Saturday, January 18, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 56: Author Shauna Holyoak

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Shauna Holyoak and I discuss her KAZU JONES series with tips for writing middle grade mysteries, rewriting a story until it's right, and writing about a protagonist that's a different race than her author. Shauna tells the tale of how she landed her agent, previous guest Carrie Pestritto, and how she started her literary career after becoming a parent by writing a regular column. We also chat about book marketing, school visits, actively working to transition from a pantser to a plotter, and so much more.

Shauna has been telling stories long before she could ride a bike, and some of them are even true! She writes for kids and teens and thinks it’s kinda the best job ever. Kazu Jones and the Denver Dognappers is her debut novel, and it was released by Disney-Hyperion in April, 2019! She lives in Idaho Falls, ID with her husband, six of their seven children, and two naughty dogs.

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: “In this spirited debut, Holyoak introduces an indefatigable heroine whose distinct voice and loyal canine companion contribute to her considerable appeal. The diverse allies, plot twists, and delightful dogs make this a memorable beginning for Kazu and her friends.”

KIRKUS: “Holyoak creates a well-paced mystery with approachable characters and issues. The dognapping case and the go-get-’em attitude of Kazu provide just enough suspense and action without being too scary. Holyoak sprinkles in topics of growing up, including friendship, relationships with parents, mean people, and telling the truth.   A not-too-scary, diverse mystery for those who love action, dogs, and spunky heroines.”

Packed with high stakes mystery and tons of heart, this first installment in a new series introduces Kazu Jones-a spunky, scrappy detective who's this generation's Harriet the Spy.

When a string of dognappings grips her Denver neighborhood, Kazu Jones vows to track down the culprits. She can't stand to see more dogs go missing-especially once her neighbors' beloved pet is taken because of her gigantic mistake.

With the help of her gang-including her best friend and expert hacker, March; and her ginormous, socially anxious pup, Genki-Kazu uncovers evidence that suggests the dognapping ring is bigger than she ever imagined. But the more she digs, the more dangerous her investigation becomes. The dognappers are getting bolder, and Genki could be next...

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 55: Author Erin Bow

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

Erin Bow shares stories about winning the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award with her debut novel, working at the CERN laboratory, being a science writer for the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, and having just won the Governor General’s Award. I impress her with my knowledge of RICK AND MORTY and TINY TOONS. We have a wonderful conversation about writing for spite, transhumanism, her writing shed, a creepy cabin story, a fear of squandering talent, the joy of winning awards, and so much more.

Erin Bow is a former physicist who currently writes speculative fiction young adult novels. She studied particle physics in college, eventually working at the CERN laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland. She then decided to leave science in order to concentrate on her love of writing.  Originally from Nebraska, Bow came to Canada in 1997. She is the author of the YA novels Plain Kate, The Scorpion Rules, The Swan Riders and Sorrow's Knot. Plain Kate won the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award in 2011. Bow has also written poetry under her maiden name Erin Noteboom.

An exquisitely written, uplifting middle grade debut by acclaimed author, Erin Bow, about a young girl who defies her family’s expectations in order to save her brother and become an eagle hunter, perfect for fans of PAX.

It goes against all tradition for Aisulu to train an eagle, for among the Kazakh nomads, only men can fly them. But everything changes when Aisulu discovers that her brother, Serik, has been concealing a bad limp that risks not just his future as the family's leader, but his life too.

When her parents leave to seek a cure for Serik in a distant hospital, Aisulu finds herself living with her intimidating uncle and strange auntie—and secretly caring for an orphaned baby eagle. To save her brother and keep her family from having to leave their nomadic life behind forever, Aisulu must earn her eagle’s trust and fight for her right to soar.  Along the way, she discovers that family are people who choose each other, home is a place you build, and hope is a thing with feathers.

Erin Bow’s lyrical middle grade debut is perfect for fans of original animal-friendship stories like Pax and Because of Winn Dixie.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

NINJA STUFF: Author, Year Six (2019)

The headline of 2019's Author Year-in-Review post is this: the Banneker Bones trilogy is finally coming to a close. I've still got some work ahead of me, but Banneker Bones and the Cyborg Conspiracy will be available May 15, 2020.

I can't reveal many details as saying much of anything about this third story will spoil bits of the first two. But I can reveal Steven Novak's glorious third cover and I can say that I can't wait for you to read this final-ish adventure (there will hopefully someday be a fourth, fifth, and sixth book, but not for a while, and this third book is an ending for the series).

Happy New Year, Esteemed Reader! I know I've done more podcasting than blogging in 2019, and truthfully, I anticipate more of the same in 2020. Every episode of the Middle Grade Ninja podcast feels like I won a contest to chat with someone I admire. I frequently sound awkward and dorky on the show, which isn't really a surpriseI AM awkward and dorky, on and off the air. Even so, I appear to be getting away with this thing so far and I'm having fun. Traffic numbers tell me Esteemed Audience is getting something out of the show as well.

If you haven't heard the podcast yet, the archives await you, friend. If you've read this blog ever, you're into writing and reading and you'll probably enjoy listening to writers and publishing professionals chat with me about writing and reading. The most recent clip show is a good place to start. The previous one was excellent as well.

The podcast sucks up most of the time I used to devote to blogging (and more), so I've been posting less frequently. But I look forward to these author year-in-review posts as they require me to read the previous ones and evaluate my performance. In 2019, I feel I did some things better than I ever have, I could improve on some things for 2020, and I did one colossally stupid thing I'm still beating myself up over as I'm getting a little old to have made such a childish mistake. But I'm also old enough to know that mistakes are part of life and I certainly took a lifelong lesson away from the experience. That mistake (neveryoumind the details) and a funeral aside, 2019 was a mostly excellent year.

As in previous years, I'll spend the first half of this post rambling about the things other people made in 2019 that I loved. I won't even attempt to sum up the decade, although Middle Grade Ninja is ten years old this year. In the second half of the post, I'll ramble about the things I made, some lessons I learned, and my plans for the future.


You regular Esteemed Readers know I never list my favorite books for the year because 1. I'm too slow a reader to have kept up with the whole market, so I can never know for sure. 2. I like having writer friends:) 3. Each book is its own unique experience I'm almost always happy to have had regardless of other experiences.

That said, in a world where old-time favorites frequently let us down, two books that were amazing were The Institute and The Testaments. They weren't necessarily my favorite books of the year, but they were each rich and rewarding reading experiences. It's inspiring to see two literary giants who've been at the top of their game for decades knock it out of the park yet again, despite the probability of their later work crumbling against the weight of fan expectations. King and Atwood are two of the best around and a reminder that a writer's career can be a long one. An author's best work isn't behind them until they decide it's so and I'll put their senior works toe-to-toe with their freshman efforts any day.


El Camino was something truly special that Mrs. Ninja and I loved together and made us yearn for more Better Call Saul. This year's superhero movies I loved alone. It goes without saying that Marvel killed it with Avengers: Endgame and Spider-man: Far From Home, and Captain Marvel was mostly charming, with points off for Nick Fury's unsatisfying eye-patch origin. Shazam did DC proud by being an absolute charm factory. Joker was... I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about it.

2019 was quite the year for horror. Brightburn had me smiling from start to finish. My favorite movie of 2019 should be Us (any other year, it would be). Us is a well-crafted thing of beauty. From the performances to the cinematography to the music, this is a superior horror film that makes me want to buy an opening ticket for every Jordan Peele movie that's ever going to be made (he also got the biggest laugh in Toy Story 4). I can't remember the last time a movie so terrified me that I had nightmares for a week afterward. Get Out was amazing, but I like Us even more. And I still occasionally glance at my driveway expecting to see me and Mrs. Ninja at the end of it.

I loved Us so, so much, but there's another movie I love even more: Crawl, my favorite movie of the year, and one of the greatest viewing experiences of my life. This flick understood exactly what I wanted from it and over delivered. For me, it's a dream movie, a wish my heart made, about folks getting chased by alligators.

It's masterfully plotted and terrifying with characters you care about who are properly tortured. For every time I've been let down by a supposedly scary movie, Crawl reminds me why I keep coming back to this genre. It's the rare gold I've been mining for. I'll watch another 20 not-so-good horror flicks because every so often you get a Crawl that makes the search worth while.

I saw Crawl twice in the theaters, once when I bought my digital copy, and again this very week. That last viewing was a post Christmas afternoon with my in-laws who hadn't seen it before. They were both on the edge of their seat and shouting at all the best parts, so the movie was fun in a whole new way.


Often better than the movies these days are the TV series, and there were several extraordinary seasons of television in 2019. My favorite series of the year is a three-way HBO-driven tie between Chernobyl, season two of Big Little Lies (has Meryl Streep ever been better?) and Watchmen, with an unfair advantage for Watchmen. 

That last was something Mrs. Ninja and I enjoyed together and discussed at length between episodes. I loved those conversations about Watchmen as much as the show. I'm guilty of binging the occasional series and it can be fun, but the weekly release of episodes gave us time to speculate about the many mysteries and read about the history referenced in the show, as well as go back and reread Alan Moore's almost-but-not-quite-as-good-as-The-Dark-Knight-Returns masterpiece.

Other series I really loved in 2019 were The Boys, Veep (going to miss it), Mindhunter, BoJack Horseman (realizing Todd was performing Brokeback Mountain with sock puppets for a two-year-old might be the hardest I laughed all year), and F is for Family. And the first five episodes of Rick and Morty's 4th season were better than entire series runs of other shows.


2019 was a slow year for video games, or it may just be that I've been too busy to play many of them. I loved the final season of Telltale's The Walking Dead. It was a satisfying ending to Clementine's journey and one of the better zombie stories I've enjoyed across any medium.

The remaster of the Ghostbusters game made my day. I played the original, of course, but I lost my copy in a robbery. All these years later, I was thrilled to play it again. That game is the fulfillment of the childhood wish of most 80's children, and even though Nintendo has since improved its game play in their Luigi's Haunted Copycat series, nothing tops being a recruit with the actual guys. An experience like that is something only a videogame can deliver.

And then a miracle happened. Mrs. Ninja gave me a Switch Lite for Christmas. Few things have brought me so much joy. I've finally experienced Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8, and the beginning of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (I'll probably still be playing that massive game this time next year), because I took time off to relive another childhood favorite: Zelda: Link's Awakening.

If all's well that ends well, 2019 had a very happy ending indeed, so it must've been a good year:)


Despite my many hours spent watching television and playing videogames, I did a lot of reading in 2019, which you can hear me talking about in the 53 episodes of the podcast I produced. My writing wasn't quite as steady as I would've liked in 2019 (it never is), but I published a book and got another most of the way toward publication. The Banneker books never come easy, and as much I love that world, I'm glad to be stepping away from the series for a while, probably for years, until I hear the Song of the Turtle calling me back to The Dark Tower.

I led three six-week fiction workshops in 2019, which kept me busy critiquing student work, and I taught at a bunch of one-off courses. I was even invited to speak at the Indiana Comic Convention, which was an enormously enjoyable experience, and I addressed a bunch of wonderful audiences. I love meeting writers, so I'll keep speaking at events for them so long as I keep receiving invitations.

Banneker Bones and the Alligator People has been extremely well received by readers (the ones I've heard from), which makes me so, so happy. I love that book. My life is better for having written it.

Going into 2020, I'm as in love with writing as I've ever been, though the relationship has matured.


I had some incredible experiences in 2019, many of which I recorded so you can enjoy them as well. Talking to former National Teacher of the Year Sharon M. Draper, in addition to being an absolute once-in-a-lifetime thrill, convinced me I needed to spend more time around young people. So I signed up to be a substitute teacher.

I've been interacting with middle grade readers on a regular basis and it turns out most teachers have prep periods that can be used as extra writing time. It's the perfect job that works around my kid's schedule and helps improve my school visits and my writing.

As an example of the things I'm learning, one day I was teaching fifth graders and a boy wore a t-shirt with Jason and Freddy fighting on it with a bunch of blood, so I gave him my honest opinion: "cool shirt." And it was. But later, when the class was lining up in the hall, he went up to another teacher and proudly proclaimed, "See, Mr. Kent likes my shirt." And so she reminded him and me that no, that shirt was not appropriate for the fifth grade, and I had to be all, oh yeah, right, right. Whoops:)

I usually don't mention my writing to the students when I'm teaching because that's not why I'm there.  I do ask all of the kids what books they're reading and which are their favorites. On one occasion, however, a child observed me putting away my new book and asked about it and I was all like, I Am An Author, spoken as though admitting to being an Avenger.

The child then threw a barrage of questions at me that boiled down to, "How rich and famous are you and why are you at my school?" I then explained that though I love every reader I have, I'm not especially rich or even all that internet-famous:) The vast majority of writers aren't either, even the ones I imagined would be before I met them. The child looked at me skeptically and asked, "are you really an author?"

That interaction bummed me out for a day, but then I had a thought that's kept me smiling ever since. Being rich and famous for writing 1. Probably has as much downside as upside and won't, by itself, make anyone forever happy and content 2. Is a child's idea of what it means to be an author.

And so I said to myself, Ninja, do you love your life? Mostly, I do. I love my family and my Nintendo and I've gotten to chat with a lot of my heroes and I've written some books that might yet change the world, but have certainly changed mine. So if you love your life and you're happy, why are you letting a child's idea of what your author life should be bum you out? 

I'm not saying I couldn't stand to be richer, though I'm about as famous as I want to be, and I don't want to fall so deeply into contentment that I lose my drive to keep expanding my talent and my audience... but, honestly, life is pretty great just the way it is.


2019 was another year of Oh-God-is-America-over-is-this-how-it-ends-and-if-so-does-anything-else-matter panic on a daily basis and it weighed on me as I'm sure it's weighed on you, Esteemed Reader. And it's not over. I don't expect it to be over for some time to come.

I wonder how wise it is for me to keep paying attention to national politics, honestly. Saturday Night Live did an especially poignant sketch I'm going to share below in case you missed it. In the sketch, three American families bitterly discuss politics at Christmas, and at the end, the snow person narrator informs us, "they live in states where their votes don't matter."

I watched the Mueller testimony live. I watched much of the impeachment hearings. And yet, I don't know that I'm accomplishing much by being so well informed. I've protested and voted and I'll keep voting, but why am I giving so much head space to events I can't impact? If the apocalypse is coming either way and I can't stop it, why am I wasting my last days thinking about Donald Trump?

As a teenager, I knew the names of all the producers and directors and screenwriters of my favorite films, but after deciding film school wasn't for me, I mostly stopped memorizing the resumes of famous people I don't know and am unlikely to work with. I feel like that portion of my mental capacity has been replaced with the names of politicians, and I don't know that the change is for the better or that the knowledge is in any way more usefulknowing the names of movie people at least helps me decide what movies to watch.

Red Dawn actually happened and if the good-ish guys are the ones who write history, we'll have to acknowledge that the Republican party has been infiltrated by Russia to a terrifying degree, the full extent of which we may never know, and some Democrats have surely been bought and compromised as well. All of that demands my attention...

On the other hand, I think about how angry I was and still am at the bankers who decimated our economy, took their bonuses, and crept away to their evil lairs to laugh at us and never be brought to justice. What difference did any of my anger make? Paul Ryan is laughing at us, and it's hard for me to believe he won't be joined by Mitch McConnell so they can high five and chuckle at how they brought America to its end, the bad guys win, credits.

I can't imagine Trump in jail, and certainly not all his enablers who belong there with him. And in the end, the Emperor-Palpatine-level villain I'm so furious with ends up looking like this:

I seriously doubt the billionaires of the world care that I think they shouldn't exist. The only person affected by my hatred of those evil bankers, in the end, has been me. And so it will probably be with evil politicians. Life is short and appearing shockingly shorter with every year that passes. How much of my energy should I waste on impotent hatred?

But lots of great stuff happened in 2019 and relative to most of human history, it was a great time to be alive. In 2020, I'm going to make a conscious effort to focus less on national politics and more on things happening in my community I can actually impact.


As I said, the biggest change in my author life in 2019 has been hosting and producing the Middle Grade Ninja podcast, which has had its ups and downs as I'm still learning on the job how to do it successfully. But it's been mostly ups, so I plan to record more podcasts in 2020.

Even if, for some reason, the whole thing comes to an end and I quit podcasting forever, I'll still feel the episodes produced thus far are an absolute good and I'll be forever grateful for every one of the conversations I've had and the many, many things I've learned.

I'm still figuring out a successful work/life balance to keep the podcast goingand that's a struggle I expect to continue. Fortunately, I've recorded a bunch of episodes so I'm taking most of January off to give myself a break before I burn out. I don't want to complain because talking with so many wonderful people and sharing those conversation is a privilege, and I don't want the huge amount of work involved to lead me to ever take it for granted.

That said, every episode takes hours of work before it's recorded, both in arranging the episode and researching for it ahead of time. And though I try not to do much editing of the actual conversation except when requestedwhich is why you hear all my ums and awkward transitionsthe editing of each episode into clips and a final product takes a lot of time as well. That's mostly good as listening to each episode a couple times 1. Ensures I absorb the advice of my guests (maybe Esteemed Reader learns something, but I definitely do) 2. Helps me improve as a host for the next interview.

Still, all that work is probably why I went off on a publicist who was extremely rude not long ago. I'm not proud of this, but this particular publicist emailed me once about potential dates for her client, never followed up for over a month, and then emailed me the week before demanding that I drop everything and conduct the interview over the holidays, blaming me for her failure as though I were out to hurt her author.

Check out my site, friend. I won't deny I've had some interactions with authors over the years that could've gone better (you try running this blog for a decade and do everything perfect every time), but I feel I've been pretty consistently helpful to the writing community on a mostly volunteer basis over the last ten years. This irritating publicist (not one of the fine and noble publicists who's appeared on the show) and a few other unpleasant interactions left me grumbling.

But the podcast is extremely popular in a way that has really surprised me. People all around the world are tuning in to the show every week and in rapidly growing numbers, though the audience was already horrifyingly huge. I'm aware they're tuning in more for the guests than for me, which makes perfect sense, but I take pride in so far not dissuading folks from listening to the show by appearing on it:)


In 2020, I anticipate writing more things that are not Banneker, parts of one thing that very much is, and hosting more podcasts. I'm going to do more public appearances and read new and interesting books and beat Breath of the Wild. This time next year I hope to have a whole bunch of great things to tell you about, so I'm going to get busy doing some great things now as to not let either of us down. I hope you have a great 2020 as well, Esteemed Reader.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

2nd Middle Grade Ninja Clip Show

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It’s the second ever Middle Grade Ninja clips show, featuring snippets from episodes 31 through 59, including never-before-heard clips from shows that haven't yet aired.

New episodes are scheduled to return January 11.

Until then, enjoy this compilation of clips from conversations with AUTHORS Kate Hannigan, Allan Woodrow, Laura Martin, Sharon M. Draper, Dan Gutman, Thomas Taylor, Annie Sullivan, John Claude Bemis,Gregg Millman, Francesca Zappia, Alicia D. Williams, Nancy Richardson Fischer, Shamim Sarif, Mira Bartók, Mariama J. Lockington, Angie Karcher, Lance Rubin, Stefani Deoul, Shauna Holyoak, Jennifer Voigt Kaplan, Jillian Boehme, LITERARY AGENTS Jennifer Mattson, Carrie Pestritto, Christa Heschke, Alison Hellegers, EDITORS Molly Cusick, Lauren Smulski, and PUBLIC RELATIONS EXPERT Claire McKinney.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 54: Editor Lauren Smulski

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Lauren Smulski reveals candid details about her career in NYC publishing, including salary specifics, as she rose from assistant editor to an editor with Harlequin Teen. We discuss her new role as a freelance editor, the types of services she’s offering, and the ways writers should go about evaluating editors. We also chat about the indie publishing revolution, the need for traditional publishing to decentralize, and piñata cakes. Lauren offers many tips for world building, writing dialogue, building emotional depth, and so much more.

From the moment she learned how to read, Lauren brought books with her everywhere. She flew through story after story while curled up with fuzzy blankets, while lying in hammocks, while at the beach with her toes in the sand, even while her parents scolded her for hiding yet another book under the table at dinner. But it wasn’t until her junior year at Ithaca College, where she studied journalism and English, that Lauren realized making books was an actual job.

After earning her master’s degree in publishing from Pace University, Lauren went on to intern at Dorchester Publishing and freelance for Skyhorse Publishing before landing her first job as an editorial assistant at Harlequin. There, she worked her way up the ladder to become an associate editor for Inkyard Press, specializing in stories for young adults, ranging from epic fantasy, science fiction, and thrillers to contemporary, historical, and nonfiction. Her books have been New York Times bestsellers, Indie Next Picks, award-winners, and received multiple starred reviews.

With nearly a decade of editorial experience under her belt, Lauren has now made the shift into a career as a freelance editor, so she can spend more time working directly with authors to nurture their writing and bring their stories to the next level. She is thrilled to be able to do this from her home in eastern Connecticut, where she lives with her husband, her daughter, and her Shakespearean cat, Tybalt. In her spare time, she loves to invent new cupcake recipes, play lots of board games, and relax by the fire pit in her backyard.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 53: Author Stefani Deoul

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Stefani Deoul and I enjoy a far-ranging conversation about the creative process across multiple mediums. We talk about her career as a film and television producer as well as a young adult novelist. You can be sure I ask her about Stephen King television adaptations, such as her productions of HAVEN and THE DEAD ZONE. We also talk about SAY HER NAME, the third book in Sid Rubin Silicon Alley Adventure series, which leads to a discussion of research tips for authors, writing the language of teenage characters, giving and receiving revision notes, and so much more.

Stefani Deoul is the author of the award-winning novels, ON A LARP, and ZERO SUM GAME, books one and two of her YA Mystery series, the Sid Rubin Silicon Alley Adventures. Book three, SAY HER NAME, releases December 10th. Other works include her first novel, the women's literary fiction, THE CAROUSEL, as well as numerous publications, including pieces for Curve magazine, Outdoor Delaware and Letters from CAMP Rehoboth. In addition, Stefani has penned short stories and several film/television treatments.

As a television producer her resume includes series such as HAVEN for the SyFy Network, THE DEAD ZONE and BRAVE NEW GIRL, DRESDEN FILES and MISSING.

Along with producing five seasons of Haven, based on the Stephen King story THE COLORADO KID, Stefani finally succumbed to the allure of acting, “starring” as the off camera, and uncredited, radio dispatcher, Laverne.

High-flying lesbionic brainiac Sid Rubin is caught up in the glow of new love—and the snowball fight of the century. Distraction in action, Sid forgets to duck and takes a full facial hit, launching her backward into Imani, who in turn slides down a hill, through a thicket, and amazingly, lands safely. Or so she thinks. Until she hears an ice crack and sees a fingertip rise through the small fissure.

Cue the scream.

Jimmy, Sid, Ari, and Vikram slip and slide their way to the rescue, somehow knowing that a chain of events has just been set in motion.

The finger becomes a hand, and then a body. It’s a young girl. And she’s not alone. There are seven more skeletons―unidentified and unclaimed. When Imani utters the words, “I want someone to say her name,” it’s time for the posse to round up and ride again―chasing a mystery across time, and states, and even continents. A genetic genealogy hunt that's right up Sid’s Silicon Alley.

But there’s a glitch in the system, because Sid's new girlfriend, Ava, has other plans. And Sid learns the hard way that before she can untangle someone else's family tree, she will have to find her own roots.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 52: Author Lance Rubin

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Lance Rubin and I talk about his background as an actor and improvisational comedian and what that experience brings to his new young adult novel, CRYING LAUGHING. We discuss the new Snapchat series based on his book, DENTON LITTLE’S DEATHDATE, as well as his recording of his own audiobook. And we make time to palaver about politics, flying saucers, writing about grief, and THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY.

Lance Rubin is the writer of the DENTON LITTLE books (now a Snapchat original series) and CRYING LAUGHING. He also co-wrote THE LOST CAUSES OF BLEAK CREEK with Rhett and Link and the Off-Broadway musical BROADWAY BOUNTY HUNTER with Joe Iconis and Jason SweetTooth Williams.

Lance loves Harry Potter, the Knicks, Elizabeth Warren, Pod Save America, and Back to the Future. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife Katie Schorr and their young kids. Learn more at and follow him on twitter/instagram @lancerubinparty.

The author of Denton Little's Deathdate gives us a tragicomic story of bad dates, bad news, bad performances, and one girl's determination to find the funny in high school.

Winnie Friedman has been waiting for the world to catch on to what she already knows: she's hilarious.

It might be a long wait, though. After bombing a stand-up set at her own bat mitzvah, Winnie has kept her jokes to herself. Well, to herself and her dad, a former comedian and her inspiration.

Then, on the second day of tenth grade, the funniest guy in school actually laughs at a comment she makes in the lunch line and asks her to join the improv troupe. Maybe he's even . . . flirting?

Just when Winnie's ready to say yes to comedy again, her father reveals that he's been diagnosed with ALS. That is . . . not funny. Her dad's still making jokes, though, which feels like a good thing. And Winnie's prepared to be his straight man if that's what he wants. But is it what he needs?

Caught up in a spiral of epically bad dates, bad news, and bad performances, Winnie's struggling to see the humor in it all. But finding a way to laugh is exactly what will see her through.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 51: Author Angie Karcher

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Angie Karcher and I talk quite a bit about writers conferences, specifically how to get the most out of them and things writers shouldn’t do when attending one. Who better to discuss conferences with than the Indiana Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators who also hosts her own writers conference? We also discuss rhyming picture books and writing about local Hoosier history, including the infamous Grey Lady ghost of Willard Library.

Angie Karcher is a former Kindergarten teacher, Developmental Therapist and children’s author of WHERE THE RIVER GRINS 2012, M.T. Publishing, THE LEGENDARY R.A. COWBOY JONES 2014 M.T. Publishing and SANTA’S GIFT 2017 M.T. Publishing.

Her poetry is included in AN INDIANA TRIBUTE BICENTENNIAL ANTHOLOGY, compiled by Byron Buckley 2017.

She has two upcoming titles: SIDELINE SLUGGER, M.T. Publishing, May 2018 and THE SIGNATURE SHIP, M.T. Publishing, October 2018.

Angie is the creator of Rhyme Revolution. This annual event held in April, is a writing challenge on her blog for children’s authors. She has a passion for writing rhyming picture books and poetry and encourages educators and parents to read rhyme frequently to children. Rhyme encourages language development and fosters a love of reading.

Angie is the founder of The Rhyme Revolution Conference, held first in New York City in December 2015 and next in New Harmony, Indiana, October 2018. This conference supports and encourages children’s writers to use proper picture book writing techniques, as well as applying perfect meter and rhyme.

Angie also founded and hosts The Best in Rhyme Award, announced annually in February in New York City, NY, naming the best rhyming picture book and several honor books each year.
Her most recent endeavor is hosting Ms. Angie’s Craft Corner for KidLitTV. This will be a monthly recorded segment where she shares simple crafts for kids, teachers, parents and librarians that accompany her favorite picture books.

Angie frequently presents at schools, libraries, bookstores and writing conferences. She is the Indiana SCBWI Regional Advisor and lives in Evansville, Indiana with her husband and four teenage children. Her beloved beagle Gracie and Miniature Dachshund Lucy are her constant assistants.

Angie is represented by Victoria Selvaggio with Storm Literary Agency.

Once upon a time a 35 foot tall Santa stood at the edge of town waving his mitten to all the good boys and girls as they left home or returned from out of town, smiling a hello or goodbye. He was a beloved landmark with his red suit and blue eyes. After 20 years of wishing safe travels to those that passed by, his bright red suit had faded, his beard had become chipped, and he had lost the twinkle in his eyes. Then one day… Santa disappeared.

Santa had been hauled off to a junkyard where he lay, face-down and forgotten. One day a local resident found Santa and decided to “Stand Santa Back Up.”

Santa’s Gift is the story of how a community came together to save a beloved landmark, restoring him back to his original jolly self and finding him a new home where he once again can wave safe travels to all that pass by.

SANTA’S GIFT is a book for the young and young at heart. It is a great story to share with your children or grandchildren and will include documentation of the restoration of Evansville, Indiana’s Santa statue. Do not delay – Order your copies TODAY!

A portion of the proceeds will go to support and sustain this historical landmark! Many thanks to Ron McKeethen for finding and saving Santa!

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 50: Author Mariama J. Lockington

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Mariama J. Lockington and I discuss transracial adoption and other issues raised in her phenomenal debut novel, FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME. She relates how she went from a reluctant reader to a poet, competing in slam poetry competitions, and went on to earn two MFA’s and become an author and writing teacher. We talk about critique groups and school visits and all things writing in the 50th episode of Middle Grade Ninja.

Mariama J. Lockington is an author, nonprofit educator, and transracial adoptee who calls many places home. Her debut middle grade novel  FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME is out now from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux Books for Young Readers. FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME is a Junior Library Guild Selection, and has earned four starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, BookPage, School Library Journal, and Booklist. Mariama is also the author of the poetry chapbook THE LUCKY DAUGHTER (Damaged Goods Press, 2017).

Mariama has edited and contributed to many youth-centered book projects including: Be Honest and Other Advice from Students Across the Country (2011, The New Press), Growing Our Hearts and Brains: Poems on love, technology, and success (2014, 826NYC), Chicken Makes the Ice Cream Taste Better: Stories on Food and Community, (2015, 826NYC), and her co-authored lesson plan “The Science of Superpowers” is included in STEM to Story: Enthralling and Effective Lesson Plans for grades 5th-8th (2015, Jossey-Bass). She is a Bread Loaf Scholar, Voices of Our Nation Arts Alumni, a Literary Death Match Champion, and she earned her Masters in Education from Lesley University and her MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University.

Mariama lives in Lexington, KY with her partner and her dapple-haired dachshund, Henry. When she is not writing or teaching, you’ll find Mariama singing karaoke,  cooking new recipes, watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or re-reading her favorite book, SULA by Toni Morrison.

In this lyrical coming-of-age story about family, sisterhood, music, race, and identity, Mariama J. Lockington draws on some of the emotional truths from her own experiences growing up with an adoptive white family.

I am a girl but most days I feel like a question mark.

Makeda June Kirkland is eleven years old, adopted, and black. Her parents and big sister are white, and even though she loves her family very much, Makeda often feels left out. When Makeda's family moves from Maryland to New Mexico, she leaves behind her best friend, Lena― the only other adopted black girl she knows― for a new life. In New Mexico, everything is different. At home, Makeda’s sister is too cool to hang out with her anymore and at school, she can’t seem to find one real friend.

Through it all, Makeda can’t help but wonder: What would it feel like to grow up with a family that looks like me?

Through singing, dreaming, and writing secret messages back and forth with Lena, Makeda might just carve a small place for herself in the world.

For Black Girls Like Me is for anyone who has ever asked themselves: How do you figure out where you are going if you don’t know where you came from?

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 49: Author Mira Bartók

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Mira Bartók and I discuss her novel, THE WONDERLING, its inception, the incredible circumstances that led to its sale at auction and a movie deal before it was fully written, how Kate Winslet nearly narrated its audiobook, its upcoming sequel, and more. Mira explains her life as a “compulsive creator.” She’s a musician, an artist, an award-winning author, and she shares her wisdom about all of it in a delightful conversation you won’t want to miss.

Mira Bartók is an artist and writer, and the creator of The Wonderling: Songcatcher, the first book in an illustrated middle-grade fantasy series (Candlewick Press 2017). The Wonderling will also be a movie, directed by award-winning British director, Stephen Daldry (The Crown, Billy Elliot, The Reader, etc.), and produced by Working Title Films and Fox2000. Mira is also the author of THE MEMORY PALACE, a New York Times bestselling memoir and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography. She has written numerous books on ancient and indigenous cultures for children (The Ancient and Living Stencil Series), and her writing for adults has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, noted in The Best American Essays series and has appeared in many literary journals, magazines and anthologies. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her musician/producer husband Doug Plavin and their little dog Sadie.

In this extraordinary debut novel with its deft nod to Dickensian heroes and rogues, Mira Bartók tells the story of Arthur, a shy, fox-like foundling with only one ear and a desperate desire to belong, as he seeks his destiny.

Have you been unexpectedly burdened by a recently orphaned or unclaimed creature? Worry not! We have just the solution for you!

Welcome to the Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures, an institution run by evil Miss Carbunkle, a cunning villainess who believes her terrified young charges exist only to serve and suffer. Part animal and part human, the groundlings toil in classroom and factory, forbidden to enjoy anything regular children have, most particularly singing and music. For the Wonderling, an innocent-hearted, one-eared, fox-like eleven-year-old with only a number rather than a proper name — a 13 etched on a medallion around his neck — it is the only home he has ever known. But unexpected courage leads him to acquire the loyalty of a young bird groundling named Trinket, who gives the Home’s loneliest inhabitant two incredible gifts: a real name — Arthur, like the good king in the old stories — and a best friend. Using Trinket’s ingenious invention, the pair escape over the wall and embark on an adventure that will take them out into the wider world and ultimately down the path of sweet Arthur’s true destiny. Richly imagined, with shimmering language, steampunk motifs, and gripping, magical plot twists, this high adventure fantasy is the debut novel of award-winning memoirist Mira Bartók and has already been put into development for a major motion picture.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 48: Literary Agent Christa Heschke

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Christa Heschke and I chat about her journey from an intern to a seasoned literary agent, her thoughts on contract negotiation and enforcement, her financial advice for authors, her tips for gaining literary representation, her possible close encounter, brainstorming book ideas, a haunted shovel, and so much more. Get ready to learn a lot about writing and publishing and to enjoy another excellent conversation.

Click here to see Christa Heschke face the 7 Questions.

Christa Heschke graduated from Binghamton University with a major in English and a minor in Anthropology. She started in publishing as an intern at both Writers House and Sterling Lord Literistic, where she fell in love with the agency side of publishing. Christa has been at McIntosh and Otis, Inc. in the Children’s Literature Department since 2009 where she is actively acquiring for all age groups in children’s.

For YA, she is especially interested in contemporary, thriller/mystery, fantasy and horror. She looks for a compelling voice and a strong hook that will set a YA novel apart in the flooded market. She is open to all types of middle grade and especially enjoys adventure, mystery, and magical realism. For both YA and MG, she is interested in unique settings and cultural influences, interesting structure, complicated romances, diverse characters, sister or friendship-centric stories, and stories that feature artists of any kind. In picture books she is drawn to cute, funny stories (as opposed to sweet and quiet) that will grab kids as well as the occasional nonfiction biography on a subject whose story has yet to be told.

Christa is not looking for any Adult fiction or non-fiction, paranormal or dystopian at this time.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 47: Author Shamim Sarif

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Shamim Sarif and I talk about her career directing films and writing novels, the differences and similarities between the two, and her approach to both. We also discuss her new young adult action novel, THE ATHENA PROTOCOL, and its emphasis on strong female characters. She gives some absolutely amazing advice about public speaking, having presented multiple Ted Talks. All this and a whole lot more in another incredible episode that’s not to be missed.

Born in the UK, Shamim is an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, and director.

Her newest book, The Athena Protocol, is an all-female contemporary action thriller.

Her debut novel, The World Unseen was inspired by her family’s South African Indian heritage. The book won a Betty Trask award and the Pendleton May First Novel award.

Shamim has adapted and directed the films of all three of her novels including, most recently, Despite the Falling Snow. The book was published by Headline in the UK and St Martin’s Press in the US. The movie stars Rebecca Ferguson and Charles Dance in a story of love and betrayal in cold war Russia. Her films have won 47 awards internationally.

An accomplished speaker, Shamim has spoken at TED events worldwide, at the INK Conference in India and DLD in Munich. Corporate speaking events have included Deloitte, Goldman Sachs, Citibank and Disney.

Shamim lives in London with her wife, Hanan, and their two sons.

Jessie is a young, ambitious and hot-headed agent at Athena – a top secret, socially conscious, all-female organization that recruits brilliant young women and trains them in skills from coding to weaponry to combat injustices against women and children around the world. Athena’s leaders, one of whom is Jessie’s mother, have a strict policy that their agents never kill, so when Jessie loses control on a job and compromises the secrecy of the agency, she’s kicked off the team, with her own mother dismissing her without a second glance. But Jessie’s work for Athena and its mission is her identity, and she’s not going to stand by as her former colleagues set off to take down a human trafficking kingpin in Belgrade.

Desperate to prove herself, Jessie launches her own investigation—but going rogue means there’s no one there to watch her back as she gets closer to the horrifying truth behind the Belgrade operation. And in spite of herself, she’s falling for a woman who is likely behind the very evil she’s striving to take down.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 46: Author Nancy Richardson Fischer

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Nancy Richardson Fischer and I discuss her fascinating career from her first job writing for Barnum and Bailey Circus to her time with Lucas Film, during which she wrote a trilogy in the STAR WARS: JUNIOR JEDI KNIGHTS series. We chat about surviving in the Amazon like the characters in her new young adult novel, THE SPEED OF FALLING OBJECTS. We also talk kite surfing, zombies, Stephen King, my fear of bees, self publishing, strategies for working with an editor, and so much more.

Nancy Richardson Fischer is the author of the young adult novel, WHEN ELEPHANTS FLY (HarperCollins/Inkyard Press). Fischer has authored multiple sport autobiographies and Star Wars books for LucasFilm. Her new novel, THE SPEED OF FALLING OBJECTS, was published by HarperCollins/Inkyard Press on October 1st, 2019.

From the author of When Elephants Fly comes an exceptional new novel about falling down, risking everything and embracing what makes us unique. Don’t miss this compulsively readable novel about the most unlikely of heroes.

Danger “Danny” Danielle Warren is no stranger to falling. After losing an eye in a childhood accident, she had to relearn her perception of movement and space. Now Danny keeps her head down, studies hard, and works to fulfill everyone else’s needs. She's certain that her mom’s bitterness and her TV star father’s absence are her fault. If only she were more—more athletic, charismatic, attractive—life would be perfect.

When her dad calls with an offer to join him to film the next episode of his popular survivalist show, Danny jumps at the chance to prove she’s not the disappointment he left behind. Being on set with the hottest teen movie idol of the moment, Gus Price, should be the cherry on top. But when their small plane crashes in the Amazon, and a terrible secret is revealed, Danny must face the truth about the parent she worships and falling for Gus, and find her own inner strength and worth to light the way home.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 45: Author Alicia D. Williams

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Alicia D. Williams and I talk about colorism and adolescent cruelty, which she explores brilliantly in her novel, GENESIS BEGINS AGAIN. She also takes us through her journey to become a writer, from her time as a stand-up comedian to an actress to a flight attendant and a whole lot of interesting stops along the way. We have a long chat about creating compelling characters and the differences in approaches to writing to reach a common goal.

What's there to know about Alicia D? Well, that depends on who you ask.

If you ask kindergartners, they'd tell you:

1. She likes chunky guacamole.

2. She likes shiny things.

3. She tells good stories.

​If you ask her middle schoolers, they'd surely say:

1. She gets us.

2. She makes us laugh with all her jokes.

3. She is Da BOMB.

​While all of these may be true, there are a few more points to add . . . Alicia D. is a teacher in Charlotte, NC. She is the proud mother of a brilliant college student. Her love for education stems from conducting school residencies as a Master Teaching Artist of arts-integration. Alicia D infuses her love for drama, movement, and storytelling to inspire students to write.

Did we say drama? Why yes, Alicia graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. She's performed in commercials, off-off Broadway, and even Charlotte's very own children's theater.

And like other great storytellers, she made the leap into writing--and well, her story continues. Alicia D loves laughing, traveling, and Wonder Woman.

Have you ever felt like you weren't good enough?

Genesis does. And, if she can change those traits that make her unloveable, then her family will be whole.

Thirteen year-old Genesis Anderson hates her dark skin shade and kinky, coily hair. She prays every night for one thing—to be beautiful. If she's beautiful like her lighter Mama, then Grandma will love her more, the ruthless taunts at school will end, and most importantly, Dad will stop drinking.

Dad’s drinking, however, only escalates, and Genesis becomes all the more determined to transform herself, to change the color of her skin.  She first tries lemon juice and scrub brushes, and when they show no results, she resorts to methods more dangerous, especially after she uncovers devastating family traditions and secrets. 

Singing becomes her only solace, so when a school talent show is announced, she wonders if this might be her one true chance to win Dad’s approval and make her family whole again.   

But will she be able to get up on stage, as black as she is, and sing? Drawing strength from Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Etta James—their music and who they were—Genesis harnesses their power into finding her own voice.

Here's what the reviewers are saying:

With smooth and engrossing prose, debut novelist Williams takes readers through an emotional, painful, yet still hopeful adolescent journey. -Kirkus Starred Review

With its relatable and sympathetic protagonist, complex setting, and exceptional emotional range, this title is easy to recommend. -Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Through each character, readers come to understand the significance of how one’s story plays out in reactions and interactions with the people around them . . . A must for all collections.
-School Library Journal

Williams also does a good job of showing how parents look through their kids' eyes. Genesis' gradual understand ing of her parents' humanity is moving. -Common Sense Media 5  Review

. . . Stunning debut novel . . .the standout voice in this tinder and empowering novel--reminiscent of Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye," but more appropriate for a much younger audience. - New York Times

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 44: Author Francesca Zappia

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Prepare yourself, Esteemed Audience, for this spooky first episode of October that features real ghost stories. Fellow Hoosier Francesca Zappia and I talk about our mutual love of writing horror stories set in Indiana, such as her newest, NOW ENTERING ADAMSVILLE. We discuss fictional world-building and organizing the creative life and all the things you expect us to chat about on this show. But then Chessie reveals that she lives in a haunted house and I can't stop asking questions about her paranormal experiences.

Click here to see Francesca Zappia face the 7 Questions.

Francesca Zappia is the award-winning author of Made You Up, Eliza and Her Monsters, and the serialized novel The Children of Hypnos. She is represented by Louise Fury of the Bent Agency. She graduated from the University of Indianapolis with a degree in Computer Science and Mathematics, and currently lives in Indiana. She spends her free time drawing, playing video games, and baking.

She looks mean, but she's actually a ball of floof on the inside.

You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @ChessieZappia, on Goodreads, and on Pinterest. She also sells her artwork at her Society6 shop.

Zora Novak has been framed.

When someone burns down the home of the school janitor and he dies in the blaze, everyone in Addamsville, Indiana, points a finger at Zora. Never mind that Zora has been on the straight and narrow since her father was thrown in jail. With everyone looking for evidence against her, her only choice is to uncover the identity of the real killer. There’s one big problem—Zora has no leads. No one does. Addamsville has a history of tragedy, and thirty years ago a similar string of fires left several townspeople dead. The arsonist was never caught.

Now, Zora must team up with her cousin Artemis—an annoying self-proclaimed Addamsville historian—to clear her name. But with a popular ghost-hunting television show riling up the townspeople, almost no support from her family and friends, and rumors spinning out of control, things aren’t looking good. Zora will have to read between the lines of Addamsville’s ghost stories before she becomes one herself.

With a compelling cast of memorable characters, a vivid small-town setting, and elements of a classic whodunit, Now Entering Addamsville is perfect for fans of Brittany Cavallaro, Victoria Schwab, and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.