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    April 11, 2014:
    Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Peek
    A peek at forthcoming middle grade books (as well as picture books and YA books) in a round-up from Publisher's Weekly. First printed in the February 22 issue, but now available online. Time to add to your to-read list. Read more ...

    April 9, 2014:
    How many Newbery winners have you read?
    You could make a traditional list of all the Newbery Medal Award-winning Children's Books you've read, but there's something so satisfying when you check them off and get a final tally on this BuzzFeed quiz. Read more ...

    March 28, 2014:
    Middle Grade fiction is hot at 2014 Bologna Children's Book Fair

    For the second year in a row, publishers are clamoring for middle-grade, reporters Publishers Weekly. "I’ve been coming [to Bologna] for 12 to 15 years, and I’ve never had as many European publishers asking for middle-grade," said Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency. Read more ...

    February 14, 2014:
    Cybils Awards announced
    Ultra by David Carroll (Scholastic Canada) wins the Cybil for middle grade fiction; Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (Disney Hyperion) wins for Speculative Fiction. Read more.

    January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
    Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for "Flora & Ulysses"; Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author award for "P.S. Be Eleven." Newbery Honor awards to authors Vince Vawter, Amy Timberlake, Kevin Henkes and Holly Black. For all the exciting ALA Youth Media Award News ... READ MORE

    November 12, 2013:
    Vote in the GoodReads semifinal round

    Readers' votes have narrowed the middle-grade semifinals down to 20 titles. Log in to your GoodReads account and vote for your favorite middle-grade (and in other categories, of course). Read more ...

    November 9, 2013:
    Publishers Weekly Top Children's Books of 2013

    Middle-grade and young adult titles selected by the editors of Publishers Weekly as their top picks of the year. Let the season of "top ten books" begin! Read more ...

    October 14, 2013:
    Middle Shelf: Cool Reads for Kids debuts January 2014

    Shelf Media Group, publisher of Shelf Unbound indie book review magazine, will launch a new free digital-only publication for middle-grade readers. The debut issue features interviews with such notable authors as Margaret Peterson Haddix and Chris Grabenstein as well as reviews, excerpts, and more. Middle Shelf will be published bi-monthly beginning in January 2014.
    Read more ...

    September 19, 2013: Writer-in-Residence program at Thurber House

    Dream of time and space to focus on your own writing project? Applications now being accepted (11/1/2013 deadline) for The Thurber House Residency in Children's Literature, a month-long retreat in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Read more ...

    September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

    Barry Goldblatt Literary launches The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a talent-based grant for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA. Up to two $5,000 grants will be awarded each year. Read more ....

    September 16, 2013:
    National Book Awards longlist for youth literature

    For the first time, the NBA is presenting lists of 10 books/authors on the longlist in each category. The 2013 young adult literature list includes five middle grade novels and five YA. Read more ...

    Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
    Check out Publishers Weekly roundup of upcoming children's books to be published in spring 2014. Read more...

    August 21, 2013:
    Want to be a Cybils Award Judge?

    Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

    August 19, 2013:
    S&S and BN reach a deal
    Readers will soon be able to find books from Simon & Schuster at Barnes & Noble. The bookstore chain was locked in a disagreement with the publisher over how much it was willing to pay for books. Read more ...

    August 6, 2013:
    NPR's 100 Must-Reads for Kids
    NPR's Backseat Book Club asked listeners to nominate their favorite books for readers ages 9 to 14. More than 2,000 people nominated titles, and a panel of Newbery authors brought the list to 100. Most are middle grade books. Read more ...

     
    July 2, 2013:
    Penguin & Random House Merger

    The new company, Penguin Random House, will control more than 25 percent of the trade book market in the United States. On Monday, the newly formed company began to take shape, only hours after a middle-of-the-night announcement that the long-planned merger had been completed. Read more ...

    March 28, 2013: Big at Bologna

     This year at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, the focus has shifted to middle-grade.  “A lot of foreign publishers are cutting back on YA and are looking for middle-grade,” said agent Laura Langlie, according to Publisher's Weekly.  Lighly illustrated or stand-alone contemporary middle-grade fiction is getting the most attention.  Read more...

     

    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

    Check out these titles releasing in March...

     

    March 5, 2013: Catch the BEA Buzz

    Titles for BEA's Editor Buzz panels have been announced.  The middle-grade titles selected are:

    A Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

    Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

    Nick and Tesla's High-Voltages Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

    The Tie Fetch by Amy Herrick

    For more Buzz books in other categories, read more...

     

    February 20, 2013: Lunching at the MG Roundtable 

    Earlier this month, MG authors Jeanne Birdsall, Rebecca Stead, and N.D. Wilson shared insight about writing for the middle grades at an informal luncheon with librarians held in conjunction with the New York Public Library's Children's Literary Salon "Middle Grade: Surviving the Onslaught."

    Read about their thoughts...

     

    February 10, 2013: New Books to Love

    Check out these new titles releasing in February...

     

    January 28, 2013: Ivan Tops List of Winners

    The American Library Association today honored the best of the best from 2012, announcing the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards, along with a host of other prestigious youth media awards, at their annual winter meeting in Seattle.

    The Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Honor books were: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

    The Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award,which honors an author for his or her long-standing contributions to children’s literature, was presented to Katherine Paterson.

    The Pura Belpre Author Award, which honors a Latino author, went to Benjamin Alire Saenz for his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was also named a Printz Honor book and won the Stonewall Book Award for its portrayal of the GLBT experience.

    For a complete list of winners…

     

    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

    Louise Borden's His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, a verse biography of the Swedish humanitarian, has won the Sydney Taylor Award in the middle-grade category. The award is given annually to books of the highest literary merit that highlight the Jewish experience. Aimee Lurie, chair of the awards committee, writes, "Louise Borden's well-researched biography will, without a doubt, inspire children to perform acts of kindness and speak out against oppression."

    For more...

     

    January 17, 2013: Erdrich Wins Second O'Dell

    Louise Erdrich is recipient of the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for her historical novel Chickadee, the fourth book in herBirchbark House series. Roger Sutton,Horn Book editor and chair of the awards committee, says of Chickadee,"The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy." Erdrich also won the O'Dell Award in 2006 for The Game of Silence, the second book in theBirchbark series. 

    For more...

     

    January 15, 2013: After the Call

    Past Newbery winners Jack Gantos, Clare Vanderpool, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, and Laura Amy Schlitz talk about how winning the Newbery changed (or didn't change) their lives in this piece from Publishers Weekly...

     

    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

    One of our Mixed-up Files members may be headed to the movies! Jennifer Nielsen's fantasy adventure novel The False Prince is being adapted for Paramount Pictures by Bryan Cogman, story editor for HBO's Game of Thrones. For more...

     

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The Magic of Middle Grade Writing Partnerships

Inspiration, Writing MG Books

We’ve all heard it said: Writing is a solitary endeavor. Hours in front of the empty screen or page, grappling with one’s own thoughts.

That is, unless you have a writing partner!

Like, say, middle grade writing partners Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, of the Spiderwick Chronicles books. Or Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson of the Peter and the Starcatchers series. Or  Nate Evans, Paul Hindman and Vince Evans of  the Humpty Dumpty Jr.: Hardboiled Detective series. Or the husband-wife team of Jon and Pamela Voelkel of the Jaguar Stones books.

Writing partnerships can be ways to not only beat the loneliness of the writing endeavor, but motivate you to meet deadlines, take more risks in your writing, and challenge yourself to push beyond your literary comfort zones. Writing partners can function like a mirror, reflecting back to you your own strengths and challenging you to address your weaknesses.

But how do writing partnerships work?

Well, I’m not sure how each and every writing partnership works, but what I can do is share here my own story, and that of my writing partner, Karen S. Scott.

Kari and I both grew up in Worthington, Ohio, a suburb outside of Columbus, and became friends in third grade. By the time my family moved away from Ohio, at the end of seventh grade, we were inseparable, more like sisters than friends. And it’s no surprise our friendship was very much based in our mutual love of stories and storytelling.

Fast forward twenty years, two marriages (one each), four kids (two each), graduate school, jobs, houses, lives… And the writing partnership fairy (The WPF to those of you in the know) strikes not once, but a magical three times:

WPF gift #1: Kari finds an old box full of letters from me as a twelve year old to her as a twelve year old. Like a movie, right? Embarassingly, they are addressed to “Rover” and from “Spot.” Don’t ask, I don’t actually remember why.

WPF gift #2: Kari is visiting her friend, Sister Kim King, the nun librarian (I know like a movie, right?), in New York City and we all meet. Over gluten free pancakes, I say, “Hey, we should write a book together.” At Sister Kim’s urging, Kari agrees. (*NB: if a nun librarian suggests you write a book, you best do it, k?*)

WPF gift #3: We start to write an epistolary book together – a book in letters. It’s terrible. Nothing happens. So we decide to write a different book together. Things happen! We write and rewrite it until we’re ready to kill each other! We get an agent!  (what happens next we’re still waiting to find out.)

But now you’re getting cranky, saying I didn’t actually answer my question about how to make writing partnerships work.

Well, true to partnership form, I thought I’d let you in on a few partnership secrets with Kari’s help. From now on, if it’s written in bold, it’s written by her.

1.     Who: Choose your Writing Partner Wisely.

A friend, a colleague, someone whose writing skills and temperament compliment yours, but most importantly, someone with whom you have fun and respect!

And certainly someone with a great sense of humor! Your partner should be honest – able to tell you honestly when you suck and when you shine. She should also be willing to hear the same sorts of things from you. It is a 2-way street. Sure…the occasional road block will get thrown in your way. I’d be grumpy or out of sorts and not really want to hear how my dialog was unnatural or how I’d forgotten totally about some huge plot point that I just dropped and let lie there (road kill of the writing process!). But having a partner who was willing to put up with the road blocks and plow through them with me was the best!

“It was an instant click…when we met… it was inevitable we’d be doing something together” Tony DiTerlizzi about his partner Holly Black.

2.     What: What sort of project

Kari and I began to write because we wanted to reconnect, but also because we were inspired by the letters she found. In the end, a letter based novel didn’t work out, but we were so committed to the writing process already that we kept going!

Yeah…that epistolary dream novel didn’t quite work the way we thought it would. But we were on a roll! We had a story to tell and wanted to get it out there. After the letter plan fell flat, we tossed other project ideas around. For a while, we thought we’d each adopt a character and write alternating chapters from our characters’ POVs, but that didn’t quite work the way we thought it would either. Did we give up! NO! Kept writing, kept thinking, kept dreaming and trying to tell our story together. Eventually, we found our footing and wrote an Indiana Jones meets Nancy Drew and they partay with Scooby Doo mystery together, working  as a team on every chapter (every line!) of the manuscript.

“I said I’m thinking of writing a prequel to Peter Pan… and his eyes went ‘what’?” Ridley Pearson about his writing partner, Dave Barry.

3.  When: Meet on a regular basis, But be Flexible.

There was a while there we ‘met’ every Sunday, but emailed several times over the week to catch up on what each of us were doing. Of course, other times, kids were sick, or work was busy, and one of picked up when the other one couldn’t follow through. A partnership is a good way to keep your writing on track, and not to let other priorities take over!

These meetings were the best. For me, they kept me on task, gave me deadlines to work toward, and kept me from doing dishes or laundry instead of writing. (I’m a great procrastinator …and will follow any shiny red ball that bounces through my field of vision if it means I can put off what I know I need to be doing!) I do think it helped make our partnership stronger, too, in that we both were willing and able to spot one another during tough weeks. There’s nothing like a partner who says, “I’ll take care of chapter 4! No worries!” when both of your kids are sick and your full time job just turned into a full time pain!

4.     Where:  Meetings in Cyberspace!

Even though we live in different states, we ‘met’ every week via Skype, and we often wrote online together using Mikogo and other online collaboration tools.

I work for a technology/software company, so I was familiar with online meeting tools and methods we could use to share our files and even our desktops to help with editing. It was sometimes a technology challenge to keep the different tools all running over our internet connections (some of them are “resource hogs”) but we managed. We could see each other via video on Skype, but would turn off the video and share our files with Mikogo – which allowed us to even edit the file on the fly together. Thank heavens for technology!

“We usually let the characters solve the plot disagreements.  Of all the possible things that could happen, only a few will be true to character.” Jon and Pamela Voelkel on their writing partnership.

5.  How: Splitting Up the Writing

Our Skype meetings were often to discuss plot and character development. And a thorough outline of the entire project was really useful since there were two of us working on the book. But sometimes inspiration happened and one or the other of us would ‘discover’ something unexpected about the plot or characters while writing. This was where the flexibility came in.

We would agree during our meetings on the goals for the week. I’d take chapter 3 and she’d take chapter 4, for instance. Once we had a solid rough draft of our “homework”, we’d send it along via email so the other could read through. We’d edit, red-line, cut, paste, cut some more, add chunks, comment like crazy when we really liked something (or really didn’t!) and generally tear up that draft.  Then we’d send it back and forth some more, each time adding more layers of comments and edits.

Typically, I’d say we’d send the “in progress” chapter back and forth more than a few times (heck—more than a dozen, sometimes!) before we’d agree to turn off the edits and take a look at the new version. I’d comment on Sayantani’s work; she’d comment on mine…often our comments contradicted each other, but in the end, we both knew the writing was stronger because both of our heads…both of our voices…both of our storytelling selves were present in the drafts. It was a good way to work.

“Most of the time when we disagreed about something, it would become a third thing that was better than either one of our positions.” Holly Black about her writing partner, Tony DiTerlizzi

In the end, our very own middle grade friendship, so central to who we became as adults, grew into a partnership. I, for one, feel like perhaps we were destined to tell stories for other middle graders. We were able to collaborate, negotiate, discover stories to tell together, challenge each other and laugh. A lot! And here’s a beautiful thing: We finished a book together! What else could you ask for in a partner?

Please help us add to our list of magical middle grade writing partners below — or leave some tips and advice from your own writing partnership!

[All covers above courtesy of indiebound. The photo of Kari and myself, circa 1980, is courtesy of my mom!]

One of Mixed-Up Files Member Sayantani DasGupta’s favorite things to do as a child was to read and act-out myths with her best friend Kari. (She was usually Artemis, and Kari Athena!) Many years later, Sayantani co-wrote “The Demon Slayers and Other Stories: Bengali Folktales,” and her middle grade collaboration with Kari is based on Indian myths. You can learn more about her mythical obsessions at her blog or website.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Liana  •  Feb 7, 2011 @12:33 am

    great post. writing partnerships… hard work. I’m glad you two worked it out. I lived in Dublin btw. Not too far from Worthington!

  2. Bruce Frost  •  Feb 7, 2011 @10:06 am

    Very interesting article. Always wondered about the process. Seems like a real adventure in writing with many rewards.

  3. Rosanne Parry  •  Feb 7, 2011 @11:08 am

    My fav hometown writing team are the brother and sister pair Matt and Jennifer Holm. They collaborate on the Baby Mouse series.

    For another interesting collaboration, take a look at Click a book written by twelve authors and done as a benefit for Amnesty International. Each author took a chapter, building on past story lines and introducing their own ideas. Fascinating!

  4. Diana Greenwood  •  Feb 7, 2011 @5:27 pm

    Great post and love that pic of the two of you! I have tossed around the idea of partnering on a project and it seems as if it boils down to trust, which you two nailed. Best of luck on future books.

  5. Kimberley Griffiths Little  •  Feb 7, 2011 @5:28 pm

    What a fascinating article, Sayantani – I loved reading it! You two sound like a great match and SUPER fun! Thanks for letting us peek into the process. With all the online tools these days, I’ll bet we see more and more writing partnerships springing up.

    I wrote a partial of a book with two local writing friends several years ago. We were all down in the dumps over our stalled careers (we all had books out, but were switching agents at the time and were orphaned by our editors) and one day while meeting for breakfast, we started throwing out funny story lines and characters based on current research we were doing, mixing it all up. We ended up taking notes, giggling like mad, and a fun MG story was born, each of us taking a character that would be a great foil to the others. Three thirteen year old girls. “On Location in Egypt: How I Met the Queen of Sheba During Spring Break” was born, but very sadly, one of our threesome passed away after battling breast cancer for 12 years, so the project got shelved, as well as the two of us left went on to acquire new agents and sell new manuscripts of our own. But I still think about that project some days. Maybe we’ll get back to it sometime in the future!

  6. Akoss  •  Feb 8, 2011 @8:58 am

    This is interesting and humbling. Maybe someday I will get to experience that partnership as well.
    Thank you for this great article.

  7. Laurie Schneider  •  Feb 9, 2011 @12:38 am

    I’ve always wanted to try this! Thanks for the great post.

  8. Sayantani DasGupta  •  Feb 9, 2011 @7:36 pm

    Thanks all for the great comments – Kimberley I hope you do get back to that book – it sounds wonderful! Rosanne I’ll definitely look up “Click” sounds great… Happy writing all!