Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Top 5 Favorite Pieces of Writing Advice

This week our 5 year blogiversary celebration continues with some of our favorite pieces of writing advice! And if you haven't done so already pop over to our blogiversary post and enter to win free books and critiques!
What are you top five favorite pieces of writing advice?

Shari Green 

  1. First, a quote – not advice, really, but something I hold close as a children’s author: “We have been given the sacred task of making hearts large through story.” (Kate DiCamillo)
  2. Writing a first draft is making clay (so it's okay if it's messy!). Revising is sculpting something worthwhile out of that clay.
  3.  Keep showing up. (Do the work.) 
  4. So much of publishing is out of your hands. Don’t spend your energy on things that are out of your control.
  5. There’s always more to learn. 
Jamie Krakover

  1. Just because something works for someone else doesn't mean it must work for you. You do you! 
  2. You don't have to write every day to be a writer 
  3. Remove aspiring from your profile, if you write you're a writer, not an aspiring writer 
  4. Kill the filter words, it strengthens your writing. Not he heard the car horn blare, just the car horn blared. 
  5. Keep moving forward. Find good writing buddies that wont let you quit.
Tom Torre
  1. You are your own writer - it's good to be inspired by other authors, but find your own voice. That's where you'll find the most success.
  2.  Can't stop, won't stop - write when you can, as much as you can. But don't force it. Let it come when it feels the most natural. 
  3. Always keep an open mind to critiques. Your beta readers, critique partners, editors, agents, whatever, all want what's best for you and want to help you improve your craft.
  4.  KEEP READING!!! The most important part about writing is reading. 
  5. Ignore the "no's" and focus on getting that "yes" - as writers we will experience ten million no's before we get that magic yes. The yes will come, as long as you're in it for the long haul. 
  6. BONUS - never give up, never surrender

Tom Mulroy
  1. Don't compare your progress to others.
  2. Read.
  3. Give yourself time away from a project when you need to.
  4. Remember most of the work is done in revision.
  5. This is more of an industry thing that a writing thing, but all the same: Be nice to people.
  Kim Ventrella
  1. Every great book feels like a failure at some point. If you can remember that, and remember what it felt like to move past that failure, you'll likely be able to make a career as a writer.
  2. It’s about emotional connection. If readers relate to your character, then they’ll care what happens to them, and you’ve just won the biggest battle of good storytelling.
  3. Back on failure If you can embrace it (i.e. allow yourself to experiment and fail) you’ll grow much faster as a writer, as opposed to always trying to be perfect.
  4. Take every opportunity you can to remind yourself why you started writing. Push yourself to constantly rediscover that magic.
  5. Step out of the high-stakes performance zone on occasion and take time to study great books, analyze what makes them great and then experiment with what you’ve learned in your own writing.
There's our writing advice. What's some of your favorite pieces of writing advice? Let us know in the comments!



Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Two fantastic Middle Grade Novels Launching Soon by Jake Burt and Heidi Lang!

It's soon going to be back-to-school time.

I know, don't mention it, right?

But what better time to buy some new books for your children, your classroom, or your library?

And I've got two great novels to share with you! And better still, I corralled the authors to answer a few questions for Middle Grade Minded Readers!

First Up:

The Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt

Publishes October 2nd, 2018

About the Book:

From the author of Greetings from Witness Protection! comes another unforgettable middle-grade novel about friendship and family.
Devin wants to hit it big on the internet by pulling a stunt at an NBA game―one the entire nation will be watching. Addison can’t turn Devin down, but he can barely manage talking to his teachers without freezing up. How’s he supposed to handle the possibility of being a viral sensation?
Addi’s not sure why Devin is bent on pulling off this almost-impossible feat. Maybe it has something to do with Devin’s dad’s hospital bills. Maybe it all goes back to the Double-Barreled Monkey Bar Backflip of Doom. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. No matter what, though, it’s risky for both of them, and when the big day finally comes, Devin’s plan threatens more than just their friendship.
With memorable protagonists and a wonderful supporting cast, The Right Hook of Devin Velma is a one-of-kind knockout in middle-grade fiction.

The Interview:

1. The Right Hook of Devin Velma is one of the best titles I’ve ever heard. Was it always the title?

I'm so glad it appeals! Titles can often be a battle - my first novel went through five of them before we settled on Greetings From Witness Protection! For this one, though, I didn't have to go through nearly as many iterations. We (my agent and I) submitted it to Macmillan as The Right Hook of Devin Velma, and my editor loved it, too. So no major title changes, which is good; I'm a fan of the dual meaning and the cadence of it.

2. What inspired this particular story?

I think a lot of it had to do with my own anxiousness around social media. I was never a big fan, but as you know, promoting your work and supporting other authors as they do likewise is an important part of being a kidlit writer these days. I navigated my way through a fairly steep learning curve on Facebook, Twitter, and in creating my own website (I'm still not on Instagram), though I had a lot of great help, and have since e-met many wonderful people. Still, getting started made me all kinds of nervous, and I think that informed Addison's attitude toward it, too.

I was also inspired by a particular recurring event at NBA games that features prominently in the novel. I don't want to give away too much, but let it suffice to say that it's one of the more awkward traditions in the American public sphere, and I've always thought it was ripe for literary dissection.

3. What’s a typical writing day like? I know you teach full-time, so how do you juggle both careers?

A typical writing day involves me dropping my kid off at camp, then coming home and jumping on my exercise desk for an extended spin-and-type. I write almost exclusively in the summer, when I can devote four to five hours a day to drafting. I do most of my revisions during the school year, because that tends to be a bit more piecemeal. Regardless, I work quickly, mostly because I'm uncomfortable with deadlines - I was always the kid in school who finished the project weeks in advance, just so it wouldn't hang over my head. I'm sure my editor wishes I'd slow down a bit!

4. What’s surprised you the most about becoming a middle grade author?

I'd have to say it's the respect that veteran authors afford debut writers. When my first novel came out, I was lucky enough to attend Book Expo, where I met such luminaries as Ann M. Martin, Katherine Applegate, Dan Santat, and Jack Gantos. To a one, they were welcoming, enthusiastic, patient, and supportive. I hadn't paid a single one of my metaphorical industry dues, but they still made me feel like I belonged at the table. The kidlit community is truly a phenomenal place to be.

5. What’s next?

I just finished revisions on book #3, and I'm about 40K into the first draft of book #4. This October, I'll be out on tour for The Right Hook of Devin Velma, too. Exciting times!

To learn more about author Jake Burt, visit his website!

Who wants to talk about dogs? I do!! 

Rules of the Ruff by Heidi Lang

Publishes August 14th, 2018

About the Book:

Twelve-year-old Jessie is in for a long summer at her aunt and uncle’s house. Her cousin Ann has a snotty new best friend, which leaves Jessie all alone. But Jessie is industrious, and—not content with being ignored all summer—she convinces Wes, a grouchy neighborhood dog walker, to take her on as his apprentice.
         Sure, dog walking turns out to be harder than she expected, but she has Wes’s dog-walking code, the Rules of the Ruff, to guide her, and soon she’s wrangling her very own pack. But when a charismatic rival dog walker moves to town, she quickly snatches up most of Wes’s business—and Jessie decides she isn’t going to take this defeat with her tail between her legs.

The Interview:

1. Your first two middle grade novels were fantasy - how was it writing a contemporary this time around? How was it writing alone as opposed to with a partner?

I’d say the biggest difference is that I had to find the magic in ordinary settings and circumstances, instead of having these fantastical backdrops. So instead of the elven mafia feuding with steampunk scientists, I had rival dog walkers. And instead of dragons, I had dogs. Which, I’d argue, are just as magical as any mystical beast. But whenever I write, the story is really about the characters, and people are people no matter which kind of world they’re populating.

I did miss having a writing partner, though. Kati is the one who outlines and keeps us on track, so this time I was forced to keep myself on track, and it made me appreciate what a difficult time I give my sister. Not that I’ll make it any easier on her in our next book, but at least I’ll have more sympathy for her. ;) 

2. What inspired this particular story?

I’m going to let you in on a secret: I never planned on writing contemporary. Growing up, I read almost all fantasy and sci fi, and I always thought of myself as a fantasy writer. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to appreciate how much potential for drama and humor is in real-life situations. My husband is probably to thank for that - we have a game we play where we’ll discuss an awkward situation and then brainstorm ways it could have been more awkward. 

It was actually on a dog hike with him that I came up with the idea for RULES OF THE RUFF. We had a combined pack of a dozen dogs out on the trail with us (we were both dog walkers), and we started joking about hiring someone whose only job would be to follow behind us, cleaning up after the dogs so we wouldn’t have to anymore. And then we began brainstorming different tasks this poor unfortunate would have to accomplish to work their way up the pack hierarchy, and from there the “rules” and Jessie’s character were born. Once I had that idea, I couldn’t let it go, and then one day I realized I had to write it. And it was so much fun! I love writing contemporary now as much as I love writing fantasy, and I’m so glad I decided to try it.

3. What’s a typical writing day like? 

I’m an early bird, so most days I’m up by 4 or 5am. I find I get lazier and lazier as the day goes on, so I usually try to take my dogs for a run or walk first, and then get immediately into writing before my brain comes up with any clever procrastination tactics. From there, it depends on how close to deadline I am. The closer I am, the longer my writing day. It’s amazing how panic and desperation can motivate a person! ;D I don’t have set time or word count goals - I’ve tried that in the past and it didn’t work for me, so mostly I just work until I reach that point where my brain feels like mush and my writing is going flat, and that’s when I’ll stop for the day.

4. What’s surprised you the most about becoming a middle grade author?

How much I love it! My debut, A DASH OF DRAGON (with Kati Bartkowski) was first written as young adult before we realized it would fit better as middle grade. Once we revised it and signed with our agent, we were firmly on the middle grade track and I’m so glad. I feel like you’re given more freedom to write over-the-top characterizations and exaggerated situations in middle grade, and it’s just so fun. I still plan to write YA and even adult in the future, but I think middle grade will always be first in my heart.

Another surprise? How good it feels to hear that a kid loved your book. I always feel like a kid compliment is worth a dozen adult compliments, because if they say something, they really mean it, and when they love something, they love it with their whole hearts. Maybe that’s the biggest reason I love writing middle grade, come to think of it. 

5. What’s next?

Kati and I are currently hard at work on book three in the Mystic Cooking Chronicles, and I just submitted a new middle grade contemporary to my editor earlier this month, which I can’t wait to talk more about! Soon… ;) 

Want to learn more about Heidi and find out where to order her book? 
Click here!

Thanks Jake and Heidi! I can't wait to read your books!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Looking Back and Looking Forward - 5 Years of Blogging

Five years ago I was querying my first manuscript, feeling lost and like I would never amount to anything as a writer. I was desperately seeking acceptance and validation that I wasn't wasting my time. I looked for feedback and entered contests whenever I could trying to improve and learn. And while all of this was important to my writing journey, there was one thing that was missing that I didn't know I desperately needed.


When I entered contests in 2013, there was a strong kidlit community, but it's primary focus was on young adult literature. And while I love young adult and frequently write it, I have always had a soft spot for middle grade. It's the time where you're trying to find your way and find your people. And coincidentally there wasn't a lot of avenues or organized communities for middle grade writers at the time.

So a group of us middle grade writers entering contests found each other decided we wanted to share our journey, our advice, and create a community for middle grade. And thus Middle Grade Minded was born. When we started this journey five years ago, I never imagined that this blog would still be here, let alone have the traction it has.

In five years we've had 17 different regular blog contributors, and countless guest bloggers, who have generated nearly 450 posts including interviews, cover reveals, reviews, and so much more. But we wouldn't be here without our readers, so checkout the stats below that you all have directly contributed to.

  • Over 175 blog followers
  • Readers from over 80 countries
  • Over 230,000 page views
  • Thousands of comments
  • Over 3,000 Twitter followers
But the numbers while impressive, aren't the most important thing. The most amazing thing is the strong community of enthusiasm that has formed around middle grade literature. The stories and books we've shared with other writers, teachers, librarians, and most importantly kids. And none of it would have been possible without Middle Grade Minded.

While in a lot of ways my personal journey is in the same spot it was five years ago, back in the query trenches after my agent left agenting for another publishing job, I have something now that I didn't have when this blog began... A strong middle grade focused community that is passionate about the things that really matter, making great books happen and getting them into the hands of kids who deserve them. And for that support system I am eternally grateful. I wouldn't know where I would be today without each and every one of you.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Our Top Five Middle Grade Books

All month long we're celebrating Middle Grade Minded's 5th anniversary. We've got a celebration and giveaways (check out this post). And today we are celebrating turning 5 with our top five favorite Middle Grade Books.

Shari Green
  1. Because of Winn Dixie (Kate DiCamillo) – the captivating voice, the quirky and charming characters, and the mix of sad and sweet 
  2. The One and Only Ivan (Katherine Applegate) – the beautiful and heartbreaking story, the innovative approach 
  3. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery) – the charm, the characters, and the nostalgic trips to my childhood each rereading brings 
  4. Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling) – the magic, the themes, the stunning world-building/plotting…basically, everything (what’s not to love?!) 
  5. The Wednesday Wars (Gary D. Schmidt) – the authentic voice, the Shakespeare stuff, the humor 
  6. (I had half a dozen books vying for that fifth spot. I love them all, for different reasons. In case you’re wondering… Charlotte’s Web, The Tale of Despereaux, Home of the Brave, Rules for Stealing Stars, Hour of the Bees.)

Jamie Krakover
  1. Harry Potter (JK Rowling) - The magic pulled me in and the story got me back into reading on a regular basis
  2. The False Prince series (Jennifer Neilson)- It was so engaging, cleverly written and I love the main character he's such an interesting and well calculated individual (and really anything by her pretty much goes on my automatic to buy list, her books and character reel you in and don't let go.) 
  3. Fear Street (RL Stine) - I loved the murder mysteries and couldn't put them down, also prided myself as a young reader that I had the formula figured out and could figure out who would be the first suspect, the next after, who the misdirection was and ultimately who did it 
  4. Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls (Beth McMullen) - This book has a strong female character, lots of action, and a ton of sass. It's a fun adventure and really awesome story. 
  5. Quantum Prophecy Series (Michael Carroll) - This series centers around a group of kids whose parents were superheroes, but in the time after they were born, superheroes vanished. Now it's up to the children to develop their powers and protect the world again from new threats.
Wendy Macleod MacKnight
  1. Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery- best written MG character ever!
  2. A Wrinkle in Time - Madeline L’engle - wonderful story, great early STEM! 
  3. Brown Girl Dreaming - Jacqueline Woodson - a life in all its complexities in exquisite poetry 
  4. The War That Changed My Life - Kim Brubaker Bradley - the magic of love and hope in World War II. 
  5. The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman - exquisite world-building and deeply philosophical 
Stefanie Wass
  1. BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE (The voice!)
  2. ONE FOR THE MURPHYS (I still wonder how the main character is doing. She was so, so real), THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE (The sweet Southern voice)
  3. DRUMS, GIRLS, AND DANGEROUS PIE (The heart wrenching premise)
  4. A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT (Hilarious and heart breaking at the same time. Spot-on MG voice. Plus music!) 
Tom Torre
  1. A WRINKLE IN TIME - Madeline L'Engle : when I first read this book in like 8th grade I think, I fell in love with the story so much that I focused too much on drawing pictures of what I thought everything looked like in the book, than working on a book report for it and proceeded to get a bad grade bc my cover was awesome, but the report stunk. 
  2. HARRY POTTER SERIES - JK Rowling : I mean...come's Harry Potter.......WHO DOESN'T LOVE HARRY POTTER!?!?! 
  3. HOLES - Louis Sachar : This book got me into comedy / character development in MG. It's seriously such a great story that's "big fish-esque" 
  4. A MONSTER CALLS - Patrick Ness : made me cry...nuff said. 
  5. THE GOLDEN COMPASS - Philip Pulman : made me want a familiar.....such great world building, and incredible characters.
There's probably like 30 other books fighting for these spots, and it changes every year lol 

Tom Mulroy
In no particular order, and with the understanding that there are a dozen other books out there that could easily slide into one of these places depending on the day:
  1. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. The book that captured me the hardest when I was a middle grader myself.
  2. Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson. The first time I read it I was blown away by how thoroughly the characters were created and by the complete sense of place. I feel like I could spend the rest of my years as a writer chasing this book.
  3. Unclaimed Treasures by Patricia MacLachlan. I love how minimal this book is in its writing, and yet manages to tell such a complete and subtextual story.
  4. When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt. Great writing, great characters, anchoring sense of time and place.
  5. Tangerine by Edward Bloor. Again, strong characters, strong sense of place. I'm picking up on some themes here.... 
Kim Ventrella
  1. All things Harry Potter 
  2. Graveyard Book
  3. The One and Only Ivan
  4. A Wrinkle in Time
  5. The Moorchild.
Also, all the other books!!!
 Look at all those awesome books! What are your top five favorite Middle Grade Books? Let us know in the comments! 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Review: Stu Truly

STU TRULY by Dan Richards is the kind of pleasant book that many readers will enjoy. Stu’s biggest problem is how his middle school friends (and Stu himself) seem to be discovering an interest in girls all at once. When Becca, an interesting new girl at school, declares herself to be a vegetarian, Stu unthinkingly tells her he’s one as well, even though his family owns the butcher shop in town and he loves meat. (This isn't much of a spoiler; the book cover features Stu dressed up like a rack of ribs.) I started off thinking the contrast between these two perspectives and how they’re approached makes the book an interesting classroom read aloud possibility, maybe during a nutrition unit. Soon that part of the story takes something of a backseat to the escalating middle school boy/girl drama, though it continues as a plot driver throughout.

The premise hinges on a lie told in the beginning by Stu, which ultimately feels out of place since he doesn’t come across as a habitual liar during the rest of the book. The carnivore vs. vegetarian plot gets the characters interacting, and it’s fun watching all of their relationships change as the school year continues. There are a good number of minor characters here, which requires the reader to pay attention to what is going on and who is doing what. The story doesn’t do much to break any long-held gender stereotypes, and even has a few moments when it subtly reinforces some — Stu and his friends occasionally say doing something “like a little girl” as a joking insult, which reads as dated considering the target audience.

STU TRULY will fit with middle grade books featuring fast-talking, comedic narrators trying to charm their way out of their problems. Usually this is something that doesn’t do much for me personally, but Dan Richards frequently pulls it off with some genuinely funny lines that don’t always rely on overused tropes. 

Friday, August 3, 2018

Review: The Three Hares by Geoffrey Simpson

A thrilling adventure

Know a middle grade reader with a thirst for adventure? Then this is the book for them. Packed with intrigue, The Three Hares takes readers along on a dangerous summer journey with two best friends, Ethan and Jacob. Obsessed with survival and treasure maps, these two boys have created their own adventures for countless years. But this summer, their adventures become real with life-changing consequences.

In a tale of secret societies, government corruption, and hidden family legends, the two boys along with the new girl next door discover a grand destiny - to challenge the dark forces threatening the innocent and to protect the people of their community.


The Three Hares is a coming of age story rich with meaningful themes including friendship, family history, grief, and protecting the weak. It focuses on honor and integrity in the face of tragedy and trials.

Reading Level

This book is definitely upper middle grade, maybe even edging into YA. It contains some language and tackles grown-up issues including political corruption, mental illness, kidnapping, and murder. 

This captivating read is available at amazon.

To find out more, visit the author's website.

Geoffrey Simpson is the author of the young adult adventure / mystery novel, The Three Hares: Bloodline. He specializes in nature-themed, puzzle-solving stories driven by a pulsating grip of good versus evil. The Three Hares is his debut novel, and is the first of a five-book series.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Middle Grade Minded turns 5!

Happy 5 year blogiversary Middle Grade Minded!

When a group of us started this blog 5 years ago, I never imagined we'd be here five years later. But due to the dedication of our bloggers new and old, and the continued support of our readers here we are! And we're continuing to grow as we go. It's been so much fun interacting with everyone over the last five years, sharing writing tips, reviews, and our general love of Middle Grade literature.

So a sincere thank you to each and every one of you who was involved in the blog one way or another. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for all of you.

So that means it's time to celebrate. Throughout the month we will have special posts including top five lists from our bloggers old and new, plus giveaways, and our regularly scheduled posts. So get ready for a SUPER sized anniversary month!
As a thank you to the loyal readers of this blog we have a TON of giveaways. See the two rafflecopters below. There's something for everyone, for the reader, opportunities to win signed books and for the writer critiques galore. So feel free to enter all that are of interest.

And from all the Middle Grade Minded bloggers, THANK YOU for supporting us for five years! We love you guys!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
a Rafflecopter giveaway