• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Giveaways > The Marble Queen – Interview with Stephanie J. Blake
  • OhMG! News


    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,


    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...


  • Subscribe!

    Get email updates:

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

The Marble Queen – Interview with Stephanie J. Blake

Giveaways, Interviews, Writing MG Books

For the past seven years, I’ve been celebrating the highs and lows of writing with my friend, Stephanie J. Blake. I’ll never forget the day she took us all by surprise and announced her book deal, not too long after she had announced that she was taking a break from writing to try out some other ventures. Most of us travel a bumpy road to publication and we learn to accept that the bumps are just part of the process. But Stephanie’s writing travels have been filled with twists and turns, and even an occasional cliffhanger.

At last, I am excited that we are now here to talk about Steph’s arrival at her first destination, a debut novel titled The Marble Queen, published by Amazon Children’s Publishing. The following description comes from Amazon.

Freedom Jane McKenzie isn’t good at following the rules. She doesn’t like any of the things that girls are supposed to like. She’s good at fishing, getting into trouble—and playing marbles. All she wants is to enter the marble competition at the Autumn Jubilee and show the boys in the neighborhood that she’s the best player. If she can’t be the Marble King, then she’ll be the Marble Queen. First, Freedom has to convince her mother to let her enter. But there’s a new baby on the way, Freedom’s daddy is drinking too much, her little brother is a handful, and her mother is even more difficult than usual. Freedom learns that when it comes to love, friendship, and family, sometimes there are no rules. Set in 1959, The Marble Queen is a timeless story about growing up.

Welcome to The Mixed-Up Files, Steph! Before we talk about your journey to publication, I’d like to know a little more about The Marble Queen which takes place in 1959. What kind of research did you do to learn about what life would be like for a young girl during that time?

Since 1922, hundreds of kids have competed (and still do) in the National Marbles Tournament, now held in Wildwood, New Jersey. Mibsters can win prizes and college scholarships. How cool is that?  I was inspired to write The Marble Queen after reading an article about a group of old men who were crowned Marble Kings as children. These men felt that playing marbles had changed their lives for the better. In 1948, sponsors started crowning a boy and a girl. A book idea was born. One problem, I knew virtually nothing about marble shooting. I took some liberties with the time frame in the book because I wanted to explore the gender roles of girls and women during the late fifties. I had a lot of fun teaching myself how to shoot and play Ringer, the marble game featured in the book. I’ve been collecting marbles from antique stores. I also learned a lot about the fifties. I ate SPAM. I watched tons of old commercials and television shows. I listened to Elvis.

Was the character of Freedom based on anyone you know?

The main character, Freedom, is the daughter I’ll never have, and she is a bit like me when I was a kid—independent, stubborn, strong-willed. The incident in church with the thimble is familiar. My mother used to thump us when we acted up. Also, I actually fed my little brother a worm once. We were going to name our last child Freedom Jane, but he happened to be a boy.

How did you know you were meant to be a writer?

In 6th grade, I decided I was going to become a writer. I kept a journal and read everything I could get my hands on. In high school, I had reported news and sports for my hometown newspaper. My first college major was journalism. I fancied myself the next Dianne Sawyer. I got a B.A. in English. My first creative publication credit was a poem in the college literary magazine. My father couldn’t understand why I didn’t get a teaching certificate. I told him I was going to be a writer! And I was/am. I wrote employee handbooks and policies & procedures for several years in the telecom field. I also worked on short stories and poetry. A few years into staying home with my boys, I started a cheesy romance novel, but quickly abandoned it for picture books. In 2006, I got serious about publication. Wrote a novel for middle grade boys. Came close, had an agent, but no offers.

Was there ever a moment when you thought you’d made a mistake about choosing to write?

I had just finished a new manuscript (ironically it was The Marble Queen), when I was abruptly dumped by my first agent. I worked with two other agents on another manuscript over two years, but nothing happened.

Agent after agent rejected The Marble Queen—17 in all. “Too quiet.” 13 publishers rejected it. I figured it was never going to happen for me. I gave up, went back to school, and earned a phlebotomy certificate. I was working at a hospital, drawing blood, when I got an offer on The Marble Queen.  The manuscript had been in a slush pile for a year! I quit that job two weeks later and haven’t looked back.

What has been one of the highest moments in your writing career?

The absolute best day was “The Call!” Of course, there have been some fairly awesome days since…depositing the advance check, squealing over cover art, seeing the printed ARC, seeing the pre-order go up on Amazon, and I’m starting to plan the launch party.

What has been one of the lowest moments?

Oh, the agony of trying to get published; don’t we all know it well? Honestly, some of my biggest challenges to date happened during revisions. I cried, I ranted, I worried, but it’s made the book stronger.

You strike me as a really strong-willed and tough person, a lot like your character Freedom. During the moments when the business side of writing becomes a drag, how do you stay motivated?

Well, thank you. I am unagented right now, so I’m going at this next part of the journey alone. I have not been assigned a publicist or given a big marketing plan, but I was given 25 ARC’s, and I am trying to place each one where it will get the most bang for its buck. I have created a school visit packet, a book club packet, bookmarks, bookplates, a website, etc. I have reached out to my local bookstores, libraries, and local media outlets.

I don’t write every day, but I do try to “work” an hour or so a day, whether it’s catching up on Facebook or Twitter, reading, research, etc. I need to get better at turning off the noise of the internet. I work better on deadline right now.

Your book was originally sold in June 2010 to Robin Benjamin at Marshall Cavendish. Then, in December, Marshall Cavendish was bought out by Amazon Publishing. Can you tell us what that process was like and what it means to you and The Marble Queen?

I found out along with the rest of the world that my original publisher had sold its children’s titles to Amazon. My heart fell out of my butt, if you want the truth. I was afraid that my little book would be swallowed whole by a big corporation. Turns out, the only thing that has really changed is the name of the publishing company. I don’t know what any of it means, except that the book will also be available for the Kindle, as well as hardcover and audio. I hope the book will be reviewed and makes its way into bookstores, but I don’t know, yet.

Do you have plans for your next book?

My editor is reading my option book, a contemporary middle grade with touches of magical realism. I’m keeping that one a secret for now. The main character’s name is Liberty. I am also working on a companion novel to The Marble Queen, which will be little sister Barbara’s story, set in 1971.

When can we get our hands on The Marble Queen?

Amazon is releasing all three versions on December 18, 2012: Hardcover, audio, and Kindle. They are available for pre-order. www.themarblequeen.com

To celebrate my birthday, Sept 24th, I would like to give away one Marble Queen ARC to a random commenter below.

That’s awesome! It’s your birthday and you’re offering our readers a chance at a free gift. Thanks, Steph. And thanks for dropping by for an interview. I hope you have a fantastic birthday!

So, readers, like Stephanie said, leave a comment below and I will draw a random name for an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) of The Marble Queen. The winner will be announced on Sunday, September 30.



  1. Kim Murray  •  Sep 24, 2012 @5:46 am

    Happy birthday Stephanie! Thanks for sharing your road-to-publication story. Your book sounds wonderful and I cant wait to read it. Freedom – what a great character name!

  2. Tracy Abell  •  Sep 24, 2012 @8:01 am

    Thank you both for this insightful interview. I’m looking forward to reading The Marble Queen and am so darned proud of you for forging your own path, Steph.

    Congratulations again and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

  3. Karen B. Schwartz  •  Sep 24, 2012 @8:15 am

    This story sound so interesting. I didn’t know they had Marble Kings and Queens and scholarships for it. So cool. I look forward to reading it. And happy birthday!!!

  4. Jodi Moore  •  Sep 24, 2012 @9:32 am

    Stephanie, YOUR story (journey) is an inspiration to us all. Can’t wait to read your book! Congratulations and have an amazing birthday! Hugs!!!

  5. Katia Raina  •  Sep 24, 2012 @12:07 pm

    Oh, Stephanie, as someone who blogs about contemporary historical ficiton (among other things), I’d long wanted to get my hands on that shiny ARC! Congrats — I’m sure we’ll be hearing more good things from you :)


  6. Jill  •  Sep 24, 2012 @2:29 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story. It’s great to see a real person behind the pen :)
    You got offer of publication without an agent? I didn’t know that stuff could happen (I’m not up to speed on publishing business….yet).
    Congratulations, I really admire your perserverance and seeing the real journey in the writer!

  7. Michelle Schusterman  •  Sep 24, 2012 @5:51 pm

    Very inspiring story, Stephanie. And CONGRATS on the deal! This sounds like a fantastic story.

  8. Linda Andersen  •  Sep 24, 2012 @6:11 pm


    You have had quite an interesting journey to publication. I’m so glad you hung in there. Congratulations! I am also glad to hear that a novel set in the 50s made it to publication. Please enter me in the birthday giveaway. Thank you. My wish for you–a published book for each candle.


  9. KatherineR  •  Sep 24, 2012 @6:46 pm

    Happy birthday! I’ve been following your story on Verla’s very inspiring!

  10. Shari Green  •  Sep 24, 2012 @7:04 pm

    Happy birthday, Stephanie! Enjoyed the interview. :) I’m so happy for you that THE MARBLE QUEEN found a good home! And thanks for sharing your story…you probably know I’ve been following along for a good long while now, lol. So thrilled for you!

  11. PragmaticMom  •  Sep 24, 2012 @7:55 pm

    A quiet book… I like the sound of it. Reminds me of Because of Winn Dixie, perhaps? (My all time favorite book ever!). Excited to read it!

  12. Jennifer Duddy Gill  •  Sep 24, 2012 @9:49 pm

    I’ll let Stephanie know you all have commented and sent birthday wishes. Today she’s probably is too busy riding her new birthday bicycle to stop by.

    I’m glad you all liked the interview! Her journey is very inspiring and I think so many of us can relate to the struggles. And I agree with you, Pragmatic Mom, I am a fan of books that other people refer to as quiet. Give us more quiet books!

  13. Stephanie  •  Sep 24, 2012 @10:06 pm

    Thanks all for the awesome well-wishes and for reading and commenting on my interview. I wish each of you the best of luck on your publishing journey! It only takes ONE YES!

  14. Llehn  •  Sep 24, 2012 @10:12 pm

    Happy birthday, Stephanie! Am rooting for you girl!

  15. Deb Marshall  •  Sep 26, 2012 @10:29 am

    So glad the release date of this one is getting closer. Been looking forward to it for a long time and congrats to Stephanie for staying on this journey, this path…! A belated Happy Birthday

    p.s. man oh man I miss you marvelous mixed-ups. looking forward to catching up with all of you and the blog!!