Tuesday, February 20, 2018

NINJA STUFF: Rob or Robert (What's in a Name)?

Esteemed Reader, If you like the look of the snazzy new cover of Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees, you can download the newly re-mastered ebook right now FOR FREE. It doesn't matter when you're reading this as the ebook will be permanently free to download on multiple platforms.

I've been running this blog for two years shy of a decade, Esteemed Reader. I've given you a whole lot of swell content for free and I've never asked anything in return (to be fair, I've also loved the content). Today, I want to ask you for a favor: 

Please download the Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees ebook FOR FREE and read the first chapter.

That's it. 

If Middle Grade Ninja has benefited you in any way over the years, either through direct promotion, or by helping you choose a publishing professional to work with, or by providing information and inspiration from a writer better than myself, I'm glad. That's one of the main reasons I've stuck with this blog. We've all had fun and you don't owe me a thing. But if you're grateful and want to express that gratitude, I could really use your help.

All I'm asking is that you read one chapter for free. And if you read this blog, aren't you at least curious after all these years whether or not I can write middle grade fiction worth a darn? If you like that first chapter, read more chapters, and maybe write a review. Maybe share the book on social media.

Help me get the word out that this middle grade book exists in the world.

October of this year will mark the four-year anniversary of the publication of my best book. Authors aren't supposed to pick favorites, but that's a dumb rule, and as much as I love all my books, Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees is my favorite. It's the best thing I've ever written and if you're only ever going to read one of my books (don't do that), this is the one I would want you to read. So much so that I'll give it to you at no cost.

Don't worry about me, Esteemed Reader, I'm doing fine. I'm still charging for the audiobooks and paperbacks (the paperback edition with the new cover is coming later this week and the price has been permanently reduced). Not having time to sit down and read and/or your potential hatred of ebooks (if you're reading this, you have access to a device on which you can read the ebook) are not valid excuses for not helping out your favorite ninja. Also, after you read Banneker's first adventure, you're going to be interested in his second releasing later this year that I'm definitely going to charge for:




Both new book covers were designed by my favorite cover artist, Steven Novak. Steven has designed all my covers (and my beloved ninja icon) and is always my first choice for artwork. His covers are their own testament to his excellence, but he's also easy to work with, incredibly reliable, and has the patience to endure working with nervous authors insecurely second guessing design choices.

Steven has often designed 100% exactly what I've asked for only for me to realize my "artistic vision" is not at his level. Steven's work always exceeds my every expectation and I've learned it's best to pitch him my design ideas and then stay out of his way so he can save me from myself and make a better cover than I ever could.

If you need artwork of any kind, contact Steven Novak and get yourself something that will be almost as beautiful as my new covers.

Those of you Esteemed Readers who are as observant as brilliant detective Banneker Bones have no doubt noticed that the name on these new covers is 'Rob' Kent instead of 'Robert' Kent. And this is now someone named 'Rob(ert)' Kent's blog about reading and writing middle grade novels utilizing ninja stealth and skill! Who are all these people!?!

They're all me, Esteemed Reader. When I published All Together Now: A Zombie Story, I didn't think to use a pen name because I didn't yet know I'd also be publishing The Book of David. Neither of those books is appropriate for Banneker's younger readers, and yet I'm not going to put a pen name on my favorite book. If I'm accepting responsibility for Pizza Delivery, you better believe I want credit for Banneker Bones:)

I have no plans to use a pen name. If I published a book, I loved it, and I'll claim it as my own. But I wasn't a parent when I published my first book and I am now. I want to help parents and teachers and librarians and any adults influential in what children read. I don't want them to place a book in child's hands I wouldn't place in my child's hands.

I always put a warning on the first page of the scary stories, but I want a more direct way to communicate which books are for which readers. Therefore:


Rob Kent = middle grade book acceptable for all ages (and probably enjoyed by older readers as well)


Robert Kent = strictly for older readers and teenagers who have permission or are crafty enough to get around their guardian's notice (that's on you, guardians; I'm doing what I can to help you out)


Honestly, I'll answer to either name. And it's the tale, not he who tells it. You can call me "that ninja fellah" if you like and we'll all know who you mean, it's fine:)

That's it for today, Esteemed Reader. I hope this post finds you well and with time to read. Please follow this link to download Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees. If you read to the end of this post, you find me readable enough.

Help a ninja out:)




Fifth grader Ellicott Skullworth has always felt out of place at public school and now he's tested into the Archimedes Program at Latimer University. While in Latimer City, he’ll be living with his world famous and insane(ly) brilliant cousin, Banneker Bones, the eleven-year-old inventor of robots. The only problem: Banneker doesn't want to share his room. And he's got an army of robots to make Ellicott miserable until he goes home.

When the boys are ambushed by robot bees as big as cars, Ellicott's only friend is carried off and held for ransom. To rescue him, Ellicott has no choice but to partner with his maniacal cousin. Ellicott doesn't know what's worse: facing a hive of giant robot bees or spending more time with Banneker Bones.

Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees is a humorous, science fiction adventure for readers of all ages written in the spirit of a comic book.

“Let me say at once that I think this is a most original and amusing piece of work. A reader is arrested at the outset by a paradoxical witticism and he goes on being arrested as the story gets into its stride. Ellicott Skullworth and Banneker Bones appear as characters about whom the reader wants to learn more, and soon he begins to be in no doubt about this.” --Richard Adams, author of Watership Down

Monday, February 12, 2018

7 Questions For: Public Relations Expert Wiley Saichek

Wiley Saichek began working in the book industry while he was still a student, providing online publicity support for novelists Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Suzy McKee Charnas, assisting at a local used bookstore, volunteering for The Book Report Network's chat rooms and message boards on AOL, and interning in Tor/Forge's publicity and editorial departments.

From 2002-2013, Saichek spearheaded online publicity campaigns for The Book Report Network's AuthorsOnTheWeb division while also managing freelance publicity projects. He left to establish Saichek Publicity in August 2013.

And Now Wiley Saichek faces the 7 Questions:


Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

In adult fiction my favorite authors are Agatha Christie and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (started as a fan; she's been friend and client for many years).

In the younger reader’s space I will go with Beverly Cleary’s Ramona the Brave, Ann M. Martin’s Ten Kids, No Pets, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (if we consider this book YA, which I am for this interview).


Question Six: Could you give us your take on a strategy to market one of your three favorite books if it were being published this year?

Pretending To Kill a Mockingbird  was being published this year and is not the classic we recognize today, I would work to get review copies to the leading publications/websites/blogs/podcasts/broadcast outlets that cover children’s & YA fiction, as well as adult fiction because of the crossover appeal. Outside of the book world I would approach outlets and organizations that cover progressive politics, Civil Rights, other racial issues, and law throughout the country, and particularly in the South. I'd consider approaching select churches as well. I would work to place excerpts and arrange interviews and op-eds/guest posts at these outlets too, and liaise with the publisher on the book tour.

I would want to get schools — middle school, junior high, and high school talking about the book by arranging in-person and/or Skype visits with Harper Lee.

In addition to the above I would advise on the author’s website, newsletter, and social media profiles, and weigh in on advertising opportunities.


Question Five: What are the typical services you provide and what results can an author reasonably expect?

My chief service is outreach. My goal is to help authors and publishers stay connected with current readers and find new readers by securing coverage (via publications, websites, blogs, and podcasts and other broadcast outlets, etc.), exploring partnerships, and helping authors maximize their online presence. I specialize in online promotion but for some campaigns I now weave in “traditional” publicity approaches. I see my role as filling in the cracks and expanding on what is being done in-house and what the author is planning to do.

I work to secure various forms of coverage, such as reviews, excerpt spotlights, giveaways, guest blogs, and interviews. Depending on the campaign in question, I also help arrange and promote appearances.

In addition to outreach services, I provide consulting services for authors who wish to handle their own publicity/marketing efforts.

When an author queries me, I first ask to see a copy of their book and ask what they know about their publisher’s in-house publicity/marketing plans.


Question Four: What sort of author and/or project(s) would you most like to work with?

I am a genre fiction reader, so I love being able to work on great books in the mystery, suspense, thriller, horror, SF/Fantasy, and historical fiction fields for adult, teen, and children’s audiences.

I love working with authors who understand the publishing process and see marketing and publicity as an ongoing, long-term endeavor.


Question Three: What is your favorite thing about what you do? What is your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing is letting people know about great books.

My least favorite thing is to have to tell clients things they are not going to like to hear.


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

To try to view the marketing and publicity process as an adventure and/or a puzzle. Results may not — and probably will not — be instantaneous. My suggestion is to focus on writing the best book they can and be open to promoting it, but not obsess over the attention other authors are getting.


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

Agatha Christie. Besides being a fascinating person, she was notoriously shy. I would have loved to have been her publicist! I like to think she would have welcomed the ability to interact with her readers and to promote her books via email interviews and guest posts along with (extremely) select in-person promotions!



Tuesday, January 30, 2018

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Emma Finn

Here is Emma Finn's bio from the C + W Agency website:

I am actively building my list of exciting new writers of both fiction and narrative non-fiction. On the fiction side, I read widely so don't like to be too prescriptive, but I do love novels that explore those moments that define our lives and collective experience: falling in or out of love; dealing with loss; navigating frailty, friendship, dysfunction or loneliness. And I'm drawn to novels about families, relationships of all kinds, that are sharply observed with a clever psychology.

For what it’s worth, a few novelists who I think do this wonderfully are Maggie O’Farrell, Yaa Gyasi, Kate Atkinson, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Anne Tyler, Ann Patchett, Sarah Waters, Zadie Smith and Jenny Offill. Above all I’m drawn to a strong voice, characters I want to drop everything to spend time with and beautiful, confident writing that grabs you by the hand from the first page and pulls you headlong into a memorable story. I’m not particularly led by genre but I am broadly on the lookout for literary / upmarket book group fiction, high concept novels and crime or thrillers driven by a compelling lead. I'm afraid I don't represent children's or YA fiction.

I’d also love to see great food writing (I especially adore Nigel Slater), big ideas books that help us to think about the world today, pop science, memoir or life writing and narrative non-fiction of all kinds, although I'm particularly keen to find new writing on race, gender and sexuality. If you happen to be the next Maggie Nelson, please send your words my way.

Editorial work is one of my favourite parts of the job so I'm absolutely committed to helping debut writers get their work into the best possible shape to share with publishers. I'm very happy to hear from authors with any initial queries so just drop me a line, and you can submit to me directly via email.

You can follow her on twitter.

And now Emma Finn faces the 7 Questions:


Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

An impossible question! This would change near-constantly but for now I’ll plump for:

Olive Kitteridge  / Elizabeth Strout
The Secret History / Donna Tartt
Fingersmith / Sarah Waters

(I know it’s cheating but Another Country / James Baldwin and All My Puny Sorrows / Miriam Toews would be strong contenders too, along with all the Harry Potters).                         

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

 Movies:
When Harry Met Sally
Blue is the Warmest Colour
Moonlight
(And sorry but it’s true: the entire Fast and the Furious franchise… I can’t justify it at all but I love them)

TV:
Catastrophe
The Good Wife
Grey’s Anatomy (the early years)


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

Collaborative, creatively ambitious, talented and kind.


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

Right now, my perfect query would be for a gorgeously written, accessible literary / book group novel with strong characters, a fantastic voice and powerful, compelling storytelling. Anything with a brilliant, evocative sense of place always goes down well with me too, and I would love an original love story that will make me cry.


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

My favourite thing is the freedom to follow your taste and your passions – it’s a joy to be able to champion writing you feel strongly about and do your level best to find an author’s work the perfect home. The people are a big part of what I love too: I have wonderful colleagues and our authors are particularly lovely.

Least favourite is the inevitability of disappointing the majority of writers who submit, and the fact that I never have enough time to read everything I’d like to.   


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)

I’m not sure I have any unassailable pearls but I’d say focus on the story you want to tell and try not to be side-tracked by trends or caution in the market. The novels I’ve fallen for fastest on submission have always been fearless, original and entirely themselves, so trust your instincts.


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

At the moment I think Elizabeth Strout. Her writing completely undoes me and she is so extraordinarily perceptive and tender on the small failures and intimacies of life – I adore her.



Wednesday, January 24, 2018

7 Questions For: Author Will McIntosh

Will McIntosh is a Hugo award winner and finalist for the Nebula and eleven other awards. His most recent novels are Watchdog and Burning Midnight (Penguin Random House).

His previous book Defenders (Orbit Books) was optioned by Warner Brothers for a feature film, while Love Minus Eighty was named the best science fiction book of 2013 by the American Library Association. Along with six novels, Will has published around fifty short stories in Asimov’s (where he won Reader's Awards in 2010 and 2013), Lightspeed, Science Fiction and Fantasy: Best of the Year, and elsewhere.

Will lives in Williamsburg, Virginia with his wife Alison and twins Hannah and Miles. He left his position as a psychology professor in Southeast Georgia to write full time, and still teaches as an adjunct, at the College of William and Mary. Will is represented by Seth Fishman at The Gernert Company.

Follow him on Twitter @WillMcIntoshSF

Click here to read my review of Watchdog.

And now Will McIntosh faces the 7 Questions:


Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?


Watership Down by Richard Adams. The first book I fell in love with. The first one to rock my world so hard I never wanted it to end. One of the reasons I’m a writer. My mom bought it for me, and when I saw it was about rabbits I didn’t want to read it. But I also didn’t want to hurt my mom’s feelings, so I gave it a chance. Thanks, Mom.

Replay by Ken Grimwood. So, so wonderful. About a guy who dies at forty, and wakes up in his body at eighteen with all of his memories intact. When he reaches forty he dies again, and wakes up at eighteen again. Repeat.

Brittle Innings by Michael Bishop. This one is about a young man playing baseball for a minor league team during the great depression. His roommate is seven feet tall, badly scarred, and turns out to be…well, I don’t want to give it away. A haunting, beautiful book.


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


I write Monday to Friday 9 to 5, with breaks for lunch and exercise. Except when our twins are out of school, when I mostly take care of them and do very little writing. The surprising half of this answer is that I read very little at this point in my life, maybe 4 or 5 books per year.

I know most writers read a great deal, and I used to read 40 or 50 books a year, but since our twins were born and I switched careers from psychology professor to full-time writer, free time is hard to come by. Both of my kids have ADHD and are on the autism spectrum, and they thrive on staying active. So it boils down to: I can read, or I can write. Usually I prefer to write.


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


My writing career started as a lark. I had a cool science fiction dream, and decided to try writing it as a story. I was about 36 at the time. I had so much fun writing the story I was hooked, and I wrote more and more in my spare time.

My first 88 submissions were rejections, but I kept on writing, and finally sold a story for twenty bucks. I was stunned when one of my stories, “Bridesicle”, won a Hugo Award, and that’s when I started taking writing more seriously, and I started mostly writing novels.

Finally, because my heart was in writing, and because my wife and I decided we wanted to move, I resigned my tenured position at a university and began writing full time.


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

I believe it’s about a 50-50 mix. I’m a psychologist by training, and there’s a lot of research out there examining how much specific traits are inborn, and how much learned. The best answer usually seems to be something like 50-50.

For example, are we born as introverts and extraverts, or is it something we become through life experience? Best estimates are it’s about 60% genetic, 40% experience. So I think writers need to have some innate spark of talent, then the rest depends on education, mentoring, motivation, and so on.


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


My favorite thing is coming up with ideas, followed by actually writing that first draft. I love coming up with new ideas and fleshing them out. It energizes me.

My least favorite thing is the business side of writing. Going on social media to try to raise awareness that I have books out there, worrying about whether the book I want to write is marketable, and will fit nicely into an Amazon category. Bleh.


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)

Write as much as you can, and don’t get too discouraged if you don’t experience immediate success. Just write for the joy of it at first. For most people it takes a few years (you often hear the number one million words tossed about) before your work is good enough to be published.

Get feedback from other writers, and try to accept even the harshest feedback as an opportunity to improve. If someone tells you your work is awesome, but no editor wants it, that person is not helping you become a better writer. Develop a burning desire to become a better writer.


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

I’d have to go with Stephen King. I don’t read much horror anymore, but for two decades I would buy Stephen King’s books the moment they hit the shelves. I think his writing is a perfect balance of readability and art. On top of that, he seems to be an incredibly nice guy who cares passionately about other people. I considered answering George Orwell, Mary Shelley, J.R.R. Tolkein, and Aldous Huxley, but I’m not sure those lunches would be as fun as hanging out with Mr. King.










Monday, January 22, 2018

Book of the Week: WATCHDOG by Will McIntosh


First Paragraph(s): Vick never got used to the smell. Usually he stopped noticing bad smells after a while, but the eye-watering stink of mountains of trash baking in the blazing August sun was so bad, it made every breath an ordeal. And then there were the flies buzzing around Vick’s face, landing on him with their tickly legs. He never got used to them, either.

Is 2018 doing all right by you so far, Esteemed Reader? Are you sticking to your New Years resolution(s)? The Ninja is so far still getting all the usual exercise and meeting his daily word counts. I'm still terribly slow, but a draft of Banneker Bones 2 should be done in the reasonably near future and I may or may not be sitting on a partial for Banneker Bones 3. I'm all middle grade all the time just recently.

I've been mostly turning down book review requests because although I'm reading lots of books, writing these reviews takes time away from my fiction. More, I think this blog is better served by guest posts by more talented authors than myself or interviews with more interesting people (speaking of which, Will McIntosh will be here Wednesday to join the list of distinguished writers who've faced the 7 Questions).

But when I looked up between Bannekers and saw a Hugo-winning author had created a humorous middle grade Sci-Fi story about middle grade kids, one of  whom is an inventor of robots and on the autism spectrum, I figured I'd better read this one (if the book also had zombies, I'd have totally freaked out). Some books are books the reader finds, and some books find readers. Watchdog is a book that found me and I'm so glad it did.

Watchdog is a fun book I know you're going to love, Esteemed Reader, so feel free to skip this review and just go get yourself a copy if you like (it will save time). My review is as follows: This book is swell. Here's a blurb for Delacorte Books for Young Readers (feel free to put this on the jacket going forward at no charge):

"This book has robots in it. I like robots. Will McIntosh's name reminds me of a McMuffin. That sounds so good right now. I'm going to go eat one." --Middle Grade Ninja


Now that we've dispensed with that review business and progressed my booming empire of book blurbs, we can move on to our true purpose which is to discuss craft elements we can apply to our own writing (I'm assuming y'all are writing about middle grade autistic robot inventors as well). The first thing I have for you this week, Esteemed Reader, is to note the way in which McIntosh introduces genre up front in chapter one (remembering there was no way for him to guarantee there would be a robotic dog on the cover):

Tara was nowhere in sight. Huffing, Vick trudged around the base of the mound he was working on, arms spread to aid his balance as his feet sank into the trash. 
She was sitting on a filthy mattress on the opposite side of the mound, waving off the flies and laughing as she watched a TV show on a decrepit handheld with a missing back panel. Vick had no clue how she’d gotten it working, but it didn’t surprise him. Wild audience laughter drifted from the handheld. Vick guessed she was watching Boffo, a reality show where people gave domestic robots tricky orders so the robots would do the wrong things and look stupid. It was one of her favorite shows.

This is the very definition of show, don't tell. The description of the trash and the broken television tells us our heroes are living in a not great situation by showing us that situation. The television program introduces a central concept of the book: this a world in which advanced robots live among people and they're so commonplace that there's a TV show about tricking them. In a decade, maybe less, this might no longer be a giveaway of the type of story we can expect as we'll all be living in such a world, but in 2018 this is still Sci-Fi territory.


Pro-tip: If a writer ever takes the time to tell us what's on a character's television/radio/internet/holocomputer/etc, it's a good bet we're about to be introduced to some vital exposition, either because present characters don't know the information and need to learn it, or because it's a faster way for the reader to learn something. In both my zombie stories, characters get vital information from the TV. If you're a reading a writer who describes what's on a fictional television and the content of the program has no bearing on the story you're reading, that writer is an amateur and you should put their book down.

McIntosh (God, I want a McMuffin) applies this same skill when it comes to introducing our characters. Witness how he describes Tara while simultaneously telling us information about Vick and setting the parameters of their relationship:

From his angle, her profile was hidden by her dirty-blond hair (with the emphasis on dirty). Every morning he tied it back with a rubber band to try to keep it clean, and within an hour she took it out. She was so small she could pass for a seven-year-old. With the difference in their sizes, and Vick’s dark hair and Tara’s light, no one could believe they were twins.

Behold how he conveys the age of our protagonists in a manner that's relevant to the situation and the story and which provides additional crucial exposition:

Thirteen was a bad age to be homeless. Not young and cute enough for pity, but not old enough to hold their ground against grown-ups.

Unlike certain books about giant robot bees you might read and not even realize the title character is on the autism spectrum until you read the sequel (or the author's blog), Watchdog puts the autism of its main character on main street. If you're looking for a book specifically dealing with autism while also being about a charming and engaging story (and the reader in question is too young for Gone), Watchdog is a great book for this purpose.

I'd happily hand a copy to anyone who's either on the spectrum or in contact with someone who is (and probably you are even if you're unaware of it). The Ninja himself hums tunelessly and possesses many other spectrum traits. Tara is a wonderfully sympathetic hero who succeeds not just despite, but perhaps because of her autism. Tara's brain works differently, which is good. Vick and Tara (and Daisy, who we'll talk about in a minute) need a brain that works differently to get them out of their present situation.


 A sudden wave of homesickness mixed with sympathy for Tara nearly doubled Vick over. He squeezed his eyes shut until it passed. As much as it ever passed. Routine and sameness were so important for Tara—a classic symptom of autism. “It won’t be exactly the same as home, Tara. But it’ll be nice. You can have your own room.” 
Tara just stood there, arms dangling at her sides, gazing off to Vick’s right. A cloud of flies buzzed around her head. A few landed on the corners of her mouth. 
“Please help me. Dig. You’re the one who knows what we’re looking for. What we can sell.” 
“Okay. I’m sorry.” She knelt where she was and picked at the trash, moving it a piece at a time. The little robot sat beside her, wagging its rat tail. 
“I know it’s disgusting. I hate it, too.” 
“You can go away now. You’re bothering me,” Tara said. 
Vick sighed as he turned away. You never had to guess with Tara; she always gave it to you straight. He headed back to his spot. Behind him Tara began humming tunelessly.

As they settled into the trash, Tara pressed close to Vick. Mom had told him most kids with autism didn’t like to be touched or held. Not Tara. When she was scared she went overboard the other way, pretty much climbing into your lap and squeezing you until you couldn’t breathe.

So, what is a watchdog anyway? I could give you my less good definition, or I could just let McIntosh do it:

“I love watchdogs.” Tara reached up and set her hand between the thing’s shoulder blades, which rose and fell like levers as it walked. It didn’t seem to notice. People called them watchdogs, but you could build them to look like anything—a tiger, a spider, a velociraptor—or they could resemble nothing at all. This one looked like a cross between a pit bull and a four-legged T. rex. It had an oversized head, with dozens of silver fangs bristling inside massive jaws. The body was squat and powerful, the hind legs shorter than the front ones. 
One look at it was enough to know it was designed to be a fighter. It was technically illegal to create a robot designed to kill, but it was a gray area. Even a domestic robot could crush someone’s windpipe, and it was hard to know what a robot could do just by looking at it. As long as you didn’t outfit one with an automatic weapon you could probably get away with anything, especially in bad areas like this one. Police rarely ventured into this neighborhood anymore, and when they did they definitely had no interest in tangling with a watchdog.

Here's another pro-tip: if you introduce any fictional thing, such as a robot dog, readers want to know about the most interesting version of that fictional thing. Viewers don't care about all the Nova robots who weren't struck by lightning. They care about the fifth one. Why? Because number five is alive.

And if you aren't old enough to catch those references, then good for you. Nothing makes me feel older than remembering that within my lifetime there was a mainstream movie that involved a white actor darkening his skin and taking on racial stereotypes for laughs (and not nearly enough people thought it was weird until later as evidenced by an equally successful sequel). But my horror in learning that some of my favorite things from childhood are marred by racism is the subject of another post.


There are many watchdogs in Watchdog, but the one we most care about is Daisy. Why? Because thanks to Tara's brilliant inventing, Daisy has become sentient. So much so that she's able to reinvent herself and other robots, which is a terrifying concept, but lucky for middle grade readers, Daisy is friendly and fiercely loyal to her humans. Daisy starts out small and relatively harmless, but she doesn't stay that way for long.

Vick couldn’t quite believe this little robot was helping design her own new body. Robots didn’t design. A high-end domestic robot couldn’t decide what brand of coffee to buy unless you told it exactly. It would stand in the coffee section of the supermarket for eternity, trapped in a decision-loop.

Eventually, Tara's talents are discovered by Ms. Alba, who wants to take the twins off the streets and provide them with a job designing robots, which is good. Unfortunately, Ms. Alba is a sinister crime lord not unlike Oliver Twist's Fagin, which is bad. In no time, the kids are involved in multiple chases and futuristic battles with robots, which is what we all came to read in the first place.


McIntosh's story is fast-past and never gets bogged down with too many details. Watchdog is less concerned with the intricacies of robotic-human integration and crime life (although there are unavoidable parallels in the story to America's current blight of extreme economic inequality), and more concerned with robot fights. This book is a lot of fun and would make a great movie. I  enjoyed this story and I have no doubt you will as well.

And that's where we'll leave it except for one thing. You regular Esteemed Readers know how much I love it when writers get all writer-ly in their books. I never can resist drawing attention to it. But I mean, McIntosh, or at least, his character, isn't wrong:

Mom hadn’t graduated from high school, but she’d always pushed them to do “smart” things—visit museums, see plays instead of movies. She loved trashy romance books, but her rule for herself was she had to read one classic—Moby-Dick or Jane Eyre—for every trashy romance she read. No matter how boring the book turned out to be, she read every word.

Make sure you come back Wednesday for the interview. As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from Watchdog:

Tara rose and trudged toward him, her pet robot hopping along at her heels looking like a cross between a big rat and a rag doll, its cobbled-together parts all mismatched, its face nothing but a snout and eyes on scuffed silver metal.

It was almost dark, and the last sun rays gave the unlit lights down West Huron Street a glow, a reminder of when Vick was a little kid, before the economy crashed and everything turned bad. Bad in the poor neighborhoods, anyway. The lights were still shining in the wealthy neighborhoods on the north side.

His entire life seemed like a slow-motion fall down a flight of stairs.

They’d only been able to take what they could carry, and mostly that was stuff Tara insisted she couldn’t live without. Things like her plastic toy robot collection and the Disney Purple Girls shirt that hadn’t fit since she was four. He’d been stupid to let her load them up with so much junk when they could have been carrying food and medicine, but he’d been so sure this was temporary, that some adult was going to swoop in to save them. He hadn’t realized that when things got bad, when there weren’t enough jobs and people were hungry, adults only took care of their own kids.

“You need to talk to your sister. If she gives them grief, they’re going to make her life miserable. Yours, too.” 
Talk to his sister. If things had been different, he might have laughed at that. “She’s autistic. When she gets like that, it’s like a switch was flipped in her head. She can’t help it. You might as well tell the wind not to blow.”


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. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Reviews, Interviews, and Guest Posts for THE BOOK OF DAVID



If you have a blog or a site and you'd like to interview me or have me over for a guest post, I'd be thrilled. Just email me and ask.

If you've written a review of the book, let me know and I'll link to it here.



Reviews


"The horror and creep factor feels like a valve that Robert Kent has his finger on. He’s slowly pushing that lever and ratcheting the apprehension chapter by chapter. At times my heart is racing but he weighs this evenly with character growth, or freak outs rather, that move the plot right along!"
Creating Serenity - Chapter One
Creating Serenity - Chapter Two
Creating Serenity - Chapter Three
Creating Serenity - Chapter Four
Creating Serenity - Chapter Five


"The writing is rich and evocative, and it drew me in so deeply that when I turned the final page an audible “what no” escaped me because god***mit I wanted more. "
Bookish Creature


"It draws you in. Rich and detailed, setting up the characters and long-term story nicely. Kent does a fantastic job of making the Walters feel like real people even when the situations become so unreal. I can’t recommend this series enough. It’s a fascinating take on corporate America, religion, security and alien conspiracies. All told through the life of David Walters and his family."
Games, Brrraaains and a Head-banging Life-Chapter One
Games, Brrraaains and a Head-banging Life-Chapter Two
Games, Brrraaains and a Head-banging Life-Chapter Three
Games, Brrraaains and a Head-banging Life-Chapter Four
Games, Brrraaains and a Head-banging Life-Chapter Five


"Absolutely love this story. It has a little but of everything; a haunted house, ghosts, aliens, demons, religious zealots, murder, you name it. The book has humor, horror and an introspective look at ourselves and mankind. I think this has Netflix series written all over it and would love to see it."
Amazon Reviews


"Kent's style keeps the action moving, whether it's flashback, dialogue, or precise description."
Goodreads




Interviews


GINGER NUTS OF HORROR

The term horror, especially when applied to fiction always carries such heavy connotations.  What’s your feeling on the term “horror” and what do you think we can do to break past these assumptions?

I like horror novels, obviously, and when I see that a book is listed in the horror section, I'll at least read its description, if not a sample. I like that so many of my novels are classified as "horror" because it means they're in good company and I would be interested in them if I didn't already know how they ended. As for assumptions, there are some types of readers who prefer to steer clear of anything that might upset them, which is unfortunate, as it's good for you to be upset occasionally.

It's also true that bad horror is more noticeable than bad fiction in other genres because horror is so very do or die. A horror story is either scary or it isn't. A mystery can be obvious, implausibly solved, but still enjoyable to readers if the detective's kitten gets up to adorable antics. A non-scary horror story can't necessarily win over horror hounds with a cute romantic subplot.

Being a horror fan often means having to wade through some not great stories to find gold, but that's part of the fun. It makes finding something really scary all the more special. Non fans aren't always willing to put up with such a hit or miss genre. Me, I'll never claim Bait 3D is a great movie, but I own a copy and love to rewatch it with friends because sharks in a grocery store is my idea of a good time.

 Full interview containing some coarse language at Ginger Nuts of Horror on 10/24/17


GAMES, BRRRAAAINS AND A HEAD-BANGING LIFE

Were you worried that the introduction of aliens and Sexy Jesus might turn people off what is at first a 'haunted house' story? I'll admit to wondering what the hell was going on the first time the painting spoke!

I wasn't worried. In fact, I was certain some people would be turned off and I tried to target them as much as I could. I made sure to drop a few F-bombs in the opening passages so that anyone who might know me for my writing for children would know this wasn't that (assuming they skipped the warning in the description and on the first page). The language gets much fouler before the end, so I wanted those readers who would be bothered to tap out early.

There's A LOT of really offensive stuff in this story I wouldn't discuss at the diner table in front of grandma, but I might discuss some of it with a select audience late at the bar. That's one of the reasons I wanted to publish The Book of David as a serial novel. The first chapter is always free to read as an ebook and it's short. If a reader gets to the end of it (or the middle) and they're turned off, they're not out any money or that much time. Plenty of other books out there for those readers and I hope they find a story more to their liking. The second chapter is also short, but it's much more offensive than the first chapter and goes farther down the rabbit hole.

Chapter four and five are absolutely nuts. I don't want anybody reading them who hasn't already made it though the increasing offensiveness of the first three chapters. If you're still reading by chapter five, you're obviously entertained and having at least some fun because you had four perfectly good opportunities to quit reading. As much as possible, I want those readers to self select.

 Full interview at Games, Brrraaains and a Head-banging Life on 2/10/18

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

GUEST POST: "The Village Approach to Fellow Author Strokes" by Sunny Weber

I recently solicited endorsements for my new middle-grade book, The Dog at the Gate: How a Throwaway Dog Becomes Special. I chose other authors as well as various experts in related fields.

One middle grade author asked why I wanted an endorsement from her, as she saw herself as “a small fry.” One look at her website during my research showed a beautifully designed platform and proliferate writing. She had many books available with stunning covers and easy to navigate site pages. She did not appear to be a small fry. She asked if what I meant was simply an Amazon blurb.

I replied to her: “Endorsements are used for websites and sometimes covers of books. Amazon reviews are only for that audience. You might consider yourself “a small fry" but I don't. Your website is awesome, your books are beautifully designed, and your writing is as good as anyone's in your genre. I can see you are a tremendously creative and prolific writer.

“I reached out to you, as I did other authors who intrigued me. We can all help each other with our support of each other's writing and trade ideas on marketing and promotion. I network with many local authors and am attempting to widen my acquaintances. Other authors' endorsements, blurbs, or guest blogs tie us all together with our reading public. Plus we can pull each other up when one makes the "big time" or faces disappointment. We can find support from other authors who understand what's important and how difficult writing quality work is. Family and friend support is nice, but only another writer knows what struggles went into the production.

“You and I write for the same age group but our genres are different so we may be able to lend a more objective eye to each other. I just find that, "nothing ventured, nothing gained." For example--I reached out to several well-known personalities for my first book (an adult non-fiction) and most did write endorsements. So now I have intriguing new relationships with those I admire. For this book, my first middle-grade, I had no idea who to contact so I began reading and asking people who intrigued me again. Another example: on a crazy twist of fate, I contacted someone who knows Jane Goodall and I have forwarded my book to her. I may not hear anything but it never hurts to try.

“Every person I've communicated with has been cordial and I've learned a lot. And that's what it's all about for me--learning. I'm sure I'm considered a small fry too at this point. But I'm the only voice my characters have to be born under. Maybe someday my characters will remain in the mind of some small child who grows up to change the world in a positive way because of what my story taught her. Just like my idols, Margaret Marshall Saunders (Beautiful Joe), Beatrix Potter (the Peter Rabbit books), Anna Sewell (Black Beauty), Marguerite Henry (Misty of Chincoteague and others), and Albert Peyson-Terhune (The Lad, a Dog series).  Some were dead by the time I discovered their books but in this new century their characters live on in my mind and have influenced my work to teach and entertain modern children.

“Motivating children to read, experience, imagine, and use critical and creative thinking is all our goals, I think. So we authors have a lot in common, regardless of genre or commercial fame.

“I hope this answers your questions and concerns. Your books find their audiences and you continue to produce, so I would not consider you a small fry. Good luck with all your future creations!”

Writing is isolative and appeals to those of us with introverted aspects in our personalities. We can shine through our characters. We can do and say things through them that we might not have the courage to do or say ourselves. We can show vulnerabilities that we hide in real life. Like actors, we take on the personalities of the characters we create and sometimes lose ourselves in their voices. However, we must remember that our characters’ voices ARE OUR OWN. We create them. They do not create us. They may define us to the world through self-publishing or they may die quiet deaths in the sludge pile of some big publishing house. But their birth was through our own efforts and pain.

We owe it to our characters and the children who need motivation to read, to never underestimate ourselves as creators. We should reach out to each other for motivation, honest feedback, and lessons that can only be learned from someone who has “walked the walk.”

Let’s support one another in our efforts to reach out to children in their crucial formative years. We have a unique power to alter young lives, motivate future adults to great accomplishments, and to feed fragile immature egos through story-telling. We must hide our own fragile adult egos and feign courage so that children can naturally grow into citizens and parents of strength and leadership in our society.



Sunny Weber has over 25 years of experience in animal welfare advocacy. She has experience in rescue, fostering, medical care, service and therapy dog evaluation and training, shelter and sanctuary work and specializes in the rehabilitation of fearful animals. Weber has rehabilitated then re-homed hundreds of dogs, cats and horses.

A professional humane educator, Sunny consults with animal welfare professionals as well as adopters and has developed educational programs that address all ages regarding the need for compassion and care of domestic and wild animals. She writes extensively on animal issues in news, fiction, non-fiction, public relations, fundraising, and blogs.

Sunny lives with dogs, cats and parakeets. Their yard is a Certified Backyard Habitat for birds, squirrels, rabbits, pollinators, and any other creature with fur or feathers who wanders in.




"Defiantly I spread my legs, lowered my head, flattened my ears, bared my teeth, and for the first time in my life, I growled at a human!"

Puppy Max doesn't have the easiest start in life. After being taken from his mother, he faces hunger, living alone outside, a vicious dog next door, and even menacing raccoons. But just when this Australian Shepherd thinks it can't get any worse, he is abandoned at an animal shelter.

Max is rescued and fostered in a home complete with canine companions--Miles, a benevolent fellow Aussie, and cantankerous, bossy little Muffin. He also lives with three cats, two parakeets, and one incredible mistress. Can a dog like Max go from years without a bath to unconditional love and acceptance? Or will his new family abandon him again? Max is never sure--until the ultimate challenge shakes his world.


Fans of classics like Black Beauty, Thomasina, and Beautiful Joe, which feature redemptive bonds between animals and people, will find The Dog at the Gate: How a Throwaway Dog Becomes Special offers a touching tale of love and triumph.



Monday, January 8, 2018

GUEST POST: "Writing the Truth (and making it funny)" by Lori Ann Stephens

Pierre François: 5th Grade Mishaps wasn’t a stroke of inspiration from la Muse (my writing goddess). When my younger son was in fifth grade, he developed a strange habit: each day, he’d come home from school complaining about recess, about boys, about girls, about teachers, about noises and smells and tastes.

To Julien, fifth grade was a year of social changes that seemed inexplicable and annoying. We spent dinnertime trying to find the humor in his daily trials, and as all desperate parents do, I focused on the merits of optimism. That’s where the book was born: out of our dinner conversations. 

“Please write a book about my year,” he asked. And so I did—via fiction. Julien read and approved each chapter, adding inspired anecdotes that made him laugh at what was previously merely aggravating.

Part of the fun in writing Pierre François: 5th was characterizing Pierre’s parents. Since Pierre was heavily inspired by Julien—with Julien’s enthusiastic approval—it wasn’t difficult to portray Pierre’s parents. 

His mother is American and his father is French; both parents are academics, all reflections of our real family. Writing the book gave me the opportunity to poke fun at myself, too. Mothers mean well, but we can be a little overprotective.

But writing a novel that is influenced by real family members, real events, and real places can bring up some ethical questions: will the portrayals embarrass anyone? Will readers assume that every event in the book actually happened? 

The answers to these questions need serious reflection. Pierre uffers from enuresis, a kind of prolonged intermittent bedwetting that millions of children deal with in silence, shame, and frustration. I wanted to balance Pierre’s pride in his French heritage with his secret shame of his malfunctioning body. 

The novel is a story about the social and physiological changes that occur in fifth grade, presented in glossy wrapping for young readers who need a bit of empathy or optimism. But first, I needed to be absolutely certain that my son was okay with Pierre’s portrayal and the challenges he faces. He was. 

Then, I had to be absolutely certain that his inspirational teacher was also okay with the way I’d written Pierre’s favorite teacher in the novel. He was. 

We writers tend to get terribly nervous when a book is about to be published—will someone know I’ve kind-of-sort-of based that character on her? Will someone accuse me of portraying him unfairly? 

Most of the time, we’ve changed the characters so dramatically that the original inspiration is transformed and unrecognizable to none but ourselves. Other times, people ask excitedly, “Is that character based on me?” and we’re utterly surprised, because no. (People will find the truth where they look for it.) One way to quell the nerves is to write responsibly and pay attention to those ethical questions sooner rather than later.



My older son Trevor Yokochi, an artist who graduated from Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, provided over 80 illustrations for the novel. So this book really was a family affair—a book rooted in collaboration, humor, and the true trials of pre-teens. I hope Pierre finds his way in the world and delights young and older readers with his unique personality and not-so-unique fifth grade challenges.



Lori Ann Stephens is the award-winning author of Song of the Orange Moons (Blooming Tree Press, 2010) and Some Act of Vision (ASD, 2013). She likes operas and baking competitions and cat videos. She also builds things without breaking the house. She teaches at Southern Methodist University and lives in Richardson, Texas.


Find out more on Amazon.

Follow Lori’s books on Goodreads and Facebook.





Ten-year-old Pierre Francois-otherwise known as Pierre the Fantastic Flying Fish and Pierre the Genius Brain-is an expert at signing his school papers with original names.











Monday, January 1, 2018

NINJA STUFF: Author, Year Four (2017)

Another year in the rearview, Esteemed Reader. Time, you wicked thing, you move too fast. Seems like I just wrote 2016's annual year-in-review post for this series in which I chronicle my writer's journey.

I'm aware this is a trick of perspective. Every year that passes is a comparatively smaller fraction of my overall life and so it is my experience of time passing and not the speed of time passing that is changing. For this reason, the older we get, the faster time seems to go, which is why I can recall endless summers from my childhood, and a much older relative tells me he can see the leaves changing color before his very eyes.

I've never forgotten one particular passage from Christine even though I read it in high school and haven't reread it since (but that realization means it's going in my audible book bank momentarily). Great writing stays with you, and y'all know how passionate I am about my Stephen King. Anyway, to quote the man: As soon as you have a kid, you know for sure that you`re going to die. When you have a kid, you see your own gravestone. That quote is at least partially responsible for me pushing back parenthood as far as I could, but now on the other side of being a dad, I can vouch it's true. The best way to speed up time is to have a little person exploding in growth in front of you as a daily reminder that yep, you're getting older too, Daddy.

How long will I live and will I know how long it was when it ends? Does a person struck from behind by a speeding bus have cognizance enough to think "made it to 53!" before the lights go out? These are the types of thoughts that plague my mind, which is why I sometimes write scary stories so that my dark thoughts will leave me alone and go infect Esteemed Reader:)

The only comfort I've found when such thoughts come is in remembering that it is the quality of life lived rather than the length of the experience that matters. That's why I'm opening this post with that adorable picture of Little Ninja trick or treating for the first time and doing the Kent name proud. I'm the red and brown shape beside him. That was a great day, Esteemed Reader, and there were a lot of great days in 2017. There's no way for me to know how many great days remain in my future, but I'm eternally grateful for the ones I've had so far.

I'm going to get just a little personal before this post is done, but for now let's get to the subject at hand: I am not 100% satisfied with myself as a writer this year. Naturally, I feel that way every year and the day I'm completely satisfied is the day I needn't bother writing anything more. Each book is a battle, and though I've got ten books available to date, writing is a war. In 2017 I feel I was a better writer than I have been in many years past, but not quite the writer I still believe I can be and am working to become.




A smarter blogger might focus this yearly post solely on his accomplishments, put up a link to his books, and remind Esteemed Reader he's awesome (but you're here, so you know). And he'd definitely point out that he's going to be teaching multiple classes and hosting a fiction workshop starting in March of 2018:) However, I've always considered myself more a lucky blogger than a smart blogger.

Why did holy-moley-what-a-big-deal authors Kate Dicamillo and Katherine Applegate visit this blog in the same month? I'm aware I'm humble bragging, which is why I'll also shamelessly link to Michael Grant and Bruce Corville's 2017 interviews:) Why did my longtime horror hero Jack Ketchum agree to face the 7 Questions this year? Why did any of the other amazing posts in 2017 happen (including the Vonneguys, the stars of my favorite podcast)? We had so many talented people appear here, I'd fill this post up linking to them all.

I honestly am not entirely sure how these wonderful things happened. I don't know why any writer or publishing professional agrees to appear at this blog with its silly name (that, for the record, I still think is funny). I don't pay posters in anything except "exposure," and good luck buying a coffee with that:) And I'm not really that great at blogging. I suck at Twitter, I don't do nearly as much marketing as I should, I'm forever behind on emails, and I've got interviews and guest posts with some really amazing people on backlog a couple months out (yet I still chose to take up this week's post with me talking).

I'm just a blogger who got lucky. And I keep being lucky, at least so far (when you're walking on sunshine, whoah-oah, it's best not to look down).


More on that before the end, but first I want to say that I think my biggest accomplishment in 2017 was mostly fighting an often threatened depression that's been hovering at my door all year like a dementor begging admittance. I've seen depression chew up better writers than me. Probably they were intellectually superior, and therefore more susceptible than the dumber, but happier Ninja:)

2017 has been a difficult year.

Sometimes it helps to remember that making more than $30,000 per year puts me in the richest one percent of the world and slavery is still a thing, so really, my situation is not too shabby.

Sometimes it doesn't help as life experience is relative and a bee sting is the most painful thing that could ever happen to someone who hasn't experienced worse. I'm aware there are people all over the world who would give quite a lot to have my life (for the honor of having written Pizza Delivery alone!).

I have nothing to complain about as I played all of Assassin's Creed: Origins and Horizon Zero Dawn this year, and watched every episode of Better Call Saul and The Punisher and kept Rick and Morty on pretty much endless repeat as it's my most favorite thing. I try not to single out great books in these yearly media-in-review sections because one, I review a lot of them here, and two, I don't want to lose a writer friend through accidental exclusion:) Although I can recommend the audiobook for Artemis by Andy Weir (who has also appeared at this awesome blog), which is performed to perfection by Rosario Dawson.  Rest assured, if you released a book book this year, it was my favorite.


Movies were mostly disappointing this year, although I didn't see too many of them as I'm aging out of the key demographic and losing interest in Hollywood (haven't seen a single Fast and Furious flick and feel my life is presumably fine without them). Wonder Woman was swell (even though the CGI was unforgivably terrible), 1922, The Girl with all the Gifts, and Dunkirk kept me on the edge of my seat, and Michael Keaton rocked so hard in Spider-Man: Homecoming (and yea two non-white girlfriends for Peter Parker because, yes, in the age of Trump, it matters). It was pretty solid, but couldn't compare to my favorite book and left out some important stuff (like the werewolf and the mummy).

Any previous year if you'd asked me what movies I most wanted to see made, I would've said Justice League and The Dark Tower because their source material is so strong, surely a studio couldn't screw them up. Sigh. And I sure would love another Star Wars with more Luke Skywalker (so long as they don't make him a depressed cynic who gave up on the rebellion and considers killing teenage nephews in their sleep because of... reasons). Heavy sigh. All three movies had just enough of the thing I loved that I can't say I hated them, but I can't say I loved them either. Also, The Walking Dead jumped the shark with a death so stupidly shortsighted and pointless I've lost patience with my formerly favorite show:(


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

Trump's America is intolerable. We're only going to spend two paragraphs on politics, but I can't talk about my sadness this year without addressing the country's. There are plenty of 2017 political recaps elsewhere and most of you Esteemed Readers have been living through the same national nightmare I have. If, like me, you've been fighting depression in 2017, know that there have been some extenuating factors weighing us all down.

In a way, the evil of the republican party has restored my faith in God, because evidently Satan exists in this world. Who else would want to strip healthcare from the most vulnerable to give more of our money to billionaires? Who else would endorse a pedophile and willfully ignore treason for tax cuts to keep their donors happy? And if Satan were at the head of a political party, wouldn't he want it to be known as the "Christian" party? And when the republican party behaves as though it were led by Satan, how much practical difference does it really make if this is actually true or just metaphorically so?

(try not to look directly into his demonic eyes)

One of the great ironies of finishing The Book of David was that I intended for that story to serve as my final argument to myself that religion isn't real and it had the opposite effect. I won't claim to understand the nature of God and I'm still not interested in organized religion, but I think I'm officially done flirting with atheism. Sorry, there's just too much weirdness to this reality for me to declare the world spiritually flat.

Okay, that's religion and politics. Let's get back to writing:) As I said, I'm not completely satisfied with my output for the year. The Book of David took over two years to put together. Chapter Five wasn't published until June and I still had to produce the paperback editions. Banneker Bones 2 is hopefully over halfway finished, but it's another big project and it's taking longer than planned. And I'm just not as fast a writer as I want to be.

In my defense, this picture should make it clear that The Book of David was a really, really big story to have told (Chapter Five alone is longer than all my other books):



I've taught multiple classes on writing this year, which was really fun (still time to sign up for my 2018 classes), and I did a couple author panels, such as this genre discussion you can listen to right now. In one class, I addressed the subject of depression as it's particularly prevalent among writers. The class ground to a halt as nearly every writing student had an experience to relate.

As a much younger man, I had a few instances of crippling depression that kept me from getting out of bed for days. But I eventually figured out that exercise combined with thinking better thoughts and living a better life mostly quells those negative feelings to a manageable level. And honestly, if you're not at least a little sad now and again, you're not seeing the human condition for what it is: simultaneously a miracle and a tragedy.

On November 9th of last year, as Mrs. Ninja and I were still reeling from the news that a racist reality television star was now in charge of the nukes, a doctor sat us down and gave us some news that will impact us the rest of our lives. That's as much as I feel comfortable sharing right now, but know that it was a powerful one-two punch that knocked me on my butt. It might have been the most profoundly upsetting day of my life.


Thank God, I was in the middle of The Book of David and so I had to keep writing, which kept me going. If I had been expected to start a new project, I might've lost the whole year. The beginning of 2017 was a rough time at the old Kent Farm (and yes, that's really what we call our suburbanite dwelling). But I got out of bed everyday to take care of my child and to keep producing my word count. Writing may be a cause of depression for many, but I say it saved me from depression.

By the time Chapter Five was published, I'd processed most of my grief (there's always more). There were a few weeks where I was just barely able to keep the farm together, but it got done and gave me the knowledge that if need be, I could probably endure worse. After all, being alive now means all of us are the product of humans who have endured much worse and produced offspring to carry on in the face of ever present tragedy. Yes, we have to endure Donald Trump, but we also have a vaccine for polio and are on our eighth edition of Mario Kart, so overall, I like to think human life is improving generation over generation.


Life is sometimes sad and hard and I've got to be strong enough to deal with it because no one else can do it for me. And the world just keeps on going whether I stay in bed feeling sad about it or whether I get up and live my life to the best of my ability. Either way, time flies, and this is all the life I'm ever going to have and the only chance I'm ever going to get to live it.

So I'm still writing and I hope to have Banneker Bones 2 and some other projects I think you'll like out where you can read them soon. Will 2018 be the year my writing breaks through to the next level? I hope so. Every year since I started these posts has been better than the previous year. And the only way to get where I'm going is to keep moving.

Getting back to what I said about being a lucky blogger, let me clarify: I've worked very hard to maintain this blog over the years. I've been diligent in my posting and kept this thing going when there weren't famous writers appearing here left and right. This is a long post among a lot of long posts, and yet traffic numbers tell me Esteemed Readers visit these posts long after I've forgotten them (probably for the Smallville gifs).


More famous writers will be showing up here in 2018 and plenty of soon-to-be-famous ones as well because this blog has momentum and so long as I don't do anything really stupid like write a long post professing a belief in flying saucers, I expect Middle Grade Ninja to continue to be a swell blog. And in my defense, the New York Times did recently confirm the pentagon has indeed run at least one secret flying saucer program.

I'm not silly enough to take full credit for the blog's success. I got lucky in that I started this blog at the ideal time and got some writers I knew to appear here which led to some writers I didn't know which led to some really famous writers which led to more famous writers appearing here. Yes, I've worked hard, but I also got lucky (and I've seen too many 1% folks not admit that to do likewise). If I'm honest, I don't know that I could replicate this blog's success if I had to start over from scratch today.

So far, I've not been quite as lucky with my fiction writing. I may never be that lucky. Luck isn't something that can be controlled. I can control my doing the work that needs to be done and I know that every book I've published is the best I could make it and I love every one of them (yes, even and especially Pizza Delivery). I'm improving at marketing and book promotion and am constantly working hard. That way, should I catch the next lucky break, I'll be ready to make the most of it.

I hope 2018 is a super year for both of us, Esteemed Reader. I hope we continue to overcome fear and sadness and prepare our vessels to travel. We may catch a strong breeze or we may not, but if we don't hoist our sails high, it won't much matter. And above all else, writing is fun and worth doing for its own sake. This is all the life we'll ever have and all the time we'll ever have to live it. I don't know what you're going to do in 2018, but I will believe a Ninja can fly.