Friday, October 31, 2014

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!! A tribute to one of my favorite MG horror series of all time..GOOSEBUMPS!


Did I scare you? You know I're shaking in your boots aren't you? Don't deny it! I strike fear into the hearts of many! Okay, I don't really but you know what really did used to scare the beejeezus (how do you spell that by the way..beejeesus? beejeezus? bee geee zoos?) out of me when I was a wee lad. A series of books called GOOSEBUMPS by the acclaimed author R.L Stine.

For this Halloween, I wanted to take a trip back in time, and think back to some of my favorite Goosebumps books that had me trembling under the sheets with a flashlight. Some of the books weren't even that scary, but some of them....oooooh boy. It was just wrong. Nightmares galore. not to mention that the GOOSEBUMPS title was always raised and bumpy...freaked me out too!

I don't know about you guys, but I was the type of kid that looked forward to Scholastic Book week more than any other week of the school year. Checking off the books I wanted to buy, mailing out the order form, and waiting patiently until FINALLY the boxes were delivered to all the students. Opening up that box, and getting my grabby hands on all those books was better than Christmas. And for me, Christmas was Halloween with the Goosebumps books. My wife and I seriously must have every Goosebumps book from the first two series. She was more obsessed with it than I was, but still we both have an extreme passion for the middle-grade horror.

So here we go, a list of my top five favorite GOOSEBUMPS books from the original series. Which were yours?


By far one of the CREEPIEST of Goosebumps covers. Yeah, something about a skeletal family having a BBQ didn't sit over well with me when I got the book. Say Cheese and Die was actually inspired by an old Twilight Zone episode, and ironically enough, I've learned that a lot of stories created by Stine were influenced by Serling's epic series.

The story revolves around a simple, old camera that is not what it seems. Every picture that develops from it comes out entirely wrong and basically foresees terrible things happening to the target of the picture. From car crashes, to fires, to breaking banisters, anyone whose picture is taken with this camera is DOOMED.

This one really holds a special place because it was one of the first ones I had ever read. From that moment, I was hooked.


Imagine donning a mask that attaches itself to your face? Yeah...not creepy at all. Especially when the mask starts changing the very person you are, and is slowly transforming you into a MONSTER. AGHHHH!!! I couldn't put on Halloween masks for years in fear that I wouldn't be able to pull it off.

And honestly, if I was a parent I would never let a kid wear that creepy arse mask. Just look at that thing!


Probably the most famous "series" of Goosebumps books are the MONSTER BLOOD ones. There's probably like twenty of 'em (I'm exaggerating), but these books were beyond creepy. Side note about the Goosebumps book. While insanely creepy at points, they are also pretty hilarious at others. After all, it's targeting a younger audience and you don't want to scare them too horribly. I've always found myself rolling in some of these Monster Blood books due to the absolute absurdity of what's going on.

Don't touch the Monster Blood - unless you feel like turning into one.


I hate dummies...I hate dolls...enough said. This book ruined me.


One day at Horrorland was an absolute classic. Monster themed rides, exploding cars, evil ticket takers. I always imagined Disney World turning into this sort of theme park one day, and the idea of a haunted amusement park fulfilled all my monster needs. It wasn't even the scariest of the bunch, but was definitely one of the ones I read through numerous times.

So.....which were YOUR favorite GOOSEBUMPS tales?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tree Roper Guest Post

Thanks for giving me some space and voice on the blog! I’ve got some serious and some silly to share, so here goes.

First of all, the fun.
Hi. I’m Declan Parker. Twelve. Tree climber. Aaaand I’ve got one brother. Ethan. He’s younger than me and mostly a dork – but sometimes all right. Oh, and I was born with one eye, but so what?

Anyway, I guess I’m supposed to tell you something that’s not in the book, or whatever.  

Um, let’s see…Oh, I know! Dad says if you only use one arm when you climb trees, then that arm will grow longer than the other. Ha! I don’t believe him, but I think my brother Ethan does. Which is dumb, because Ethan is pretty smart, but mostly on the school side of smart, not on the “real-life” side of smart, if you know what I mean. And, anyway, you kind of need two arms to climb trees. Well, maybe not. But I bet it would be hard for a one-armed dude – or girl (there are some really good tree climbing girls!) – to climb really well. 

And, let me think, what else…oh, yeah! Climbing trees puts hair on your chest. That’s what my dad says. I’m still not sure about that. I guess I’ll have to wait and see. (Hmm, I kind of hope that’s not true, you know for the girl tree-climbers’ sakes, but, yeah, never mind that I said that. That was stupid.)

And…um...this is hard. Uh, I guess if you see my brother and he tells you that I’m afraid of spiders, he’s lying. I’m not afraid of anything. But I don’t like spiders. Which isn’t the same as being afraid of them, just so we’re clear on that.

I guess, finally, just try climbing trees – if you never have before – and have fun! Thanks! (Whew.)
Second of all, the serious.
Tree care is a dangerous occupation, but one my main character, Declan, and his father love. And although OPERATION TREE ROPER wasn’t meant to be solely about tree climbing, as I revised the book, I wanted to accurately convey the dangerous sides of climbing trees within the tree care industry. 

Not only do climbing arborists need to be careful to not injure themselves, they need to take precautions against harming persons in and near their work zone. They must be aware of any property below or nearby.

While I don’t want to delve into citing specific worker injury and death related statistics, I can tell you that while I worked as a full time arborist, I’d read shiver inducing injury and death reports in nearly every monthly professional journal I received.

It’s possible to enjoy time on the job climbing trees, but you’d better be paying attention to some safety guidelines or someone will get hurt – or something will get broken. 

Now, I’m careful, but even a careful climber can make mistakes. I’ve been shocked by secondary contact through tree branches coming into contact with a bare electrical transmission line, had my foot smashed between a swinging limb, and the tree trunk – breaking several bones – and one time, I actually cut my primary climbing line and would have fallen onto my back on a stone patio twenty feet below me if I hadn’t had a secondary tie in. 

In each one of those incidents, I made mistakes – sometimes multiple mistakes. I was lucky. Usually, mistakes in this profession are very unforgiving.

Here’s a few basic rules I tried to follow in order to help guard against accidents on my jobsites.
1.      Never cut when someone is underneath you.
2.      Tie off any branch that has a target underneath – or move the target. (A target is anything of value that could be damaged by falling debris. Birdbaths, tables, walls ,and fences are examples of common targets.)
3.      Check the area below and in the general vicinity of operations before each cut.
4.      When the area below (drop zone) is clear, communicate your intentions to workers below and wait for the all clear signal before proceeding.
5.      Only cut if you have two secure and separate tie–in locations.
6.      Work deliberately. (I did not say slowly. Deliberately and slowly are very different. Sometimes the safest operation is a quick and precise cut and drop.)

A couple other things, I tried to remember to take plenty of rest breaks to replenish my fluids and ward off cramping muscles. And, finally, I always tried to remember that not many people would get to see the views I could enjoy. So, the next time you climb a tree, soak in the view and appreciate your situation.

Be sure to check out Operation Tree Roper: An Eye Above available now!

Twelve-year-old Declan Parker was born with only one eye, but all he seems to have trouble seeing in proper perspective is himself. All he wants is for kids to see him as normal before he starts a new school in the fall. To that end, he sets out to make money helping with his dad’s tree care business.

Unfortunately, when his dad lands in the hospital after a climbing accident, Declan’s surgery hopes are wrecked. His only hope remains in a neighbor girl and her uncle, a wounded army veteran. Can they help him save his dad’s business, or will Declan’s once-courageous drive turn into total despair?

Friday, October 24, 2014

When Life Gets in the Way of Writing

As writers, passion is the reason we pick up a pen. I’ve never met people more motivated and enthusiastic as the writer’s I’ve met over the past few years. Passion is the reason we daydream about our stories and our characters that we come to love like real people. The reason we feel the need to share it with the world.

But what happens when passion disappears? When life gets in the way and exhaustion sets in?

One solution is to take a break, walk away and let yourself recharge—but that’s not always an option. One thing I’m learning is that sometimes motivation becomes illusive at the most inopportune times.
Right now I’m working on edits for my first novel. I have an unrevised novel that’s been sitting in a corner, collecting dust. I have two half written novels and several more I want to write. I’m a mentor for Pitch Wars and have two writers with huge potential relying on me to help them.

I’m also pregnant and preparing for a HUGE change in my life. I’m exhausted and have been through two infections in three weeks. Soon, I’m going to have newborn and then what? 

This is life and if you want to be a writer, you have to push through the struggles on occasion.
Here’s what I’ve learned: it’s okay to slack off every once in a while. You have to take care of yourself.If some nights you can’t stop your eyes from crossing and the only thing you can manage is watching an episode of Big Bang Theory, before passing out at 9p.m.-- that’s okay.

BUT! The more you put off, the more stress it adds. So as your life changes, you have to change with it. There is a fine line between discipline and pushing yourself too hard. Here are a few tips for when things are at their hardest.

1.     Plan- you know what work you need to get done so split it up and plan it out day by day so that you never get stuck with a huge load at once. 

2.     The hardest part about work is getting started, so sit down and get started. Once you’re there, things start to roll and your mind remembers what it needs to do.
3.     Be honest. There are very few times, even as a published author, that there is no leeway in a deadline. There might be consequences, but it’s do-able and believe me, it’s better to have to push back a deadline, or put something else on hold than to turn in sub-par work. I told my editor about my infections and he was very understanding about my delay in the revision. So when you’re behind and someone is waiting on you, be honest.
4.     Embrace the struggle. Use it to your advantage. Today I had to write a blog post but had trouble getting the motivation, so I wrote about my own struggles. Last year I wrote a short story inspired by writer’s block, which later won a contest. Writing is about passion and emotion. Struggle is a strong emotion. So use it. 

Writing and life don’t always go together well, but it’s never impossible. Has life ever gotten in the way of your writing? What did you do to get past it?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Empty Phrases

Often when we write a query, we want to be clever. We want to be mysterious. We want to entice the reader with things that keep them guessing. And these are all great things to strive for. However, sometimes in a query we write a phrase that sounds great to us, but it leaves the reader confused and with little information. For instance, what does mostly dead mean anyways?

These phrases that are vague and confusing are called empty phrases. Because they are exactly that—empty, devoid of important information that would help the reader become interested in your story. And there are many reasons to avoid empty phrases.
They Waste Space
When you write a query letter you only have a couple paragraphs to clearly explain your story. When you use an empty phrase it tells the reader nothing. Even worse, you could have spent that valuable query letter real estate actually explaining what changed, the big secret, the difficult obstacle, or what was bad enough. Explain your story.

It’s Telling not Showing
Empty phrases tell the reader how they are supposed to feel and react rather than giving them an example of what happens and letting those feelings happen organically. Instead of making a point clear, they just leave the reader wondering and confused about the specifics.
They Don’t Have Details 
When you write empty phrases you often think you are being a little mysterious about the plot, and are therefore exciting or enticing the reader. The problem is you are doing the opposite. Empty phrases are vague and tend to turn off the reader. You are better off using specific details to set your story apart from everyone else. If your story doesn’t sound unique, a reader is going to give up.

They’re cliché
Empty phrases tend to be commonplace and overused statements. They aren’t overly creative. And why would you want your story to sound like everyone else’s? Make your story stand out.

So how do you get rid of empty phrases in your story? 
Okay not really. Sure empty phrases are hugely disappointing for a reader, but don’t lose hope. There are many ways to eliminate them. You start by going back to the details and focusing on what sets your story apart. You show the reader instead of telling.

Here are some examples of empty phrases, and what you might do to replace them with better story related information.

He soon learns: Rather than waste space, just show the reader what happens. What the character “learns” should come through in the story, not be forced down the readers throat. Stick to what actually happens and what “he learns” will become apparent on its own.

With nothing holding her back: If there’s nothing holding her back, where’s the story? Show the conflict and the problem the character is facing. Let the reader see the dilemma. Then you’ll have something that will entice readers.

However, fate has other plans: Well that’s great for fate, but what happened to the character? Tell the reader the details and leave fate out of it!

As if that wasn’t bad enough: If you’ve done your job right in a query letter, you won’t need to say this at all. It will be obvious the situation is bad. And as you continue to walk the reader through the conflict, you will show how things are about to get worse.

Life is turned upside down: Literally? Well that’s sort of crazy… Okay, I’m sure you don’t mean literally, but what happened to the main character? What horrible thing made life so unbearable? Give the reader details, then you’ll have something compelling.

Encountering multiple obstacles: Well, every main character encounters obstacles, but what specifically does your character have to deal with? Someone literally blocking your path is very different than dealing with death, or the fact that you have detention and you can’t go to that awesome concert. Those are all very different stories. So think about what specific thing is standing in the way of what your character wants and then use that detail to show the reader the problem.

A horrible secret: We all have secrets. But the drama and tension begins when we know someone else is hiding something from us. And while we may not know what the secret is exactly, we all have ideas on what those secrets might pertain to. So when you go into the details, the secrets start carrying weight. Only then are they truly interesting.

And then everything changed: Really? Stuff changes all the time. The leaves change colors, the weather changes, we change clothes, we change jobs, classes, you name it. What changed for your main character? Just say it, don’t waste the reader’s time saying everything changed because it’s probably unlikely that everything is different. Some things will always stay the same.
Yes, yes, you do! So when you write a query, show that you are smart. Show the details of your story. Show what sets it apart. And use that valuable space to make that query shine with specific, interesting details! What empty phrases have you or others used, and how did you get rid of them?

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!

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