Tag Archives: writing tips

Finding Mighty by Sheela Chari

Summer is a great time to read a new mystery and FINDING MIGHTY is the epitome of a great summer read. Even better it’s written by Edgar Award nominee Sheela Chari. Sheela and I met several years ago when her first book VANISHED and my SECOND FIDDLE were out in the same year. Both books had a musical element and so we did some events together with a group of MG and YA authors on the Stages on Pages tour. One of the real delights of writing is the people you meet on the journey, and I’m thrilled that my path has crossed Sheela’s again.

 Let’s start with Parkour and why you chose it. Are you a practitioner of this sport?

I came to learn about parkour in a roundabout way. While writing FINDING MIGHTY, I envisioned that some of the graffiti tags that appear as clues in the story were up very high off the ground. I wondered how someone would reach such heights without being slowed down by equipment. So in my research, I came across parkour, and I thought of course! So that’s how some of my characters ended up being practitioners of both graffiti and parkour.

But then as I kept writing, I found myself being drawn to this art form more and more. And I specifically refer to parkour as art because even though it’s an urban movement sport, parkour runners use their bodies in efficient ways that emphasize the beauty of their form. I began to go past the stereotypes we normally associate with parkour – daredevils climbing bridges and jumping off buildings – and see how, like yoga, parkour is about controlling your movement and negotiating physical space. As someone who is fascinated by bridges and yet incredibly afraid of heights, it makes sense to me that I would find parkour beautiful and thrilling. For me, the ability to jump and fall gracefully, and land on your feet is the ultimate superpower. So a not-so secret admirer of parkour? Yes. A practitioner? No. Well, not yet.

If you are curious about what a parkour run looks like here’s a video of one of the more extreme practitioners of the sport James Kingston.

Tell us about the relationship between Myla and Peter and how the racial element of that friendship plays out. I think MG kids are both more relaxed about interracial friendships but also more aware of nuances. Is that your experience as well?

In thinking and writing about Myla and Peter, I came across their characters very differently. In the simplest way – Peter started off as plot and Myla as character. With Peter, his story began with an “Omar” tag I would see on the highway near my home. I would wonder who wrote it and why. Eventually I shortened the tag to “Om” and Peter’s story emerged, not as the person who wrote the tag, but the younger brother searching for his missing brother, Randall, and the tag’s mysterious role in Randall’s disappearance. Myla was more like me as a young person – a highly observant girl who feels largely unnoticed by the world. Because she was so much like me, it made sense to make her Indian-American, with a family and lifestyle similar to my own. With Peter, I wasn’t sure who he was yet – I had to write to find his character. As I did, he evolved into someone part Indian, but also a mixture of other communities (Peter’s mother is Indian and his father is half African-American and half white). And I liked the way that organically came to the story. Myla’s and Peter’s racial identities are not the basis for their friendship, but it was a nice meeting ground – the fact that they were sort of alike but not completely. It gave them each something to learn from the other. In the end, FINDING MIGHTY is really about what happens when these two different people meet and become friends, and how their qualities become so important to the other person, whether it is help in finding a lost sibling, or in finding your sense of self.

Tell us a little bit about this gorgeous cover. As a bookseller in a diverse community I love it that you can tell from the cover that the characters are not white. Did you have any input on the cover?

 

 

 

 

Thank you! I like this cover a lot. Myla is modeled after my close family friend’s daughter. The original drawing of Myla was good but she didn’t look Indian to me. So I sent in a photo of my friend’s daughter, and then the cover artist, R. Kikuo Johnson, used that to create the final Myla on the back cover. He did an amazing job, both with Myla, and the whole cover.

Can you share some tips for MG mystery writers. I, for one, think it’s hard to write a mystery when your detectives can’t drive.

  1. MG characters make great snoops. They can be present during conversations and overhear without giving themselves away, because adults don’t often realize just how smart or intuitive kids are. So don’t be afraid to put your characters where the action is.
  2. Lists are a great way to keep track of information. Some of my favorite mysteries, such as THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY, use lists to describe theories or clues. Lists are also a very visual and quick way to remind readers what they already know.
  3. Know that as crime solvers, your MG detective will have to take risks. It’s what makes her different from the rest of the mold. At the same time, not every sleuth has to scale a building to prove herself. Although in my case, Myla does, because she’s scared of heights. Which is why climbing out of her bedroom window one night to find Peter’s brother becomes necessary for both the plot and her character. So have your main character take risks, but make sure that they’re risks that test her qualities the most.
  4. It’s true that middle grade kids can’t drive. But they can walk and take the train or bus. Keep those options available – make your characters savvy enough (or brave enough) to understand a train schedule or know which stop to get off on the bus. In both my MG mystery novels, VANISHED and FINDING MIGHTY, my characters have to rely on public transportation to get them where they need to be. And in FINDING MIGHTY, two characters walk 50 blocks in Manhattan to track down a clue!
  5. Even if you’re a “pantser,” try to have a sense of the end of your book before you start. It’s not always possible – I didn’t know the ending with VANISHED until I got to the end. But even if you don’t, it’s important to know what happens during the “Big Reveal.” If you divide your story into beginning, middle, and end, I like to call this point the end of the middle. It’s when your main character finally finds out what they’ve been searching for. The more you know about this moment of revelation, the easier it will be for you to write towards it – like moving to the light at the end of the tunnel. This tip holds true for writing any mystery, or for writing a book in general.

Terrific advice! I’m going to keep it in mind for my next project. Thank you Sheela for sharing your thoughts with our MUF readers. Sheela is giving away a copy of FINDING MIGHTY. Leave us a comment to enter the drawing. A winner will be chosen in three days.

Sheela Chari is the author of FINDING MIGHTY, a Junior Library Guild Selection, and VANISHED, which was an APALA Children’s Literature Honor Book, an Edgar Award nominee, and an Al’s Book Club Pick on the Today Show. She has an MFA in Fiction from New York University and teaches creative writing at Mercy College. Sheela lives in New York. Visit her online at sheelachari.com and @wordsbysheela.

 

A Chat With Author Trudi Trueit & A Giveaway of My Top Secret Dares & Don’ts!

Please give a warm Mixed-Up welcome to Author Trudi Trueit and her latest release My Top Secret Dares & Don’ts. I’m so excited to have the opportunity to interview Trudi. Plus, this is my first post for MUF, so if I sound overly-excited don’t worry. It will eventually wear off.

Twelve-year-old Kestrel must battle evil twin sisters and overcome her own worst fear to prevent the foreclosure of her grandmother’s beloved lodge in this fresh, funny M!X novel.

Description: Kestrel and her family are headed out to Vancouver, BC, to help out her grandmother at her beautiful ski lodge. It’s been in the family for generations, but the business is in trouble—and there are lots of people looking to take over the property.
Kestrel is determined to help her family retain their precious business—one that her grandfather built literally from the ground up. But two evil twins—who happen to be the daughters of a property developer determined to drive the lodge out of business—prove to be her nemeses in every way possible. Can Kestrel help save the lodge and beat the twins at their own game?

Sounds amazingly sweet, doesn’t it? Well it was. Want to know how I know that? Trudi was gracious enough to share a copy with me. Feel free to read my thoughts HERE.

Hi Trudi! It’s wonderful to have you here. I’m intrigue by writers who are successful in writing both fiction and non-fiction. Mind sharing  your reasons and inspirations for writing fictional tales, and how do those differ from your nonfiction work? 

I’ve always loved to read! As a kid, I couldn’t wait for the Scholastic Book Club order to come in so I could lug home my stack of new books. I started writing stories and plays when I was in early elementary school, inspired by writers I admired, such as Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, E.B. White, and E.L. Konigsburg. Although I adored the book Mixed Up Files, my all-time favorite book is Kongisburg’s Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth. I identified closely with the main character and it taught me the most powerful thing a story can have is relatable characters.

Fiction and nonfiction have more in common than you might think. With both genres, you must be clear and succinct, write lively prose, and tell a good story. Fiction is the ultimate in creativity; there are a million different choices you can make about where the plot will go at any given point. You are in complete control. With nonfiction, you are telling stories that aren’t your own, yet you still have decisions to make about the angle, the narrative, and what to include (and leave out). I especially enjoy the research aspect of nonfiction; interviewing experts and unearthing new gems of information. Can you tell I was a TV journalist before I wrote for children? Also, nonfiction can have as much lasting power as fiction! A book I wrote on the water cycle more than a decade ago is still being used in school curriculums today.

Great point about writing techniques being the same. And those SBC order forms … Yes! I always had a hard time dwindling my choices down to one or two. 

I’m a character name fanatic and the name Kestrel is definitely unique. What about this character told you her name should be Kestrel?

I am a character name freak, too. I try to select a name that reflects personality and struggles. Several years ago, I met a Native American woman named Kestrel. She was a volunteer at a wildlife rehab facility, helping injured eagles and hawks (a kestrel is a type of falcon). I tucked the name away with the idea that one day I would give it to a character, who needed to spread her wings. When I started thinking about my main character in Dares & Don’ts, who was small in stature and hiding behind her fears, I knew she needed a name to aspire to. She had to discover she had it within her to fly! Kestrel seemed like the perfect fit. BTW, Kestrel’s grandmother is named Lark – another bird!

Kestrel’s desire to help her family is admirable. How important is it to you, the author, to include a middle grader’s family and interactions with them in your books? Have you found it makes a difference to your readers?

It’s everything! Your family plays an integral role in your values and how you identify with the world. Unless you’re doing a story about an orphan, you can’t have a well-rounded story about a 12-year-old without giving him/her a sense of family (even then, an orphan’s friends become his/her family). Plus, it’s our intimate relationships that reveal who we truly are. If you read about a girl, who is kind to her friends but viciously insults her little sister, it speaks volumes about the person she is. There’s no better way to show readers the heart of a character than to peer behind the doors at home. And I do think it matters to readers. After my last book, The Sister Solution (the story of two sisters who are as different as night and day) I got many letters from readers saying, “This is exactly how my sister and I relate to each other!”

“…our intimate relationships that reveal who we truly are.” I love this. Great note for writers. If you could take Kestrel and drop her into a different book which book would it be and why?

I’d love to drop Kestrel into Stealing Popular, another title of mine. It’s the story of a girl, Coco, who decides to play Robin Hood in her middle school. She ‘steals’ from the popular kids to give to the misfits and outcasts, who never seem to get any breaks. Coco finds a way to get her best friend on the cheer staff and the least popular girl in school voted as Fall queen. With Coco’s courage and Kestrel’s tenacity, they’d make a great team!

What makes this book different from some of the other stories you’ve written?

This book, more than any other, tapped into my life during a very dark time – my mother’s death. After she passed, it took me a while to find my desire to write again, but I knew she wouldn’t want me to wallow. She was my first reader ever and my champion until the very end. The random thoughts I wrote down after her death sowed the seeds for Dares and Don’ts. Often, the first time kids face death is through the loss of a grandparent. In the book, Kestrel didn’t know her grandfather well (my grandfather died before I was born) and she doesn’t know how to comfort her grandmother through the grieving process. Kestrel is afraid she’ll say or do the wrong thing. She’s scared she may make things worse. Still, she doesn’t back away from Grandma Lark, which would be the easiest thing to do. She hangs in there and, in doing so, discovers it’s not her words or actions that matter – it’s her mere presence, her love, that is helping her grandmother heal.

I can only imagine. I’m sure it was tough to get back to writing, but we’re all glad you did. <3 

How do you navigate the social arena and connect with your readers when most of them are at an age where they aren’t connected via social media?

That is true, many young readers aren’t on social media but most do spend some time on the internet. The best way I can connect with them is by making it easy to find me. I have a kid-friendly web site, www.truditrueit.com where readers and their parents can log on to find out about my titles, read my bio, and drop me a note. I also put out an e-newsletter twice a year so they (or their parents) can subscribe to that to keep up on news or join my reader street team (a street team is a group of kids willing to read and review a new release). Another great way to reach readers is through the incredible people, who put my books into their hands: librarians! So I share news and run giveaways through social media channels like Facebook (facebook.com/truditrueit) and Twitter (@truditrueit)

This is fabulous! Again, writers take note.

Let’s leave your readers and writing admirers with your most valuable piece of writing advice in a tweet + hashtag.

Your first idea is rarely your best. Think of another. And another. #writersdigdeep @truditrueit

LUV! Guess what I’m hopping off to tweet? Lastly, what can your fans expect from you next?

I just finished (as in two days ago!) the first book in an action/adventure middle grade fiction series for National Geographic, which should be out this time next year. It’s an exciting project and I can’t wait to share more about it soon!

Oh wow! That sounds amazing. Looking forward to reading it. Thank you for joining us and for sharing your wisdom, work, and excitement. All the best to you always.

Trudi Trueit knew she’d found her life’s passion after writing (and directing) her first play in the fourth grade. Since then, she’s been a newspaper journalist, television news reporter and anchor, and freelance writer, but her favorite career is what she does now—writing for kids and tweens. She’s published more than100 fiction and nonfiction titles for young readers, including My Top Secret Dares and Don’ts, The Sister Solution, Stealing Popular (Aladdin MIX) and the Secrets of a Lab Rat series (Aladdin). She loves all things chocolate and lives with her husband and two cats north of Seattle, WA. Visit her

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Simon & Schuster Author Page | Trudi’s Fiction on Amazon

And guess what, Mixed-Up Files readers? Trudi is offering up a copy of My Top Secret Dares & Don’ts to one lucky winner! (US only.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here are two more sweet reads by Trudi!

 

 

 

Click on the images for more! 

S.A. Larsen, known to family & friends as Sheri, is the author of the award-winning  middle grade novel Motley Education, numerous community interest stories, young adult shorties, and her soon-to-be released young adult novel Marked Beauty.

Take an Umbrella, It’s Raining – The Overarching Conflict in MG

Whether we’re reading, writing, or recommending a middle grade story, conflict typically comes in at or near the top of the Important Elements list. But with regard to the specifics of conflict in MG — Single conflict or layered? Internal or external? How much is too much? — there’s a lot of different advice out there. Click five results after Googling, and you’ll get five different takes on middle grade conflict. For example:

  • One source might recommend a single line of conflict with only minimal subplot problems; another will say middle grade audiences can absolutely handle “richly layered” multiple struggles.
  • Some in the publishing industry define middle grade by not only protagonist age and content, but also by the conflict, which (they say) should be external (outside things cause trouble with which the MG main character must deal). However, others say MG characters can certainly be roiled by internal conflicts appropriate to their age, and that these internal conflicts drive actions, thereby sparking the external conflict.
  • Depth of recommended conflict depends greatly on maturity of intended audience…and calendar age of a child doesn’t always match developmental age. So one fifth grader may have a high degree of comprehension for and interest in a classroom bully story, but may or may not be quite ready for a book set during the Holocaust, like her friend in the same class.

So…it’s probably safe to say that, as with many topics in middle grade literature, there is no formula, no simple categorization system. There’s just no easy answer on conflict, in other words.

To me, this is a beautiful thing. The MG writer is free to let his or her particular story vision grow and change through different styles and intensities of conflict. And the MG reader is free to enjoy an amazing variety of stories, made inherently different by their conflicts.

But for the purpose of writing, teaching, or sharing thoughts on a middle grade novel, another way to talk about the character’s struggles might be helpful: the overarching conflict.

The notion of overarching conflict helps me understand theme and purpose in MG books that I’ve taught, and has helped me through the latest revision of my middle grade historical. An overarching conflict is like an umbrella that covers all other conflicts in the book—big, little, internal, external, resolved, unresolved. They’re all under there because, in some connected way, every smaller problem turns out to be a part of the bigger overarching problem.

This idea of overarching conflict is easiest to see with some series. Harry’s overarching conflict with Voldemort carries through all seven novels that comprise his overall story. So while each book’s plot offers its own main conflict plus multiple sub-conflicts, we also see Harry’s escalating succession of wins and losses against his biggest enemy as series-long conflict building blocks, culminating in the final epic battle that resolves the overarching conflict.

You can apply this overarching conflict idea to a stand-alone MG work, too. There are many ways to state an overarching conflict for a book; this is what I came up with for a few examples:

The overarching conflict in Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars: How can Annemarie help to keep her friend Ellen safe in situations of increasing danger? When the overarching conflict helps align the MC’s objectives scene to scene, it’s easier to see how the internal conflict (Annemarie’s struggle with bravery) and the external conflict (Nazi occupation and oppression of the Jews in Denmark) exist in a two-way, fluid relationship, each affecting the other (instead of one driving another). This overarching conflict also helps bring together other conflicts (the death of Annemarie’s sister; trusted adults lying) that might at first seem disconnected, but prove by the book’s conclusion to be important parts of Annemarie’s attempt to help her friend.

The overarching conflict in Christopher Paul Curtis’s Bud, Not Buddy: How can Bud find not just a home, but his home? In this excellent quest adventure, individual conflicts arise one after another as Bud makes his way toward the home he hopes will welcome him. His mini-conflicts (the Amos family, the mission, Hooverville, Lefty Lewis) are resolved each in turn as he proceeds, each in some way giving him a piece of knowledge or inspiration moving forward, until he finally has the chance to solve his overarching struggle.

The overarching conflict in Robert Beatty’s Serafina and the Black Cloak: How can Serafina learn more about her past while living hidden from the world? As the external conflict with the man in the Black Cloak and his evil crimes intensifies, Serafina seeks answers about her mother, her background, and her own mysterious talents. Disagreements with her father and her new friend Braedyn create additional conflict layers. The author skillfully brings together the resolutions of Serafina’s external, internal, and layered conflicts in an exciting battle scene, and all work together to supply an answer to the overarching conflict.

In these examples, articulating the overarching conflict can help connect all the struggles for the MG main character, and it can demonstrate his or her constant, steady objective through a sequence of other misadventures. Indeed, maybe the greatest benefits of the overarching conflict are the depth acquired in the story without muddying the plot, and the invisible cohesion it provides.

Thanks for reading! Glad to be a new part of this great group, and eager to hear your thoughts on conflict in MG.