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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,


    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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How do you start writing?

Authors, Inspiration, Writing MG Books

Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.
– Gene Fowler

Whether you’re writing a cover letter for your job application, an essay for school, or a blog post about middle-grade books, you know the feeling of staring at a blank screen or an empty white page, waiting for the words to come. Sure, there are moments when writing flows easily and the author loses herself in the rush, but that is not usually the case for those first words. In fact, for me, the first words are always the hardest.

I have a good friend named Meghan. She is brilliant and always full of funny anecdotes and worldwide trivia. Whenever I have a conversation with Meghan I make sure I have pencil and paper handy because inevitably she will share some valuable tidbit with me which will then inspire a story. In fact, it was Meghan who first introduced me to historical figure, Alferd Packer, Colorado’s infamous cannibal from the 1870’s. Packer became the star of my forthcoming novel, The Secret of Ferrell Savage.

So, in answering my own question, “How do you start a book?” I start by having a stimulating conversation with someone like Meghan who can get my brain rolling. Then I sit down and start throwing words on the computer screen. I try not to worry too much at first about making the writing beautiful because that’s what revision is for. And revision, well, there’s a good topic for another post.

I’m always fascinated by other writers’ styles and methods and I am curious to hear the personal story behind the written story. So for today’s post, I asked my fellow Mixed-Up Files authors how they start their novels. These are the answers they gave me.

Katherine Schlick Noe

I don’t feel that I start my books — it’s more like they start themselves.  My first novel, Something to Hold, is inspired by my life living on Indian reservations in Washington and Oregon. It grew out of a question I’ve been asked repeatedly by other non-Indians:  What was it like living on reservations when you’re not Native? After thinking about that question for my entire adult life, I finally started writing about 15 years ago.  I began with memories of living at Warm Springs, Oregon during those formative years between seven and twelve — things that had happened to me in a reservation school where I was one of 17 non-Indian students.  I wrote in episodes which gradually morphed into the thread of the novel as it exists today. I’m now working on a second book, entirely different, that began with a hazy image of a teen leaning on the railing that rings the loading platform of the Monorail, that icon of the 1962 World’s Fair at Seattle Center.  I couldn’t see her face, but I knew right away that something was terribly wrong.  When she suddenly started to tell me her story, I had to start writing.


Laurie Schneider

How I Start a Book…

Light incense to invoke the muse and then stare at the screen until the blood drips from my forehead—or until I hear voices.

Okay. I lied about the muse and the blood. My stories have come from various places:

The story I’m working on now came from a childhood memory triggered by an essay on  Bruce Black’s wonderful Wordswimmer blog. Another was inspired by a funny situation spun off from something that happened to my son. My first was inspired by a place my great grandparents once lived. Other stories have seemed to come from nowhere — a line pops out of my head and into a notebook and it’s my task to discover who said it and why.

The next step is to immerse myself in research, bookmarking sites, taking page after page of notes, and generally procrastinating as long as possible until I’m so disgusted with myself that I have to sit down and write. Also, starting a book requires lots of coffee.


Jennifer Nielsen

In my writing, I tend to start with a basic plot concept – a one or two sentence idea of what the story could be about. But the way I decide if the concept really has enough legs for a full-length book is to look for the main character, because they are the ones who will really shape the story and give it life. Once I have my hero, I have my story.

Karen B. Schwartz

Character first. Love my characters. I usually come up with a strong, quirky female heroine and then come up with a situation to throw her in that will have her flailing about until she ultimately learns/grows enough to come out on top again.


Rosanne Parry

The book that made me a writer was the one my student’s needed to read and couldn’t find. In my first year of teaching my Quinault students asked why, even when the book had a Native American protagonist, the story was never about them. We had a long and very interesting (at least to me) conversation about why it was important for them to have a book about their tribe specifically. I never forgot and when about 10 years later I saw the Makah resume their traditional whale hunting rights–rights they’d voluntarily given up 70 years before–I knew I had the premise for a great cultural survival story. So I worked and researched and reworked and consulted with the Quinault and Makah and thirteen years later, I was able to place Written in Stone with my editor at Random House.  It will be out in June and here is the gorgeous cover they gave me!



Michele Weber Hurwitz

I start with a character, a feeling for his or her voice, and an opening line. I have found that a character comes to me when I’m least expecting it. Before I sit down to write, I definitely need to let the character roam around in my head for a while. I walk, think, scribble notes, have imaginary conversations…almost like I’m getting to know a new friend and finding out his or her story. My first middle grade novel, Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House 2011)is about a quiet girl in a loud, intense, overachieving family. I had been thinking about Calli’s emotions for a while, so when I sat down to write, the story just poured out of my heart!



Tracy Abell

How do I start a book? Every story start is different, as is every drafting and revision process. I keep thinking I’ve found the magic formula forFletcher   Tracy MUF vlog photo 014 original writing and polishing a novel, but then the next manuscript unfolds in a whole different way. One book came to be because of a character who had an unusual gift, and another story came about after years of volunteer work in a certain setting. I had one idea come to me in the night and then revisit me months later after I hadn’t taken action (I’m still struggling to write that one). I wrote a book based on a photograph, and brainstormed another narrator specifically for series potential. See? No method to my madness.


Yolanda Ridge

Plot ideas come easily to me (from listening to the news, watching my kids interact with their friends, standing in line at the grocery store…) but I always start with character.  If I can’t visualize the main character or imagine having a conversation with them, the story never gets written – no matter how much I am enticed by the potential plot!  The first thing I do is a character profile.  I can write without an outline but I can’t write without a character profile.  For me, knowing and understanding the character is essential to creating the right voice and giving them control over how the story will unfold.  From there, it’s just blood, sweat, and word count.


T. P. Jagger

I am definitely a get-an-idea-for-a-first-line-and-start-writing-and-see-where-the-story-leads kind of guy. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever started a manuscript for which I had a clear idea of where it was headed. I usually just hope I’ll find a clue within the first chapter or two. If I make it to Chapter Ten and remain ignorant of where I’m headed, that’s when I start to worry.

An example of my patent-pending, I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing-but-I-don’t-care approach is the excerpt below, which just spewed itself into my computer earlier this evening:

I’d probably have an easier time solving all my problems if I weren’t so stupid. But I am stupid. Which is a problem all by itself. I know about the me being stupid part because that’s what people have been telling me since I got smart enough to know what stupid means.

No, I don’t know where those lines are headed. I don’t even know how old the storyteller is or what he looks like or where he lives or what his family’s like or whether he really is “stupid” by the world’s standards. But I sure am looking forward to finding out.


Jennifer Gennari

Starting a book is always about finding the emotional core. What did I observe/experience/imagine? How can I build a story about that true and human feeling we all experience at one time or another? Once an emotion is found I begin to build the character in my head. And then I write a poem in the voice of the main character, to encapsulate the emotional nugget that is her or his problem. From there, I think, what happens to make this character feel that way? I don’t have much free time, so the story is a puzzle I will turn over and over as I commute to work or right before I drift off. I write story arcs (Yes! this one is it!) and then later reject it for one reason or another. And from there, you know it’s all about hands on the keyboard! Just start writing. Lately, I’ve been giving myself permission to audition the characters–writing scenes that are just trial runs.


Tricia Springstubb

A strong sense of place is always important to me. All of us have at least one place deeply, powerfully, evocatively imprinted on us. We carry it with us all our lives. Setting for me is not just background, but a character itself. Like most kids, my characters don’t get to choose where they live, but their communities have a big impact on them. So once I know my setting, off I go! Right now I’m at work on a middle grade novel set on a tiny island in Lake Erie. My desk is heaped with bits of Lake Erie limestone and fossils!fox st cvr rev2


Bev Patt

I think stories come to us in different ways. For me, most of my stories start out with an issue or topic that interests me. With my first novel, HAVEN, the issue was the unfairness of the foster care system in the 1980s. In BEST FRIENDS FOREVER it was the unfairness of the internment of Japanese Americans. (Gee, as I’m writing this, I see I tend to write about unfairness!) In my latest Work In Progress, it started with my interest in a famous person in the 1890s (not saying who! Bad juju and all that;) and how she may have been misjudged (ha! more unfairness!). I usually read up on the subject, take notes and then do a lot of free writing in a notebook – interviewing my characters, plot ideas, scene lists, etc. When I get so excited that I just can’t stand it, I start the ‘official’ writing on my laptop. But it is never a smooth road, no matter how much pre-writing I do – lots of false starts, re-imagining, re-visioning. Lots of going back and doing more free writing!


If you want to know more about the writers at From the Mixed-Up Files, take a look at our Author Bios.

Now it’s your turn! Tell us in the comments how YOU start writing your projects. We’d love to hear.

Jennifer Duddy Gill is the author of The Secret of Ferrell Savage, Atheneum (Simon & Schuster), February, 2014.



  1. Michele Weber Hurwitz  •  Dec 19, 2012 @2:43 pm

    Great post Jennifer! It’s so fun and inspiring to hear other authors’ perspectives!

  2. Jennifer Duddy Gill  •  Dec 19, 2012 @5:29 pm

    I’m inspired too, Michele! Look at how differently we all approach those dreaded beginnings.

  3. tricia  •  Dec 19, 2012 @6:29 pm

    Thanks for letting me chime in here. Fascinating to see the different responses–hooray, no wrong answers to this question!

  4. Laurie Beth Schneider  •  Dec 19, 2012 @9:39 pm

    Fun to read everyone’s responses. It would be interesting to hear what it’s like for authors who write in a series — or do work for hire. How do they get and stay inspired….

  5. Dianna Winget  •  Dec 20, 2012 @9:02 am

    Great post! I normally don’t like it when people ask where I get my ideas for stories because often times I’m honestly not sure of the answer. For me, ideas are a little like dreams, they come to mind in hazy bits and pieces. But I can relate to TP’s comment about a character speaking a line of dialogue. I can often hear the mc’s voice before I’ve actually created her (or him).

    Jennifer Duddy Gill Reply:

    @Dianna Winget, I know what you mean about hearing the voice before the character is fully formed. I sort of become the character but it takes a while to find out what I look like or what my past is.

    T. P. Jagger Reply:

    I’m glad I’m not alone in the clueless, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants beginnings! Springing from the story excerpt included in my portion of the post, I’ve just now started exploring the character a bit more to get a feel for who he really is. It’s an exciting (and curious) process! :)

    -T. P. Jagger

  6. Tracy Abell  •  Dec 20, 2012 @9:25 am

    I love Karen’s answer: characters first.
    No hesitation.

    What’s wrong with her?!

    Jennifer Duddy Gill Reply:

    @Tracy Abell, I always like Karen’s voice too. Now I think I understand why.

    Tracy Abell Reply:

    @Jennifer Duddy Gill, Yep. Karen knows her characters.

  7. PragmaticMom  •  Dec 20, 2012 @9:10 pm

    Wonderful and inspiring to hear how you start a book ladies and gent! Thanks for sharing!

    Jennifer Duddy Gill Reply:

    @PragmaticMom, I’m glad you enjoyed it! :)