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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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    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:
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    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.
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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

    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:
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    July 2, 2013:
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    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, 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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Advice That Has Done Me No Good Whatsoever

Authors, Inspiration, Writing MG Books

confusion

I just finished writing my new middle grade novel. For the fourth (or possibly fifth) time. This book gave me more trouble than anything I’ve ever written–hard to conceive, even harder to birth, a terrible, difficult child from the very beginning. Now that it has, at long last, arrived, I love it with crazy, unreasonable fierceness. Amnesia is already setting in, though it’ll be a while yet till I forget the many nights it woke me from a sound sleep and set me scrawling bedside notes illegible the next morning. My husband remembers how, more than once, I threw myself onto the nearest flat plane and croaked, “It is killing me.”  The shelf behind my desk has a pile of folders, each about half a foot thick, stuffed with notes and old drafts, folders that could be labeled “Completely Wrong Roads to Go Down”.

If there was any justice in this world, I’d never have to go through all that again. But I’m not optimistic. My process seems doomed to be messy and excruciating, no matter how often I go through it. Even now, as I think about my next book, it’s hard not to plunge right in, ignoring my rational side as it waves red flags and hollers, Not yet! Wait and plan some more, you fool!

Still, I really don’t want the next book to take such a toll. And so I’ve been trying to think what I learned this time. What advice I could give myself, and maybe even others, should anyone be interested. Mostly what I’ve come up with, though, is well-meant stuff that didn’t work for me.

Stuff like:

Challenge yourself to try something new!  Okay! And so I tried to write a mystery. Who doesn’t love a mystery? While I was working on the early drafts, I’d tell kids I was writing a who-done-it set on an island, and I’d feel the excitement ripple through the crowd. I wrote two full drafts—one with a crime so obvious a five year old could solve it, and one with a crime so far-fetched it was ridiculous—before I remembered: plot is hard for me. Much, much harder than character or setting. I suppose it was all well and good to challenge myself to write a book whose success hinged on my greatest weakness, but what it taught me, in the end, was that I couldn’t do it. Yes, the finished book centers on a great mystery. But it’s a mystery of the heart. The kind of mystery that, I slowly, painfully came to realize, means the most to me.

Your characters will lead you places you never meant to go! I still believe this, in part. The problem with where my characters took me in those early drafts was that I didn’t know them well enough. I was traipsing along with acquaintances, people I’d met  only superficially. They had some interesting problems and opinions and were fun to be with (most of the time), but they never let me deep inside them. Or, the truth was, I didn’t work hard enough to understand who they were—what they wanted and needed more than anything and, even more important, why. By draft four, I had this crucial information. I was ready to follow Flor and Cecilia and Jasper, but only because I’d done all the hard work to fully create them.

Just get the story down–don’t worry if the writing stinks!  I can’t do it. I tried and tried, but in the future I won’t. I have to revise as I go. For me, each scene (I hate to say it because it makes me sound like a total prig, but maybe even each sentence) builds on the last one, and till I have it in place, there’s no going forward. If I ever manage to write an outline, so that the middle is not a muddle, maybe I’ll find it possible to skim along from start to finish, then go back and fine tool. But as my mother used to say when we begged for something we saw on TV, Don’t hold your breath.

So, how about you? Any advice that’s helped or confounded?

Tricia’s new middle grade novel, “Moonpenny Island”, will publish with HarperCollins in winter, 2015. 

 

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Laurie Schneider  •  Feb 5, 2014 @7:41 am

    I’m looking forward to reading your mystery of the heart, Tricia. A clever plot may be entertaining but in the end it’s the characters that count.

    [Reply]

  2. Jenny  •  Feb 5, 2014 @8:01 am

    Sounds kind of odd but the old “write every day” doesn’t always work for me. My brain needs to percolate, I need time to process the last scene and envision exactly where the next one is going to go. When I sit down every day and end up just staring at the computer or at the legal pad in my lap I end up feeling like I’ve wasted time. But if I skip a physical-writing day and instead allow all those rambling thoughts to come while I clean the floor or bake a loaf of bread then the next time I actually sit down to write-write I have SO much more to go on. The words just kind of tumble out on their own and it feels like such a relief.

    [Reply]

  3. tricia  •  Feb 5, 2014 @8:29 am

    Laurie, that is very reassuring! Thank you.

    [Reply]

  4. tricia  •  Feb 5, 2014 @8:31 am

    You know, Jenny, I have those un-writing days, too. Sometimes I do research, or just re-read what I’ve already got and take notes. A good long walk often helps, too.

    [Reply]

  5. Linda Urban  •  Feb 5, 2014 @8:38 am

    That last one — the one about just getting it down? That does not work for me. I find a poorly written rough draft so depressing as to be almost insurmountable. If I don’t have the voice and some decent prose to work with, I might as well give up. That doesn’t mean everything has to be pretty or right the first time. I’m a reviser, no question. But truly ugly and hard to read is worse than nothing at all for me.

    [Reply]

  6. Michele Weber Hurwitz  •  Feb 5, 2014 @12:48 pm

    Love reading all these comments! I could fill a drawer with drafts that didn’t work. Oh, wait, I have. I am a writer who believes that time away from the computer is often my best writing time — when I’m thinking about the story. And walking is the best! Not in ten feet of snow though :(

    [Reply]

  7. T. P. Jagger  •  Feb 5, 2014 @1:26 pm

    Tricia,
    Like you, I’ve never managed to become a “just get the story down” kind of guy. Most of the time, I can’t write a single sentence without rereading it at least three times, most likely making at least one or two revisions in the process. However, when I feel that my molasses-slow writing process is really getting in the way, I’ve found that pulling myself away from my computer and brainstorming ideas in my writing journal can help. For some reason, the pencil-paper approach gives me more freedom to jot and scribble as I try to make sense of my plot (or lack thereof).

    Thanks for the great post! :)

    [Reply]

  8. tricia  •  Feb 5, 2014 @2:36 pm

    Linda, I second everything you say–especially about the voice. Until that’s working for me, the story is nothing. And for anyone who doesn’t know Linda’s blog, it’s a wonderful, generous font of wisdom on the writing process: lindaurbanbooks.com/journal/

    [Reply]

  9. tricia  •  Feb 5, 2014 @3:37 pm

    Yes, Michele–there have been far too many walks this winter when my only thought was, “Can’t wait to get inside!”

    [Reply]

  10. tricia  •  Feb 5, 2014 @3:38 pm

    T.P., I also find it helpful to ask myself the eternal question: what does my character really want?

    [Reply]

  11. Danielle  •  Feb 5, 2014 @5:47 pm

    “Read widely”

    I read YA and middle-grade novels anyway, but when I’m writing the worst possible thing I can do is read something that’s for the same readership as I’m writing to. Or something that has vaguely similar theme/setting. Or a book that just won a heap of awards and everyone is talking about it.

    Because it’s always hard to remind myself that a finished book has been edited, and scrutinised and gone over with a fine-toothed comb by many, many people and what I’m writing is a draft. It’s easy to compare and find yourself wanting against a perfectly finished book while you’re still slugging through the wilds of your first draft.

    [Reply]

  12. tricia  •  Feb 5, 2014 @6:05 pm

    Danielle–aargh, yes. I’m still so susceptible to doubt and, I confess, envy. Working on that!

    [Reply]

  13. Betsy  •  Feb 5, 2014 @6:36 pm

    Oh my goodness!! It’s totally cliche, but I feel like this post was written just for me. Plot is also my greatest weakness. I also *have* to revise as I go. Even, yes, at the sentence level. For me there’s no such thing as a “first draft” due to excessive rewriting instead of *writing.* I have a MG novel I have written (and written and written and written) the first half of without ever being able to write the second half. And until I figure a lot of other things out–about the characters (I love the idea of characters only being acquaintances until you do the hard work to get to know them!), about what’s *really* going on with them–I think I won’t know how to write the second half. I have several computer folders of material for this book FULL of “wrong roads to go down.” But now I know I am not alone. Thank goodness! :)
    It reminds me of the end of the Wendell Berry poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” (an awesome poem and poet I highly recommend): “Be like the fox / who makes more tracks than necessary, / some in the wrong direction. / Practice resurrection.” Maybe there is hope for the resurrection of my trying-to-be-novel. It’s so good to hear about the excruciating but ultimately successful birth of your novel, Tricia!

    [Reply]

  14. Greg Pattridge  •  Feb 5, 2014 @7:39 pm

    I’ve been on a similar journey, Tricia. It took me two years, a half dozen drafts, and critiques filling my desktop to realize something: I had created a trio of endearing characters, but the plot stunk.

    Instead of throwing everything away, I started again, kept the characters and wrote a story with a much more believable and heartwarming plot, and one with plenty of humor and action. And most important, by this time I was in each of those characters heads, I knew them as if I was them.

    While polishing up the story I wondered if it was always going to be this way for every story I wrote. The answer thankfully was no. I had an idea for another story with a new cast of characters. I knew the beginning and sort of where It would go and it just flowed. Don’t know why, except maybe the plot was more solid than my previous disaster and the characters had a chance to shine from the start.

    I think we learn about ourselves as writers by going through these tougher times– finding out what works for us as an individual, and not expecting every piece of writing advice to meet our needs. Thanks for the wonderful post.

    [Reply]

  15. Janet Smart  •  Feb 6, 2014 @8:29 am

    I have also been working on a MG for quite a few years. Each time I think I’m finished with it, I re-edit it and make it better. Even though the first version of it wasn’t what it should be, I didn’t give up on it. I kept at it until it is where it is today – almost finished, I’m doing what I think will be my last edit of it. I also have a tendency to edit as I write.

    [Reply]

  16. tricia  •  Feb 6, 2014 @9:15 am

    Love standing around this water cooler with you, Greg! I think the touchstone for me was the island setting: that remained the same through every draft. And it’s true we learn something with every new book, even if it’s what doesn’t work for us.

    [Reply]

  17. tricia  •  Feb 6, 2014 @9:17 am

    Thanks for the camaraderie, Betsy. And a special thank you for that poem. (Not sure if you know, but I have a middle grade novel called “What Happened on Fox Street”–one of the threads is the quest for a very elusive fox!)

    [Reply]

  18. tricia  •  Feb 6, 2014 @9:19 am

    Janet, it may sound crazy but I think the mark of a good story is that it can always be made better. Being able to dig deeper, make more connections, proves you have hold of something true and real.

    [Reply]

  19. Betsy  •  Feb 6, 2014 @9:24 am

    OH! I did know that! (I listened to the audio book, but it’s been awhile.) But I didn’t even make the connection when quoting the poem. Wow–it’s even more apt than I thought! :)

    [Reply]

  20. Cary  •  Feb 6, 2014 @10:46 am

    Tricia, I found this post very comforting. I am really struggling with my writing these days and it somehow makes me feel better to know that someone as accomplished as you struggles too. (Though I am sorry for your angst!) I have a fantasy of writing a mystery too, but am also not great at plot! It all seems so easy in the abstract :-) I love your thoughts on getting to know the characters. That’s where that key writing — that won’t actually make it into the piece — comes in. Hmmm, lots to chew on.

    [Reply]

  21. tricia  •  Feb 6, 2014 @12:37 pm

    Oh Cary, angst is part of the job description, I’m afraid! With each book we’re creating something new, something that’s never existed before–how could, or should, that be easy?

    [Reply]

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