Friday, December 29, 2017

The End of 2017 and the Beginning of 2018

Welcome to the end of 2017! In a matter of days our calendars will roll over to a new month, and a new year ripe with potential will begin. Today some of the contributors at Middle Grade Minded will be sharing some of our favorite books (or bookish moments) from 2017, and some of the things we’re looking forward to in 2018.

Stefanie Wass
My favorite middle grade of 2017 was THE WAY TO BEA, by Kat Yeh. It is wonderful to imagine a world where we don't label someone right away. Instead, we get to know them first. The takeaway from this book is simple: Love is love is love. My best middle grade moment was being selected for Pitch Wars 2017. After two months of hard work under the supportive, insightful eye of my mentor, Julia Nobel, my middle grade contemporary manuscript emerged with tighter tension, faster pacing, and a heightened sense of mystery. I can't wait to see what lies ahead for this manuscript in 2018!

Jamie Krakover
My favorite middle grade book this year was MRS SMITH'S SPY SCHOOL FOR GIRLS. I loved Abby, the kick butt heroine and all of her sass and wit. This book was loaded with adventure and strong female characters plus spies. What more could you want?

In terms of favorite middle school memories, I was bullied a lot in middle school, but aside from Math and Science classes which I loved, I managed to find a safe haven and a friend in the school library. Which is odd looking back because at the time, I wasn't a huge reader, but I'm glad I had that safe space where I could be my crazy, goofy self.

In 2018 I'm looking forward to new beginnings and getting back to writing and working on some middle grade projects.

Tom Mulroy
There were several phenomenal middle grade books released last year, but the one that easily affected me the most was THE DOLLMAKER OF KRAKOW by R.M. Romero, a seamless blend of fantasy and historical fiction told with an extraordinary voice. Beyond that my best Middle Grade Day was attending a young author’s conference that gave me the opportunities to meet authors Jacqueline West and Kelly Barnhill. As far as the coming year goes, I’m anxious to start working on some new ideas and getting at least one more manuscript out into the world!

Wendy McLeod MacKnight
My favourite middle grade read this year was ORPHAN ISLAND - it left me with so many questions and theories and was a beautiful story about the transition out of childhood.

My best middle grade memory was the publication of my first book, IT’S A MYSTERY, PIG FACE! It was the culmination of many years of hard work and many years of dreaming!

I’m excited about 2018! Greenwillow Books will publish my second novel, THE FRAME UP, in June, and I’m looking forward to school visits and hopefully, an opportunity to finally meet a lot of my writer friends!

Kim Ventrella
My favorite 2017 release was ALL'S FAIRE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL by Victoria Jamieson. As always, so funny and spot-on in terms of recreating all of those awkward childhood moments. Also, it totally made me want to work at a renaissance faire!!! My best MG memory was the publication of my debut novel, SKELETON TREE! It was SO AWESOME!!! (Yes, there are a lot of exclamation points in this post)! In 2018, I'm most looking forward to writing full-time. Yup, it's true, I will finally be fulfilling my childhood dream of becoming a starving artist!!!

Shari Green
I recently shared three of my fave 2017 MG reads, but the one that had perhaps the biggest impact on me as a writer was WISHTREE, by Katherine Applegate. It spoke to me of possibility, reminding me how many different ways we can choose to tell a story, and how marvellously receptive kids and the kidlit community are to hearing stories told in all manner of voices and formats. I felt encouraged to stay out of writing ruts, to experiment, to play, and above all, to tell stories in whatever way they need to be told.

In 2017, one of the best MG moments for me personally was having my books selected for several provincial readers’-choice programs. It’s an honour and a thrill being part of any program that involves putting books in kids’ hands!

As 2018 nears, I’m super-excited about attending the OLA’s Festival of Trees as a Silver Birch award-nominee author, launching my third MG book (MISSING MIKE), and writing something new!

Monday, December 25, 2017

New Year's Resolutions for Writers

I love New Year's resolutions! What can I say, I guess I've always been a dreamer :) And 2018 is going to be particularly awesome, because I'm quitting my day job to write full time!!! I have SO MANY goals for this upcoming year, but in terms of writing I want to spend more time operating in the 'learning zone.' This is different from the 'performance zone' where you have deadlines, high stakes and probably high stress. The 'learning zone' is where we can break down writing into its component parts and spend time improving each of these skills. For a complete discussion of the 'learning zone' vs. 'performance zone', see this great TED Talk by Eduardo Briceño.

So, here are some of the ideas I have for improving my writing in the 'learning zone' this year. Hopefully, they can be of some use to you as well.

Blank Notebook

1. Analyze books from a writer's perspective and start a dedicated notebook where I record what I learn. I often have these breakthrough moments when I'm analyzing a novel and I say, 'oh, that's how it's done!' but then I don't take notes and I inevitably forget everything I've learned. No more in 2018! I'm starting a dedicated notebook to record my eureka moments, and I want to analyze more books from a writing perspective, too. Let's say 24 total.

Ufo Crash

2. Write and read outside of my genre/area of expertise. I want to broaden my perspective as a writer by reading books that are wildly different from what I usually read and writing stories, in new genres or using new styles, that I never plan to show to anyone (ever). Maybe I'll try a sci-fi western in first person present, or, horror upon horrors, a romance :P This would also be a great way to experiment, in a no pressure environment, with skills that I'm not completely comfortable with, like writing books with large casts.

3. Listen to other writers talk about their craft and spend time doing writing exercises, even and especially when they don't relate directly to a piece I have under contract. I love the podcast Writing Excuses, but I've never actually tried one of the exercises that they give at the end of every episode. That will change in 2018!

4. Read more for pleasure. Not every type of reading should involve notes, so I also want to read more for fun more in 2018, focusing on library books and books I already own (since I will officially be a starving artist). I'm going to set my goal low, at another 24 books, which brings me to 48 total, including the titles I plan to analyze. That's only one book a week (with four bonus weeks), which means I'll hopefully be setting myself up to exceed my goal!

As I'm putting these resolutions into practice, it's my hope that I'll identify some specific areas of my writing that need work and then I can hone those skills through reading and practice. Hopefully these resolutions have given you something to think about as we get ready for 2018, and here's wishing an adventurous, productive year to all!!!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Three Lists of Three (a.k.a. Books! More books!)

For me, one of the best things about any holiday time is catching up on my to-be-read pile. I will never have that pile under control--never ever--but I sure do enjoy days when the only thing on my to-do list is read. 

For some reason, I read less than usual in 2017. I'm not happy about that, but still, I'm thankful for all the excellent stories I stumbled across. I read some wonderful books, and there are many more waiting for me. Today, I'd love to share some of those books with you, so voilà! Three lists of three. (Not necessarily top three, but top-ish…)

Three of my favorite middle grade reads of 2017:
  • Rules for Stealing Stars, by Corey Ann Haydu
  • Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate
  • Forget Me Not, by Ellie Terry

Three 2017 middle grade books I haven’t read yet but am really looking forward to:
  • The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City, by Jodi Kendall
  • Two Times a Traitor, by Karen Bass
  • The Someday Birds, by Sally J. Pla

Three of my most anticipated middle grade books of 2018:
  • A Possibility of Whales, by Karen Rivers (March 13)
  • Every Shiny Thing, by Cordelia Jensen (April 17)
  • Where the Watermelons Grow, by Cindy Baldwin (July 3)

It's highly unlikely I'll run out of things to read, but please, just in case, share your fave reads of 2017 and most anticipated reads of 2018 in the comments. Thanks! 

Wishing you many hours of uninterrupted reading time this holiday season. Also, peace, joy, and love in abundance. :) 

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Year in Middle Grade

It's my last Middle Grade Minded Post for the year and I can't help but look back.

This has been a wonderful year for middle grade books.

You can't help but feel that a year that gave us Orphan Island, Refugee, Wishtree, The Stars Beneath our Feet, The War I Finally Won, The Dollmaker of Krakow, and Patina to name but a few, is a good year.


#ownvoices and #weneeddiversebooks became a rallying cry within the industry and brought us new and wonderful stories:



And then there were the delights of just wonderfully funny and thrilling and epic MG, always the best antidote for everything negative in this world:



And heartwarming and inspiring tales:




In no way is this an exhaustive list, but these books helped me get through 2017, and made the world shine a little brighter for me.

Now, more than ever, we need middle grade novels that inspire, transport and delight readers. 

We live in a complicated world.

Sometimes we want to escape from it in a book.

Sometimes we want to understand it by reading a book.

Sometimes we want heroines and heroes who vanquish foes, kids who figure things out, animals and trees that have a different kind of wisdom, families that aren't perfect but keep trying, friendships that are messy but fulfilling.

Sometimes, we need hope.

I found all of that in the middle grade novels I read this year.

And if 2017 is any indication of the quality of middle grade literature, I look forward to 2018 with open arms, with my library card and wallet in one hand, my TBR list in the other, and a heart full of gladness for the creativity and respect for children shown by our middle grade authors.

I hope you have a wonderful and peaceful holiday season and look forward to more blog posts in 2018!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Publishing: What no one will talk about… and why

Once an author becomes published, what happens then? Do they get paid regularly, with lots of support from their publisher? Does their editor automatically love their next book?  Do they know exactly how to promote their book? Do they ever wonder if their book will flop and they’ll lose every opportunity they worked so hard for?

We tend to shy away from being public about the hardships that come  with traditional publishing, and realistically there are some good reasons for that. It’s like a car salesmen who during the test drive complains about his boss and how he missed his sales quota last month and might lose his job. Not exactly a winning sales technique.

As an author, once your book is up for sale, you are now a public figure and it can be tough to learn what to say and what’s off limits. What will come across like a negative Nancy? What do readers just not want to hear? Because what you say matters. Everything you put out on social media, every blog post, every speech, can affect how people see you.  That’s your brand. So being brutally honest? Not always an option (but then sometimes, it is.)

So I’m gonna take a moment to tell you what so many others are afraid to say. I’m going to tell you what publishing traditionally is really like.

Publishing is a dream come to life. It’s holding a piece of your heart and soul, your blood and tears, in your hands, covered in an image you had to rely on someone else to create.

Publishing is holding your tongue as people rip that piece of you into shreds with their words. It’s smiling when that one person tells you how much it meant to them.

It’s watching the your sales ranking tick up and down, with no clue if it’s good or bad or means anything at all (but all the while, pretending it’s great). It’s excitement because PEOPLE ARE READING YOUR WORDS, but stress-fully wondering if there are enough of them to please your publisher.

Publishing is ever changing. It’s is creating expectations then wondering if you can continue to live up to them. Wondering if you want to live up to them. Because what readers want, isn’t always what you want. It’s facing your own expectations, and very rarely actually meeting them.

Publishing is wondering which to follow: your heart or head. Your muse or your internal (or external, depending) marketer.

Publishing is trying to please everyone at once. You agent, your editor, your publishing sales team, book stores and libraries, readers—and yourself.

Publishing is one step at a time. It's walking alone in the dark with only a flashlight, clueless as to which turn is the right one.

Publishing is making friends, with readers and industry people, but mostly fellow writers— the only people who can truly understand. It’s reading incredible words that you didn’t write and celebrating their successes like they’re your own.

Publishing is writers block. Stressing so much that sometimes you can’t create. And creating is the entire point, right?

Publishing is finally writing something you adore, that your editor may or may not actually like.

Publishing is starting over. Again and again and again. All the while hiding your confusion from your readers, sometimes even your own family.

Publishing is persevering. It’s holding a new piece of your soul in your hands with the same love and excitement. The same fears. And sometimes... different results. 

Publishing is passion and exhilaration and art and devotion.

Publishing is terrifying, but in the end-- worth it.

 Every experience is unique. Every journey has different twists, different dips and different highs but lags and trip-ups and fears-- they're pretty darn universal. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Balancing Work and Writing

Some writers are lucky enough to be a full time writer. But even writers who write full time as their job have other priorities like family, errands, housework etc. And for those of us who still have a part time or full time job on top of our writing careers, sometimes it seems impossible to juggle everything and still find time to write.

The first thing that helps me balance my full time job and my writing is prioritization. Do I have any deadlines? Projects that need to be turned into a publisher, editor, agent, or even a blog I try to prioritize first. Next I look at my self-imposed deadlines. I’m very goal oriented so saying I want to finish a manuscript edit or drafting something by a certain date usually helps me prioritize things as well.


Sometimes you have to follow the muse. Sometimes your brain is clogged for some reason and won’t let you work on that deadline project. It’s okay to take a break and work on something that’s really speaking to you. Follow those thoughts for a little bit then come back to your deadline. Sometimes that time away helps clarify why the deadline project isn’t flowing and gives you some new perspective.

Another thing that helps me keep moving forward with my writing projects is having set writing time. Once a week I meet up with local writers and we sit at a coffee shop and we write. Sure we talk and share ideas and talk through plot bunnies, but we also write. That’s my guaranteed writing time, and I very rarely let anything trample that time. It’s mine and no one else can have it.

It also helps to realize that just because you aren’t writing words on the page doesn’t mean you aren’t writing. You may not be drafting a new manuscript, but writing an outline, brainstorming, world building, working on character development, editing, thinking about your story and what’s working vs not all counts as writing. Just because the word count in your manuscript doesn’t go up (or even if it drops) doesn’t mean you aren’t writing. All these things contribute to the success of the end product.

And last but not least, give yourself a break. You can’t do it all. Any progress should be celebrated. It’s not easy to work then come home and sit down to write something. Some days it’ll be there and other days it won’t. If you have to skip a day because the words aren’t coming or you really want to do something else, that’s okay. Your brain needs down time just as much as it needs active writing time.

So that’s my list. What other things help you as a writer stay focused on the task while trying to balance life, a job, family and other things?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Battling Back Imposter Syndrome

Last week I was talking to a teacher friend about how difficult it can be to find a balance between the time demands of teaching and the other parts of life. She mentioned she no longer brings school work home at night because she needs a break from it and has too many other things going on. “And I know that makes me a bad teacher,” she said, speaking to the guilt we teachers typically pile on ourselves. Anyone working in education knows the workload usually leaves us feeling like we aren’t measuring up to what we expect of ourselves or what we see our colleagues accomplishing.

It occurred to me that feeling this way isn’t so different from a writer experiencing Imposter Syndrome.

I’m guessing you've heard of Imposter Syndrome before. The idea that despite whatever you’ve achieved as a writer leaves you feel like you still aren’t good enough, and you don’t deserve to celebrate whatever successes you’ve had? It seems like most of us deal with this at some point, whether you’re struggling to finish drafting your first full-length manuscript or if you’re a veteran author with several published titles to your name.

I’ve been battling with Imposter Syndrome quite a bit recently, even though, in some ways, my writing year has been successful. No, you know what? There are traces of Imposter Syndrome even in the way I just phrased that. My writing year has been very successful! I’m closing off the year with a new manuscript I’ve both written and revised within the confines of 2017, after starting with a brand-new story idea that hadn’t even existed as late as March. A whole new manuscript from idea to revision inside of a year? I should feel okay to celebrate an accomplishment like that, shouldn’t I?

At first I was pretty happy with what I’d written, but after spending some time away from it I started to mentally pick apart everything that could be wrong. The things I liked at first didn’t seem as valid anymore. If one of my few beta readers offered any compliments, I was usually ready to counter with a criticism to balance out the positives. Fortunately I eventually figured out what I was doing to myself and how counterproductive it was, and took a few steps to work out of feeling that way.

Maybe if you ever find yourself traveling down that same rabbit hole, some of these ideas might help you find your way out:

*Remind yourself that whatever it is you’ve accomplished, you’ve earned the right to feel good about it. When I thought of how quickly my new manuscript came together this year, it was easier to think of it in terms of how it only took x number of months to finish. When I reframed that and reminded myself of the hundreds of hours spent in front of the computer and how I was constantly taking random notes throughout the planning stages, it seemed like more of an accomplishment.

*Remember the value of self-care. Shari wrote a post about this not long ago that’s worth checking out if you didn’t see it before. Writing can be consuming, and it’s important to do what’s necessary to keep a healthy balance in your life.

*Give yourself permission to take time off from writing if you need it. Here’s where I might have messed up a little, because I went from finishing my revisions into NaNoWriMo only days later. I pushed myself hard to reach the goal and win (hooray), but it was no small amount of work to make that happen. When the writing feels more like something I have to do than something I want to do, that’s usually a sign, for me at least, that something isn’t going well. I’m happy I won another NaNoWriMo, but in retrospect it probably would have been better to take this year off.

*Don’t compare your journey. This is the kind of nugget that fits onto any writing advice list, but there’s a reason for that. Not only is everyone’s situation different, but none of us really know what anyone else had to go through to get where they are, or what they’re still going through now.

We’re all following different paths. From that perspective, there shouldn’t ever be any time wasted on something like Imposter Syndrome. You can't be an imposter when you're figuring out your own way. All any of us can do is be who we are and write what we write.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Tokoyo the Samurai's Daughter, by Faith L. Justice

Meet Tokoyo, a noble Samurai’s daughter who ventures into the depths of the sea alongside the humble women of her village, who seeks to free her wrongly imprisoned father, and who wrestles questions of morality with equal bravery and grace. 

She’s the captivating lead character in Tokoyo, the Samurai’s Daughter by Faith L. Justice, published by Raggedy Moon Books. This enchanting adventure is steeped in Japanese culture and mythology, from ancient customs to curses, from ritual tea to a terrible sea demon.

The story is a winner from the start. Justice draws us in early, starting the tale undersea, where we learn bits of Tokoyo’s life and her desire to make a difference in the lives of others. But when her peaceful existence is turned upside down, she must come to terms with losing her position of power and prestige. 

Her diving skills, once a hobby—a way for her to escape the strictures of noble life—become vital to her survival and to her ability to save her father from a cruel fate. Tokoyo’s determination and humility combine to create a fascinating hero.

Readers will delight in the beauty of ancient Japanese culture, while also contemplating some of the injustices and inequalities that existed in the time of this story. It is both thought-provoking and likely to encourage young readers to seek more knowledge and a greater understanding of the world around them. The contrast with modern western culture is profound and leaves readers considering the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Kayla Gilliam’s excellent black-and-white illustrations add to the beauty of the story while also developing the cultural elements surrounding the tale. 

A captivating read start to finish, Tokoyo, the Samurai’s Daughter would be an ideal gift for anyone who loves the sea, Japanese culture, or adventures. Order your copy at amazon, Barnes & NobleiTunes, or iBooks.