Monday, February 26, 2018

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla - Interview and Book Giveaway!

Many of you will be familiar with author Sally J. Pla.

Her debut middle grade novel, The Someday Birds, was one of the most highly acclaimed MG novels of 2017.

Now she's back with her latest novel, STANLEY WILL PROBABLY BE FINE, and I'm quite sure kids and the adults in their lives are going to be equally enamoured with this story!

I recently caught up with Sally to talk to her about the book, but first, some background:

Nobody knows comics trivia like Stanley knows comics trivia.
It’s what he takes comfort in when the world around him gets to be too much. And after he faints during a safety assembly, Stanley takes his love of comics up a level by inventing his own imaginary superhero, named John Lockdown, to help him through. 
Help is what he needs, because Stanley’s entered Trivia Quest—a giant comics-trivia treasure hunt—to prove he can tackle his worries, score VIP passes to Comic Fest, and win back his ex-best friend. Partnered with his fearless new neighbor Liberty, Stanley faces his most epic, overwhelming, challenging day ever. 
What would John Lockdown do?
Stanley’s about to find out.

My Interview with Sally:

As a former anxious kid (and a sometime anxious adult!), I was wondering how much research you needed to do for this book? Stanley is so realistic!

I definitely had (and have) deep firsthand experience on poor Stanley's nervewracked quality of life! I've suffered varying degrees of social anxiety, generalized anxiety, and sensory processing issues since I was a kid. Sensory processing disorder is like living in a "too-intense-world." Everything's too bright, too loud, too tight, and generally overwhelming, so it's easy to get overload. I never fainted during a safety assembly, the way Stanley does, but my anxiety and sensory stuff definitely impacted my childhood in significant ways, and it certainly informs the character of Stanley.

Why comics? Where did the idea come from? Were you a comics kid yourself? 

My brother and I argued all the time about whether Batman could take Superman, or whether Spiderman would take them both. I liked Spiderman best. Peter Parker's high school angst resonated with me in some weird way. I remember debating it through the thin wall between our bedrooms, late at night, until my grandmother would yell, "GET TO BED!"  So yeah, I guess we were comics kids in a way. Mainly we read Archies and MAD magazines our cousin or neighbor would slip to us, and of course we watched all the movies and shows on TV. 

I think that, especially if you tend to be a fearful kid, the notion of a strong, benevolent champion who's there to save you - a superhero - is tremendously appealing. Especially when the adults in your life are not stepping up. 

But the beginning seed of the idea for writing a book for kids about comics -- about comic trivia -- came from watching pretty much every Marvel movie with my own son, and having him educate me. It blew me away, how much he knew. It was a fun thing to share with him and I really got into it for a while. Then I did a lot of research to get up to speed. It was super fun. I still don't really know squat, though. I'm a mere acolyte, a debutante. Still learning.

I love how Stanley is able to articulate his fears through the John Lockdown comic, but he’s also able to take back some control. Did you know there would be a John Lockdown comic from the very beginning of plotting the book?

YES! "John Lockdown" is the name of a special school-safety superhero comic that Stanley invents -- and John Lockdown has a real-life origin-story... 

In our old elementary school, the principal would announce intruder drills by saying, over the PA, in a hushed and kind of intense voice: "John Lockdown is now in the building!" That was his  code phrase!  

It kind of creeped me out. But I have to admit, my sons weren't too concerned - they'd actually play this James-Bond-style cop-and-robber game, where "John Lockdown" was the good guy.  I knew there was just too much potential in this name. I had to fictionalize this John Lockdown character. 

My sons' game, and the name of John Lockdown itself, it's indicative to me of how we process fear. And that's fascinating to me. How do we take what's potentially terrifying, and turn it into something we can handle? How does that process work -- for kids, for all of us? What happens when it doesn't work? And which way is healthier, more realistic? 

Stanley’s relationship with Joon is fraught throughout most of this book. Was it hard to find a way to make Joon a sympathetic character, too? Because he really is!

Yeah, "ex-best-friend" Joon's not a bad kid. Stanley is understandably hurt and angry, but I think he also realizes, on some level, that it's the way of the world for Joon to want more out of life, now they're getting older. Bantering about comic trivia in Stanley's room won't cut it anymore. Maybe not even for Stanley. Clearly, he mourns this. And knows something got to give -- even for himself.

Liberty is such a spark in this book and yet she’s dealing with her own problems. What I loved was how neither she, nor Stanley, want to be defined by their problems, even with everyone else around them wanting to define them. Was it a challenge to write supporting characters that sometime struggled themselves with the issues faced by Liberty and Stanley?

The adults in this story revolve around the main characters like moons. Stanley has worry-issues; Liberty has health issues. The adults hover, both over-involved and under-involved, too close and too distant, clueless and overbearing. In other words, typical, I think. None of the adults really see the kids for who they are (with a couple of exceptions), or fully understands what they're going through. And I think that's par for the course when you are twelve. The adults who once seemed to know everything, now know nothing. The whole world is a stranger. You're on your own.

Except for maybe John Lockdown. Ha.  

and finally:

Marvel or DC?

My son, disgusted at a gaffe I made, once remarked, "Mom. Mixing up Marvel and DC is like confusing Buddha and Mohammed." 

HEY! I'm not perfect! Also, like them both. However, I do have to express a preference for Marvel's movie adaptations (although I loved Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman). And now that Marvel's part of Disney, I think things are going to get even more interesting, there. 

But films aside, in terms of the long history of their written comics, it's apples and oranges. Both houses are filled with wonderful, iconic, incredible characters. 

Also, this would have been a great question for my brother and I to debate through the wall back when we were ten!

Thanks Sally!

To learn more about Sally or to get links to where you can buy your own copy - the book is in bookstores NOW, visit

Win Your Own Copy!

Sally has kindly given us an Advanced Reader Copy of Stanley Will Probably Be Fine to giveaway and you could win it!

All you have to do is leave a comment below and tell us what your favourite comic was growing up!

a Rafflecopter giveaway Good Luck!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Finding Your Perfect Agent Match

I always thought I knew what people meant when they said wait for the agent who is the right fit for you, the one that gushes over your manuscript, and has the right vision for your work and your career. It seemed like a simple enough concept and yet for just over 5 years (5 years and 1 day to be exact) I wondered why I hadn’t found that right fit yet, why finding an agent was so difficult. Something about this idea of the prefect agent match didn’t fully click until I recently signed with my agent.

Getting an offer from an agent can be tough. It comes with a lot of rejection, A LOT. I had around 150 rejections over two manuscripts. It also comes with a lot of work. Writing, then editing, then having critique partners weigh in, followed by more editing. And once you start querying you may pull back, revise your submission package or your manuscript as feedback comes in. And through all that you wonder if that yes will ever come, the yes I want to see more, and even better that yes I want to represent you.

But even while you’re querying, there’s things you can do to prepare yourself for that moment when an agent says they want to offer you representation.

Figuring Out Your Priorities
What do you want in an agent? No really. We all want someone that can represent our work, and sell it to publishers, but what do you really want from your agent?

Are you looking for a hands on agent that is editorial, or would you prefer to take care of that on your own?

What kind of communication style are you looking for? Do you prefer to talk on the phone or via email? How frequently do you want to communicate with your agent?

What kind of publishers are you ultimately trying to attract? Does the agent’s submission strategy and industry connections match your writing career goals?

Those are just a few short examples, but the list goes on and on. Figure out what your strengths are, and what things are nonnegotiable when finding your perfect agent match. Then start assembling a list of questions to ask. I had been compiling questions I saw on twitter and blog posts for literally years. When it came time to have THE CALL, having all those resources plus reaching out to other writers for thoughts definitely made it easier to prepare and a lot less frantic.

The Importance of THE CALL
Going into the call I knew what I wanted. I wanted an editorial agent who would work with me to hone my craft. I wanted an agent with wide submission strategy that included bigger and smaller houses. I wanted someone that kept me in the loop throughout the process because I hate surprises and ultimately hate just waiting forever. I want to know the instant there’s something to tell. I also prefer virtual communication but see the value in getting on the phone from time to time when necessary. And lastly I want someone who would represent my career not just this book, someone that liked the other things I was working on.

Based off what I wanted I was able to pick and choose what questions would help me best understand the agent and how they would approach my work and career.

What I ended up with was two very different conversations. Both were good, but it quickly became clear that one agent would be better for my career than the other. Not that either were bad agents, just that one was a better fit for my needs and what I was looking for in an agent.

Here’s a quick rundown
Agent 1 I had met at a conference. We got along well, and her ears perked up when I mentioned the logline for my manuscript. When I talked to her on the phone she mentioned that she wasn’t overly editorial but was happy to look at changes or bring in outside help if necessary, but in the case of my manuscript felt it was pretty clean and ready to go. She also mentioned she liked to get involved in the marketing side of things and assist her authors with promotions and blog tours. We got along great and have a lot in common. She mentioned she was open to communication via phone and email but preferred email.

Agent 2 had requested an R&R and had already sparked some great ideas and pushed me in ways I didn’t think possible. When I talked to her on the phone, she mentioned she preferred email but was happy to talk on the phone as well. She expressed that she was very editorial and explained what she liked about my story and what she thought needed work. Her submission strategy included sending to small groups of editors and spreadsheets to update with what material was out there and current progress and responses.

By the end of the conversation Agent 1 felt like she would be a really good friend, and Agent 2 felt like she was someone who would push me outside my comfort zone and help me continue to grow and develop my writing career.

So can you guess which agent I picked?

If you guessed Agent 2 you would be correct. I really loved Agent 1 and will continue to reach out to them and be their friend, but at the end of the day, I wanted someone who would work with me to improve my craft and my stories. And if I hadn’t really thought about what I wanted ahead of time, in the heat of the moment I may have made a decision that wouldn’t have taken my writing career in the direction I wanted. It's important to note that I didn't pick the person who would be my friend, I picked the person that was best for my writing career. And because I had spent so much time considering what was important to me, the decision that was best for me became clear pretty quickly.

So for all of you hopeful writers out there looking for their perfect agent match, keep working, keep pushing, and keeping thinking about what you want in an agent. And when the time comes you’ll be ready!

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Today we have a cover reveal for MAGICIANS OF ELEPHANT COUNTY!

About the book:
Magicians are never supposed to reveal their secrets. . . .

But if Duncan Reyes and Emma Gilbert want to avoid going from “people of interest” to “prime suspects” in the biggest disaster their small town has ever seen, they’ll have to break the Magician’s Code and explain their sides of the story to police.

It all started because these two friends dreamed of one day becoming as great as Harry Houdini or David Copperfield. When a confrontation with their school’s bully leads to Duncan and Emma coming face-to-face with the neighborhood witch, though, they are shocked to discover that real magic actually exists.

After accidentally stealing her wand and using it to create some unbelievable illusions, Duncan and Emma draw the attention of not only the witch but other foes who may be even far worse.

With the fate of their town in the balance, how are two amateur magicians going to have any hope of defeating the powerful dark forces that are after them? It might just take some sleight of hand, a bit of magic, and a little destruction of public property. (Allegedly.)

Read for yourself and find out, because seeing is believing . . . .

And now for the cover reveal

The Author's Comments on the Cover:
I have been a fan of illustrator John Hendrix (@hendrixart) for several years, so when I saw his name on a list of potentially cover illustrators, I was absolutely thrilled. He has an amazing eye for composition, color, and hand-drawn text. Because I handled the 32 full-page illustrations inside the book, it was important for us not to use elements that would conflict with my location or character designs. We decided to focus more on the title of the book, and sprinkle in some magical elements. Throughout the process of creating on the cover, John sent several ideas and sketches, and this version captured the mystery of the story (how creepy is that witch's hand?), and the stage magic that is referenced throughout. I couldn't be happier with the cover, and I hope readers are intrigued by the secrets that lurk in Elephant County.

Author Bio:

Adam Perry lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He has worked as an amateur magician, amusement park mascot, cartoonist, creative director, and now an author. When he isn’t writing, he loves practicing new illusions on his wife and two sons, who are rarely fooled. Visit him at

Monday, February 12, 2018


At a book signing I attended last summer, I popped up my hand during the Q & A and asked the question: Since this new book was the second in a two-book deal, how much of it had been finished when the deal had been made? The author said she hadn’t even started it at that point. I followed up: Since the first book had been in the magical realism genre, how much direction had she received to keep the second book in the same genre? To paraphrase her reply: Even though there had been no official direction, there was a sort of understanding that it would be best if the second book would be familiar to the readers of the first.

She’s working on a new book now, which I believe is contemporary MG instead of magical realism. This isn’t a giant leap for her, since, in my opinion at least, the strengths of her other books were more the foundation of contemporary storytelling instead of the magical qualities, which is likely what would draw in readers. So even without the bits of fantasy the others included, a contemporary MG novel would still more or less be in the same lane.

Put together a mental list of some of the best known authors in middle grade literature. How identifiable are they with the genres they write? Authors like J.K. Rowling and Jeff Kinney: Do they continue in the same genre, or are their books all over the map? How much does that first book tag an author as a middle grade *fill in the blank* writer? What kinds of editorial expectations or marketplace demands will have a say in deciding what you write next, once the business element of publishing enters into the equation? How much choice will you ultimately have as a writer to explore different directions or genres, if you don’t want every book you write to be about dying dogs or fantastical realms or bodily functions? 

For those of us lucky enough to reach the goal of even seeing that first book published, the first book isn’t necessarily always the one we expect it to be. How much control do writers have over the stories they choose? Is it the first book that brands you? Or the one that (maybe) reaches a noticeable level of success? We can’t say for sure which of our manuscripts will be the one to break through and see the light of day in publishing terms. Reaching that benchmark can seem like such a definitive goal that we might not always think as much about what comes next. 

What do you think about the idea of branding an author, or being branded as one? Do you write in the genre you do because you love it above all others, or do you hope to have the flexibility to try other things?

Friday, February 9, 2018

How to Jump Back into Writing after Time Away

If you love writing, but also have a life, you know your best-laid plans of creating wonderful work can sometimes go awry. Life steps in, takes over, and sometimes derails our writing. That’s not always a bad thing. It’s just a fact. We all know how it happens…

Over Christmas break, I chose to focus my free time on my kiddos, letting my writing projects simmer on the back burner. That’s two weeks down. No big deal. Breaks are good.
But the transition back to school and real life left me scrambling to catch up on work, bills, and appointments. Scribbled a little. But not much. One more week down.

Starting to feel nervous...
I would’ve really focused the next week and had a writing frenzy, but I already had other plans...a trip to Mexico with my husband. 

Feeling really nervous. 

Surely I could fit in some time to write.

And I did, honest. But the beaches were calling. It was sub-zero back home, and I must confess, I accomplished very little on my laptop. I’d just jump right in back at home. happened. 
It snowed and iced, my kids crashed cars, our house froze, pipes broke, and school was canceled for almost a week! How much actual writing did I accomplish? You got it, zilch.

Yup, I'm horrified, too. In fact, at this point, I’m starting to feel demoralized. Am I really a writer if I never write? To make matters worse, after a month away from my projects, I’m losing momentum (ya think?). I might even lose faith in myself. 
And the laptop in my backpack starts to feel really, really heavy. I start leaving it at home instead of toting it everywhere like an extra body part just in case I get a chance to write. 

I tell myself I should be social, which is probably true. But there’s lots of things I should improve on (laundry, cooking healthy meals, etc, etc) and none of them should keep me from writing. All these things are writing excuses…a phenomenon so well known among authors that there’s even a podcast called Writing Excuses, which, incidentally, is excellent.
But no more excuses. It’s time to write. And if you’re reading this, I’m guessing I’m not the only one who’s prepping to take the plunge. So how do we do it? How do we get back on track after a longer-than expected hiatus from writing?
Here’s some of my tried-and-true techniques:

Spend more time thinking about your projects.

When I have down time driving, jogging, or waiting in line, I start brainstorming plot lines or characters, blog topics, or even marketing techniques. This helps prime my mind for when I’m ready to actually sit down and work.

Finesse your website or social media platform.

I know this sounds like a time waster when you really need to be writing, but sometimes a few minutes spent in this ancillary writing realm can remind you why you write and that you actually really enjoy it. This is a good way to ease yourself back in.

Reread stories, essays or posts you’ve written.

This primes the mental pump, showing you that, yes, you can produce quality work. You’ve done it before and you can do it again.

Even better, read over sections of your work-in-progress.

This will refresh your memory. Why were you writing this piece? What is so compelling about it that you’d want to dedicate your precious time to it? This can also get you in the zone, spark new ideas, and light a fire under your imagination. And believe me, once that fire is lit, there’s no lame excuses that will quench it. Go laundry? It will wait. Got sore fingers? You can handle the pain. Puking? Well, that one may be a real excuse. Maybe.

Best strategy of all? Just. Do. It.

Get out your laptop or notebook or clay tablets and start writing. The more you write, the more you will want to and voila! You’re a writer again. Happy writing!
What are some of your favorite writing excuses and how do you jump back into writing after time away?

Monday, February 5, 2018

Review: SMART COOKIE, by Elly Swartz

Recipe for a SMART COOKIE:

1. Take one spunky main character (Frankie), stir in a Dad who owns a Vermont bed-and-breakfast, and whip in a puppy, a hedgehog, a Gram, and a ghost-loving friend named Elliot.

2. Check to make sure all characters are present. No, don’t add a mom. She’s the missing ingredient. Yes, that seems too sour, but life is like that sometimes, especially when a parent dies. Frankie doesn’t like this situation any better than you do, but let her fix things on her own. She’s got an idea up her sleeve—Operation Mom—that just might give her a real family of three before the Winter Family Festival Parade.

3. Carefully measure out the secret ingredient—an online dating profile for Dad. Interview possible moms. (Possibles) Sift out any Possibles who don’t like eleven-year-old girls, beagle puppies, African pygmy hedgehogs, cookies, hiking, and bed-and-breakfasts.

4. Blend in a cup of spice, or something spooky, like a ghost. If you don’t have a ghost handy, then toss in Elliot’s ghost-meter to prove one is hanging around the B&B and driving away the guests. To add tension, sprinkle in a raspberry gum-chewing ex-best friend, a stolen charm bracelet, and a locked shed overflowing with secrets.

5. Before you pour everything into a baking pan, crumble in a few Nacho Cheese Doritos. (They’re Frankie’s favorite.) Spoon in a healthy dose of sweetness, like a photo of Mom, a boyfriend for Gram, and a kindergarten teacher with a parrot named Taco. Even if the bowl is overflowing and the batter seems lumpy, trust me, you need the kindergarten teacher. She will help smooth everything out.

6. Bake. Frost with a fresh coat of snow in time for the Winter Family Festival Parade. Garnish with roses, both yellow and pink. Before diving into the final product, admire what you have created: A family for Frankie, full of a lot of stuff she had before she started stirring everything up.

SMART COOKIE, by Elly Swartz, is published by Scholastic Press. Elly is also the author of the middle grade novel FINDING PERFECT. For more information on the author, visit