In the Spotlight: Jenna Gavigan & a GIVEAWAY!

There are few things I enjoy more than shining a spotlight on authors and books that I love. And today it truly is a spotlight, in every sense of the word! Here to celebrate her very first book birthday and introduce us to her leading lady — er, mouse — is Broadway, TV, and screen actor Jenna Gavigan!

Jenna Gavigan

Doesn’t she look feisty and fun? Like someone you’d want to hang out with? You’d be right on both counts — she is! And so is her fabulous new character, Lulu, the star of Jenna’s very first book, Lulu the Broadway Mouse.

I absolutely adored this book, which Jenna and Lulu’s publisher has billed  as “Ratatouille meets Broadway.” I think you’ll love it, too, whether or not you’ve ever dreamed of being onstage and in the spotlight, as Lulu does!

Shall we help Jenna celebrate her book birthday? Pull up a chair and grab a cup of tea and we’ll settle in for a chat before we all throw confetti and cut the cake…

How did this book come about, Jenna? Can you tell us a bit about that?

Years ago, while making my Broadway debut at the Shubert Theatre, I spotted a mouse running along a water pipe in the wardrobe room. To keep myself from freaking out — I was not a city dweller at the time, so not used to seeing the occasional mouse — I told myself that the tiny mouse was just helping out with the costumes. Perhaps she wanted to be on Broadway, too! That idea has been marinating in my mind for years, and I first started writing drafts as a picture book. One of those drafts happened while I was at Columbia University. That teacher encouraged me to apply to a conference at Rutgers that paired prospective authors with mentors. Eventually, my mentor at the conference became my agent, and she encouraged me to write the story as a middle-grade novel. The rest is history. (Note: I worked at the Shubert from March 2003 – May 2004, and my book sold in June 2017. So… that was a long story very short.)

Did you have to do any research for your book? Or had that all been done during your years onstage?

Yes, most of the “research” for this book is thanks to years in the theatre! But, I did go back to visit the Shubert when I was putting the finishing touches on my already-sold manuscript, to make sure I got all the real-life details right, like what color the seats in the audience are and how many chandeliers are on the ceiling. Roaming around, especially below the stage in the basement, I spotted other details that helped me add even more color and detail to Lulu’s world.

How did you come up with the character of Lulu? A MOUSE! There has to be an interesting story behind that!

Well, we’ve already addressed the mouse part of things! But, Lulu herself is loosely based on me as a kid. All I wanted was to be on Broadway. And I just kept working and hoping and dreaming. Lulu has an enviable optimism, but she also has moments of worrying that things won’t work out. I certainly had those moments. (Still do.) Moments of wondering if all the wishing and hoping and dreaming would pay off. My dream came true. You’ll have to read the book to see if Lulu’s does too!

Young Jenna as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”

Any tips to share for aspiring writers — or actors?

Just do it. There’s no magic potion. No right or wrong. Practice, focus, but don’t forget to have fun! Acting and writing have “make believe” in common. Sure, there’s work and training and business involved. But at the end of the day, we’re playing make believe. (On that note, be incredibly thankful when someone pays you to make believe. Be kind to the people you work with. Be humble. Be thankful.) Also, know that “success” (you’ll need to define for yourself what success means, BTW), doesn’t happen overnight. There are a lot of variables at play and a lot of people playing the game. All you can control is your work.  Your words. Your audition. How you sing the song. I’m sure you’ve heard it over and over again, but it really is true: “Be you. It’s the only thing that makes you different from everyone else.”

What’s up your sleeve? What will you be writing next? 

Well, I’m hoping for a sequel to Lulu!! I also love the idea of writing origin stories for some of the characters we meet in Lulu the Broadway Mouse—how those characters got started in the theatre. Guess we’d call those books spin-offs.  I’m also working on a novel set in the 1930s about a girl whose family runs a boarding house in Brooklyn. It involves a lot more research than Lulu did, that’s for sure!!

And how about acting? What’s next in that arena?

Here’s the thing about being an actor: you very rarely know what’s coming next. It’s exciting, in a way, but it’s also stressful and scary. I very much hope I’ll be on Broadway again soon. If you twisted my arm and made me choose my next gig, I’d honestly want to play Anna in Frozen. Or Dawn in Waitress. I said it when I was little and I’m saying it now that I’m a grown up: “I want to be on Broadway!”

And now — cue the confetti! Happy book birthday, Jenna! Thanks so much for stepping into the spotlight and visiting with us today. And thank you, too, for providing a giveaway: there’s a copy of hot-off-the-press Lulu the Broadway Mouse awaiting one of you — and I’ve heard rumors of a tote bag as well…

Just leave a comment below, sharing one of your favorite theatre memories with us. Maybe it’s a play you saw, maybe it’s a play you were in, or maybe it’s a play you wrote, who knows? Winners will be chosen at random on October 17th. Share this giveaway on your blog or Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media for additional entries. (If you share on social media, please leave a link in the comments so that I can assign you an extra entry.)  U.S. and Canada only, please. Have fun!


And the winner is . . .

Maria Marabito!

Congratulations, Maria — and thank you to everyone for participating. It was great to read about all of our collective connections to Little Women (or aspirations to have connections, for those who haven’t read it yet – now go read it!).

Maria, I’ll be contacting you soon for your snail mail address, and will send your prize out shortly!

Happy 150th, Jo March! (and a giveaway)

Ladies and gentlemen, today’s word is “sesquicentennial.” Isn’t that a terrific word? It really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?

Next Sunday, September 30, 2018, marks the 150th anniversary — the sesquicentennial — of the publication of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

I doubt she could have foreseen her book’s enduring popularity, or have guessed that her story of four young women coming of age in the aftermath of the Civil War would one day be considered a classic — reprinted countless times with countless covers, adapted for film somewhere around a dozen times already, with not one but two more movies heading to the screen shortly.

Nor could she possibly have known the impact that her book, and in particular the character of Jo March, would have on generations of aspiring young writers.

I was one of them.

I spent seven formative years of my childhood and young adulthood in Concord, Massachusetts, the small New England town where Louisa lived when she wrote Little Women.

I used to save my babysitting money (I earned a whopping 25 cents an hour back then!) and ride my bike the mile to her home — which is called Orchard House — and treat myself to the tour. The ladies who led the tours were always so nice to me, and if they thought it was weird that I was there all by myself, they didn’t say so.

Orchard House

It’s a wonderful old historic house, filled with treasures from the Alcott family, which is easy to mix up with the March family, her fictional characters, because so much of the book was inspired by her own life, and her own family. Anyway, I remember just standing there staring at the little half-moon desk that her father had made her, and thinking, “Wow, that’s where she sat when she was writing Little Women,” and thinking that maybe I would have a writing desk of my own one day.

I desperately wanted to be a writer just like Jo March, Louisa’s headstrong fictional alter-ego, even back then.

And now, here I am, lo these many years later, and I do have a writing desk of my own, just like Louisa did, and my dream of being a writer did come true, and there are books with my name on them sitting on shelves in bookstores and libraries and actual readers’ homes across the country and beyond! And I have Louisa to thank for it. did thank her, in the only way I knew how — by honoring her in a book. The Mother-Daughter Book Club is my homage to Louisa and her Jo. It’s the tale of a group of middle-school girls in Concord, Massachusetts, whose mothers force them to join a book club and read Little Women. They soon discover how timeless the book’s themes are, and are surprised to find so many echoes of the March sisters and their trials and triumphs in their own lives.

So happy sesquicentennial, Little Women! I fully expect you to be around for at least another 150 years!

To celebrate this remarkable milestone, I think we need to have a giveaway, don’t you? I have a complete boxed set of all seven books in the Mother-Daughter Book Club series that I’ll be happy to autograph and send to one of you! Just leave a comment below, letting us know your connection to Little Women, and the impact it’s made on your life. If you haven’t read it yet, that’s OK, you can just leave a post telling us that you plan to (we’ll hold you to it!).

The winner will be chosen at random at midnight on the September 30, 2018, the 150th anniversary of the publication of Little Women! Share this giveaway on your blog or Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or other social media for additional entries. (If you share on social media, please leave a link in the comments so that I can assign you an extra entry.)  U.S. and Canada only, please. Have fun!

October giveaway!

It’s October! My favorite month of the year!


Especially now that I’m living in New England again. Nobody does October better than New England.

And to celebrate my favorite month, how about we have a giveaway?  This time around, YOU get to choose the prize! Four winners will receive any book they’d like of mine. That’s right — absolutely any one of them! Hop on over to the “Books” page here on this website and window shop to your heart’s content.

To enter, just leave a comment below, telling us which book you’d choose if you win. Easy peasy, right? (I’m making this simple because we should all be OUTSIDE ENJOYING OCTOBER instead of glued to our computer screens. So leave a quick comment, then go do exactly that!)

The winner will be chosen at random at midnight on October 18, 2016. Share this giveaway on your blog or Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media for additional entries, using the hashtag #HVFgiveaway. (If you share on social media, please leave a link in the comments below so I can assign you an extra entry.) U.S. and Canada only, please.




And the winner is….

Liberty A.!


Congratulations, Liberty — and thanks to each and every one of you who left all those wonderful comments and thought up all those fabulous trivia questions. (Confession: some of them were hard for ME to answer, and I WROTE THE BOOKS ha ha!)

Liberty, I’ll be contacting you directly via email for a shipping address.  And stay tuned, because we are in for more giveaways this summer. Next up: more audio books!


See you in Hadley & a giveaway!

It’s a beautiful sunny Saturday morning in Boston, and I’m looking forward to seeing some of you at a book signing this afternoon (2 pm) in Hadley, Massachusetts, where I’ll be at the Barnes & Noble as part of their B-Fest Teen Book Festival!  It’s the biggest weekend of author events in B&N history, and promises to be great fun! Click here for more information.

For those of you who live far away and can’t join us, fear not, I’ve thought of a way you can participate … with a giveaway!

One of you will win a FULL SET of the Mother-Daughter Book Club series — yes, all seven of them, including hot-off-the-press MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CAMP!

Mother-Daughter Book Camp

And that’s not all (as they say on those obnoxious TV commercials) — there will be other surprises in your box o’ goodies…

So, here’s the challenge for you: Come up with a Mother-Daughter Book Club trivia question and enter it in the comments section below. (Feel free to answer each other’s questions, too, if you want to, just for fun!)

The winner will be chosen at random at midnight on June 25, 2016. Share this giveaway on your blog or Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media for additional entries, using the hashtag #MDBCgiveaway. (If you share on social media, please leave a link in the comments below so I can assign you an extra entry.) U.S. and Canada only, please.

And the winner is …

Kylie Wakulat!

I totally agree with Kylie about sometimes just wanting to cuddle up in your favorite pair of sweatpants. In fact, guess what I’m wearing right now?

Ha! Busted.

Congratulations on winning the audio version of DEAR PEN PAL, Kylie!

DPP Audio

Check your email inbox for official notification, as I’ll be contacting you directly soon to make arrangements to send it to you.

Thanks to all of you who entered this giveaway — and look for another giveaway next week, to celebrate the release of the audio version of the fourth book in the MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB series, PIES & PREJUDICE!

Behind the scenes with EMILY WOO ZELLER and a GIVEAWAY!

Oh my goodness! Life got away from me here — I’m in the middle of a cross-country move (more on that in another post) and things are topsy-turvy and I have sorely neglected this blog as a consequence.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Mother-Daughter Book Club series has been released in audio! Which means we have some catching up to do with spotlight interviews and giveaways!

Let’s start with DEAR PEN PAL, shall we?

DPP Audio

I am having SO MUCH FUN listening to these books. It’s almost like I didn’t write them. Seriously! Listening to a story is just a completely different (though equally wonderful) experience from reading one.

And I have been enormously blessed with a FANTASTIC cast of actors reading the parts of my book club girls. Wow, is all I can say!  The audio versions are produced by Ideal Audiobooks, and the stellar cast includes Amy Rubinate, Cris Dukehart, Kate Rudd, Emily Woo Zeller, and Shannon McManus. I’m truly honored to have these five AMAZING voice actors playing the parts of Emma, Jess, Cassidy, Megan, and Becca!  When you listen, I hope you’ll agree that they’ve beautifully captured the girls’ individual characters, which spring to life in a new way in their excellent hands … er, voices.

In past posts, I spoke with Amy Rubinate, the voice of Emma Hawthorne; Cris Dukehart, the voice of Jess Delaney; and Kate Rudd, the voice of Cassidy Sloane. Today, we’re going to meet Emily Woo Zeller!

Emily Woo Zeller

I’m just bowled over not only by Emily’s voice, but also by her grace and beauty and TALENT! In addition to her work as an audiobook narrator (Audiofile Magazine named her one of the “Best Voices of 2015” — go, Emily!), she’s an actor, singer, dancer, and choreographer.

So Emily, how did you get into audio work? We’d love to hear about your career path.

My performance training started when I was very young, in dance and in music, and eventually theater.  I’ve also always been a big reader. I just love getting caught up in a story that I can read or listen to. While watching movies is fun and great in its own way, there’s something special about reading or listening to or acting out a story. Anyway, I’m getting distracted!

I started full time voiceover work in Hong Kong when I moved there after I got my B.A. I was dubbing film and television in Hong Kong. It was primarily animation, but we sometimes did live action films or series. I loved getting to play so many different characters and having fun with lots of different voices and emotions. When I moved back to the U.S. in 2008, I sent an audition in to what was then BBC Audiobooks America, when I heard that they were looking for people – and I auditioned and booked my first book in 2009! From there, it was a slow progression of training and doing the best work I could do and being connected to others doing the same. Even though both types of voiceover really use a range of characters, one of the ways animation is different from audiobook recording is that in animation, you can be expected to go really far with one character and bring it to a cartoonish level immediately. With audiobooks, characters are of course important but telling the whole story – communicating all the narrative parts in between character lines – is usually the bulk of the job.

What’s your process in preparing to record/read a book aloud?

Always read the book first. I take notes about characters, dialects, accents, unknown words, and the author’s and/or character’s personality. Over the years and certainly to this day, I am always working on improving my skills and adding different characters to my repertoire.  I take notes because I usually have more than one book going at one time. 

What does a typical day look like for you? (if there is such a thing!)

There is no real typical day for me overall. I run my own business so I wear many hats. Always, I am striving to eat well and get enough sleep and rest so that I can have my brain and body working optimally. I learned the hard way that my body needs a break. If I don’t take care of myself, I get sick … and then I can’t work! While the bulk of the work is recording, I spend a time reading the stories and preparing them, sometimes I take care of the business side of things, sometimes I spend time connecting with the audiobook community, such as getting to connect with you!

 On a typical recording day, which can be for many, many days in a row, I make sure I am extra hydrated the day before, and during the recording day, I stay hydrated and drink herbal tea that soothes the throat. I eat foods that won’t make my tummy grumbly or my mouth dry.  I give myself a little time in the morning for my body to wake up and I do a vocal warmup before I get into the booth. The hours are long in there when you’re recording books and it can be very taxing in both the short and long term.  I sit on a yoga ball in my booth to help me keep good posture and keep up the energy while recording.

Did you listen to audio books growing up?  Do you listen to them now? How does the experience differ for you from reading the printed word?

I didn’t listen to audiobooks much when I was a kid, but they weren’t as popular or available as they are now. I do remember listening to and loving Danny Glover reading “Brer Rabbit and the Wonderful Tar Baby.” I certainly listen to audiobooks now. It helps me to learn more about the industry and enjoy more books when my eyes are busy or I’m on a crowded subway and can’t hold up a book. Audio has a lot of possibilities.  How different is it to hear someone tell you a story? There are so many thoughts and experiences we have that are triggered by sound, but there’s still plenty of space for imagination and I think that’s really great. Actually, I can’t do anything that requires much concentration when I’m listening because I get totally absorbed!

Turning to “The Mother-Daughter Book Club,” did you find any connections between yourself and the character that you narrated?  

Megan is a really interesting character for me. She’s helped me to grow as a person! I never really paid any attention to fashion but seeing it through her eyes, as a way to connect to people and see as an expression of personality and form, has made me appreciate it more. It’s great that she offers her talent to her friends. Certainly, as an artist, I understand her passion and her need to participate in the world through her medium.

I love seeing her grow through the series. She was a bit of a mean girl at first but she’s slowly learning that you can still do what you love without putting anyone else down and that her awesome friends, all of whom have at least one trait I connect to, have something to offer to her and to the world. It’s so great seeing them all grow up and have fun doing it, even if it is hard sometimes.

I also love her grandma, Gigi. She totally reminds me of someone I know (I won’t say their name here!). And Megan’s mom really makes me think of what I might be like as a mom because I love eating healthy and philanthropy and have strong political opinions. It made me consider how that might be difficult if I had a kid like Megan, and think about how I would make space for someone like Megan to be herself and grow, and also let her know that I love her.

Any fun facts about yourself that you might like to share with us?

I was trained as a kid first in Chinese Folk Dance and eventually moved into Chinese martial arts in college.

I haven’t done as many triathlons as Cris Dukehart [the voice of Jess Delaney], but I have done one and I loved it!

I play the piano and a little guitar.

I dye my hair with a streak of purple because I like the look and I never dyed my hair as a kid.  See? Fashion expression!

I love the color purple.

EmilyWooZeller purple

I told you she was fabulous! Thanks so much for visiting with us, Emily. I’m so thrilled that you agreed to play the role of Megan in THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB audiobooks — your wonderful narration brought her to life for me in ways I couldn’t even have imagined. My readers and I can’t wait to hear what else you have in store for us in the future! 

For more information on Emily and her stellar work, click here to visit her website. 

Now, how about that giveaway?  

One of you will receive a free download of the new audio version of DEAR PEN PAL. All you have to do is comment below, telling us if you’re a fashionista like Megan, or a fashion faux pas like me!

The winner will be chosen at random at midnight on February 1, 2016. Share this giveaway on your blog or Facebook or Twitter or other social media for additional entries. (If you share on social media, please leave a link in the comments below so I can assign you an extra entry.) 

And the winners are…

  • Madison Cassidy, who started reading the series in middle school and is now a freshman in college
  • Sam, who confessed to feeling “unnaturally excited for this book” (there’s no such thing, Sam, I assure you)!
  • Olivia, who almost hyperventilated when she heard there was going to be a 7th book

Congratulations, everyone! Each of you won an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) of MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CAMP, which will be published in May. Check your email inboxes for official notification, as I’ll be contacting you directly soon to get your mailing information.

MDBC 7 front cover

Thanks to all of you who entered this giveaway — OVER TWO HUNDRED OF YOU, I might add! Wowza! That’s a record for this blog, I think. I sure wish I had enough ARCs to send to all of you, but I’m sending my love and thanks, that’s for sure. Enthusiastic and supportive readers like you make all the hard work worthwhile.

Stay tuned, because I have several more giveaways up my sleeve, as the rest of the audio books in the MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB series have been released and we need to celebrate that, plus there’s a branch new paperback version of ABSOLUTELY TRULY! Lots of fun ahead!