Saturday, March 25, 2023

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 207: Author David Ezra Stein

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David Ezra Sein and I discuss his career in picture books and now graphic novels, such as his newest, BEAKY BARNES: EGG ON THE LOOSE. We talk about adapting his INTERUPTING CHICKEN series as an Apple TV series, why I own three copies of POUCH, his childhood influences, why he walked away from a contract with Harper Collins while still in college, a UFO sighting, walking with an idea and getting to know it, puppetry, and so much more.

Click here to see David face the 7 Questions.

David Ezra Stein is the Caldecott-Honor illustrator and author of INTERRUPTING CHICKEN, DINOSAUR KISSES, I'M MY OWN DOG, and many other award-winning picture books, including LEAVES, winner of an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award. He lives in Kew Gardens, New York.

Caldecott Honor winner David Ezra Stein takes readers on a slapstick journey in his debut graphic novel series, featuring Beaky Barnes, a no-nonsense chicken who's determined to save her desirable egg. But with a hungry inspector, a desperate chef, and an entrepreneurial woman on her tail, Beaky has to use every tool in her chicken coop to make her grand escape.

All the inspector wanted was an egg to go in his sandwich, so he heads to the cafe. The problem? The town is entirely out of eggs, and the local chef is panicked. Luckily, he spots a lovely duo having lunch: a woman and a 
chicken named Beaky Barnes. It's his lucky day. But when the woman and Beaky have a fight over an offensive business arrangement (chicken-pulled coach service, anyone?), chaos ensues. With a chicken on the run, and an inspector and woman in hot pursuit, three stories emerge with hilarious results!

With laugh-out-loud madcap comedy on every page, David Ezra Stein's (Caldecott Honor winner of 
Interrupting Chicken) signature humor is on full display in this debut graphic novel!

Thursday, March 23, 2023


Author Rob Kent reads seven chapters from his new middle grade novel, ROB WORM'S BIRD ADVENTURE. Purchase your copy here:

About the book: With nonstop action, adventure, and humor, this thrilling tale will have 7- to 11-year-old readers wriggling on the edge of their tails! After an early spring rain, Rob Worm’s bunch burrows to the surface to enjoy the mud. At 9-and-a-half months old (10 years in human time), Rob has been deep underground over half his life. He yearns for adventure and can’t wait to see the surface! Unfortunately, a robin can’t wait to see him. When Rob pushes his best friend to safety, the robin scoops him up instead and carries him off to feed to her hatchling. Rob wriggles free but is dropped on the roof of a human house. To get home to his bunch, Rob Worm is going to have to first get down, and then contend with a nest of nasty yellowjackets, fierce colonies of warring ants, a crafty spider, sizzling hot cement, and a pond filled with hungry koi, all while being pursued by a revenge-seeking robin.


The original draft of Rob Worm’s Bird Adventure—which came with your book—was published by my 5th Grade class in 1991. I’d been drawing Rob Worm on every scrap of paper and been thinking about him for at least a year, so forever. 

I was so in love with the idea of writing a book about my best character named after me, I dedicated it to him. My best friend in that same class dedicated his book to me. Awkward. As we remained best friends well past the birth of our own children, it remains awkward:) And my enthusiasm for Rob Worm remains undiminished.

There've been many reimagining's of the original story, but the second draft of consequence was written in college. It was dedicated to the same best friend from third grade who grew up to be an excellent artist. We spent a lot of late nights at coffeeshops, him illustrating as I wrote and I don’t believe I’ve ever enjoyed writing more than I did when I was young and assumed everything I ever wrote was brilliant (naturally)… or needed some minor grammar checks, but was otherwise perfect.

This most recent draft of the story was written during a pandemic. That was one reason revisiting Rob Worm was so interesting to me. There’s no room for politics or thoughts about Covid-19 in a story about animal characters who happen to talk, but are mostly animals. Rob's world gave me a badly needed break from the one I was living in.

I wrote Banneker Bones and the Cyborg Conspiracy assuming it was my last novel. Banneker 3 was meant to be my sign off, a pretty good spot to end, and I couldn’t complain as I’d written my most urgent novels and enjoyed much of my writing life. 

And then I got vaccinated and found myself in a position to write some more… if I wanted to. Who knows how long a golden opportunity like this might last? After the madness of 2020, who knows how long anything might last?

And was Banneker Bones 3 REALLY the last book I had to write? REALLY? Seems like I forgot something... I was sitting on my patio thinking this thought while working on my author podcast and updating my author website, because, ya know, I was done being an author:) And behold, at the start of spring, I saw a robin pulling a worm out of the ground in my backyard. Like Bruce Wayne seeing a bat fluttering through his open window, I knew what I must do!!!

I had the concept for this newest version of Rob Worm's Bird Adventure in my mind almost immediately. It would be set in a backyard like mine, but with a koi pond and other worm hazards, and it wouldn’t be realistic, exactly, but it would be realistic enough that I could include a bunch of animal facts—the sort of facts I would've obsessed over as a child. And the sort of facts I could utilize in a presentation during a school visit. Regularly chatting with amazing professional authors on a podcast teaches even a dummy like me a few things.

I wrote a solid chunk of the novel while leading a fiction workshop, which is how I do a lot of my writing these days. I tried some very different versions of the story while I was deciding the rules of this new Rob Worm, who did not surf, as he did in the original version, or ride a horsefly through a swamp full of frogs, as he did in a favorite scene from the version written when I was in college. But he did go over a waterfall in a gutter, which I think is very cool, and which neither of the previous Rob Worms did.

I even tried a version of the story called Wym Worm so the protagonist wouldn't have my name, but it just wasn’t the same. When I made that change, I made no forward progress until I changed his name back to Rob. That’s his name. Fifth grade me made that call, college me was fine with it, and adult me can think of him as having no other name. It would be easier to publish under a pen name than change the name of the worm I’ve been thinking about on and off since I was eleven. His best friend is Buzz Fly, who has been his best friend since the first rewrite I did in the 6th grade.

I’ve written many, many, MANY versions of this story over the years, including a Tarantino-esque version where the scenes were out of order and the language was inappropriate for everyone. There were several screenplay versions and a poem version. The college version was planned as a full trilogy. I drafted as far as two-thirds of the second book while racking enough rejection letters for the first to assure me it was time to write something else.

Eventually, large parts of the college version were repurposed for the Banneker Bones trilogy, which was its spiritual successor. Rather than being nabbed by giant robot bees, at one point Rob's worm friends were nabbed by Bernie the bird and Rob and Buzz had to rescue them. Having now written a couple books about Banneker Bones rescuing kidnapped friends, I didn’t want to do that again.

Of the two earlier versions of me adult me is attempting to reconcile, I’m more inclined to listen to 11-year-old me. I like to imagine the three of us meeting to discuss the new version of our one true story, the one we carried all this way for all these years. I don’t approve of a lot of the choices college me is making and I wish he’d put out that cigarette. Or give me one for old time's sake:). But that’s okay, he’s not entirely impressed by me and he wants to know why we’re not more famous. Although he probably thinks it’s amazing I found a woman who loved me enough to marry me. Fifth grade me is more interested in the fact that he’s going to grow up to own a virtual reality helmet. And he also wants to know why we’re not more famous.

It’s fifth grade me I’ve deferred to for most story decisions. He had a vision and these many years later, I think it mostly holds up. I’ve listened to bits of the soundtracks from Indiana Jones and  Jurassic Park films as those were the types of stories Rob Worm was supposed to belong beside. The dried driveway worms are a reference to Indy's mummies and Rob seeing Beatrix for the first time is very reminiscent of Tim Murphy admiring a T-Rex charging the gallimimus.  There isn’t a romantic subplot because fifth grade me wasn’t interested in romance. He wanted big adventure and fun, and college me occasionally forgot those things.

5th grade me's version of the story is sarcastic and talks to the reader in a snarky-ish tone because he’s imitating his favorite author, Roald Dahl. There’s a reference to The Birds because that movie scared him, and, more interesting, he knows it really scared some adults. He’s included a line about coal because a similar line in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off really made his parents laugh. He writes, “on this morning a new life form approached our world” because he’s imitating the melodramatic opening of Little Shop of Horrors and the Audrey II has been giving him nightmares.

That’s one of the ways I know that kid wrote a horror story. Obviously, it’s an adventure (it’s right there in the title). But Rob Worm is taken away against his will, has to be cunning twice to escape two monsters intent on eating him, and then he’s cast aside onto a sizzling hot driveway, barely able to escape. Esteemed Reader, that’s a friendly horror story, not unlike the sort Roald Dahl wrote. It’s Crawl, but with birds:)

I’ve done my best to honor young me’s original vision. I don’t think he’d like the two older hims messing with his story—why don’t they write their own!?! For this reason, I’ve included many of the major plot points from his book. I even made sure to have Rob Worm slide along in water in two separate scenes, as close as I could get to having him “surf” in a realistic-ish framing.

Fifth grade me would appreciate my efforts, I think, especially since I’ve made his unchanged original version available. I even did my best to preserve some of his narrative voice. I’m too American to go full Roald Dahl, but I included some of Dahl’s invented words and directly addressed the reader in a snarky tone. I responded well to that as a young reader, especially in a “scarier” story, because if the narrator plays with the reader, I was assured he would be there during the frightening bits as well. That way the story wouldn’t be too scary (this isn’t a Robert Kent book).

Adult me really enjoyed learning all the animal facts present in this story. Thinking of humanity as an animal population has given me quite a bit of perspective on things. 

Adult me also likes messing with the reader, who I call Esteemed Reader for the first time in a book as though it's just a long blog post. I'm gleefully reminding Esteemed Reader that this is a story throughout and Chapter 24, "How Yellow Was My Jacket," might be my favorite joke in any book I've written. I know fifth grade me would've delighted at such flagrant rule breaking in the middle of a story. And adult me is really pushing this idea of the thematic importance of perspective and wants to remind Esteemed Reader that the narrator has his own perspective.

I don’t actually have a clean version of college me’s draft and that’s just as well. I wouldn’t share it if I did and you wouldn’t want to read it. My retroactive apologies to those who did. It was typed on a classic Macintosh machine I no longer own. I do, however, have multiple binders filled with paper copies of drafts with handwritten notes and corrections.

A lot of cigarettes were smoked and a lot of two liters of Mountain Dew were drank to produce that draft. So much harm was done to my body because I was stupid enough to believe that suffering for my art made it great. It isn’t so. College me had a head full of bad ideas, but in his defense, he was still shellshocked from the trauma of middle school and high school and he’d recently had his heart profoundly broken.

That’s the draft where a father bird was introduced to argue with the momma bird and fictionally resolve a relationship I’d had. His name was Bernie and he dies in the new version before the story begins because fifth-grade me liked tragic openings and adult me isn’t interested in revisiting that old heartbreak when so many really wonderful things have happened since, such as my obtaining a virtual reality helmet.

College me’s draft is tonally all over the place and shows a frequent disregard for spelling and grammar. There are sections far too intense for children as he was imitating his favorite author, Stephen King. And there are references to literature strewn about because he was reading the classics, but all of them are clumsy attempts to impress… someone? In the sequel, there’s a plot about worm religion because college me is working out some things from childhood that definitely will not be fully resolved by his graduation... or the present:)

The draft I worked from had notes made by a girl I was in love with who was not so enthusiastic about me. Those notes make me cringe the most, humiliated for myself all over again. She was kind enough to provide some really excellent story feedback, however. And she inspired me to be better.

College me got blasted with rejection letters that I hung on my wall. It finally began to get through my thick skull that maybe, just maybe, my book wasn’t perfect the first time. Maybe, if I was going to be the sort of writer people read, I was going to have to write better books. And maybe, if I wanted the girls to like me back, I needed to respect myself more than I did.

Before I judge past me too harshly, I do well to remember he did get a gym membership and stopped drinking Mountain Dew. He could’ve done a lot of things better, but he did get me here by not doing EVERYTHING wrong. 

It’s his opening sentence that opens the newest version of Rob Worm’s Bird Adventure. He really liked the word "dark" and I guess I do too. A version of the ants (who used to be beetles) and the koi were his idea, he named the spider Kalegwa, and there are some other elements of his creation I've honored as well. But his version of the story was about humans with human problems who happened to be animal shaped, and so much of it was unusable. In his world, some worms are pirates and a peg tail is still a funny gag, but it doesn’t work in a “real world” scenario. 

I did like his version of the main characters, though. His Rob Worm is very much Ellicott Skullworth and his Buzz Fly is a version of Banneker Bones and I think he'd be happy about that. A version of the trilogy he envisioned eventually came to be.

Time spent writing is never time wasted. It all comes into play in some fashion. Neither the actual Rob nor the fictional one would be here without those Robs from the past. And future Robs, if you’re reading this, I hope you’ll think I set you up nicely. And I hope you’re still telling stories. If you’re able, I know you are. And with the knowledge that we finally created a version of this story we can all agree on.


Saturday, March 18, 2023

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 206: Author Cindy Callaghan

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Cindy Callaghan and I discuss her series, JUST ADD MAGIC, the ups and downs of publishing it, adapting it for an Amazon series, and its impact on readers around the world. We also talk about how being talented in multiple areas improves her fiction, why she plans her day the night before, what makes a good tween voice, six secrets to writing success, and so much more. As promised, here’s a link to the Muppet Show/Dirty Dancing mashup:

Cindy Callaghan is the author of the middle grade novels Lost in LondonLost in ParisLost in RomeLost in Ireland (formerly titled Lucky Me), Lost in Hollywood, the award-winning Sydney Mackenzie Knocks ’Em DeadJust Add Magic (which is now a breakout streaming original series), and its sequel Potion Problems. She lives in Wilmington, Delaware.

Take three friends. Add an old cookbook. Combine with cute boys and a pinch of magic…and see what kind of chaos ensues! When Kelly Quinn and her two BFFs discover a dusty old cookbook while cleaning out the attic, the girls decide to try a few of the mysterious and supposedly magical recipes that are inside. To their surprise, the Keep ’Em Quiet Cobbler actually silences Kelly’s pesky little brother and the Hexberry Tart puts a curse on mean girl Charlotte. Is it possible that the recipes really are magic? Who wrote them and where did they come from? And most importantly of all, when boys get involved, what kind of trouble are the girls stirring up for themselves?

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 205: Literary Agent Melanie Figueroa

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Melanie Figueroa and I discuss in depth how she built her career as an agent at ROOT LITERARY. We talk about what makes her agency different, how she uses query manager to review submissions, how she evaluates manuscripts, how she manages her time and avoids industry burnout, and how she reframes negative narrative. And she divulges information from the secret section of the Root Literary website, among other very interesting topics you won’t want to miss.

Melanie Figueroa is a literary agent at Root Literary. She represents middle grade, YA, and adult fiction along with select nonfiction and picture book titles. What she loves most about the job is the balance of creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit. After graduating with a masters in writing and book publishing from Portland State University, she worked as an in-house editorial project manager and then as a freelance editor for several years before joining the agency in 2018. Melanie was born and raised in Southern California in a multicultural, blended family, so she has a soft spot for books that shine a spotlight on the nuances of relationships and identity. She currently lives in Southern California and can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @wellmelsbells.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 204: Author Russell Ginns

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R. U. Ginns and I discuss his career in publishing writing for Sesame Street Magazine, 3-2-1 Contact, and The Electric Company, and his many pennames as well as his newest book, 1-2-3 SCREAM. We talk about why a giant eyeball is his preferred marketing prop, advice for a successful school visit, how, the hardest part of being a writer is staying in the chair, how Stephen King’s FIRESTARTER saved his life, the importance of interacting with readers and other authors, and so much more.

Russell Ginns is a game designer, writer, and composer, primarily known for children's fiction, puzzles, and educational games. He is the author of more than 100 books, including Super Atomic Wombat Girl, Puzzlooies, 1-2-3 Scream! and the Samantha Spinner series. He has created or contributed to several notable software titles, including Castle Infinity, Hooked on Phonics, Reader Rabbit and Half-Life.

Get ready to scream with this collection of hillarifying—hilariously terrifying—tales, fully-illustrated and perfect for scary story lovers who are looking for a side of humor to go with their helpings of horror.


Unless you want to be scared, do NOT read this book. 

These tales of terror are so horrible, so alarming, they had to be bound up between these pages forever!

You’ll discover 
The Boogerman, an oozing horror that lurks in mirrors. You’ll read about Instagrave, a popular new app that tells kids how they are going to die. In Epizeuxis, you’ll learn what happens if you speak the name of a—wait. We’ve said too much already. The things between these covers are too dangerous to ever be let out. That's why we're warning you: stay away from this book, or else!

Of course, if you are reckless enough to open this book, then be sure to read these stories in a safe, indoor space, far from the beady, prying eyes of any birds*.

Now, on the count of three: 1…2…3…SCREAM!

*Is that a crow, a magpie, or an indigo bunting behind you? Be careful. Birds will do anything to keep people from discovering the secrets of this book!

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 203: Author Lindsay Currie

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Lindsay Currie and I discuss all sorts of creepy, spooky, but middle-grade friendly things, such as her novels THE GIRL IN WHITE, SCRITCH SCRATCH, and IT FOUND US. We chat about her travels through various graveyards, the Alley of Death, and other horrific locations she loves to visit, as well as how to research the paranormal while setting safe personal boundaries. She relates how her religious upbringing primed her to be horror author (me too), how pantsing is a virtue in horror fiction, her struggle to write non-horror stories without being scary, her thoughts on the afterlife, and so much more.


Lindsay Currie is the author of spooky middle grade novels. While she's never experienced anything truly paranormal, Lindsay enjoys researching her city's forgotten history and learning about the events that shaped the many ghost legends in Chicago. When she's not reading or writing a mystery novel of her own, Lindsay can generally be found taking long walks with her family, chilling with one of her three dogs, or searching the graveyard for her next antagonist.

Lindsay has three middle-grade novels out currently - THE PECULIAR INCIDENT ON SHADY STREET, SCRITCH SCRATCH, WHAT LIVES IN THE WOODS, and THE GIRL IN WHITE. Coming soon, IT FOUND US!

For fans of Small Spaces and the Goosebumps series by R.L Stine comes a chilling story about a twelve-year old girl who must face down the most notorious ghost in her haunted East coast town to stop a centuries-old curse that threatens to destroy everything.

Mallory hasn't quite adapted to life in her new town of Eastport yet. Maybe it's because everyone is obsessed with keeping the town's reputation as the most cursed town in the US.

And thanks to the nightmares she's had since arriving, Mallory hardly sleeps. Combined with the unsettling sensation of being watched, she's quickly becoming convinced there's more to her town. Something darker.

When Mallory has a terrifying encounter with the same old woman from her dreams, she knows she has to do something—but what? With Eastport gearing up to celebrate the anniversary of their first recorded legend Mallory is forced to investigate the one legend she's always secretly been afraid of . . . Sweet Molly.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 202: Author Heather McGhee

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Heather McGhee and I discuss adapting her monumental novel THE SUM OF US: HOW RACISM HURTS EVERYONE for younger readers (available February 21st). We talk about how everything we believe comes from a story we’re told, how she’s been able to find open-minded readers in a world of book banners, how she hopes young people will join with other people in their community who are different from them and take action to bring about meaningful change, how she once felt a ghost, and so much more.

Heather McGhee designs and advances policy solutions to inequality. The former president of the think tank Demos, McGhee drafted legislation, testified before Congress, and became a regular contributor on news shows including NBC’s Meet the Press. Now the chair of Color of Change, the nation's largest online racial justice organization, McGhee holds a BA in American Studies from Yale University and a JD from the University of California at Berkeley School of Law. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, her twenty year-old cat and their chatty toddler.

The New York Times bestseller, now adapted for a new generation of young readers, leaders, thinkers, and activists. A groundbreaking call to action that examines how racism affects and harms all of us and how we need to face it head-on, together.

The future 
can be prosperous for everyone, but only if we address the problems of racial and economic inequality.

McGhee believes that all people, of all ages and all backgrounds, need to rethink their attitude toward race and strive together to create opportunities that benefit everyone. 

This book is a call to action. McGhee examines how damaging racism is, not only to people of color but also to white people. She offers hope and real solutions so we can all prosper. An expert in economic policy, McGhee draws lessons both from her work at a think tank and from her travels around the country talking to everyday Americans fighting for a more just and inclusive society.

The people she meets prove how the stories we tell ourselves about race and belonging influence the policies that determine our shared economic future.

The Sum of Us provides hope that with understanding and open-mindedness, the world can be more united and equitable than it is today.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 201: Literary Agent Stephen Fraser

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Stephen Fraser and I discuss his lifelong love for middle grade fiction and why he rereads THE SECRET GARDEN every year. We talk about the current state of publishing, how he keeps abreast of the market, why he so frequently visits bookstores, why he moved from being an editor to being an agent, the importance of being authentic, how he can evaluate a writing sample in as little as one sentence, and so much more. This conversation was originally recorded May 5, 2022.

Stephen Fraser joined The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency as an Agent in January 2005. He worked most recently at HarperCollins Children’s Books, where he edited such creative talents as Mary Engelbreit, Gregory Maguire, Michael Hague, Ann Rinaldi, Kathryn Lasky, Brent Hartinger, Stephen Mitchell, and Dan Gutman. He began his career at Highlights for Children and later worked at Scholastic and Simon and Schuster. A graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, he has a Master’s degree in Children’s Literature from Simmons College in Boston. He represents both children’s and adult books in a wide range of genres.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 200: Author James Ponti

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James Ponti and I discuss how he travels and researches to create his CITY SPIES adventures, and the newest edition, CITY OF THE DEAD. He shares his journey from reluctant reader to an author, which involves a play about Santa being attacked by terrorists and the desire to impress a future spouse. He also shares the very personal story about how he transitioned from television production to writing novels to take care of his son and why he continues to write to honor his memory. We talk about why it’s essential to choose optimism, the importance of focusing on verbs, not nouns, and so much more.

James Ponti is the New York Times Bestselling author of three Middle Grade book series: the all-new CITY SPIES, about an unlikely squad of five kids from around the world who form an elite MI6 Spy Team; The Edgar Award-winning FRAMED! series, about a pair of Sherlockian tweens who solve mysteries in Washington, D.C.; and the DEAD CITY trilogy, about a secret society that polices the undead living beneath Manhattan. He is also an Emmy-nominated television writer and producer who has worked for many networks including Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, PBS, History Channel, Spike TV, and the Golf Channel. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida.

In this fourth installment in the New York Times bestselling series from Edgar Award winner James Ponti, the young group of spies go codebreaking in Cairo in another international adventure perfect for fans of Spy School and Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls.

Codename Kathmandu, better known as Kat, loves logic and order, has a favorite eight-digit number, and can spot a pattern from a mile away. So when a series of cyberattacks hits key locations in London while the spies are testing security for the British Museum, it’s clear that Kat’s skill for finding reason in what seems like randomness makes her the perfect candidate to lead the job.

And while the team follows the deciphered messages to Egypt and the ancient City of the Dead to discover who is behind the attacks and why, Kat soon realizes that there’s another layer to the mystery.

With more players, more clues, and involving higher levels of British Intelligence than ever before, this mission is one of the most complex that the group has faced to date. And it’s also going to bring about a change to the City Spies…

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 199: Literary Agent Nikki Terpilowski

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Nikki Terpilowski and I discuss how she founded Holloway Literary when she couldn’t find another agency to intern for and how she was able to make it profitable in two years because failure was not an option. We talk about her drive for success, the sorts of projects she’s looking for, why she represents what she loves rather than just what will sell, the importance of following submission directions and an appropriate word count, evaluating a business relationship with a potential agent, and so much more. This conversation was originally recorded April 26, 2022.

After achieving a B.A. in English and Marketing, with a minor in creative writing and a graduate degree in international relations, Nikki who has been a bookworm from way back decided she wanted to learn more about the publishing industry.

She interned in the industry while working in marketing communications and then established Holloway Literary in 2011. You can find her @AWomanReading on Twitter and Instagram discussing her favorite topics: books, wine, beer & whiskey, history, travel and southern living.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 198: Authors Sofía Lapuente and Jarrod Shusterman

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Sofia Lapuente and Jarrod Shusterman tell me about how they collaborate on a book like their newest, RETRO, while remaining a happy romantic couple as well as writing partners. We talk about how they break an idea, how they develop and choose it over other potential ideas, and how they utilize their different strengths to create art and a life they’re both happy with. We also talk about a the importance of communication, a possible ghost sighting, collaborating with author and previous guest Neal Shusterman, writing screenplays vs writing books, and so much more.

Sofía Lapuente is an author, screenwriter, and avid world traveler who immigrated from Spain to the United States to realize her dream of storytelling. Since then, she has received a master’s degree in fine arts at UCLA, worked as a producer and casting director on an Emmy nominated show, and received coauthor credits in Gleanings, the fourth installment of the bestselling Arc of a Scythe trilogy, with her partner, Jarrod. Together, the couple writes and produces film and television under their production company Dos Lobos Entertainment.

Jarrod Shusterman is the New York Times bestselling coauthor of novel Dry, which he is adapting for a major Hollywood film studio with Neal Shusterman. He is also the coauthor of the accoladed novel Roxy. His books have all received critical acclaim and multiple starred reviews. Sofi Lapuente and Jarrod are partners in every sense of the word, with love and multiculturalism as an ethos—living between Madrid, Spain, and Los Angeles, California. If they are not working, it means they’re eating. For behind-the-scenes author content and stupidly funny videos, follow them on Instagram and TikTok @SofiandJarrod.

What starts off as a light-hearted competition to live without modern technology for a year turns into a fight for survival in this unputdownable young adult thriller by New York Times bestselling author Jarrod Shusterman and debut author Sofía Lapuente.

It was never meant to happen this way.

Things were never supposed to get this out of hand.

After a cyberbullying incident at her school goes viral, Luna Iglesias finds herself at the heart of a brewing controversy. When the social media company Limbo—who are also implicated in the scandal—sweeps in with an offer that sounds like an opportunity to turn over a new leaf and receive a scholarship to the college of her dreams, she’s happy to jump on the new trend. It’s called the Retro Challenge, where contestants live without modern technology, wear vintage clothes, party as if the future weren’t already written, and fall in love as if they were living in a movie.

At first, the challenge is fun. But then things get dangerous. Kids start disappearing, including Luna’s friends. There are voices in the woods. Bloodred markings on the trees. And Luna increasingly begins to wonder if all these strange happenings are connected with the Retro Challenge.

Secrets. Lies. Betrayal. The weight of her family on her shoulders. There’s so much on the line for Luna, not to mention she’s falling in love with the last guy she expected. Unless she can figure out the truth behind who’s sabotaging the challenge, the next person to disappear may be Luna herself.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 197: Author Roseanne A. Brown

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Roseanne A. Brown and I talk about her newest book, SERWA BOATENG’S GUIDE TO VAMPIRE HUNTING, and her career thus far from being the youngest resident at the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House program to becoming an editorial intern at Entangled Publishing to her current role as a bestselling author. We also have a frank discussion about race and publishing and what traditional publishing can do to improve its diversity, and an even franker discussion about Marvel vs DC and why Warner Brothers must release BATGIRL.

Roseanne A. Brown is an immigrant from the West African nation of Ghana and a graduate of the University of Maryland, where she completed the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House program. Her debut novel A Song of Wraiths and Ruin was an instant New York Times Bestseller, an Indie Bestseller, and received six starred reviews. She has worked with Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney among other publishers. You can visit her online at or on Instagram or Twitter at @rosiesrambles. On the publishing side of things, she has worked as an editorial intern at Entangled Publishing. Rosie was a 2017 Pitch Wars mentee and 2018 Pitch Wars mentor. Rosie currently lives outside Washington D.C., where in her free time she can usually be found wandering the woods, making memes, or thinking about Star Wars. Rosie is represented by Quressa Robinson of Folio Literary Agency.

Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents best-selling YA author Roseanne A. Brown's middle grade debut about a pre-teen vampire slayer with a strong helping of Ghanaian folklore.

For most kids, catching fireflies is a fun summer activity. For twelve-year-old Serwa Boateng, it's a matter of life and death.

That's because Serwa knows that some fireflies are really adze, shapeshifting vampires from the forests of Southeastern Ghana. Adze prey on the blood of innocents, possessing their minds and turning them into hulking monsters, and for generations, slayers like Serwa and her parents have protected an unknowing public from their threats.

Serwa is the best adze slayer her age, and she knew how to use a crossbow before she could even ride a bike. But when an obayifo (witch) destroys her childhood home while searching for a drum, do Serwa's parents take her with them on their quest to defeat her? No. Instead, they dump Serwa with her hippie aunt and cryptic-obsessed cousin in the middle of Nowheresville, Maryland "for her own safety." Now, instead of crossbows and battle armor, she's dealing with mean girls and algebra, and for the first time in her life she doesn't have to carry a staff everywhere she goes, which is . . . kind of nice, actually.

Just as Serwa starts to get the hang of this whole normal girl who doesn't punch vampires every daything, an adze infiltrates her school. It's up to her to whip some of her classmates into monster-fighting shape before all of them become firefly food. And when she uncovers a secret that upends everything she thought she knew about her family's role in the slayer vs. adze war, Serwa will have to decide which side of herself—normal girl or slayer—is the right one.

After all, seventh grade is hard enough without adding vampires to the mix.