Monday, January 28, 2019

The Vault

I think this post will serve as a good counterpoint to my last one, which saw me feeling somewhat discouraged but ready to plug ahead at my own pace, once that pace revealed itself. It did just that a couple of weeks ago.

I was having a conversation that somehow meandered its way into writing. Some brainstorming ideas were tossed around, somewhat jokingly at first, but a few things stuck. I started getting that feeling that one of those ideas was coming to life a little stronger than the others, so I rode with it for a few days. 

Like so many other writers, I have a Vault. That place we keep the ideas that we might be able to use someday. Maybe they don't feel right for what we're working on at the time, but maybe someday they'll come in handy. It's probably more accurate to say I have three vaults: A mental one up in the old noggin, a digital one spread out over at least three hard drives, and a physical one made up of two big cardboard boxes kept in my office. These boxes contain notes and stories and doodlings and lists I decided at some point not to throw away. Some of them go back decades. 

I spent an evening digging those vault boxes, and found a puzzle piece that clicked right into place with all the other loose pieces rattling around in my head. From there, I thought back to a moment about a year ago when I noticed some details about a landmark I know well that made me curious. 

Soon a story was putting itself together. I started coming up with random character points and lines, and collecting notes on my phone to keep from forgetting them. Before I realized it had happened, I had a rough outline put together, including an ending. 

The message of today's lesson? Respect the vault. Keep the notes. Write things down, somewhere. You never know when that random idea will come in handy. 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Sci-Fi and Fantasy for Middle Grade Readers and Writers

For those of us who love middle grade fiction, but also love smart sci-fi and fantasy, here’s a list of fab resources for readers and writers alike!

Readers First!

Fantasy Tricks

It's all about the magic

Writing Fantasy Beings

What are some of your favorite fantasy or sci-fi reads or resources?

Monday, January 21, 2019

Review: The Line Tender, by Kate Allen

I highly recommend The Line Tender, by Kate Allen. I’m a fan of literary middle grade novels that tug at the heartstrings, so I was excited to dig into the ARC of Allen’s novel, due to be published 4/16/19 by Dutton Children’s Books. At 371 pages, the book at first glance seemed a bit lengthy for middle grade. But once I began reading, the pages flew. The story of Lucy, her dad, and her best friend Fred was one I could not stop reading. The coastal Massachusetts setting was real, from the earthy smell of the algae-green wood at the wharf to the hot (“July hot”) heat that hung above the shingled houses, old-fashioned candy store, and Chinese imports shop. I was right there with Lucy when a Great White shark with “huge serrated teeth, gnarly and sticking out at different angles…poking out of the shredded gums, pink like strawberry taffy” got caught in a fishing net. Lucy’s deceased mom was a shark expert, and immediately I felt the void left by her passing five years prior. (“…my grief for her was like a circle. It always came around to missing her again.”) Through an extra credit science class Field Guide project, 12-year-old Lucy and her best friend Fred grew close. As Lucy sketched the Great White, Fred filled in the research facts. As Lucy drew a moon snail, Fred made notes about the shell colors, and then handed Lucy an extra lunch he had packed, since Lucy’s dad was bad about keeping the refrigerator filled. (“That’s the thing about Fred. Not only was he smart about academic stuff. He was smart about me.”) As a reader, I could feel Fred and Lucy’s love for one another. From Fred’s interest in Lucy’s mom’s shark research to the pre-teens’ growing physical attraction, (“I put my head on his shoulder for a moment…His face was so close, I could smell his sunscreen.”) the friendship between Lucy and Fred made my heart soar. Their connection was real.

Then everything changed at the quarry.

Literally, I gasped.

In retrospect, the earlier loss of the Great White should have been my clue that another loss was coming. Still, though. Fred’s drowning hit me hard. Why? Because author Kate Allen took the first 109 pages to fully develop the characters and the relationship between Lucy and Fred. After Fred’s death, I mourned. I was scared when Lucy’s choking sensation—her brain’s response to the accident— prevented her from eating much of anything for the remainder of the story. How could I rescue her from her grief?

When Great White shark sightings mounted following Fred’s death, I wanted to believe the sharks were Fred’s way of telling Lucy he was okay. But this book doesn’t deal in the magical. It deals with hard truths about life and loss and moving on. The author doesn’t take short cuts or present easy answers.Grief is tough. And it’s not until Lucy grabs a line connecting her father, a stubborn fisherman, and an old widower to her mom’s unfinished shark research, that she’s finally able to look beyond what she’s lost and focus on what’s left to be discovered.

My rating: FIVE STARS.

THE LINE TENDER, by Kate Allen, is a literary gem. I fully expect to see this novel on award lists. For fans of THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH and COUNTING BY SEVENS and anyone who enjoys a well-told tale with characters who feel like family.

Monday, January 14, 2019

What Books Top Your To-Be-Read List in 2019?

I recently asked some of my favorite middle grade authors what books they're most looking forward to reading in 2019. The rules: they don't have to be published in 2019 to make the list. In fact, they don't even have to fit in the MG category. Anything goes!

Gwendolyn Hooks
THE PARKER INHERITANCE by Varian Johnson is the next book I plan to read. I love mysteries and this book has received a lot of praise. Horn Book gave it a starred review and said “Johnson’s narrative revels in its puzzle-story elements.” I loved Varian’s, THE GREAT GREENE HEIST, so I know this one will be an intriguing read.

A picture book biography that’s been on my To-Be-Read list is HARLEM'S LITTLE BLACKBIRD -- THE STORY OF FLORENCE MILLS by Renee Watson. It was published a few years ago, so I have no excuse for not reading it sooner. But 2019 is its magical year. Florence’s parents were former slaves. I think that heritage made her strong and determined to succeed in her musical career on Broadway during the 1920s. How did she do it?  I plan to read it and learn exactly how she accomplished her goals.

S.A. Larsen
Like most every reader, my to-be-read pile is ever-growing. But, for 2019, I'm determined to finally read BOB by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead. Why? Because the whole idea of a creature not letting you forget about a childhood promise you made a few years back (& you're still a kid!) totally intrigues me! We won't talk about how fascinated I am that this greenish creature also dresses in a chicken suit.

I'm also stoked to read GHOST SQUAD by Claribel A. Ortega out in 2019! Firstly, I've read a few of her comments, and she seems super sweet. When I first read the blurb for the story, all I could think of is how alike Lucely (GS's main character) and my main character Ebony are. They both are a bit clumsy with their 'spells', but their hearts are golden. I'd also love to see Ebony running around with Lucely, trying to catch all the ghosts Lucely accidentally let loose!

Sarah Cannon

Author of ODDITY

First, I cannot wait to read Gabrielle Byrne's RISE OF THE DRAGON MOON. I've been swapping manuscripts with her for years, and I know her to be an imaginative, action-driven author. I am going to pounce on my copy this August!

I'm also itching to own DRAGON PEARL. Penned by Yoon Ha Lee, an author who's already racking up accolades in the adult SFF world, you can bet this Korean mythology-inspired space opera is going to be amazing!

Last, I plan to devour JUST SOUTH OF HOME, by Karen Strong-- if I can get my hands on it! My 12 y.o. spent half his summer bingeing Blackish, so if he realizes JSOH is pitched as Blackish meets Goosebumps, I'm going to need two copies or a locked hideout.

Sally Pla

Susan Adrian's ARC of FOREVER NEVERLAND, THE ASSASSINATION OF BRANGWAIN SPURGE by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin, and SANITY AND TALLULAH by Molly Brooks! Right now finishing adult novel ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS PERFECTLY FINE which I picked up because the title sounded so much like my STANLEY IS PROBABLY FINE, and I love Eleanor. Like Stanley, she is quirky. Quirky is my everything.

Patrick Moody

This will be a busy writing year for me, and while I’m writing I usually stick to non-fiction (don’t know why, that’s just the pattern I’ve fallen into). But I’m half through all the Spookies’ books and will hopefully get to the other half in the next couple months! Other than that, I have biographies of Subodai (one of Ghengis Khan’s generals aka very scary dude), Edward I, and William the Conquerer that I’m really looking forward to!

P.S. If you're not familiar with 'the Spookies,' we're a group of spooky middle grade authors hanging out over at! Jan Eldredge, author of EVANGELINE OF THE BAYOU, is also looking to read every #SpookyMG book in 2019!!! Whoa! Here's a complete list:


Kim Ventrella (hey, that's me!)
I'm most looking forward to reading THE AFTERWARDS by A.F. Harrold. It's the story of best friends Ember and Ness. When Ness dies suddenly, Ember travels to the Afterworld, determined to bring Ness back. I absolutely adored THE IMAGINARY, also written by Harrold and illustrated by the amazing Emily Gravett.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Resolving Not to Set Writing Goals for Myself in 2019

Every new year I set writing goals for myself.

But not this year.

I had an a-ha moment at the end of 2018.

2018 was a great year for me writing-wise: I published my second novel, I received positive reviews, the book sold pretty well.

I created specific goals for myself: finish revisions, write and revise at least one new book, do tons of school visits, get to at least one conference.

So why did my writing life feel tortured?


Then it hit me: I was trying too hard.

It's a wonderful thing to have goals, but not at the expense of enjoying the trip along the way.

Last year, when I didn't meet a goal—be it word count, finished product, whatever—I'd beat myself up.

My goals, which were supposed to move me forward, actually sucked the thrill of of writing from my life.

I forgot that to really succeed at anything, there must be joy.

And for me, a Capricorn who has a tendency to want to get things done, my goals impeded the joy.


This morning, I'm in the throes of final revisions to my WIP. They're due next week. And guess what? I'm having fun.

Why? Because I'm not worried about anything but the task at hand.

Instead, I trust that other books will get written, schools will be visited, stuff will happen. People will love the book or they won't.

My only focus is to love what I'm doing right now. I trust that the rest will sort itself out.

For many of you, goal setting is the thing that will propel your work to publication. I salute you.

But promise me you won't beat yourself up if you miss a deadline or don't reach your goal within a certain time frame.

Promise that you'll focus on loving your work in progress and enjoying the journey. Because that love is what will propel your writing forward.

To every writer and reader out there: I wish you a 2019 filled with magic.

It is magic that we can conjure stories from thin air.

It is magic that the stories we read let us live a thousand lives during our short time on this wonderful planet.

I have no writing goals for 2019. But something tells me I'll find a lot of magic along the way!