Writing SURPRISINGLY SARAH was not-so-surprisingly refreshing. I had really wanted to break away from the formula I use for this series. I’d only done it once; in BECOMING BRIANNA, there is just one main character (as opposed to my traditional two), and instead of the chapters switching between the characters’ POVs, the timeline switches between past and present.

illustration from BECOMING BRIANNA

In SARAH, I also broke the mold — this time by manipulating the plotline. I created a “what if” situation. That is, I present two different responses to an event and the reader sees how each one unfolds. More details here.

It wasn’t easy to pull off. I had to make sure the story wouldn’t be confusing — especially since those two scenarios happen to one character (Sarah) but are presented by two different characters (Sarah and her best friend, Leo). Yikes!

I also made up brand new characters, Leo and Ben. Creating new kids from scratch is always a challenge…although a fun one. Luckily their personalities came together well. In fact, I absolutely fell in love with Leo — what a quirky, funny, loyal kid! I kinda liken his relationship with his best friend Sarah to that of Duckie and Andie from “Pretty in Pink” (kids, ask your parents…or your grandparents).

aforementioned movie characters

I really had to pay attention and make sure I was attributing the right details to the correct plotline. I went over everything with a fine tooth comb, as did my editors. Can’t be too careful. Add in all the art, and double that fine tooth combing!

But how I loved writing this. First, because I got to really delve into sweet Sarah’s life, which I’ve wanted to do for a long time. And second, because I grew to enjoy her evolving relationship with Leo. A wonderful by-product of writing is watching your characters’ personalities emerge before your eyes — sometimes with little effort. Such was the case with both Sarah and Leo. I remember when creating TRULY TYLER, I had such a tough time writing from a boy’s POV at first. Once I got over that stumbling block and everything clicked, it felt so natural to write for Tyler, which in turn, paved the way for Leo. I’ll always be grateful to Tyler for that.

Tyler from TRULY TYLER

In a nutshell, writing SARAH was challenging AND creatively freeing. In other words, everything an author wants. For the most part, it’s been this way with the entire series, which is one of the reasons I continue to write these books. That, and incredible reader response, which is ALWAYS rewarding.

Welcome signs from readers at a school visit

I hope you choose to pick up a copy of SURPRISINGLY SARAH. Better yet, I hope you love reading it as much as I loved writing it. To order SARAH, click here.

As always, happy reading!

SO thrilled to be on this insanely fun and insightful podcast hosted by the hugely popular author, Marissa Meyer (one of my daughters is a big fan, so we’re very familiar with her books).

I hope you’ll take a listen to my episode on The Happy Writer Podcast — we had such a great time. And be sure to catch her other guests. I’ve listened to many authors’ episodes and learned a lot (and had fun doing it).

Hey, all! This year’s book tour will be COMPLETELY in the Midwest! That’s because I’ll be taking a mid-May authors’ trip overseas this year — so my publisher is kindly keeping me closer to home (and keeping my jet lag at bay…I hope).

I’ll be presenting and signing at schools in the cities above as well as in St. Louis, MO (school visits only). For registration and/or details about the public events, go to these links (not all are up yet) :

May 1: Joseph-Beth Booksellers (Cincinnati, OH)

May 3: Barnes & Noble, Livonia (Northville, MI)

May 22: Cuyahoga County Public Library (Bay Village, OH)

May 24: Louisville Public Library (Louisville, KY)

May 25: Red Balloon Bookshop (St. Paul, MN)

In the meantime, you can pre-order SURPRISINLY SARAH here!

One of my few regrets in life was never having had the chance to meet my childhood idol, Charles “Sparky” Schulz, creator of the iconic comic strip, Peanuts. Maybe it was for the best because I might have just been another gawking fan. Still, it would’ve been nice to have had the chance thank the man who unknowingly catapulted me into the world of cartooning.

Like many others, I first read Peanuts in the funny pages when I was a little kid. Not long after, I started reading the strips in book collections. In fact, I still have my first beloved treasury of his, published before I was even born.

Said treasury from 1968. Beyond-tattered book cover had to be removed.

I always had a knack for drawing, but Peanuts was what drew me to humor and storytelling. Not only was Peanuts so masterfully drawn, it had the most charming combination of humor and humanity, and I think that really struck a chord before I was even aware of it.

Charlie Brown especially captivated me. Neurotic, sensitive, insecure, conflicted, but ever-hopeful, he was my alter ego. But it was Snoopy I fell hopelessly for as a kid…maybe because I never had a dog growing up, or maybe because he had all the charisma and self-confidence I felt I was lacking.

I drew Snoopy all the time. Funny enough, my dad co-owned a paper supply company. He’d bring home beautiful, bright-white scratch pads that I would fill with Snoopies galore. I got so good at drawing Snoopy, other kids would demand my sketches, and I’d gladly comply, wanting to be liked and admired just like Charlie Brown.

Snoopy card I made for my parents’ anniversary, probably around age ten. Even then, I knew the “rule of three.” I was not yet aware of gender stereotyping.

As I got older and started making up my own comics, Peanuts was always on my mind. I loved creating similar ensemble casts and giving the characters distinct personalities. And when I got serious about making cartooning a career, consciously or not, I always had a main character who was neurotic, sensitive, insecure, conflicted, and ever-hopeful. No dog in my strips, but I finally got one in real life.

Early Pajama Diaries syndicated comic strip (2006), sans dog.

When I first visited the Charles M Schulz Museum in 2009, I got to see Sparky’s recreated office setup. Aside from his personal drawings and paraphernalia which blew my mind, it resembled such a typical cartoonist’s studio, I felt reconnected to both the man and the profession. It reminded me that Charles Schulz wasn’t just a legend, but a human being with stories to tell, just like the rest of us. As a little homage, I later named my digital drawing tablet “Sparky.”

At the Charles M Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, CA, in 2009 and 2022 (during a speaking gig at the Museum).

Although I never got to meet Charles Schulz in person, I’ve been lucky enough to befriend his wife, Jeannie, as well as many creators who were meaningfully transformed by his art. Sparky, you’ve inspired me and so many others to bring our inner worlds to life. Happy birthday from one of your millions upon millions of admiring fans.