Friday, August 30, 2013

Why I Write Middle Grade - by Tom Torre

If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me when I was going to act my age - well you get the point.

This is me now. Sitting on my home-made game of thrones, dressed up as some idiotic warlord. At my job. Talk about immature?

(bow before me, minions!)

I just turned the big 'ol 3-0 this past June, and how do I feel? Well, I still feel like I'm a teenager. But I guess that's the point. I don't think I am ever going to grow up. The fact of the matter is, I don't want to. Sure I know how to be responsible (sometimes?), and I know that I have to wake up every morning and go to work. But ask anyone. Ask my friends. Ask my wife. Ask my parents. Ask my co-workers. They'll all tell you the same thing.

Tom Torre? That guy is never growing up. And they aren't saying it in a bad way.

(I mean, how cool am I? Taking a picture with Leonardo)

Which brings me to the whole point of me writing this post. Why I write middle grade? This isn't even a question for me, it's a given. What better way for me to tap into my inner child than by reliving experiences through the eyes and mind of my MG's MC's. With each MG book I write, or outline, or formulate, there's a little piece of me in each one. So many of my fondest memories come from my childhood, and why wouldn't I want to relive it in as many ways possible?

(yup, like I said. I'm awesome)

Who was I in middle grade though? Saying I was a nerd, would be putting it lightly. I gamed constantly, and most of my hang outs with friends consisted of either playing video games, DnD or Magic the Gathering. I wished I was a member of the Goonies, and I would drag my friends out on obnoxious treasure hunts. Sure, as I got older I took part in more "normal" activities such as playing hockey (I'm a pretty dang good goaltender), but I always kept with my nerdly roots. I was that kid known for his stupid voices, and being the class clown. I was also the one that drew on my test papers, and all over my desk. As big as goofball as I was though, I was still a sensitive kid.

As you know, MG wasn't without its heart breaks. It's a critical point of development, and it's really, what I feel to be, the building blocks for the rest of your life. As much as I remember the good times, I remember some of the bad as well. But they balanced out, and I'm lucky for that. And each memory gives me a chance to shape it into a new story. Memories of friends, families, and events that you will remember for a lifetime.

With the hopes that one day my MG books will be on shelves, and you happen to pick up a copy, realize that when you're reading my work, you're reading part of my life. It may not be as it actually happened, but there's bits and pieces of me in there. Not just me from when I was younger, but me as I am now as well. After all, I feel the best group of people that I can relate with, are those I write for. And those that I feel I act like the most.

I'm just kid. Always have been. Always will be.

Anyway, thanks for reading, but that's not all folks!

For my rafflecopter giveaway, I shall offer my esteemed artistic services (which aren't that great mind you..but I was a cartooning major in college lol), and I shall sketch your Main Character & your villain from your novel for you. You would just need to provide me a description so I know what the heck I'm doodling. Otherwise, you're just getting a bear attacking a shark.....and the bear is going to be riding a raptor and the shark is flying on a pterodactly. In fact, that's kind of cool. So i'll draw that instead if you so desire.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, August 26, 2013

Why I write Middle Grade - by Brooks Benjamin

I'm eternally immature.

Or at least that's what a lot of my middle school teachers wrote on my report cards. They may not have said it in those exact words, but trust me--they meant it.

For me, middle school was this weird combination of Holy crap I can't wait to get out of this place and Best. Years. Ever. It was the time when I got bullied the most, but it was also the three years of my life when I made some of my absolute closest friends. I was a certified band geek, a comic book nerd, the founder of a don't-tell-anyone-we-dance dance crew, the creator of the Cherokee Ghostbusting Club, and the proud owner of a complete Ernest P. Worrell outfit (which I wore for an entire month).

Yeah, awkward would be a good way to describe my middle school life.

But it was during those years when I started figuring out what kind of person I was going to be. I loved being part of a team. Part of group. Part of something bigger than myself. Even when I think back to my absolute favorite movies, they're the ones that feature the rag-tag group of guys and girls, each with their own quirky personality. Alone, they're not much. But put them together and you've got yourselves Ghostbusters, The Goonies, or a Monster Squad.

And here's what I figured out:

When you can find that group of people who can truly appreciate your odd-ness, your strange-ocity, your eternal immaturity, you learn really fast that being weird can be a safe thing. Unfortunately, that comforting blanket of stick-togetherness sort of faded away when we got to high school. Sports, girlfriends, boyfriends, peer pressure, and everything else started to pull all of us in different directions. And while we lost a lot of that group energy we loved so much in middle school, what we kept helped us get through those next four years in one piece.

So if I had to boil my why-I-write-MG answer down to a single reason, it'd probably be that. Middle school sucked in more ways than a thousand, but it gave me something I'd never let go of. And every time I write, I want that theme to blaze through the entire book and shout out from every page.

That it's okay to just be yourself.

Now go embrace your own inner Ernest and let yourself get a little more eternally immature.

For my giveaway, I'll be creating a book trailer for one lucky (published or unpublished) winner. The trailer will include any music, text, and pictures you'd like. The finished product will be between one and two minutes long and I promise to make it kick as much butt as I can.

Here's an example of what I'll try to pull off:

ONE by Leigh Ann Kopans Book Trailer

Good luck and thanks for entering!

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Why I Write Middle Grade - by Stacey

Growing up, I didn't read much at all. I was one of those super stubborn kids who refused to do anything adults told me to. Up to the age of fifteen I'd read "The End" on two books—and not once was it a book we we're supposed to read in school (an impressive feat, honestly.)

  (Aw, look how sweet I looked… trust me, looks can be deceiving!)

One day, I thought "Ya know, maybe I'll try actually reading one of the books I do a report on." I picked up The Lord Of The Rings for a book report and…. I LOVED it. When I finally got bored of those, I reached for new books. My favorites? Tom Sawyer, Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia and finally, the book of all books—Harry Potter.

I loved falling into a new story and losing myself. So eventually, I decided I wanted my own. My own characters, my own story, my own world.

That's the story about how I became a writer. But why Middle Grade?

I could list a dozen reasons why I love MG. I have a ton of memories from my middle school years that are awesome! And some not-so-hot ones. I could say how I've always loved kids books (did you notice my favorite books in high school were classic kids books?) I could tell you how I'm a Goonie at heart. Or that I want to make up for the time I missed reading as a kid. Or even that I want to write stories that kids will want to read, not just because parents or teachers tell them to.

All of those are great reasons, and they're all a little true. But it's not really why I write Middle Grade.

The real reason is—I'm still a stubborn kid and write whatever I feel like writing. (DON'T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!) Middle Grade and Young Adult is simply what I want to write. Pre-teens and teens are fun and it's their stories that I can't seem to let go.
Sometimes, when a character crawls into your brain and decides to stay a while, you can't help but create a cool world with lots of exiting adventures for them.

Sometimes their story just needs to be written.

I write both YA and MG with no intention of growing up from there. Maybe one day an adult character will poke at my brain until I write them a new story, but until then, I'm sticking with teens or almost-teens.

I write what comes to my mind, what stories beg me to be written. 

Time for a giveaway! I've decided to do something a little fun. I'll be doing two giveaways-
                One- will be the typical raffelcopter for a three chapter critique by me!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

                Two - I mentioned that I'd read two books before tenth grade. One of them was Music of The Dolphins by Karen Hesse. The other was a Goosebump books (remember those?)

 So, for my second giveaway- The first person to guess which Goosebumps (original series) book I read will get a query critique by me (this prize is transferable, or savable. So feel free to enter just for fun no matter what. Already agented? Give it to one of your friends or a random other entrant, your choice. Don't have a novel ready to query? Save it for later.)

Both giveaways are for MG or YA novels. I'd be willing to do adult but I'm not an expert so enter at your own risk.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Why I Write Middle Grade - by Jamie Krakover

I didn't originally intend on writing Middle Grade fiction. In fact, I thought I was writing a Young Adult book. I buy most of my books in the YA section of the book store and it's practically all I read. So when I started writing, naturally, I gravitated toward young adult fiction. So it came as a huge shock when both an editor and an agent at a writer’s conference told me my book read like a middle grade. Of course, I was new to writing and had made some serious rookie mistakes. And for the sake of learning, I'll mention that I started the book with my main character in his room, and gave him the age of fourteen which falls in that unhappy no man’s land that sometimes makes shelving your book difficult. Even worse, I had no idea what the difference between MG and YA really was.

After the conference, I scoured the internet on the differences between YA and MG and still struggled to understand what separated one from the other. In the meantime, my main character lost a year of his life and became thirteen as the wise agent suggested. Then I changed the opening scene to my book as the editor recommended. Despite the wise advice, I still felt completely lost in the Middle Grade world. It's been twenty years since I was that age. But once I started thinking about why I wrote the book, things fell into place.

There are many things in my life that I love. Two things I'm very passionate about are science fiction and children. I babysat a ton growing up and did the camp counselor thing for several years. I even took cadet teaching in high school despite knowing that I didn't want to be a teacher. I loved working with kids, watching them overcome challenges, and seeing them discover new things. At the same time, I grew up on science fiction because my parents are huge fans. They introduced me to numerous TV shows and movies in the realm of sci fi. I also discovered a love for science fiction books in high school. Unfortunately, I was a bit late to the reading game. But in looking at those two loves, I realized that not only did I want to write science fiction and share it with the world, but I wanted to turn kids onto it at a young age like my parents had done for me. And in generating that goal, I realized that writing for Middle Grade was right where I wanted to be.

Jamie age 11

Middle school is tough. It was probably some of the worst years of my life, and not just because I didn't know what a hairbrush was. In middle school I wanted an escape. But I didn't have an escape because I didn't read. There was a whole host of reasons for not reading in my free time. One of the biggest reasons was that I couldn't find a single children’s book I wanted to read. The adult books that I might have found interesting were too high of a reading level for me. So when I set out to write what would become my first MG manuscript, I not only wrote something that would get kids into science fiction but I also wrote the book that I desperately wanted to read as a kid but couldn't find. The escape for my seventh grade self to a land of imagination where anything, and I mean anything, is possible. And that is why I write middle grade.

As part of the blog launch, I'm hosting a giveaway! YAY throws stardust! I'm giving away a query and synopsis critique!!! Yes, I said and! Many of my critique partners call me the synopsis wizard because my forte is wielding my magical editing axe and getting synopsis into the 1-2 page range. So hopefully I can use my powers for good and help one of you! My specialties are MG/YA science fiction and fantasy, but I'm also open to adventure, mystery, and other genres. Fair warning, I'm not great with contemporary but I will still critique a contemporary query and synopsis if you feel so inclined to enter. Good luck to all who enter!
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Monday, August 19, 2013

Let's Get Middle Grade Minded!

*Throws confetti!*

Do you know what today is? 

Don't you remember the excitement? The horror? That white cold feeling of imminent embarrassment?

How will I find all my new classes? What will I wear!?

New friends, new teachers, new clothes!


Everyone has memories of school, good and bad. Remembering those things, those moments of horror and excitement, is one of the best ways to get into the head of a Middle Grader (who in the WORLD would want to do that?… oh, me, that's right)

Middle Grade writers are special (take that word however you'd like ;-) Crazy, yes, but awesome! We here at Middle Grade Minded would like to take you on a journey through the world of Middle Grade Literature. 

Some of the things you can expect here:
  • Posts every Monday and Friday!
  • Critiques
  • Tips and advice
  • Moments of doubt and rage about writing and the publishing process
  • Hopes and dreams (which are sometimes crushed and sometimes achieved in moments of absolute glory)
  • How to get into the head of a Middle Grader
  • Interviews with published authors, agents, and writer hopefuls
  • Giveaways and lots of fun!
Who, you might ask, will be taking us on this Middle Grade journey?

Meet your new Besties (don’t worry, we won't talk about you behind your back) And, to help you get to know us, we've included a fun memory of our Middle School experiences (however long ago they may be).

Rocket Scientist Extraordinaire who writes MG and YA Science Fiction

Jamie's Middle School Memory -
I was always a ball of nerves on the first day of school. What would my teachers be like? What kinds of things would I learn? Would it be hard? But despite all the nerves, the thing I love most about the first day of school - new school supplies. Picking out a backpack, and colored notebooks. I was an organizational freak and back to school supplies was my nerd heaven. A blue notebook for Science, a red one for English, a purple one for Math, and a green one for History. Some brand new pencils and I was set to go. I was always prepared, in fact over prepared. I always had twice as many supplies as required! And no I didn't share because people stole my stuff!

Come back on 8/21 for Jamie's first post and enter to win a query + synopsis critique!

Magicians daughter, stubborn kid and writer of—whatever she feels like writing (aka MG and YA)

Stacey's Middle School Memory -
First day of Middle School ever (6th grade): I walk to the bus stop, all dressed up and cute: black skirt, heels, stockings. The works. Two older guys up the street are already waiting for the bus and see me approaching. "You don't actually dress up for the first day of school, do you? That's so cute!" bahahah.

My eyes grow wide. "Um, NO! This… is just what I wanted to wear."

Apparently it's only cool to dress up for the first day of school in Elementary school.

Lesson learned. 

Come back 8/23 for Stacey's first post and a 3 chapter critique giveaway!

Writer of MG, teacher of children, and filmmaker of just about anything

Brooks' Middle School Memory -
In sixth grade, me and four of my friends began a hip-hop dance crew. We never decided on a name for ourselves, but I'm sure there were plenty of things other kids called us. 

We started out by copying our favorite NKOTB moves and paired them with some of the super-aggressive boxing-style steps of Marky Mark. We eventually graduated to Vanilla Ice and after watching the video for a week straight, we made a pact:

We'd perform for the entire school at the end of the year.

I asked our principal and he OK'ed the plan. The crew began meeting at school in the evenings to practice on the outside basketball court. My dad drove me every Monday and I remember making him turn the truck away from us because I was too embarrassed for him to see me dance (I guess I just assumed he wouldn't look in the rear-view mirrors).

That court became our stage. For weeks we were superstars and in our minds we sold out every show. There was never a single empty spot on the rusted-out bleachers that lined the blacktop and nothing could be heard over the roaring of our imaginary fans. And then, when May finally rolled around--
We totally chickened out.

To this day I wonder what my middle school life would've been like if we had performed. What doors would've opened if we had kept our promise to dance in front of that crowd? Actually it probably would've just landed me in a world full of wedgies and super-noogies back then, but... I can't help but think it totally would have been worth it.

Come back on 8/26 for Brooks's first post and a chance to win a fully customized book trailer for your latest project!

Nerd, gamer, cartoonist, and MG writer. Represented by Dawn Frederick of Red Sofa Literary

Tom's Middle School Memory -
It was sixth grade, during lunch recess. I was playing handball with my good friend Mike at the time in this little brick nook at the back of the school.

So, there we were, innocently smacking a ball around, when who happens to stumble upon us, but my old crush. Mind you, this was a crush for me that lasted ALL through elementary / middle school and into junior high school.

She walks up to us, forcing me to stop playing in fear that I'd look like an idiot. She smiles and looks at me and out of nowhere asks, "Tom, how tall are you?". Now I took this as a normal question. We were friends after all, and didn't expect any hidden agenda. So I told her "Taller than you."

She laughed and said "I don't believe you, let's see." She walks up to me, goes face to face with me and says "Okay, I guess you are taller." Then, without warning. Smack. A kiss right on the lips. TOTALLY OUT OF LEFT FIELD. Mike just looked at me and gasped. She ran off all smiles and went back to her laugh with her friends.

Later that day, it was all Mike and I were talking about over some Nintendo games. SHE ACTUALLY KISSED ME. Strangely enough, we never talked about it or anything. Nothing came of it. No middle grade dating. We were still friends all through high school, but my crush eventually diminished. Still, it was the coolest thing to ever happen to me as a kid with a crush.

Come back on 8/30 for Tom's first post and a giveaway for a drawing of your main character and antagonist!

Certified arborist, avid tree climber, and served time in public education where he taught freshman physical science for three years then school counseled for eight

Robert's Middle School Memory -
My older brother was born a year before me, in the same month. We were close enough in age to play well together - or not. He always liked to win and was very smart and athletic, so he usually beat me whenever we played games. And I, being a competitive brother, hated that.

During the summer of my sixth grade year, we were outside playing Tarzan - taking turns climbing, swinging and jumping out of the crab apple tree in our yard.  When it was his turn, he swung out of the tree and faked an injury. (That was the story I told later, anyway. You see, I might not have been as smart as my brother, but I knew an opportunity when I saw one.)

When he jumped/fell out of the tree, he landed funny and stayed down on his hands and knees for a minute, reaching back for his ankle. That was a BIG mistake. I grabbed all the crab apples I could find and shouted something like “Die you evil ape!” I fired crabapple after crabapple at him, releasing the fury of eleven years of second places out on him. 

While he protested and crawled to the back door, I continued to shout and pepper him mercilessly with the marble sized fruit. Soon, my younger brother joined me in the attack. And with each strike, we negated painful memories of important losses to him. Monopoly, Risk, Battleship, War, Checkers - ah the sweet relief of blasting my helpless brother with crab apples is a fond memory I will take to my grave. 

When my older brother eventually reached the back door and opened it (still on his hands and knees) mom met us, and we knew we were busted. He looked up at her helplessly and I held fruity ammunition, poised to launch, when mom laughed. And I laughed. And my defeated brother crawled inside.

I finally won. I was the king of the jungle that day! 

Come back on 9/2 for Robert's first post and a chance to win a copy of Wonder by R. J. Palacio and a copy of One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia!

Math teacher, professional thumb wrestler, and founding member of Nebraskans for Hufflepuff

Daniel's Middle School Memory -
Mrs. Beery, our Reading and English teacher, assigned a five minute speech on a great hero in American History. Because I loved giving speeches and because I thought I was hilarious, this kind of an assignment was a cake walk for me; and I wanted to spice it up a little.

I was going to turn the standard 'this person was a great hero' speech into something mesmerizing-ly funny. I wrote my speech on note cards, practiced in the bathroom a couple times and when she called on me the next morning, I was ready. I stepped in front of the class, and of course, since I was so good at this kind of stuff, I'm pretty sure they were all expecting white hot brilliance.

And then I started. "Dick Clark is one of the greatest heroes in American History." I looked up, 30 sets of eyeballs glazed over. The panic began almost immediately. You know, Dick Clark, of American Bandstand Fame of Dick Clark's Rock N Eve of TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes, the guy who even though he was old, looked unbelievably young. I mean, what a hero to American Men, right? 

You get the problem, not only was this a terrible speech but the eight or nine laugh out loud moments I created in the speech were really "the guy giving this speech is a complete tool" moments.

My body temperature rose significantly, I sweat so much I created a puddle around my feet (hopefully that was sweat), and my voice shook uncontrollably. Mrs. Beery was kind enough to intervene, she told me to sit back down, relax and do the speech later in the period.  

I spent the next twenty minutes in complete fear until finally she called on me again. I went up there and this time I bombed even worse. By the middle of it, tears were leaking from the corners of my eyes and I felt like I was going to be sick.   

For the next year and half, I was terrified of giving speeches, talking in front of the class, or trying to be funny in front of people. That Dick Clark speech proved I was terrible at that sort of thing. Mrs. Beery tried to get me to join the school's speech and drama team but she was out of her mind.  

Finally, the last spring of Junior High, she pulled me aside and told me she had found a couples drama skit, written by Neil Simon that I just had to do and she wouldn't take no for an answer. The good news is, I wouldn't be all by myself, I'd have a partner to lean on.  

I was scared, but I said yes. Michelle and I practiced our play every day, we kept getting better and at the end of the year city wide Speech and Drama Tournament, we finally performed for real.

And we won.

Since that day, I've never again been afraid to talk in front of an audience and I have Mrs. Beery to thank for it.  

And for the record, I've never done another speech on Dick Clark.

Come back on 9/6 for Daniel's first post and a chance to win a big picture critique of half your book or white chocolate sheet cake bars!

We've got some good news. Here at Middle Grade Minded, we don't give homework on the first day (but no promises about those sneaky pop quizzes.) Instead, we give prizes! 

Right here, right now, you can enter out launch giveaway! 

Prizes up for grabs: Books, journals and a cool laptop case!

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