Friday, October 17, 2014

Howdy! Heck Yeah, I Write Middle Grade. Here's Why...

  I can remember the first sentence I ever wrote. I wrote it on an old cigar box in my backyard in Billings, Montana, when I was in kindergarten. Just three words, plus punctuation: “Do you hit?”        That's it. It was accompanied by a fairly violent stick figure drawing that is really the peak of my career as an illustrator.

   I don't remember why I wrote that sentence, or where it came from. But I remember vividly the exploding lightbulbs in my brain. I had written a sentence. Me. By myself. I'd long known that letters make sounds, of course, and that letters could be arranged into words (including my favorite at the time: “poop.” Instant humor! Hilarious every time!). But not until I scrawled those three questioning words had it occurred to me that I – me, the skinny shy kid whose family moved every year – could hook those words together into sentences. Sentences that actually said something, and meant something. Statements. Questions. Stories. Whatever idea I could come up with in my head, I could make real right there in shaky, clumsy letters for the world to see. I could convey meaning. From that moment on, I was hooked.
 Fast forward thirty years or so to today. I still put letters together to make words, and then string those words together to create sentences – but now I'm lucky to be able to weave all those sentences together into something even better: books. (I still draw mostly in stick figures, but that's a different story).
My first book,  The Honest Truth, will be published by Scholastic Press in January 2015 (you can win an Advanced Copy in the Rafflecopter at the end of this blog!). It's a middle grade novel about a boy and his dog and an adventure and a super-serious sickness. It means a lot to me and deals with big, life-and-death issues – and it's written for 9-13 year olds.
   Why? Why do I write middle grade novels? I didn't start as a middle grade writer; the first book I wrote was a (completely unreadable, terrible, exhausting, repellent, atrocious) novel for adults that was and never will be published or read or even printed out. Why did I start writing books for kids?
The short answer: because middle grade books are awesome. And middle grade readers are awesome.
   The longer answer: about nine years ago I got a job as a teacher-librarian in a K-5 elementary school in north central Washington. It had been years – decades, maybe – since I'd read a middle grade book. Of course, once I got the job I had to jump into reading a whole bunch of middle grade books to, you know, be competent at my job.
   And, man. Just so much awesome. I'd forgotten the pure joy of a great middle grade book. The thrill. The hilarity. The anguish. I sobbed my way (again) through the ending of The Bridge to Terabithia. I got goosebumps reading Wait Til Helen Comes. I stayed up way too late reading Hatchet.

   And all that was just re-reading my childhood favorites. I leapt into newer stuff and was stoked to discover how incredible and varied and vibrant the world of middle grade literature had become. Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, Creech's Walk Two Moons, Angleberger's The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Erskine's Mockingbird, Buckingham's The Dead Boys, Curtis's The Watsons Go To Birmingham...I'll just stop now. The books are just utterly wonderful.
   And the readers! No one loves a book as much as a kid when they find just the right story. No one gets as excited, as rapt, as heartbroken. It is such a joyous honor to get to share great books with great kids every day. I'll never forget a student who told me with tears in her eyes that she didn't want to read the last Harry Potter book. When I asked her why, she took a shaky breath, then said with true mourning in her voice: “Because then it'll be over, Mr. G.” Totally, kid.
   So I started writing middle grade books. And I've never looked back. Because middle grade is, to me, just the best. It's a wonderful world to be a part of. And I truly look forward to exploring and sharing and connecting with it even more here at Middle Grade Minded.

So...wanna win a free advanced copy of my upcoming middle grade book, The Honest Truth? The Rafflecopter is all warmed up and ready to take off...jump on board!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. How exciting to have your debut published in just a few short months. It sounds to me like a winner. Very intriguing story line. Best of luck with the launch.

  2. Thanks, Greg! Glad you like the sound of it. Should be a wild few months...

  3. I love MG, too, and I totally agree about kid-readers. Hard to find that love and devotion for books elsewhere. Best of luck on your debut, and congratulations!

    1. Totally, Janet...if only most adults could love books as much as kids do! It's an honor and pleasure to write for them, and a thrill to finally get it in print. Thanks!