Sunday, October 29, 2017

Reflecting and Rediscovering Your Reasons

I had a busy summer this year. 

Back in March I had an idea for a new manuscript. It was one of those moments several writers have experienced, just walking around and living life when the brain goes off on one of its semi-frequent divergent meanderings and BAM!, you stumble on one of those golden “What if” questions that sets off an avalanche of possibilities. Before long, you start to realize that, yes, there is a legitimately viable story idea coming together. 

It was exciting to have something new come on so strong. I decided immediately I wanted to do it right. I was going to have tons of writing time available in the summer, so I gave the idea the rest of the spring to percolate. I filled the whiteboard in my office with comp titles coming from other books, movies, television shows, video games, and even podcasts. I began tapping idea fragments into a massive list on my phone. I sought out middle grade titles that felt similar to my idea in one way or another, to measure what the boundaries were for the story I was planning and figure out how I might be able to push them.

Once the work started, it came fast. I wrote chronologically with only a rough outline in my head, something I’ve never done before. When the draft was finished, I stepped away for a few weeks, giving my head some time to clear while waiting for feedback. When I got back to it, I powered through the revisions at a challenging pace with an approximate deadline in mind. There was a day or two of sweet relief when I finally reached that goal, but then I started feeling an itch….

I knew NaNoWrimo 2017 would be starting in less than a week. I've been a semi-regular participant over time, but have sat out the past two years due to other writing projects and different commitments. I thought about giving it a try this year, and came up with a number of reasons why it seemed like a good idea: I’ve always enjoyed participating; it would be an amazing feather in my cap if I could lay claim to drafting two complete manuscripts inside of the same calendar year; I had been hit with another idea — not exactly a new idea but one from the vault I wanted to try someday, and the time was feeling right. Since I thought it could be at least a few weeks until I was in a position to do any other revisions on the new manuscript, I decided to sign up.

The thing was, as much as I love this new idea, there is little reason for me to think it will ever see the light of day. I’m a writer of middle grade fiction. This new project would be a memoir, based around one particular area of my life, and not really directed at a middle grade audience. I have no nonfiction platform in this area, so as far as publishing aspirations go, it seems like it’d be a tremendous long shot. Really the only reason I would have for taking on this project is because I want to write it so much.

I felt just as passionate about my middle grade story earlier in the year when I was working on it. The big difference is I wrote that knowing it had a decent chance of eventually being ready for submission, and hopefully would get as far as publication someday. This new one might end up only being something for me and, hopefully, friends and family to enjoy.

It has me thinking:
*Why do we write?
*Is it for the love of it? 
*Do we let goals dictate or influence which projects we commit to?
*Would we still throw ourselves into the work as completely, even if we knew nobody else would ever read it?
*What benefits are there for jumping outside of the box and exploring new areas, just for the sake of exploring?

Not everyone would have the same answers to these questions. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing to occasionally consider the reasons we have for choosing this life. It might reveal something about our choices, or it could provide us with a renewed focus. 

All I know is that right now, with literally hours until NaNoWriMo begins, I’m looking forward to whatever self-discovery comes along with this new project, both personally and from the perspective of pure writing. I think it’s going to be a good month. 

To anyone else out there about to take on NaNo this year, or just entering a new stage of a current work-in-progress, I’d encourage you to reflect on it. You might discover some interesting things.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Molly In The Middle ARC Giveaway

Middle grade author Ronni Arno’s MOLLY IN THE MIDDLE is a story about family changes, fitting in, and figuring out what’s more important—cementing your place with the “cool kids” at school or honoring a promise to a longtime friend. Here are my top five reasons to read this heartwarming middle grade:
1. Molly: She’s a loyal friend to Kellan, who faces a potential future in a wheelchair due to his muscular dystrophy. Molly can confide everything to Kellan, including details about her parents’ messy separation and her longing to stand out and feel less invisible.

2. Team Chocolate Chip Cookies: The name for Kellan’s Muscular Dystrophy Walk team, which includes best buddies Kellan and Molly, who train by walking, talking, and eating tons of cookies.

3. Rainbow-Colored Hair and Rainbow-Colored Converse: After her parents forget to take her to school and she misses the class field trip, Molly decides it’s time to finally take the spotlight.

4. A Country Club Birthday Bash Brunch: When Molly joins the popular crowd, she’s invited to an exclusive birthday brunch, complete with cinnamon-stuffed French toast, four-berry pancakes, eggs Benedict, breakfast burritos, vegetable frittata, quiche, apple pie waffles, and chocolate-banana smoothies.

5. Waterproof Mascara That Doesn’t Stand a Chance of Working: Molly discovers what we all know to be true: Even waterproof makeup smears when you realize you let down your very best friend.

For a chance to win an ARC of MOLLY IN THE MIDDLE, leave your email in the comments section below. A winner will be drawn at random.

Friday, October 20, 2017

3 Scene Elements to Make Your Story Shine

When I first started writing, I wrote whatever I wanted. Every day was like an extended brainstorming session. This can be a useful way to discover new ideas, overcome writer’s block, or express inner angst. 

But to craft a story others want to read, we must go beyond simple, frenzied writing. We need a guiding strategy. This may or may not include an outline (for me it does!). But it must include an understanding of vital scene elements. 

The scenes we write should matter, in the context of real life, and even more, in the context of the story. Whether appearing in the first draft or added in later, these three elements can make your story shine.

1. Be purposeful in choosing detail.

The details you choose should serve at least one of several purposes. They should set the mood, enhance theme, develop characters, or advance plot. These details must not be arbitrary.
Consider your character’s body language. What kind of clothes do they wear? What they are eating? What do these details reveal about their personality, their past, or their motivation? 
When deciding on the weather, consider how it can reflect the mood of the scene. Even a sunny day can be written to elicit feelings of anxiety or sadness. 
As you reread your early drafts, you may notice certain themes emerging. Take the time to develop these themes. Include metaphors and symbolism to reach this goal.
The reader will pick up on subtle details. Weave them into your narrative. As the story progresses, the details will stack up, revealing more about personality, motivations, character arc, and overarching theme.

2. Know what type of scene you are writing.

There are two basic scene types—action and reflection. These are often called Scene (action) and Sequel (reflection and decision-making based on what happened in the previous scene). This understanding of scene is described by Dwight V. Swain in his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer.
Scenes are narrative in which the main character(s) strive toward their goals in physical, purposeful ways. They struggle through challenges, which ultimately result in some sort of disaster. 
Sequels are when the character(s) react to the disaster. They wrestle with dilemmas (great place to show character growth and emphasize theme). Finally, they make decisions, which lead to the next scene.
Sometimes a scene can be both Scene and Sequel, back to back, without a visual break in the narrative. In fast paced adventures or near the climax, your characters may endure Scene after Scene without much break for reflection. Or reflection may be extremely brief (a sentence or two) so as not to slow the pace.
Understanding Scene and Sequel can help you write with purpose, sharpen your action scenes, and make your reflection scenes more emotionally intense and meaningful.
The template below is a useful guide. I fill it out from the perspective of the main character of the scene I'm preparing to write. This ensures that every scene has a driving force.
Reaction to disaster:

3. Include conflict

Scenes must also include conflict. It’s not enough for characters to wander through their story and arrive at the end in a never-ending state of harmony. Even characters who are on the same side often have different goals, motivations, and weaknesses. Just like in real life. Who never has conflict with friends or family? 
Be sure to explore the motivations of every character in your scene, whether before writing it or during an edit. Your deep insights into their background and motivations will enrich your writing. Suddenly you’re not scrambling for random details or mannerisms because you know your character’s underlying issues, both on a large scale and at the moment the scene takes place. 
Often characters share the same goal, but have different ideas about how to accomplish it. They may have different motivations for the shared goal. This will influence how they pursue the goal and whether or not they give up.
Each scene must contain some sort of conflict, be it inner conflict (great for Sequels), conflict with nature, conflict with an antagonist, or conflict within the protagonist’s team.
As you've developed as a writer, what are some lessons you've learned about well-crafted scenes?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Cover Reveal: VOICES FOR ALL: The Legend of ZoaBrio by Scott Vincent

Today we've got another great cover reveal! Author Scott Vincent told us a little bit about his debut Voices for All: The Legend of Zoabrio and gave us an exclusive look at the cover for the upcoming book. Find out more about Voices for All and make sure to check out the cover below!

Please tell us about your book
            Voices for All is a middle-grade novel about a 12-year-old girl named Stacey who discovers the secret to communicating with animals. It’s a fast-paced, action-adventure story with humor, mystery, and touches of magic. It begins with Stacey visiting a zoo, and everywhere she goes the animals erupt into pandemonium. They recognize a pendant she is wearing as being the symbol of ZoaBrio, a legendary world where animals and humans lived together as equals. The animals think she is their savior. Stacey has no idea what the pendant means, nor how she got it.
            Without spoiling the plot, Stacey soon learns to communicate with animals using a form of telepathy. This alarms a secret clan of cats and dogs that have sworn to keep that skill hidden from humans. Without human-to-animal communication, cats and dogs believe they will remain humans’ favorite companions. They are determined to keep Stacey’s discovery a secret, and Stacey must overthrow them before they silence her forever.
            Stacey is joined by a boisterous gorilla who thinks he’s the funniest animal ever, a serious ocelot who rants about animal rights, and Stacey’s friend Alex, a boy who’s not fond of animals yet braves the ensuing chaos to help his friend.        
            Between the laughs and outlandish plot, this story is about friendship, understanding, freedom, and equality — no matter what your species.

Who illustrated the cover?
            Leesha Hannigan. I’m a huge fan of her artwork, so I was delighted when she agreed to do the cover. I think she captured the three main characters perfectly. She also found a great balance between the story’s realistic setting, its funny characters, and its magical elements.

What inspired you to write this story?
            I love animals and I’ve always wondered what it would be like to talk with them. I like to imagine animals as having their own silent language, much like mental telepathy. If you watch animals in the wild, you’ll notice they can coordinate without making much noise, so this kind of makes sense. I wondered, what if animals talk to each other but we humans are the only ones who can’t hear them? What if a girl discovered how to do that? What if that skill had been hidden from us humans for thousands of years by some sort of conspiracy? The story evolved from there.
I also had help and inspiration from my two kids. I originally started writing this merely to entertain them, but it quickly grew into something more. They provided plot ideas, and they requested (in some cases insisted) that I add certain things, which expanded the story as we went. When we started, none of us knew how the story was going to end. I would write a chapter, read it aloud to them, and they’d come up with ways to make it better. Writing with them was tremendously fun.

When will the book be released, and how can people learn more about it?
            The e-book will be released on Amazon November 15th. Print paperbacks will be available soon after that. If anyone would like to start reading it now, I’ll happily send the first 9 chapters for free. That’s essentially the first quarter of the entire book. Anyone interested can visit my website at and enter an email address to tell me where to send the digital sample.

Please tell us about yourself
            This is my first novel, so I guess that makes me a soon-to-be debut author. When I was young, my parents had a lot of animals, and I even worked at a zoo one summer when I was a kid. I enjoy reading fast-paced, speculative fiction that makes me laugh. This book is my attempt to put all that into a fun story about animals yearning to be free. I currently live in Southern California with my wife, daughter, and son.

Title:  Voices for AllSub-title: The Legend of ZoaBrio
Publisher:  Venzi Productions
Release Date:  November 15, 2017
Length: 288 pages
Cover Illustrator: Leesha Hannigan

Blurb Description:
12-year-old Stacey discovers the secret to communicating with animals. Animals rejoice, thinking she is their long-awaited savior who can return them to a world where animals and humans once lived as equals. But not everyone loves a savior. A small clan of cats has kept this secret hidden from humans for generations, ensuring that dogs and cats remain humans' favorite companions. They are determined to destroy Stacey and keep her discovery a secret. Stacey must find and overthrow them before they silence her forever. 
 Voices for All is an adventure comedy about friendship, freedom and equality, no matter what your species. Join Stacey, her friend Alex, a wise-cracking gorilla, and a cast of animals yearning to be free as they fight for a world where animals are not as voiceless as we once thought.
About the Author:
Scott Vincent is a debut author who loves animals and likes to imagine what they are thinking. He grew up surrounded by a menagerie of different species, and worked as a zoo volunteer. Scott currently lives in Southern California with his wife, daughter, and son.

He can be followed online at and on Twitter via @ScottVincent65

Monday, October 16, 2017

Three Tips for NaNoWriMo

It's almost November, and so here are my top three tips for National Novel Writing Month (i.e. NaNoWriMo):

  1. Turn off your inner critic. If you're doing NaNoWrimo, chances are it's because you love writing. Maybe the idea of creating an entirely new world intrigues you. Maybe finishing a novel is a lifelong dream of yours. Whatever your reasons, bear in mind that writing is a (long) process, and it helps if you enjoy it. No, your first completed novel will not live up to the glory of your initial idea. Why? Because writing is hard and it takes practice. In fact, your first five or six or twenty manuscripts might all be practice runs, leading up to your breakthrough moment. Don't be discouraged by the crappiness of your writing. It happens to everyone all the time, even writers who have already sold books. NaNo is about getting that first (or fifth) novel under your belt, and you can't do that if you're constantly questioning every word. Believe in yourself. Take a temporary narcissism pill that only wears off once you type the words, "The End." When November's over, you won't regret writing a less-than-perfect manuscript, because, hey, finishing any kind of novel is awesome. You will regret it, though, if you gave up because you were worried about sucking. Embrace the suckiness, because that's how you'll eventually gain the skills to write a novel that sells.
  2. Don't quit after November. Even if you finish your manuscript, the first draft is only the beginning. Now it's time for the fun part. That's right, revision, mwahahaha! I like to do it in rounds. Start with a read-through of the entire manuscript where you make notes of overarching issues. Then prioritize your list from largest to smallest. Let's say I identify five big things wrong with my story. I'll then do five more read-throughs, each one focusing on a single issue. After that, I'll give it one final read, and then it's ready to send off into the world. On a related note: don't submit your manuscript too early if you can help it. NaNo is about first drafts, but the piece you submit to an agent or editor should be waaaay more polished.
  3. Find a community. Join an online or in-person group to vent and get support during NaNo season. And hey, while you're at it, why not join a local writer's group all year round. Fellow writers can be a great source of motivation and growth. I love the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in particular. I've learned new skills, been inspired and developed a huge group of fellow travelers to keep me company on my writing journey.

Hope these tips help make your NaNoWriMo a huge success!!!

About the Author: Kim Ventrella is the author of the middle grade novel, Skeleton Tree (Scholastic Press). When she's not writing, you might find her working as a Children's Librarian or hanging out with her awesome dog, Hera.

Praise for Skeleton Tree

Skeleton Tree is a powerful and tender story. Kim Ventrella knows when to be playful and when to break your heart.” —Cassie Beasley, NYT-bestelling author of Circus Mirandus

“Ventrella’s comforting storytelling reveals a magical world where a skeleton can grow and where a family’s love for each other can provide healing.” —School Library Journal

Thursday, October 12, 2017

I know this much is true... (thoughts on self-care)

I’ve had a rough couple days mental-health-wise. As I sat at my desk today feeling horrible and accomplishing nothing, I fortunately had the wherewithal to reach out to writer-friends (because they get it) who gently nudged me in the direction I all-along knew I needed to go: I stepped away from the computer for some self-care time.

I played the piano for an hour, which has long been one of my top two sure-fire self-care solutions. (The other is a walk either on the beach or in the forest.) And I felt better. Was I miraculously mended and perfectly well? Uh…no. But I was able to return to my work with some degree of energy and enthusiasm, and make progress on my writing.

Writing time is precious, and giving up an hour for self-care can seem a difficult (or crazy) thing to do. But this I know: self-care is not an indulgence—it’s a necessity. For me, given my unusually bad state of mind/spirit earlier today, it was clear that time spent at the piano was indeed time well spent.

Whether it’s mental or creative health (or physical, or spiritual…), it’s vital we make time for self-care. We must rest, find refreshment, and re-fill the well, or we will have nothing to give to our work or to the world, and we'll find ourselves seriously lacking in joy.

I should note, self-care does not take the place of proper medical care from a doctor or therapist. If you’re struggling, please seek help. It’s one thing to re-fill our well, but hey, sometimes we need to dig a whole new well or replace our bucket or some other  s t r e t c h  of the metaphor. ;-) Reaching out to supportive and understanding friends is sometimes enough (thank goodness for my tribe today!); it’s okay if that’s not enough, though. Go to the pros when you need to.

I encourage you to spend a couple minutes today thinking about self-care. Three things:

  • What nurtures and refreshes your mind and spirit?
  • Are you regularly making time for self-care?
  • Who can you turn to for support?
Peace, dear friends. Take care...

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Cover reveal for THE SEISMIC SEVEN by Katie Slivensky

Today we have another awesome cover reveal for THE SEISMIC SEVEN! Check out some information about this awesome book with a supervolcano and then scroll down for the amazing cover!

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's
Release date: June 5th, 2018
13 year-old Brianna Dobson didn’t plan to spend her summer saving the world from total destruction. But what starts as an educational experience shadowing geologist Dr. Samantha Grier in Yellowstone National Park quickly becomes a race to stop a massive volcanic eruption the likes of which the humanity has never seen.

Underneath Yellowstone lies a supervolcano that has the power to wipe most of North America off the map and plunge the planet into an endless winter. Dr. Grier needs the assistance of seven young people to stop the eruption before it starts. Bri is thrilled to be chosen to help, especially as this will give her the opportunity to make one of the most epic documentaries of all time with her brand new camera—a gift from her YouTube-famous aunt. But as Bri and her new friends dive deeper into the Earth, they begin to realize they are in even greater danger than they first thought. All is not as it seems in Yellowstone, and betrayal throws Bri and her friends up against the world’s greatest destructive force far before they are ready to face it. The seven young teens will need to combine all of their creativity and courage in order to save the planet, all while crushed by the terrifying reality that their efforts will likely be in vain and that the odds of survival are next to nothing.

Seven kids. One supervolcano. One chance to save the world.

Katie Slivensky is the author of THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY. She is also an educator at the Museum of Science in Boston, where she coordinates school visits, does presentations with alligators and liquid nitrogen (not usually at the same time), and runs the rooftop observatory program. Katie lives in a suburb of Boston with her two completely absurd cats, Galileo and Darwin, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Find her online at


And now for the cover! Isn't it gorgeous?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Review: Open if You Dare by Dana Middleton

Are you ready for a middle grade novel that will have you turning pages to uncover the truth?

Then read on if you dare...

(No spoilers, I promise!)

The Description:

Like Birdie Adams didn’t have enough problems this summer. But Birdie’s Birdie. And if a long-buried box has "Open if you dare" written on its lid, then Birdie and her best friends, Ally and Rose, are going to open it. 
And now, along with everything else that’s going on—Ally’s pitching slump, Rose’s banishment to Britain, and Birdie’s annoying younger sister being, you know, annoying—the best friends are caught up in solving a mystery planted by a dead girl forty years ago.

My Take:

What would you do it you found a mysterious box in the woods, one that points to a possible murder mystery?

"If you're reading this, I'm already dead"....

Birdie Adams, wannabe girl detective, can't shake the desire to figure out what happened to the girl who buried a box filled clues decades ago, and neither can we, the reader.

The friendships and family dynamics in this book feel true and real, and Dana Middleton has crafted a mystery worthy of her readers.

A mystery, coming-of-age-story, friendship story - this book has it all.

I couldn't put this book down, curious to see where Birdie would take us, and when I finished, was completely satisfied that Middleton had delivered.

This is the first book of Dana Middleton's I've read, but you can be sure I'm going to be buying her first one!

5 stars! I highly recommend this book!

About Dana Middleton:

Visit her website here.

Follow her on twitter.

Follow her on Facebook

Monday, October 2, 2017

How are we doing?

Our first blog post went live a little over four years ago. Since then we have amassed 360 blog posts with over 1200 comments. And we are quickly approaching 2,700 followers on twitter and 200,000 page views. But I don't spout these numbers to make your head spin or to toot our own horn, I bring them up to show the incredible community that has been built around the Middle Grade Minded Blog.

I don't think the group of us who banded together in 2013 to form this MG community, ever imagined we'd be here today let alone see this blog grow into what it has. I've been here since the blog's inception, but I know none of this would have been possible without our bloggers and without each and every one of our readers. So for that, first and foremost, I want to say thank you! Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, and thanks for making me think in new and different ways.

And because of that, I wanted to reach out to the readers of this blog and see what you all were thinking. We've seen a lot over the four years, bloggers moving on, new ones joining us, signing with agents, book deals, cover reveals, book reviews, author and agent interviews and so much more. So I ask the readers now...

How are we doing?

  1. What do you enjoy most about the blog?
  2. Is there anything we aren't doing that you'd like to see?
  3. Is there anything you don't enjoy as much?
  4. Are there any additional thoughts you want to share with the MG Minded team?

Sounds off in the comments with your thoughts, or email us at MGMinded at gmail dot com.

And from the bottom of my heart, again, thank you for stopping by the blog, reading our posts, commenting, sharing them, and making this an awesome place to share our love of Middle Grade Books. Here's to many more years of sharing that MG Love.