Tag Archives: contemporary realistic middle-grade fiction

You’re Invited: A Giveaway and Interview with Jen Malone and Gail Nall

The Mixed-Up Files is very excited to introduce Jen Malone and Gail Nall and their new series about four girls who run an event planning business. The first book in the series, You’re Invited, was released just last month.

Unknown

The authors recently stopped by to answer some questions about themselves and their books.

MUF: I see that the two of you live pretty far from each other. How did you meet? And what made you decide to collaborate on a book?

Gail: In summer 2012, we were both querying and doing blog writing contests. We “met” on one of those blogs where we each had an entry (spoiler alert: my entry was my upcoming YA debut, Exit Stage Left, which was MG back then!). We each read the other’s entry, and then I think we left simultaneous comments to the effect of, “Hi! You write like me. Let’s exchange manuscripts!” So we did, and quickly became critique partners. Not long after that, Jen snagged an agent, and then about four months later, I also got an agent. Then Jen’s book, At Your Service, sold to Aladdin, and a few months later, my book, Breaking the Ice, also sold to the same editor at Aladdin. So, collaborating on a story was almost meant to be the next step! We write MG with comparable voices, were already with the same editor at the same house, and we knew we could get along! It was a nice surprise to find out that we both drafted chronologically, and that neither of us was particularly skilled in plotting before writing. (We had to fix that last one, quick!)

MUF: What sparked your idea of a group of friends becoming event planners?

Jen: I love to write wish-fulfillment books (At Your Service is about a girl who lives in a fancy hotel) and I also love books about girl entrepreneurs, so I basically just asked myself, “What business would I have loved to do with my friends when I was twelve?” Party planning was something tween girls could kick butt and allowed for lots of creativity on their part, but also offered plenty of potential for drama and hilarious mishaps, which Gail is a master at devising! I was rereading Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants around the same time and loved the four best friends each writing from her own perspective. We always knew the tight-knit friendship would be the real story in You’re Invited, and we pitched the book as a cross between Babysitter’s Club and Sisterhood, which became a touch point for us as we wrote.

MUF: Have either of you had any of your own event planning disasters?

Gail: Okay, so back in high school, my BFF and I decided to throw a party at her house. It was very last-minute, and it was really more of a way to invite the guy she liked over without specifically inviting him, if that makes any sense. So it’s 7:00, and no one’s there. 8:00, no one. About 9, the guy’s friend calls and says they’re coming over. So rather than look like the girls who threw a party no one came to, we raced around filling up plastic cups with various levels of Coke, crumbling food onto paper plates, and generally making the place look like there’d just been some amazing party these guys had missed out on. The funny thing is, I think they bought it.

Jen: I used to work as a Hollywood publicist and a big part of my job was planning premieres and special screenings, so I’ve had my share. One of the most memorable was when I had to spend a weekend hiding the boyfriend of an A-list movie star from the press… and from his wife (it actually forms the basis for my YA out this summer, called Map to the Stars). And then there was the time a movie star ground her stiletto heel into the foot of a fan who just wouldn’t give her space on the red carpet at a film festival, and I had to distract the press so they wouldn’t notice the commotion that caused. Good times! I will say, that job taught me to be a little too hyper-organized in order to avoid any potential for disaster- when it was time to plan my own wedding everyone in the bridal party got three-inch thick binders of instructions. I cringe every time I think about those, and I’m sincerely lucky to still have them as friends today!

MUF: What was your process when you wrote? Did each of you take two characters? Or did you each have a hand in writing from the point of view of all the girls?

Gail: The book is a rotating, four-person POV, so each chapter is narrated by one of the girls. We each claimed two characters and wrote “our” girls’ chapters, but there was a lot of input and revision based on the other person’s comments. The other person also had carte blanche to go through and fix her characters’ dialogue and quirks in the chapters she didn’t write. There was a lot of “blah blah [insert Becca-speak here] blah blah”-type notes throughout the first draft. If it was something more than that, we usually wrote long margin comments to each other, suggesting changes to the scene that would better fit the characters and their motivations. Co-writing is sort of like working with a built-in critique partner!

We actually wrote a three-part blog series about the whole process (from idea to publication), which you can find the first installment of here: https://chasingthecrazies.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/behind-the-curtain-what-happens-when-you-co-write-a-book/

MUF: I love how each girl’s chapter starts with something that relates to her, e.g., Sadie’s chapters always start with To-Do Lists; Lauren’s start with definitions; Vi’s start with recipes; and Becca’s start with horoscopes. If you were characters in your own book, how would your chapters start?

Gail: A list of the books in my to-be-read stack. Wait, that would take about fifty pages to list . . . So maybe I’d be a Sadie and have my endless to-do list that lives on my phone. I have reminders to “buy groceries” and “clean cat litter boxes,” because seriously, who has time to remember stuff like that? 😉

Jen: This is a great question! Mine would probably start with a quirky or inspiring quote because I’m a total sucker for them (even if I never remember them later!) 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Brown’s Book of Precepts by R.J. Palacio is basically my nirvana. It would definitely not be a recipe, like Vi’s chapters have, because I can only cook pizza bagels and oatmeal.

MUF: I see that You’re Invited Too is already in the works. When will that be out? And do you expect to do more books together?

Gail  and Jen: You’re Invited Too will be out on February 2nd, 2016! It was so much fun to write about the girls’ continuing adventures as they take on their first huge event (a wedding with a Bridezilla). We’d love to write more books for the RSVP girls, so fingers crossed!

Thanks for such great answers! Congratulations to both of you and thanks for stopping by!

Gail and Jen are giving away a signed copy of You’re Invited. To be eligible, just leave a comment below. A winner will be announced on Tuesday, June 9. (You must live in the United States or Canada to enter the giveaway.)

Read more about the authors here:

official%20author%20photoJen Malone writes books for tweens and teens. Her debut At Your Service published with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin MIX in 2014, and her new series, You’re Invited (Simon & Schuster), co-written with Gail Nall, launched with Book #1 in 2015. She has three young adult titles forthcoming with HarperCollins, beginning with Map to the Stars in Summer 2015. Jen lives outside Boston with her husband and three children, teaches at Boston University, loves school visits, and has a “thing” for cute hedgehog pictures. You can learn more about her and her books at www.jenmalonewrites.com.

Gail%20NallGail Nall lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family and more cats than necessary. She once drove a Zamboni, has camped in the snow in June, and almost got trampled in Paris. Gail is the author of the middle grade novel Breaking the Ice, and is the co-author of You’re Invited (both Aladdin/S&S, 2015). Her upcoming young adult debut is Exit Stage Left (EpicReads Impulse/HarperCollins, 9/8/15), and two more middle grade novels, You’re Invited Too and Out of Tune, will follow from S&S in 2016. You can find her online at www.gailnall.com and on Twitter as @gailecn.

 

Dorian Cirrone has written several books for children and teens. Her middle-grade novel, The First Last Day, which takes place on the Jersey Shore, will be out in May 2016 from (Aladdin/S&S). You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter as @DorianCirrone. She gives writing tips and does occasional giveaways on her blog at: http://doriancirrone.com/welcome/blog/ 

 

 

Indie Spotlight: Square Books Jr., Oxford MS

Independent Book Store Day is coming up this Saturday, May 2, so it’s delightful to be talking with Paul Fyke of Square Books Jr. in Oxford , Mississippi (www.squarebooks.com/junior) and to be reminded of what we love about independent bookstores!
Mixed-Up Files: Paul, how did Square Books Jr. come to be? How does it relate to Square Books “senior”?  

Square books jr.  exteriorPaul: Square Books Jr. was born out of a mixture of desire and necessity. For a long time Square Books had wanted to expand its children’s area. When it became apparent that it would be impossible to do that in the existing space, a plan was set into motion. Once the right location became available it was quietly leased. Then, the windows were covered in paper leaving the locals to wonder what new business to expect. Once the stock was ordered and the space renovated, it was time for the final step. At the release of “Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix,” it was announced Square Books would host a release party at 6am in celebration. What followed was a scavenger hunt around the town square that eventually led people to the mysterious new space with the paper over the windows. It was then that Square Books, Jr. was unveiled. Now, twelve years later, it seems like the secret is out.

MUF: Please describe the atmosphere you have created in your shop.
Paul: At a staff function, our owner once described Square Books, Jr. as “an independent among independents.” This statement has always stuck with me because I think it very much encapsulates what makes Square Books, Jr. different. We try to cultivate an atmosphere that is welcoming, not just in a tidy, commercial way, but in a human way. When children come into our store we want them to feel like this is their store. There are toys scattered between a play table and a play kitchen in the back, with a couch in between for parents to enjoy a well-earned moment of rest. Rarely is there a time where there’s not at least one child imagining some grand fantasy in the play castle in the back or at the very least dancing to the eclectic musical lineup we play over the stores sound system. Square Books Jr.  Interior #3

MUF: How do you choose the books and other items you carry in Square Books Jr.? What is your collection especially strong in?
Paul: Our greatest strengths are probably our Middle Grade collection and our picture book selection. We are fortunate in that we have a very dedicated staff, each with their own specialties. Leita, who has worked here for going on twelve years now, is the curator of our picture books collection. Jill, our buyer and other twelve year veteran, makes sure that Middle Grade is always filled with exciting new series for children to explore. I’ve been here seven years now, and I spend most of my time in the YA section looking for hidden gems and trying to make sure we don’t end up with a shelf of exclusively NY Times bestsellers. Lyn, our general manager and non-book item buyer, makes sure we never lack for exciting educational toys (many of which are provided by Melissa and Doug). All of this comes together to make a store filled with merchandise that we can all be confident in.

MUF: How do you go about helping readers find “their” books and vice-versa?
Paul: The most important part of helping a child find his or her perfect book is taking the time to talk to the child and discover their interests. It’s more than just “Did you like the Hunger Games/Maze Runner/Percy Jackson?” You have to engage the child. If they like sports do they like to play sports or do they just like to watch sports with their family? Do they like to play Minecraft? Do they like Survival or Creative mode if they do play? What kind of TV shows are they watching?

Children's Book Week bookmark by Raúl Cólón

Children’s Book Week bookmark by Raúl Cólón

Finding out what the child does when they are not reading is one of the best ways to help them find a book that is not only engaging, but also something that can help them fall in love with reading.

MUF: How is Square Books Jr. planning to celebrate National Children’s Book Week, May 4-10?
Paul:
Children’s Book Week has always been an exciting time for us. This year we are kicking things off a little bit early with a signing by local authors Kat and Margaret King for their new book The Backyard Campout on Independent Bookstore Day, May 2. Square Books Backyard Campout As the week continues we will have story times aplenty and a special meeting of the SBJ Book Society, our 8-12 year old readers book club. We are going to close the week out with a “Dress as your favorite book character” special story time on Saturday, May 9th.

MUF: Since we’re middle-grade authors, we’re eager to know some titles new and old, fiction and nonfiction, that you find yourself recommending to eight- to twelve-year-olds these days?
Paul:
I love to recommend The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch. I don’t know that I’ve ever met a child that doesn’t love it in some way; whether it’s for the characters, the humor, or the mystery there’s something in there for everyone. Some of my other favorite recommendations include TheSquare Books, Name of this Book is Secret Lost Years of Merlin by TA Barron, Matilda by Roald Dahl, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, and  lately The League of Seven by Alan Gratz. My favsquare books league of sevenSquare Books-Lost Years of Merlinorite nonfiction recommendations are Bomb by Steve Sheinken and How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg.Square Books  How they croakedSquare Books Matilda

Square Books Where's Waldo?

He’s everywhere!

MUF: Do you have some special events planned that are geared to middle-graders?
Paul:
Our biggest upcoming event will be the Where’s Waldo event in July. Waldo (or at least a small cardboard cut-out of Waldo) will be hidden in 26 stores around the town square. Kids who find Waldo in at least 20 stores are entered into a drawing for free books and other gifts from around the square. Children of all ages participate in this event, but it is especially fun for middle-graders who are spending their aimless afternoons on the town square. While we don’t have any signings firmly planned at the moment, we will most certainly have a few in the coming months. Information on these can always be found on our Facebook page or on our website, http://www.squarebooks.com/junior.

MUF: If a family makes a day trip to Square Books Jr. from out of town, would there be family-friendly places nearby where they could get a snack or meal after browsing?
Paul: With restaurants lining every side of the courthouse square where our store is located, it’s almost difficult to get off the square without having a meal. There’s Ajax, which is where everyone will tell you to go if you ask for recommendations (yes it’s that good). There’s also Proud Larry’s, which is a personal favorite of mine. Ajax serves amazing seemingly-homemade southern food, while Proud Larry’s serves a greater variety with everything from pizza and pasta to burgers and sandwiches. If you’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth Holli’s Sweet Tooth is the perfect destination. They have a wide assortment of ice cream flavors, incredible milkshakes, and every type of candy you can possibly imagine.square books logo

MUF: And if they can stay a little longer, can you recommend some unique places or activities in Oxford they shouldn’t miss?
Paul:
One activity I encourage everyone to squeeze into their travel schedules is a trip to Rowan Oak, the historic home of William Faulkner. Tours are available Tuesday through Saturday, but the grounds can be visited during any day time hours as long as nothing is disturbed. In addition to that, we have a University Museum with constantly changing exhibits that I personally spent a good deal of time in as a child. Past that, my biggest advice is to ask people on the square if there are any events happening soon. There’s almost always something interesting going on if you’re not afraid ask around.

MUF: Readers, don’t you love to hear a bookseller say that his collection is strongest in middle-grade? This Saturday, Independent Book Store Day,  be sure to visit Square Books Jr. to meet the authors of The Backyard Campout. Or visit your nearest independent book shop and buy a book or two.  Thanks to real-book people like us, indies are not only not going away, they’re thriving!

Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel  You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012, HarperCollins UK 2014)

Keep Em’ Wowed When You Read Aloud

I blame it on Mrs. Clarke. My fifth grade teacher opened new worlds to us-turning our room into a functioning trading post, taking us to see a traveling Broadway show, reading HARRIET THE SPY aloud with such zest that I may have filched the classroom copy to read it again over the summer. Sorry, Mrs. Clarke!

9780440416791

It was the first of those three that made me long to teach, the second that spurred my theatrical dreams, and the last that inspired me not only to want to read, but to be a writer of books that could grip kids the way Harriet had gripped me.

I was already an avid reader. It was the way Mrs. Clarke read aloud that really connected me to that book and the power of good writing. I’ll never forget when my teacher shouted “FINKS!” a la Harriet with such passion. It was as if the middle-aged woman who taught us dry subjects like math and spelling had been transformed into a conflicted girl who was neglected by her parents and misunderstood by her friends. I was addicted.

“The reading” is one of my favorite parts of school visits and book signings. It doesn’t matter how self-conscious I feel standing up in front of a crowd, the second I start to read and become the characters on the page, all of that lifts. I happily make a fool out of myself, morphing into a lisping, retainer-wearing bully or an evil genius toddler for the reward of giggles or hearing a student cry, “Don’t stop!” when I close the book.

Whether you’re a parent, teacher, librarian, or an author, employing some of these simple techniques can enhance the read aloud experience for you and your listeners.

When Possible, Practice Aloud Ahead of Time This is the single most helpful thing you can do to improve your reading. While not always practical for teachers or parents reading aloud a chapter a day, even having read the material once will improve your chances of not tripping over difficult phrases and knowing where to pause and change voices. Before I have a school visit, I always rehearse the material several times, highlighting pauses and character changes. I forgot my reading glasses at my first book’s launch, and having rehearsed so much saved me some serious embarrassment!

LouReads

“Reading” during my first book’s launch at Watermark Books.

 

Ba-Dum-Ching! Build tension by pausing at ellipses and speeding up during action scenes. When reading funny material, comedic timing is essential. If you’re not certain how comedic rhythm works, study funny plays and listen for those moments when the actors pause and how they deliver punch lines. I use dramatic pauses and ba-dum-ching! moments to give the audience a significant glance, drawing them into the moment.

Eye Contact Speaking of significant glances: use your finger to keep your place in the text so you can look at your listeners occasionally. It will do wonders to keep them engaged. Here practicing ahead is especially helpful.

Animate Your Body and Face A gesture now and then keeps things exciting for your audience. When I’m reading from my TODD books, I like to wave around a “dirty” sock when I’m doing those portions. If I’m especially familiar with a passage I will walk back and forth, depending on the crowd size and location (I’ve been known to nearly fall off of stages-so use caution.)

I try to animate my face when I read, within reason. There’s no need to channel Jim Carrey, but do try to be entertaining if the text calls for it.

Be Heard If your voice is naturally soft, use a microphone in larger settings or practice projecting by breathing from your diaphragm muscle rather than just your chest. Pop your consonants and don’t drop the end of your sentences, letting them trail off.

Put Your Heart Into It Even if you’re reading a passage that is more contemplative and doesn’t require as much animation, be sensitive to the nuances of the prose and dialogue. There are times when “less is more” while reading aloud, and being subtle is the best method. But whatever you’re reading, your listeners will know right away whether or not you’re wholly invested in the material. If you are, be prepared to be begged for more!

Can you think of any techniques I might have left out? What are your favorite books to read aloud? Any childhood memories of being read to that impacted your love of literature?

LouGbiopicLouise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD and the newly released IN TODD WE TRUST, both from Penguin/Razorbill. She directs children’s and community theater and tweets @LouiseGalveston. Find out more about Louise and her work at www.bythegraceoftodd.com.