Board Games · Creative Inspiration · My Life in General · Tabletop Games

Five Life Skills That Cooperative Tabletop Games Help You Improve


Our family’s board game collection used to consist of Life, Clue, and Battleship. We’d call them “I’m bored” games. None of us knew what “deck building,” “cooperative play,” “worker placement,” or “meeples” meant.

But a year ago, a friend shared her party word game of Taboo, and we enjoyed it so much that we revisited the world of tabletop games.

Today, our tabletop game library consists of 40 games, ranging from the time-consuming and immersive “Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle: A Cooperative Deck-Building Game” to the simple yet ridiculously entertaining “Rhino Hero.”

Cooperative Board Games Defined

My social circle is made up of highly competitive people for the most part, so our games get fierce fast. (A recent gaming experience could be called “Ticked Off to Ride” instead of “Ticket to Ride.”)

However, some friends aren’t quite so… competitive. Those friends never get angry enough to knock off meeples from the board after a loss nor become gleeful enough to launch into self-congratulatory cheers in victory after a win.

Fortunately, cooperative board games exist.

The concept of a cooperative board game is to play as one team to accomplish a mission (e.g., find treasures before the Forbidden Island sinks, cure four diseases before a pandemic wipes out humanity, battle against Voldemort and the Death Eaters).

Cooperative board games, such as the best-selling Pandemic and the bookworm dream that is “Hogwarts Battle,” are engaging, fun experiences—but everyone works together rather than against each other.

Moreover, cooperative board games also provide opportunities to work on some important life skills. Here’s a look at five of them.

1. Understanding What Your Contributions and Those of Others Bring to the Table(top)

“Joint decision-making can be both fruitful and eye-opening in and of itself,” writes Douglas Maynard at Analog Game Studies. “They prompt us to consider how different perspectives and ideas can yield even better ideas which no single individual would have come up with alone.”

In Pandemic, each player has a specific role with a unique skill set. A player can be a quarantine specialist, researcher, contingency planner, dispatcher, medic, operations expert, and medic. Players must work together to help cure (and/or eradicate) a disease before it destroys the world.

Everyone must assess a situation a little differently because his/her skills are unique. All players get to figure out what they can do best and to also see the benefits of their fellow gamers’ skills.

2. Improved Communication

In playing a cooperative board game, you get to hone both your listening and speaking skills.

You need to speak up about your role, how you can help the team, and what you see as potential dangers or possible benefits. You need to make sure your thoughts are clear and easily understood by all.

But you also need to listen. Everyone’s input is important because everyone holds part of the game plan. For example, the explorer, engineer, pilot, messenger, and navigator on Forbidden Island need to talk to each other constantly to make sure treasures are found before the island sinks completely.

You either survive together or are sent to Davy Jones’ locker together.

“I have a possibly unique view of games,” says Richard Duke, who, also heads the graduate program in gaming and simulation at Michigan. “I believe they’re primarily extremely powerful tools for communication. In many situations in the world we live in, communication tends to be disconnected. If I’m talking to you, you’re generally waiting for a chance to talk, usually about something else; actual listening is a bonus. This is not exactly productive communication. But a well-designed game not only facilitates listening but demands it.”

3. Improved Focus on Details

In playing a cooperative game, you have to keep track of what you can or can’t do (because of your assigned role) as well as what your fellow players can or can’t.

For example, in Hogwarts Battle, you can’t heal people quickly as Hermione but you can as Neville. So, if you’re on the verge of being “Stunned”(capital S on purpose) and in need of some serious assistance, you need to remember to ask Neville. (Likewise, as Neville, you need to remember who you can help.)

Everyone also needs to keep track of the consequences of the Dark Events, the powers of the Death Eaters, how many lightning bolts will conquer the villains, and so forth.


You need to remember:

  • Who you are
  • What you can do
  • What your limits are
  • How you can help
  • What wonders you can create
  • What disasters you can prevent
  • What evil you can eliminate
  • What good you can do

That’s true of competitive tabletop games, too. The difference, however, is that in a cooperative board game, you have other players to help you remember. And you get to help them remember, too.

4. Planning Successful Campaigns

In “Flashpoint: Fire Rescue,” you and your fellow firefighters have limited time to rescue people and pets from a burning building. You can only perform a certain number of moves at a time, so you must talk to your fellow firefighters and devise the right campaigns to tackle the fire (because there will be explosions), carry victims to safety (because you won’t be able to rescue everyone on your own), and clear out smoky areas (because they will reignite).


The fire escalates quickly, so you cannot waste moves in this game. You need to work efficiently—together. To do so, you must have a plan. (And a Plan B, Plan C, etc.)

5. Evaluating Successes and Learning From Failures

Your team will brainstorm together and have a brilliant idea that creates a win or perhaps a terrible one that triggers a failure. You might even have both.

If you’ve seen the Netflix original series “Stranger Things,” you know how much the boys’ friendship has deepened through shared experiences playing “Dungeons & Dragons.” That friendship has been forged by fighting evil creatures, by losing major battles, and by winning some together.

“When experienced together, both the process of losing and loss as a final result carry with them opportunities for camaraderie, humor, memory-making, and storytelling,” writes Maynard. “In addition, the collaborative nature of the activity reduces the sting of failure through a shifting of focus from the self to the group.”

Throughout a cooperative tabletop game, you and your team will learn about what worked and what didn’t. Even after the game, you’ll have shared experiences of successes and failures, and lessons gleaned from both.

blogging · Content · Content Marketing · Marketing · Science · Writing

How the Brain Processes Different Kinds of Content [Infographic]

You can create blog posts, infographics, podcasts, and slideshows—but which ones will best reach your audience?

Mainpath Marketing recently put together the following infographic highlighting how different content is processed by the brain. You can use it to decide what to create next.

Written content (e.g., blog posts, case studies, ebooks, whitepapers, etc.) are best for “creating a relationship between brands and consumers, showcasing expertise and experiences, building consumer trust, and sharing customer testimonials,” according to Mainpath.

That written content makes our brains put us in the role of the author or protagonist.

Graphic content (think infographics and slideshows) helps the brain to understand and recall content quickly. “As much as 50% of our brains are wired to receive visual input,” states Mainpath. “It takes you 250 milliseconds to process a symbol and attach a meaning to it.”

Use graphics to share complex ideas and data, and to quickly attract the interest of your audience.

Check out the infographic below to find out how the brain processes different forms of content.


blogging · Content · Content Marketing · Creativity · Infographics · Visual Note-taking · Visual Sketch Notes

Nine Content Marketing Skills That I Can Contribute to Your Company [Infographic]

Need someone at your company to create, write, edit, and/or curate engaging and informative content? Then check out the following hand-drawn infographic highlighting my writing, editing, and marketing skills.


So why is such an infographic on my blog?

After almost eight happy and productive years at MarketingProfs, I was laid off due to a reorganization. (Chief Content Officer Ann Handley and the director of Publications, Vahe Habeshian, expressed sorrow at this decision, and said they’d vouch for me.)

If you’re in need of a senior content writer and/or editor with the above skills (and more!), reach me at veejarski[at] Or we can connect on LinkedIn, too.

blogging · My Life in General · Work Life · Writing

Writing About Myself Is Hard (So I Write About My Passion Project Instead)


Give me a few minutes in any store, and inevitably, I’ll get into a conversation with a stranger. My friends and family tease me for it, but it’s one of the reasons I majored in journalism. People love to tell stories, and I love to hear them.

So, when we meet out in the suburban wilderness that is my local mini mall, we talk.

For example, as I walked through the supermarket parking lot last week, the security guard shouted a Doctor Who reference in my direction then approached me. That’s what happens when you wear a fandom shirt. Instead of being freaked out, you end up asking a complete stranger, “Who is your favorite doctor?” (pun completely intended) and you get to hear a 10-minute analysis of the character and how he’s similar yet different to his regenerations.

The week before that, I asked the clerk at an art supply store whether he had some extra Hello Kitty erasers available (they’re perfect for my hand-drawn coloring books), and he launched into a very long story about why he loves cute and tiny things, especially Japanese products, and how he has “little boy feet” and owns pink shoes with Hello Kitty designs and socks that match them.

Those types of interactions happen regularly to me. A few words exchanged, I ask something, and the person starts sharing something about himself or herself that’s strange, silly, or delightful. Sometimes, all three.

This curiosity about others is why I majored in journalism and why, of the two websites I have, this one hasn’t been updated for a long time and why my other site has steady traffic and comments from readers.

See, I could tell you about myself—random facts pouring out of me like candy from a piñata—but a narrative is better. Readers want to hear a story, something that gets inside them, whether their funny bone, heart, or brain. The story changes something in them, so that, after hearing, reading, or seeing it, they leave you better-informed, better-loved, or just… better.

WIITTR? (What’s in It for the Reader?)

At MarketingProfs, where I was a senior content writer and editor for nearly eight years, I always had the question before me (literally, taped to my computer screen): What’s in it for the reader? As I continue to write and manage content for The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors, I have that in mind as well as Why would a reader care about this? Who wants to read this? Why? What feeling do you want them to have when they leave your website?

One reason this blog was on pause for a while was because I was crafting stories for MarketingProfs full-time and spending my weekend free time on writing for my passion project. Research must be done, outlines must be scrawled, stories must be told. But not about me. About the topic, about its nuances, about what gets to heart of the reader.

Having a personal blog about me isn’t as exciting to me as telling other people’s stories. And that’s what content writers do. We find good stories and share them.

The security guard who approached me in the parking lot did speak to me about Doctor Who. In detail. A lot of detail. But I didn’t share the entirety of the conversation in this blog post because good writers also know they need editing.

If you’re looking for someone passionate about writing and telling your story (or your customers’), check out my resume either on LinkedIn or download it here.

Art · Creativity · Drawings · Graphic Recording · Illustration · Illustrator · Marketing · My Life in General · Visual Note-taking · Visual Sketch Notes · Work Life

Artistic Advice From the Marketoonist, Tom Fishburne

In the BBC program “Dr. Who,” the time-traveling hero often discusses “fixed points” in time, moments or events that deeply affect people’s lives.

Meeting Tom Fishburne recently felt like a fixed point in time to me. The moment was quiet and soft, less obvious than some momentous occasions. A subtle watercolor amid the blurred bold strokes of the event, the memory of the meeting has remained with me.

Getting to Meet Tom Fishburne

Tom Fishburne, the cartoonist and marketer (aka the Marketoonist) was the speaker for a session at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum in Boston. Before Tom was a full-time cartoonist, he worked as a product marketer. Now, his cartoons brilliantly combine humor, marketing smarts, and artistic appeal.

I’ve been following his work for a while now. I’ve also listened to his interview at MarketingProfs and other places, and read his blog.

As Tom gave his talk, I sat in the back of the room, sketching visual notes in my art pad. While making sure the event rolled smoothly, Kathy Bushman whispered to me, “You have to meet Tom. You have to show him your drawings.”

The idea of doing so scared me. A lot. Because it’s one thing to really like someone’s work and something else to meet them. Because maybe he’d end up being a big fat jerk. Maybe he’d fall over laughing at my work. And also, it feels safer to hide behind a notebook than to trot up to the person whose work you admire.

But the little kid in me—the bashful girl who hid her desire to draw for so very long—wanted to talk to Tom. Not as a fan girl (even though I could have easily been one of those other people asking for his autograph). Not even as a marketer (even though his marketing-related advice in the presentation was spot on).

I just wanted to talk to him about drawing, for he wonderfully infuses smarts and play in his pieces.

After the crowd left, I approached him. “Hello, I’m Veronica Maria Jarski. I work for MarketingProfs. I’m a writer and, ah, I draw, too…”

And he interrupted me, saying, “Did you draw that work outside? The big poster outside by the door? That’s awesome. I took a picture of it.”

“Yes, that’s my work.”


Then, I showed him the drawing I made of his talk, and he said, “Let me get my camera! I want to take a picture of it. Can I? Do you mind?” And he did.

my visual sketch notes (in progress) of Tom’s talk

Tom Fishburne taking a picture of my quick sketch was surreal.

Just like that, I suddenly felt like we had hit it off in our school yard, finding something in common to chat about while hanging upside down from the monkey bars.

Why Meeting Tom Fishburne Mattered So Much to Me

In meeting with my writing group regularly, I’ve grown to deeply value the friendship, insight, and support of other friends on the writing journey. However, until I met Tom, I didn’t realize how I needed to meet another artist.

For the 15-minute meeting, I completely forgot my self-consciousness; Tom didn’t treat me like the barely known artist that I am. Instead, he warmly spoke to me like another artist on the same art-supplies-strewn road. We talked about the unfurling of one’s artistic side, about the self-doubt and insecurities that come at first until one find’s one style, about how people treat cartoons or drawings as opposed to what it considered “real art.”

He shared his own artistic journey and what he has learned along the way. The lessons are applicable to writers, artists, illustrators, anyone creative…

  • Set personal goals. Tom mentioned making goals for himself. “Set goals for yourself, not for work, not for a client, but for YOU.” Plan to draw something outside of work once a week. Or commit yourself to finishing a certain drawing project by a certain date.
  • Stick to that goal. Make it happen.
  • Share your work. Tom put his work on Flickr, on a blog, etc. Art is meant to be seen, to be shared.
  • Practice regularly. Drawing is a craft, and that means continually working to improve in it, to grow.
  • Be confident in your style. Don’t compare your work to other people or hope to draw like someone else. Be the artist that you are.

Finding One’s Artistic Voice

The advice that lingered most in my mind was the one about being the artist that you are. (Perhaps because we talked about this point the most.)

When I first began drawing, I longed to be an artist along the lines of someone like Holly Hobbie. Later, I was obsessed with the fantastic Arthur Rackham. Then, I wanted to be like Marc Chagall, with his brilliant colors, floating people, and deep imagery. Then I hoped to create work like Lane Smith.

But as much as I studied and enjoyed and fell in love with those artists’ work, when I draw, my people come out like this (if I have time):


Or like this (if I’m sketching a live talk):


I’ve learned that, yes, you can learn from your favorite artists (just like you can learn from your favorite writers), but you should not spend your artistic life longing to be like another artist…  My own artistic journey means becoming truer to the artistic spirit within me, cultivating a spirit of peace and truth, mindfully sharing the gifts God gave me…

And unfurling one’s style and talents means continually learning and practicing. It’s the only way to let your style emerge.

Being true to yourself means being true to who you are in the creative world.


Have you been shy about calling yourself an artist or a writer? How have you changed since you first began drawing or writing?

Authors · Book Reviews · Books · Creativity · Writing

An Interview with James Riley, Author of ‘Half Upon a Time’ and ‘Twice Upon a Time’

We’ve been having a marathon of children’s author James Riley posts here. From our much-anticipated read of the newly released Twice Upon a Time (sequel to Half Upon a Time) to book reviews, we’ve been enjoying this sweet time of reading something fun and freshly published and refreshing.

Happily, we’ve also had an opportunity to ask James Riley several questions about writing and his books, Half Upon a Time and Twice Upon a Time.

On Writing

What’s your writing background?

James Riley: I like to use a green screen, so I can write in space or prehistoric times. It adds something to the deadline urgency when a dinosaur might show up at any time.

You say on your author’s page that you were voted most likely never to finish a book. Did you really not see yourself an author or… did you just have difficulties finishing one? Or are you being funny and I missed the whole tone there… ?

James Riley: Ha, this was me just trying to be funny, so clearly, it worked! I did write in high school (and junior high, elementary school, and … well, that’s it. Kindergarten, I just wanted to be Han Solo.) but never showed anyone anything, and certainly never thought I’d be a writer. If you asked me before college what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d say either a) rich or b) president. Check and check.

What does your writing process look like?

James Riley: It changes daily in terms of actual writing, but in general, each book follows a similar format:

1.) Write a first draft, and just let whatever happens, happen. Very little editing happens here … though I do make a LOT of notes.
2.) NOOOOOO! Who WROTE this stuff? It’s so bad! What am I DOING?! Putting this book in the same store as Hemingway and Fitzgerald is a crime against humanity!
3.) Heh, that one line made me laugh. I guess I’ll edit it and see what happens.
4.) Edit.
5.) *Secretly still believe #2, but fake positivity when sending it to my editor*

What’s your biggest difficulty in writing?

James Riley: Forcing creativity. Sometimes writing is like going to the gym … you have to make yourself do it, but afterwards, you feel GREAT. Or, you pull something.

Do you have any writing rituals, habits, etc.? What are they? (If you have any. If not, obviously, there’s not much to say here.)

James Riley: Nope, I tend not to have the same time free every day, so sometimes it’s just about getting to a computer whenever I can. It’d probably help if I did!

Who (or what) are your greatest influences in writing and why?

James Riley: I’d love to list certain authors here because they were such influences on me, but honestly, they probably affected me as a person more than they affected my writing. If I’m being truthful, television and movies have affected my writing style more than books. And I say that as someone who reads constantly … visual pop culture just can’t help infecting everything, the way our society is now.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of good there too.

In another interview, you mention having a day job. What is it? How do juggle a full-time job and being a celebrated children’s author? (Children do celebrate. Really. And so do some fairy-tale lovin’ adults. Just saying.)

James Riley: I blame the day job for my lack of ritual, and lack of time to write. Writing is what I want to do, but my day job is what enables me to keep feeding myself. So without juggling, I’d lose a lot of weight fast.

Do you have a writing group or support system or what-not to help you stay focused? Who do you turn to for feedback, guidance, reality checks, etc.?

James Riley: I’m actually one of those people who works best on their own, blazing a forest two feet from the path that leads exactly where they’re going without even knowing it’s there. I’ve been writing for myself for so long, it’d probably feel odd to show other people. But I say that knowing it’s not the best choice for most people, much like most people don’t think it’s funny to wear a cape and chase their cat around the apartment.

On His Books

You mentioned in another interview that you went through myriad rejections. How do you sustain a belief in your work in the face of so much rejection?

James Riley: Delusion. Sometimes, you have to just believe in the face of overwhelming evidence because YOU like it. If I’d written something to be expressly commercial, I might have given up faster. But writing something that I’d want to read gave me faith that maybe someone else would, too.

Do you ever go through the whole angst-ridden, self-doubting stage as a writer?

James Riley: Never. Ignore everything I said above.

How did you end up writing Half Upon a Time?

James Riley: I’d finished another novel that was objectively awful, and decided that maybe I should examine the influences in my life that made me really feel something. Disney movies were one. Fantasy stories about kids finding out they were destined for something more were another. Also I just wanted to write about a guy who gets eaten by a giant.

When you set out to write the books, did you already see it as a sequel? Or was it something that the publisher or editor came up with? (I know. That ended with a preposition.)

James Riley: I’m from Iowa, where everyone says “Can I come with?” so I’m used to it. I plotted the books as a series from the beginning, and my agent pitched them that way to my editor. If I hadn’t, the cliffhangers would have been very, very mean.

What surprised you during writing the book? Was it a character changing? A plot going in a different direction?

James Riley: Writing the second book, it surprised me how much I liked writing May’s narration. That probably influenced me as to a series I’m working on that will hopefully follow the HALF series. There are also quite a few deleted scenes now from the series that I thought initially would be integral. Shows what *I* know!

Half Upon a Time (the first book in the series) started in the middle of an intense (and hilarious) scene. Did you know the book would begin like that or did you struggle to find the best opening?

James Riley: I struggled a bit. Initially the book started with Jack and his grandfather rescuing some fairies from the town bully, after failing his test. The beginnings have always been trouble for me … there’s a lot of pressure to get things exactly right. The endings, in contrast, have always been easy. Maybe it’s because I’m just a mean person, and like to leave people hanging?

Your books remind me of Charlie Chaplin’s movies (I’m a classic-film geek) with the humor and melancholy interwoven in a perfect balance. When you write, how do you strike that balance? Do you find yourself trimming back humor or darkness when editing?

James Riley: I guess my natural response to melancholy is humor. But I’m also not a fan of “silly” works, where everything is humorous and there’s nothing to ground that emotionally. Humor works much better for me when you care about what’s happening to a character. So to me, this is sort of the natural balance. To compare it to Charlie Chaplin is a huge compliment, so thank you!

Do you ever write funny scenes that don’t quite work? Or is your sense of humor easy to put into writing?

James Riley: There’s a whole section involving the three bears, the three pigs, and an angry porcupine that got cut out of TWICE UPON A TIME because while funny (at least to me), it didn’t really have enough to do with the ongoing story. In my mind it still happened, though, if just because I enjoyed writing a porridge fight with the bears so much.

Twice Upon a Time feels more action-packed than Half Upon a Time. It’s like “Empire Strikes Back”… so much is going on! And characters inspired (ahem) by Peter Pan and the Little Mermaid contribute greatly to the plot. How did you decide who to bring into this second novel?

James Riley: Thank you for using inspired instead of stolen. The Little Mermaid is one of my all-time favorite stories, so I knew I wanted to make her story a big part of my series. And to juxtapose the mermaid, who gives everything up for love, with Jack, who’s learning that if you have to become someone else so a girl will like you, maybe she’s not the girl for you … it just fit in naturally. Oh, whoops, did I just spoil something?

Also, thank you for the Empire comparison. That’s exactly the same tone I was going for!

Who did you cut out (if any character) or would you have liked to include in the book?

James Riley: Long, long ago, Penelope played a bigger role in TWICE, along with the talking animals I mentioned. Penelope will still get her moments in the last book, ONCE UPON THE END, fortunately, but as of right now, the talking animals just won’t have time to show up, I’m sorry to say. Especially for how they played into the Wolf King’s origin.

In reading the books, I really felt so much for May. She is looking to understand who she is, where she comes from… and she is going through so much emotionally. In Twice Upon a Time, she seems more in touch with her feelings and struggles. How was writing her in Twice a different experience than in Half?

James Riley: May’s been through so much, and is looking for any lifeboat in a storm, or some phrase that’s actually a phrase. These two boys have been the only two people she can trust, after what she sees as a huge betrayal by her grandmother, so the possibility that they would leave her, or worse, betray her, is one of her worst nightmares at this point. It’s much easier to deal with chaos when you have a solid rock to stand on … unfortunately, neither of those rocks will be there forever.

Despite everything, though, May is probably the strongest character in the book, certainly the one who’s had to deal with the most change. And for that reason, I’m pretty hopeful that she’ll make it through OK … uh oh, I forgot about how the third book ends. I take that all back. Let’s just say I’m pretty hopeful that May will make it through the halfway point of ONCE UPON THE END.

Do you realize how cruel it is to give your readers so many cliffhangers?

James Riley: I know, I really am not a nice person.

The ending of Twice Upon a Time was so emotional. Just brilliant. You hardly give your readers time to laugh and rejoice with the characters when you just BAMMO punch them in the gut with a surprise twist. (Excuse the mixed imagery there.) What has reaction been to that ending?

James Riley: Generally exactly what I’d hoped, which is sadness, but a desire to see how things end. You can’t really ask for more. And honestly, this was coming from the moment May fell out of the sky. She’s ALWAYS been (spoiler deleted), and therefore always had (spoiler deleted) as the one she was meant to be with. And Jack had to find it out sooner or later, poor guy. That scene with Merriweather that ends the second book was written before anything else was in TWICE. And right after that, I wrote the end of book three, which is a conversation between two of the three main characters. And a glass slipper. Though the slipper doesn’t say much.

I’ve already asked you a hundred (figuratively) questions… Is there anything else you’d like to add?

James Riley: Just that I really appreciate all the support, THANK YOU for enjoying the books!

Read More

You’ve read the books—but want to read more about James Riley? Check out the following.

Authors · Book Reviews · My Life in General

If You Give Children’s Author James Riley a Book Review…

You happily end up with James Riley sending you an email about the post.

Which makes you think it can’t possibly be James Riley.

Which leads to you writing a succinct letter along the lines of “Oh, yeah? Right-o. Prove it, mister.”

Which he does.

Which means that the alleged James Riley emailing you is indeed James Riley.

Which makes you think maybe you should have been nicer in the first email.

Which he doesn’t hold against you because he’s amiable.

Which is fortunate because your daughter would never forgive you for ticking off James Riley.

Which encourages another email.

Which results in your daughter and her best friend receiving the best surprise in the mailbox ever (at least, if we’re judging by the sound barrrier being broken by screams)…

Which contains autographed copies of James Riley’s Half Upon a Time and Twice Upon a Time.

(And she totally peeked at the dedication on her bestie’s book, too. I know. Total squealer mom. Team Phillip indeed, Mr. James Riley.)

Which ends up in her increased screaming of joy.

Which led her to calling her best friend… and more shouts of happiness and some hyperventilation on the part of the best friend.

Which had the girls just even more eager to talk all things Half Upon a Time and Twice Upon a Time-ish.

Which made the best friends spend most of their girl-talk time drawing Team Jack tee-shirts and discussing the “clues” that James Riley wrote in their books.

Which ends up in an increasingly rambunctious (yes, that’s the right word to describe it) conversation.

Which makes the other mothers in the playgroup look at you quizzically.

Which ends up in a long explanation from you about the books, James Riley, and the wonders of social media.

Which surprises them. (The affability of James Riley, I mean. That surprised them. They don’t care about social media. Sigh.)

Which inspires some mothers to write down the name of the books, so they can go to Amazon later and buy them. (Word-of-mouth marketing at its finest, I tell ya.)

Which makes you send James Riley another email.

Which will be another post in a few days…


Authors · Book Reviews · Books · My Life in General · Writing

James Riley’s Children’s Books, Fangirls and How Loved Books Inspire Conversation

James Riley, author of “Twice Upon a Time”

My eleven-year-old daughter is a voracious reader and writer, always carrying a book in her backpack or a writing notebook in her purse.

And because she reads so many books, she is not deeply passionate about all of them. The girl is a discerning reader. Pride and Prejudice? Definitely a favorite! The Chronicles of Narnia? Two thumbs up! Black Beauty? Snoozeville…

So, when my daughter loves a story, she loves it with her whole heart—just like all bookworms do. The characters become part of her world, her extended family.

The newest members of this family are Jack, May, and Phillip, from James Riley’s Half Upon a Time and Twice Upon a Time books. They have stepped off the pages and into my daughter’s life. She loves Jack’s sense of humor and quotes him often. She finds May to be someone that she’d love to befriend. And my daughter even has a soft spot for Phillip, who is perfect and princely—and a good person, one who merits respect.

The Books: Half Upon a Time and Twice Upon a Time

To call the books part of a fairy-tale series is limiting. The series is more like the perfect merging of fairy tales and boys’ adventure books: playful, hilarious, melancholic, action-packed, and mysterious.

At the heart of the novel are May, Jack, and Phillip—all on an adventure to find out the truth about May’s family and help May discover who she really is. Feisty and sarcastic, May pursues the truth bravely because she needs to know her story. Jack is reluctant for an adventure, but his feelings for May push him beyond his comfort zone. And practically perfect Phillip is uber-fairy-tale prince, so he naturally desires adventure.

(If you want James’s own description, then here you have it. Who better to describe James Riley’s books than James Riley himself?)

The Fangirls

My daughter read the first book, Half Upon a Time in October. The story of a boy training to be a knight who suddenly has a girl (wearing a “Punk Princess” shirt no less) fall out of the sky (literally, like really literally, not fake literally as people literally say) grabbed my daughter’s attention from the get-go. The girl, May, wasn’t a dreamy-eyed wimpy girl. Even after needing to be rescued, May determined her own course and plan to rescue someone else and find out more about her family.

With its captivating blend of humor, action, adventure, and homages to fairy tales, the book caught my daughter’s heart… (and mine, too).

The wait for the sequel felt interminable. My daughter had a countdown on her bedroom door. She would double-, triple- and quadruple-check Amazon to make sure James Riley wasn’t going to sneak in a copy early for true fans.

When Twice Upon a Time came out on April 24, we downloaded it to my Kindle Fire as soon as it was available (meaning: dawn).

The second book picks up on May’s journey to discover where she comes from, who she really is… and begins to explore more deeply the new questions regarding Jack. A page-turner, Twice Upon a Time is packed with action, hilarity, and moments of melancholy.

The last scene is sweet, sad… brutal. It lingers in the memory. And you just want to get your hands on the third novel now.

Just Tweeting (and Commenting) to Say We Dig You

After reading the book, I decided to reach out to James Riley via Twitter and let him know how much we enjoyed the book.

I tweeted…

And to my surprise, he wrote back.

After I told my daughter about this exchange, she let out a squeal at the realization that she could actually talk directly to the author. “I’m leaving a comment on his blog! I’m going to tell him exactly how we feel about his book.”

“All right,” I said, watching her fire up the computer and massage her fingers. (Apparently, it was to be a long comment.)

“Do you think he’ll answer us? Do you think he’ll comment right back?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe. If you’re reaching out to an author, it should be to let them know that you’re thankful for their work. It’s to show how much you love the book, how much it means to you,” I reminded her. “That’s the heart of it. If they answer you back, that’s lovely. If not, that’s all right, too. OK?”

And so, my daughter and her friend wrote this comment to James Riley.

And you know what? James Riley wrote back.

You never heard such squeals from girls. Not weird “I just saw Jason Bateman at the mall!” squealing that I did as a kid, but a delighted, happy-to-be-talking-to-someone-they-deeply-admire sort of squealing.

The Hours of Conversation

If I thought the conversations about the books were burning up the phone lines, I had no idea how much fodder this short comment by James Riley would be. “What do you think he meant by ‘as far as Jack knows’?”

Still, I love listening to the girls talk about books, heroes, heroines, how to handle difficulties, how to decipher meaning, etc. How refreshing and delightful to see two girls love a book series this much.

The books were even on their mind as we spent a lovely day at the park…

Thanks, James Riley, for writing such riveting, energetic, and entertaining books for children. And thanks, too, for making the time to answer their comment!

My Life in General · Work Life

Slowing It Down

Recently, I heard an interview of Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slowwhich led to my reading more about him and his ideas. What I read and heard made me reflect on how I handle the tasks of the day—not just for work but the time before my work day begins and the time after I step away from my desk.

How am I moving through my day? How am I approaching all the tasks that need to get done? What is my approach to the myriad obligations as a mother? Wife? Friend? Am I hurrying through days, through life?

In a TED talk (video at the end of this post), Carl mentions how “slow” has become something detrimental to say of someone. Slow is seen as being lazy. But how many mistakes are made in a rush? How much do we miss seeing or deeply experiencing in our lives because we are rushed? What questions do we avoid asking ourselves when we buy into the culture of fast?

The culture of fast isn’t limited then, to just highly (financially) successful people. The concept of fast being a good trait, one that cuts quickly to the heart of the matter, has infiltrated our education, our relationships, our families, etc.

I know intensely busy people with packed schedules and also folks who have very little to do—at least in the eyes of more “successful” people. But people in both camps can choose whether to accept the culture of fast or culture of slow.

For example, an acquaintance is chronically complaining of always being stressed and anxious about her hectic schedule, but she does not have a job or a child or a pet or even serious hobbies. And yet she seems more hectic and anxious than people with filled calendars. Someone else I know who has enough children for a basketball team, a part-time job, and a busy social life seems calmer, less rushed, despite having far more demands on her time. What makes one feel rushed and hurried, and the other more relaxed?

Perhaps slow is also an attitude—not so much an avoidance or laziness of doing activities, but instead the participation in activities more thoughtfully, with one’s brain on the task at hand.

As Carl mentions, there’s bad slow just like there’s bad fast. The trick is to know what moments in our lives are worth slowing down. Rather than quote Carl to you, I thought I’d share his talk, courtesy of TED.