Wednesday, July 28, 2021

NINJA STUFF: It's Not an S: Zack Snyder's Justice League, the Nature of God, and the Persistence of Hope

Esteemed Audience, I haven't reviewed books here for a long time now and I only ever "reviewed" one movie, which was the prequel to this film, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (I loved it). 

And a second film review will not be necessary after I tell you Zack Snyder's Justice League is the greatest movie I have ever seen.

But this isn't a post about the movie. It's a bit about the January 6th insurrection and life "post" pandemic, but it's mostly about my experience of watching the movie and why it gives me hope for a better tomorrow.

And okay, there might be other movies almost as good (I liked Crawl a lot and Zack Snyder didn't include even one alligator in 4 hours!?!). And yes, of course The Dark Knight is still the best Batman movie (calm down), and Jaws is amazing, Us is brilliant, most of the stuff directed by the Cohen Brothers--there are a lot of great movies and picking favorites when we can enjoy them all is a little silly (and the basis for so, so much online content). 

But I never needed those movies the way I needed Zack Snyder's Justice League. I don't know if you've read about this whole global pandemic thing, but 2020 was a really dark year. Like, ya know, historically bad. And the four years before it were frequently agonizing.

For me, one of the many miserable milestones along the path of the United States' descent into madness was the original release of Justice League in 2017. Esteemed Audience, I'd been waiting my whole life to see that movie. I had all the Super Powers action figures as a child and multiple Christmases my poor father stayed up late putting together a Hall of Justice playset for my siblings and I. 

I've only watched part of Godzilla vs Kong. I made it to the first fight, but then I shut it off because I needed to do something. On a television at home, it didn't capture my imagination and the dialogue about why all the punchy/smashy was coming to be was nonsense (wait, there's a hollow earth in this universe!?!). Afterward, it occurred to me that that was probably the same reaction a lot of folks had to Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (even the Ultimate Edition!). 

Fair enough. It's a big world and there are an amazing number of entertainment options. Follow your bliss, friends.

Godzilla's fun, but he was never my thing. Super Friends were my thing and Batman in particular. Because I'm the sort of person who likes to order the same dish I know I like at a restaurant every time I go there,  I sometimes wonder if... it's blasphemous to say it or even think it, but... if  some other character had been placed in such a prominent place in my life at so many important milestones, if... please forgive me...  I might've loved that character the same way I love Batman.

After all, a McDonalds cheeseburger expertly fills its corporately conceived role of reminding me how much I once loved Happy Meals with a toy, often a Batman toy, and the times I spent in the McPlayland while Grandma read her book. That cheeseburger isn't just empty calories, it reminds me of a time I felt loved and safe. 

Thankfully, I'm a unique and autonomous personality formed free of capitalism's influences and I love Batman purely because Batman is awesome

But Batman has been there for almost every transition of my life. I watched Adam West as a kid, blanket cape fastened around my neck. When I became an adolescent, Michael Keaton's dark and brooding Batman was there to really feel the darkness the way I really felt that darkness, man, because bullies are out there right now, and Batman and I have got to go to work. Batman and Robin came out the summer I made (but never finished) my own funny-if-you're-a-moody-teenager Batman movie, deciding Warner Brothers could use the help (still bought the Clooney and Silverstone action figures; still have them on a shelf staring down at me as I type this). 

I read The Dark Knight Returns in college and realized Batman had actually been sophisticated literature all along. I immediately bought a Frank Miller Batman action figure to add to my toy collection because I was a serious adult person with an affinity for valuable collectables. Batman Begins came out the summer my future wife and I started dating and I feigned disinterest until opening night, after she'd said she loved me. Then I moved all my Batman toys into our place:) We were engaged the year The Dark Knight came out and had our child the year Man of Steel released, a film that literally meditates on the significance of fatherhood (it taught me that, as a father, I should avoid tornadoes). 

I could tell you about the time I turned down a scholarship because of a lesson I learned on Smallville, or about how I got a speeding ticket listening to Danny Elfman's "Descent into Mystery" from the Batman soundtrack (no way I'm the first), but you get the idea. I expect to one day years from now take a daytrip from my nursing home in a new Batman T-shirt (bury me in it) to watch Batman Accepts Most of His Friends are Dead and Reflects on the Past. 

I watched a video review of Zack Snyder's Justice League by Ben Shapiro of all people and was amazed to find I agreed with him on almost every aspect of the film. Ben "Blade-was-not-enough-for-black-people" Shapiro is someone with whom I do not agree on almost everything else in life, but we both feel Zack Snyder's comic panel visuals and dramatic style are freaking amazing because Snyder's heroes feel like gods among us, not quipsters in costumes. And he said these things, Ben "Trayvon-Martin-had-it-coming" Shapiro! And I was all like, should I consider listening to more conservative media? Is there a common ground between the right and the left after all? 

And then Shapiro ended the video by complaining about Ta-Nehisi Coats writing a Superman reboot (which I'm pumped about) because America's not systemically racist. And then I remembered why I can't stand that guy. Ben Shapiro and I aren't going to be friends. Too bad. He'd made a wonderful piece of content about pop culture and then he had to ruin it by getting all political.

In 2016, a terrible man who never should've been able to rise to the position he held came to power. He had the support of the people with the money, even though he was transparently racist and sexist and continued to be so publicly unhindered by those appointed to positions with the power to stop him. They cheered him on to degrade and destroy and run wild, thinking only of preserving their own wealth and power and never of the greater good. 

Naturally, I'm referring to director Joss Whedon, who Warner Brother executives hired to "finish" Justice League after Zack Snyder left the project/was fired. It's only apparent to the rest of us how terrible a person Whedon was now when stories have come out from Ray Fisher and Gal Gadot and others, but the Warner people knew and rushed the crappy flick out anyway to hit their year-end bonuses

Seeing the things Whedon cut and the garbage he added leaves little doubt that his changes to Zack Snyder's film were,  as screenwriter Chris Terrio has said, an act of vandalism. He added multiple instances of objectifying Wonder Woman and cut her telling a little girl "you can be anything you want to be." And he practically cut Cyborg out of what is arguably his movie once all his scenes were restored. Certainly he's the heart of the story.

2017 was a hard year. All the years of the Trump presidency were hard years, but that initial outrage of the madness of that awful man in charge was still fresh. There was still the hope that his crimes might one day have consequences and that those who claimed to be moral would practice morality. The crushing, numbing despair that was to come hadn't yet fully set in.

I still believed too many Christians might've just made a mistake in endorsing Donald Trump. Now that they could see what a terrible President he was, logic would dictate that they withdraw their support and return to their previously proclaimed moral beliefs, right? All those hymns we sang and those verses we quoted in Sunday school, those meant something, right!?!

Some may read this post and think Robert Kent, author of The Book of David, hates Christians. And I mean, some are pretty bad, but no. I don't hate Christians. I love many of them. I just want them to act like who they're supposed to be.

During quarantine, I had entirely too much time to think and to reflect on past social interactions since I wasn't having many new ones. I thought a lot about so many of the kids I knew from Sunday school, some of whom went on to attend Bible college, and STILL celebrated the arrival of a false prophet. I've tried to figure out how "spiritual instruction" primed so many Christians to worship in the death cult of Trump's GOP. 

In 2017, I wrote this: I find myself continually thinking of Justice League's haunting opening credits montage of a dark world without hope (Superman) set against Sigrid's extra-sadness-inducing cover of "Everybody Knows." That scene was far too dark and far too real, particularly the shot of the homeless guy with the words "I tried" written on his collection box (get ready for the super friends, kids!!!). The scene made me uncomfortable in the theater because despite the Whedon CGI crapfest with quips that followed, that depressing vision of America in the credits felt right for 2017.

I don't know about you, Esteemed Audience, but I don't think I'm ever going back to who was before the pandemic or the Trump years. I've seen too much and had my heart too profoundly broken. The poorly-lit costumes of my heroes or Cavil's CGI-mangled upper lip weren't the worst things I saw that year, but the sadness of how badly that movie sucked didn't help either.

I won't recap the trauma of the Trump presidency except to remind Esteemed Reader that I was the father of a black child during it as SOME "Christians" cheered on his racism and sexism and deliberately holding events to murder his supporters since we know he told Bob Woodward he was aware of how deadly Covid-19 was the whole time he was spreading it at his rally's like Randall Flagg.

All of us, regardless of faith, were inundated with daily tweets and madness and the flaunting of clear criminal wrongdoing and constant lies and fear of what the mad king might do next, as well as the knowledge that he couldn't be stopped. 

And then he was.

I don't mean to celebrate prematurely. As the Delta variant and probably others are spreading because Trump's cultists won't get vaccinated or wear masks and can't be reasoned with or presented with facts, we can't really talk about ourselves as being in a post pandemic world. As Republican politicians continue to back Trump's election lies as a preface to dismantle voting rights and known traitors continue to walk around free from consequence, we're not in a post Trump world. 

But I witnessed a miracle, Esteemed Reader. A few, actually. I watched the January 6th insurrection as it happened, and it wasn't any tourist lovefest and damn to Hell every Republican who tries to gaslight us and tell us that we saw we did not see. I watched 9/11 live on television as well, and January 6th was scarier. 

There was no doubt in my mind that this was it. I knew I was about to see Mike Pence hung from the gallows next to the banner reading "Jesus Saves" and the execution of many other politicians, and then it would just be a question of could I get my family out of this country in time or was it already too late.

Esteemed Reader, after four years of the previously unimaginable and almost a year of living in fear of a plague, I watched the end of all things live on television.

And then the most unlikely event happened in reality, an event so implausible I'll never again be entirely sure reality is real. I could never write it in a book and I would never accept it as a satisfying ending in a story someone else wrote.

A man named Eugene Goodman, a man braver than I could ever be, literally pulled a Bugs Bunny on the insurrectionists. They were all, "which way did the politicians go," and he was all, "they went that a'way." A couple of shoves and he diverted those maniacs just before they reached the politicians they would've murdered--yes, they would've; they killed cops, and they wanted to kill more. If it was an episode of Quantum Leap, that's the wrong Sam Becket set right. 

That was a moment of divine intervention if I ever saw one.

 And just like that, God showed up.

I don't know what this means, exactly, but it means something. Reality is rigged, my friends. I don't understand the nature of God and I don't pretend to, but I know what I saw. It's not my first miracle as I've written about my past instances of witnessing God. 

On January 20th, I watched Joe Bidden and Kamala Harris be sworn in to restore some order to this chaos and to begin rebuilding from the ashes. I didn't believe it would happen until it was done and I cried through Kamala Harris' oath because the cultists didn't destroy us. They tried and they failed.

Of course, there's lots of work still to be done. But I saw God take control; not the racist, sexist, homophobic bully SOME "Christian" conservatives pretend to represent, but the real God. 

The Great I AM made Their divine presence known.

Six months later, the stress of knowing we're surrounded by cultists hasn't gone away. But Mrs. Kent and I are vaccinated. We've been able to leave our homes and see family for the first time since Christmas 2019. And there haver been some other developments that, while not as blatantly miraculous as the maneuver Eugene Goodman pulled, have given me reason to hope.

Another miracle, of course, happened March 18, 2001. I went to bed at 6pm on March 17th so I could watch Zack Snyder's Justice League on HBO Max at 3:00 in the morning, the moment it released. Esteemed Audience, I have never in my life wanted to see a movie more.

I won't go through the saga of fans, including me, petitioning Warner Brothers to release the Snyder Cut for years. But it's something I never thought we'd see and certainly not all four hours of it with completed special effects and the soaring score of Junkie XL I've been listening to almost daily since because it's just so breathtakingly beautiful. 

I laughed, I cried, I cheered. I FELT something, the joy of my heroes returned to me and their story at last told the right way. I don't care that the slow motion coffee is gratuitous or Martian Manhunter is shoehorned in, replacing Green Lantern and creating continuity issues (where the heck were you for two films, buddy?). 

I care that I believed Barry Allen could outrun time and his own self doubt. I care that Darkseid was terrifying and a threat even greater than Thanos. I care that Wonder Woman was a tomb-raiding warrior more awesome than anyone else on the team. I care that Cyborg's story and his relationships with his parents were deeply moving (and that my final draft of Banneker Bones and the Cyborg Conspiracy was safely completed and free of the film's influence). I care that Lois Lane's grief was my grief and I cried when she saw Superman returned to her the way I cried when Joe Biden was sworn in and returned hope to us. I care that Batman found his faith once again and lead a team of superheroes the way I always knew he would.

I always believed in you, Batman, and in our darkest hour, against all odds, there you were once again. And you brought the Super Friends together.

I'm not going to convince everyone to love this movie the way I loved it (I've seen it 5 times so far and will definitely watch it more and that's 20 hours of my life well spent). But know that when Cyborg rose up to the challenge and told the mother boxes, "I'm not broken," I wept harder than I've ever wept at a film. Me neither, Cyborg. Me neither.

Esteemed Reader, we still have reason to hope. Miracles are still possible in this fallen world of false prophets. All is not lost, not yet.

The age of heroes may yet come again.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 126: Author Melissa Hope

 To watch new episodes as they air, go to YouTube and subscribe.

Middle Grade Ninja is available on SoundcloudStitcheritunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

Melissa Hope and I discuss her popular YouTube channel for authors, HOPEFUL HAPPENINGS, and how it paved the way to publish her debut novel, SEA OF KINGS. We chat about how she taught herself to write, collaborating with her marine biologist husband, working with Jolly Fish Press, finding beta readers, scheduling time to read while raising three kids, music to write to, and more. Melissa also shares how she found herself represented by an untrustworthy agent and how other writers can avoid finding themselves in a similar situation. Please note, there was a slight broadcast delay when we recorded, so we occasionally interrupt each other.

Here are links to the soundtracks we discussed:

The Grey Lady by Alexandre Desplat:

Fireworks by Nicholas Hooper:

Noon by Éric Serra:

Melissa’s Playlist on Spotify:

Melissa Hope earned her degree in English and is passionate about sharing her knowledge to help writers improve their craft and connect with the writing community. She escaped the frostbite normalcy of Canadian winters to live in Florida with her family, bipolar cat, and growing collection of scuba gear. 

Visit her website to watch free writing tutorials.

Thirteen-year-old Prince Noa has hated the ocean since the day it caused his mother’s death. But staying away from the sea isn’t easy on his tropical island home, where he’s stuck trying to keep up with his dim-witted and overconfident younger brother Dagan—the brawn to Noa’s brains.

When a vengeful pirate lays siege to their home, Noa and Dagan narrowly escape with their lives. Armed with a stolen ship, a haphazardly assembled crew, and a magical map that makes as much sense as slugs in a salt bath, the brothers set sail for the realm’s other kingdoms in search of help.

But navigating the sea proves deadlier than Noa’s worst fears. To free his home, Noa must solve the map’s confusing charts and confront the legendary one-eyed pirate before an evil force spreads across the realm and destroys the very people Noa means to protect.

Hopeful Happenings on YouTube

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 125: Author Nicole Kornher-Stace

To watch new episodes as they air, go to YouTube and subscribe.

Middle Grade Ninja is available on SoundcloudStitcheritunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

Nicole Kornher-Stace and I discuss classic science fiction and her new middle grade novel, JILLIAN VS PARASITE PLANET. We also talk about the importance of portraying platonic friendships and not just romantic relationships in fiction, parasites, parenting, homeschool during a pandemic, anxiety, big dumb action movies as inspiration, video games, the importance of writing the story that’s trying to chew its way out of your head, and so much more.

Nicole Kornher-Stace lives in New Paltz, NY, with her family. Her books include ARCHIVIST WASP (Small Beer Press/Big Mouth House, 2015) and LATCHKEY (Mythic Delirium, 2018), which are about a far-future postapocalyptic ghosthunter, the ghost of a near-future supersoldier, and their adventures in the underworld. She has two more books due out in 2021: FIREBREAK, forthcoming from Saga, and JILLIAN VS. PARASITE PLANET, forthcoming from Tachyon.

You can find her on Twitter @wirewalking, where she is probably semicoherently yelling about board games, video games, hiking, fictional representation of strong platonic relationships, good books she’s read recently, or her cat.

She is represented by Kate McKean at Morhaim Literary Agency.

“Fantastic worldbuilding, a hero you can’t help but root for, and the best sidekick this side of the galaxy.”—Katie Slivensky, author of The Countdown Conspiracy

Can an anxious eleven-year-old find her chill and save her family from creepy aliens? Only if she’s the most awesome, super-brave astronaut since Spaceman Spiff! So take a deep breath, grab your sidekick, and blast off with Jillian to Parasite Planet.

Book Riot Best Middle Grade Science Fiction Books

Eleven-year-old Jillian hates surprises. Even fun ones make her feel all panicky inside. But, she’s always dreamed of joining her space-explorer parents on a mission. It’s Take Your Kid to Work Day, and Jillian finally has her chance to visit an alien world!

The journey to Planet 80 UMa c is supposed to be just a fun camping trip. But then the local wildlife starts acting really dangerous. Only the onboard computer SABRINA sorta knows what’s happening—at least when it’s not goofing off or telling bad jokes.

Looks like it’s Jillian vs Parasite Planet—and Jillian is determined to win!

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 124: Author Ali Standish

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Middle Grade Ninja is available on SoundcloudStitcheritunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

Ali Standish and I discuss her writer’s journey, which included an MFA in children's writing from Hollins University and an MPhil in Children's Literature from the University of Cambridge, as well as working in the same building as her future literary agent (and sitting in her chair). We talk about Ali’s newest novel, THE MENDING SUMMER, writing and launching a book with a new baby during a pandemic, the significance of food descriptions, virtual school visits, discussing adult subjects such as alcoholism in books for children, second book syndrome, Matt Damon, a super-creepy haunted doll house, and so much more.

Ali Standish grew up in North Carolina and graduated from Pomona College before spending several years as an educator in the Washington, D.C. public school system. She has an MFA in children's writing from Hollins University and an MPhil in Children's Literature from the University of Cambridge. She lives with her Finnish husband and rescue dogs in Raleigh, NC.

​Some summers are just meant to break your heart.

Georgia can almost feel hers cracking a little more every day, like a clay pot left in a kiln too long. Daddy is working nights, and often the man who comes home isn’t Daddy. He’s the man Daddy turns into when he drinks—the Shadow Man.

With her father sinking deeper into alcoholism and Mama struggling to keep the family afloat, Georgia is sent to stay with her mysterious great aunt in in the country. Soon, Georgia meets Angela—a girl with secrets of her own—and together they discover a magical lake. At first, the lake offers Georgia thrilling adventures with her new friend. But as things grow worse at home, the magic threatens to spiral out of control. . . .

Award-winning author Ali Standish explores the courage it takes to piece your heart back together again when those closest to you break it.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 123: Author Erin Entrada Kelly

To watch new episodes as they air, go to YouTube and subscribe.

Middle Grade Ninja is available on SoundcloudStitcheritunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations. 

Erin Entrada Kelly and I chat about her writing habits and how she learned to focus on what her creative spirit wants her to do. We discuss how she won a Newberry Award and immediately quit her day job, as well as her newest middle grade novel, MAYBE, MAYBE MARISOL RAINEY. We talk about how she always remembers an affinity for the characters and the story and the experience of writing it, but not necessarily the craft involved. Also discussed: the HELLO, UNIVERSE Netflix adaptation, dialogue with inanimate objects, breaking out of your writing bubble, characters achieving their goals before their author, the usefulness of third-person perspective, getting control of negative thoughts, a ghost alarm, and so much more.

Erin Entrada Kelly received the 2018 Newbery Medal for Hello, Universe, a 2021 Newbery Honor for We Dream of Space, the 2017 APALA Award for The Land of Forgotten Girls, and the 2016 Golden Kite Honor Award for Blackbird Fly, among other honors. She is also the author and illustrator of the Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey series. She is a New York Times bestseller whose work has been translated into several languages. Her fifth book, Lalani of the Distant Sea, was a finalist for the 2020 Mythopoeic Award for Children’s Fantasy. Lalani received six starred reviews and was named one of the best books of the year by the New York Public Library, The Horn Book, Booklist, BookPage, and others. All Erin’s books are Junior Library Guild Selections. In 2018, Hello, Universe and You Go First were both acquired for adaptation. Hello, Universe is being adapted by Netflix, and You Go First is being adapted for the stage. Erin has a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies and liberal arts from McNeese State University and an MFA from Rosemont College. She lives in Delaware. She teaches in the MFA programs at Hamline University and Rosemont College. She also teaches fiction with Gotham Writers Workshop. Erin is Filipina-American.

Marisol Rainey’s mother was born in the Philippines. Marisol’s father works and lives part-time on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. And Marisol, who has a big imagination and likes to name inanimate objects, has a tree in her backyard she calls Peppina . . . but she’s way too scared to climb it.

Will Marisol be able to salvage her summer and have fun with Jada, her best friend? Maybe. Will Marisol figure out how to get annoying Evie Smythe to leave her alone? Maybe. Will Marisol ever get to spend enough real time with her father? Maybe. Will Marisol find the courage to climb Peppina? … Maybe.

Told in short chapters with illustrations by the author on nearly every page, Maybe, Maybe Marisol Rainey is a must-have for early elementary grade readers.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 122: Literary Agent Mary C. Moore

 To watch new episodes as they air, go to YouTube and subscribe.

Middle Grade Ninja is available on SoundcloudStitcheritunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

Mary C. Moore and I discuss her career from zookeeper to literary agent with Kimberly Cameron and Associates, as well as the types of projects and clients she’s looking to represent. We talk about the difference between a large agency and a smaller one, the ways in which she evaluates manuscripts and authors, the support she provides writers both during submission to editors and after, the pandemic’s impact on publishing, a message from a cockatoo, a unicorn sighting, being a green witch, and so much more. This episode is jam-packed with publishing insight you don’t want to miss.

Always a passionate reader, Mary C. Moore made the career change to publishing in her early thirties. She graduated from Mills College, Oakland with a MFA in Creative Writing and English, dabbled in freelance editing and copy-writing, before starting an internship at Kimberley Cameron and Associates. She quickly fell in love with agenting, and dedicated two years as Kimberley’s assistant, before beginning her own client list. Her daughter was born shortly after causing a small hiatus, but she continued part time, making deals with Harper Collins, Penguin Random House, Macmillan and more.

In 2019 she officially began agenting full time, becoming an associate member of the AAR. She is eager to further build her client list in fiction, both children and adult. She reads widely and enjoys all fiction genres, but is especially seeking bookclub fiction with light speculative elements, female detective stories, whimsical middle-grade, and young adult that explores identity and culture.

She does not represent non-fiction (including memoir), picture books, or self-published novels (although she will consider your next project). 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 121: Author Jasmine Warga

To watch new episodes as they air, go to YouTube and subscribe.

Middle Grade Ninja is available on SoundcloudStitcheritunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

Jasmine Warga and I discuss her newest novel, THE SHAPE OF THUNDER, as well as gun violence in schools and mental health in youth. We also talk about her process of pantsing and revising to find her stories, how storytelling rekindled her love of science, how she overcame her habit of hoping between stories, how she learned to make time for writing, astrology, a ghost story, developing healthy reading habits, and so much more.

Jasmine Warga is the author of the
New York Times bestseller Other Words For Home. Other Words For Home earned multiple awards, including a John Newbery Honor, a Walter Honor for Young Readers, and a Charlotte Huck Honor. She is also the author of young adult books, My Heart and Other Black Holes and Here We Are Now, which have been translated into over twenty different languages. The Shape of Thunder, her next novel for middle grade readers, will be published in May 2021. Originally from Cincinnati, she now lives in the Chicago-area with her family.

An extraordinary new novel from Jasmine Warga, Newbery Honor–winning author of Other Words for Home, about loss and healing—and how friendship can be magical.

Cora hasn’t spoken to her best friend, Quinn, in a year.

Despite living next door to each other, they exist in separate worlds of grief. Cora is still grappling with the death of her beloved sister in a school shooting, and Quinn is carrying the guilt of what her brother did.

On the day of Cora’s twelfth birthday, Quinn leaves a box on her doorstep with a note. She has decided that the only way to fix things is to go back in time to the moment before her brother changed all their lives forever—and stop him.

In spite of herself, Cora wants to believe. And so the two former friends begin working together to open a wormhole in the fabric of the universe. But as they attempt to unravel the mysteries of time travel to save their siblings, they learn that the magic of their friendship may actually be the key to saving themselves.

The Shape of Thunder is a deeply moving story, told with exceptional grace, about friendship and loss—and how believing in impossible things can help us heal.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 120: Publisher Sailaja N. Joshi, Editor Amy Maranville, and Author Payal Doshi

 To watch new episodes as they air, go to YouTube and subscribe.

Middle Grade Ninja is available on SoundcloudStitcheritunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

Sailaja N. Josh, Amy Maranville, Payal Doshi, and I discuss Mango + Marigold Press and their newest release, REA AND THE BLOOD OF THE NECTAR. We talk about the cycle of their book from submission to acquisition, editing and revising, marketing and promotion, all the way to its launch and beyond. We discuss the importance of increasing diversity in publishing, the role of luck in an author’s career, a flying saucer story AND a ghost story, crucial advice for writers, and so much more.

Sailaja N. Joshi is a design thinker, intersectional feminist, mother to two, a bibliophile, an entrepreneur, lover of bold, modern design, diversity activist, and an aspiring dog owner.

A Massachusetts native, Sailaja grew up a voracious reader. From Leo the Lop to Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Amelia Bedelia, she loved every book she read. If you were to ask her today what her favorite book is, she'd likely say either the Harry Potter series OR The Tao of Pooh. It really depends on the day.

She has always been interested in exploring multicultural generations and loves using those skills in new and exciting ways as the CEO and founder of Mango and Marigold Press. Mango and Marigold Press is an award-winning independent publishing house that shares the sweet and savory stories of the South Asian experience. Founded in 2014, the company has produced fourteen books across four different product categories and been featured on The Today Show, Us Weekly, People Magazine, the New York Times, the Washington Post and so much more.

In 2019, the company unveiled its #1001DiverseBooks initiative. With this program, Sailaja has committed to raising the funds to donate 1001 new, diverse books to literacy nonprofits bridging the accessibility gap within Children's Literature. Community members can sponsor books for just $10 and through this program ensure that every child has access to high-quality, diverse kid's lit. The company launched the initiative with its 14th book Finding Om and reached their goal of raising funds for 1001 books in just five short days. The company's mission has expanded to not only bridging the diversity gap in children's literature but also improve the accessibility of diverse children's lit in underserved communities.

Her ambition is to have Mango and Marigold Press be an active participant in the field of multicultural children’s literature, moving forward with the belief that we need diverse kids lit for all kids in a diverse world. When she's not working to change the face of children's publishing, she can be founded hanging with her two adorable children at the park or at circus class (really, that's a thing).

Amy Maranville is a Massachusetts-based editor with extensive experience in children's literature. In addition to her work as a senior editor for Mango + Marigold Press, Amy owns her own editing and writing company called Kraken Communications. Amy has worked with dozens of authors, many of them publishing for the first time, to bring forth their unique voices and experiences. She has also authored six picture books, two animated stories for a typing company, and has two easy reader non-fiction texts coming out next year. She lives in Somerville with her husband, two young sons, and a very sleepy basset hound named Barney.

Payal Doshi has a Masters in Creative Writing (Fiction) from The New School, New York. Having lived in the UK and US, she noticed a lack of Indian protagonists in global children’s fiction and one day wrote the opening paragraph to what would become her first children’s novel. She was born and raised in Mumbai, India, and currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband and three-year-old daughter. When she isn’t writing or spending time with her family, you can find her nose deep in a book with a cup of coffee or daydreaming of fantasy realms to send her characters off into. She loves the smell of old, yellowed books. Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, the first book in TheChronicles of Astranthia series is her debut middle grade novel. For more information, visit her website,, or follow her on Instagram @payaldoshiauthor and on Twitter @payaldwrites.

It all begins on the night Rea turns twelve. After a big fight with her twin brother Rohan on their birthday, Rea’s life in the small village of Darjeeling, India, gets turned on its head. It’s four in the morning and Rohan is nowhere to be found.

It hasn’t even been a day and Amma acts like Rohan’s gone forever. Her grandmother, too, is behaving strangely. Unwilling to give up on her brother, Rea and her friend Leela meet Mishti Daadi, a wrinkly old fortune-teller whose powers of divination set them off on a secret quest. In the shade of night, they portal to an otherworldly realm of Astranthia, a land full of magic and whimsy.

Struggling with the truth her Amma has kept hidden from her, Rea must solve clues that lead to Rohan, find a way to rescue him and save Astranthia from a potentially deadly fate. But the clock is ticking. Can she rescue Rohan, save Astranthia, and live to see it all?

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 119: Author Robert Beatty

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Middle Grade Ninja is available on SoundcloudStitcheritunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

Robert Beatty and I discuss his many successes in life as a CEO and a writer, as well as his newest novel, WILLA OF DARK HOLLOW. We chat about his working with Amy Adams on the upcoming WILLA OF THE WOOD television show and the process that led to the publication of SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK. We talk about how writing is a skill and how he learned it, his 15 unpublished novels, the importance of staying bold, competitive fencing, the importance of sheer determination, assembling a publishing team, assembling robots of such quality he and his daughters were commended by President Obama at the White House, and ice cream flavors named after his characters.

Robert Beatty is the author of the #1 New York Times best selling Serafina series published by Disney Hyperion, a spooky mystery-thriller about a brave and unusual girl who lives secretly in the basement of the grand Biltmore Estate.

Serafina and the Black Cloak was a #1 New York Times best seller, has been on the list for more than 59 weeks, and won the prestigious 2016 Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize. The second book in the series, Serafina and the Twisted Staff, became a #1 New York Times best seller in the first week of its launch and earned a "Starred Review" from Kirkus Reviews, which said, "Even better than its predecessor, a sequel that delivers nonstop thrills from beginning to end." Enjoyed by both young readers and adults, the books are being taught in over a thousand classrooms nationwide.

Robert Beatty lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, North Carolina with his wife and three daughters, who help create and refine his stories. He loves to explore Biltmore Estate and the darkened forest trails where his novels take place. He writes full-time now, but in his past lives, Robert was one of the early pioneers of cloud computing, the founder/CEO of Plex Systems, the co-founder of Beatty Robotics, and the chairman/CTO of Narrative Magazine. In 2007, he was named an Entrepreneur of the Year. When asked about the inspiration for his books, Robert said, "Serafina's journey grew out of my desire to write a story about an unusual and heroic young girl for my three daughters."

This enchanting companion to Robert Beatty's instant #1 New York Times bestseller Willa of the Wood is perfect for any reader who cares deeply about the natural world.

Willa and her clan are the last of the Faeran, an ancient race of forest people who have lived in the Great Smoky Mountains for as long as the trees have grown there. But as crews of newly arrived humans start cutting down great swaths of the forest she loves, she is helpless to stop them. How can she fight the destroyers of the forest and their powerful machines?

When Willa discovers a mysterious dark hollow filled with strange and beautiful creatures, she comes to realize that it contains a terrifying force that seems to be hunting humans. Is unleashing these dangerous spirits the key to stopping the loggers? Willa must find a way to save the people and animals she loves and take a stand against a consuming darkness that threatens to destroy her world.

Filled with a compelling mixture of history, mystery, and magic, Robert Beatty's books are loved by readers from 8 to 108.