Hi all! I hope you had a lovely weekend and Thanksgiving. Today, I’m in the hot seat over at Melissa Roske’s blog as part of her Ask the Author series.
If you haven’t visited before, definitely check it out! She uses the Proust Questionnaire, and some of those questions are hard! It’s so fascinating to see how authors respond. And to try to figure out how YOU would respond.
In fact, if you want to come back and tell me how you would respond to any particular question, I would love that. Put yourself in the hot seat!
Have a lovely week, and be sure to come visit next Monday, December 9th. I’ll be interviewing Ira Baker, the computer animator who works with Sandra Boynton on her super fun videos. He also does book trailers. So excited to have him stop in!
(just a beautiful picture of the Tetons to send you on your way to making it a wonderful week)
Happy Thanksgiving to you all! The United States celebrates Thanksgiving on the 4th Thursday of the month (which means we’re never certain when it is without a calendar), which happens to fall on November 28th this year.
That said, Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to consider all the things we are grateful for. Gratitude is something we don’t seem to have enough of in this world, so here are my top five things I’m grateful for:
1. My family.
(These people are my rock. They are there for me in all the best and worst and mediocre-est moments of my life. I would be lost without them).
2. A book coming out next year.
(I don’t take this for granted at all. Getting a book published is tough. No matter what road you take. And heck, even writing one is a BIG DEAL! So much gratitude that I’m in a position I can both write them, and have the opportunity to have one published.)
3. My faith in God, and my beliefs.
(I don’t talk about this much here on my blog, but my beliefs are my compass. They give me direction, and I’m who I am because of them.)
4. My friends
(IRL ones, writing ones, social media ones, ALL OF YOU! Wish I had a big picture with you all in it, but I don’t. Sorry if you aren’t shown, I still love you and am grateful for you!)
(Whoever invented them, THANK YOU!)
Happy Thanksgiving! And please tell me what you are grateful for! I’d love to hear. 🙂
License Plates! I can’t get enough of them. And I know I just yammered on about them a few weeks ago, but I’ve stumbled across two more personalized plates that are just BEGGING to be discussed. Villainous License Plates. (Dun, dun, DUNNN!)
I need to hear your thoughts, because stories are filling my head. What kind of people come up with these??! What kind of people want these to be their introduction to all the strangers they meet on the road? It’s a fascinating thought!
First up we have VILNMKR
In case you aren’t sure what that says, I read that as VILLAIN MAKER. Now, of course, I could be totally wrong. Maybe someone’s last name is Viln. BUT, I’m sticking to my story that it is VILLAIN MAKER.
So what do you think? Parents who worry they’ll mess their kids up? A writer who just loves writing villains? An illustrator who loves drawing villians? Or is it more diabolical than that? Maybe it’s an evil scientist with a plot to take over the world. Maybe this is really the Joker’s car!!! So many fun possibilities!
Next up goes perfectly with that first one: MMWHAHA
So awesome!! Maybe this is the second car of the person up above. Or maybe it belongs to someone who just likes to laugh evilly in the face of other’s struggles. In fact, they like it so much, they paid extra to be able to laugh at all the strangers they pass on the road.
Come to think of it, I found this car parked at my son’s school. Should I be worried? Maybe we have a stereotypical principal at his school living out the evil school principal trope. Or maybe he’s just living it vicariously through his car since he’s a very nice man. (So you have no need to worry, Mr. Principal! I do not suspect your secret identity as a villain AT ALL. Not even a little bit.)
Now I didn’t get to see either of these cars actually driving. They were both parked. So I don’t know if they drive appropriately for such license plates, but I sure hope I run into these cars again!
Now you tell me! What are the stories behind these license plates?
Happy Veteran’s Day!
I didn’t have the perfect picture to share, but I had this image from a year ago.
This was the Veteran’s Day run we participated in. I love the symbolism here of people running toward the finish. Of working hard, giving it their all, and then finishing together with people they may not personally know, but who are now considered friends and compatriots for having struggled together.
It could be easy to think of those others as competitors. To hate or dislike them. But if you have ever been to a community run like this one, it is never like that. People are so loving and welcoming and encouraging. Strangers stand along the course and cheer you on. Volunteers rush to get you water and refreshment when you finish. And then we all celebrate together for having achieved a PR (personal record). Or we commiserate together when it just wasn’t our day. It is a beautiful thing.
I feel like Veteran’s Day is a little like this. While I know many who have served in the military (Both my grandfathers fought in WWII. My father-in-law served in the Air Force for many years. I have cousins and friends who have served in the military in various capacities.), Veteran’s Day is a chance to celebrate everyone. People I don’t know. People who have given their all. People who will face struggles for a long time to come.
To everyone who is running in this race, I thank you! I encourage you! I commiserate and celebrate with you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. It cannot be said enough.
Good morning! I’m so excited to have Lee Gjertsen Malone on my blog today.
Lee is the author of two super fun middle grade books, THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2016), and CAMP SHADY CROOK (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2019).
I was fortunate to get to know Lee back in 2015 through the debut group The Sweet Sixteens. Not only does she write middle grade novels, but she is a freelance journalist who has covered some fascinating topics. I’ve always been impressed with her strong sense of self as an author, and her encouragement to other authors to be an advocate for their own books.
Today, we’ll be talking about her latest book, CAMP SHADY CROOK. You can find my review of it HERE on Goodreads (but spoiler alert, I loved it!).
All right!! Let’s get this party started! (I’ll be in green bold)
It’s called Camp Shady Crook and it’s about two kids, Archie and Vivian, who both come to a very run down camp in Vermont with the same idea — of conning the other kids. They end up competing with each other for dominance but things spiral out of control and they have to figure out how to make them right again.
Such a fun concept! What inspired you to write Camp Shady Crook and your awesomely devious characters, Archie and Vivian?
I’ve always been intrigued by smart criminals like con artists — even though I’m an extremely law abiding person myself. But it’s fun to put yourself inside the head of someone doing bad things. Archie came to me first. The first chapter, which is written from his perspective, is almost exactly like very first pages I wrote to get them down, since I was supposed to working on something else at the time (isn’t that always the way.) But I had this image of this boy getting on a bus to camp pretending to be rich.
Vivian came later, in part because her motivations for the cons are murkier, tied up less with the need for money and more with her how her self-esteem took a hit at school thanks to a false friend.
But they both are having that unique summer camp experience where you get to be someone different than you are at home, which is what intrigued me the most about the setting. Where else, as a kid, do you get to try on new personalities for size? Especially if you live in the same town and go to the same school with the same people year after year.
Summer camp is SUCH a fun setting. I never got to experience this, but I love the idea of trying on a new personality. How about you? Did you ever attend a summer camp?
Well, I never attended a traditional summer camp. I actually went to nerd camp — a summer program on a college campus (in my case, Franklin and Marshall in Lancaster, Pa) where you could take college level courses. I went the summers I was 14, 15, and 16, and took Archaeology, Geology, and Psychology. Studied hard, made wonderful lifelong friends and got my first kiss. And I wouldn’t change a thing.
I wouldn’t have really liked the “cabin in the woods” kind of camp when I was a kid, though I remember being jealous when I was 10 or 11 about kids who got to go away for weeks. Not about the camp part as much as the idea of being away and on your own in a different place. I had major fantasies of skipping town. That’s why my favorite book was From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I literally had full daydreams of getting on the train to Manhattan and going to live in a museum, though I think I would have picked Natural History instead of the Met.
I loved that book, too! While I thought it would be way cool to live in a museum, I knew I didn’t have the guts to pull something like that off. And same with all the cons that Archie and Vivian pull off in Camp Shady Crook! They are so clever! How did you come up with them?
Well, believe or not, there’s actually a science to cons. Why they work, and what kind of people take the bait. And many cons — including some in the book — have been around for years. Archie’s whole persona is based on a con called “The Spanish Prisoner” (though most of us might think of it as “the Nigerian Prince” nowadays) and there’s another con in the book called “the Melon Drop.” For many of them I took the kinds of cons Archie would have read about in his research and put a kid spin on them. I’d like to think that anyone who actually knew anything about cons would recognize quite a few of the techniques Archie and Vivian use.
Fascinating! And so creative. So I’m imagining that you did a bit or research when writing this book. What is the most surprising thing you had to research?
I love research so I always do a ton — sometimes I have to make myself stop researching just so I get actual writing done!
Haha! I may know something about such delay tactics. 😬 But I digress. Do continue.
Researching cons was an obvious part of the book, but one perhaps surprising one was researching summer camp itself. As I mentioned, I never went to a traditional summer camp like Camp Shady Brook so I had to research almost everything, including how cabins are organized, what kinds of activities kids do, the stuff you would assume I knew already!
As for fun/weird research, a little joke in the book is that all the cabins are named after fish native to Vermont, where the camp is located. So I went hunting around in books and online for strangely named Vermont fish — Rainbow Smelt, Longnose Gar, Walleye. Even in copyedits the names still made me laugh.
I was dying at those cabin names! So funny!
Okay, I’m taking a little detour, and this is not about your book, but speaking of research . . . I’ve been following you on Facebook for a while now, and I’m always fascinated at the various articles you are working on for your day job as a journalist. (I seriously LOVE that you did one on the hiccups!) Given all that you’ve researched, what has been the most interesting subject you’ve written about?
This is a very difficult question because I’ve gotten to write about so many interesting things, including hiccups. But a recent interesting piece was on what happens when people get sick in space. This is not an idle question because astronauts are going into space for longer periods of time thanks to the International Space Station and society is always imagining we’ll be send civilians into space soon to colonize other planets. So what happens when someone gets the flu? Or has a heart attack? Do you pack an MRI machine for the mission to Mars? (Those things are heavy). In particular, your readers should know, always cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze in zero gravity because the particles will float around until they hit something. Hopefully a filter, but it could also be your buddy — or his lunch!
Wow. I’ve never thought about that! And I am maybe a bit grossed out at the idea of puking in space. I’m guessing that Astronauts need strong stomachs!
Finally, I love middle grade for so many reasons. I’d love to hear why you choose to write middle grade.
A lot of my favorite books, the ones I remember and have held dear since I was a kid, are middle grade books. But the reason why I personally write middle grade is actually very boring. I had been writing YA novels and was even agented and went on sub, but nothing sold. Then I wrote a book about a 15 year old boy and a literary agent who read it said “this should be a middle grade book, not YA.” Nine months of revisions later, and voila! I had a middle grade book. And I’ve just kept writing them because they’re so much fun.
It IS so much fun! And I am glad you came over to the middle grade side because your books are so good, and so different than a lot of what we see. Thank you so much for stopping by my blog, Lee!
And for the rest of you, you can find all the links for following Lee on social media below, as well as links for where you can get your own copy of CAMP SHADY CROOK!
Lee Gjertsen Malone is a Massachusetts transplant via Long Island, Brooklyn, and Ithaca, New York. As a journalist she’s written about everything from wedding planning to the banking crisis to how to build your own homemade camera satellite. Her interests include amateur cheese making, traveling, associating with animals, shushing people in movie theaters, kickboxing and blinking very rapidly for no reason. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband, daughter and a rotating cast of pets.
Reading books is so much a part of my life and my kids’ lives, I sometimes forget that not everyone feels the same way about books. And don’t worry, we can still be friends even if you don’t love books the way we do!
My oldest son has not always loved books. I read to him as a kid (like, A LOT), I had a home full of books, I modeled reading for fun (confession, maybe too much!), and HERE is proof positive I took him to the library even when it was tought! But still, my son didn’t care for them. In fact, he disliked books and reading so much that his second grade teacher reached out to inform me that he was so far behind on his reading levels, that if something didn’t change, and fast, he was not going to move up a grade with his peers.
I was horrified! There I was, a bona fide book lover, hoping to be an author someday, yet I couldn’t even get my own son to read.
I was lucky. I had resources. My mom was an elementary school principal at the time and had been a reading teacher before that. I asked for advice, and here is what she told me.
“First and most important, find a book that he wants to read. That is very important! It must be his choice.” . . . So turns out, this was harder than I expected. It took a lot of trips to the library. A lot of trial and error, because he didn’t know what interested him. All books were the same to him at that point, and in his mind ALL BOOKS were boring. I grabbed lots of different types of books and I started reading to him.
We didn’t finish many of the books we started, but I didn’t give up. After a lot of searching, we landed on the first book in a brand new series: MAZE OF BONES by Rick Riordan.
“Second,” my mom told me, “once you have a book he loves, read it together. You read it out loud, but follow along with your finger and have him follow along as well.” We read the whole book that way, and moved on to book 2. I was still the one reading, but his attitude was changing. He was more excited about reading time. We kept at it through book 2 and moved on to book 3. That was when everything changed.
My son got tired of waiting for me. He was anxious to know what would happen. And he began sneaking the book and reading it on his own. Slowly, slowly, slowly. And sometimes he would ask for help. But that book forever changed his reading life, and I will always be grateful for both my mom’s advice, and for The 39 Clues series that kept books coming out in such rapid succession.
From there he moved on to comics. He particularly loved the Star Wars comics. And I was so grateful to see him reading! To see him excited to read.
His reading interests grew, and he began to read Rick Riordan’s other books. That led him to read everything he could find about mythology. That led him to studying ancient cultures. That led him to start learning Hebrew and Greek on his own. That led him to study Inca and Mayan cultures. The kid loves to learn!
Those early books that some people would call junk books and a waste of time saved my son’s reading career (and yes, helped him pass the second grade). Those comics gave him confidence. Led him to understand the possibilities that can come with reading.
Please. Get kids excited about reading. Let them read books for the joy of it. Books that speak to their heart. And please, to all you graphic novel creators: KEEP THOSE BOOKS COMING!
What book first made you excited to read?
One of the most important parts of writing is reading. Read as many books as you can in the genre you want to write in. So as you can imagine, I have read a lot of picture books lately. I love a good picture book review, and I love hearing about good books from others. So I’m going to share some of my favorites. I’ll focus on picture book reviews, but since I love middle grade books, I’ll probably throw in a few of those too.
I’ll be posting my reviews on Goodreads where I review other books in addition to the ones I blog about. Feel free to follow me on Goodreads if you like. Please note that I’ll only review books I love on my blog, so if it’s here, I give it five stars (Goodreads’ system).
First up is RAILWAY JACK written by KT Johnston, and illustrated by César Samaniego.
I’m going to confess that while I do love a good non-fiction picture book, my heart is with fiction. Given that, I might have been a little hesitant to pick this up. But boy am I ever glad that I gave this one a chance!
What an amazing story! This book is about an amazing duo: Jim Wide, and his service baboon, Jack. Jim had lost both of his legs in a rail accident and struggled to do his job at the railway until he found Jack. I was fascinated by Jim’s foresight to recognize the potential of what Jack could do to help him. I was amazed by all the skills that Jack was able to learn, and it gave me a greater appreciation for baboons and service animals in general.
The author did an impressive amount of research on the topic. I especially appreciated the photos at the end of the book. I’d never heard of a baboon being used as a service animal, and I found the author’s note about the history of service animals to be interesting and very informative. I have no doubt the discussion questions at the end will lead to great discussions that fascinate kids.
My favorite part was when the heads of the railway came down on Jim for allowing a baboon to do the work of a human. I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I won’t tell you what happens, but when you read it, you will know why this is my favorite. (I know, I’m totally the worst! But read it! You won’t be disappointed.)
I can’t end without mentioning the art. The illustrator did a beautiful job on the pictures. They really brought the story to life. I loved the style, and felt it was a great fit for the story. And after seeing the old photographs at the end, I enjoyed looking back through the pictures to note the great attention to detail that Mr. Samaniego paid to his work.
This is a wonderful story that I highly recommend!
Note: I received an e-ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
KT Johnston found history a boring subject in school—but now it’s the passion of her writing.
She earned a degree in biology and conducted wildlife behavior studies before switching to a corporate career. After raising two children and several litter sof curly-coated retrievers, KT began writing, spotlighting special animals who had affected the lives of everyday people. She and her husband live in Minneapolis, where the four-legged members of her family have always been special. KT hopes to inspire others to be curious about our world as well, one true story at a time.
César Samaniego was born in Barcelona, Spain, in 1975. He grew up with an artist father, smelling his father’s oils, reading his comic books, and trying to pain over his father’s illustrations! He attended Llotja Arts and Crafts School and graduated with honors in 2010. Since then he has published many books and provided art for apps, textbooks, and animations. César lives in Canet de Mar, a small coastal town near Barcelona, with his wife, daughter, five cats, and a crazy dog.
You can find more of his amazing art here.
It is no secret that I switched my writing gears with my latest release. My first book (The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society) is a middle grade novel, geared towards 8-13 year-olds. My upcoming book (Help Wanted, Must Love Books) is a picture book geared towards 4-7 year-olds.
Because of that change, I am often asked if I still write older books, how easy it is to switch back and forth between writing picture books, and writing middle grade books, and how different is it writing in those two genres. So today I’m going to talk about that.
First, yes! I definitely still write middle grade books. I love the long story form, and being able to tell more. I love reading those books, too, and I still have a lot of stories in me. In fact, I’m working on one now, that I’m not going to tell you anything about (aren’t I mean??!), but I’m on the second draft, so that is a good sign. Hopefully, in the future, you will see more published middle grade books from me.
Here is the thing, when I sent the draft of Help Wanted, Must Love Books to my agent, we had a little chat. She loved it, but she wanted me to understand that if I decided to go that direction, I needed to spend some time working on picture books. Focusing on writing more books, and spending some time (years probably) building up my author cred as a picture book author.
So that is what I have been doing these past couple of years (only recently have I begun working on middle grade again). I feel incredibly fortunate that my book sold. It is not the first picture book I’ve ever written, but it IS the first one I’ve gone on submission with (for all you non-authors, going on submission means that my agent sent it to editors in hopes they would want to publish it). The trick is to repeat that, now!
Now for the question about difficulty. Switching back and forth is do-able, but difficult. The two formats are extremely different. In middle grade, I have space to say all the things. And while I want my writing to be crisp, and only say things it needs to say, it feels incredibly freeing to have SO MANY WORDS with which to write my story.
Picture books are mind-numbing projects where every word on the page has been scrutinized many, many times. Every word must be essential if I want to keep it. Every word must being working hard and expressing as much as possible. And even then, I need to make sure that the word really needs to be said. Because if pictures already express that idea, then it is the chopping block for those words.
With my middle grade, once I signed with my agent, I had a couple of back and forths to fix things, before going on submission, and then a couple more back and forths to fix things with my editor (not to minimize the changes, some of those changes were BIG!), still, once I sent in the final copy, it was final.
With my picture book, we were making changes every step of the way.
We made changes right up until they sent it to print and we could no longer make changes.
It has been fascinating to watch and participate in the process. And despite the whole mind-numbing thing, I love, love, love writing picture books. It is an incredible thing to be able to say so much with so few words, and I feel like my writing is stronger for having learned and studied the craft of picture book writing (and please note, I am still learning, and probably will be forever). I will definitely be in this genre for a long time to come because I love it so much.
So for you authors, do you find it difficult to switch genres in your writing? And for you non-authors, what do you think when an author that you love in one genre switches to write in another? Do you read those books, too?
When we drew up our last summer bucket list, I bribed the kids to go running with me. I told them that if they would run with me 5 days a week, 30 minutes a day, then run a 5k with me at the end of summer, I would take them to Legoland.
So of course, I had to keep up my end of the bargain. I had so many people ask me to tell them what we thought, I decided to do a good old fashioned blog post with all my thoughts. And pictures. So. Many. Pictures!
So first off, I want to say the we LOVED Legoland. We got the two-day parkhopper pass that allowed us entry into both Legoland and the Sea Life Aquarium which is also on site. Honestly, I thought one day of Legoland would be enough, but boy was I wrong. There were so many things the kids loved and wanted to do again, and so many things we just didn’t get to the first day. And turns out the Sea Life Aquarium is not a full-day’s activity. We could have happily spent a third day in Legoland, but I personally would rather be left wanting more than less, so two days was perfect.
Much to my son’s chagrin, we did not stay in the Legoland hotel because it was pricey. However, I booked through the Legoland website when I discovered it cost less with both hotel and tickets together. We stayed at the Hyatt Place which we loved. It provided a very yummy breakfast, had an outdoor pool, a fitness room, and was only about three blocks from the beach. Perfect in so many ways! It was far enough to need to drive to Legoland, which meant we had to pay for parking ($18), but even with that, it still cost less overall. We also bought a picture pass for one day, which was great, although I kindof wish I’d sprung for the year-long pass which wasn’t much more.
My kids are way into Legos (especially my boys), so this was kindof their mecca. If your kids like Legos, they will love this park. Amazing Lego structures fill the park! There are also videos on how the structures were designed. How they were built. How they were shipped to the park. It’s fascinating!
I really wish I could show you everything . . . okay, okay! I couple more!
But there is way more to Legoland than just the amazing creations. There were so many fun, non-traditional rides. For example, usually you see these towers, where you are pulled up and then dropped really fast. Not at Legoland! You use good old-fashioned arm strength to pull yourself up with the ropes. And to make it even more fun, you get to race against the other riders. My arms got a serious workout! Then there was the fire-fighter training ride! A ride that requires teamwork to pump the firetruck into motion (serious effort required!), so you can put out the fire by spraying the water into the bullseye. I loved the teamwork, and we had so much fun competing against the boys.
They had the traditional teacups (Bionicle-themed), several roller-coasters, and a choose-your own level of craziness Nexo-Knight ride. The boys chose the highest level! (The crazies).
But our favorite ride, hands down, was the Ninjago ride. It was a 3-D, interactive video game ride. You karate chop your way through all the bad guys of Ninjago, trying to outscore not only those on the ride with you, but everyone else for the whole day! We managed to make it on the “best scores of the day” board once! (We may have been some of the first people to ride it that day).
And in addition to all the rides, there were Lego stations all throughout the park. We spend a considerable amount of time at these stations. A place to build boats, then send it down the rapids. A place to build cars, then test it on the ramps. Tons of build-whatever-you-want stops, not to mention the archaeological dig. We had a hard time convincing the kids to leave!
We spent a good hour in the Robotics lab, learning how to program a robot to perform specific tasks, and I convinced my family that we NEEDED a lego family drawing. A bit of an expensive souvenir, but I’m so happy we got it to remind us of our super fun trip. I’m kind of in love with it.
We tried these amazing things called Apple Fries. And speaking of food, there was a great variety of healthy and unhealthy alike. The prices were amusement park-ish, but I felt like they weren’t too ridiculous.
One other perk, is that I happily did not get sick at Legoland like I do at most amusement parks (curses on adulthood!). Probably because the rides are a bit more tame than most such parks. Which brings me to my one point of warning. Our oldest was 13 when we went. Seriously, he looked like the oldest kid there. That said, he loved it, but it won’t be long before he has outgrown Legoland . . . at least until he has his own kids.
Oh my! And I almost forgot about all the characters you can meet. I will end with those pictures, but our family gives Legoland an enthusiastic 5 thumbs up! (One last note: We went on the Thursday and Friday in the week before Thanksgiving. Almost no lines. Not crowded at all. Perfect weather. Such a fabulous vacation!)
Hello, hello!!! It has been months and months since I wrote a proper blog, and I could rattle off to you all crazy life events that have kept me from being here, but that would be boring (though one super, major, big reason is that my family and I will be moving soon!).
So instead, I will just tell you that I am finally celebrating the paperback release of The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society! Today, I’m over at the blog From the Mixed-Up Files, being interviewed and offering 4 (FOUR!!) signed copies of my paperback. The giveaway is open through Oct. 24th, so head on over, and enter! Just click HERE. (Even if you already own a copy, books make great gifts. Plus I will personalize it to whoever you’d like.)
Thank you so much for spreading the word, and best of luck!