Tuesday, September 27, 2016

GUEST POST: "Why Mom is Missing From TRUTH OR DARE" by Barbara Dee

Six years ago, author and children's editor Leila Sales wrote a notable piece in PW about the ubiquitous "dead parent" character in middle grade and YA fiction. She called the "dead parent" storyline "lazy writing" in which the author evokes instant sympathy for the kid protagonist and avoids the difficult task of creating a non-boring adult character.

As a MG author who loves writing adult characters, I know it may seem odd that I chose to "kill off" the mom in my new novel, Truth or Dare. I'm not sure exactly where this impulse came from--except I know it wasn't the product of "laziness." Truth or Dare is about a 12 year old girl named Lia who is feeling like a late bloomer, struggling to catch up to her friends in both physical and social development. The fact that she is mom-less as she faces puberty and friendship issues leads her to reach out to several other women in her life, basically auditioning them as substitute moms. Eventually (and spoiler alert!) she embraces her free-spirited, iconoclastic Aunt Shelby, who lacks some of the characteristics Lia cherished in her mom, but who offers her own quirky brand of support and sympathy.

In a real way, Lia's mom is never absent from the story, because Lia is constantly comparing these other women to her mom, or to her (possibly idealized) memory of her mom. One of the implied themes of the book is: What makes a good mom? Is Aunt Shelby someone you'd want for a mom, or is she better as an aunt? What's the difference between a mom and an aunt? I had great fun creating Aunt Shelby, who is quite nurturing and generous in some ways, but also disastrously self-centered and unpredictable in others. And I think that by portraying this charismatic but exasperating woman, I'm allowing Lia--and the reader--to focus on the qualities that made Lia's mom so beloved: her empathy, predictability, and yes, even her "boringness." I do think that by the end of the book, Aunt Shelby "grows up" a little--just as her niece does--but in certain respects, she remains the immature yin to Lia's mom's yang.

In her PW piece, Leila Sales faults the "dead parent" story as not just "lazy" but also implausible (" It is not believable that so many kids are missing one, if not both parents. Slews of them! Hundreds!").  Yes, point taken: if you look at kid protagonists as representative of the population, you could conclude that few kids live in two-parent families, which obviously isn't the case.

But I came at the "dead parent" character from another perspective. In the awful year before I wrote Truth or Dare, my own son was diagnosed with cancer (he's okay now). Also around this time, a teenager in our town was killed in a car accident when the driver was texting (which is how Lia's mom dies). So I know that while it's highly unlikely, sometimes bad, out-of-the-blue things do happen to family members.


In Truth or Dare, I tried to show that life goes on after tragedy, that it never stops being messy, difficult, sad--and also funny and surprising. I'm hoping readers see Truth or Dare as a positive, humorous book (despite the missing mom character), with one of the happiest endings I've ever written. And I hope it focuses the reader on what it means to "grow up"--which is not the same as being a grownup.  



Barbara Dee is the author of the tween novels Just Another Day in my Insanely Real LifeSolving Zoe (2010 Bank Street Best Children's Books of the Year), This Is Me From Now OnTrauma Queen, and The (Almost) Perfect Guide To Imperfect Boys

She lives with her family in Westchester County, New York. You can visit her on the web at www.barbaradeebooks.com.

Click here to see her face the 7 Questions.











Lia’s four best friends have always been there for her, in good times and bad. It’s thanks to the loyal, supportive friendship of Marley, Abi, Makayla and Jules that Lia’s doing okay after her mom dies in a car crash.
But the summer before seventh grade, Lia’s feeling out of sync with her friends. And after a vacation up in Maine with quirky, unpredictable Aunt Shelby, Lia returns home to find her friends…well, different. For one thing, they’re fighting. Also, they’re competing. And some of them are making her feel like a “late bloomer.”
When her friends launch into a game of Truth or Dare, Lia tells a lie about her summer just to keep up with them. Then she tells another lie. And another. Soon it’s hard to remember what’s a lie and what isn’t. Friendships are threatened, boys are getting kissed (or not), and Lia’s wondering if there’s anyone to confide in. Surely not Aunt Shelby, who means well, but who can’t help being a force of chaos.
In this funny, touching coming-of-age story, Lia learns that it’s possible to face the hardest truths–as long as you have the right people by your side.
"Dee has a keen ear for middle school worries. Her characters talk and act like young adolescents…This is a good book to give to middle schoolers, especially young women on the verge of puberty. They will recognize themselves and their friends and may decide that when it comes to forging friendships, honesty works better than fanciful tales."—School Library Journal
"Although the characters are archetypal, they’re well enough rounded to add excruciating reality and believably illustrate one of the many forms of bullying. Lia’s problems ring fully true, and her eventually learned life lessons are timeless. Entertaining bibliotherapy but also a useful road map to resolution of the age-old problem of severe cattiness."—Kirkus
"Dee captures the anxious intensity of a middle school friend group with crystal clarity and warm sympathy…The book offers plenty of understanding, with some extra wisdom for girls worried about facing the harbingers of adolescence."—Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

Sunday, September 25, 2016

School of Ninja

Please forgive my brief absence, Esteemed Reader. It turns out publishing a serial novel is a lot less like publishing one book broken into five parts and a lot more like publishing five books about one story. The fourth chapter of The Book of David, available Halloween day, is longer than Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees or All Together Now. 

I got hold of a great story and it turns out to be a long one, which is fun, but also a whole lotta work, which is why this blog's posting schedule will probably be a bit erratic until Chapter 5 and the inevitable compilation of all five chapters have been published.

But our old friend Barbara Dee will be here Tuesday with a fantastic guest post and I've got some great interviews to share with you and a few posts actually written by me as well. But I'm a writer of books first and a blogger second since y'all don't pay nothing for this here writing:) Book writing leads to bill paying, blogging leads to "exposure," whatever that is.  If you'd like to continue freeloading, the first chapter of The Book of David is also free all day every day:) 

If you'd like to come tell me to my face how offensive it is (I know already, but I love to hear from readers), I'll be teaching two classes at the Indiana Writers Center this month and would be thrilled to have you in attendance. I'll also be speaking at two panels at the Indiana Author Fair held at Central Library in Indianapolis on Saturday, October 9. In you're in Indy or close, come see me, my homies, Sarah J. Schmidt and Skila Brown, and a whole bunch of other writers.

Here's some details on my classes:

The Basics of Self Publishing


Date: Saturday, October 1
Time: 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Location: IWC
Cost: $76 nonmembers, $52 members, $44 student members/teacher members/senior members/military members/librarian members

Editor Peggy Tierney says she receives thousands of manuscripts per year, reads perhaps fifty, and publishes only one or two. With publishers consolidating and purchasing fewer books each year, advances shrinking, and legacy contracts becoming more restrictive than ever – and with breakout self-publishing successes like Hugh Howey, Andy Weir, and Amanda Hawking making headlines – self publishing is no longer a marginalized zone for writers not talented enough to get a "real contract." It's a practical approach to to making real money through writing and reaching actual readers that's so much more fun than sending endless queries into the void.

Writing the Horror Novel

Date: Saturday, October 22
Time: 1-4 p.m.
Location: IWC
Cost: $57 nonmembers, $39 members, $33 student members/teacher members/senior members/military members/librarian members

Author and film director Clive Barker says, "Horror fiction shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion." Do you like scary stories? Do you want to hold your readers frozen in heart-pounding suspense until they can turn the page and either breathe again... or scream? Robert Kent, author of All Together Now: A Zombie Story and other tales of terror, will share some of the most common tricks of the trade. He'll discuss popular plotting strategies, effective characterization techniques (for people as well as monsters),  establishing credibility in a genre about the incredible, and many other spine-tingling subjects. Most stories could benefit from incorporating a little romance, but ALL stories could benefit from incorporating elements of horror. Whatever your preferred genre, expect to gain a deeper appreciation for horror's place in fiction to improve your own writing and reading.


Indy Author Fair: Writing for Young People - Panel Discussion

Adults and teens are invited as noted authors will share their experiences and expertise covering writing styles ranging from young adult novels to chapter books and picture books. This program is presented by the Indiana Writers Center and features John David Anderson, 2015 Emerging Author Finalist Skila Brown, Rob Kent and Sarah J. Schmitt. As a program of the Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award and the Library, this event will be held in Central Library's Clowes Auditorium.

Indy Author Fair: Self-Publishing Tips and Tricks

Adults and teens are invited to learn the ins and outs of self-publishing during this workshop presented by the Indiana Writers Center featuring Rob Kent. As a program of the Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award and the Library, this event will be held in the Knall Room.

Monday, September 5, 2016

GUEST POST: "Are Authors…Mentally Unstable?" by L. R. W. Lee

I’m just gonna put it out there: After several years in the publishing industry I’ve concluded authors are either nuts or sadistic. There, I said it. 

Why have I come to that conclusion? We take a brilliant idea, build a world, add characters and put them through horrendous obstacles. And if we’re good writers, we wrench our reader’s emotions in an oh so unkind way in the process. Why? Because they like it (I’ll not go into that mental disorder at the moment). At some point, we play god and let our characters overcome their obstacles returning the reader to the world from which they wished to escape for a time. But even then, we know the readers, too, are sadistic enough to want to put the characters through another set of equally wretched problems in the future. In fact, we authors hope for it. 

If you’ve been mentally unbalanced (I mean, an author) for any amount of time, you know that’s fifty percent of your job. Only fifty percent, you say? (Please ignore the fact that I’m talking to myself. It’s nothing really). Absolutely. Don’t deny you long to prey on increasing numbers of victims (readers, I mean), inflicting your brand of mental instability on them to create an addiction. And there’s only one way to do that… that nasty “m” word (and no, it’s not mental institution): Marketing.

For many authors, especially if you’re indie published and write middle grade fiction, that ‘m’ word causes either silver bullet psychosis or severe depression—both states manifest the underlying malaise in which we authors live. We all want to sell more books, but how do we get noticed? As one who has suffered from this disability right along with you over the last four years, I’d like to share what I’ve found to work for me and my Andy Smithson, MG/YA coming-of-age, fantasy adventure series. A word of warning: you’ll not find any silver bullets. But perhaps you can take away a nugget or two and see if it’ll work for you.

The middle grade fiction market is tough. Our readers, in large part, aren’t old enough to be online. Some authors go the school visit route and proclaim success, but I’ve never found those opportunities turn a profit. If your objective is to sell thousands of books and become a full time author you need to scale your efforts. 

Since I published the first book in my series back in April 2013, I’ve distributed over 200,000 books. But even with that, I’m unknown to most book buyers. I’m going to assume you’ve been in this business for some time and already follow traditional advice and practices (professionally designed book cover, professionally edited content, write more books, etc). 

I’m always looking to see what actions produce the greatest return. Some folks rave about social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc). Blogs are much the same. While I have over 50k Twitter followers, based on Twitter stats, I don’t see much interaction happening there. And Facebook pretty much makes you pay to talk to your followers which I refuse to do. My blog isn’t much better. Sure I post periodically, but a single post doesn’t usually get much traction. 

Don’t get me wrong, these tactics used to work, but they don’t anymore. So what’s an author to do to sell more books these days? What I’ve found is as follows:

First, permanently set the price of one of your books to free and use it to give potential readers the opportunity to get to know you and your work at no cost to them. If they like the first book, they’ll buy more.

Second, run promos on BookBub and similar reputable sites. These sites have gathered thousands of email addresses of interested readers and they send them deals on discounted books daily. I’ve run five BookBub promos since I started, all promoting my freebie novel, and I’m never disappointed. The initial downloads get the freebie out there and the follow up sales of the rest of the books in my series make it profitable. The key is to get the freebie novel out there. After that it’s just math that determines success. Of the 200,000 books I’ve distributed, three quarters are freebies that fueled the 50,000 copies I’ve sold.

Third, turn yourself into BookBub. What I mean by that is make building your own email list a priority. As you’ve probably found by now, BookBub is very selective. But what would it be like to have an email list of your own, of readers interested in YOUR books that you can contact whenever you want. You only need a handful or two of raving fans to make a go of publishing as a career. I’ve taken to running Facebook ads, giving away my freebie, book one in the series, as the enticement to sign up. Yes, it’s an investment, but isn’t it worth it if you can build a career?

Fourth, rewrite your weakest book. I think we would all agree that our first book is our weakest. Back in January 2016, when I published the fifth book in the Andy Smithson series, I committed to rewriting my weakest book. It had been four years of learning and improving my craft and I knew I had grown as a writer. I knew that even though I give it away free, it is the determining factor of whether folks chose to buy the next book in the series, or not. Since republishing it in March, I’ve seen book two's sales steadily increase month over month. In fact, the improvement has rejuvenated sales of the entire series. Now that I’m about to publish book six with the final book seven to follow, my revenue is growing.

A final word: The publishing industry is constantly changing. Strive to do the same. Blogs, free social media, and similar tactics used to sell books. They don’t anymore (except this blog--MGNinja). Stay informed as to the current trends by listening to podcasts like The Sell More Books Show or Self Publishing Formula. Join Facebook author groups with authors who aspire to become self employed from their publishing efforts. Take the time to fill your mind with narratives that will help you succeed as an author at this time in history.


If you found this post informative and helpful, I encourage you to join my email list at http://bit.ly/MiddleGradeNinja. You’ll get the first book in the Andy Smithson series for free at the same time!




L. R. W. Lee is the award-winning author of the Andy Smithson juvenile fiction series of epic fantasy books for kids 9 to 99 including teens and young adult, set in medieval times with knight, magic and mythical adventures. Her characters are young and fearless, but in real life L. R. W. can't handle scary movies, Stephen King novels, or cockroaches. She knows she wouldn't last long in one of her books. Nope. But give her a drink and a Hawaiian sunset and she'll be just fine. 

She lives in scenic Austin, TX with her husband. Their two children have flown the coop. One came to roost at Microsoft and the other in the Air Force.







Andy Smithson just found out how much the zap of a wizard's curse can sting. But after an epically bad day, he finds wizards are the least of his problems. 

An otherworldly force draws him to a medieval world where fire-breathing dragons, deranged pixies, and vengeful spirits are the way of things. Trading his controller for a sword of legend, Andy embarks upon an epic quest to break a centuries-old curse oppressing the land. It isn't chance that plunges him into the adventure though, for he soon discovers ancestors his parents have kept hidden from him are behind the curse. 

Blast of the Dragon's Fury is a coming-of-age, epic fantasy adventure featuring fast-paced action, sword fights, laugh-out-loud humor, with a few life lessons thrown in. 










Monday, August 29, 2016

GUEST POST: "Turning a Video Game into a Book Series (with Adventure and Meaning)" by Danica Davidson


            When I tell people I write fictional books about video games, they’re usually shocked. This shock then often turns into one of two things: either they find this idea suspicious the more they think about it, or they think it’s a great idea that can get kids reading on top of playing the video games they love. I’m really trying to go for the second response, because I write books full of cliffhangers (to keep you turning the pages) that also talk about real-world issues (like cyberbullying) to let kids know they’re not alone.


            In my Overworld Adventure series, the video game Minecraft is a real place. (If you have kids or know kids who are into Minecraft, it might as well be.) 11-year-old Stevie lives in the Minecraft world, but he feels as if he doesn’t belong because he isn’t as good at building or fighting monsters as his dad. Then one day Stevie finds a portal to Earth and befriends Maison, a bullied girl who’s starting at a new school and feeling insecure about herself. Their insecurities bring them together and make them friends, and the series follows their adventures as they go back and forth between the different worlds.


            Through the course of the series, they battle zombies, creepers, Herobrine . . . and have to deal with kid stuff. While the first book talks about in-your-face bullying, the following books get into the realm of cyberbullying after some cyberbullies hack into Maison’s computer and let themselves into the Minecraft game there. In other words, they let themselves into Stevie’s world, where they turn it into eternal night and unleash zombies.


            Middle grade readers are either just starting to go online or will soon be doing so, which makes me think this is a prime time to talk about things like cyberbullying and how to be nice online. But instead of turning it into a lecture (ugh) I’m able to weave it into a story. I hope this enables kids and adults they trust to be able to talk about real life cyberbullying, and how you can talk or have disagreements online without it having to turn mean. All this stems out of writing about video games.


            While this is about video games, writers can use other things kids already like and make new twists with them. For instance, I also have a manga how-to-draw book out called Manga Art for Beginners, because why not take a love of manga and channel it into your own creativity? (And it has ninjas in it, of course.) On top of that, I have a Barbie comic book coming out called Puppy Party, and in it you see Barbie and her sisters coming up with ideas to get all the local shelter dogs adopted. Can you use video games to tell stories about cyberbullying or a doll to talk about animal welfare, while  being entertaining? You sure can! 








Danica Davidson is the author of the Overworld Adventures book series for Minecrafters, with the books Escape from the Overworld, Attack on the Overworld, The Rise of Herobrine, Down into the Nether, and the soon-to-be-released (and available for pre-order) The Armies of Herobrine and Battle with the Wither. She is also the author of Manga Art for Beginners and the soon-to-be-released (and additionally available for pre-order) Barbie: Puppy Party

Please check out her website, her Amazon page, or follow her on Twitter @DanicaDavidson.





Monday, August 22, 2016

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Andrea Somberg

A literary agent for over fifteen years, Andrea Somberg represents a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, including projects for adult, young adult and middle grade audiences. 

Previously an agent at the Donald Maass Agency and Vigliano Associates, she joined Harvey Klinger Literary Agency in the spring of 2005. Her clients' books have been NYTimes and USABestsellers, as well as nominated for The Governor General's Award, the Lambda Award, and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. Andrea also teaches courses for MediaBistro and Writers Digest. You can learn more about her at www.andreasomberg.com and www.harveyklinger.com


And now Andrea Somberg faces the 7 Questions:


Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?



Such a hard question! But, if forced to choose, Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising, Jenny Offill's The Department of Speculation and R.J. Palacio's Wonder        


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


This is almost as difficult as my favorite books! I would say Anne of Green Gables (the BBC version), Arrested Development and Bloodlines (honestly, this last one probably isn't an all-time favorite but I'm in the middle of watching and am somewhat obsessed...). 


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


Someone who is passionate about their writing but also understands that this is a business. 


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


I would really love to find a middle grade novel, either funny or serious, that features a character we haven't seen before and that helps us see the world in a new light. 


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


I love working with people who are as passionate about  books as I am. Editors, agents, authors--we are all connected by this common bond, and that's something that I find to be truly amazing.

My least favorite thing is the rejection that is an implicit part of every aspect of this industry. 


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


Try not to let rejections get you down. Persistence is important--if one agent isn't the best fit, try someone else. It can sometimes take awhile to find the best advocate for your book but, once you do, the journey will have been worth it. 


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

David Foster Wallace.  I recently finished Infinite Jest and...what?!  But I'm pretty sure he wouldn't answer my questions anyway...  



Monday, August 15, 2016

GUEST POST: "Showing Children Our World (Good and Bad) Through Books " by Donna Galanti

As a mother, nothing comes close to my primitive urge to protect my child. So, I thought it ironic to visit a playground in North Carolina with a warning sign of alligators nearby.

This sign hit me with the realization that while we can provide our children with the resources to defend themselves and make good choices, ultimately we have to let them go out there to frolic amongst the good guys and the gators. This includes opening their eyes through media and books to not-so-nice things that go on in the world.

Especially books. They can open up our child’s eyes to events in history, just and unjust. Books have opened up many dialogues with my son about slavery, civil rights, oppressive religions, women earning the right to vote, the Holocaust, bullying, and terrorism.

When my son was six we got a wonderful book called The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein (since made into a movie). In 1974, French aerialist Philippe Petit threw a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center and spent an hour walking, dancing, and performing high-wire tricks a quarter mile in the sky. This book paved the way for us to talk in depth about the twin towers and terrorism. My son said at the time he hoped that bad man would be caught and the towers would be rebuilt.

One out of two so far. I was able to report to my son not long after that the bad man had been caught and killed. My son wanted to know how he was found and killed, what happened to his children, his wives, and if his being caught meant this kind of thing would never happen again. I wish. But, I hope in having these discussions (as I hope parents are having everywhere) that we are changing the world for the better – one discussion at a time.

As my son got older, middle grade books opened up discussion for us. Here are some of them:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio: about being a disfigured kid in a “normal” world.

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper: what it could be like to have a voice but not be able to communicate.

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs: the difficult decision of choosing where you belong.

Rules by Cynthia Lord: on autism and asking “what is normal?”

Holes by Louis Sachar: about friendship and believing in yourself.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen: being separated from your family and having to survive in a strange place.

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen: on endangered animals and ecology.

Duck by Richard S. Ziegler: about standing up for yourself when the one person who protects you is gone.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: fearing middle school and then finding out how cool it really is.


Books. They open us up to new worlds and help us as parents relate the good and bad of the world to our children. They reveal the beauty and the darkness that co-exist in our world - and within us. They inspire feelings of sadness, joy, compassion, or outrage.

Books. They open up conversations with my son about life and death and right and wrong. I watch him as he struggles with these issues and tries to figure out his place in the world.

And while I empower my son with information and send him out there to navigate the battle field of life with as much armor as possible, I hope the good guys outnumber the gators. I hope he witnesses more glory than gore. And even if the gators in disguise try and get him, I hope it's “just a flesh wound!”

Are there books you've read with your children that have opened up discussions about the 
world around them? 


Enter this giveaway to win a Lost Realm map poster, a lightning orb light-up ball, paperback of book 1 in the series, JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD, and $25 Barnes &Noble gift card:

https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ddcc91cd6/




Donna Galanti is the author of the The Element Trilogy (Imajin Books) and the Joshua and The Lightning Road series (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor for International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs with other middle grade authors at Project Middle Grade Mayhem. She’s lived from England as a child, to Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer. She now lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse that has lots of nooks and crannies, but sadly no ghosts. You can find her books, resources for writers, and upcoming events at www.donnagalanti.com and www.elementtrilogy.com. Catch her post here on Middle Grade Ninja about 10 Steps to Writing Scary for Kids.








About Joshua and the Arrow Realm out 8/30: 

Joshua never thought he’d return to the world of Nostos so soon. But, when King Apollo needs his help in the Arrow Realm, Joshua’s will and powers are tested in order to save him. With his loyalties divided between our world and theirs, Joshua wonders whether he alone can restore magic to the twelve powerless Olympian heirs, or whether he is being tricked into making the one mistake that might cost them all.
“Fast-paced and endlessly inventive, Joshua and the Arrow Realm is a high-stakes romp through a wild world where descendants of the Greek gods walk beside you, beasts abound, and not everything—or everyone—is as it seems.” ~ Michael Northrop, New York Times bestselling author of the TombQuest series








Joshua and the Arrow Realm book trailer:




Monday, August 8, 2016

GUEST POST: "The Horrors of Writing Middle Grade Horror or Why Books Aimed at Children Can’t Be Awash in Blood" by David Neilsen

Hello. My name is David and I write Middle Grade Horror. My first successful foray into this realm, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, will be available on August 9, 2016 by Crown Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin/Random House. As you can imagine, I’m a little excited. But I’m not here to shamelessly promote my novel, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom (available for pre-order on Amazon.com right now!  Get the audio book, read by me!), but rather to describe to everyone reading this post--yes, both of you--the horrors of writing Middle Grade Horror.

I didn’t always write Middle Grade Horror (which I’m just going to keep on capitalizing, so you can stop your whining right now). In the months and years before I began writing Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, I wrote adult horror. Short stories, mostly, but also screenplays. I spent many years honing my skill for describing ridiculously-disturbing things in as few words as possible. I was introduced to the insanity of H.P. Lovecraft and tripped over myself in an attempt to write something suitably ‘Lovecraftian.’ I have written stories of gore and violence and evil and corruption and once of man-eating unicorns. I have explored dark, foreboding passageways, ancient tombs, eerie graveyards in the dead of night, and the surface of a giant eyeball.

So when it came time to write Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, I felt I was more than up to the challenge. After all, I was a veteran of adult horror; Middle Grade Horror was just adult horror with the main characters a few years younger, right?

Right?

There is a scene in Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom in which a child breaks his leg. It took me many, many drafts to find a way of writing that scene without including the phrases ‘sickening shard of bone ripping through the skin’, ‘font of blood gushing like a geyser’, or ‘disfigured lump from the very depths of Hell.’

That’s when I realized this was going to be harder than I thought.

It seems that two concepts that really don’t go together well are ‘Middle Grade’ and ‘Horror’. It makes sense when you think about it. What comes to your mind when you think of horror? A vampire biting someone’s throat--and not in a good, sparkly way? A werewolf clawing someone to pieces on the moors? An abomination from beyond time and space whose mere existence is enough to doom mankind to an epoch of madness?

And what comes to your mind when you think of Middle Grade? School lockers? Algebra? Zits?

You begin to see the issues we’re facing here, don’t you?

The trick to Middle Grade Horror books is to be frightening without being scary. It’s a fine line. My son is ten, the perfect age for my books. He is currently obsessed with Five Nights At Freddy’s. But it took him a long time to actually play the game himself. First, he wanted his big sister to play it. And his mother. He wanted to witness their fear without experiencing it himself. Only after laughing at his big sister a couple of time was he able to give the game a shot. By that time he knew what he was doing, and what he was getting into. He knew where the scares were, and what they looked like. So he was able to handle Golden Chika or whoever leaping out at him when he opened the door.

That’s my audience.

Oh sure, there are plenty of middle-grade-aged readers (not to be confused with middle-aged readers or readers of the Middle Ages) who have no problem toying with the dark side of literature and pop culture. My daughter saw her first R-rated horror movie when she was 11 (it was directed by her uncle, so we’re not totally-degenerate parents--only partially-degenerate). She has been gobbling up Middle Grade Horror since she was six or seven, Young Adult Horror by nine, and Stephen King’s The Shining at 12.

She’s not the audience. No, my audience, the audience of Middle Grade Horror is between the ages of 8 and 12 and they still harbor the slightest belief that there may, in fact, be monsters living under their beds. Not that there aren’t, mind you, but the older kids are armed with much heavier and thicker books and can take out a seven-tentacled-horror at fifteen paces without even bothering to stop and Tweet about it.

So to write Middle Grade Horror, to truly write the genre, you need to give the little whippersnappers a chance to become comfortable with their terror. You need to treat them like the they are the proverbial frog in a blender and ease them into it, one step at a time. An example of this might be:

1.    A kid the Main Character barely knows walks into the house, screams, never comes out.
2.    A kid the Main Character is friends with walks into the house, screams “It’s a horrible monster!”, never comes out.
3.    The Main Character’s older brother walks into the house, screams “It’s a horrible monster and it’s eating people!”, never comes out.
4.    The Main Character walks into the house, sees a horrible monster eating people, screams.

Call it the Horror Progression Theory. Or call it the Monster Eating People theory, if you like. Whatever. The point is, if you start at Step Four and spring a person-chomping monster on your reader without warning, you get nightmares and bad reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Ease into it, and you’re a master of suspense with a multi-book deal. Right?

Right?

Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom is a dark tale wrapped in a pretty, shiny, colorful paper bag about a demented and strange old man who moves into a neighborhood, builds a playground, and gleefully and miraculously heals everyone as the injuries pile up. Children get hurt (which is generally a huge no-no in Middle Grade books but something which I managed to get away with surprisingly easily). A quiet, happy neighborhood is turned upside down. Parents march menacingly down the street armed with turkey basters. True darkness is revealed. There’s even a rather large homage to all things Lovecraftian.

I may not have been able to include my precious spigot of gore spouting from a dying child’s veins, but there’s enough ‘ick’ in there to satiate the true aficionado. I even got to keep one very, very creepy and disturbing element that I was absolutely positive they’d make me remove. When I was allowed to keep it, I danced a little jig.



We hope you’re enjoying the blog tour for David Neilsen’s Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom! In case you missed yesterday’s post, head over to The Book Monsters to check it out. The tour continues tomorrow on Project Middle GradeMayhem.



David Neilsen is an actor/storyteller and author of the Middle Grade Horror novel, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom. Learn all you could ever hope to learn about David and his work by visiting his website at https://david-neilsen.com/. He is not a ninja.










“Such deliciously creepy fun! I fell in love with Dr. Fell! So will urchins and whippersnappers everywhere.” —Chris Grabenstein, author of the New York Times bestsellers Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and The Island of Dr. Libris
 
When the mysterious Dr. Fell moves into the abandoned house that had once been the neighborhood kids’ hangout, he immediately builds a playground to win them over. But as the ever-changing play space becomes bigger and more elaborate, the children and their parents fall deeper under the doctor’s spell.
 
Only Jerry, Nancy, and Gail are immune to the lure of his extravagant wonderland. And they alone notice that when the injuries begin to pile up on the jungle gym, somehow Dr. Fell is able to heal each one with miraculous speed. Now the three children must find a way to uncover the doctor’s secret power without being captivated by his trickery.









Monday, August 1, 2016

GUEST POST: "Hybrid Me" by C. Lee McKenzie

I never thought I’d self-publish a book. Why should I? I’d sold two novels to publishers, I’d found a small press to publish two more. I’d learned the ropes about querying, signing contracts, meeting deadlines and marketing the way the publisher wanted. But here I am officially a hybrid author.

Maybe I should go back and explain that I write in two fiction categories, young adult and middle grade. My four young adult books are what I’ve sold. The two, and soon to be three, middle grade stories are what I’ve published on my own.

I did query a lot before I took the Indie route, but while I had many requests for fulls of my teen books, I received almost no interest in my younger reader books. In fact, when I signed with an agent, she was very clear that she didn’t handle middle grade, but had no problem if I found another agent to take on my other category.

Not another agent quest, please!

I’ve searched the agent data bases, and so far I haven’t found one who seems open to taking only middle grade stories when an author also writes young adult and is already represented in that category. It seems that young adult sells and middle grade might, but not as well. At least, that’s what I’m hearing.



And based on my sales, I believe it’s true. I sell more YA than MG, even though my MGs are well-reviewed, including a great Kirkus write up.




I did, however, continue to seek out a second agent until recently, then I decided to stop. I’ve been writing for a few years now, and I’m at a point in my life when I want to do other things as well. I like to travel, so I try to make a major trip each year. I like to hike, practice yoga, garden and cook. And I like to spend time being a little lazy. I don’t want to spend any more of my time writing queries. It’s just that simple.




Besides, I’ve found that I rather enjoy being in charge of some of my work one-hundred percent. From concept to cover, it’s all my responsibility. While it can be exhausting, it can also be very satisfying. And as long as I can produce professional books, I feel okay about my decision to go hybrid.






A native Californian, C. Lee McKenzie, has always loved to write. But she's also been a university lecturer and administrator, and for five years, she wrote and published a newsletter for university professors. She's published articles on linguistics and intercultural communication, as well as on general magazine topics. Her fiction and nonfiction for young readers has been published in the award-winning e-zine, Stories for Children, and Crow Toes Quarterly has published her ghostly tales. Sliding on the Edge was her first young adult novel, which was followed by this second one, The Princess of Las Pulgas. When she isn't writing, Lee hikes in the mountains in Los Gatos, California.