Monday, March 18, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja TV 15: Author Kathi Appelt

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

Click here to see Kathi Appelt face the 7 Questions.

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

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

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

An ocelot. A slave. An angel thief.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja TV 14: Author Lamar Giles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja TV 13: Author Steven K. Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja TV 12: Literary Agent Jennifer March Soloway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 22, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja TV 11: Author Tommy Greenwald

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

Click here to see Tommy face the 7 Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja TV 10: Author Daniel Kenney

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

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

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

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

Like Mission Impossible... but with Fractions!

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

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


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


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

Monday, February 4, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja TV 09: Literary Agent John Cusick

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

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

Literary Agent and author John Cusick and I discuss his career in publishing and his advice for writers. We talk about diversity in publishing, his tips for landing an agent, and many other great things you won't want to miss. Here is a link to John's video "A Pretty Much Foolproof Silver Bullet Query Opening: (it's also posted below). And as promised, here's a link to my post on diversity.

Click here to see John Cusick face the 7 Questions.

John Cusick (@johnmcusick) is a VP and literary agent with Folio Jr. / Folio Literary Management. He represents a diverse list of bestselling and award-winning creators of picture books, middle-grade, and young adult novels. He is also the author of Girl Parts and Cherry Money Baby (Candlewick Press), and co-editor of the YouTube series Agent Brain/ Writer Brain.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja TV 08: Editor Amy Tipton

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

Editor and former literary agent Amy Tipton and I discuss her career in publishing and her approach to editing. We chat about her time representing Courtney Summers, Amy Reed, and many other famous YA authors and I thank her for a crucial note she gave me when I was revising Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees. She shares her philosophy of revision, the new services she's offering through Feral Girl Books, the most common mistakes writers make, and much, much more.

Click here to see Amy Tipton face the 7 Questions.

In her own words:

I graduated from Naropa University with a B.A. in Writing and Literature and received my MFA from New College of California in Writing. I have been working in the publishing industry for 13 years and started freelance editing in 2018. Prior to that, I was a literary agent at Signature Literary Agency since 2009. (I first stepped into the role of literary agent at Peter Rubie Literary Agency, now FinePrint Literary Management, in 2007.) I started out as an assistant and office manager at several agencies including JCA Literary Agency, Diana Finch Literary Agency, Gina Maccoby Literary Agency, and Liza Dawson Associates, as a book scout for Aram Fox, Inc., and as a freelance editor for Lauren Weisberger (author of The Devil Wears Prada). My years of experience culling books from the slush pile give me confidence I can help you too!

(Not just a service for those looking for an agent … Maybe you already have an agent but they are less editorial-minded and you are going on sub or got an RR from an editor … Maybe you’re self-publishing … Whatever the situation, consider me your professional CP! )

Friday, January 18, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja TV 07: Author Jacqueline West

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

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

NYT Bestselling author Jacqueline West and I discuss her career in publishing as well as her approach to writing and her background as a performer and English teacher. She shares many tips for how to write successfully and gives recommended resources for aspiring authors. I also read a small selection from Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees.

Click here to see Jacqueline West face the 7 Questions.

Jacqueline West is the author of the NYT-bestselling middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere, the YA novel Dreamers Often Lie, and the new middle grade fantasy The Collectors.

She is also the author of two poetry collections, Cherma and Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions, and her poetry and short fiction appear in a variety of publications.

She lives in Red Wing, Minnesota, with her family.

Eliza loves hunting ghosts--too bad she's spending the summer helping her scientist mother study weird plants instead. But when a mysterious plant goes missing, things in the plant shop go from strange to downright spooky. Is Eliza digging in dangerous ground?

"West’s tale, decorated with Aly’s eerie, cartoon art, is well worth reading on its own—the writing manual takes it to a whole other level." 

- Kirkus, starred review

Friday, January 11, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja TV 06: Author Susan Kaye Quinn

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

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

Author and indie publishing expert Susan Kaye Quinn and I discuss her career in publishing as well as her approach to writing and editing. She shares many tips for how to be successful as an indie author. You'll want to revisit this episode a few times and take notes because Susan has more knowledge than could ever be packed into a single episode.

Click here to see Susan Kaye Quinn face the 7 Questions.

Susan Kaye Quinn is a rocket scientist turned speculative fiction author who now uses her PhD to invent cool stuff in books. She writes young adult science fiction, with side trips into adult future-noir and  sweet royal romance. Her bestselling novels and short stories have been optioned for Virtual Reality, translated into German, and featured in several anthologies.
Susan grew up in California, got a bunch of engineering degrees (Aerospace, Mechanical, and Environmental), and worked everywhere from NASA to NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research). She has designed aircraft engines, studied global warming, and held elected office (as a school board member). Now that she writes novels, her business card says “Author and Rocket Scientist,” but she spends most of her time inventing her stories, petting her cats, and rescuing her Roomba from evil socks.
Susan writes full-time from the Chicago suburbs with her three boys, two cats, and one husband. She is a member of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and is represented by Sarah Hershmann at Hershmann Rights Management.

Warrior faery princes can be very stubborn. Especially when they possess your body. Fourteen-year-old Finn just wants to keep his little sister out of Child Protective Services—an epic challenge with their parentally-missing-in-action dad moving them to England, near the famous Stonehenge rocks.
Warrior faery Prince Zaneyr just wants to escape his father’s reckless plan to repair the Rift—a catastrophe that ripped the faery realm from Earth 4,000 years ago and set it adrift in an alternate, timeless dimension.
When Zaneyr tricks Finn into swapping places, Finn becomes bodiless soul stuck in the Otherworld, fighting spriggans with sharp teeth and rival faery Houses. Back on Earth, Zaneyr uses Finn’s body to fight off his father’s seekers and keep the king’s greatest weapon—himself—out of his hands. Between them, they have two souls and only one body… and both worlds to save before the dimensional window between them slams shut.
Faery Swap is an action and druid-magic filled portal fantasy, told by both a runaway faery prince and the boy he’s tricked into taking his place. This Prince and the Pauper meets Warrior Faeries tale is suitable for all ages.
Includes four interior illustrations.
Fantastic Irish and American accents in this fun warrior faery fantasy!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

NINJA STUFF: Author, Year Five (2018)

Well, the years start coming and they don't stop coming and I'm so old that I still quote Smashmouth. That song has graced our eardrums for 20 years this year and Shrek has graced our eyeballs for 18 years. Do you remember which theater you were in when you first saw that movie? Yeah? Are you thinking about it? That was 18 years ago.

Anyway, happy New Year, Esteemed Reader. Let's get on with this year-in review nonsense so that, God willing, 20 years from now I can wax philosophical about where I was when I wrote this post, and think to myself, Smashmouth is still a dumb name for a band and I never really liked Shrek (popular culture and I don't always agree), but "All Star" was a catchy tune and I wish I'd thought about weightier issues in my squandered life (do you guys remember Chumbawamba?).

2018 was a year that, when I look back on the years that really aged me, will stand out. 2018 is responsible for more than its fair share of my emerging wrinkles. I had an unusually difficult writing year. My summer got particularly rough, but then a couple things happened that made me go, oh yeah, there is a God (probably) and reality is sometimes wonky, so it's best to be optimistic and not worry so much.

The Blog in 2018

We had lots of great guests at the blog this year. We had some oh-my-gosh-she's-so-famous-and-she's-here authors stop by and some keep-your-eyes-on-him-because-he's-doing-great-things authors as well and I remain eternally grateful to both types of authors for making the time for me and Esteemed Reader. I've never met an author I didn't admire at least a little and Middle Grade Ninja remains one of the best things I've ever done because it's put me in contact with so many of them.

We also had some excellent literary agents and public relations experts visit and I hope we'll have more in 2019. I feel every interview posted here makes me smarter for having read it. And I'm thrilled by the many high quality guest posts so many talented authors and publishing professionals have shared with us.

I read a bunch of amazing books this year, some of which I reviewed here, many more which I didn't. I've said this is the greatest time in history to be a writer, but it's also the greatest time to be a reader. There are wonderful books being produced all around us and most anyone can find a way to access an endless supply. 2018 was, relative to all (known) preceding human history, an amazing time to be alive.

In May, I was invited to be a guest on my first ever podcast interview. In June, I recorded the first episode of my own podcast with author Laura Martin, although it didn't become an actual podcast until early December.

A podcast/YouTube show is something I've thought about doing for years, but haven't because it's a scary prospect. In listening to one of my many favorite podcasts, I heard a sociologist (can't remember which one) explain that a fear of being in front of a crowd makes perfect evolutionary sense. For much of (known) human history, if you were at the front of the tribe, you might be about to be executed.

And as you'll hear, I'm a far better writer than a speaker. I prefer the time to carefully choose my words rather than vomiting up a word salad on the fly. Also, until this year, I haven't really had the time to record any kind of show. But my friends, the authors Laura Martin and Barbara Shoup were willing to be my first guests and I'll be forever grateful to them as they could each easily host their own show and helped me get over my initial nerves.

Lo and behold, once I got over my fear of appearing in front of all the internet, I really enjoyed the conversations we had. Talking with talented people is both illuminating and fun. Maybe the show will continue to resonate with viewers and listeners. Maybe it won't. But for sure I'll be a better writer for having had such insightful chats with people smarter than I am.

I don't know what the future of the podcast will be, but I'm overjoyed with the great guests I've interviewed so far and looking forward to talking with the amazing guests already scheduled to appear in 2019. I'm still a little nervous at just how many folks are watching and listening, but I've gotten used to strangers reading my books (God bless them) and I suppose I'll get used to strangers listening to me talk as well.

So please subscribe to my channel on YouTube or follow the podcast on SoundcloudStitcherSpotifyitunes, and Google Play or just keep an eye on the blog for future installments. If you wanted to like, subscribe, and leave a review, that would be extremely helpful and appreciated. This is going to be a lot of fun and there's more ninja-ing ahead.

My Favorite Media in 2018

As you know, I don't pick favorite books. I love them all. Also, every year I bump into more authors in the real world and I like getting along with them:)

I'm seeing fewer movies and television programs every year because life is short and I feel like movie trailers are frequently better than the flicks. I didn't see A Star is Born, but that sure was a great movie trailer:)

My favorite movie of 2018 was hands-down Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse. The flicks I also really loved this year were A Quiet Place (I've been debating the merits of the film's final shot for months), Vice (such an angry movie about events that SHOULD make us angry), Halloween (how I'd missed a truly fun slasher flick), and Ready Player One (welcome back into my heart, Mr. Spielberg). And like everyone else in the world, I loved Avengers: Infinity War and  Black Panther. I also really enjoyed The Meg, which was exactly the movie I wanted it to be.

But honestly, the best experience I had in all of non-book media this year was Red Dead Redemption 2. The hype was real. It was exciting, funny, and heartbreaking. There are moments from that game I'm going to remember forever. I think Benjamin Byron Davis should win all the acting awards for his portrayal of Dutch Van der Linde. And how lovely it was to see John Marston again after all these years.

Marvel's Spider-Man and Far Cry 5 were each incredible experiences as well and both came as surprises to me. I'd never played a Far Cry game before (I checked out the others, but 5 is the best by far) and Spider-Man games have been mostly disappointing since the previous high point of Spider-Man 2. If taking the time to play these games means I ultimately write fewer books in this life, I'm okay with that (fair trade).

Also wonderful, but in a different way, were Assassin's Creed: Odyssey and Just Cause 4, neither of which I've completely finished, but I will eventually. They're the perfect games to play a bit at a time while listening to an audiobook after a long day of reading and writing and parenting.

(this scene made me misty-eyed)

Living with Politics in 2018

There are too many political scandals from 2018 to attempt recounting them all here or to properly express my outrage at kids in cages or the rest of it, and most of you Esteemed Readers live here in the US of A, so you already know. I really only want to write about how politics have impacted me this year. Trump is an anxiety machine.

When the history of this time is written, I'm confident the current Republican party will be remembered as villains. What might not be remembered is the daily strain of living through our national nightmare. The worst periods of depression I felt this year were due in large part to being confounded that this illegitimate "presidency" has been allowed to proceed, largely unimpeded. It's been a source of constant stress to watch my country collapsing tweet by tweet.

I remember where I was on 9/11. I watched on TV as the second plane struck the second tower in real time, horrified with the rest of the country, and I won't ever forget it. Similarly, I'll remember where I was the first time I saw Donald Trump's press conference in Hellsinki and the President of the United States sided with Putin over America.

The experience of watching that press conference must be what it's like to see a flying saucer (alas, I still haven't seen one). The pentagon admitted it's been studying flying saucers just last year and the evidence that they're in our skies and that the government is hushing up their existence is overwhelming. Most of us know the flying saucers are probably real, while pushing the information from our minds as it's not a practical concern for day to day living. It's still got to be a shock to actually see one. And afterward, you can't ever un-see it.

Similarly, we've known Trump was dishonest and acting strangely in regard to Russia since the election (Hillary credibly accused him of being Putin's puppet in the debates). But to actually see Trump's treason in real time, to realize beyond the shadow of a doubt that a traitor is in our oval office... there aren't sufficient words for that shock. If this had happened in any story outside of a comic book, I would've laughed at the absurdity of it, and yet that moment has now happened within our history.

After the Helsinki conference, I genuinely felt hopeless for a time. How do you believe in anything after seeing this monstrous "president" betray us? Actual presidents are legitimately-ish elected.  We're living under the occupation of an installed Russian asset and no one is stopping him and at least some Republicans are in on it!?! I can't breathe, I can'tI need to sit down.

But I voted in the midterms and so did a historic number of other Americans and we got our blue wave. Will it be enough? I don't know. But I'm cautiously optimistic that Donald Trump will not serve out his term and that we may see some real reform in our politics as a result of this catastrophic presidency.

Fingers crossed...

UPDATE: After this posted, Elizabeth Warren announced her plans to (probably) run for president in 2020, and this fills me with hope. I've been a fan of hers for years and I've read all her books. I don't need any primaries, I don't need any debates; she's been my number one choice for president for at least a decade. Assuming she runs, I will actively campaign for Elizabeth Warren as there is no better person to lead our needed political revolution.

Dark Times in 2018

Politics wasn't the only thing bumming me out this year. In May, my son's school had an early release due to a shooting in our district that really freaked me out. I don't want to recount the experience again, but I wrote a post about it on the day if you're curious to know what I'm like when I'm simultaneously heartbroken and terrified. I've since read several social media posts from friends of mine throughout the country who had similar experiences because America is a place where school shootings happen regularly and we can't get gun control because our politicians are bought and our politics are broken (happy New Year!).

I'm not going to share everything that happened to me and my family this summer, but know that there were many horrifying things that happened and plenty of reasons to despair. I'm happy to (and unable not to) pour my heart into my books and offer them up to the world. But despite running this blog and now popping up on YouTube and itunes and elsewhere, I'm actually a private person. I'm not interested in living my actual life in public, just my artistic one.

Because I'm not going to share, we'll move on, except for this: just when things looked bleakest for me and my family, they improbably turned around at literally the last moment they could. Since I'm not offering details (maybe in a few years), you'll have to take my word for it: this was the metaphorical equivalent of that helicopter crashing through the tunnel in the first Mission Impossible movie, its whirling blades only just barely managing not to slice Tom Cruise's throat open by centimeters (dunh duhn duhn da da dunh dunh!).

Perhaps I've said too much? If only I'd been more vague. In any case, things at the Kent household have turned around dramatically and I'm very happy with how well things are going now (and not taking it for granted). The experience has left me once again questioning the nature of my reality as such events are wont to do. I imagine Impossible Mission Force agent Ethan Hunt has spent many hours in a temple someplace contemplating the nature of his existence as well.

Being a Writer in 2018

I did lose some writing time this year to life and I fell behind a little, but not much. I wrote far more days this year than not. I read a whole bunch of excellent books and some others that offered me important lessons on how not to write a book:) Time spent reading is never regretted.

I critiqued multiple manuscripts and led my first five-week fiction workshop for students who paid money to attend it. And then I led two more, and I'll be leading another workshop in 2019 (still time to sign up). I learned more about being a writer in 2018 by teaching writers, and that's been a really satisfying thing to have done. I've now received multiple books from former students who are out there making their contributions to our literary conversation and that makes me feel I'm doing some good with my time in the world.

And yet I didn't publish a single book in 2018, even though I planned to. Sigh. See, what had happened was... Writing books is hard, man, especially middle grade books.

I've actually written the equivalent of three books in 2018. Unfortunately, they were mostly different versions of Banneker Bones and the Alligator People. I don't know why I ever thought it would be easy. Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees is the most difficult book I've ever written (and my favorite). OF COURSE, its sequel is similarly challenging.

I had a version of the novel ready to go for its planned publication date of Halloween. It was a very good version and I loved it. But my critique group had some ideas about how it could be better. And that's why I have a critique group in addition to early readers and multiple editors. Their suggestions required some significant restructuring I couldn't complete in time, so I had to make a difficult decision to disappoint Banneker's fans and delay publication.

I hate disappointing Esteemed Reader, but I also couldn't live with knowing there was a better version of the book I could've given them and didn't because I ran out of time. Part of the appeal of indie publishing is that I set the rules (sometimes). These books of mine aren't just widgets to me. They're Horcruxes as a bit of my soul goes into each one. 

An even better Banneker Bones and the Alligator People will be released in 2019. I've taken advantage of the delay to complete a good chunk of Banneker's third adventure, hopefully to be published sometime before 2070. I've also worked on some YA horror stories I'll be sharing more details about soonish.

Being an Author in 2018

Despite not publishing a book, I feel I did a pretty good job of being an author this yearnot that I don't plan to do better next year (I always do). I taught several classes, was interviewed in several excellent venues, and was invited to speak at lots of places that weren't my own podcast. I got some lovely emails from Esteemed Readers that meant quite a lot to me who like what I'm doing, and some who were promised Banneker Bones 2 and were perturbed they didn't get it (it's coming, I swear!).

I was invited to guest post for Indiana Humanities, which was pretty awesome, and I attended my first MoCon. I'm looking forward to going back every year as Maurice Broadus knows how to put on a great writers conference (you should come, Esteemed Reader).

Sometimes in the stress of day to day life, it's easy to lose track of the fact that most of my dreams have come true. Sure, I could be doing better, I could always be doing better, and the day I don't feel that way is probably the day I should quit. But I almost lost everything this year (vague to the last), and I appreciate everything I have all the more because of it.

I've got a loving family, an honest-to-God readership (fans, even), the respect of my peers, and now my own podcast/TV show, not to mention a PS4. There are generations of royal families who haven't lived lives as good as mine (with my air conditioning and my indoor plumbing and my dental care). In 2018, I was reminded to be grateful for every moment of this weird, wonderful life.

In 2019, I'm planning to work even harder and make even more of my dreams come true because why not? Who knows how long any of us has got left in this life? I plan to make the most of all the great opportunities I've got and to play Far Cry New Dawn!

Here's hoping you do the same, Esteemed Reader. Let's blast off this year and live our best lives!

(Tom Cruise doesn't want to hear your excuses or your "laws of physics")

Thursday, December 13, 2018

7 Questions For: Author Elana K. Arnold

Elana K Arnold writes books for and about children and teens. She holds a master’s degree in Creative Writing/Fiction from the University of California, Davis where she has taught Creative Writing and Adolescent Literature. Her most recent YA novel, What Girls are Made Of, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and her middle grade novel, A Boy Called Bat, is a 2018 Global Read Aloud selection and a Junior Library Guild Selection.

A parent and educator living in Huntington Beach, California, Elana is a frequent speaker at schools, libraries, and writers’ conferences. Currently, Elana is the caretaker of seven pets, only three of which have fur.

Click here to read my review of A Boy Called Bat.

And now Elana K Arnold faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Ahh, this is a mean question. This is like asking which are my top three favorite pets. I will pick three books, but don’t tell the others.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

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

I write 15-20 hours per week; I read about 10 hours per week (and wish that number was greater!). I spend another 10-15 hours per week doing “business-y” stuff like writing emails, communicating with editors, planning school visits. And I spend countless hours wandering in my brain, dreaming, considering my works in progress and ideas for future books.

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

I was a voracious reader growing up, and I began writing stories of my own at a fairly young age. I went to graduate school to pursue fiction writing, but the experience drained me, and after I graduated, I didn’t write for a long time. Instead, I returned to my childhood love of reading everything.

When I returned to writing, I did so from a different place—rather than trying to write “literature,” as had been my goal as a graduate student, I just wanted to tell a good story, all the way to the end. I finished the manuscript of my first novel, SACRED, in 2010, and with it, I found an agent and then my first publisher, Random House. I have been actively writing and publishing ever since.

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

For me, both. I loved reading so much that the only thing that could be better, I thought, would be to create my own stories. And it was wonderful, until I allowed myself to believe that only a very narrow definition of “good writing” mattered, a false belief often perpetuated in writing programs.
Then, I was frozen and full.of doubt. I think writers can be taught, but I also think they can be “un-taught,” and it’s incredibly important that teachers leave space for writers to grow.

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

Telling a story is a way for me to live another life, and it’s a way for me to share my questions about being human as well as my core beliefs. I love this about writing. I suppose a “least favorite” thing has more to do with the business of writing than the art or craft—the wheels of publishing move so desperately slowly!

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

Here’s a brief list:

Practice finishing things. Beginnings are usually more fun, but a story needs a middle and an end. Don’t worry about length—just get to the end.

Read widely, and by people who have different lived experiences than yours.

Stay curious. An artist’s job is to notice what’s happening and deeply care.

Consider getting a pet. Maybe several.

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

Today, I’d say Nora Ephron, because I appreciate the way she plumbs the depths of her personal stories to find humor. If you ask me tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll have a different name. There are so many authors I admire!