Friday, February 24, 2017

Author Interview: Linda Williams Jackson!

It's a real honor and privilege to be interviewing author Linda Williams Jackson for today's blog post. Linda is the author of MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON, a book that I recently devoured and absolutely loved. It's a stunner of a debut: gripping, emotional, nuanced, unforgettable. Here's the book's official description:

    It’s Mississippi in the summer of 1955, and Rose Lee Carter can’t wait to move north. But for now, she’s living with her sharecropper grandparents on a white man’s cotton plantation.
    Then, one town over, an African American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. When Till’s murderers are unjustly acquitted, Rose realizes that the South needs a change . . . and that she should be part of the movement.  
    Linda Jackson’s moving debut seamlessly blends a fictional portrait of an African American family and factual events from a famous trial that provoked change in race relations in the United States.

Trust me, this is a book you'll want to read. Linda Williams Jackson was kind enough to answer a few questions about her book and her writing...enjoy!

DG: MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON deals with, among other things, the murder of young Emmett Till - a crime that still resonates and haunts us today. What gave you the idea to weave in that historical tragedy, and how did you approach blending historical fact with your fictional story?

LWJ: I was born and raised in a small town in the Mississippi Delta, about 50 miles from Money, the town where Emmett Till was visiting that tragic summer. When I decided to write a piece of historical fiction centered around my own family’s experiences as sharecroppers, I knew that the Emmett Till story was an important part of the story. So I purposely set the time of the story in 1955, and the place within a few miles of the town where the tragedy occurred. Since Emmett Till’s great-uncle, Mose Wright, was a tenant farmer, it was a natural fit that the grandfather in MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON could possibly know him. Hence, the fictional and the factual meet.

DG: The setting of MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON - rural Mississippi in 1955 - is so important to the story (and so vividly drawn) that is really almost another character in the story. How familiar were you with that setting before beginning the story? Do you have personal connections to that setting, or did you have to do a lot of research?

LWJ: I had to do a lot of research on the Emmett Till story, what life was like in 1955, and what was happening as far as the pre-civil rights era, specifically the events occurring after the Supreme Court decision in Brown versus Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas. On the other hand, I did not have to do a ton of research for the setting. The house that Rose lives in, the cotton fields, the dialect, the church scenes, the whole atmosphere surrounding the setting—these are things in which I was already familiar due to my own upbringing on cotton plantations in the 1970s. Not much had changed from 1955 to 1975 in rural Mississippi as far as living conditions were concerned, so the setting came naturally.

DG:. I read somewhere that every writer, whether they know it or not, makes themselves the main character of their books. Your main character, Rose Lee Carter, is such an unforgettable heroine. I absolutely fell in love with her, and I know she'll stick with me for a long time. In what ways are you and Rose Lee alike, and in what ways are you different?

LWJ: Thank you for saying that. I will note that I did not become Rose, but I did try to put myself in her shoes. One thing I did do, however, was take many of my own experiences and give them to Rose in order to add authenticity to her story. Without giving away spoilers, here are a few of those experiences: dreaming with the Sears catalog, the opening lines of the funeral scene, the northern visitors, the outhouse incident, chopping cotton, the mourners’ bench, the baptism, the skin lightening, and, as I have already stated, the setting itself. One of the biggest differences between Rose and me is that I was raised by my mother, not by my grandparents. I also have eleven siblings (not including the “half’s”). Rose only has one sibling.

DG: We talk about books being "mirrors" (showing readers a reflection of their own lives) and "windows" (giving readers a view into a life very different from their own). As you were writing MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON, did you ever think about that idea? Did you ever think about a young reader seeing a bit of themselves in your story, or learning about perspectives and experiences different from their own? Did this have any impact on your writing?

LWJ: The only thing I had in mind as I was writing MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON was to give readers an authentic portrayal of the life of a sharecropping family in the Mississippi Delta based on my own experiences and based on the stories I had heard growing up. I also wanted to give readers a bird’s eye view of the type of environment young Emmett Till came into the last summer of his life. Keep in mind, too, that this all happened one month after his fourteenth birthday. So, basically, he was just shy of being a thirteen-year-old when he was lynched. I also wanted to show the fear that the Jim Crow system had instilled in a majority of African Americans living in the Delta during that time.

DG: How was your path to publication? Did you spend years in the querying (and rejection) trenches? What advice would you give to writers who are still on that journey to getting published?

LWJ: My path to publication was unnecessarily long and treacherous. Six years. But I say to writers on the journey: “Yours doesn’t have to be.” For me, I got stuck on one manuscript. I queried and rewrote that thing to death. I should have moved on after the first year. Instead, I spent five years trying to make someone love my ugly baby. If a manuscript doesn’t land you an agent or an editor after a year, move on. Please. You can always go back to it. Just don’t get stuck on it.

DG: So, your debut novel came out less than two months ago. How have these two months been? Does having your book published feel like you expected it to, or have there been some surprises?

LWJ: Um, not sure what I expected. But I do know that I was nervous. I think the biggest surprise for me is seeing the book in so many libraries. It’s also a delight to randomly come across an article where someone mentions the book. That’s totally cool.

DG: For now you should definitely enjoy and bask in the glow of the success of MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON, but I can't wait to read more and I'm dying to know: what's up next for you? Any more books on the horizon, anything exciting you're working on right now?
LWJ: Well, the sequel, A SKY FULL OF STARS, is coming out on January 2, 2018! But, right now I’m trying to focus on promotion for MIDNIGHT and taking care of my family. Hopefully, by the time spring officially rolls around, I’ll be on to writing something new. I’m ready to write again.

Thanks so much, Ms. Jackson. I can't wait to read A SKY FULL OF STARS!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Cover Reveal: GAMER SQUAD #1: ATTACK OF THE NOT-SO-VIRTUAL MONSTERS by Kim Harrington

Today we have an AWESOME cover reveal for Kim Harrington's GAMER SQUAD #1: ATTACK OF THE NOT-SO-VIRTUAL MONSTERS!

What happens when your cool virtual-reality game . . . becomes REAL?
Pokémon GO meets The Goonies in this action-packed middle-grade series.

Monsters Unleashed—where you catch virtual-reality monsters on your cellphone—is one of the hottest mobile games around, and Bex and Charlie just can’t stop playing. They even check out an old map in Charlie’s grandfather’s attic in hopes of discovering some forgotten places in town where the rarest monsters might hide. But they find a strange machine up there too, and after Charlie switches it on, the WiFi goes down . . . and Bex’s entire catalog of monsters vanishes! And that’s not the worst of it: all the creatures she’s collected on her phone escape into the real world. Can the friends nab the beasts before they become monster lunch?

Pre-order links:

My links:

Check out this first book in a planned three-book series from Sterling Children's Books. It releases on August 1, 2017 but is available for pre-order now. Grades 3-7.

And now for the moment you've all be waiting for...



The AMAZING cover....





That's one SUPER cool cover! So make sure to check out this awesome sounding book on August 1, 2017 and pre-order it now!

Kim Harrington is the author of Clarity, Perception, The Dead and Buried, and Forget Me for teens and the Sleuth or Dare and Gamer Squad series for kids. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and son. When not writing, she's most likely reading, watching one of her favorite TV shows, or fantasizing about her next vacation. Join her on Twitter (https://twitter.com/Kim_Harrington) or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/kimharringtonauthor/).

Friday, February 17, 2017

Why I Write Middle Grade


A Wholesome Escape 

When I was growing up, C.S. Lewis regularly lured me into Narnia, all the way through high school. Every finals week, in fact. Battles with witches and hags involving grand forces of good and evil really broke up the monotony of studying.

Middle Grade fiction has a great capacity to draw readers in and entertain them for the rest of their lives. We all nurse a soft spot for our favorite early novels. They provided an escape from the sometimes harsh realities of life and an introduction to new places and ideas.

I'm a kid at heart and easily relate to 8-12 year olds. They’re fun, silly, inquisitive, and apt to pop off with unexpected comments and connections. When I teach creative writing to 4th and 5th graders, their insightful questions and wild imaginations always keep me on my toes. The middle grades are a crucial time of development, where tweens are discovering their interests and trying out new aspects of their personality. I love working with and writing for this age group because it’s a chance to help them see themselves as brave, courageous, loyal, and strong.

Middle Grade Fiction Inspires



My favorite MG novels taught me to believe in myself. If Karana could use her wits and courage to survive alone on the Island of the Blue Dolphins, I could use mine to solve drama between friends. If Meg from A Wrinkle in Time managed to save her father and brother from an evil telepathic brain, I could build love in a family torn apart by divorce.






I still relish the wonder found in MG novels, how they tackle tough issues in ways 8-12 year olds can understand. And frankly, the rest of us, too. Who hasn’t cried their way through Bridge to Terabithia, only to find peace at the end?

This is what I hope to create as a MG writer, books that enchant young readers, drawing them into a lifetime of reading. Books that inspire and motivate, opening their minds to whole new worlds.

Middle Grade is a time of wonder, a time of discovery, where our understanding of the world expands. What better time to explore fictional worlds as we’re struggling to understand our own? And who ever outgrows that struggle?

When I first started writing, I experimented with various genres, trying to find the right fit. Then my husband said, “Why don’t you write what you love?”

Well, now I do and I couldn’t be happier.

A Little About Me


My pen name is R. H. Roberts, but you can call me Renee. I'm Mom to seven awesome kids who don't mind eating burnt pizza when I'm writing (or so they say). I love cats, monsters and the sea, but not necessarily all together. Whenever I can, I SCUBA and snorkel to research for my upcoming underwater fantasy novel. I'm thrilled to join the blogging team here at Middle Grade Minded! Come say hello at my blog.




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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Cover Reveal: Molly in the Middle, by Ronni Arno

Middle Grade Minded is excited to reveal the cover of Molly in the Middle, a hilarious middle grade novel by Aladdin M!X author Ronni Arno.

Twelve-year-old Molly Mahoney is in the middle of everything. She’s in the middle of her parent’s impending divorce. She’s in the middle of her rebellious older sister and her lazy younger sister. She’s in the middle of her class, ranked at exactly 143 out of 286. Even her name (first and last!) places her right in the middle of the alphabet. And after a morning where her parents forget to drive her to school, and the field trip she was supposed to be on leaves without her, Molly decides it’s time to figure out how she can finally be in the spotlight—and stop being invisible.

But her new, outlandish ways put her in a different middle altogether. She now finds herself in the middle of her new, popular group of friends, who think the New Molly is amazing and bold, while her old BFF, Kellan thinks the New Molly is mean and aloof and headed for trouble. What’s worse, Kellan doesn’t hide his feelings. Faced with a probable future in a wheelchair, Kellan doesn’t understand why Molly would risk getting in trouble just to be popular. So when Molly has to choose between going to the year’s biggest party with her new pals, or participating in the Muscular Dystrophy Walk with Kellan, she’s stuck in the middle once again. Can Molly reconcile the Old Molly with New Molly—and figure out the best way to make her mark?

Molly in the Middle releases August 29, 2017. It is perfect for kids in grades 4-8.

The cover alone makes you want to pick up a copy.The amazing cover art is by Ashleigh Beevers. http://www.ashleighbeeversart.com

Monday, February 13, 2017

Characterization from a Googly-Eyed Perspective

One morning last week I was walking into school when something caught my attention. It was a moment that provided a window into the world where middle grade stories come from that was too perfect for me to overlook. 

There was one big googly eye lying on the sidewalk, looking up at me.

Someone had likely dropped it during dismissal the day before, which itself wouldn’t be noteworthy since a large percentage of elementary kids tend to leave a trail of belongings behind them everywhere they go. But this solitary googly eye caught my sense of humor at the right angle, and in that moment it seemed absolutely hilarious. My writer brain immediately started asking questions about it, as well as the kid who could have left it behind: Why was it at school in the first place? What was it once attached to, if anything? Why wasn't it securely zipped inside a school bag where it would have been safe from being dropped? What happened to its counterpart? How would the owner react once they realized their personal googly eye inventory was now one short?

By the time I reached the front door, I was playing with the idea of making a character in my current work in progress into someone who collects googly eyes just to randomly stick them on things. Soon I was brainstorming how I could work that idea into a plot point, where the kids in the story would develop a secret code based around googly eyes that the adults in their community wouldn’t understand. 

Having taught in an elementary school for as many years as I have means I can say with some authority that silly is a big part of the real-life middle grade world. The conversations I overhear every day range from the innocently mundane to the profoundly goofy. These are the moments I try to capture when writing middle grade dialogue: the proclamations about favorite books, TV shows, or video games kids use to define themselves; the multi-directional ping-ponging banter between five people all struggling to be the funniest in the group; the way one kid can say or do something completely absurd while another will react to it as if nothing about it is out of the ordinary.

One of the biggest points of differentiation I have between what works in a middle grade book and what doesn’t is authenticity. Even if the story is based on some level of fantasy or set in an exaggerated comic universe, the world still needs to be grounded in enough reality for the readers to find their way in. Characters need to speak and think and behave in ways that not only serve the story, but will also ring true from the perspective of a middle grade reader. A kid who collects googly eyes might seem foolish to adults, but a middle grade reader could encounter that bit of characterization in a story and think, “Oh yeah, I know a kid who does that kind of thing.” 

None of this is to say the only way to reach authenticity is to make your population of characters into over-the-top goofballs. Not every kid gets to live a life of carefree abandon where building an impressive collection of googly eyes would be a priority. However, one of the things that lets kids relate to each other so readily is a need to smile. For some, it’s the biggest part of who they are. For others, it might only be a momentary escape from a life almost too challenging to bear.

As you’re thinking about how to construct those believable characters, remember how much more they’ll stay with your readers if you give them well-rounded personalities. There’s a reason why the description “one-dimensional” isn’t usually seen as a compliment. We need to have multifaceted characters populating our stories if we want the kids out there to read them. Make sure yours do what’s required to play the roles you’re assigning them, but also remember they need to be more than that. They need their motivations and quirks and anxieties. They need to have consistent behavior patterns, except for the times when they’re called on to be inconsistent. They need to learn about the world around them and the people they’re becoming.

Sometimes, they’ll also need an occasional laugh. Even if it comes from googly eyes.

Monday, February 6, 2017

It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! Author Interview and ARC Giveaway



In Wendy McLeod MacKnight's It's a Mystery, Pig Face! eleven-year-old Tracy Munroe has three goals to accomplish:

1. Figure out an end-of-summer adventure with her best friend Ralph.

2. Make sure her little brother Lester, aka Pig Face, does not tag along.

3. Get the new boy next door to realize she exists.

But when Tracy and Ralph discover a bag full of money in the baseball field dugout, (and Lester forces them to let him help) they have a mystery on their hands. Did someone lose the cash? Was it stolen? Can the truth be discovered before they are accused of the crime themselves?

Wendy, I absolutely loved this fast-paced middle grade mystery! Where did you get the idea for this book?

Thanks! When I was a kid, my friends and I were always looking for mysteries to solve. We had a bit of a Harriet the Spy thing going – keeping tabs on everyone – but we were always thwarted. The first draft of the book was a real throw-back, the bad guys were grown up, lives were in peril, but thanks to some good advice, I went a little more nuanced. Not that this is a nuanced book by any stretch of the imagination… As for the name Pig Face, I may have called my brother that a few times when we were young a few times and when I was trying to think of a name Tracy might call Lester when he’s being particularly annoying, it popped right into my head.

Tracy and Ralph have a strong friendship. Their relationship faces some tests, yet survives. How do you develop such realistic, well-rounded characters?

I liked the idea of what happens when relationships are tested. Tracy makes some bad decisions, and who hasn’t made bad decisions in their life? And Ralph isn’t immune to making the odd mistake himself. I think that friendships are so important and sometimes so fragile in the upper elementary/early middle grade years, and kids often stumble around because they are afraid of speaking their truth.

I worked a lot on all three of the characters – back story, what they liked and disliked, their private hopes and dreams, most of which didn’t make it into the book, but by the time I was writing in earnest, I knew who they were and how they would react to what was happening around them. Forgiveness and acceptance is a huge theme in this book, and that comes from the characters, not the plot. I will say that my agent, Lauren Galit, and my editor, Alison Weiss, both pushed me to dig deep.

Can you tell MG Minded readers about your publication journey? Is this your first book? How many drafts did it take you to land an agent and then a publisher?

I’m the poster child for IT’S NEVER TOO LATE! I wrote the first draft of this book in 1986 (yes, dinosaurs walked the earth and we had just discovered fire!) I am embarrassed to say I did one revision and then sent it to a Canadian Publishing House, who were very enthusiastic and asked me to send them other things. But I never did. I put it in a drawer and got a job and had a great career for the next twenty-five years, rising to the level of Deputy Minister of Education and Early Childhood. Then one day I woke up and got brave enough to leave to pursue the one regret I had in life – not pursuing my writing career. I took some courses, immersed myself in the MG world again (well, truth be told, I never left it!) and pulled out that old manuscript. And polished and rewrote completely. I think I’d done six drafts by the time I landed my agent, Lauren Galit of LKG Agency. By then I had queried 48 agents. I could tell I was getting close because after the sixth draft, I got all kinds of requests for full manuscripts and the week I signed with Lauren I had two or three agents interested in signing me. The lesson I learned through the process of selling the first book is this: good enough is NOT good enough. Until you can say in your heart that it is as excellent as you can make it, there is no point in submitting. I am still mortified about the first 15 queries I sent out…

Any advice for blog readers wanting to write a middle grade mystery?

Ah, that’s a hard question! I struggled with the mystery aspect for so long: not giving too much away, tossing out lots of red herrings, ensuring it all makes sense. I think you can’t ‘pants’ a mystery, which I am sorry to say I did for my first couple of drafts, and it was a disaster! I would map the mystery out very carefully in advance. You can always tweak it as you’re writing, once your characters come to life and start sending you places you never thought you’d go, but thinking of things on the fly is usually not very successful, I am sorry to say. Unless you are a genius, then have at it! Oh and one more thing: I heard a lot of “There are too many mysteries out there” when I was writing and submitting, but kids love a mystery (as do adults) and there will always be room for mysteries in middle grade fiction!

Thanks so much, Wendy! Great advice!
For a chance to win an ARC of It's a Mystery, Pig Face! leave a comment and your email address below. A winner will be drawn at random.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Middle Grade Minded 300!

We have something a little special to present today — our 300th post here at Middle Grade Minded! (Cue the applause, balloons, confetti, and high fives.) To celebrate this momentous occasion, some of our contributors are offering quick reflections on what being a part this blog, and this team, has meant to us. Be sure to read to the end, since we’ve got a pile of giveaways to share!

Jamie:
I’ve had the privilege of being a blogger for Middle Grade Minded since its inception. When the group of us started the blog, we were not just a bunch of MG writers trying to enter a contest, but we were all looking for a MG community. There were tons of YA groups but not many MG ones. And let's face it MG writers are a rare breed in the best possible way. They face a unique set of challenges with respect to market and voice. It was a pressure we all felt but didn't know how to tackle. What I didn't anticipate though, was how much of a network I would gain. I've connected with so many amazing MG writers, and MG Minded has become a support system. I've learned so much from my fellow bloggers and the MG community that has formed around the blog. And if gaining this community wasn't awesome enough, I've also learned discipline. I've always been goal oriented, so actually having the pressure of a blog full of readers waiting on my post has kept me writing something even when I felt like I couldn't write anymore. For all of those reasons I'm so thankful for this blog. When we started this journey we couldn't imagine what this blog would become. But it's so much better than I ever could have imagined. So here's to 300 posts down and hopefully many many more to come. Thanks to the loyal readers of the blog, we wouldn't still be here without you!

Wendy:
When I was getting started on my publishing journey, I scoured the net looking for MG blogs, because there are so many YA and I really needed a community. I think I found MG Minded thanks to Brooks Benjamin, and kept revisiting because there was great information and lots of folks sharing their journey and that really appealed to me. I still blog on my own website, but I like being here because it's nice to feel like you're part of something bigger, which is wonderful, especially if you spend most of your time writing alone at home like I do! I'm looking forward to sharing more and learning more and expanding our number of visitors! And inspiring people to write and read more middle grade books!

Stefanie:
MG Minded has strengthened my own writing. I have had the opportunity to review wonderful books, and in reading them and interviewing authors, I have learned a great deal about craft. Plus, it's been fun to give away ARCs and swag and make connections with other writers. This is a wonderful community. I am lucky to be a part of this group.

Tom M.:
I came up as a writer in a very solitary way; no real network to speak of, little support or acknowledgement of my efforts beyond my family and a few trusted friends. When I took my first baby steps onto Twitter and discovered a wide, diverse, and vibrant writing community already thriving, I looked for ways to participate. I followed the early Middle Grade Minded since I knew a few of the people involved from contests we’d all been in. When the opportunity came up to be a part of the team, I jumped at it. Being a part of this group has brought me friendships I otherwise wouldn’t have had, as well as the chance to challenge myself to share ideas and thoughts that hopefully contribute to this wider writing community I’ve been so fortunate to find.

Kim:
I'm excited to introduce more adults to middle grade literature. It's so easy to get bogged down in the mundane realities of everyday life, that we forget to look for the extraordinary. Middle grade lit is a great reminder that wonder and whimsy are hiding behind every corner, if we'll only slow down long enough to notice it.

Stacey:
I was one of the original members of Middle Grade Minded and boy is it incredible how far we've all come! We started Middle Grade Minded there were a bunch of amazing YA blogs but not many MG ones and we had a strong desire to fill that hole. We started as kind of a ragtag group of aspiring authors who met during blog contests but it couldn't have been more perfect. Middle Grade Minded has been exactly what we all wanted and needed it to be. A community! Friendships with others who love, read and write Middle Grade. It allowed us to reach more MG lovers! Each of our publishing journeys have been so very different but we've all grown SO much! It's been hard for me, at times, to focus on the blog when so many other things are happening but it was an important lesson in discipline (one I'm still learning) and that when you dedicate yourself to something you will find a way. I'm still here! Still learning and still growing! Boy has it been fun!

Shari:
I joined the Middle Grade Minded bloggers last spring, and it's been wonderful getting to know everyone. Middle grade fiction is such a treasure--full of wonder and magic, and rich with emotion--and I love how both kids and adults can connect so deeply with MG stories. It's a joy and privilege to share book-love with all of you, and I look forward to offering more book recs for readers and more encouragement for writers. Yay books!


To celebrate our 300th post, we’re offering these prizes to help give back to the community that’s been so supportive:
*2 query letter critiques, anything MG
*2 ten-page critiques, anything MG
*1 first chapter critique, MG contemporary
*1 first chapter critique, anything MG

If you’d like to enter, leave a comment below. Tell us your name, some contact info, such as your Twitter address, and which prize you're hoping for. We’ll leave the thread open through the end of February to give people time to find the page and enter. We’d also love to hear any thoughts you’d be willing to share about the site, whether you’re entering or not.

Thanks for sticking with us! We hope you’ll be around to see what happens during our next 300 posts!