Friday, August 30, 2019

Where's My Agent?

I thought I'd have an agent by now. 

Seriously. I mean, I've been learning quite a bit over the eight years I've been writing. But you know what? I don't have an agent yet and honestly, I'm only mildly disappointed in that. Here's why. 

This manuscript I'm querying right now is still only my second MG manuscript. That's right. Only two MG manuscripts for over eight years of work. "Wow. That's pathetic," you might think. But, considering I work as a busy stay home dad of seven school-age children, ran my own tree-pruning business on the side for five years, home-schooled five of the seven kids two of those eight years (while the little two were in diapers) I'm in no position to complain. So I won't. 

Instead, I'll marvel at the fact that though I struggled through some serious health issues in the midst of those years, I'm still writing. Actually, I'm even more determined to get better at my craft than ever. 

Also, fulls of the manuscript I'm querying right now are out with several agents at the time of this writing. It's my 2018 #Pitchwars manuscript, born of personal pain and spilling over with emotion as a thirteen-year-old Nebraska farm girl reconciles her grief at the death of her baby brother, and her anger at her father for his subsequent drug conviction, with her family's Catholic Faith.

It's not a book everyone is racing to represent. It's very raw and real and as I see it, kind of like life these days. This manuscript will be a hard sell for several reasons. Be it the voice, religious overtones, the main character's constant questioning of her world, or the plot structure of the story itself, my manuscript has yet to connect with the right agent. I'm searching for an agent who feels Blake's struggle and understands it; who appreciates it even.

I'm searching for an agent bold enough to embrace the idea that a girl from a religious family can have her beliefs rocked so hard by personal tragedy yet still grow and learn and find peace. 

I'm searching for an agent who gets that my MC, while realizing her own weaknesses also discovers her strengths and learns that her beliefs should be challenged whether they'll eventually change or not.

I'm not too upset that I don't have an agent yet. While I search, I'll keep writing (on my new secret projects) and learning, and I believe I'll eventually find the agent for me.

Wherever you're at in your writing journey, I hope you'll find your agent, or publisher, or make the list or whatever. But above all, I hope for you a journey filled with wonder and growth and possibilities. 


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Author Interview and Book Giveaway: Karuna Riazi talks THE BATTLE

Happy Wednesday!

Middle Grade Minded is thrilled to be part of the blog tour of Karuna Riaza's new book THE BATTLE.

You don't have to have read her first book, THE GAUNTLET, but if you haven't, I highly recommend it because it is awesome!

About the Book:

The game begins again in this gripping follow-up to The Gauntlet that’s a futuristic middle eastern Zathura meets Ready Player One!

Four years after the events of The Gauntlet, the evil game Architect is back with a new partner-in-crime—The MasterMind—and the pair aim to get revenge on the Mirza clan. Together, they’ve rebuilt Paheli into a slick, mind-bending world with floating skyscrapers, flying rickshaws run by robots, and a digital funicular rail that doesn’t always take you exactly where you want to go. 

Twelve-year-old Ahmad Mirza struggles to make friends at his new middle school, but when he’s paired with his classmate Winnie for a project, he is determined to impress her and make his very first friend. At home while they’re hard at work, a gift from big sister Farah—who is away at her first year in college—arrives. It’s a high-tech game called The Battle of Blood and Iron, a cross between a video game and board game, complete with virtual reality goggles. He thinks his sister has solved his friend problem—all kids love games. He convinces Winnie to play, but as soon as they unbox the game, time freezes all over New York City.

With time standing still and people frozen, all of humankind is at stake as Ahmad and Winnie face off with the MasterMind and the Architect, hoping to beat them at their own game before the evil plotters expand Paheli and take over the entire world.

The Interview:

1) First of all, I adored THE BATTLE. Was it always your intention to revisit the game using a different medium and with Ahmad as the lead?

I am so glad to hear you enjoyed it - particularly since The Battle was not planned at all, in that there was no original sequel scheduled for The Gauntlet when it first sold. The fact that The Battle exists can only be credited to the wonderful response of readers like you, and how amazingly supportive you were for the first book! So, no, it wasn't my intention but when I was approached by my editor at Simon and Schuster and bosses at Cake Literary about reopening the game and letting Ahmad have a story of his own, I was very excited - and nervous! I wanted to do justice to the first book and give readers a follow-up that would be equally exciting and satisfying to read. I hope I've done that!

2) The World building in The Battle is amazing - what’s your process for creating not only a game with its levels and rules, but for building a world from scratch?

I am so glad that you enjoyed the world-building! I honestly love world-building, but world-building and game rules has been a particular headache in both books. I love video games and board games, but it does take a lot to translate over what seems so natural and matter-of-fact on a board or screen. Being part of a collaborative environment at Cake Literary definitely helped me both times in regards to thinking how the game would work, and which challenges would make sense, but there were moments in the draft where I had to step back and think, "Okay, if I were playing a video game level, what would make sense to see in this level? How would I interact with it? What would my restrictions be?"

There's a particular scene in the middle of the book where I really thought hard about some of my favorite video games and had to articulate how a digital tile might react if you stepped on it, or how walls would generate if you stepped toward them. I definitely think a lot of it is visualization, active hands-on experience with what you're trying to duplicate in your book (so, if you're writing a board game, consider how a board game's rules work, how the pieces look, what challenges you would face through gameplay) and then, if you have it, talking the rules and restrictions out with other people so you can see if it makes sense or is too simplistic.

In general, when world-building for these books, I tend to start with aspects of the real world I would love to include in the fictional world and then consider the ways in which my world will be different. For Paheli, I got to indulge my hidden passion for Islamic architecture and used that baseline to research and think outward for what a Middle Eastern-inspired city would reasonably have in terms of buildings and landmarks, the types of people that would populate it, and other things down to the items (in The Gauntlet) that are depicted for sale in the souk. 

3) I couldn’t help but wonder the whole way through the story if you are a gamer, too?

Yes, I am very much a gamer! I unfortunately do not play board games as much as I did when I was younger - it's now mostly reserved for special occasions when my sbilings and I are together with my cousins and we need a diversion to keep the little ones from killing each other, and that mostly ends up as Monopoly which is...not ideal for family harmony - but I definitely indulge a lot in video games, from PC titles like The Sims 4 and Civilization V to my favorite 3DS games like Animal Crossing, Ace Attorney and Fire Emblem! (Unlike Ahmad, I sadly do not have a Switch of my own yet, but I'm saving up for it!)

4) An important theme in The Battle is friendship and loyalty. While Ahmad and Winnie are the most obvious examples of this, you build it into the relationships of the other characters, too. How important is it to you as an author to instill these honorable traits in your characters?

I think as authors we tend to walk a fine line between moralizing and just...talking out the things that matter to us and we know matter to our readers. I think, particularly for marginalized children like Ahmad and Winnie, it's important to have this visible confirmation of who they are and who their friends are in books: that they are wonderful, supportive, caring and empathetic. So often, the world denies them this type of representation - and it really seems like such a little detail, to have kids of color who are good friends and trustworthy and loyal, but it does matter and it will confirm for them that this is who they are. I know as a girl of color and a Muslim growing up, my friendships and knowing that I had them mattered so much, and that's another reason why it's so important to me to represent strong friendships.

5) I love the idea that the citizens of Paheli are trying to hang on to who they are and their humanity. Can you talk about this and why this is so important for children today to think about?

I think in everything I write, I end up thinking - and discussing - agency a lot: even when we feel we are helpless, are there ways in which we can hold on to our own spirits and determination to do good? I definitely think that readers today, and their parents, are grappling with their own feeling of helplessness, and worrying about their own humanity and how to hold onto that when it seems like everywhere you look there's a new fire. It is never a theme that I outright go, "Okay, I'm going to discuss what it feels like to be under someone else's control and struggling to have your own voice and life," but when I was considering what it would mean to be in a video game as a non-playable character, it was something I felt needed to be addressed in some way. 

6) Ahmad starts the story feeling like an outsider, which I think is something many children can relate to. His expectations for himself are low. How do you think stories like The Battle help kids who feel like Ahmad?

I think it's important to consider how the most beloved children's series out there - Harry Potter - is about a Chosen One, but a Chosen One who starts out his journey as an underdog, unestimated and unloved, who has to build up his found family and his faith in himself. That story resonates with a lot of readers for a reason. A lot of the most popular titles, with kid readers, are stories where an ordinary kid, a flawed kid, finds love or succeeds at their destiny - because it makes it attainable, and there is more hope that, "Yes, I deserve this. Yes, someone who feels the same things I do can achieve this." 

Don't get me wrong: I came to writing fantasy as a kid because of wish fulfillment and escapism, and that is so very important. Not every story has to be realistic or involve the pain and hardships that kids have to face every day. But at the same time, there are very few kids who are in a middle school classroom feeling one hundred percent confident in themselves and how people perceive them. I know this as a teacher who loved all of her kids in her class but also heard a LOT about how they actually felt about themselves and how hard it was to believe in themselves, and as someone who used to be a very awkward bookworm who felt on the outside and like she would never have a close circle of friends or a group chat or a kindred spirit best friend like Anne Shirley or any of it. 

So, being able to write a character who has a believable, attainable goal - wanting to make a real friend - and having him be able to achieve that, was very important to me as someone who often read books and wanted that for herself.

(I will also note that writing Ahmad, a brown Muslim child of immigrants with a learning disability, made this narrative even more important in its being the story of an outsider who finds his niche and his abilities. Ahmad, and kids like Ahmad, wouldn't necessarily be able to feel reassured by the fantasy titles I grew up on in the early 2000s where marginalized characters were not seen and centered - much less to the depth of discussing background and personalized wants in a storyline. Being able to offer this title where his face is one of the hero and victor matters a lot in terms of representation, and filling a gap for the kids who are made outsiders by way of a dominant narrative that does not consider them.)

7) What’s next? Fans of Karuna Riazi want to know! (including me!)

As soon as I know, you'll know! In all seriousness, I'm wrapping up a YA manuscript I've been working on for some time and cooking up some middle-grade ideas to hopefully visit in the future, plus school and seeking representation. Nothing is under contract or signed yet, so fingers crossed for another great title on shelves in the future!


Want to Learn more about Karuna?

Visit!  It is a gorgeous website!

Or follow here on twitter: @KarunaRiazi

Time to win a book!

This is an easy giveaway! 

All you have to do is leave me a note below and tell me your favourite game! A random winner will be chosen this Friday, Sept 30th at midnight! Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, August 23, 2019

Essential Tips for Writing Middle Grade Dialogue

Middle grade dialogue can be tricky to write. The modern middle grader reader is quick to spot dialogue that doesn't feel "real." These tips can help you write it right.

Use Age-Appropriate Speech

Please, please use contractions and slang in your middle grade dialogue. Middle grade speech is characterized by casualness, and at times, wordiness. At this age, children are not completely aware of social niceties and will often ramble or dominate conversations. Precocious children may be eager to demonstrate their intellect through use of advanced words.

They're Smarter Than You Think

Nothing will turn off middle grade readers faster than writing down to them. The story (and the dialogue) should leave plenty for the reader to think about and figure out. Don't spell everything out for them. Trust them to think. Show your characters thinking. Modern middle graders are savvy and have been exposed to tons of ideas. They often face issues as tough as any that adults have to deal with. Let your writing and your dialogue reflect that. Leave it to Beaver simplicity will come off as unrealistic. 

Check Out Middle Graders

Spend some time eavesdropping on middle graders or, if you need a shortcut, watch some middle grade TV shows or movies. You will notice them finishing each other's sentences, inventing new words, using big words wrong, and making strange sounds -- whooping, hollering, or sometimes even shouting nonsensical words. Note the use of different types of dialogue and attitude between friends, between middle graders and older children or middle graders and adults. Even the topics of conversation may be different. There may also be an anxiety factor for youths raising tough issues with older people.

Remember: Texting is the New Talking

Dialogue, shmialogue. Who talks anymore anyway? Not the rising generation. If you haven't seen a bunch of tweens or teens standing around texting each other instead of talking, you're not really living. Of course they talk sometimes. So you will still need those other handy dandy dialogue tips. But you might want to beef up on digital communication, too.

If you don't know what ab, brb, bc, or idk's time you got with the times! While middle graders certainly aren't speaking text shorthand, they definitely text it, whether on their phones, iPods, tablets or sneaking onto social media platforms a few years early. Trust me, they are there, adopting trendy abbreviations. Although you won't use these in actual dialogue, there's a high likelihood that your story will need digital conversations if it's set in modern times. 

What are some of your favorite dialogue tips?

Monday, August 12, 2019

Six Scary Back-to-School Reads

Heading back to school is an amazing time of year when students reunite with old friends, meet new teachers and dive into the joys of learning. Right? Of course, but it can also be scary! From those first day jitters to aliens posing as educators. That's why I decided to put together this list of back-to-school reads that might just scare your pants off. You'll find a little bit of everything: haunted castles, fairytale villains, teachers who turn students into apples. Anyone who says that school is boring clearly hasn't walked the halls of Splendid Academy or faced the wrath of the terrifying Miss Trunchbull.

About the Author:

is the author of the middle grade novels HELLO, FUTURE ME (2020), BONE HOLLOW and SKELETON TREE, all with Scholastic Press. She is also a contributor to the upcoming NEW SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK anthology (2020, HarperCollins). Find out more at or follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Join the MG Minded Team

Middle Grade Minded is coming up on our 6th year of blogging and we've had a blast. We've had many folks join the team over the years and we are once again opening up our doors looking for new voices to share on the blog.

So ask yourself...

Do you write Middle Grade literature?

Do you like to share writing knowledge and experiences?
Do you like interviewing others?
Do you like reviewing Middle Grade books?
Do you like blogging?
Would you be willing to write one blog post a month?

If you answered yes to most if not all of those questions then you might be the perfect addition to the Middle Grade Minded team!

We are currently looking for additional bloggers to write posts on writing craft and experiences, review middle grade literature, and/or perform interviews with agents, authors, editors, teachers, and even middle grade readers. If you are interested in joining the team please answer the questions below and send them to with the subject line "I want to blog for Middle Grade Minded"


1.) Tell us about you! What do you write? How long have you been writing? Have you had anything published? What do you like about MG literature? etc. Just a short bio of relevant information.

2.) Why do you want to blog for Middle Grade Minded? 

3.) What kinds of things would you most like to blog about?

4.) Do you currently have a personal blog? If so, please link us to it.

5.) What social media platforms are you on? Please include handles or links.

6.) Do you have any interest in taking on additional tasks for the blog? (Examples: scheduling, social media etc.) If so, let us know what you would be interested in helping with. (Note: the answer to this question will not affect whether or not you are chosen, it is merely for informational purposes)

Please submit your application by Friday, August 23, 2019 to be considered
We look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, August 5, 2019

Why it's okay to ease up now and then...

Remember that old saying: the teacher shows up when the student is ready?

Well my teacher showed up via a recent post here at Middle Grade Minded.

Wonderfully written by Rob Polk, it encourages writers and readers to be easy on ourselves in pursuit of our goals and to prioritize our physical and mental health.

I haven't been able to get it out of my mind since I read it.

I don't know about you, but I'm a goal setter.

This summer's goals:

1) finish revising my work in progress
2) read twenty-five books
3) write every day

These goals are a sub-set of my overall 2019 goals, which include revising another novel, researching a novel, finally writing that picture book I've been thinking about, and reading 125 books.

But then something happened after I read Rob's post.

I realized I was rushing my life, instead of savouring it.

I'd forgotten that downtime is crucial to creativity.

I'd forgotten that downtime is crucial for wellbeing.

Meeting my self-imposed deadlines was robbing me of the joy of DOING and BEING.

I was seeing other writers publishing and doing more and feeling like I needed to match their pace if I was to succeed.

I'd become a hamster on a wheel. And just like the little guy below, was in imminent danger of falling off...


Something had to change.

Last Monday, I decided that my work in progress needed a more substantial rewrite. It will take how long it takes.

I decided that trying to meet an arbitrary number of books was not how I wanted to read.

I decided that tracking everything and writing to-do lists was NOT helping me any more.

I must meet my commitments, but I don't have to be a perpetual motion machine to get them done.

Mostly, I reminded myself that summer is fleeting.

I need to stare more at my garden.

I need to take more walks.

I need to nap in my Adirondack chair.

I don't have to be at my desk by 7 a.m. every day.

I hope that you'll reread Rob's post and think of what you can do for yourself that will fill up your creative and happiness reservoir.

The truth is, my books will get done. So will yours.

I'll read lots of books. So will you.

But I vow to enjoy the journey more.

My name is Wendy, and I am trying to learn to relax about this whole writing thing!


Thursday, August 1, 2019

Summer Stories Giveaway - Featuring Dana Alison Levy



I admit it, in the summer my books take a beating. Expect to see them warped and wonky after being left outside in the rain, or filled with sand that spills out when pulled from the bottom of a beach bag. Reading in the summer is a bit of a contact sport, for me. Bug spray, sunscreen, water, sand…even some ice cream has been known to find its way onto the pages of my favorite summer books.

Sorry not sorry.

Reading — and rereading — wonderful books in the summer is one of my great pleasures. Even though I’ve been out of school for a looooooong time, something about summer still feels…different. Freer. Like my regular life is suspended, and somehow the rules are different. I reread old favorites. Put down a book that isn’t grabbing me and start a new one. Read three books at once. Why not? It’s summer!

Maybe it’s because I live in New England, where the winters are long and cold. Maybe it’s because school wasn’t always easy for me as a student, or as a parent, and summer promised a break. Whatever the reason, I always feel summer is a time of freedom.

Below are a couple of summer stories that I’ve loved, that maybe you’ll love too. And don’t forget to comment for a chance to win one of my summertimes books! Simply comment here or on the Instagram post (linked here) and you’re entered to win of of these two books!*

This Would  Make a Good Story Someday: What if you planned on the perfect summer with your friends, getting new and improved for middle school? And what if your moms suddenly informed you that, instead, your entire family — including your loud younger sister, your political activist older sister, and her oh-so-annoying boyfriend — were traveling cross-country by train? For Sara, writing it all down in her journal is the only escape. But as they criss-cross the country she makes unexpected friends, sees the world outside the train windows with new eyes, and might just come home new and improved after all.

The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island: The Fletchers love returning every year to Rock island, where nothing ever changes. Except this year, when Sam, Jax, Eli, and Frog Fletcher and their dads arrive, things are different. New neighbors, a Keep Out fence around the beloved lighthouse, and still more surprises await them. Maybe time can’t stand still, even on Rock Island, but the Fletcher boys learn that some changes can be downright amazing.

A Very Incomplete List of A Few of My Favorite Summer Stories
by Dana Alison Levy

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall:
This book is a modern classic, and does an amazing job of bringing us into the heart of this hilarious and loving family of four sisters. The adventures they have in Arundel, in the gardens, the pond, the meadows, and beyond, make me want to join the fun. P.S. The whole series is fantastic, and another one, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, is another magical summer story.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Garcia-Williams:
Wow I love this book! Three sisters travel across the country to spend the summer of 1968 with their mother in Oakland California, where they wind up attending a summer program hosted by the revolutionary Black Panthers. Full of important history that doesn’t get talked about enough, and funny and poignant enough to keep everyone reading. P.S. Once again, the rest of the series is amazing too!

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson:
Pretty much the world’s most perfect middle grade novel. A mystery, a family story, a friendship story, historical fiction, social justice, puzzles, questions about race, secrets, LGBTQIA identity…this book pretty does it all, and does it beautifully. Candace Miller and her mother are spending the summer in Lambert South Carolina, and when she and her neighbor Brandon find a letter waiting for her, it’s the beginning of a puzzle about her family and the town that may reveal secrets some folks aren’t ready to give up. Also, it made me go back and reread Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game (the ultimate puzzle book), and that’s just another bonus.

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya:
Like I said, I’m a New Englander, and I love our summers. But this book takes place in Miami, and offers such an incredible sense of place and how the rhythms of summer play out there. It’s about community and food and family and poetry and, for me at least, Arturo is not even remotely an epic fail; he’s totally awesome.

Dana Alison Levy was raised by pirates but escaped at a young age and went on to earn a degree in aeronautics and puppetry. Actually, that’s not true—she just likes to make things up. That’s why she always wanted to write books. Her novels for kids, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island, This Would Make a Good Story Someday, and It Wasn’t Me have garnered multiple starred reviews, been named to Best Of lists, and were Junior Library Guild Selections. Also her kids like them. Find out more at or follow her online at Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

*Giveaway is US only! (Apologies to the international crowd). Winners will be picked at random and contacted via email or DM.