A few left over pieces from the past week…

  1. Do you know a woman veteran of our armed forces? If you do, The Women’s Memorial would like to know about them for a memorial they are working on in Washington D.C. They estimate only 10% of the total women who have served are on the Women’s Memorial rolls. More information can be found at www.womensmemorial.org. My connection came from a family friend who recently passed away at the ripe age of 104. She had served in the Pacific during WWII.
  2. Great tips on those first pages come from Janice Hardy on her guest post this week. Take a look here. Spot on advice.
  3. Writer’s Digest is running a free contest with agent Peter Knapp as the judge. If you have a middle grade story and would like to enter you have until July 30th. Details can be found by clicking on the logo.


Next Monday I’ll post my review for THE SPY CATCHERS OF MAPLE HILL. Have a super rest of the week and weekend!


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NICKEL BAY NICK for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

This recent novel by Dean Pitchford is a joy to read. Jacket+Nickel+Bay+NickThe secrets and mystery surrounding Nickel Bay Nick unfold in brief spurts. By the end you feel like the journey was worth every minute. There is hope if you give people second chances. The story is told from the eyes of 11-year-old Sam who hasn’t much to like about his life so far. Heart transplant at age 4, divorced parents, and living in constant arguments with his dad all add to his displeasure and unruly attitude. Then he meets Mr. Wells, a neighbor next store and through the 12 days following Christmas his life and outlook are transformed.

Don’t wait for the holidays. Go out and enjoy this story now.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Eleven-year-old Sam Brattle is already having the worst Christmas ever – his dad’s bakery is going bankrupt and his mom is spending the holidays with her new family. To make things worse, Nickel Bay Nick, the anonymous Good Samaritan who leaves hundred-dollar bills around Nickel Bay at Christmastime, is a no-show, so this year the rest of the town is as miserable as Sam. When he stumbles upon the secret identity of this mysterious do-gooder, Sam is stunned to learn that he might now be his town’s only hope. But before he can rescue Nickel Bay, Sam has to learn the skills of a spy and unravel some even darker secrets that will change his life forever.


  1. Just how do you give away one hundred dollar bills to unsuspecting recipients? The answers are surprising and you’ll find out how much joy a good deed brings.
  2. There are so many mysterious and fun plot threads. The biggest one unveiled in the final pages got me the most. It’s one of those moments where your eyes can’t move fast enough through the words to read what happens.
  3. Sam has a humorous voice. It’s also an emotional one as we witness the changes his character goes through. He’s more like a disgruntled teen with his friends being two 8th graders. Neither are the best role models.
  4. The way Sam connects to his mother even though he never talks with her.
  5. The book would be a perfect read-a-loud. It also would make for an interesting movie. (The author by the way wrote the screenplay for Footloose). I know boys would love this tale and probably many girls, too. In fact, NICKEL BAY NICK might convert a few YA and adult title readers into the MG world. It’s a hard one not to love no matter what age you are.


I’m miserable and forgotten in the most miserable and forgotten place on earth.


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


Do you have a middle grade manuscript waiting to be seen? Try out this New FREE contest for writers of middle grade fiction. It’s the 16th “Dear Lucky Agent” judged by agent Peter Knapp of Park Literary Group. You have through July 30th to submit. All the details can be found by clicking on the logo:DearLuckyAgent2

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Revision 101

photoIn a few weeks I’ll start tackling the first round of revisions for my newest manuscript. I’ve had a rather scattered approach to this task in the past. Sure, I’d followed the many blog posts on the subject, read many fine books with the answers, and taught countless number of students the reasons they needed to rewrite their three pages stories. How hard could this be? Plenty as it turned out. My process was like links on a web page where one thing led to another and soon I’d end up with a lot of pieces and no full parts.

A solid plan was needed that works the way I work and now I have one. I’ve formulated a game plan so that I can feel like progress is being made. Here are the steps that will make my manuscript shine:

  1. Print out each chapter. 18 for my present story. I’ll paper clip each and work with one or as many as two chapters per day. This minimal goal will help me keep on track.
  2. Read through the first chapter for pacing and being sure there is a beginning, middle and end. Answer these questions:
    1. Was their conflict or tension?
    2. Would a reader be surprised in any way?
    3. Was there a strong voice in the MC’s words?
    4. How many of the five senses did I include?

If I’m not satisfied with the answers, I’ll do some tweaking to make it right.

  1. Word choice
    1. Overused words. If I see a word more than a few times I’ll go back to the digital version to see how often it lights up the screen in a particular chapter. Too much of a good thing usually isn’t.
    2. Cut out unneeded words. For me, it’s usually ones like That, Then, Almost, Very, Up, Down, Around, Only, and Just. Often the words around them get the point across.
    3. Show versus Tell. The most common advice for writers. The ‘Telling” areas are easy to eliminate if you are discovering and experiencing the action through the character. I always think about experiencing something like music or a baseball broadcast on the radio compared to being behind home plate or the front row of a concert. It’s a different experience. I want my writing to make the reader feel like they are there with me, rather than me telling them what’s going on from a distance. They need to experience it like I do.
    4. Is each sentence written in the strongest way possible? Does it need more voice? Are there more descriptive words?
  2. Grammar and punctuation. Microsoft word does help, but having someone look it over can catch errors automated grammar programs my miss. I also use the free online Pro Writing Aid  that checks grammar and other  aspects of your writing.
  3. Repeat #2-4 for each chapter.
  4. Read the entire manuscript out loud. Another variation is to record the reading and play it back or have someone else read it while I listen. Great way to see if you’ve nailed the voice and whether there are any rough spots in sentence structure. I’ll highlight areas that need attention and fix them afterwards. If possible, this step is best done in one day .
  5. Let the pages sit again for at least a week. This will allow me to get disconnected and let the results settle in my mind.
  6. Re-read the entire manuscript. Any gaps in plot? Pacing?
  7. Get it critiqued. My normal critique group members are rather overwhelmed this summer so I may seek out some individuals I’ve traded with in the past.
  8. Revise again based on their recommendations.

My original approach would often take up to a year to complete. If all goes as planned my new plan should take about 8-10 weeks unless major issues are discovered. Once the pages look great I’ll consider whether to use a professional editor. They are helpful in big picture types of editing. I’ve used a few in the past and its been beneficial.

I’m hoping this more focused approach to rewriting will pay off with an almost perfect manuscript… If it works I’ll be ready to submit this Fall.

Categories: Editing, Writing | Tags: | 4 Comments

BETTER TO WISH for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Ann M. Martin’s BETTER TO WISH begins with a brief prologue to introduce the main character. The year is 2022 and Better+to+WishAbby Nichols is 100-years-old. The first chapter then takes you back to when she was 8 and the rest of the book chronicles the ups and downs of her life until she’s in her early twenties. The story is sad and sweet and will touch you deeply in many ways.

Each time I picked up the book, the author’s name – Ann M. Martin – stared at me and I kept asking myself Where have I come across her books before? The answer was in her bio located in the inside book jacket. Twenty years ago in my then sixth grade classroom, she was the most popular author on my  shelves for most girls (and a few boys). She started the widely popular BABYSITTER”S CLUB series in addition to other popular novels and series.

BETTER TO WISH is a far different story and one I didn’t expect to enjoy. I’m glad I was proven wrong.  It’s also the first in the Family Tree series that take you deeper into other generations of Abby’s family. The second book, THE LONG WAY HOME, came out in late 2013 and is about Abby’s daughter, DANA. The third, BEST KEPT SECRET,  just released this year, details the beginning years of Abby’s granddaughter, Francie. Finally, next year the series will conclude with Abby’s great granddaughter taking center stage with HOME IS THE PLACE.



FULL PLOT (From Amazon): In 1930, Abby Nichols is eight, and can’t imagine what her future holds. The best things today would be having a dime for the fair, keeping her Pops from being angry, and saving up eighty-seven cents to surprise her little sister with a tea set for Christmas.

But Abby’s world is changing fast. Soon there will be new siblings to take care of, a new house to move into, and new friends to meet. But there will also be good-byes to say and hard choices to make. As Abby grows older, how will she decide what sort of life will fit her best?

In this incredible new series, bestselling author Ann M. Martin brings the past and the present together one girlhood at a time and shows readers the way a family grows.


  1. The jolt you get with the realities of limited choices for young women graduating from high school 75 years ago. Marriage and a family was the expectation and a career in any prominent field was discouraged.
  2. The snapshot of life in the 1930′s. No computers, Facebook, or Twitter. Cell phones? You’d have to wait another 50 years for those to surface. Life may not have been easy during those years, but it seemed a lot simpler.
  3. The relationship of Abby with her father. I’m certainly considering him for my 2nd annual award for the jerkiest parent in books, but I also need to remind myself of the time period. Many were like Luther, bigoted and career driven and not wanting to talk about life’s problems.
  4. It’s a coming of age story in a time period unknown by today”s youth. They would be enriched by taking a texting break  and reading this book.
  5. Any good series has you wanting to read more. This one did just that. Unfortunately the next three will have to take their place on the bottom of a overly large TBR list… but I will get to them eventually!


“She turned over carefully and thought about Marie and about Orrin and the UmHays, and about what it must feel like to be foreign or dark-skinned or out of work when all around you, people like Pop were watching with smug eyes.”


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


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Done. Finished. But Far From Over…

Yes, I did it again. Finished a first draft of the story I’ve been forming in my crowded mind this year. As expected, the journey was not without its bumps, but all were solved.

  1. I began writing with a Third Person POV/Present tense. About 15,000 words in I suddenly realized my mistake. The tense was wrong. I couldn’t come up with one other middle grade book written in this way and it wasn’t working for me either. I went back and painstakingly changed to past tense and the story flowed better. Lesson learned. Spend as much time beforehand debating POV as you do tense.
  2. About a dozen times I had a scene that wasn’t working. In the past I’d spend hours working on it at the computer – deleting, adding, reworking with often no better results. This time I tucked it away and for the next day or so I’d rework the scene out in my head. It was a big help to visualize and then return to the keyboard with a much better focus.
  3. I’d never used an outline before and this time I did. At first I was scribbling them out on a piece of paper and it wasn’t helping. When I put them in a two-column table (one column for the action; one for the time frame) it became a nice synopsis and direction for each session of writing.

For now I’ve saved the 40,000 words in several places and emailed myself a copy. That way I’ll have one sitting in my inbox in case my other storage devices decide to end their life. I’ll let it sit for a month before jumping in to do a first revision. Anyway, it feels good to have another first draft complete.


Eleven-year-old Christian Kale Kalani (C.K.) is half Irish, half Hawaiian. That may explain his impulsive and passionate nature, especially when it comes to saving the environment. But now his globetrotting divorced mother has signed him up for the Big Brother’s program. His ‘Big’ arrives one morning and soon they discover each others secret. One has a past he cannot let go of, the other a future he never asked for. When their growing friendship is threatened, they’ll have to save each other or risk never saving themselves. For C.K. the choice is not as obvious as he expected.


Categories: Editing, Writing | Tags: , | 9 Comments

THE 9 LIVES OF ALEXANDER BADDENFIELD for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Yes, this is a weird book. You’ll either love it for its quirkiness or shake your head at death being the main course on its 17572879pages. Of course it’s hard to get attached to our MC when he keeps getting killed. The dark humor throughout should appeal to mostly boys. The deaths are not graphically detailed and several happen in the course of a few pages, all in the same way. As I was reading it to myself, I thought this would be a great read-a-loud, especially for someone who could do voices well. It’s a quick read that does include some challenging vocabulary words.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Alexander Baddenfield is a horrible boy—a really horrible boy—who is the last in a long line of lying, thieving scoundrels.  One day, Alexander has an astonishing idea.  Why not transplant the nine lives from his cat into himself?  Suddenly, Alexander has lives to spare, and goes about using them up, attempting the most outrageous feats he can imagine.  Only when his lives start running out, and he is left with only one just like everyone else, does he realize how reckless he has been.

With its wickedly funny story and equally clever illustrations, this is dark humor at its most delicious.


  1. The whimsical, okay… creepy drawings are perfect. They’re done by long time illustrator, Sophie Blackall, who also did the Ivy and Bean Series and two dozen other children’s books.
  2. The humor is not for everyone, but I did chuckle a few times .
  3. Nothing to hide here if you happen to accidentally open this book. I’d keep the little ones away. Definitely one for older MG. You know there are going to be deaths and they’re not going to be pretty as you imagine them. But some kids and adults can’t get enough of the macabre.
  4. I didn’t expect there to be a moral to this odd tale, but there it was on the last page.
  5. If you have read every Lemony Snicket and Roald Dahl book, this will be a story you’ll enjoy.

FAVORITE LINES: (From p. 55, not even half way through the book)

…I suggest that you turn back now. You have hopefully enjoyed the story so far. Why not quit while you are ahead?


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


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ANDI UNEXPECTED for an Unexpected Midweek Review

Yes, I’ve been reading books like crazy. Traditionally I’m a before bedtime reader, catching a few chapters before lights out. This has changed in the past year thanks in part to an unmanageable growing list of books on my taller than me TBR list. Normally I only post reviews on Mondays as a part of  Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday celebration. Thanks to my increase in reading time, and no I’m not sick, jobless, or with nothing to do, I’m four weeks ahead in my posts for MMGM – good all the way through this month.

How did I do it? I bring a book with me everywhere. It’s amazing how much time there is during the day. I might sneak away at lunch for 10 minutes, there’s a 15 minute wait at the dentist, another 12 or so waiting for a haircut. It adds up and if a few extra minutes at night presents itself, out comes the book. I’m also not someone who hides a book in their lap, huddled over each word. I proudly hold each title about a foot from my eyes and read away. I did get a few stares in the haircut salon. One guy was reading ESPN magazine and the other furiously texting. They kept glancing my way, I’m sure wondering what I was doing reading ANDI UNEXPECTED by Amanda Flower9780310737018_imageThey never asked but they should have. It’s a great start to a fun series (ANDI UNDER PRESSURE, the second Andi Boggs novel, will be released this October.)


FULL PLOT (From Amazon): After the sudden death of their parents in the jungles of Central America, twelve-year-old science geek Andora ‘Andi’ Boggs and her diva teenaged sister, Bethany, move to rural Killdeer, Ohio to live with their eccentric twenty-something aunt. And while the timeworn house has been home to the Boggs family for generations, Andi feels far from at home. Exploring the attic in her grief, she discovers proof of another Andora Boggs in the family tree hidden in a Depression-era trunk. Despite the meddling of the citizens of Killdeer, Andi and her new friend, Colin Carter, are determined to find out who this first Andora was, how she vanished, and why no one in town wants to talk about her. As more and more unanswered questions pile up, Andi and Colin must decide who they can trust with their secrets and who is interested in Andora’s story for the wrong reasons.


  1. A strong female protagonist. Andi has questions and is not afraid to find the answers. Her voice shined on every page.
  2. Her friend, Colin. He’s a smart boy other kids can’t relate to. He also has asthma and has to constantly monitor his own health. It’s an honest look into what children with asthma go through.
  3. The friendship that grows between Andi and Colin. It will be interesting to read how this relationship moves forward in future novels.
  4. The mystery is fun to follow as you try guessing what happened to Andi’s ancestor.You’ll also be wondering which adults are helpful and which are not. The results are surprising.
  5. The honest and real snapshot of Andi and her older sister as they cope differently with their parent’s death. The sisters don’t really like each other or the way each acts. It’s a sub mystery within the bigger one that both girls will need to solve.


“Andi’s not a fit name for a girl. Parents today think they have the license to name their children whatever they wish. Ridiculous, You hardly hear any good solid names anymore. I miss names like Ruth or Mary or Rebecca. It’s all Apple, Mango, and Pear these days. What, do people think they are making a fruit salad instead of naming a child?”


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CHASING THE MILKY WAY for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I got the jump on this new release thanks to Deb Marshall and her recent contest giveaway. Take a look at Deb’s blog called Read Write Tell. It will be a worth your time.

CHASING THE MILKY WAY is a middle grade book that should fall into the upper ranges of that category. With doses 9780399164491of profanity and the topic at hand, mental illness, ages 11-14 may be a better fit than the advertised 8-12. With that said, the story was one of my favorite reads so far this year.

The writing oozes with hope one minute and despair the next. It’s a roller coaster ride of emotions. Despite the plot having one or two hard to believe occurrences, this will be a book to treasure for now and the future. It gives meaning to the issue of mental illness that is rarely explored in MG books, and does it so well. Thanks go to the author, Erin E. Moulton, for having the courage to write about such a difficult topic. In her Author’s Notes she says “Did you know 1 in 4 Americans will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime?” And then she provides several resources for learning more.

CHASING THE MILKY WAY packs a powerful punch and you’ll be enriched by the experience.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon): Lucy Peevy has a dream–to get out of the trailer park she lives in and become a famous scientist. And she’s already figured out how to do that: Build a robot that will win a cash prize at the BotBlock competition and save it for college. But when you’ve got a mama who doesn’t always take her meds, it’s not easy to achieve those goals. Especially when Lucy’s mama takes her, her baby sister Izzy, and their neighbor Cam away in her convertible, bound for parts unknown. But Lucy, Izzy and Cam are good at sticking together, and even better at solving problems. But not all problems have the best solutions, and Lucy and Izzy must face the one thing they’re scared of even more than Mama’s moods: living without her at all.


  1. Lucy is a budding scientist and a very good one. A great role model for girls.
  2. The relationship of Lucy, her little sister Izzie, and best friend Cam is touching and heartfelt. They stick together through good and bad. You so want them to succeed, if not now then in the future.
  3. Brief flashbacks scattered across the pages, tell the back story of Lucy, her mom, and grandma. Centered around each of Lucy’s past birthdays, it’s a look at how their relationship changed and gives meaning for the decisions each face.
  4. For the most part, the story is a page turning adventure. It’s the perfect way to not allow the difficult topic of mental illness to override the true meaning of the book. It’s really about family and friendship.
  5. Lucy’s  first person narrative is the perfect voice to tell the story. She’s tough, smart, and willing to speak her mind.


I hear Izzy sniffle next to me and I open up my arm like a wing, and wonder what we’re going to do now.


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


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A Personal Trainer for Writers?

Personal Trainers have gained in popularity the past 10 years. They motivate you and set you on the course for better fitness and health. My four-legged friend is the closest I’ve ever had to having one. A springer spaniel is the ultimate motivator. If I’m sitting and she hasn’t had her walk, watch out. She’s relentless until the leash comes out. The joy she gets from running up hills, dashing after the occasional rabbit, and smelling all her familiar spots makes it all worth the effort. The only problem is she can’t differentiate between pouring rain and a sunny day. Exercise for her is good no matter what the conditions.

Like my health and fitness, writing too is a journey. It’s also one that the dog can’t help with. She could care less about my incessant tapping away at the keyboard. When I’m stuck on a scene or the motivation is lost, who’s my personal trainer for writing? Actually, there are many.

BOOKS: At least 75% of what I read is in the genre I’ve settled into as a writer- middle grade. I read to analyze what others writers are doing with the written word, how they make a character memorable, and making note of each story arc. It’s one of the best ways to become a better writer by following those making the footsteps ahead of you.

TIME: My third manuscript was flowing along nicely when I realized a subplot did not work. I had done much research to make sure it fit, but after writing the scenes they didn’t seem right. I took a few days to rethink the strategy. Those walks with the dog, the quiet of early morning, and the scenes playing out in my head helped me realize I needed to drop the subplot. I did and now am back on course. First draft by July 4th was my original plan but at 20,000 words in, I have a ways to go. Letting ideas sit even for a day or two can allow your mind to refocus.

CRITIQUERS: At first I used friends who knew this age group, librarians from various schools I’ve taught at, and neighbors. Yeah, they’re too nice. As one good friend said, “I know how hard you worked on this so I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”  I then went and found critique partners who I’d never met. They were still kind but also not afraid to tell me like it is. Another viewpoint is exactly what I need for a manuscript to improve.

BLOGS: What would I do without the fantastic network of blogging sites? I’ve learned, questioned, and become more open to making changes to my own writing. Some of the best out there:

That’s it! Who’s your writing personal trainer?




Categories: Uncategorized | 6 Comments

THE GREAT GREENE HEIST for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

The cover really draws you into reading this new novel by Varian Johnson. I did so a few weeks ago at the end of my greeneparticipation in the 48 Hour Book Challenge. It was my final title to read. As the final minutes ticked away there was only time to read the first two chapters. Not to be defeated, I started over a few days later.  My initial two-point reaction remained the same:

  • Was this a sequel? No, it’s not but it was like I missed the first course or two of an important dinner. I needed a scorecard with all the characters and back story thrown in. Just in the first ten pages you have Jackson Greene, Mrs. Kau, Coach Rainey, Mr. James, A.P Nelson, Gaby de la Cruz, Charlie de la Cruz, Naomi Sinclair, Keith Sinclair, Dr. Kelsey, Mr. Pritchard, Blitz at the Fitz, Mid-Day PDA, Lynne Thurber, Fiona, Omar Turner, Katie, and Heather Ames. Whew, I was exhausted. I checked out the  prequel on Mr. Jonson’s web site and dove back into the story.
  • I couldn’t get over that this cast of characters were mostly just turned 13-year-olds. What’s going on in Columbus, Ohio? I kept expecting a dream sequence to end. They all acted and appeared more like a high school crowd than middle school.

Moving beyond those concerns, I tossed aside the implausible plot and just enjoyed the story. It became an enjoyable ride. The diversity angle was great and the back story eventually explained. Fans of heist movies will get a kick out of the various roles each of the characters take. Real middle school age kids will be wondering why their school isn’t anything like Maplewood Middle.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Jackson Greene swears he’s given up scheming. Then school bully Keith Sinclair announces he’s running for Student Council president, against Jackson’s former friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby wants Jackson to stay out of it — but he knows Keith has “connections” to the principal, which could win him the presidency no matter the vote count.

So Jackson assembles a crack team:  Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess. Charlie de la Cruz, reporter. Together they devise a plan that will take down Keith, win Gaby’s respect, and make sure the election is done right. If they can pull it off, it will be remembered as the school’s greatest con ever — one worthy of the name THE GREAT GREENE HEIST.


  1. You are kept guessing how our young protagonist is going to pull off his plan. The reader gets many of the details, but there are still enough unanswered questions to keep those pages turning.
  2. A very rare African-American protagonist in a contemporary middle school book. No stereotypes, just another boy in a diverse group of characters.
  3. The brief though powerful scene that demonstrates racism is still out there.
  4. This cast of teen characters are smart and it’s something not to hide. Young readers take note.
  5. Many references are made to the movie, Oceans 11, but I think this would actually make a blockbuster movie in and of itself.


Jackson shook his head. The idea if Mrs. Goldman being a Sk8tr Boiz fan weirded him out. He figured someone like her – someone in her thirties – would like boring music, like smooth jazz.


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , | 13 Comments

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