Saturday, July 18, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 81: Author Paula Chase

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Paula Chase and I chat about her novels SO DONE and DOUGH BOYS and what makes them upper middle grade instead of young adult. She discusses founding The Brown Bookshelf with Varian Johnson, the importance of representation in literature, and how we should focus less on Black pain and more on Black joy. We also talk about her writing practices as a committed pantser, how she fell backward into being an author, writing in the voice of teenagers, refusing to “just shut up” on social media, meeting Flavor Flav at a Waffle House, an actual ghost story, and so much more.

They say if you want something done, ask the busiest person in the room. They'll grab your task, throw it on the fire of their To-Do list and keep on burning. Paula Chase did that with teen lit and her debut novel, So Not The Drama. Concerned that YA was no more diverse than it had been in her teen years, Chase began writing contemporary fiction revolved around characters of color. Proclaiming her work, hip lit, a nod to the impact hip hop has had on mainstream culture, Chase's five-book series helped Kensington Books launch its YA line. Her critically acclaimed Middle Grade debut, So Done is among the growing number of books for readers "lost in the middle" of MG and YA. The married mother of two is also a co-founder of the award-winning blog, The Brown Bookshelf, a site designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers.

In the companion to her acclaimed So Done, Paula Chase follows best friends Simp and Rollie as their friendship is threatened by the pressures of basketball, upcoming auditions, middle school, and their growing involvement in the local drug ring.

Dough Boys is a memorably vivid story about the complex friendship between two African American boys whose lives are heading down very different paths. For fans of Jason Reynolds’s Ghost and Rebecca Stead’s Goodbye Stranger.

Deontae “Simp” Wright has big plans for his future. Plans that involve basketball, his best friend, Rollie, and making enough money to get his mom and four younger brothers out of the Cove, their low-income housing project.

Long term, this means the NBA. Short term, it means being a dough boy—getting paid to play lookout and eventually moving up the rungs of the neighborhood drug operation with Rollie as his partner.

Roland “Rollie” Matthews used to love playing basketball. He loved the rhythm of the game, how he came up with his best drumbeats after running up and down the court. But playing with the elite team comes with extra, illegal responsibilities, and Rollie isn't sure he's down for that life. The new talented-and-gifted program, where Rollie has a chance to audition for a real-life go-go band, seems like the perfect excuse to stop being a dough boy. But how can he abandon his best friend?

Paula Chase explores universal themes of friendship and budding romance, while also exploring complex issues that affect many young teens. Full of basketball, friendship, and daily life in a housing project, this universal story is perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds’s Track series, Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Ghost Boys, and Chris Crutcher.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

GUEST POST: "Writing Underwater, Light-up Pens, and Other Tricks, Tools and Strategies for Busy Writers" by Ann Searle Horowitz

There’s something about swimming laps that gets my creative juices flowing. When I first start the warm-up, my mind is the proverbial blank slate. Then a solution to something I’ve been working on suddenly pops in my head: a title, scene, chapter cliffhanger, character name, or plot twist for my WIP. And for the rest of my swim, I employ every strategy I know (including mnemonics and you name it) NOT to forget my (possibly) brilliant insight.

So while I most certainly do write underwater in my head, I don’t actually write underwater.

I know my day for underwater writing is coming. A friend who also swims has a device that allows him to listen to podcasts and audiobooks underwater. I'm getting close, but I'm not there yet.

Instead, after I swim the first place I go is . . . the front pocket of my swim bag. This is where I keep paper and pen so I can capture any productive thoughts. Like the following logline for my debut fantasy-adventure, Trident, finalized (in my head) in the pool back in 2018:

After Richard Tomlin’s new swim goggles transport him to Atlantis, the 12-year-old is thrust into a war to save the Lost City and the planet.

Not a bad yield for a 50-minute workout.

When not swimming, I’m busy with a hundred other things, like every overscheduled person on the planet these days. I had to be creative and smart about finding time to write my book. Here’s how I got to the finish line with Trident, without getting divorced, losing my day job, or being reported for child neglect (proud mom of three kids, one with special needs).

1. Make daily writing a #1 priority – The only way to tap into your story’s flow, and stay there, is to write every day. It’s okay if you don’t write much, but do make it a habit. Even busy people can find 15 minutes every day to write.

2. Read, read, read some more – Beg, buy or borrow every bestseller, locally popular, and well-reviewed book in your genre you can get your hands on. This is especially important for first-time authors. You’ll learn from and be motivated by the quality of writing. Busy folks can make time to read during breakfast or before bed, or listen to an audiobook on the treadmill.

3. Set deadlines/writing goals – Especially when you’re swamped, it’s easy to push off daily “To Do’s” deemed unnecessary for basic survival, like writing. To hold yourself accountable, set your top writing goal for the coming year and make it challenging (e.g., self-publish novel by December 1st). Now back up and break this big, hairy writing and publishing goal into manageable phases, giving each phase a deadline (e.g., finish chapter 20 by end of July). Be sure to WRITE DOWN your big goal and interim deadlines. And honestly assess your progress every 3 months. In the end, organizing this way compels busy you to focus and work more efficiently.

4. Join a writers group – These groups meet regularly, often monthly. You are expected to bring your WIP to every meeting, forcing steady writing. But it’s not a huge time commitment, plus the encouragement and feedback is invaluable.

5. Listen to conversations – When you’re waiting for your coffee order, spy on the pod of tweens in line in front of you—not in a creepy way, but to eavesdrop the language they use, learn what topics are vital to them, and observe how they interact. It’s research while you wait.

6. Carry a notepad – Keep one in your car, one in your swimming/workout bag, one downstairs in your house and one upstairs, one in your briefcase, one in your lunchbox, one next to your shower, one adjacent to any other place you might sit while in the bathroom, one in your, well, you get the idea. Write your ideas as soon as you have them or they will be lost in the ensuing chaos—an extraordinarily frustrating experience.

(Full notepad-carrying disclosure: I acknowledge my reliance on old-school paper and pen is probably atypical. But I can’t use my phone to take notes after I swim; it would get wet. And phones are not allowed on deck when I work as a swim coach.)

7. Invest in a light-up pen – A genius invention for writers who brainstorm while sleeping, and need to capture ideas ASAP when they jolt awake before sunrise or in the middle of the night. One click activates a mini flashlight that writes, sparing the person sleeping next to you (see divorce reference above) the bright light (bulb) of inspiration. It also circumvents taking nighttime notes via phone which can, in turn, lead to peeking at stressful, non-sleepy work emails.

8. Take a break – When writing feels like a slog, and you’re truly stuck, body movement is proven to enhance creativity. Get up and stretch, take a short walk, grab a shower. It’s worth the extra few minutes. Then sit your butt back down in the chair and write for 15.

This week I had my first pool workout since the COVID-19 quarantine. So let’s circle back to swimming. Better still, think of what makes you feel good—singing, baking, running, meditation, yoga—and build it into your weekly schedule. It may turn out to be your most productive writing time.

Ann Searle Horowitz was a high school All American swimmer, and is a mother of multiples. She admits to knowing far too much about goggles and the twin bond, both of which provided inspiration for Trident. When not working on its sequel, she coaches YMCA swimming, plays team tennis, and hangs out with her husband and three kids at their home just outside of New York City.

As a young reader Ann could often be found in her basement fort, bingeing on Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries. Now she can be found online at

Ann is also on FB ( and LinkedIn (

Twelve-year-old Richard Tomlin has almost given up on finding his dad. Instead, he focuses all of his energy on being the youngest swimmer ever on his team to qualify for Junior Olympics.

But everything changes when his new goggles transport him to the Lost City of Atlantis!

Confronting shapeshifters and dark magical forces, Richard channels his inner science geek and the power of positive thinking to stay alive. As he struggles to tame the magic of his goggles, his strong-willed twin, Lucy, finds a way to join him under the sea, and the siblings are thrust into the War of Generations.

To win the war—and save the planet—Richard must embrace his role in an ancient prophecy. Problem is, the prophecy appears to predict his own death. So what’s a warrior to do?

Trident, written for readers age 8-12, and building an unanticipated but welcome adult following, is available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook on Amazon at

Barnes & Noble at

And on the shelves at Arcade Booksellers in Rye, NY.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 80: Public Relations Expert Sarah Miniaci

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Sarah Miniaci and I discuss her career in publicity from running a literary magazine to her work with many notable authors at Smith Publicity. She explains giving in order to get, get lists, top gets, longest lead gets, and never forgets. We chat about raising your author profile, establishing publicity goals, measuring your success, reader targeting, tearing down discoverability myths, and a chalk-changing, vacuum-knocking ghost.

Having worked in a variety of roles in fields that include education, entertainment, fine arts and publishing throughout the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, since 2011 Sarah Miniaci has brought a broad range of knowledge and experience to her work at Smith Publicity, where she serves as Director, Literary Strategy. An avid and genre-spanning reader, Sarah also serves on the board of Diaspora Dialogues, a charitable organization working to change the face of Canadian literature which supports diverse emerging writers in turning their craft into a career through mentorship, professional development, and opportunities to present and publish their work. She continues to be energized by designing and executing publicity campaigns for debut and veteran authors alike.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 79: Speed City Sisters in Crime

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Mystery writers Lillie Evans, Tony Perona, C.L. Shore, and Janet E. Williams are all prominent members of the Speed City Sisters in Crime, which has just released its newest anthology, MURDER 20/20. We chat about how the stories in the anthology were selected, the benefits of belonging to an organization for writers, such as the Sisters in Crime, the ins and outs of writing short and long mysteries, and much, much more. We also have an extended chat about flying saucers and ghosts you won’t want to miss.

Speed City Sisters in Crime is the Indiana chapter of the world-wide mystery/crime writers' association Sisters in Crime. The Speed City chapter was founded in 2005.

Members of the organization are published mystery and crime authors, writers working on mysteries and thrillers, and readers and fans of the literary genre. There are currently 40+ members who live in Indiana or the Midwest.

Speed City Sisters in Crime hosts monthly meetings with speakers on topics of interest to mystery and crime writing. Past speakers have included police officers, prosecutors, investigative reporters, forensic specialists, weapons experts, researchers, and publishing and media professionals.

Chapter members have published 6 short story anthologies over the years with the themes that are related to Indiana or the midwest. Members of the organization have also written and produced a play, Deadbeat, which was performed at a local fringe festival and will soon be available to for others to produce.

The chapter also hosts writing and other educational workshops for its membership with well-known authors and publishing professionals.

Lillie Evans is an author, playwright, and storyteller. Under her pen name, L. Barnett Evans, she is co-author (with Crystal Rhodes) of the cozy mystery book series, Grandmothers, Incorporated. In addition to the novels, she is co-writer of the plays Stake Out and Grandmothers, Incorporated, based on the characters from the book series. The play Grandmothers, Incorporated enjoyed a very successful Off-Broadway run. Lillie is the writer and producer of the play, Take My Hand, which was chosen for a reading at the prestigious National Black Theater Festival and was performed at the 2018 OnyxFest at the Indy Fringe Theatre Festival. Lillie has appeared as a crime commentator on TV One’s “Unsung” and is a member of Sisters in Crime. See more at: and

Tony Perona is the author of the Nick Bertetto mystery series (SECOND ADVENT, ANGELS WHISPER, and SAINTLY REMAINS), the standalone thriller THE FINAL MAYAN PROPHECY, and co-editor and contributor to the anthologies RACING CAN BE MURDER and HOOSIER HOOPS AND HIJINKS. Tony is a member of Mystery Writers of America and has served the organization as a member of the Board of Directors and as Treasurer. He is also a member of Sisters-in-Crime.

C.L. Shore began reading mysteries in the second grade and has been a fan of the genre ever since. Maiden Murders (2018), a prequel to A Murder in May (2017), is her most recent release. Her short stories have appeared in several Sisters in Crime anthologies, Kings River Life Magazine, and Mysterical-E. Shore has been a member of Sisters in Crime for more than a decade, serving as a board member of the Speed City chapter for several years. A nurse practitioner and researcher, she’s published numerous articles on family coping with epilepsy as Cheryl P. Shore. Cheryl enjoys travel and entertains a fantasy of living in Ireland for a year. She’s currently working on Cherry Blossom Temple, a women’s fiction novel. See more at:

Janet E. Williams has been writing since she could hold a pencil. Her first work of fiction was a collection of stories she wrote and illustrated by hand to entertain her mom and dad. In college, she majored in English and became an award-winning journalist, covering politics and crime in Pittsburgh. When the newspaper folded, she landed in Indianapolis where she worked as both a reporter and editor at The Indianapolis Star. Today, Janet teaches young journalists as part of a college immersion program while continuing to work on her writing. She has had short stories published in four anthologies. She lives in Indianapolis and remains a faithful companion to her dog, Roxy.

The 7th anthology by the Speed City Sisters In Crime presents fresh thrills and kills in this collection of short stories that span over a decade, to the far past and the not so far off future. Another great collection by a fine group of Indiana authors. Introduction by Susan Furlong; Edited by MB Dabney, Lillie Evans, and Shari Held; Authors Andrea Smith, Janet E. Williams, J. Paul Burroughs, Ross Carley, Elizabeth Perona, D.B. Reddick, Stephen Terrell, Shari Held, T.C. Winters, Mary Ann Koontz, C.L. Shore, Hawthorn Mineart, B.K. Hart, Elizabeth San Miguel, S. Ashley Couts, Ramona G. Henderson and Diana Catt.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 78: Editor Sara-Jayne Slack and Author Dorothy A. Winsor

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In a Middle Grade Ninja first, editor Sara-Jayne Slack AND author Dorothy A. Winsor discuss Inspired Quill’s latest release, THE WYSMAN, how they came to work together, and the ins and outs of their professional author/editor collaboration. We also chat about publishing contracts, book marketing, working with authors rather than above them, self publishing vs publishing with a small press, Armageddon, spilling tea, and so much more. And here's the link to that online course Sara-Jayne mentioned: Esteemed Listeners can use this coupon code so they can get it for $47 (rather than $147) - IQSCHOLAR
Don't miss Dorothy A. Winsor's fantastic guest post Chronology V. Plot: Dawn of New Years (yes, I was the one who titled it, why do you ask).

Sara-Jayne is a social entrepreneur, public speaker, SEO nerd and lover of all things stationery-related. She works as an SEO Project Manager by day, and manages the not-for-profit publishing house Inspired Quill by night. Sara can regularly be found discussing inbound marketing, skills development, and non-tokenistic diversity in publishing, but strives to listen at least as much as she talks. She’s also scarily comfortable talking about herself in third person, and believes that ‘To Do’ lists breed when you’re not looking.

Dorothy A. Winsor writes young adult and middle grade fantasy. Her novels include Finders Keepers (Zharmae, 2015), Deep as a Tomb (Loose Leave Publishing, 2016), The Wind Reader (Inspired Quill, 2018), and The Wysman (June, 2020). At one time, Winsor taught technical writing at Iowa State University and GMI Engineering and Management Institute (now Kettering). She then discovered that writing fiction is much more fun and has never looked back. She lives in Chicagoland.

"The Grabber is just a fright tale."

Former street kid Jarka was born with a crooked foot and uses a crutch, but that no longer matters now that he’s an apprentice Wysman, training to advise the king. When poor kids start to go missing from the city’s streets, though, Jarka suspects that whatever’s causing the disappearances comes from the castle.

Now he needs to watch his step or risk losing the position he fought so hard to win… but when someone close to him becomes the latest victim, Jarka knows he’s running out of time.

His search takes him from diving into ancient history to standing up to those who want to beat or bleed the magic out of him.

Will Jarka succeed in uncovering an evil long-hidden, or will he see friends and family vanish into the darkness? And whose side is the King on, in his determination to bind his nobles to him no matter what black arts they’ve dabbled in? If Jarka fails in his search, his own future won’t be the worst thing lost.

The Wysman follows Jarka after the events in The Wind Reader, but this YA Fantasy can be read independently.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 77: Author Tracy Wolff

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Tracy Wolff and I discuss her new young adult paranormal romance novel CRAVE, which has already been optioned as a film and a video game. We admit to being book hoarders and Tracy explains her highly unusual (and also highly successful) process for writing a novel. We also talk about how she was able to become a full-time author, saving stories from life for fiction, various magical creatures, defending Texas against wild coyotes, Nora Roberts, writing fast, the terror of being attacked and violently murdered on an open Alaskan tundra, how she chose her literary agent, and so much more.

Tracy Wolff is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of sixty-four novels that run the gamut from young adult action adventures to new adult romance and from women’s fiction to erotica.  A long-time lover of vampires, dragons and all things that go bump in the night, Tracy loves nothing more than combining her affection for paranormal creatures with her love of writing tortured heroes and kick-butt heroines.

When she’s not writing (which is a rare occurrence), she can be found trying out new recipes, offering make-up tips online, wandering comic book/gaming stores with her sons, and watching movies or plotting stories with her besties. A one time English professor, she now writes full-time from her home in Austin, Texas, which she shares with her family.

“Crave is about to become fandom’s new favorite vampire romance obsession. If you need any further evidence of how much you’ll enjoy this book, Universal Studios picked up the film rights… I will absolutely be first in line.” -Hypable

My whole world changed when I stepped inside the academy. Nothing is right about this place or the other students in it. Here I am, a mere mortal among gods…or monsters. I still can’t decide which of these warring factions I belong to, if I belong at all. I only know the one thing that unites them is their hatred of me.

Then there’s Jaxon Vega. A vampire with deadly secrets who hasn’t felt anything for a hundred years. But there’s something about him that calls to me, something broken in him that somehow fits with what’s broken in me.
Which could spell death for us all.

Because Jaxon walled himself off for a reason. And now someone wants to wake a sleeping monster, and I’m wondering if I was brought here intentionally―as the bait.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 76: Author Anne Nesbet

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Anne Nesbit tells the tale of how she met and secured her editor under bizarre, high-stakes circumstances. She shares some excellent insight about writing historical fiction for children, including her newest middle grade novel, DARING DARLEEN, QUEEN OF THE SCREEN. She also discusses her writing habits both before and during quarantine for COVID-19, her passion for silent film and cinema history, her concern about evil goblins, her fear that plotting is an illusion, and much, much more.

Anne Nesbet writes books for kids and watches a lot of silent films. She lives near San Francisco with her husband, several daughters, and one irrepressible dog. She is an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Her books include The Cabinet of Earths (HarperCollins 2012), A Box of Gargoyles (HarperCollins 2013), The Wrinkled Crown (HarperCollins 2015), Cloud and Wallfish (Candlewick 2016), The Orphan Band of Springdale (Candlewick 2018), and Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen (Candlewick 2020).

When a publicity stunt goes terribly wrong, twelve-year-old Darleen Darling, star of the silent film era, must defeat villains both on screen and off in this edge-of-your-seat adventure.

Lights! Camera! Kidnapping?

It’s 1914, and Darleen Darling’s film adventures collide with reality when a fake kidnapping set up by her studio becomes all too real. Suddenly Darleen finds herself in the hands of dastardly criminals who have just nabbed Miss Victorine Berryman, the poor-little-rich-girl heiress of one of America’s largest fortunes. Soon real life starts to seem like a bona fide adventure serial, complete with dramatic escapes, murderous plots, and a runaway air balloon. Will Darleen and Victorine be able to engineer their own happily-ever-after, or will the villains be victorious?

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 75: Author Hugh Howey

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Hugh Howey, author of the mega successful perennial novel WOOL, which everyone loves and wants to hear more about, and I discuss one of MY most favorite books, I, ZOMBIE. But we also talk about WOOL, because of course we do, it’s great, and Hugh hints at what we might expect from an upcoming television adaptation. We chat about how he finally wrote beyond the first chapters of manuscripts after 20 years of stopping, self publishing (naturally), his belief in maximum efficiency with all tasks, dealing with enormous success (his), simulation theory, flying saucers, our fundamental lack of free will, STAR WARS, authors retaining control of their IP, the future of publishing after COVID-19, and so much more. I joke that this is the last episode of the podcast, which of course isn't true (I love it too much), but this would be a great episode to go out on.

Make sure you read Hugh's original 7 Question interview.

And his second (he's the only person in the history of the site to face 14 questions).

Hugh Howey is the author of the award-winning MOLLY FYDE saga, the horror classic I, ZOMBIE, and the New York Times and USA Today bestselling WOOL series. The WOOL OMNIBUS won Kindle Book Review's 2012 Indie Book of the Year Award -- it has been as high as #1 on Amazon -- and 40 countries have picked up the work for translation. Television and film versions of WOOL, SAND, and BEACON 23 are all in development.


This book contains foul language and fouler descriptions of life as a zombie. It will offend most anyone, so proceed with caution or not at all.

And be forewarned: This is not a zombie book. This is a different sort of tale. It is a story about the unfortunate, about those who did not get away. It is a human story at its rotten heart. It is the reason we can't stop obsessing about these creatures, in whom we see all too much of ourselves.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

GUEST POST: "I Never Went to School in My Pajamas: The Story of a Homeschooled Author" by Kristiana Sfirlea

Hi, everyone! My name is Kristiana Sfirlea, and I am the author of Legend of the Storm Sneezer, a middle grade fantasy involving time travel and things that go bump in the night. Oh, and I was homeschooled.

Once upon a time, that statement would’ve drawn out the usual reactions: 1) The dubious, “How did you socialize?” 2) The horror-struck, “Did you go crazy spending that much time with your family?” and—my personal favorite—3) The secretly wistful, “Did you get to do school in your jammies?”

Reactions such as these were once pinnacles of the homeschooling experience. Amazing what a world-wide pandemic can do to even the longest-standing traditions. What was originally thought of as a peculiar subgroup of students across the U.S. is now, for the moment, the majority. (That maniacal laughter you hear in the background? That isn’t the sound of a thousand vindicated homeschoolers. Honest!) But in all seriousness, homeschooling is no walk in the park.

Actually, I take that back. My mom took us on many walks in the park to explore science lessons with our own hands, and it was the best!

My point is, homeschooling is hard work and a big responsibility. So, to all the homeschoolers out there—parents and kids—who are experiencing this form of teaching for the first time, I’d like to encourage you. I’d like to share how homeschooling helped make me the author that I am.

The Guidance of Personal Attention

My siblings and I have very different interests. My sister is a hairdresser and a mom of three. My brother manages a storage facility and has crazy good—and much sought after—skills in tech support. I’m a full-time writer. We’re all proud of what we do, and we knew early on what we wanted to be when we grew up. How? Because our amazing mom (and incredibly supportive dad) worked with us daily, paid attention to our strengths and growing interests, and helped us focus and excel in those areas.

No, that doesn’t mean my mom let me skip Math lessons just because I liked English ten zillion times better. It means she made sure I learned the basics of all my subjects but encouraged me specially in my writing.

The power of a parent’s personal attention cannot be overstated. By helping me discover my passions and talents, my homeschooling mom helped shape the course of my life at an age where most kids aren’t thinking any further than what’s for lunch that day.

Love of Reading

Reading changes lives. It wakes up the brain to imagination and creativity. It enables you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from another perspective. It opens the door to compassion and empathy. It challenges you to form opinions and support them with a sound mind.

Reading. Is. Important.

And reading is often forgotten about.

But not by my mom. She read books out loud to us during lunch every day. We read books out loud at night as a family. We checked out so many books at the library that we had our own dedicated box in the back. She made reading fun.

But more than that, she made reading essential. And in doing so, she armed her kids with one of life’s greatest weapons: the ability to pursue knowledge.

My love of reading, which grew its roots during my homeschooling years, has blossomed into a love for creating books aimed at reminding readers why reading is so important. And it’s a calling I thank God for every day.

Thinking Outside the Box

Homeschoolers are oddballs.

You can say it. We really don’t mind! The truth is, homeschoolers do come across as different. We’re known for branching out from mainstream ideas and accepted structures. Independent thinking comes more easily when you aren’t part of a system or lunchroom clique or the expectations of stereotypes.

I think deep down every person wants the world to know that they are their own unique self with their own unique thoughts and their own unique gifts to benefit the lives of those around them. But not everyone grows up in an environment that encourages such thinking. I was blessed to grow up in such an environment through homeschooling.

As a writer, this independent mindset gave me the joy and freedom to spill my imagination across the page as wildly and as passionately as I could without fear of rejection because I had always been encouraged to be myself and nothing less. Of course, the reality of an adult is that I was rejected many times while querying my manuscript on the very basis of my story’s imagination (“too quirky” was a phrase that came up all too often during my years in the query trenches). But because as a child, my mother—my teacher—embraced my imagination, nurturing and encouraging it, teaching me through her faith in the God who gave it to me that it was something good, I was able to persevere through every rejection. My confidence shook and my heart broke over and over, but I kept going.

And the amazing agent and amazing publisher I found along the way were worth every blow to my ego. With their support, I hope to produce all sorts of quirky, imaginative stories that will help kids unlock their own imaginations and dare to think differently.

Self-motivation and Discipline

I never went to school in my pajamas.

Disclaimer: There is nothing wrong with homeschooling in your pajamas. But for me, personally, whenever someone who went to “regular” school asked me if I did school in my jammies, the righteous indignation that flared inside me made me feel like a ten-foot bonfire. What did they think homeschooling was? An excuse to laze around the house in our PJs, watching TV and doing our schoolwork whenever we “felt” like it? Like weekdays were one big extension of Saturday mornings? “We have structure!” I wanted to scream. “My mom gives us chores and schedules and goals everyday—that’s how you get stuff done!” I was furious that my friends thought my schooling experience was inferior…and madder still that they seemed to want this “pajama schooling” lifestyle themselves.

Yes, I learned all the basics of Math, Science, English, Social Studies, History, and Geography through homeschooling. But my mom didn’t just teach us school skills. She taught us life skills. She taught us all about self-motivation, discipline, and setting goals. Her dream as a homeschooling mom wasn’t to simply build our minds. She wanted to build our character and our faith so that her well-loved and well-taught children could step into the world as thoughtful, purpose-driven adults.

Her lessons led to me receiving my first offer of publication for Legend of the Storm Sneezer at age 17. Those same lessons helped me see that it wasn’t the right fit for me, that there was something even better if I had patience and the perseverance to work for it. And many years later, what my mom taught me during homeschool would help me recognize the right offer of publication when it came along.

So, if you’re out there trying homeschooling for the first time and you feel overwhelmed, don’t quit! Keep at it. If I could redo my schooling experience a hundred times, I would choose homeschooling every time. And remember, it isn’t about keeping a perfect schedule. It’s about learning—and learning to love learning in every moment.

And if you love learning in your pajamas, go for it! No judgement here. ;)

Teacher Guide

Some of my best memories from being homeschooled are of the teacher guides and Unit Studies my mom put together for the books we were reading. So of course I had to construct one for my MG fantasy novel,Legend of the Storm Sneezer!My sincerest hope is that this guide will be a tool in helping families experience the same joy of homeschooling that I had all my school years with my own family.

Legend Seeker. Part-time Ghost Hunter. Time Traveler.

Thirteen-year-old Rose Skylar sneezed a magical storm cloud at birth, and it’s followed her around ever since. But when "Stormy" causes one too many public disasters, Rose is taken to Heartstone, an asylum for unstable magic. Its location? The heart of a haunted forest whose trees have mysteriously turned to stone.

They say the ghosts are bound to the woods … then why does Rose see them drifting outside the windows at night? And why is there a graveyard on the grounds filled with empty graves? Guided by her future selves via time traveling letters, Rose and Marek—best friend and potential figment of her imagination—must solve the mystery of the specters and the stone trees before the ghosts unleash a legendary enemy that will make their own spooks look like a couple of holey bed sheets and destroy Heartstone Asylum.

Letters from the future are piling up. Rose can’t save Heartstone herself. However, five of herselves, a magical storm cloud, and a guardian angel who might very well be imaginary? Now that’s a silver lining.

But will they find what killed the ghosts before what killed the ghosts finds them? -

Barnes & Noble -

As an author, Kristiana Sfirlea knows what it means to get in character. She spent five years volunteering as a historical reenactor and trying her best not to catch her skirts on fire as a colonial girl from the 1700s (leading cause of death at the time next to childbirth). Working at a haunted house attraction, she played a jumping werewolf statue, a goblin in a two-way mirror, and a wall-scratcher—so if she’s standing very still, growling, checking her reflection, or filing her nails on your wall, be alarmed. Those are hard habits to break.

Kristiana's speculative flash fiction has been published by Havok, and her debut novel Legend of the Storm Sneezer is a whimsical Middle Grade fantasy involving time travel and things that go bump in the night. She dreams of the day she can run her own mobile bookstore. Or haunted house attraction. Or both. Look out, world—here comes a haunted bookmobile! (And this is precisely why writers should never become Uber drivers.) She loves Jesus, her family, and imaginary life with her characters.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 74: Authors Josh Berk and Saundra Mitchell

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

Authors Josh Berk and Saundra Mitchell tell the terrifying tale of how they collaborated to write CAMP MURDERFACE. We talk about how they met, tips for working on a project with another author, the importance of being dumpster rat-y, finding time to write (even while sleeping), being a phone psychic, launching a book during the quarantine for COVID-19, an actual ghost story, and so much more.

Saundra Mitchell has been a phone psychic, a car salesperson, a denture-deliverer and a layout waxer. She’s dodged trains, endured basic training, and hitchhiked from Montana to California. The author of nearly twenty books for tweens and teens, Mitchell’s work includes SHADOWED SUMMER, THE VESPERTINE series, ALL THE THINGS WE DO IN THE DARK, a novel forthcoming from HarperTEEN and the forthcoming CAMP MURDERFACE series with Josh Berk. She is the editor of three anthologies for teens, DEFY THE DARK, ALL OUT and OUT NOW. She always picks truth; dares are too easy.

Josh Berk is the author of the teen novels THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN (named a best book for teens of 2010 by Kirkus Reviews and and GUY LANGMAN: CRIME SCENE PROSCRASTINATOR (2012) as well as the middle grade mysteries STRIKE THREE YOU'RE DEAD and SAY IT AIN'T SO.

Summer camp turns sinister in Camp Murderface, a spooky middle grade read perfect for fans of scare masters like R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike.

The year: 1983. The place: Ohio. The camp: Scary as heck.

Camp Sweetwater is finally reopening, three decades after it mysteriously shut down. Campers Corryn Quinn and Tez Jones have each had more than enough of their regular lives—they’re so ready to take their summer at Sweetwater by storm.

But before they can so much as toast one marshmallow, strange happenings start…happening. Can they survive the summer? Or will Camp Sweetwater shut down for good this time—with them inside?