Thursday, April 18, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja TV 18: Literary Agent Holly Root

To watch new episodes of Middle Grade Ninja TV as they air, go to YouTube and subscribe.

The audio from each episode is available as the Middle Grade Ninja Podcast on SoundcloudStitcherSpotifyitunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

Literary Agent Holly Root and I discuss her career in publishing from working in the mail room, to making a name for herself as an agent, to now running her own agency. She also takes us through the cycle of a published manuscript from the time it starts out as a query in her inbox, to the time she negotiates its contract, to guiding its author through launch and onto their next book and the rest of their career. And she makes a JURASSIC PARK reference, so you know she's awesome. Prepare to learn a lot about publishing and to be inspired.

Click here to see Holly Root face the 7 Questions.

Holly Root began her publishing career as an editor in her hometown of Nashville, TN. Prior to joining the Waxman Literary Agency in 2007, she worked at the William Morris Agency and Trident Media Group. Holly has launched over two dozen New York Times bestsellers before founding Root Literary in 2017. The agency's clients benefit from its agents' proven skills in identifying talent, negotiating advantageous deals, and advocating for its books all the way from submission to publication. They offer their clients broad-based industry insights as well as individualized strategic thinking to empower each author to define and pursue their own unique path to success.

Holly's wishlist:

general fiction: I'm particularly interested in upmarket execution of commercial concepts. I love book club fiction; I want to read the book you'd recommend to all the women on your favorite group text. I'd love to work on a page-turning domestic suspense (my taste leans more on the domestic end, a la Liane Moriarty--I find the interplay of human relationships, when well done, every bit as potent a story driver as espionage). I like structural conceits (whether in the form of timeline, a la One Day, or an epistolary novel like Attachments, or anything surprising). Open to speculative elements within general fiction, too.

middle grade fiction: I love books that respect their kid readers. I like humor, great settings, and books as weirdly wonderful as the minds of their intended readers--whether they're realistic contemporary or high fantasy. Open to most genres within the category.

SF/F: I love very accessible, five-minutes-in-the-future grounded SF...but also I grew up reading anything and everything with a dragon on the cover, so this category is often determined by voice for me. I'm open to science fantasy, SF, and fantasy.

In all areas, I love a good high-concept hook.

My nonfiction list is smaller, and therefore a little harder to define a wish list for. The projects I'm most likely to pursue pair a distinctive voice with a strong platform to match.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja TV 17: Author Padma Venkatraman

To watch new episodes of Middle Grade Ninja TV as they air, go to YouTube and subscribe.

The audio from each episode is available as the Middle Grade Ninja Podcast on SoundcloudStitcherSpotifyitunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

Padma Venkatraman and I discuss her new middle grade novel, THE BRIDGE HOME. We discuss everything from her childhood in India to her becoming an oceanographer and now an award-winning author. We also discuss religion, spirituality, writing about them for the middle grade market, and, of course, flying saucers. This episode is filled from end to end with fascinating insights about writing and storytelling, as well advice for living.

Padma Venkatraman is the author of 4 novels: THE BRIDGE HOME, A TIME TO DANCE, ISLAND'S END and CLIMBING THE STAIRS, all of which were released to multiple starred reviews (for a total of seventeen stars so far). Her latest, THE BRIDGE HOME, was released this February to five starred reviews (in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, School Library Journal and School Library Connection), won an Audiophile Magazine Earphone Award, and is the 2019 middle grade Global Read Aloud. Her previous three young adult novels have won several awards (South Asia Book Award, Paterson Prize, Boston Authors Club Julia Ward Howe, Rhode Island Book of the Year etc.) and received numerous honors (including the ALA Notable, ALA BBYA, Kirkus BBYA, Booklist Editor’s Choice, NYPL Top 25 and Bank Street Best Books).

When Viji and her sister, Rukku, whose developmental disability makes her overly trusting and vulnerable to the perils of the world, run away to live on their own, the situation could not be more grim. Life on the streets of the teeming city of Chennai is harsh for girls considered outcasts, but the sisters manage to find shelter on an abandoned bridge. There they befriend Muthi and Arul, two boys in a similar predicament, and the four children bond together and form a family of sorts. Viji starts working with the boys scavenging in trash heaps while Rukku makes bead necklaces, and they buy food with what little money they earn. They are often hungry and scared but they have each other--and Kutti, the best dog ever. When the kids are forced from their safe haven on the bridge, they take shelter in a graveyard. But it is now the rainy season and they are plagued by mosquitos, and Rukku and Muthu fall ill. As their symptoms worsen, Viji and Arul must decide whether to risk going for help--when most adults in their lives have proven themselves untrustworthy--or to continue holding on to their fragile, hard-fought freedom.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja TV 16: Public Relations Expert Megan Beatie

To watch new episodes of Middle Grade Ninja TV as they air, go to YouTube and subscribe.

The audio from each episode is available as the Middle Grade Ninja Podcast on SoundcloudStitcherSpotifyitunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

Public relations expert Megan Beatie and I discuss book marketing for  middle grade novels, young adult novels, and picture books. She shares her history navigating the publishing industry in the start of her career in 1996 all the way to the present, gives an overview of all the things she does for her authors, and provides numerous invaluable tips for book promotion and working with publicists. This is an invaluable conversation for anyone interested in marketing a book.

Megan Beatie is a veteran book publicist with more than two decades of experience. She has executed the publicity campaigns for books in nearly every conceivable genre including literary fiction, mysteries&thrillers,science fiction, fantasy, graphic novels, young adult and children’s books, as well as nonfiction covering the topics of pop culture, film, entertainment, health, lifestyle, parenting, and relationships.

Some of the esteemed writers she has represented over the course of her career include Marcia Clark, Dr. David Agus, Dr. Nina Shapiro, John Lahr, Barry Eisler, Lee Goldberg, Seth Greenland, Leslie S. Klinger, Attica Locke, John Connolly, Chris Farnsworth, and many others.  She has a specialty in children’s book publicity and has worked on picture books, middle grade books and young adult books by authors including Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera, IbiZoboi, Elana K. Arnold, Maureen Johnson, Melissa de la Cruz, Margaret Stohl, Amber Smith, Alexandra Monir, and many more. 

The fifth generation of a farming family from Southern California’s Ventura County, Megan lives and works in Los Angeles. Visit her company’s website at and follow on Facebook @MeganBeatieCommunications, Instagram @mubeatie, and Twitter @mbeatie.  

Monday, April 8, 2019

Another Pound of Flesh: a Second Post About Editing

In 2011, I wrote an extremely popular post about editing when I thought I was done editing the first Banneker Bones book. Ha, ha, ha, me from the past, you still had ahead of you three years of polishing and notes from multiple agents and editors, some of which were helpful, all of which resulted in rewrites. In that post, I discussed the basics of editing and the importance of using an outline to determine which scenes are essential and which can be cut. 

That's one of my better posts and I stand by it. I'm not going to reiterate, but expand in this second post about another issue: writers getting themselves out of their own way. Today I want to talk about cutting out a different piece of our writer's heart: our burning message, the thing we came here to say. I've also got some other tips I've learned in the intervening eight years, as well as some common issues I've come across leading fiction workshops and reading student work.

Gamora asked Thanos after he did some heavy duty editing of his own, "What did it cost?" His answer, of course, was an anguished, "Everything." I don't believe there's a better metaphor I can steal from popular culture to describe how I feel after undergoing many, many, MANY drafts to create my ideal universe.

I would've once said Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees was the hardest book I ever wrote (and my favorite), but I think its sequel was harder to write. Or at least as hard

On the one hand, Banneker's first adventure was published in 2014, and I've grown as a writer since then. On the other hand, Banneker's second adventure is longer and more ambitious than the first, and bears the additional responsibility of setting the table for Banneker's third adventure (let us hope that one doesn't finally kill me). Life circumstances change and there are many other factors so that I cannot definitively say which book of mine was hardest to write and edit, but without a doubt, it was one of the Bannekers.

Why so hard, you ask? A number of reasons, among them the fact that I try to push myself toward a more ambitious project with each novel; otherwise, what's the point? Like a video game character, I level up my skills, but I choose projects that are a greater challenge. Paradoxically, though I'm improving at writing and editing, it doesn't seem to be getting much easier. I've just grown used to the processthough I am trying to speed it up.

The other issue, of course, is that I'm always me (have been all my life). I have consistent weaknesses in my writing as well as consistent strengths. I save my critiques for all my manuscripts and I record my critique group's discussions of my work and there are some similar criticisms that come up around every first or second draft. I usually nail plot beats and have to rethink character motivations. Other writers have different issues.

Knowing my weaknesses that seem to show up in nearly every first draft, no matter how hard I try to avoid them, hasn't lead me to a "how-terrible-is-wisdom" Oedipus Rex state in which I blind myself in despair... so far. Rather, it enables me to strategize ways in which I can save me from myself, with the help of my critique partners and beta readers.

So let's do some quick tips and then I'll share my biggest problem during my latest revision. My first tip is always to seek out a critique group and a professional editor who is not you. I'm just going to skip ahead to some tips for you to do once you've either secured editors or signed up for one of my fiction workshops.

Tip #1: Make a plan of attack. Gather all the feedback you've received on your draft, even if you're starting with just your own feedback, and break it down into individual steps. I like to use a list so I can cross off things such as:

Cut or shorten scooter scene.

Get rid of Reggie’s sketch pad. Replace it with a 3D holographic drawing tool, because of course. Or explain that he prefers paper.

Banneker needs to have a reaction to pug since he’s allergic to dogs.

Check how many times the word “crap” appears. Don’t overdo it. Same with “roar”

You can use a vision board or a multimedia presentation if you like just so long as you know how to achieve your goals for any one revision. A rewrite can be daunting, but if broken down to even 100 individual revisions that need to be made, there's a clear path for how to proceed, allowing you to put your anxiety aside and start knocking out tasks toward completion.

Tip #2: Invest in The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Publisi. I keep The Chicago Manual of Style at my writing desk and I find myself reaching for this book as frequently. I don't know the authors, I'm not getting a cut, I'm just a fan of the book. I don't use it when I'm drafting, but it's invaluable when I'm editing. Any time I find myself flatly stating the character's emotional state, I can search for a list of ways to SHOW that state. I don't always use what I find, but often looking a list of possible physical expressions will trigger a way for me to SHOW rather than TELL.

Tip #3: Contractions are your friend. Unless you're writing dialogue for a character who wouldn't use a contraction or you have a sentence that genuinely sounds better with "would not" over "wouldn't," as in I would not have guessed 'wouldn't' wasn't a better word choice:) I like stories that can be read faster, which is why I'm always shortening anyplace I can. Contractions are an easy way to cut word count and to pick up the pace of your prose.

Tip #4: Keep a list of your known problem words and phrases. I keep a list of words I over use so I can search for and eliminate them before I turn in my final draft. 'That' is a word that can usually be cut. Some other offenders are 'just,' 'so,' 'quickly,' and 'frowning.' I also have to watch for characters doing too much smiling, nodding, eye rolling, or sighing. Some of these instances are allowed, but I space them out and cut unnecessary sighs, etc.

Tip #5: Save the sections you cut. This was a tip from my friend Laura Martin, who stuck with me through multiple revisions of Banneker Bones 2. At one point, that manuscript was over 130,000 words. The final version is just over 75,000. Banneker had some adventures that didn't make the final cut. Knowing they're safe in a file I can access any time to use in future books or blog posts (probably won't, but maybe) made cutting them out easier to take. I once used the discarded sections of one novel to make two entirely new novels.

That's it for the general stuff, which brings us to the somewhat more personal issues I encountered on my recent novel's journey. First off, I had to retrain myself to write middle grade after writing six books for adults since the first Banneker. Writing for children is much harder in many ways, among them that word counts are far more rigid. Prose for adults can allow for longer scenes and less economical word usage.

The first revisions I made to Banneker 2 were solely about sharpening my prose to a fine edge and cutting out most pretensionthough some pretension is, for better or worse, a part of my author's voice. I kept most of the jokes that worked, scratched the ones that didn't, but the highfalutin sentences that were fancy for the sake of being fancy had to be broken up and reassembled into sentences that were easier to read (unlike this absurdly long sentence that could not be allowed to stand in a MG novel; in fact, this entire paragraph is too long).

Next came refining character motivations and strengthening their relationships to one another. This is something I struggle with in second and third drafts as my first draft is all about establishing the full plot and all the twists and turns and surprises that result in a satisfying ending without cheating to result in the novel I want. A critique partner refers to my early drafts as plot puzzles.

Before I build the full body of the car with the leather seats and all the fancy accouterments meant to comfort the passengers, I first make sure the engine is finely tuned. If the story doesn't work, all the beautifully written prose and well-defined characters in the world won't save a novel anymore than incredible special effects save a bad movie, though each can make a mediocre story more pleasant to endure. Even the angriest Phantom Menace detractors have to admit the Duel of the Fates lightsaber fight is cool, and I'll admit that the writing in Ulysses is interesting in its own (mostly obnoxious) way.

I enjoyed doing revisions and I didn't mind spending as much time as was necessary to get it right. Banneker Bones is my favorite of all my characters and this is the sequel to my favorite of my books. Banneker's story is the reason I call myself the Middle Grade Ninja instead of some other kind of ninja. My unwillingness to compromise Banneker's integrity is the reason I chose indie publishing over traditional. The  primary reason I do all the marketing I do is in the hope of getting Banneker's story into the hands of as many readers as I can.

I believe in Banneker Bones. His is the story I've most wanted to tell you. There are passages I can't read aloud without crying. When Esteemed Reader holds a Banneker book, they're holding my beating heart. And I sliced away whole chunks of it to ensure Esteemed Reader is holding the best possible version of my heart.

What did this book cost me to create? Everything.

Except, not quite. Not yet.  Thankfully, my critique partners kept me honest.

When a book is big and important to its author, its author likely wants to say something really important, or several things. All stories convey a message of some kind because the triumph or failure of the protagonist is accomplished with a value(s).

For example, Batman=really smart, really strong, and really brave (also a little nuts)=he wins (and so does justice!)=it is a winning strategy to be really smart, really strong, and really brave (also a little nuts), so come on, let's get nuts.

A problem arises when an author blatantly states his message, which I often do in my first and second drafts. This is useful to me as it keeps me mindful of why I'm writing what I'm writing, but these sections have to go before Esteemed Reader picks up the book. Even if the author stated just the right political sentiment in just the perfect way and it was totally awesome and now no one's going to read it because he had to cut it from the final draft. Save it for your blog, buddy:)

My friend Shannon Alexander, summarizing another author's adviceI think it might've been John Green, but I don't remember and most author advice is the passing on of knowledge learned from other authorsassured me that I'd already made my point through the actions of the story without needing to also bluntly state it. If a point is 'A+B=C,' then an author should state 'A+B' and allow the reader to discover on their own that 'C' is equaled.

This was difficult advice for me to follow, but I knew she was right (Shannon usually is). Some readers won't figure out 'C' if I don't tell them, I pointed out, but most readers are pretty smart (that's why they're reading). 

I think it's important to emphasize for younger readers that extremely wealthy people are not admirable as I want future generations to avoid this social pitfall. When three people own more wealth than the bottom half of our entire country combined, as is currently the case, it is not because those three people are better than half the country. Billionaires don't happen through sheer willpower and determination (that's capitalism's huckster sales pitch). American CEOs don't work 361 times harder than their employees and the myth that they do is harming all of us as it allows them to buy our politicians and rig the country in their favor until desperate peasants revolt and the whole thing falls apart.

I believe all of that and perhaps in another post I'll go on about how there's a middle ground between a failed socialist state and the ruthless and cold country we currently live in, but this post isn't the place for it. And a fun middle grade adventure book with a focus on evading alligator people whilst quipping and riding jet packs is also not the place for it.

So I went back through my book and cut any characters giving long lectures about things that weren't their motivations leading to fun action and adventure. The Banneker Bones books have many goalsamong them is making fun of Ayn Rand and her silly ideas as much as possiblebut the number one goal has always been a fun story well told. Economics lectures aren't fun.

So, if some Esteemed Readers don't pick up on my hidden manifesto within the text, but instead JUST have a good time laughing at Banneker's newest antics and worrying that they might get him eaten, that is a successful reading experience. Should they, after being fully entertained, have a thought that "extremely wealthy people can really be jerks and it's not fair," well, that's a bonus. I've provided 'A+B.' The 'C' is up to the reader, and that's as it should be.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

GUEST POST: "How to Quickly Write the Fantasy Fiction Novel of Your Dreams: A Guide" by Angelina Allsop

So you are setting out to write a novel and become a published author. Congrats to you! Writing fantasy fiction can be a lot fun, but be warned, it is quite a bit of work. Fear not, with some planning, trade craft, and guidance, you can finish your novel this year!

Before you start anything, do this!

Decide these three things:

1. Beyond the general genre of fantasy, what world you want to write in? Are you working within the world of espionage (think Etiquette and Espionage), Assassins (The Assassin's Blade), Witches (The Line), teenage high school drama (The Vampire Diaries), technology (Mortal Engines)?

2. What is the big goal that needs to be accomplished? Does the hero need to stop a bomb, get the girl,  assassinate someone, etc?

3. Why? What horrible thing will happen if the hero fails to accomplish the goal? In other words, tell me why I should care. 

4. -Optional- Adding a deadline or a ‘ticking timer’ usually helps push the story along and hook your readers till the very end.

These three things are imperative to a story line. Without them, you don’t have a story. You can’t even make a short story without these basic elements. 

Do the prep-work

If you want to write a novel quickly, with minimal hick-ups (ie major story structure problems and redos), take the time to really develop your outline and do the prep work.Not everyone loves working with an outline, but I freaking love it. 

I consistently had major story structure issues before I changed the way that I did my prep work. After reading 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron, I changed my methods and it did wonders for my writing speed, editing speed, and the overall quality of my writing. 

Prep-work: The outline


1. I start my novels on ‘the day something different happened’
2. Introduction Phase- I have a set up phase that lists the major goal, introduce all main characters, and show the time constraint
3. Game changer
4. Things get worse phase
5. Game changer
6. We might have found a way out of this mess…. Proactive Phase
7. Game changer
8. Final battle phase, conclusion, carry out plan
9. Story ending

a. Resolution – this is the period after the final scene that shows the main characters reaction to everything. This can be happy, relieved, or mournful, but it gives the reader (and the characters) time to adjust to all that has happened.


Now that I have the basic skeleton of the story, its time to fill it in more. Here are the steps I take to create my outline:

1. I make sure I have answered my 3 questions (What’s the world I want to write in, What is the goal/mission that has to happen, What big bad thing will happen if we don’t accomplish the goal)
2. –Optional- Create my working title
3. I list out 2-4 main characters, 1-2 Antagonists, and as many power players as I know I need at this point. I answer my character questions (listed below).
4. I write the ending. Then, I write the beginning. 
5. I fill in with the scenes that I already know. This usually goes pretty quickly. 
6. I do my setting and world building work (see more below)
a. Build my world
b. Create a map
c. List systems 
7. I fill in the holes until I get stuck- I’ll take note what I don’t know yet 
8. I create a timeline (list relevant historical information) 
9. I make a scene list
10. I summarize chapters and do a “boredom check” . ie. If I was a reader, would this section be boring? I’ll add and cut sections as needed
11. I list my resolution
12. I start writing!

Prep-work: Believable characters

Characters have dimension. Almost all people in the world have likes, dislikes, and dreams. We’re almost all are or have been bitter about. What are our flaws? Think about these things when you write about your characters. It's not really important to go through all of the steps with minor characters, but with major ones, like Dumbledore, for example, can be very useful and make your story and characters more believable. 

 Answer these character questions for each antagonist, protagonist, major characters, and power players (think President Snow from Hunger Games): 

What is their name, age, description, quirks?
What do they like? 
What do they hate?
What are their goals? What do they want more than anything else in the world? What happens if they don't reach them?
What’s stopping them from getting what they want is…
What is the emotional goal of the character? (how do you want the character to grow, develop, deterioate, etc.)


Every story needs opposition. Whether that is a volcano that might erupt and wipe out a village or an insane villain trying to overthrow the government, opposition cannot be forgotten. If it is a person, make sure you are really clear about his or her motivations, urges, and flaws. It is really understand to understand the ‘why’ of what the villain is doing and letting the reader in on this, bit by bit, can draw your reader in and invest them in the story. 

Prep-work: World building

World building is a very important part of writing in this genre. Even if your characters are going to be on earth during real life, the fantasy genre requires infers that there will be some "rule changes". World building means slowly unfolding those rules so that the reader is on the same page with you.

Save yourself a lot of editing by deciding most of this before you start writing.


Decide first, are you creating an entirely new world or is your novel set in modern-day earth? 
Is there a government in place? What is this look like? (Go into more detail if this is going to be an important part of your story, otherwise the basic understanding of what this government looks like will suffice. 
Are there laws or anarchy? Who upholds the laws? What kinds of punishments are expected for rule breakers? 
What biases, religions, or social taboos are there? 
What do people need? What do people wear? How do they buy things? Think about a typical day in the life for people in this world.
In your created world, consider adding regional differences- culture, skin tone, religion, food, accents, etc., based on where the location is. 

Create a Map 

for the settings that are especially important for your story and where the reader will visit often. You'd be amazed how difficult it is to remember where someone's room is in the house compared to other important characters. Little details like that can mess with the accuracy of what you're trying to create if you mix them. Most of my maps involve a scrap of paper and a few minutes of scribbling. Sometimes, I’ll add a few notes on the side if there is something important to remember. 

Prep-work: Define the Magical System 

If your book has magic, what are the ‘rules’ of magic? Does everyone have magic? For those who do, do they only have one specific type of magic? How does someone get stronger magically? Can they lose their powers? How?
What limits their powers? (Think: Kryponite for Superman)
Is the magic based on nature or mimic nature in some way? (Think: The Last Airbender tv show, Sookie Stackhouse Vampire Novels, The Line Trilogy)
Is there a scientific source (Think: X-men, Spiderman, Fantastic 4)
How do you learn magic? (Does great-grandmother teaches you or do you experiment on your own? Do you go to school?)


Remember to limit the powers in some way, especially with your protagonist. You can get away with the illusion of your protagonist having overwhelming power (Think of the world destroyer in Star Wars) if you have one small flaw, but rarely can you do that with your protagonist. If your protagonist has it too easy, then the story threatens to be boring. But, like for example, in order, magic, in general, is limited by the need to use a wand, and memorize spells, and practice them, in order to be better, the story is much more believable and people can empathize with the characters that the reading, especially if you watch them grow and get better over time. 

Be Serious About Your Writing Habit

The muse rarely writes novels, but discipline will every time.

Small habits, done daily, can accomplish big things. Set regular time aside to write. I found, what works best for me, is a system. Right now, I have a day job so I build my writing time into my work schedule. 

6:15a-7:30a I arrive early to work. I go to my predesignated spot and write (or edit)
until work starts
7:30a-12p Work at my day job- I have the luxury of eating at my desk, so I eat my lunch while working to free up my actual lunch time for writing
12p -12:55p Writing (or editing) time
12:55p-1p Plan what I will write next
1p-4:30 p Work time

Bam, two hours of writing done just by going to work. The habit is now automatic. My brain automatically snaps into writing mode when I go to my writing spot, throw on some headphones, and turn on my favorite music playlist. 

It’s my responsibility. 

Re-framing what I am doing helps me stick to my plan. Instead of looking at it like work (as it often seems like) or play (it can sometimes be really fun), I look at it like a duty. I imagine parents feel like parenting is a duty. Sometimes it is fun, sometimes it is work, but always they are expected to show up because they have a duty, a responsibility, to do so. I feel  my stories are important and the world needs them. 

Think about it, what if J.K. Rowling, or whoever your favorite author,  decided not to show up and write. Authors can change the world and if you want to be one of those authors, you have to show up and do the work. You owe it to your seedling story to help it grow into something real. 

Writing a book isn't easy, but it's very doable. There's a lot of great guides on how to write, but it really comes down to "butt in chair time.” Ask yourself, how badly do you want this? If, in a year from now, you are no closer to your goal of writing a book, how would you feel? Drop the excuses and start today. Take this opportunity to move forward with your dreams! You can do it! The world needs to read your story!

If you want more details on developing your outline and doing your pre-work, be sure to check out 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love  by Rachel Aaron. I can’t recommend it enough!

Try any of these methods? Comment below and let me know how it went. 

Angelina Allsop is an Amazon Best Selling Author who lives with her husband, Bryce, and their very old and very fat bulldog, Roree, in rural Arizona. She enjoys being outside on rainy days, reading, and of course, writing about all the adventures that happen in her head. 

Her debut novel, The Dead Orphanage, now called The Unliving Chronicles, is an award-nominated Otherworld book that hit the top-selling charts in its first month. If you love fantasy adventure, mythical fantasy and young adult book then you will LOVE this coming of age adventure book! Look for the rest of the haunting series coming soon!

Fourteen-year-old Peter Green can’t remember how he died.

All he has are his pajamas, a silk tie, and a one-way bus ticket to Mrs. Battisworth’s Academy and Haven for Unliving Boys and Girls, a strange and spooky school for dead orphans like himself. But that’s all he needs: the Unliving Academy has everything, from vampires in the hallways, to monsters in the cafeteria, to ghosts in the basement.

And that’s just the teachers; the students are far stranger.

As Pete learns to fit in with his new supernatural schoolmates, he starts to discover his own uniquely undead abilities, and even begins enjoying his life after death…but he just can’t shake the feeling that he’s forgotten something (or somebody!) important.

Somebody he left behind in the land of the living.

Somebody he loved very much.

Somebody who’s in terrible danger. 

Peter Green and the Unliving Academy is the captivating first installment of Angelina Allsop’s Unliving series of young adult fantasy novels. If you like reading about fun-filled adventures, fully realized new worlds, and the most unlikely of heroes, you’re sure to love Allsop’s spirited coming-of-age tale.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja TV 15: Author Kathi Appelt

To watch new episodes of Middle Grade Ninja TV as they air, go to YouTube and subscribe.

The audio from each episode is available as the Middle Grade Ninja Podcast on SoundcloudStitcherSpotifyitunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

Kathi Appelt and I discuss her first young adult novel, ANGEL THIEVES, as well as her many wonderful picture books and middle grade novels. She reveals her writing and research process and is very candid about the highs and lows of her publishing career, from the runaway success of THE UNDERNEATH to the tale of the picture book that took 17 years to finally be published. We also discuss religion and politics and are generally impolite, as authors ought to be. We even say a naughty word apiece, so look forward to that and more in this amazing episode packed with outstanding advice for writers from a master of the craft.

Click here to see Kathi Appelt face the 7 Questions.

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award finalist, PEN USA Literary Award-winning, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Keeper, and many picture books including Counting Crows. She has two grown children and lives in College Station, Texas, with her husband.

Here's something I wrote about Kathi in a previous blog post:  I met Kathi Appelt at a conference surrounded by writers who thought she walked on water (could be she does), and she made a point to seek me out over all those adoring fans and thank me for my review of The Underneath. She didn't have to do this, but it took all of a minute of her time to do it and it was a great thrill for me, not to mention a crucial instruction on how a great writer ought to behave that I'll never forget.

I've since bought other books by Kathi Appelt and I'm more likely to recommend her over other authors because she created a lifelong fan in a single gesture. I firmly believe that Kathi Appelt is more successful because she makes a habit of doing things like this and creating fans one at a time adds up over a writing career.

An ocelot. A slave. An angel thief.

Multiple perspectives spanning across time are united through themes of freedom, hope, and faith in a most unusual and epic novel from Newbery Honor–winning author and National Book Award finalist Kathi Appelt.

Sixteen-year-old Cade Curtis is an angel thief. After his mother’s family rejected him for being born out of wedlock, he and his dad moved to the apartment above a local antique shop. The only payment the owner Mrs. Walker requests: marble angels, stolen from graveyards, for her to sell for thousands of dollars to collectors. But there’s one angel that would be the last they’d ever need to steal; an angel, carved by a slave, with one hand open and one hand closed. If only Cade could find it…

Zorra, a young ocelot, watches the bayou rush past her yearningly. The poacher who captured and caged her has long since lost her, and Zorra is getting hungrier and thirstier by the day. Trapped, she only has the sounds of the bayou for comfort—but it tells her help will come soon.

Before Zorra, Achsah, a slave, watched the very same bayou with her two young daughters. After the death of her master, Achsah is free, but she’ll be damned if her daughters aren’t freed with her. All they need to do is find the church with an angel with one hand open and one hand closed…

In a masterful feat, National Book Award Honoree Kathi Appelt weaves together stories across time, connected by the bayou, an angel, and the universal desire to be free.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja TV 14: Author Lamar Giles

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The audio from each episode is available as the Middle Grade Ninja Podcast on SoundcloudStitcherSpotifyitunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

Lamar Giles and I discuss his newest middle grade adventure novel, THE LAST LAST-DAY-OF-SUMMER, his young adult thrillers, and our mutual love for Stephen King. We also talk about the founding of We Need Diverse Books, his transition from self published author to traditionally published author (and the advantages of each publishing model), and also Stephen King. We actually talk about Stephen King a lot. If you'd like to support We Need Diverse Books, head to: And to apply for the grant  Lamar mentioned, head to: And to read my open (love) letter to Stephen King, head to:

Lamar Giles is a well published author and a founding member of We Need Diverse Books. Lamar has two novels forthcoming in 2019: his debut middle grade fantasy THE LAST LAST-DAY-OF-SUMMER (Versify / HMH) and his fourth YA thriller SPIN (Scholastic).

Lamar Giles is a two-time Edgar Award finalist in the YA category, for his debut YA thriller FAKE ID (HarperCollins, 2014), and his second YA thriller, ENDANGERED (HarperCollins, 2015). His third YA thriller, OVERTURNED (Scholastic, 2017) received this glowing New York Times review, and was named a Kirkus Best Book of 2017. You can see the book trailer for OVERTURNED here. FAKE ID has been optioned by Sony Pictures (not yet announced).

 Lamar is a contributor to the YA anthology THREE SIDES OF A HEART (HarperCollins, 2017), the editor of the forthcoming We Need Diverse Books YA short story anthology FRESH INK  (Random House 2018), a contributor to the forthcoming YA anthology BLACK ENOUGH: STORIES OF BEING YOUNG AND BLACK IN AMERICA (HarperCollins / Balzer and Bray 2019), and a contributor to a forthcoming We Need Diverse Books middle grade anthology.

The Hardy Boys meets The Phantom Tollbooth, in the new century! When two adventurous cousins accidentally extend the last day of summer by freezing time, they find the secrets hidden between the unmoving seconds, minutes, and hours are not the endless fun they expected.

Otto and Sheed are the local sleuths in their zany Virginia town, masters of unraveling mischief using their unmatched powers of deduction. And as the summer winds down and the first day of school looms, the boys are craving just a little bit more time for fun, even as they bicker over what kind of fun they want to have. That is, until a mysterious man appears with a camera that literally freezes time. Now, with the help of some very strange people and even stranger creatures, Otto and Sheed will have to put aside their differences to save their town—and each other—before time stops for good.

"The Last Last-Day-of-Summer reminds me that all children deserve to exist in magical spaces where their imaginations and familial bonds will them into heroism. Every single child should have the freedom to be one of The Legendary Alstons. And I, for one, am grateful to Giles, and this brilliant story, for that reminder. " – Jason Reynolds, author of Newbery Honoree Long Way Down

“The legendary heroes of this legendary book are already legendary when the story begins! From there things can only get legendary-er!” – Tom Angleberger, author of the Origami Yoda series

"Lamar Giles has written an instant classic--readers won't want their time with the Legendary Alston Boys of Logan County to end." – Gwenda Bond, author of the Lois Lane series

“This is a series to look out for.” - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Laced with humor, the fantastical time war plays out at a dizzying pace as Giles interjects affecting realism with themes of reconciliation, family, identity, and destiny.” - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A page turning magical fantasy adventure.” - The Horn Book

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja TV 13: Author Steven K. Smith

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The audio from each episode is available as the Middle Grade Ninja Podcast on SoundcloudStitcherSpotifyitunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

Author Steven K. Smith and I discuss indie publishing for the middle grade market and his advice for writers. We talk about his series THE VIRGINIA MYSTERIES and how utilizing local landmarks and history helped him build a network of educators and bookstore owners to help him market his books. Steven and I both have a background in sales, so we discuss how that's extremely helpful for authors. And we get into the nitty gritty on Amazon ads and other subjects specifically helpful for indie publishers. Another episode that's not to be missed!

Steven K. Smith writes the middle grade series The Virginia Mysteries, adventures with a twist of history, and Brother Wars.

Sign up for Steven's Reader's List to be notified of new books and events at:

Steven lives in Richmond, Virginia, with his wife and three sons. Born and raised in rural northwestern New Jersey, he moved to Virginia in 2011 and quickly fell in love with its history and charm. Visit his website at He also writes contemporary fiction for grownups as Steven Sawyer.

When he's not writing, Steven enjoys coaching his boys in sports, hiking, kayaking, naps, and taking away his kids' screen time. Some of his favorite children's books include Where the Red Fern Grows, Rascal, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Bridge to Terabithia, and the Chronicles of Narnia series.

The Virginia Mysteries - Adventures with a twist of history
Book 1 - Summer of the Woods
Book 2 - Mystery on Church Hill
Book 3 - Ghosts of Belle Isle
Book 4 - Secret of the Staircase
Book 5 - Midnight at the Mansion
Book 6 - Shadows at Jamestown
Book 7 - Spies at Mount Vernon

Brother Wars
Brother Wars: Cabin Eleven
Brother Wars: The Big Apple

Parenting Non-Fiction
Splashing in the Deep End: Adventures Raising Boys

Do you remember your first real adventure? When summer was filled with magic and anything seemed possible?

"Magic Tree House meets The Hardy Boys...A perfect summer reading adventure!"

When young brothers Derek and Sam move with their family to Virginia, they have no idea what adventures the summer will bring. As they explore their creaky old house and the deep surrounding woods, they uncover a sixty-year-old mystery of a valuable coin collection stolen from the local museum. Join the boys as they spend their summer running from danger and searching the woods, secret caves, rushing waters, and hidden passageways for treasure and the rare 1877 Indian Head cent coin!

Summer of the Woods is the first book in The Virginia Mysteries series. If you enjoy mystery and adventure like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Magic Tree House, or National Treasure, you'll love author Steven K. Smith's exciting middle-grade series. The stories are modern-day fictional mysteries with twists of real locations and events from Virginia history. These fast-paced books are popular with both boys and girls ages 7-12, appealing to even reluctant readers!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja TV 12: Literary Agent Jennifer March Soloway

To watch new episodes of Middle Grade Ninja TV as they air, go to YouTube and subscribe.

The audio from each episode is available as the Middle Grade Ninja Podcast on SoundcloudStitcherSpotifyitunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

Literary Agent Jennifer March Soloway and I discuss the types of projects she's looking for, how she evaluates queries and writing samples, and the sorts of services she provides to her clients. She demonstrates her vast knowledge of the market and why she would be an ideal literary agent to represent authors, and throws out plenty of fabulous tips for writers. This is an episode you'll want to listen to a few times and take notes.

Click here to see Jennifer March Soloway face the 7 Questions.

Jennifer March Soloway represents authors and illustrators of picture book, middle grade, and YA stories, and is actively building her list. Although she specializes in children’s literature, she also represents adult fiction, both literary and commercial, particularly crime and psychological suspense projects.

For picture books, she is drawn to a wide range of stories from silly to sweet, but she always appreciates a strong dose of humor and some kind of surprise at the end. When it comes to middle grade, she likes all kinds of genres, including adventures, mysteries, spooky-but-not-too-scary ghost stories, humor, realistic contemporary, and fantasy.

YA is Jennifer’s sweet spot. She is a suspense junkie. She adores action-packed thrillers full of unexpected twists. Throw in a dash of romance and she’s hooked! She's a huge fan of psychological horror that blurs the lines between the real and the imagined. But as much as she loves a good thriller, she finds her favorite novels are literary stories about ordinary teens, especially those focused on family, relationships, sexuality, mental illness, or recovery. In such stories, she is particularly drawn to a close, confiding first-person narrative. Regardless of genre, she is actively seeking fresh new voices and perspectives underrepresented in literature.

That’s her wish list, but the truth is an author might have something she has never considered before, and it might be absolutely perfect for her. She is open to any good story that is well written with a strong, authentic voice. Surprise her!

Prior to joining ABLA, Jennifer worked in marketing and public relations in a variety of industries, including financial services, health care, and toys. She has an MFA in English and Creative Writing from Mills College and was a fellow at the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto in 2012. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, their two sons, and an English bulldog.

Jennifer regularly presents at writing conferences all over the country, including the San Francisco Writers Conference, the Atlanta Writers Conference, and regional SCBWI conferences.

For her latest conference schedule, craft tips and more, follow Jennifer on Twitter (@marchsoloway).

Friday, February 22, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja TV 11: Author Tommy Greenwald

To watch new episodes of Middle Grade Ninja TV as they air, go to YouTube and subscribe.

The audio from each episode is available as the Middle Grade Ninja Podcast on SoundcloudStitcherSpotifyitunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

Author Tommy Greenwald and I discuss his career in publishing and his advice for writers. We do a deep dive on his process from having his initial idea to planning the story to planning a series and working with his editors and illustrators to produce a final book. He gives several invaluable insights into marketing and targeting his fiction. We also talk about his experience writing and advertising musicals as well as writing about sports.

Click here to see Tommy face the 7 Questions

Tommy Greenwald is the author of many books for children, including the CRIMEBITERS! series, about a group of friends and a (possibly) superhero crime-fighting vampire dog, and the CHARLIE JOE JACKSON books, a middle-grade series about the most reluctant reader ever born. His most recent book is GAME CHANGER, about the pleasures and perils of youth sports.

Tommy is also the Co-Founder of Spotco Advertising, a theatrical and entertainment advertising agency in New York City, and the lyricist and co-bookwriter (with Andrew Lippa) of JOHN and JEN, a 1995 musical which was revived off-Broadway in 2015.

From the author of the Charlie Joe Jackson series comes the fourth and final book in the humorous illustrated series about a boy whose new dog may or may not be a crime-fighting vampire.

The CrimeBiters gang got its start with help from my crime-fighting vampire dog, Abby. But now, I'm starting to wonder if she's really a vampire at all. . .

That's mystery I'm going to have to solve on my own. The rest of the Crime-biters are pretty busy with their own stuff. Irwin's planning an epic birthday party for the ages, Baxter's worrying about his brother enlisting in the army, and Daisy is cartwheeling her way through cheerleading practice (shudder!).

There's only one person I can turn to: the best vampire fiction writer that ever lived, Elroy Evans. He's coming to the nearby COM-MIX convention and I have to ask him the question that's threatening to drive a stake through my heart. Can a dog really be a vampire?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja TV 10: Author Daniel Kenney

To watch new episodes of Middle Grade Ninja TV as they air, go to YouTube and subscribe.

The audio from each episode is available as the Middle Grade Ninja Podcast on SoundcloudStitcherSpotifyitunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

Author Daniel Kenney and I discuss his career in publishing and his advice for writers. We go to some weird places with our mutual love of flying saucers and even discuss whether or not the moon landing was faked (probably not, but maybe). And I read a selection from BANNEKER BONES AND THE GIANT ROBOT BEES. My apologies for coughing and sniffling as I'm getting over a nasty bought of the flu.

Daniel Kenney is the co-author of the hit detective series, The Math Inspectors and the author/illustrator behind the hugely successful Big Life of Remi Muldoon series. He writes funny books for smart kids and his titles include The Beef Jerky Gang, Pirate Ninja, and Katie Plumb and The Pendleton Gang.

Daniel and his wife live in Omaha, Nebraska with zero cats, zero dogs, one gecko, two very lost toads, and a large shoe full of kids. When those kids aren't driving him nuts, Daniel is busy with his other passion, traveling the world by jet pack.

Like Mission Impossible... but with Fractions!

Do your kids love math? Hate math? Always ask you: "When am I ever going to use math?"THE MATH INSPECTORS HAVE AN ANSWER!The series people are calling:Like Sherlock Holmes... but with calculatorsLike NCIS...but with milkshakes.Like Jurassic Park...but without the dinosaurs.Wait, what?Each book in this insanely popular mystery & detective series is designed to draw readers aged 9-12 into a mystery so intriguing, with characters so smart and funny, that they forget they're doing math.Because the Math Inspectors know two things. First, math is the greatest thing in the world. Second, crime solving is nothing more than a word problem. And they eat word problems for breakfast!

Bonus: Funny word problems at the end of the book for kids who want to sharpen their own Math skills.~PRAISE FOR THE MATH INSPECTORS:-"I thought this was going to be a sneaky way for me to get them to get some "math" worked into their reading. Turns out, I didn't have to be sneaky at all. My 9 and 10 year old both loved these books." Amazon Customer- “It made sense to my daughter and helped put the math she does on worksheets into perspective and gave her a real world use for math.” Amazon Customer~CRITICISM FOR THE MATH INSPECTORS:- “People who like math as much as the Math Inspectors do need to find another hobby. Like English, for example.” Polly Partridge, leader of the Ravensburg English Club and avowed enemy of the Math Inspectors.- “Do you have any idea how much trouble the four of you are in?” Officer Bobby Evans, Ravensburg Police Department.


-Book One: The Case of the Claymore Diamond-Book Two: The Case of the Mysterious Mr. Jekyll-Book Three: The Case of the Christmas Caper-Book Four: The Case of the Hamilton Roller Coaster-Book Five: The Case of the Forgotten Mine Coming Spring 2018


- Like A Math Workbook Only Fun! Grade 3 Coming August 2018- Like A Math Workbook Only Fun! Grade 4 Coming March 2019- Like A Math Workbook Only Fun! Grade 5 Coming November 2019BUY MATH INSPECTORS 1 TODAY!