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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | Blog

They’re Busy at Arlington: Guest Post by Larry O’Donnell

ArlingtonAnother Memorial Day approaches.  It seems this annual event comes every few months, a sure sign I’m getting older.  A few years ago, I had the honor, and I mean a real honor, to attend a good friend’s father’s funeral.  Rick was my best man at my wedding.   His dad was a retired Army Colonel.  Col. Mock retired in the early 70’s and, oddly enough, started a music store in Northern Virginia.

Col. Mock and I were both Old Crows.  We shared memories of similar duty stations and the odd nature of SIGINT.  We couldn’t talk much about our work or we would have had to kill each other.  Suffice it to say, Col. Mock was a highly decorated hero.  Like other real heroes, he was afforded a place to rest at Arlington Memorial Cemetery.

Not every vet can be buried there.  I’m sorry that the facility is overcrowded and the Armed Forces have been forced to adopt some pretty steep entry requirements. (Which, at my last look, I couldn’t meet) These requirements can be part of your homework to look up.

The ceremony is very moving at Arlington.  The Army ensured that Col. Mock was carried to his resting place by respectful and caring soldiers. An honor guard consisting of some 30 Soldiers, a real military band, and a horse drawn caisson took him to the gravesite.  3 volleys of shots, Taps, and a folded flag to the widow wrapped it up.

I fell in with the detail commander after the ceremony and told him how, as a retired Marine, I was impressed and proud of the detail and their execution of the ceremony.  The soldiers were somber and respectful. Their appearance and field drill was impeccable.  These troops were the Army Old Guard and they weren’t just showboats.  The Major I spoke with was a Ranger, who wore the Silver Star, the Purple Heart (with repeat award star), the Bronze Star (with Valor clasp- a combat award), plus the other ribbons of a successful career officer.

I discovered that he had as many as eight interments a day, six days a week, and there were other details for the other Armed Services. There was about a 3 month backlog.   WW II heroes in their 90’s and 18 year old men from Afghanistan all coming to rest at the same place.  WWII hero John F. Kennedy lies there with his sons and brother, Robert.  Many of the most revered names in US military history are there.  The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded around the clock by some very serious guards.

For your final homework and exam, make the pilgrimage.  You can use DC and all its monuments, the Smithsonian, Holocaust Museum, Capitol, and White house as an excuse to go, but do cross the Potomac and spend some time there.  It’s a 15 minute walk from the Lincoln Memorial across the Memorial Bridge.  The visitors’ entry fee has been paid for by the residents.


Road Signs to the Past

road signI’ve always been a little puzzled by this road sign at the end of an exit ramp off Route 1 near my home.

There is no Russellville. There is no Forestville.

There are no towns 1 mile in either direction.

But there used to be. I finally got curious enough to look them up.

There was a tavern at the intersection of Newport Road (PA 896) and Limestone Road (PA 10) as early as 1737. A town grew up around the crossroads, which eventually came to be named Russellville. In 1823 Russellville had a population of one hundred with a sawmill, a hotel, two general stores, a grocery and a post office. There was also a private school known as the Russellville Academy.

None of those places exist anymore.

Forestville (and the forest it was named for) are also gone. Apparently there used to be a blacksmith shop, a store, and a post office.

Poof. Gone. But PennDoT still puts up signs telling you how to get there.

(I’m kind of jealous Forestville had a post office. The town I live in doesn’t have its own post office. We were assigned the post office at Lincoln University, so my mailing address uses Lincoln University as the town name, even though it’s not a town, and I don’t live on the university grounds. Weird, huh?)

Do you have any historical leftovers where you live?

Let Me ‘Splain. No. There Is Too Much.

Tokyo Gabbey and GinaLet me sum up.

Here’s all the stuff that happened while I was on blogging hiatus.

  • My husband went to Japan on business, and at the end of his trip, my daughters flew out to join him in Tokyo. There are several reasons why I didn’t go too, but there’s no point getting into them. Suffice it to say that they had the time of their life anime-ing themselves up, while I manned the fort and was the sole object of affection for one large dog and one small cat.
  • Don’t feel too sorry for me missing out on Tokyo because two weeks later my husband and I took a long overdue anniversary trip to Key West. There we enjoyed great food, jet skis, a sunset Rum & Reggae snorkel trip, Snuba (diving with your air supply attached to a raft), and tooling around the island on a scooter. I was a little nervous about riding on the back of this thing in traffic, but I pretended he was Riley and I was Evangeline and we were off to save Jax in The Inquisitor’s Mark. (At 30 mph, lol.)
  • Bob on MopedSpeaking of Riley, I stumbled across some fan art for Riley Pendare on Deviant Art. You can check it out HERE.
  • I made several school visits – real and virtual – and signed books at the Hudson Children’s Book Festival where I (briefly) met Jane Yolen and Kwame Alexander! I wish I had a picture of with them, but I don’t. You’ll just have to imagine it.
  • The Eighth Day was the 3rd place winner of the 2015-2016 Sunshine State Young Readers Award. Thank you, students and teachers in Florida!
  • As for writing, I revised a manuscript based on notes from my editor, almost finished the first draft of my WIP, plotted out some ideas for my next project, and jotted brief notes on a premise that came to me (but which does not have any characters or plot yet).

So what have you been up to these past few weeks?


First Impressions: EVERGREEN

ChristyOur second submission for First Impressions is a YA Contemporary manuscript titled EVERGREEN by Christy Hintz. Here is the first page:


Everything looks perfect.  Strings of red lights drape across the ceiling and dangle from the center of the gymnasium, cloaking all the dancers in crimson.

Everything sounds perfect.  The music is upbeat, the bass a perfect volume, not that crass loud overbearing beat that makes everyone’s ears bleed and heart hurt.  Not like last week’s prom at East High–which naturally I crashed to be sure I didn’t overlook any details.  Nope, my prom is nothing like that.  Everyone is laughing and having a good time.  I circulate, smiling at my classmates, nodding at their dress and accessory choices.  The food table is topped off.  The chaperons are keeping their distance.

I approach a girl standing at the foot of the bleachers. I tap her bare, brown shoulder.  “Where have you been?”

She’s wearing a strapless, short black dress, one electric blue heel and one emerald green heel.  Her nails are each painted a different color of the rainbow, and today her eyes are a natural brown.  A thick strand of her black hair matches the electric blue shoe.

“Bathroom.”  She turns toward me.  “I sat on the seat and everything.”

“Ew.”  I fumble through my purse.

“What are you looking for?”

“Sanitizer.” I hand her a bottle.

She doesn’t take it, but asks, “And what, pray tell, shall I do with it?”

I steer her toward the hall.  “Spread it on the back of your thighs.”

She ducks out from under my hands and moves back toward the dance floor, laughing.  “You really are crazy.  Remind me again why I love you.”

“Why wouldn’t you?”  I put the sanitizer under her nose for one last try.

She shakes her head and I return it to my purse with a huff.

“I promise to wear sweats to sleep in later.  My germ-covered legs won’t touch anything in your house.”

“What about our toilet seats?” I watch as a girl in a mermaid dress takes the last water bottle from the refreshment table.

“Man.  I’ll shower when I get there. Okay?”

“Fine.” I gesture to the transformed gymnasium. “It’s all fantastic, right?”


Ms. Fulton, the only teacher not charmed by my straight A+ average and over-abundance of extra-curriculars is glaring at me from ten feet away like something’s gone amok.  All the other teachers patted my back and congratulated me on successfully orchestrating the prom-week festivities, parade, and dance.  Not her.


Since I kept scrolling uselessly down to the blank end of the page when I first read this submission, I guess it’s obvious that I would turn the page if there was more to read! I want to know what Ms. Fulton’s problem with the narrator is, although I can guess it might be her sexual orientation.

Our narrator gives us a strong sense of character. She’s competent, organized, energetic, and finicky about details and germs. I like her! It doesn’t bother me that we don’t know her name yet because her character is so strong.

It did bother me that she didn’t identify her date by name. The teacher got a name, and so did the neighboring school. Why not the girlfriend — if for no other reason than to avoid having two unnamed girls in this scene.

The line “I sat on the seat and everything” dragged me out of the story. It seemed like such a strange thing to say at that moment, even if the girl is transgender (which is the only reason I can think of for her to make that statement). And then there was the thought of putting sanitizer on her legs. (Oh, the burn!) By the time we got to sweatpants and germ-covered thighs, I was completely pulled away from the prom thinking about other people’s bathroom habits.  It’s just my opinion, and maybe it didn’t bother anyone else, but I wonder if there’s a way to steer the conversation so that we see evidence of their humor and fondness for one another while keeping our attention on the event of the evening, the prom.

Christy, thanks for sharing your page with us! Readers, do you have any other comments for her? Don’t forget to check out feedback from Krystalyn and Marcy, and you can find Christy at her writing blog, Erica and Christy.




First Impressions: OVERLAND

AlaskaHi, everyone! I’m easing my way back into blogging after a 6-week hiatus with a First Impressions post. This is the first page of a YA post-disaster adventure novel titled OVERLAND by Kristen Zayon.


           It was a seemingly innocent thing, that first flicker. We were sitting in the Anchorage airport waiting for our flight home to Cordova when it happened. The lights trembled once, twice, then went out completely. If it hadn’t been daytime, the blackness would have been absolute. There were none of those emergency back-up lights shining in the corners, no glow from someone’s iphone. Anything electrical or computerized was just finished. We heard what sounded like a few distant explosions, then an eerie silence. We looked at each other and around at the other passengers. Everyone was stabbing fingers uselessly at their phones, laptops, the kiosk computer terminals. A murmur of voices rose, as everyone began to speculate.

Some of the airport personnel arrived with good old-fashioned battery powered or crank operated flashlights. The intercoms weren’t working either, or the little cars they sometimes drive around, so they were busy hoofing it from gate to gate, letting everyone know as much as they did, which was not much. There appeared to be a blackout that was at the very least spread across the Anchorage Bowl and Matanuska-Susitna Valley, and was most likely statewide. Perhaps it went even further. Nobody knew because communications were gone along with everything else; even old school land lines.

We hung out in the airport for a few more hours, until the time of our flight had come and gone. Eventually, someone announced that all flights were cancelled for the day, or until the power came back on. We left the airport to go back to the hotel we had just checked out of that morning. We had to walk, because anything with a motor was simply not running. Something major had happened, we knew. Power outages don’t affect cars. Solar flare? Nuclear bomb? We noticed smoke rising in several spots over the inlet, and remembered the explosions we had heard immediately after the outage. The planes. They had all crashed. I started feeling sick to my stomach.

We were in Anchorage for the state cross country running meet. For the first time ever, both the boys and girls teams had qualified, so we’d taken the ferry to Whittier and made the short drive to Anchorage. There were seven guys, six girls, and two coaches for the three day trip. By the time we were supposed to return, a storm had moved in to Prince William Sound, cancelling the ferries, so we had to book flights back to Cordova. This was always a hazard in Alaska when traveling in remote areas. Then we couldn’t all get on one flight at such short notice – it’s a small plane – so eight kids and Coach Ron were on the first flight, while the rest of us waited for the next one with Coach Casey.


I’ve read my share of post-apocalyptic YA books, but never one set in Alaska. This is a setting that will provide unique challenges in a world suddenly bereft of electricity and transportation. I looked up Cordova and Anchorage on a map (see above), and it looks like a long way to get between them over land (which I’m betting is the meaning behind the title) rather than by boat or plane.

The opening scene with the flicker of lights and then the failure of everything at the airport will work for this story – but we want to experience it in real time with the narrator, rather than as the summarization we have now. That first paragraph alone could take a page or so to convey if we get all the sensory details as they happen – what did it feel like, what did they hear, see, smell? Most of all, we want to experience the uneasiness that gradually turns to alarm and fear and panic after they realized the planes crashed.

A literary agent once told me that he looks for two things in the opening pages of a manuscript: character and a sense of conflict. The conflict is evident here, but kept at a distance from us because we don’t really know the character experiencing it. By the end of the first page, I know the narrator is a member of a cross-country team from Cordova, but not if it’s a boy or a girl or their name.

I think this story needs to start with us getting to know the main character in the Anchorage airport. He/she and teammates are coming from a state meet. Did the team do well? Are they feeling victorious? Their travel home has been delayed, and they’ve been split up. Has the delay brought them down from their post-meet high, or are they still in boisterous spirits? Are other travelers annoyed by their antics? Has Coach Casey asked them to settle down, or is she too busy on her phone to pay attention?

Then comes that flicker, and everything changes.

Kristen, thank you for sharing your first page! Readers, do you have anything to add? You can find Krystalyn and Marcy’s thoughts on their websites. And you can find Kristen as AKLibraryChick on Twitter.


Friends Share

Sorcia Luna Share

Not an uncommon sight in our house … Sorcia and Luna at their favorite watering hole.

I just wanted to leave you with a funny image.

I’ll be taking a blog hiatus for the rest of this month and April.

See you all in May!

Kids at Work

Riker electric car

One of my characters drives this electric Riker.

Okay, one of those SNI (Shiny New Ideas) got me. I have temporarily put aside my first draft WIP to revise another manuscript. (Sorry, Marcy Hatch! I know you’re still waiting for that next chapter of the new story.)

The most challenging part of the manuscript I’m working on now is that the 14-year-old protagonists don’t go to school. They have jobs. The setting is Long Island, New York in 1908, and these two characters work as apprentices in a lab. One of them rents a room in a boarding house. The other one drives an automobile on her own. My CPs have pointed out—and I believe they’re right—that young readers will find this very strange.

My story is set in an alternate history, but of course child labor was a common thing in the early 1900s. Kids worked in mines, factories, on the street selling newspapers, and in their family businesses.

Annie Oakley

Annie Oakley

Only one of my grandparents graduated from high school. The others had to work in the family business or raise their younger siblings. The one who did graduate did so because she was the youngest in her family and her older siblings had already quit school to run the farm.  Their sacrifices allowed their little sister the luxury of an education – and that’s what education was in those days, a luxury.

Harry Houdini quit school at 12 to get a job; so did Thomas Edison. Boys built the transcontinental railroad and the Empire State Building. Girls fought off wild animals with rifles, defended the homestead, and one really talented gal with the stage name of Annie Oakley became the most famous sharpshooter in the world!  If you want to go back a little further in time, young teenagers led armies (think Joan and Alexander) and ruled empires (Nefertiti and Amenhotep).

My challenge is to paint this backdrop for young readers and help them identify with the young apprentices in my story who don’t have the luxury of education, work for their living, and—as it turns out—make a remarkable scientific discovery.

2016 is Getting Better

Tome SocietyYou may recall I started off the new year with a broken foot and 3 weeks of immobility. That was followed by 2 weeks walking in a boot — during which I managed to wrench my knee. When the boot finally came off, I discovered that I was not going to bounce right back to my pre-injury level of activity.

But things are almost back to normal now. I’m exercising again. My foot hardly ever hurts, although my knee is not finished complaining yet.  Better yet, my schedule is full of Skypes and school visits and book festivals — a far cry from those endless January days with nothing to do.

virginia-reader-choice-logo-2012I’ve also learned that The Eighth Day  was nominated for two 2016-2017 state lists — the Virginia Readers Choice Award and Georgia’s Tome Society IT List. Yay!

The dark days of 2016 are over, thankfully.

What’s bringing sunshine to your life lately?

Cast of Thousands

cast of thousandsA couple weeks ago, I lent my husband one of the adult science fiction books I read last month. To my delight, he enjoyed it as much as I did.

“It had a lot of characters,” he said, “which usually frustrates me, but the author did a great job of introducing only one at a time. That made it easy for me to get to know them and keep them straight.”

Then he gave me the look.

And I sank down in my chair.

‘Cause I know I have a problem. I’m a New Character Addict. Why bring in one new character when I can have three? Or five? It’s a problem that runs rampant through all my first drafts, and it’s definitely attributable to my being a pantster at heart. (I bet people who outline don’t have this problem.) But when you’re making up the story as you go, with only the barest glimpse of your target ending, a lot of unexpected and uninvited characters turn up along the way.

Some of them end up being important — maybe even show-stoppers — so it’s essential that I let this process run its course, even if it’s frustrating to my CPs. I try not to worry because I know in later drafts I’ll put on my Grim Reaper robe, get out my scythe, and start slashing characters.

Sometimes, I see the solution even earlier than that. For instance, last week I wrote a chapter in which three new characters appeared – a mother and daughter we’d heard about before – and a scientist. It occurred to me afterward that if the mother was also the scientist, three characters could be reduced to two. Now that I’ve seen the solution, it’s hard for me to go on writing this soon-to-be-merged-with-another-character scientist, but I feel compelled to do so for my own first-drafting brain, as well as the sanity of my CPs. He’s doomed, but he’s part of the first draft.

What sins do YOU commit in your first drafts?

Writing Chapter Books: Interview & Cover Reveal with Stephanie Faris

Stephanie FarisToday I’m helping Stephanie Faris celebrate the cover reveal for the third book in her Piper Morgan chapter book series. What’s fascinating to me is that this cover reveal is happening before the first two books are even released — which led to me having a few questions about the world of chapter book publication. This is outside my realm of experience. Luckily, Stephanie was willing to enlighten us!


  1. Hi, Stephanie! Tell us about your published books and your upcoming releases.

I have two middle grade books with Simon & Schuster’s Aladdin M!x line, 30 Days of No Gossip and 25 Roses. Piper Morgan is a four-book series and it’s my first chapter book series.

  1. Who is Piper Morgan?

Piper Morgan is an eight-year-old girl who lives with her single mom. When her mom loses her job, she accepts temporary work that has her leaving home behind to travel. This means Piper gets to hang out with her mom as she works with a circus, a school, an animal rescue shelter, and at a pool and spa store.PiperMorgan bk1

  1. I see that this series is with the same publisher as your last two books. Did the series idea come from you or from them?

I owe my amazing agent a big thanks for letting me know publishers were looking for chapter books a couple of years ago. After reading every single Junie B. Jones and Magic Tree House book, I came up with the idea of a precocious young girl who gets to go on extraordinary adventures.

  1. The first two Piper Morgan books come out together in August. Piper Morgan to the Rescue comes out in November. What is the strategy behind these release dates, and when does the fourth book come out?

Chapter books often come out close together, since children like to be able to read as many as possible in a series. I’m sure even August to November isn’t fast enough for some kids! I believe the strategy behind books one and two releasing the same day is that many kids/parents will buy both books together. I know when I sign at events, kids tend to often buy both of my middle grade books together and they aren’t even a series! The fourth book started as the third, actually—but that book is set in a pool and spa store. The publisher moved it to spring, when minds are more likely to be on swimming, and moved Piper Morgan to the Rescue up to November, making that one book number three.Piper Morgan bk2

  1. Tell us about writing chapter books. How is it different from MG?

The age difference is huge. The books are much shorter—around 8,000 words for each—and the writing is far younger. Eight-year-olds obviously have less sophisticated vocabularies than 12-year-olds, but I also have to keep in mind that children as young as five or six could be reading these books and try not to overcomplicate the way I describe things.

  1. What’s next for you?

Good question! I have a middle grade under consideration, so fingers crossed on that one! I have an idea for a middle grade series, but I’m having a hard time getting a complex issue to fit into a fun storyline. So I’ll be twisting my brain into knots on that one for a while.


And now for the cover reveal …

Piper Morgan bk 3

Piper Morgan to the Rescue: Piper is super excited to help out at Bark Street, a local animal shelter in town. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by adorable puppies and dogs all day? And when Piper sees Taffy, the cutest dog she has ever seen, Piper is determined to find a way to bring Taffy home. But it won’t be easy—especially when she finds out someone else wants to make Taffy a part of their family, too!

Congratulations, Stephanie, on all three of these adorable covers!

Below you will find a Rafflecopter giveaway for an ARC of Piper Morgan Joins the Circus. And if you don’t already know and follow Stephanie, you can find her at all these places.






a Rafflecopter giveaway