Monday, December 24, 2018

Follow Your Path

More than once in the past two months, I’ve asked myself in the most unofficial and discreet way I could, if all of this effort I put into writing is anything but a waste of time.

This somewhat dark point of view came from mostly good places. First of all, I had a great professional opportunity present itself. Career-wise it would have been a lateral move, but one that could have brought me some new and thrilling experiences. In the end I decided not to pursue it; after having a lot of long talks with many trusted people and thinking things over, I knew it wasn’t right for me.

At about the same time all of this was just beginning, I had what felt like legitimate reasons to get excited about possibly having something happen with a manuscript on submission. This could have meant there would be a tiny overlapping space in the Venn diagram between Professional Life and Writing Life, and I began to wonder if that was something to consider as I began looking into this opportunity.

Those seemingly legitimate reasons to become excited about my submission soon revealed themselves to be imaginary. The bad news here was that even though I had resisted letting my hopes build up before anything concrete happened, I had started hoping, and it was a pretty hard punch in the gut when I realized nothing was there. The good news? I didn’t let my hope get any more out of control than it did. That might seem pessimistic, to look at pursing a dream as a writer as something that requires you temper you hope, but when I stepped away and realized I was letting that hope influence decisions about the established career I have, I knew I had let it go too far.

There was nothing I could do to advance that hope, so I decided to stop and let it die off, at least that thread of it. I stopped writing so I could center myself again after taking what had felt like a pretty solid disappointment. Luckily I have a career that not only allows for but requires a great deal of creativity, so I redirected that energy into my work, which led to the beginning of some new ideas that are already paying off in dividends.

It makes me wonder though, if creativity is as much a finite resource as it is a need. I know if I’m not doing something creative for too long, I become mentally distracted and agitated. When this happens, making the time to sit down and work on a story can be soothing and centering. However, the same is true for anything else creative I produce, and if I put so much effort into finding new approaches to bring to my work, I don’t feel the need, or the itch, or whatever you want to call it — the drive that makes writing so necessary for many of us.

I’ve got some time off from work over the holidays, and I’m not sure what direction I’m going follow when that drive catches up to me again. I’ve got story ideas in the vault I want to pursue, half-finished drafts to continue, and finished manuscripts needing revision, not to mention all the new ideas constantly coming to life. But knowing I’ve made the career choice that I did, I’m also feeling a pull toward the direction I chose. I know I’ll wake up on the morning after Christmas with time on my hands, and I’m still not sure what I’ll want to do with it.

I guess in the end it’s a lucky problem to have, to have tangible things I can work on that will produce immediate results, and a way to feed the creativity for the time being without letting the hopes I have about writing fade away. The writing will always be there when the stories demand the time for it.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Review:Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows by J. M. Bergen

Ever wonder what it might be like to live in a world of hidden magic? A world of secrets and dangers you only have glimpses of while you wonder, could it possibly be true? 

This is the dilemma of Thomas Wildus, a twelve-year-old boy whose father’s last words to him are “Magic is real, Thomas. No matter what happens, always remember that magic is real.”

This coming of age story begins with a modern boy’s quest to find out, once and for all, if magic truly exists. Problem is, everyone just laughs him to scorn. Until one day, in a mysterious bookstore, someone doesn’t. Instead, the proprietor entrusts Thomas with an ancient book, saddled with a pack of promises. 

The more Thomas reads, the more the book changes. Strange things start happening and peculiar people pop up in his life. Soon Thomas finds himself in the middle of an epic battle, with a destiny he didn’t ask for, but is desperate to fulfill. 

Throughout this story, we see Thomas’s interactions with his closest friends, a racially and socially diverse cast of characters who add richness to the story. The author’s tone captures the attitude of upper middle graders – a compelling mixture of playfulness amid life-or-death stakes, whether in a doodle war between friends, a volleyball match, or when facing down a mortal enemy.

The importance of practice and training in personal and magical development is highlighted, along with the motto: Progress, not perfection, which is a key concept for readers of any age. The author also explores philosophical questions like, What happens if I gain power, but lose control? Bergen guides readers in discovering their own views of power and what matters most in life. 

Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows is an enchanting foray into a fantasy world where stories can become realities, science and magic intersect, and crystals hold the power to destroy. If you're looking for an enthralling and thought-provoking read, this is the book for you!

Watch for its release in February 2019! 

About the Author:

J.M. Bergen graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in creative writing and a minor in business. Over the years his writing has appeared in a variety of publications under a variety of pen names.

J.M.’s debut series originally started as a bedtime story for his oldest son. The story turned into a saga, and one book turned into five. The first book in the series, Thomas Wildus and The Book of Sorrows, is scheduled for release in February 2019. The second, Thomas Wildus and The Wizard of Sumeria, will be published in late 2019, with the remainder of the series released before the end of 2021.

When J.M. isn’t working on the Thomas Wildusbooks, you can find him playing with his kids, splashing in the ocean, or dreaming up new adventures. If you ever meet him and can’t think of anything to talk about, you might ask about Herman the Shark, the Kai and Eli stories, or why Riddle-Masterby Patricia McKillip is his all-time favorite book. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll have questions and stories of your own (if you do, he’ll think that’s far more interesting). To learn more and connect online, visit 

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Gift of Writing Time

Gifts come in all shapes and sizes, but in my opinion, the very best present for the writer in your life is the gift of time.

This past summer, I attended the Middle Grade and Young Adult Whole Novel Workshop at the Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, PA. For a week I lived in this woodsy cabin, where I worked on a total rewrite of my 2017 Pitch Wars novel.
When I wasn't meeting with my mentor, attending workshops, or exploring the beautiful surroundings, I was writing at this desk:
The handmade quilts in my cabin reminded me of the quilts my grandmother used to make. Yes, this place felt like a home-away-from home.
Delectable farm-to-table food was served three times a day. Don't even get me started on the yummy snacks and drinks, available 24/7.

A grant from the Ohio Arts Council made my trip to Highlights possible, but the week away was also a gift from my husband. I left during a hectic time. School was starting for my youngest daughter and we were in the process of selling our home. But my husband insisted my writing take top priority. He would handle my usual home tasks. My job was to pack my suitcase and fly away to pursue my dream of becoming a middle grade author.

Quiet, interrupted writing time is indeed a gift.

I'm thankful for it, whether I'm writing in the woods or simply holed away at my home desk, immersed in story.

More information about the Highlights Foundation workshops can be found here:

Monday, December 10, 2018

Spooky Holiday Reads

What better time of year than the dark of winter to pick up a great spooky read? I asked a few of my fellow #SpookyMG authors from to recommend spooky books that are great to read during the holiday season. Here's what they said:

"If you’re looking for a fun, spooky, action-packed read for the holidays, you’ll want to check out Jonathan Rosen’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING CUDDLE BUNNIES, in which twelve-year-old Devin Dexter must wage battle against the season’s hottest new toy that ends up going bad. Very, very bad.

"If you’re a fan of mildly-spooky mysteries, you’ll enjoy GREENGLASS HOUSE by Kate Milford. Set in the quirky Greenglass Inn during a very snowy Christmas, it’s a tale filled with legends, secrets, and strange ghostly happenings."


"During this season of giving, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom is the perfect Holiday story. It is the story of an unexpected gift--a brand new playground--and the pandemonium the gift unleashes upon the children of the neighborhood.

"The commercialization of December has drummed into our heads the need for more, more, more! We want gifts, more gifts, and even more gifts! But not all gifts are created equal. Dr. Fell is a morality tale of the danger of just accepting each and every gift flung your way. There is a price for everything, even things which appear to be free.

"So this Holiday season, give your children the one gift that serves as both a glorious present and a life lesson. Give them Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom. :)"


This holiday season, I'd like to recommend two of my favorite spooky reads. First, THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE by Joan Aiken. It features a grand old house set in a remote wintry wood, man-eating wolves, an evil governess, a mysterious stranger, a cruel orphanage owner and three plucky children who struggle to outwit them all. I love the book so much, I even made a video about it! Watch it on the #SpookyMG YouTube Channel

Another all-time favorite of mine is CLOCKWORK by master storyteller Philip Pullman. This book features a storyteller weaving tales in a tavern on a wintry night, characters that come to life, a bargain with an evil doctor, a boy made from clockwork, a killer knight, murder and true love. Truly, a masterpiece of storytelling that unravels like clockwork.

Friday, December 7, 2018

A Time for Every Story

In recent months, I’ve come across a few excellent posts and twitter discussions about the importance of including sad or difficult stories in children’s books (including one here on MG Minded), and I agree 100%. The world needs these stories. Kids need these stories, so much. I love the “windows and mirrors” metaphor for books – the idea that books can be both windows that offer a glimpse into worlds very different from our own, thereby increasing empathy, and mirrors that reflect something of our own experience, making us feel less alone. Both types of stories are so very important, and both types often, and necessarily, include sad, scary, or otherwise difficult topics.

When my daughter was diagnosed with cancer a couple years ago, I was thrown into depression for the first time in my life. Not that I hadn’t faced difficult situations in life before…of course I had. But depression was new for me. Having a kid with cancer was new for me. It was easy to feel alone in my sadness, even though I wasn’t. 

Books have long been for me places of refuge, and they have been comforters, escapes, eye-openers, entertainers, heart-breakers, and heart-menders. So naturally, when life gave me lemons, I opened a book. (Wow, way to mess up the clich├ęd metaphor there, Shari.) However, instead of craving mirror books – books that reflected what I was going through – I found such stories traumatizing. I would've thought they'd ignite a spark of hope for me, as I witnessed a character I related to find their way through difficult times. But instead, mirror stories often struck too close to the wound. As a self-protective measure, I refused to read any more sick-kid books. Many of the books I missed out on probably have a good measure of hopefulness tucked into the story, but I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) immerse myself in the heartache long enough to get to the hope.

I’m better now, but I still find myself intentionally avoiding sad stories. And you know, that’s okay. Sad and serious books are often called important books, and they are. But happy, silly, funny, “light” books are important, too. Some days I need light. Some days I need silly or sassy or ridiculous. Some days, when I look at the state of our world, I simply need happiness and hope, and I expect I’m not alone in this.

Writers, keep writing the serious stories. Keep tackling the tough topics. We need those books. But if the stories that call you are of the lighter variety, then please, write them. Don’t ever tell yourself you’re not doing important work. We absolutely need happy books, too. To misquote completely rip off and rewrite a famous passage from Ecclesiastes: To every book, there is a reader, and a time for every story under heaven.

We can trust kids to put down books that aren’t right for them emotionally. We can trust them to know when they need to read the stories that reflect the harsh realities of their lives or their world, but we can trust them, too, to know when to put such books down and pick up lighter fare. Trust them to know when their heart needs Archie comics or rom-coms or fart jokes, and never think such reading is unimportant. Because truly, there is a time for every story.

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[ETA: Just stumbled across a wonderful art piece by Jarrett Lerner - "kids need books of all kinds". Check it out! Free download on his site.]

Monday, December 3, 2018

What I learned this year from Middle Grade Novels

This has been a banner year for Middle Grade novels!


As I looked back over all the books I read this year, I realized that I learned so much from the stories that made my reading life so wonderful!

Diversity Changes Everything

The books I read by diverse authors entertained me, enlightened me, and energized me. Want to build a better world? Read something from a completely different point of view!

Some books that did that for me this year:

The best stories are ones when you realize someone else is going through stuff, too.

Take me on adventures to places and worlds I've never been.

Victorian England, the South, a neglected churchyard in Harlem, a world of privateers, the Scottish highlands.

That laughter really is in the best medicine...

Just when I think middle grade literature can't get any better, I read another book and am blown away.

Thank you to the authors of these books and all the other middle grade books I read in 2018.  I can't wait to see what 2019 brings!!!!