Click on the link above to read my interview with Josh for Spooky MG Authors latest blog. Josh’s story is a fresh take on the Salem witches, set in modern times. The characters are current, as are their issues dealing with middle school friendships and budding romantic relationships. Josh kept the story moving at a quick pace with the problems–and the mysteries–mounting. In fact, he’s at work right now on a sequel to the story–which means the troubles aren’t over yet.
To find more information on Josh Roberts, check out these links:
If you’d like to hear the first chapter of my book FROM THE GRAVE, click on the link. This recording was originally made for World Read Aloud Day 2019.
Perhaps during these days of quarantine, my monster adventures might appeal to a middle grade reader (ages 9-12) in your house.
Monster is as monster does in the odd world of Uggarland. However, Frank and his misfit classmates don’t fit the monster mode. They must prove they’re more than monster enough in this “fun and fast-paced” award-winning novel with just enough creepyness–and more than enough adventure–to prove a page-turning pleasure.
I’ve provided a link to my favorite local Indie: Novel Neighbor and to Amazon if you’re interested in buying a copy.
I had the opportunity to devour an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this Viking publication. The sequel to THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE combines historical fiction and adventure in a sure-to-please middle grade novel. Most of the original characters are back, along with a new lead character, Isaac–a Jewish boy from Prague. He’s trying to escape both the Nazis and the evil spirits chasing him. I love how the author, Janet Fox, combines elements of fantasy and history to create an intriguing, fast-paced plot for young readers. I certainly learned a few interesting facts and would gladly join the charmed crew for the next time-travel trip. And it does appear there might be more artifact hunter adventures ahead. I certainly hope so!
I was lucky to have an opportunity to read a preview copy from one of my Spooky MG author friends, Lindsay Currie. Her ghostly book, SCRITCH SCRATCH will release in September of this year. Truly, I found myself listening for strange sounds and shying away from dark closets while gobbling up this creepy read. My review is below.
In SCRITCH SCRATCH (Sept. 2020 from Sourcebooks), Lindsay Currie has created a creepy, keep-the-lights-on, MG adventure with haunted seventh grader, Claire. She’s a scientific sort—not one prone to spectral encounters. So how can she explain the unexplainable events she’s suddenly encountering? She uses her scientific principles–along with some much-appreciated help–to reach a conclusion. The story explores family and friendship, in addition to a sprinkling of Chicago’s spooky history. I kept turning the pages to uncover the ghostly mystery, while keeping an ear open for any strange bumps in the night. I rooted for Claire to discover the secrets of true friends too. The story is both entertaining and uplifting, providing a thought-provoking and satisfying read. You’ll certainly want to add this book to your personal, school, or classroom library.
Yesterday I visited another class for a Google Hangout session with two other Spooky Middle Grade Authors (Kim Ventrella and Josh Allen). As usual, the students had lots of great questions for us. The one I’d like to address is another common question we are often asked:
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU GET STUCK WRITING?
Here are my three suggestions for avoiding that dilemma.
1. Before I start writing a story, I do some initial planning. I like to get to know the characters who will be in the story, especially the main character and important supporting characters. I usually explore who they are. I’ll write notes, maybe fill out worksheets. I’ll brainstorm on not only their physical aspects but their wants, their problems, their likes and dislikes, their friends, their family. All of the things that make them unique. All of the ways the characters in my story are connected to each other as well.
2. Before I start the story, I also write a very simple outline of the plot. I break down the story into chapters, and I’ll write a one to two word sentence telling the big element that should happen in that chapter (or scene). If you’re writing a short story, you might need to only break your story into the beginning, middle, and end.
For me, this outline is an important part in avoiding “getting stuck” because I know where the story is headed. Now that doesn’t mean the story always sticks to that initial plot—very likely it will change (often dramatically) from what I originally envisioned. But I still won’t be stuck. I will simply see that I need to go in a different direction or create additional scenes to make the story stronger.
3. When I do become perplexed with where the story should go or more likely I’ve been asked to revise something, then I step back. I like to go on a walk or do something mundane, like washing the dishes, so I can let my mind wander. I ask myself questions about the characters, their motivations. I ask myself logical questions about what could or could not happen in the world I’ve created and how it impacts the characters. I simply keep asking questions and exploring possibilities until I come up with a solution. It’s much like solving a mystery.
The most important thing is DON’T GIVE UP!
Don’t give up on your story. Don’t give up on your writing. Don’t let yourself stay stuck!
Today I joined three of my Spooky Middle Grade Authors for another class Skype visit. The students asked a number of different questions, but it seems like no matter where our Skypes take place, there are always some questions asked over and over again.
I’ll answer one of the most popular questions we are asked–
Q: How long does it take you to write a book?
A: Usually, months—oftentimes years for me. I will start a book and give myself a daily schedule, which I am generally good at keeping. I’ll often have my writers’ group take a look at my progress and provide feedback, which often requires editing. This first stage can take a few months–after doing initial plotting and research (which can also take a few months). Then generally, if there isn’t a deadline involved, I’ll put the story away at least for a month or more. I give it time to simmer. I give my brain a break from that story and work on something else. So when I come back to the previous story, I can see it with much fresher eyes. I can appreciate the good parts and hopefully see where the story still struggles. Then I’ll dive back in for rewrites. And often I’ll seek further help from others as well. I want to polish it as best as I can before sending it out to editors.
While this timeline probably sounds much too long for middle grade readers–and writers, I hope it doesn’t intimidate them. My main point with this question is to show that we writers don’t get it right the first time. We write and rewrite a number of times. I hope this will empower students. They don’t have to write their story perfectly the first time.
A good thing often takes practice–whether it’s sports, or music, or art, or WRITING.Try to enjoy the process–learn, and grow, and tell YOUR story!
Halloween isn’t only scary. In some Midwest towns, like Des Moines and St. Louis where I live, Halloween is silly too. The tradition of telling a joke before receiving a Halloween treat began in Des Moines during the 1930’s. Kids were encouraged to recite jokes rather than resort to destructive “tricks” like up-ending trash cans or breaking street lights. The goofy ghoulish joke tradition stuck for Des Moines and its suburbs.
In St. Louis, the origin of the popular joke-telling tradition is harder to put askeleton finger on. (Sorry but I had to throw that one in. This is story about silly jokes after all.) Both the Irish and the German immigrants to the area in the nineteenth century had practices of going door-to-door and performing for a treat. The Germans did it on New Year’s Eve. In my mother’s German heritage in central Kansas, they called this tradition “winching.” They would sing a song and wish the household a “Happy New Year” for a coin or two.
In Ireland, they celebrated an ancient celtic festival of Samhain each year to prevent the people who had died during the year from returning from the dead. One particularly evil dead creature, “the Muck Olla,” did return each year. In order to keep it away, the Irish would dress in costume to confuse the creature. By going door to door and asking for a treat, each person would have a treat to give the Muck Olla in case it caught them. To receive a treat from their neighbors, the costumed Irish would tell a joke or recite a poem.
A researcher from the Missouri History Museum, Sharon Smith, purposes that the tradition evolved in St. Louis from the combination of such “Old World” influence as mentioned above and the thriftiness of the German immigrants who expected something in return for handing out their candy. Originally it could be a song, a poem, a dance, or a joke. The joke is what has stuck in St. Louis. It makes for a very entertaining night of opening the front door to cleverly-clad ghouls and goblins of all sorts.
The first recorded use of the words “trick or treat” appeared in a publication from Blackie, Alberta in 1927. By the 1930s, Halloween was much more widespread, but even in the 1940s many considered it begging and wouldn’t participate. Thank goodness that fear no longer exists. And of course, it’s totally not begging when each ghoul earns his/her treats with a clever—and usually corny—joke.
I had the opportunity to read a preview copy of my fellow Sweet 16er’s new middle grade novel–CAMP SHADY CROOK by Lee Gjertsen Malone. The adventure came out this week–just in time for a fun summer read. The characters will draw you in with their quirky, flawed personalities–and their shenanigans.
You can read my review below of CAMP SHADY CROOK. You might also want to try Ms. Malone’s first MG book, THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S. Another middle grade misadventure.
Camp Shady Crook
Troubled middle school students, Archie and Vivian, meet at Camp Shady Brook and soon discover a shared love of conning other campers. Archie tries to teach Vivian his techniques mainly in an effort to keep her under control, even as she pulls a con on him. The cons keep coming as the notoriously nasty camp grows ever more mildewed and overgrown and the campers grow ever more discontented. But when a con goes dramatically wrong, Archie and Vivian, finally see the error of their ways and attempt to set things right. The trouble is, it may be too late to make amends to their family and would-be friends. An entertaining summer read with memorable characters searching for the true meaning of friendship and self worth.
I had the awesome opportunity to read a review copy of this contemporary book, and I am very pleased to share my thoughts on this uplifting, fun, and truly sweet story.
San Diego girl, Cady Bennett is only twelve but she’s already had more than her fair share of troubles. Her mom died when she was five. Her dad had a meltdown that’s lasted years, leaving the two of them homeless. Now as the story begins Cady finds herself alone, her dad in jail, and a stranger who says she’s a long lost aunt stepping in as foster guardian. Soon a bewildered and frightened Cady finds herself whisked away to a small California mountain town, living with two aunts, two dogs, a cat, and assorted chickens. Cady takes a chance and makes a friend. In fact, as she learns to trust, she makes a townful of friends, and she accepts the challenge to master pie making. But when her aunt’s pie shop faces hard times, she accepts an even greater challenge to garner the needed support to keep the pies coming. This truly heart-warming story of trials and determination highlights issues of at-risk youth, as well as the plight of illegal aliens—especially the young DREAMERS facing such an uncertain future. This book is a truly scrumptious treat for middle graders, filled with heart, humor, and characters who will earn a sweet spot in your heart. Don’t miss it!