Monday, August 27, 2018

Eight Energizing Years: Mayhemmers Caroline, Chris, and Paul On Their Writing Lives

Last week, after I announced the migration of The Mayhem from blog form to a Facebook group, I asked our bloggers to give a snapshot of their writing careers since Project Mayhem: The Manic Minds of Middle Grade Writers first appeared in 2010. Here are the responses from three of our long-time contributors.

Caroline Starr Rose ~

My writing career really got underway around the time Project Mayhem began. In 2010 I sold my first novel, May B. Since then I've sold six more books. As I've moved from an aspiring author to a debut and into a career, I've tried to hold the things I can't control loosely and learn to take the long viewMy aim these years has been to make beautiful books of enduring value that honor and extend dignity to children.

I hope I can continue to do the same for many years to come!

Chris Eboch ~

I'm not sure when I joined Team Mayhem. It wasn't at the beginning, but I feel like I've been part of the family for a long time. So what has happened in recent years?

I published You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers in Kindle, in paperback, and Large Print paperback. To put together this book, I adapted many of the articles I wrote for Children's Writer newsletter, the annual Writer's Guide books, or other publications. It's one more way of sharing my love of writing Kidlit, and the knowledge I've amassed over the years of working in the industry.

Since 2015, 20 more of the educational publishing books I've written have come out. The most recent are four books in the Sweet Eats with a Side of Science series from Capstone, and Living through World War I  and Living through World War II from Rourke. In addition, I've done 10 titles in the Introducing Issues with Opposing Viewpoints series, where I curate articles and write introductions and questions. This brings me up to 52 nonfiction books and 14 fiction titles traditionally published! That's not something I ever expected when I sold my first novel, The Well of Sacrifice, way back in the late 90s.

I'm also still writing for adults as Kris Bock. I haven't published a new romantic suspense novel since The Skeleton Canyon Treasure in 2016, but I've been working on a mystery novel that's ready to send to agents.

Less has changed on the personal front. I'm still living in a small town in New Mexico, still married to a wonderful man, still hiking most weeks, and still keeping ferrets – although our current pair are only a year old, so they are relatively new. Princess Pandemonium (Panda) and Teddy Black Bear (Bear) are playful when awake and snugly when sleeping, which is most of the time.

Paul Greci ~

A close friend, who teaches elementary school, once said to me, I never teach the same lesson twice because I am never the same person twice. Life is change and over the last eight years, like most people, I’ve seen my share. As a writer, I’ve had one book come out, Surviving Bear Island (Move Books 2015) and have five more under contract with three different publishers—Move, Macmillan, and Benchmark—scheduled to come out over the next four years.

I still write in the morning before heading to my teaching job, and my wife is still my main reader of manuscripts outside of my agent and the editors I’m working with at the publishing houses. That said, the biggest change for me as a writer has been writing books from start to finish that are already under contract as opposed to writing a book for which I do not yet have a publisher. Even though I am a disciplined writer, I admit that having deadlines I’ve signed off on has kept me on task even more.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the wonder, engagement and challenge I experience when writing a novel and seeing it through the twists and turns of the creative process. Another thing that hasn’t changed (which is also something I love about writing) is the continual learning curve I’m traveling as a writer. There is always more to learn when crafting a story, and that learning keeps the journey fresh.

Monday, August 20, 2018

What's Up With The Mayhem? by Michael Gettel-Gilmartin

Hi folks! Here's hoping you've all been having a great summer, full of adventures and activities, and just plain fun with families and friends. Summer always seems to whizz by, doesn't it?

Here at Project Middle Grade Mayhem we've been doing some summer-inspired soul-searching. When we look back at the past eight years--yes, we've been bringing you the very best of middle-grade for eight, wonderful years!--we see over 1000 blog posts, myriad page views and comments, and an ever-evolving gang of some of the best middle grade writers on the planet.

But we've also noticed a trend. Plainly speaking, blog reading is down. As more short-forms of social media have evolved (think Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the rest), people have even less time to interact with long-form blogging. I mean, who among us really wants to stare at a screen all day?

As writers, it's always a struggle keeping up the social connectivity and working on promotion of our work, and doing what we all love doing best: immersing ourselves in the worlds of our stories. More and more of us feel the tug to take a break from social media, and reconnect with our own creativity. (One of our founding members, Caroline Starr Rose, has written persuasively about this on the blog: Deep Work and a Digital Declutter.)

So basically, we've come to a crossroads, and our membership has decided it's time to put our blog to bed. That's not to say you'll never hear from us again. Our plan is to migrate to Facebook, where we will be setting up a group page where conversations can continue and mayhem can flourish. In essence, we'll be growing our Project Middle Grade Mayhem family as we invite you to share your thoughts, promote your books, and celebrate all the wonderful things about middle grade fiction and nonfiction.

So please stay tuned for things to change in September--and thank you all for your support during these eight magnificent mayhem-filled years. May the Mayhem be with you!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Fall Middle Grade Standouts by Kristen Zayon

      Fall is an exciting time for school librarians. We head back to school, get our space reorganized, put up our displays, plan out what we’re going to teach the kids, and the books we will read to them. Far and away the most fun task – and the most difficult – is ordering new books. There is such a wealth of new middle grade books being published every day it can be hard to discern what’s a necessity versus what would be nice to add to your collection if you had more money. For your consideration today, I offer my list of the top middle grade books that you should add to your library collection. Or buy for your kids. Or offer to the students in your classroom. Or buy for your favorite niece or nephew for Christmas. Or just rush out and read if you love reading middle grade books like I do. 

  • Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed – In India, young Amal, who longs to become a teacher, has a social awakening while working as a servant to pay a family debt.
  • Be Prepared, by Vera Brosgol – In this autobiographical graphic memoir, the author recounts her month at a Russian summer camp where she feels she doesn’t fit in.
  • Front Desk, by Kelly Yang – Mia, a Chinese immigrant, ably takes over the front desk at the motel her parents are managing, while dreaming of a future as a writer. (I’ve been hearing Newbery buzz about this one!)
  • Smart Cookie, by Elly D Swartz – Frankie lives with her Dad and Grandmother at a bed and breakfast, while dealing with Gram’s hoarding, ghost rumors and trying to find a new wife (and acceptable new mom) for her father.
  • Louisiana’s Way Home, by Kate DiCamillo (releases October 2nd) – this companion to DiCamillo’s charming Raymie Nightingale follows the trials and tribulations of Louisiana Elefante. Manages to be heartbreaking, uplifting, and truly funny.
  • Saving Winslow, by Sharon Creech (releases September 11th) – Louie doesn’t have a good track record with animal care, but when his father brings home an orphaned mini-donkey, he’s determined to save it. Perfect for E.B. White fans.
  • The Dollar Kids, by Jennifer Jacobson – Lowen and his family move to a struggling town where houses are being sold for a dollar to encourage new residents. Various social issues are raised – job loss, class and race divisions, gun violence, prejudices.
  • Harbor Me, by Jacqueline Woodson (releases August 21st) – In a talking circle of sorts, Haley and her 6th grade classmates discuss issues such as incarcerated parents, death, families split by immigration, job loss and other daily struggles.
  • Cilla Lee-Jenkins, This Book is a Classic, by Susan Tan – In her first book, aspiring author Cilla wrote her memoir. Now she’s working on a classic, and to do so, she focuses on the traditions around her, noting differences in the two sides of her biracial family, and centering on the wedding of her beloved Aunt Eva.
  • Stanley Will Probably Be Fine, by Sally J. Pla – Stanley has anxiety and sensory processing disorders, and sometimes gets overwhelmed by crowds, noise and his brother’s pestering. Now his best friend is acting strange and he humiliates himself at school.
  • The Science of Breakable Things, by Tae Keller – in the process of a classic egg-drop contest, Natalie is also dealing with her mother’s deepening depression, and a yearning for a deeper connection with the Korean part of her heritage.
  • The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras – Set in 13th century Scotland, young Drest embarks on a quest to rescue her father and brothers when they are captured by a band of knights. She has five days to reach Faintree Castle and trade an injured knight for her family’s freedom.
  • Hurricane Child, by Kheryn Callender – Caroline is considered unlucky in her Virgin Islands home, because she was born during a hurricane. Also bullied for her dark skin tone, she is lonely until she befriends newcomer Kalinda. Coming of age novel with LGBTQ elements.
  • Just Like Jackie, by Lindsey Stoddard – Jackie has problems. There’s her short fuse, and now her Grandpa, her only family, is starting to become very forgetful. A class project to do a family tree is a catalyst for change and growth in her life.
  • A Dash of Trouble, by Anna Meriano – Leonora, youngest of five sisters, discovers that the secret to her family bakery’s wonderful goods is magic. Leo steals a book of magical recipes and her experimentation leads to all kinds of problems. Back matter includes non-magical recipes.
  • Me, Frida & the Secret of the Peacock Ring, by Angela Cervantes – On Paloma’s first trip to her father’s native Mexico, she becomes embroiled in a mystery having to do with Frida Kahlo and a missing ring. Despite her low expectations at the start of the trip, Paloma makes friends and has more adventures than she bargained for.

 If you have any other suggestions for this list, please share them below!