• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Articles by: Jan Gangsei
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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, 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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The Magic of Writing

Inspiration, Writing MG Books

It’s sort of a funny thing, being a writer. Tell people you’ve written a book, and they immediately think you’re a) rich, b) rich and famous, or c) going to be rich and famous (and able to help them find a publisher for their book, still to-be-written, of course).

But mostly, they seem to think you work some kind of voodoo magic. Spinning stories out of thin air. Casting them off into the world without blinking an eye. Case in point, a conversation I had recently with a good friend who is a commercial pilot.

Pilot friend: So how do you do it?
Me: Do what?
PF: You know. Write. What’s a typical day like for you?
Me: Well, I get up in the morning, have my coffee, walk the dog. Then I sit down with my laptop and write. Then I usually have lunch. And hit the gym. And then I write some more, even if I don’t really feel like it. Especially if I’m on deadline.
PF: Huh. That’s not at all what I pictured. No coffee shops? No writer’s groups with everyone wearing black and sipping espressos? No shots of whiskey?
Me: No. Coffee shops are distracting. And you know I like bright colors. Mochas with whipped cream. And wine. Preferably the sparkling kind.
PF: Laughs. Well, I still don’t know how you do it. I could never do that. Just sit down and write a book.
Me: Yeah? And I could never just step into a cockpit and fly a plane, either.

And that’s the thing — somehow there’s this strange myth that if you’re really, truly a Real, True Writer all you need to do take pen to paper and the words will flow, like magic. Yeah, right. Sure, some people are born with an innate talent for writing. Just like some have an innate talent for science or all things mechanical. But who on earth would expect (or want!) a pilot that flew on “innate talent” alone? Or a surgeon who just had a gut feeling where to find the appendix? (Unless, of course, he stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night, in which case your book signing is safe.)

In my mind, writing is no different. If we want to be any good, we have to practice. And read. And get out into the world and observe. And listen. And practice some more. But mostly, we have to commit — commit to putting our butts in our chairs, commit to writing, commit to learning and to accepting criticism. We have to be willing to put in the time and effort, kind of like a pilot logging hours before they can fly solo.

I’ve heard it said (probably a million times), that it takes a million bad words before a writer produces something worth publication. (Let’s see… that would be word number 925,461… not that I’m counting or anything…). And maybe it’s not exactly a million words, but the point is valid — to do something well, we have to do it over. And over. And over again. And we have to fail (probably more than once), so we can learn from our mistakes.

After all, an overnight success is just someone who has worked really hard to become successful, right?

So how do you learn and grow as a writer? (Or pilot? Or surgeon?) Tell me in the comments below!

Jan Gangsei doesn’t have a clue how to fly a plane. But one of these days, she’d love to learn. In the meantime, she’s perfectly happy using her imagination to soar into the clouds.

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Flawed Characters

Writing MG Books

Recently I read a news article about the growing trend of plastic surgery. I know, in this day and age, it seems like everyone’s been Botoxed, air-brushed and made over until unrecognizable (hello, “Real” Housewives!). But what really caught my eye was this had nothing to do with Hollywood.

It was about kids. As in, the rise of younger and younger children going under to knife to fix their “flaws.” And right there on the page was a before and after picture of the cutest little girl, maybe eight years old. And, quite frankly, I had to actually read the article to find out what was “wrong” with her in the before shot. Because I just couldn’t see it. Seriously. (As it turned out, it was her ears, which stuck out and caused her to be teased when she put her hair in a bun for dance class.)

(Now, before this turns into a debate about parenting and such — let me just say I’m a mother and I know how hard it is. I’m not looking to pass judgement on this girl’s parents, who were trying to spare their child the pain of being picked on. I get it. I really do. After all, I STILL remember the middle school classmate who told me I could “be a model”… if I just “had a different nose.” Yeah, if my parents had let me get a nose job, I probably would’ve knocked myself out and hopped on the operating table right then and there.)

That said, the whole article just made me a little sad.

Because here’s the thing I learned as I grew up (and into my nose) — people are more interesting not in spite of their “flaws,” but because of them. And this goes for fictional characters, too (see, I was getting to a point about writing, really!). And by characters with flaws, I don’t mean the ones who are utterly perfect… (except for being clutzy/ditzy/too tall, etc.). I’m talking about perfectly imperfect characters. The ones with complex motivations, the perhaps not-so-perfect looking ones. The ones that make bad decisions and fall on their faces.

Severus Snape via wikipedia

A perfect example:  Severus Snape.

Snape has to be one of my favorite flawed — make that just plain favorite — characters in all of children’s literature. He’s surly and seemingly self-serving, not the most attractive guy in the room or even very pleasant to be around. But that made it all the more moving when his true motivations were revealed at the end of Deathly Hallows. I’ll admit, I choked up (especially at the movie — man, that Alan Rickman!). But the whole final scene would have had so much less impact if Snape had been less, well — Snape-ish. I can’t imagine a conventionally handsome Snape (George Clooney — ummm, no). Or one that was kind of tough with his students but really awesome in every other way. It just wouldn’t work.

In fact, flawless doesn’t work with any character — whether the hero or anti-hero. We all have flaws. Quirks. Things that make us who we are. And as I write this, I think maybe “flawed” isn’t quite the right word. Complicated, maybe. Human. Real. I mean, who wants to live in a world — or read a book — where everyone is exactly the same. Where everyone has been scrubbed down, airbrushed and made over until unrecognizable. There’s plenty of that on magazine covers. And as our kids find themselves surrounded more and more by unreal images of “perfection,” what better place to escape TO reality than in a good book?

So I say, let’s hear it for the not-so-perfect noses, the complex histories, the layers of good and bad that make us unique — the stories that remind us it’s cool to be different.

And let’s hear from you! Who are some of your favorite complex characters and why? And how do you go about writing characters that are more than just one-dimensional? Tell me in the comments below!

Jan Gangsei is glad no one ever let her “fix” her Jennifer Grey nose because she really likes it now. She also credits it with helping her develop a sense of humor (and the ability to detect gas leaks before anyone else in the house). 

 

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Boo! Let’s get creepy! (And enter to win!)

Giveaways, Writing MG Books
blackcat

photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Happy Friday the 13th, MUF peeps! In the interest of personal safety on this creeptastic day, go ahead and hang a horseshoe for good luck, don’t break any mirrors and — whatever you do — hold your breath when you pass a cemetery!

At least, that’s what my 8-year-old self would have advised… That stuff doesn’t scare grown-up me one bit. I’ll just be here blissfully stepping on cracks in the sidewalks, spilling salt everywhere, and whoa… wait a minute? Was that a black cat? Crossing my path? Excuse me while I run home and hide under the covers…

Phew! Safe now.

Okay, in all seriousness, there’s just something about a good, creepy story — no matter what your age — but especially when you’re a middle-grader. Maybe it’s because it’s sorta scary (in an exciting way, of course) to leave childhood behind. Or perhaps it’s because looming adolescence makes it feel like you’ve been possessed at times. Or, it could just be that there’s no better way to safely scare the socks off yourself than with a good book.

Whatever the case, I distinctly remember devouring ghost stories as a fifth-grader — then hanging out with my buddies at recess holding seances, trying to conjure up spirits and lift each other using only our fingertips (“light as a feather, stiff as a board” anyone?).

And we all had Ouija boards, which of course we never EVER used alone, lest we become the earthly vessels for some malevolent spirit…

Still, as much as I enjoyed spooking myself out as I kid (like the time a friend and I found a smashed gravestone in the woods, took it home and hid it in my closet until we became convinced that it was possessed and had to be exorcised and properly disposed of…), I’d never actually written a spooky story. I’ve always been funny/realistic writer. Well, until my recent work-for-hire gig with the fabulous Working Partners Ltd., that is. So let me share a few things I’ve learned along the way:

  • Less is more. Horror and humor are similar in this regard. Over-the-top can be funny or scary, but oftentimes it’s much creepier not to have the whole monster jump right out at you — let the reader get just a glimpse of a jagged fang, the outline of a horrifying shadow, the scrape of nails along the wall.
  • Physical reactions can be your friend — and enemy. Hearts can only pound so much before they explode. Too many goosebumps make your characters look like they’re diseased. Find other physical ways to convey fear — the uncontrollable twitch of the eyelid, a sweaty palm sliding down a railing, a mouth suddenly gone dry.
  • Don’t rush it! The anticipation of something scary can be even creepier than the thing itself. Telltale heart, anyone? Let the suspense build — don’t just rush into the big “BOO!” moment. Make. Them. Sweat. It. Out…

And… apparently because I’m writing a creepy post, I was just, quite literally, interrupted by the sound of footsteps clomping across my back porch. Seriously. I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP! And I am here alone. Gulp. Excuse me while I go check things out. And if I don’t come back, please call 911. And tell my mom I love her…

Okay, upon a very freaked out investigation (heart pounding, for real…), I just discovered a worker had erroneously wandered into my back yard (she was supposed to be at my neighbor’s house next door).

Phew. (Wipes sweaty palms on dress.) On that note, I am going to sign off now.

And go hide under the covers. For real.

Jan Gangsei is a writer on the Welcome to Weirdsville series, published by Little Brown in the UK. And because she wants to thank you for making it to the end of this post, she’ll be giving away one copy of the first and second books: Happyland and Ghost School. Share your favorite spooky story in the comments below (or just say “BOO!”) and she’ll pick two random winners next week! But whatever you do, please don’t hang out on her back porch. You’ll give her a heart attack.

 

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