Author Archives: Kevin Springer

About Kevin Springer

Author of children's books, father to two boys, and a dreamer.

SCBWI Conference Recap – Rocky Mountain Region

Contributor: Shari Schwarz

After arriving in beautiful Golden, Colorado for the Rocky Mountain SCBWI Letters and Lines Conference, I first attended The Changing Landscape of Illustrations presented by the warm and inspiring Roberta Collier-Morales. She shared how illustrations create vision for the future and sow seeds of hope. We are in a meaningful industry we are in!

Newberry Award winner Avi delivered the opening keynote address and left me in awe of his humble, witty and inspiring nature. Although he’s written over seventy books, he still revises each book seventy to eighty times and works at his writing for ten hours a day. He doesn’t mince words when he talks about writing being a difficult profession. But the fact that he overcame dysgraphia to become one of Children’s Literature’s heroes spoke to us about how passion, hard work, and drive are no respecter of disability—a powerful message to children and adults the world over who have read his books and heard him speak.

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Donna Cooner shared from her heart about the Buzz-Worthy Novel and the surprises, good and bad, that have come along with her success. In her book, Skinny, a demeaning voice speaks to the main character about her weight issues. For other people, it could be a different insecurity. Donna’s theme is universal and touches a sensitive place in people which easily creates an avenue for discussion and, often, controversy.

This was my first writing conference. I was nervous going in, but I met so many kind, and approachable writers, illustrators, agents, and editors. They kept us busy attending one session after another, and I came away with eight typed pages of notes, plus many handouts. A couple of sessions I attended included quick workshops or brainstorming activities that were eye-opening for me in regards to my manuscripts. For anyone considering going to an SCBWI conference, it is well worth the investment of time, money, and networking. I’ve come away with a renewed sense of motivation and inspiration.

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  Industry Panel with Tricia Lawrence of EMLA, Sarah Miller of Sleeping Bear Press, Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary, Carter Hasegawa of Candlewick Press, & Lanie Davis of Alloy Entertainment

I can’t wait for the next one!

If you’re interested to see a list of all the classes and faculty, please visit the Rocky Mountain SCBWI website.

Thanks, Middle Grade Mafia, for asking me to guest post!

The Middle Grade Mafia would like to thank Shari for sharing her experience at the Rocky Mountain Conference. To keep up with her, you can visit her website and follow her on Twitter.

If you are heading to a conference, let us know. Keep writing and keep learning.

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The Writer’s Block – An Interview with Cornelia Funke

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I recently had the pleasure of connecting with the wonderfully talented Cornelia Funke, author of bestselling Inkworld Trilogy. The stories she has created have captured our imaginations and inspired writers worldwide. For this interview, she pulls back the curtain a little and shares her insights on writing and more. Now, without further ado, Cornelia Funke…

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Middle Grade Mafia: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?

Cornelia Funke: I was so bored by the stories I was sent as an illustrator that one night I decided to write one myself – filled with all the creatures I longed to draw.

MGM: We hear of bestselling authors having their first manuscript being rejected many times before landing that first deal, please share your journey to becoming a published author.

CF: Mine is not typical. I sent my first manuscript to four publishers at the same time – which they don’t like. 🙂 The first one said no, the second one said yes, then three and four said yes too and when the first one heard about all the interest they changed their No into a Yes.

MGM: What is your process in developing the initial idea for a book into a full story?

CF: I prepare a book for about half a year, doing research on place, central motives, characters…. I plaster my walls with photos, illustrations, paintings, that I find visually inspiring. I also get rid of my clichés that way, feed my mind and eye with a sense of place and time. In short I prepare the canvas. Then I write the first draft, but only prepare the first chapters without knowing (or wanting to know) where the story wants to take me. I like to be surprised and I like a story to grow organically and without a corset. In my opinion that makes me much less predictable for the readers as well. I don’t tailor a story for an audience. I think that cripples it – and underestimates the readers. I think especially younger readers want to be challenged and take story very serious. And they love to ask serious questions about life, the world, human nature… I don’t think that publishers know what readers want, especially when it comes to children, and I strongly believe that writers are artists and shouldn’t behave like mere craftsmen who build exactly the table the publishers ask for. Surprise them! And yourself and your readers. So much more fun.

Also…don’t pretend to be middle grader yourself, IF you need to think of a certain age for your writing (is there really a typical middle grader???) Young readers love an older voice – a storyteller who went into the world for them to bring back truth and secrets from the adult world.

MGM: You are best known in the US for your Inkworld Trilogy. What inspired that story?

CF: The feeling that every book eater knows. That literary characters sometimes feel more real than real people, because we are allowed to look into their hearts. Not many real people give us that insight. We will on our deathbed probably remember some fictional characters better than some friends, that’s how real they become. I wanted to write about that feeling. But then it became also a story about writing itself- and it is my confession that I am a book addict.

MGM: Is there one character from your books that you can relate to the most?

CF: Yes, Fox from my Mirrorworld books. And then there is Jacob Reckless, my male alter ego, irresponsible, fearless…everything I secretly would like to be sometimes.

MGM: Is there a project you are currently working on?

CF: Several. I am currently finishing my illustrations for Heartless, the third MirrorWorld book. I am playing with the first ideas for 4 (and 5 and 6, as they are supposed to take me once around the world) I will start writing a second Dragonrider book in November. And then I am planning several short stories, one set in LA, one science fiction, one for the Getty and its visitors (which will be the second of seven short stories).

MGM: Any advice you could give to beginning writers?

CF: Yes. Write the first draft by hand, never on a computer. Always have a notebook and a pen with you. And…a good story feeds on two things: passion, but most of all time. Lots and lots of it. Which means many, many many rewrites. Cruel ones!

I want to thank the Cornelia for taking the time to share with us. It is great to learn from such an amazing writer and we are all looking forward to her new projects. Now go out and create your own table, the way you want it to be. To learn more about Cornelia Funke, you can follow her on Twitter or on Facebook.

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MG Review – The Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin

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The Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin has been called a powerful retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Nightingale, but calling it that doesn’t do it justice. First off, it isn’t exactly a fairy tale and second, it isn’t a retelling of the Andersen classic. The two stories have very little in common other than a nightingale and what happens when the nightingale sings—people are cured and forgiven. So the Nightingale’s Nest would be better described as a powerful story inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen classic. That being said, it is wonderful. Let it inspire you.

The Nightingale’s Nest is powerful, compelling and haunting. With many references to grief and child abuse it will stay with you long after you have finished it. But these subjects are handled in such a clever way, neither adults or younger readers will not find them overwhelming.

The story is told from the point of view of Little John a twelve- year old boy whose little sister has died. We get an inside view of how different people process grief. Little John thinks everything is his fault. His Mother has lost touch with reality. She thinks her daughter is still alive. His Father is a drunk, depressed and hard on his son. Then Little John meets Gayle, a foster child processing grief of her own. Her parents she says have flown away. She shows signs of physical abuse and is mentally fragile. She has built a nest to await her parents’ return. But when she sings, she cures things. Is it magic? Maybe. Little John promises to protect her but lets her down. Lured by the promise of money he takes her to an old man who says he wants to record her singing but we soon believe other horrible things happen. She loses her voice, When Little John realizes what he has done, he tries to make it up to Gayle but everything goes wrong. Eventually, he gets it right and Gayle forgives him and the old man. She then disappears. We never know if she really was a bird and flew away or was a girl. We don’t know if the magic was real either but either way, Little John is transformed. I suspect you will be too.

This is such a fine example of magical realism, it is a must read.

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The Writer’s Block – An Interview with Laura Golden

As part of building community among the MG family, we here at Middle Grade Mafia will be interviewing authors so we can learn about their books and be inspired by their journey.  Our first author is Laura Golden, author of EVERY DAY AFTER. We hope you enjoy what she had to say, I know I did!

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Middle Grade Mafia: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Laura Golden: Most authors say they knew in childhood that they wanted to be a writer. This was certainly not the case for me. I was always a voracious reader, (Is there any better smell in the world than a roomful of books? Nope.) but though I enjoyed books, and often wondered about the writer behind my favorite stories, I never considered that I could actually write a book. A book is filled with tens of thousands of words. I couldn’t possibly have that much to say! And besides, I hated writing assignments in school. Shouldn’t a prerequisite to being a writer be that one actually enjoys writing? I did not.

Fast forward to my adult life, post-kids, and I found myself needing a creative outlet–something I could do to unplug and let my mind settle. Needless to say I am not blessed with many talents. Do not ask me to paint, sing, play a sport or any other number of things. It won’t be a pretty sight.

Still, one serendipitous day I happened across an ad in a magazine for a writing course through the Institute of Children’s Literature. I thought perhaps I’d try my hand at writing magazine articles for Highlights or Cricket, or maybe even attempt to write a picture book. I thought it’d be a piece of cake (I was wrong!), and oh-so-satisfying to be published (I was bordering on right…). I registered for the course and spent the next two years learning the craft of writing for children. I can’t pinpoint the specific moment that I officially wanted to “be” a writer. I happened into it. My husband will tell you that writing is the one and only thing I’ve stuck with for a significant period of time. I set out to unearth a way to unplug from the world, and along the way I fell in love with writing.

MGM: What was your path from query to published author?

LG: An unusual one to say the least. My debut novel, EVERY DAY AFTER, was acquired by Michelle Poploff following the SCBWI Midsouth Regional Conference in Nashville back in 2011. Attending that conference was also serendipitous.

I had originally registered because I wanted to query a specific agent on faculty that year, which I did. Of course, I was rejected. Nothing new. I’d been garnering rejections for the manuscript that would become EVERY DAY AFTER for quite some time. In fact, after this agent declined I almost shelved the manuscript entirely. It was my husband who kept pushing me to submit to Michelle.

I mailed the submission off to Random House in mid-November, nearly two months post-conference, and early Monday morning after Thanksgiving my cell phone rang. The phone displayed a 212 area code. I was in the car with my husband at the time and quipped that the world had a cruel sense of humor to taunt me with a sales call from New York City, home to the major publishers and Random House. A few seconds later my voicemail alert sounded and I played the message on speaker so my husband could hear. I fully expected it to be a voice peddling wares, but instead I heard Michelle’s voice requesting the rest of my manuscript. I was overjoyed! So was my husband. Especially due to the fact that, for once, he had the pleasure of telling me “told you so”.

I sent Michelle the full via email that very morning. We scheduled a phone call a few weeks later and discussed revisions. I worked on a detailed outline over the next few weeks to aid in the revision process and after Michelle approved it, she made the official offer on the manuscript via phone. I learned so much about writing and publishing through working with her. She is a phenomenal editor and a nice person to boot.

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MGM: What inspired you to write EVERY DAY AFTER?

LG: My paternal grandparents and their struggles growing up through the Great Depression inspired this story. I think oftentimes we get too busy in life, running hither and yon, and we don’t take time to stop and listen to the older generations among us. They tell fascinating stories, stories all the more fascinating because they are true. There is so much to be learned from history and people’s choices and experiences as they lived through it. I think we’d make fewer mistakes if we’d listen to our elders and heed their wise words. History is always applicable to the present and the future. It is also an endless gold mine of stories waiting to be written.

MGM: While you were writing this story, was there anything that Lizzie taught you about yourself?

LG: She taught me that I can’t control everybody. Authors sometimes want characters to do or say certain things in the service of the story, but sometimes the story we dream up isn’t the story that needs to be told. Anyone who has read EVERY DAY AFTER knows that Lizzie has a mind of her own. She’s pretty stubborn. She didn’t always want to bend to my will or heed my wishes. This was her story and she was going to have it told her way. Honestly, the story is all the better for it.

Those small battles with a fictional character taught me that people are going to be who they are. I can’t always change them for my definition of “better”, and more times than not I shouldn’t even try. There’s purpose in an individual’s personality, and I must let that purpose be served.

MGM: A lot can be said by where people work, can you please tell us about your writing space?

LG: Well, my current writing space is the dining room table. Not a neat, polished dining room table. A thoroughly piled with books, papers and miscellaneous office supplies, dusty,  junked up dining room table. My former office has become my youngest son’s bedroom. What does a junky, dusty table say about me as a writer? Wait. Don’t tell me. I’m opting for blissful ignorance over cold hard facts at this particular moment.

MGM: What’s next for author Laura Golden?

LG: I’m currently awaiting editorial notes on my second middle grade novel, STANDING TALL ON MULBERRY HILL. It tells the story of two young girls, one white, one black, navigating the boundaries of their friendship in 1949 Birmingham, a time of KKK uprisings and the notorious North Smithfield bombings. This story was inspired by my maternal grandmother’s close biracial friendship in the early-40s. The book was scheduled to release sometime in 2015, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it pushed back into 2016. We’ll see.

Beyond that, I hope to start on a third book very soon. I’m sifting through ideas and brainstorming. I would like to step outside my comfort zone and attempt a YA, but I haven’t fallen in love with any stories appropriate for that genre. Once again, we’ll see.

Many, many thanks for having me on Middle Grade Mafia! It’s been a pleasure, and I hope to see you all around sooner rather than later.

We want to thank Laura for talking with us. Your journey is inspiring and we can’t wait for your next book to come out. Keep writing on that dining room table, it truly is working for you! To follow Laura, find her on Twitter, Facebook or her blog. Stay tuned for more great authors in the coming months.

 

 
 

 

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Editor’s Insights with Marissa Fuller

To kick off our Insider Interview series, I am proud to introduce Marissa Fuller, Senior Editor at Anaiah Press. She works directly with Middle Grade authors as part of Anaiah Adventures. I was excited when she accepted our interview request.

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Middle Grade Mafia: What was your path to becoming a Senior Editor with Anaiah Press?

Marissa Fuller: I connected with a fantastic writing community on Twitter, which introduced me to the illustrious Jessica Schmeidler, managing editor to several of Anaiah’s imprints—including their MG imprint, Adventures. We got to talking and instantly connected. I fell in love with the community of Anaiah, full of positivity and welcoming arms.

MGM: As an editor, what are the benefits of working for a small press?

MF: I love the experience of working with a small press, because, as cliché as it may sound, it’s like a family. I’ve always felt that books, as pieces of their creators, shouldn’t be produced with only money on the mind. Anaiah offers a thoughtful, faith-infused approach to publishing wonderful books that make the publishing world a little bit brighter.

MGM: What do you see as the pros and cons with working with a smaller press?

MF: I feel that small presses offer the best of both worlds, sort of a bridge between the intimidating “Big” publishing houses and the brave road of self-publishing. Though there are arguably less people working with your book at a small press as apposed to a big one, I feel that it’s quality over quantity. At Anaiah, every single person who looks at a manuscript really cares; about the book, the author, the people who would read it were it to be published.

MGM: Anaiah states it is a digital first publishing house, what trends are you seeing in the middle grade market with e-books vs. the traditional physical format?

MF: A few years ago, the idea of middle grade books in e-format would have been received with a quirked eyebrow and shaken off. Because, a few years ago, every eleven year old didn’t have an iPad. The publishing market is changing because the world is changing— the consumer is changing. Now, kids are almost more likely to read on an electronic device than an actual book. Schools are implementing mandatory laptops, with all textbooks online.

Although I will always be a hard-copy advocate, it is truly amazing to watch the shape of publishing change. And who are we to argue how a child is reading? I think we can all agree we want children to read. E-publishing seems to be a fantastic way to reach more early reader and middle-grade children.

MGM: Recently, you participated in a Twitter “pitchfest”, #JustPitchIt. Can you give any advice to an author who is looking to get noticed by an editor or agent?

MF: I recently wrote up a blog post for Pen & Muse regarding the craft of a pitch, and it’s connection to a query. You can read it here:

Can you share your three favorite middle grade books?

MF: The Giver!!!!!! It’s probably a tired favorite call-out, but ever since I read it, in middle school English class, I was absolutely smitten. I still give it a reread every year or so.

I also really, really, really adore the Percy Jackson series (& Heroes of Olympus, but that’s skewed a bit older). I have always been interested in Greek mythology, if only because of its art of storytelling and the creativity of ancient minds that it points to. I actually have a xiphos, a Greek short sword (Riptide, anyone?) tattooed on my person.

And of course, though I do so hate to be predictable, Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone. I’ll limit it to the first installment alone, because I was eleven when I picked it up, and it made a reader out of me. Heck, it made a good person out of me.

MGM: What middle grade character do you most relate to?

MF: I’ll say it—Hermione. For so many reasons. I have always adored school, and of course, books in particular. I’m even married to a fella who has the emotional range of a teaspoon. 😉

MGM: Any words of advice to our readers?

MF: Just keep doing what you’re doing! Thanks to you, MG fiction is flourishing, growing every day. I can’t wait to see what Middle Grade Mafia brings to the table!

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The Middle Grade Mafia wanted to thank Marissa for taking the time to share her insight and advice. She is a great person to follow on Twitter.  Marissa is currently accepting queries from MG writer through email at marissa.fuller@anaiahpress.com. You can also read her MSWL posted on her blog.

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MG Book Review – Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin by @LieslShurtliff

Spoiler Alert… Rumplestiltskin wasn’t a bad guy after all.  Or at least in the twisted fairytale RUMP by Liesl Shurtliff. Shurtliff paints a picture where the “villain” ends up being a likable protagonist who is only guilty of having an unfortunate name.

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Rump sets off to uncover his full name, who names their kid Rump, and the destiny that comes with it. This is important because he lives in a world where people believe that a person’s name is directly attached who they are and what they are to become.

The journey of self discovery begins when he finds his dead mother’s spinning wheel.  While he is warned against using it, the magic inside of him draws him to the wheel and straw becomes gold.  The need for more food leads Rump to spinning more and more gold, but what he soon learns is that he has no power over what he gets in return. This all leads to him to the fateful night we all know, the one where the queen is in danger of losing her baby if she can’t guess his full name.

While there is a mystery attached to Rump’s search for answers, there is not much in terms of thrilling action or nail biting suspense.  When researching this this book, I found reviews stating this as a flaw and the a low rating was given.  While I did expected more action, the character development and insight into Rump’s motives had me captivated.

The true test was with my 10 year old son.  He LOVED the story and begged for “one more chapter” every night.  He made comments like “I can really see the room in my head” and “wow, that stinks for him (Rump).”  The clear vision into Rump’s world and the empathy he felt for this flawed character more than made up for lack of fart jokes and epic battles.

I would recommend this book for mature 9 year old to young 99 year old. In the end, we can all learn from Rump that friendship, faith in yourself and perseverance can free you from whatever cards life deals you.

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Welcome to the Family, the Middle Grade Mafia

The mission of the Middle Grade Mafia is to provide a refuge, a klatch, for established and aspiring middle grade authors. The purpose of the site is to share knowledge, inspire each other, and celebrate good news. Writing can be a lonely endeavor, but when you are part of a family, you are never alone.

Please join in the conversation, share good news or recommend great books.

Hopefully, all of you will get an offer you can’t refuse (get published). 🙂

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