Friday, January 7, 2022

Interview with THE LAST ADVENTURE author, RYAN DALTON

 Happy New Year!


So excited to share a great interview I did with Ryan Dalton, author of THE LAST ADVENTURE,  which comes out February 1st!




About the Book: 


When Archie's beloved grandpa is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, Archie desperately wants to slow the progression of his grandpa's memory loss.

Using Grandpa's old journal entries as inspiration, he creates shared role-playing fantasies with epic quests for them to tackle together―allowing Grandpa to live in the present and stay in touch with his fading memories. But as Grandpa's condition gradually worsens, Archie must come to terms with what's happening to his hero. The limits of the fantasies, revelations about Grandpa's past, and a school project about the future force Archie to grapple with what it truly means to live a life worth remembering.


The Interview:

1) The relationship between Archie and his grandfather is absolutely beautiful, but what I really loved was that they played together. I’ve never seen that in a MG novel before but it is so awesome! What inspired that choice and did you have a similar relationship with any of your grandparents?

I didn’t fully realize it until I’d completed This Last Adventure, but I’m drawn to stories that include multi-generational relationships. You get to experience the differences in characters that grew up in very different eras, yet the benefits of a familial bond that provides an underlying security, even when there’s conflict between the characters. There’s also a level of vulnerability that families can have with each other, something deeper than with other characters, and I love writing scenes with lots of words and powerful emotions flying around. I never lived in the same house with my grandparents, so we didn’t have the daily connection that Archie gets to have with Grandpa, but I did enjoy the time I got to spend with them. It was especially fun when personality traits of their younger selves would peek through and I would get a glimpse of playfulness.


2) Archie and his mom are dealing with A LOT. And in very different ways. Can you talk about the choices you made in that relationship?

From the start, I wanted to establish that they were a team with a deep, unbreakable bond, but now that bond was going to be tested and changed in ways they never expected. I knew that was going to cause conflicts because they would struggle at times to understand each other. There would be layers of challenges because, in addition to dealing day-to-day with Grandpa’s condition, they also had their own ways of coping with the emotional toll (some healthy and some not so healthy). So I had to spend a lot of time with them before writing, coming to understand what Archie and Penny would do and why. Then there had to be a path that led to them understanding each other better, which meant there would have to be tough conversations about difficult feelings. I try to feel the emotions I’m writing about in the moment as deeply as possible, wanting them to leap off the page as strongly as possible. So those deep interpersonal scenes can be exhausting to write, but they’re also incredibly rewarding.


3) A universal longing for all of us is that we are remembered. But Archie’s grandfather is haunted by things he’d rather forget. And yet he makes a brave choice which in turns encourages Archie to be brave. Both acts of bravery could have negative repercussions. Why did you want to to frame bravery the way you did? (and bravo by the way!)

I wanted to show that bravery is not dependent on the outcome. Through his own experiences, Grandpa had learned that taking the leap is the important thing. It carries its own reward. So he wanted to teach Archie to go through life unafraid of taking chances, of reaching as high as he could for what he really wanted, knowing that he would be okay even if he fell short or didn’t always get what he wanted. From there, my goal was to show Archie doing exactly that and receiving mixed results – some successes and some failures – and seeing for himself that what Grandpa taught him was true.

(I’m really glad you enjoyed that. It’s one of my favorite parts.)

4) Sometimes, we choose to carry burdens by ourselves, how does that manifest in your characters and what do you want your readers to take away from those choices?

In real life, when we try to carry heavy burdens by ourselves, that often doesn’t work out too well. Yet that’s usually the first thing people try to do. These characters needed to learn the same thing, which meant at first they’d have to try handling problems on their own and then experience the repercussions. It’s only when they start relying on each other, learning how to act like a team again, that things begin to improve.

5) If you could go back in time (or perhaps now!), what would you loved to ask your grandparents?

I would want to hear about the most treasured adventures they had in their life, memories they look back on with the deepest joy. A long life carries many hidden depths, and I’d love to hear the stories they haven’t told in many years.

6) What’s next?

While preparing for publication of This Last Adventure, I wrote another middle grade book that we’re currently taking to various publishing houses. In February, I’ll begin writing my next book – something I can’t talk about in detail yet but am so excited to begin. I have so many stories floating around in my head, just waiting to be written, so I hope to be publishing books in a variety of genres for many years to come. Stay tuned!


Guys, THE LAST ADVENTURE is a wonderful book. I highly recommend it as a great jumping off point for kids to connect with their grandparents!


WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT RYAN DALTON OR CONNECT WITH HIM ON SOCIAL MEDIA? 

VISIT HIS WEBSITE!


Thanks for the great interview Ryan!

Friday, October 1, 2021

5 Spooky Books for Middle Grade Readers!

Halloween is just around the corner. Okay, I know it's only Oct 1, but the countdown to spook night, candied apples, and carved pumpkins has officially begun. What better way to launch the Halloween season than to curl up with a frightful book? Here's a few to get you (and your middle grade readers) started!


The Girl in the Locked Room - a Ghost Story



When Jules and her family move into an old, abandoned house, she discovers a locked room and sees a pale, ghostly face peering from its windows. 


Jules embarks on a mysterious quest to open the locked door and change the fate of the family who lived in the house a century before.


"This gentle paranormal mystery is perfect for young readers."-Booklist








A World Full of Spooky Stories: Tales to Make Your Spine Tingle



This spine-chilling anthology gathers spooky stories from all over the world. Read about the bewitching Queen of the Faeries, the terrifying Baba Yaga, Father Death, and more.


Amazon Review: "My 2 elementary age kids love this book. The stories are spooky and I think that's exactly what keeps their attention. It's also very nice to have a variety of new stories from different cultures that were lessen known. Some of the stories can be a bit scary, so I would not recommend it for 6 yrs old or younger." 





The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane


When twelve-year-old Emmy is shipped off to a prestigious British boarding school, she encounters a lot more than tea and crumpets. She discovers a box of mysterious medallions, strange symbols etched into walls, and a secret society: The Order of Black Hollow Lane.


And all of it seems linked to the disappearance of Emmy's long-lost Dad.


Amazon Review: "By cleverly intertwining history into the narrative, Julia Nobel has crafted a page-turning mystery in which a charming cast whose true-to-life interactions make them feel real investigates a secret society whose menace is made worse because it could rationally exist."






Greystone Secrets #1: The Strangers



In this thrilling series opener, the three Greystone children learn of a kidnapping. The only thing is, the children kidnapped have their same first and middle names and birthdates, and other strange similarities. 


When the Greystones try to investigate their world is turned upside down. 


"A secret-stacked, thrilling series opener about perception, personal memories, and the idiosyncrasies that form individual identities." - Publishers Weekly, starred review


“Bestselling Haddix launches a new middle-grade series that blends adventure and sf elements into an engrossing mystery. The kidnapping alone could have made a compelling mystery, but Haddix throws in secret rooms, alternate realities, and a cliff-hanger ending to raise the stakes and delight fans new and old.” - Booklist


The Ghost Collector


This tender story, steeped in Cree folklore, features Shelly, who has a special role with ghosts, like all the women in her family. She helps those who are stuck transition on to the next life. 


But when her mother dies, she starts hoarding ghosts in her room instead. But no matter how many she hoards, she still hasn't found the one that matters most to her.


“Perfectly balances suspense and the supernatural . . . [A] powerful and moving story about coming to terms with the death of a loved one. It’s an auspicious debut that is sure to delight middle-grade readers.” - The Globe and Mail, 08/25/19


“Poignantly haunting.” - The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, 09/19




These books will be a treat as we move into the cozy days and longer nights of fall! 

Friday, July 23, 2021

5 Middle Grade Summer Reads You Don't Want to Miss!

Summer is in full swing, with afternoons spent in backyard hammocks or whiled away on road trips. Whatever the choice of your summer time, be sure to tuck a few of these great middle grade reads into your kid's backpack - or even your own!


Protagonist Kiki Kallira is sure to thrill fans of adventure, art, and mythology in this action-packed novel. Readers will be drawn into this entertaining story within moments...and may even find themselves reaching for their own sketchbooks. This book is a great springboard for imagination! Buy Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna here!





Tae Keller weaves an enchanting story in When You Trap a Tiger, incorporating the wonder of Korean folk tales. When a tiger from one of the tales comes to life, her main character, Lily must unravel a secret family history and discover if she has the courage to face the tiger. Winner of the 2021 Newbery Medal. Available here!





Looking for a complex, riveting tale? The Kate in Between by Claire Swinarski may just fit the bill. Kate finds herself torn between her best friend, Haddie, and her newfound acceptance in the popular group. This book tackles issues of friendship, bullying, honesty, and guilt. Available here!





In this heartwarming novel, an unlikely friendship is forged when Ro and Benji become science partners in school. They unite to seek his missing comic-book-writing Dad and to finish the rocket her Dad was building when he died. Together, they deal with grief and tackle some of the deepest questions of the cosmos. Find Clues to the Universe by Christina Li at amazon!





Barclay the mushroom apprentice accidentally bonds with a magical beast, setting off a rollicking adventure sure to keep readers turning pages. Buy Wilderlore: The Accidental Apprentice by Amanda Foody here!





Happy Reading!





Monday, July 5, 2021

An Interview with Author Alyson Gerber

I'm a HUGE Alyson Gerber fan, so I knew that when TAKING UP SPACE was recently released, I definitely wanted to talk to her about this stunning novel that is going to speak to so many kids!

 










About the Book:

Sarah loves basketball more than anything. Crushing it on the court makes her feel like she matters. And it's the only thing that helps her ignore how much it hurts when her mom forgets to feed her.

But lately Sarah can't even play basketball right. She's slower now and missing shots she should be able to make. Her body doesn't feel like it's her own anymore. She's worried that changing herself back to how she used to be is the only way she can take control over what's happening.

When Sarah's crush asks her to be partners in a cooking competition, she feels pulled in a million directions. She'll have to dig deep to stand up for what she needs at home, be honest with her best friends, and accept that she doesn't need to change to feel good about herself.


The Interview:


Hi Aly!

Thanks so much for answering some questions!

Thank you so much for having me! 

Q1: You're so open in your books about issues you've had in your life. Do you find it cathartic or is it still uncomfortable at times?

It’s definitely uncomfortable to confront what I’ve been through in my writing, but I’ve found that digging into my experience and facing my feelings is the only way I know how to heal and move forward. In the process of publishing BRACED, FOCUSED, and TAKING UP SPACE, I've also had the chance to help a lot of kids and adults, and I'm really grateful for that opportunity. It's changed me for the better.

Q2: One of the things I love so much about this book is that it deals with the onset of puberty head on and how hard that can be for girls, not just psychologically, but physically, and yet we so rarely see it discussed in books. Can you talk about your conscious decision to talk about the feeling young girls have that their body is somehow betraying them specifically, and not solely related to disordered eating?

Absolutely. I wanted TAKING UP SPACE to address puberty in an honest way. Puberty is the first time kids experience their body changing. The way they look and feel and appear to other people is new and completely out of their control. It's confusing and weird and also really lonely, because this monumental thing is happening (or not happening), and yet no one is talking about it. Everyone is just pretending that things are the same, when everything is different. I really hope TAKING UP SPACE helps readers to feel less alone in this experience.

Q3: Sarah and her mother have a very strained relationship, one that in many ways isn’t helped at all by her father. There is so much shame ricocheting in that house, in addition to love. Was it difficult to find the balance between these characters?

When I started writing TAKING UP SPACE, I knew that to some readers Sarah's family would feel unfamiliar. This type of dynamic where the culture of dieting has trickled down through generations is actually very common, but it's rarely shown or discussed, because there is so much shame. I stayed focused on making sure that Sarah's parents felt like real people. I wanted readers to feel how much Sarah's parents love her, even as they struggle to provide her with a sense of security and enough food. The balance was definitely tricky, but I'm really proud of how these characters turned out in the story. And I'm so excited by the reviews from readers who can relate to what Sarah is going through and also encouraged by the incredible response from readers who have never been inside this type of dynamic.

Q4: Sarah’s best friend, Ryan, is steadfast, but she doesn’t sugarcoat things for Sarah, which makes me really love her! How important is it to you to accurately portray young girls’ friendships?

I feel very obligated to show my readers honest versions of what friendship really looks like, not what I wish it looked like. The truth is that friendships are special and also complicated. There isn’t a right or wrong way to be a friend. There is only what's right and wrong for you. This is particularly hard when you're young, because most people are trying to figure out who they are and what they need. And just when they have some sense of that, everything about their body and brain changes, so what they need from friends changes too. 

Q5: The most moving part of the book, and most important in my opinion, is when Sarah tells her truth and asks for help. So many kids are afraid to do this and the way it goes down is SO well done. How hard was that to write?

Thank you. That means a lot to me. Writing the build up to that moment when Sarah is finally able to see what's really happening and ask for help was the hardest part of writing this book. It had to ring true and feel earned. And it didn't work, until it did.

Q6: Finally, for all the Alyson Gerber fans out there, what’s next?

I love this question so much! And I hate to be mysterious, but I can't say what's coming next just yet. I promise it will be worth the wait. It's going to be amazing!


And how do you like this adorable picture of Alyson on her first day of middle school? SO cute!








Want to know about Alyson and find out more about her other amazing novels? 


Visit her website!






Monday, June 28, 2021

Review Lola Benko Treasure Hunter by Beth McMullen

 


Lola Benko travels the world with her archeologist dad. She's used to hopping around the globe with no place to call home. But when her dad mysteriously sends her to live with her great-aunt Irma and is thought to have died trying to recover his next artifact, Lola swears he's still alive. She will stop at nothing to find her father even if it means getting caught stealing expensive art from a rich mansion. But if she's to uncover the truth she'll have to trust kids her own age and she's used to doing things on her own.


Lola is a fantastic character, she's into STEM and likes to invent things and dives in head first often without a plan which makes her lovable even in her mistakes. Unfortunately Lola Benko didn't have the world travels and Indiana Jones style treasure hunts I expected but it did have a lot of heart and some fun and sometimes unexpected middle of the night adventures that often went sideways before the characters were able to get themselves out of the mess created. Lola's friends Hannah and Jin are believable and help level and challenge Lola as a character. And the ending had a nice wrap up while also opening the door for the sequel.


I recommend to all middle grade readers looking for a little adventure with a side of mischief and fun that doesn't always go according to plan.


ARC generously provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Jacking Up the Excitement in your Middle Grade Novel

I'm writing from Puerto Vallarta today. Taking out a little time to blog during my family vacation. Don't worry, I won't bore you with candid shots of my kids learning to surf or grisly descriptions of what happens when you jump off a board onto spiny sea urchins. It's not pretty. We'll leave it at that.

Instead, let's take a bite out of jackfruit. 

What does jackfruit have to do with writing riveting novels? Well, let me explain. 

Jackfruit is a huge warty green fruit. It's kind of melon looking, if your melons were aliens or perhaps were exposed to some sort of virus. It's not melon-y at all inside. I've never seen one before yesterday. Honestly, I was super excited to try it. I'm a bit of a foodie and I love adventure, so why not try eating something that looks like a science experiment gone wrong? The guides loved it. What did I have to lose?

A few bucks, apparently. But I gained oh, so much in experience, right?

Not only does the jackfruit look strange but the rubbery pit-filled flesh (promised to be a tantalizing blend of banana, cantaloupe, and pineapple) turned out to be........bland. I could only manage a bite. 

Back at the hotel, I tried blending it into a smoothie. I was greeted with a less-than-enthusiastic shrug from the family and something that sounded a little like "Mmph." Mmmmm was more what I was hoping for.

This brings me back to the point of this post - jacking up the excitement.

Anything you write needs to have a unique, intriguing presentation. No doubt the jackfruit did. I haven't seen that many warts since Halloween. And the chartreuse hue definitely grabbed my attention. 

But as with the fruit, presentation isn't enough. Even if some locals (family and friends) love your novel, you probably want to extend your appeal a little farther than that. And let's face it, no one really wants something bland. 

So here's some tips for writing a compelling novel that lives up to its hype.

Craft a Tight Plot


Include the basic elements of plot in your story. Free write all you want to get the juices going. But it's useful to have some idea of where you are in terms of plot. Some writers do this through structured planning such as outlining. Others prefer to "pants it," writing by the seat of the their pants, or on the fly, with little or no planning at all. Whatever your process, be sure to include these vital elements of plot.
  1. Exposition - this is the basic setup, where you develop enough character and world building to grab the readers attention and introduce them to the world of your novel. This is the period prior to the inciting incident.
  2. Inciting incident - this is the event that sets the novel in motion, the life-changing thing that happens that propels your character on their journey. 
  3. Rising Action - this is when your main character attempts to solve problems and overcome obstacles. This is where twists and turns should happen.
  4. Climax/Turning Point - This is the darkest moment, often referred to as the all-is-lost moment. Your character must confront the dragon and face their own weaknesses at the same time. This is when the most intense character transformation occurs.
  5. Resolution - The problem resolves and the character and their world return to normal, but it is a new normal, incorporating changes to the main character and their world. This often includes personal growth and new understanding of life and the world around them.

Create Relatable Characters


In order to be relatable each main character needs backstory, hobbies, interests, even conflicting opinions. I'm not talking about conflict between characters here, but conflict within a single character, much like we experience ourselves. 

Of course, conflict between characters is vital as well, even between allies. No one gets along perfectly all the time, not even the best of friends. Check your novel to make sure there's enough conflict and tension or your readers will find the relationships unrealistic and, dare I say it, bland.

Characters also need to have weaknesses. There's nothing more relatable than weakness and vulnerability, because we all experiences that, too.

Layer in Imagery and Metaphor


Once you finish your first draft, take a blazing fast read through of your novel. Look for imagery and themes you have included, whether on purpose or by accident. Then intensify these themes. Look for opportunities to add meaning through imagery and metaphor. This will add interest and depth to your novel.

Edit Out Fluff


It's tempting to include flowery adverbs or adjectives. But these actually detract from compelling writing. So does too much information. Consider the following sentences:

Jack clumsily walked too close to a really huge rocky ledge then fell off, screaming and hollering all the way down.

OR

Jack stumbled off a cliff.

Which one makes your heart jump? Which one makes you want to turn the page to find out what happened next?

DISCLAIMER: This post is not anti-Jack or anti-jackfruit. The author acknowledges that while jackfruit may not be to her taste, there are likely people around the world who find it delicious, and quite possibly even riveting. Just like with books....taste varies :)

Happy Reading and Happy Writing!


Friday, May 14, 2021

12 Great Resources for Writing (and Selling!) Middle Grade Fiction

Today's post features a blogroll of fabulous resources for middle grade writers. I've included a few notes, but be sure to click on those you links you want to dig into a little deeper!


Basics of Middle Grade

Middle Grade Novel Structure - Identifying the middle grade target audience and more!
Developing a compelling Middle Grade Fiction Premise - Remember what it was like to be 12 :)
3 Key Components of Middle Grade Novels - Characters on a mission, facing challenges, and growing!

Middle Grade Character Development

21 Characteristics of a Perfect Middle Grade Protagonist - Evokes sympathy, has a strong motivation, is complex....the list goes on!
Tropes & Tips for Middle Grade Fiction Writers: Great resource for ideas and for avoiding cliches.

Marketing Middle Grade Books

How to Learn the Market for Middle Grade Fiction - Read relevant middle grade literature, engage in complexity, make room for diversity, and remember what kids are reading for.

Darn Good Writing Advice

Dramatic Arc Archives from Kidlit - This website is chock-full of information, useful for any writer, but specifically targeting middle grade authors.

Happy Writing!