Monday, May 30, 2016

The BFF Bucket List, by Dee Romito

In Dee Romito’s The BFF Bucket List, two best friends are growing apart. The solution? A super fun bucket list of items they must complete by summer’s end: Sleeping outside, getting tattoos, shopping in pjs, breaking a world record, and having a water balloon fight, to name just a few.

In honor of this fun, fast-paced middle grade debut, I decided to make a bucket list for my dog Cooper!

Since Cooper couldn’t write his own list, I took the liberty of hopping over to and making one for him! Naturally, being a good-spirited Goldendoodle, Cooper was not only up for the challenge, but wanted to complete his entire list in ONE DAY!  (I know. Pretty impressive. He’s ¾ poodle, which explains the over-achieving tendencies.)

On a lazy Saturday, Cooper woke up, ready to cross items off his list:
1. Long Walk: This turned into more of a run, but it was still fun!
2. Road Trip: This was a challenge. Cooper does not love the car. But he did it, with the promise of frozen yogurt, yet to come!!!
3. Random Act of Kindness: Cooper helped me donate a box of clothes to Goodwill. He was unwilling to part with any of his toys, but maybe next time.
3. Fro Yo: This frozen confection was gone in less than thirty seconds.

4. Steak Dinner on Fancy China: Yes, my dog dined on beef tenderloin.

 5. Long Nap: After our adventures, Cooper was ready to rest!
Thanks to inspiration from The BFF Bucket List, I put aside my usual Saturday chores and enjoyed some special time with Cooper. 
Hop over to and start your own adventure today!

Friday, May 20, 2016

On not being afraid to jump

At this very moment, I’m poised at the beginning of writing a new novel, with my thoughts and brainstorming and scribblings scattered about me. My heart speeds up just thinking about what this story could be. I’m excited about its potential, but it’s daunting. (Somehow, all beginnings seem daunting to me.)

You know that gap between what you can imagine and what you can create? When your vision for your story is UP HERE but your writing ability currently seems to be down here? Yeah, that gap. I always fear it's enormous, and if I attempt to tell this story (meaning, any story that catches my heart) I’m going to plummet to the depths of… what?... disappointment? failure? Truth is, I’ve got a feeling, an image, a hope of what this story could be, and I just don’t want to wreck it.

And yet... Maybe I’ll be able to close the gap enough to do the story justice, to be happy with what it becomes, even if it isn’t the perfect story of my imaginings. It won’t be anything at all if I don’t try! And who knows—maybe what it becomes will be the story it’s actually meant to be. I have to believe that, I think, if I’m going to move forward.

Maybe that’s how it is with all creative work. You start out with a vision, and then you put your heart and soul into it, and you so want it to be brilliant.

But then you look at it, and when you see what you’ve made, it’s not what you were aiming for. And you’re like, what?!?

Maybe somewhere along the way you went off track, or you couldn’t quite “bridge the gap”, and you’re disappointed and maybe frustrated and maybe a bit why-do-I-even-bother. But I want to encourage you to trust that your efforts are not wasted or worthless. Trust that if you put your heart into this act of creation, it will speak to someone else’s heart, too. And that bridges a gap between hearts. Between people. Isn’t that the most important bridge to build?

So… see that gap? It’s okay. Jump.

I'll jump with you.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

SCAR ISLAND Cover Reveal!

I know, I know.
If you clicked over here from Twitter or Facebook, you're probably not interested in the words I'm typing. I'm betting that you're probably just gonna scroll right down to the cover, right? It's a safe bet, given that it's exactly what I do every time I zip over to check out a cover reveal.
These preambles to cover reveals are like the three pages of liability waivers you sign before bungee jumping...just a necessary nicety you hurry through before you get to the exciting part. I totally get it.
So don't feel bad. Seriously. Go ahead and look!

BUT...I know that sometimes some folks read these, and I know that I almost always scroll back up and read once I've feasted my eyes on the cover. So I should say some stuff, right?
Well, I am truly excited to reveal the cover of my upcoming middle grade novel, SCAR ISLAND, which will be coming out January or February 2017 from Scholastic.

SCAR ISLAND is about Jonathan Grisby, a boy who commits a terrible crime. His punishment? Being sent to the grim and gloomy Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys, an island fortress that is much more like a prison than a school. Just as he's figuring out how to survive there, a freak accident leaves Jonathan and the other Slabhenge boys alone, without any grown-ups. Suddenly the kids are free, with an island to themselves. But freedom brings unexpected danger. And if Jonathan can't come to terms with the sins of his own past and lead his new friends to safety...then every boy on the island is doomed.

SCAR ISLAND is, in some ways, very different from my other two books. It's a little darker, a little grittier. It still has that gooey emotional center that I like in a story, but this time there's a bit more crunch to the plot surrounding it. Plus it has giant rats, which I'm pretty stoked about. I'm really excited to get this story into readers' hands...and really excited to show off the cover.

Once again, I lucked out. I was over the moon for the covers of my last two books, THE HONEST TRUTH and SOME KIND OF COURAGE. I loved their striking simplicity, their similar styles, the kind of thematic purity that put the heart of the story right there on the front of the book. They were both designed by Nina Goffi, and I will be forever grateful to her for giving my stories such beautiful faces.

So I was beyond thrilled when I heard that Nina Goffi had signed on to design the cover of SCAR ISLAND, too! And, once again, I think she knocked it out of the park. She has an amazing gift for not only putting together a compelling, attractive-to-the-eye image...but one that also perfectly captures the mood and personality of the story. I'm so lucky and grateful to have my book covers in her brilliant hands, and SCAR ISLAND is no exception. I love it.

So, without further ado, here it is (as if you haven't already looked). I hope you like it as much as I do!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Preparing to Write Your First Draft

I'm about to begin the first draft of my sixth book.  Before you think that's an accomplishment, I should advise you that:

a) the first book I wrote, It's a Mystery, Pig Face! took YEARS from draft one to publication (oh wait, it's not published YET...)
b) the second book I wrote, three years ago, is only being revisited now, thanks to my abject fear that it probably sucks
c) the third book I wrote is a sequel to the first book. No one was actually looking for this book and it is clear now that it will NEVER be the sequel to the first book. It's only chance of seeing light of day is if I suddenly become rich and famous and my fans clamor to see it. Yuh-huh...
d) the fourth book lies abandoned on the side of the road in the dark world that is my computer
e) the fifth book is currently out on submission, which makes my stomach hurt.

I can say, unequivocally, that I only started getting the hang of preparing to write with the fifth book.

Prior to that, I got an idea and started writing. Those were happier days, but ultimately, less satisfying, because I always ended up trapped in the middle of the book looking for a way out.

And the revisions? Brutal. Total rewrites and clean-ups.

The process I'm using for this YA novel is similar to what I used for the fifth book:

1) I have an inspiration

Light Bulb Clip Art

2) I have no idea what to do with that inspiration

Me, having no idea...
This is how little vanity I have left...

3) I research. I read things to help me refine the idea - in the book I am about to start, one of the characters has a brain injury. I am reading about brain injuries, watching documentaries and will soon do some interviews, all to make sure what I put on paper is as true as it can be. I take copious notes.


4) I stare out the window a lot and go for long walks. If it's Spring or Summer, I might garden. This is both to assist my imagination and to procrastinate

5) I may or may not surf the net endlessly (see #4 above)


6) I write and rewrite a one page synopsis, so I know where I'm going (which will bear almost no resemblance to the final product, I'm sure)


7) I write a three or four page summary (see #6 above)

8) I do some more pre-plotting and character analysis. One of the tools I have found very useful is Kristen Kieffer's She's Novel website (which is full of great supports for writers) Pre-Write Project Tool. It was worth the money ($7) to buy, because I can use it multiple times and it makes me think about my plot and characters. You can get yours here.

Shes Novel logo

9) I read really good books. I love reading award winners before I start draft one - the excellent writing inspires me and reminds me of what I am aiming for.

What I'm reading right now. Brilliant!

10) I outline. I do a spreadsheet that breaks down every chapter and every scene, flags who is in the scene and the point of them being in the scene, how it relates to the theme, tracks my date and time and how it relates to the overall story arc. Then I draw myself a picture and track it using a plot planner.

The plot planner is something I picked up from a course I did with Martha Alderson, whose book The Plot Whisperer was very helpful in getting my seeing my story from the hero's journey perspective.

If you want to see some examples, visit my Pinterest board here.

As well, Jami Gold has some awesome worksheets on her website that are helpful at this point.

11) Finally, I get so itchy to write, I begin. And the first draft is always sloppy, but hey, that's what revisions are for, right?


It may seem like a lot of work, but I find that with preparation, my writing process is SO much easier!

How about you? What's your first draft process? I'd love to hear about it!

Until next time: Keep writing!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Guest Post and Giveaway from Karen Harrington, Author of MAYDAY!


Something happened to my seventh grade daughter the other day and I can’t stop thinking about it.

The setting: Honors English

The main idea: The teacher offers a choice of four different books for classroom book clubs.

The conflict: Girls and boys and the books they choose in public vs. private.

Are you intrigued? Then let me tell you what happened. My girl, CJ, has always been a voracious reader. We read together. She still asks me to “snead”, which has long been our word for snuggle+read. We talk about books all the time. She’s only a little impressed that I’m an author. She was MOST impressed when I had the privilege of getting her a signed copy of Jerry Spinelli’s MANIAC MAGEE. In any case, we talk about books all the time.

But the other day, she came home and told me about how the teacher of her class had created Book Clubs. Basically, the book clubs get to choose a book and then have group conversations about the book. As I understand it, the teacher gives a synopsis of four or five books and the students choose which one they want to read. The idea is that the students will go sit with other like-minded readers and have a discussion.

Terrific, right?

One of the books this time around was THE WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary Schmidt. Another was WALK TWO MOONS by Sharon Creech. CJ knows that I love each of these books, though she’d never read either one. Being Gary Schmidt’s number one fan myself, I’ve always suggested she read THE WEDNESDAY WARS. A lot. Maybe “suggested” isn’t the right word. Maybe leaving it on her bedroom floor all the time is more accurate. CJ initially was all set to pick that book and go join that book club. But, oh no, that book club was made up of, wait for it…wait for it…all BOYS. Boys! Boys who, in CJ’s own words, “are so completely weird…what happened to them since fifth grade is shocking.”

So what’s a young seventh grade girl to do?

She quickly put Schmidt’s book aside and went for the safer choice: WALK TWO MOONS. Now, either book is a wonderful read. Hooray to the teacher for sharing these books! But this scenario gives me pause as a writer of books with both boy and girl protagonists. Are girls and boys missing out on great reads because it would be mortifying if they were the “only” in the group? If the perception of one book or the other is “too girl” or “too boy”?

I suspect the answer is YES.

In the end, I know CJ will read THE WEDNESDAY WARS on her own. We will snead it together. But the other girls? They might miss out. And the boys will miss out on WALK TWO MOONS. Naturally, there are books that speak to different kids and genders. And I love that there are so many dedicated teachers out there creating book clubs and book discussions. I suppose I’ve realized CJ and her peers will sometimes choose books publicly and privately. Maybe that has always been the case since the invention of seventh graders.

Karen Harrington is the author of books for anyone who is or was once a seventh grader, which is her favorite age group. Check out her latest book, MAYDAY, about a seventh-grade plane crash survivor, Wayne, who is on a quest to recover two things following a plane crash: the American honor flag that belonged to his uncle and his voice, all while trying to fit in between his unreliable dad and his super patriotic, military grandfather. MAYDAY received starred-reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. Karen is also the author of SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY and COURAGE FOR BEGINNERS.

Enter for a chance to win one signed, hardcopy of Karen’s novel, MAYDAY (U.S. only) by leaving a comment about your favorite books for seventh-graders or any book related topic.

Find out more at or follow her on Twitter @KA_Harrington.

Monday, May 9, 2016

When enough is enough... or is it?

How do you know when it’s time to quit?
Time to give up on a manuscript?
Time to stop querying?
Or even time to stop writing all together?

Straight talk… Last year I wanted to quit. Not just stop querying my YA manuscript, not just stop writing my MG WIP, not just stop generating and outlining ideas, I wanted to quit everything with respect to writing.


I honestly lost count of the number of times I said it, and I thought it infinitely many more times than I admitted it. Life was crazy with selling/buying houses, planning a wedding, changing jobs, life drama, and numerous deaths in the family. Writing was the last thing on my mind, and yet… I still kept doing it.

For the sake of transparency, writing certainly wasn’t happening every day, let alone once a week. I was lucky if I was putting some words on the page once or twice a month. I hated my WIP, and despite many full requests for my YA manuscript while in the query trenches, I was tired.

Tired of waiting.

Tired of writing.

Tired of hearing no.

Just plain tired.

I wasn’t just at the end of my rope, I was done.



The end.

Soooooo Over it.




But there was a little voice in my head telling me not to give up. And countless other VERY LOUD voices of critique partners yelling at me to keep going, telling me that my time was coming, and threatening to kill me if I quit (as if that would help :-P).

Well if I’m being 100% truthful, I did quit. Numerous times. I just didn’t tell anyone that I went long stretches without putting anything on the paper, without sending queries, without thinking about writing. But my mind kept wandering back to YA manuscript that I believed in more than anything. And those MG dragons kept creeping into my thoughts and threatening to torch me if I didn’t finish their story.

And as much as I hated every word I typed as it happened, every time I revisited the previous writing session, I secretly thought… maybe this isn’t as bad as I thought. So I kept going until one day not so long ago, I wrote two of my most favorite words…
And then something amazing happened. I got excited. I pulled out my magical editing axe, swung it around a bit, and started dreaming about fixing that giant steaming pile of poo I just created. I wanted to keep going because I knew my time wasn’t up. I hadn’t completed the things I wanted to do. And despite everything, I still believed in myself. Not to mention the angry horde of CP’s running after me with torches and pitchforks. ;)

And while I haven’t had “my time” yet, I know one day it will come. And when it does, I’ll look back and wonder why I let all that stuff get to me so much… hopefully. **nervous laugh**

Monday, May 2, 2016

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Siren Sisters

It's a very special day for Middle Grade Minded. I am beyond thrilled to host the cover reveal of the fabulous Dana Langer’s new middle grade novel Siren Sisters! 

Here’s the description that has me on the edge of my seat:

A twelve-year-old girl in present-day Maine dreads becoming a siren like her three older sisters until she witnesses their kidnapping and must use her powers to save them.

BRB just feeling the salty wind blow through my hair...

New England, ocean mythology, and sister relationships…I’m freaking out with anticipation. And now for the main event! Check out this powerfully evocative cover:

Here are few words about this stunning piece of art, from Dana herself:

Three years ago, I was teaching The Odyssey to a class that consisted solely of four girls (two of whom were twin sisters). As we read the section about sirens, I started imagining the story from their point of view; I saw this image of four sisters standing on a cliff in the rain with a horrible shipwreck below them. The rest of the story developed from that first image, so I was thrilled to see it used as the cover! SIREN SISTERS also features a mysterious twist, and the shadowy figures, stormy sea, and eerie green color palate capture that mood so well. In fact, the first time I saw the cover comp was the second time in this whole process (after getting an offer) that I started physically shaking. I just thought it was so beautiful and it made everything feel so real. Simon and Schuster did an incredible job, and I am very grateful. 

Dana Langer

OK, so as an unabashed fangirl of mysterious, small-town, New England Middle Grade (MSTNEMG...we're gonna make it a thing) January 2017 can not come fast enough. Thank you, Dana for sharing this amazing piece of art with us!