Friday, November 20, 2020

How to Become an Author

Many people love to write. Many dream of becoming authors of some sort. Once you've taken up that dream yourself, and particularly if you've been published, you will find more and more people who confide in you - secretly or openly - their burning desire to write a book.

Most don't do more than dream of it. Most don't think to ask the hard questions or put in the long hours to chase after their dream. But if you've clicked on this post, you're different. You're one of those who is ready to embark on the challenging and rewarding path of a writer.

Recently I was interviewed by a student working on his senior paper. It was part of a larger project designed to help students map out their plans for the future. He wasn't really sure what he wanted to do with his life, maybe join the family trade of auto mechanicing. The one thing he was certain about was that he wanted to write. Preferably novels. He wanted to know the path I had taken and what suggestions I might have for him.

Later I realized this would be great info for the readers of this blog. Here's a recap of the highlights of what we discussed.


While a formal creative writing education at a university or an MFA (masters in fiction writing) program can be useful, neither are essential to becoming a successful writer. A different degree that offers other ways to support yourself and contribute to society can be just as meaningful, sometimes more. My degrees in Psychology and Health Education provide me with work opportunities as well as background knowledge that is useful in stories. 

Most best-selling writers that I know also have a regular career, as a lawyer, a pharmacist, or a teacher, or a coach. Keeping your toes in two different worlds will enrich your writing and help support you financially. Having said that, learning about writing and all the trappings of a writing career is vital to your success.

Conferences and Workshops

One of the best ways to learn about enhancing your writing skills is through attending conferences and workshops. You will find classes at just about every skill level and opportunities to have your work critiqued. Classes typically focus on craft, marketing, platform, editing, publishing, and even inspiration.

Conferences were one of the first places I received objective positive feedback that confirmed I was making progress toward my goal of becoming an author. There are often contests available with financial rewards and sometimes even the possibility of feedback about your writing, which is even more valuable. For more info, check out this Writing Conference Directory.


People often ask me what inspired me to become a writer.  While each person's motivation and inspiration for choosing to write will be unique, there is a commonality between all writers I've known. It's the burning desire to write. I've loved writing since I was very young. 

But my life took me other places for many years. It wasn't until I was pregnant with my 5th child that I realized I needed an outlet for myself that was completely separate from my identities associated with family and other work. 

So I began writing again. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to write.

The reason I bring this is up is that it is never too early and never too late to begin the journey of a writer. For most writers, the passion for writing is what gets us started. It's a way to process life, filter our thoughts, manage our emotions, and maybe even escape the tedium (or horrors?) or every day life. The passion for writing may start us along the path, but commitment and consistency is what keeps us moving toward our goals. 

As W. Somerset Maugham has said, "I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp."

There is a saying in writing circles: Butt in the chair. In other words, sit down and start writing, for goodness sakes. Inspiration may strike in between writing sessions. That's what notebooks are for. Otherwise, it's very useful to have a regular writing time and stick to it, even if it's only an hour at 5 in the morning. 


One of the best ways to hone your craft is to read. Read, read, and read. Not just in your genre, either. You will learn more about writing and plotting as you study novels from a wide array of authors and genres. 

You can also learn specific on craft through studying books about writing. Here's some great ones: The Writers JourneyHooked, and The Red Sneaker Writers Book Series.

There are also about a million different websites with advice on improving your writing skills. Here's a few of my favorites: Writer's Digest, Absolute Write, and Advanced Fiction Writing.

The very best way to improve your craft is (drumroll please....) to WRITE. The more you write, the more you will improve, in sentence structure, imagery, characterization, plotting and more. Look at it as spending your 10,000 hours to become an expert. And who wouldn't want to spend 10,000 hours writing, right? Well, maybe somebody. But to a writer, that sounds like a dream come true. 

Revision and Rejection

Okay, this is possibly one of the tough bumps along the road to becoming an author. You need to find people who will read and honestly critique your work. Preferably people who don't love you and feel an obligation to tell you how wonderful you are. How to find these people? We'll get to that in a minute.

But once you've found them, you need a really tough skin. You need to be able to take criticism and keep working. My husband told me, after about my millionth short story rejection, that I was a glutton for punishment. The thing is, you need to be persistent to reach any valuable goal. You also need to get your work out there and be prepared to be told it needs improvement. Be prepared to be rejected.

Resources for coping with rejection: NY Book Editors, Bulletproof Writer, and this rejection-relief map.


One of the best ways to network with other writers is to join a writing group. Check your community  for a group. If you're unable to find anything local, here's a list of writing groups by state or region. 

You can also connect with other writers at conferences and workshops. Both are useful places to form your own group with likeminded writers. It's useful to have a range of interests and genres represented in your writing group as well as a range of skills. 

Your writing group can serve as a source of inspiration and also potential critique partners. You will also find you can refer each other to useful events and websites as well as get the word out about each other's work.


A writer's platform is their public persona. It includes their online presence on social media, a blog or website, and their contributions to other websites. It can also include classes they teach and speaking engagements. It is basically a springboard for extending the reach of the books and stories they write and engaging with readers.

If you do not have a blog or website, consider starting one now. Considering creating social media pages dedicated to your work as an author. Bring readers along with you on your writers journey.


Finally, the fulfillment of your writing dream - publication. Actually, this is just another beginning. You'll now be doing marketing and discovering that you want to publish yet more stories or books. But who wants fulfilled dreams, right? Isn't the chasing of the dream the whole point?

But, I get ahead of myself. There are two basic ways to publish a novel, self-publishing and traditional publishing. Did I say two? Well, there's hybrid now, too. Where a traditional publisher handles the print books and you retain control over digital publishing. 

With self-publishing, you direct everything, from the writing of the book to the editing, title and cover creation, and the actual publication in print and digital form, usually through an online resource such as amazon. Since you manage it all, the royalty payments are much higher than with traditional publishing. However, your ability to market and distribute your book may not compare to that of a traditional publisher. 

To gain access to the big traditional publishers, you will need an agent. Smaller, regional or niche publishers can be approached directly. Your costs will be lower if you go with traditional publishers, but you will also have less control over your final product and will receive much lower percentages for your royalty payments. However, this can all be offset by the marketing expertise of the publishers and the increased sales. It's up to you to decide.

What have been some of your biggest hurdles for writing and some of your most rewarding experiences?

Monday, November 9, 2020

Three Questions for Some Amazing #mglit Authors

Today, I'm stopping by Middle Grade Minded to share my new YouTube channel, "Three Questions," featuring interviews with some of my favorite creators. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with #mglit author Saadia Faruqi about her work as an interfaith activist, writing for MG vs. early readers and more!

You can also check out my interview with Traci Sorell. Cherokee Nation citizen and award-winning author Traci Sorell writes fiction and nonfiction books, short stories and poems for children. She discusses her work to center contemporary Cherokee stories, her experience co-writing INDIAN NO MORE and her upcoming biography of Mary Golda Ross.

Looking to celebrate spooky stories? I sat down just before Halloween with Lorien Lawrence (THE STITCHERS) and Josh Roberts (THE WITCHES OF WILLOW COVE). They discuss everything from the writing process to their real-life spooky experiences.

Other recent guests include Christina Li (CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE), Jacqueline West (BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE), Heidi Lang (WHISPERING PINES) and many more! For the writers out there, you will also find a growing section of videos on writing and publishing tips. To view all of the interviews, check out "Three Questions."


KIM VENTRELLA is the author of The Secret Life of Sam (Fall 2020, HarperCollins), Hello, Future Me (Aug. 2020, Scholastic), Bone Hollow and Skeleton Tree. Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Kim has held a variety of interesting jobs, including children’s librarian, scare actor, Peace Corps volunteer, French instructor and overnight staff person at a women’s shelter, but her favorite job title is author. She lives in Oklahoma City with her dog and co-writer, Hera. For the latest updates, find Kim online at or follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram.


Sunday, November 1, 2020

Interview with Jeff Rosen, author of CALEY CROSS AND THE HADEON DROP And GIVEAWAY!

I recently had a chance to read author Jeff Rosen's new middle grade novel, CALEY CROSS AND THE HADEON DROP.


Caley Cross has always known she's not a “normal” thirteen-year-old (her ability to create zombie animals was her first clue). Still, she never expected to be whisked off to a faraway world―Erinath―where she is Crown Princess and people have “baests” that live inside them, giving them fantastic, animal-like powers. Which would be cool, except that Caley’s baest turns out to be an ancient monster that can swallow planets. Despite this, Caley manages to make the first friends of her life, Neive Olander and Kipley Gorsebrooke. They help her navigate the Erinath Academy, where students train to compete in the annual―and deadly―Equidium contest, flying giant, dragonfly-like orocs. But to add to her usual (bad) luck, an evil “Watcher” known as Olpheist is seeking her, anxious to retrieve something that will make him immortal. The first in an epic fantasy series from Jeff Rosen that will keep readers laughing and on the edge of their seats.

The Interview

Hi Jeff! Great to read a book from a fellow Maritimer! Before we talk about the book, I need to ask: what made you decide to write a middle-grade novel?

First of all, thank you for the great questions. You actually read Caley Cross!  As a writer, the best thing a reader can do is read your book.   

Writers often get into a “genre” groove and generally stay in their creative lane.  Mine has been preschool series creation and comedy. But there were themes and thoughts swirling in my skull for a while I felt would be best expressed in a book for middle-grade readers. They experience books deeply and profoundly and are generally less cynical than adults. I felt the things I wanted to write about would resonate with them. When I began to work on Caley Cross and the Hadeon Drop, I was becoming increasingly distressed at some of our Homo sapiens shenanigans. For example, our relationship (often toxic) with the natural world, and specifically our treatment of animals who we regard as property. In Caley Cross, people have “baests” living inside them that give them fantastic animal-like powers. I tried to imagine a world where animals are our equal, and inform our behavior, and what would happen if they ever decided to get even. More of that in the next book!  I was also thinking about the rise of populism and totalitarianism and how it can insidiously creep into cultures. Plus, kids need a good laugh these days.


CALEY CROSS AND THE HADEON DROP is pure fantasy adventure. Did you read a lot of fantasy growing up, and if yes, what were your favourites? 

Oh, yeah. I devoured books. I lived inside of Tolkien, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Vonnegut, Shakespeare, Hardy Boys...  and Mad magazine. Also, my actual life was mostly fantasy. For example, when I was 5, I was living (mostly alone) above a lingerie shop in Montreal. My bedroom had bars on the window and was full of headless mannequins. I roamed the streets, without adult supervision, bought a dog with stolen money, ate frozen dinners I cooked for myself, threw parties no one came to, and never went to school. Like an animal! That’s probably a story for another interview...


In the time-honoured tradition of putting our main characters in the worst situations ever, you start the book off with Caley living with The Gunch. How fun was it to write that character?  

Naming her was the most fun!  When I thought of “Edwina Gunch” I smiled for a whole day. All self-respecting villains need a good name; The White Witch, Voldemort, Uriah Heep, Long John Silver, Satan, Trump...  Anyway, the Gunch runs “The Gunch Home for Wayward Waifs” which is basically a government-funded orphan sweatshop where Caley lives at the start of the book. The Gunch is phenomenally cheap, vain, and cruel. She once used Caley’s arm as a pin-cushion and feeds her seed she makes her steal from the neighbor’s bird feeder. But Caley is not a totally innocent victim. She is a bit of a zombie-raiser and seems basically to be haunting/slowly driving the Gunch insane. It was also fun creating mildly sadistic scenarios between the two... some based loosely on my own life. Maybe “fun” is the wrong word. Therapeutic? 


Caley’s powers are, to say the least, interesting! Did you always know what kind of powers she ought to have and what made you pick the ability to raise things from the dead? (which, by the way, is deliciously creepy).

It’s strange because very early on, I knew Caley could raise dead animals. I didn’t know why or what the source of her power was, and it only revealed itself to me months into writing. (*Hint: the clue is in the title.) Caley Cross also has a planet-swallowing monster living inside her... which makes her someone you probably don’t want to cross (pardon the pun.) Why dead animals? Part of it was inspired by my horror over how we treat living animals. Caley feels animal's pain deeply, and part of the power she possesses is to bring them back... to resurrect them... but only the ones who have been mistreated. And they kind of exact their revenge.  So her ability can be seen as positive or negative, depending on how it affects others; bad for people like the Gunch, not so bad for zombie animals (although debatable.) How Caley sees her power and utilizes it becomes a central conflict in the series; the struggle to identify herself as either good... or evil! 


The world-building in the book is top-notch. Do you think that your work in television and your career as a visual artist gives you a leg up when writing scenes and adding detail? I could totally see the characters!

Love this question! It was more challenging than I thought it would be, to be totally honest. In TV and film writing you use a kind of shorthand to describe characters and settings. It’s as lean as possible. Nobody wants to read a bunch of boring description in a script. The shorthand works in visual mediums because as a creator you can then oversee the artists and directors and the whole filming process to express your vision. It isn’t enough info for a book reader. Some of the early editorial feedback was that readers felt I tended to write less than was necessary to really get a good feel for the environments and characters. So this was a big learning curve for me.


I love the idea that every character has a monster inside them (isn’t that true!). Are you willing to share what yours is?

Hmmmm....  I suppose it’s a vampire poodle. We actually have a vampire poodle, named Vlad. Here is a photo of him with a recent victim. As you can see, all light is sucked into him. Please to enjoy. He biiiiiites!



There’s a lot of drama and danger AND a lot of humour. How did you balance that in telling the story?

Honestly, it was not that difficult because that is exactly the makeup of my inner life (drama/danger/humor). I write what I know.  I have always felt there isn’t enough humor in MG books – they can be quite dry and earnest. Caley Cross has a very sardonic, bleak outlook, but also a kind of gallows humor  – that’s the way she has survived. (She and I have a few things in common.)  I wanted the book to largely be a comedy, but the drama and danger kept creeping in.  You can’t control your creations!


I'm not going to give away any of the plot, but I will say that CALEY CROSS AND THE HADEON DROP feels like the love child of HARRY POTTER, THE GOLDEN COMPASS, and STAR WARS! When can we expect the next CALEY book to drop?

That is exactly how I would describe the book!  (With a bit of Monty Python thrown in.) As for the next installment, I am working on it...


Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions for our Middle-Grade Minded Blog readers, Jeff!

You are most welcome. It’s been my absolute pleasure!


Follow the adventure @

And art stuff at

Want a chance to win a copy of CALEY CROSS AND THE HADEON DROP? Leave a comment below before November 9th at midnight and you'll be entered for a chance to win! Good luck!

Friday, October 16, 2020

Scary Stories for Middle Grade Readers and Writers

With Halloween around the corner, middle grade readers and writers are itching for some good scares! Here's a list of great books to tickle your terror, followed by writing resources for crafting spooky reads of your own.


With more books coming out all the time, Goosebumps is a great series for budding spooksters.

The House with a Clock in its Walls

This family-friendly tale is rife with humor and horror.

Children of the Red King

Here's another great series with spooky themes. Middle graders will love discovering Charlie Bone's unique gifts as he explores the grim dangers of Bloor Academy. 

The Magisterium 

This series from Holly Black and Cassandra Clare delves into a world full of mystery and forbidden magic. 

Where the Wild Things Are

True, Where the Wild Things Are is a picture book. But this story is a long favorite of kids who love monsters and of parents who love to thrill them.

For more on spooky MG, check out the reading list and Q&A section over at

Scary Writing




Enjoy your thrills!

Monday, September 28, 2020

HATCH by Kenneth Oppel


Okay, I'm not going to lie: I've been waiting to read the second book in the BLOOM trilogy since I read the last one back in the spring.


First the rain brought seeds. Seeds that grew into alien plants that burrowed and strangled and fed.

Seth, Anaya, and Petra are strangely immune to the plants’ toxins and found a way to combat them. But just as they have their first success, the rain begins again. This rain brings eggs. That hatch into insects. Not small insects. Bird-sized mosquitos that carry disease. Borer worms that can eat through the foundation of a house. Boat-sized water striders that carry away their prey.

But our heroes aren’t able to help this time–they’ve been locked away in a government lab with other kids who are also immune. What is their secret? Could they be…part alien themselves? Whose side are they on?


Just like with BLOOM, Oppel sucked me in from the first page. If BLOOM was all about the sudden and horrible infestation of Earth by disgusting plants, HATCH is all about creepy-crawlies.

Honestly? I hate creepy-crawlies. And nobody does creepy-crawly better than Oppel. Read THE NEST if you want to know what I mean. I literally shivered my way through that book. And readers: Ken Oppel did it to me again. 

Sometimes I had to put the book down because I was so jittery. And of course I picked it back up.

And kept thinking how much kids are going to LOVE being so creeped out!

While the first book focuses on Seth, Anaya, and Petra, book two introduces us to new characters, all of whom are fully drawn and are various degrees of likability. 

Our protagonists have no idea who to trust, including each other.

Oppel makes us care about his characters, which makes the stakes that much higher.

We also learn more about the aliens in HATCH. Or do we? Oppel leaves us guessing.

HATCH ratchets up the tension and thrills, and Oppel does an amazing job of taking us deeper into the labyrinth of this world, where we can never be certain that things are what they seem to be.

Of course, he leaves us hanging.

It is a long way until spring 2021.

And I can't wait!

This is a book that will be devoured by kids everywhere, though I would recommend it for kids 10+. 

And you MUST read BLOOM before you read this one.

But don't worry: you will devour them, much like some of Oppel's creepy crawlies devour their prey.


Verdict: 5 stars!

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Rea and the Blood of the Nectar Cover Reveal

We are so excited to share that @mangoandmarigoldpress is launching its eighteenth book and first middle grade novel EVER! Rea and the Blood of the Nectar is written by debut #ownvoices author Payal Doshi. This novel tells the story of Rea Chettri, a 12-year-old girl living a simple, if boring, life on the tea plantations of Darjeeling, India. Without warning, Rea's life gets turned on its head when her twin brother goes missing. Determined to save him, Rea embarks on a secret, thrilling adventure into the enchanted world of Astranthia. There, Rea will make new friends, grapple with dark truths, learn the meaning of family and friendship, and discover her true self. Rea and the Blood of the Nectar is the first book in the series The Chronicles of Astranthia.

With this launch, @mangoandmarigoldpress is also continuing their #1001DiverseBooks program to help not only bridge the diversity gap but also the accessibility gap in children’s literature. With each new book launch, Mango and Marigold Press is committed to also raise the funds to donate 1001 books to literacy and advocacy nonprofits that are working across the country to help those in need.

We need your help to make our vision a reality. Will you be a part of the change to end the diversity gap AND accessibility gap? When you pre-order your copy of Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, you can also sponsor a copy for our nonprofit partner for only $10!

For all pre-orders placed between September 15th through September 22nd, 2020 you will have an exclusive chapter to read as a sneak peek into Rea’s adventure as well as receive limited edition character buttons, a bookmark, sticker, and a signed bookplate from the author!

Expected Ship Date: May 2021


Payal Doshi:

Payal Doshi has a Masters in Creative Writing (Fiction) from The New School, New York. Having lived in the UK and US, she noticed a lack of Indian protagonists in global children’s fiction and one day wrote the opening paragraph to what would become her first children’s novel. She was born and raised in Mumbai, India, and currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband and two-year-old daughter. When she isn’t writing or spending time with her family, you can find her nose deep in a book with a cup of coffee or daydreaming of fantasy realms to send her characters off into. She loves the smell of old, yellowed books. Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, the first book in The Chronicles of Astranthia series is her debut middle grade novel.

IG: @payaldoshiauthor

Twitter: @payaldwrites

Bev Johnson:

IG: @beverlylove

Twitter: @beverlylove


Friday, September 11, 2020

Busting Through Writer's Block

I used to think writer's block wasn't real. It only existed in the minds of writers who didn't really want to write. Maybe there's some truth to that. But deep inside every true writer there burns a desire to write, even if it's buried really, really deep. It's there, like a sleepy monster that just needs reawakened. Whatever is blocking the writing monster must be swept away.

Causes and Solutions for Writer's Block

Writers block can stem from a host of different problems. Each problem has its own solution, although there can certainly be some crossover.

The Scrambling Scribbler

This is the writer who is swamped with life and can barely find time to fit writing in. Honestly, this applies to most of us from time to time (all the time?). Occasionally, when busy schedules or an overcrowded life forces us to take a step back from writing, it can be tough to get started again. We feel like we don't have time to refresh our minds on what we were working on. Or we don't have the energy to dive back in.

The Solution: Write. Right now. Really.

The truth is, if you're a writer at heart, you need to write. It's important. For your sanity. And for the sanity of your friends and family. Trust me. When you're experiencing that panicked I-don't-have-the-time-or-energy-to-write-anymore feeling, take a deep breath. Sit down for five minutes and write. Right now. You can manage five minutes. Write anything, whatever pours out of you. It doesn't have to be related to other work you've set aside. Just the simple act of reconnecting with your writing self will help ease you back into the joyful act of creating. The barriers will start to come down. If you need ideas to get your started, try out these prompts.

The Hairy Deadline

Sometimes a deadline can make us freeze up. We want to produce our best work. We want to satisfy a publisher. We want to please our fans. Maybe we want to win a contest. Whatever the case, the hairy deadline can create a ton of stress, which then blocks our creative progress.

The Solution: De-Stress

I could write an entire month of posts on de-stressing, but here's a few quick tips. First off, tell yourself it is ok to not be perfect. And really try to believe it. Making progress and producing a body of work is more important than being the best at what you do. Second, get outside and run, bike, or go to the gym. Do a little yoga. Anything to get your blood pumping so you can sweat out some of those toxic stress hormones. Follow this up with a little meditation and relaxation - indulge in a nice, long bath or a beach read, anything that helps you unwind. You'll find yourself refreshed and ready to write again.

The Dreary Doodler

This is for when you are totally bored with what you are writing. This creates a block of its own. And trust me, if you're bored, the reader will be, too. 

The Solution: Try Writing Something New

Even if you're working on a project you are committed to finishing, experimenting with an unrelated story can give you just the break you need. It can stimulate fresh ideas and insights into your primary work-in-progress. 

The Shell-Shocked Spirit

Unfortunately, sometimes a tough life experience can hurt our spirits and shut down our creative processes. We feel like we are just trying to survive. If our physical or emotional needs are not met, we can't achieve our potential. This hampers our creativity. Check out the science behind this principle. This is where I first learned that writer's block is real. 

The Solution: Meet Your Needs

This is a tough one. But I would say the solution is to find ways to meet your other needs. Maslow's hierarchy describes a pyramid. The base is our physical needs like food and safety. Next is psychological needs such as relationships and feelings of accomplishment. Once those needs are met, we are more free to create and be fully self-actualized. 

The Inner Critic

We've all been shut down by the inner critic before. You know that nettlesome voice that criticizes what you write, sometimes before you've even written it. 

The Solution: Put on Your Creator Hat

It's time for the critic to take a break. Put them to bed. Lock them in a dungeon. Take off the critic hat! Writing and critiquing activate two very different parts of your brain. When you are writing, mentally put on your creator hat and respectfully tell your critic side to shut up. You can say it however you like. The point is, be aware that writing and editing are activities that should not happen at the same time. Give your creative side a chance to breathe, a chance to create. Feel free to edit later.

The Weary Wordsmith

Life can be exhausting. So can writing, especially when you are delving into dark or emotionally intense  storylines. 

The Solution: Take a Break

Take a nap. Go for a walk. Take some kind of break doing something that rejuvenates you. You will return refreshed, renewed, and ready to write.

What helps you overcome writer's block?