Monday, February 29, 2016

Why I Write Middle Grade Fiction


I grew up in a family with an unwritten rule: there was no such thing as boredom so long as there were books.

And there were always books, because every Friday night we piled into my father’s Chevy Impala and drove to the local library, which at the time was located in our town’s old railroad station. Each of us filled a sack with at least 4 or 5 books.


The Old St. Croix Public Library, St. Stephen, New Brunswick
How cool to have your library in an abandoned train station, huh?



I didn’t realize until adulthood the rarity of having two parents who read voraciously and encouraged voracious reading. Now it seems the most precious gift I could have received.           

Those books took me everywhere: on a wagon train to the west, back and forth to Narnia, to a faraway planet to search for my lost brother, through a phantom tollbooth. I sailed to a small island in Britain and camped out. I solved mysteries. I was certain small people lived in my bedrooms walls.

It wasn't all adventures. I sobbed when beloved characters died  - my eyes still sting thinking of Matthew Cuthbert, Beth March, and Charlotte the Spider.  But in a tangible way, those literary deaths in middle grade fiction prepared me for real-life deaths and loss.

My daily voyages made me want to try bottling that magic myself, and I began to write to make sense of the world around me. I still have many of the stories I wrote when I was young, and while they lack a certain technique, they make up for it in sheer enthusiasm, although I feel great sympathy now for my 5th grade teacher, who read them all!

Every book had a lesson, and those lessons were personal and universal all at once. No, I wasn’t an orphan like Anne of Green Gables, but I knew what it felt like to be an awkward outsider at times. No, I didn’t live in the 1860s, but it turned out children who lived then also loved their families or felt petty or were frightened, just like me.

I wish I had this copy...
Is it wrong to covet?
Yes - I thought so...

While other books from my childhood were precious to me, there was some unspoken acknowledgement that my middle grade books were the most precious of all. I hauled them from one end of the country to the other when I grew up.


Even pulling a few out for a picture made
me want to stop and read them again!
And in times of stress and great need, they were the books I turned to for comfort. I reread the entire Betsy-Tacy series during the week I sat by my dying mother’s hospital bed. I took Anne of Green Gables with me to the nursing home when my Dad passed away.




Middle grade is when we dip a toe into the world of independence while staying connected to our families. We read for pleasure and we read to find the truth of ourselves in the truth of others. The books can take us to the inner-city, or help us escape from it.  Middle grade fiction authors weave worlds of wonder, worlds of understanding, worlds of caring. It is an awesome responsibility.
A few years ago, I decided to begin to write again after a long and self-imposed hiatus. I’d never stopped reading middle grade fiction, thanks not only to reading to my own children, but to the prodigious talents of authors like Neil Gaiman, Kate DiCamillo, Kevin Henkes, Tim Federele, Patricia Wrede and my own recognition that good fiction is good fiction regardless of the age of the protagonist.
Each time I thought of a new story to tell, I seemed to naturally filter it through the lens of a middle grader, the person whose changing world is magical and terrifying and strange. I worried that it might be difficult to conjure up those emotions and feelings again as an adult, but surprise: they’d never left me. 
I suppose in life we never forget our first loves. I read everything and anything I can get my hands on. I may write in other genres. But one thing I know for sure: I will always write middle grade fiction.




           

Friday, February 26, 2016

When You're Social Media Awkward



Oh, how much our world has changed in the past few decades. First came Aol mail, then messenger, and chat rooms.

Then there was Facebook and smart phones…. And the world was changed. 




The list of social media sites that have popped up over the years is a mile long. And ways it has changed our daily life is likely even more massive. It’s not just social anymore. It’s business. We’re told to take advantage. Books can find a readership on twitter, and Facebook, on Tumblr, or Instagram etc etc etc. If you’re not on social media you’re missing an opportunity! Or, at least that’s what they say. 

So many writers have slaved over their work for years, to all of the sudden be told they MUST have an online following.

And que epic freak out.



So how do you navigate these strange waters when you’re social media ignorant? Or worse—Social media AWKWARD. 

We’re not all social butterflies! You are not alone!



Not everyone is made for social media. Not all of us are clever and funny, not all of us are social media likable. We don’t know what to say, or the things we say come across… wrong. It’s frustrating, especially when we feel like our very careers depend on it!



So I’ve gathered a small list of tips to help those of you who feel lost in the oblivion of the internet.

1)  Experiment. Try different social media sites. Play around. Don’t be afraid to try something new! You might find something that really fits you. Not good with writing short tweets? Or you end up too long winded on Facebook? Try Instagram where you talk with images! Or join a writing site like WattPad where you post stories instead of clever posts! You might even find something completely different that you totally didn’t expect!

2) You don’t need to be a social butterfly in order to chat about your favorite fandom! A big Game Of Thrones fan? (or Orphan Black, or Pretty Little Lairs or Survivor… anything!) Awesome! Post about it (but be weary of spoilers). Share articles through the week that you find interesting. Pictures. Fan theories. Fanfictions! Books you find that fans might enjoy. Just make it something YOU are interested in. If you don’t know what to say to make friends, then just talk about what you want to talk about. It may take a little while… but folks interested in the same things will find you.

3) Not really into TV? That’s okay, you could do something simple like posting inspirational quotes. Or favorite book quotes. Or interesting facts you find online. Or music lyrics. If people know what to expect from you, and they have similar interests, they’ll keep checking to see what you have to say now.

4) Get involved! Find contests, or chats and jump in. You can volunteer to help, or join as an entrant. This is an organic way to meet people because you have a specific purpose. Things to talk about. Like-minded people will automatically be in the same places. Offer critiques to meet fellow writers. Suggest good books to find fellow book lovers. If you’re an artist, offer to draw their characters etc etc.

And if all of that doesn’t work, or doesn’t fit you. Here’s my last bit of advice.

5)   Stop stressing. Here’s the truth of the matter—you do not need to be on social media in order to sell books. No matter what anyone tells you—it is NOT necessary (even if you write non-fiction. There are other ways of gaining a platform.) Good books and word of mouth are what sell books. Sure, an online platform is very helpful. But being fake or spam-y online is worse than having no online platform at all. People know when you are being fake.

If you are not great at promotions, you could hire someone to do it for you (which might be necessary if you self-publish or don’t have any support from your publisher.) Or you could just focus on your next book. Each new book you publish will expand your brand. Expand your readership. So if you want to sell books and are awful at social media— it’s okay to just focus on writing great books.

 Everyone’s career is completely different. You need to find what’s best for you and plan around your limitations.

It’s okay to be social media awkward. You are not alone!





Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Welcome our new MG Minded Bloggers

We are so excited to welcome our new bloggers to MG Minded. But before we get to introductions, we wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone who applied to join the blog. We had so many applications, and you all made our decision really REALLY difficult. We agonized over these applications for hours and wish we could have taken everyone. Thank you to everyone who applied and to all our blog followers and readers. You've helped us build an amazing community here.

And without further ado, meet our new bloggers!


Melyssa Mercado
Melyssa Mercado is a writer of Middle Grade stories. Creative writing has always threaded the needle of Mel's life, weaving worlds and character-friends into a kid's heart. She believes humor is the true chicken soup for the soul (and that nobody really throws up all night). Mel’s wish list will forever include book-scented candles and making readers smile. SCBWI and Eastern New York chapter member. She's represented by the lovely Victoria Selvaggio of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

Follow Mel on Twitter @MyInnerMG
or her Blog: MyInnerMG.wordpress.com

Sheri Green
Shari writes both young adult and middle grade fiction. She's in love with stories and the sea, and can often be found curled up with a good book and a cup of tea, or wandering the beaches near her home on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. She's the author of FOLLOWING CHELSEA (contemporary YA) and a contributing author of FALLING FOR ALICE, an Alice in Wonderland anthology. Her middle grade novel in verse, ROOT BEER CANDY AND OTHER MIRACLES, launches Fall 2016 from Pajama Press.

In her non-writing life, Shari works as a Practical Nurse. She lives with her husband, kids, and the worst watch-dog ever.

Follow her on twitter @sharigreen
or visit her online at www.sharigreen.com.


Wendy MacKnight
Wendy's debut Middle Grade Novel, It's a Mystery, Pig-Face!, will be published by Sky Pony Press in February 2017. She is represented by LKG Literary. Wendy lives in New Brunswick, Canada.

She loves to read, write, cook, root for the underdog, garden, watch movies and sometimes pretend she's living in the South of France. Her favourite books include Anne of Green Gables, The Graveyard Books, The Penderwicks, A Wrinkle in Time, A Tale of Two Cities, To The Lighthouse, The Night Circus, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. She'll stop there for now...

Follow her on Twitter at @wendymacknight
Visit her online at www.wendymcleodmacknight.com
Check out her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WendyMcLeodMacKnightAuthor/
Follow her on Goodreads

Erin Petti
Erin Petti lives by the ocean in Massachusetts and loves to read about magic, dinosaurs, folklore, and ghosts. She has a Masters in Education and a background in improvisational comedy.

Erin lives with her husband, excellent toddler, and cat (who she suspects likes her better than she's letting on).

Her debut novel, The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee, publishes from Mighty Media Press September 2016.

Check out her Website: erinpetti.com
Follow her on Twitter: @empetti
Like her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/erinpettiauthor/
Look her book up on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28084013-the-peculiar-haunting-of-thelma-bee

Stefanie Wass
Stefanie Wass writes middle grade novels from her home in historic Hudson, Ohio. A member of SCBWI and finalist in the 2012 National Association of Elementary School Principals Book of the Year Contest, her nonfiction credits include the LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, Seattle Times, The Writer, Cleveland Magazine, Akron Beacon Journal, This I Believe, Cup of Comfort, and 15 Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies.

Catch up with her on Twitter @stefwrites and her website: www.stefaniewass.com. Check out Why She Writes Middle Grade!


Monday, February 22, 2016

Social Media and Social Change

Let's be honest here for a minute. I've seen a lot of discussions lately on various forms of social media about representation of minorities in children's literature. I think it's amazing that people are coming together and bringing these issues to light. We can't change the current culture if we remain silent. That said, as a member of some minorities and not others, I still often feel like I'm in a lose-lose situation, even in cases where I am the minority. I feel stuck, like I can't win when it comes to discussing and representing diversity in literature. Not that it's a competition, but that it's so hard to gain any ground.

I 100% agree that there isn't enough representation of a variety of scenarios that we see around the world. But sometimes it seems that if you don't try to include representation you are ignoring the world's current state. And if you do include diversity, there is always someone who has a situation that doesn't agree with your representation of said character or situation. Darned if you do and darned if you don't.

So what are we as writers to do when it comes to changing the culture of diversity?

Research
First and foremost like any other topic, do your homework. You wouldn't write a novel about the Spanish Civil War if you knew nothing about it. Same goes for minorities. Take the time to research what it's like, the struggles those groups have gone through and the triumphs they've made. And then talk to people who represent those groups. Lots of people. No two people's experiences are the same. While sometimes you will find trends and similarities that may not always be the case. So make sure you get members of those minorities to proof your stuff. Get their perspective. But like any other critiques realize this isn't a one size fits all scenario.

Be Respectful
We are all human, we all make mistakes. If you see an error or something offensive, don't just fly off the handle and gang up on someone. It might be an honest mistake. Politely engage and discuss the situation. We are all here to learn and do better. The old adage you can catch more flies with honey applies here. Honest discussions can be tough, and locking down emotions can be hard as everyone is entitled to their feelings, but I've found a quick, hey did you realize this might offend people in this group goes a lot further than hey jerkwad. A lot of times people don't even realize what they said was offensive and bringing it to light gets the problem corrected quickly and prevents future issues from that person.

Listen
Just as we should be respectful when approaching others with issues, we need to listen when people tell us something is a problem. It's hard to understand the situations that each unique person has gone through. We couldn't have possibly experienced them all. So when dealing with minorities that's often our time to shut up, listen, and try to understand what it's like to walk in their shoes.

Keep Talking
Have honest discussions and chats. Bring issues and information to light. Challenge those unconscious biases. We all have them, myself included. I've caught myself in phrases that directly conflict with my ideals sometimes and it's because those thoughts are so ingrained in our society and our thoughts. Awareness is the first step. Recognizing that we have biases and that we can do better is tough, but the more we realize what biases we have and work to correct them the better things will be.

Social media is a great place for bringing issues to light and raising awareness. Ideas spread quickly online and people take notice. So do your homework, keep talking, keep listening, and most of all respect one another. It is our unique experiences that make us all such wonderful and interesting people. Diversity isn't a competition. It's something to be celebrated. Because at the end of the day, when we bring all of our differences to the table, the world becomes a much stronger place. Social media is the perfect arena to come together and honor our uniqueness. Enjoy the discussions and learn from them. Spread the knowledge and make the world better.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Author Interview: Lee Gjertsen Malone and THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH'S

Next Tuesday, February 23rd, a debut middle grade novel will be hitting bookstore shelves: THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH'S, by Lee Gjertsen Malone. Here's the gist:


"Seventh grader Jeremy Miner has a girl problem. Or, more accurately, a girls problem. 475 of them to be exact. That’s how many girls attend his school, St. Edith’s Academy.Jeremy is the only boy left after the school’s brief experiment in co-education. And he needs to get out. But his mother—a teacher at the school—won’t let him transfer, so Jeremy takes matters into his own hands: he’s going to get expelled.Together with his best friend Claudia, Jeremy unleashes a series of hilarious pranks in hopes that he’ll get kicked out with minimal damage to his permanent record. But when his stunts start to backfire, Jeremy has to decide how far he’s willing to go and whom he’s willing to knock down to get out the door."

I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advanced copy of the book, which I devoured in just a couple of days. It was witty, warm, hilarious and charming. I definitely agree with Kirkus, which called it a "spectacular debut" in a starred review. You all should definitely go out pre-order a copy yourself - it's a wonderful, lively yarn that's sure to keep you turning the pages. You can check it out on INDIEBOUND or on AMAZON.

Ms. Gjertsen Malone was kind enough to answer a few questions about herself, her book and her writing life.


DG: The setting of your story - an elite east coast private school - is so unique and interesting. Do you have a connection with private schools? What gave you the idea to write a story with this setting?

LGM: I don’t have any specific connections to private schools – in fact I went to public school for my whole childhood and find private schools fascinating for that reason. But my husband actually went to an all boy’s school that went coed a few years after he graduated.


After reading a fundraising appeal letter that explained all the great things they’d added at his old school – like girls sports teams – and how many more girls were attending each year, I got to thinking. Why would a school decide to go coed? And how could they be sure it would actually work? And then, if it didn’t work, what if the opposite happened.....if there were fewer and fewer kids like you each year.

At the same time I was mulling the idea of writing a story with a very strong boy-girl friendship at the center. My idea of the failed coed school was the perfect setting for that kind of story.

DG: I absolutely adore Jeremy Miner, your main character. He really felt so real and believable. Was it hard for you to get into the head of a seventh grade boy?

LGM: Thank you, because one of my biggest fears in writing this book was that people would not find him believable, largely because I am not a seventh grade boy. (Or actually any sort of boy at all.)

 Still I think that most people, at their core, are very similar in a lot of ways. We all have fears and insecurities and concerns about the shifting relationships in our lives. A seventh grade boy is really not all that different.

I should also add, though, that I did have two men read this book several times, my husband and one of my crit partners, and their feedback on Jeremy was vitally important. (Especially since my crit partner actually grew up in Western Massachusetts, where the book is set)


DG: Like so much great middle grade lit, your story is in many ways about identity - about figuring out who we are and where we belong. Did you have experiences in your own adolescence in which you felt isolated, excluded or like you didn't belong? How much of your own middle school years did you draw on to write this story?

LGM: I’m not one of those writers that tries to write about myself, not at all. But if there’s one aspect of my own middle school years that comes out in this book, it’s the feeling Jeremy has that whatever he does, he’ll always stand out for one thing he has no control over – that he’s a boy. It’s around that age, I think, when kids start to realize that sometimes you can stand out by choice – by your skills and abilities, your actions, your interests. Like Claudia does. But other times you stand out for things that aren’t your choice, and maybe aren’t a reason you want to stand out at all.

For me, it was because I’m an identical twin. And that really started to bug me during those middle school years. Not because I dislike my twin, or even being a twin, but because I felt like that was the only thing that the people around me ever noticed or cared about. I could have set the building on fire and half the kids would be like “Check out that twin girl with the gascan!”

Seriously – I bet there are tons of people I went to school with who, if they encounter this novel in a store, will immediately go “Oh look, one of the Gjertsen twins wrote a book.”

I can laugh about it now, but it grated on me so much at around age twelve. I think a lot of kids feel that way.

I also think that’s one of the reasons why the pranks become so compelling to Jeremy despite some of his early reservations – it’s his chance to stand out by choice.


DG: A lot of the story hinges around Jeremy navigating his changing relationships: with his family, his friends (old and new), and even a potential crush. You really make this a vital and compelling part of the book. Do you have any tips for other middle grade writers on how to make the relationships in their own stories become alive and important on the page?

LGM: One aspect of the story that was important to me from the beginning was the idea that Jeremy has all sorts of different relationships in his life, even though most of them are with women. Each relationship has its own ups and downs, and history, and even private language – the way he talks to Emily is different from the way he talks to Claudia from the way he talks to his sister, or his mom.

And this is true for everyone, in real life, both kids and adults. So I think it’s important to observe those little details in the relationships around you and incorporate them into your writing. One example – in this book, when Jeremy is with Emily, he’s always aware of how they are in space. Where she’s sitting, where he’s sitting, that sort of thing. Because they have this awkwardness in their relationship that he’s aware of but doesn’t fully understand. Meanwhile that never comes up with Claudia – she could sit right next to him and whisper in his ear and he wouldn’t even really notice.  Those kinds of details help show how real relationships can vary so widely in big and small ways.


DG: Can you tell us a little about your path to publication with THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH'S? Do you have any advice for other aspiring middle grade writers on making that publishing dream come true?

LGM: How much time do you have? The short version is this is not the first manuscript I’ve ever written, it’s also not the first one that went on sub to publishers, and I’m not with my first agent. So I guess the message from that is keep at it? People tend to like overnight success stories, but most of the successful writers I know spent a long time perfecting their work, querying, and facing rejection.


DG: Congratulations on a spectacular debut. While I'm sure (and I hope) that you're focused on enjoying the launch of this book, is there anything else you're currently working on? What's up next for you?

LGM: I have a few projects in the works, but nothing I can really talk about yet. Hopefully I’ll have some news to share at some point!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Set sail with BLACKHEARTS and these amazing giveaways!




Today we've got something better than a hot new debut novel and a giveaway.

That's right. Better.

We've got a hot new debut novel and TWO giveaways!

All thanks to BLACKHEARTS. I had a chance to read this book while it traveled through the Sweet Sixteens debut author tour and I was absolutely blown away by it. You can read my review of it here, but trust me when I say I adored this book.

And that's why I'm so happy to help Nicole Castroman kick off her book release day with a pair of giveaways so two lucky readers can fall in love with Anne Barrett and Edward Drummond.

So without any further ado, let's get this book birthday started!



First we have our Blackhearts international giveaway where one lucky person will win a hardcover of Blackhearts wherever the BookDepository ships via Chasm of Books:

a Rafflecopter giveaway


And next we have our US only giveaway where someone will walk away with their very own signed hardcover of Blackhearts and a swag pack:

a Rafflecopter giveaway



Blackhearts 

Blackbeard the pirate was known for striking fear in the hearts of the bravest of sailors. But once he was just a young man who dreamed of leaving his rigid life behind to chase adventure in faraway lands. Nothing could stop him—until he met the one girl who would change everything.

Edward "Teach" Drummond, son of one of Bristol's richest merchants, has just returned from a year-long journey on the high seas to find his life in shambles. Betrothed to a girl he doesn’t love and sick of the high society he was born into, Teach dreams only of returning to the vast ocean he’d begun to call home. There's just one problem: convincing his father to let him leave and never come back.

Following her parents' deaths, Anne Barrett is left penniless and soon to be homeless. Though she’s barely worked a day in her life, Anne is forced to take a job as a maid in the home of Master Drummond. Lonely days stretch into weeks, and Anne longs for escape. How will she ever realize her dream of sailing to CuraƧao—where her mother was born—when she's stuck in England?

From the moment Teach and Anne meet, they set the world ablaze. Drawn to each other, they’re trapped by society and their own circumstances. Faced with an impossible choice, they must decide to chase their dreams and go, or follow their hearts and stay.





Want to witness everyone else gush about how good this book is? Check out these other blogs and join in on all the #PrePirateNation fun!

Chasm of Books

Bookmarks

Beauty and the Bookshelf

Chasing Faerytales

Artic Books

My Friends Are Fiction

The YA Booktraveler

Bookishness and Tea

Read.Read.Read.

Sophie Reads YA

Friday, February 5, 2016

Why I Write (Middle Grade)

At one point or another, everyone who writes for this blog has been put to the ubiquitous question, “Why do you write/care about Middle Grade?” For most of us, it’s something we discuss in our very first post here, as Stefanie demonstrated so fantastically earlier this week. I did this too, way back in October, 2014, which, in internet time, is like back when Earth was still cooling and the dinosaurs roamed. 

Truth be told, I’m pretty sure that everyone to ever make any mention or use of the term Middle Grade in public or private or surveillanced conversation has been immediately tasked with explaining why that was a thing they cared about. Sometimes I feel like once you commit yourself to MG, someone should maybe give you a course on managing the question, not unlike spies get counter-interrogation training before M or P or K or which white-coated bloke hands them a bolo tie that includes both a micro-chip camera and enough explosive play dough to blow a hotel door off its hinges. “Here’s your middle grade welcome kit, Agent MG171, mind you talk about how much the kids need books these days! Oh, and try not to sear your finger tip off with that fountain pen laser. Poor Agent MG169.”

As I was pondering the curiousness earlier this week of why, as a MG-er, I seem to have to account for myself far more than, say a Sci Fi novelist or a Romancer or that Dinosaur Erotica writer1, I came to a startling realization: I’ve mostly been lying to everyone, everytime I’ve answer that question.

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a bit there. I haven’t out-and-out lied about anything. It’s not like I’m running for public office or anything. But my usual explanation typically includes some reference to how I stumbled into MG thanks to my kids, how I hope it makes me a better, more understanding, possibly “in-touch” parent, how kids raised on Instafeed and Facegrame need books these days, yadda yadda yadda.

All of which is true and kinda important.

But none of it is really why I write Middle Grade.

The real why of it boils down to two things: a) The first story I ever remembering telling in written format, and b) complete and utter selfishness.

Okay, so as for part A, way back when I was but a middling-wee thing — probably 4th grade, perhaps? — I was given a writing assignment at the start of the school year, the particulars of which I no longer remember. What I do recall is that on the last day of school for the previous year, I broke my arm in spectacular manner, and the breaking of it was one of those things I’ll never not see replaying as a fascinating horror movie in my head2.

For the How I Spent My Summer Vacation writing assignment, I wrote about that accident. But inspiration took me, and I felt like doing something different. I decided the paper shouldn’t just be another essay, recounting dry facts, but rather a scene, representing the event. For the first time in my life, I wrote a story for someone else, the story of what happened one fateful day, three long months prior. I framed the tale using voice and descriptive language, things I didn’t know about or could have named then, but that I already realized would make for a better retelling.

Oddly, the story was 100% true, which ironically makes my first piece of “real” writing narrative nonfiction, which I doubt I’d attempt at this stage in my life.

I got an A+.

I’m not going to lie to you, in and of itself, that wasn’t an unusual thing. I got a lot of A+’s throughout my primary education. I was that kid, the one that never studied but usually got everything right, frequently ruining the bell curve in the process. Although everyone called me “smart”, the truth was that I’d been gifted with the a limited type of eidetic memory, allowing me to remember things as pictures, sometimes still and somtimes moving. As an adult, I realize now it’s a visualization gift that lets me to render better scenes when I write. Back then, though, I didn’t know that a specialized form of memory recall is what made me “the smart kid”. But that’s a different post.

What I did know was that I usually got A’s because I could see test answer in my head. But this? This was a creative work, something I’d never had much gift with before. Seriously, I almost failed Kindergarten because I couldn’t – and still can’t – color inside the lines. 

That A was different. Special. Of all the A+’s I got in elementary school, that one has always stood out for me. Because I’d put a part of myself in that assignment, and my teacher appreciated it. The feeling I had when I got the paper back was incomparable.

That feeling is why I write. I’ve spent my life chasing it, and it took 30 years to figure out what did it. Now that I have, I never want to get tired of it.

Ever.

But does that really explain why I write Middle Grade? Only about half. Sure, that experience was absolutely formative, but let’s not forget about part B, selfishness. That is, I believe with my whole, shriveled, darkened heart that part of recreating “that feeling” comes from writing with a Voice that 10 year-old me would identify with.

See, it all comes down to what I want to read now. I can remember that as a middle grader (back when the internet was still a thing only nefarious defense contractors had access to), a good book could take over my whole world. And it didn’t need to be a middle grade book, even. Goodness knows I read many that were intended for adults. But whatever I hurried from the school library to class with back in the day, from mystery to scifi to fantasy, from space to the future to Narnia to Middle Earth to Prydain to Krynn and beyond, I tended to become lost in it. And even when I wasn’t reading, the words, and the worlds, would stay with me. I didn’t have to be reading to be there.

I enjoy writing Middle Grade because I selfishly want to remember – and in whatever way possible recreate – that feeling. I want to write books that middle grade me would have enjoyed. Books that remind me of what it was like to get transported to another place and/or time, or another person’s life, and get lost there.

Preferably places, times, and people without a mortgage or weekly status reports.

Can I do that by writing adult-age novels? Yes, of course. I’ve done it, actually. But the thing is, those “adult” novels I’ve written would still have been enjoyed and appreciated by middle grade me.

Which, at last, gets me to the stark, honest truth:

I write Middle Grade for many reasons, and it’s not simply because I want to make something for middle grade kids – even my own childen – to enjoy. That’s a great reason, and there are dozens of other great reason to go along with it. But at the end of the thousand word post, it’s first and foremost that I want to write books because of the way doing it makes me feel. Especially if it’s a book that middle grade me would have enjoyed.

Everything else if just a magnificent bonus.

Pud’n


1 No, I’m not kidding. Go to Amazon. Search in Books for Dinosaur Erotica. Apply brain bleach as needed.

2 I’ll spare you the thousand words I just wrote to recap the experience, but if you’re curious how a 42 year-old with experience writing would tell the story, you can find it on my personal blog.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Why I Write Middle Grade

That kid pedaling the banana seat bike, the metal basket stacked with books from summer reading club?

Yep, that was me.

The girl passing around a well-worn copy of ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET, to the delight of my giggling friends?

Guilty as charged.

The kid who snuck-read her older sister's copy of THE CAT ATE MY GYMSUIT and DEENIE?

You guessed it.

But I was hardly a book worm. I was more of a closet reader, sneaking words at night.

During the day I was acting like every other “normal” middle grader—pursuing my dream of becoming a superstar.  

For me, that meant ice skating. My plan? Become the next Dorothy Hamill and make the Olympic team by 1984. (Yep, I even sported Dorothy’s signature wedge haircut.)


I still think about sixth grade me—the honors student who spent every non-school moment gliding around a musty ice rink. So what if my jumps barely left the ice. So what if I constantly placed next-to-last in local competitions. I loved the ice and was determined to practice and make it big.

Sixth grade Stefanie felt invincible one day, then defeated the next. (The cold, hard ice has a way of delivering a wallop of reality.) I missed my older sister, away at college. I yearned to stop the chatter of the “skating moms”, who mistook my 57-year-old father for my grandfather. Unlike most of my friends’ mothers, my mom worked full-time, putting in long hours as an industrial nurse. I was proud of the “RN” next to her name. Yet I also felt different. And let’s face it. In middle school, different isn’t always good.

I’d love to swoop back to 1981 and plop a stack of contemporary middle grade books smack-dab on center ice. I would have devoured the following stories:
SUGAR AND ICE, by Kate Messner
BREAKING THE ICE, by Gail Nall

Plus, I would have loved these novels about the many forms of family:
TOUCH BLUE, by Cynthia Lord
THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE, by Kat Yeh
ONE FOR THE MURPHYS, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Novels like ABSOLUTELY ALMOST, WONDER, and A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT would have reminded me that I had strengths and weaknesses, and that it was fine not to have everything figured out by age twelve.

Eventually, I discovered that my strengths involved reading and writing. (Camel spins and axels? Not so much.) After hanging up my skates in high school, I went to college and earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in language arts curriculum and instruction. Seven years of elementary teaching later, I left the classroom to raise a family.

And now, I write.

I write because I remember my sixth grade self: the reader, the skater, the daughter, the little sister.

I write to tell stories of perfectly imperfect families, the importance of striving for dreams, and the strength that comes from facing adversity.

I write because somewhere deep inside, I remember sixth grade Stefanie.

And I want to tell her it’s going to turn out okay.

Stefanie Wass writes middle grade novels from her home in historic Hudson, Ohio. A member of SCBWI and finalist in the 2012 National Association of Elementary School Principals Book of the Year Contest, her nonfiction credits include the LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, Seattle Times, The Writer, Cleveland Magazine, Akron Beacon Journal, This I Believe, Cup of Comfort, and 15 Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies. Catch up with her on Twitter @stefwrites and her website: www.stefaniewass.com.