Saturday, April 17, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 112: Literary Agent Saba Sulaiman and Author Kyle Lukoff

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Author Kyle Lukoff tells the story of how he persisted in publishing and finally landed his dream agent, Saba Sulaiman, who joins him on the podcast. We discuss how they revised Kyle’s newest, TOO BRIGHT TO SEE, how they submitted it to editors, sold it at auction, and are now promoting it as well as selling Kyle’s future novels. We also chat about writing trans characters, the controversy surrounding Kyle’s books about them, being cautious when staying in haunted houses, the terrible truth about Roald Dahl’s THE WITCHES, and so much more.

Saba Sulaiman is an agent at Talcott Notch Literary Services, a boutique agency located in Milford, CT. She holds a BA from Wellesley College and an MA from the University of Chicago, where she studied modern Persian literature. In children’s fiction, she is building her Picture Book, Middle Grade and Young Adult lists, and is particularly (although not exclusively) interested in contemporary realistic stories. Being an immigrant who is constantly negotiating her own identity and sense of belonging in a place she now calls “home,” she is committed to highlighting more diverse voices with compelling stories to tell; stories that demonstrate the true range of perspectives that exist in this world, and address urgent and often underexplored issues in both fiction and non-fiction with veracity and heart. Follow her on Twitter @agentsaba and learn more about her at

Kyle Lukoff writes books for kids and other people. Right now you can pre-order his debut middle grade novel TOO BRIGHT TO SEE, due out 4/20/2021! Books you can read today include A STORYTELLING OF RAVENS, WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER (which won the 2020 Stonewall Award!), the MAX AND FRIENDS series, and EXPLOSION AT THE POEM FACTORY.

Kyle spent eight years as an elementary school librarian, but now he writes full time, assists in sensitivity readings and consultations, and presents on children’s and youth literature all across the country. He got hired at a bookstore when he was sixteen, which means he’s been working at the intersection of books and people for well over half his life.

Kyle is represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch. Find him on Twitter at @Shekels_Library and Facebook at

A haunting ghost story about navigating grief, growing up, and growing into a new gender identity

It's the summer before middle school and eleven-year-old Bug's best friend Moira has decided the two of them need to use the next few months to prepare. For Moira, this means figuring out the right clothes to wear, learning how to put on makeup, and deciding which boys are cuter in their yearbook photos than in real life. But none of this is all that appealing to Bug, who doesn't particularly want to spend more time trying to understand how to be a girl. Besides, there's something more important to worry about: A ghost is haunting Bug's eerie old house in rural Vermont...and maybe haunting Bug in particular. As Bug begins to untangle the mystery of who this ghost is and what they're trying to say, an altogether different truth comes to light--Bug is transgender.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 111: Author Carole Boston Weatherford

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Carole Boston Weatherford and I discuss poetry, history, and race in her newest picture books BOX: HENRY BROWN MAILS HIMSELF TO FREEDOM and UNSPEAKABLE: THE TULSA RACE MASSACRE. We talk about discussing difficult history for children, how to tailor-make books for Critical Reading elementary school students, what it means to be called to poetry by The Creator, calling out Jinx the Pokémon, a spirit story, race memory, writing with agency, and so much more.

Carole Boston Weatherford grew up in an all-black neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland. An only child until the age of 10, she has fond memories of riding bikes, drawing and writing, and singing and tap dancing to her dad's collection of jazz records. In the first grade, Carole recited her first poem. Throughout elementary and middle school, her artistic and literary talents were recognized and encouraged by her teachers. Carole continued writing through high school and into college, but it was only when one of her poems was published in a city magazine that she seriously considered becoming an author.

For 20 years, Carole Boston Weatherford worked for the National Bar Association in Washington, DC and North Carolina. After becoming a mother, she enrolled in a master's level creative writing program at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. Although she entered the program writing poetry for adults, she graduated wanting to write historical fiction and poetry for children. Weatherford's first children's book, Juneteenth Jamboree, was published in 1995. Since then she has authored more than two dozen children's books.

Weatherford says that persistence is one of the keys to her success. "I had manuscripts that had been rejected 20 times before finding a home with a publisher," she recalls. "But I keep going and I believe in what I write about." Weatherford creates the kind of books that weren't available to her as a child: ones that feature African-American protagonists. In the late 1990s Weatherford began teaching college courses in composition, creative writing, and children's and adolescent literature.

Today Carole Boston Weatherford is an associate professor at Fayetteville State University. She and her husband live in High Point, North Carolina.

In a moving, lyrical tale about the cost and fragility of freedom, a New York Times best-selling author and an acclaimed artist follow the life of a man who courageously shipped himself out of slavery.

What have I to fear?
My master broke every promise to me.
I lost my beloved wife and our dear children.
All, sold South. Neither my time nor my body is mine.
The breath of life is all I have to lose.
And bondage is suffocating me.

Henry Brown wrote that, long before he came to be known as Box, he “entered the world a slave.” He was put to work as a child and passed down from one generation to the next — as property. When he was an adult, his wife and children were sold away from him out of spite. Henry Brown watched as his family left bound in chains, headed to the deeper South. What more could be taken from him? But then hope — and help — came in the form of the Underground Railroad. Escape!

In stanzas of six lines each, each line representing one side of a box, celebrated poet Carole Boston Weatherford powerfully narrates Henry Brown’s story of how he came to send himself in a box from slavery to freedom. Strikingly illustrated in rich hues and patterns by artist Michele Wood, Box is augmented with historical records and an introductory excerpt from Henry’s own writing as well as a time line, notes from the author, and a bibliography.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 110: Editor Sara-Jayne Slack and Author Dorothy A. Winsor

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Six months after our first conversation in episode 78, editor Sara-Jayne Slack and author Dorothy A. Winsor discuss Inspired Quill’s 10th anniversary and their latest release in the Tales of Rinland series, THE TRICKSTER. We chat about life during the pandemic, the advantages of in-person events vs online book promotion, the dos and don’ts of talking about publishing in an open forum, choosing an ideal cover for a story, ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE (that one’s mostly just me), and so much more.

Also, check out our first conversation in episode 78.
Don't miss Dorothy A. Winsor's fantastic guest post Chronology V. Plot: Dawn of New Years (yes, I was the one who titled it, why do you ask).

Sara-Jayne is a social entrepreneur, public speaker, SEO nerd and lover of all things stationery-related. She works as an SEO Project Manager by day, and manages the not-for-profit publishing house Inspired Quill by night. Sara can regularly be found discussing inbound marketing, skills development, and non-tokenistic diversity in publishing, but strives to listen at least as much as she talks. She’s also scarily comfortable talking about herself in third person, and believes that ‘To Do’ lists breed when you’re not looking.

Dorothy A. Winsor writes young adult and middle grade fantasy. Her novels include Finders Keepers (Zharmae, 2015), Deep as a Tomb (Loose Leave Publishing, 2016), The Wind Reader (Inspired Quill, 2018), and The Wysman (June, 2020). At one time, Winsor taught technical writing at Iowa State University and GMI Engineering and Management Institute (now Kettering). She then discovered that writing fiction is much more fun and has never looked back. She lives in Chicagoland.

“When it comes to family, you’re rich… and I’m dirt poor.”

Amid the intoxicating chaos of Winter Festival, attendant Dilly and Hedge Mage Fitch cross paths.

After surviving Rin’s wretched streets, Dilly aims to prove herself to Lady Elenia, who brought her back to Lac’s Holding and blessed her with a new life of comfort and luxury. Fitch seeks vengeance for a loved one, killed by a liquor that makes one vulnerable to suggestion.

But their separate goals are derailed when Dilly discovers Elenia’s secret lover is the head of a too-ambitious kinship, and Fitch finds his own smuggler-family pressuring him into using his unique nudging abilities for mutinous deeds.

When murmurs of treason break out in Lac’s Holding, it becomes clear that only Dilly and Fitch know the truth.

The question is how they can save the city when those they’re loyal to stand in their way.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 109: Author Carrie Seim

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Carrie Seim and I discuss her newest novel, HORSE GIRL, as well as her bestselling audiobook, THE FLYING FLAMINGO SISTERS, and her performance of both. We talk about her time as a writer for Nickelodeon and a performer on INSIDE AMY SCHUMER, her audition for Saturday Night Live, how she combined her training in improvisational comedy with The Groundlings and her freelance writing career to become an ardent plotter of stories for children, an amazing tale of Area 51, the importance of deadlines, a caterpillar that might be the key to everything, and so much more.

Carrie is the creator of The Flying Flamingo Sisters, the best-selling Audible series, hailed by The New York Times as a Best Audiobook for Road Trips with Kids. She is also author of HORSE GIRL, her new comedic novel for Penguin Random House. Carrie has served as a staff writer for several Nickelodeon comedy variety shows, while her essays on awkwardness are featured in the book Mortified: Life is a Battlefield. As a journalist and essayist, she has written for The New York TimesThe Atlantic, CosmopolitanThe New York Post, McSweeney'sArchitectural Digest, Condé Nast Traveler and NPR's UnFictional. An alum of Northwestern University and The Groundlings comedy theatre, Carrie has appeared Inside Amy Schumer. Dang it, *on* Inside Amy Schumer. You can hear her voice narrating audio books, animated series and commercials (where she's played everything from an evil robot to a sassy pickle). She has also appeared on E! TV, the Today Show and performed her own sketch show, Midwestern Wisdom, at the Comedy Central Stage. Her original animated web series Bad Moms in Movie History was featured on HGTV's uLive.

"This book is funny and exciting. Beautifully portrays both the pleasures and risks of riding horses and also of being a teen. Very original, and a great pleasure to read."--Jane Smiley, Pulitzer Prize-winning author

Wills is a seventh grader who's head-over-hoof for horses, and beyond excited when she gets the chance to start training at the prestigious Oakwood Riding Academy. But Amara--the Queen of the #HorseGirls--and her posse aren't going to let the certifiably dork-tagious Wills trot her way into their club so easily. Between learning the reins of horse riding, dealing with her Air Force pilot mom being stationed thousands of miles from home, and keeping it together in front of (gasp!) Horse Boys, Wills learns that becoming a part of the #HorseGirl world isn't easy. But with her rescue horse, Clyde, at her side, it sure will be fun.

Complete with comedic, original hoof notes to acquaint the less equestrian among us, Horse Girl delivers everything a young readers wants: mean girls, boy problems, and embarrassingly goofy dad jokes. And it does so on the back of a pony.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 108: Author Esabella Strickland

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Esabella Strickland is an award-winning actress, screenwriter, filmmaker, and social media influencer who’s just published her first novel, THEN AND THERE, HERE AND WHERE. And she’s 15 years old. We discuss her time as a Variety BC Youth Ambassador speaking about her anxiety, ADHD, and dyslexia, as well as her jeans pocket art. She explains how she charges toward her fears, strives to lift as she rises, and writes about young adult characters as a young adult.

Described as a "Renaissance Girl" for her multitude of talent. 15-year-old Esabella Anna Karena Strickland is a Multi Award-Winning Filmmaker, Award-Winning Writer, Award-Winning Actress, Award-Winning Media Host, Artist, and GenZ Influencer based out of Vancouver, BC. She is a young, raw talent who is a learning disability advocate and empowering figure against bullying through the arts.

Esabella starred in local indie short film's Enlightenment, Things You Take, and Arthurs Gift. She also co-wrote, co-directed and starred in the Short Film My Red Ball and The Notebook through the Young Movie Makers Program. My Red Ball handles themes of bullying, written through Esabella's own life experience, it has gone to appear in 60 International Film Festivals, winning at 10 of them.

Esabella has also made appearances on local productions of Travelers, Goodboys, and Series of Unfortunate Events. Esabella is also the youngest member and supporter of Women In TV and FIlm Vancouver.

Esabella is also an Award-Winning Filmmaker and Writer for her feature film screen adaptation of her Novel Then and There, Here and Where which has won at several film festivals for Best Script. She was also behind the camera for A Conversation with E which was made through the CineLab Filmmaking Camp this summer. A Conversation with E is already an official selection of the 2021 Cannes Short Film Festival and has won at several film festivals. This lead to her writing and producing her first Independent film called A Dialogue with Pandora this fall with the support of Actor Paul Greene.

Esabella recently joined Graisland Entertainment as a GenZ Script Consultant and is collaborating with Producer and Screenwriter Michael Grais on the next generation of Horror Films.

Esabella had the honour of co-hosting the 53rd and 54th annual Variety Show of Hearts Telethon as their Youth Ambassador and was recently invited back to host the 55th Telethon in 2021. Esabella was also an EveRiathing red carpet host to support the 2019 Joey awards. Esabella was the ambassador and host for Geektopia 2019 to help raise money for the Amanda Todd Legacy. Esabella is also the ambassador and virtual host for the 2020 Meowfest to help raise money for the Langley Animal Protection Society, and Regional Animal Protection Society.

Esabella was invited to the 2019 Adobe Summit as an Adobe insider and speaker. She was the young influencer to attend the Las Vegas event and was in the top 10 in Social Media Engagement during the week of the Summit. Many were impressed by her empathy, compassion and insight of a Genz'r

Esabella has finished co-writing her first Young Adult Novel. Then and There, Here and Where, which will be published March 2nd, 2021. The main character of the book; Orabella has a learning disability while learning to become a heroine. Esabella's goal is to have girls feel connected and empowered by Orabella. As an artist, she is a painter, drawer and a jean pocket painter for celebrities and special orders of which 10% of sales go towards local charities

​Esabella has worked hard to train herself with techniques she uses to deal with both her anxiety, Adhd, and dyslexia, Through this process she's discovered what she calls her two superpowers, memorizing and a higher level of sensitivity towards others, including the characters she plays, She has also trained herself with mindfulness and grounding techniques to cope with her anxiety - something she hopes to pass onto those who she works with.

Fresh out of middle school, 12-year-old Orabella thought the worst of her worries would be choosing between going to high school and being homeschooled—between sticking with her friends or being free from the bullying she receives because of her learning disability. But she soon discovers that the world she knew, school included, isn't what it seems.

An eerie encounter with a mysterious raven during the Summer Solstice Festival—and the sudden disappearance of her parents soon after—forces her to move in with her grandparents, where strange occurrences happen more and more often. When Oreballa stumbles upon a family secret with roots in Ancient Egypt, she's thrust into a world of ancient spirits, time-traveling, and, most importantly, the Tree of Life, a spiritual entity that maintains the stability of the entire universe.

Newly aware of her true destiny, Orabella must learn to shed her self-doubt and insecurities surrounding her learning disability and adjust to her new role as a protector of humanity and the Tree of Life against the mischievous spirit, Iblis, and his forces of darkness in order to keep the universe in balance and find her parents.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 107: Author Nick Goss

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Nick Goss and I discuss self publishing, home schooling, his bought with Covid-19, writing secular stories as a Christian, the pros and cons of social media, the importance of organizing a writing schedule, producing output that meets your personal standard, stories that are premium Nintendo good, a tale of the supernatural, and so much more. And, bonus, if you stick around to the end, I reveal a few behind-the-scenes tidbits about the podcast.

NICK GOSS has been a piano teacher, sailboat builder, private investigator, barista, and salesman. He has a collection of more books than he could possibly read in his lifetime and lives with his head firmly stuck in the clouds. 

He resides in Nashville with his wife, two kids, and their labradoodle, Shelby. His host of eccentric hobbies include woodworking, sailing, fencing, ping pong, hammocking, and playing the penny whistle. 

Can you imagine what his neighbors must think?

Yeah. You guessed it: he was homeschooled.

The Traveler’s League Book Series was born when he strayed from the normal bedtime routine of reading, and instead created new worlds full of funny characters, action, magic, and adventure. Since then, he has committed himself to entertaining children through writing books that make kids feel the magic of adventure and friendship. All the books in the series are available on Amazon.

Kids who love coding, inventing, and video games will love this first episode in a multibook action series about a pair of siblings who find themselves facing off with evil to save the world.

Age Level: 8-12

The President has been kidnapped -- inside a video game that 11-year old Charlie Bakowsky invented. Now Charlie and his sister Lora must team up to outwit and out fight the kidnapper. But that will mean battling an evil genius inside the video game world of BattleBlox. 8-year Lora has ninja-spy skills, and her brainiac brother Charlie knows all the cheat codes  -- but Hacker Jack stands in their way.

Friday, March 12, 2021


Esteemed Reader, if you haven't read the Banneker Bones books yet, that's cool. This is mostly going to be a post about writing that anyone could read as I'll avoid any major spoilers.

But seriously, when you get time, read those books:) I'll give you the first one free.

This afterword will probably mean more to those of you who have read the books and if I'm honest, you Esteemed Readers mean mean a little more to me:) I love every book I've published (written is a different story), but I love the Banneker Bones books the most.

For all that love, these have been my hardest books to write, and this third and final(ish) Banneker Bones story was the most difficult book I've ever written. That's not entirely its fault. When I started working on this book, neither the book nor I knew we'd be working together during 2020.

And that is how I think of my relationship with my books. It's never just me and my input in a story. You wouldn't want to read it if it was. Each story has its own demands that must be met and its own tone with which it must be told. 

Because Banneker Bones and the Alligator People ended on a major cliffhanger, a lot of the early chapters in this third book had to devote their time not only to resolving the events of the previous books, but exploring their ramifications. Even in a mostly fun adventure story, I have to treat grief seriously. To do less would be to cheat Esteemed Reader. Though I tried not to dwell on it.

Is Banneker Bones and the Cyborg Conspiracy the end of The And Then Story? Not a chance. Banneker Bones and Ellicott Skullworth have plenty of adventures ahead of them.

Am I actually going to write them? That remains to be seen. I'd like to and on a long-enough time line, I probably will. But after a long break. Again, for all the fun I've had with our heroes and their villains, these books are super challenging to write.

Whatever Banneker book ends up being the last one I write, it will end on a cliffhanger. This is The And Then Story, as in, And Then something else happened. Always. 

But this wouldn't be a bad last book. A trilogy is perfectly respectable for a series and I like where everybody ends up at its conclusion. If I never write Banneker Bones 4, I'd still feel like I'd done right by my characters and told enough of their story to imply the rest.

On the other hand, there certainly is room for more story. And the nice thing about being this far along in a series is I feel I have a little more liberty than usual--not much, but some. For instance, this third book is the longest yet, and the second book was already getting a little long for middle grade. But I figure returning readers might like a little more book and a series has a way of getting more complicated and requiring more story as it goes.

This book also features chapters written from an adult's perspective. There's not many of them (8 out of 77), and they're mostly very short, but I wouldn't pull that sort of move in a standalone middle grade book. One chapter (27), not one of the short ones, is backstory we arguably don't need to understand the present story. It's indulgent in an already long book, but it fully realizes my character, compliments my theme, and deepens the story. I figure if Esteemed Reader is back for thirds, they also want a deeper story, so I'm giving them my Snyder Cut.

Banneker Bones and the Cyborg Conspiracy was always meant to read like a waking nightmare for our heroes. That fact that its author happened to be living through the actual nightmare of 2020 enhanced this. But the inherent darker aspects of the story were in early drafts planned as far back as 2009 (there was always going to be a chapter titled "virtual school" even before I lived it).

Banneker Bones and the Alligator People was a pretty dark story, especially toward the end, but I believe the third act is where our heroes should be MOST tested. I've got an inkling for a fourth adventure, but I didn't hold anything back for it. I wanted to throw everything there was at the boys to see if they could be broken.

Unlike the first two adventures where the boys discovered new "monsters" and spent many a delightful chapter being chased by and doing battle with them, this third story is different. I wanted Banneker and Ellicott to face an enemy so powerful, they couldn't beat it. And I wanted this enemy to go after them specifically in a very personal way. And I wanted it to hurt them worse than they've been hurt before (and I've already spent two books hurting them). I wanted to see how'd they'd do when pushed to their point of breaking.

The first draft was too mean and played too rough. There was a lot of blood in that draft and far more violence than in the final version. This is where I thank God for my critique partners Shannon Alexander, Laura Martin, August Mugele, and Ed Cho, who reminded me that although this is a series intended for everyone, a lot of children read it:)

Without spoiling, I let this new(ish) monster really, really hurt the boys. I'm not writing Hunger Games here, but after two books, I wanted to raise the stakes. I made the boys' injuries so central to the plot that I couldn't chicken out and remove them later. I get messages from children who've read the first two books, some as young as eight (a bit younger than I would've imagined) and I know they're looking forward to this third installment. I read these books to my son, who's seven. 

I'm aware I'm pushing a boundary in this third book that will make some ADULT readers uncomfortable.

There's nothing so dark in this story that I think it will be harmful for a young reader or I wouldn't have published it. I think a lot of my younger (but every bit as esteemed) readers will love this book more because of the particular scene in question. The violence is implied rather than shown and is actually less violent than something that happens at the end of the previous book, which all of the readers in question will have presumably finished.

I've frequently reminisced about my joy in reading The Witches by Roald Dahl as a child. Much of my joy in that book came from the fact that the witches were actually scary, not just pretend, play-it-safe-for-baby scary, as evidenced by the way they actually harmed their victims rather than merely scare them. Also, the story's blatant sexism and other problematic elements didn't bother me as a child since I didn't pick up on them until my adult years (you try growing up white and male in a small Indiana town in the 1980s surrounded by that culture, on a diet of that media, and then determine true north your first at-bat).

Anyway, we were discussing a book I wrote:) For a third book in a series, I feel it's important to raise the stakes. For this reason alone, Esteemed Reader should hope I don't write a fourth book. Who knows what I might do to our heroes next?

I want Esteemed Reader as nervous for our heroes as I was for the boy in the back of the hotel's grand hall surrounded by all those witches. Dahl didn't hurt that boy, the witches did. I didn't hurt our heroes. the (spoiler) did. However, Dahl showed me he meant business. He wasn't going to patronize me just because I was reading "a kid's book." He took his story, and more importantly, his reader, seriously. And I so appreciated it, I was a loyal reader then and I defend him now (read around the sexism and racism, or use them as a point of discussion).

Speaking of sexism, I got an email from a woman who was reading Banneker 2 each night with her son telling me how excited she was to encounter "the queen of the alligator people." I adore messages from readers, but I particularly enjoyed this one as introducing strong female characters is something I've been consciously doing since the first book, and not just heroes.

The first book is very boy centric. I started with two boys forming a friendship because that's the sort of friendship I had and remember fondly from my own youth. I always wanted the villain to be a rich white man ala Lex Luthor and Kingpin because those sorts of villains actually exist. Reggie was nearly a girl, but Reggie's main plot function for two books is to be in need of rescuing, and I didn't think it was fair to saddle the lone girl character with that. 

So I settled for working in strong female characters in everywhere I could. Both the boys' mothers are admirable in different ways, Grandma Juanita's my favorite, and Ling always makes me smile. In Book 2, I added in more strong female characters and continued that through Book 3. If there is a book 4, I expect Padma Perkins to play a much larger role and I think Marianna Morales will continue to rise in status as Latimer City's number one reporter as Chip Lieberman fades into obscurity. 

One regret, however, is that I should've made the President in Book 1 a woman. The reason I didn't is because he started out as an actual President and then got revised to a fictional one (definitely the right call, thanks Uwe Stender for the suggestion). Still, it's been bugging me since that book was published, enough so that there's a tiny subplot around the election of a new President in this third book. Not to descend into politics, I feel Elizabeth Warren was the best candidate for President we've ever had (if you feel differently, I don't care, it's fine, my Indiana vote didn't count in any primaries anyway). I hate the way the media treated her and the manner in which I frequently heard so brilliant a leader unfairly disparaged. 

My main motivation is always to tell a good story I think Esteemed Reader will enjoy, but fiction is political even if it tries not to be. I've made no secret of the fact that one of my secondary motivations for writing Banneker was to normalize adventures about an interracial family without directly addressing issues of race--who has time to worry about that stuff when giant robot bugs keep attacking:) But while I'm at it, I also wanted to normalize women in positions of power and neurodiversity and, perhaps most urgently, alligator people (among other concerns).

One other reason for me to consider stepping away from this series permanently is that technology moves almost faster than I can imagine and write. When I wrote the very first draft of Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees, Ellicott's beloved Jukebook was a tablet that could hold any book. Thassit. That was the miraculous device I yearned to own in a futuristic world... and then a Kindle released in November of that year and I had to think of more advanced things for the Jukebook to do.

Between virtual reality and augmented reality, I suspect the lovely videogames my characters play on their holocoputer will seem quant within my lifetime (fine with me, gimme them games). Robots are advancing in ways I did not foresee, and I suspect I'm wrong about a whole lot of other stuff. That's okay, we had fun. 

So, it's at least possible the ending of this third book is my stop, where I'll get off and you'll continue on without me. This most recent cliffhanger ending opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities, doesn't it? If I come back for more, I'll not lack for opportunities for new adventures.

But maybe it's better if you do it, Esteemed Reader. Why not? You've been half the team all along.

That's how this works. Me writing things down doesn't do any good unless you imagine them with me and create Banneker's world in your mind. All the pieces of that world we created together are still there. What do you think happens next, Esteemed Reader? I bet that story is at least as interesting as anything I could come up with and probably more so.

Here, I'll start you off: And then...

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 106: Author Lisa Fipps

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My friend Lisa Fipps and I discuss “fat girl rules,” intrinsic self worth, overcoming bullying, and writing a story in free-verse poetry. Her debut novel, STAR FISH, releases this week with starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, me, and many others. You don’t want to miss this book. Lisa and I also chat about her day job handling the marketing for a library and how that helps her market her book, her time as a reporter, her jar of positive affirmations, how she met her literary agent, the importance of networking and cultivating a writing family, a heartwarming ghost story, and so much more.

Lisa Fipps is a graduate of Ball State University, award-winning former journalist, current director of marketing for a public library (where she won the Sara Laughlin marketing award), and an author of middle-grade books. Starfish is her debut novel. She’s working on her next novel and several others. She currently lives in Indiana and lived in Texas. 

Ellie is tired of being fat-shamed and does something about it in this poignant debut novel-in-verse.

Ever since Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she's been bullied about her weight. To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules--like "no making waves," "avoid eating in public," and "don't move so fast that your body jiggles." And she's found her safe space--her swimming pool--where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world. In the water, she can stretch herself out like a starfish and take up all the room she wants. It's also where she can get away from her pushy mom, who thinks criticizing Ellie's weight will motivate her to diet. Fortunately, Ellie has allies in her dad, her therapist, and her new neighbor, Catalina, who loves Ellie for who she is. With this support buoying her, Ellie might finally be able to cast aside the Fat Girl Rules and starfish in real life--by unapologetically being her own fabulous self.

“Fipps bursts onto the middle-grade scene with her debut, a verse novel that shines because of Ellie’s keen and emotionally striking observations. As she draws readers in with her smart and succinct voice, Ellie navigates the difficult map of knowing she deserves better treatment while struggling with the conflict that’s necessary to achieve it. Fipps hands her young narrator several difficult life lessons, including how to self-advocate, how not to internalization of the words of others, and what it means to defend yourself. Ellie’s story will delight readers who long to see an impassioned young woman seize an unapologetic victory.”—Booklist, starred review

“Fipps’ verse is skillful and rooted in emotional reality. The text places readers in Ellie’s shoes, showing how she is attacked in many spaces—including by strangers on public transit—while clearly asserting that it’s other people who need to change. . . . Make room in your heart for this cathartic novel”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Affirming representation of fatness. . . . Fipps’s use of verse is as effective as it is fitting; Ellie dreams of becoming a storyteller and poet ‘to help people feel what it’s like/ to live in/ someone else’s skin.’ A triumphant and poignantly drawn journey toward self-acceptance and self-advocacy.”—Publishers Weeklystarred review

“A charming novel in verse about a girl struggling with self-worth. . . . Once readers start, it will be difficult for them to put this book down. Ellie’s story is heartbreaking and raw at times, and Fipps paints a realistic picture of bullying in a world that equates thinness with beauty. . . . True joy comes in watching Ellie gain confidence in herself and standing up to the bullies, even when they’re family. . . . A must-have for libraries serving teens and tweens.”—School Library Journal, starred review

"Readers will rejoice as Ellie gains the strength to confront bullies with intelligence and honesty, and refuses to allow other people’s cruelty to shape her life.”—Padma Venkatraman, award-winning author of The Bridge Home

"This is a big beautiful book about a big beautiful girl. Meet Ellie, who looks in the mirror and sees someone lovable. Now, if only the rest of the world (and especially her own mother and brother) could see what Ellie sees. This is a story about the colossal cruelty that’s hurled at her because of her weight, and how, with colossal strength, Ellie manages to triumph. An honest, heartbreaking, hilarious novel-in-verse from a debut author with a delicious voice.”—Sonya Sones, author of What My Mother Doesn’t Know

"Lisa Fipps’s spot-on verse gives Ellie a wrenchingly real voice that sings with humor, pain, and hope. Prepare yourself: Once you read this book, your heart will never be the same.” —K. A. Holt, author of House Arrest