Monday, August 29, 2016

GUEST POST: "Turning a Video Game into a Book Series (with Adventure and Meaning)" by Danica Davidson

            When I tell people I write fictional books about video games, they’re usually shocked. This shock then often turns into one of two things: either they find this idea suspicious the more they think about it, or they think it’s a great idea that can get kids reading on top of playing the video games they love. I’m really trying to go for the second response, because I write books full of cliffhangers (to keep you turning the pages) that also talk about real-world issues (like cyberbullying) to let kids know they’re not alone.

            In my Overworld Adventure series, the video game Minecraft is a real place. (If you have kids or know kids who are into Minecraft, it might as well be.) 11-year-old Stevie lives in the Minecraft world, but he feels as if he doesn’t belong because he isn’t as good at building or fighting monsters as his dad. Then one day Stevie finds a portal to Earth and befriends Maison, a bullied girl who’s starting at a new school and feeling insecure about herself. Their insecurities bring them together and make them friends, and the series follows their adventures as they go back and forth between the different worlds.

            Through the course of the series, they battle zombies, creepers, Herobrine . . . and have to deal with kid stuff. While the first book talks about in-your-face bullying, the following books get into the realm of cyberbullying after some cyberbullies hack into Maison’s computer and let themselves into the Minecraft game there. In other words, they let themselves into Stevie’s world, where they turn it into eternal night and unleash zombies.

            Middle grade readers are either just starting to go online or will soon be doing so, which makes me think this is a prime time to talk about things like cyberbullying and how to be nice online. But instead of turning it into a lecture (ugh) I’m able to weave it into a story. I hope this enables kids and adults they trust to be able to talk about real life cyberbullying, and how you can talk or have disagreements online without it having to turn mean. All this stems out of writing about video games.

            While this is about video games, writers can use other things kids already like and make new twists with them. For instance, I also have a manga how-to-draw book out called Manga Art for Beginners, because why not take a love of manga and channel it into your own creativity? (And it has ninjas in it, of course.) On top of that, I have a Barbie comic book coming out called Puppy Party, and in it you see Barbie and her sisters coming up with ideas to get all the local shelter dogs adopted. Can you use video games to tell stories about cyberbullying or a doll to talk about animal welfare, while  being entertaining? You sure can! 

Danica Davidson is the author of the Overworld Adventures book series for Minecrafters, with the books Escape from the Overworld, Attack on the Overworld, The Rise of Herobrine, Down into the Nether, and the soon-to-be-released (and available for pre-order) The Armies of Herobrine and Battle with the Wither. She is also the author of Manga Art for Beginners and the soon-to-be-released (and additionally available for pre-order) Barbie: Puppy Party

Please check out her website, her Amazon page, or follow her on Twitter @DanicaDavidson.

Monday, August 22, 2016

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Andrea Somberg

A literary agent for over fifteen years, Andrea Somberg represents a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, including projects for adult, young adult and middle grade audiences. 

Previously an agent at the Donald Maass Agency and Vigliano Associates, she joined Harvey Klinger Literary Agency in the spring of 2005. Her clients' books have been NYTimes and USABestsellers, as well as nominated for The Governor General's Award, the Lambda Award, and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. Andrea also teaches courses for MediaBistro and Writers Digest. You can learn more about her at and

And now Andrea Somberg faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Such a hard question! But, if forced to choose, Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising, Jenny Offill's The Department of Speculation and R.J. Palacio's Wonder        

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

This is almost as difficult as my favorite books! I would say Anne of Green Gables (the BBC version), Arrested Development and Bloodlines (honestly, this last one probably isn't an all-time favorite but I'm in the middle of watching and am somewhat obsessed...). 

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

Someone who is passionate about their writing but also understands that this is a business. 

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

I would really love to find a middle grade novel, either funny or serious, that features a character we haven't seen before and that helps us see the world in a new light. 

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

I love working with people who are as passionate about  books as I am. Editors, agents, authors--we are all connected by this common bond, and that's something that I find to be truly amazing.

My least favorite thing is the rejection that is an implicit part of every aspect of this industry. 

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)

Try not to let rejections get you down. Persistence is important--if one agent isn't the best fit, try someone else. It can sometimes take awhile to find the best advocate for your book but, once you do, the journey will have been worth it. 

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

David Foster Wallace.  I recently finished Infinite Jest and...what?!  But I'm pretty sure he wouldn't answer my questions anyway...  

Monday, August 15, 2016

GUEST POST: "Showing Children Our World (Good and Bad) Through Books" by Donna Galanti

As a mother, nothing comes close to my primitive urge to protect my child. So, I thought it ironic to visit a playground in North Carolina with a warning sign of alligators nearby.

This sign hit me with the realization that while we can provide our children with the resources to defend themselves and make good choices, ultimately we have to let them go out there to frolic amongst the good guys and the gators. This includes opening their eyes through media and books to not-so-nice things that go on in the world.

Especially books. They can open up our child’s eyes to events in history, just and unjust. Books have opened up many dialogues with my son about slavery, civil rights, oppressive religions, women earning the right to vote, the Holocaust, bullying, and terrorism.

When my son was six we got a wonderful book called The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein (since made into a movie). In 1974, French aerialist Philippe Petit threw a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center and spent an hour walking, dancing, and performing high-wire tricks a quarter mile in the sky. This book paved the way for us to talk in depth about the twin towers and terrorism. My son said at the time he hoped that bad man would be caught and the towers would be rebuilt.

One out of two so far. I was able to report to my son not long after that the bad man had been caught and killed. My son wanted to know how he was found and killed, what happened to his children, his wives, and if his being caught meant this kind of thing would never happen again. I wish. But, I hope in having these discussions (as I hope parents are having everywhere) that we are changing the world for the better – one discussion at a time.

As my son got older, middle grade books opened up discussion for us. Here are some of them:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio: about being a disfigured kid in a “normal” world.

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper: what it could be like to have a voice but not be able to communicate.

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs: the difficult decision of choosing where you belong.

Rules by Cynthia Lord: on autism and asking “what is normal?”

Holes by Louis Sachar: about friendship and believing in yourself.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen: being separated from your family and having to survive in a strange place.

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen: on endangered animals and ecology.

Duck by Richard S. Ziegler: about standing up for yourself when the one person who protects you is gone.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: fearing middle school and then finding out how cool it really is.

Books. They open us up to new worlds and help us as parents relate the good and bad of the world to our children. They reveal the beauty and the darkness that co-exist in our world - and within us. They inspire feelings of sadness, joy, compassion, or outrage.

Books. They open up conversations with my son about life and death and right and wrong. I watch him as he struggles with these issues and tries to figure out his place in the world.

And while I empower my son with information and send him out there to navigate the battle field of life with as much armor as possible, I hope the good guys outnumber the gators. I hope he witnesses more glory than gore. And even if the gators in disguise try and get him, I hope it's “just a flesh wound!”

Are there books you've read with your children that have opened up discussions about the 
world around them? 

Enter this giveaway to win a Lost Realm map poster, a lightning orb light-up ball, paperback of book 1 in the series, JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD, and $25 Barnes &Noble gift card:

Donna Galanti is the author of the The Element Trilogy (Imajin Books) and the Joshua and The Lightning Road series (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor for International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs with other middle grade authors at Project Middle Grade Mayhem. She’s lived from England as a child, to Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer. She now lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse that has lots of nooks and crannies, but sadly no ghosts. You can find her books, resources for writers, and upcoming events at and Catch her post here on Middle Grade Ninja about 10 Steps to Writing Scary for Kids.

About Joshua and the Arrow Realm out 8/30: 

Joshua never thought he’d return to the world of Nostos so soon. But, when King Apollo needs his help in the Arrow Realm, Joshua’s will and powers are tested in order to save him. With his loyalties divided between our world and theirs, Joshua wonders whether he alone can restore magic to the twelve powerless Olympian heirs, or whether he is being tricked into making the one mistake that might cost them all.
“Fast-paced and endlessly inventive, Joshua and the Arrow Realm is a high-stakes romp through a wild world where descendants of the Greek gods walk beside you, beasts abound, and not everything—or everyone—is as it seems.” ~ Michael Northrop, New York Times bestselling author of the TombQuest series

Joshua and the Arrow Realm book trailer:

Monday, August 8, 2016

GUEST POST: "The Horrors of Writing Middle Grade Horror or Why Books Aimed at Children Can’t Be Awash in Blood" by David Neilsen

Hello. My name is David and I write Middle Grade Horror. My first successful foray into this realm, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, will be available on August 9, 2016 by Crown Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin/Random House. As you can imagine, I’m a little excited. But I’m not here to shamelessly promote my novel, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom (available for pre-order on right now!  Get the audio book, read by me!), but rather to describe to everyone reading this post--yes, both of you--the horrors of writing Middle Grade Horror.

I didn’t always write Middle Grade Horror (which I’m just going to keep on capitalizing, so you can stop your whining right now). In the months and years before I began writing Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, I wrote adult horror. Short stories, mostly, but also screenplays. I spent many years honing my skill for describing ridiculously-disturbing things in as few words as possible. I was introduced to the insanity of H.P. Lovecraft and tripped over myself in an attempt to write something suitably ‘Lovecraftian.’ I have written stories of gore and violence and evil and corruption and once of man-eating unicorns. I have explored dark, foreboding passageways, ancient tombs, eerie graveyards in the dead of night, and the surface of a giant eyeball.

So when it came time to write Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, I felt I was more than up to the challenge. After all, I was a veteran of adult horror; Middle Grade Horror was just adult horror with the main characters a few years younger, right?


There is a scene in Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom in which a child breaks his leg. It took me many, many drafts to find a way of writing that scene without including the phrases ‘sickening shard of bone ripping through the skin’, ‘font of blood gushing like a geyser’, or ‘disfigured lump from the very depths of Hell.’

That’s when I realized this was going to be harder than I thought.

It seems that two concepts that really don’t go together well are ‘Middle Grade’ and ‘Horror’. It makes sense when you think about it. What comes to your mind when you think of horror? A vampire biting someone’s throat--and not in a good, sparkly way? A werewolf clawing someone to pieces on the moors? An abomination from beyond time and space whose mere existence is enough to doom mankind to an epoch of madness?

And what comes to your mind when you think of Middle Grade? School lockers? Algebra? Zits?

You begin to see the issues we’re facing here, don’t you?

The trick to Middle Grade Horror books is to be frightening without being scary. It’s a fine line. My son is ten, the perfect age for my books. He is currently obsessed with Five Nights At Freddy’s. But it took him a long time to actually play the game himself. First, he wanted his big sister to play it. And his mother. He wanted to witness their fear without experiencing it himself. Only after laughing at his big sister a couple of time was he able to give the game a shot. By that time he knew what he was doing, and what he was getting into. He knew where the scares were, and what they looked like. So he was able to handle Golden Chika or whoever leaping out at him when he opened the door.

That’s my audience.

Oh sure, there are plenty of middle-grade-aged readers (not to be confused with middle-aged readers or readers of the Middle Ages) who have no problem toying with the dark side of literature and pop culture. My daughter saw her first R-rated horror movie when she was 11 (it was directed by her uncle, so we’re not totally-degenerate parents--only partially-degenerate). She has been gobbling up Middle Grade Horror since she was six or seven, Young Adult Horror by nine, and Stephen King’s The Shining at 12.

She’s not the audience. No, my audience, the audience of Middle Grade Horror is between the ages of 8 and 12 and they still harbor the slightest belief that there may, in fact, be monsters living under their beds. Not that there aren’t, mind you, but the older kids are armed with much heavier and thicker books and can take out a seven-tentacled-horror at fifteen paces without even bothering to stop and Tweet about it.

So to write Middle Grade Horror, to truly write the genre, you need to give the little whippersnappers a chance to become comfortable with their terror. You need to treat them like the they are the proverbial frog in a blender and ease them into it, one step at a time. An example of this might be:

1.    A kid the Main Character barely knows walks into the house, screams, never comes out.
2.    A kid the Main Character is friends with walks into the house, screams “It’s a horrible monster!”, never comes out.
3.    The Main Character’s older brother walks into the house, screams “It’s a horrible monster and it’s eating people!”, never comes out.
4.    The Main Character walks into the house, sees a horrible monster eating people, screams.

Call it the Horror Progression Theory. Or call it the Monster Eating People theory, if you like. Whatever. The point is, if you start at Step Four and spring a person-chomping monster on your reader without warning, you get nightmares and bad reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Ease into it, and you’re a master of suspense with a multi-book deal. Right?


Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom is a dark tale wrapped in a pretty, shiny, colorful paper bag about a demented and strange old man who moves into a neighborhood, builds a playground, and gleefully and miraculously heals everyone as the injuries pile up. Children get hurt (which is generally a huge no-no in Middle Grade books but something which I managed to get away with surprisingly easily). A quiet, happy neighborhood is turned upside down. Parents march menacingly down the street armed with turkey basters. True darkness is revealed. There’s even a rather large homage to all things Lovecraftian.

I may not have been able to include my precious spigot of gore spouting from a dying child’s veins, but there’s enough ‘ick’ in there to satiate the true aficionado. I even got to keep one very, very creepy and disturbing element that I was absolutely positive they’d make me remove. When I was allowed to keep it, I danced a little jig.

We hope you’re enjoying the blog tour for David Neilsen’s Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom! In case you missed yesterday’s post, head over to The Book Monsters to check it out. The tour continues tomorrow on Project Middle GradeMayhem.

David Neilsen is an actor/storyteller and author of the Middle Grade Horror novel, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom. Learn all you could ever hope to learn about David and his work by visiting his website at He is not a ninja.

“Such deliciously creepy fun! I fell in love with Dr. Fell! So will urchins and whippersnappers everywhere.” —Chris Grabenstein, author of the New York Times bestsellers Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and The Island of Dr. Libris
When the mysterious Dr. Fell moves into the abandoned house that had once been the neighborhood kids’ hangout, he immediately builds a playground to win them over. But as the ever-changing play space becomes bigger and more elaborate, the children and their parents fall deeper under the doctor’s spell.
Only Jerry, Nancy, and Gail are immune to the lure of his extravagant wonderland. And they alone notice that when the injuries begin to pile up on the jungle gym, somehow Dr. Fell is able to heal each one with miraculous speed. Now the three children must find a way to uncover the doctor’s secret power without being captivated by his trickery.

Monday, August 1, 2016

GUEST POST: "Hybrid Me" by C. Lee McKenzie

I never thought I’d self-publish a book. Why should I? I’d sold two novels to publishers, I’d found a small press to publish two more. I’d learned the ropes about querying, signing contracts, meeting deadlines and marketing the way the publisher wanted. But here I am officially a hybrid author.

Maybe I should go back and explain that I write in two fiction categories, young adult and middle grade. My four young adult books are what I’ve sold. The two, and soon to be three, middle grade stories are what I’ve published on my own.

I did query a lot before I took the Indie route, but while I had many requests for fulls of my teen books, I received almost no interest in my younger reader books. In fact, when I signed with an agent, she was very clear that she didn’t handle middle grade, but had no problem if I found another agent to take on my other category.

Not another agent quest, please!

I’ve searched the agent data bases, and so far I haven’t found one who seems open to taking only middle grade stories when an author also writes young adult and is already represented in that category. It seems that young adult sells and middle grade might, but not as well. At least, that’s what I’m hearing.

And based on my sales, I believe it’s true. I sell more YA than MG, even though my MGs are well-reviewed, including a great Kirkus write up.

I did, however, continue to seek out a second agent until recently, then I decided to stop. I’ve been writing for a few years now, and I’m at a point in my life when I want to do other things as well. I like to travel, so I try to make a major trip each year. I like to hike, practice yoga, garden and cook. And I like to spend time being a little lazy. I don’t want to spend any more of my time writing queries. It’s just that simple.

Besides, I’ve found that I rather enjoy being in charge of some of my work one-hundred percent. From concept to cover, it’s all my responsibility. While it can be exhausting, it can also be very satisfying. And as long as I can produce professional books, I feel okay about my decision to go hybrid.

A native Californian, C. Lee McKenzie, has always loved to write. But she's also been a university lecturer and administrator, and for five years, she wrote and published a newsletter for university professors. She's published articles on linguistics and intercultural communication, as well as on general magazine topics. Her fiction and nonfiction for young readers has been published in the award-winning e-zine, Stories for Children, and Crow Toes Quarterly has published her ghostly tales. Sliding on the Edge was her first young adult novel, which was followed by this second one, The Princess of Las Pulgas. When she isn't writing, Lee hikes in the mountains in Los Gatos, California.