Posts Tagged career

Author Interview with Dianne Salerni, Part II


While doing an interview with Dianne Salerni for her newest release, The Carrefore Curse, she mentioned hitting a career snag after releasing the final book in her fantastic Eighth Day trilogy. I’m a huge fan of her work and really enjoyed the Eighth Day series so my interest was immediately piqued by her doubts about the future of her writing career at that point. I thought it would be interesting to pick Dianne’s brain for a bonus interview about her writing career and how she navigates the ups and downs of this business.

Publication list to date:

  • The Carrefour Curse(2023)
  • Jadie in Five Dimensions (2021)
  • Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts (2020)
    • The Eighth Day (2014)
    • The Inquisitor’s Mark (2015)
    • The Morrigan’s Curse (2016)
  • The Caged Graves (2013)
  • Very Superstitious Charity Anthology (2013)
  • We Hear the Dead (2010)

The Carrefour Curse - Salerni, Dianne K.Jadie in Five Dimensions - Salerni, Dianne K.Eleanor, Alice, and the Roosevelt Ghosts - Salerni, Dianne K.The Eighth Day - Salerni, Dianne K.The Inquisitor's Mark - Salerni, Dianne K.


Can you tell us your writer’s origin story? Can I safely assume there weren’t any radioactive arachnids or harrowing escapes from dying planets involved?

No spiders whatsoever and no dying planet as far as I know! Just parents and grandparents who read to me all the time so I started trying to write my own books at the age of four. (Well, I drew the pictures, anyway.) I still have my first book, The Dragon and the Girl. It looks like I cut the pages from a larger sheet of paper and assembled them with Elmer’s Glue. 

I continued to write stories throughout my childhood, carrying notebooks with me everywhere I went. This went on into high school, during which I submitted short stories to Isaac Asimov Magazine (rejected). Fiction writing tapered off in college, but I returned to the habit as a young teacher, often writing stories for my students that featured them as characters. I produced a couple of YA novels that my husband convinced me to submit to agents (rejected). In 2007, once again encouraged by my husband, I self-published a book about real-life spirit mediums Maggie and Kate Fox with iUniverse. (This was before the days of Amazon self-publishing.) The book, High Spirits, A Ghostly Tale of Rapping and Romance, caught the attention of Sourcebooks just as they were launching their YA imprint, Sourcebooks Fire. They offered for the book, and it was edited and reprinted in 2010 under the title We Hear the Dead.

I quickly realized I was way over my head signing contracts and navigating the world of publishing on my own. The ink on We Hear the Dead was barely dry before I started querying for agents.

The Journey

The reality of a writer’s life is no different from the ebbs and flows of life in general. What are a few of your most significant or valued career experiences with over a decade as a published writer under your belt? 

The most important career experience I learned was the value of a good editor. My first experience with this comes from something that’s not usually part of my bibliography. Before the publication of We Hear the Dead, I published an adult short story with a short-lived anthology series called Visions. After reading my story, titled The Necromancer, the editor said that the ending lacked the right twist and suggested alternatives:  Ending A or Ending B.

I answered that I didn’t like Ending A but thought Ending B was a fantastic idea!

His response: “Great! Now make the reader think you are going for Ending A before pulling the rug out from under them with Ending B.”


Hats off to Michael Katz, the editor in question! He was the first, and every editor afterward has taught me something important about writing in general and my books specifically. In particular, I love working with my current Holiday House editor, Sally Morgridge, who always has brilliant insights into how to take my manuscripts to the next level.

If you could travel across dimensions with Jadie Martin to leave a piece of career advice to the 2010 Dianne, what would it be?

What I would tell 2010 Dianne – and anybody else embarking on the journey of publishing – is this: When an authority in the publishing world gives you devastating news that predicts the end of your writing career, don’t listen to them! I don’t mean that you should ignore the advice of editors and agents. (See the answer I gave to the last question!) I mean, if they tell you that you are a failure, they are wrong.

In 2010, a high-ranking editor at Sourcebooks told me that sales for We Hear the Dead were so bad, she didn’t think B&N would ever stock another book by me.

Also in 2010, a high-powered agent told me that the contract I’d signed for Sourcebooks contained a bottomless option clause that made it impossible for her to take me as a client. “Frankly,” she said, “I doubt any agent will take you.”

As a point of fact, B&N stocked my next 6 books. (Then they stopped stocking all midlist MG books, but that’s a different kind of problem.)

And the next agent who responded to my query offered representation. When I confessed to her about the No-Good Very Bad Option Clause, Sara Crowe – agent extraordinaire – said: “They can’t hold you to that! I can make that go away with a phone call.” And she did.

No matter how important an editor or agent is, no one has the right to imply that you should give up. Their opinion is still only an opinion.

No Writer is an Island

Who is on Team Dianne? 

As you can probably tell from my answers above, my husband is very definitely on my team. Not only is he a one-man cheerleading squad and poker/prodder when I need a little push, he actually reads my manuscripts. Depending on the project, he might read chapter by chapter as I write, or I’ll send him the whole thing when I’m finished. He’s not a writer, but he has a good ear for voice and will highlight lines where “this character wouldn’t say it like that.”

For years I have relied on Marcy Hatch, author of time-traveling western West of Paradise, as a critique partner. I send her chapters while I’m drafting, and she provides feedback and cheerleading. (I do the same for her.)

There have been many people I’ve relied on as beta readers over the years – people I ask to read the entire manuscript after it has gone through a few revisions. But one person I can always count on to accurately pinpoint the problems in a manuscript is writer Maria Mainero. For example, Jadie in Five Dimensions went through many, many drafts (and died on submission twice). For years I insisted on including, in the second half of the book, chapters with adult POVs. Beta readers kept telling me, “You have to cut those because kids don’t like adult POV.” Well, that’s a dumb reason to cut them, and it’s not true. I can think of a few best-sellers with adult POV chapters.

Then Maria came along and said, “These late-appearing adult POV chapters would be better off told by the middle-grade POV characters you’ve already introduced. And here’s why.” It was the why that convinced me. Maria was the only reader who helped me see the opportunity I’d blown for my already established POV characters by introducing new ones. It had nothing to do with them being adults. 

Are there any support groups or individuals you turn to for advice and/or support?

I’m a member of the KidLit Author Club, a group of PB, MG, and YA authors who live in the mid-Atlantic states. We support each other at author events – conferences and festivals – sometimes carpooling or referring each other to events we can’t attend ourselves. The membership is fluid, as people’s lives and goals change, but I’ve been with the group since 2012. When I retired from teaching in 2014, I worried about the fact that I would no longer have contact with “co-workers.” But as I started attending events in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New York, I realized that the KidLit Authors were my new co-workers. In addition to supporting each other at events, we also do some beta reading and book blurbing for each other.

The Horizon

We all know hindsight is, or appears to be, 20/20 so how do you prepare for what comes next using the gift of experience? 

I have learned to accept that gaps in my publishing resume happen, and that’s okay. There’s a 3-year gap between my first and second book and 4 years (almost 5, really) between the last book in The Eighth Day series and Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts. Sometimes, it’s an issue of manuscripts that don’t find the right editor. Other times it’s because my productivity is down. Both of those things are okay. It doesn’t mean there won’t be a next book when the time for that next book arrives.

Do you think one book at a time or do you project several future books at a time?

I am definitely a one-book-at-a-time author. The only time I planned multiple books at once was while I was writing The Eighth Day series. Even then, I only started planning the sequels after the first book sold. I was hoping for a series, but I had no big plan ahead of time! My editor, the head of HarperCollins Children’s Books, asked me to plan for 5 books but to make sure the 3rd book had a satisfying conclusion in case they decided not to buy the last two. She assured me, though, that wouldn’t happen. Then she retired. You can guess what happened next, and I chalk that one up to another “gift of experience.”

Navigational Beacons

With the saying, “That which does not kill you makes you stronger.” in mind, how does your experience affect how you evaluate your future projects and decisions? 

I have a lot of dead manuscripts on my computer. But I have come to believe in the power of resurrection. Jadie in Five Dimensions died on submission in 2015 and then again, after a round of revisions, in 2017. In the fall of 2019, my agent offered it exclusively to Sally Morgridge at Holiday House after she and I finished working on Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts. Luckily, Maria Mainero had already convinced me to rewrite those troublesome POV chapters, although I bet if she hadn’t, Sally would have given me the same advice.

My most recent book The Carrefour Curse and my next book The Tontine Caper (2025) were born out of manuscripts that I abandoned after the first draft. In both cases, the manuscripts languished in my “dead” files for 3 years before I opened them again and got back to work.

So, I guess I don’t always evaluate my projects correctly? Last fall, I closed the file on a really, really, really crappy story. But is it really trash? I don’t know. I’ll figure it out in a couple of years.

In the spirit of concerning yourself solely with controlling the things you can control, do you trust in the power of persistence + patience and in keeping to the course as a creator?

Very much so. Jadie in Five Dimensions would never have been published if I hadn’t believed in that story enough to keep revising and revising – and seeking out beta readers until an astute reader told me where I was falling down on the job. Some stories just need patience and time to slumber until I’m ready to look at them under the right lens.


Thank you so much for inviting me to participate in this interview, Mike! Publishing is a bumpy road, and authors are cautioned not to publicly air their woes. (I’m not supposed to tweet: 12 rejections for this manuscript! 3 editors loved the character but not the plot. 4 editors love the plot but not the character. And 5 just don’t like aliens! This was a real thing, by the way, for a manuscript that was never published. Yet.) But those rules are loosening, and I think it’s good for published authors to talk about the bumps and potholes and sinkholes so that other authors, published and pre-published, know their experiences are shared by many.

Thank you, Dianne, for being our guest once again and sharing your experiences and insights from over a decade in the publishing business. Best of luck and keep your words, especially those middle-grade words, flowing! 

If interested in more information and updates from Dianne, visit her online at Thanks for reading! 


STEM TUESDAY: Zoology – In the Classroom


Welcome to the Second STEM Tuesday of the Month!
This inaugural post offers some really wild ideas for connecting zoology books, activities, and kids. With this month’s selections and ideas, your students can spy on animals, find connections to scientists (and each other), and spread enthusiasm for zoology as they model a disease outbreak.

Cover of Beastly Brains: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk, and FeelHelp kids channel their inner Jane Goodall. Budding zoologists will soon be organizing and interpreting their observations like the pros when they read Nancy Castaldo’s Beastly Brains: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk, and Feel and hit the schoolyard to conduct scientific observations of animal behavior.

This book provides a comprehensive synopsis of science’s attempt to answer some fascinating questions, such as: What types of feelings, if any, do non-human animals have? Do they plan, anticipate, and think about themselves? How can we know? With the help of the Beastly Brains teacher guide (pages 16-19), segue into some serious fun: watching animals, the zoological way, and try to answer some of those questions. The guide includes instructions and a downloadable template for an observation record (ethogram).

After you cover the basics, practice with your students in the schoolyard or classroom animal center. Then set them loose on self-selected observations (AKA homework)—at a local park, home-based bird-feeder, or even the grocery store. (After all, humans are animals, too!).

Ask critical questions about the experience, such as:

  • Is there anything about this situation that might interfere with the animals’ typical behavior? (For example, captivity or the presence of an observer can influence animals’ behavior.)
  • What do students think might be going on inside the observed animals’ heads?
  • How sure can students be about their inferences?

Drawing from the book’s content, consider the challenges zoologists face as they try to make sure their own interpretations are correct. For another perspective and a simplified version of an ethogram activity, check out Pages 93-94 of the next book in this week’s feature…

IMage of cover of Zoology for Kids: Understanding and Working with Animals, with 21 ActivitiesPlay out a musical chairs-style model of habitat loss. A simplified ethogram activity is one of 21 experiences in Zoology for Kids: Understanding and Working with Animals by Josh and Bethany Hestermann. Providing a broader introduction to zoology than Beastly Brains, this book also offers a wide range of activities, including ecology-based crafts and games.

The Resource Game (p. 106) is worth a special look. Like many of the books on this month’s STEM Tuesday list, Zoology for Kids tackles habitat loss and the need for conservation to support the diversity of animal life on our planet. The Resource Game brings this issue to a concrete level for readers and helps students focus on animals’ needs for water, food, and space. The game may remind you of musical chairs—with a twist—as “animal” players seek out new resources when their own habitats are disrupted.


Image of cover of Zoology: Cool Women Who Work with AnimalsBreak the ice before kids “meet” zoologists. While several of this STEM Tuesday’s books introduce readers to animal scientists, Zoology: Cool Women Who Work With Animals, written by STEM Tuesday founder Jennifer Swanson, focuses on several female zoologists. Readers follow these scientists’ varied journeys to this field. With targeted questions, the book also encourages readers to identify with each scientist.

A fun activity called  That’s Me!  is a social ice-breaker often used to foster an inclusive classroom environment. With a tweak or two, it can support Cool Women’s connection-building between readers and featured scientists.
During the game, a leader makes a statement. Listeners decide if the statement describes themselves. Everyone who thinks so pops out of his or her chair and calls, “That’s me!”

Tweak the game for this book with statements that are true of the featured scientists. Aim to select facts that will be true of many of your students. You might start with the following ideas: “If I could, I’d have tons of pets.” “I’m not really sure what I want as my future career.” “I’ve taken care of a particular animal for most of my life.” “I sometimes have a lot of questions.” You can also turn some of the book’s highlighted Essential Questions into That’s Me statements.

Image of cover of Gorilla Doctors: Saving Endangered Great ApesCatch the zoology bug! Model a disease outbreak. Author Pamela S. Turner’s vivid storytelling about a mountain gorilla veterinarian who pays “nest” calls is sure to make Gorilla Doctors a hit with students. Among other topics, readers will learn about threats to gorillas’ survival, including the fact that well-meaning humans–who might not be ill–can pass potentially fatal germs on to our genetic cousins. This is a perfect opportunity to try an infectious disease modeling activity, described by a teacher in a 7-minute Teaching Channel video.

Carrying cups of a white liquid (milk), students “harmlessly” interact—only to find out later that  “germs” have spread from one individual to many. (You have spiked one of the cups with an additive that will change colors with the addition of a readily available solution.)

Want to take this further? Challenge students to consider this experience specifically as a model for the spread of disease between humans and gorillas. What is well represented and not so well represented in this activity? What specific changes could we make in order to improve the model of what is described in the book?

Wolf HowlingPlease join the pack! (It’s your turn to howl.)
Humans are social animals, right? We need each other and we share resources. So, please: Contribute to this blog community! We hope this will be a dynamic space for all of us as adult learners exploring this exciting territory–connecting middle grade readers with STEM books and their important themes.

  • Which ideas seem most intriguing to you?
  • What follow-up suggestions do you have?
  • What works really well with your readers and STEM learners?
  • What else is on your mind?

Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano is often spotted in her semi-wild habitat of Southeastern Massachusettts writing science/STEM books for kids, arranging her author visits, and working as a STEM curriculum and professional development consultant for authors, schools, museums, and anyone else who gives a hoot about science ed. Follow her on Facebook or contact her through her website