Friday, February 25, 2011


We had such a hard time deciding this that instead of bringing on two new members as planned, we chose three! They are all super awesome and please help us welcome them to TEAM MAYHEM!!! wOOt!
Why we like this girl:Not only does she have a cool middle name, but her first novel, MAY B., debuts spring 2012 (Schwartz and Wade/Random House Children's Books). We can't wait to get our grubby hands on her debut! She's repped by Michelle Humphrey at ICM (awesomeness). Her top favorite middle-grade novels are THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, HATCHET, anything with Laura Ingalls, Anne Shirley, Ramona Quimby, or Taran, the Pig Boy. Oh, and she stayed in the same room Hemingway rented while writing THE SUN ALSO RISES! She's way too good for us already!!!!

Four cool things about Michael:
- When I was younger I HATED school, and now I'm a teacher, of all things. Go figure.
- My biggest pet peeve is hearing people eating/chewing. Drives me nuts, and if they're eating nuts, by the way, that's even worse. (Yeah, we agree, super gross!)
- I have this dream of being able to have my office atop my house (jutting up from the roof) overlooking a scenic view, with windows on all sides and auto-dimming possible to allow me to see out, but people outside unable to see me.
- I am extremely superstitious, especially related to my sports teams (NY Yankees, St. Louis Rams, NJ Nets, NY Islanders, Syracuse Orange).
Michael is repped by Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates and they've got lots of good things in the works!

Yahong is very mysterious. We don't have her picture...YET!
Yahong Chi is a children’s writer and book reviewer. She reviews for CM: Canadian Review of Materials, Teen Voices, Crow Toes Quarterly and Canadian Children’s Book News.
Why Yahong is redonkulously cool:I'm the most patriotic Canadian you'll ever meet; I adore my country. My New Year's resolution was to network more with writers, and it's been a ton of fun so far. My favorite bloggers are ones who respond to all comments, and my absolute favorite genre ever is middle-grade fantasy. I am a huge sucker for MG fantasy.Yahong's favorite books/series are: Harry Potter series, Artemis Fowl series and Windblowne by Stephen Messer

WELCOME TO THE TEAM!!! Posts from these newbies will start next month!!!

How do we reeech dees Keeds?

Hola all!

As the countdown to the Big Day (the release of POSSUM SUMMER! Have you PREORDERED yet? HA!) arrives, I find that my marketing that I do for myself has concentrated and narrowed down, because of one question:

How best to reach my target audience?

As I write MG, my set of kids aren't normally online the way that I think most us writer types are. And their moms and dads have lives that normally revolve around them ... taking to sports, hobbies, school, and so on. It's conceivable to think that these kids receive their book information from a) librarians b) their parents and c) possibly bookstores/online/etc as a distant third. So as it got closer and closer and I reviewed my marketing efforts for the release I thought about how I reech dees keeds -- >

And just for you followers of Project Mayhem? A free signed POSSUM SUMMER for the first person to comment that knows who exactly said that phrase.

On the 15th my book comes out.

And on the 15th I release my Major Idea (tm) on the world, with the hope that I can reach some serious kids with it (of course I'll talk about it here!) And, if you're interested, we can do a review of my marketing ideas at that time. I'll know how it's going by then.

But let me go on. What I'd very much like to know from you, my Dear Reader, is how do you find out about books? Ask around. Think about that particular family that you know that doesn't live online (do you know anybody like that? I wonder if I do!) How do they hear about them?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Scarclaw Says

I'm working on an author website. This is a daunting task. Mostly because I feel like I belong in this conversation:

Besides being a Luddite, I am discovering that there are so many options out there.

Authors seem to do all sorts of things with their websites. Some post long personal bios, whereas others keep a standoffish updates-about-the-book-and-that's-it-approach. There are sites focused solely on the book's content and those that highlight the author herself. A lot of Middle Grade websites have games or quizzes or trivia. All that to say: I'm a wee bit overwhelmed.

As a reader, I've checked out an author site or two, but mostly only for information: When is the next book coming out, that sort of thing. I suppose there was also that time that I got sucked into Meg Cabot's blog archive. And it could be that a few minutes checking out Erin Hunter's site turned into ... a little more than that. Okay, okay, I'm a member of Shadowclan, and my Warrior Name is Scarclaw. (How cool is that? How much more could I accomplish if I prefaced everything by: Scarclaw says you must..." While I'm confessing, I should say that I'm still mad I haven't figured out how to unlock that stupid door at J.K. Rowling's site.

If I'm honest, those games and quizzes and quirky blog posts are what drew me to the author's site. From a writer's point of view, I've found it interesting to read about another author's journey to publication. But, as a reader, the authors that hooked me were doing more than just saying something about themselves. They were offering me something as well, and now I'm trying to figure out how to apply that to my own fledgling website.

Here's where I need your help!

Readers: Why do you go visit an author's website? What things keep you there? What are some of your favorites?

Writers: How did you decide on the essentials of your site? Any other thoughts?

C'mon, don't be shy. Scarclaw commands that you share your wisdom. Or else.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Project Mayhem Review of A CRACK IN THE SKY, by Mark Peter Hughes

Mark Peter Hughes
Delacorte, Aug. 2010
Partial book blub:Thirteen-year-old Eli Papadopoulos is worried. Even though he’s a member of the most powerful family in the world. Even though his grandfather founded InfiniCorp, the massive corporation that runs everything in the bustling dome-cities. Even though InfiniCorp ads and billboards are plastered everywhere, proclaiming: DON'T WORRY! INFINICORP IS TAKING CARE OF EVERYTHING!

Recently, Eli noticed that there’s something wrong with the artificial sky. It keeps shorting out, displaying strange colors and random images. And though the Department of Cool and Comfortable Air is working overtime, the dome-city is hotter than it’s ever been.
Eli has been raised to believe that the dome-cities are safe, that the important thing is to keep working and consuming, and that everyone is secure and comfortable in InfiniCorp’s capable hands. But now he begins asking questions.
What’s Cool About this Book:
The Genre: A Crack in the Sky covers a lot genres. This book has something for everyone! First off, it’s pure middle-grade. It doesn’t carry over into YA as far as content/violence, though any teenager would be completely in love with this book. It’s dystopian, urban fantasy, sci-fi, and even has a very clever mongoose, so a bit of animal fantasy as well.
The Main Character: After the first few page, you already start caring about Eli. He’s this young, smart guy, who can’t understand why nobody is interested in what’s happening with the sky dome. I liked him from page one. I’m so disappointed when I read a book I’m excited about and can’t connect with the main character at any point in the book.  
World Building: Hughes creates a believable world of the future…and an incredibly cool one! People can die the whites of their eyes and have pink flashing hair (I've seriously always wanted pink hair!), not to mention the Sky-Net, don’t get me started on that. It’s vegging out in front of the TV to the extreme!
Style: Hughes writes this in a down-to-earth style, that today’s middle-grader will love, but at the same time dumbs nothing down. He kept it smart, yet attainable.
Overall: I really enjoyed this book, the first in the Greenhouse Chronicles. Eli’s odd journey is rich with imagination, but scarily believable, with a strange new world’s domed cities and mutant animals that live in the new America, which is a dry desert with red seas that reek of sulfur. I’m not going to give any spoilers, but I loved Marilyn, you will too!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE Book Love- Learning about writing from favorite books

We just finished watching the Colin Firth version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE because I am indoctrinating my daughter into Jane Austin long before she’s old enough to read the books. It has nothing to do with Colin Firth. Really. We’ve already watched the movie version with Matthew Macfadyen a few times. It’s all for educational purposes, even if the book itself doesn’t have Darcy striding through a misty field to meet Elizabeth. Sigh…. Focus, Dee, focus. Anyway, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is in my top ten all time favorite books. In reading books over and over I’ve realized I learned so much about writing from them.

I love the character development in the book. We realize very quickly Mrs. Bennet’s outrageous character through the dialogue when she immediately states one of her daughters needs to marry Mr. Bingley before anyone has met him. Her continued dialogue builds a picture of a very silly woman. And from just a few lines on the second page,  the reader also quickly learns the nature of the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and something about Mr. Bennet's personality.

      Mrs. Bennet: “You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion for my poor nerves.”
       Mr. Bennet: “You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these last twenty years at least.”

I still smile every time I read those lines. Another writer might have put in a paragraph of Elizabeth describing her parents’ flaws, or put the focus on Elizabeth’s annoyance with her mother. It made me realize that the method Austin uses avoids some of the problems which can happen when trying to write a scene where a main character doesn’t like another character. Too often, if it’s written so that the MC is describing the other character, it comes across as whiny or overly critical. Writers often get rejections is because an agent or editor will say, "I didn't like the MC" or "I didn't connect with the character", and it makes me wonder if it is because of the way a writer is handling certain scenes like this.

I was also fascinated when I went back to look at the book for this post, how little Austin describes the settings. There are no details about the Bennet’s house, very little about what the girls wear, no description of the assembly hall where they go to the dance, etc. Her writing is so precise, we don’t need all of that to imagine the scene. It’s really quite amazing to see how she does it. I know world-building is important, and I love to read it when it's well done, but it's clear to me that good world-building alone won't trump weak characterization or dialogue. It's like the extra spice to the meal, but it's not the focus. Next time I read the book, I'm sure I'll recognize even more techniques that have made this book the classic that it is.

So what favorite books have helped you? (Feel free just to comment on Mr. Darcy if you like.)

~ Dee Garretson

Friday, February 11, 2011

Love Is in the Air—Or Is It? Should There Be Romance in Middle Grade?

As Valentine’s Day approaches, our minds turn to romance, and mine is no exception. Okay, most people aren’t contemplating the role of romance in middle grade, but we all know middle-grade writers are just a little odd :) Recently I was remembering the Children’s Lit class I took my last semester in college. The professor, while very fond of Charlotte’s Web, hated how romantically-minded little Fern became by the book’s end. In the last chapters, it’s clear that Fern has lost interest in Wilbur, her once-beloved pet pig. When Wilbur wins first prize at the County Fair, her mind is instead on the new objection of her affection, one hunky Henry Fussy. She even runs off to ride the Ferris wheel with Henry instead of staying to see Wilbur presented with his special award, completely missing Wilbur’s long-awaited “Hour of Triumph.” Weeks after the fair, riding the Ferris wheel with Henry is still on Fern’s mind: “The most fun there is,” she tells brother Avery, “is when the Ferris wheel stops and Henry and I are in the top car and Henry makes the car swing and we can see everything for miles and miles and miles . . . . I think about it all the time.” Lovesick much, little Fern? Many of you may remember, little Fern is all of eight years old.

My prof, who had daughters near that age, found it completely unrealistic that an eight-year-old girl would choose a boy over the pet pig she had saved from death and lovingly raised. His girls still thought boys had cooties—they’d be more interested in an adorable animal any day. He further commented that he would never let his eight-year-old daughter ride a Ferris wheel with a boy and would wallop any Henry Fussy who came near her.

All of which brings up a good point—what role should romance play in middle grade? Are middle graders simply too young to have (or to should have) any real interest in matters of the heart?

I personally think romance has a lot to offer any story, even a middle-grade one: tension, conflict, emotional investment, the possibility of an emotionally satisfying ending for your reader (or a really bittersweet one). Come on, you know part of the reason you eagerly devoured every new Harry Potter book was to see if Ron and Hermione finally got their stuff together and confessed their feelings for one another. And even as an eight-year-old, I got an immense amount of satisfaction when Laura Ingalls won the heart of Almanzo Wilder over that awful Nellie Oleson.

However, I don’t think romance should be the main focus of a middle-grade novel. Or, if a love story is at the core, then there needs to be plenty of other enticements (humor, adventure, colorful secondary characters, a fantastic setting, etc.) to hold a young audience’s interest. (Many animated movies based on classic love stories/fairy tales go this route.)

Many middle graders simply don’t have an interest in romance yet—and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Middle graders will have their teen years to go hormonal, and the rest of their lives to ponder and experience the trials and tribulations and mysteries and wonders of love. I like to think of middle grade as a time when kids should just enjoy being kids.

And I certainly think any romance in middle-grade novels should be suitable to the age of the characters. I always wondered at books that portrayed the very young falling head over heels.

Charlotte's Web may have put Noodle to sleep, but I'm a fan!

I do love Charlotte’s Web, but I must confess—I, too, was a little heartbroken when Fern abandoned Wilbur for Henry Fussy. Wilbur was “Some Pig”—surely he deserved a little better.

-Dawn Lairamore

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Writing Perfection

Do you have a special place where you write? Maybe a specific pen you use for those handwritten moments?

For me, I still write some of my first drafts with *gulp* a pen and paper. I always use a Sharpie. And for my illustrations? I use a specific drawing notebook with, you guessed it, a Shapie. But I can write/draw pretty much anywhere. Such places include:

* coffee shops (Panera is my favorite!)
* at my computer desk (normal, boring, I know)
* at the mall (it's a quiet mall. Really!)
* in bed. yes, that's not a typo.

And I HAVE to have background noise. Such as watching/listening to NetFlix on my iPhone with headphones. Yay for multi-tasking!  But, If I could have my way, I would love to have a writing room suited specifically for me. And, I would love to have one of these uber cool desk:

chaise lounger contains a desk, flat screen and media storage
Writing on the go. Seriously. Write anywhere, anytime. It's like a Hoveround for
the younger folks. Yes, I did say "folks." On purpose though.

Who needs a room? Shut out the rest of the world with a hooded desk!

So, sitting/standing/walking at my favorite desk, I would need an ultra awesome laptop, right? Not that i'm complaining, since I have a netbook that I LOVE (lightweight, compact, and super long battery life), but who could pass this up?
Although I have to wonder, would this be comfortable to actually
write a book on?

For all those girly girls. Yes, I'm one of these!

A roll out laptop. Just plain awesome, right?

Now, if anyone can find me an edible pen to munch on while I write, i'd be set!

So, what would you have in your perfect writing room? What is your writing situation like now?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Harry Potter and the Rathead Hat – Judging a Book by the Cover

Building on Tim Power’s post about book covers and HARRIET THE SPY ( ), I decided to do a post of my own because I’m very excited about the cover of my next book, WOLF STORM. What a great job it would be to design covers! I have to admit I’m guilty of judging a book by its cover when I’m browsing in a bookstore. Because I'm so fascinated by covers, I’m been doing school talks on this topic – trying to convince middle graders they shouldn’t do what I do. There is an incredible website, Teachervision, I’ve used as a resource, one that has put together many of the Harry Potter covers from countries around the world as part of a lesson plan. I was amazed to see how different the same book is portrayed in other countries. The link to the site is here:, but I wanted to post some of the more interesting covers of the first Harry Potter book, HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE.

Here’s the one familiar to U.S. readers:

Here’s the original British cover:

When I ask the students if they would have picked up the book without knowing what it was about, just by looking at the British cover, the overwhelming majority say no. I find it interesting that there is no real indication from the cover that there is anything about magic in the book.
This one from Italy is, shall we say, unusual:

I don’t know why Harry is wearing a rathead hat, nor why there is a giant rat wearing a bandana lounging next to him.

Students listening to my talks are largely not fans of the French cover either:

My question- Why does Hermione have her eyes closes on this cover?

Of all the covers I show students, the German one comes in second in popularity:
I would have loved to have been in on the cover meetings in all these countries to hear the reasoning behind why they chose what they did!
After doing these talks, I’m trying to be a bit better about my own book choices. Now that I know how much authors worry about their covers, I’ve vowed to give books a second look, even if the cover doesn’t appeal to me. I can say I am completely in love with my new cover and I’m thinking I need to send a big box of chocolates to the artist:

Sometimes filming a movie can go very wrong….and turn all too real.


WOLF STORM – Coming 9/01/2011 from HarperCollins

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Girls Can Throw!

Most of the time that I spend reading MG books or watching movies and TV shows, I am happily racking up all the things I like about them. Every now and then, however, I come across something I HATE, HATE, HATE.

Anyone who has read my blog posts here at Project Middle Grade Mayhem knows what a nitpicker I am. But this is not a NIT. Or if it is, it is a MOUNTAINOUS one.

The thing I hate is this:


This includes CRIES like a girl, THROWS like a girl, and RUNS like a girl.

When I see a sentence like "the big, strong jock cried like a girl," I wonder why it seems strange to say "the girl cried like a big, strong jock." Big, strong jocks DO cry, after all. And when they do, they are crying like BIG, STRONG JOCKS, not GIRLS.

This bee has popped up in my bonnet because I just read a popular MG novel (which shall remain nameless, to spare the MALE author SHAME) where a GIRL says someone throws like a girl, and not as a compliment. I couldn't believe it! What a traitor. I would have no problem with a sentence that explained WHICH GIRL EXACTLY couldn't run or throw, etc. Such as "the big, strong jock cried like a girl who had just seen her favorite plush animal torn to pieces in the washing machine." That seems fair to me. So does "the girl cried like a big, strong jock who had just had his football squashed flat by a runaway bulldozer."

Anyone who mistakenly thinks girls can't run or throw should talk to the girls who completed the Fall 2010 Girls on the Run program in the Mehlville School District in St. Louis, Missouri or the fifth grade girls' softball League Champs at The Harker School in San Jose, California and LEARN A THING OR TWO!

(P.S.—My MG novel THE BOY WHO HOWLED is a shining example of gender fairness!)

Timothy Power