Monday, August 12, 2019

Six Scary Back-to-School Reads

Heading back to school is an amazing time of year when students reunite with old friends, meet new teachers and dive into the joys of learning. Right? Of course, but it can also be scary! From those first day jitters to aliens posing as educators. That's why I decided to put together this list of back-to-school reads that might just scare your pants off. You'll find a little bit of everything: haunted castles, fairytale villains, teachers who turn students into apples. Anyone who says that school is boring clearly hasn't walked the halls of Splendid Academy or faced the wrath of the terrifying Miss Trunchbull.








About the Author:

KIM VENTRELLA
is the author of the middle grade novels HELLO, FUTURE ME (2020), BONE HOLLOW and SKELETON TREE, all with Scholastic Press. She is also a contributor to the upcoming NEW SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK anthology (2020, HarperCollins). Find out more at https://kimventrella.com/ or follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram.



Friday, August 9, 2019

Join the MG Minded Team

Middle Grade Minded is coming up on our 6th year of blogging and we've had a blast. We've had many folks join the team over the years and we are once again opening up our doors looking for new voices to share on the blog.

So ask yourself...

Do you write Middle Grade literature?

Do you like to share writing knowledge and experiences?
Do you like interviewing others?
Do you like reviewing Middle Grade books?
Do you like blogging?
Would you be willing to write one blog post a month?

If you answered yes to most if not all of those questions then you might be the perfect addition to the Middle Grade Minded team!

We are currently looking for additional bloggers to write posts on writing craft and experiences, review middle grade literature, and/or perform interviews with agents, authors, editors, teachers, and even middle grade readers. If you are interested in joining the team please answer the questions below and send them to mgminded@gmail.com with the subject line "I want to blog for Middle Grade Minded"

Name:

1.) Tell us about you! What do you write? How long have you been writing? Have you had anything published? What do you like about MG literature? etc. Just a short bio of relevant information.

2.) Why do you want to blog for Middle Grade Minded? 

3.) What kinds of things would you most like to blog about?

4.) Do you currently have a personal blog? If so, please link us to it.

5.) What social media platforms are you on? Please include handles or links.

6.) Do you have any interest in taking on additional tasks for the blog? (Examples: scheduling, social media etc.) If so, let us know what you would be interested in helping with. (Note: the answer to this question will not affect whether or not you are chosen, it is merely for informational purposes)

Please submit your application by Friday, August 23, 2019 to be considered
We look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, August 5, 2019

Why it's okay to ease up now and then...

Remember that old saying: the teacher shows up when the student is ready?


Well my teacher showed up via a recent post here at Middle Grade Minded.

Wonderfully written by Rob Polk, it encourages writers and readers to be easy on ourselves in pursuit of our goals and to prioritize our physical and mental health.

I haven't been able to get it out of my mind since I read it.

I don't know about you, but I'm a goal setter.


This summer's goals:

1) finish revising my work in progress
2) read twenty-five books
3) write every day

These goals are a sub-set of my overall 2019 goals, which include revising another novel, researching a novel, finally writing that picture book I've been thinking about, and reading 125 books.

But then something happened after I read Rob's post.

I realized I was rushing my life, instead of savouring it.

I'd forgotten that downtime is crucial to creativity.

I'd forgotten that downtime is crucial for wellbeing.





Meeting my self-imposed deadlines was robbing me of the joy of DOING and BEING.

I was seeing other writers publishing and doing more and feeling like I needed to match their pace if I was to succeed.

I'd become a hamster on a wheel. And just like the little guy below, was in imminent danger of falling off...




via GIPHY

Something had to change.


Last Monday, I decided that my work in progress needed a more substantial rewrite. It will take how long it takes.

I decided that trying to meet an arbitrary number of books was not how I wanted to read.

I decided that tracking everything and writing to-do lists was NOT helping me any more.

I must meet my commitments, but I don't have to be a perpetual motion machine to get them done.

Mostly, I reminded myself that summer is fleeting.


I need to stare more at my garden.

I need to take more walks.

I need to nap in my Adirondack chair.

I don't have to be at my desk by 7 a.m. every day.

I hope that you'll reread Rob's post and think of what you can do for yourself that will fill up your creative and happiness reservoir.

The truth is, my books will get done. So will yours.

I'll read lots of books. So will you.

But I vow to enjoy the journey more.


My name is Wendy, and I am trying to learn to relax about this whole writing thing!




via GIPHY


Thursday, August 1, 2019

Summer Stories Giveaway - Featuring Dana Alison Levy


THE “I LOVE SUMMER STORIES” GIVEAWAY!

COMMENT HERE ON MY INSTAGRAM POST FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A COPY OF EITHER THE FAMILY FLETCHER TAKES ROCK ISLAND OR THIS WOULD MAKE A GOOD STORY SOMEDAY*

I admit it, in the summer my books take a beating. Expect to see them warped and wonky after being left outside in the rain, or filled with sand that spills out when pulled from the bottom of a beach bag. Reading in the summer is a bit of a contact sport, for me. Bug spray, sunscreen, water, sand…even some ice cream has been known to find its way onto the pages of my favorite summer books.

Sorry not sorry.

Reading — and rereading — wonderful books in the summer is one of my great pleasures. Even though I’ve been out of school for a looooooong time, something about summer still feels…different. Freer. Like my regular life is suspended, and somehow the rules are different. I reread old favorites. Put down a book that isn’t grabbing me and start a new one. Read three books at once. Why not? It’s summer!

Maybe it’s because I live in New England, where the winters are long and cold. Maybe it’s because school wasn’t always easy for me as a student, or as a parent, and summer promised a break. Whatever the reason, I always feel summer is a time of freedom.

Below are a couple of summer stories that I’ve loved, that maybe you’ll love too. And don’t forget to comment for a chance to win one of my summertimes books! Simply comment here or on the Instagram post (linked here) and you’re entered to win of of these two books!*

This Would  Make a Good Story Someday: What if you planned on the perfect summer with your friends, getting new and improved for middle school? And what if your moms suddenly informed you that, instead, your entire family — including your loud younger sister, your political activist older sister, and her oh-so-annoying boyfriend — were traveling cross-country by train? For Sara, writing it all down in her journal is the only escape. But as they criss-cross the country she makes unexpected friends, sees the world outside the train windows with new eyes, and might just come home new and improved after all.

The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island: The Fletchers love returning every year to Rock island, where nothing ever changes. Except this year, when Sam, Jax, Eli, and Frog Fletcher and their dads arrive, things are different. New neighbors, a Keep Out fence around the beloved lighthouse, and still more surprises await them. Maybe time can’t stand still, even on Rock Island, but the Fletcher boys learn that some changes can be downright amazing.


A Very Incomplete List of A Few of My Favorite Summer Stories
by Dana Alison Levy

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall:
This book is a modern classic, and does an amazing job of bringing us into the heart of this hilarious and loving family of four sisters. The adventures they have in Arundel, in the gardens, the pond, the meadows, and beyond, make me want to join the fun. P.S. The whole series is fantastic, and another one, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, is another magical summer story.


One Crazy Summer by Rita Garcia-Williams:
Wow I love this book! Three sisters travel across the country to spend the summer of 1968 with their mother in Oakland California, where they wind up attending a summer program hosted by the revolutionary Black Panthers. Full of important history that doesn’t get talked about enough, and funny and poignant enough to keep everyone reading. P.S. Once again, the rest of the series is amazing too!

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson:
Pretty much the world’s most perfect middle grade novel. A mystery, a family story, a friendship story, historical fiction, social justice, puzzles, questions about race, secrets, LGBTQIA identity…this book pretty does it all, and does it beautifully. Candace Miller and her mother are spending the summer in Lambert South Carolina, and when she and her neighbor Brandon find a letter waiting for her, it’s the beginning of a puzzle about her family and the town that may reveal secrets some folks aren’t ready to give up. Also, it made me go back and reread Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game (the ultimate puzzle book), and that’s just another bonus.

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya:
Like I said, I’m a New Englander, and I love our summers. But this book takes place in Miami, and offers such an incredible sense of place and how the rhythms of summer play out there. It’s about community and food and family and poetry and, for me at least, Arturo is not even remotely an epic fail; he’s totally awesome.




Dana Alison Levy was raised by pirates but escaped at a young age and went on to earn a degree in aeronautics and puppetry. Actually, that’s not true—she just likes to make things up. That’s why she always wanted to write books. Her novels for kids, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island, This Would Make a Good Story Someday, and It Wasn’t Me have garnered multiple starred reviews, been named to Best Of lists, and were Junior Library Guild Selections. Also her kids like them. Find out more at www.danaalisonlevy.com or follow her online at Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.


*Giveaway is US only! (Apologies to the international crowd). Winners will be picked at random and contacted via email or DM.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Plotting vs Pantsing / My Learning Curve

When I first began to write I had a basic personal story I wanted to tell. I pantsed 28K words in twenty-five days, then worked on that story for three more years. I was fortunate that it went on to a small press for publication. Imagine that! My first ever novel published! Shoot, this stuff is easy! HAHAHA NO!

It was my first novel. I was lucky, not good. It was not particularly good either. But it was an earnest and heartfelt attempt, and a reflection of my writing skills at the time, and I'm proud of it for many reasons even if it is difficult for me to read now.

Though I'd written numerous picture book manuscripts by the time I started my first MG novel, I hadn't ever researched how to write a novel. I'd skimmed and dipped into a few craft books like Stephen King's On Writing, and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, but rather than settling into the books and waiting to begin my second novel, I charged ahead with an idea. I figured my next story would organically and coherently play out on the page as I wrote. Strangely, that didn't happen.

I'm querying my second novel now, and it was only after getting involved in #Pitchwars where I began to see the value of studying craft. I mean really breaking down your novel and understanding it. My #Pitchwars mentor Yamile Mendez (you need to check out her bazillion books) guided me to websites by K.M. Weiland helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com and Jami Gold jamigold.com.

I use these sites regularly now, as well as the craft books The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein and Story Genius by Lisa Cron. I'm sure many of the other craft books on the market are helpful, but these resources work for me.

If you can imagine a scribbled line, you can imagine how my first two books came about. It's like I was learning to draw but didn't quite know how. I've spent considerable time rewriting the second book, and if it gets me an agent, it's going to need more revisions, I'm sure of that. I'm okay with that too. I expect it.

On this third book, I don't want to erase so many scribbles and rewrite them, so I'm carefully pre-planning the novel (with much more detail and structure than a general idea). I'm keeping a growing character sheet complete with backstory for each character. This is helping tremendously. It's also helping me see further into the future. I think this book can be a series. We'll see.

For me, writing now is a mix of framing first (to structure and space the plot and pinch points) and pantsing between these points. I feel it is working well. I think I'll have a readable manuscript to critique partners in about a month, and I'm so thankful to Yamile Mendez and all the generous writers sharing their time and talents with others.

If it weren't for generous writers giving advice and support so willingly, I'd be lost. If you're struggling a bit, keep at it! You're in a great group of people! But you probably already know that.

Take care,
Rob Polk

Monday, July 22, 2019

Scary Stories: How Far is Too Far?

One of my current works in progress (oh, how wonderful it would be if there were only one) is a scary middle grade book. I’ve written a couple manuscripts over the years that were at least meant to be scary. Some were. Some…eh….

Every time I approach a new scary idea, whether it would be categorized as spooky or creepy or horror or whatever other label could be assigned, there’s always one big question that I try to keep in mind: Exactly how far can I take things while writing for a middle grade audience? There are a few things I’ve learned to consider:

*What part of the middle grade audience, specifically, does the book aim for? Middle grade can be a tricky age level to write for. Some books are more directed toward the nine-year-olds, some target the older end of thirteen or maybe even fourteen, and some look to split the difference. Is the story itself something that would interest the younger readers or the older readers? Assuming the older readers are able to handle stories with a scarier edge to them, books meant for that chunk of middle grade could offer some more challenging scares. A younger reader might only need more innocent campfire tales for a scary thrill, so they don’t go to sleep at night wondering what sorts of nightmares might be found beneath their bed.

*How balanced is the pacing of the scares? Are there quieter moments to even things out, or maybe even jokes to lighten the tone?

*What part, if any, will violence play? Where is the line between a story being something scary, and becoming full-on horror? Is it the degree of the scare? Are the characters facing physical jeopardy? Is either blood or death involved with what’s happening in the story, and how necessary is it?

*Do the scares serve the story, or are they being included simply for shock value? Anything included in a manuscript should be necessary to advancing the story. Are monsters or jumpy scenes written in just to make things scarier, or do they have actual purpose?

Things always come back in the end to what’s necessary for the story and appropriate for the audience. I think as long as the content of the story matches that criteria, readers should have a good idea about what to expect. Sometimes the scares might catch people off guard, though. I think most of us have had that happen before, while reading some book or watching a movie. Getting through an unexpected scare in a storyline and seeing how the characters handle it can be empowering for a middle grade reader. Maybe kids who take on the challenge of diving into something that might give them some spooks and chills will open them up to new directions in their reading.

Friday, July 19, 2019

How to Use Travel to Enrich Your Writing


Summer is prime travel time, which is awesome, no question. But every writer knows travel can cause interrupted schedules and missed writing time. What's more, the interruptions can affect you before, during, and after the trip! Fortunately, travel can greatly enrich your writing. So arm yourself with these tips, pack your bags, and get ready for some fab fun and inspiration all rolled together!

Spark ideas and ask questions

Learn all you reasonably can about your intended destination ahead of time. Not only will this make your travel experience richer, but it will trigger writing ideas for you. Brainstorm what types of stories or novels you could set in the place your are visiting. What sort of characters might be interesting within this culture? How would characters from a different culture integrate with the one you are planning to visit?

Currently I am preparing for a medical mission to India with my husband. In my preliminary research, I've discovered conflicting opinions about what women tourists should wear. This conflict could easily be woven into a story with humorous or frightening results, depending on what I'm writing.

Organize your research


My favorite method for organizing research for future novels is Scrivener. You can easily import web pages and your own photos (keep them small so you don't bog down). 

The program is set up so you create your own multi-tier research files, which are quickly and easily accessible while you are writing in a separate pane. You can even drag the research files from one scrivener document to another so you can find it quickly for another story set in the same location.

Evernote is another great resource for organizing research and has the added bonus of being accessible by phone or laptop.

Use resources related to your destination


Read novels, memoirs, or travel guides related to your travel destination. The novels could be set in the place you are visiting or written by people from that region. An added bonus - reading these books will help you be aware of what stories are out there so you do not plan to write something that is already saturating the market.

Listen to podcasts. Watch movies. Download apps. I recently downloaded the Google Arts & Culture app so I could learn about Indian architecture, art, museums, and culture ahead of our trip. Whatever resources you explore will open your eyes to details you might otherwise overlook. As you immerse yourself in these resources, the culture you are preparing to write about becomes more like second nature to you.

Keep a travel journal

Ok, I know this is tough. Believe me. You've been out seeing sights. You've walked about a thousand miles and you're exhausted. I used to try to journal about each day every night when I returned to my room. Usually that worked about two days before my exhaustion (or desire to go have more fun!) won out. So here's a couple better strategies that have worked well for me.

Journal on the go


Now I keep a small notebook to jot down ideas or do a quick sketch when inspiration strikes. I'm sure I miss some things. But I try to capture the essence of whatever is fascinating me at the moment. What I can't write at the time, I try to do it later, even if it's on the flight home. I alternate between using a note app on my phone and using paper, depending on a variety of factors. 

Note apps I like: Notes on iPhone is great for quickly recording ideas and information. If you have a mac you can easily send the notes to your laptop then incorporate them into Scrivener. I also love Evernote and save a lot of info there. Just beware of tour guides getting impatient with your notetaking. I once had a guide in Alaska lose his patience and ask who I was texting! He was quite flattered to learn I was taking notes for a possible novel.

Photojournal


Yes, I'm using that as a verb. Photojournal your trip. This is a fantastic way to jog your memory later on. A few years ago, when I was Mexico, I snapped pics of different types of buildings, homes, and wildlife. Later, looking through the photos, I noticed that a family kept a deer penned in their back yard. It brought a lot of questions to mind. Was this deer a pet? Or food? How did they catch it? 

As you curate your photos, keep in mind that those you post on Facebook or instagram will not be the same as those you will want for research or to stir your imagination for writing.

What are some of your favorite ways to use travel to enrich your writing?


Monday, July 8, 2019

Spooky Campfire Reads

This week on Middle Grade Minded, I asked some of my favorite spooky authors to recommend their top campfire reads. So stoke the fire, get out your flashlight, and prepare for some summer shivers.


Thanks to author Angie Smibert for that suggestion. Coraline is one of my all-time favorites too!


Another one of my favorites! This suggestion came from author Samantha M. Clark.


Thanks to Samantha for another great suggestion. I personally can't wait to cozy up next to a campfire and read this spooky tale.


This suggestion comes from author Janet Fox.


Thanks to S.A. Larsen for this great suggestion.


Author Jonathan Rosen brought us this suggestion. Can't wait to check it out!


This one comes from yours truly! I am a huge fan of Fat & Bones. So dark and creepy, in the best possible way.


Thanks to author Lindsay Currie for this suggestion. Lindsay talks more about her pick in a post on the Spooky Middle Grade blog: https://spookymiddlegrade.com/2019/07/07/great-spooky-reads-for-summer/. And finally...


Our final suggestion comes from author David Neilsen.

I hope these suggestions send some shivers up your spine this summer.

About the Author:

KIM VENTRELLA is the author of the middle grade novels SKELETON TREE (2017) and BONE HOLLOW (2019), both with Scholastic Press. She is also a contributor to the upcoming NEW SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK anthology (2020, HarperCollins). Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Kim has held a variety of interesting jobs, including children’s librarian, scare actor, Peace Corps volunteer, French instructor and overnight staff person at a women’s shelter, but her favorite job title is author. She lives in Oklahoma City with her dog and co-writer, Hera. Visit her online at https://kimventrella.com/.



Friday, July 5, 2019

Book Review & Giveaway: The Echo Park Castaways


I am easily sentimental, but not easily impressed.


But boy, was I impressed by this wonderful book by M.G. Hennessey!




Background:


Nevaeh, Vic, and Mara are veterans of the Los Angeles foster care system. For over a year they’ve been staying with Mrs. K in Echo Park. Vic spends most of his time living in a dream world, Mara barely speaks, and Nevaeh is forced to act as a back-up parent. Though their situation isn’t ideal, it’s still their best home yet. 
Then Child Protective Services places Quentin in the house, and everything is turned upside down. Nevaeh really can’t handle watching over anyone else, especially a boy on the autism spectrum. Meanwhile, Quentin is having trouble adjusting and attempts to run away. 
So when Vic realizes Quentin just wants to see his mom again, he plans an “epic quest” to reunite them. It could result in the foster siblings getting sent to different group homes. But isn’t family always worth the risk?


The Review:

Told from the perspective of three of the four children (a brilliant choice by Hennessey), this story sucks you in from the very first page, placing you squarely in the shoes of children who find (or have found) themselves separated from their families and placed in foster care without any say over the matter. 

In the case of the story, Quentin's arrival is the unlikely catalyst for change for the four children. While their current foster home isn't terrible, it also isn't ideal, and each child dreams of a better future for themselves, whether it's being reunited with an absent parent, or making a future for yourself in which you can take control of your life.

The children's voices are spot-on, and their yearning and regrets fill the page. Hennessey does an excellent job of making us care about all of these children, and the quest they undertake is the perfect vehicle to propel the story forward. It helps that Hennessey volunteers as a court-appointed advocate to help kids navigate the Los Angeles foster care system - the story feels true and honest, and while it is a kid's book, few punches are pulled.

This book, and the stories of children in foster care, deserve to be told. In the end, all of us want to be part of a family. The Echo Park Castaways shares another vision for what that means.

5 stars!

The book is published by Harper and releases July 2, 2019.


Want to know more about the author?


Visit her website!


And finally....

Want to win an ARC of the book?

Leave a comment below telling me your favourite beach!  MG Minded will choose a winner on Sunday, June 16th. Good luck!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Q&A with Lisa Schmid, author, Ollie Oxley and the Ghost: The Search for Lost Gold and GIVEAWAY!!!



I was thrilled to receive an advanced reader's copy of Lisa Schmid's debut middle grade novel, OLLIE OXLEY AND THE GHOST: SEARCH FOR THE LOST GOLD!  And I knew I absolutely had to interview her for Middle Grade Minded readers and do a giveaway!!!






The book is funny, mysterious, and a grand adventure!!!


Q&A



1.    Tell us about Ollie Oxley and the Ghost

Twelve-year-old Ollie Oxley is moving-again. His mom is starting another new job, this time at the Bingham Theater in Granite City, California. Moving all the time means Ollie has struggled to make friends, but he quickly connects with a boy named Teddy. To Ollie's surprise, though, his first friend in town is a ghost. The two, boys take on the school bully, search for long lost gold, and ultimately help each other find their way home. 

2.    Where did the idea come from? 

When I first started writing Ollie Oxley, I had just moved to Folsom, home of the California Gold Rush. My new neighborhood was steeped in local history. At the time, my son, Ollie was a baby, so we took a lot of walks. Just about every day something new would present itself that would lend to my story. For example, one day at the park, I met a modern-day prospector who told me about all the gold he had discovered in Folsom. He was even carrying a metal detector. On another day, I met a man whose home served as the town courthouse in the 1800s. Prisoners were tried on the first floor, and if convicted, they were taken to the basement to be hanged. This anecdote, of course, made it into my story. 

3.    Ollie and Teddy become buddies, but they also rib each other quite a bit. Tell us about how you developed your characters and why it was important for there to be some tension between them.

Ollie is never in one place for long, so he never makes any friends. Why bother? Over the years, he has built up walls to protect himself and uses sarcasm as a shield. Teddy, on the other hand, is just happy to have a friend who can see him. He's loyal, good-natured and determined to help Ollie. Slowly, he chips away at Ollie's armor, and they become best friends. Both boys are coming from a place of loneliness. It's their vastly different approach to the situation that makes for the perfect dynamic. 


4.    Aubrey is a very complex character in the story. We think she is one way and then discover she is another. Have we heard the last of her?

You haven't heard the last of Aubrey. I haven't decided what role she will play in the next book,  but I'm curious to see how she evolves. I've toyed with the idea of making her and Ollie friends. 

5.    Have you ever had any ghostly sightings? Do you believe in ghosts? 

Yes. I believe! I love visiting "haunted" places like the Whaley House in San Diego. It's rumored to be the most haunted house in the United States. I have toured the historic home a couple of times, hoping to see a chandelier sway or a spectral vision glide across the room. No such luck. But, to be perfectly honest, if I did see a ghost, I'd probably Scooby Doo it right out of there.

6.    If you could be haunted by anyone, who would it be?  

I am a huge Roald Dahl fan, so it would be nice to have him whispering in my ear when I write. Interesting story . . . On the day he died, I woke up, and my first thought was Roald Dahl is dead. I opened the newspaper, and sure enough, there was the announcement of his passing. Weird . . . Huh?

Wendy note: this gave me goose bumps!

7.    What’s been the most surprising thing about being a debut author? 

I love all my new author friends. I am a kidlit fangirl at heart. How we met is the perfect example. The fact that I was literally reading your book when you started following me on Twitter is crazy. I geeked out! I also love school visits. Kids are so authentic and full of wonder. Best of all, they still believe in magic. 

8.    If you have one piece of advice for our readers who are aspiring authors, what would it be? 

Join a writer's organization that fits your genre. I wish I would have known about Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) from the get-go. It's an incredible resource, and I have met some of my best friends.


To learn more about Lisa, visit her website!


Giveaway!


Want to win an ARC of OLLIE OXLEY AND THE GHOST?  

Leave a message below telling me your favourite ghost!!!!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, June 21, 2019

Dear Writer, Be Healthy

You're a writer. You make time to write even if your life is busy. It's what you do. I applaud you for that. And now it's confession time.

I don't write every day. I don't even read every day.

I'd like to write and read every day. But I don't. Not anymore. These days, I try to give myself a little more balance. I try to keep my personal priorities straight. (God knows with seven active school-age children I'm lucky to not forget who goes where when. I mean, there's dance, baseball, tennis, horseback-riding, Jiu Jitsu, etc...)

Writing and reading are fit into my busy and ever-changing schedule as necessary. Yeah, I'm a slow writer, and tend to knock off chunks of projects at a time when I can. But not at the cost of family time or my own personal health anymore.

I learned that the hard way. Ever since a depression diagnosis a few years ago, I've struggled at times with the things I love.

I've learned, and I hope you will too, that taking care of yourself is the only way you can continue to do the things you love. The only way you can be your best self. The only way you can give yourself a chance to write - or do anything you enjoy.

When my depression took hold, it wrecked my ability to do the things I'd enjoyed. And it took the joy from all the things I did.

Lucky for me, my wife is a physician. She recognized that I was in trouble and she helped me get the care I needed.

Give yourself permission to take a break now and then. Maybe even move your bar a little if you're feeling overwhelmed with the demands you put on yourself. Step back. Be still. Shut out the noise. Then try to listen to yourself. And by all means, reach out for help or guidance if you are uneasy and think you might be in an unhealthy situation.

There is no limit to the number of barriers, obstacles, and distractions that can keep us from writing - or living the life we should live. That will probably always be true. But please, bear in mind what's at stake when your life feels out of balance. Find yourself again. Be you. Be the best you that you can be.

Also, I love you. I hope you write the best book you can write and that I get to read it someday. And I hope you will take care of yourself so that can happen. I'm rooting for you.

Take care,

Rob

Monday, June 17, 2019

Five More Reasons to Read CATERPILLAR SUMMER

As writers, we all have books we would like to write someday. Sometimes they’re based around specific ideas we’d like to develop, or certain genres we’d like to explore. Sometimes they might only be an idea for a character, or a setting, or just an overall feeling.

I’ve had a jigsaw puzzle of story elements stashed in my vault for quite some time now: A contemporary story with a timeless feel, when the events aren’t limited to modern day trappings like kids constantly texting each other or spending all of their school nights obsessively playing online games; a quieter story about family and self-discovery; taking place in a smaller community, somewhat contained so the people there are familiar with each other and the main character has relationships with many of them; something set near the water, whether that would mean oceans, lakes, or rivers, with that watery setting important enough to the story that it almost comes alive as a character itself; something where there is just as much attention paid to the craft of the writing as the telling of the story.

We had a Middle Grade Minded post about a month ago, listing five reasons why people should read CATERPILLAR SUMMER by Gillian McDunn. Coincidentally, I had sent a book order home with my students that same week. I noticed CATERPILLAR SUMMER was one of the books available, and I ordered a copy. When the chaos of the final weeks of the school year began calming, I read it. I was pulled in deep from the very first page and only became more and more engaged as the story went on. This book turned out to be one possible version of the kind of book I wanted to write myself. With that in mind, I’d like to add to that original list of reasons to read this book with a few of my own.

*It’s a contemporary story with enough modern flourishes that kids today could recognize and relate to, but it has a mostly timeless feel. Our main character is a girl named Cat. The time she spends walking on the beach with her family and riding bikes with her new friend Harriet are things that could have happened thirty years ago as easily as last week.

*The story is layered around Cat’s relationships with the different people in her family. Her mother and her younger brother Chicken are both loving and frustrating parts of her life. Her father, who had passed away earlier, represents something of a hole in what her life is now. The grandparents she is just getting to know help her understand her parents in ways she hadn’t had the opportunity to before.

*Much of the story takes place on Gingerbread Island, along the coast of North Carolina. People can come and go between the island and the mainland easily enough, but the people who live on the island are tight-knit enough to give Cat and Chicken a good collection of characters to get to know and spend their summer with while visiting their grandparents.

*Maybe it’s because I’ve lived my whole life in a city on the edge of the midwestern prairie, but I almost always find stories set near or around the ocean to be captivating. Cat and Chicken’s grandparents live right along the water, an easy distance for walks along the beach, looking for turtles and shark teeth, or entering local fishing contests. Both Gingerbread Island and the ocean are such important parts of the setting that I’m not sure the story would able to be the same without them.

*The author, Gillian McDunn, is an extraordinary writer. This is a book I know I’ll be revisiting frequently, not only to enjoy the story but to both admire and study how she crafted it. I can’t recommend highly enough that you find yourself a copy of this book and read it. The time you spend this summer on Gingerbread Island will be worth it.