Author’s Cut: Behind the Writing of Mischief Series

Behind the Scenes Writing Mischief Series 

+ a special sale!


How a Mischief Series Was Born

It seemed like a very good idea. I would quit my day job as a middle school teacher to spend all of my time writing an idea burning in my brain about little mischief-makers in elementary and how they grow forward through middle school.

This wasn’t an overnight decision—I had been practicing how it would feel to live off one income for a couple years. I have one of those husbands who supports my dream chasing. This also wasn’t my first adventure in writing. I’d already published two previous novels, one of which was middle-grade fiction, the other non-fiction for adult children caring for elderly parents. So I was ready to untether myself from the district until someone suggested I use common sense—take this year as a sabbatical.

Anyone who has ever pursued an entrepreneurial path knows the risk involved when a safety net remains firmly in place. The worry is one might languish—eat bonbons, watch daytime television—until sadly, not a chapter is written before year’s end.

Fortunately, I did not succumb to these temptations, and, shamefully, I have missed every Ellen episode during this time away from the classroom. Instead, I wrote feverishly every single day, including nights and weekends. I was nervous that I’d have little to show for this gift of time. The possibility of returning to my administrators empty handed gnawed at me. This is the only motivation I needed—to save face in front of my peers, bosses, and former students.

Here’s what I discovered. There’s a lot I can get done in the day when school bells aren’t going off every forty-five minutes, with thirty kids clamoring at my door, anxious to come inside! Oh, how I loved them dearly.

This peaceful time alone at my desk with my thoughts has unleashed some pent up creativity. Characters I never remembered creating came spilling out of my brain. Toward the end of the series, I went digging through stories I’d written ten years earlier for a scene I wanted to revive, and I found Lynn Hannigan—again. The name had evidently been stuck in my head all this time without my awareness.

I wrote Lynn Hannigan with such clarity when she interacted with her son, Slater, that she must be a repressed memory. The closest inspiration I can conjure up is a fifth-grade friend whose mother washed her mouth out with soap—an actual bar of soap—and sliced her tonsils with her overly long fingernails in the process. Ouch! My friend never used naughty words again. But I love this kind of energy for Slater’s mother. “Is she helping, or is she hurting?” seems to be the regular commentary I get from my friends.

Writing Mischief-Book 1 came easily. There might be those naysayers who think these characters and plot lines must be thinly disguised versions of what’s ever happened to me inside my years of teaching twenty-seven hundred students. But I submit, what would be the fun in that? I prefer my own imagination. Besides, no one would believe the worst of what I’ve seen in the classroom!

Plus, whatever has happened in the classroom needs to stay in the classroom. It’s the unwritten promise we educators make to our students. It’s the right thing to do. After all, childhood is meant for learning.

Writing Mayhem-Book 2 filled me with excitement because the characters were now indelible to me and the reader. But I was sick with worry that I wouldn’t love this one as much as I did Mischief-Book 1. Isn’t that a normal feeling for any parent ready to welcome a second child? Thankfully, the beta-readers loved it even a little more and the anticipation for a third book put even higher expectations on me. Could I deliver? I was frantic that I might not.

Writing Menace-Book 3 was so much fun! I caught my rhythm and could type a chapter a day. In my mind, I became a boy. I thought of muddy situations to bring boyhood to life and ta-da, Elmer Woods became the scary place where Slater and his friends would meet their match. It was absolutely delicious to invent. I bounced out of bed every morning awaiting a good story, even though I was greeted with a blank page. By the end of the day, I was quite pleased with the trajectory of the plot but managing all of the moving parts for three books in different stages of production was robbing me of my writing time. I felt very much like the lady in the circus spinning plates on poles!

Writing Malice-Book 4 became difficult emotionally. I spent an entire month trying to avoid one scene because I didn’t want it to turn out that way. My aim in writing this series is that I’d engage non-readers, boys in particular. I had to include the heartache of childhood because I know kids in real life experience the same. This modern day Tom Sawyer-type adventure reminds us that even Tom had his share of woes. We can’t always play pirates on an island. Life throws us curveballs, and we take them like a punch to the gut in Malice-Book 4.

The scariest part of writing is always getting up the courage to share it with the world. It’s the tortured artist in me and I daresay, most creative types must feel this way too. But I trust my instincts and when a scene is not right, I know how to hit delete and begin again.

I feel so happy with how the story in Mischief Series has unfolded—and I’m so incredibly grateful others are discovering it now too. These characters have not let go of me yet. The fourth book in the series is set for a December 2017 release. Available at Books, Inc. and  amazon

A gift for Mischief lovers

Now through Sunday, December 17th you can grab the MISCHIEF series on Kindle for only $0.99 each!

Mischief (Book 1)

Mayhem (Book 2)

Menace (Book 3) 

I hope you’ll take advantage of this special offer, and please share with your friends! 

And don’t forget our December Giveaway Deal:  20 readers will receive a FREE copy of Book 4 after posting reviews of Mischief Series:Books 1-3 to amazon. Email me your screenshot once reviews are LIVE and provide a good address where book may be shipped on December 20th. Book 4 will be signed and sent 2-day USPS. Reach me at: with any questions 🙂



Dear Readers, Thank You

de36eac37971edb971501643598e8b3cDear Readers, How Do I Say Thank You?

There are still only two, teeny, tiny words that we use to convey even the biggest, most monolithic proportions of gratitude. Thank you. These simple syllables seem so mild in their meaning because of their overuse. Thank you for taking out the garbage. Thank you for picking up the dog doo. Thank you for not closing that door on me, Sir. 

However, even for medium-sized appreciation, they are the best that we can do. Oh, thank you, your wedding gift is much too generous. We are so glad you could stay with little Timmy, thank you Granny!

But there is another expression of gratitude that exudes such heartfelt emotion sometimes no words are needed. When there are tears of joy, the do-gooder knows all there is to know.

“Thank you.” Alas, this generous pairing of words has flummoxed plenty of crafty writers who have searched their lexicon for the perfect substitution, to no avail.

So, I am left with creating a single note of appreciation with this lasting picture.

We meet on the street, you and I.

I’ve just read your wonderful review, the one where you gave “9 Realities of Caring for an Elderly Parent: A Love Story of a Different Kind” a knock-my-socks-off 5 stars!

I recognize you by your beautiful, intuitive soul and I rush to give you the heartiest handshake, a big bear-like hug of a greeting.

I am suddenly overwhelmed with my silent tears streaming out of my eyes while I simultaneously beam and smile broadly.

When I am finally assured I have conveyed my true sentiment, I speak only the tiniest words available:

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!

Why Do Teachers Love Bill and Melinda Gates?

Nobody Knows How to Appreciate Teachers Like Gates Ed Foundation


I have just returned from one of the most exceptional conferences I’ve ever attended where I delivered the closing keynote to nearly 500 educators. My message was meant to inspire new and veteran teachers alike, with a reminder that “for that one kid, you might be the single best part of their day.” If you have 15-minutes and 1 hanky, it’s worth sharing and bears repeating, “On the path to success, there is always a teacher to thank.”Gates Conference-Stefania Shaffer Keynote But, here is why this conference inspired me.

Imagine you are an educator. Middle school teacher. Let’s say you’ve been at it for fifteen years and let’s even go so far as to say that you still love your job. You are me. I am thrilled to be here. But, there have been times when I have needed support; call it Teacher Appreciation, call it a morale boost, call it a post-it note with five little words that read, “Best scores we’ve ever had!” (I am still floating off that last one from years ago) If you don’t know ECET2, I’m here to tell you that you are in for the treat of your educational career. The name says it all: Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers. But it means more when you discover that the names Bill and Melinda Gates are behind sponsoring this national conference cultivating teacher leaders.

The Gates Ed Foundation will more than soothe your tired, aching soul and remind you of the reasons why you went into teaching in the first place. This conference will turbo charge your creativity for how you walk the walk in and out of the classroom. Are you that true leader on campus whose spirit never dims? Is your positive role modeling emulated by others? Has your can-do attitude for affecting change been considered– well, infectious? Then you deserve the nomination to attend this invitation-only national event. Here, teacher leaders learn how to build up their own community. If you’re really lucky, there is already a regional convening in your own area because someone attending the national brought it back to your hometown.

If you ever wanted to know what it could feel like to be Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, this is that golden ticket. This is not a curriculum conference to learn more about Common Core. This is a conference where like-minded dynamics are shared in trust tables with other teachers from around the country.

You will immediately bond as you realize that despite your geographic distance, you are all in the same boat and this reassurance will produce a Professional Learning Network…or a sisterhood, or a brotherhood. You have time to talk about issues in education that are thwarting your progress and navigate your way through solutions. You will find your Tribe!

You will be served glorious gourmet food in all its abundance, on par with any fancy cruise line. And when you are done with that meal, you will walk through the halls to your next breakout session passing coffee service tables with gorgeous desserts that you can grab as you go. In a few short hours, your next meal awaits. This is not your cold deli sandwich, potato chip conference. The Gates Foundation showers teachers with enormous gratitude for a job well done. Melinda Gates said it herself, “Nobody knows teaching like teachers.”

I believe nobody knows how to appreciate teachers like Bill and Melinda Gates. To get a real sense of what teachers experienced at the national ECET2 conference, here is a quick clip of what teachers took away. ECET2-Seattle 2015 For even more motivation before you open those August doors and say hello to a new crop of kids, here is what my precious colleagues who each delivered other riveting keynotes throughout the days had to say. Mary Kenzer realized she could be an English teacher after being responsible for training high school kids at the grocery store Krogers where she had worked for decades. Mary Kenzer Keynote. Lauren Maucere not only leads the charge for Deaf students, she teaches them how to advocate for themselves. Lauren Maucere Keynote Finally, William Anderson inspires teachers to reach back to their past experiences as students and teach like their futures depend on it. William Anderson Keynote

If you love a teacher, please share this blog and view these unforgettable keynotes. Sometimes all we need as teachers to do this work is to know that we are not alone and to remember the reasons why we followed our hearts into the classroom in the first place.

Vandra Meets Bullies, The Old-Fashioned Way, Before Cyber Bullying Existed

teen school girlWhat’s worse than bullies harassing you at lunch? How about cyber bullying which replays that moment on a loop for the world to see for the rest of your life on-line?

In the days before cyber bullying on the Internet, we still had forms of intimidation by the tough kids who thought they ruled the school. If you were a new sixth grader in middle school, you were an easy target, and not because you were tugging a rolling backpack twice your size because those were things we called luggage and saved only for plane trips, and not because you had a way with creating matching Pee-Chee folders and textbooks you covered in fabric, color-coded by subject. If you were a sixth grader, you were fair game for the bruisers in eighth grade who needed a place to vent the anger that had probably been unleashed upon them one too many times. You were small, you were innocent, and you cried easily, which is the ultimate goal of a bully, to know they have hurt you in some way.

Today’s bullies don’t just harass you in the hallway, or steal your lunch money, or push you into lockers, although these things still exist. Bullies are much more sophisticated these days because they want to be celebrated for the massive punishment they unleashed on you by filming your worst day with their camera phone, and then sending it out to the universe through any one of the multiple channels providing them much more than the fifteen-minutes of fame any ordinary person accomplishing something spectacular would likely get. In this regard, bullies are no different than the murderers who seek out attention from the media.

Why are we fascinated by the tragedies of others? Students who witness the circle of bullies taking down their best friend while they stand by doing nothing to help is like a bad road accident. They can not not look away. Their first feeling is usually, “I don’t want it to be me.” Their second feeling is, “I wish I could have done more to help, but what?” An honest look at some solutions comes from highly regarded motivational speaker Michael Pritchard who rallies students to put bullying to an end. I have seen him speak at middle school assemblies. He tugs at heart strings and electrifies every single one of the several hundred in the audience. You can hear a pin drop, and no one laughs when one brave member travels to the mic to share how it really feels to be bullied.

As a middle school teacher who has seen nearly sixteen-hundred seventh-graders come through my class, I have found there is something universal in bullying. The majority of students will say that bullying needs to stop. But the same majority will also say they have witnessed bullying and did nothing to stop it for fear of becoming bullied themselves. There is a code of silence that is hard to break because many students believe that a teacher or a parent can’t make it go away. Besides leaving our doors open while eating lunch at our desk, how can we better patrol and prevent as parents and teachers?

I address the problem of bullying in my first fictional novel called Heroes Don’t Always Wear Capes when the protagonist Vandra Zandinski is harassed by eighth graders when she is a new sixth grader. The older girls think she has stolen the attention of their eighth-grade boyfriends and form a gang of girl torturers to attack her at the bus stop after school, and to throw her down in the empty corridors during lunch. Vandra is petrified that things will only get worse if she tells someone. But when her Vice-Principal Mr. Barbey gets involved, Vandra finds out he is not so useless after all. He punishes those eighth-grade girls with multiple consequences, including a twenty-page written report on what harassment really means, how to recognize it, and how to protect those who are being harassed. At least Vandra didn’t have to re-live her worst nightmares on-line.

Blog question: What efforts have you made to stop cyber bullying?