books – especially kids that might not otherwise love to read.  I was a reluctant reader growing up, so I write for those kids now.  Topics like Bigfoot, aliens, sea monsters and ghosts carefully researched and presented set my work apart from other nonfiction writers.  When it comes to my animal stories, they are usually laced with human drama, which might set them apart, too.  I hope so. 

Why do I write what I write?

I write what I write because these are the books I would have wanted to find in the library as a kid – books I never did.  I write for the child in myself, and for children everywhere.  I write to my passions, hoping the work will shine with that enthusiasm. 

What is my writing process?

My process is unconventional.  The research isn’t.  Like all writers of nonfiction, I read a whole lot about my topic – articles, books, academic papers – and do interviews with prominent experts.  I do field trips to explore the places or subjects about which I’m writing.  All that is fairly typical.  But how I tackle the actual writing process might not be. 

I wake up in the morning, tackle my email, play a few video games, then write for as long as I feel excited about the topic.  Then I clean house, walk my dog, play more games to break the day up.  Once that’s done, I’m ready to write again.  I write as long as I feel the work is fresh, then break again.  All the while, I have the television in the background, usually MSNBC – I’m a liberal news junky.  I cannot write if it’s too quiet.  I think that started when I did magazine features as a single mom with two kids.  I had to learn to write amid happy chaos, and now I can’t seem to manage without it.  

So my process is a little scattered and seems random.  But it’s not.  It is a pattern that works FOR ME.  And if I can convey any one thing in this blog, it’s that there is no WRONG process, as long as it works, as long as it helps you produce your finished product.  

Don’t try to copy any other writer.  Try they’re styles on if you’re just beginning – if you like.  But feel sure the process you adopt, the one that fits your life and rhythm will be just as good as anything you read about anywhere else.  The main objective is to keep writing.  Do that, and it all falls naturally into place.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Kelly's Curiosities -- Phase I: Space Rocks

To my sheer delight, the first episode of KELLY'S CURIOSITIES debuted on Monday, September 23, 2013.  If you've read my other posts, you know we filmed all ten episodes on August 29 and 30 of this year, and it was a crazy, fun two days of hard, amazing work.  The producer/editor, the camera person and the animator are all brilliant professionals, and I think we've created something special together.  So I hope you'll check them out, starting with this one

This video was inspired by the remarkable space rock that thundered across Russian skies in February of 2013.  I couldn't get enough of the videos and news reports of the stellar event.  I was so hungry for information, it was thrilling.  Yeah, I get thrilled by facts -- weird, I know.

As I watched and talked to my friends about the "space rock," I started wondering why reporters were calling it a space rock, rather than by a more specific name.  Then I realized, I didn't know what to call it either.

All my life, I've heard about comets and asteroids and meteors and meteorites, but I realized, I didn't know what made them each DIFFERENT from one another.  So I decided to find out, and this two minute video is the end result. 

Each of the ten videos we shot will be about high interest, sometimes weird topics including:

Space Rocks

A Creepy 1920's Mystery Bust

Insect Fossils

Mexico's Island of the Dolls

Raptorex vs T. rex

And five more crazy subjects.

We wanted to celebrate weird information in an easy to digest format, and I think the MSN team did a magnificent job!  So I hope you'll watch the videos and share the on your blogs and Facebook pages, your listservs and in your classrooms.  Because they're perfect for viewers 9 and up, to be sure. 

If we get enough views, we might get to do more, and I'd LOVE to do more.  But even more to the point, I think this hard working team DESERVES recognition.  They made me look good.  And when you're a 56 year old chubby lady with gray hair, that's not as easy as it sounds.

Let me know what you think, okay? 


Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Writing Life -- Do What's Right for YOU!

Writing life?  Sure. But sometimes, you stop and hug your dog.
A week or two ago, someone on my NFforKids listserv asked how we all work on our writing.  I responded, and several people encouraged me to post it on my blog.  So here it is.  Hope it proves no way and every way is the right way to be a writer.  : )  Just do it! 


Because being a writer is my day job -- and my only source of income -- I do something writer related every single day, rain or shine, holiday or non-holiday, for at least ten hours a day.  I am almost always on deadline for something or I won't make my bills.  So I juggle it all as efficiently as I can. 

I wake up when I wake up, now that both my girls are able to drive cars of their own to get where they need to be. If my body says I need 8 hours, I sleep 8 hours.  If it says I need 12, I sleep 12.  I am very flexible with sleep when I'm at home because that pattern seems to keep me from getting sick.  Rest is really important to my writing life.  Once I'm awake, I start by checking my email, because email will determine my priorities for that day.  I juggle at least 4 projects at any given time -- proposals to backlist.  And every book deserves attention. 

A lot of my email is school visit related, but that's part of the job.  So I coordinate those first.  I do between 40 and 60 school visits a year, so that's pretty time consuming, from invitation to completion.  But it helps pay the bills, and it sells lots of books.  A lot of my email is in response to interview requests, as well.  So tending to that correspondence immediately is terribly important.  Most of my books take about 4 years to research and write, with a huge uptick toward their submission deadlines and their release dates.

Research fills the rest of my hours -- some for projects sold, some for projects about to be pitched to acquiring editors at various houses.  I do a LOT of research long before the book sells to be sure I have enough information to merit a book.  Some say that's risky, and maybe it is.  But nothing ventured, nothing gained.  I have yet to do research on a book idea without selling it, eventually, with only one exception, and I still haven't given up on that project.  I'll sell it, eventually.

I don't write actual book text as efficiently when I'm traveling for school visits, but I do write in hotels and I absolutely do revisions in hotels.  I am pretty tired after a full day of school visits, so I'll sometimes take a 40 minute nap right after school, write until bedtime, then wake up for the next day's school events.  I am far slower with original text in hotel rooms than I am at home, but I can and do make it happen.

I also promote my books on social media, but I do more toward building and keeping my professional relationships strong.  I'm lucky, because a lot of the librarians i visit become real friends to me.  So when I talk to them on Facebook -- when I ask about their kids or their vacations -- I really do CARE about their lives, not because they buy my books but because we've connected in a real way.  But that also keeps my career healthy.

Chris Crutcher always says there is nothing in this life that is not about human connection and relationships.  I absolutely agree with him.  So I attend to those relationship every day, in all my writer capacities.  The work makes me happy...not rich, but happy.  So I feel really lucky to have that opportunity.  Lucky, but REALLY hard working, too.  

I could probably take more days off, if I wanted to.  But I get too antsy to take a whole day off.  I do play video games to break up the day a little.  When I finish part of one project, I'll pay a game to clear my head -- to prepare my mind to do something else.  So as odd as it sounds, playing is part of my writing process.  I have to play little tricks on myself to keep all the balls I'm juggling in the air.  So far, so good. 

If I have any advice for others, it's write every day, even if it's just a little bit.  Be flexible with yourself, because every one of us will forge our own path, our own way.  A glimpse at someone else's process is informative, but what works for me might not work for you, and vice versa.  So use other people's patterns to help you understand your way is GOOD for YOU.  If you don't have a process yet, try a few on for size, then customize them for you lifestyle.  Before my girls were grown, my babies were top priority, and I still managed to build a career. 

One last thing, writing friends keep you sane.  Never overlook the value of friends who do what you do -- who take it seriously.  They are armor against all those people who ask when you'll write a real book or ask, "How you written anything I've heard of?"  People outside the circle will still ask those dumb questions. But your writing friends will make it easier NOT to resort to violence in response.  : )

Hope this helps!


Kelly Milner Halls
Children's Writer

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ten Episodes Video Taped!

A week ago today, my friends Brian and Mel drove from Seattle to Spokane and transformed my living room into a video set.  Together, we filmed ten, full episodes of KELLY'S CURIOSITIES for MSN on Thursday, August 29 and Friday, August 30, 2013.

Our biggest challenge -- I thought -- would be my dogs.  Abbey is a 4-year-old Great Dane and Pug is a 14 year old pug, as you might have guessed.  I thought Abbey would be like a bull in a china closet with all that expensive equipment -- cameras, monitors, lights, reflectors, boom mikes, the whole nine yards.  But thanks to my daughter Vanessa's skill with animals, they became our calm studio audience.  Pug's snoring as she slept was the biggest hurdle.  She is still wondering why we kept waking her up, I'm sure.   Abbey was totally zen.

What turned out to be hard was pronouncing several Russian, Chinese and Japanese names.  The fact that I had to trip over those pronunciations really distracted me from telling the stories associated with the names.  It surprised me that the worry over those three or four words slowed me down so much.  But once we got those episodes complete, it was a little easier.

Easier.  That's a relative term.  It was never entirely easy, because it's a fun and complicated process.  My job was to give the producer and camera person the bits and pieces they needed to go back to Seattle, to their computers and animators and musicians and jigsaw the videos together.

So I did the same stories again and again and again -- as many times as it took.  Then I recreated different motions I made in each re-telling so the camera could zoom in for close ups on the items I was holding.

It was hard at times, but always fascinating and mind blowing.  Videos staring me?  A plump, aging writer of things weird?  It's like an old lady Cinderella story, and I know it.

I am so grateful for this opportunity.  I hope people like them so much we'll get to do another ten episodes...then another ten...then another ten.  I hope they are so much fun, they go viral so we can travel to locations to shoot the stories where they unfold.  But even if that doesn't happen, color me delighted!

I got to be a video star for two days in my living room.  It doesn't get too much better than that!  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Kelly's Curiosities

I can't talk TOO much about it yet, but in the next few months, I'll add something new to my writer's resume -- video episodes.  Thanks to the good folks at MSN, I'll write and play in ten 3-minute explorations of things odd and amazing. 

So my daughter Vanessa (in the photo above) and I have been working really hard to turn our living room into a set for these quirky little news programs, and this is the result.

A lot of that stuff was already on my living room wall.  But we ramped it up pretty high to prepare for the big days (August 29 & 30).  We won't get to see the finished products until the very talented producer, editor and animator add the REAL magic.  But the scripts are finished, and so is this weird backdrop.

It's a little hectic and scattered, like I am.  But it's me -- so very me.  There are four professional reproductions of the four chapter illustrations for TALES OF THE CRYPTIDS -- a gift from the illustrator and my friend, Rick Spears

There is a photo of a mother and baby bat Mary Kay Carson's photographer husband was kind enough to give me -- shot for Mary Kay's stellar book BAT SCIENTISTS.  I love that book. 

There is a drawing of BABY MOUSE that Jenni Holm asked her brother Matthew to draw and send to me.  I can't tell you how much that means to me.

There is a drawing of the upper crust Sasquatch featured in THE SECRET SATURDAYS drawn by the show's creator, Jay Stephens.  He sent it to me because TALES OF THE CRYPTIDS helped him prepare for writing the series.  How cool is that?

Jonathan Auxier drew the fun sketch of Sasquatch chasing ME when we both spoke at the Cavalcade of Authors in the spring of 2013.

There is a tiny bottle of Yeti Cologne courtesy of Lisa Yee and ComicCon, a stain glass rendition of the chick from I BOUGHT A BABY CHICKEN created by my father, a tyrannosaur skeletal representation Rick gave me, two masks Kerry gave me of Pikachu and CatBug, a snaffle bit I used when I had my horse more than 40 years ago, a modest collection of Funko POPS and more. 

Every item represents a part of who I am.  Kelly's Curiosities will, too.  I'll tell you more about the video series very soon.  In the meantime, here's a sneak peek at me as a cartoon character.  You'll see more of cartoon Kelly, too! 

Stay tuned!  The fun has just begun.