Thursday, October 29, 2015

2015 Must-Read Middle Grade: November and December Edition by Caroline Starr Rose

There are so many incredible middle-grade titles releasing this year, I decided to dedicate my posts these next months to sharing as many as I can with you. My list is not exclusive and is actually just the tip of the iceberg. I hope these glimpses get you excited enough to ask your library to purchase a copy or buy one yourself. All descriptions are taken from

Happy Reading!

Dead Possums Are Fair Game by Taryn Souders (November 3)

The world would be a better place without math or messy roommates. At least, that’s what Ella Hunter believes. Life is about keeping order and avoiding long division, fractions, or really anything with an equal sign.

As the end of the school year approaches, the fifth-grade teachers at Victor Waldo Elementary conclude there’s not enough time to complete a new math unit before summer break. Great news for math-phobic Ella, right?

Wrong! The teachers decide instead to have their students host the first-ever Math Fair. And the fair project is worth two major math grades.

Add in one dead possum plus two horrible roommates who come to stay while their house is being renovated, and you have an equation for disaster. Ella is headed for summer school and math tutoring for sure. Can she stop her troubles from multiplying before it’s too late?

A Bitter Magic by Roderick Townley (November 10)

Everything is in place: the packed theater, the Amazing Thummel, and, center stage, the magician's mysterious assistant. Some have called her the most beautiful woman in Europe.

Then, in a swirl of light, she vanishes!

An astounding illusion, but she never reappears. All that remains are a bloodstained white scarf and her daughter, Cisley, who lives in a glass castle and walks her pet lobster each morning by the sea.

Enter Cole, a rambunctious boy from town and Cisley's first true friend. Together they hunt for clues to her mother's disappearance. They puzzle over broken mirrors, ever-shifting labyrinths, a closet full of whispering ball gowns, and a fatal quest for a pure black rose.

Roderic Townley spins a deliciously spooky tale of one girl's journey to discover what's real and what is simply an illusion.

Finding Fortune by Delia Ray (November 10)

Running away from home isn't as easy as Ren thinks it will be. At least she isn't running very far -- just a few miles to the ghost town of Fortune . . . or Mis-Fortune as everyone else calls it. Mis-Fortune on the Mississippi. Supposedly, there's an abandoned school on the outskirts with cheap rooms for rent. Ren knows her plan sounds crazy. But with only a few more weeks until Dad comes home from his tour of duty in Afghanistan, she also knows she has to do something drastic so Mom will come to her senses and stop seeing that creep Rick Littleton for good. 

From the moment she enters the school's shadowy halls, Ren finds herself drawn into its secrets. Every night old Mrs. Baxter, the landlady, wanders the building on a mysterious quest. What could she be up to? And can Mrs. Baxter's outlandish plan to transform the gym into a pearl-button museum ever succeed? With a quirky new friend named Hugh at her side, Ren sets out to solve the mystery that could save Fortune from fading away. But what about her family's future? Can that be saved too?

On the Run by Tristan Bancks (November 17)

One afternoon, four police officers visit Ben Silver’s home. Minutes after they leave, his parents arrive. Ben and his little sister Olive are bundled into the car and told they’re going on a holiday. Which is weird, because Ben’s family never goes on holidays. 

Things aren’t right and Ben knows it. His parents are on the run. So Ben and Olive are running, too. 

Ben’s always dreamt of becoming a detective – his dad even calls him ‘Cop’ because he asks so many questions. Now Ben gathers evidence, jots notes and tries to uncover what his parents have done. The trouble is, if he figures it out, what does he do next? Tell someone? Or keep the secret and live life on the run?

The Rosemary Spell by Virginia Zimmerman (December 1)

Part mystery, part literary puzzle, part life-and-death quest, and chillingly magical, this novel has plenty of suspense for adventure fans and is a treat for readers who love books, words, and clues. 

Best friends Rosie and Adam find an old book with blank pages that fill with handwriting before their eyes. Something about this magical book has the power to make people vanish, even from memory. The power lies in a poem—a spell. When Adam's older sister, Shelby, disappears, they struggle to retain their memories of her as they race against time to bring her back from the void, risking their own lives in the process.

What 2015 books are you looking forward to as the year draws to a close?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Cover Reveal: C.M. Surrisi's The Maypop Kidnapping
by Jim Hill

A mystery has washed ashore at the coastal town of Maiden Rock. Quinnie Boyd’s teacher, Ms. Stillford, hasn’t shown up on the first day or school—or the day after that. Quinnie thinks it’s a kidnapping case. Her mom, the town sheriff, doesn’t believe her, but Quinnie’s going to follow her instincts—even if she has to tiptoe around her mom to do it.

Quinnie’s investigation will take her through a damp marsh, a lobster pound, and more of Maine’s messiest places. On the way, she’ll have help from her glamorous new neighbor, Mariella from New York, whether Quinnie wants it or not. As the girls hunt for clues around Maiden Rock, they’ll encounter a swarm of cats, two nuns with a speeding habit, and a group of tattooed rocker-types who’ve been pigging out on lobster fries at the town café. And if Quinnie’s hunch is right, the search may lead them right into danger . . .

This month I'm thrilled to introduce you to Cynthia Surrisi and her forthcoming book, the Maypop Kidnapping. It's a fun read filled with spoofing, sleuthing, and a charming cast of characters. Read on, MacDuff. Oh, and here's the full cover. Click it!

Have you always loved mysteries?

Yes. I’m crazy for novels with clues, suspense, and risky situations that twist and turn and make me stay up all night racing through to the end to find out whodunit. I also love a story of friendship, where friends collaborate to solve a problem. I am drawn especially to stories with newly formed friendships that suffer the inevitable rushes and aches of youth, and where it’s a mystery whether the friendship will survive.

These qualities can be found in many genres of books, not only those labeled as mysteries. In many ways, all stories are mysteries. Within the pages of every good book, we search for the answer to the question raised by the inciting incident.

C.M. Surrisi
Any authors or titles that were inspirations for you while writing the Maypop Kidnapping?

This book is inspired by my personal time in Maine. One summer, we stayed past Labor Day, and I got to experience our little town after all the summer people left. From that moment on, all I could think about was setting a story in that place during that time of the year. First, it was a friendship story, and then it became a mystery. It swirled in the recesses of my mind until I reached VCFA (Vermont College of Fine Arts).

Since I read about fifty fabulous books each semester, it’s hard to narrow the field to those that had an impact on this book, but I’ll try. This short list is going to seem wildly inconsistent but here goes: The Westing Game by Raskin, Holes by Sachar, Okay for Now by Schmidt, and Liar and Spy by Stead.

Beyond individual books, I am inspired by the work of so many fine writers that to list a few is to painfully omit the rest. This is a credit to the people who dedicate their lives to writing for children and young adults.

What’s the hardest thing about writing a mystery?

A good mystery needs to be tightly plotted, the clues must never purposefully mislead the reader, and it can never be solved through the use of a deus ex machina. It has to have twists and turns that ratchet up the suspense, there should be a surprise ending, and it all needs to be delivered with humor and heart. Making all that happen in one story is the hardest thing about writing a mystery.

Did you start this book at VCFA? If so, can you talk about that a little bit? (advisors, early readers, etc...)

I started Maypop at the end of my second semester at VCFA, while Tim Wynne-Jones was my advisor. Since he is a master of mystery writing, I thought it would be a good opportunity to take advantage of his expertise. He wrote me long, instructional letters about how to write a mystery. They are my treasure. What I learned first was that I couldn’t write a mystery from the perspective of the reader. I needed to first write the detective’s reveal at the end. In other words, I needed to know the backstory that led to the inciting incident. That way I could more deftly play with the clues and the twists and turns.

I wrote the first complete draft of Maypop my third semester while Rita Williams-Garcia was my advisor. Rita was my guru for finding the heart amidst the suspense. She was such an enthusiastic fan of the characters, that she really helped me develop the humanity.

I revised Maypop during my fourth semester while Tom Birdseye was my advisor. He helped me sharpen the humor, dive down into the syntax, and shake out the chaff.

In the month prior to graduation, I submitted Maypop to a call for middle-grade mysteries by editor Greg Hunter at Carolrhoda/Lerner. Shortly thereafter, he acquired the book through my agent Linda Pratt, and we launched into the editorial process. Greg’s editorial guidance took the book from a creative thesis to a finely tuned ready-for-publication novel.

Each person who counseled and advised me on this book had a uniquely helpful perspective to share. And better yet, it all came in relatively quick succession, and in line with my increasing abilities. I should add that Matt de la Peña, who was my first-semester advisor, taught me to follow my characters around and watch them cope with problems that I have created for them. That is a golden rule for me now.

Is there a sequel? More sleuthing in Maine? Will Quinnie run into Jessica Fletcher?

Yes! There is a sequel. More about that soon.

The cover is by Gilbert Ford, and the map of Maiden Rock was drawn by Ingrid Sundberg, both of whom are also VCFA grads. How’d you manage to make that magic happen? (p.s. – I love books with maps!)

Ingrid Sundberg and I were in a workshop together my first semester at VCFA. We became fast friends and she was a reader for me for portions of the book. Since I knew of her artistic talent, I engaged her, through her graphic arts business, to create a map from my very rough drawing. I love maps, too. I think a mystery is enhanced by a map and/or a family tree. I couldn’t be happier with the map that Ingrid created. I consulted it often while I wrote the book.

I get no credit for Gilbert Ford being the cover illustrator. Lerner gets it all. I briefly crossed paths with Gilbert at VCFA, I knew he was a talented illustrator as well as an author, but I didn’t have the pleasure of being in a workshop with him. My editor, Greg Hunter, surprised me with the first cover art sketches being Gilbert’s. I was thrilled. Carolrhoda/Lerner did not realize they had selected a VCFA illustrator for a VCFA author. I like to think it was kismet.

What are you reading now?

I just finished Estelle Laure’s This Raging Light, which took my breath away with its poignant beauty. I am currently reading Tim Wynne-Jones The Emperor of Any Place. That man can write a mystery! Next up on my stack is M.T. Anderson’s Symphony For the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad. He is the most diverse writer I know of and handles everything he tackles with brilliance. After that, it’s The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma.

What books are you looking forward to in the coming months?

I’m looking forward to reading Ingrid Sundberg’s All We Left Behind, Jenn Bishop’s The Distance to Home, Janet Fox’s The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, Adi Rule’s The Hidden Twin, Kathi Appelt’s Maybe a Fox, Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot, Laura Shovan’s The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, Yuki Kaneko’s Into the Snow . . . to name a few.

Anything else you want to share?

My path has included being associated with SCBWI and attending VCFA. I am grateful to both institutions. My dearest SCBWI friends and darling VCFA peeps make up a supportive tribe. I recently moved to Asheville, NC, and I am meeting the children’s writers from this area.  I can’t wait to get to know them better and to talk story. We read, we write, we carry ourselves away to magical places and hope to take others with us.

Monday, October 26, 2015

TWO Giveaways to Celebrate the Release of A SLIVER OF STARDUST, by: Marissa Burt

**Congrats to ayokosabieh who randomly selected as the winner of the signed copy of A SLIVER OF STARDUST! I'll post the results to the other giveaway on my blog.**
In the stars, a world of wonder and magic awaits...

but it is in grave danger, and only Wren can save it.

Hello Mayhemers!

I am so thrilled that A SLIVER OF STARDUST is officially launched and wending its way into the hands of readers. I want to celebrate by offering a signed hardback to one of you lovely blog readers! To enter, all you have to do is comment on this post. :) For extra entries, check out this widget: a Rafflecopter giveaway. This contest is open to US mailing addresses only and will run from now until midnight on Sunday 11/1.

I'm also running a giveaway on my blog for anyone who pre-ordered or has purchased the book, so check that out, too, in order to win the items below:

Want to know more about this new middle-grade fantasy? Here's a bit from the jacket:

I am a gold lock,
I am a gold key.
However high and low you hunt,
You'll never find me.

Wren Matthews outgrew nursery rhymes a long time ago. Little did she know that songs of twinkling little stars and four-and-twenty blackbirds are the key to the ancient magic of stardust - a magic that only a few people can see and use. And Wren is one of them.

Wren has always preferred to stick to herself. But when she is invited to the faraway fortress where an ancient order has long studied and guarded the stardust, she doesn't hesitate to accept.

Soon Wren is swept up in strange dreams, buried secrets, and rumors that an old enemy is plotting his return. As she tries to master her new abilities, Wren only knows one thing for sure. There's magic in the world - and it's waiting for her.

Thanks for reading, everyone! Happy Autumn! -- Marissa

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Chris Eboch on The Thrill of Horror and Things that Go Bump in the Night

This post is adapted from an article that was originally published in Children's Writer. Publishing professionals' titles have been updated when possible.

For many people, Halloween is a favorite holiday. It’s a chance to get dressed up, taking on a different persona for a while (something writers do all the time). It’s a holiday that focuses on fun – candy, costumes, tricks – with any religious background largely lost to modern thought. And it’s a time to get scared, but in a safe, playful way.

From ghost stories around the campfire to summer slasher flicks, many people enjoy being scared. Children and teenagers are no exception. “Growing up is intrinsically horrific,” author Cynthia Leitich Smith says. “You’re a shape-shifter in your changing body. You’re a vampire in your thirst for life. Your emotions can turn you from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. Essentially, gothic fantasy is all about reflecting this reality through metaphor that asks the hard questions, tackles the classic themes, but in a fresh – sometimes bloody fresh – and sometimes funny way.”

Many authors are drawn to this genre because of their own childhood love of the macabre. “As a kid, I adored anything scary – ghosts, monsters, mummies, you name it,” Laura Ruby says. “So, when I sat down to write my own books, I wrote the ones I would have liked to read when I was a kid.”

Who could resist the chance to tell scary stories for enthusiastic fans? But it’s not enough to throw together a bunch of ghosts or monsters. Horror stories have been around since prehistoric people tried to explain the things that go bump in the night. For authors to catch a reader’s attention today, they have to do something different.
“Horror has its quintessential themes,” Leitich Smith adds. “The key is in your twist or twisted retelling. In crafting Tantalize, I drew my initial inspiration from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Stoker’s classic includes a Texan, Quincy P. Morris, among its original vampire hunters. I brought the mythology ‘home’ to Texas, offering my new protagonist, Quincie P. Morris – an updated and gender-flipped nod to Stoker’s old school.”

Ideas can come from everywhere, including real-life facts or mysteries. Ruby wrote Lily’s Ghosts based on stories a friend told her about her family’s “haunted” house.

The Monsters Among Us

With so many human monsters in the real world (not to mention dangerous beasts, scary diseases, and the basic fear of death), readers may find it easy to believe in fictional monsters. Still, horror stories need a grounding in reality. Human characters should be realistically human, points out agent Ashley Grayson. “No juvenile novel today can omit cell phones, the Internet, and the new relationships kids have. As one teen told us: ‘No girl I know would go anywhere without her friends and certainly not into the woods. If she did have to go alone, she’d IM or SMS her friends the whole time.’ Ask yourself, would this story be scary if the protagonist could make a cell call to his/her best friends within moments?”

Fantastical elements should ring true as well. “Monsters, ghosts, supernatural creatures of any kind should be described in the same sort of physical detail that any human would,” Ruby says. “They should also have distinct personalities, personal tics, etc., to round them out.”

Andrew Karre, Executive editor at Dutton Books for Young Readers, says, “I think the impact of good horror/suspense writing is directly proportional to the author’s ability to describe scenes, situations, and characters in surprising yet evocative ways. How can you translate whatever gruesome thing you’ve conjured up in your imagination into words that seem simultaneously surprising and true?”

Susan Van Metre, Senior Vice President and Publisher at Abrams Books for Young Readers, concedes that, “Perhaps there’s more of an emphasis on fun and a little less concern about logic than for other sorts of books.” However, believability benefits “when the fear or concept has some basis in reality. Peni R. Griffin wrote The Ghost Sitter about a girl killed in a firework accident (didn’t we all worry about that growing up, after all our parents’ dire warnings) who haunts her suburban home until a family with a girl her age moves in, and the girl helps free her. So it became a wonderful novel about the power of friendship to reach across a seemingly impossible divide.”

Yet there’s no point in writing horror if you’re not going to make it spooky. “Mood and atmosphere appeal to me as a reader,” Candlewick Senior Editor Deborah Noyes Wayshak says. “I want to go where angels fear to tread, but you have to coax me there.”

The best horror also goes beyond the merely spooky or grotesque, and touches some deep truth. “The most engaging horror or ghost stories are psychologically complex,” Wayshak says. “The horror or ‘haunting’ reflects the protagonist’s psyche in some way, what she or he is hiding or suffering or grieving on the mundane plane.”

To find these deeper truths authors must be emotionally honest and willing to take risks. “The main challenge is writing into the heart of the horror – what’s on the page, what’s inside oneself – without protecting or skirting or offering apologies,” Leitich Smith says. “The challenge is in unleashing your own monster within.”

Growing Up Scared

Children of all ages might enjoy horror, but they don’t enjoy the same kinds of horror. Stories for younger children tend to balance fear with humor. Plots are spooky but not terrifying. Teen novels, on the other hand, can include more gore and death. Writers have to find the right balance for their books.

“The youngest readers are more likely to enjoy what you might call the ‘gotcha!’ scares,” says Joshua Gee, author of Encyclopedia Horrifica. “Middle-graders want to be surprised on every page, but not necessarily terrified. And finally, younger kids usually prefer a little humor with their horror. Goosebumps is a great example.”

Grayson points out that different age groups have different fears. “The scariest thing for a 12-year-old is the idea their parents might die. Typical YAs almost hope they would, so most YAs are fearful of loss of social capital or that their boy/girlfriend is a psycho or vampire.”

According to Van Metre, “YA novels are pretty limitless in the amount of gore; one would try to soften this or have it happen ‘off-stage’ for middle grade readers. Also, the occasional bleak ending is okay for teens; not so much for middle graders.”

Does the world really need more monsters? Maybe so, if scary books can help young people deal with real life. “One of my all-time favorite books is Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak,” Gee says. “It introduced me to my first monsters – and taught me how to make friends with them. I think that’s the role of scary literature in a kid’s life. It provides a safe and neutral realm where kids may engage their fears without becoming consumed by them. From an early age, Mr. Sendak’s words and pictures taught me that, yes, the world is a scary place, but it’s also a magical, surprising place. It can’t be one without being the other.”

PS – Ghost stories can also be a fun way to teach history. Read about that here on the “Mad about Middle Grade History” blog.

Chris Eboch writes a variety of genres for all ages. Her Haunted series for ages 8-12 follows a brother and sister who travel with their parents’ ghost hunter TV show. They try to help the ghosts, while keeping their activities secret from meddling grownups. In The Ghost on the Stairs, an1880s ghost bride haunts a Colorado hotel, waiting for her missing husband to return. The Riverboat Phantom features a steamboat pilot still trying to prevent a long-ago disaster. In The Knight in the Shadows, a Renaissance French squire protects a sword on display at a New York City museum. During The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, Jon and Tania help a dead man find his lost gold mine – but they’re not the only ones looking for it. Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Reading Out Loud to the Older Crowd by Paul Greci

Last month I was invited to read a chapter of Surviving Bear Island at the Alaska Literacy Council’s Annual Conference. As I dug into the themes of the conference I discovered that a big focus was the value of reading out loud to students of all ages. The keynote speaker, Steven Layne, had just published a book, In Defense of Read Aloud, exploring the benefits of reading out loud.

When I started teaching English at an alternative school program for at risk teens in the mid 1990’s, I had a classroom full of reluctant and struggling readers and writers in 9th through 12th grades, and I built my instruction around reading out loud.

I read whole novels, short stories and essays to my students and designed writing assignments around our readings. With some of the fiction I read, I’d often stop at a particularly suspenseful moment have the students write the next part of the story and then invite them to share what they’d written.

I did every assignment along with my students and it was then that I discovered that I liked writing fiction.

So, I thought it was fitting that I got read a chapter of Surviving Bear Island out loud to a conference focusing on the value of reading out loud, since the book’s creation is rooted in reading out loud.

Reading out loud to my older students helped some of them to connect with the written word and lessened their resistance to engaging in independent reading.

One of my most memorable read aloud experiences as a teacher was reading Anthem by Ayn Rand. I was team teaching with a very talented social studies teacher who suggested the title. While I read the book and did some writing exercises with the class, he put it in historical context for the students, and then played the Rush album 2112 for the class and did a few lessons on the lyrics as they related to the book.

Do you have any memorable read aloud experiences as students or as teachers?

Monday, October 19, 2015

On timed writes, word counts, and NaNoWriMo by Joanna Roddy

Image Courtesy: National Novel Writing Month

You will never see me running a marathon. Because, twenty-six miles. I mean, really? How about three? That’s extreme enough for me and I know I’ll be able to do it again two days later. For that matter, I'd be happier to do a yoga class or go on a jolly good walk. I may have a bum hip, but marathoning doesn’t appeal to my personality either. I like to savor things. I like to enjoy the task at hand and be ready for the next round. I like a challenge, but not killing myself in the process. In other words, I'll push myself, but my end-game is sustainability.

So National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is just around the corner and it's always struck me as a marathon-like task--an extreme feat of authorial athletics. I have utilized many strategies to get my bum in the chair to write over the years, but having a 50,000 word novel drafted in thirty days as my carrot incentive just seems a little over-the-top to me.

But this year I have to admit, I’m intrigued. All the women in my critique group have decided to do it. I'm sitting at the beginning of two big ideas. And I'm craving more self-discipline and the sacred space of those early mornings at the page.

Ok, but word counts? I discovered earlier this year that they just don't work for me at the drafting stage. I need to respect the work I'm doing in terms of quality in order to trust it to lead me forward and that just takes longer for me. It's a first draft, so I'm not going to nit-pick, but I need to feel I'm doing my best given what I know. I find my daily word count interesting, but it can't be my target because I need to find the path, and sometimes it's really hard to see. I could just take off through the underbrush in what I think is the right direction, but I don't want to find myself at the bottom of a ravine with no way out. No. There's a road under the ivy and I need to find my way along it, step by step.

So I want to do NaNoWriMo, but the word count thing is a hang-up for me. The rules might be too rigid, as Chuck Wendig suggests in his frank and hilarious post 25 Things You Should Know About NaNoWriMo, (warning: coarse language and vulgarity, if that's not your thing). Wendig argues that you are the only one this really matters to, so make it your own. Hang the rules.

I was chatting about it with a writer friend for whom word count goals also don't work. Except for him they don't work at all, ever, where for me, I thrive (and I mean THRIVE) on them in the re-write stage. And together we came to this conclusion: time goals. A general benchmark seems to be two-three hours for the requisite 1666 words per day in the NaNoWriMo model. And I decided that's going to be MY version of NaNoWriMo. Time with the work. At least two hours a day.

Image courtesy: The Pomodoro Technique by Francesco Cirillo
One of my favorite timed writing approaches is the Pomodoro Technique. It's deucedly simple: set a timer, work for twenty-five minutes, take a five minute break, repeat. Often the first set is painful to get through, but by the second or third, I want to skip my breaks because I'm on a roll. It works!

So I guess I'm doing my own version of NaNoWriMo. JoNoWriMo, I'll call it. I hope my liberality with the rules doesn't offend the hardcore Wrimoes, but we all have to find our own stride in this writing life and it should be celebrated in whatever form it takes, right? If I end up in December with 50K+ words, great. If not (and I suspect I won't), I think I'll still have won, virtual trophy or no. 

Question for you: Is anyone else planning to do NaNoWriMo this year? Any advice from former Wrimoes? 

And I’d also love to hear more from you about the word count/ timed writing debate. What works best for you and why? 

Whatever your November brings, may we all work well and grow in our craft. Cheers to that!

Friday, October 16, 2015

SELLING MOVIE RIGHTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! by James Mihaley

If you live in Iowa and are working on an MG novel, probably the last thing on your mind right now is selling the film rights to your book.  That’s not a bad thing.  You should stay focused on completing the book and telling the story to the best of your ability.  If you do end up getting it published, and that could very well happen, then selling the film rights to your book is not as farfetched as you might think.  One Hollywood executive told me that one of the best ways to break into the movie business is by publishing a novel.  Why is that?  Well, and I’m sure you’ve noticed, most the movies that are getting made now, particularly in the children’s genre, are based on books.  The movie studios feel this is a safer bet because there is already a built-in audience. 

The fact that you live in Iowa is by no means a deterrent to selling movie rights.  Your agent will handle that on your behalf.  Typically a literary agent in NY will team up with an agent in LA who specializes in selling movie rights to books.  Your project is co-agented.  After you sell the movie rights and consume several bottle of champagne, you will be faced with a major decision.  Do you want to write the screenplay adaptation of your book or do you want the studios to hire a seasoned screenwriter to handle that tricky task?  If you do aspire to become a screenwriter and reap the enormous financial rewards then you should begin learning the craft of screenwriting ASAP.  Syd Field has written many definitive books on the subject.  Jay Asher, the mega successful YA author, told me the best book he ever read on writing in any genre was a screenwriting book.  According to Jay, writing for film forces you to be more concise and plot driven.  It forces you to tell the story with true velocity.  Thus, exploring the art of screenwriting can actually enhance your storytelling skills as a novelist.  And you might win an Oscar along the way. Why not give it a shot?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Five Ways to Get Inspired: Guest Post by Katy Towell

Our guest today is author and illustrator, Katy Towell. Appropriate for the month of October, Katy’s newest novel, Charlie and The Grandmothers, will certainly chill and thrill. Don’t miss her frightfully creepy animated preview. (

- Eden Unger Bowditch

If you were anything like me as a kid, one of your biggest dreams was to write a novel. You spent a vast percentage of your free time fantasizing about your novel’s title and doodling book covers in notepads meant for school. In your head, you played the trailer for the film adaptation over and over. You carried that dream with you as you grew up, and now here you are: writing your own novel for the kind of kid you used to be!

But you’re an adult now. How do you get into the right mindset for middle grade fiction? Here are a few of my favorite tools:

1)    Write down a list of things that mattered to you when you were your readers’ age: your fears, your wishes, things that made you sad, things that gave you joy. Set a time limit--five minutes or less--to avoid overthinking it. The first memories that come to mind are the strongest, and they stand out to you for a reason. Use them!

2)    Struggling to find an idea? Start making up titles! When you write one down that really grabs you, you’ll soon think up a story that fits it. (I’ll tell you secret: that’s how came up with the plot for my latest, Charlie and the Grandmothers.)

3)    Feeling stuck? Go back and look at the books and movies you loved as a child. Consider what it was you loved about them, and ask yourself what your current project is missing.

4)    Stop thinking so hard! Listen to music and let your imagination take over. Film scores are excellent for this because they cover a wide range of emotions. I find it’s best when they’re from a movie you haven’t seen so that your thoughts aren’t hijacked by a story you already know.

5)    Play make-believe! Don’t be afraid to get into character and act out your scenes. If you get too wrapped up in the process of writing, you might forget that your characters are meant to be people! So, try being those people for a little while. Maybe wait until you’re home alone, though.

In short: when writing for children, the secret to finding inspiration is as simple as letting go and allowing yourself to become a kid again. Not just in terms of the story itself, but in the way you start writing it. The grownup in you can take over when the story’s ready for polishing.

To find out more about Katy's work, click on the links below: