Friday, May 31, 2013

Reboots, Kids, and their Interest, by Matthew MacNish

So last weekend I took my kids to Star Trek, Into Darkness, which, in spite of some huge writerly no-nos (sorry J.J. Abrams, you're not quite Joss Whedon) was a really entertaining film. The oldest had seen the original 2009 reboot, but she wasn't nearly as excited over it (partially because she's a Cumberbatch zealot, but that's neither her nor there) as she was this one.

I'm not sure I blame her. Sure, the first reboot was better written, with better character arcs, and a more direct progression of plot and conflict, but there was something about this new one, something just a little bit beyond the edge of consciousness, that really whet the appetite.

Is it the CGI? Perhaps. The additional casting? Surely Benedict played a part. The gimmick of 3D tech? I doubt it. So when does an inferior tale present an exciting thoroughfare that brings new fans into the fold of an existing franchise?

Well, I'm not marketing guru, but I would argue that the nature of the medium of film plays a big part, especially when combined with the instant gratification high sparkle high contrast advertisement nature of modern culture, but I don't think that's enough to explain it all. I think the existing franchise of Star Trek is the biggest factor in why my kids are now so fascinated with every iteration of its canon.

Similar arguments can be made for The Lord of the Rings, and even Star Wars. Heck, even the Harry Potter movies surely brought more readers to the books. But is it only movies that do this? I'm curious.

BBC's Sherlock inspired my teenager to obtain and read the entire works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

ABC's Once Upon a Time has my younger daughter curious about reading fairy tales.

But those are both TV shows. What about books? I can't personally think of a book series that was rebooted years later, whether by the original author or not, but surely there is one out there? Readers? Can you think of any?

* * *

And more importantly, be sure to check out yesterday's post. Here at Project Middle Grade Mayhem, we're holding an epic giveaway, choked with incredible prizes, as we try to push from 700 to 1000 followers. Please - spread the word! Tell all the readers, writers, and bloggers you know, and let them know to swing by Project Mayhem and become a follower.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

700 Reader Project Mayhem Blowout Giveaway!

Hello, everyone! Project Mayhem DJ cat is back to kick off our 700 Reader Project Mayhem Blowout Giveaway!!! We have tons of prizes from Agents, Authors, Book Bloggers, and even an Illustrator Portfolio Critique!  

We have prizes from agents Marietta Zacker (Nancy Gallt) and Stephen Fraser (Jennifer de Chiara Lit). Amazing illustrator, Kevan Atteberry will be critiquing one lucky illustrator's online portfolio. Cynthia Leitich Smith and Stephen Messer have graciously donated 
a 10 page critique to two lucky writers!
Project Mayhem authors, Paul Greci, Marissa Burt, Michael Winchell, Matt Rush, Michael Gettel-Gilmartin, Hilary Wagner, James Milhaley, Lee Wardlaw, Chri Eboch, and Dianne Salerni will all be giving critiques as well! Check out our Team Mayhem Profiles to know what you're getting into! We'll also be giving out new books too, many signed, so if you're a writer, illustrator, or reader, we've got you covered! :)

To keep it easy, we are doing this Rafflecopter style! Simply login with your email address or facebook login via the link at the bottom of the prize list! The more you spread the news via facebook and twitter, the more chances you have to win! Read on to see our fab list of prizes that we are so honored to give out to our fantastic readers. When this little middle-grade blog was started we had no idea there would be such a positive and overwhelming response! So, thank you! 

Contest ends June 12th at midnight! Winners announced Friday the 14th!

Now go! Go win some prizes and please share the love!! :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Let's Talk About Endings

I have a confession. I hate it when a book closes with an open ending—or a “non-ending” as I sometimes think of them. You know what I’m taking about, those books where the major plotlines are never resolved, where the book just sort of stops without giving you any solid answers or the author leaves it up to the reader to decide what happens next or to connect the dots without providing any firm leads for doing so. Such endings always feel like a bit of a cop-out to me, like the author wrote a story but didn’t bother to come up with an ending. It always leaves me feeling cheated. This is my personal taste, of course, and I’m sure there are others out there that would argue this is a perfectly valid way to end a book. I just prefer books with solid endings, I guess.

Endings are pretty important. The entire book leads up to this point, and the last thing you want to do is disappoint your readers or make them think, “What? I read 300 hundred pages for that?!”

So, some tips about endings:

  • There should actually be an ending, at least in my opinion. The story shouldn’t just stop without resolving the major conflict(s) that arose during the course of the book. The ending should offer answers and resolution. Even if the author has a sequel planned or anticipates the book being the first in a series, the major loose ends should still be tied up. You never know—your publisher could decline to publish a sequel, cancel your contact for a series, even go out of business entirely. We hope none of these things happen, of course, but this is a crazy business. One of my friends was once reading a book series, and sadly, the author died before it was ever finished. It’s never a safe bet to leave your readers hanging too much.

  • The main character should be the one who brings about this resolution. This seems to throw a lot of newbie writers for a loop. The story shouldn’t resolve due to a lucky coincidence or a character that materializes out of nowhere to solve everyone’s problems. In children’s lit, it certainly shouldn’t be an adult such as a handy parent or teacher who swoops in to save the day. You want an active main character who influences the people and situations around them—and yes, that means coming up with the solutions to their own problems. The best endings will force your main character to grow or change in some way.

  • And it always helps when the ending isn’t too predictable—or too moral. If you have to throw the moral in the reader’s face (“see, boys and girls, why it’s so important to eat your vegetables,” etc.), you haven’t done a good enough job making it clear in the course of the book. There’s always something a little insulting about someone trying to hammer a message into you. Trust your audience to work out the morals on their own.

 How do you feel about open endings? What are your best tips for endings?

photo credit: Georgie Sharp via photopin cc

Friday, May 24, 2013

Title Poetry and Help Choose a Title, Please!

When I first saw samples of poetry from book titles, I knew I had to try one myself using middle grade books. I'm not sure my result is actually poetry, so I’m calling it a micro-story. If you can’t read all the titles, it goes like this:
Girl Overboard
Into the Blue
Dangerous Waters
Secrets at Sea
The Captive
The Quest of the Warrior Sheep

I admit it won’t win an award, but it was a fun challenge
On a slightly different note, I think every writer struggles with titles. I know one writer who can’t start writing until she comes up with the perfect title. I would never write a word if that were me. It takes me forever to settle on even a few possibilities. I first became aware of the importance of titles when I gave a copy of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD to my then fourteen-year-old niece. She was an avid reader, but she wouldn’t read the book because of the title. Later, when it was assigned reading in school, she ended up loving the book so much, she named one of her cats Scout.
That was a cautionary lesson for me. Especially as a middle-grade writer, I know the title is all part of the package that makes up why a person will even begin to consider reading a book they know nothing about.
Nowadays, part of the consideration of a title is how it will look on the cover in a thumbnail-size view, because of the importance of online book sales. So we’re left with much shorter titles than before. I understand that, as well as how the title works with the cover image, but sometimes it’s hard to think you have come up with the perfect title, only to realize it’s too long from a graphic design point of view.
So here’s something I need an opinion on. I have two different titles for one of my manuscripts and cannot settle on one over the other. I describe the story as an upper middle grade historical that is somewhat Downton Abbyish, with the addition of spies. It’s set during World War I. Which of the two do you like best?
~Dee Garretson

Thursday, May 23, 2013

What I Learned; What the Kids Learned by Dianne Salerni

I’ve been sharing stories of My Adventures in Publishing with my fifth grade classes ever since my first book was published – well, even before that – back before anything I wrote even came close to getting published. But this year was different.

In September, I told my students what I was working on – the story of a boy who discovers an extra day between Wednesday and Thursday and a mysterious girl hiding in the house next door who exists only on that secret day. They went nuts for the idea and wanted me to read it to them, but I declined, because I had written it as a YA story and there were inappropriate bits.

But they kept clamoring for the story, and when my agent got back to me and told me how much she loved the manuscript – BUT she thought it really ought to be written for MG – I knew immediately that she was right. Revisions commenced at once, and I hesitantly agreed to read the new version to my class when it was ready. This would be the first time I’d ever read one of my manuscripts to a class, and I was extremely nervous – even worried that parents might complain I was hawking my books. (This was not the case. Parents told me how excited their children were to getting a privileged peek at the book.)

The sale came in October, after an email from HarperCollins that arrived right before my last class of the day and stunned me to the point where I could barely teach. I shared the basics with my students – the 3 book deal, the enthusiastic compliments from the editor – but I also admitted I was nervous. Certain changes were mentioned in the offer, and I told the class, “I’m not sure if I’ll like these revisions.”

One of my students raised his hand. “Didn’t you tell us you already made a lot of revisions and ended up loving them all?” he asked. And he was right, of course. I had told them that, and furthermore, it was true. I could have hugged him.

I learned right then that students actually listen to what I say. They believe me. And they can even repeat back my own words exactly when I need to hear them. They root for me, and they believe in me. Needless to say, I completed those requested revisions, and LOVED them.

A couple days ago, I asked my students what they learned from following this book’s path to publication this year. Here’s what they said:

1. It takes a long, long time for a book to get published. Too long!!! (They have already seen a sneak peek at the proposed cover design and can’t believe the release date is still over a year away.)

2. You have to revise and revise and revise. Sometimes you have to revise things you don’t want to revise, but then you’ll probably like the changes anyway.

3. You don’t get to have your book just the way you want it. You have to collaborate with your editors and everybody else at your publisher.

4. The author doesn’t say what goes on the cover.

5. You have to have patience, time, and a tough skin, because people might criticize and say hurtful things about your book.

6. You don’t just send your book in to a publisher and they publish it. Sometimes they say no.

And perhaps the most important one …

7. You may be the teacher who tells us when we make mistakes, but when you are the author you make mistakes, too.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Secret Lives of Our Books by Chris Eboch

As writers, we spend endless one-on-one time with our manuscripts. We know everything about them. A few critique partners may read the work; we may talk about it with some friends and family members. But we control the story, we know exactly what’s happening and when, the way a devoted new parent may know their infant’s every smile and burp.

But eventually, this thing you’ve birthed goes out into the world. You hope it will make friends, that others will love it the way you do and treat it well. You hope, perhaps secretly, that it will do something remarkable. Be important. Become a star.

For a while you can hold its hand. You can guide it through the torturous world of submissions, and fight for its integrity with the publisher (while letting those teachers groom it for even greater success).

But if all goes well, eventually you must step away. Like a parent sending a child off to college, a writer releasing a published book has to let go. You cross your fingers, say a prayer, give it a kiss, and try not to let your anxiety show. You’ve done your best to raise something strong and wonderful. Hopefully you’ve given your baby the tools to survive and even thrive. That doesn’t mean you’ll never hear bad news (or bad reviews), but you hope for the best.

And before you know it, this thing that was all yours belongs to the world. It’s off living its own life. You may only learn about its activities by chance.

Author Christine Kohler says, “It hit me that these books take on a life of their own when I discovered my first fiction series, the Growing Up Christian series for ages 5-9, published by Concordia in 1985, were being referenced by other authors in ‘at risk’ books for educators. To this day it amazes me where those books are located and sold. When I was looking at an Australian site one of those books was listed under my name and listed ‘At Luther Campus.’”

We hear reports on our literary progeny from surprising places. I got an e-mail recently from a friend in Montana who said he was talking about me to someone who thought The Well of Sacrifice sounded familiar. Sure enough, his niece had read it and loved it! I discovered that the book is an option in the homeschooling curriculum from a homeschooling mother who comes to our local SCBWI schmoozes. A Facebook acquaintance mentioned that a Gallup, New Mexico library has the book.

“I recently googled Wellspring of Magic,” Jan Fields says. “It was [just a] little fantasy novel for kids. But I’ve seen a Facebook group dedicated to it. I’ve seen Sims3 challenges based on it. I’ve seen book reports done on it, both a couple written and one in the form of a little podcast. I have gotten an amazing amount of fan mail from it. And I recently checked World Cat and saw this long list of libraries that are holding a copy. All of this astounds me. I wrote the thing as work-for-hire, and it went on to generate all this stuff.”

We can’t control which of our books are most popular. My biggest seller, according to BookScan sales data now available through Amazon’s Author Central, is Milton Hershey: Young Chocolatier, written under the name M. M. Eboch. It isn’t my favorite of my titles, but I’ve gotten fan mail for it. An acquaintance said her grandson liked it so much he bought a copy for his teacher. I can’t complain, but I feel like a parent whose “average” child made the Dean’s list while the “smart one” is struggling.

We may never know all the things our books are doing without telling us. I’ve found out teachers are using The Well of Sacrifice with their kids when the teacher e-mails me to request lesson plans. When I got invited to do a school visit, I discovered that the entire Elizabeth, New Jersey school district was using the book for all fourth-grade classes when they teach the Maya. I’ll never know exactly who is reading the book, or how it’s being used. But it delights me to know that my baby, birthed way back in 1999, has gone on to visit so many people, to teach, to entertain, and – dare I say it? – sometimes even to be loved.
 Chris Eboch‘s novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

Chris also writes for adults under the name Kris Bock. Kris Bock writes action-packed romantic suspense involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. Read excerpts at or visit her Amazon page

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

700 Reader Contest Extravaganza!

Hello, you good-looking readers!!! 
In honor of us reaching our 700th Project Middle-Grade Mayhem reader, Project Mayhem will soon be hosting a celebratory contest!  Why else would we have the Project Mayhem DJ cat laying down the hot tracks?

The contest will have fantabulous prizes of:
Author and agent query critiques!
Agent phone call! Yes, a real live phone call with an agent!!
Author and Agent 10 page manuscript critiques!
Illustrator portfolio critiques (yes, we have illustrators covered too!)
Lots of new middle-grade books and ARCs for your reading pleasure!!
(Disclaimer: the new car is a lie and will not be awarded.)



The more followers we can get by Thursday the 31st when the contest takes off the more prizes for you! Get us past--and we mean way past--the 700 mark, so we can offer as many prizes as possible! We are so thankful for our growing readership and we want to do everything within our power to give you what you want!

Now then, let's not go over the deep end, but what's a cool prize you'd like to see that maybe we haven't thought of? Let's us know, maybe we can swing it!!

Last, but not least, please help us spread the word about this contest!! Share on facebook, twitter, absolutewrite, Google, and whatever other social media site you tend to stalk!


Thoughts, questions, ideas????
Let us know, and please, spread the word!! 

Monday, May 20, 2013

An Interview with Polly Holyoke, Author of THE NEPTUNE PROJECT

Disney Hyperion and Puffin Books UK
May 21, 2013

What inspired you to write this story?
I’ve often wondered where our species would go if we so totally foul up the land of our planet that we render it unlivable. It’s always seemed logical to me that eventually we would try to live in our oceans. After all, five-sixths of our planet is covered by seas. But first we would need to figure out a few small technical problems… such as how to breathe water! Genetic engineering takes care of that challenge very conveniently for the characters in THE NEPTUNE PROJECT.

What was your publication process like from initial idea to sale?
I was fortunate to have a relatively quick trip for this particular project. I wrote ten chapters and started marketing a proposal for THE NEPTUNE PROJECT, and my agent’s assistant wrote back shortly after Sterling Lord Literistic received it. He said they wanted to see the rest of the novel RIGHT AWAY. The funny thing was, I had completed six children’s novels before this one, and they asked to see the one novel in my closet that I hadn’t completed! I wrote and wrote and had the whole of the story finished four months later. Then I had a nail-biter of a fall waiting to hear if the main agent liked it, and HE DID! He sat down and read it in a day, and he staged an auction for it a week later. Then he pulled off another wonderful coup and sold the book to Puffin Books UK, so I started off with a foreign sale. I still can’t quite believe I’m getting paid twice for the same work, and that kids in the Commonwealth countries around the world are going to be reading my books!

What books shaped you as a reader and writer, from childhood to present?
I have always loved fantasy and science fiction. I read lots of C.S. Lewis and J. R.R. Tolkien, and later I loved Ann McCaffrey’s dragon books. I think reading so many books with excellent world-building in them helped me to understand how important that aspect of science fiction is.

What is one thing people misunderstand/tend to misunderstand about science fiction?
Sometimes sci/fi authors have incredible premises, cool technology and non-stop action, but the very best sci/fi, in my opinion, includes unforgettable characters. THE HUNGER GAMES works so well because Katniss is such a strong and well-developed character with plenty of issues and flaws.

Are you working on anything new?
I recently completed Book 2 in the Neptune series for Puffin UK, and I’m hoping they’ll want a third book which I already have plotted. But in the meantime, I’m always jotting down ideas for new stories. I sometimes wonder if the creative well might run dry for me, but somehow my subconscious is most obliging and new concepts and premises keep bubbling up!

Thank you, Polly, for joining us today! Best of luck with your debut.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Using new settings to refresh your story, by Yahong Chi

I was in the midst of revising my current middle-grade novel when one of my beta readers gave me a piece of feedback I found enlightening. In essence, she suggested I move my protagonist to a new location and have the next plot-related event happen there. Instead of returning to the same locale, my characters could interact in, and with, a whole new setting.

This struck home in so many ways. Why? Because a well-developed new setting introduces variety; allows different character traits to develop; provides potential plot fodder; and, finally, is just plain fun to write!

It would be impossibly monotonous if your contemporary middle-grade protagonist moved from home to school and back again for the entirety of the novel, wouldn't it? Not to mention it wouldn't be very realistic. Introducing a new setting can give your world more texture and make it feel more complete. This also has the bonus of making the scene a little harder to predict, especially if you've established certain routines in other settings (e.g. get nagged at by mom at home).

People act and think differently in different places, and this can be a powerful tool in developing your characters by showing, not telling. If your protagonist is shy at school, for example, a local soccer field may be the perfect place for her or him to let their confidence grow, which could then contribute to their overall character arc. Or contrast how your outgoing social butterfly is confident when helping tutor kids at a Kumon facility but feels small and inadequate when shopping at a big mall—and why. By having your characters interact with the setting, you can show facets of their personalities in different but potent ways.

The discovery of new places is always exciting, even if it's just a hidden grove of trees in an otherwise urban city; or it could be a new planet in a sci-fi novel that sparks the entire plot. Whatever the level, introducing a new setting always comes loaded with the potential of moving the plot forward. Clues or hints can be dropped, and clandestine meet-ups can be planned. Or, conversely, epic battles could take place there, or your worst nightmare could come true. Because of the shift in setting, possibilities open themselves up in all directions.

Finally, I don't know about you, but starting a scene in a new location is always a jolt of fun for me! I get to wind new bits of description into the narration, then figure out how these characters I've created are going to react. I get to explore the new paths offered by this setting and have character relationships develop in very interesting ways in the new locale. All in all, the new setting provides a feeling of freshness, an optimistic sort of "I-haven't-tried-this-yet-so-I-haven't-messed-up-on-it-yet!" feeling.

Of course, new settings should be as well-developed as possible, and too many locations can end up confusing the reader. As always, it's all about balance. So whenever you feel like you might be suffering from writer's block, or you can't decide how to move forward, try creating a new setting.

What do you think? Do you use your settings in this way?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013



My MA thesis was on ambiguity in literary texts. I proposed that ambiguity(and I do not mean obscurity and lack of clarity, simply the capacity for being understood in more than one way) is at the heart of literature. Unlike any other form of writing (weather reports, legal briefs, reportage, etc) it is actually necessary to a literary text, something we want. Without an open avenue for the reader within the text, there is no way for the reader to find a personal place in it. I asked two questions: Does a text have meaning without a reader? Is a text changed by the readers who read it? If we can accept that, without reading it, a text is only an object without a reader, then we can say that a reader changes the text by reading it. If a reader is what gives it meaning, then the reader has affected the text. Think of books you have read and how they change when you reread them. Think of stories you have written and how they change when you reread them.

People make a distinction between author and reader. As authors, we know that as we put words on a page, they come forth and we direct them, but often are directed by them. We interpret what we write and then, when we reread, we may change our minds. Can we really say were we wrong before and right now? Or do we, as readers of our own words, see something different when we revisit our own words?

It is easy to think about rereading and reinterpreting other works, but as writers, we must consider that we, too, come back to our own texts as readers and find new meaning. With every experience, we change. It makes sense to see how we, with those experiences, see new things when we reread.

Ambiguity allows for texts to live throughout history, be reread as we grow older, and loved by different generations. For me, I rarely feel that someone else’s interpretation of my work, if coming from a careful reading, is wrong. If I write something poorly or if someone misreads a name or a section of a chapter and goes off in a wrong direction, that is one thing. But someone breathing new ideas and life into a story, mine or others’, makes for a new and exciting journey through that story. The reader heads into the world of the story with different eyes, each time. That is the magic of reading. That is what makes the reader and the author (the initial reader) part of the living text.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

THE SALON OF SHAME, by: Marissa Burt

There's this place here in Seattle called the Salon of Shame where, if you’re brave, you can go and participate in an open-mic night.  But not just any open-mic night.  The courage required isn’t the usual sort, the ordinary kind you MUST have if you’re going to read your work in public, but the Salon of Shame demands bravery only found in those made of sterner stuff.  On this night, artists bring some of their earliest creations to share - you know, the pages that have been buried in a shoebox in your closet since the eighth grade - so that attendees can "exploit our younger selves for your entertainment."

Time to 'fess up, everyone.  We all did it.  Writers especially have tattered notebooks brimming with brooding poetry, short stories that remarkably resemble our favorite novel at the time, and the beginnings of novels which we once secretly thought quite good.

Every five years or so I like to paw through whatever papers I’ve kept, sifting over old letters and journals and the odd high school essay that made the cut.  They say that laughter is the best medicine, and this exercise always gives me a good dose of it.  The absurdity of some of what I’ve written dampens any clouds of nostalgia and leaves me with a lingering fondness for that girl, the one scribbling away in notebooks in the back of classrooms. 

What about you, dear readers?  I know something has popped into your mind as you’ve been reading this: that angst-ridden love poem, those treasured song lyrics, a snippet of a story.  Now’s your chance.  Post anonymously if you must, but do let us have a glimpse of your past self.  I’d love to read an excerpt or at least hear you describe your very first project.  Exploit yourself for our entertainment!  :)

And, in good faith, that SOMEONE else will post SOMETHING, I’ll share from my first “book”, a screed written during chemistry class (I’m sorry, Ms. Greene!) with my prized fountain pen (yes, I was that girl). 

From the opening page:

Good weather was almost a celebration day for most common folk in Gwyrn, whereas the upperclass merely regarded them with disdain.  The children scampered about with uplifted faces to the sun.  One in particular stood out from the rest, but not by her own doing.  Her long auburn hair was plaited and adorned with gold baubles; her skirts swished and sparkled in the sun, and her shoes – the envy of all the other children, but this was unbeknownst to the girl – laced up and around the thin ankles with cured leather thongs.  The other children were common enough with simple garments although most were barefoot.  Skipping gaily they cried out to each other with youthful voices.  Out of the shadows stepped a tall, arrogant looking fellow dressed in brightly colored silks looking as if he didn’t want to dirty his soft, white hands with the peasant children, he grabbed the aforesaid girl and whipped her around.

Monday, May 13, 2013


Hi, my name is Giles.  I’m the protagonist, indomitable hero and irresistible girl magnet in James Mihaley’s novel, ‘You Can’t Have My Planet But Take My Brother, Please’.  James asked me to talk to you today about creating vivid characters that spring to life.

I didn’t ask you to say anything, Giles.  I told you to stay inside the book and not get in any trouble.  That’s what I asked you to do.  But did you do it?  No, of course not.  Because you never listen to me.

James often gets annoyed with me because I have a life of my own and he didn’t create me and this is a direct threat to his self-esteem.  How do you like that?  I’m a kid and I already use words like self-esteem.

If I didn’t create you then where did you come from?

I was floating around the ethers like all fictional characters.  When we see a story that we like we come floating down into it.

I can’t believe I’m having this conversation.

James, you’re lucky I have no interest in royalties.  Otherwise, I’d hire a lawyer to get a piece of the pie.  After all, I wrote this book. 

You did not write this book, Giles.

Am I or am I not the narrator of ‘You Can’t Have My Planet But Take My Brother, Please’?

Yes, you’re the narrator.  But I created you.  I created that voice.  You are a figment of my imagination.

James, you make one more crack like that and I’m hiring a lawyer.

What for?  There’s nowhere to spend money in the ethers.

That’s a good point, James.  The ethers are far too glorious for money.

Listen, Giles.  If you’re going to keep talking then make yourself useful.  Tell the reader how to create unforgettable characters.

Ok, ok.  The first thing you have to do is give your main character a pulse.   Put your ear to the page and listen for a heartbeat.  If you don’t hear a heartbeat then you need to focus all your creative energy on creating one.  Your main character should be more alive than your husband, more alive than your wife or son or daughter or poodle or personal trainer.

Do they have personal trainers in the ethers?

James, I’m trying to be serious here.  Why do you keep screwing around?

I’m sorry.  Go on.

Your main character should have the strongest heartbeat in the history of the world.  It should be louder then a thousand drumbeats.  That should be your goal.

Are you finished, Giles?

Yes, I’m finished James.  And all I can say is, you’re lucky I don’t want a percentage of the film rights.

I know.  I’m so lucky.

Whoever plays me in the movie better be a good actor.

Friday, May 10, 2013


     A few years ago, I was hired to speak at a writer’s conference as the token ‘juvenile novelist’.  (Yeah, I was confused by that moniker.  Did the Powers-that-Be mean I was a teenybopper who wrote novels?  Or that my novels were immature, sophomoric, perhaps even…delinquent?)  When I stepped into the spotlight, ready for my introduction to the 300 eager participants, the conference coordinator – a writer of adult fiction – announced: “Lee has published even more books than I have. But then, hers are so much shorter than mine.”

     Jealousy?  Perhaps.  Ignorance?  Definitely.  Over the years, I’ve learned that most people – even writers for other markets and genres – are clueless about what it takes to write a middle grade novel (or any other kind of kid lit, for that matter).

     Here are a few more exasperating, amusing, royal pain in the...pen comments I’ve heard over the years:

1.  “How many children’s novels do you write a day?”  Oh, I usually dash off 10 or 20.  Maybe 30 during daylights saving time. 

 My First Little Book Job by Bob Staake
2. “When are you going to grow up and write real novels?”  (My husband has to restrain me from ripping out this questioner’s liver.)

3. “Have you written anything I would’ve heard of?” (Usually asked by someone who hasn’t read a children’s book since before the invention of, well, books.)

4. “Tsk – adolescents today! I hope your books teach ‘em plenty of morals!”  (Oh, yes’m.  And I’ll take a switch to my readers if they don’t learn them morals good.)

5. “You’ve published 30 books?  Guess you’ll be retiring soon, living off your royalties.”  (Very soon.  Why, just last week, I received a three-figure royalty check:  Nine dollars, seventy-two cents.)

6. “I’ve always wanted to write a novel for kids – if I could only find the time.”  (Once professed to me by an Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon, as if he considered dabbling in middle grade fiction between tonsillectomies.)

7. “Your latest book is too good for kids.” (Actually uttered to me by a clerk in a bookstore!)

8. “How much do you have to pay the publishing companies to publish your book?”  (Utter shock when they learn the companies pay me.  Not much, but still . . .)

9. “I’d love to read your newest book. Would you send me a free autographed copy?” (Asked of me by 42 people at my last high school reunion.)

10.  “I’ve written a series of 24 novels suitable for kids ages 5 to 15 about a talking cabbage named Cabi. Even though I’m not an artist, I’ve done my own illustrations.  And I have ideas on how to market Cabi as an action figure. Would you mind taking a few moments to read my novels, give me your honest opinion, and then introduce me to your editor and agent?   

Uh…maybe I could take a raincheck on that.  Besides, don’t you think it’s time you grew up and wrote real books?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Key and the Flame by Claire M. Caterer

Eleven year old Holly Shepard wants nothing more than to seek adventure outside of her humdrum American life. She gets her chance at last when her family travels to England and Holly receives an unusual gift: an iron key that unlocks a passage to the dangerous kingdom of Anglielle, where magic is outlawed and those who practice magic are hunted. When her friend Everett and brother Ben are captured by Anglielle’s ruthless king, Holly must rescue them. But that means finding and using the magic within herself and learning which magical allies she can trust.
The Key & The Flame is Claire M. Caterer's debut novel. And, it's the first of a five book series!! The second book, tentatively titled The Wand & The Sea, is due out in 2014.
Here's what a couple reviewers said about The Key & The Flame:
“A time-traveling, wand-slashing tale, full of an endearing cast of characters.”
—Kit Grindstaff, author of The Flame in the Mist--
“Caterer is especially good at creating believable children in all of their human
--Publisher's Weekly--
Another thing that Claire does well in The Key & The Flame is create likeable characters even in the villains of the story.
And, without giving too much away, I really like the way Claire both bends and intertwines time and place.
A little more about  Claire: She has published fiction in Woman’s World magazine as well as in Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock mystery magazines and now writes full-time.
I'm happy to have had the opportunity to tell you a little bit about Claire and her debut novel. For information about school visits, or to download a teaching guide for The Key & The Flame, or to learn a little more about Claire, please visit her website.
Thanks for stopping by.