Category Archives: Authors

Giving Middle Grade Thanks

IMG_1187When you are a performer, you get to give thanks verbally to the audience. It’s pretty much part of the show. Often singers, for example, even before they start will say, “thank you to the (insert venue) for having me here tonight.” Perhaps, they might even go bigger and say, “(insert name of city), you’re awesome! And then at the end of the show, they might say, “thank you and tell the audience how great they were.” Two nights ago, I saw a string quartet, Aeolus, and the principal violinist ended the concert by saying how much he appreciated us as listeners. However, middle grade authors don’t usually have an opportunity to do that. I mean, sure some of us have that little part in our books where we thank our writing group, our editor, our agent, and probably our family, but, we don’t always have an opportunity to thank the larger community, and, since Thursday is Thanksgiving, I thought I’d give a moment to give some middle grade thanks.

1) Thank you to readers. I know this is an obvious one. It’s so obvious that it’s easy to forget. But really, I know it’s easy to decide you’re too tired to read. After all, there’s lots of wonderful movies, games and, by golly, the great outdoors. So, yes, thank you for reading.

2) Thank you to librarians. You read everything, all of those review journals, but most importantly you introduce books to readers and readers to books. It’s like being a matchmaker. “Hmm, you say you’ve read the Harry Potter series eight times, have you tried Dianna Wynne Jones….”

3) Thank you to reviewers. Okay, sure, I admit that reviewers can be scary for authors because ego and sales can be on the line but they are so vital. Now once upon a time, I used to work in publicity and the adage was—”there’s no such thing as bad publicity because any publicity is good.” No matter the outcome, it’s a privilege to be reviewed and I’m sticking that to that!

4) Thank you to educators. You are the ones who teach kids to read and then keep them reading. You truly can’t be thanked enough!

5) Thank you to the internet. Yeah, yeah, sometimes being plugged in can be a real distraction, a true opportunity to procrastinate, but it also allows us to research and become armchair detectives. It also allows us to connect with a greater community of readers, librarians, reviewers, educators, other writers as well as the the publishing community.

6) Thank you to the publishing community. Almost anyone who goes into publishing is in it for the love and not for the money. It’s demanding work, yet rewarding. Thank you for working so hard to be where you are (everyone in the biz knows you had to pay your dues by working for free as an intern first).

7) Thank you to snack food manufacturers and tea makers. I do try to eat healthy snacks, and I appreciate that you make them, as well as so many delicious herbal teas (love licorice tea). I couldn’t write without you. Okay, I could but it would be much less yummy, and I’d be without my insta-reward/bribing schemes to get through daily word counts and editing.

8) Thank you to my fellow bloggers and readers of this blog. I’m in deep appreciation for your presence, passion and attention to the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors.

You’ve been such lovely readers. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Hillary Homzie is the author of The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009). She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page.

Deadline Stress

The freelance world is feast or famine. No matter how hard I try to space things out, I occasionally run into what I call a harmonic convergence of deadlines.

You know how it is. You book some author events months in advance. You have several ongoing projects and an unpredictable production and marketing schedule for an upcoming book release. You think everything is spaced out so that you can meet all your deadlines. You organize and prioritize using fancy software or color-coded lists on your whiteboard.

640px-February_calendar

Then there are unexpected delays in one project or another. Or there is a glitch that requires additional attention. Then the page proofs arrive when you are deep into another project with a looming deadline. Throw in some family crisis or health issue and you have a disaster in the making.

_hourglass_with_sand (2)For me, deadline stress starts with a dream. I arrive at a test and realize that I have not studied, or even attended any of the classes. As the deadline creeps closer, the stakes in the dream get higher. It’s not just any test; it’s the final. For a class I need to pass to graduate. And I am in my pajamas. Or naked.

Alarm_Clocks_20101107aWhen my deadlines are weeks away, I manage to find time to get to the gym most days. As the weeks pass, the gym becomes a distant memory. I start to count walking to the bathroom as cardio and lifting my coffee cup as a bicep curl.

Posture takes a hit.

Vulture_ (2)

And haircuts, and fashion, and personal hygiene.

As I devote more and more brain cells to writing, with an equal portion to stress, the number of cells devoted to memory falls below a critical level.

First I don’t remember to buy anything at the grocery store if it’s not written down.

Then I forget my grocery list.

Then I forget to go grocery shopping at all.

Some days I forget to eat. Or if it’s not going well, I eat constantly—to keep my strength up. As to feeding the rest of the family, I begin to rely on pizza delivery. Or I delegate.

“What’s for dinner, Mom?”

“There’s a packet of ramen* in the cabinet. Make me a bowl, will you?”

*If the child is less than ten years old, substitute cold cereal.

clock-334117_1280 (2)As much as we hate them, deadlines are our friends. There’s nothing like last-minute panic to boost productivity. And besides, it’s a great excuse.

“You need four dozen cupcakes for the bake sale? Sorry, I’m on a deadline.”

What about you? How do deadlines affect you?

 

Jacqueline Houtman forgot to include this blog post on her to-do list. Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist by Jacqueline Houtman, Walter Naegle, and Michael G. Long  (2014 Quaker Press) comes out next month. 

Tips for November Writing Challenges

It’s almost November—do you know what that means? Many writers are getting ready for fun challenges, like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The goal is to write at least 50,000 words of a novel in November. When I first learned about NaNoWriMo, I didn’t think I’d be able to participate because I was finishing a revision on a middle grade novel. On November 7th, I completed my revision and thought of a shiny new idea. By the end of November, I ended up with over 60,000 words! As awesome as that was, I’ve learned that it’s better to have more than just an idea. Fleshing out my concept and making sure I have important plot points in mind really helps (even though it’s possible they’ll change as I get to know my characters better). Some people love to outline, but I’ve never been a huge fan of it for my work. My favorite tool is Joyce Sweeney’s Plot Clock. Here’s a post about it, and here’s another post that shows a picture of the Plot Clock.

ywp_logo-NaNoWriMo

Calling all teachers—did you know that there’s a NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program? Check out their Resources for Educators, where you’ll find their free classroom kit, lesson plans, and Virtual Classroom how-to. You can also find out how to connect with fellow educators.

If you want to participate in NaNoWriMo, but don’t know what to write about yet, here’s a post that can help you come up with new ideas.

Here’s a link to a helpful interview with author Dorian Cirrone. She has fantastic advice for brainstorming high concept ideas, how to come up with a great beginning, plus a writing exercise. Check out Dorian’s blog for her series on Ten Ways to Generate Ideas.

A lot of middle grade novels are way less than 50,000 words…so how can you write a middle grade novel and still be a NaNoWriMo winner? Well, I think anyone who makes great progress on a novel is a winner. Reaching the end of a first draft in one month is definitely a reason to dance around the room and treat yourself to some kind of special celebration (maybe delicious chocolate, a fun outing with family members you haven’t spent much time with because you were so busy writing, or possibly a massage to un-hunch your shoulders after all that hard work). After celebrating, I like to dive back in and hit that 50,000 mark. Here are a few ways that I’ve accomplished that:

  1. My first drafts used to have lots of dialogue, but only a small amount of description. To beef up my word count and add important sensory details, I’ve looked for areas that could use fleshing out and added more description to them. I’d often have to cut a lot of it in the first few rounds of revision, but loved how many gems I was able to keep. Find what you often lack in your first drafts (maybe it’s dialogue, you don’t increase tension enough, etc.) and see where you can add it into your draft.
  2. If you think a sequel could work for your story, jump in and start writing it to reach your 50,000 word goal. Just try not to get too invested in it, because any changes you make to the first novel could cause huge changes to any future ones—but it can’t hurt to play around with it. You might find ideas that could enhance your first book!
  3. Beginnings are so hard to get right, that I’ve gone back to write a bunch of different beginnings. Don’t be afraid to start in a completely different place. If you’re not sure which one is best for your novel, polish your favorite beginnings up after NaNoWriMo is over, then share them with your critique group or writing friends and see if there’s a clear winner.
  4. You could also start a new novel! Hopefully, you’ll have some ideas fleshed out and ready to go.

If you get stuck while working on your new project, here’s a link to Tricks to Defeat Writer’s Block.

For those of you who also write picture books, check out Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) where the goal is to come up with at least thirty shiny new ideas during the month of November. Then, you have plenty of ideas to choose from whenever you want to write a new picture book throughout the year.

If you have any tips to share or questions to ask, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. Good luck with whatever goal you’re working toward this November. I hope the words flow!

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.