• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Giveaways > Interview and two amazing giveaways with author Dorian Cirrone
  • 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...


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Interview and two amazing giveaways with author Dorian Cirrone

Giveaways, Interviews, Writing MG Books

One of the hardest parts about being a writer is staring at a blank page, wondering how to start your story. A while back, I posted suggestions for coming up with great novel ideas. Since then, I took a workshop led by author Dorian Cirrone that was filled with amazing tips for coming up with high concept premises and great beginnings. With NaNoWriMo starting in just over a month, I thought today would be the perfect time to ask Dorian to visit us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADorian Cirrone is the author of the young adult novels, Prom Kings and Drama Queens and Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You, which was named an ALA Popular Paperback and made the Amelia Bloomer List for Feminist Fiction as well as the New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age list. She has also written the Lindy Blues chapter books, The Missing Silver Dollar and The Big Scoop. Her stories were included in the middle-grade anthologies Sports Shorts and Lay Ups and Long Shots. Dorian holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in English and has taught writing at the university level and at many workshops and conferences. She’s currently revising her first middle-grade novel.


Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Dorian! Can you explain what high concept is, and share some ways to help our readers come up with high concept premises for their future stories?

High concept seems to mean different things to different people. And for some, it’s even a negative term, implying that a work with a high concept premise is all plot-driven, with no character development. That said, after reading various opinions, I look at high concept as having some of the following characteristics:

  • Tremendous public appeal to the intended readership
  • A title and premise that hooks the reader instantly
  • A character with an exciting or enviable life that readers would want for themselves
  • Larger than life characters and situations

There are several ways to brainstorm these types of ideas. Here are three that I like, with examples from notable authors.

1.     Come up with a worst-case scenario for your characters. This pretty much sums up every dystopian novel that’s out there. But there are other worst-case scenarios, ones that might take place in our own world. For example: Chris Grabenstein’s ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY. It’s about twelve kids, who win an overnight of fun in a library, but then find out they’re trapped until they solve the puzzle to the hidden escape route.

2.     Look at popular classics, examine the kernel of the idea, and give it a fresh take. Neil Gaiman has said that his novel, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, about a boy raised by ghosts, was inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s THE JUNGLE BOOK, about a boy raised by animals. As we know, this worked out pretty well for the Newbery-winning Gaiman.

3.     Examine the world around you and figure out what might interest people in the next few years. Donna Gephart did this with her award-winning AS IF BEING 12 ¾ ISN’T BAD ENOUGH (MY MOTHER IS RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT). The year the novel was published, Hilary Clinton was running for the Democratic presidential nominee. How’s that for timing?


It’s often hard to figure out the best way to plunge into a new story. Do you have any tips for coming up with great beginnings?

Conventional wisdom dictates that you should always start in scene, but there are other ways to grab a reader. A couple that I like include:

1.     Starting with a list. One of my favorite examples of this is from Lenore Look’s ALVIN HO: ALLERGIC TO GIRLS, SCHOOL, AND OTHER SCARY THINGS. Here’s how it starts:

The first thing you should know about me is that my name is Alvin Ho.

I am afraid of many things.





Substitute teachers.



The list goes on, but you get the idea. Each of his fears tells a little more about the main character. It’s a great device to not only tell about him, but to foreshadow the many conflicts he’ll have.

2.     Starting with some type of weird statement or fact. Rebecca Stead does this in LIAR & SPY when she begins with:

There’s this totally false map of the human tongue. It’s supposed to show where we taste different things, like salty on the side of the tongue, sweet in the front, bitter in the back. Some guy drew it a hundred years ago, and people have been forcing kids to memorize it ever since.

The statement isn’t just a quirky fact to grab its intended readers. It also delivers a clue to the unreliability of the narrator, sets up an opportunity for plot events, and provides an extended metaphor for the character’s current situation. Triple duty. And brilliant.


Do you have a writing exercise to share with our readers?

An exercise I like to do when I’m planning a novel is to come up with a tagline that distills the story into a short phrase that would hook readers. Even if the tagline I create for myself wouldn’t appear on the book, writing it forces me to think about all kinds of things, such as: tone, audience, premise, promise, theme, etc. If I can pull all those things into one line—and maybe even include some type of contradiction or irony, it gets me thinking more deeply about both the head and heart of my story.

Here are some examples of taglines on covers that have caught my eye:

“A dose of magic can save the world.” (THE APOTHECARY by Maile Meloy)

“If you could see into the future—would you look?” (A YEAR WITHOUT AUTUMN by Liz Kessler)

“A road trip with her ex? Danger ahead.” (TWO-WAY STREET by Lauren Barnholdt)

“The greatest love story ever told is a lie.” (JULIET IMMORTAL by Stacey Jay)

“Never trust a pretty girl with an ugly secret.” (PRETTY LITTLE LIARS by Sara Shepard)

“She wasn’t supposed to survive the accident. But she did.” (THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX by Mary E. Pearson)

Taglines seem to appear on the covers of teen novels more frequently than they do on middle-grade novels, and I’m not sure why. However, I’ve also noticed that some middle-grade novels include the elements of a tagline in the title, as in the aforementioned ALVIN HO: ALLERGIC TO GIRLS, SCHOOL, AND OTHER SCARY THINGS and in FAKE MUSTACHE: OR, HOW JODIE O’RODEO AND HER WONDER HORSE (AND SOME NERDY KID) SAVED THE U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION FROM A MAD GENIUS CRIMINAL MASTERMIND by Tom Angleberger.

Whether you end up using your short phrase as a tagline, as part of a title, or not at all, after doing this exercise, I think you’ll come away with a better understanding of your story.


What are some of your favorite middle-grade novels?

There are so many great middle-grade novels that I’ve enjoyed—too many to list. But the ones I’ve most recently read and loved include: Rebecca Stead’s LIAR & SPY, Donna Gephart’s HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL, Kathryn Fitzmaurice’s DESTINY REWRITTEN, and Liz Kessler’s A YEAR WITHOUT AUTUMN.


Can you share some of your favorite books about writing and let us know why they appeal to you?

One of my all-time favorites is Les Edgerton’s HOOKED: WRITE FICTION THAT GRABS READERS AT PAGE ONE & NEVER LETS THEM GO. I love how he nails down everything that should be in the first few pages of your novel to set things up for the reader.

I’ve recently started reading K.M. Weiland’s STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL: ESSENTIAL KEYS FOR WRITING AN OUTSTANDING STORY. I’m particularly interested in techniques for writing stronger scenes these days, and she has some great ideas for doing that.

Also, anything by Donald Maass. He’s a master at breaking things down, particularly when it comes to creating tension in a novel.


Thank you for sharing so many wonderful writing tips with us, and for offering such a generous giveaway, Dorian! Watch for Dorian’s redesigned website and blog with writing tips in the next few months. In the meantime, you can connect with her on Facebook. 


One lucky person will win two of Dorian’s Lindy Blues chapter books—The Missing Silver Dollar and The Big Scoop.

Plus, another lucky person will win up to a ten page middle-grade or young adult novel critique from Dorian! Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. Everyone eligible will be entered to win the chapter books—please let us know in a blog comment if you’re also interested in the critique. The winners will be announced on Saturday, September 28. Good luck!

**The book giveaway is for people living in the United States and Canada, but the ten page MG or YA critique is open to everyone.


Lindy Blues 1

When Lindy Blues, Your Nose for News, gets a call that there’s been a bank robbery, she jumps into action. She heads for the White House – the one on 14th and Flamingo, the home of Joshua and Amy Becker. When she learns there’s only one silver dollar missing from Amy’s “World Bank,” Lindy can’t believe an important reporter would be asked to cover such a small story. But it’s a slow news week and she needs a scoop. Will Lindy solve the mystery of the missing coin by tonight’s news show? Tune in and find out!



Lindy Blues 2

Lindy Blues, Your Nose for News, is stumped when she hears about the missing ice-cream shop. How could “Mr. Hoop’s Super Scoop” go missing and then mysteriously reappear? As Lindy sniffs around the neighborhood for clues, she realizes that this might be her toughest scoop yet! Time is running out for her Saturday night news program, and all Lindy has is a story about flowers and their biological clocks. Will she crack the case of the missing ice-cream store in time for the LBN newscast? Tune in to find out!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

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.



  1. Larissa  •  Sep 23, 2013 @9:14 am

    Great interview! Dorian is awesome! I’d love to win the critique. :)

  2. Johnell  •  Sep 23, 2013 @9:22 am

    This is fantastic. The interview and your blog. Found you on the BBds.

  3. Annie  •  Sep 23, 2013 @9:43 am

    Thank you great hints and tips! Yes I am interested in winning the critique!

  4. Wendy  •  Sep 23, 2013 @9:43 am

    Enjoyed the interview and would love to win the critique from Dorian! Thanks for the opportunity.

  5. sue  •  Sep 23, 2013 @10:32 am

    Awesome interview! Thanks for sharing your tips, Dorian! I would love a critique:)

  6. Jill  •  Sep 23, 2013 @1:03 pm

    Great interview Mindy and Dorian! Please enter my name in both contests. :)

  7. Louise Galveston  •  Sep 23, 2013 @1:21 pm

    This is an incredible interview, so full of good advice! Thanks, Dorian and yes, I’d love to win a critique!

  8. Janet Smart  •  Sep 23, 2013 @2:35 pm

    Loved the post. Thanks for the tips. I’d love to win the critique.

  9. Heidi Grange  •  Sep 23, 2013 @5:20 pm

    Alvin Ho is one of my favorite characters, he is so unique.

  10. Lynn  •  Sep 23, 2013 @7:01 pm

    Awesome! Would love to win the critique!

  11. Jayne  •  Sep 24, 2013 @8:14 am

    Thanks for the writing book recommendations. I would love to win the critique (and the books too).

  12. Anna  •  Sep 24, 2013 @8:31 am

    Thank you for the recommendations, the advice and insights! Would love to win the books and the critiques!

  13. Leslie Galliker  •  Sep 24, 2013 @9:09 am

    Very interested in all you have to say about writing! As a writer of historical fiction, I would love to win the critique! Of course, the books too!

  14. Bruce Luck  •  Sep 24, 2013 @9:10 am

    Rebecca Stead’s Liar & Spy is excellent. Sign me up for the critique and the books, please.

  15. Cathy R  •  Sep 24, 2013 @9:50 am

    Great interview! Would love to receive a critique. Thanks!

  16. Megan  •  Sep 24, 2013 @10:15 am

    I loved this interview. I’ve been following this blog since it began a few years ago, and I finally decided to comment :-). I loved the idea of thinking of taglines for your book. I think it gives a great opportunity to really think about what your book is all about and how it would be a great read for your demographic. Great interview!

  17. Sue Cowing  •  Sep 24, 2013 @10:27 am

    Clear, thought-provoking, and inspiring. A great post.

  18. Greg Pattridge  •  Sep 24, 2013 @7:39 pm

    Very real advice. Taglines were a super idea. Do one first, then write the book. Yes, I would take a 10 page critique if my name is selected.

  19. Mindy Alyse Weiss  •  Sep 27, 2013 @10:58 pm

    Thank you all for your comments. I’m glad you enjoyed the interview! Thanks again for all the fantastic writing tips, Dorian.

  20. click for source  •  Nov 17, 2013 @1:40 pm

    This is a fantastic site, will you be interested in doing an interview regarding how you created it? If so e-mail me!