• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Giveaways > School for S.P.I.E.S–Giveaway and Interview with Bruce Hale
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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:
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    February 14, 2014:
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    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:
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    October 14, 2013:
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    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

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    Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
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    August 21, 2013:
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    Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

    August 19, 2013:
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    July 2, 2013:
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    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

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    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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School for S.P.I.E.S–Giveaway and Interview with Bruce Hale

Giveaways, Interviews, Writing MG Books

I’m thrilled to welcome author Bruce Hale back to the Mixed-Up Files. He’s one of the funniest and most entertaining people I’ve ever met. He’s been busy since his last Mixed-Up Files interview. Today, we’re celebrating the launch of Playing With Fire, the first book in his newest series, School for S.P.I.E.S.

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Bruce Hale and his School for S.P.I.E.S. editor, Stephanie Lurie.

Juvenile delinquent and budding pyromaniac Max Segredo belongs in juvie hall. At least, that’s what his most recent foster family would tell you. Instead, Max ends up on the doorstep of Merry Sunshine Orphanage-their very heavily guarded doorstep. As he begins to acclimate to his new home, Max learns a few things straightaway: first, cracking a Caesar Cipher isn’t as hard as it seems; second, never sass your instructor if she’s also holding throwing knives; and third, he may not be an orphan after all.

I love Playing With Fire! How did you come up with the idea for your School for S.P.I.E.S. series?

PLAYING WITH FIRE represents the coming-together of several ideas and loves.  First, ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved spy stories.  James Bond, Get Smart, The Bourne Identity, Mission: Impossible — all these and more inspired me to want to write a spy story myself.

Second, I had a yoga teacher in Hawaii who was like the ultimate drill sergeant — crusty on the outside, but big-hearted underneath.  She spoke in a kind of hybrid of Japanese and broken English, and she was such a character, I wanted to put her in a book someday.  And third, I had an odd what-if thought: What if an orphanage was actually a covert school for spies?

When all these influences came together, I hit upon the title “Shanghai Annie’s School for Spies (and Merry Sunshine Orphanage).”  For a long time, all I had was the title (which changed), but eventually I developed that germ of an idea into the book it is today, with my old yoga teacher in the Hantai Annie role.

 

The spy school feels so authentic. How did you learn so much about spy techniques?

Sadly, college didn’t teach me any of what spies call tradecraft.  (An education, wasted!) Instead, I learned it all — lock picking, code breaking, surveillance — through interviews and reading.  I read lock-picking articles online (while wondering if the FBI was tracking my reading habits). I interviewed a computer guy about hacking.  In fact, I even took a kickboxing class to help me with the martial arts stuff.  I tell you, if they ever offered a spy summer camp for adults, I’d take it in a heartbeat.  That stuff is fun!

 

Once you get a book published, is it easier to get offers for future books?

Yes and no.  Yes, in that they know you can deliver, so all else being equal, they’re inclined to trust your abilities.  No, in that it always depends on the quality of the book you’re submitting and whether it fits their list.  To my occasional exasperation, publishers will still pass on one of my stories if they feel it’s not right for them.

 

What are some of the pros and cons of writing a series?

First off, I love reading series, so it’s a joy to write the kind of books I like to read.  Series give you the chance to deeply explore the world and characters you’ve created, and to build a relationship with your readers, which will carry over into other books you write.

On the down side, series can be challenging.  You have to strike a balance between familiarity and freshness — introducing new elements and characters while preserving enough of what readers loved in the previous books.  Also (if you’re lucky and your series lasts long enough), you may find you’ve cycled through all your ideas and are having a hard time coming up with plots you haven’t used already.

Bruce Coville once said that series books are training-wheel books, helping kids learn to read more confidently.  I’m honored to be producing these kinds of books for young readers.

 

How do you develop characters strong enough for an entire series?

Main characters need a number of key elements to make them series-worthy.  First, they must be likeable, even if they’re an anti-hero.  Second, they must have some quality that makes them stand out (Harry Potter’s wizarding abilities, Katniss’s archery skills and loyalty, Chet Gecko’s punning, etc.).  Third, they must have a certain optimism and drive that keeps them moving forward.  And fourth (just to keep this list short), they must be active.  Passive characters can’t sustain a series.  When asked to move the plot forward, they just say, “Eh, maybe later.”

Photo of Bruce Hale taken by Sonya Sones

Photo of Bruce Hale taken by Sonya Sones

Can you share a writing exercise for series or humor?

Here’s a fun one for humor: Experiment with the triple play.  A triple play is a list of three words or things, in which the first two are expected and the third is a surprise.  That surprise creates the humor.  For example: in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Bill and Ted say that Beethoven’s favorite works include Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem, and Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet.  The first two items set up an expectation, which is subverted by the third.  Like, “Tall, dark, and loathsome.”

Have fun experimenting, and remember comedy writing’s Rule of Nine: For every ten jokes you come up with, nine will suck!  But that tenth one will be a gem. 

 

Want a chance to win one of two signed copies of Bruce Hale’s School for S.P.I.E.S.: Playing with Fire? Click on the Rafflecopter widget below, and you’ll see seven quick and easy ways to enter! The winners will be announced on Tuesday, July 23. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Thank you so much for visiting the Mixed-Up Files, and for your generous giveaway, Bruce! 

 

The second book in Bruce’s School for S.P.I.E.S. series is called Thicker than Water, and is scheduled for June 2014. While waiting for the next spy book, you can check out some of the other humorous series Bruce has written. Bruce has sixteen books in his Chet Gecko series, and four books in his Underwhere series. He recently released his new picture book, Clark the Shark, the first of seven in that series. Clark the Shark – Dare to Share! will be out in January 2014.

 

You can find out more about Bruce Hale on his main website, his School for S.P.I.E.S. site, his writing tips website, or on Twitter. Here’s a link to Bruce’s Chet Gecko activity guide. You can view a message from Agent X: School for S.P.I.E.S., and watch the below video of Bruce Hale reading an exciting scene from Playing with Fire.

 

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.

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Janet Smart  •  Jul 19, 2013 @7:52 am

    Great interview and thanks for the tip on writing humor. I’d love to win the book. Thanks, Janet

  2. Lynnette  •  Jul 19, 2013 @9:15 am

    Playing With Fire will be perfect for the many boys who come through my library and tell me they don’t like to read fiction. Thanks so much!

  3. D.Lee Sebree  •  Jul 19, 2013 @10:38 am

    So my problem is that I don’t work on enough jokes? All this time I thought I was lacking some special talent! ;-) Thanks for the interview: it was full of useful information. I am always looking for “good” humorous fiction for reluctant readers.

  4. Becky Levine  •  Jul 19, 2013 @11:33 am

    My son (and I) loved Bruce’s Chet Gecko books, and the spy series sounds equally fun. Would love to win a copy!

  5. Jayne  •  Jul 19, 2013 @12:23 pm

    Love Bruce Hale. Thanks for the interview (both of you). And our family LOVES Snoring Beauty. My kids insist that I “do the voices” just like when I heard Bruce read it at FL SCBWI conference. : )

  6. L  •  Jul 19, 2013 @12:45 pm

    great interview, I really appreciate the sharing of industry insight and hearing about his youth. very fun.

  7. Akoss  •  Jul 19, 2013 @1:10 pm

    Writing humor is in the impossible range for me so I really appreciate the tip.

  8. K.Campbell  •  Jul 19, 2013 @2:25 pm

    Thanks for this engaging interview. Just went to Amazon to read an excerpt of the book. Love the opening line!

  9. Bruce Hale  •  Jul 19, 2013 @4:32 pm

    Thanks for the kind words, you guys! I hope you enjoy the new book — I had a blast writing it, and I hope it finds its way into the hands of loads of kids. : )

  10. Theanna Bailes  •  Jul 19, 2013 @5:01 pm

    Thank you for sharing. Great interview! Bruce is very talented. He is also a great person. So glad to have met and worked with him! I’m sure this book will be loved by many children!

  11. Cheryl  •  Jul 19, 2013 @5:40 pm

    Love the blog post. Can’t wait to teas the book – and try the exercise

  12. joni  •  Jul 19, 2013 @6:26 pm

    Nice interview, Mindy. Bruce is awesome… I was fortunate to have attended one of his SCBWI intensives and loved it. Much success with S.P.I.E.S. Bruce!

  13. Michele Weber Hurwitz  •  Jul 19, 2013 @9:10 pm

    Great interview, and some terrific advice from Bruce! Don’t enter me in the contest, though :)

  14. PragmaticMom  •  Jul 19, 2013 @9:13 pm

    My son would love this book! I would love to win!

  15. Llehn  •  Jul 19, 2013 @10:08 pm

    Humor is so hard to write and so satisfying when you get it right!

  16. Holly VanDyne  •  Jul 20, 2013 @9:02 am

    What a great interview! I have SO many boys that come in the library that would love this book — thanks for the opportunity! :)

  17. Jill  •  Jul 20, 2013 @2:03 pm

    Wow, you guys have been giving GREAT interviews lately. I think the middle grade authors you’ve featured lately have been so fantastic – so open and honest and down-to-earth. Really impressed by this author and this series looks fantastic. Thanks for giveaway offer. Very kind!

  18. Suzanne  •  Jul 20, 2013 @3:28 pm

    This sounds like a great one. I can’t wait to read it!

  19. JenP  •  Jul 21, 2013 @6:41 pm

    Looks silly and fun!

  20. Mindy Alyse Weiss  •  Jul 23, 2013 @12:08 am

    Thank you all for stopping by and leaving such wonderful comments. A huge thank you to Bruce for his funny, inspiring, and helpful responses, and for donating two signed books. I can’t wait to see who Rafflecopter will choose as winners tomorrow afternoon!