Author Archives: Mindy Alyse Weiss

The Winner of Just a Drop of Water is…

I’d like to thank Kerry O’Malley Cerra again for stopping by our blog on Tuesday. Click here to check out her interview about her newly released middle-grade novel, Just a Drop of Water.

The winner of a signed copy of Just a Drop of Water is…

Kerry Just a Drop of Water CoverJen Petro-Roy

Huge congrats, Jen! We’ll send you an e-mail soon about your prize. Enjoy your new book.

Kerry O’Malley Cerra Interview and Giveaway

Kerry Offiicial Author Photo copyI’m thrilled to welcome Kerry O’Malley Cerra to the Mixed-Up Files blog. Kerry is a former high school history teacher who often enhanced textbooks with historical fiction to bring time periods to life. Just a Drop of Water, her first middle grade novel, was inspired by a deeply personal experience following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. In this gripping and intensely touching novel, Kerry brings the events of September 11 into the lens of a young boy who is desperately trying to understand the ramifications of this life-altering event. You can visit Kerry on her website and on Twitter and check out the amazing  Just a Drop of Water trailer below.

I’m so glad you’re visiting the Mixed-Up Files today, Kerry! I’d love for you to share with our readers what inspired you to write Just a Drop of Water and why it’s set in Florida.

My very short answer, in regards to inspiration, is simply to promote peace. I have no doubt that it begins with children. If you’d like a longer answer, jump over to this blog post I did with Darlene Beck-Jacobson. There are a couple of reasons why I chose Florida as the setting. First, one of the terrorists lived in our small-ish town, so our city quickly became an FBI hot-spot and, as you can imagine, it was pretty freaky. We also lost six residents in the attacks that day. While many people associate 9/11 with New York and sometimes Pennsylvania and D.C., I want kids to know that the events of that day extended far and wide. It was a national tragedy, not just a New York tragedy. I don’t know anyone who was old enough to remember that day that wasn’t affected deeply. I want readers to know that.

How did you come up with the title, Just a Drop of Water?

My book, from the time I began dabbling with the idea for it in 2008 until the very last draft before submission in 2013, was titled September 13. I really loved that title and I still do. But, a good editor friend of mine brought up a great point when we were discussing it. While she understood my reasoning (even though most Americans’ lives changed on September 11, 2001, Jake is just a kid and doesn’t get to see the world for what it really is until September 13, 2001 when his whole world is turned upside down; the day he is forced to grow up and will never be a kid again) she felt the title took away from those who lost loved ones in the attack on September 11. When she put it like that, I knew I’d have to change the title. I didn’t want to disrespect anyone, and that day is just too difficult for people already. I wasn’t married to the title enough to potentially add to that grief unnecessarily. The new title came about in my very last draft. I wasn’t planning to add that thread in. It sort of came out of nowhere. I was consciously looking for a line from the book that I could possibly use to name the book while I worked through my final revision but, for some reason, the words of that song (sorry, I’m being vague to avoid spoilers!) kept popping up in my head every time I came across a scene that included the grandmother. So, not only did it happen just before I got an agent and sold the book, it pretty much came from my subconscious. But, I do love it. It just works.

I love it, too! And I love how much the tension builds as your story moves closer to September 11. How did you decide to start your novel on September 7th?

I really, REALLY love this question, Mindy. Thanks for asking it. This novel had so many different beginnings that I really can’t even keep track. As a writer, we always hear that we should start with a bang. Jump right in so kids will be hooked. But, my super-talented writer friend Gaby Triana made a great point at a workshop we did one day. I already knew that starting on Sept. 10 wasn’t working. She pointed out that readers wouldn’t have enough time to see the strength of Jake and Sam’s friendship prior to September 11—so when their friendship went south, the readers wouldn’t really care. She was dead on. From there, I knew I needed to back it up some, but it took a few more drafts to really find the right spot. Readers now experience the normalcy of the days before 9/11 and the friendship of two everyday kids. I hope that when their friendship turns rocky, that readers are invested in the boys enough to ache for both characters and hope that the boys find their way back to each other. One of my favorite, yet potentially viewed as unimportant, scenes is when the Madina family comes over to Jake’s house to have dinner with the Greens for Jake’s birthday. This not only happens prior to 9/11, it happens in the very first chapter of the book. To me, inviting someone to your dinner table is an almost sacred act. It shows trust and friendship. My editor initially wanted me to cut this because it doesn’t necessarily move the story forward. She might be right about that, but it’s a scene I couldn’t part with. When Jake’s mom goes into her tailspin and refuses to let Jake hang out with Sam and his family, it shows readers just how much and how quickly sentiments and lives in general changed after that heartrending day.

Do you have any activities that tie Just a Drop of Water into school curriculum?

Oh, I love this question, too! Yes, I worked over the summer to come up with discussion questions that lend themselves to Common Core. There are currently 23 on my website under the Teacher Resources tab. Likewise, after attending the awesome SCBWI Florida workshop on Common Core this past June, my brain clicked to autopilot and I came up with some cool extension activities that teachers can use in the classroom for Just a Drop of Water. Finally, in working with some pretty awesome 5th grade teachers at Maplewood Elementary School, we created lesson plans that they have implemented as their entire 5th grade classes are reading the book. I’ll be posting them on my website soon.

I absolutely love your cover! What can you tell us about it?

I know most authors never get to speak to their illustrators, but I’m so fortunate that Katy Betz—an incredibly talented and dear friend from my SCBWI Florida chapter—was hired to do my cover. I actually thought this would mean that I could just tell Katy what I wanted and…poof, my wish would be granted. I knew she had read the manuscript and I told her exactly the scene from the book that I thought should be brought to life on the front of the book. It’s the scene when Jake is walking to school on September 13 and is seeing all the flags up and down his street for the very fist time. I was determined that that would be my cover. But, Katy worked closely with the art director at Sky Pony and I think at some point she gave them three concept sketches based on their discussions. From there, the publisher narrowed it down to one. That’s when I first got a peek at what would soon be my real cover. Because Katy is my friend, I was so nervous when the email came in. What if I hated it? What if I had to get my agent involved to try to get another cover? And, when I opened it and saw the boy’s leg and him stepping in a puddle, I was shocked that it wasn’t my street scene. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I liked it—though I knew I didn’t hate it, for sure. My boys had a bunch of friends over that day so I showed it to them. Not only did they love it, they told me all their reasons for loving it. And the more they talked, the more I let go of my boring old street scene. Within minutes, I was hooked except for one thing. I really, really wanted a flag somewhere on the front, so I sent Katy a most delicate email telling her how excited I was, but asked if she could add a flag. Within seconds she replied, telling me to look in the puddle where I’d find stars. The sketch I got was in black and white, so it was impossible to know at that point that Jake was actually stepping in a puddle that was reflecting a flag from a house. And oh my gosh, it was so brilliant. When I saw it in color several weeks later, it seriously blew me away. I love the crème colored background—it gives a timeless feel. I love that it’s Jake on the cover alone, because even though Sam is a huge part of the story, this is Jake’s coming-of-age tale. The leaves in the puddle perfectly illustrate that this takes place in the fall, and that groovy font for the title…perfection! Ironically, I always preach to my kids about not having expectations, but that’s exactly what I did. I’m so glad that Sky Pony and Katy went in a totally different direction, because my idea was so dull compared to the gorgeous artwork that is now my official cover. Love!

Mindy, thank you so much for having me on the Mixed-Up-Files blog and for your thoughtful questions. Big hugs to you!

Kerry Just a Drop of Water CoverYou’re welcome, Kerry. Thank you so much for visiting the Mixed-Up Files today—big hugs to you, too. I loved learning how Just a Drop of Water was born. And thank you for offering our readers a chance to win a signed copy of your book!

Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below, and one lucky winner will receive a signed copy of Just a Drop of Water. The winner will be announced on Thursday, September 11th. Good luck!

*You must live in the United States or Canada to enter the giveaway.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s TwitterFacebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

Reaching a Middle Grade Audience

z Middle Grade Book PileThe internet constantly buzzes with news of book launches, making it hard to keep track of all of them. So how can you show the world that your book has arrived? I’ve heard so many authors say that it’s easier to reach readers of young adult novels online, but middle grade authors often need to reach out to the gatekeepers—people like teachers, media specialists, and parents who help put great books into the hands of readers around the ages of eight through twelve.

Here are some tips that might help you figure out what to do (and what to avoid).

* Spreading the word on established blogs can really help! If you’re doing a launch blitz, try not to have similar-sounding interviews flooding the internet. Do your best to give something unique and interesting each time. Dig deeper than just facts about your book, show how it’s connected to your heart and your life. Don’t just think about yourself and your book when replying…try to share something that will appeal to potential readers as well.

* Holding a giveaway is a wonderful way to reach potential readers, and I’ve seen how much word about a book can spread when people shout out about a giveaway. Plus, I always feel better about sharing a link for a giveaway on places like Twitter and Facebook instead of just announcing that a friend has a great new book out—then I’m helping both the author and the people who read my post.

* Keep your website up to date. Let people know the story behind your stories. Give them a glimpse of yourself, and let them know about any upcoming appearances and how they can get a signed copy or bookplate. I’ve seen some authors work with an Indie bookstore, where people can order a copy that they’ll sign before it’s shipped out. Try to include fun activities on your website, and link to sites your audience and/or the gatekeepers will enjoy. One of my main characters loves cupcakes, so I plan to create a Pinterest board full of great cupcake recipes on it. Laurie Friedman, author of the Mallory and April Sinclair series, has done a wonderful job setting up her Pinterest boards.  She created a board for each series, plus boards that are just for teachers, classroom reading spaces, young authors corner, etc.

* Try to speak at conferences, bookstores, libraries, and schools. Many authors offer short Skype visits for free, and I think that’s a wonderful opportunity to help out a school or other organization while also spreading the word about your book.

* Visuals can be a huge asset to an author’s website and can draw more people to it when shared online. Create an amazing book trailer, and post other videos that could interest readers.

* Include teacher’s/reading group guides on your website and bookmarks. I posted helpful tips for creating guides a couple months ago. Click here to read that post. Speaking of bookmarks, it’s great to have handouts like that with more info about your book/s, your website, and links to teacher’s guides or other book related activities.

* Team up with other authors and form a group blog that provides a constant stream of helpful information, or consider starting a marketing group. I’ve seen writers with similar types of books team up for book tours, and it seems like they attract more attention than most authors can on their own.

* Make it easy for people to contact you for potential interviews or author visits. Some websites make me feel like I’m navigating through a maze filled with dead ends while trying to contact an author I’d like to interview for our site.

* I absolutely love SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), and think it is a huge asset. I’m the SCBWI FL Newsletter Editor, and am always surprised when people don’t let me know about their great news. I love shouting it out to our members! If you aren’t involved in your local group, definitely check it out. In addition to local events, they probably have some kind of newsletter, too. Even though the info goes to other authors and illustrators, most of them are avid readers and some may have children who would enjoy your books. Plus, quite a few teachers and media specialists are writers, too! And the amount of support and friendship you can find with people who ‘get it’ is priceless.

Z Middle Grade Books and Ruby* My teen girls laughed when they caught me doing a photo shoot…of middle grade novels. I told them it was for my Mixed-Up Files post, but they didn’t see the point of photographing a pile of books by themselves, and helped me pose one of our dogs into the shot. It made me realize how much I love seeing pictures of children and animals reading books—so you can share photos or video clips of that online, too!

 

Here are some promotional red flags

* BUY MY BOOK!!!! Seeing blatant self-promotion always makes me shudder. When someone is obviously on a social network site for the purpose of selling a book, it often has the opposite effect. Don’t send a promotional link to your book thinly veiled as a thank you for following or friending you on a site. And don’t blitz people with a link to buy your book or news about it multiple times an hour on places like Twitter or Facebook. You want people to smile when they see your cover…not cringe.

* The same is true of forums. Don’t be a drive-by poster who only hops onto a forum to promote a book, then disappear until it’s time to promote the next book. Interact with other forum participants—share some of your knowledge to help them, ask questions, shout out congratulations and send some support to those going through a rough time. If you want people to be happy to celebrate your good news, you need to be there for them, too.

* When sharing news about your book, don’t make it sound like a formal press release. You’ve worked hard to get your book published! Share your genuine thoughts and enthusiasm throughout your publication journey. Even better, reach out and help others. If you learned some tricks while creating a book trailer, share them. And if you win an award or get an amazing review, don’t just post a general statement and link all over the internet—let us experience the moment with you. Shannon Hitchcock did a fantastic job when she blogged about how she discovered that her middle grade novel, The Ballad of Jessie Pearl, won the 2014 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. What she wrote was personal, and it made me laugh, smile, and cheer for her.

I’d love to know what you believe works and what to avoid while trying to reach potential readers for middle grade novels.

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s TwitterFacebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.