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Monday, April 14, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour (and 2 MG titles you don’t want to miss!)

Pirate Pens: Essential for Drafting

This blog tour is where writers/authors answer questions about their writing process. Anna Schumacher, author of END TIMES (out from Penguin in May) posted hers last week and tagged me to participate. You can check out her writing process HERE.

What am I working on?
I’m working on edits for NOOKS & CRANNIES (coming summer 2015 from Simon & Schuster), a middle grade novel set in the Lake District of England that was pitched as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Clue.  With lots of characters and a mystery-in-a-manor-house vibe, it’s been a fun one to work on. I’m also drafting a new idea set in 1830s Ireland.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I love all genres of middle grade and have to assume that all those voices/stories/plots have seeped into my writing approach over the years, so I wouldn't necessarily say that my writing differs distinctly from what’s been written in the past or what’s out there now. In terms of historical fiction (my stories so far tend to be set in the past), I think I try to straddle the line between straight historical and something more playful—my ideas are set during specific times and I do research to add certain details, but then I end up having a somewhat exaggerated  bent to it. There’s no real fantasy or magic in my writing (yet!), but I think it generally borders on something that could garner reader responses of “Hey, this isn't realistic!” to which I might respond, “You’re right! That’s what’s so nice about writing fiction~ sometimes you get to break rules and be a little bit ridiculous or fantastical, even when writing within a historical time/place.”

Why do I write what I do?
I write middle grade because those are the books that initially solidified a love of reading for me and I’m nostalgic for that time in my life. As for why I write in the genres I do (mainly historical time periods), I don’t know. Though contemporary and fantasy MG books are among my favorites, I can’t seem to follow through with writing ideas in those genres (at least not yet, but I’ll keep trying).

How does your writing process work? 
Come up with query-style summary paragraphs for an idea, draft most of a novel, get stuck, resort to actual outlining, finish/polish draft, send to critique partners, revise, send to CPs again, revise again. 
And now, here are two middle grade debut authors who've written novels that I love. Please stop by their blogs and become a follower (they may be posting about their writing process next week and you won’t want to miss any stellar advice they have).

Louise Galveston-
 Louise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD (Penguin/Razorbill Feb. 27, 2014). She and her husband live in the Midwest with their eleven kids and a parrot. When Louise isn't writing or folding laundry, she directs her local children’s theater, where she’s playwright in residence.

Check out her blog:

Tara Dairman- Tara Dairman 
is a novelist, playwright, and survivor of the world’s longest honeymoon (2 years, 74 countries!). Thanks to her travels, parts of her debut middle-grade novel ALL FOUR STARS (Penguin/Putnam, July 10, 2014) were written in a mall in Brazil, a guesthouse in Morocco, and coffeehouses in Argentina, Cameroon, Gabon, and Tanzania. Revisions took place in the slightly less exotic locale of her parents’ basement in New York.

Check out her blog:

Monday, April 7, 2014

Eternal Winter...

This is a picture of our backyard this morning.

It is APRIL 7th.
(Update: it is now April 13th and our weather forecast calls for 5-8 inches today with 5-9 inches of new accumulation tonight. That's a possible 17 inches of snow.)

I'm fairly certain that the weather has something to do with my daughter listening to the Frozen soundtrack over and over and over and...

She has set off an eternal winter.

Help me, Olaf. I need a warm hug.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Love Middle Grade Fiction? Don't Miss This!

In case you haven't heard, two amazing bloggers are putting the spotlight on middle grade literature this month.

Akossiwa Ketoglo and Deb Marshall have created MIDDLE GRADE MARCH. The website is full of interviews, author posts, giveaways, and general love for middle grade lit. I spent a good thirty minutes drooling over THIS POST and looking up summaries of upcoming MG speculative fiction titles like these:

Current giveaways include (and there are many more to come):

ULTRA by David Carroll
WHAT THE MOON SAID by Gayle Rosengren
ULTRA by David Carroll
SCREAMING AT THE UMP by Audrey Vernick

Akoss and Deb have put a ton of work and love into MIDDLE GRADE MARCH, so if you're a fan of middle grade books, please stop to help them celebrate kid lit. See you over there!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Must-Read Character Development Advice and Giveaway: YA Author Robert Kent (aka the Middle Grade Ninja) and ALL TOGETHER NOW

Let me make something clear: I'm not a huge fan of scary books. Serial killers, psychotic/vengeful ghosts, gratuitous violence a la Quentin Tarantino: not really for me. I'm a weenie who gets spooked by Stephen King novels, and I have trouble reading them even though I know they're written by a master of his genre. But while Robert Kent's All Together Now is a suspenseful book within a horror-type genre, it doesn't deter me in the same way. It's full of zombies, and those things aren't actively trying to be evil~ they're just...zombies.

Ever since reading Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I've gotten the occasional hankering for a zombie novel. It’s a curiosity thing now, because Smith’s book shattered my preconceptions about the genre. His take on Jane Austen’s classic was, in my opinion, clever with a wonderfully Austen-ish voice. Likewise, Robert Kent’s All Together Now: A Zombie Story is a cleverly-constructed and skillfully-paced young adult novel with depth.

Let me make something else clear: this is a pretty disgusting and violent book, as in, it has lots of gore. But it also has heart and character development. What's that? You're "just not a zombie novel fan"? Give Robert Kent's All Together Now a read anyway because YOU WILL LEARN SOMETHING ABOUT WRITING (and with a Kindle price of $.99, it's an easy purchase choice). And you can read the first chapters HERE for free!

Okay, interview time (Leave a comment on this post to be entered in the paperback giveaway)

1      How did you come up with your protagonist, Ricky, and tap into his unique young adult voice and perspective?

Every character requires a slightly unique process just as every story has its own unique challenges, or if you prefer, opportunities for solution:) Typically the way I work is I start with an interesting situation and figure out the right character to put in that situation. The more ordinary the situation, the more extreme I make the character to interest the reader. A driver’s license exam is boring unless the person taking it is drunk or blind or both, whereas a crashing plane is interesting whoever’s onboard. In the case of All Together Now, the zombie apocalypse is such an extreme situation that I made the characters as ordinary as I could so, hopefully, the reader relates to them even if they don’t relate to being chased by shambling corpses.

The first character that came to me was Chuck as something about a 6-year-old zombie boy broke my heart. To work, the book needed to be written as a journal and I wanted to write about a setting I knew to tell as much truth as I could since zombies are an obvious lie:) Therefore, I needed a character that believably cared for Chuck, was a good writer so the journal entries didn’t suck, and who lived in small-town Indiana and would be enough of an everyman to gain the empathy of readers.

Roger Ebert once said of The Exorcist that the characters were interesting because they didn’t want to be in a horror story and I’ve never forgotten that. Characters waiting around for zombies to attack aren’t three-dimensional. So I put Ricky and Chuck in an already bad situation by having their mom leave before the start of the story. From a plot perspective, there’s no reason for me to do this, but I thought complicating their lives before the zombies came would make them more believable and empathetic once they were being chased.

That’s the basics anyway. From there, I let the characters act on their own so that they reveal themselves to me through their actions in the story. For this reason, I never plot too tightly as that would force the characters and I like it when they call the shots (even if it leads to extra chapters I hadn’t planned on). After about 60-70 pages together, I had a pretty good sense of who Ricky was, so I finished the book, then rewrote those first pages:)

2.    In addition to a high-stakes, action-based plot and plenty of zombie gore, there is a philosophical bent to the novel that debates whether it is to be better healthy and alone, or to give in to the very human need to be “all together now.” Where did the title come from and what does it mean to you?

Well, since you asked such a direct question, I’ll give you the honest answer: the title came from a copyright issue:) I always wanted the philosophical bent because for me that’s what separates zombie stories from each other and keeps the genre interesting. When I read a zombie book, I want lots of zombie action as that’s what I paid for, but I’m hoping the author will use zombies as a metaphor for something more as that’s largely what makes a story distinct—otherwise, why not just play Dead Island instead of reading a story?

I always knew the ending and I always knew I wanted the book to be about my own fear of conformity. Originally, in a key scene in the book, I had a congregation of Christians sing “Where No One Stands Alone” as that song is particularly manipulative and creepy as it’s all about true believers longing to be together in death. Well, it turns out that of all the hymns I reference in the book, that one’s copyrighted and I couldn’t get permission to use the song, even though I’d written arguably the most crucial scene in the book around it.

I couldn’t find a public domain song that worked as well as that one (the lyrics include  quotable gems such as “I don’t know a thing in this whole wide world that’s worse than being alone” and “Oh Lord, don’t hide your face from me”). So the simplest solution was to write my own hymn and I could make it as on point as I liked.  Having my congregation sing “after we’ve died, left our mortal coil behind, we’ll rise up and not be alone” is perhaps too on the nose, but I liked “All Together Now” as an imaginary song so much I changed the title of the book. It didn't hurt knowing that my friend Mike Mullin’s book Ashfall ends up at the top of a lot of lists because it begins with an ‘A’:)

3.    There is no doubt that this is a young adult novel that really deals with Ricky being on that vulnerable teenage line between childhood and adulthood. His inner thoughts, him taking responsibility for zombie-fied brother Chuck, his attraction to his co-escapee, the flashbacks to family issues….it’s just done so well (in fact, I got in touch with Robert when I was halfway through this book to tell him that I’d be buying the paperback of this book for my 16-year-old stepson, who will love it). Why did you choose to make this a young adult novel?

Actually, I originally attempted this one as a middle grade book, which now strikes me as an insane notion. A couple chapters in, I realized I wanted to write about truly violent zombies and I couldn't figure out how to make that work in a kid-friendly book, but I still wanted to take on the zombie apocalypse from a younger perspective. YA authors can pretty well get away with anything, though I think I’m testing that limit with the content of this novel. And teenagers are the perfect characters for a story about fear of conformity. No one is more aware of their forced socialization than a teen stuck in high school.

4.      In some action-based stories, character development can take a backseat to plot, which results in a highly entertaining book with two-dimensional characters. That’s not the case in All Together Now, which has well-rounded characters. How did you go about fleshing out Ricky, Michelle, and Levi (‘fleshing’ out? Get it? Ah, zombie humor) when they were in such a tense situation?

I believe people in real life show us who they are through their actions more than they what they say about themselves.  I try to take the same approach with my characters. So when I start any story, I usually have some idea of the beginning, middle, and end, which predetermines some character attributes (gotta have a hero), but I let the characters dictate how we get there as much as possible. Their decisions and the reasons they make them tell me who they really are, despite who they may think they are.

I keep some character notes, but I’ve never believed in writing out a character outline ahead of time for the simple reason that if I met Ricky in real life, I wouldn’t have those notes and I wouldn’t know anything about him until he told me (assuming he was honest) or I saw him act in a certain way. I could spend forever telling the reader who I think Michelle is, but I feel it’s best to just tell the story and let them pick up on the character clues and form their own impression the same way they might do if they met Michelle somewhere.

That being said, I did more than 20 full revisions to All Together Now and sought out a lot of feedback from early readers, my critique group, my agent, and multiple editors, which gave me time to smooth a lot of rough edges.

5.      Talk a little bit about the novel’s approach of journal entries and how you used it to increase tension.

The nice thing about journal entries is they allowed me to jump around in time so I could reveal details from the story’s future in the flashbacks. We know Chuck is destined to become a zombie from the second chapter on, but I never say how he became a zombie, which was a lot of fun in the flashback scenes in which he’s still alive. I put him in harm's way frequently because the reader knows I have to kill him sooner or later. Having Ricky write the journal in real time also allowed me to break up the past with tidbits about the present to keep suspense going in multiple timelines. I doubt this is an approach I’ll try again as it got a little complicated, but I think I pulled it off this one time:)

6.      What, if any, zombie novels or movies did you draw inspiration from?

For this novel, I drew a great deal of inspiration from Stephen King’s Home Delivery, which is my favorite short story of all time, zombified or otherwise, and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead (naturally). The TV show is great, but I’ve reread the graphic novels four or five times through and I never get tired of them.

I actually modeled the plot after the series run of Lost. There’s no smoke monster and we’re not on an island, but the story starts in the present surrounded by tension and mystery, flashes backward intermittently to inform the present, and towards the end flashes forward to build suspense in the present. J.J. Abrams may use one too many lens flares, but the man knows how to tell a compelling story:)

7.      Okay, the zombie apocalypse is upon us: give us a rundown of your best personal defense (key locations for survival, weapons-of-choice, etc.)

First, I’d head to a liquor store and get plenty of whiskey, some potato chips, and a pack of cigarettes (I quit long ago, but if zombies attack I’m no longer worried about cancer).

Second, I’d head to a library or a quiet place where I can charge my kindle. Then I’d eat, drink, and be merry rereading my favorite books until the zombies found me, at which point, I’d hopefully be feeling good enough not to mind dying so much:)

8.       What are you working on now?

I’m polishing a novella called Pizza Delivery, which is another horror story that will be available by May, and I’m halfway through a rough draft of All Right Now, which is a companion novella to All Together Now to be available sometime before October. And this summer, I’ll be releasing my first middle grade novel. Oh, and if my schedule allows, I’m also planning to release a western in the coming months:)

Thank you, Robert! 

LEAVE A COMMENT FOR ROBERT/ME TO BE ENTERED TO WIN A PAPERBACK COPY OF ALL TOGETHER NOW! The winner will be emailed on Tuesday, March 11th. *UPDATE: The winner is KIMBERLY!! Congrats!

Fifteen-year-old Ricky Genero is writing a journal of the zombie apocalypse. His high school has burned to the ground, his friends are all either dead or shambling corpses roaming the earth in search of human flesh, and his best friend died saving his six-year-old brother Chuck from a zombie horde. When Chuck is bitten and infected with the zombie virus, Ricky must travel among the walking dead in search of a cure.

Robert Kent holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Indiana University and lives in Indianapolis, Indiana. He's a member of a writers group called the YA Cannibals and he runs the popular and mega-informative blog Middle Grade Ninja, which has tons of agent/editor/author interviews.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Writing Contests! (and agent wish lists!)

Happy Wednesday! It's a big day on Twitter for agent/editor wish lists. Follow the hashtag #MSWL and you'll find a goldmine of wish list information. If you don't have the time to sift through the tweets, never fear. Agent Jessica Sinsheimer assures us that the information will be reposted in a Tumblr database:
Jessica Sinsheimer ‏@jsinsheim 45m

The lovely will repost these wishes in a Tumblr database at .
Okay, I've got contest information for you via the fabulous SubItClub. If you're not already checking this blog, add it to your list~ it's always got lots of opportunities for both published and unpublished writers. Here's a sprinkling of their most recent list (head over there for even more offerings):

Now - 3/1: March Madness Poetry Write Off at Think Kid - There are cash prizes payments for poems in certain rounds. Bracket selection will be March 2nd so get your application in asap. “First words will be assigned on Monday, March 17th, and the first poems will be up for vote on Wednesday afternoon, March 19th. Read the Authlete Application for more details.

Now - 3/2:  Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award - "One Grand Prize winner will receive a publishing contract with a $50,000 advance, and four First Prize winners will each receive a publishing contract with an advance of $15,000. Visit the Prizes page for the full list of prizes and details. The categories include five popular genres: General Fiction, Romance, Mystery/Thriller, Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror and Young Adult Fiction. For complete eligibility details, view the Official Contest Rules, or read details on how to enter. Visit CreateSpace to learn more.” Please read the contest rules carefully before entering!

March 2014:

3/3: March Secret Agent Contest at Miss Snark's First Victim. Submission window will be open from noon to 6:00pm EDT to MG, YA, and adult manuscripts. 50 entries will be randomly selected to move on to the agent round.
3/10: Pitch Madness- Submission are open from 12:01 AM EST, March 10 until 11:59PM EST. Compete to win agent requests. Accepting Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult, and novel length Adult fiction. Completed and polished manuscripts only. No non-fiction. You can read the schedule here.
Entrants must submit a 35-word (maximum) pitch plus the first 250 words of your manuscript. If the 250th word falls in the middle of a sentence, go to the end of the sentence. More information to come.

Again, head over to SubItClub for more opportunities and have a great week!

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Bent Agency Wish Lists (MG/YA/Adult) and more publishing internships!

Quick FYI post today~

Check out the current wish lists of The Bent Agency agents Jenny Bent and Susan Hawk. They're looking for a variety of manuscript submissions, from middle grade/young adult to adult. Click the link below to view the posts!

Jenny Bent's Wish List~ January 2014

Susan Hawk's Wish List~ January 2014


Spencer Hill Press is looking for interns to join their team. Deadline to apply is February 1.

"Interns will have opportunities such as interacting with authors, reading ARCs, 

running book club related events, interacting with readers via social media, and 

learning more about the publishing industry."

Details are HERE.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Contests, Agent Info, Internships!

Hi All! I've got a few items to pass along.


1/18-1/19: Sun Vs. Snow: This one is for picture books, middle grade, young adult, new adult, and adult manuscripts. The submission window is tomorrow and Sunday. Click HERE for details.

And thanks to a website I discovered called Sub It Club, I found these opportunities (and there are more listed on the website~ for both published/unpublished writers~ so check it out!):

1/23: Writing and Illustrating’s First Page Critique Contest – Enter to win a first page critique from Agent Sean McCarthy. For January only, anyone who submits a picture book will get their names placed in the hat twice. (Make sure you note that your submission is a picture book.)

1/1 – 1/31: Highlights Fiction Contest - Short stories up to 800 words. No crime, violence, or derogatory humor. Manuscripts or envelopes should be clearly marked FICTION CONTEST. Those not marked in this way will be considered as regular submissions to Highlights. (Entrants must be at least 16 years old at the time of submission.)


Janet Reid posted her thoughts and a warning about copyright registration for your manuscript. I know most of us don't worry about that sort of thing, but it's worth reading, just to see the type of scams that are out there. Click HERE to read the post.

Agent Susan Hawk (represents picture books, chapter books, middle grade, & young adult fiction/non-fiction) answered questions for the blog I Write For Apples's Query. Sign. Submit. series. It's a great/thorough post! Read the interview HERE.


The Bent Agency is looking for two interns who love to read picture books and middle grade/YA books. Check out the application post HERE.