I'm delighted to be helping the lovely Michelle Hauck out today with her latest cover reveal. First, a few words from the lady herself...
It all starts, of course, with getting hit with the writing bug. You have an idea for a story. You bravely sit down and write it. You learn that you don't know how to write quite yet and you begin to gather experience plucked from other writers farther down the road.
A manuscript or four later your craft has improved enough to land an agent. Your brilliant story goes out to the scary land of editors and may or may not sell. But you persist. You write other stories if the first one fails. And eventually you make your first sale for, say, three books.
Now you are faced with the scary fact that you need to write your first sequel and carry on a story line. You get the wonderful news that the characters you adore will live on. At the same time, you are full of anxiety that a sequel is a daunting thing and you've never tried one before. Bravely you forge forward and write a sequel that meets your editor's approval.
A new first appears now that you conquered the other challenge. You now have to write the ending book of a series. You have to take all the characters and all the obstacles you created and bring them to, not just an end, but a highly exciting end. Once again you doubt your talent and ability. You plunge forward nonetheless. And you succeed.
Cover reveals. Release days. Publishers Marketplace announcements. All those days are great days, but they are blips on the actual journey. The true test is the challenge you meet everyday to go out and do what scares you because you might fail-- and see yourself instead succeed.
So a cover reveal is not so much a celebration of art as it is a celebration of spirit. Another test passed. Another doubt proved groundless. A forging forward on the journey of you, whether you are a writer or something else.
Proof I climb this mountain in the form of a third cover for my Birth of Saints series. Thank you for being a witness and may you climb your mountains.
Do what scares you my friends and face those challenges.
Against an angry god whose only desire is to wipe out all life, what hope is there to survive?
The army from the north has left a trail of burned and captured cities. In trying to stop them, Claire and Ramiro unleashed the northern god, Dal, but now they face two monstrosities and no amount of honor or hope can stop the killing as Dal grows in power.
Searching for a miracle, Claire finds the elders of the Women of the Song, who might teach her a thing or two about using her voice magic to fight back—if they can put aside their own problems first—while Ramiro searches for truth in his dreams, leading him to the northern priestess Santabe, the only one who could share her knowledge of Dal and the mysterious magical Diviners.
Claire must unite the Women of the Song in the face of utter destruction, and Ramiro must decide how far he will go to get the answers he needs to defeat the rampaging god.
It will take nothing less than a saint to rise and face the leviathan before they all become martyrs. (unofficial blurb)
Steadfast releases December 5, 2017
Pre-order your copy now!
Amazon|Barnes and Noble|Goodreads
A world of chivalry and witchcraft…and the invaders who would destroy everything.
The North has invaded, bringing a cruel religion and no mercy. The ciudades-estados who have stood in their way have been razed to nothing, and now the horde is before the gates of Colina Hermosa…demanding blood.
On a mission of desperation, a small group escapes the besieged city in search of the one thing that might stem the tide of Northerners: the witches of the southern swamps.
The Women of the Song.
But when tragedy strikes their negotiations, all that is left is a single untried knight and a witch who has never given voice to her power. And time is running out.
A lyrical tale of honor and magic, Grudging is the opening salvo in the Book of Saints trilogy.
Enter to Win a Signed Copy Here
Following Grudging--and with a mix of Terry Goodkind and Bernard Cornwall--religion, witchcraft, and chivalry war in Faithful, the exciting next chapter in Michelle Hauck's Birth of Saints series!
A world of Fear and death…and those trying to save it.
Colina Hermosa has burned to the ground. The Northern invaders continue their assault on the ciudades-estados. Terror has taken hold, and those that should be allies betray each other in hopes of their own survival. As the realities of this devastating and unprovoked war settles in, what can they do to fight back?
On a mission of hope, an unlikely group sets out to find a teacher for Claire, and a new weapon to use against the Northerners and their swelling army.
What they find instead is an old woman.
But she’s not a random crone—she’s Claire’s grandmother. She’s also a Woman of the Song, and her music is both strong and horrible. And while Claire has already seen the power of her own Song, she is scared of her inability to control it, having seen how her magic has brought evil to the world, killing without reason or remorse. To preserve a life of honor and light, Ramiro and Claire will need to convince the old woman to teach them a way so that the power of the Song can be used for good. Otherwise, they’ll just be destroyers themselves, no better than the Northerners and their false god, Dal. With the annihilation their enemy has planned, though, they may not have a choice.
A tale of fear and tragedy, hope and redemption, Faithful is the harrowing second entry in the Birth of Saints trilogy.
Enter to Win a Signed Copy Here
About the Author!
Michelle Hauck lives in the bustling metropolis of northern Indiana with her hubby and two college-going kids. Besides working with special needs children by day, she writes all sorts of fantasy, giving her imagination free range. She is a co-host of the yearly contests Query Kombat, Nightmare on Query Street, Picture Book Party, and Sun versus Snow. Her Birth of Saints trilogy, starting with Grudging (November 17, 2015) and Faithful (November 15, 2016) and Steadfast (December 2017) is published by Harper Voyager. Another epic fantasy, Kindar's Cure, is published by Divertir Publishing.
Find her on twitter at @Michelle4Laughs or at her blog.
Give respect to get it, especially to the middle grade reader.
Middle grade kids can have the traits of pack hunters. When you see them in their natural environment, they follow trends collectively and in large groups. They dab, until they find a bottle to flip. The half-filled bottles crash, until the fidgets spin. And the fidgets will stop spinning when the next easily attainable trend hits the masses.
Walk into any middle school classroom and see for yourself. They laugh together, like the same movies, and decide which authors the group will follow.
That’s what they want you to think.
For anyone who has spent time with a middle grade reader, you already know…a funny thing happens when the middle grade child is away from the pack. They stop being older children and become little adults. That’s also how they want to be treated, like adults.
In groups, middle schoolers can be intimidating, overwhelming and mildly obnoxious. Individually, they are diverse, curious, and brilliant. And they want nothing more than to be respected for those traits. As middle grader writers our job is to respect our clients, for these traits make them unique.
I've spent the last 17 years as an educator in middle schools and it's been the greatest gift for my writing career. Besides truly enjoying my profession and students, it’s a happy accident that I get to learn from the kids.
Like any genre of children’s literature, different schools of thought exist in regard to what middle grade readers should be exposed to, and how much is too much for them. The difference between an incoming 6th grader and an 8th grader in May is tremendous, both physically and developmentally. Some MG writers steer toward one end of this spectrum, others can find a balance for the ages. I tend to write toward upper middle grade (12-13) largely because I don’t feel that age is as widely represented in MG fiction.
Regardless of where the writer falls, I’m also a big believer in challenging the middle grade reader. If you walk into a middle school English class, it wouldn’t be crazy to see the a 6th grader reading Tom Sawyer, a 7th grader reading Lord of the Flies, or an 8th grader reading, To Kill a Mockingbird. If middle grade teachers expose them to high level works like this, then we as middle grade writers owe it to the reader to challenge them as well.
At the same time, are there some topics that a 10-year-old shouldn’t read about? Should some topics have a more appropriate place in YA? Absolutely. But are there life experiences that middle grade readers deal with, even if they aren’t emotionally ready?
You better believe it.
Have you ever attended a fundraiser to help someone pay the financial debt of cancer? Ever been to a wake for someone who was buried by their parents? I don’t think I’m alone in saying that when I’ve attended events such as these, I’ve seen plenty of middle grade kids showing support. For many of them, it’s their first time at something like this. Life didn’t say “It’s cool. I’ll just hang back until you’re at an emotionally prepared stage.” The eb and flow of reality doesn’t rely on good timing, and middle grade kids are no exception. Life happens. When it does, they will have questions. Questions they didn’t have when they were younger.
Think about this example... Let’s say Grandpa Gramps is very sick and in the hospital. The family goes to see him (a fairly common experience for many kids).
An elementary child will typically see this very black and white. Grandpa Gramps is sick and the family is sad: pretty clear cut. A middle grade child will see this, but also observe more. They’ll pick up on nuances of the family dynamic, like why a certain uncle is never there or how an aunt does a side eye when talking to mom. Then their curiosity kicks in. They not only pick up on these subtleties, but will want to know why they exist. They may not ask, but be assured they are thinking about these connections.
Middle grade readers are incredibly observant and curious. They are starting to notice the world has different perspectives, and they are trying hard to make sense of them.
Earlier readers tend to accept more of what's in front of them. That’s just where they are developmentally. If a school field trip is cancelled because of rain, they accept it. They may not be happy about it, but they accept it. Middle grade readers question it. They don’t necessarily rebel with pitchforks and torches, but they will ask, “Why does rain mean we have to cancel? Is it too dangerous? Is the school just worried about being sued?” They don’t know the answer, but know enough to ask the questions.
Our job as Middle Grade writers isn’t to provide a road map of all the answers. It isn’t to tell them exactly what to expect.
Our job is to let the middle grade reader know they are not alone when these questions arrive.
It doesn’t matter if you’re writing fantasy for upper grades, contemporary for earlier ages, or anything in between…as long as your middle grade reader has a sense of connection with the piece, you’re doing something right.
One thing the middle grade writer hears over and over from agents and publishers and contest hosts is the importance of “voice”. Nailing that middle grade voice is vital to squeezing the most juice from a manuscript. But how does one develop the “voice” needed to make the story explode with that special middle grade magic?
As a microbiologist, I will turn to science in search of an answer to this question. No, there’s not a pill we can take to give us Kwame Alexander’s voice nor is there a pharmaceutical elixir that imparts a Rita Williams-Garcia mastery over words. And there’s definitely no available artificial intelligence we can upload to write a CORALINE-ish story at the level of Neil Gaiman. Science, though, can help us understand how an awesome middle grade author voice can be developed.
By thinking about orbits.
Yes, orbits and orbitals.
In astronomy, bodies in space orbit around another, usually larger, bodies. The two bodies are drawn together by the gravitational forces between them. Think of the Earth and the Moon or our solar system. Gravity holds the mass of the moon in orbit around the Earth. The same for our nine planets (Pluto included!) around the sun. At some point, the planets of our solar system were drawn to a relatively small star, their gravitational forces interacted, and they settled into a position with unique orbits around the Sun. The way these large, heavenly bodies move around each other is relatively fixed and highly predictable.
Astronomers can calculate the exact position of Jupiter on April 1, 2075, or the Moon’s position relative to the Earth in 35 minutes. Because of the sheer size and mass of the objects, their orbits follow our mathematics fairly accurately. Orbits for the most part, at least in our thin moment of geological time, appear relatively fixed, but that doesn’t mean they are boring or simply. They are part of a beautiful, natural system with form and function.
In chemistry, all atoms have atomic orbits, called orbitals. These orbitals are the average path around the nucleus the electron travel, a mathematical prediction of the electron shape around the nucleus. These atomic orbitals start with the spherical shaped orbit, called s and layer on the increasingly complex and beautiful p, d, f, g, h… orbitals as more electrons exist in the higher atomic number atoms. Each atom of an element has a characteristic arrangement of electron in its orbitals surrounding its nucleus. Although we can’t see atomic orbitals by the naked eye, they are also part of a beautiful, naturally occurring system with form and function.
Atoms are constantly interacting. We would not be here or be reading this without the interaction of electrons between atoms. Electrons that are moving in their specific energy state orbitals around their nuclei. The electrons in the outer orbits, called valence electrons, are the stuff atomic interactions are made of. Every one of the complex chemical reactions that takes place in our world and in our body depends on these interactions. These reactions only occur because the electrons in their orbitals are doing what they do and doing it where they’re supposed to. Atoms and elements react with each other to form new compounds because of the interaction of the electrons in their unique orbitals.
Whether atoms or planets, these orbits and orbitals are an integral part of the physical being of these entities. Planets, stars, and meteors. Sodium, oxygen, and carbon. These all have specific physical characteristics defined by their mass and their orbits/orbitals.
What does all this scientific mishmash have to do with writing and voice?
You probably have more to your life than writing, right? Family, career, school, hobbies, pets, etc. In short, a writer does have a life beyond putting words on paper. I am a husband. I have kids. I work as a molecular microbiologist, I write, coach sports, watch sports, read, draw, and tend a fairly unproductive garden. I am sure each of you has a laundry list of things you do other than write.
These are our orbitals. These are our writer’s orbits.
Each facet of our lives creates its own orbitals.
Our orbits have their own sets of people, places, things, emotions, feeling, memories, and a myriad of other characteristics.
When we write, we create those unique bits that only we can produce. This is our writer’s voice. Each writer’s voice, like a solar system or an element, is unique because it is the place where all the orbits intersect. This voice is our sweet spot as a writer. Our voice is all our experiences, ideas, thoughts, and memories whirling around in their individual orbits and interacting to make new ideas, thoughts, and memories. Just like in a chemical reaction, where the electrons in the orbitals react to make new compounds, something new and awesome is made when these writers orbits cross.
If a simple writing prompt is given to a thousand writers and they’re given 48 hours to create a 500-word story, chances are 1000 unique stories will be created. Sure, there will be similarities given such tight parameters. But each of us, carrying our personal array of orbitals, will use our writer’s voice to create unique pieces.
Those things that make me me and you you, the things that keep us happy, busy, and somewhat sane, create different orbits in our lives. The orbits created through our unique experiences become our writer’s solar system; they become our voice. They become a thing of beauty and a thing which belongs only to us.
And you didn’t think you’d use that science class for anything in “real” life.
Science in action! Even for a middle grade author.
Now go out and work on your own orbitals!
I want to hear your middle grade writer voice sing.
Mike Hays is a molecular microbiologist by day and an author, sports coach, and history nut by night. His middle grade historical fiction, THE YOUNGER DAYS, was published by MuseItUp Publishing. His short story, Last Will and Testament, appears in the Month9Books charity anthology, IN THE BEGINNING. He contributed three molecular biology science essays to the PUTTING THE SCIENCE IN FICTION collection from Writer’s Digest Books scheduled for a fall 2018 release. He belongs to the From the Mixed-Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors blog team and is a host of the middle grade literature Twitter chat, #MGlitchat.
Pitch Wars! Pitch Wars! It’s almost time for Pitch Wars!
Hello, potential mentees, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I can’t believe I’m now into my third year as a mentor, but I am more pumped than ever to get this year’s contest underway. Reason being, I have gained two amazing new friends in my 2015 and 2016 mentees, a menagerie of acquaintances via social media, a wealth of ever-growing and delicious knowledge, and a never-ending, burst-proof passion for helping new writers. Phew. What a list! But it’s true. This contest is a win win win for pretty much everyone involved – from mentors to mentees, from entrants to agents, and from the cheerleaders to acquiring editors. Pitch Wars is the place to be!
Plus, Pitch Wars has given me so much for which I am unlikely to ever be able to repay in full. Shortly before last year’s contest kicked off I lost my dad. It was a heartbreaking time and probably one from which I haven’t completely recovered. But, knowing I had the focus of Pitch Wars, the excitement of getting stuck in to editing a manuscript I loved, and the chance to meet a bunch of new writers was such a rock in keeping me grounded. My dad was a tough cookie, always seeing the bright side, and Pitch Wars allowed me to do the same during a pretty dark time.
Anyway, enough of all the gushing, you’re here to peruse my 2017 wishlist. So, wait no more, here we go...
I’m playing it simple this year. I want whatever you’ve got – provided it’s MG, of course, because that’s my category. I read pretty much anything I can get my hands on and it still remains impossible for me to predict which books I’m going to fall for. I am fickle and proud!
Sometimes, a book I’m recommended or new release I’ve been itching to get my sticky fingers on can end up being one that disappoints me or, worse, one I can’t even get through. Yes, shock confession: THERE ARE WAY TOO MANY BOOKS FOR ME TO NAME THAT I’VE MARKED DNF. I juggle a lot of life balls, so my time is limited and there are too many luscious books awaiting my eyeballs, so I feel no guilt.
On the flip side, the book I buy on a whim or read because I’m twiddling my thumbs and it’s the first one within my grasp, can be the book of my dreams – or maybe the one that inspires my dreams.
But, specifically, I do love that dark touch. A plot or character that is a little twisted or unhinged. I lap up horror and mysteries with plenty of suspense and tension. I love to be surprised as I’m the type of audience member who tries to predict the end of a book or TV show at nearly every new scene. So when the writer throws in a curve ball I am always particularly impressed.
Although, despite my ability to see more in a shadow than exists or recognise the murderous thoughts in the glistening eyes of my dogs at 2 a.m., I am also a major sucker for soft, emotional, and feel-good books. I don’t particularly like being made to cry, but saying that, one of my most favourite ever books took me days to read because I wept at every freaking new page!
I care more for characters than I do plot, although that isn’t to say the plot shouldn’t be solid. But I can immediately tell when an author has put time into developing their characters because I care about them. And when I care about the characters, I’m hooked on the book.
And finally voice. Yep, we all hate that “I just didn’t connect with the voice” comment. Urgh. But, different voices sing to different ears, and this is where that brilliant element of subjectivity comes in. Who would want a world where we all liked the same books? What a hideous thought! Voice is you; the words you use, the order in which you place them, and the tone of your story telling. It’s what makes you stand out from the crowd.
So do it! Give me...
Voice-y but original and hopeful contemporaries
Suspense-laden thrillers and mysteries
Dark and twisted horrors
Clever and rich fantasies
Quirky and smart sci-fi
Spooky and heart-pounding ghost stories
Warm and belly-laugh humour
Some of my favourite books that have stood the test of time, and those that are recent additions, include:
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (Pass the tissues)
The Unwind Series by Neal Shusterman (YA, I know, but I can’t not mention the genius!)
Winell Road by Kate Foster (Wait. Who put this here?)
Delayed by J.S. Roberts (My 2015 mentee’s mystery!)
Cheesus was Here by J.C. Davis (Another YA but by an MG Pitch Wars mentor of whom I am her number one fan!)
Skellig by David Almond (A masterpiece!)
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (Classic, magical adventure!)
There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom by Louis Sachar (One of my favourite authors ever!)
The Giver by Lois Lowry (Clever clever work!)
What will you get by picking me as a mentor?
The other MG mentors are all pretty amazing, to be honest, and if I were you I’d be struggling to decide too, but what’s different about me is that I like to think of myself as more than a gift you receive just for Pitch Wars.
I’m invested. 100% at your disposal to use and abuse throughout the submissions round, the entire mentor round, the agent round, the winding down stage, and on and on into the distant future. Look at the horizon and you’ll see me waving! I’m like a leech that will refuse to let you go. (That doesn’t sound creepy, no?)
I won’t scrimp on the time I give you but I will expect you to be willing, motivated, open, and ready to work your undergarments off. I will give you plenty of ideas and tell you what is and isn’t working. I will be hands on and give examples rather than just saying do this and do that.
I will do my best to make you laugh, and we can talk movies, TV shows, books, dogs, chocolate, and cookies – whatever you like! Oh, and maybe a bit about Tom Hardy...
I will expect us to squeeze in at least two edits in the two months – one structural and one line – but I also understand about life so won’t be pushy and impatient. (Oo, teeny weeny lie there. Maybe there’ll be a little of the latter – it’s in my nature, sorry!)
I will always be supportive, positive, and upbeat, regardless of my situation.
I am an editor, a publisher, and a writer, and I care. A lot. Writing can feel like a total drag sometimes: what on earth is the point in taking book creation so seriously when there’s no life saving involved? I get it and I hear you. So, I’m here to remind you why you ever wrote in the first place, and to take things back to that original love and passion. Writing well shouldn’t be easy but it should always be driven by excitement and a basic desire to put fingertips to keys. We are the world’s storytellers and we should be proud!
Check out my sample edit on Brenda’s blog here and also the page one critiques I do on my #EditFoster blog so you can see my style. And, definitely check out the past few blogs here as they are all MG centred and might assist with your revisions.
If you want to find out more about me, I did take part in #pwsummersplash on Instagram (@winellroad)...
And that’s it. I could say a lot more but I won’t; I’ll save that for Twitter! But hit me up, chat with me, and then send me all your lovelies. And definitely DON'T go and check out all of these other delicious MG mentors. Got that?
I'm delighted to be helping out fellow Pitch Wars mentor, Clarissa Goenawan, today by revealing her GORGEOUS cover for her book RAINBIRDS. Check it out!
Coming Soon on 6th March 2018
Intertwining elements of suspense and magical realism,
award-winning literary debut RAINBIRDS opens with a murder
and shines a spotlight on life in fictional small-town Japan.
Ren Ishida is nearly done with graduate school when he receives news of his sister, Keiko’s, sudden death. She was viciously stabbed one rainy night on her way home, and there are no leads. Ren heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, failing to understand why she chose to abandon their family and leave Tokyo for this small town in the first place.
But Ren soon finds himself picking up right where Keiko left off, accepting both her teaching position at a cram school and the bizarre arrangement of free lodging at the wealthy Mr. Katou’s mansion, in exchange for reading aloud each morning to Katou’s depressed, mute wife. As Ren gets to know the figures in the town, from the mysterious Katou to fellow teachers and a rebellious, alluring student named Rio, he replays memories of his childhood with Keiko and finds his dreams haunted by a young girl with pigtails who is desperately trying to tell him something. Struggling to fill the void that Keiko has left behind, Ren realizes that perhaps people don’t change, and if they don’t, he can decipher the identity of his sister’s killer.
Winner of the Bath Novel Award (UK)
Finalist of the Dundee International Book Prize (UK)
Shortlisted for the Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Award (US)
Shortlisted for the First Novel Prize (UK)
Amazon HardcoverAmazon Kindle
BARNES & NOBLE
Add to your Goodreads shelf!
Clarissa Goenawan is an Indonesian-born Singaporean writer. Her debut novel, Rainbirds, is the winner of the 2015 Bath Novel Award. Her short stories have won several awards and been published in various literary magazines and anthologies, such as The MacGuffin, Your Impossible Voice, Esquire, Monsoon Book, Writing The City, Needle in the Hay,
and many others. She loves rainy days, pretty books, and hot green tea.
Clarissa is represented by Pontas Agency.
I'm delighted to welcome fellow Australian, kid lit author R.J. Simon to the blog today to help celebrate the release of her first book earlier this month. I've had the pleasure of reading RUBY LANE and can tell you that it's a fun, imaginative, and colourful chapter book. So much in the vein of Alice in Wonderland and in the style of Enid Blyton. It's a perfect escape for young minds, allowing them to stretch their imaginations, laugh, smile, and just embrace the silly. Don't expect a story that makes sense or that follows a predictable path; that's not its purpose or intention. If you have or know a child that loves to leave behind routine or who doesn't always do as they're told, then RUBY LANE is the perfect book for them. I'm sure R.J. Simon has a strong future ahead of writing books that immerse children in the unpredictable.
Here are some more details...
Ruby is overexcited again, and her brain is spinning creative ideas so fast it feels like her head could explode!
Luckily, it’s school holidays, so she’s allowed to stay up late, reading adventure stories and playing dress-ups with her cat.
But when things get out of control, Ruby decides that helping a crazy pirate cat return a malfunctioning book to its rightful owner is the only logical solution…
* Humorous and mysterious, an adventure story for middle-graders worldwide. *
RJ Simon lives in the Australian bush with her husband, their two daughters, and way too many cats! One of those cats is called Pirate. There is also a wild wallaby, who has no respect for gardens, some very cheeky parrots, goannas, echidnas, lots of spiders, and an emu who all visit whenever they feel like it. RJ Simon enjoys writing stories, illustrating children’s books, and many other creative pursuits.
Find out more at:
First I should make it known that I write for all age groups, from picture book to adult fiction to non-fiction. What I love most about writing middle grade that it’s fun. Middle graders are at the exact point in life where things can be done solo or with friends, and just before the drama of real life, usually, sets in. Not to say that middle graders don’t have drama, but it’s far less than the trials of boyfriends and girlfriends, jobs, and colleges. Readers are not yet teenagers. They are discovering friendship, themselves, and the world around them in more depth than ever before.
Another reason why I love writing middle grade is because unlike picture books (who doesn’t love trying to tell an entire story in 300 words?!), and young adult (sooooo many words); middle grade is probably the most perfect word count…ever.
When I think about my favorite middle grade book, I always jump to The Truth about Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh. To be honest, anytime someone asks about a favorite book, even if they want an adult book, it’s my go to recommendation. Ms. Yeh’s writing is captivating and funny with a wit of sass. My second favorite author of middle grade is Donna Gephart. Her books (Lily & Dunkin, How to Survive Middle School, As if Being 12 ¾ Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother is Running for President, to name a few) are perfectly funny with a bit of sophistication for the sub plot.
When I write middle grade it starts with an idea or title. It pops into my mind and I immediately start to sketch out the story. My writing style with middle grade is witty with deep underlining tones pulling each chapter together. I love, LOVE to create ending hooks, making the reader want to not set the book down at the end of a chapter. I also love sarcasm at the middle grade level, and it’s probably the easiest age to pull it off without being too over the top.
Another reason why I enjoy writing middle grade is because the readers at this level are excited to read. They are past the chapter book level where they might still need some word assistance and the stories are shorter. And they have yet to reach the thick books of young adult. Middle grade is the level where they can feel superiorly independent and dive into a great book. Also, the level of homework they have makes it perfect, as they still have free time before the heavy handed high school work load kicks in.
However, past all the delicious candy covered reasons why I love writing middle grade, there is a deep dark swamp of why it can be a challenge. First, you are limited by how far a character can explore certain aspects of life. It’s a trick to put just enough emotion and knowledge into the character. Middle grade is a tightrope walk of balancing the awkward stages between elementary school age and high school. If you think about your schooling, at least with mine, middle grade was by far the hardest time to make friends and fit in. This makes writing a story a great training experience for the mind. Outlining is nearly a must, even if it’s not your usual process. Much like the challenge in selling your picture books to agents and publishers, middle grade is just as challenging because the character can be easily deemed too wise or too young from the reader’s point of view. For example, some middle graders are getting into relationships while others are focused on sports or other academics. Yet, as a writer, you need to be able to balance what is going to be accepted by the community as an author and what will shelf your manuscript for good.
Writing for middle grade can be rewarding, exciting, and emotional. This is why I write middle grade.
Savannah Hendricks is the author of Nonnie and I (Xist Pub., 2014) available in English and bilingual editions. She is also the co-author of Child Genius 101: The Ultimate Guide to Early Childhood Development Vol 1, 2 & 3 (Knowonder Pub., 2013). Savannah has over 25 pieces published in magazines and anthologies such as Dear Nana, Highlights High Five, and Front Vision. She has been a member of the SCBWI since 2006, has a Master’s in Criminal Justice, and a degree in Early Childhood Education. You can learn more by visiting her blog at http://theseashellsoflife.wordpress.com/
She’s twelve years old.
If you’ve known her all her life, maybe she’s still a baby in your eyes. Remember when you changed her diapers? How cute was it when she pronounced “raindrops” as “waindwops?”
But if you’ve never met her, maybe certain words and ideas go off like an automatic flash in the camera of your mind. She’s just a kid. What does she know? You might allow her to speak, but in the end, your grown-up opinion matters more. And maybe you even speak to her like she’s an adorable kitten or wide-eyed toddler. Her “kid-ness” seems to trigger something involuntary in your tone.
But if you’re her—or you’re her age—the story changes.
Twelve years old was a long time ago for me. There was a time where I could remember Jr. High like it was yesterday, but these days, I’m lucky if I can remember half the names of my teachers from those years.
Of course, there are certain aspects I recall all too well: namely, the bullying and the paralyzing fear of not fitting in. And while I’ve utilized these memories in my writing, my silly adult brain still interferes now and then. It likes to, at times, confuse Twelve with Seventeen, or sometimes even Twenty. And much to my chagrin, my brain has, many rough drafts ago, tried just a little too hard to create something that looks like Twelve by slapping on an unrealistic use of modern slang and trends.
So I did something to rewire my brain, and if you write an age group that isn’t your own, I suggest you do the same: I immersed myself in tweenhood.
Now, not being a parent or teacher, this was no easy undertaking. I worked full time, and as it turns out, most schools don’t let you just waltz on in to watch the kids. So I went a different route.
I have a twelve-year-old nephew and an eleven-year-old niece. From them, I’ve witnessed clear and concise responses to tough questions. Their profundity knocks me upside the head. But I’ve also seen them struggle to explain concepts I myself long ago conquered. They grasp for the right words, say things like “you know? The thingy! With the thingy…?” (Some adults do this as well!) I’ve also seen them bounce off the walls with spurts of random hyperness.
But they are just two out of many kids, and as I am their aunt, my perspective of them is biased. In order to be a proficient portrayer of their age, I knew I needed more.
My sister is a Girl Scout leader, and after I passed a background check, she agreed to let me sit-in on a meeting of Junior and Cadette girls (average age was eleven years). I sat in silence and took notes while their leaders taught them how to handle a run-in with a cougar.
That day, similar to what I see in my niece and nephew, I saw two extremes in this age group. I saw intelligent people, eager to answer questions, passionate about their complex opinions, listening to and supporting one another. I also saw wild beasts, bouncing around the room in play, giggling, growling, and having fun as they acted out scenarios of cougar encounters. Without batting an eye, these kids teetered back and forth between childlike and mature. And oh my, did I have fun watching them! But I knew I needed more.
REAL, RAW, AND WONDERFUL
After my evening with the Girl Scouts, I contacted friends who helped run a tween youth group in a nearby town. They allowed me to drop in, and this time, I saw the same behavior as explained above, but I also saw something else.
This group was larger and mixed—boys and girls. They were subdued. Chill. Easy-going. And they were, I was certain, trying to act a certain way in the presence of the opposite gender. The girls in particular gave off an air of fourteen or fifteen, throwing their hair over their shoulders, laughing coolly, making their eyes sparkle as they sneaked glances at the boys.
And the boys? …Oblivious, in their own world. Passion struck their voices as they chatted with one another about “the game from last night,” the “totally epic episode of (fill in the blank),” and how much math homework sucks. But they scarcely, if at all, interacted with the girls. What they were thinking about could have been something entirely different, of course, but in this setting, I saw a prime example of, at least, external behavior.
And then something amazing happened.
One of the boys got up in front of his peers and gave a testimony. Now that takes guts! His words were simple, but honest. He talked about how before church camp, he had a hard time at home. He said life back then “pretty much sucked.” But at camp, he learned there were other kids who had struggles just like his, and that made life “kinda a lot better after.” He shrugged a lot and avoided eye contact. He used the phrase “and stuff” numerous times. He was nervous and awkward.
And it was wonderful.
The presentation of his story was refreshingly raw. He wasn’t putting on a show. He kept it real, without even trying, I’m sure. And for me, it was an unadulterated gold mine of writing material, because I saw a glimpse of something not everyone gets to see of this age—vulnerability.
USE YOUR CONNECTIONS
If your sister isn’t a Scout leader or you’d rather stab your eyes out than step foot in a church, there are other avenues. Now, of course, don’t just start watching random groups of kids—writing research or not, don’t do anything to warrant unwanted attention from police or angry parents! You can, however, sit at the table next to the giggling group of tweens at the mall. No joke. Do it. Don’t stare at them, but listen, and listen well.
And here are some other ideas:
· Volunteer to drive your niece and her friends to soccer practice on a regular basis—and eavesdrop on their conversations! When friends get together, they sometimes forget there is an adult in their presence! True personalities galore!
· Volunteer to supervise nieces’, nephews’, grandchildren’s, and your friends’ kids’ slumber parties—sweeten the deal by sending their parents out for the night! They’ll love the night off, and you will likely see what the kids act like when their parents aren’t around.
· Tag along with your tween-age nephew and his friends when they go bowling. Pay attention. Talk to the kids, see how they act in speaking to an adult versus how they interact with their friends.
· Watch tweens’ vlogs. You’ll learn what they love and hate—although this one comes with a warning. Often what you see is a performance, which works great if you’re writing about a tween who vlogs, but otherwise, seek out experiences that are more vulnerable and natural.
· If you don’t have access to kids at all, go the extra mile, get a background check, and apply to volunteer with Boys and Girls Club or some other after-school program.
Bottom line, whatever means you choose, your books need you to do this for them. People of a different age group, people who are different from us in general, are almost always different than what we imagine them to be. And me? I’m nowhere done eavesdropping. My subject matter has a lot left to teach me, and you can bet I’ll have my notebook and pen at the ready.
S.E. Eaton has authored and published a variety of genres for adults: dystopian, dark fantasy, suspense, horror, and general fiction. She has published three out of her five works, as well as several short stories; the latter you can read on her website. After experimenting with different genres, Eaton switched gears and is now focused on her true passion: middle grade fiction.
Eaton is married to an entrepreneur, is the proud mother of a sweet beagle named Emmie Lou, and lives in the verdant Pacific Northwest. Favorite authors of hers include C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, Richard Peck, Holly Black, and Robert Jordan. Her current works in progress are a middle grade fantasy novel, the first in a series, and a middle grade magical realism novel.
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