SEAN ROSEN IS NOT FOR SALE for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I had just pulled into the driveway one night a few weeks back when a boy from next door greeted me. He had a book to return that was 512fKOz1P+L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_borrowed the previous July fourth. Yes, my home checkout policy is rather lenient. His family had been over that night to celebrate. I love that holiday. All you have to do is worry about what you’ll eat and watch fireworks light the sky. There’s no brunch to attend, trees to put up, or turkeys to cook. Oh, sorry. I’m getting off track much like our MC, Sean Rosen. I enjoyed the first book – I REPRESENT SEAN ROSEN and looked forward to the sequel. I only forgot that it had left my bookshelf almost ten months ago.

I read the new version in a few days. Despite its length many of the pages are in short screenplay format. You’ll be in the head of 13-year-old Sean and it may be a rough ride for adult readers. He’s all over the place with too much on his mind. I enjoyed his journey though I’ve been around this age group most of my life, and I still remember myself as a young teen (okay wipe that memory away). Regardless, many boys enjoy Sean because he’s like them with loving parents and a future he’s not sure about. My reluctant readers also willingly give Sean reading time. That says a lot.

PUBLICATION DATE:2014   Length: 384 pages

FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  The stakes are higher, the funny stuff is funnier, and the completely original and individual wunderkind Sean Rosen is balancing middle school and his career in ways never before seen. The adventures of Sean Rosen and his fictitious manager, Dan Welch, continue as Sean works on his screenplay, deals with seventh grade and track practice and a dog-walking job, records his podcasts, and tries to keep his brush with stardom a secret from his parents. Meanwhile, a major Hollywood movie studio has sent a private detective to Sean’s town to find out who this Sean Rosen kid is, and what the nature is, exactly, of his big idea.

FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT SEAN ROSEN IS NOR FOR SALE by Jeff Baron

  1. Sean is an only child in a two parent family. Nothing unusual there except this set-up is far from my usual MG selections this year. It’s just nice to read about a family who have become friends and support each other.
  2. Could a 13-year old kid get the attention of big movie executive and trick him into thinking he has an agent? Probably not, but Sean’s voice is so believable, funny, and teen-like, you have to assume maybe it could happen.
  3. Sean produces short podcasts and he talks about them frequently. Even better is actually watching them online. You can see a few of them here.
  4. The story shows kids it’s okay to try something and fail. Whether it be creative or athletic. Sean’s venture into middle school sports lasts about one hour, but his reasons for quitting are understandable.
  5. Sean has friendships with a diverse group of students. He’s not attached to any one clique and does fine with the popular girl and the quiet boy who sits by himself in the cafeteria. You’d be happy your kids had a friend like Sean.

FAVORITE LINES: I don’t hate school, but I don’t love school. My main problem with it is that’s it’s all day long, and there are a lot of other things I’d rather be doing. The parts of school that I like only take up a few short hours, but then you’re stuck there for the rest of the day.

QUOTE FROM AUTHOR: “When I first thought of Sean Rosen, it was a movie idea. Then for some reason, I remembered something a FOX studio executive suggested to me years ago after I pitched a movie—”Write it as a novel first.” I had never tried writing a novel, but Sean Rosen’s voice popped into my head, and once he started talking, he never stopped.” SOURCE

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

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Editing the Final Draft

I’ve twisted, moved, and tweaked each plot point and every hole is filled. The story has been read and re-read by myself and trusted critique partners. So now how do I edit this beast? Of course I try to do that as I write but it often gets lost in the creative process. I realize a publishing house will have their own editors who will gloss over the words, but I might have a tinge of perfectionism and want my best effort to shine.

There are professional editors you can hire to either look at plot and/or do a thorough line edit. For a 40,000 MG manuscript the prices I found ranged from $600-1800 to do a developmental edit and a partial line edit. Yes this can get expensive.

Because my manuscripts plot wise are in good shape, I needed more of a line edit. In the past I’ve used the free version of PROWRITING AID and found it helpful. You paste up to 3,000 words of text at a time and get 19 writing reports. It takes significant time to look at each report and then return to your manuscript to make the changes. A quicker $35 upgraded version is what I decided to try for a year.

Here you can make changes right online so the only time you go back to your original text is when you re-paste the polished chapter. They also have plug-ins for Word (currently Windows only), Google Docs, and WordPress so you can edit without going to ProWriting Aid’s website. If you create in any of these platforms that alone is worth the price. There’s also no word limit in the $35 version.

I have used ProWriting Aid on two manuscripts so far and it has taken about 7 hours for each. Thankfully I’m not doing that in one sitting. Instead I take one chapter at a time and spend 15-30 minutes in the editing process. After I paste in a chapter these are the choices to choose from:

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 9.18.38 AMTry some or try them all it’s up to the author. You simply click on a choice and a report appears to the left of your text with problem areas highlighted in your text. Here a sample Combo report which is a summary of everything you choose to include (they recommend not placing all 19 reports in this report and only the most useful):

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 12.20.16 PMI so far have opted to skip the Combo report and go through each of the menu choices individually. Seeing one report at a time and concentrating on that area gets my mind focused. I found 10-12 out of the 19  writing reports helpful for my MG stories. You have to be careful not to alter the voice you spent so much time developing in your MC so it’s good you are in control of making any of the suggested changes.

The final results: My stories are stronger, have snappier dialogue, and are in much better shape that when I started. Not bad for a small investment.

 

THE NINJA LIBRARIANS: THE ACCIDENTAL KEYHAND for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

A year ago I added THE NINJA LIBRARIANS:THE ACCIDENTAL KEYHAND to my future books to read list. The recommendation came from 21839074another MMGM blogger (The Reading Nook). My list has now grown to over 80 books and this title would still be there if author Jen Swann Downey hadn’t contacted me to announce the recent release of the paperback version. She graciously sent me a copy and I took to it right away.

What a marvelous world we have at Petrarch’s Library. There’s mystery, a large cast of unique characters, and magical surprises. Dorrie is an endearing MC who we follow as she and her older brother explore this unique place. Conflict and danger lurk in the shadows and the final 50 pages left me breathless. The good news at the end of the paperback version is a sneak preview of the sequel, THE NINJA LIBRARIANS: SWORD IN THE STACKS, due out in late 2015.

Avid readers from MG on up will devour the pages, but reluctant readers will most likely pass at it’s hefty size. They’ll miss out on a fantastic debut by a very talented writer. I’ll be waiting anxiously for the next adventure.

PUBLICATION DATE:2014   Word Count: 74,662    Reading Level: 5.8

FULL PLOT (From Amazon):

When Dorrie and her brother Marcus chase Moe-an unusually foul-tempered mongoose-into the janitor’s closet of their local library, they make an astonishing discovery: the headquarters of a secret society of ninja librarians.

Their mission: protect those whose words get them into trouble, anywhere in the world and at any time in history.

Petrarch’s Library is an amazing, jumbled, time-traveling secret base that can dock anywhere there’s trouble, like the Spanish Inquisition, or ancient Greece, or…Passaic, New Jersey. Dorrie would love nothing more than to join the society, fighting injustice with a real sword! But when a traitor surfaces, she and Marcus are prime suspects. Can they clear their names before the only passage back to the twenty-first century closes forever?

FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT THE NINJA LIBRARIANS by Jen Swann Downey

  1. Fourteen-year-old Marcus is a hilarious sidelight to Dorrie’s more serious side. His comments had me laughing at unexpected times. He’s all boy and often speaks before he thinks in his favorite Star Wars way.
  2. Dorrie is not your typical female main character and that’s what makes her special. Sword fighting is her passion, but in the 21st century she is more of a pretender. Her internalization of each event are superb and it doesn’t take long for you to have an attachment to to this girl. Feisty and strong – a great role model for young girls.
  3. When an author creates an imaginary world so vivid you want to visit, that alone is a success. What the residents can do with books at Petrarch’s Library is one of the coolest ideas I’ve ever read.
  4. In the back of the books is a welcome guide to the people, places, and other marvels found in Petrarch’s. Fun to relive what you already know and learn a few more things.
  5. The underlying theme of censorship is a bold one to take on, but what a fantastic way to introduce young readers to the struggles authors have had in the past to get their written words to an audience.

FAVORITE LINES:

Twelve-year-old Dorothea Barnes was thoroughly un-chosen, not particularly deserving, bore no marks of destiny, lacked any sort of criminal genius, and could claim no supernatural relations. Furthermore, she’d never been orphaned, kidnapped, left for dead in the wilderness, or bitten by anything more bloodthirsty than her little sister.

QUOTE FROM AUTHOR:

With all my soul, I have loved libraries since I remember loving anything. As a kid, libraries seemed like magic palaces of possibility. The shelves seemed to hold rows and rows of moveable worlds, each one fronted by a door in the shape of a book cover. All you had to do was swing it open and walk inside. And voila! Imaginary people and situations and places and choices. Those childhood books made it clear that I had choices about what kind of person I wanted to be, how I could live, what might count as “normal” or “good”. Libraries have to rate as one of our most beautiful human inventions, especially public ones. SOURCE: From Jen’s Website

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

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Never Stop Learning the Craft

David Viscott: “In the end, the only people who fail are those who do not try.”

I always urge students to be in charge of their own learning. “Seek answers to your own questions and continue to have growth every day – even if you’re in a class you detest.”

I’ve taught creative writing to kids, written more papers that I could count, and continue my quest to improve. Last Monday I signed up for a 90 minute live talk called The Basics of How to Get Your Book Published by Jane Friedman. Jane has more than 15 years in the publishing business and she knows her stuff. She has an extensive list of links at http://janefriedman.com/writing-advice-archive/ connecting to her advice in writing and publishing. It may take me a few months to get through it all.

As for the online session, I had previously heard about 85% of what she shared. I did find these interesting tidbits:

  1. Have a completed and polished manuscript before you think about publishing.
  2. Publishing is driven by profit, not art.
  3. It’s not a good idea to talk online about your submission process.
  4. 150 – 200 word hook or “pitch” is enough.
  5. Family and friends are great for encouragement but don’t rely on them to tell you your work is ready.
  6. Religious/Inspirational books are the number two genre in the U.S.
  7. More adults read YA than those that really are YA.

And my favorite… Common Problems with First Pages:

  • Too much interior monologue, reflection; or too much back-story.
  • Beginning with a flashback, waking up sequence, or a funeral.
  • The day is too ordinary
  • Dialogue without context
  • Info and character dumps
  • Lots of action but not grounded in a character

Next month I take a bigger learning chunk with my three-day attendance at Big Sur in the Rockies hosted by SCBWI. I will have an opportunity to share two of my manuscripts and hook lines with published authors and agents. It’s unique in that you get initial feedback, then you go off and rewrite, and finally resubmit. It should be a very beneficial and I’ll share my notes taken during the several large group presentations from industry professionals.

 Maya Angelou:Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

TEDDY MARS: ALMOST A WORLD RECORD BREAKER for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Teddy Mars fills a void for any new MG reader looking for an easy read, an endearing MC, and a funny story. If you were raised in a small y450-293family and want an understanding of what it’s like to be the sixth child out of seven, Teddy will fill you in fairly quick. Those that already know the feeling of having four times the number of people in the house than bathrooms will smile as Teddy takes things into his own hands. With five older sisters and a younger brother he calls The Destructor, Teddy just wants to stand out and be recognized rather that getting lost in the crowd.

The story is laid out by months with separate subsections for each event that occurred in Teddy’s life. The format should appeal to younger readers who may be intimidated by long chapters. Teddy has a spot on 10-year-old voice that you will not forget. This is a great addition to a 3rd or 4th grader’s library. I’m glad to have spent some time with Teddy.

PUBLICATION DATE:2015   PAGE COUNT: 215

FULL PLOT (From Amazon):

Fans of Jeff Kinney’s humor and Sharon Creech’s heartfelt stories will love this hilarious new series about a ten-year-old boy from a big family who dreams of making it into The Guinness Book of World Records.

Teddy Mars is determined to stand out in a world full of wonders and a house bursting with siblings. With the help of his best friends, Teddy tries to build the biggest snow mound, stuff the most grapes in his mouth, and lift a chair with his teeth. He’ll do anything to succeed—even if it means sleeping in a tent and cleaning up pigeon poop for Grumpy Pigeon Man. Too bad his pesky little brother, also known as The Destructor, always wrecks Teddy’s record-breaking plans!
FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT Teddy Mars by Molly B. Burnham

  1. The illustrations are weirdly wonderful. Rich detail is given to each character’s facial expression and it makes for some amusing takes. The illustrations are scattered rather than being the focus of the story and that works well in this case. Kids though may be clamoring for more pictures.
  2. The inclusion of Guinness Book of World Records throughout the book gives the story a fun angle. You’ll learn many of the wacky records that people have accomplished.
  3. The importance of recognition for each member of a large family is brought forth beautifully. Teddy gets his recognition in an unusual way and it involves a backyard tent. A great prop to bring this theme full circle.
  4. I didn’t seek this title out to learn about pigeons, but I’m glad to be an expert now on their behaviors. The relationship with Teddy and the Grumpy Pigeon Man was heartfelt and believable.
  5. Coming soon is book #2 in the series (yay!): TEDDY MARS: ALMOST A WINNER.

FAVORITE LINES: (I don’t usually choose the first line but I couldn’t resist.) “The day my brother climbed into the cat box was the day I knew my life would never be normal again.”

QUOTE FROM AUTHOR: (SOURCE: From Molly’s website)Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 2.03.56 PM

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

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Why a TBR becomes a DNF

My growing list of books to be read may never get smaller and that’s okay. There are just so many great middle grade stories waiting for my time. This year I’ve been on a record breaking pace with 90% of my reading in middle grade. This has brought on a new problem I’ve never faced – I’ve now  started and never finished four MG books in 2015. It’s my unwelcome DNF list. I’m not here to reveal the titles as I know how hard the writing process can be. I will though give some insights into my reasons and what kids like.

I normally read a book based on recommendations from other blogs, reading a synopsis, or choosing one from an author I’ve enjoyed in the past. The choice to put a book aside typically happens after reading at least 20% of the story. I can narrow the reasons why into three categories:

  1. Nothing happens. That means no problem for the main character and no conflict. Sure I get to meet this character but any inciting event to get the story rolling is absent thus far.
  2. Atrocious Writing. Two of the books on my DNF shelf are a continuous series of tangled words, phrases, and sentences. Was there any editing going on at all? Worse yet, why does the MC sound like a cranky garbage collector nearing retirement? No thanks.
  3. Too Much Sadness. Our world is full of bad news. I choose middle grade for the wonderment, the smiles, and the adventure. There may be unhappy times along a MG story arc, but I don’t need an entire 200+ pages of it bringing me down. My most recent addition to the DNF list had a 12-year-old running away and then getting beat up by a group of teenagers. His money stolen, he’s left in the street to die. I was on page 50 at this point and I had to know were the remaining pages more of the same? I form my own opinion about books, but this is where Goodreads and Amazon reviews helped me decide whether to continue. A lot of people liked the book but many were depressed after reading, and it didn’t get any better for our young protagonist. I took the bookmark out of the book. I’m done.

I showed a small group of MG kids my list of reasons and they agreed, and of course added their own thoughts on what they search for:

  1. Characters solve problem.
  2. Plenty of humor and adventure.
  3. Short chapters.

So it’s back to reading. I’m pulling in a YA title for a change of pace this week. It’s been on my TBR list for some time. Cute blue cover and a great title: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS.  I’ve had my head buried in MG world for a long time, but I hear this one is a best seller. It looks like just what I need…

TIME SQUARE – THE SHIFT for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

It’s a good day when you make a comment on an author’s web site and come away the winner of a contest. Yes, I snagged a copy of S.W. Lothian’s book and spent spring break enjoying a Kindle version. The story is a set-up for the series with TIME SQUARE – UFO available now and TIME SQUARE – 20957080TRIANGLE to be released in 2015.

S.W. Lothian has created an amazing world in this time travel adventure. Time Square is the place where time is kept and it’s a busy place with all sorts of surprises. The statues alone are enough to convince you this is no ordinary place. On the human side there are Lewis and Eva, very engaging youngsters who follow there dad into this unique place. As the plot thickens and races to Book #2, they will be center stage even more.

You’ll be left hanging at the end but that’s intentional. The mark of a great series is that you want to read on – and you certainly will in this case.

PUBLICATION DATE:2014   PAGE COUNT: 210

FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  There’s more to time than ticks and tocks.

Imagine this. Your dad is a part-time archaeologist who has a tendency to discover things. One day, he comes home from an expedition with a crusty old relic, and dumps it in the basement. You’d probably think everything would be fine and dandy, but that’s where you’re wrong. Because that’s precisely when all the trouble started.

It’s 1930, and Lewis and Eva Hudson are a couple of twin teens with just such a dad. Then, on a chilly wintry day in Washington D.C., the three of them mysteriously disappear into thin air, without a trace. Throw in a weird and mysterious rival with a point to prove, add a looming disaster that threatens to break time itself, and pretty soon they’re smack bang in the front seat of a roller-coaster to doomsville.
FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT THE SHIFT by S.W. Lothian

  1. The secondary characters leave you with more than one chuckle. Betty Pocker, Horrie Houston, James Blonde, and Ludwig Von Messalot to name a few.
  2. Eva and Lewis are paired with more experienced time travelers, Max Wells and Razer Sharpe. This team known as ELMR will be fun to follow as they embark on their first mission together in 1947 Roswell, New Mexico in the previously mentioned sequel TIME SQUARE – UFO.
  3. The cover is a brightly colored clue as to what lies ahead for readers– suspense, humor, and craziness.
  4. The writing is crisp with just the right balance of action and description. Certainly a necessity with so much to be revealed both in 1930 Washington D.C. and in the magical Time Square.
  5. The front dedication will bring a tear and a smile to anyone reading. You can check it out on the author’s website.

FAVORITE LINES: (There are many including this one from a ‘P word’ loving secondary character) “Mr. Tingleton, it’s Penelope Poppins your personal page. Mr. Hootsnap and a party of people have popped in to appraise you of preparation and plans for the portal placement project.”

QUOTE FROM AUTHOR: “I am a huge fan of books that are full of magical settings (like Harry Potter), action and adventure.  I love reading and writing this genre, as I’m not one who loves to watch or read needless violence and murders, etc.  When I write, it’s for my kids. I try to excite, inspire, and teach them the importance of respect and teamwork.  My books are full of awesome edge-of-your-seat action and adventure which is scattered with plenty of humor and fun.  I also hope to help adults remember the dreams of their own childhood.” SOURCE

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

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