Some of us have been part of the Mixed-Up Files since the pre-planning stages, and others are much newer. I thought it would be fun to use my post to get to know each other better, and help our readers get to know us, too. So I asked the Mixed-Up Members some questions, and I love their responses—they’re so full of heart and humor.
Before I get to that, I’ll let you know a bit about me. I’ve encountered so many surprises during my writing journey, I could probably write a few posts about them! Instead, I’ll keep it short and list three of them below.
*I’m funny! You probably have no idea how hard that was for me to say. Because I don’t think a lot of people believe that I’m funny. I grew up in a house where my dad and brother both had the same dry sense of humor. And I didn’t have it. So imagine my surprise when I had a full professional critique on the first middle-grade novel manuscript that I wrote—the beginning was pretty serious, but my critiquer LOVED the scenes when a cute guy came into the picture and said that humor seemed like one of my strengths. Wow! I wish I had a picture of my reaction to share with all of you—I bet I looked hilarious. Since then, pretty much all of my manuscripts have been humorous. And I love it! But it’s also kind of scary, because I’ve learned that I need to let the humor flow naturally from me. There is no way to force humor…or it stops being funny.
*It takes most writers way longer to get published than they realize at the beginning of their journey. I honestly had no idea how long it can take. Many authors I know write for years and years before receiving their first book contract. I know quite a few who have written for at least ten years before that magical moment happened for them!
*Being a talented writer isn’t enough—it’s a fantastic place to start, but there’s so much to learn in this business. You always need to dig deeper, learn new techniques, read as many books as you can. It also helps to find fantastic critique partners, a mentor, network with writers and others in publishing. You have to get your manuscript in the best possible shape, until it gleams so brightly, it’s hard to turn down. And even then, you have to make sure it lands in the right place at the right time. You need talent, luck, undying dedication and determination…and you need to make sure that no matter how tough things get, you keep moving forward and never give up.
Now that you’ve had the chance to get to know me a little better, here are the questions I’ve asked the Mixed-Up Members. Enjoy! And let us know if there’s anything else you’d like to know about us, or any middle-grade topic.
Why are middle-grade books so special to you?
Middle-grade books capture the best years of childhood, when kids can think and act for themselves but still believe that anything is possible. ~Elissa Cruz
When I was little, reading was just magic. I would open a book and just get lost – I can remember looking up, blinking, wondering what time it was, not remembering whether I was on the sofa or in bed or what. And it was middle-grade books – Harriet the Spy, The Secret Garden, anything by Roald Dahl – that cast that spell. ~ Michelle Schusterman
I’ve dreamed of being an author since I was 10 years old and wrote a “book” that won a school contest. Making this dream a reality took a long time! When I was in a mother-daughter book club with my daughters, I read middle grade novels and fell in love with their honesty, emotion, and poignancy. It’s a time of life where there are endless possibilities ahead, and I love how kids of this age are trying to figure everything out. ~Michele Weber Hurwitz
I love middle-grade because those books represent the first time I was able to have experiences just for me, as an independent person. While I was very sheltered in many respects, my parents allowed me absolute freedom in the library, and it turned me into a voracious reader. ~Wendy Shang
I vividly remember how important books became to me during those middle years. I could tell you exactly where I was when I read “Little Women” and “The Yearling” and “Mrs. Mike”. I wish I could still immerse myself in a story as completely and obliviously as I did back then. ~Tricia Springstubb
A middle-grade book can make an impression that’s strong enough to last into adulthood. The middle-grade books I remember reading spoke directly to me and what I was going through at the time – straddling that line between the child I was and the adult I longed to become. ~Yolanda Ridge
Middle-grade books deliver that old-fashioned promise of a story for children–real or fantastic, scary or warm–that will always tell the best truth about what it means to be human. ~Jennifer Gennari
The 10-year-old trapped in my head really likes them. ~T.P. Jagger
Do you use your memories, build on what you see happen to the 9 – 12 year olds in your life, or have some other way to relate to this age group?
I take a combo approach–incorporating some of my own childhood memories, drawing from the childhood memories shared by others, and observing children in their natural habitat. The rest I leave up to the 10-year-old in my head. ~T.P. Jagger
A whole lot is definitely based on my own memories, but I was also a middle school band director for four years. And considering my debut series is about middle school band geeks, it’s safe to say those kids, and my experience as a teacher, contributed tons to my characters and their stories! ~ Michelle Schusterman
Yes, yes, and yes! My first book, Trouble in the Trees, was inspired by an 11-year-old friend who was outraged when tree climbing got banned in her townhouse complex. My second book, Road Block, was inspired by a highway that’s been threatening my grandma’s farm for decades – way back to my own middle grade years! I don’t use many of my own experiences to relate to this age group, though, because my memory is really, really terrible. Instead, I rely on the 9-12 year olds I am lucky enough to know today to influence the dialogue, emotion and behavior of my characters. ~Yolanda Ridge
I draw on both my childhood experiences and those of my three kids (I have two daughters and a son). In fact, my younger daughter was 11 at the time I wrote my first middle grade novel, Calli Be Gold, and she was the first person to read it. Her encouragement was something that kept me going and her input was invaluable. ~Michele Weber Hurwitz
Absolutely I do. My memories from being 11 and 12 are more vivid to me than many experiences in adulthood; I remember dealing with bullies, making my mom a birthday cake, roller skating and playing games outside. It’s all very sensorial. ~Wendy Shang
What do you wish you knew when you were the age of our middle-grade readers?
I wish I’d known that, no, I never would look back on the bad stuff and laugh, but yes, I would be able to turn it into stories. ~Tricia Springstubb
Your mind is opening–do not be afraid to ask questions! And sometimes the best answers are in books. So go ahead, escape the pressures of school or home or social media by unplugging with a book. ~Jennifer Gennari
I could write paragraph after paragraph on this, but it’s easy enough to sum up in a brief sentence: “It’s okay to like yourself.” ~ Michelle Schusterman
Actually, the passion and confidence I had at that age are the hardest things I’m trying to retain now. ~Wendy Shang
What has surprised you the most during your writing career?
How many revisions a book goes through! I couldn’t believe how many times I revised Calli Be Gold (seven), but now I know how much better the book is for all those sometimes painful periods of editing. I found it was best to read the edits through when they arrived but then take a few days to digest everything. Another big surprise for me has been how much I enjoy doing school visits by Skype. The kids just think it’s the coolest thing, and their enthusiasm is contagious. ~Michele Weber Hurwitz
I found my tribe! I have never felt more comfortable with a group of people than with other writers. ~Wendy Shang
The different ways in which people can react to the same piece of writing. When you read a book in solitude, there is a tendency to think that your response to it is the same as everyone else. But when you write a book, you really get to see the full range of reaction – from kids, teachers, librarians, parents, editors, publishers, reviewers… people from all walks of life – and I often find myself thinking, “I didn’t know I’d written about that!” ~Yolanda Ridge
My career itself has surprised me! I didn’t even think about becoming a writer till I’d tried so many other jobs. Being able to do this still seems like a great, unexpected gift from the benevolent beyond. ~Tricia Springstubb
What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you during a school or library visit?
Because my first book is about rules, I often ask students to tell me their least favorite rule. Once a boy put up his hand and said “having to be here, listening to you!” I had no idea how to respond so I took a sip of water, trying to buy some time, but then I started to laugh and water came spewing out of my mouth! Exactly like a scene from a middle-grade book – I couldn’t have written it better if I’d tried! ~Yolanda Ridge
Can you share a secret about yourself?
I’m a vegetarian who doesn’t like vegetables! I’d much rather eat bread, cheese and chocolate… I spend hours writing on my treadmill desk just to burn off all my treats! ~Yolanda Ridge
I COULD share, but then it wouldn’t be a secret. But if I DID share, it might involve the third grade, a fear of interrupting my teacher during reading class, and the need to go to the bathroom REALLY bad. And did you know that if you pee on a scuffed wooden floor in an old school building, it can leave quite a stain? ~T.P. Jagger
It’s not exactly a secret, but I’m finally learning to knit and I love it. I was inspired by an interview I did with a librarian who runs a knitting program at her school, and now I’m a knitting fool! I’m working on a Doctor Who hat for my son right now. ~Wendy Shang
I am hopelessly addicted to an embarrassing number of BBC shows. Although that’s not really such a secret. ~Michelle Schusterman
My best ideas often come when I’m away from the computer — on long walks around my neighborhood or just when I’m about to fall asleep! I keep a notepad by my bed and I have a lot of fun trying to decipher my scribbles the next morning. ~Michele Weber Hurwitz
I’m still smiling and laughing after reading these wonderful answers. Thank you so much for sharing some secrets and truths about yourselves!
We’d love to get to know our readers better, too. Please feel free to share some secrets, truths, or anything you’d like to tell us about yourselves and why middle-grade novels are so special to you.
Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her twelve and fifteen year-old daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer pup who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s blog or Twitter to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.