Saturday, November 16, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 50: Author Mariama J. Lockington

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




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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



Saturday, November 9, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 49: Author Mira Bartók

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





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



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

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

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



Saturday, November 2, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 48: Literary Agent Christa Heschke

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

Click here to see Christa Heschke face the 7 Questions.





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

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

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



Saturday, October 26, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 47: Author Shamim Sarif

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





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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Saturday, October 19, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 46: Author Nancy Richardson Fischer

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




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



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

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

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


Saturday, October 12, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 45: Author Alicia D. Williams

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



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

If you ask kindergartners, they'd tell you:

1. She likes chunky guacamole.

2. She likes shiny things.

3. She tells good stories.

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

1. She gets us.

2. She makes us laugh with all her jokes.

3. She is Da BOMB.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's what the reviewers are saying:

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 44: Author Francesca Zappia

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

Click here to see Francesca Zappia face the 7 Questions.



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

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

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



Zora Novak has been framed.

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

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

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



Saturday, September 28, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 43: Literary Agent Carrie Pestritto

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Carrie Pestritto and I chat about all kinds of fun stuff like Ancient Aliens and simulation theory. At times this episode basically becomes "The Middle Grade Ninja Experience." Not to worry, Esteemed Audience, we also talk about books and publishing and how to get a literary agent's attention; all the things you tune in regularly to hear about. Carrie Pestritto walks us through everything from evaluating a query and a manuscript to finding a book deal to building your author platform, planning your writing career, and beyond.



Carrie Pestritto worked at Writers House and Prospect Agency before becoming part of the LDLA team. She earned her BA in English, cum laude, from Amherst College in 2009, also spending a year studying abroad at St. Catherine's College, Oxford University.

As an agent, she loves the thrill of finding new authors with strong, unique voices and working closely with her clients.  Carrie always strives to help create books that will introduce readers to new worlds and is drawn in by relatable characters, meticulous world-building, and unusual, compelling premises.

Find her on Twitter at @literarycarrie and read her blog here.




Saturday, September 21, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 42: Author Gregg Millman

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Gregg Millman and I talk about his time in Hollywood as a screenwriter and advertising expert, as well as his time working for MSNBC. He gives several practical tips for pursuing a screenwriting career from his time as an assistant on shows such as BOSTON LEGAL to working with Nicolodean on movies such as ONE CRAZY CRUISE. And naturally, we discuss his new middle grade fantasy novel THE KANDY KINGDOM SAGA, which he wrote in collaboration with his nine-year-old son.




Gregg Millman is a Screenwriter and Middle Grade Novelist, who's created movies, TV shows and novels for kids, including a Nickelodeon movie, ONE CRAZY CRUISE. His new fantasy novel, THE KANDY KINGDOM SAGA, is the first in a series about the adventures of two kids in a magical world of candy torn apart by war between the Sweet Treats and Sour Powers.

Gregg started writing for MSNBC, but realized writing for kids was much more fun. So he moved out to La La Land, where he took his lifelong love of John Hughes teen movies and put it to good use: creating all sorts of kid content, from angsty teen TV soaps to silly Nick movies to post-apocalyptic YA sci-fi series. Gregg has now landed in the alternate dimension of The Kandy Kingdom, where he plans to reside while he completes the book. series.


Middle school can be tricky enough. But things get really crazy when two 7th graders are transported to a magical world of candy. With all the sweets they can eat, it seems like heaven. But danger lurks everywhere - monsters, magic spells, and marshmallow mountain avalanches! Can these regular kids lead an army of candy creatures to victory in an epic battle and save Kandy Kingdom?

This humorous, quirky novel is perfect for tween and Middle Grade readers from 8 to 12 years old:

3rd / third grade

4th / fourth grade

5th / fifth grade

6th / sixth grade

7th / seventh grade

With strong female and male tween leads, this is a quirky, offbeat adventure fantasy filled with awesome action, epic battles, and surprising plot twists. Plenty of jokes and a sense of humor will keep readers laughing along with the wisecracking candy creatures.


Thursday, September 12, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 41: Author John Claude Bemis

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John Claude Bemis and I talk about a little bit of everything: art, music, elementary education, and, of course, literature. He gives a preview of his class on revision in the second half of our conversation that every writer should hear and shares some fantastic tips for creating a great first draft. We also talk a lot about Pinocchio and his unique twist on the classic tale in his Davinci-Punk series OUT OF ABATON, focusing on the first book, THE WOODEN PRINCE.

Click here to see John Claude Bemis face the 7 Questions.




An inspiring speaker and entertaining performer, John Claude Bemis is the author of The Wooden Prince, Lord of Monsters, the Clockwork Dark trilogy, The Prince Who Fell from the Sky, and Flora and the Runaway Rooster. He received the Excellence in Teaching Award from UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Education for his work in the schools as an author-educator and served as North Carolina’s Piedmont Laureate. John lives with his wife and daughter in Hillsborough, NC.







The automa Pinocchio has always been duty-bound to serve in the floating palace of Venice's emperor. So when Pinocchio finds himself locked in a trunk and delivered to a new master-a wanted criminal and alchemist named Geppetto-he is curious about everything around him. But most curious is the way Pinocchio seems to be changing from a wooden servant into a living, human boy. Before Geppetto and Pinocchio can uncover the mystery surrounding the automa's transformation, Pinocchio is stolen away. Determined to find Geppetto again, Pinocchio begins a harrowing journey across the Empire, where danger in the form of half-beast outlaws and winged airmen abounds for a lost automa.

Meanwhile, Princess Lazuli, the daughter of the ruler of a magical kingdom called Abaton, is also on a quest through the emperor's territory. Her father, Prester John, has been captured by the Venetian Empire, and Lazuli is desperate to rescue him. With the emperor's airmen closing in fast, Lazuli learns the only hope for saving her father — and her beloved home — lies in Pinocchio and Geppetto.




Monday, September 9, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 40: Author Annie Sullivan

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What don't Annie Sullivan and I talk about in this extensive episode? We discuss her new novel, TIGER QUEEN, of course, but we also talk about her travels to all seven continents and her cage-diving with great white sharks, which leads to our mutual love for bad shark movies. We discuss teaching at the Indiana Writers Center, Professor Dan Barden of Butler University, and all things Hoosier author. The second half of this episode is an in-depth discussion of book marketing through social media you won't want to miss as Annie Sullivan shares specific details about how to grow your author platform.




Annie Sullivan is a Young Adult author from Indianapolis, Indiana. Her work has been featured in Curly Red Stories and Punchnels. She loves fairytales, everything Jane Austen, and traveling and exploring new cultures. When she’s not off on her own adventures, she’s teaching classes at the Indiana Writers Center and working as the Copy Specialist at John Wiley and Sons, Inc. publishing company, having also worked there in Editorial and Publicity roles. You can follow her adventures on Twitter and Instagram (@annsulliva).




From Annie Sullivan, author of A Touch of Gold, comes Tiger Queen, a sweeping YA fantasy adventure that tells the story of a fierce desert princess battling to save her kingdom. Fans of Rebel of the Sands and Meagan Spooner will devour this retelling of Frank Stockton’s famous short story, “The Lady, or the Tiger?”

In the mythical desert kingdom of Achra, an ancient law forces sixteen-year-old Princess Kateri to fight in the arena to prove her right to rule. For Kateri, winning also means fulfilling a promise to her late mother that she would protect her people, who are struggling through windstorms and drought. The situation is worsened by the gang of Desert Boys that frequently raids the city wells, forcing the king to ration what little water is left. The punishment for stealing water is a choice between two doors: behind one lies freedom, and behind the other is a tiger.

But when Kateri’s final opponent is announced, she knows she cannot win. In desperation, she turns to the desert and the one person she never thought she’d side with. What Kateri discovers twists her world—and her heart—upside down. Her future is now behind two doors—only she’s not sure which holds the key to keeping her kingdom and which releases the tiger.


Friday, September 6, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 39: Public Relations Expert Claire McKinney

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Claire McKinney and I have an in-depth, though brief conversation about marketing middle grade novels. We talk about her work with both independently and traditionally published authors and the differences in promoting the two. She shares some direct strategies for social media campaigns, cost-per-click sites, and getting reviews. And she lends her thoughts on evaluating the effectiveness of marketing.




Claire McKinney has been working in public relations for over 20 years. She has appeared on the Today show and CSPAN as an expert on publishing and she travels regularly to speak to authors and audiences about PR and social media marketing.  Authors she has worked with include Della Reese, Toni Morrison, Madeleine Albright, Walter Mosley, Robert Dallek, Rick Moody, George Pelecanos, Plum Sykes, Noam Chomski, Richard North Patterson, and Kristin Gore.





Are you an author? Is your book about to be published? Are you wondering how to promote your book?

Over the years, Claire McKinney has found that the lack of information on how book promotion works has left most authors in the dark, without a clear idea of how they can contribute to their own campaigns. In her book, she opens a window into the world of media relations and publicity so that authors will learn:

How to promote your book to the media

How to create your own media contact list

How to write press materials and how to use them

How to create a timeline and plan a campaign on your own

How to pitch, who to pitch to, and when

How to talk to your publisher about publicity



Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 38: Author Thomas Taylor

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Thomas Taylor and I discuss his new novel, MALAMANDER, and writing creepy, atmospheric monster stories for children. We also talk quite a lot about ghosts, flying saucers, and the parts of being a writer that strike us as being a bit magical. And yes, I ask him about designing the UK cover for HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE, but we talk far more about how being an artist influences his writing and vice versa. And, as a bonus, we talk about designing comics.




Thomas Taylor is a children's writer and illustrator. He studied at Anglia Ruskin University and attended the Norwich School of Art and Design. Then he spent three years at art school in Cambridge. After finishing his education he found his first job at Heffer’s Children’s Bookshop.

He has written and illustrated several picture books, starting with George and Sophie's Museum Adventure in 1999, and has two novels, Haunters and Dan of the Dead. The first one was published in May, 2012 by The Chicken House and the last one was published on 1 June 2012 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. Dan of the Dead sequel named Dan and the Caverns of Bone was issued in June, 2013. The book The Pets You Get with his illustrations won the Stockport Schools’ Book Award in 2013 (early years category) and also the Oldham Brilliant Books Award. He also painted the cover art for the first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.



A quirky, creepy fantasy set in Eerie-on-Sea finds a colorful cast of characters in hot pursuit of a sea monster thought to convey a surprising gift.

It’s winter in the town of Eerie-on-Sea, where the mist is thick and the salt spray is rattling the windows of the Grand Nautilus Hotel. Inside, young Herbert Lemon, Lost and Founder for the hotel, has an unexpected visitor. It seems that Violet Parma, a fearless girl around his age, lost her parents at the hotel when she was a baby, and she’s sure that the nervous Herbert is the only person who can help her find them. The trouble is, Violet is being pursued at that moment by a strange hook-handed man. And the town legend of the Malamander — a part-fish, part-human monster whose egg is said to make dreams come true — is rearing its scaly head. As various townspeople, some good-hearted, some nefarious, reveal themselves to be monster hunters on the sly, can Herbert and Violet elude them and discover what happened to Violet’s kin? This lighthearted, fantastical mystery, featuring black-and-white spot illustrations, kicks off a trilogy of fantasies set in the seaside town.


Monday, September 2, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 37: Author Dan Gutman

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Dan Gutman and I have an in-depth chat about his classic series, MY WEIRD SCHOOL, as I attempt to gain the secret to writing humor for kids. We talk about how he conceives of an idea, his process for planning and drafting it, the many revisions it undergoes, and his strategies for book promotion. He gives some amazing advice for school visits and marketing using social media. We also talk about Harry Houdini, Dick Cheney,  and a whole lot more in a far-ranging discussion. You're going to learn a lot. I know I did.

And make sure you check out Dan's original 7 Question interview.




Dan Gutman may be weird, but he is also beloved by kids, parents, and teachers across the country. His books include the My Weird School series (more than 10 million copies sold), the Baseball Card Adventures (more than 1.5 million copies sold) and the New York Times bestselling The Genius Files. We also publish his spoofy picture book, CASEY BACK AT BAT, and one of Dan’s favorites, JOHNNY HANGTIME. Dan lives in New York City (a very weird place), with his weird wife, Nina, and their two weird children, Sam and Emma. You can visit him on Facebook or at his weird website.





With more than 23 million books sold, the My Weird School series really gets kids reading!

In this third book in the My Weirder-est School series, A.J. and his friends learn about good oral hygiene.

Grab your toothbrushes! It’s National Dessert Day, and Ella Mentry School has asked local dentist Dr. Floss to educate A.J. and his friends on the dental dangers of sweets.

But Dr. Floss has other plans. She wants the kids to eat as much sugar as possible so that they’ll need a dentist! Will someone get a cavity?

Perfect for reluctant readers and all kids hungry for funny school stories, Dan Gutman’s hugely popular My Weird School chapter book series has something for everyone. Don’t miss the hilarious adventures of A.J. and the gang!


Thursday, August 29, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 36: Author Sharon M. Draper

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Sharon M. Draper allows us to live vicariously through her with her story of writing TEARS OF A TIGER during study hall periods as an English teacher, which went on to win the Coretta Scott King Author Honor and launch the career of a literary legend. She assures me that visiting the White House never gets boring, even after the sixth time. She also shares her thoughts on education, which are well worth hearing as she was named a National Teacher of the Year. This was one of most incredible and enjoyable conversations I've ever had. Unfortunately, large parts of our talk were lost due to technical difficulties. We conducted this interview by phone out of necessity, which is why there's no video, and I used new recording software for the first and last time. But I learned a lot and you'll learn almost as much. Don't miss this amazing episode!




Sharon Draper is a two-time Coretta Scott King Award-winning author, most recently for Copper Sun, and previously for Forged by Fire. She's also the recipient of the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Author Award for New Talent for Tears of a Tiger and the Coretta Scott King Author Honor for The Battle of Jericho and November Blues. Her other books include Romiette and Julio, Darkness Before Dawn, and Double Dutch. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she taught high school English for twenty-five years. She's a popular conference speaker, addressing educational and literary groups both nationally and internationally.




Eleven-year-old Isabella’s blended family is more divided than ever in this thoughtful story about divorce and racial identity from the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of Out of My Mind, Sharon M. Draper.

Eleven-year-old Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week: One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.

Because of this, Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. And now that her parents are divorced, it seems their fights are even worse, and they’re always about HER. Isabella feels even more stuck in the middle, split and divided between them than ever. And she’s is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities. Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?” She knows what they’re really saying: “You don’t look like your parents.” “You’re different.” “What race are you really?” And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?

It seems like nothing can bring Isabella’s family together again—until the worst happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 35: Author Laura Martin Returns

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My friend Laura Martin, our first ever guest, becomes our first ever return guest. In her second episode, she and I discuss Big Foot, The Lochness Monster, flying saucers (naturally), and all of my favorite things, which can be found in her new cryptid-themed book, HOAX FOR HIRE. We chat about our critiquing and revision process as we're both members of the YA Cannibals writing group and have critiqued each others novels. Laura also shares some excellent marketing tips and gives us a preview of her next book, GLITCH. This is another wonderful episode with one of my most favorite people.



Check out Laura's first appearance on the podcast.

Don't miss Laura's excellent guest post "The Art of the Middle School Presentation." 

And make sure you see her face the 7 Questions.


Laura Martin believes in chasing dreams, and she brought that philosophy to her classroom for six years as a seventh-grade English teacher. She is the author of the Edge of Extinction series. When she isn’t writing stories about dinosaurs and underground civilizations, she can be found in the Indianapolis area with her dashing husband Josh, her two adorable kids London and Lincoln, and two opinionated bulldogs. You can visit her online at www.lauramartinbooks.com.



Goonies meets the humor and heart of Gordon Korman in this new adventure full of nonstop action and spot-on humor from the critically acclaimed author of Float.

The McNeil family has always been professional hoaxers—tricking bystanders into believing they’re seeing legendary creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.

Unlike the rest of his family, twelve-year-old Grayson hates hoaxing and wants nothing to do with the business—even when the McNeils land a huge job and must pull off four sea monster hoaxes in a week.

But when things go disastrously wrong and Dad and Gramps go missing, Grayson and his brother, Curtis, are the only people who can finish the job and save their family.





Friday, August 23, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 34: Author Allan Woodrow

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Allan Woodrow and I talk about overcoming fear and self doubt in writing as well as his newest novel, THE CURSE OF THE WEREPENGUIN. We discuss how writing every day without fail has led him to publish thirty books in ten years. He shares practical tips to start or jump start your writing career, advice on school visits, and marketing methods gleamed from a career in professional advertising.

Click here to read Allan's original 7 Question interview.




When growing up in the Midwest, Allan Woodrow always wanted to be an author. His teachers told him to write about what he knew, but he didn't know very much. He still doesn't know all that much, but got tired of waiting and decided to start writing anyway.

Allan is an author of middle-grade books including The Curse of the Werepenguin, the Liberty Falls Elementary series (Class Dismissed, Unschooled and Field Tripped), The Pet War and The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless. Allan also writes under various secret pen names including "Fowler DeWitt" (the Mumpley Middle School mystery books).



"Young Frankenstein meets The Princess Bride in the most hysterically hilarious book I've read in years."--Chris Grabenstein, #1 New York Times bestselling author

All orphan Bolt Wattle has ever wanted was to find his true family. When a mysterious baron in far-off Brugaria sends for Bolt, he wonders if he's getting closer to finding his long-lost parents. But Baron Chordata appears to be a twelve-year-old boy who wears tuxedos all the time, shouts at everyone, and forbids Bolt from asking questions. Things couldn't get any worse . . . until midnight, when the Baron bites Bolt and turns him into a half boy, half penguin. Then things really couldn't get worse-- nope, wait, they get a lot worse. With the help and hindrance of a plucky girl who just might be the world's greatest bandit, a whale cult led by a man whose weapon is a stale loaf of French bread, and a sinister but friendly fortune-teller who can't stop cackling, Bolt's on a quest to reverse the curse, return to human form, and stop the Baron from taking over the country of Brugaria with his army of mind-controlled penguins in what might be the weirdest--and funniest--middle-grade novel you've ever read.



Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 33: Author Kate Hannigan

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Kate Hannigan and I discuss her newest novel CAPE and the 2016 Golden Kite award winner, THE DETECTIVE'S ASSISTANT. We do a deep dive on writing and researching historical fiction. Kate gives some outstanding advice for authors doing school visits and a lot of tips for being a more productive writer. She also shares a real-life object lesson on the importance of being nice in an industry as small as publishing. We chat about superheroes and women in history and just generally have a blast talking about writing.





Chicago author Kate Hannigan writes fiction and non-fiction for young readers. A former newspaper journalist, she loves listening to people's stories and digging deep into research. Her middle-grade historical fiction "The Detective's Assistant" (Little, Brown) received the 2016 Golden Kite Award for best middle-grade novel and was a California Young Reader Medal nominee. Inspired by the exploits of America's first female detective, Kate Warne, it features nail-biting suspense and exhilarating thrills - along with history around Abraham Lincoln and pre-Civil War America.

Kate is also the author of the picture book biography "A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women's Rights" (Boyds Mills Press), which received four starred reviews, named a Chicago Public Library "Best of the Best" selection, Bank Street College pick for July, A Mighty Girl Best of 2018 Book, Amelia Bloomer Project pick, and a Junior Library Guild Selection. And her three-book cooking caper series "Cupcake Cousins" (Disney/Hyperion) for early middle-grade readers was named to the Illinois READS state list and Chicago Public Library's "Best of the Best" lists.


Hidden Figures meets Wonder Woman in this action-packed, comic-inspired adventure about a brilliant girl puzzler who discovers she’s part of a superhero team!

Josie O’Malley does a lot to help out Mam after her father goes off to fight the Nazis, but she wishes she could do more—like all those caped heroes who now seem to have disappeared. If Josie can’t fly and control weather like her idol, Zenobia, maybe she can put her math smarts to use cracking puzzles for the government.

After an official tosses out her puzzler test because she’s a girl, it soon becomes clear that an even more top-secret agency has its eye on Josie, along with two other applicants: Akiko and Mae. The trio bonds over their shared love of female superhero celebrities, from Hauntima to Zenobia to Hopscotch But during one extraordinary afternoon, they find themselves transformed into the newest (and youngest!) superheroes in town. As the girls’ abilities slowly begin to emerge, they learn that their skills will be crucial in thwarting a shapeshifting henchman of Hitler, and, just maybe, in solving an even larger mystery about the superheroes who’ve recently gone missing.

Inspired by remarkable real-life women from World War II—the human computers and earliest programmers called “the ENIAC Six”—this pulse-pounding adventure features bold action and brave thinking, with forty-eight pages of comic book style graphic panels throughout the book. Readers will want to don their own capes for an adventure, and realize they have the power to be a superhero, too!