Thursday, April 28, 2016

7 Questions For: Authors Lauren Oliver and "H.C. Chester"

Lauren Oliver is the author of the YA bestselling novels Before I Fall, PanicVanishing Girls and the Delirium trilogy: Delirium, Pandemonium, and Requiem, which have been translated into more than thirty languages and are New York Times and international bestselling novels. She is also the author of three novels for middle grade readers: The Spindlers; Liesl and Po, which was an E. B. White Read Aloud Award nominee; and Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head, co-written with H. C. Chester, and a novel for adults, Rooms. A graduate of the University of Chicago and NYU's MFA program, Lauren Oliver is also the cofounder of the boutique literary development company Paper Lantern Lit.

H. C. Chester is a collector of unusual relics who came into possession of the artifacts of the museum’s estate and discovered the story of the four children. (rumor has it he might also be Lauren Oliver's father, Harold Schechter)

Click here to read my review of Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head.

Click here to read an exclusive character interview with Andrew the Alligator Boy.

And now Lauren Oliver (and "H.C. Chester") face the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

LO: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Matilda by Roald Dahl
The Little Prince by Antoine St. Exupery


Elizabeth Barrett Bernstein's GONE WITH THE PTERODACTYLS

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

LO: Oh my goodness. This is embarrassing--probably between 40 and 60 hours, I would estimate? I don't really have any other hobbies. 

HCC: What with all the time I must devote to such daily activities as arranging my collection of early American dog-breeding pamphlets in precise chronological order and engaging in playtime with my trusted companion, Trudy, I have limited time for writing and reading. I would say no more than five or six hours per day.

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

LO: I've always intended to be a writer, although I didn't know I could make it a career. I was working as an assistant at Penguin Books while working on my first novel, and at a cocktail party I pushed the first draft of Before I Fall into the hands of Stephen Barbara, who would become my agent. 

HCC: My father, as most people know, was a celebrated author, best known for his groundbreaking book, "The Round and the Furry: Varieties of New England Rodents." He was not only an inspirationt o me but assisted me in finding a publisher for my first best-selling book, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Peruvian Bat."

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

LO: Both. I believe certain people are born with a passion for something--maybe it comes more easily to them, and thus they become passionate about it. But the passion drives hard work and the dedication and discipline to practice. And that then drives skill.

HCC: See above. I certainly believe that my exceptional gifts were largely inherited from my revered father. At the same time, they have been elevated to unprecedented heights by my constant application of them. 

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

LO: My favorite thing is that you can do it anywhere; it is the best imaginative escape. My least favorite thing is how hard it is! You'd think it would get easier over time but I find the reverse is true.

HCC: My favorite thing about writing is that, insofar as it is a solitary persuit, it allows me to maintain a blissful seclusion from the world and the countless annoying beings who inhabit it. My least favorite thing, I suppose, is that interferes with other precious activities, such as playtime with Trudy!

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)

LO: Practice. It's the only way to improve. Read everything you can, even things you think you won't like, and write every single day, even if it's only for a little.

HCC: It is very wise to make a carbon copy of your work as you type it. Otherwise, should anything happen to your manuscript, it will be lost forever!

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

LO: Maybe JK Rowling, so I could convince her to collaborate with me--or Stephen King. If I were going dead, I'd have to say Hunter S. Thompson, only because I bet we'd end up on a road trip to Vegas!

HCC: Unquestionably Sir Percy Grethwhohl. To hear from his own lips the thrilling tale of his decades-long quest through the well-nigh impenetrable jungles of Peru for a fleeting glimpse of the mythical albino fruit bat would be a dream come true!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

GUEST POST: "An Exclusive Interview with Andrew the Alligator Boy" by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester

Esteemed Reader, we have a first ever today. I got to interview my first ever fictional character. Those of you Esteemed Readers who've read to the end of Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees know how much I love alligator people. 

I jumped at this chance to chat with Andrew the Alligator Boy, a character in Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester. Click here to read my review and make sure you check back on Thursday to see the authors do the first-ever joint interview in the history of this blog.

For today, please welcome Andrew the Alligator Boy!

Now seventy-four (or perhaps seventy-five, or even seventy-six, or possibly eighty) The Alligator Boy has been performing on the circuit since he was actually a boy. Bad-tempered and plagued with bad dandruff, The Alligator Boy spends most of his time railing about the way things used to be.

Question Five: Now that you're pushing seventy-five (or possibly eighty), have you asked Mr. Dumpfrey about the possibility of being renamed Andrew the Alligator Man?

Absolutely not. How preposterous! I've been the Alligator Boy these last fifty six years and don't plan on quitting now. 

Question Four: Is Solitaire your favorite way to pass the time, or do you have other hobbies you're passionate about?

I like Solitaire because you can play it by yourself.

Question Three: What's your favorite thing about performing in the Odditorium at Dumpfrey's Dime Museum?

When I'm done performing and can head upstairs and be alone. 

Question Four: Other than washing the windows, what are your duties around the museum?

I make sure everyone's made their beds up nice and neat with the corners tucked in sharp. Mr. Dumfrey never gave me that job. I just like to do it.

Question Five: Are you at all concerned to be sleeping under the same roof as the possibly cursed shrunken head of Chief Ticuna-Piranha?

Curse, shmurse! The only thing cursed around here is that cursed Max, who won't make her bed! 

Lauren Oliver is the author of the YA bestselling novels Before I Fall, PanicVanishing Girls and the Delirium trilogy: Delirium, Pandemonium, and Requiem, which have been translated into more than thirty languages and are New York Times and international bestselling novels. She is also the author of three novels for middle grade readers: The Spindlers; Liesl and Po, which was an E. B. White Read Aloud Award nominee; and Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head, co-written with H. C. Chester, and a novel for adults, Rooms. A graduate of the University of Chicago and NYU's MFA program, Lauren Oliver is also the cofounder of the boutique literary development company Paper Lantern Lit.

H. C. Chester is a collector of unusual relics who came into possession of the artifacts of the museum’s estate and discovered the story of the four children. (rumor has it he might also be Lauren Oliver's father, Harold Schechter)

Click here to read my review of Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head.

The book is about, among other things: the strongest boy in the world, a talking cockatoo, a faulty mind reader, a beautiful bearded lady and a nervous magician, an old museum, and a shrunken head.
Blessed with extraordinary abilities, orphans Philippa, Sam, and Thomas have grown up happily in Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. But when a fourth child, Max, a knife-thrower, joins the group, it sets off an unforgettable chain of events.
When the museum’s Amazonian shrunken head is stolen, the four are determined to get it back. But their search leads them to a series of murders and an explosive secret about their pasts.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Book of the Week: CURIOSITY HOUSE - THE SHRUNKEN HEAD by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester

First Paragraph(s): Come in, please. St p out o the rain.
It had been raining for three straight days, and even the regular customers were staying away. On Thursday, Thomas had the idea of posting a sign on the doors of the museum. By Friday, several letters had blurred away, ajnd the others were running toward the bottom of the page as though attempting a getaway. By Saturday afternoon, the note had turned to a sodden piece of pulp and, driven by the winds into the gutter, was carted away on the underside of a busy man's leather-soled shoe.
Thomas was bored.
It was only April 20, and he had already read all the books Mr. Dumfrey had bought him for his birthday on April 2, including The Probability of Everything, which was nearly a thousand pages long, and A Short History of Math, which was even longer. So he spent the morning in the attic, playing DeathTrap, a game of his own invention. It was like chess, except that instead of using a checkerboard, it relied on the patterns of a threadbare Persian rug, and instead of pawns, bishops, and knights, the pieces were various things pilfered from the exhibits over the years: a baby kangaroo's foot, which could only jump spaces; a dented Roman coin that could only be spun or flipped; an old shark's jaw that didn't move but conquered pieces that came too close by swallowing them; a scorpion tail that paralyzed other players so they lost a turn; an armadillo toe that could be used by any player, depending on who was in possession of the armadillo shell.

Esteemed Reader, we are in for a treat this week and we'll have two first's for this blog: our first two-authors-for-the-price-of-one author interview as we'll be joined Thursday by Lauren Oliver and the mysterious H.C. Chester. But wait! There's more! We'll also have our first ever character-interview with Andrew the Alligator Boy who will be here exclusive to Middle Grade Ninja tomorrow!!!

I thoroughly enjoyed Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head and I think you will as well. It's one part superhero comic, one part horror comic, one part mystery, and many many parts just plain comic as I found myself laughing frequently. 

This book was right up my alley and caught my interest going in with the title alone (and the fact that I knew in advance there would be an Alligator Boy in the offering). 'Curious' or "curiosity" are good words for a title, a way to prompt and condition the reader to be hooked  with "shrunken head." Yes, there are no doubt some readers who will be turned away by these words, but honestly, this story probably isn't for them anyway:) For the rest of us, the promise of a shrunken head is an excellent prospect because where there's a shrunken head, there may be more strangeness and possibly grossness in store. If the only thing we had to bring to our awareness was the book's title on a plain list of book titles, I think it would stand out nicely.

We're going to talk about the book and some substance momentarily, Esteemed Reader, I promise. But I've been making an effort to approach books with an appreciation beyond the experience of just reading them as I now have books of my own to market and continue to produce. You know I love my ebooks, but the Harper hardcover edition of Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head is an argument for why print books remain relevant. The artwork throughout is excellent, right down to the doodles at the start of each chapter, and the dust cover is not only well-designed to look sharp, it has raised lettering in gold that I could feel on the tips of my fingers as held it open.

This is a book that is well-made and well-positioned, which is its own form of artistry. It also has the effect of ramping up reader expectations. The reader believes this story will be good before he reads the first line because it looks and feels like a good book. You know I love the indie author movement, but for a book like this, at present, you need a traditional publisher; or you need to leave a comment on this post telling me who I can call to get my books looking like this one:) 

Fortunately for the reader who expects this story to be good, it is good. It's got an excellent setting sure to arouse your***chuckles obnoxiously and perhaps a bit too smugly***curiosity

Dumfrey's Dime Museum was, from the outside, easy to miss. The four-story brick building, originally a combination art school and gallery called the New York Cultural Academy, was sandwiched between Eli's Barbershop and the St. Edna Hotel, like an awkward middle child getting squeezed to death by its two prettier, more impressive siblings...
...In addition to the coat check and refreshment stand--which sold gumdrops, caramel-coated popcorn, and root beer--the first floor housed two exhibition spaces. One was the Odditorium, where the live performances took place. The other was the Hall of Worldwide Wonders, which contained more than one hundred items hand-selected by Mr. Dumfrey, including an Eskimo seal-hunting spear, the headdress of a pygmy witch doctor, and a carved wooden platter used by Polynesian cannibals; and a large, open gallery of glassed-in exhibit cases, containing anything from a tiny doll-like figure floating in a jar of alcohol, said to be a genuine changeling baby from the British Isles, to a mummified cat found in King Tut's tomb.

It's got some extremely interesting characters reminiscent of the sort you might hope to find in an X-man comic:

"'But normal is precisely what these children are not, as this journalist knows firsthand. Thomas Able, Philippa (Pippa) Devue, Sam Fort, and Mackenzie (last name unknown) have achieved notoriety due to their freakish, some would say unnatural, abilities. A body as limber as an elastic band; the ability to read minds, or at the very least, pockets; a preternatural strength; a ferocious and deadly skill with knives: these are some of the strengths of this group of freaks, of human abominations.'"

And it's got an exciting inciting incident that immediately establishes the stakes when the museum's top attraction, the aforementioned shrunken head, which patrons believe to be cursed, is mysteriously stolen under mysterious circumstance mysteriously:

Mr. Dumfrey's voice wavered. "You might as well know. The museum is broke. The head was our last chance at paying our debts and keeping the doors open. Now, I fear, we are sunk."

Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head is a fun read that provides a satisfying conclusion but also leaves me excited for the coming sequels. By now you know whether it's your kind of book or not. Do you like the idea of children with super powers cracking jokes and detecting clues to solve a mystery? Then this book is for you. If you don't like those things, you probably don't like reading and I'm not sure why you're here:)

The tone of the story is a bit dark, which I enjoyed now and would've enjoyed when I was the age of the target audience. I especially appreciated the descriptions of the dead bodies along the way and when I did some poking around online to discover the true identity of H.C. Chester, I was not entirely surprised to discover he writes much more adult fair involving serial killers and all other manner of delightfully unwholesome things. Not to worry. The content of Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head is entirely age-appropriate, but with just enough of an edge to pique the interest of the horror hound in me.

There is plenty of find craftsmanship on display throughout and many things are described at least as well as the dead bodies:) For example, see the following description of a theater that accomplishes the act of grounding us in the setting, but also illuminates a character:

The Viceroy Theater, on the corner of Eighth Avenue and Forty-Fourth Street, had seen better days. Only one of every four lights encircling the marquee was still working; the majority had burned out, been pecked apart by pigeons, or been shattered by vandals. The carpet in the lobby was threadbare, the chairs creaked awfully, and large water stains decorated the faded silk walls.
Still, it was one of Sam's favorite places. he loved the smell of buttered popcorn that clung to the upholstery, and the old movie posters displayed on the walls, in part to conceal the water stains.
Most of all he loved the darkness. Sitting in a movie theater, he could be just anyone: a normal kid from a normal family, out to have a normal good time. For once, he was the one who got to watch and point and laugh.

There's more to be said, but Little Ninja is pulling on my arm because I promised to take him to the playground this morning, so I guess that's the end of this review. Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head is a well-published and well-written book that's made especially to be read on a cold night in front of a fire, or at the beach, or also in a tub... read it wherever you like, but don't miss it. 

As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head:

She loved Mr. Dumfrey dearly, but his mind, it seemed to her, was like one of those Chinese knots that Thomas often worked his way out of in his solo acts: strings all over, everything a tangled mess.

Max really wished he would stop spouting off about probabilities and statistics and boring numbers that made her head spin. The problem was all the reading he did. A nasty habit.

"I'm very disappointed, Thomas," Dumfrey said, shaking his head so that the skin underneath his chin wobbled--as though it, too, were disappointed.

After the close, warm atmosphere of the room upstairs, with its smells of old cigar butts and cheap aftershave and mildew, the air was as delicious as fizzy bottle of soda.

"You'd have to be dumber than a dung beetle to think Mr. Dumfrey could kill anyone," she continued.
Sam did not say that he wouldn't be surprised if Hardaway and Webb were dumber than dung beetles. He just said, "Who did kill him, then?"

"I wouldn't bet on it," growled Andrew, and then picked up his soup and began to slurp.

"Must you eat like an animal?" Miss Fitch said.
"I'm the alligator boy, ain't I?"

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

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

GUEST POST: "Why School Librarians are a Middle Grade Author’s Best Friends" by Kristina Springer

I have four kids, three of which are in my target reading age for my books now (9, 11, and 13). And when I’m not writing, I like to volunteer at their schools—especially in all positions that relate to books. This means I work in the publishing center at the elementary school (we edit and produce books the kids write and put them available for check out in the library), co-organize and run the twice-a-year book fairs at the school, and assist in the junior high LRC (shelving books, covering new books, and anything else they ask me to do).

I write both young adult and middle grade fiction and I’ve found over the years that middle grade books are a bit tougher to promote. With YA, we can reach readers online: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, etc. But your average middle grade reader isn’t on these platforms so how do we let them know about our new books?

One day I was working the Scholastic Book Fair at school and I could see the librarian in the corner of the LRC doing book talks with the various classes. Each time she finished a book talk, the kids were given time to go wander around the book fair. Over and over again the kids went right to the book she had been talking about and snapped it up. So much so that we had to restock that book several times during that week of the fair. 

I noticed something similar at the junior high level as well. The librarian there book-talked my books a couple of times with the 7th and 8th graders and she said that each time she did one, all my books were checked out and a waiting list formed.

So approximately three months prior to the release of my newest middle grade book, Cici Reno #MiddleSchoolMatchmaker, (Today! April 19th!) I decided I would go straight to the junior high librarians to help get the word out. With a little help from Google, I created a list of mailing addresses for all the junior high schools within a 30-minute drive of me. I picked 30-minutes because I wanted to be available if any of the schools asked me to come for a school visit as well. My mailing list came to 175 schools. I then made postcards at

On the color side of the postcard I uploaded the book cover. On the left side of the back of the postcard, I had Vistaprint print the title, my name, book description, availability date, age range, grade level, ISBN, and my web site address in case they wanted to get in contact with me. I also added my publisher’s logo at the bottom. On the blank right side of the card I hand wrote the school name, attn: School Librarian, and the address, and then added a personal note at the bottom and signed it. 

It does take some time but I think personalizing the post cards is nice and separates your card from standard advertisements that come in the mail. Here you can write whatever you want. I noted that I was a local author and what town I’m living in and that I hoped they’d consider my new middle grade novel for their library’s collection. You can also add that you are available for school visits if you’d like. I’ve been getting a number invitations for visits from my postcards so it’s definitely been time well spent.

And if you have any postcards left when you’re done (and your hand isn’t too cramped!) send them to public libraries and bookstores as well to let them also know you have a new book coming out.

Kristina Springer is the author of Cici Reno #MiddleSchoolMatchmaker (Sterling Children's/April 19, 2016), My Fake Boyfriend Is Better Than Yours (Macmillan/FSG), a Scholastic Bestseller and 2012 YALSA Quick Pick book; The Espressologist (Macmillan,/FSG), a 2010 Society of School Librarians International Honor Book and 2014 Illinois Reads Book that has been purchased for film by Michael Eisner’s Vuguru; and Just Your Average Princess (Macmillan/FSG). She has a Masters in Writing from DePaul University and resides in a suburb of Chicago with her husband and children.

Middle school is a test, but Cici Reno has all the answers. She's the go-to girl for advice. She's cool, she's funny, and she's enlightened (thanks to yoga classes at her mom's studio). So when her pretty BFF, Aggie, is too shy to speak to the boy she's crushing on, Cici goes online and does the talking for her. The only problem is, Cici starts to fall for the guy herself! For the first time in her life, she doesn't have a clue.

Monday, April 11, 2016

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Mark Gottlieb

Mark Gottlieb’s focus on publishing began at Emerson College, where he was a founding member of the Publishing Club, later its President, overseeing its first publication and establishing the Wilde Press.

After graduating with a degree in writing, literature and publishing, Mark began his career with the Vice  President of Berkley Books (Penguin), working with leading editors.

His first position at the Trident Media Group literary agency was in foreign rights, selling the books of clients around the world. Mark later worked as Executive Assistant to Robert Gottlieb, Chairman of Trident, with responsibility for organizing/managing diverse authors and their complex business transactions. He next assumed the position of audio rights agent. Since Mark has managed the audio rights business, the annual sales volume has more than doubled. Mark showed great initiative and insight in identifying talented writers.

In passing the Audio Department's torch, Mark is building his own client list of writers. He is excited to work directly with authors, helping to manage and grow their careers with all of the unique resources that are available to Trident. Since that time he has ranked as high as #1 in Agents on in Overall Deals. He has also ranked #1 in categories such as Science-Fiction/Fantasy, Children's, and Graphic Novels. He has ranked in the top five for Thriller, Mystery/Crime, Womens/Romance, Young Adult, and certain nonfiction categories such as Pop Culture, Memoir, How-To, and Humor.

And now Mark Gottlieb faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Ralph Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN
Herman Hesse’s SIDDHARTHA

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


“The Simpsons”
“Kids in the Hall”
“The Twilight Zone”


“Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas”
“Ed Wood”
“Easy Rider”

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

The ideal client should be patient, since book publishing can be a slow process, but at the same time they should be curious about the book publishing process, and how their role fits into it/how they can help as a central figure in the success of a book’s publication.

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

I would like to receive some more titles by award-winning and bestselling authors in most any category of fiction and nonfiction. Works carrying blurbs/advance praise also have the promise of doing well in the eyes of agents and publishers, in addition to authors with other credentials such as a MFA or residency at a renowned workshop. I am not receptive to poetry, short story collections, nor novellas.

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

My favorite thing about being a literary agent at Trident Media Group was put best by my client Domenick Dicce, author of YOU’RE A VAMPIRE: THAT SUCKS! (A Survival Guide): “Thank you for making my dreams come true. Looking forward to working together in the future.” 

My least favorite thing is when I believe strongly in a project but a publisher or readership might not feel the same way, and therefore the author’s dreams can’t always be fully-realized.

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)

Some strengths to focus on:

Perseverance/learning from rejection
Self-improvement/personal growth
Patience/avoid bucking the system

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

I would like to have lunch with Ralph Ellison to ask him whether or not his house truly burned down by accident or arsonist. Lost in the house fire was an unfinished novel said to rival INVISIBLE MAN. As a perfectionist who was very hard on himself, Ellison expressed his dissatisfaction when receiving his National Book Award for INVISIBLE MAN, stating that the novel was only “an attempt at a major novel.” 

Ellison claimed that more than 300 pages of his second novel manuscript were lost in the house fire. Ellison eventually wrote more than 2,000 pages of this second novel but never finished it. Instead, he suffered from writer’s block and stared at a blinking cursor for the rest of his life—a reality that a lot of authors experience after achieving immense success, which is something we must all overcome. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

GUEST POST: "How to Write a Poem in Ten Easy Steps" by Skila Brown

It’s National Poetry Month! Which is very exciting if you’re a poet or a lover of poetry. And probably doesn’t interest you at all if you consider yourself to be neither.

But if you’re a reader…and certainly a writer…you should be celebrating too! Poems can amaze, invoke, inform, and impress. Bonus: they’re often short enough to devour in a single bite, so investing time into one isn’t a huge commitment.

April is the perfect time to try your hand at writing a poem. But you’re not a poet, you say? Well, nobody is anything until they actually try. So stretch yourself. Write a poem. Here’s one fast and easy way to do it.

1.    Observe. Sit and watch a squirrel on your deck or a flower in the wind or a shark swimming on youtube. (Because watching a shark swimming in the water next to you might end this activity right here.)

2. Take notes on what you’re seeing. Not AP-Chemistry-study-for-final kind of notes but more like jotting down random thoughts that pop into your head while you’re watching. Words like scurry or slinky or sitting or seaweed. Or they may not even start with an s at all.

3. If you’re drawing a blank on what to write down, here are some ideas to get you started: make a list of verbs. Every verb that pops into your head while observing your subject. What colors do you see and what do they remind you of? Write down two scary things about the scene in front of you.

4. Go away.

5. Come back later to your notes. Read over them. Circle anything you like. See the beginnings of a poem somewhere? If yes, go to step 6. If no, go back to step 1 and repeat again with something different.

6. Take the stuff you like and play with it. Sometimes you can play with it by sound. Alliteration or rhyme is a good place to start. Sometimes you can play with the shape of the phrases. Concrete poems take the shape of the thing you’re writing about.  Sometimes you can play with it by metaphor. Maybe you thought that leaf looked old and wrinkled and full of veins and that makes you think of your grandmother’s hands and that time she taught you to make apple fritters. Go with that.

7. Just write. Free write some more stuff on the page in front of you and see where it leads you.

8. Trim it into a poem. Poems pack a punch. Every word counts. Do you need all those words you have? Can you trim some to make the lines more potent? Can you find even stronger or better words for what you’re saying?

9. Think about line breaks. The first word and the last word of the line are powerful. You can also use line breaks to build suspense. 

10. Read it aloud. Do you notice any sounds you can capitalize on? Any places you can trim to make it more potent?

That’s it! And come on, that didn’t take long. Surely you can spare an hour or two this month to stretch your brain in a new and fun way.

Now—don’t forget to go read some poems! If you aren’t going to trek to the library to peruse the shelves, how about just clicking this. Or this.

See? Poetry is cool. I told you.

Happy National Poetry Month!

Skila Brown is the author of verse novels Caminar and To Stay Alive, as well as the picture book Slickety Quick: Poems About Sharks, all with Candlewick Press. She received an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee and now lives in Indiana where she writes books for readers of all ages.

Fourteen shark species, from the utterly terrifying to the surprisingly docile, glide through the pages of this vibrantly illustrated, poetic picture book.

From the enormous whale shark to the legendary great white to the enigmatic goblin shark to the small cookie-cutter shark, Slickety Quick is a delightful frenzy of shark mayhem. Mysterious species such as the camouflaged wobbegong and the elusive frilled shark share the waters with better-known blue and nurse sharks, each commemorated in a poem by Skila Brown and illustrated by Bob Kolar. Sneaky shark facts ripple through each spread to further inform the brave and curious young reader intrigued by the power — and danger — of these amazing creatures.

These concrete poems about a selection of sharks will tickle the fins of many an aspiring marine biologist.

All in all, it’s a book that ought to leave many readers fascinated—and perhaps a little unsettled—by the diversity of sharks that exist beneath the waves.
—Publishers Weekly

An inviting format to spark shark discussions.
—Kirkus Reviews

Man, do I love me some poems about sharks! ***kisses fingertips to saver the sweetness***
—Middle Grade Ninja

Monday, March 28, 2016

GUEST POST: “Self-Published to Small-Press Published” by Stacy Barnett Mozer

When my middle grade novel, The Sweet Spot, launched last June I was sure that I had made the final and best decision on how I was going to put it out into the world. The book had previously found an agent, gone through rounds of revision and rejection and revision - and not sold. It had been tabled it for a couple of years and not quite forgotten as I moved on to other projects, but I kept going back to it. 

I made changes based on an editor’s feedback and turned the whole thing from past tense to present tense. I got more beta readers, made additional changes, and could have tried to send it out into the traditional route again, but some workshops at the NESCBWI conference last year changed my mind. 

A number of self-published authors talked about the freedom they felt in doing it themselves. How they loved being the one in the driver’s seat and having the book’s success and failure on their own shoulders. It sounded great. I hired my school art teacher to draw me a cover and went right onto Createspace and Kindle Direct and used their author templates to produce a book.

And it was great. Having my book as a real book that I could hold in my hand, seeing it on Amazon and in the local libraries, reading reviews, having kids come running over to tell me how much they loved my book, was an absolutely amazing experience. I could try out some marketing idea and watch my account for the next few days to see what happened. The timeline was mine to control. The marketing ideas were mine alone. Everything was up to me.

So what went wrong? In a word: Bookstores. According to Createspace, selling books to bookstores isn’t a problem as long as you sign up for their expanded distribution service. But what they don’t make clear is that only some books will be sold in certain places. My book was available online from Barnes & Noble and it was sold in other random places, but nobody could buy it at a discount. Because of this, my local Indies could only take the book on consignment and most of the deals were so poor that I would have been paying them to sell my book. Plus some Indies didn’t like supporting a book that was published by an Amazon company and wouldn’t consider my book at all.

Fortunately, an author friend gave me another option. He told me about a brand new small press that was forming and looking for middle grade authors with books that were already doing well independently. I submitted my book, had it approved (well, everything except for the cover), and here we are: a brand new home for The Sweet Spot and a new way of doing things.

With the small press I have gained a support network, some oversight, minds more experienced then mine at doing this, a brand new cover, and a path into seeing my book in stores. I have lost the complete control and freedom, and some of the money that goes along with doing it myself. Which will I end up liking more…  The jury is still out. But so far I have been enjoying having a team.

Stacy Barnett Mozer is a third grade teacher and a mom. She started writing books when a class of students told her that there was no way that a real author who wrote real books could possibly revise their work as much as she asked them to revise. She’s been revising her own work ever since. The Sweet Spot launched from Spellbound River Press on March 25. You can buy it at Visit Stacy online at You can follow her on twitter at @SMozer and on Facebook at

To win a copy of The Sweet Spot go to

Friday, March 25, 2016

NINJA STUFF: My Review of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice

We're going to talk movies today, Esteemed Reader, specifically superhero movies. It's going to get really nerdy here and I'll understand if you'd rather opt out until I have a new interview with  a writer or literary agent. But this is my blog and those of you who are regular Esteemed Readers know how I feel about Batman movies and Superman movies and how I have long dreamed of seeing them in a movie together.

I try not to discuss movies at this blog too often, not because I don't love some of them, but because they get discussed plenty elsewhere and this is a blog about reading and writing. You may recall I got sick of movies last year when I had a perma-free pass. Alas, that pass has since expired and I haven't been back to the theaters for three months now. If I have to pay cash money for a movie in addition to leaving my house where I will be forced to put up with people talking and blinding me with their light-up cell phone displays set to maximum rude, somebody better be wearing a cape:)

But last Friday we got 13 incredible episodes of Daredevil on Netflix (and yes, I've watched them all over the course of 6 days) and we're about to get Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. This may be the greatest week of entertainment in the history of the world and afterwards I'm going back to mostly reading books as I don't think Hollywood can top this week and I probably won't venture out to the cinema again until Captain America III: Spider-man Party.

I'm writing this on a Wednesday afternoon, March 23rd. My eyes are slightly crossed from hours of making revisions to the middle of my next horror novel, The Book of David (soon to be available provided no one releases any more episodes of Daredevil). My tickets are for the earliest available 3D showing of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice tomorrow, so I haven't actually seen the movie yet. I thought it might be fun to split my review into my expectations for the movie before seeing it and my reaction after seeing it.

Therefore, you can read the first part of this post without fear of spoilers, because I don't know any.


I'm so excited, Esteemed Reader. This might be the most excited I've ever been about seeing a movie in my adult life--certainly the most excited I've been since just before The Dark Knight Rises released. And I should've learned a lesson about adjusting my expectations. Because I keenly remember the disappointment that followed The Dark Knight Rises being worse than the disappointment that followed Batman and Robin.

You see, I expected Batman and Robin to suck. Every trailer leading up to its release looked terrible, so my expectations were managed. I didn't even see it until it had been out a day or two. I had a half hope that a movie chock full of so many beloved characters could somehow pull off something still worth watching despite the terribleness on display in those previews. In a way, it did, because I have yet to see another movie that's quite so much fun to hate (and I do love hating it). I have seen Citizen Kane exactly once (it was fine), but I have hate-watched Batman and Robin more than twenty times in the almost 20 years since it's release (oh my God, what have I been doing with my life!?!?).

Whereas The Dark Knight Rises caught me by surprise by simply being not very good. It was the sequel to The Dark Knight, which is the best Batman movie of all time, and The Dark Knight Rises was made by all the same people, so of course my expectations were through the roof. And the movie has some top-notch Batman and Bane fights in between scenes of Alfred crying all over himself.  It's not Batman and Robin bad where you can enjoy making fun of it. It's just extremely dry and boring with moments of painfully bad acting and bad screenwriting and scenes of such sheer stupidity they stand out even in a goofy comic book movie (really? all the cops in the city went underground at the same time? really? this is your gritty, "realistic" Batman?).

And I'm aware my ire is puzzling to many normal readers who gave up on this post already. I felt the same puzzlement way back when Star Wars: The Phantom Menace came out and fans lost their minds hating it. I remember watching the flick filled with mediocre acting, some dodgy special effects, and a bunch of mystic space mumbo jumbo and thinking "yep, that was a Star Wars movie." Jar Jar Binks was annoying, but the big light-saber fight at the end was great and there were lots of interesting aliens. Oh, and I liked the pod racing (so sue me). I felt like I got my money's worth and so I recall being the only one in my friend group to leave the theater feeling happy with what I saw.

But that's because I'm a casual Star Wars fan. I totally dig those movies, but I don't love, love, love them the way some do. I had a couple Luke and Han action figures when I was young, but my mom sold them in a garage sale and that was fine. As I write this I have a shelf overlooking me stuffed with Batman and Superman action figures, including a new Batfleck and a Henry Cavil Superman. I feel about Batman V. Superman the way most of the country felt about The Force Awakens (which I really enjoyed, but not on the same level as the true fans, I'm sure).

Am I destined to be disappointed at my own personal The Phantom Menace? It's entirely possible. The early reviews for Batman V. Superman are out and though I'm trying to avoid them, I know they're not great. I'm really hoping they spend more cash and make Doomsday look less fake than he does in the trailer. I'm also hoping Jesse Eisenberg turns out to be a better Lex Luthor than he has been in the previews. For my money, the best Lex Luthor in any medium was Michael Rosenbaum on Smallville and I stopped watching that show when he dropped out of the cast. And above all, I hope they please, for the love of God, show Thomas and Martha Wayne being gunned down in quick flashes rather than making us sit through that enitre scene for the eleventy-billionth time.

I really, truly loved 95% of Man of Steel. Hans Zimmer's Superman theme makes my heart soar and Henry Cavil shows Brandon Routh how it's done, though neither of them can hold a candle to Christopher Reeve. I'd love Man of Steel all the way if only Kevin Costner's Johnathan Kent (inspired casting) had simply had the good sense to die of a heart attack instead of a bullcrap tornado that totally messes up Clark Kent's mythology and makes him a bit of a sociopath (why didn't you save your Dad, dude? And don't tell me it's because he told you not to. You're Superman. Dude. No, seriously, dude.).

Everything else about Man of Steel made me cheer and when I watch it at home, I just skip over the tornado scene and I'm a happy camper. And yes, I like that Superman snaps Zod's neck. I've rarely chuckled harder in a theater as I did at the concerned looks on the faces of parents sitting with their children ahead of me as they for sure weren't expecting that:) I like my Superman complex and my movie endings morally ambiguous. Say what you will about that ending, it challenged the viewer and made him/her think, and that's a rare moment in a comic book story.

I like all of director Zack Snyder's movies, yes, even Sucker Punch (though admittedly, I like that one least). His remake of Dawn of the Dead is my favorite zombie flick and 300 is Frank Miller come to life. The director's cut of The Watchmen is absolutely astonishing and a true work of art (it ain't Watchmen without the intentionally unremarkable death of Hollis Mason). I even enjoyed Legend of the Guardians.

I remember the internet going nuts over the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman, but for the record, I have always been pro-Batfleck. Ben Affleck has made a lot of terrible movies and I'm not saying he hasn't. I bet if I met him in real life I probably wouldn't care for him, but I'd imagine that to be true of most movie stars (anybody seriously think Christian am-I-gonna-walk-around-and-rip-your-bleeping-lights-down-in-the-middle-of-a-scene Bale makes an ideal dinner date?). But I used to audition for plays with one of Affleck's Chasing Amy monologues and he's turned in a few great performances between Reindeer Games and Jersey Girl. He's a huge dude with a great jaw and totally believable as a handsome rich guy who likes the ladies. I'm sure he'll make a fine Batman/Bruce Wayne.

I've been excited since this movie was first announced and we were promised the source material would be none other than one of my three favorite books of all time, The Dark Knight Returns. In the trailers, we've heard Batfleck say "It's way past time you learned what it means to be a man," and "The world only makes sense if you force it too." So I would say that even if the movie is mostly terrible all around the scenes of Batman saying those lines to Superman, I'm still going to be glad I sprang for tickets in advance.

In a way, this is the best part: this moment of anticipation before I actually see the movie. And even if the flick fails to live up to my highest expectations, life is short and often fraught with misery. How glorious it is to have something to love as much as I love Batman and Superman movies? How exhilarating it is to be this excited about anything in life. It's like the excitement I feel when starting a new novel by a favorite author.

And that's it, except for me to list my nerd bonafides so you will know how seriously to take my opinion once I've seen the movie. So, here ya go:

Favorite Batman movies ranked in order of my love: 1. The Dark Knight 2. Batman (1989) 3. The Dark Knight Returns (parts 1 and 2) 3. Batman Begins 4. Batman: The Movie 5. Batman: Year One 6. Batman: Mask of The Phantasm  7. Batman Returns 8. Batman Forever 9. The Dark Knight Rises 10. Batman and Robin

Favorite Superman movies ranked in order of my love: 1. Superman: The Movie 2. The Dark Knight Returns (part 2) 3. Man of Steel 4. Superman II 5. Superman III 6. Superman Returns 7. Superman IV: The Quest For Peace

Favorite superhero movies ranked in order of my love: 1. The Dark Knight 2. Unbreakable 3. Batman (1989) 4. Spider-man 2 5. The Watchmen Director's Cut 6. The Dark Knight Returns (parts 1 and 2) 7. Superman: The Movie 8. Man of Steel 9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier 10. The Avengers 11. X-Men 2 12, Supergirl (yes, I know it's not actually a good movie, but I don't care, I love you Helen Slater, please marry me)


I'm writing this second part of the post the morning after having seen Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I've only seen it once (but I'm going back to the theater as soon as I find an opportunity) and so I have yet to grock the flick's fullness, but I loved it. Surprise:)

It's absolutely not for kids (I felt sorry for the parents sitting ahead of us with their young children) and I'm not going to try to convince you that it's a perfect movie (it's not) or even an especially thoughtful movie. It's loud and kinda silly, but I can't wait to see it again and I wish I had the blu ray so I could rewatch parts of it over and over.

I'm kind of glad the early reviews came out and proclaimed the movie not good as they tempered my expectations. I saw it with my best buddy and we talked about Batman and Robin before hand and agreed that BVS had to at least be better than that. But right away the movie captured my imagination and about thirty minutes in I gave up waiting for it to start sucking. Sure, there were a couple lines of dialogue that fell flat and maybe one dream sequence too many and a few plot conveniences along the way, but at no point did any of that hamper my good time because  BVS gets right way more than it gets wrong.

In fact, I wanted to stand up and cheer about three minutes in. Yes, we have to watch Thomas and Martha Wayne get gunned down, again, but the filmmakers wisely knock that bit out during the opening credits, interspersed with scenes of Bruce Wayne discovering the batcave. They couldn't not provide the information as it comes up in a big way later, but they got Batman's origin story out of the way with a quickness. ATTENTION SUPERHERO MOVIES: this is how you do the origin of superheroes we already know and love. Put together a montage at the top and be done with it. Marvel, please don't make me sit through another hour of teenage Peter Parker cradling his Uncle Ben and being bit by a spider. Get to the interesting part already, which is what BVS did.

As I was watching the movie it occurred to me that anyone who didn't already know these characters inside and out by heart would have a hard time following parts of the flick because it is jam-packed with all kinds of story and it never slows down to explain. And there's a bit too much setup for sequels wedged in. I liked seeing Aquaman, Cyborg, and Flash, but they probably could've been saved for the next movie or a post-credits tease rather than BVS grinding to a halt to force them in (that felt like a studio-mandated commercial).

But oh well. Have I mentioned that this is a movie that has both Batman AND Superman in it? Because it totally did. And Superman was all flying around saving folks. And Batman was all punching people and looking the best on film he's ever looked. And then Wonder Woman showed up and she had a sword and a lasso and she was all like boom, and Superman was all like bam, and Batman was all like pow, and all my favorite heroes were fighting in glorious 3D and the Hans Zimmer guitar was wailing and it was so awesome and then Doomsday shows up because apparently you can rub some blood on a dead body and shove it in a Kryptonian microwave and make a monster because that's how science works and then Doomsday's all rahr! and Batman's all like batarang to the face, punk, and so on...

Look: if you're expecting MacBeth level drama or Birdman levels of subtlety and nuance or the poignancy of Spotlight, why are you watching Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (the whole plot is given away in the title)? If you pay to see Transformers 3 and are upset that it failed to enlighten us on the complexities of the human condition, that's not Michael Bay's fault. If you got really big action sequences of robots fighting, he did his job.

Batman V Superman knows what kind of movie it is, even if it occasionally aspires to be more with real subtle stuff like paintings of angels wearing red capes and demons with bat wings and you-can't-possibly-miss-them crosses in a scene that could've been taken directly from The Passion of the Christ (which makes an Easter weekend opening kinda funny). And there are many, many great references to The Dark Knight Returns throughout, which I loved because real talk, they're never going to make that book into a live action movie (not sure it would work if they did), but Zack Snyder knew to steal images and sequences from the best. There were plenty of moments throughout the film that made my fanboy heart soar such as when Bruce Wayne tells Alfred they've always been criminals (heck yeah you have!) or assures a criminal in a standoff "I believe you," (heck yeah you do!) or tells Superman that his parents taught them a different lesson dying for no reason at all (heck yeah they did!).

The biggest surprise to me was how much I enjoyed what Jessie Eisenberg did with Lex Luthor. I don't know if I'd give him the crown from Michael Rosenbaum just yet, but he swung for the fences and gave us a Lex Luthor we haven't seen before (he never even mentions real estate). He's grating at times, but he's supposed to be, and Eisenberg sold me on the idea that Lex was really as crazy and egomaniacal as he needs to be to serve the plot of this comic book story come to life. I'm not completely convinced by some of Batman's motivations (try talking to Supes first, buddy), I think some of Supeman's thinking only really makes sense if he occasionally forgets he has superpowers (you don't have to trust Batman to save your mom when you have super speed), but Lex Luthor 100% convinced me he wanted to kill Superman to get back at his dead father.

Jeremy Irons was an outstanding Alfred and Ben Affleck was a Batman I hope we get to see more of. I love that his Bruce Wayne isn't just pretending to be a billionaire playboy but actually doing it (best secret identity ever) and Affleck was better than Kilmer or Clooney, and possibly Bale (will maybe have to give that one more thought, but Michael Keaton is still the best). Batfleck killed a lot of folks, some of them with guns, which is a decidedly un-Batman thing to do. But all the other movie Batmen have killed folks as well, even the ones who spent a lot of time talking about how they didn't, so I'm just going to assume Batman somehow knew that all the people in the cars he blew up were bad and deserved to die.

I could go on about how much I loved this movie, but this post is already very long and I have actual writing that needs doing. I laughed a couple times and I got something in my eye toward the end. If you love Batman and Superman and want to watch a movie in which they fight, even if they make up and (spoiler, I guess) become superfriends like right away, without really even having to work that much stuff out, then this is a movie for you. I would probably rank it as my third favorite Batman movie. It's fun and made especially for a hardcore fan like me.

Batman V. Superman has not changed my life, but I would say its existence has improved my life. This movie entertained me and made me happy and God bless the good people at Warner Brothers for making something I love so much. Please go see this flick in the theaters so they don't do something silly like cancel Justice League. I want more Batman and Superman punchy smashy.

In conclusion: