Sunday, February 28, 2010

In My Mailbox...

In My Mailbox is an exploration of what books I brought home this week, and is organized by The Story Siren.

This week, the following books arrived in my mailbox for review:

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa


The Wish Stealers by Tracy Trivas

And I brought home the following from the library:

Skinned by Robin Wasserman


Betraying Season by Marissa Doyle

What books came to your house this week?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Winners of the February Book Giveaway!

It's time once again to announce the winners of this month's book giveaway. And here they are!

For Break by Hannah Moskowitz:


For All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab:

Congratulations to the winners! Send me a note with your snail address to tabitha at tabithaolson dot com and I will get those out to you.
And don't forget to come back next saturday to see what I'm giving away next month!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Flash Burnout by L. K. Madigan

Plot Summary: Fifteen-year-old Blake has a girlfriend and a friend who’s a girl. One of them loves him; the other one needs him. When he snapped a picture of a street person for his photography homework, Blake never dreamed that the woman in the photo was his friend Marissa’s long-lost meth addicted mom. Blake’s participation in the ensuing drama opens up a world of trouble, both for him and for Marissa. He spends the next few months trying to reconcile the conflicting roles of Boyfriend and Friend. His experiences range from the comic (surviving his dad’s birth control talk) to the tragic (a harrowing after-hours visit to the morgue). In a tangle of life and death, love and loyalty, Blake will emerge with a more sharply defined snapshot of himself.

I really enjoyed this story. The writing is sharp, and the descriptions of the photographs are vivid and interesting. Since I have an amateur interest in photography, I was really looking forward to this aspect of the story. Madigan didn’t disappoint. :)

This story delves into relationships in an insightful and tangible way. Madigan has deftly captured the essence of action/reaction – the consequences of a person’s actions are fully explored, both how they directly and indirectly affect Blake.

Blake is a typical teenage boy, filled with hormones and rampant thoughts about sex. He also aspires to be a standup comic, and does his best to make everyone around him laugh. He makes for a funny, interesting character that many teenage boys will relate to.

That said, there were a few times that his voice sounded too teen-girl. Such as "Oh no she didn't!" That phrase is begging for a 'snap' at the end of it, and I don't know any teen boys who would do that. :) He also had a little too much insight at times (like, at the end with Marissa), which didn't fit his maturity level, character, or situation in life. Also, the end result of his photography felt like the story was being tied up with a bow.

So, for me (who isn't a teen anymore), those elements weakened the story. However, I can still see teens, both boys and girls, strongly relating to the characters and their situations.
Definitely recommended.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

10 Things about me...9 are true, one is a lie

Fellow blogger Karen Hooper did this fantastic thing on her blog yesterday. She wrote ten little stories about herself. Nine of them were true, and one was a lie. We had to try to guess which one was the lie.

I thought this looked like so much fun that I decided to do it on my own blog. Except I think I'm going to raise the stakes. If you can accurately guess which of my ten stories is the lie, then you'll win a copy of Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick. Good luck!! :)

1) I have visited ten countries in the last ten years. I didn't have a passport until ten years ago, and since then I have visited Italy, Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Belgium, the Carribean, India, and Hong Kong. And I just renewed my passport with an awful picture, which I will be stuck with for the next ten years. :)

2) Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Timetraveler's Wife, knows me personally. She is good friends with a good friend of mine, so I hear all about how Audrey is doing, where she's visiting, what she's writing, etc. Likewise, my friend talks to Audrey about me, so Audrey knows what I'm up to, what I'm writing, etc. When I finally met Audrey at a book signing for her new book, Her Fearful Symmetry, I felt I already knew her. She said she felt the same. And then she said that one of these days all three of us need to go out for coffee.

3) My first paying job was detasseling corn. My grandparents own a farm, and I used to go visit them every summer, along with several of my cousins. Often, all of us grandkids would get recruited to walk through the bean and corn fields and pull weeds. Then, as if I couldn't get enough of this punishment, I took a paying job riding on a tractor in the sweltering August heat and detasseling corn. I kept up that job every day (including weekends), from 6am to 6pm, until school started, while the rest of my classmates were laying around at the pool.

4) I can crochet with my eyes closed. I learned how to crochet when I was twelve years old, and have been doing it ever since. I find it's a relaxing thing to do while I watch TV, and can do fairly simple stitches by feel. I can make an entire baby blanket without looking at my hands.

5) I have never been to Vegas. I've been to most other parts of the country, though, and one of my best friends has been trying to get me to go for the past twelve years, but it hasn't happened yet. It will happen eventually, though, because I think she's going to knock me out and drag me there pretty soon. :)

6) I couldn't ride a bike until I was ten years old. For some reason, I just couldn't get everything together when I was first learning how to ride a bike. I couldn't pedal and balance at the same time, so I'd always fall over. I'd try, fall, try, fall, etc, and then finally give it up until the next summer. I didn't fully get it until I was at least ten years old, maybe older (can't remember exactly).

7) I used to race motorcycles. I learned how to ride a motorcycle in 1997, then bought a race bike two months later. I raced for two years and earned a couple 1st and 2nd place plaques, then quit to do other things.

8) I broke my toe by tripping over the vacuum cleaner. When I was in high school, we had this ancient vacuum cleaner that was made of something like cast iron. The thing weighed a ton. Anyway, someone had left it out one day, and as I walked past it my little toe caught the edge. The bone snapped, and my toe was sticking straight out the side of my foot! My mom called the emergency room, but all they could do was wrap my toe in gauze and give me this super ugly shoe to wear. I was mortified to wear the thing to school, but a regular shoe was too tight and hurt my toe. So I wore it for six weeks until my toe healed.

9) I was on the Diving team in high school. I learned how to swim when I was four, and loved every minute of it. I was also constantly jumping off the diving board, trying to do flips, back dives, you name it. The lifeguards all kept telling me I should try out for the swimming or diving team at school, so I finally did. I made the diving team, learned a dozen or so different dives with all kinds of cool twists, and made it to Sectionals.

10) The Salvation Army once brought us a Christmas dinner and a tree when I was a kid. I grew up in a poor part of town, in the middle of nowhere. My parents divorced when I was three, and my mom's job didn't bring in much income. One Christmas, there was barely enough money for presents, so Mom sat me down and told me there would be no tree that year, but we'd still have a good Christmas. I was bummed, but wanted to be helpful so we decorated a plant instead. The Salvation Army heard of our predicament, and showed up on Christmas Eve with a tree, a turkey, and lots of other goodies. I was more excited about the tree than anything else. :)

So? Which one is the lie? Put your guesses in the comments! Next tuesday, I'll announce who has guessed correctly, and who will be winning Hush, Hush. :) If, by chance, more than one of you guess correctly, then I will put all your names into a hat and draw the winner.

Good luck!!

Monday, February 22, 2010

You Can't Package Yourself With Your Book

Not too long ago, I had an interesting conversation on Verla Kay’s writer discussion boards about the book The Dust of 100 Dogs. A fellow writer loved the book, but I didn’t, and each of us were presenting our reasons why. It was a great conversation.

Then the other person said something really interesting. He said that the answers to some of my questions were in a Q&A in the newest paperback. I’d already seen that section and it hadn't changed my opinion, but right then something else in me went ‘huh.’ Was there a need for this Q&A section? As in, had these questions been asked so many times that the author and publisher found it beneficial to publish the answers?

If so, what does that say about the book? Does it say that the book was so widely popular that readers were clamoring for more information? Or does it say that the information in the book was incomplete, and this Q&A section was a way to fill in the blanks?

Personally, I think it’s both in this case. The Dust of 100 Dogs is definitely a compelling and popular book, and the readers loved it enough to ask about the missing information rather than toss the book aside. Which is great! I love it when books incite that kind of curiosity.

Of course, that begs the following question. Does this mean you should create a Q&A for your book?

My answer: NO. Absolutely not. Just because it worked for one book doesn’t mean it will work for all books. Especially for writers with no publishing track record. When we write down our stories, we have to make sure that all the necessary information gets into the text. Otherwise, we run the risk of confusing the reader with plot holes, unanswered questions, inconsistent character behavior, etc. Providing the reader with a list of explanations in a Q&A isn’t likely to keep him from putting the book down (because those are always at the end, and the reader may not make it that far), so we need to consider a Q&A, interview, or other appendix-like piece as a bonus. Not necessary, but something fun that will enrich the story.

We, as writers, have to do more than hook a reader. We have to keep him. In most cases, we get one shot. If we blow it, not only will that reader avoid the rest of our books, he will likely tell others to avoid us, too.

So, in addition to hooking an editor or agent, we also have to think about how we are going to hook *and keep* our readers. Here are some ways to do that.

-Any questions raised in the beginning of the story must be answered by the end.
-Established behavior in the characters must remain consistent throughout the story, unless a large enough (and believable) event can explain the changes in that behavior.
-Any definitions introduced in the story must remain consistent and coherent throughout. This includes the rules created in world building, as well as keeping the setting consistent.
-New characters or changes in the setting shouldn’t pop out of nowhere in the end. The reader needs some kind of subtle preparation, at the very least.
-Keep the plot consistent, and make sure your characters have valid reasons for doing what they do. Hint: ‘they need to do this because it gets them from point A to B’ or ‘because that’s how the story goes’ are not valid reasons.

How do we know we are doing the items listed above effectively? The best and easiest way to tell is when your critique partners give you feedback. Do they have questions? Did they find something confusing? Did they misunderstand certain parts of the story, or a character’s actions?

If you find yourself saying ‘that’s because of xyz,’ or feel that you need to 'defend' your story, STOP. Write down what your critique partner is saying and then go through your manuscript to see if you can figure out how she got to where she did. Then figure out a way to fix it and give it back to her to see if it clears things up. If it does, great! If not, try again.
Lather, rinse, repeat. :)

Who said writing a book was easy, anyway? :)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

In My Mailbox...

In My Mailbox is an exploration of what books I brought home this week, and is organized by The Story Siren.

This being my first Mailbox post, I will just list the books in my TBR pile. Starting next week, I'll just focus on the books I brought home that week.

Possessed by Kate Cann
Clone Codes by Patricia C. Mckissack, Fredrick McKissack, John McKissack
The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Blood Ninja by Nick Lake
Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles
Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves
The Dark Divine by Bree Despain
Heist Society by Ally Carter
Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle by Nan Marino
Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney
Knights of the Hill Country by Tim Tharp
39 Clues: The Vipers Nest by Peter Lerangis
The Navel of the World by PJ Hoover

That's the abbreviated version. As in, that's what will fit next to the bed. But that doesn't stop the flow of books that come into my house. :)

What books did you bring home this week? From the bookstore? The library? Borrowed from a friend?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Plot Summary: Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones. With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

I don’t always agree with the choice of award winners and honors, but I certainly do in this case. CALPURNIA TATE took the Newbery Honor this year, and it’s definitely well-deserved.

The beginning starts out a little slow, but Calpurnia’s voice takes over quickly and launches us into her hilarious and incredibly interesting story. The setting is vivid and incredibly realistic. We really get a sense of how different things were for women then. Only the truly determined, like Calpurnia, would be able to succeed in going against the norm.

I’m not much on science. My dad is a scientist of sorts, and I got enough of it growing up to last me a lifetime, so I certainly don’t seek it out now. But this story about science and Darwin is just fantastic. It really captures the times, and how the outrageously new is almost always received with skepticism. It was extremely well executed.

Calpurnia is spunky and forthright, which is exactly what I expect from an only girl with six brothers. Her flaws are true to her age, and make her even more endearing. I love her various reactions to her brothers, as well as her internal trepidations which she hides behind a tough exterior. She is courageous and funny, and I loved her story so much that I’m going to add it to my bookshelf. Definitely recommended.

Monday, February 15, 2010

SCBWI-IL Prairie Writer’s Day Conference 2009, part 5

Last week, we heard some nuggets from editor Nicholaus Eliopulos. Today, I’ll share what Michael Stearns had to say about publishing relationships, as well as a bit about agenting across formats (picture books, novels, non-fiction, etc). He focused mostly on publishing relationships, so that’s what I’ll start with.

What Agents Do:
For authors, agents are your second head, your first reader, and your sounding board. Some agents will work with you on edits and revisions, and some don’t. Most will help steer you toward the next ‘right’ project. Your agent will also hold your hand when discussing ugly truths of the marketplace, or publishing in general. Such as, most things fail eventually and most authors are mid-list, but if you keep working, something will hit eventually.

Your agent will also keep the editor/writer relationship pure by handling the dirty work within the house. They do all the negotiating and discussions about money, they can act as a bully when necessary (for example: if the book cover is way off), and safeguard an author’s long term prospects by preventing the publishing house from dictating what the author will write next. Your agent will also act as a mediator, both ways, between the author and editor should friction arise. This allows the writer and editor to keep their conversations focused on craft, and making the books as great as they can be.

Within publishing in general, an agent’s job is to learn about what each house is currently publishing. They must keep abreast of what specific editors are looking for, as well as what they are sick of, so they can accurately target each submission. They also need to be aware of the market, and how it editor and publisher lists.

Tip: When querying, don’t present a list of completed novels for the agent to choose from. It makes it look like you haven’t focused on one genre enough to be good at it.

As far as agenting across formats, Michael had less to say, but I’ll share it here.

A good agent will spread an author’s work around to multiple publishing houses for a few reasons. If the writer writes picture books and middle grade, then it’s easier to the different formats at different houses. Also, if one house goes under, then the author still has books at another house.

Tip: The picture book market is, by far, the hardest to sell to, because a picture book is the hardest to write, as well as to fix.

To read more about this, check out the blog post Michael wrote a few weeks after the conference.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Win a copy of Linger!

Linger Cover LargeIn Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, Grace and Sam found each other. Now, in Linger, they must fight to be together. For Grace, this means defying her parents and keeping a very dangerous secret about her own well-being. For Sam, this means grappling with his werewolf past . . . and figuring out a way to survive into the future. Add into the mix a new wolf named Cole, whose own past has the potential to destroy the whole pack. And Isabelle, who already lost her brother to the wolves . . . and is nonetheless drawn to Cole.

At turns harrowing and euphoric, Linger is a spellbinding love story that explores both sides of love -- the light and the dark, the warm and the cold -- in a way you will never forget.

Comes out in stores everywhere July 20th. Pre-order here.

Enter to win an advanced review copies of LINGER, Sisters Red, The Dead-Tossed Waves, and The Replacement on Maggie's blog.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fallen by Lauren Kate

Plot Summary: There's something achingly familiar about Daniel Grigori. Mysterious and aloof, he captures Luce Price's attention from the moment she sees him on her first day at the Sword & Cross boarding school in sultry Savannah, Georgia. He's the one bright spot in a place where cell phones are forbidden, the other students are all screw-ups, and security cameras watch every move. Even though Daniel wants nothing to do with Luce--and goes out of his way to make that very clear--she can't let it go. Drawn to him like a moth to a flame, she has to find out what Daniel is so desperate to keep secret...even if it kills her.

Fallen angels are making a big splash in YA books. There was much talk and hype over this one, both before and after its release. The cover is beautiful and the summary is compelling, setting the bar pretty high, and I was really looking forward to reading it because the idea sounds amazing. The story is basically forbidden love, which can often be gripping enough to overshadow any flaws in the telling of it. Unfortunately, for me, the flaws were too big to hide in the shadows...

The pacing is agonizingly slow. I found the plot predictable and lacking in continuity – many things happened with no logical explanation, and the fact that Luce didn't try harder to learn what was going on made her seem shallow and unlikeable. It felt like the author was withholding information in order to increase tension, but it came off as contrived.

As with all my book discussions, there are a few SPOILERS below.

As I read, there were so many things I questioned, pulling me out of the story:
-Why does Penn bring Luce to the records room when she can go herself and then tell Luce what she finds?
-Why doesn't Luce wonder why Daniel keeps initiating conversations with her when he also keeps telling her to go away? Makes him seem unstable.
-What were Luce’s experiences with the shadows like when she was growing up? How has it changed between now and then (she tells us that it changes, but not how)?
-Why is Todd's memorial in the cemetery instead of in a more appropriate venue, like an assembly hall? And why aren't Todd's parents there?
-What are the details about Luce’s encounter with Trevor? Since she has a parole officer, that means she was convicted of something. What?

All of these questions made the plot seem contrived and confusing. In some places, the story contradicted itself (the court ‘strongly suggested’ Luce attend Sword and Cross vs. the court ordered her to attend), and in other places information was withheld in order to force the reader to keep going. I understand that the author must manipulate the reader in order to hold his interest, but, for me, this manipulation was too heavy handed.

The entire story stays on the surface of everything. For example, Luce's continued feeling that she knows Daniel from somewhere. This feeling never goes beyond some of his facial expressions. She has supposedly known him for thousands of years, and she doesn't have a single epiphany about things he likes? She would have gotten to know him on some level, and should have inexplicably known a couple of his pet peeves, bad habits, or at least one thing he loved (other than her). But the furthest she gets is thinking she has seen him somewhere, somehow convinced she's in love with him. But her idea of love (can’t keep herself from kissing him because he’s so hot) is the textbook definition of lust. Love is about the person, but lust is about what the person looks like.

My biggest problem, though, was with Luce's parents. Luce paints them as loving parents who are just trying to do what's best for their daughter. If that was true, they NEVER would have run out on her at the hospital the way they did. That, to me, makes them seem like the thinnest cardboard cutouts I have ever seen in a story.

Overall, this is not a book I recommend, and I am not compelled to read any further in the series.

Monday, February 08, 2010

SCBWI-IL Prairie Writer’s Day Conference 2009, part 4

Last week, editor Alisha Niehaus shared her wisdom on middle grade novels. Today, we're going to hear what Nicholaus Eliopulos, editor at Random House Books for Young Readers, has to say about the YA novel. (ETA: Nick is now at Scholastic)

YA is a bridge from middle grade to adult. Because of this, there is no real limitation on content, but you must remain true and organic to the story. Depending on your content, you can get a younger or older teen audience – edgier novels with harsh language will attract older teens, and more moderate language and content will attract younger teens. If you aim for a crossover novel, you will likely send mixed messages. You’re better off if you aim for the middle.

In order for your story to do well, you must have an audience. That means you need to know what today’s teen likes or dislikes. You don’t need to hover around a high school, though. Teens are out on blogs and other social networking kinds of sites. Go there, listen to them, and find out what they are interested in, as well as what they are not interested in.

Regardless of what some people say, teens are still readers. They read and participate in blogs, texts, email, twitter, and the like. However, attention span can be an issue. As a result, a strong plot is crucial to attract the attention of today’s teen. The pacing must be quick and the stakes need to go up in order to keep that attention. Nothing holds a teen like a ticking clock: will the main character make it in time? What happens if he doesn’t? Secrets are also a big draw for teens, and romance is a must. That doesn’t mean you need outright sex, but you do need attraction and at least the possibility of romance.

So, after your story is written, go through chapter by chapter and assess what happens. Does everything move the plot forward? Do the stakes go up? Is anything unnecessary? Teens are smart readers, and will pick up on things that don’t belong. If this happens, you’ve lost one reader, as well as many others in the word-of-mouth chain.

The number one way to reach teen readers is this question: “What’s it about?” Having a one-sentence pitch will help spread the word about your story, drawing interest for many readers. This will also help you in the acquisition process. Your book must not only appeal to teens, but it also needs to appeal to the editor, acquisitions, booksellers, librarians, teachers, and more. A clear hook and a concise pitch will help with that.

Moving on to character...
The main character of a YA novel is always a teenager. The age of the character will contribute to the age of the audience: a younger MC will draw a younger teen audience, and an older MC will draw an older audience. Kids will read about older kids, and don’t really like to read about younger kids.

When you are creating your characters, keep this in mind. You are building a representation of teenagers, not necessarily a real one. In other words, your character must be believable, but not necessarily realistic. Teens will accept stories with less than realistic situations, such as The Boyfriend List, Twilight, Uglies, Gossip Girl, etc, as long as the actions of the characters are believable. You also need to be as mean to your main character as possible.

To achieve this, you must know what today’s teen is all about. You also need to maintain your characters. At every stage in the story, ask what your characters want. All of your characters – main, minor, and villains. Every character in your story must be believable.

As for voice, the story must have a definite teen voice and sensibility. Many authors insert their own wisdom, and teens can perceive that as preaching, even if it’s not. Knowing our audience will bring out the teen voice in a natural way.

Finally, it’s true when they say a female MC will draw female readers. A male MC will draw both male and female readers. As a result, many editors are looking for male protagonists.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Blogiversary Number Two!!!

In February two years ago, I started writing hodge-podge entries in this blog. My goal was to write down everything I knew about writing (which I'm still working on, and have a feeling will never finish) in a clear and concise way so a complete stranger would understand what I was saying.

So much has happened since then, and I have thoroughly enjoyed everything, as well as meeting all you fellow readers and writers in the blogosphere. My blog wouldn't still be here if not for you.

As a thank you, I'm going to continue the book giveaways that I launched a year ago. But instead of interviewing authors, I thought I'd do something different.

When I write a book review, it's similar to how I critique. I dissect a story and look at the individual pieces - character, plot, pacing, voice, etc. Then I put it back together and see how the pieces work as a whole. So, if any of you writers out there would like that kind of critique aimed at your writing, then send me your favorite 500 words. Or your least favorite. Or what's giving you the most trouble right now. It can be from anywhere in the story, not just the beginning.

I will post your piece anonymously, along with my comments, and will open up the floor to comments from others as well.

So, if this interests you, send your piece in the body of the email (NOT as an attachment) to this address: tabwriter at gmail dot com. Then I'll figure out when and how to post it. Looking forward to it!!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

February Book Giveaway!

This month, I will be giving away two books:

Break by Hannah Moskowitz


ARC of All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab

Fill out the form below and you'll be entered to win. Then check back here on February 27 to see if you've won.
Good luck!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Plot Summary: It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.

Time and time again, Scott Westerfeld has proven that he can create vivid new worlds. He does it again with LEVIATHAN.

The story is told in alternating viewpoints, Deryn and Alek. Deryn is girl pretending to be a boy so she can get into the British Air Service and fly. Alek is the son of the heir to the Austria-Hungary empire. But he’s not considered royal because his mother was a commoner.

I loved Deryn. She is vivacious, determined, clever, and quick on her feet. All of these things get her both into and out of trouble. She is a character that always brings a smile to my face whenever I think of her, and so rounded she seems real.

Alek’s story is different. He’s not quite as likable, and I had a hard time figuring out why. But I think it’s because he starts out as someone of privilege who is thrown into poverty. Not many regular people can relate to that. The situation with his parents evokes some sympathy, but he has the arrogance and pride of royalty. But still, he grew throughout the story, making plenty of mistakes along the way, and that endeared him to me. I think he’ll continue to grow as the story progresses (at least, that’s what I hope).

The ending is a bit of a torturous cliffhanger, but there is some resolution so I didn’t feel like I was left completely hanging. Also, it did seem to take a bit too long for Alek and Deryn to meet, but the pacing was still quick enough to keep me turning pages. I am really looking forward to the next book, and I definitely recommend this book.

Monday, February 01, 2010

SCBWI-IL Prairie Writer’s Day Conference 2009, part 3

Last week, we went over Yolanda LeRoy’s insights on picture books. Today, I’m going to share what Alisha Niehaus, editor at Dial Books for Young Readers, had to say about middle grade novels.

Middle grade readers are between eight and twelve years old, and they are just starting to think about breaking away on their own. But many may still be close to their families. And they consider their favorite books to be friends, of sorts. They are also trying to navigate their personalities, and they relate to stories that exploit the growing pains of the age – school and negotiating relationships.

A good middle grade novel has heft, lyricism, and magic, but is half the size of an adult novel. It should be roughly between 30k and 60k, and there are no steadfast rules on vocabulary. The key is to know your audience, and it will come naturally.

Kids this age have a great capacity for suspending disbelief. More so than YA, so you have more leeway there. But they’re also smart, so don’t underestimate them. Start simple, with a character circumstance and a plot driver. Then, putting the characters in extreme situations creates tension, and it’s compelling.

Characters are generally between eight and fourteen years old. To create a believable character, first know your audience. A fourteen year old boy will behave differently than a twelve year old girl, and writers must know the difference well. Once you know that, you can create the individual, whether he/she is extremely talented or extremely untalented at various things.

The plot is the backbone of the story, and the plot driver is what lights the fire under your character. Look at how your character reacts in extreme circumstances, such as new school, new town, or being dropped into the unexpected.

The voice is the heart of the story. It’s comprised of two parts: author and character. Throughout the story, the characters will change, but the author’s voice stays the same. The author’s understanding of the reader comes through the voice, not the character. And much of the author’s voice comes through his/her emotional experience as a child.

Some tips on writing a good middle grade novel:
*Never be moralistic or preachy, but don’t miss the opportunity to teach from author experience. Middle graders can handle this, but YA can’t.

*Flesh out your story with scenes and settings from your own memories. Delve into them, reinvent them, and they will be very realistic.

Some recommended reading that illustrates good voice, character, and plot:
The Penderwicks
When You Reach Me
They Mysterious Benedict Society
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
The Lightening Thief
My Side of the Mountain