• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Learning Differences > Interview with A.J. Hartley
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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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Interview with A.J. Hartley

Learning Differences

Today, I am excited to interview A.J. Hartley regarding his first M.G. novel Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact.  But, as you most likely know, AJ is not new to writing great books!

(AJ Hartley) has an M.A. and Ph.D. in English literature from Boston University and is currently the Distinguished Professor of Shakespeare in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. As well as being a novelist and academic, he is a screenwriter, theatre director and dramaturg (and has a book explaining what that is). Other credits include, The Mask of Atreus, On the Fifth Day, What Time Devours, to name a few.  He has more hobbies than is good for anyone, and treats ordinary things like sport and food and beer with a reverence which borders on mania. He is married with a son, and lives in Charlotte.

Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact is about Eleven-year-old Darwen Arkwright, who has spent his whole life in a tiny town in England. So when he is forced to move to Atlanta, Georgia, to live with his aunt, he knows things will be different – but what he finds there is beyond even his wildest imaginings!

Darwen discovers an enchanting world through the old mirror hanging in his closet – a world that holds as many dangers as it does wonders. Scrobblers on motorbikes with nets big enough to fit a human boy. Gnashers with no eyes, but monstrous mouths full of teeth. Flittercrakes with bat-like bodies and the faces of men. Along with his new friends Rich and Alexandra, Darwen becomes entangled in an adventure and a mystery that involves the safety of his entire school. They soon realize that the creatures are after something in our world – something that only human children possess.

Ohhh, sounds great!  Let’s jump in. You normally write for adults. What was the spark that started you on the path to writing Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact??

A combination of factors, really, probably largest of which was that my son (who is now 9) had reached the age when he was starting to devour middle grade books. I found—as I’m sure many parents do—that not only did I want to write something for him, but that I found myself remembering my own childhood through him, as it were. Suddenly I could recall the way I saw the world then because I could see it all being played out again in him. I also remembered the kind of thrill I got from reading back then and found myself hankering both to give other kids the same experience I had, and to get back to those kinds of stories from the standpoint of what I had becomes since, a writer.

What was the timeline from conception to publication?

Once I had committed to the book, the first draft came fairly quickly—less than three months—but I took another couple of months to revise it, another couple for my agent to find the right slot in the publishing calendar to submit it, another couple to sell it. Razorbill bought it and committed to a fall 2011 release which, being about 18 months away, seemed a very long time indeed. All told it was about a two and a half year process.

Were there any aspects that varied between writing this and writing your previous books? Any surprises along the way?

It took me a while to relax into the voice and I spent a lot of time agonizing over whether or not I was pitching the narrative at the right reading level. I got advice from several people (including R.L. Stine) that convinced me that to consciously lower the bar would be patronizing to my readers and would significantly reduce the richness of the story. From that point on, with few exceptions, I told the story in the way that felt most natural and stopped worrying about reader demographics and levels of vocabulary.

As to surprises, I guess it should be obvious, but I found (to my great relief and excitement) that things I’d learned before writing adult fiction about pacing, about writing suspense scenes (for instance) all applied just as well to writing for younger readers.

 Speaking of process, do you outline or dive right in?  Write linearly or skip around?  Does it vary from book to book? 

I used to be a pantser (writing by the seat of my pants). I told myself it was the best, most organic way to allow the story to evolve. With hindsight I think that some of this was just a desire to get into the writing which is the part I like and not worry so much about planning things out. Pure pantsing, when you really don’t know what is going to happen next, may work for some people, though they have to have some very special talents, not least of which is the ability to edit themselves ruthlessly. I find that very difficult, and it can be months, even years, before I can clearly see what a book really needs and, more to the point, what it really doesn’t. I returned to a book I couldn’t sell a couple of years ago and took out 22,000 words in a single pass. That’s clearly a bad sign, doubly so since almost half of that came from the first hundred pages. The book didn’t know what it was going to be and it took me far too long to get the necessary emotional distance from it to edit it adequately. I’m now a committed plotter. I don’t do extensive breakdowns (the whole outline is usually only about 5 pages) and I don’t follow it slavishly, particularly if I discover things in the writing of the actual book that suggest a shift in tone or direction. Nothing is written in stone, but I think that writers who don’t operate with any kind of outline are ultimately making their job harder.

What was your favorite thing about writing for this age group?

I like not having to worry about certain kinds of realism or following a set of genre expectations. So long as the story is coherent and makes sense according to its own logic, I figure my readership will roll with it. That’s very liberating.

Will you be writing other books for your middle grade audience?

Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact is the first of at least three books in this series (the next two coming out about a year apart). I’ve also finished the first draft of a ghost story which I think will be closer to YA than middle grade. I love writing for this age group and hope I can do it for many years to come.

What was your favorite book when you were 12??

My memory is a little fuzzy as to exactly when I read it, but I think it may well have been The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. I read a lot of P.G. Wodehouse too, but I suspect I was a year or two older than twelve when I discovered him.

What else do we have to look forward to from A.J. Hartley?

My novelization of Macbeth (co-written with David Hewson) which was released this summer as an audiobook voiced by Alan Cumming will go into print in the spring (and if you’re a Shakespeare fan you might keep an eye open for my upcoming performance history of Julius Caesar!). As far as fiction is concerned, there will—as I say—be two more Darwen books, and I hope to finish up that ghost story. After that, I have no idea. The very uncertainty of it all is quite thrilling.

Wow!  We have a lot to look forward to.  You are prolific!  Is there any advice you can give to aspiring writers of varying ages? 

Read constantly. Write fast and often. Write the kind of book you want to read. When you have a draft, read it aloud to yourself slowly pausing over every phrase, every word to make sure they are exactly right and doing all they can do for the moment. Never get so preoccupied with the market, with large scale ideas, or with plot that you forget that books are finally about characters or that their medium is words.

AJ, It’s been a pleasure!  Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

Erin E. Moulton graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2007. She is the author of Flutter: The Story of Four Sisters and One Incredible Journey(Philomel 2011), and Tracing Stars, forthcoming from Philomel/Penguin in 2012.  You can visit her online at www.erinemoulton.com or on Facebook as Erin E. Moulton (Author)

 

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