Friday, January 1, 2021

NINJA STUFF: Author, Year Seven (2020)

Esteemed Reader, 2020... was a year.

Before I write one more word, I feel compelled to acknowledge right up front that I am blessed in ways it hasn't even occurred to me I'm blessed. I survived the year in relative comfort, considering the horrifying alternatives all around me. As of this posting, my family is healthy, our financial situation actually improved, and I got to chat with a bunch of amazing people on the podcast who even I couldn't believe agreed to come on the show:) If ever there was a year for me to have lived with gratitude, it was this one.

If I hadn't committed to writing these posts every New Years, I'd probably just be quiet this year. I'm not really writing this for those of you that lived through 2020. You know what it was like and many of you had a far worse year than I did. This is a post for future me, the me who may try to remember this year as an idyllic time as parts of it were indeed the best of times. But as a famous writer fellow once wrote, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

This year has profoundly and forever changed me in ways I haven't fully processed yet. A few months back, I was trying to turn left on a busy street, cars rushing by too close on my right. A truck coming the opposite direction very, VERY nearly hit me. The panicked look on the driver's face assured me he also thought this was it. After I made my turn, I parked and took deep breaths, trying to will myself to keep driving.

That's where I'm at in terms of processing 2020.



FAVORITE MEDIA OF 2020

Let's ease into this post by first discussing the many wonderful videogames I played this year. When last we left our hero at the end of 2019, he was excited to have secured an excellent deal on a used Nintendo Switch Lite and hopeful about the year ahead. Well, I was right about the Nintendo:) That turned out to be a pretty prescient purchase as my childhood friends Mario and Link helped me maintain some calm through a lot of sleepless nights.

And God bless the good people at Ubisoft for Assassin's Creed Black Flag, and, later, Assassin's Creed Odyssey (3rd time through!) and, later still, Assassin's Creed Vahalla (I'm still stunned by its beauty). Special shoutout to the unofficial Assassin's Creed games I also loved, Ghost of Tsushima and Immortals: Fenyx Rising. I actually finished none of these games, but I played long stretches of them. You're doing the Lord's work, video game companies, and I couldn't have survived this year without you.

To the makers of my favorite video game of 2020,  Maneater: I love you and I wish for a million sequels. 

Before I tell you anything more about my 2020, know that it ends with me receiving a Play Station 5 shipped to my home on November 12th, the first brand-new console I have ever owned on launch day in my life. I've always bought them used a year or two after release. I played Spider-Man: Miles Morales the day it launched like a member of the 1% and it was amazing (but sooo short). 

And should you think I left out The Last of Us Part II, I had some feelings on that breathtaking game. I enjoyed it, but I really hate Abby, and it wasn't nearly as fun as those Mario Remasters:


Usually, I include my favorite movies of the year in these posts, but since those mostly got canceled and I never list my favorite books, I'll just say I loved the movies I actually got to see: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and The Witches were lovely and brightened an otherwise dark year. I loved the trailer for The Batman and Hans Zimmer's score for Wonder Woman 1984:)

I found TV mostly difficult to watch as storytelling in which I didn't partially control the pace left too much time for me to start thinking about all my 2020 existential dread. Still, I particularly enjoyed The Outsider, The Boys, and The Mandalorian. Better Call Saul remains the best thing on television.




FEAR AND LOATHING IN 2020

2020 was a year spent mostly apart from the rest of the population, so it was a good year to be a reader and a gamer. If ever I doubt the trajectory of humanity is onward and upward toward greater excellence, let my slack-jawed expression as I played that sweetest of all Spider-man games with haptic feedback webs after thinking a mere Play Station 4 was the best human beings had to offer serve as proof: The future continues to arrive daily and it is glorious, despite being unevenly distributed.

It's important for me to remember that since events of 2020 dramatically lowered my estimation of my fellow humans. I once thought most people were inherently good and when educated and presented with facts to lift them from their ignorance, they would alter their behavior accordingly.

2020 has recalibrated my idealism.

When I was still going inside grocery stores, every new aisle was a potential episode of terror as people routinely got too close, either not wearing masks, or wearing them improperly, and often glaring at me with malice that was absolutely intended. You scared, Snowflake? Dear Leader said the virus is a hoax and we believe him just as we believe in blond-haired, blue-eyed white Jesus. And you've decided to raise a brown child amongst us when "all lives matter" and "reverse racism is the real racism."

His mother and I got engaged in 2008, the year Barack Obama was elected. This country seemed a much, much better place for us to live then. Imperfect, but hopefully improving.

I've a greater respect now for the madness of history. Future generations will hopefully not fully relate to the relentless assault of life under the flaming cross in the United States' front lawn that was Donald J. Trump. 73+ million of my fellow Americans cast votes for Donald "fine-people-on-many-sides" Trump, agreeing that four more years of continued inject-yourself-with-disinfectant-ha-ha-but-also-I-told-Bob-Woodward-I-knew-the-truth-all-along-and-I've-been-knowingly-INTENTIONALLY-infecting-the-country madness was somehow desirable.

I don't know how to process that information.

Let historians take note that the trauma of the Covid-19 pandemic wasn't just the disruption of our lives or the loss of family and friends or the economic turmoil, but living with the horrific knowledge that our government wanted to spread the disease among the population. We had to watch the United States crumble without any assurance it wouldn't collapse (knock on wood as we're a long way from solid).

I engaged in a series of ill-advised emails with some Trump supporters. I put thought and effort into those emails I might've better poured into a new novel. I appealed to logic, I presented facts, I got angry, sad, full-on belligerently enraged, and then I despaired. I came to understand we're not reading the same news or living in the same world. 

They have no problem contorting their minds to accept obvious lies from an authority figure, a practice for which religious upbringing makes an excellent primer. There's no way to bridge that gap as they've chosen willful ignorance and pledged loyalty to a death cult.

We can't agree to disagree when what's being disputed is reality. Yet somehow we have to live together or accept the inevitability of civil war. So that's where we are.


CATHARSIS

Despite my deep reservoirs of righteous rage, do I actually believe Republicans will answer for their crimes and their sedition? Do I believe there will ever be any real accountability for those at the top? How many bankers went to jail after the financial crises of 2007-2008 again? How many months in prison did Aunt Becky serve?

Something became immediately clear to me on election night 2020 as my home state of Indiana flipped bright hateful red during the first hour of ballot counting despite all my Tweets and Facebook posts and crushing anxiety because I was compelled to think about Trump at least once a day every day for four long years. That red state surrounding my brown child felt personal.

On that night, I learned my speaking directly to politics appears to make no difference in the world, or at least, not enough. 

Is this where I tell you I'm done with politics forever? Of course not, and if I did, you shouldn't believe me. Is this where I tell you there is no hope because people are trash? Nah. There's always hope and I know plenty of wonderful Hoosiers who wear their masks and practice empathy and are appropriately horrified by the right's embrace of racism and authoritarianism. 

What I've lost faith in is methodology, not the cause. If an angry Facebook post made the world better, it would've happened by now, and it would've been penned by an author far more capable than me:) If pointing out facts and logic was a winning strategy, our celebrities would be scientists and philosophers instead of beautiful people who speak witty dialogue others wrote (this line would probably have greater resonance if it didn't follow a gif of Ben Affleck). 

I still believe there are ways to make the world gradually better and that more of us doing them makes a better world. I just want to adopt more of a be-about-it-don't-talk-about-it motto.  Although, fun fact, I included similar sentiments in last year's post

Hopefully, if Trump really goes away, I can actually make good on this resolution in 2021: not to be apolitical (I'll still be me and occasionally unable to help myself), but to indirectly approach politics. 


PODCASTING DURING THE APPOCALYPSE

This little blog of mine turned a decade old this year (time, you wicked thing, you move too fast). I might be hopelessly romantic, but I remain convinced that reading fiction increases empathy and intelligence. Doing my part to increase literacy and the celebration of the written word is very political indeed and an act of optimism.

In March, during the late start of quarantine, I considered pulling the plug on the podcast as I didn't know if it would still be appropriate or feasible. Also, I wasn't sure I wanted to leave a record of myself during this time. I can hear the fear and despair in my voice in a few episodes and my interesting 2020 hairstyles and weights will be forever preserved on YouTube, but I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have chatted with so many admirable folks. 

Those conversations gave me something to look forward to and enjoy in a year when there wasn't much of that. I started both this blog and its podcast with no real plan in mind and so it remains. I've improved as I went and proceeded with the principal that an imperfect something is better than a perfect nothing.

The most recent episode of the podcast officially marked 100 shows. I don't know how long the show will continue. It's a fair amount of work and 2020 has made it clear life can change dramatically at any time. But these long conversations with amazing writers and publishing professionals have taught me more about writing than anything else I've ever done. I hope Esteemed Audience feels as though they're learning as well.

I may go on to record another 900 episodes or  more. I might be forced to put the show on hiatus or quit it altogether depending on life circumstances. Should that happen, it won't erase the joy I've felt in each of those conversations. I'm as proud of the 100 episodes that exist as I am of my novels. I'm thrilled people all around the world are tuning in because my guests said a whole lot of brilliant things worth hearing.


WRITING WITH LESS URGENCY

It's good that 2020 was my best podcasting year as it was far from my best writing year. If you're wondering what I did with my time instead, just check out my long list of favorite videogames at the top of this post. I also reread a bunch of favorite books and the entire run of The Walking Dead (God bless you, Robert Kirkman) in addition to keeping up with reading for the podcast.

And I sat and stared at my computer for long stretches. And I doom scrolled. And I redid my YouTube videos, which was very time consuming and a really excellent way to avoid to writing. YouTube is part of my author platform, so that's like, writing adjacent, right?

I had planned to release Banneker Bones and the Cyborg Conspiracy over the summer, but I received enough brilliant suggestions from early readers in the spring, that I decided to do a major rewrite instead. That's not unheard of for me and I would've hit all my deadlines, but 2020 happened.

I enrolled in virtual first grade with my son and we kept him home all year. Mrs. Ninja also stopped leaving the house, forcing me to be creative in finding times to be creative. And even when I found that time, I had to force myself to put aside my constant dread that police sure do seem to be shooting a lot of boys who look like mine and saying they should stop is somehow a volatile political statement!?!?! and another massive super spreader event held by morons who hate science is killing a bunch of us and somehow Moscow Mitch McConnell mandates life for an entire country and no one stops him even though he's just one frail old man who could easily be stopped if the sort of Americans who fought King George were still around and oh my God, who amongst this vile, ignorant Trump-loving populace would even appreciate the majestic novel I would definitely craft if I could stop checking Twitter for 30 minutes?

(Gollum never looked this greedy for power)

I keep up with enough writers and other creatives to know I wasn't alone. Some writers I've known for years gave up writing completely in 2020. Others simply put their writing on hold. I heard a lot of bad news from a lot of writers. Some good news as well, of course, but while 2020 was a bad year for everyone, it was a particularly bad year for those relying on already unsteady income streams.

I did the rewrite of Banneker 3 and another and I worked on a new project, but writing just didn't seem to be the most important thing this year. Part of that might be that now that Banneker's story has a possible ending (though I've an idea for a fourth book), I feel like I've written the stories I most wanted to write. At least, for now. 

But part of it is because writing has never been the most important thing. I just occasionally thought it was.


IN CONCLUSION

I've been amazed at my luck from the day I realized my wife was into me (her friend helpfully called me and said, "she's into you"), but I've never been more keenly aware of my good fortune than I was this year. I've joked that every marriage that survived 2020 should get credit for extra years added to their total.

Sure, we got snippy with each other and went just a little Jack Torrance-y on occasion, but we've spent as much time together in 2020 as we did when we were first dating, We cooked for each other, she told me of drag race competitions and reality-show housewives I didn't care about, I told her Batman and videogame news she didn't care to hear, but we also comforted one another through the worst parts of cutting off contact with the outside world. And she did some very impressive things this year career-wise, which is why I played those video games on our fancy new TV.

But a PS5 wasn't my favorite new possession of 2020. That honor goes to a beautiful gently used cast-iron patio set where I could set up my computer and sneak in some work here and there while my son bounced around on his favorite new possession: a giant trampoline a neighbor gave us for free. No haptic feedback webslinging ever gave me as much joy as jumping on that thing gave him, and his laughter gave me joy.

Because I was enrolled in Little Ninja's classes virtually, I knew what materials for us to use and what topics to focus on, allowing us to work together throughout the day and never in a continuous block. The result was Little Ninja made some significant improvements this year and I'm far more proud of that than I would've been a new story. 

And on the occasions when I heard that old voice in my head lecturing me for spending too much time with my kid when my daily wordcount was lagging or nonexistent, it occurred to me just how messed up my value system has been for a very long while. Late-stage capitalism warps everything, including an artist's perspective of their own worth and of the value of life itself.


On a long enough timeline, I'll probably write some more books or at least a few more epic blog posts. And if I don't, that's a shame, but I'm proud of the books already available. If I died tomorrow, a possibility Covid-19 brings into stark focus every day, my greatest regret wouldn't be that I never wrote All Together Now 3. I've got this one period in time when I can focus completely on my child, hopefully without messing him up too badly, and my books can wait:)

In 2021, I'm going to promote Banneker Bones and the Cyborg Conspiracy and hopefully have more conversations with interesting people you can watch or listen to, which has the effect of assuring me the world will have plenty of excellent literature even if I don't write it. I'm going to read, and not just books by guests on the show, but scary stories and mysteries and comics and stuff I like. And God willing and I'm alive, I'll play Horizon Forbidden West the very second it releases.

And should a new story, better than the half drafts I have presently, draw me in, I'm sure I'll write it. But if I find some other things I enjoy doing more than writing, I'm going to do those things instead, and I'm going to be okay with it. My dream came true: I'm an author and people like the things I wrote. Anything else I write will be because not writing it will make me less happy than writing it.

Life is short and can change on a dime. If 2020 has taught us anything, it should be that life is not static. I'm going to do the best I can with the time I have and I wish the same for you, Esteemed Reader. I hope 2021 is better for all of us.




Saturday, December 26, 2020

3rd Middle Grade Ninja Clip Show

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

It’s the third ever, ridiculously long mega-sized Middle Grade Ninja clips show, featuring snippets from episodes 60 through 100.

New episodes are scheduled to return January 30th.

Until then, enjoy this compilation of clips from conversations with AUTHORS Catherine Linka, Barbara Shoup, Kaela Noel, Sayantani DasGupta, Avi, Anna Meriano, Anne Bustard, Rob Harrell, Joy McCullough, Mitali Perkins, Carlie Sorosiak, Claire Swinarski, Josh Berk, Saundra Mitchell,  Hugh Howey, Anne Nesbet, Tracy Wolff, Dorothy A. Winsor, Lillie Evans, Tony Perona, C.L. Shore, Janet E. Williams, Paula Chase, Preeti Chhibber, Annie Sullivan, MarcyKate Connolly, Laura Stegman, Daniel Kraus, Patrick Huellery, Margi Preus, Hayley Chewins, Marcella Pixley, Tonya Duncan Ellis, Victoria Bond, John Gallagher, Hena Kahn, Melissa de la Cruz, G. Neri, LITERARY AGENTS Kristy Hunter, Kiana Nguyen, Jim McCarthy, EDITORS Sarah LaPolla, Sara-Jayne Slack, Mari Kesselring, Elizabeth Law, Cheryl Klein, and PUBLIC RELATIONS EXPERT Sarah Miniaci.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 100: Editor Cheryl Klein

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

Cheryl Klein and I talk about writing and publishing and everything good in this 100th episode extravaganza. She shares her journey from growing up in a small Missouri town to becoming the continuity editor for the last three HARRY POTTER novels and the enormity of that experience. We discuss her newest book, A YEAR OF EVERYDAY WONDERS, and her advice for structuring picture books and trusting your illustrator. We also chat about Lee and Low Books, maintaining a healthy level of writer ego, why most editors don’t develop unhealthy egos, the “cheerful privilege of the white reader,” and so much more.







Cheryl Klein is the editorial director at Lee and Low Books. She is also the author of
two adult books, The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults and Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults, and three picture books, Wings, Thunder Trucks, and A Year of Magical Thinking. Prior to her work at Lee and Low, she spent sixteen years at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, where she published a wide array of acclaimed titles and served as the continuity editor for the last two books of the Harry Potter series. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and can be found online as @chavelaque.



From first haircut to first ice-cream cone, each year brings a new cycle of experiences

 
With each new year come countless little wonders. From the highs—first snowfall, first new
umbrella, first beach trip—to the lows—first missed bus, first lost umbrella, first sunburn—
every year older means another cycle of everyday experiences.

In their clever, playful, observant picture book, acclaimed author Cheryl B. Klein and illustrator Qin Leng explore many truths of childhood through a calendar year of small moments that, all together, comprise what it is to be a kid.




Saturday, December 5, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 99: Author G. Neri

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

G. Neri and I discuss CONCRETE COWBOY, the upcoming Netflix film based on his novel GHETTO COWBOY. He explains how he creates character voices, how stories chose him, and how he translates scientists’ studies into fiction. We also talk about writing during a pandemic, looking for alligators, surviving Antarctica, renting videos from a pre-Reservoir Dogs Quentin Tarantino, working with Chick Corea, meeting Ray Bradbury, the advantage of flying under the radar, and so much more.





G. Neri is the Coretta Scott King honor-winning author of Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty and the recipient of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award for his free-verse novella, Chess Rumble. His books have been translated into multiple languages in over 25 countries. They include Tru & Nelle, Grand Theft Horse, Hello, I'm Johnny Cash, and Ghetto Cowboy, which was made into the upcoming movie, Concrete Cowboy, starring Idris Elba. In 2017, he was awarded the first of two National Science Foundation grants that sent him to Antarctica. Prior to becoming a writer, Neri was a filmmaker, an animator/illustrator, a digital media producer, and one of the creators of The Truth anti-smoking campaign. He is currently co-chair of the Antarctic Artists and Writers Collective and writes full-time while living on the Gulf Coast of Florida with his wife and daughter. 




Saturday, November 28, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 98 Author Melissa de la Cruz

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

Melissa de la Cruz and I discuss the differences between writing original stories such as her newest, NEVER AFTER: THE THIRTEENTH FAIRY, and her best-selling series THE NEW BLUE BLOODS COVEN, and writing for established intellectual property, such as THE DESCENDANTS and GOTHAM HIGH. She also shares how she built her author career by first writing for magazines, how she keeps continuity in her many series, how being married to a writer influences her writing life, how to manage a writer’s ego, how to market a book in the time of COVID-19, and so much more.







Melissa de la Cruz is the #1 New York Times, #1 Publishers Weekly and #1 IndieBound bestselling author of Isle of the Lost and Return to the Isle of the Lost as well as many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for readers of all ages. Her books have also topped the USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times bestseller lists and have been published in more than twenty countries.


A former fashion and beauty editor, Melissa has written for the New York Times, Marie Claire, Harper's Bazaar, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Allure, the San Francisco Chronicle, McSweeney's, Teen Vogue, CosmoGirl! and Seventeen. She has also appeared as an expert on fashion, trends and fame for CNN, E! and Fox News.

Melissa grew up in Manila and moved to San Francisco with her family, where she graduated high school salutatorian from the Convent of the Sacred Heart. At Columbia University, she majored in art history and English. Today she lives in Los Angeles and Palm Springs with her husband and daughter.


Real life and fairy tales collide in Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy, book one in the new middle-grade Never After series from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Descendants series, Melissa de la Cruz.


Nothing ever happens in Filomena Jefferson-Cho’s sleepy little suburban town of North Pasadena. The sun shines every day, the grass is always a perfect green, and while her progressive school swears there’s no such thing as bullying, she still feels bummed out. But one day, when Filomena is walking home on her own, something strange happens.

Filomena is being followed by Jack Stalker, one of the heroes in the Thirteenth Fairy, a series of books she loves about a brave girl and her ragtag group of friends who save their world from an evil enchantress. She must be dreaming, or still reading a book. But Jack is insistent―he’s real, the stories are real, and Filomena must come with him at once!

Soon, Filomena is thrust into the world of evil fairies and beautiful princesses, sorcerers and slayers, where an evil queen drives her ruthless armies to destroy what is left of the Fairy tribes. To save herself and the kingdom of Westphalia, Filomena must find the truth behind the fairytales and set the world back to rights before the cycle of sleep and destruction begins once more.


Saturday, November 21, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 97: Author Hena Khan

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

Hena Khan and I discuss her career thus far in children’s publishing and her wide range of books from IT’S RAMADAN, CURIOUS GEORGE to ZAYD SALEEM, CHASING THE DREAM to her most recent MORE TO THE STORY and the upcoming AMINA’S SONG. We discuss how she strives to create the representation in children’s literature that was lacking when she was a young reader and the importance of writing stories about Muslims rather than stories solely about being Muslim. All this and so much more await Esteemed Audience.








Hena Khan is a Pakistani-American who was born and raised in Maryland, where she still lives. She enjoys writing about her culture as well as all sorts of other subjects, from spies to space travel. She is the author of the middle grade novels Amina’s Voice, Amina’s Song, and More to the Story and picture books Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, Under My Hijab, and It’s Ramadan, Curious George, among others.






From the critically acclaimed author of Amina’s Voice comes a new story inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic, Little Women, featuring four sisters from a modern American Muslim family living in Georgia.

When Jameela Mirza is picked to be feature editor of her middle school newspaper, she’s one step closer to being an award-winning journalist like her late grandfather. The problem is her editor-in-chief keeps shooting down her article ideas. Jameela’s assigned to write about the new boy in school, who has a cool British accent but doesn’t share much, and wonders how she’ll make his story gripping enough to enter into a national media contest.

Jameela, along with her three sisters, is devastated when their father needs to take a job overseas, away from their cozy Georgia home for six months. Missing him makes Jameela determined to write an epic article—one to make her dad extra proud. But when her younger sister gets seriously ill, Jameela’s world turns upside down. And as her hunger for fame looks like it might cost her a blossoming friendship, Jameela questions what matters most, and whether she’s cut out to be a journalist at all…




Saturday, November 14, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 96: Author John Gallagher

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

John Gallagher and I nerd out about comics, action figures, Batman and all the best things in life, including his new comic book-ish novel, MAX MEOW: CAT CRUSADER. We also talk about his role as art director for RANGER RICK MAGAZINE, our mutual childhood dreams of being Robin, outlining while leaving room for fun, the importance of creating fast, launching a book series during a pandemic, the importance of a meatball from space, a possible ghost story, and so much more.








John Gallagher is the art director of the NWF’s “Ranger Rick” magazine, cofounder of “Kids Love Comics” (an organization that uses graphic novels to promote literacy), and leads workshops teaching kids how to create their own comics. John lives in Virginia with his wife and their three kids. Visit him at MaxMeow.Com, on twitter @johnBGallagher, on facebook @MaxMeowCatCrusader and on instagram @johngallagher_cartoonist.





Meet a secret superhero with CAT-ITUDE–Max Meow, Cat Crusader–in this purr-fectly awesome, hiss-sterically funny new graphic novel series!

Max is just a regular cat in Kittyopolis, trying to make it big as a podcaster UNTIL he accidentally takes a bite of an RADIOACTIVE SPACE MEATBALL at his best friend, scientist Mindy’s, SECRET LAB. Then before you can say MEOWZA, Max becomes…(drum roll!)…The CAT CRUSADER! Being a super hero is fun (Super strength? Check! Flying? YES!!!)–but not if you get so cocky, you forget your best friend! Will Max learn to listen? Will he and Mindy make up? And together, can Max and Mindy save Kittyopolis from the evil Agent M and BIG BOSS?! Find out in Max Meow: Cat Crusader-a laugh out loud, furr-ociously funny, action-packed new series filled with so many twists, turns, and terrific jokes it makes bad guys FLEA and kids cheer with glee! BONUS: Includes how to draw Max Meow!

“Funny, furry and fantastic!” —Judd Winick, New York Times Bestselling Creator of the Hilo series

“Max Meow’s super heroics will have kids meow-ling with laughter!” –John Patrick Green, creator of the InvestiGators series





Saturday, November 7, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 95: Author Victoria Bond

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.


Victoria Bond and I discuss ZORA AND ME: THE SUMMONER, the third book in her trilogy with coauthor T.R. Simon, and the collaboration that made it possible. We talk about Zora Neale Hurston, writing historical fiction, and depicting the ugly truth of America’s racist past in literature for younger readers. We also chat about zombies, money in publishing (and the lack thereof), Vicky’s time as an assistant in a literary agency, Stephen King, John Keats, actual ghost stories, and so much more.







Victoria Bond is a writer and professor. Her novel, Zora and Me, co-written with T.R. Simon, won the John Steptoe/Coretta Scott King Award for New Talent and was nominated for an Edgar Award in the category of Juvenile Fiction. Zora and Me was also a Junior Library Guild Selection, ABC New Voices Selection, SIBA Okra Award Winner, Fall Indie Next Top Ten Pick, Kirkus Best of 2010 Children's Books, Booklist 2010 Editor's Choice, The New York Public Library 2010 list of 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, the Winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award, and a 2014 World Book Night U.S. pick. 

Victoria holds a MFA in poetry. The occasional essayist on issues both personal and pollical, she teaches first-year writing at John Jay College, The City University of New York. Victoria lives in New Jersey a short drive from where she grew up with her husband, son and their beloved pit-bull.




In the finale to the acclaimed trilogy, upheaval in Zora Neale Hurston’s family and hometown persuade her to leave childhood behind and find her destiny beyond Eatonville.

For Carrie and her best friend, Zora, Eatonville—America’s first incorporated Black township—has been an idyllic place to live out their childhoods. But when a lynch mob crosses the town’s border to pursue a fugitive and a grave robbery resuscitates the ugly sins of the past, the safe ground beneath them seems to shift. Not only has Zora’s own father—the showboating preacher John Hurston—decided to run against the town’s trusted mayor, but there are other unsettling things afoot, including a heartbreaking family loss, a friend’s sudden illness, and the suggestion of voodoo and zombie-ism in the air, which a curious and grieving Zora becomes all too willing to entertain.

In this fictionalized tale, award-winning author Victoria Bond explores the end of childhood and the bittersweet goodbye to Eatonville by preeminent author Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960). In so doing, she brings to a satisfying conclusion the story begun in the award-winning Zora and Me and its sequel, Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground, sparking inquisitive readers to explore Hurston’s own seminal work.



Saturday, October 31, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 94: Author Tonya Duncan Ellis

 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.


Tonya Duncan Ellis and I discuss her SOPHIE WASHINGTON series and I convince to give away all her indie publishing and marketing secrets for free. In this Halloween-ish episode,  we discuss “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors, specifics for writing a successful middle grade series, why it’s important for characters of color to star in stories about everyday kid stuff, Bigfoot, processing trauma through fiction, and so much more. And, added bonus, you can download both our books for free. Happy Halloween!







Tonya Duncan Ellis has had her nose in a book since she learned to read, so it’s no surprise that she’d one day become a writer. She is author of the Amazon best selling Sophie Washington children’s book series, a former journalist, and a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Fluent in French, Tonya loves learning about other cultures and has traveled to 49 states and 20 countries. She lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and three children.


An entertaining story that celebrates friendship, diversity, environmental awareness, and anti-racism. This engaging, illustrated, middle grade chapter book is a great addition to classroom and homeschool libraries and should appeal to fans of Ramona Quimby, Jada Jones, Judy Moody, and Junie B. Jones.


There is no such thing as Big Foot! Or is there…

Sophie Washington and her classmates are on their way to Camp Glowing Spring for a class retreat. It’ll be two full days of swimming, eating s’mores around a campfire, tug-of-war, archery, and more! Sophie’s been looking forward to the trip all school year and can’t wait to spend extra time with her friends. It will also be great to get away from her bratty younger brother, Cole, and his constant stories about Big Foot. If Cole warns her about what to do if she sees the hairy ape man on the retreat one more time, she’ll put in ear plugs. Everybody knows Big Foot is a hoax!

Once the kids arrive at the retreat site things are as exciting as Sophie imagined. She has fun exploring nature with her besties, Chloe, Valentina, Toby, Nathan, and Mariama, and meeting new friends too. Then the kids see a giant footprint during a nature hike in the woods and the adventure really begins!


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 93: Editor Elizabeth Law

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.

What don’t legendary editor Elizabeth Law and I chat about in this far-ranging conversation that only begins to scratch at the surface of her vast publishing knowledge? We discuss her interactions with literary agents, working with Stephen King, her “cameo” in GERALD’S GAME, her work for Roald Dahl, the origin story of previous guest, Dan Gutman, lessons learned from Robert McKee, and a kiss with Hamilton’s Jonathan Groff. Elizabeth Law shares incredible insights on writing dialogue, description, characterization, theme, and an overview of so much of what’s she’s learned during her distinguished career. Hear her blow my mind by telling me word count isn’t nearly as important as I think it is, and then she shares the secret of what every publisher is looking for.








Elizabeth Law is a children’s and young adult publisher and editor with over three decades of experience. In her own words: "I worked at Viking Penguin, and at Penguin’s divisions Puffin Books and Frederick Warne and Co, for 18 years, leaving to become Associate Publisher of Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.  And in 2007 I left there and became the first publisher of Egmont USA.  At Egmont I got to help create a company from the ground up, which taught me, among other things, to think creatively about ways to get attention for books when you’re competing against other books' huge marketing budgets.  From 2013-2017 I worked as a consultant, with writers and artists and people who just love children’s books as much as I do.  I’ve kept that work up as I took a role at Holiday House Books for Young Readers as their backlist and special projects editor. I continue to acquire and work on terrific books, including the recent debut title Itch by Polly Farquhar, which has received starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist."