Tag Archives: Giveaway

Book Giveaway! And an Interview with Jennifer Duddy Gill

Congratulations on your debut novel, Jennifer, and thanks for celebrating your launch with us. We’re so honored!


What would you like to tell us about your book?

‘The Secret of Ferrell Savage’ begins with Ferrell entering a sled race to impress a girl he likes and, for reasons that are beyond his control, he gets her attention and becomes a celebrity in his town. A jealous racing competitor threatens to reveal a secret about Ferrell that even he, Ferrell, didn’t know: he’s a descendent of the infamous Colorado cannibal, Alfred Packer.

So it’s a cannibalism story! Excellent! That’s rare in MG fiction. :-)

Ha ha! Actually, it’s a not-too-gruesome story about an awkward first crush. Thank goodness, none of the main characters get eaten. The main thing that Ferrell has in common with his great, great, great uncle is that they both became unexpected legends.

What inspired you to write ‘The Secret of Ferrell Savage’?

It was the character himself that came to me before the actual story. He didn’t have a name at first, but I knew his personality. He’s lovable and easy-going. He isn’t a good student because he’s too daydreamy and he’s not good at sports because he doesn’t like to compete. He hates it when other people feel bad for losing. I would be driving in my car or taking my dog for a walk and this 12-year-old boy’s voice would come into my head and say funny things that would express his own quirky interpretation of the world and I couldn’t wait to find out what his story was.

Ferrell Savage is the most awesome character name I’ve read in years. How did you come up with it?

Most of the names in the story give clues to the characters. Just like real-life Alferd Packer himself – he was a meat packer. J Ferrell and his friend Mary Vittles have a discussion about their names in the book. She finds it humorous and somehow suiting that his name is pronounced “feral” like a wild, brutal animal. Then she points out that her own name sounds like it could be a title for a cookbook because “Merry Vittles” sounds like happy food.

happyDSC_5984Have you always written?

When I was ten years old my sister, Mary, bought me a journal and I loved having a place to write my thoughts. Soon, I was so hooked on writing that I would put off doing my homework because I needed to write about my day first. I have a huge trunk filled with my writing in colorful notebooks of different sizes.

Wow! Sounds like you had a really awesome sister? Does she still encourage you to write? Have there been any other key encouragers of your writing?

Both my immediate family and my in-laws have been very supportive and excited about my publication and that means so much to me. My agent, Wendy Schmalz, has been my greatest supporter of all. I’ve heard of agents parting ways with clients when the first book didn’t sell, but Wendy never lost faith in those earlier manuscripts, nor in me as a writer. Ariel Colletti bought Ferrell Savage for Atheneum and she was wonderful to work with. She is easy going and very approachable. She’s also got a great sense of humor. Sadly for everyone in publishing, Ariel decided to choose a different career path. My new editor is Ruta Rimas and while the editing part of the process was finished when she took over, she has been a champion of the book and I’ve been grateful to have her on my side. I hope to have the opportunity to produce a book together with her, from start to finish.

Speaking of gratitude, I also want to bring attention to the book’s adorable art work. Sonia Chaghatzbanian’s interior illustrations are the perfect highlight to each chapter heading. There are several that made me laugh so hard!

And how did you choose middle grade as a focus for your writing?

When we lived in Costa Rica I bought a composition book with Tweety Bird on the cover. In this book I wrote about our experiences as I imagined them from my eight- year-old daughter’s perspective. I had a lot of fun with it and both my daughters loved the stories. I thought, hmm, maybe I should try writing other stories for kids. So, I wrote a book with hopes of selling it. I was lucky enough to get the interest of a fabulous agent, but unfortunately the book didn’t sell. I wrote two more books, both a little bit dark and serious, and they came close to selling, but unfortunately the time wasn’t quite right. Ferrell Savage is actually the fourth book I wrote.

The view from Jennifer's writing desk in Costa Rica.

The view from Jennifer’s writing desk in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica! Wow! Have you ever lived any where else?

After college I joined the Peace Corps and taught organic agriculture on a West Indian island called Dominica. Later, I taught English as a second language in Barcelona. For a brief time I worked in a printing press on a kibbutz in Israel. By the time my husband and I met, we’d both seen a lot of the world. We adopted our second child in South Korea and as soon as she and our older daughter were grown up enough, we wanted to give them a view of the world outside of the U.S. We hope they’ll always be aware of the whole wonderful globe we all share.


And now the lightning round

Your favorite beverage and soundtrack while writing?

Ha! I’m going to sound painfully boring, but I like water best and complete silence when I’m writing.

Your favorite place to write?

At my desk or on the couch with one foot resting on our dog, Susi. She likes to always be within my reach.

Your favorite quote or writing mantra?

I can really relate to Gertrude Stein’s quote: “It takes a heap of loafing to write a book,” because when I’m working my hardest, I’m usually staring out a window.

And now in honor of the day A Cannibal Valentine! Yes, that’s Alfred Packer! Thanks to Meghan Gates for the artwork.



Thanks for sharing your book launch, Jennifer!

If you can’t wait to get your hands on this book, leave a comment and you are automatically in the drawing for a free signed copy!

The giveaway winner will be announced on Thursday, February 20! Stay tuned!

Interview and two amazing giveaways with author Dorian Cirrone

One of the hardest parts about being a writer is staring at a blank page, wondering how to start your story. A while back, I posted suggestions for coming up with great novel ideas. Since then, I took a workshop led by author Dorian Cirrone that was filled with amazing tips for coming up with high concept premises and great beginnings. With NaNoWriMo starting in just over a month, I thought today would be the perfect time to ask Dorian to visit us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADorian Cirrone is the author of the young adult novels, Prom Kings and Drama Queens and Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You, which was named an ALA Popular Paperback and made the Amelia Bloomer List for Feminist Fiction as well as the New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age list. She has also written the Lindy Blues chapter books, The Missing Silver Dollar and The Big Scoop. Her stories were included in the middle-grade anthologies Sports Shorts and Lay Ups and Long Shots. Dorian holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in English and has taught writing at the university level and at many workshops and conferences. She’s currently revising her first middle-grade novel.


Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Dorian! Can you explain what high concept is, and share some ways to help our readers come up with high concept premises for their future stories?

High concept seems to mean different things to different people. And for some, it’s even a negative term, implying that a work with a high concept premise is all plot-driven, with no character development. That said, after reading various opinions, I look at high concept as having some of the following characteristics:

  • Tremendous public appeal to the intended readership
  • A title and premise that hooks the reader instantly
  • A character with an exciting or enviable life that readers would want for themselves
  • Larger than life characters and situations

There are several ways to brainstorm these types of ideas. Here are three that I like, with examples from notable authors.

1.     Come up with a worst-case scenario for your characters. This pretty much sums up every dystopian novel that’s out there. But there are other worst-case scenarios, ones that might take place in our own world. For example: Chris Grabenstein’s ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY. It’s about twelve kids, who win an overnight of fun in a library, but then find out they’re trapped until they solve the puzzle to the hidden escape route.

2.     Look at popular classics, examine the kernel of the idea, and give it a fresh take. Neil Gaiman has said that his novel, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, about a boy raised by ghosts, was inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s THE JUNGLE BOOK, about a boy raised by animals. As we know, this worked out pretty well for the Newbery-winning Gaiman.

3.     Examine the world around you and figure out what might interest people in the next few years. Donna Gephart did this with her award-winning AS IF BEING 12 ¾ ISN’T BAD ENOUGH (MY MOTHER IS RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT). The year the novel was published, Hilary Clinton was running for the Democratic presidential nominee. How’s that for timing?


It’s often hard to figure out the best way to plunge into a new story. Do you have any tips for coming up with great beginnings?

Conventional wisdom dictates that you should always start in scene, but there are other ways to grab a reader. A couple that I like include:

1.     Starting with a list. One of my favorite examples of this is from Lenore Look’s ALVIN HO: ALLERGIC TO GIRLS, SCHOOL, AND OTHER SCARY THINGS. Here’s how it starts:

The first thing you should know about me is that my name is Alvin Ho.

I am afraid of many things.





Substitute teachers.



The list goes on, but you get the idea. Each of his fears tells a little more about the main character. It’s a great device to not only tell about him, but to foreshadow the many conflicts he’ll have.

2.     Starting with some type of weird statement or fact. Rebecca Stead does this in LIAR & SPY when she begins with:

There’s this totally false map of the human tongue. It’s supposed to show where we taste different things, like salty on the side of the tongue, sweet in the front, bitter in the back. Some guy drew it a hundred years ago, and people have been forcing kids to memorize it ever since.

The statement isn’t just a quirky fact to grab its intended readers. It also delivers a clue to the unreliability of the narrator, sets up an opportunity for plot events, and provides an extended metaphor for the character’s current situation. Triple duty. And brilliant.


Do you have a writing exercise to share with our readers?

An exercise I like to do when I’m planning a novel is to come up with a tagline that distills the story into a short phrase that would hook readers. Even if the tagline I create for myself wouldn’t appear on the book, writing it forces me to think about all kinds of things, such as: tone, audience, premise, promise, theme, etc. If I can pull all those things into one line—and maybe even include some type of contradiction or irony, it gets me thinking more deeply about both the head and heart of my story.

Here are some examples of taglines on covers that have caught my eye:

“A dose of magic can save the world.” (THE APOTHECARY by Maile Meloy)

“If you could see into the future—would you look?” (A YEAR WITHOUT AUTUMN by Liz Kessler)

“A road trip with her ex? Danger ahead.” (TWO-WAY STREET by Lauren Barnholdt)

“The greatest love story ever told is a lie.” (JULIET IMMORTAL by Stacey Jay)

“Never trust a pretty girl with an ugly secret.” (PRETTY LITTLE LIARS by Sara Shepard)

“She wasn’t supposed to survive the accident. But she did.” (THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX by Mary E. Pearson)

Taglines seem to appear on the covers of teen novels more frequently than they do on middle-grade novels, and I’m not sure why. However, I’ve also noticed that some middle-grade novels include the elements of a tagline in the title, as in the aforementioned ALVIN HO: ALLERGIC TO GIRLS, SCHOOL, AND OTHER SCARY THINGS and in FAKE MUSTACHE: OR, HOW JODIE O’RODEO AND HER WONDER HORSE (AND SOME NERDY KID) SAVED THE U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION FROM A MAD GENIUS CRIMINAL MASTERMIND by Tom Angleberger.

Whether you end up using your short phrase as a tagline, as part of a title, or not at all, after doing this exercise, I think you’ll come away with a better understanding of your story.


What are some of your favorite middle-grade novels?

There are so many great middle-grade novels that I’ve enjoyed—too many to list. But the ones I’ve most recently read and loved include: Rebecca Stead’s LIAR & SPY, Donna Gephart’s HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL, Kathryn Fitzmaurice’s DESTINY REWRITTEN, and Liz Kessler’s A YEAR WITHOUT AUTUMN.


Can you share some of your favorite books about writing and let us know why they appeal to you?

One of my all-time favorites is Les Edgerton’s HOOKED: WRITE FICTION THAT GRABS READERS AT PAGE ONE & NEVER LETS THEM GO. I love how he nails down everything that should be in the first few pages of your novel to set things up for the reader.

I’ve recently started reading K.M. Weiland’s STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL: ESSENTIAL KEYS FOR WRITING AN OUTSTANDING STORY. I’m particularly interested in techniques for writing stronger scenes these days, and she has some great ideas for doing that.

Also, anything by Donald Maass. He’s a master at breaking things down, particularly when it comes to creating tension in a novel.


Thank you for sharing so many wonderful writing tips with us, and for offering such a generous giveaway, Dorian! Watch for Dorian’s redesigned website and blog with writing tips in the next few months. In the meantime, you can connect with her on Facebook. 


One lucky person will win two of Dorian’s Lindy Blues chapter books—The Missing Silver Dollar and The Big Scoop.

Plus, another lucky person will win up to a ten page middle-grade or young adult novel critique from Dorian! Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. Everyone eligible will be entered to win the chapter books—please let us know in a blog comment if you’re also interested in the critique. The winners will be announced on Saturday, September 28. Good luck!

**The book giveaway is for people living in the United States and Canada, but the ten page MG or YA critique is open to everyone.


Lindy Blues 1

When Lindy Blues, Your Nose for News, gets a call that there’s been a bank robbery, she jumps into action. She heads for the White House – the one on 14th and Flamingo, the home of Joshua and Amy Becker. When she learns there’s only one silver dollar missing from Amy’s “World Bank,” Lindy can’t believe an important reporter would be asked to cover such a small story. But it’s a slow news week and she needs a scoop. Will Lindy solve the mystery of the missing coin by tonight’s news show? Tune in and find out!



Lindy Blues 2

Lindy Blues, Your Nose for News, is stumped when she hears about the missing ice-cream shop. How could “Mr. Hoop’s Super Scoop” go missing and then mysteriously reappear? As Lindy sniffs around the neighborhood for clues, she realizes that this might be her toughest scoop yet! Time is running out for her Saturday night news program, and all Lindy has is a story about flowers and their biological clocks. Will she crack the case of the missing ice-cream store in time for the LBN newscast? Tune in to find out!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Happy Flag Day! Let’s celebrate with an interview with award-winning author Kate Messner and a giveaway!


Happy Flag Day!



What better way to celebrate than to talk to award-wining author Kate Messner        



about her middle-grade mystery book, Capture the Flag!


Kate’s newest middle-grade novel series has it all – excitement, intrigue, high-stakes action, and best of all it centers on the stolen American flag! What a great idea and a fun topic for our Flag Day post!



A stolen flag, a secret society, and three complete strangers . . .
Anna, José, and Henry have never met, but they have more in common than they realize. Snowed in together at a chaotic Washington, DC, airport, they encounter a mysterious tattooed man, a flamboyant politician, and a rambunctious poodle named for an ancient king. Even stranger, news stations everywhere have just announced that the famous flag that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner” has been stolen! Anna, certain that the culprits must be snowed in, too, recruits Henry and José to help find the thieves and bring them to justice.
But when accusations start flying, they soon realize there’s even more than a national treasure at stake. With unexpected enemies lurking around every corner, will the trio solve the heist before the flag is lost forever?


A Junior Library Guild Selection
“A fast-paced mystery . . . a sparkling start for a promising new series.” –KIRKUS REVIEWS
“A novel as cinematic in execution as it is patriotic in theme.” –PUBLISHERS WEEKLY


I just finished reading your delightful book, Capture the Flag, I was wondering – where did you get the inspiration for this story? Did you visit the actual flag in the Smithsonian?

I did visit that flag – but not until I already knew I was going to let it be stolen in this book!  The inspiration for CAPTURE THE FLAG was actually the setting — I love airports and thought it would be great fun to set a mystery in one during a snowstorm. I love the super-charged atmosphere…everyone coming or going someplace. In airports, everyone has a story.  And I loved the idea of the snowstorm keeping everyone stuck there for a short period of time so my kids could investigate the crime, knowing that if they didn’t solve it, all the evidence and suspects would fly away as soon as the storm let up.


Much of the book takes place in an airport and the baggage area underneath. Were you able to go behind the scenes of the baggage handling area to do research for this book?

That’s the one thing I wasn’t able to explore firsthand in my research. Not surprisingly, airport security in a post-9/11 world doesn’t make exception for children’s authors.  However, I was able explore those under-the-airport worlds virtually, since most companies that build baggage handling systems have videos online showing how they work.


How much research, if any, do you do for your fiction books? Do you think this is  important?

I do extensive research for my books, especially when it comes to making sure I have the setting just right.  For CAPTURE THE FLAG, that meant spending a day at the Smithsonian, exploring behind the scenes with the curator of the flag exhibit and talking through just how those fictional bad guys might get out of the museum with the flag.


This book is your first mystery. Did you have fun writing it?

Great fun – but it was a great challenge, too, and taught me to plan in much more detail than I’d been accustomed to with my previous books.


Any tips aspiring authors should be aware of when writing mysteries for middle grade readers?

When I teach mystery writing workshops, I focus a lot on planning – the idea that suspects aren’t the only ones who need motives; investigators do, too.  It takes a lot of playing around with ideas to make sure all the details end up fitting together just right. And I think setting is huge in mysteries, too. The place can be a huge part of the story, and I encourage writers to think of it as the playground for their characters. What adventures can happen in a museum? In an airport, or a rainforest, or at the World Series?


Do you tend to stick with one writing level at a time or go back and forth depending on what inspires you?

I write across genres — middle grade, chapter books, and picture books – both fiction and nonfiction – and I love them all, so I couldn’t choose just one as a favorite. Most often, it’s my deadlines the determine what any given writing day looks like. The book that’s due first gets first priority, and when I’m not on deadline, I tend to play a lot, working on whatever seems to be calling me that day.


Your characters are ethnically diverse. How important do you think it is to have ethnically diverse characters in middle grade  books?

Very much so – and I’ve actually been quite involved in providing input for the covers for this mystery series. Scholastic has been amazing about asking for feedback, and we’ve talked about just this topic – the importance of not only including kids from different backgrounds on the covers but also showing their faces.  When I was teaching 7th grade, it was important to me that all of my students could find books with faces on the cover that looked like theirs. It was frustrating to me when most of the books I could find with brown faces on the covers were historical or issue books, where the story was about the character’s race.  In real life, it’s not like that — kids of all different backgrounds go to school and play lots of different sports and solve mysteries and have adventures, and I feel like we need to be mindful of that when we write and market books, too. I’ve been thrilled with the covers for the books in this series!  (And I can’t share the cover for book 3, MANHUNT, quite yet, but I can tell you that I think it might be the best of all!)

Many thanks!  ~Kate


And many thanks to you, Kate, for giving us a peek into your writing process. Mysteries are my favorite and I really loved this book! Can’t wait to read the new one in the series.

To learn more about Kate’s many amazing books, see her website http://www.katemessner.com/

Now, for what you’ve all been waiting for,  Kate has generously offered to donate an autographed copy of Capture the Flag to one lucky reader!  Simply leave a comment below and you will be entered in the giveaway.



Jennifer Swanson is a life-long mystery lover. Some say she was born with a magnifying glass in one hand a Nancy Drew book in the other.