Monday, November 28, 2016

WriteOnCon is Returning February 2-4, 2017 by Dianne K. Salerni

“From 2010 to 2014, the popular online kidlit conference WriteOnCon offered writers a unique opportunity to learn and grow their craft, all from the comfort of their own homes. Over 13,000 people attended during the last year! Unfortunately, increasing time commitments meant the organizers were unable to continue the event in subsequent years. But now WriteOnCon is returning, with a new organizing team but the same purpose: to provide an affordable and fun conference experience that’s accessible to everyone.” ~ The 2017 WriteOnCon Team

If you attended WriteOnCon in the past, then I needn’t say anymore, and you can skip the rest of this post. But for anyone unfamiliar with WOC, this is a 3-day online writing conference for kidlit writers. There are writing forums where you can get feedback on your query or first five pages, blog posts, live events – and Ninja Agents! The Ninja Agents – real life literary agents appearing anonymously – sneak into the forums to read, comment, and sometimes request! WOC has all the benefits of a big writing conference and none of the disadvantages: high costs, travel expenses, having to wear pants, etc. 

The time for Early Registration is NOW. It’s easy; it’s affordable; and there are perks. Critiques are on offer from agents, editors, and published authors – and they’re selling out fast. (But don’t worry. I keep seeing new ones being added.)

Visit the WriteOnCon website.

Watch the video.

Register here.

Follow WriteOnCon on Facebook and Twitter.

See you there!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Writing Thrillers for Kids by Donna Galanti

Do you love to be scared? I do (when I know it’s safe)! Haunted houses. Hayrides. Rollercoasters. Adventure rides. (and yes, that's me with my family on a ride!).

I got so scared once in a haunted house that I whacked the “ghosts” with the teddy bear from my costume. The management turned on all the lights and asked me to leave. Oops.

Just last Halloween my friend dared me to do Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary, a haunted house at an abandoned prison. I was very proud that I didn’t whack anyone this time!

But I still get scared of real places as a grown up. Of our dark garage. Of our creepy old cellar. Of nighttime when taking the trash cans out. My heart pip-pops waiting for that creature or boogeyman to grab me. I know he could be. My imagination tells me so.

And thriller movies are fun to get scared by – but I think it’s even more fun for me to watch my son watching them. When he was younger he would yell at the characters, “save yourselves!” then jump up and down, cover his eyes, and hug me in fright – whether it was Jurassic Park, Twister, or Dante’s Peak. I think the same elements in thriller movies cross over into thriller books.

Basic elements of a thriller:
Incorporate plot twists to shock the audience
Tease viewers to keep them hanging on until the end
A hero, or band of heroes, opposing an enemy while on a quest
The threat of death or capture is always looming

Here is a snapshot of my favorite thrillers for kids:
The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen
The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan
Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry
City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Double Vision by F.T. Bradley

As my son became an avid and selective reader, I discovered that kids love to be thrilled not just in movies but in books too. I started reading some of the thrillers my son had on his bookshelf like Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan and Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo. In doing this I began to see patterns in these kid adventure tales – and I began applying what I learned, along with general thriller elements, to create my own stories.

10-steps I discovered for writing kid thrillers:
  •  Put the kids in charge. Kids don’t want to read about grownups having adventures.
  • Which leads into…have the kids figure out how to take the bad guys down – not grownups. Kids want to see themselves as the hero, not Mom or Dad or their teacher.
  •  Whatever scary situations the kids find themselves in – they must navigate their way out.
  • Don’t dwell on the dark stuff. Make it happen fast without gory detail – kids can use their imagination.
  • Give them friends in their travels. Life is hard without friends! And a kid needs friends to help him along his scary adventure.
  • Through story events have the kids discover their own strength and courage to overcome the bad things happening to them.
  • Make all seemed lost! End the chapters on cliffhangers to encourage kids to keep turning the pages and find out what happens next.
  • Have it work out in the end, or at least partially, even if all seems doomed for a while.
  • Add humor! Interjecting a dollop of funny can alleviate the tension in the scariest of scenes and lighten the moment.
  • Make it a series. Have a final resolution to the story but leave it open for more stories down the road for the characters. Kids love to follow their beloved characters into new adventures.

As you can see, I love to read and write thrillers for kids. And that’s just what I did with creating the Lightning Road series. Here’s the book trailer for book 2 in the series, Joshua and the Arrow Realm. Do you think the story has the elements of a kid’s thriller?

What are your favorite kid thrillers to read? If you write kid thrillers, what are some thriller elements you include?

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Photo by Catherine Cronin

My wife is a middle school guidance counselor, and this year, as last, she has one or two transgender students who are coming out—in sixth grade. At age eleven. Their parents are in various stages of disequilibrium, trying to rise to the occasion.

Another kid I know dissolved in tears recently, worried that two of his classmates (and their families) may now be deported under the new administration.

A girl who was adopted from Guatemala at birth by two parents from upstate New York now wonders if she will be sent back to the country of her birth.

No matter what your feelings about the outcome of the presidential election, there is no doubt that kids are feeling the stress and uncertainty of the sea change in our political system. What can we as middle grade authors do in the face of their vulnerability? 
Here are some ideas:

1)  Write the stories of those children in flux—kids who are facing pressures and fears due to immigration, discrimination, dislocation of any kind. These stories can be written in the voice of a targeted or vulnerable child if you feel qualified to do so, or in the voice of the kid who is a friend/ally/bystander.

2)  Seek out books that portray these experiences (see resources). By reading and buying these books, we support those authors, and we familiarize ourselves with the narratives of children who are going to bear a lot of the brunt of the new administration hitting the ground in January. There have already been specific groups identified as targets: Muslims, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, Syrian refugees, Dream Act kids, transgender kids. On top of that, we have heard dire pronunciations about instituting “law and order” in our cities, putting communities of color at risk.

3)  Use your own platform to amplify stories and authors from these communities and perspectives. If you’ve read a wonderful book about an immigrant child, a child of color,  a kid who is LGBTQ, tweet about it. Stories about immigrants and refugees build empathy and break down stereotypes. Write a review. Read these stories to inform your own work and world views. Book-talk these diverse titles when you do your own author events—amplify, publicize, and spread the word on social media and in person.

4) Dig into these resources:
**Read author Jacqueline Woodson’s brilliant essay in the New York Times: “How Do I Comfort Our Frightened Son After the Election? I Tell Him How Our People Have Survived.”

**Check out School Library Journal’s Islam in the Classroom

**Use the rich resources of We Need Diverse Books to find stories about African American kids, Asian kids, Latinos, Muslim kids, LGBTQ characters,  and more.

**Explore these on Twitter: #ownvoices, #booksfighthate

Be brave. Be generous. Stand up for kids who need us now and will continue to need us in the coming months and years. It’s imperative.

"This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal."   ~~ Toni Morrison

Monday, November 14, 2016

Picture Books for Big Kids: Building a Story Around the Art by Eden Unger Bowditch

Okay, so we’re grown ups. We are supposed to outgrow Legos and chocolate and books with pictures. Yeah, right! Having kids is a great excuse for pulling out those Legos, even when the kids are off doing something else. And big money has gone into studies- conducted by adults, of course- that have shown, without a doubt, chocolate is good for us. Hurray! So now is the time to admit that we love our stories with a side of pictures! The rise of the graphic novel shows us all that picture books are not just for little ones. Illustrations are for kids of all sizes.

As I await the ARC for The Strange Round Bird…, the third book in my Young Inventors Guild trilogy, I am almost as excited to see the illustrations as I am for the text. My publisher has been wonderful about supporting the diagrams of the inventions- once again created by the brilliant Mary Grace Corpus ( ) and the numerous period-specific photos I collected in Cairo.

Fabulous MG and YA books, like Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret or Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, have hit the shelves and knocked us all out. And, indeed, these stories engage and enthrall, but the accompanying artwork is as much of the package as the words that surround them. I know I love to flip back and forth and follow the pictures as I read.

Traveling around on book tours, supporting the first YIG book, The Atomic Weight of Secrets…, I was asked over and over why I didn’t include diagrams of the inventions described in the story. And the demand was not only from kids. Several librarians, teachers, and bookstore folks, as well as a physicist, all asked the same thing- where are the pictures? These readers were right! I met with my editor and spoke with the art folks at Bancroft and everyone agreed that we would include diagrams in The Ravens of Solemano... But the few diagrams (unfortunately, fewer and smaller than I or any reader wanted) only whetted my appetite for including more. I begged. I pleaded. And my cries were heard. I was given the freedom to add more art. In this book, Mary Grace’s diagrams will be more numerous and prominent. And they shall not be alone. Since The Strange Round Bird… takes place in Cairo, I began searching at markets and old shops, in the archives of The American University in Cairo, where I work, collecting interesting photos that would fit into the story. As I wrote, I was inspired by what I found and, as my collection of photographs grew, I began to build elements of the story around them.

Every picture can tell any one of a thousand stories. It’s a pleasure when the story it tells is yours.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

On the Present Need for Historical Fiction, by Anne Nesbet

When I was a kid, "history" was divided into two very different phenomena:
1. the subject at school, in the form of textbooks and multiple choice tests; and
2. the stories my mother told. Some were family stories, but a lot of them were about places we were visiting at the time: "So here's where poor Marie-Antoinette waited to have her head cut off . . . they had old straw on the stones--imagine what the place must have smelled like!"

....or tales of her friends' childhoods during the war: "So she was sent, when she was little, to live in hiding with a big family in the French countryside, and one day a Nazi officer came to that very house, and pointed her out, the one who wasn't actually related to anyone there, and said, all smiling, 'This one's the spitting image of you, Madame, isn't she?"--and none of the little children in that room said a single word. Imagine that!"

....or stories about the wonderful objects she took us to see in museums:
"See the patch missing in that skull there? They used to cut pieces out of people's skulls to let the bad spirits out--see the round edges, there? That means this person SURVIVED that surgery long enough for his bones to start to heal......"

We were agog.

What I didn't realize at the time was how the difference between "school history" and "Mom history" was itself playing out a meta-historical story. My mother--a history major and a schoolteacher, herself--had been swept up in the shift in historical studies from old-fashioned lists of the reigns of kings to a fascination with all the little details of "everyday life."  (She had a whole long row of books in French with "la vie quotidienne" in the title. I remember that because "quotidienne" was the longest, fanciest word I knew in French, much more elegant than the English "everyday.")

I came to care about history--Mom's version of history--because of the textures, the stories, the smells.

Every now and then I would find a book in the school library (or through the Scholastic book club) that affected me the way my mother's stories did. I remember, for instance, a book called Children of the Resistance, by Lore Cowan, which was a collection of stories of quite ordinary children who performed heroic acts of resistance in Europe during World War II. I read and reread those stories, wondering always whether I would be able to be half so brave and so resourceful in such circumstances. 

And another book, The Endless Steppe, by Esther Hautzig, about a Polish girl who is sent with her family in 1941 to Siberia by the Soviets, contained a vivid image I've never forgotten: Esther's memories in Siberia of the hot chocolate she had fussily refused to drink, back in Poland before the Soviets came, because it had cooled a little and developed a skin.
How much she longed for that cocoa in Siberia! These books did more than remind me to drink my own cocoa without complaining: they gave me warning that "History" can happen to you at any moment. Even if you are just an ordinary sort of person.

Ordinariness can be very suddenly interrupted.

Reading books about people in other times and places reminds us of the thin border between History and the everyday. Such stories can even be a way to "practice" being caught up in historical events.

"If something like that happened, what would I do?"

That's a good question for readers of all ages!

The children in my new book, Cloud and Wallfish, find themselves facing hard choices in East Berlin in 1989.
The children reading that book today will almost certainly find themselves living through History at some point, too. I hope that those real and ordinary children will then feel the comforting presence of all the stories they have read, stories about other times when life was complicated and when choices were hard.

Because the more we read about history, the better equipped we are to face the present with courage--and the future with hope. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

One-Star Reviews! by Joy McCullough

A few weeks ago, a friend was smarting from some editor responses to her MG novel on submission. One said it was heavy-handed. Another said the pacing was slow. I’ve read this book. It’s absolutely beautiful.

To cheer her up, I went looking for 1-star reviews of books I know she loves. Here’s what I found. (I've only edited for profanity.)

Newbery Medal Winner BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE:
It is too jumbled premiss. If someone recommends this book SAY NO!!!

What a poorly written piece of crap.

Worst book ever written, I wish I could give it 0 stars!!

Newbery Medal Winner THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN:
Clearly the most ill-deserved of newberies.

It's the stupidest thing ever.

I am not sure how this twaddle gained so many 5 star ratings! The choppy writing was tedious to read & frankly uninspiring.

Newbery Medal Winner WALK TWO MOONS:
I shan't dignify this flaming turd with a review.

would rate it zero stars if i could. STUPID BOOK

SO contrived that I couldn't bear to keep reading.

But there’s a difference between a random Goodreads reviewers and a big-time editor or agent, you say? Not really. I mean, sure in the influence they wield. But editors and agents are just people, and their views are just as subjective as any reader who picks up a book and loathes it with the fire of a thousand suns. Or LOVES it with the same fire.

I know my friend will find the editor who LOVES her book. But in the meantime, I looked up some more widely acclaimed books, to see what some readers had to say.

National Book Award Winner THE PENDERWICKS:
To put it simply, this book was awful and twee.

The result was something that any high schooler, or even middle schooler, with a reasonable amount of talent for writing could have written.

Newbery Medal Winner WHEN YOU REACH ME:
This book stinks !! It's so confusing !

If only Rebecca Stead had stopped 50 pgs earlier - I would just have called this book terrible, bizarre, and a waist of my time

It was just a poor book with a poor subject, poor writing, poor characters, and poor everything.

Newbery Medal Winner CHARLOTTE’S WEB (16,000-1 stars)

Yeah, he's 'some pig!' Well that 'some pig' is going to get old. This is a farm. They don't waste things. Sorry. They just can't. He's still on the chopping blocking. He will still be made into sausages. They are not going to let him die and bury him in the pet graveyard.


Dear Lord, this book is bad.

Dull, dull, dull!

I found it pretentious and dull. Also, Mrs. Frankweiler is a grump.

This might be the most boring and confusing and boring and boring book ever written. Find a different book. Did I mention it was boring?

i litterally hated this book SO MUCH that i UGHGHGHDHFGHDSFAIH anyway...... i read it each night because i had to for book club... but after like 2 NIGHTS i got SO FED UP WITH it that I STARTED SCREAMING i RIPPED IT UP IN LITTERAL RAGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AND I MADE IT INTO A SOUP AND FED IT TO MY STUFFED ANIMALS

Newbery Medal Winner: HOLES

I guess it was okay…for an elementary school reader.

I hate this piece of [expletive]. I hate Louis Sachar. Anarchist [expletive]. This book has no soul.

AAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!! The most over-read book in history!

Hugo Award Winner CORALINE

The writing reflects laziness on both the editor and author's part. The story sounds too much like something that came from a 6th grade classroom, and the writing isn't much better.

THIS monstrosity failed the able-to-read test on every one of my levels.

Newbery Medal Winner PRINCESS ACADEMY
I couldn't get around the unseemly and awkward phrasing, so bad I couldn't enjoy the story. My impression is that the author is not well-read; her word-usage is just slightly off.

Ugh Just Ugh. It was so dumb. I don't like it at all, and I'm dreading the next one.

Newbery Medal Winner A WRINKLE IN TIME (with an impressive16,000 1-star reviews):

The story takes about 100 pages of tedious, banal dialogue, to get to the point where you are told that this is a battle against Evil, and all you need is love. But everything is so oversimplified, so sketchy

the book appears to have been written by someone that has never actually met a real human being before.

Why it remains in print is beyond me.

This book was utterly crap…Pretty cringe-worthy IMO.

In my opinion, this is all a little much for a children's story.

And that final quote about A WRINKLE IN TIME is kind of perfect, really. Because Madeleine L’Engle herself said, “If the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

So that reader who felt it was “a little too much for a children’s story” wasn’t young enough to get it. It wasn’t their fault. They weren’t the right reader for the story.

If you’re struggling with rejections at any stage, I recommend looking up the 1-star reviews of books you love. (It only works with books you love; if you despise A WRINKLE IN TIME too, you’ll only feel self-righteous agreement when reading the 1-star reviews.)

To find them, look up a book in Goodreads. Scroll down to where it says Community Reviews. Hover over Filter and you should see the following:

Then select where it says 1-star!