Clear Fork Publishing, Ellie and Co book series, It's a RHAP, Cat, Jeffrey Sanzel, Lee Y. Miao, middle grade books, Penny Weber, Times Beacon Record, WEI TO GO!

Take A Peek!

Today I’m excited to share some news and a cover reveal for the second book in the Ellie and Co book series written by Lee Y. Miao, cover art by Penny Weber and published by Clear Fork Publishing. It’s a RHAP, Cat is set to be released this coming February 21, 2023.

Book Cover image for It's a RHAP, Cat. A tween blond girl is in the foreground holding a unicorn and a tween boy is in the background with an easel before him. He is holding a paint palette as he is painting a portrait of the girl.  A lacrosse stick and a softball bat are on the floor.

In this, the second book of the Ellie and Co middle grade adventure series; Ellie Wei’s bestie from Wei To Go! takes center stage. In fact, Cat’s story and exploration of Italy take place about a month before Ellie’s adventure in Hong Kong.

It’s a RHAP, Cat, is all about twelve-year-old Cat, a history nerd, who sees her mysterious double in a sixteenth-century portrait by Raphael. Cat enters the school’s Renaissance history and art project (RHAP) with an art partner—aka her crush—that just might help her uncover puzzling family ties.

image of the author Lee Y. Miao, a middle aged asian american with medium length black hair wearing sunglasses while on a bridge in Italy.
Lee Y. Miao

So far, each of Lee’s books in the Ellie and Co book series involve travel abroad. Here’s a photo of Lee in Italy, one of the settings for It’s a RHAP, Cat.

Please take some time to sign up for Lee’s email newsletter on her website in order to follow her continuing book journey.

To learn more about Lee Y. Miao and the first book in the series check out Jeffrey Sanzel’s book review in the August 25, 2022, Times Beacon Record,www.

Mr. Sanzel summed up the book’s appeal in this way, “While Wei To Go! is immersed in Chinese and Chinese American culture, the story’s universality complements an enlightening narrative and makes for an entertaining, engaging and memorable reading experience.”

Wei To Go! is available for purchase on Amazon, through Barnes&Noble, or Clear Fork Publishing.


Clear Fork Publishing-

Best of luck Lee! I enjoyed Ellie’s adventure in Wei To Go! and I’m looking forward to more adventure in It’s a RHAP, Cat !

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Calling All Readers!

Support authors, illustrators too, they need you.

Just think about it, they’ve poured all of themselves into creating that book you enjoyed. They’ve revised, reworked and fine tuned the words and images you escaped into. They’ve worked hard to get their book(s) published and made available to you.

They deserve a shout out, or a pat on the back, you know they do.

So, that book you’ve just started, or are mid-way through, or are close to finishing? Once you’re finished, use your power as a reader to share your thoughts.

Here are two super easy ways to do just that.

Give it a rating and a review.

It won’t take long. Ratings and reviews can be found on most bookselling sites as well as Goodreads.

You have the power. Books and their creators need your input. It’s a harsh publishing world out there. A little appreciation goes a long way.

Illustrator, Debi Ridpath Ohi says it all!

Your star rating and review can help new readers find and enjoy the book you loved. The more new readers that a book gets, the more likely it is that the writer and illustrator will have opportunities to publish again.

So please, take a few moments to flex your reading power. Help the authors and illustrators you enjoy have the opportunity to create more books. Your imagination will reap the benefits.

The Imaginators by Linda Scott is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0

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Feeling the Pull

What is it about the draw of books?

Photo by Pixabay on

Not everyone recognizes, or feels it to the extent that some do. But among those who do feel the intense draw of books, it is definitely a shared experience.

Walking into a place where books reside is like walking into a space where magic is at your fingertips. Book stores, libraries, second hand bookshops, anywhere there’s a stacked pile, or a shelf lined with books, spells are waiting to be conjured. Forget about window shopping. Shelf scanning, or stack perusing, is an otherworldly way to spend a morning, an afternoon, or an evening.

First, you might notice the titles on the spines, or the authors’ names. You might pull a book from the shelf just to view the image on the cover and then slip it back in its spot. But, when the cover catches your eye, you, if you’re like me, will read the first paragraph, and then maybe more, most probably more.

Holding the top right edge of the cover of the book between your fingertips, you sense its possibility.

Photo by Harrison Haines on

What world will you enter? Where will you go within that world? With whom, will you travel?

How will your perspective be challenged, or changed?

Will it be challenged? Will it be changed?

There’s a book out there waiting to weave its spell.

It might be among a stack, or wedged between its neighbors.

Find it and invoke its powers. You, and most especially your imagination, will feel all the better for it.

“Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.” – Jane Smiley

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I have good news to announce! My good friend Lee Y. Miao has recently revealed the cover of her debut middle-grade story, WEI TO GO!

I was privileged to enjoy reading an advanced copy and can tell you that it has believable characters you want to root for, a layered and fast-paced plot that keeps pages turning, and a whole bunch of heart. Lee has very generously agreed to an interview and to sharing her book journey with us on this week’s blog post.

Book Description:

WEI TO GO! is about what happens when twelve-year-old Ellie W. Pettit decides to save her dad’s California company, under a mysterious takeover threat. Ellie takes her teacher’s advice to meet a secretive CEO in Hong Kong, while on a trip with her family, and finds she’s at a crossroads. Annoying brother, unexpected weather, new customs, a hovering mom—it’ll take everything she’s got to solve the mystery.

WEI TO GO! will be released on April 5, 2022, by Clear Fork Publishing.

It is available for pre-order on Amazon:

and at Barnes and Noble:

INTERVIEW with Lee Y. Miao:

Who is the ideal reader for your book?

I hope ten to twelve-year-olds who like mysteries and are curious about the world will discover this novel. If they’re on the cusp of being independent and like competitive sports and humor, maybe they’ll also see parts of themselves on the pages. Fingers crossed!

I think they definitely will, Lee, on both occasions.

Tell us, what inspired you to write this book?

The last time I traveled overseas, I realized how challenging or comical it can be to navigate mass transportation or even dine out. I wanted to capture this setting from a middle-schooler’s perspective as the main character chases down a mystery.

What makes your characters unique?

Ellie, the main character, and her pesky brother are third-generation, with partial Chinese heritage. They are pretty much all American and know little Chinese. Ellie isn’t always obedient, and English is her forte, not math and science. Her brother Kipp excels in competitive sports.

What techniques did you use to get to know your main characters?

I tried to capture how kids manage relationships with their parents and each other in changing situations. Sometimes they step up to the plate, and other times they strike out. Like real life, both are absolutely fine.

Did you face any challenges to writing this story?

I was used to being an absurd punctuation and grammar nerd while writing nonfiction for K-12 English language arts projects. When I delved into fiction, I was initially afraid to use slang or lose the occasional comma in kids’ dialogue. Once I did, boy did I feel liberated.

What’s been easy and/or difficult on your writing journey?

Writing middle-grade fiction was hard but made easier as I love to write, especially in my favorite genre. The difficulty was engaging on social media—worried about privacy and not even knowing how to do a DM. Plus, I rarely take pictures. So far, I’ve hobbled along primarily because a few core followers offer unwavering support.

Do you write every day?  When do you prefer to write?   Do you ever find it difficult to start writing? If so, what do you do to get yourself going?

My best time to write is in the mornings when I’m usually alert. I’ll try to write a different chapter in the afternoons or evenings. In between, I do email, social media, read, and all the other things that writers do. Most importantly, I don’t need any excuses to take multiple breaks.

How long has it taken WEI TO GO! to get from submission to publication?

I started writing intermittently about five years ago because I had a full-time day job back then.

Do you have any advice for other middle grade authors who are looking to get their manuscripts published?

I looked for opportunities to improve my writing craft when selecting workshops and conferences. This helps to submit a polished manuscript to agents or editors. Also, I liked meeting other writers to hopefully exchange critical feedback on our manuscripts.

How do you polish your writing?

I apply my notes from workshops or books on writing craft to chapters, scenes, and characters. After my critique partners review them, I inevitably make revisions, even if I initially resist the majority opinion. After all, they always look out for your best interests.

Who are your favorite authors?   What are your favorite books?

My favorites books include the Run with the Horsemen trilogy by Ferrol Sams. I love any books by Gary Schmidt, especially The Wednesday Wars. My all-time favorite, for kids or grown-ups, is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

Are you  presently working on another project? If so, can you share a little bit about what it is?

I’m finishing a manuscript related to WEI TO GO! It’s actually a prequel about Ellie’s bestie, Cat, who’s a dead ringer for a Raphael portrait painted during Renaissance Italy.

What do you do for fun?

Concerts, travel and spectator sports are my favorites. I swim regularly and walk my dog. Some day I’d like to resume playing the piano, except I’ve been on beginner book II for more than a decade. My piano teacher is deliriously happy I’m on a lengthy hiatus.

Lee Y. Miao is the debut author of Wei To Go! To find out more about Lee check out her Instagram account @leeymiao.writer and her website

Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences and your book journey with us, Lee! Best of luck with your writing and WEI TO GO!

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An Interview with Padma Venkatraman

This week I have the pleasure to share with you an interview I did with the author Padma Venkatraman, on her writing process and the release of her newest book, Born Behind Bars, published by Nancy Paulsen Books, which debuts, September 7, 2021.

BORN BEHIND BARS preorder link: * Junior Library Guild Selection * Starred Review, Kirkus:  “…compelling novel… evocative details…full of action. A gritty story filled with hope and idealism.” 

Book Description: (taken from

Kabir has been in jail since the day he was born, because his mom is serving time for a crime she didn’t commit. He’s never met his dad, so the only family he’s got are their cellmates, and the only place he feels the least bit free is in the classroom, where his kind teacher regales him with stories of the wonders of the outside world. Then one day a new warden arrives and announces Kabir is too old to stay. He gets handed over to a long-lost “uncle” who unfortunately turns out to be a fraud, and intends to sell Kabir. So Kabir does the only thing he can–run away as fast as his legs will take him. How does a boy with nowhere to go and no connections make his way? Fortunately, he befriends Rani, another street kid, and she takes him under her wing. But plotting their next move is hard–and fraught with danger–in a world that cares little for homeless, low caste children. This is not the world Kabir dreamed of–but he’s discovered he’s not the type to give up. Kabir is ready to show the world that he–and his mother–deserve a place in it.


Padma, I read that you wrote poetry at a young age and in the Q&A on your website that a poem you wrote was published when you were only 12. Do you remember what drew you to writing initially? 

No. But I can’t remember not writing – I feel like I always was writing in my head, at least, and listening to poems in my head.

And later on, after you had worked as an oceanographer, and a director of a school, what made you choose a career as a writer?

I felt that just presenting facts to people wasn’t necessarily enough – to make our world a better place we need to cultivate compassion – and I felt I could do that via my creative writing – help people understand and respect one another and value our world together. 

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

I write in a lot of places! Sometimes on my deck. Sometimes on the dock.

Do you have a critique group?

Never have. Guess I never will. That said, I informally always get feedback and critical reads. For BORN BEHIND BARS, I really wanted  wonderful new and up and coming writer Saadia Faruqui to read, because I wanted her honest thoughts on Kabir, the lead character, who is half Muslim. I also asked 7 other friends and family who aren’t writers for feedback because they are Muslim. And I had people who are incarcerated or work with incarcerated people look it over, including author Dede Fox.  And my dear friend author friends Elly Swartz and Victoria J Coe – although they weren’t beta readers, for this novel, they were early readers. I guess you might say I get critiques from different groups of people based on what I’m working on – mostly in the early draft stage. Then, I work closely with my brilliant editor Nancy Paulsen (who edits the legendary Jacqueline Woodson, and Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Ann Braden, Aisha Saeed, Torrey Maldonado and so many other wonderful writers) and she’s my one person critique group as the novels progress!

You’ve said that your characters, in a way, possess you so that you see and feel what they might. Do you take notes on who they are, how they see the world? Have you ever interviewed a character you’ve written about?

No. I just try to listen to them when they speak to me. It’s a very organic process and a lot of it happens while I’m dreaming or day dreaming or meditating. 

Do you handwrite your first drafts or go straight to the computer?

These days because of health issues I have been hand writing parts of my work, but I do often write straight on the computer.

How many drafts on average does it take for you to feel comfortable that you have a finished piece?

Gosh. It depends. I’m not the fastest, I’ll say that. I need my own time to take care of my mental health and maybe because of that, I am slow. I don’t know. 

I’ve read that the idea for Born Behind Bars came from a newspaper article you had read as well as hearing a young boy singing a snatch of song and that your other titles were similarly created from a kernel of fact. How did you sense that each of those kernels needed to become a story?

I never plant the seeds of any story in a conscious way. It’s more like these seeds start to grow without my knowledge. Suddenly, there it is – a little plant, trying to establish itself and then it’s my job to help strengthen it and make it the tree it can be. I guess it’s always a character, really – a voice that I hear and that gets louder than the rest of the static in my mind.

In Born Behind Bars, Kabir gives names to the women and the girl in the prison by how he perceives them, which is an easily identifiable childlike behavior and gives the reader immediate insight into how those characters present themselves. Similarly, in The Bridge Home, Viji names the adults she and Rukku meet from where they’ve met them, like Teashop Aunty. How do you choose your main character’s names? How do you know that Viji can only be Viji or Kabir only Kabir? Have you ever started a story where the character had one name and you changed it?

Wow. I’m not sure. It’s like the characters, as they grow, they tell me who they are, maybe? The name isn’t that important to me in the beginning, it’s the voice I hear – words – snatches of sentences – paragraphs – passing photographs in my brain that then become scenes in a movie…somewhere along the line my characters acquire names…

In The Bridge Home, each of the main characters’ perspectives are as varied as their personalities. Though their circumstances are difficult, each carry a sense of hope within them and each in their own way display compassion. How might the characters in Born Behind Bars be similar to the ones in The Bridge Home?

Two of the main characters in BORN BEHIND BARS are kids who are, for a time, homeless and forced to live on the streets of a city. I guess that’s something they share with the kids in THE BRIDGE HOME. Another thing both books share that’s important to me is humor. Retaining a sense of humor was vital to my survival of childhood trauma and it’s vital to the kids in both books as well. 

I appreciated your portrayal of Rukku and her ability to do much more than what others might expect her to. It’s such an important message and you’ve done it so well.

Thank you. I have an invisible disabilty – and maybe because of that – and the fact that I have many in my family who are people with disabilities, too, it’s important to me to see people with disability portrayed as main characters in books. 

Do you purposely plan to write about spirituality in its many divergent forms?

Spirituality is important to me, as you say, in its many divergent forms. So when I wrote my first novel, CLIMBING THE STAIRS, it was sort of ground-breaking in a way because until then very few people were writing about spirituality in books for young people. I was told that A TIME TO DANCE was the first novel to center the theme of a young Hindu girl’s spiritual awakening. My family includes Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims. Many of my dearest friends are Jewish. My child is raised not only multilingual but also multi-religious. I’ve always been drawn to the philosophy and the core spiritual beliefs that I feel can unite us despite religious differences. When I was invited to contribute an article to Kirkus Reviews a while ago, I wrote one called Accept, Don’t Tolerate, which is about this aspect of my books and books in general. I do think it’s an aspect of my work that I strengthen and give attention to as I revise. 

You’ve written fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. Is there any genre, that you’d like to try that you haven’t as yet?


Are you presently working on another project? As an off shoot of that question, how do you balance your creative work and the promotion of your work?

So hard, but I try to just be involved with the kidlit community, help other authors, and not worry about promotion. In fact, when  book is released, the really shy and scared part of me emerges in full force and I actually do less online – I tend to bury my head in the sands of another novel as quickly as I can. I suppose you might say I become a sort of writer-ostrich right around now when BORN BEHIND BARS is scheduled for release, for example! I’m working on a couple of projects – another middle grade novel, and a nonfiction book for adults. 

Is there any age group that you’d like to write for that you haven’t written for as of yet?

I’d love to write a picture book. Jackie Woodson once told me she thinks of a picture book as a poem, and I love that way of thinking of them. I do think I have a few poems that could be picture books someday… but they’re harder to write than they appear and so far my attention has focused on the characters who have so much to share with me that I need a novel for their stories! 

In your website’s Q&A, you’ve advised those who aspire to write to read widely and read well. What would you say at this point in your life are your three favorite books?

Oh, it’s so hard for me to choose favorite books. Or even favorite authors. I love and respect so many. Some names at the forefront of my mind – Jacqueline Woodson, Nikki Grimes, Margarita Engle, Kathy Erskine, Laurie Halse Anderson, Phil Bildner, Tracey Baptiste – but already I want to make this list so much longer – many I love and hold dear. 

You’ve also said to acknowledge the two parts of what makes a writer (the creative, spilling out the story and the corrective editor) and to allow them to respectfully coexist. Is there anything else you would suggest to those who are beginning their careers in writing? Is there anything you would like to share with those who might be wondering if they should persevere?

Write for your characters. They deserve the best story you can create for them. As for the rest, you can’t control any of it. Many brilliant books don’t get the recognition they deserve. Success is a lot of luck. So don’t worry about it. Just try to concentrate and be contented with the creative process. 

Author website: ; @padmatv (twitter); venkatraman.padma (ig, fb)

THE BRIDGE HOME (2019) * WNDB Walter Award winner * SCBWI Golden Kite Award winner * South Asia Book Award winner  * Paterson Prize winner * Crystal Kite winner * Nerdy Book Award winner *Audiophile Earphone Award winner * 2019 Global Read Aloud * 8 Stars * ALA Notable book * ALSC notable audiobook * NEA Read Across America selection * Junior Library Guild & audiobook * Nominee for TX Bluebonnet, FL SSYRA, VA, RI, GA, MN, WI, KY, VT, ME, NB, SC, WA state awards * Finalist for Japan’s Sakura Medal, Le Prix des libraires du Québec, Cybil, Malka Penn and Litterado Award * National Book Festival award Library of Congress Great Reads from Great Places * Translated into Farsi, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese and French  ~ Padma Venkatraman (she/ her) frequently dictates emails & texts due to health issues. Please excuse errors, typos, brevity etc.  

Thank you Padma, for your thoughtful answers to my questions, and for your beautiful writing.