Mindy Hardwick's Blog

Author Mindy Hardwick Muses about Writing

A Tribute to a Dear Writing Friend

I lost a dear writing friend this week to a battle with cancer.

I met Jennie in our Vermont College MFA Writing for Children and Young People program. We attended the low-residency program and two times a year–January and July–we’d fly to Montpelier Vermont and attend ten days of lectures, readings and workshops.

Immediately Jennie popped out to me with her bright smile and great laugh. She wrote poetry and picture books and was sharp and quick witted. But it wasn’t our writing we bonded over, it was our location where we lived.

Both Jennie and I were from the West Coast and not the East Coast. And it made a difference in that low-residency program. Our flight to residency took an entire day. We often arrived tired after two plane rides–one usually a small plane from Chicago to Burlington, Vermont. We would speed down the hill to the nearest pub with our other far traveling friend, Rhay, from Cyprus. The two of them would order beers and try to chase away jet lag while I sipped on cokes and tried to calm my nervous flying stomach and anxiety while gearing myself up for ten days of residency which could often be long and intense.

During residency Jennie and I would often talk about the difference in teaching styles from West Coast to East Coast writers. West Coast writers were often more schooled in the language of free writes from Natalie Goldberg and exploration and process while East Coast writers were more of the traditional teaching style with what seemed like little room for play and exploration in process.

In the winter, the West Coast group of us complained that we didn’t have the heavy coats, mittens and scarfs it took to trek across the campus to lecture halls and dining rooms. We hated the heaters that blasted at us while we struggled with keeping our body temperatures somewhere in between sweltering and freezing.

Jennie and I often had gates next to each other in Chicago, she to Arizona and me to Seattle. We would sit in between the two gates while we waited for our flights to be called and discuss how glad we were to be going back to the West Coast. She to sunny warm winter days and me to rainy cool Pacific Northwest winters.

After we graduated, Jennie and I visited each other. I flew down to Arizona in February to see her and get out of the cold and damp Seattle winter. We sat by her pool and wrote. She toured me all over Phoenix and showed me the coffee house where she wrote, as well as some tourist attractions.

A few years later, Jennie came to visit me with our friend Rhay. The two of them sat on my sweeping porch overlooking Lake Stevens and talked and laughed–loudly. So loudly that as I was in the bathroom above them their words carried up to me. I was in the middle of some not so nice disagreements with neighbors and suddenly, I stormed downstairs and threw open the door and told them to be quiet! Both of them looked at me like I had lost my mind and started calling me the Noise Police–a name which stuck and would often be referenced as the years went on in Facebook posts.

Jennie often felt like my soul sister in writing. We both struggled with finding a path in traditional publishing for years. Jennie worked tirelessly in Arts Councils and bringing art workshops to schools, similar to the paths I was trying to carve in Snohomish County. For a long time after graduation we had long email chains with Rhay about our writing process. We critiqued each other’s work, gave advice and encouragement when the rejections came and sent each other places looking for submissions.

Jennie moved to San Diego at the same time I moved to Portland and I felt our friendship drift apart. I got lost in the survival of restarting my life, trying to find a job and trying to get settled in a new town. Sometimes Jennie would pop up and we’d have a moment of how hard can it be to find a grocery store in a new town! And then we’d drift back apart.

When Jennie was diagnosed with breast cancer, it hardly seemed possible. And some part of me thought, she’ll get through this. Jennie gets through everything! It can’t be that bad.

And she did. She got through the first round of it.

But then, the cancer came back.

And through it all Jennie never got quiet on Facebook. She seemed to tag me in every writer post or resource there was and again, I thought she’s doing okay.

Last fall, I reached out to Jennie when my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt like I hadn’t been a good friend during Jennie’s own breast cancer journey and half expected her to ignore my request for support. Of course she didn’t.

She sent my sister a long email with helpful tips and resources and messaged me that she understood.

She had far greater grace then I might have if the positions had been reversed. But that’s who Jennie was–she was always there for you.

When the email came she was in hospice with her family around her I felt the rage. No! No! She’s still young. She’s only early 50’s. She has lots of life in her. She has lots of stories in her to tell! No. Just no.

But the Universe doesn’t listen to us and cancer is neither fair or kind. A few days later, the message was posted on her Facebook page that she had gone peacefully.

All around me the world blooms in full spring. Glorious pink rhododendrons in my backyard. Green trees everywhere. And as it once did in May eight years ago, when my Dad died, the world stands still and I wonder how everything can be so ALIVE when someone who always felt like one of my soul sisters in writing is gone.

As I took a walk on the beach the night I learned she was gone, I heard her in the waves and the wind. She was all around me. Her voice. Her laughter. Her strong sense of play. It was fun, she called. It was so much fun. And it was. With Jennie she reminded me that the best creative spirit comes from play and fun.

Jennie wrote under the name Jennifer Grym and has two published books. Fairy Tales for Bad Girls and Witches and Bitches. Both are lively and for adult audiences.

If you are so inclined, I know she would love for you to check them out!

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Some Stories Are Not Seen Release Day

Can Lucy save the sea stars before it’s too late?

Some Stories Are Not Seen is now available at your favorite bookstore! If you have a favorite local independent bookstore the book is available for them to order for you. It is also available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kobo as both an ebook and print book.

Twelve-year-old budding scientist Lucy Lavender loves exploring. After Dad dies, Mom pieces jobs together and struggles to provide a home for Lucy. When Mom is offered a job managing a set of vacation cottages in Sea Rock Cove, the small coastal town where Dad grew up, Lucy hopes this is her chance to have a home and pursue her dream of becoming a marine biologist. On Lucy’s first day at her new school, she is excited to take a field trip to Sea Rock and see Dad’s beloved sea stars. When Lucy learns the sea stars have a wasting disease and are dying, she is devastated and becomes determined to save them. But as Lucy gets involved with the people of Sea Rock Cove, she learns there is a lot more beneath the surface of the town than just the sea stars at low tide.

Some Stories Are Not Seen Facebook Page

This story is inspired by the Haystack Rock Awareness Program in Cannon Beach. To learn more about the program please visit their website here. or the Haystack Rock Awareness Program Facebook Page

The Haystack Rock Awareness Program offers field trips to Haystack Rock–both in person and virtual. To learn more and find curriculum study guides about Haystack Rock visit the website here.

Sea Star Wasting Syndrome (SSWS) is the largest marine disease outbreak ever documented in a non-commercial species. It occurred from 2013-2014 and stretched from Alaska to Baja, California. SSWS affected over twenty species. The ochre sea stars, found in the Oregon Coast intertidal zones, have not recovered, although there are some areas which are showing an improvement. The sunflower sea stars have become non-existent. Marine biologists are working to find answers, but the cause of sea star wasting syndrome and the outbreak are still unknown. For more information visit the Sea Star Wasting MARINe site here

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Cover Reveal

I’m happy to reveal the cover for my upcoming middle grade novel. (April 2021). The cover is created by Su at Earthly Charms and Designs


NaNoWriMo Author Panel


This week, I’m speaking on a panel of authors with the Northwest Independent Authors Association about NaNoWriMo. It takes place on Wednesday, October 28 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.

The event is virtual with the Tigard Library and if you are interested in attending, please leave a comment and I can get you the Zoom link!

If you are thinking of participating in NaNoWriMo this is a great chance to hear about different authors’ experiences in NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month where you write a 50K word novel in a month. I use it as a way to get the first draft on the page and challenge myself to write about 1600k words a day. This year, I’m using it to draft a romance.

My young adult romance, WEAVING MAGIC, was written during NaNoWriMo many years ago! This is always a very special book because the cover was designed by a student who I had in my very first student teaching 9th grade class! The tulip fields are the ones in Skagit Valley, WA where the story takes place.

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Middle Grade Recommendations

For the last couple weeks, I’ve been waiting on my developmental edits on my middle grade to be returned from my editor. While I waited, I did a little more reading in current middle grade novels. This helps me with my own story as I study how other authors do things like increase the stakes and develop secondary characters (two of the areas which came back as needing a little work in my own middle grade)

Two of my favorite middle grade books were Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes and Clean Getaway by Nic Stone.

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone is a perfect middle grade road trip story. After Scoob gets in a little trouble and finds his spring break plans canceled, he ends up on a road trip with his mysterious Grandma. The two travel through the South, tracing a route white Grandma once wanted to take with black Grandpa in the late 60’s with the help of The Green Book. I’m not usually a fan of road trip stories, but when Scoob opens the old treasure box and pulls out the Green Book (which I honestly knew no history about the Green Book so this was really interesting to me) and Grandma steals a license plate from another car, I was hooked wondering: Who is this Grandma? And who is Grandpa who is in jail and Dad has never wanted to talk about with Scoob?

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes is a middle grade in which twelve-year- old Jerome has been shot by a police officer when holding a toy gun and mistaken for having a real one. He becomes a ghost and watches his parents walk through the grief of losing him and the trial with the police officer. The only person who can see him is the police officer’s daughter, Sarah. When Jerome becomes a ghost he is met by other ghost boys–namely Emmett Till who at first helps him negotiate this new ghost world and then encourages him to interact with Sarah so his story and others who have also been killed due to racism can be told. The story is very well plotted and moves quickly. The story is a great read that weaves historical fiction with our current times.

I would add both of these to any middle school classroom for either classroom libraries or as books to read in a literature circle/book group. (I am not a fan of whole class books as I think it’s hard to reach all readers with one book and encourage the use of literature circles/book groups where readers have a choice of books based on a theme)

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Summer Sale!

It’s summer and I’ve got two of my “summer” books for free at Smashwords this month as well as one of my non-summer books on sale for half off! The Smashword summer sale runs all month!

The first free summer book is Sweetheart Summer, a sweet contemporary small town romance. You can download Sweetheart Summer from Smashwords here.

Can small-town business competitors set aside their differences and find love in the second book in the Cranberry Bay sweet contemporary romance series.

Cranberry Bay sewing shop owner and activist Katie Coos campaigns tirelessly to preserve the community feel of the town she loves. Savvy and successful developer Sawyer Shuster, meanwhile, seeks to provide a future for his beloved childhood community through large-scale developments. When Katie reluctantly purchases an auction certificate for Sawyer’s handyman skills, both are determined to keep their distance. But as summer heats up, Katie and Sawyer’s feelings ignite until both must find a way to trust each other or risk losing not only their businesses but also their chance at love.

My second free summer book at the Smashwords July sale is Stained Glass Summer, a middle grade novel. This was my first published book and very dear to my heart! You can download Stained Glass Summer here.

Twelve-year-old Jasmine adores her photographer Father and wants to be an artist just like him. But when Dad abandons the family, Jasmine is sent to spend the summer with her Uncle on a Pacific Northwest Island. Soon, Jasmine is learning stained glass from island glass artist, Opal, and thinking she might just be developing a crush on Island boy, Cole. But, can she truly let go of her Father and call herself an artist by her own terms? The story will appeal to young readers between the ages of 8-12.

And my third book, Kids In Orange: Voices from Juvenile Detention is available for half off! This is a memoir about my experience running a poetry workshop with kids in juvenile detention. You can download that book here in the Smashwords sale. Happy reading!

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Writing the Picture Book Class

I’m offering my Writing the Picture Book Online Class again through WOW–Women on Writing.

The class runs from July 2 to July 29 and all work is posted on a Groups.IO chat group–so very easy to access. You can see the class outline here.

COURSE DESCRIPTION: Picture Books are the most beloved story form of children’s writing. But how easy is it to write one? In this class, we’ll look at how to create a memorable child character, how to craft a simple plot to be read multiple times, explore pacing, and do a little researching into the current picture book market. The class includes instructor feedback on all assignments, and a draft of an 800-word picture book. Students will be encouraged to spend an afternoon at their local library or elementary school reading picture books. The class is designed for those interested in learning how to write a picture book story and is very beneficial for illustrators wanting to know how to write a picture book.

I hope if learning to write a picture book is one of your goals, you will join us!

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Reading Middle Grade

I sent my middle grade manuscript off to my developmental editor, Sarah Cloots, Sarah and I have worked on four books together–including two of my middle grade novels (Stained Glass Summer and Seymour’s Secret) and my memoir, Kids in Orange: Voices from Juvenile Detention. This is our fourth book and although I always know the developmental edit will give me some work to do, she has a great sense of how to keep the story intact as I envisioned it and encourages me to draw out more of the story.

The developmental edit is when Sarah will look at the elements of the story–character, plot, flow. After I work on revisions, we’ll do another round for copy and line edits. When I am producing a book, I always have both a developmental edit and a copy edit as two separate edits. It’s not enough to just have critique partners. I need a professional editor to read the story from start to finish and work on it with me for a couple rounds to make sure everything is the best it can be. All of my spring and summer festivals and speaking events were canceled and thanks to Portland Literary Arts who awarded me a Booth Emergency Writers Fund payment due to all my canceled events this sprig and summer, this is a good time to work on taking a few more books to publication!

I’m also doing a little work on learning Adobe InDesign for a couple picture books, one which I hope to release later this fall–but that’s another post!

Due to COVID 19, I have been reading a lot more. For the last two months I’ve been catching up on some of my middle grade reading. As a writer, it’s always important to read what is current in your genre. It helps to study the books for not only what works well but also what didn’t work so well.

A few of the middle grade titles I’ve read lately include:

Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly is a story told from the point of view of four children. In a nutshell, the story is about  the class bully who tosses Virgil’s pet guinea pig to the bottom of a well and the other children have to find him and get him out. It’s a friendship contemporary story without a lot of hit you over the head action like so many middle grade books have become recently.

The thing I loved about this story was the diversity of the characters. One girl was deaf, one is Filipino-American living with a Grandmother and one is Japanese American who thinks she is a psychic and has a strong relationship with her sister. The characters each are fully fleshed out and bring a lot of complexity to the story.

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert popped on to my radar when I attended the virtual Everywhere Bookfest this spring and heard Brandy Colbert talk.

The story is a coming of age friendship story about two twelve year old girls. Alberta loves to surf and is the only black girl in her California mid-Coast town until Edie moves in next door with her Mom to run a B and B. The story involves a mystery about some journals the girls find in the attic, navigating middle school friendships, and first crushes. But it’s also a very true to now story as Alberta lives with her two Dads and her very pregnant birth mom comes to live with them for a few weeks before they have the baby, issues of systemic racism in the small white town at the school as well as a mean white girl who lives in the same neighborhood as Alberta and Edie. All the pieces layer together and make this book a fabulous read!

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo is not a new book. But when my Mom read it for our Mother/Daughter book group and sent copies to my sister and I, I devoured it in one sitting. Orphan Peter wants to know what’s happened to his sister and how can he find her, so he goes to a fortune teller who tells him to follow the elephant. Peter is confused. There is no elephant in town. But then..a magician’s trick goes wrong and an elephant appears–right in the lap of a woman watching the show and the elephant breaks her legs. What follows is a tale about multiple characters all caught up with this elephant and getting him back to where he belongs. It’s a great story with a message of hope–especially for the time we are in right now!

Let us know what you are reading in the comments below!

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Book Recommendations

In April, I got to attend the virtual Everywhere Bookfest. It was absolutely fabulous to hear various authors speak about their upcoming new releases.

Over the last month I have been working my way through some of those books–some are not out until later this summer. I signed up for Overdrive at my library so I could download ebooks. Even though my own books were first published with digital first publishers, I am still more of a “in the hand” book fan. But with COVID-19 I didn’t have much choice. I did use some of my gas money, that wasn’t going into my car, to buy a few books from Powells, I knew I couldn’t buy all the books I consume on a regular basis!

In light of what is currently going on, I have chosen to specifically feature black children’s authors who tell powerful stories and are career children’s writers.

Here are a few of my favorites I have read recently:

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The first book I read by Jewell Parker Rhodes was Ninth Ward a middle grade novel which takes place during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Black Brother Black Brother is her newest YA book and it didn’t disappoint. Two brothers–one white, one black, attend a private prep school in Massachusetts. They are from a biracial family where their black mother is a lawyer and works on civil rights cases.

Trey, the white brother excels in school. Donte is one of the few black students and seems to be always in the Principal’s office. Mostly due to the fact that a white boy, Alan, is picking on him and Donte is getting blamed. The book opens when Donte is unfairly treated and the cops are called and he is hauled off to the police station. He is not arrested but he does have to appear in juvenile court during the book. The story is about how Donte learns to control his anger by learning how to fence with a mentor, a black man who was a former Olympic fencer. The book draws attention to how fencing is a white sport at predominantly well to do prep high schools. I learned a lot about fencing and appreciated the attention drawn to the systematic racism at prep high schools. I would recommend this one to 7th, 8th, and 9th graders.

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I discovered Renee Watson when Salem, Oregon chose her YA book Piecing me Together to read for the city wide read this year. I was thrilled to see a YA book chosen for a city wide read!

Renee Watson grew up in Portland, Oregon and often sets her stories in Portland. This is her version of Ramona by Beverly Cleary. Like Ramona, Ryan Hart lives in a NE Portland neighborhood but she has to move when her Father who works at the post office loses his job and the family moves in to a smaller “cozy” rental house. Ryan knows how to make the best of no matter what life throws at her, just like her Grandmother who is a great supportive adult character in the story. 

Renee Watson often sets her stories in Portland neighborhoods and shows the racial inequalities in Portland housing. In this story, Ryan’s best friend moves to Lake Oswego and it’s contrasted to Ryan’s home and friends.

I really enjoyed the positive outlook Ryan brought to her story and the first chapter about names would make a great read aloud for a writing lesson on our names. Upper elementary kids in grades 3rd-5th will enjoy this one as well as adults who like middle grade!

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Look Both Ways is a fun read for middle graders. The stories are linked short stories which all take place on one neighborhood after school when kids are walking home. The opening story is about boogers.and include stories about a girl whose skateboard is tossed into the street, and a club of kids whose parents are all undergoing cancer treatment and they use a con candy lady to help them buy ice cream for one of the boy’s moms.

The stories are beautifully written and capture the middle school walk home very well. I’m not sure kids would want to read the whole thing but I think they would enjoy some of the short stories and it’d be a fun book to use when teaching adult writers with the prompt, “Your walk home from school.”

At the Everywhere Bookfest, I attended two virtual panels in which Jason Reynolds was one of the speakers. I first heard of Jason Reynolds this past year while subbing in a special education high school classroom. We were reading a magazine that had a profile article about him. Immediately, I was hooked and I had the kids looking up You Tube videos of who this author was and what he wrote. I don’t think the kids were as interested as I was in that lesson!

From Jason Reynold’s website, “Born in Washington, DC and raised in neighboring Oxon Hill, Maryland, Reynolds found inspiration in rap to begin writing poetry at nine years old. He focused on poetry for approximately the next two decades, only reading a novel cover to cover for the first time at age 17 and publishing several poetry collections before he published his own first novel.”

Jason Reynolds is the 2020-2021 National Ambassador for young people’s literature. “Reynolds will visit small towns across America to have meaningful discussions with young people. Through his platform, “GRAB THE MIC: Tell Your Story,” Reynolds, who regularly talks about his journey from reluctant reader to award-winning author, will redirect his focus as ambassador by listening and empowering students to embrace and share their own personal stories.”

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The Everywhere Book Fest

The Everywhere Book Fest is taking place this weekend. On Friday, there was a full day of children’s authors speaking in thirty minute and hour long virtual panels and talks which included everything from the process of writing to specific topics such as siblings in books.

The idea for the Everywhere Book Fest came together when children’s authors with new books found their events and school workshops all canceled due to COVID-19. They put together this fabulous two day free event! Links to buy their books are listed on the specific pages for each talk. I found myself adding to my Goodreads list often!

I haven’t had a full day of children’s literature in a very long time and it was very refreshing! In one of the talks, a fifth grade class was asking questions in the chat!

The Everywhere Book Fest is recorded so you can still watch the Friday talks! There is another day on Saturday! You can see the whole schedule here.

The talks I enjoyed on Friday were: Jason Reynolds discussing his books, a panel on siblings in books, Meg Medina talking about her writing process, and a fabulous panel called Write #Herstory.

Here is the Jason Reynolds talk.

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