Wednesday, December 13, 2017

7 Questions For: Author Michael Grant

Michael Grant is the evil genius of YA Fiction. By his own admission he sets out to scare his readers. That might explain why one of his biggest fans is Stephen King who called The Gone Series ‘A driving, torrential narrative’.

But Michael is interested in more than just scaring people. With his major new trilogy, Front Lines, he finally gets to match his greed for a good story with his passion for history. He wants the reader to forget about dates and to look again at things they thought they knew from school. In his own words, ‘history is the backstory of the human race … statistics don’t really tell the whole story. For that you need people – characters. The latest instalment, Silver Stars, finds Michael’s characters already battle hardened, but they still have much conflict to face both on and behind the battle field.

Michael has also been selected as a World Book Day author for 2017. For this he has written an exclusive Front Lines story, Dead of Night.

Michael’s life is a rich source for his torrential narratives. Growing up in a military family he’s lived in almost 50 different homes in 14 US states, and moved in with his wife, Katherine Applegate, after knowing her less than 24 hours. Michael and Katherine were running their own cleaning business when they were working on their first book. Since trading in his marigolds, Michael has now written around 150 books (with Katherine, as himself, under pseudonyms and as a ghostwriter).

He now lives in the San Francisco Bay area taking his inspiration from his charming view of Alcatraz. From across those dark waters have emerged his dystopian fantasy series, Gone, his thrilling futuristic trilogy Bzrk, the menacing Messenger of Fear, and now the epic reimagining of the past, Front Lines.

Michael Grant is the author or co-author of 150 books. His newest is Monster, the seventh book in the Gone series. You can follow him on TwitterFacebook, or visit his website.

Click here to read my review of Gone.

Click here to read my review of The Magnificent 12: The Call.

And now Michael Grant faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

I’m going to cheat and name series.  The Aubrey/Maturin books by Patrick O’Brian, the Flashman books by George MacDonald Fraser, and The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, because man, I wish I could write like Chandler.

Question Six: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

I spend about 3 hours a day, seven days a week, actually typing words or at least intending to.  Another hour a day on social media and assorted nonsense.  And anytime I’m conscious I may be thinking about a book.  I do very little reading in the conventional sense, I listen to a lot of audiobooks. I’m a bit ADD and audiobooks allow me to read more closely.

Question Five: What was the path that led you to publication?

My wife, Katherine Applegate and I were at a low point in our lives after many other low points, and Katherine suggested we should become writers. So I said: OK.  At the time we were cleaning homes and offices on Cape Cod.  We wrote a pair of Herlequins, switched to ghostwriting for Sweet Valley, eventually created Animorphs and finally became the Towering Geniuses of Literature Loved By All that we are today.

Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you?

I believe a certain amount of innate talent is required. From that point you are either taught, or teach yourself. I taught myself. I’ve never taken a writing course or read a full book on writing (though I did skim Stephen King’s book, because he’s Stephen King).  I dislike being ‘taught,’ I much prefer figuring it out for myself.  I don’t like downloading some canned knowledge app, I want to write the software myself.  I’m the writing equivalent of one of those people who, rather than simply buying a car, insist on making one from a kit.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing is that I’m sitting here in my courtyard wearing sweat pants and a t-shirt, starting and ending my day whenever I choose, writing what I choose.  I’m as free as I know how to be while still making a living.  Very few people get to do that, and there is never a day when I don’t acknowledge how well my life turned out, and recognize how much of it was just dumb luck.

My least favorite part of writing is social media. It’s fun talking to fans, but the rest of it is stupidity and nastiness.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Start writing.  If you start writing and are very pleased with the result and think your words are just about perfect, go find another career.  If you start writing and discover as you go along that there are gaps in your skills, that it is hard for you to put into words what is in your head, and begin to realize that writing has squat to do with inspiration and everything to do with work?  And if you read your stuff back and wince, and hear false notes, and feel the need to fix those things? Congratulations, you may become a writer.  You need an ‘ear’ for what’s wrong, and the pride and work ethic to fix it.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

I wouldn’t.  First, I’m quite anti-social and don’t really enjoy hanging out.  And second, I have never understood the point of meeting writers.  I do meet writers, of course, on book tour or at conferences.  But a writer is his or her writing. Either I enjoy their work or I don’t, but either way, how is my life improved by discovering that a writer has bad breath or a booger hanging out of his nose?

Monday, December 11, 2017

Book of the Week: GONE by Michael Grant

WARNING: This week’s book is actually edgy YA and it is filled with adult content. It is absolutely not appropriate for younger readers and adults should view it as the equivalent of an ‘R’ rated movie, which makes it awesome. If the reader in question can handle Ashfall by Mike Mullin, they'll be at home with Gone.

First Paragraph(s): ONE MINUTE THE teacher was talking about the Civil War. And the next minute he was gone. 
No “poof.” No flash of light. No explosion. 
Sam Temple was sitting in third-period history class staring blankly at the blackboard, but far away in his head. In his head he was down at the beach, he and Quinn. Down at the beach with their boards, yelling, bracing for that first plunge into cold Pacific water. 
For a moment he thought he had imagined it, the teacher disappearing. For a moment he thought he’d slipped into a daydream. 
Sam turned to Mary Terrafino, who sat just to his left. “You saw that, right?”

This will be our last book of the year, Esteemed Reader, as we'll have Michael Grant here on Wednesday to face the 7 Questions, and that's a heck of a way to close out 2017. After that, the blog will be quiet through the holidays and I'll holler at you on January 1st with my usual year-in-review post and we'll keep this middle grade blog going into 2018 and beyond as long as y'all keep showing up every week.

So this week's book is my newest obsession. Esteemed Reader, if you haven't read Gone, skip this review and just read it, and then it will be your obsession as well. I'm already tearing my way through its second sequel, Lies, and the seventh in the series, Monster, was just released in October. Part of the reason I'm not writing any more reviews in December is because I'm going to finish this series and I don't want other books getting in the way:)

I'm kicking myself for not reading Gone sooner, but in a way I'm grateful I didn't because now I get to binge read the whole series at once instead of having to wait like the suckers did:) I've read Mr. Grant's middle grade work previous, such as The Magnificent 12, which I reviewed here, and The Animorphs, which he wrote with friend of the blog (and his wife) Katherine Applegate. I was expecting more of the same with Gone, which would've been great, but what I got was something that caught me totally by surprise by how deeply Michael Grant instantly hooked me and has kept me reading.

It's so amazing that Stephen King blurbed this series because I would've classified it as Stephen King for the YA crowd (although, technically speaking, The Body and arguably Itdepending on how cool the librarian recommending teen reads isare Stephen King for the YA crowd). And you regular Esteemed Readers know how much I love my Stephen King (I've also written Stephen King-ish for the YA crowd). There's even a national park in the fictional universe of Gone called Stefano Rey, which is Spanish for Stephen King.

The language employed in Gone is nowhere near as foul as in a King novel, but otherwise this is a long story (581 pages depending on your edition) with an over-the-top Twilight Zone premise that's periodically very dark and inhabited by fully realized characters. Also, like King, Grant is playing for keeps:

She smelled something foul. Sickly sweet and foul. 
She looked at her shattered right arm. The flesh, especially the taut, stretched flesh that barely contained her shattered arm bones, was dark, black edging toward green. The smell was awful. 
Lana took several deep breaths, shaky, fighting the upsurge of terror. She’d heard of gangrene. It was what happened when flesh died or circulation was cut off. Her arm was dying. The smell was the odor of rotting human flesh. 
A vulture fluttered to a landing just a few feet away. It stared at her with beady eyes and bobbed its featherless neck. The vulture knew that smell, too.

To fully describe the plot of Gone would probably take up the entire review, but the short short version is that it's Under the Dome meets The Stand meets Desperation with some X-men and a whole lot of Lord of the Flies and just a dash of Saints Row IV. All of those are favorites of mine, so Gone had me from that first paragraph up above. If the short short version isn't quite clear, let me give the slightly longer version.

Don't let the length of this book intimidate you. As the opening paragraph above makes clear, this is a book that moves quickly and you'll be done with it long before you want to be. Grant starts with a sort-of/kind-of rapture in that everyone 15 and older disappears for a 20-mile radius from Perdido Beach in California. Soon, the remaining children discover that they disappear the moment they age out. That's plenty of conflict to sustain a novel:

This school was dangerous now. Scared people did scary things sometimes, even kids. Sam knew that from personal experience. Fear could be dangerous. Fear could get people hurt. And there was nothing but fear running crazy through the school.

Sam flashed on news videos he’d seen of school shootings. It had that kind of feel to it. Kids were bewildered, scared, hysterical, or hiding hysteria beneath laughter and bold displays of rowdiness.

But apparently that's just not enough conflict for Michael Grant, so he adds another layer. And what I want to draw your attention to is the way he adds it:

Astrid and Quinn thought today was the beginning, but Sam knew better. Normal life had started coming apart eight months ago. 

Rather than come right out and state his additional conflict, which is that the teens left behind in Perdido Beach, including Sam, are developing super powers and have been for some time, Grants lets the reader get there ahead of him by suggesting evidence of this before confirming it. This is a technique for suspension of disbelief I have discussed elsewhere at length, but it's ever effective to give the reader tantalizing hints that allow the reader to form a conclusion of something impossible before the writer openly states it.

And the fact that the super powers emerged prior to the disappearance of the adults deepens the mystery about just what situation our heroes have found themselves in. So are the powers related to the disappearance of the adults and the placing of the barrier? And what's the deal in Perdido Beach?

I'm not telling you what I know, but keep in mind that Grant's got more books to come, so don't expect every answer in this first story. Remember, a good mystery is created not by withholding things from the reader, but by selectively revealing things. And the mystery is a big part of what drives the story:

Maybe it was aliens and right now some creepy monsters were chasing her mother and father through the streets of Las Vegas, like in that movie, War of the Worlds. Maybe. 
Lana found that thought strangely comforting. After all, at least she wasn’t being chased by aliens in giant tripods. Maybe the wall was some kind of defense put up against the aliens. Maybe she was safe on this side of the wall.

“Maybe it was God,” Quinn said, looking up, suddenly hopeful. His eyes were red and he stared with sudden, manic energy. “It was God.” 
“Maybe,” Sam said. 
“What else could it be, right? S-so—so—so—” Quinn caught himself, choked down the panicked stutter. “So it’ll be okay.” The thought of some explanation, any explanation, no matter how weak, seemed to help. 

But even that STILL isn't enough conflict for Michael Grant. As I was trying to explain the plot to Mrs. Ninja, she was with me until I got to the part about the talking coyotes and flying snakes. Also, there's a mysterious darkness out in the woods communing with the animals, but I think some of these things are better discovered by the reader.

So that's where we'll leave the review. If you haven't read Gone, read it. It's amazing and it will keep you glued to your seat until it's done.

But you regular Esteemed Readers know that the point of these reviews is really for us to discuss the techniques a writer employs so that we can adapt them for our own stories. So let's do that now. For starters, that talk about God in the previous quote isn't an isolated incident:

“What did we do?” Quinn asked. “That’s what I don’t get. What did we do to piss God off?” 
Sam opened the refrigerator. He stared at the food there. Milk. A couple of sodas. Half of a small watermelon placed cut side down on a plate. Eggs. Apples. And lemons for his mom’s tea. The usual.
“I mean, we did something to deserve this, right?” Quinn said. “God doesn’t do things like this for no reason.” 
“I don’t think it was God,” Sam said. 
“Dude. Had to be.”

“She’s with God now,” Mary said. 
“I’m not sure there is a God in the FAYZ,” Dahra said.

That's an awful lot of God talk in Gone (said the author of The Book of David), and if you're looking to deduce the thematic concerns of the story, I'd recommend starting there. It's not heavy handed. Grant is far more concerned with terrifying the reader and driving the suspense than discussing thematic concerns at length, as he should be. But for no one to discuss religion in this rapture-like situation would be a glaring omission. And as the teens lose their faith and/or become motivated by an assumed belief, we get a metaphor for how our own beliefs both motivate and put us in conflict with each other.

Of more practical use for employment in most stories, let us examine how Grant introduces us to our main protagonist:

Sam Temple kept a lower profile. He stuck to jeans and understated T-shirts, nothing that drew attention to himself. He had spent most of his life in Perdido Beach, attending this school, and everybody knew who he was, but few people were quite sure what he was. He was a surfer who didn’t hang out with surfers. He was bright, but not a brain. He was good-looking, but not so that girls thought of him as a hottie. 
The one thing most kids knew about Sam Temple was that he was School Bus Sam. He’d earned the nickname when he was in seventh grade. The class had been on the way to a field trip when the bus driver had suffered a heart attack. They’d been driving down Highway 1. Sam had pulled the man out of his seat, steered the bus onto the shoulder of the road, brought it safely to a stop, and calmly dialed 911 on the driver’s cell phone. 
If he had hesitated for even a second, the bus would have plunged off a cliff and into the ocean. 
His picture had been in the paper.

One thing I've been stressing to the students in my fiction classes is that hero characters should be heroic. Grant right away gives us every reason to identify with Sam and to root for him. He feels out of place, belonging to no particular group and uncertain of his identity, just like, say, for example, every teenager ever. Sam is unassuming and humble, especially considering we're about to learn he can shoot light energy from his hands (which will definitely come in handy). Also, and this is very important, he has engaged in heroic activity.

Please note, however, that Grant doesn't leave Sam's characterization with this flashback incident. No sooner do things start to fall apart than Sam is in action doing heroic things that are shown, including his rushing into a burning building to save a little girl and defending another one from bullies. Both attempts end with the little girls in question dead because this is a darker story, but it's the attempts that counts:) This incident with the school bus that happened off screen is also important as it establishes Sam's credibility as a possibly heroic leader in the minds of other characters in the story.

As for this being a darker story, that's part of its appeal. Just as our old friend Mike Mullin did in Ashfall, Grant establishes credibility for his world through including grisly details. Multiple children die, and not in clean, painless ways. The world of Gone is cold and harsh, but not unrelentingly so. Grant doesn't want to bum us out completely as this isn't a historical tomb. Rather, the worst aspects of this story make the unbelievable situation seem more believable. So, in the interest of helping readers suspend disbelief, Grant shows us one of the probable consequences of everyone over the age of 15 suddenly departing the world:

Quinn hefted the hammer and swung it against the door, just below the doorknob. The wood splintered, and Quinn pushed the door back. 
The smell hit them hard. 
“Oh, man, what died in here?” Quinn said, like it was a joke. 
The joke fell flat. 
Just inside the door, on the hardwood floor lay a baby’s pacifier. The three of them stared at it. 
“No, no, no. I can’t do this,” Brooke said.

The world of Gone feels real enough while the story is progressing, which is all that matters, and it feels metaphorically real after the fact. A dead baby alone is not enough to convince the reader to suspend disbelief, though it's a good start.

One of the reasons the page count is higher is because Grant goes into so much detail about the world, all with the goal of overcoming the reader's natural suspicion of a world with talking animals and superpowers. To quote myself from a post on horror writing, "those seemingly mundane details add up, like the passes of a hypnotist's golden watch, to convince the reader the story is real and that they should be terrified."

Grant doesn't just sell us on the main characters. He takes the time to build up secondary characters and below. For example, see how he not only flushes out the third tier character of Mary (at least in this first book in the series) so that we believe in her, but how he also further convinces us of the reality of Gone's improbable situation through Mary's reaction to it. Her demonstrable belief in her reality lends some of her belief to the reader.

Mary had suffered from bulimia since she was ten. Binge eating followed by purging, again and again in a quickening cycle of diminishing returns that had left her forty pounds overweight at one point, and her teeth rough and discolored from the stomach acid.
She’d been clever enough to conceal it for a long time, but her parents had found out eventually. Then had come therapists and a special camp and when none of that really helped, medication. Speaking of which, Mary reminded herself, she needed to get the bottle from her medicine cabinet.
She was better now with the Prozac. Her eating was under control. She didn’t purge anymore. She had lost some of the extra weight. 
But why not eat now? Why not? 
The cold air of the freezer wafted over her. The ice cream, the chocolate, there it was. It wouldn’t hurt. Not just once. Not now when she was scared to death and alone and so tired. 
Just one DoveBar. 
She pulled it out of the box and with fumbling, anxious fingers tore open the wrapper. It was in her mouth in a flash, so good, so cold, the chocolate slick and greasy as it melted on her tongue. The crunch of the shell as she bit into it, the soft luscious vanilla ice cream inside. 
She ate it all. She ate like a wolf.

There are a lot of other passages I want to share with you and so much to more to discuss, but this post is long and needs to end. I'd love to talk more about Quinn and how he serves as an excellent foil to Sam. I'd also love to talk about his casual racism with Edilio, but we'll skip it, except to say that casual racism is a detail that further convinces the reader that these are real characters from our reality and not blank book heroes. I'd also like to talk more about Astrid and her relationship to Pete, her autistic brother.

Oh heck, there's time enough for that one. Astrid is a brilliant and beautiful girl who Sam has a thing for and because he's a hero and this is a fantasy story, she might just be into him as well. It's standard issue YA and it's fine. What I found more interesting about Astrid is that she is made more heroic through her shortcomings. Her little brother Pete is a lot to deal with, but she does it, not because she's a perfect person, but in spite of her desire not to have to deal with him. It's a far more realistic sibling relationship which pays off before the end of the book.

There were kid-proof knobs on the stove. 
Astrid noticed him noticing. “It’s not for me,” she said snippily. “It’s for Little Pete.” 
“I know. He’s . . .” He didn’t know the right word. 
“He’s autistic,” Astrid said, very breezy, like it was no big thing.

After he's lost for a time, our heroes find Pete once again. The following might be my favorite character beat in the whole book because it's the most effective detail at making Astrid fully three dimensional:

There, sitting on the control room floor, rocking slightly back and forth, playing a muted handheld video game, was Little Pete. 
Astrid did not run to him. She stared with what looked to Sam like something close to disappointment. She seemed almost to shrink down a little. 
But then she forced a smile and went to him.

Okay, for real, let's wrap this up. The last point I want to make is that none of this character detail or situation makes a difference without Grant's first laying a basic groundwork for his story. He gets the basics done before worrying about the awesome action sequences and monster attacks that come with the territory. We're given a main hero, a main villain  (read some one else's review to learn about Caine, I guess), they're put at odds with each other in such a way that they must do battle before the story is done, and because this is suspense, we're given a ticking clock to keep those pages turning because Sam is 14 going on 15:

“I have five days,” Sam fretted. “Five. Days. Not even a week.” 
“You don’t know that for sure.” 
“Don’t, okay? Just don’t. Don’t tell me some story about how it’s all going to be fine. It’s not going to be fine.” 
“Okay,” Astrid said. “You’re right. Somehow, age fifteen is this line, and when you reach it, you poof out.”

And that's it. Gone is fantastic novel to be enjoyed by readers of all ages without pandering to any of them. In fact, I encountered a a new word in this story I had to look up: insouciantly. If you have any desire to write YA, particularly horror or dystopian, you absolutely must read this novel. Really, if you like a good story well told, you have to read this novel.

As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from Gone:

It was Astrid Ellison, known as Astrid the Genius, because she was . . . well, she was a genius.

Impossible things don’t happen. That’s what impossible means.

“You seem like a nice girl, Astrid,” Diana said. “I’ll bet you’re one of those brainy, Lisa Simpson types, all full of great ideas and worried about saving the planet or whatever. But things have changed. This isn’t your old life anymore. It’s like . . . you know what it’s like? It’s like you used to live in a really nice neighborhood, and now you live in a really tough neighborhood. You don’t look tough, Astrid.”

The sound of his own name snapped Jack out of his trance. “Yes.” 
Jack fell into step behind Diana, ashamed of his instant, doglike obedience.

Lana lay in the dark in the cabin listening to the mysterious sounds of the desert outside. Something made a soft, slithery sound like a hand stroking silk.

“Sadism,” Diana said. “The enjoyment of another person’s pain.” 
Drake stretched his shark grin. “Words don’t scare me.” 
“You wouldn’t be a psychopath if they did, Drake.”

His narrow lizard eyes narrowed further.

“Where are we going?”
“How about not here?”

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Book of the Week is simply the best book I happened to read in a given week. There are likely other books as good or better that I just didn’t happen to read that week. Also, all reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Emily Van Beek

Emily Van Beek's bio from Folio Jr.'s website:

I moved to New York City from Toronto armed with dual citizenship, a dream to work in children’s publishing, and inspiration from my favorite (if clichéd) Zen magnet, “Leap and the net will appear”. I became an editor at Hyperion Books for Children before deciding to explore the view from the agent’s side of the desk, where I fell head over heels in love with my role as a literary agent. I spent the next six-and-a-half years as an agent and the rights director at Pippin Properties, Inc. before joining Folio Jr. where I'm an SVP and literary agent. Some of the New York Times bestselling and award-winning clients I represent include Jenny Han, Morgan Matson, Siobhan Vivian, Adele Griffin, Philip & Erin Stead, Matthew Reinhart, Julie Morstad, and Sydney Smith as well as striking debut and emerging voices. I am an editorial agent passionate about negotiating the best deal possible, working with our esteemed subsidiary and contracts teams to squeeze as much juice out of a property as it will yield, and helping my clients to publish books that will stand the test of time.


YOUNG ADULT: I'm eager to find novels that are high concept, diverse, fantasy or magical realism, and am open to anything conceptually unique. In the realm of paranormal, adventure, and dystopian, I'm looking for something entirely unexpected. Give me something bold and fresh with a voice that’s impossible to put aside. I’m probably not the best choice for super edgy, “message”, or hard science-fiction books. What I’m really looking for is the intersection between stellar writing and plot, something that leaves me puffy eyed or laughing out loud. I am looking for emotional connection, for drama, for hope. Oh! Something else--I would love, love, LOVE to discover a FUNNY manuscript, a novel to make me LOL as Louise Rennison's ANGUS, THONGS, AND FULL-FRONTAL SNOGGING did.

MIDDLE-GRADE: Please send me your diverse, epic, cinematic, action-packed, adventuresome, mysterious, and fast-paced novels! I’m open to almost anything within this genre, but I always bear in mind that readers in this age group are looking for fun and mischief, to learn something about life, and to escape and romp!

PICTURE BOOKS: At this time, I am exclusively, but actively interested in AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATORS as well as ILLUSTRATORS only. I adore looking through picture book dummies and portfolios--send away!


Please send along your query letter and first ten pages of your manuscript in the body of the email to If you'd like to submit a picture book, please attach a PDF of your dummy. Links to online portfolios are always welcome. I would very much like to be able to respond to every query, but unfortunately time doesn’t allow for it. Please be sure to write QUERY in the subject line as this will ensure I do not miss your letter. N.B.: This email address is for queries and submissions only. For all other inquiries, please call (212) 400-1494. If you haven’t heard back from me within six weeks, I'm sorry to say I've decided I'm not the ideal match for your project. Thanks again for the opportunity to consider your work.

You can follow her on Folio Jr.'s Instagram and Facebook page, or check out her PublishersMarketplace page.

And now Emily van Beek faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Ah! This question is pure agony. I can maybe, maybe think of top three in each of about a zillion different categories. Yes! No? Okay, then . . . The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, and Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison.

Honorable mention: The Time Traveler’s Wife. I sent a fan letter to Audrey Niffenegger after reading her novel . . .  AND SHE WROTE BACK! How cool is that?                        

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

Favorite movies include Amelie (bonus points for that soundtrack!), Bridesmaids, and I have a real soft-spot for the 2014 film adaptation of Paddington—the toothbrush in the ears scene is a family favorite.

I loved The Crown, I’m loyal to Grey’s, and although I once toyed with the idea of becoming an attorney, I much prefer to watch the small screen version of big court drama in Suits.

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

I treasure my relationships with my clients. When signing a client I’m looking for authors and illustrators who are professional, who don’t cut corners, who are indefatigable revisers, and who have more than one story to tell.

I strive to present to editors the most polished, fully-realized submissions and I seek to work with clients who believe in putting their best foot forward. I aspire to build long-term relationships with my clients over the course of many books and many years.

I appreciate clear communication and endeavor to cultivate relationships of transparency and accessibility. I like to work with nice people. Most of all, I absolutely love what I do and am looking for clients who feel as passionately about their work!

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

I represent picture books through YA and am looking for unique and uniquely-told works. I’m eager to discover and champion #ownvoices stories especially contemporary and fantasy.

I’m dying to find a funny young adult or middle-grade novel. Comedic writing is a challenge to pull-off and a rare find. I’d be on cloud nine to receive a manuscript big on laughs while also serving up a story full of heart. I’m noticing a lot of dark, anxious, dire stories in my inbox and am eager for more humor, light, and hope.

I’d also jump at the chance to represent a clever middle-grade mystery—one that has the hallmarks of a contemporary classic or one that plays with puzzles, clues, and codes in a fresh way. I’m looking for manuscripts that are brave and deliver the feels.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

I love what I do. Not “love” love, but “LOVE” LOVE! I love that every day is different and there is always something new to learn and discover. It thrills me to find treasure in my submissions inbox. Calling a client with an offer in-hand never. gets. old. I could read contracts all day and I love to negotiate. I’m fascinated by subrights and adore working with my foreign, audio, and dramatic rights colleagues on licensing rights to our clients’ titles. I relish the editorial work that goes into preparing submissions as much as I enjoy the business side of agenting. I’m so grateful to have the chance to see projects in their earliest stages and to follow their journey to publication.

It's hard to identify my least favorite thing about being an agent. I’d love an eighth day of the week—I think we all feel we could use a little more time! Also, I take my work very personally and feel tremendously protective of my clients and their projects. Rejection smarts, after all these years my skin isn’t as thick as it probably should be, and I hate to relay disappointing news.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Read as much as you can from across a spectrum, including current bestsellers and new releases as well as classics and award-winners from the past.

Be brave. Writing is not for the faint of heart. And if an agent says your work isn’t right for his or her list, don’t despair. This is a truly subjective field and what isn’t right for one agent or editor might be the treasure another seeks.

Don’t. give. up.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

I’d love to have lunch with the late Louise Rennison because I think she was an incredibly talented writer with an extraordinary sense of humor. I wouldn’t mind following-up lunch with afternoon tea with Maeve Binchy, cocktails with J.K. Rowling, and dinner with Jane Austen, to round out the day.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

7 Questions For: Author Marina Weber

Marina Weber has been a passionate activist since she was six. Marina plays herself in the story of her debut children’s book – The Global Warming Express. She believes in righting wrongs and in helping others to be heard, seen, and assisted. She is also fearless and single-minded when it comes to completing her quest, and was instrumental in establishing The Global Warming Express nonprofit organization.

Listen to a recent interview with Marina for Radio Café.

Find The Global Warming Express on: Goodreads, IndieBound, Amazon

Click here to read my review of The Global Warming Express.

And now Marina Weber faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

1. Harry Potter series - I totally fell in love with it when I first read it and I now own all the movies and books and know most of the dialogue by heart. I still love the series and I read it over and over again.

2. Percy Jackson taught me everything I know about Roman and Greek mythology in a really great way and it is helping me so much now.

3. Little Women - this is such a classic book which I love because it is sort of old fashioned but it is a classic and it's something that always reminds me to be grateful for what I have.

Question Six: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

I write every day either in a journal or typing on my phone just putting down my thoughts for the day like a diary. I find that this helps me so that my mind is less cluttered. Currently I am not reading anything as I have just started high school and haven’t had the time. However, I absolutely love reading. This past summer I went through two books a week and I would read a lot more if I had the time. For me, writing is a huge part of my life even when it isn't for a purpose. I just love writing in general.

Question Five: What was the path that led you to publication?

It all started when I was in third grade when my best friend, Joanna Whysner, and I decided to write a children's book from the animal's perspective on climate change. I did most of the writing and she did the illustrations. Through elementary school we worked on it, and then the summer before we both went into 7th grade we finished it. At that point we were so involved in school and extracurriculars that our parents took it upon themselves to find us a good editor, and then spent their time finding a publisher. It wasn't by any means easy, but over the course of almost six years we got it done. It was a life accomplishment.

Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you?

I believe both. I believe that if you have the passion to write then you can become amazing at it. If you really want to do something, then you can do it with practice. I personally have always loved writing and even writing essays is fun for me. I feel like I was born to write even though through the years I have become interested in other things as well. I feel that I have a talent when it comes to writing and writing has helped me through some of the hardest times in my life and I’m so happy I found a writing path.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing is being able to express my feeling without anyone judging me as well as just uncluttering my mind. For me writing is like dancing. Like all my problems can go away when I am writing. Writing also really helps me when I am going through a hard time and somehow putting down my thoughts makes me feel better.

But sometimes it's hard. Writing isn't easy all the time and sometimes finding the right words can be the hardest thing and it's not always terribly fun, but it's worth it to see the end result.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

I would want to tell them that it's not going to be easy when you start but once you find your passion and what you want to write about it all just comes together. I think that writers, after a while, see the world differently than other people and (this is true for me) when a certain situation comes up or I am looking at a beautiful landscape I feel that I narrate it and make a story out of it while it's happening. Being a writer is so great and if you really want to be a writer then you can do it.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

J. K Rowling. She is such an inspiration to me and she wrote seven of my favorite books. I think that she is such an incredible person and she stands up for what she believes in. She persevered writing her books even when it was hard and I admire her so much for that. Writing a bestselling book, let alone seven of the most well-known books in the world is huge. She is such an amazing writer and I adore her so much.

“A memorable book. A modern-day fable sounding the alarm about the very real challenge of climate change.”
—Tom Udall, U.S. Senator for New Mexico

“Marina is an incredibly talented author. I admire her and Joanna’s passion for combatting climate change. Great writing comes from great thinking, and these girls have a great future ahead. We must all get onboard the Global Warming Express!” —Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader, U.S. House of Representatives

The Global Warming Express
Story by Marina Weber // Pictures by Joanna Whysner
Foreword by U.S. Senator Tom Udall
Terra Nova Books (
Ages 8+ // $14.95-Paperback 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Book of the Week: THE GLOBAL WARMING EXPRESS by Marina Weber

First Paragraph(s): On a warm, sunny spring afternoon at the Penguin Burial Ground on the shore of Queen Maud Land, Antarctica, a young emperor penguin named The Fluff wept for his mother. She had died after swallowing a piece of plastic floating in the ocean
After the funeral, his colony offered their sympathies and departed, leaving The Fluff alone, sitting on a rock and gazing out to sea. He remembered sitting on this same rock when he was much younger, on a cold, sunny spring day when they had buried his grandfather. Now the rock was underwater, and the sun felt hot on his back.

Make sure you find your way back here on Wednesday, Esteemed Reader, as Marina Weber will become the second youngest author in the history of this blog to face the 7 Questions, provided she's not too put off by some of the potentially offensive things I'm about to say (many of them quoted directly from her book).

Also, be warned, there will be some necessary politics involved in this review. Unavoidable. But it won't be all doom and gloom.  I promise to get cheerier before the end of the post.

Did you have yourself a good Thanksgiving, Esteemed Reader? Did you get yourself some delicious turkey, or at least some pumpkin pie? The ninja is now old enough to be considered one of the adults (when the heck did that happen!?!) and so was put in charge of cooking a ham. It was a big responsibility and I'm happy to report all 12 pounds of it were slow cooked over half a day to tender perfection and eaten by happy family members, which was enormously gratifying.

Did you sit around munching a bajillion calories and discussing politics?

Did your crazy uncle go off about how the red team is the best because although he himself is absolutely not a racist or a misogynist (how could you even think that!?!), he was happy to vote for one and wear that stupid MAGA hat that might as well be a white hood and now he's tired of winning?

Did your sloshed aunt counter with how the blue team is the best because a rigged primary process in a supposedly democratic system isn't actually that big a deal and outraged Bernie Bros should just shut up about it already (to heck with the will of the people!)?

Did anyone fret about that infamous joint study by professors from Princeton and Northwestern University, which demonstrated that from 1981 to 2002, congressional votes cast over those 20 years aligned with the popular opinion of average Americans less than eighteen percent of the time, ultimately concluding that "the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy?"

Me, I'm happy to report no politics were discussed over my succulent ham. In fact, I've been trying to read the news no more than once a day as recent politics make me so angry I shake with rage before I fall into despair that this is what's happened to the country I love.

Thankfully, Esteemed Reader, this blog is focused on the reading and writing of middle grade fiction. If there's anyplace where we can get a respite from politics, it's here. And today we're discussing a lovely story written and illustrated by two girls at the age of nine about some animals riding a magic train. Surely there could be nothing political about so innocuous a story. 

Except, the last thing The Global Warming Express intends to be is innocuous.

Alas, there is no way to discuss The Global Warming Express without discussing politics at least a little. After all, the book has a forward by Senator Tom Udall (I'd be curious to know how many non political middle grade books he's written a forward for). And there's a blurb on the back from Nancy Pelosi. And one of the most prominent locations in the story is the White House.

Make no mistake, Esteemed Reader, The Global Warming Express is a political book and it absolutely has an agenda. Not that that's a bad thing. Despite the adorable characters of a penguin and a harp seal, this is a story about a very urgent matter:

"I remember you!" Creamy cried loudly. "You had feathers sticking out all over you!"
"Yeah, that's why my dad named me The Fluff." then he said, "Can you help me? I need help. My land needs help. You need help!"

These characters make no bones about the fact that they are absolutely on a political mission, as are the book's author and illustrator (literally):

"We are going to Washington, D.C., to tell the president he needs to do something about global warming. At least, I think that's where we're heading. This train seems to have a mind of its own!"

The Global Warming Express is a fun and charming book that I absolutely recommend, even to readers who believe global warming is a hoax. Actually, I especially recommend it to those sorts of readers as they most need to hear Marina Weber's and Joanna Whysner's urgent message.

In an ideal world, global warming wouldn't be a political issue. The science is in and it is conclusive. This is an issue that must be addressed whether you prefer to be lied to on other issues by the politicians on the red side of the aisle or the blue one.

Unfortunately, the kind of broad sweeping changes necessary to combat global warming require actions be taken by our officials. Individual citizens can only do so much, but we must demand a better response to global warming from those in charge. The Global Warming Express is about citizens (and animals) doing just that. 

In that way, The Global Warming Express is in part a political pamphlet. That's not to say it's an entirely political book, which is why I'm going to make one more observation and then we're going to leave politics behind to focus on other aspects of the novel.

The president our heroes are voyaging to see is never directly named, nor is that president's face shown in the one illustration of him. But his hand is shown and it's clearly an African American's hand, which narrows down the options of which of our presidents is represented to exactly one (at the time of this review, anyway). In my own middle grade book, Banneker Bones receives a phone call from a president, who is also not named, but who I always thought of as an Obama type.

If I wrote Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees today, I don't know that I'd feature a president character as the office has so recently been sullied and my perception of that office has forever changed. The Global Warming Express was published in March of last year and written well before that. There is a captivating innocence to this tale of two girls and a bunch of animals earnestly believing that if they can just get their message to be heard by the leader of the country, cooler heads and obvious truths will prevail and action will be taken to stop global warming.

And so, the inevitable question I found myself asking as I read this book that was not intended by its creators, but which is forced to forefront all the same: would two nine-year-old girls writing a similar book today have such faith that reaching the current madman occupying the White House would result in a positive change? I don't know, can't know, but it's a depressing and troubling thought.

All right then, let's pivot away from the roaring Trumpster fire that is our present government and talk more about this book. It's not all doom and gloom. I did tell you there's a magic train, right:

Peering through the grimy window panes of the shed, they saw the train shake and shiver. They watched decades of dust and rust fall off its body until the old steam engine seemed to sparkle. Then the shed itself began to shake and rattle. The Fluff and Creamy were shaking and rattling too as they watched the train double in size before their eyes! Beautiful rainbow bubbles and fluttering butterflies filled the shed, and with a crash! the big doors flew open and the train moved into the clear moonlit night, stopping in front of the two friends.

Even more fun, the author and the illustrator are characters in this book, sort of like Kurt Vonnegut and Kilgore Trout meeting up in Breakfast of Champions (thanks Vonneguys!) to personally discuss some of the novels' themes, but way more fun and middle grade appropriate:

"Oh," Marina said, "it's smoke from a forest fire. We've always had fires in the summer; but in recent years, there have been more. Joanna, it smells like your dad is cooking breakfast!"

Joanna smiled. "It's because global warming is causing terrible droughts in this area," she said, serious again. "New Mexico has been in a drought for years."

The girls are extremely concerned about what's happening to their own environment and the environment of all the animals. And where are the icecaps going?

Much of the meat of The Global Warming Express is a dialogue between the girls and the many other passengers about the environmental impacts of mankind's actions. The book is very well researched and keeps its story moving while deftly weaving in the information readers need to know to appreciate our precarious situation:

"That's true," Marina replied. "The Earth has already warmed by about 0.8 degrees in the past century, and that causes a lot of damage."
"It doesn't sound like very much," interrupted Sally. "Isn't 0.8 even less that 1?"
"Well, that's in Celsius measurement; it's 1.5 degrees in Fahrenheit, the temperatures we're used to," Marina said.
"But 1.5. Isn't that less than 2, but for the Earth, even one degree is a big deal! It's like if my body's temperature went up two degrees...."
"Your mom would take you to the doctor!" Joanna said.
"That's called a fever," Marina added, "and right now, the Earth has a fever. If it keeps getting sicker like this, most of the animals and plants that live on it are going to die."

Learning about global warming is certainly not the only reason to read this book. You regular Esteemed Readers who want to write fiction for a middle grade audience should absolutely pick up a copy of The Global Warming Express to see what sort of story your target reader wants to tell when they're the ones doing the telling.

Something I at first found off putting about this book, and then found endearing, is the fact that most of the characters are Batman, by which I mean no one has any parents left alive. You'll remember that very first paragraph before I brought up all that political stuff finds our hero, The Fluff, weeping for his mother who died choking on a piece of plastic. Well, he's far from the only one who's lost his parents:

Creamy was a harp seal. Like all harp seals, Creamy had been left on the ice where she was born off eastern Greenland when she was only twelve days old. She wasn't ready to swim yet when, because of global warming, the ice she was on melted too early. She would have drowned if two kind-hearted wildlife biologists hadn't found her in the water and rescued her. They sent her to the zoo in San Diego, California, and now she would never see her parents again.

"Well, I'm not sure. I'm Flora. Um, can I join you?" she asked. "I don't have any family left." She hung her head. "And I'm really hungry!"
"Oh my!" The Fluff said. "Of course you can! None of us has any family left."

The purpose, I suspect, is to demonstrate the catastrophic effects of global warming in a way that's deeply personal to our heroes. And in this, it is effective. The reason I find it endearing is that I'm sort of touched by the thought that the worst possible things two nine-year-old girls could think of happening was the loss of family. And I can't say as how they're wrong. I'm a lot older and that's certainly one of the worst things I can think of happening as well.

And despite my distaste for any political news that isn't politicians in handcuffs (go Mueller, go!), I'm going to have to pay attention to politics. You too, Esteemed Reader. There's too much at stake not to.

And the great thing about The Global Warming Express is that's it not just a book. It's a movement among young people:

The Global Warming Express
isn't nearly as cynical as the ninja. This is a tool to motivate young people (and adults) to get political. We don't have a choice. As distasteful as our present politics may be, we all have to live here and we need a here to live.

Despair is exactly how the worst of our current elites is would prefer we react to a system so clearly corrupt and broken, because despair promotes inaction. But remember, this is a country where slavery was once legal and gay marriage was not. Political change can and must come. So have a good cry if you must, but then get active. For as The Fluff says,  "I need help. My land needs help. You need help!"

And that's where we'll leave it for now. As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from The Global Warming Express:

As he neared the shore, he knew he was a long way from home but a lot closer to his dear Creamy. Hungry, worried, and suddenly feeling very warm, The Fluff tied up his boat and went looking for air conditioning and a cold shower.

Inside the house, Marina woke her friend Joanna. "I think there's something outside," she whispered.
"Uuuhhh... lee me lone," yawned Joanna.

"Now, energy companies are looking for other, more difficult ways to get at fossil fuels, like drilling deep in the ocean and in remote natural preserves."
"I know what preserves are. Yum!" Joanna said.
With a deep sigh, Inoah corrected her: "Not that kind! We're talking about land that is preserved, kept safe, and treasured. Get it?"

"And some people still don't agree that all this human activity is causing this fast warming!" Joanna said.
"Well, it certainly isn't animal activity," squeaked Sally.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Book of the Week is simply the best book I happened to read in a given week. There are likely other books as good or better that I just didn’t happen to read that week. Also, all reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

GUEST POST: "Objects with Secrets, Settings that Excite, Cultures that Expand" by Donald Willerton

I was in an antique store and found an old camel-backed trunk. It was a well-made trunk and in good condition, but it was locked. I could not get it open. I asked the owner of the store if he had a key and he said no. I asked if he had ever opened the trunk and he said no. Did he know what was inside? No. 
I almost bought the trunk. Not because I needed a trunk or wanted a trunk, but because it was locked. That missing key spoke of mystery, intrigue, and a barrier between what I knew and what I wanted to know.
I was helping remodel an old Victorian house once, repairing a ceiling that required me to cut away some of the original plaster. Having opened a medium-sized hole, I could see along the floor joists of the room above. In between two of those joists, using my flashlight, I found a cigar box. Now, I knew that in the late 1890s, the third floor room above me had been the poker room where the Judge (the owner of the house) had held his Friday night poker sessions with some other dignitaries in the town.
So, there’s a cigar box that’s been hidden for a hundred years or so. It made sense that it had gotten there through a loose floorboard that the Judge had probably hid under a rug. I was betting that he stored his winnings in that box; or maybe a matched set of Derringers; or even a title to land that he had won from the local lawyer.
I tore down half the ceiling getting to that cigar box.
It was empty.
That’s the power of curiosity (augmented with too much imagination).

I am also curious about empty or abandoned houses. If the doors are locked, I have to look in the windows.
If I’m in a house with an attic, I start looking for the stairway.
If I find a box that’s taped up, I have to look in it.
If I find a jar with a lid and the lid is not only screwed on, but has tape over it, I really want to know what’s in the jar.
If I was to find an abandoned, closed coffin (I haven’t found one, yet, but considering if I did), I would want to open it and look inside. Every fiber of my being would tell me not to mess with an abandoned, closed coffin, but I would still want to open it and look inside. I wouldn’t do damage or anything, but if it had a ziplock top, or was wrapped in bungy cords, or something easy to undo, I’d take a deep breath and look inside.
Okay, so my point here is that I am curious about things that pose mystery or intrigue or, in the broad sense, that hide from me something that I might want to know. 
I am naturally curious and believe that lots of people are also naturally curious. I at least hope they are.
Which means that if you write a book and there's an interesting object in it – a hidden cigar box, a treasure map with cryptic markings, a coded message in a bottle, an unmarked path leading through a deeply wooded forest, a locomotive that’s heard passing in the night but can’t be found the next day, someone who’s murdered in a room where all the windows and doors are locked from the inside, a cave or a tunnel or an empty sewer pipe (I have a problem with tight spaces, so I ain’t goin’ in there, but I will still be curious), an old man’s cane that contains a sword, a drawing that shows a strange creature, but whose description is half missing, a deserted island where you find footprints – then you have an advantage over me.
I will read your book just because I’m curious about that object or that situation and will want to find out the resolution of my curiosity.
Well, I shouldn’t be overly gracious – I’ll start your book because I’m curious. You need to hurry up and take advantage of my curiosity, though; I’m not waiting forever.
The same thing happens for me with settings that involve vast landscapes, but it’s not so much that I am naturally curious about landscapes as it is that I am naturally drawn in by unique landscapes and the inherent feelings that they bring out: a sense of awe and wonder, a realization of beauty, a longing to absorb something vast, the natural admiration of those who venture into those landscapes. If the setting of a book involves a place that kindles my imagination, I will naturally want to read the book. I’ll want to experience that setting and involve myself in it.

Adventuring in wilderness is like that. I’ve been on the tops of high mountains, in deep valleys, down rushing rivers, in and on oceans, on islands, deep in barren canyon lands, and have fished in remote lakes that I had to hike to - places that made me feel alone and solitary, places that made me feel isolated and vulnerable and at risk. There’s intrigue in being alone and being at risk, and I like intrigue. It means that I’m about to learn something that I didn’t know. Or maybe learn that I want something that I didn’t know I wanted.
Being in wilderness places, or being read into wilderness places that readers have likely never been, brings imagination and expectation and mental experimentalism (stick with me, here). If the place brings out those dimensions of emotion – the awe, the wonder, the feeling-of-being-overwhelmed, then something happens inside that reader that’s even more impressive – delight in the surroundings, joy in feeling treated to something special, humility at something so big.
A writer who draws a reader into a setting that elicits those emotions has a built-in advantage in dealing with the reader.
Let me go back to mental experimentalism. A different word is dreams. You wouldn’t guess it, but I was right behind Jack London when he was trying to get that fire going. I was in the sled behind those hard-charging dogs and felt the sharp edge of life in the bitter cold. I pondered the three-pipe problem with Holmes, and I sat in the chair next to the fire trying to figure out who the murderer was on the island that held only ten of us.
I loved what I read so much that I dreamed of being there.
That’s the power of objects that entice, the power of settings, the power of good writing, and the power of stories that are, if nothing else, interesting
Let me throw in another: the power of an unfamiliar culture. That’s a harder thing to quantify with regard to giving a writer an advantage, but if expressed in terms of identity, it gets more manageable.
Everyone has a sense of place. Where we grew up is typically what we mean, though adoptions also work. We grow up seeing a certain landscape, dealing with certain types of people who behave in certain ways. We are schooled in certain values with expectations that reflect those values. History also usually plays a part: we are told about our ancestors, about our village, about belonging not to just our local environment, but about being invested with a lineage that makes us part of them.
That sense of place is our culture. It is our identity – it is who we are.
Now, if that is our culture, then understanding unfamiliar cultures includes understanding their place, their ancestors, their values, etc. That’s hard to do, but if a story is told that reflects that culture – that describes the place, people, times, values, etc. – then the reader is drawn naturally into that different culture without suffering under a command that they should do because “you’ll learn something”.
You want to see a great job at this, read Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter.

Again, the writer can gain advantage by portraying a culture in such a way that the reader naturally gravitates to internalizing and comparing that culture to their own. They see an identity that is not theirs, but that cultural divide becomes interesting in its own right. You might say that the reader is allowed to be naturally curious about different cultures without having it forced on them.
I’m a sucker for cooking shows that take place in other countries and other cultures. I love to eat, but it is clear entertainment to watch people eat with their fingers. My kingdom for a napkin! Were these people raised in a barn? Well, not any more than I was, but their culture is a mix of things that are far beyond what little towns in north Texas typically had. And, who would have thought, they also eat goats and snakes and iguanas and bugs and all sorts of stuff that I never imagined on a menu, and they love it like crazy. Seeing them enlarges me and my acceptance of what they do. It’s interesting enough that I don’t even change channels during commercials.
Okay, I’m wandering a little, so let me get back to my point: If a writer uses interesting objects that have naturally secretive overtones, unique settings that reflect naturally emotional dimensions that brings out passion in the reader, and different cultures in opposition to our own that naturally produce interest, that writer gains a natural leverage in writing his story; it will draw in readers more easily, make the reader more ready to listen, and create an environment that the reader will be more naturally attuned to believe in.
Why do I think about things like this and why would I write a blog about them? Because I write books that use these elements and I need affirmation that my principles are good. My principles don’t ride roughshod over good plots, good characters, good pace, good grammar, etcetera, but I want my stories to be powerfully grounded because I want the effect of my stories to be powerfully won.
I write middle-grade mysteries that take place in different locations in the Southwest (Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona), involve my characters in adventures that happen in some pretty fantastic landscapes (remote desert canyons, wilderness rivers, high mountain peaks, hundred thousand acre cattle ranches, Georgia O’Keefe’s backyard), with mysteries based on secretive objects (a mysterious key, a trunk with a hidden bottom, stolen strongboxes of gold, a quilt with a secret code, a missing volcano), and involving cultures as diverse as the Navajo Nation, Native American Pueblos, Hispanics, Comanche Indians, Russians during the Cold War, and Californians.

I want to write stories that are not just mysteries, but are interesting stories, in interesting places, with interesting people. That approach gives me leverage in writing and I want as much leverage as possible in getting middle-grade boys and girlsto love reading my books.

Donald Willerton is the author of The Mogi Franklin Mysteries middle-grade series. After earning a degree in physics from Midwestern State University in Texas and a master’s in computer science and electrical engineering from the University of New Mexico, he worked for Los Alamos National Laboratory for almost three decades. During his career there, Willerton was a supercomputer programmer for a number of years and a manager after that for “way too long,” and also worked on information policy and cyber-security. Donald Willerton lives in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

The Mogi Franklin Mystery series is a collection of middle-grade mysteries set in locations throughout the Southwest. Bold and clever in their design, young people will find themselves caught up in the country, the history, and the characters as Mogi battles the legends of the past to solve the mysteries of today. 

Three new books in the series are releasing from Terra Nova Books in November 2017:
Book 3: The Secret of La Rosa (ISBN: 978-1-938288-87-6)
Book 4: The Hidden River (ISBN: 978-1-938288-80-7)
Book 5: The Lake of Fire (ISBN: 978-1-938288-89-0)