Wednesday, February 11, 2015

NINJA STUFF: Indiana, My Home

Do you love where you live, Esteemed Reader? Did you consider all the wonderful places there are in the world and decide to live where you are instead of a tropical paradise because you like your spot better? Were you born there and simply happy to stay put? Were you compelled to move there and now you're making the best of it?

Mrs. Ninja and I are buying our first home, which is why this blog is going to stay quiet for a time. I've got some reviews and interviews planned for you, but I'll be posting them later this year from my new office once I get all my stuff out of the old one.

When I lived briefly in Chicago, more years ago now than it seems to me, I dated a big city girl not entirely unlike Margot Wilson in All Right Now. Turns out the country mouse and the city mouse do not always make a good pair. Sometimes they try to destroy each other:) But before that, she told me that you can take the boy out of the small Indiana town, but you can't take the small Indiana town out of the boy. She didn't mean it kindly, but as I'm planning to publish two new books featuring characters from a small Indiana town to match the four I've already published, I can't say as how she was wrong.

I'm a Hoosier and wherever I may go, for better or worse, Indiana is my home. Our new house rests between four churches within a five-mile radius (Indiana has more churches than Starbucks or McDonalds). I could book a lot of speaking gigs and sell a lot of Christian fiction provided none of my new readers accidentally read All Together Now:) If I'm honest, I don't mind a little church now and again. Everybody dresses up and takes pains to act better than they are, which is nice to see even if it's an act, and the music reminds me of my childhood.

I like Indiana people and a fair number of them seem to like me. Sure, our state used to be the head of Klu Klux Klan (my mother taught the daughter of the grand wizard how to sew), but no place is perfect and we're trying hard to do better. It seems to me such a checkered past is all the more reason to dig in roots with my mixed-race family and let my fellow Hoosiers know that this is what an Indiana family looks like now. I haven't got any Christian fiction to sell, but I'm happy to sign your copy of Banneker Bones:)

I once saw a comedian at an Indianapolis club (yes, we have comedy clubs) who remarked that Indiana gave him the creeps because we still have a highway sign pointing one direction toward Brownsburg and the other direction toward Whitestown. His punchline: It's 2014 people, time to change the sign! I didn't laugh and neither did anyone else. I grew up next to both those towns and naturally there's a sign for them that's been there since before I was born. I looked around at the many puzzled faces of Hoosiers in the audience all thinking: "yes, that's our sign, what's your point young fella?" Oh Indiana, I wish I knew how to quit you:)

There's more than corn in Indiana, though seriously, there's a lot of corn. John Green lives here, after all, and so do all my beloved Young Adult Cannibals, so I'm a short distance from authors Mike Mullin and Shannon Alexander. Stephen King lived here for like a year, Kurt Vonnegut was a Hoosier, and we've got Jim Davis (some of my finest early reading experiences were volumes of Garfield and US Acres). Indiana is a good place for writers and if I'm going to continue to write about Hoosiers being chased by zombies and giant robot bees (and I am), I think I'll settle in where I can keep an eye on real life Hoosiers for inspiration.

I've been happy renting for years. Some might argue that I've been throwing money away instead of purchasing a tangible asset, but I also haven't been mowing the lawn or paying for repairs or taking on other homeowner responsibilities, freeing up more writing time. And whenever Mrs. Ninja and I have got tired of a place, we simply moved. Of course, that was before Little Ninja was born, and now at a year old (where does the time go?) he loves to be outside and our third floor apartment isn't conducive. Our number one goal has been to get him a yard with a fence.

The other reason we've rented is that I've clung to a notion that one day I would escape the Midwest and flee to one of the coasts. But now in my thirties I've accepted that if I was really going to leave, I'd have done it. I've had the money to do it (at least I did before buying this house) and the opportunities, but my family is here and my friends are here and now my child's family and friends are here.

The protagonist of Pizza Delivery (worked all my books in with links!) is a young punk dying to get out of the small Indiana town he feels trapped in. It's a thematic thing, but when I wrote the first draft of that story I was delivering pizzas in a small Indiana town I desperately wanted to escape. My favorite line in that story is The sound of a child not crying, but my second favorite line comes when our hero is surveying the disgusting state of an Indiana home and he poses the question:
Jesus, does anyone actually mean to end up like this, or does it just sort of happen? Like cancer.

Well, young me, all these years later I know the answer is both. Like cancer, a place grows on you, and right or wrong, if you stay there long enough it begins to feel like home. And when I get around to ordering a pizza at the new home, the know-it-all kid who comes to the door can be assured I have invested quite a lot in my decision to end up like this:)

Indiana is a fine place and I'll do my part to make it finer. There are many wonderful people here and I'm happy to live among them.

Wish me luck with the move. I'll be back before long with some new reviews and I've got some new books coming later this year, mostly middle grade, but I may have a scary one for those of you who like the scary ones as well. Here's hoping that wherever you are Esteemed Reader, you're happy to be there.

Monday, February 2, 2015

GUEST POST: "How My Day Job Makes Me A Better Kidlit Writer" by Katie Sparks

After you publish your first book, it’s not uncommon to hear friends and family say: “Bet you can’t wait until you can quit your day job, become famous, and let the riches roll in…cha ching!”

Yeah, right.

As you might have guessed, writing for children is NOT my full-time job.

By day: editor for parenting books

By night: children’s author

After college, I continued to foster my passion for writing, and took the following steps to immerse myself in the publishing industry:
·         Began as a creative content writer
·         Took some crazy but well-paid off risks, such as quitting my day job to take a non-paid internship and moving back home, and got my foot in the door of a popular and widely successful independent publishing company
·         Dabbled in editorial, customer service relations and eventually became the Assistant to the Publisher
·         Moved on to a non-profit medical association in 2010
·         Three years later, hired to manage the consumer product line of parenting books

From bubble baths to naptime, poopy diapers and dinnertime messes, feeding routines and potty training, the parenting books I acquire cover it all.  Using my journalism background and my own experience of the industry, I develop resources sure to bring comfort and information to even the busiest of parents: helping mothers balance work-life environments, offering strategies to dads for bonding with their children or guiding first-time parents to raise healthy twins.


Obviously you do not need to be an editor of the genre you write in for you to become better at the craft of writing. There were times in my previous job, working so closely with children’s books all day long, that I found myself burnt out once I got home and had the opportunity to work on my own stories.  Now in this current role, there’s something refreshing about being able to work with authors, medical editors and pediatricians on different manuscript topics that reach millions of parents, while still finding the energy to craft my own stories at home. 

Being an editor also offers me the wonderful opportunity to work alongside many talented doctors and writers. By embarking on a literary journey with them and hearing funny stories about their children, I have found ideas and inspiration for my own stories.  From imaginary friends with a sneaky pet mouse to balloons animals who have feelings, nothing is too small or too insignificant to bring life to my stories.   
Since I am not yet a parent, it’s these special moments that ring true when weaved together in a picture book.  Being a twin myself and helping develop a guide on raising multiples added authenticity to the personalities of twin siblings in my middle grade novel, REALITY NATALIE, as well as for a picture book I wrote on some crazy and fun double trouble twins! 


Working for a company that specializes in giving authentic advice to parents weighs heavily on the decisions I make regarding the books I edit. This mentality recently filtered into the decision regarding my own novel’s cover design. Initially the cover photo for REALITY NATALIE depicted a girl with her forefinger and thumb out. Unsure of any unknown symbolism this could represent or be perceived as guns, my publisher and I opted to edit the forefingers out from the photo. Now the cover successfully depicts a girl with attitude who is giving thumbs up to the TV world, perfect for Natalie and for readers alike.

So while the odds of me quitting my job, becoming famous and making millions are as likely as winning the lottery, I can admit to waking up everyday and loving what I do.  Being an editor is not an easy job but it is definitely one that is priceless because it makes me happy – just like writing!

 (Credit: all photos courtesy of

At a very young age, Katie Sparks discovered the magic of books. She counted on weekly library visits and treasured receiving her first library card at the age of five. At six, she wrote her first story called Baby Carrie (still in her collection today!)

Katie knew then that writing would be in her future. By day, she is an editor for the parent consumer line at a non-profit medical association and enjoys working closely with authors and industry professionals. Immersed in the publishing industry in both her professional and personal life is a dream come true. On weekends you will often find her writing and sipping coffee at one of the many unique coffee shops in Chicago, spending time with family and friends, or curled up with a new book.