Author Archives: Mindy Alyse Weiss

How to Find Great Middle Grade Novels

Z Middle Grade Books and Ruby 2

With so many middle grade novels out there, how do you decide what to read next? If you’re looking for some great new MG to read, here are a few easy ways to find them:

  • Browse our unique book lists! You can search for topics like humorous, fantasy, books for reluctant readers, multicultural, action and adventure, books for strong readers, contemporary, sports, historical fiction, etc. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, let us know and we’ll do our best to create a new book list for you.
  • Check out our monthly new release posts.
  • You could find some interesting books by browsing our author interviews.
  • To read book reviews (either by children or adults) and to find more middle-grade focused sites, check out What Should I Read Next?
  • Ask your local librarian! If you mention the kind of book you’re looking for, I’m sure he or she will point you in the right direction.
  • Go to a library or bookstore and browse! See which covers and titles catch your attention. Choose a bunch that interest you, then sit down and read the first few pages. Chances are, you’ll find more than one great book to add to your must-read list.
  • Check out award winning middle grade novels! The Newbery Award is usually a middle grade novel, but this year it was awarded to a wonderful picture book. You can check out the recent Newbery Award Honors, plus past winners and honors. There are tons of different awards out there. Some are selected by peers, like the 2015 Crystal Kite winning book Just a Drop of Water by Kerry O’Malley Cerra.
  • For anyone interested in writing or illustrating children’s books, the SCBWI Blueboard is an amazing resource! There’s an entire section for discussing the craft of middle grade novels and here’s a thread from 2015 asking for the 10 best middle grade novels.

I’d love to know how you select which middle grade novels to read.

Happy reading everyone!

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.

What Are You Grateful For?

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it. I love this time of year, and have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. My older daughter has been suffering from an eating disorder, and after living at Oliver-Pyatt (an amazing eating disorder facility in Miami) for the past six months…she’s home and way stronger than I’ve seen her in a long time!

People often spend so much time concentrating on food for the holidays. While it’s nice to enjoy special treats, I’m definitely going to celebrate being with both daughters and my husband. It’s such a gift to spend quality time together!

I originally had a different topic in mind for this post, but since it’s the day before Thanksgiving, I started thinking about how much books have meant to my daughters and me. I have so many wonderful memories of snuggling together, reading books from the time they were little. One book I’m extremely grateful for is Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. It was one of my favorite books as a child! I’ll never forget reading it to my girls. My younger daughter was in pre-school at the time, and both girls listened intently to every word and laughed at Fudge’s antics.

When my first born was a bit older, we read My Teacher is an Alien by Bruce Coville. She loved it so much that when I had to stop reading it during an appointment, she grabbed the book, sat down in the corner and said, “I’m sorry, Mom, but I just have to see what happens next.” What priceless words!

Now that my girls are older, we haven’t read together in way too long. I really miss it! I think I’ll see if they’re up to picking out an amazing middle grade novel to read together this weekend.

Besides being grateful for family, friends, good health, and awesome books–I’m also grateful for SCBWI (and the SCBWI Blueboard, which is an amazing message board for anyone interested in writing, illustrating, or involved in publishing or being an agent for children’s books). And I’m thankful for everyone at the Mixed-Up Files blog, and all of our wonderful readers. 

What are you thankful for this holiday season, and which middle grade novels helped create special memories for your family?

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.

Digging Into Revisions

When I was younger, school taught me to brainstorm an idea for a story, write it, then turn it in. I’d get feedback and a grade, but that was the end of it. I’m so grateful when I see my daughters not only write in school, but also practice revising. Very few things come out amazing in the first draft (and often the second, third, and fourth drafts, too). Every time you put writing away for a bit then look at it with fresh eyes, or receive feedback from trusted critique buddies or publishing professionals, there’s a chance to take your work up at least a level or two. But sometimes, it’s hard to know where to start.

Once yocongratulations_sm_nwmaau finish your first draft of a book, assignment, etc. I think the most important thing to do is CELEBRATE! So many people want to be writers and have all kinds of ideas swimming around their heads, but don’t find the time to actually sit and get them down on paper or into a computer. Congrats for finishing your draft!

Years ago, I used to leap into revisions in a very unproductive way—by trying to make the prose sing. That’s very important, but if the bones of your story aren’t strong enough, you can spend tons of time polishing up areas that will have to be cut. Concentrate on the big picture items first. Once you get them as strong as possible, that’s the perfect time to tweak your prose to perfection.

I’ve learned that I’m much stronger at voice and writing dialogue than plotting, so that’s where I usually start with a revision. I use Joyce Sweeney’s Plot Clock as much as possible while planning a new novel or picture book. Sometimes surprises pop up that take my plot in an unexpected direction. I love when my characters take over and start to lead the story! Sometimes, I’ll go back and rework the Plot Clock soon after I finish a draft, other times I jot notes on it and don’t completely redo it until I finish several rounds of revisions.

If you’d like, you can take a peek at some notes I shared a few years ago after taking Joyce’s Plot Clock Workshop, or you can sign up for Joyce’s newsletter then log in to her site to watch her free hour and a half Plot Clock webinar.

            Here are some other revision tips:

*Look at your characters and see if they’re all necessary and unique enough. Get to know them better through interviews. I love keeping a list of the traits, sayings, etc. of each character (and it tends to grow throughout the first draft and continues to expand and morph through rounds of revisions).

*Is every scene needed?

*Did you take the most obvious route? Play around with all the possibilities you can think of. What can really make your story and characters unique? What can surprise your readers (but looking back, they’ll hopefully have enough clues to realize how everything led up to that moment)?

*If you hit a section that you know needs to be stronger, but aren’t sure how to fix it, you can try setting a timer for ten minutes and brainstorming all the possibilities. You can also play with the time of day that you write. My inner critic gets tired late at night, and I’ve found that I take more chances with my writing then. It’s a great way to attack a scene I know I need to change, but am not exactly sure how.

*Now is a fantastic time to get feedback from trusted critique buddies. If possible, see if you can work on another project or character sketches, so you can view your story with fresh eyes when you receive their comments.

At the end, you can fine-tune your story. Make sure every word is needed and the strongest possible choice. Look for often repeated words. Read your story out loud and see where you stumble. Or have someone else read it out loud—it’s amazing how much clearer you can see your work when read by another person. If others hear it too, do they laugh at the right time or lose attention during scenes that can be streamlined?

Here are a couple of older Mixed-Up Files posts about revision that you might want to read:

Revision–the BIG picture

Revision: Churning Spilled Milk into Ice Cream

            I’d love to know what revision strategies work best for you!

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.