Halloween Hysteria

Five more days until the 31st and that means I’m in overdrive getting everything ready and doing shows and parties and generally running around like a deranged chicken out for blood.

I still have two more shows at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (tonight and Sunday), I’m visiting a local pre-school this morning to warp some toddler minds, and there are parties and readings and a zillion gloriously creepy things in the near-future. And the action never stops, because next weekend (Nov 3 and 4) I’m attending the Kid Lit Con in Hershey, PA as an author. I’ll be on a panel all about Middle Grade villains, and then hobbing and nobbing with folks at various other times of the weekend.

But aside from all the work, Halloween is just a ton of fun. I have been spending the past few days creating my yard. The key is always the lights, and we’ve added some this year. See, I live at the top of a steep driveway, and we need to really entice the kids to trek up to the house. Without a good display, some lazy kids would just look at the driveway and say “Forget it! That looks like exercise!”

I’ve got the graveyard out, and it’s lit with a red light from below and then highlighted by a pure bright white light from above. Various contraptions that are motion-sensitive. My famed rat-in-a-cage thingy. Body parts. Webs. The heartbeat. Jack-o-Lanterns. Anything else I can come up with. I’m thinking of creating a tableau of a dark form sitting at a table with a flaming jack-o-lantern for a head. Not 100% sure if I can pull it off, but it will be fun to try.

See, I have a reputation to uphold. For many years, a number of kids have said we are the scariest house. It warms the heart. 🙂

What’s got me even more excited is looking forward to NEXT Halloween. Fingers crossed, but all the stuff I was supposed to do with Historic Hudson Valley this year ought to take flight next year. As well as a couple of other possibilities. Period adventures! Escape the Room! Classic, Gothic theater!

Meanwhile, I’ve read some great Middle Grade books of late. One of my favorites was The Lost Property Office, by James Hannibal.

A fun, magical story of a kid in modern-day London following in the footsteps of the Great Fire of London in 1666. There are secret societies, mystical powers, dastardly villains, daring escapes. It rocks. And the sequel (already pre-ordered) comes out… on Halloween! Wooo!!!

Two other Must-Read books which I have devoured recently are The Empty Grave and The Assassins Curse.

The Empty Grave is the fifth and (no!!!) final installment of Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. novels.

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I have been enamored of these books since I discovered them and each one has pushed the story and world forward in fantastic ways. The finale does not disappoint, except for the fact that it’s the finale.

The Assassin’s Curse is the third book in Kevin Sands’ Blackthorn Key series.

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These books take place in 1665 London and follow an apprentice apothecary as he solves centuries-old mysteries (which is a feat, since he’s in the 1600’s, so centuries-old means, like, the 1300’s!) and navigates 1665 Europe. The latest volume brings him from London to Paris. However, it has suddenly occurred to me that he will probably return to London soon, since I can’t imagine Mr. Sands won’t take advantage of a particularly famous event which took place in 1666. (See “Lost Property Office” above)

 

So there ya go. Three great MG books for you to go purchase. Only after you’ve purchased Beyond the Doors and Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, of course. 🙂

Books I’ve Read Recently

Aloha!

I read a lot of Middle Grade speculative fiction. This is not because I have difficulty with big words, mind you, but rather because I happen to write Middle Grade speculative fiction and it’s always good to keep an eye on what the competition is doing.

Right now I’m reading Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Secret Keepers.

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This is the guy who wrote The Mysterious Benedict Society, which is a great book and you should read it but we’re not talking about it so I won’t even link to it.  The Secret Keepers tells the tale of a young boy who climbs up a wall and discovers something. That something sends him on an adventure filled with mystery, danger, backstories, legends, and municipality corruption–if that’s a term.

Stewart wrote four Benedict Society books, and so this is a nice shift into a new world for him. It’s written in a style of hyper-reality, where things almost feel like they could be happening in our world, but something is just a little bit… off. I love those kinds of worlds, and in fact both Dr. Fell and this August’s Beyond the Doors (have you pre-ordered your copy yet?) live in hyper-reality worlds of their own.

The book has kept me interested and guessing and involved, which is to say I haven’t given up on it and shoved it aside (which I do more and more these days). So at the moment (I’m about 2/3 of the way through) I would recommend it.

Before Secret Keepers, I dug my claws into Peter Lerangis’s Seven Wonders series. I read the first book,  The Colossus Rises, and was working on the second, Lost in Bablyon, when I ran out of steam.

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The basic idea behind the series is that a kid discovers he is a long lost descendant of Atlantis. Because of this, he has a strange gene in his body which, when he turns 13, gives him superpowers. However, when he turns 14, the gene will kill him. The only way to stop this is to go out with three other 13-year-old Atlantis descendants and find 7 Magic Thingies. For whatever reason, before Atlantis was destroyed, the Atlanteans took the 7 Magic Thingies and used them to create the Seven Wonders of the World. Even though only one of those (the Great Pyramid of Giza) remains standing, the team of super 13-year-olds must find all seven. One per book.

It’s a solid idea. It has Atlantis, which is always fun. It has super powers, which are always cool. It has the Seven Wonders of the World, which are great to be able to name because it impresses people a ton when I recite all seven. I liked the first book enough to race out to the bookstore to buy the second while I was on Christmas vacation. But somewhere along the way in the middle of the second book I found myself drifting. The plot just sort of goes all over the place, and really took the series (in book 2, no less) into a totally different world. It didn’t have as much of the magic that made the first one really good, so I gave up. Too many books to read to spend time on one I’m not absolutely enamored with.

That said, I don’t want this to sound negative. I really did enjoy the first book. And for all I know, the other books in the series recapture what I liked about the series. So I would recommend the first one and if you dig it and dive into the second, you may well end up reading a seven book series that you really like.

Got a good Middle Grade speculative fiction book you think I should read? Let me know! I’ll pick it up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Makes a Book Middle Grade?

In less than 3 months (August 9, to be exact), my debut novel, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom (currently the number 3,603,655th best-selling book on Amazon.com!) will be published. It will be published as a Middle Grade novel, or MG as they say in the industry.

Next year, my follow up book, Doors, will be released. Also as an MG title.

So that makes me an MG author. Wooo!!!

Who are the MG readers? Well, supposedly, they are children ages 8-12 or grades 3-6 who are beyond simple chapter books but aren’t yet ready to read about how the world has come to an end because the sparkly vampire and the innocent teenage girl can’t find love during the zombie apocalypse.

Does that mean that if you’re not between the ages of 8-12 you can’t read an MG novel? No, of course not. Anyone can read them. The first few Harry Potter books are considered MG titles. But then he grows up and likes girls and the books turn into 900-page YA novels.

Over time, I have unearthed what I thought were some of the unwritten rules on what makes an MG novel.

  1. The main characters are generally between 10-12 years old.
  2. There is no love story. No girlfriends or boyfriends. Basically, no puberty.
  3. No swearing. That should be obvious.
  4. If there is any sort of violence it is not graphic or gratuitous in any way.
  5. Good guys should win, or at least not lose (bad guys can survive/get away to help set-up sequels).

There are other rules for the basic sub-genres, but these have long guided my steps into the MG world. But now I have a dilemma.

I have a book. It is a good book. It was my first novel and it got me my Awesome Agent. Awesome Agent loved it and sent it around and got positive feedback. But nobody bought it. We couldn’t exactly figure out why until one publisher clued us in, saying in essence:

“We don’t know if this is Middle Grade or YA and we’re not sure how we’d market it.”

I took a look back at my list of five rules, and yeah, the book does break two of them. Specifically, the main characters were more like 14 years old and there is a minor love interest, though nothing that is ever truly explored.

So OK, maybe the book is meant to be YA. Except, well, no. Here are, near as I can tell, some rules for YA novels.

  1. Characters should be in High School.
  2. There should be unrequited love stirring the heart strings and quite possibly results in inappropriate behavior.
  3. Bad things can happen to everyone, including having important characters die.
  4. You can swear a little bit. The minor stuff. Not the biggies.
  5. The book should be set in a dystopian future where animals have evolved to feed on human flesh.

Aside from the evolving animals (which I think is more of a guideline than a rule), my book sort of fits. Except I don’t really swear. And my book doesn’t have a teenage girl pining over either a vampire, werewolf, or zombie. So it’s not really, YA.

It’s in between.

Now realize that the entire MG category was created to give publishers somewhere to stash the books that landed in between Children’s and YA. So where do you put the books that squeeze in between YA and MG?

As it so happens, there is an excellent example of exactly this sort of book. The Percy Jackson series. He starts out in High School. There is no real love interest. There is no swearing. There is no graphic or gratuitous violence. To be honest, the entire Rick Riorden cannon is made up of Middle Grade books starring High School kids. Which shouldn’t be possible.

So where do you stick him? Because wherever you stick him, that’s where my beloved first book resides. See, I tried to re-write it for Middle Grade, but when the characters get that young, the events of the story just don’t make sense. It is not believable that a 10 year-old would have the adventure my main character enjoys. So if the characters need to be in high school, does that mean I need to adjust the book to make it YA? By adding a stronger love story? More violence? More angst? If I do that, the book loses a lot of what makes it fun in the first place.

You see my dilemma. If anyone out there has any ideas, I’m all ears.