Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A HINT OF HYDRA Cover Reveal & Giveaway

Today we have another amazing cover reveal!

A HINT OF HYDRA by Heidi Lang & Kati Bartkowski

Jacket copy:
Thirteen-year-old chef Lailu Loganberry must stop a war between the elves and scientists in this follow-up to A Dash of Dragon, which Kirkus Reviews calls “a recipe for success.”

It’s the Week of Masks, a festival held to chase away evil spirits. But Lailu doesn’t have time to worry about demons. She has bigger fish to fry—or rather, griffons, now that she’s been asked to prepare a mystical feast for the king’s executioner, Lord Elister.

Unfortunately Lailu’s meal is overshadowed by the scientists’ latest invention: automatons, human-shaped machines that will respond to their masters’ every order. Most people are excited by the possibilities, but the mechanical men leave Lailu with a bad taste in her mouth.

Even worse, the elves still blame the scientists for the attacks on them weeks ago, and Lailu worries that the elves might be cooking up revenge. So when she and her sorta-rival-turned-almost-frie
nd Greg stumble across the body of a scientist, the elves are the prime suspects. With help from Greg, her best friend Hannah, and the sneaky, winking spy Ryon, Lailu has to discover the truth behind the murder, and soon—because hostilities between the elves and the scientists are about to boil over faster than hydra stew.

And just ask any chef: war is bad for business.

Author bio:
Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski are a writing team of two sisters with twenty years of experience in Judo. Heidi likes to fling food across her stove while attempting to cook new dishes, and Kati enjoys trying new cuisine at fancy restaurants. Between the two of them, they love creating characters that kick butt both inside and outside the kitchen. You can find them on Twitter at @hidlang and @ktbartkowski.

Fun fact about this book:

Kati's absolute favorite holiday is Halloween, and she would love to have it last a whole week. This was the inspiration behind the Week of Masks festival in the book. Heidi just wanted a chance to include a super awkward dancing scene between Lailu and Ryon...which is also in this book.

Pre-order link (Indie):

To celebrate, we're giving away one signed copy of A DASH OF DRAGON. Leave a blog comment with your email by Wednesday November 29, 2017 and you will be entered to win.

And without further ado, check out this awesome cover!
Cover illustrator: Angela Li

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Inspiring Talks for Writers

Every writer needs a pep talk once in a while, and so I recently compiled a list of the talks that I've found most helpful as a writer.

First up, "Why Your Critics Aren't the Ones Who Count" by Brené Brown. She reminds us that as creative people the one constant we can always count on are the critics. We can respond to them by giving up and getting out of the arena, or by saving them a seat.

Next, "Success, Failure and the Drive to Keep Creating" by Elizabeth Gilbert. She discusses how success can be just as unsettling as failure, and how to find the drive to keep creating regardless of the outcome.

Finally, Eduardo Briceño shares his insight on "How to Get Better at the Things You Care About." As professional writers, we tend to spend most of our time in the 'performance zone,' where we face deadlines and constant high stakes. However, in order to improve our craft, we need to carve out time for the 'learning zone,' where we study and experiment without any real risks.

Friday, November 17, 2017

More books!!

I don’t read much while I’m drafting a new novel. I do consider reading a very necessary (and most excellent) part of the writing gig, but I’m more write-a-bunch, read-a-bunch, repeat. But all the good books! They call to me. And so, as I edge closer to the terrifying moment of clicking send on this manuscript, I’m antsy to get back to reading.

I’ve indulged in a little reading time lately, of course, despite the looming deadline (because how could I not?)

  • Recent read: WISHTREE, by Katherine Applegate. WISHTREE is narrated by a tree. Now, I’m not a huge fan of non-human narrators, to say the least, but I figured, if anyone can pull this off, it’s Katherine Applegate. I’m so glad I gave this book a chance. Funny, poignant, insightful. I give this 5/5 stars.
  • Currently reading: THE WAY TO BEA, by Kat Yeh. I’m not very far in yet, but I’m loving the voice and story so far!
  • Currently listening to: TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN, by John Green. I’m not completely in love with the narration, but still, it has me hooked. Loving the characters!
  • Next on my pile: SERENDIPITY AND ME, by Judith L. Roth, and THE BONE SPARROW, by Zana Fraillon.

My TBR pile is impossibly huge (and yet, I keep adding more…go figure). I wouldn’t mind some help prioritizing, so tell me, what have you read and loved lately? I’d especially love to hear about any middle-grade that’s particularly heartfelt/poignant, verse novels of all sorts, and lyrical historical novels. Hit me with your recommendations! As soon as I send this draft off to my editor, I’m diving in to reading!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book Review: INKY'S GREAT ESCAPE by Author Casey Lyall

We don't often review picture books here at Middle Grade Minded, but when middle grade author Casey Lyall decided to write about a roving octopus, well, we had to check it out!

About the Book:

First of all, you have to adore a book that starts with the line:

Inky was the greatest escape octopus of all time.

And make no mistake: Inky is lovable, even if he does have eight arms.

He loves to play crazy eights and charades.

He's an incorrigible tale teller.

But when he's finally called on one of his tall tales, that he can escape anything, Inky has to prove his abilities and defend his honour.

My Review

This is a charming book. The story is witty and sweet and has you rooting for the book's eight-legged intrepid hero.

The illustrations by Sebastià Serra are colourful and hysterical.

Best of all, there is a real old-time charm to both the fonts and the pictures. 

The book is mesmerizing and delightful. A wonderful book for a any child, but especially one drawn to marine animals!

When Inky escapes again, I hope he comes to my house!

There is a rumour that Inky is about to escape again. On November 15th (today!) check out #InkysGreatEscape and see where's off to now!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Mice of the Round Table: Voyage to Avalon Review and Giveaway!


Julie Leung has done it again.

Charmed me with her stories of brave knights, both large and small.

A year ago, she introduced the Mice of the Round Table in her wonderful book A Tail of Camelot, and now she's back with book two, Voyage to Avalon.

Our favourite hero, Calib Christopher, is back.

The Description:

Young mouse Calib Christopher has nearly completed his training to become a squire to the Knights of the Round Table when news of a deadly plague comes to the castle. Soon all of Camelot is showing signs of the illness, animals and humans alike. Desperate to find a cure, Calib and his friend Cecily set off on a treacherous voyage to find the mythical, healing island of Avalon. 
But even as their journey takes them over land and sea, back at home, Calib's human friend Galahad discovers that the true enemy may have already found a way inside the castle walls…
Perfect for fans of New York Times bestselling series like Wings of Fire and Warriors, Mice of the Round Table brings to life a legendary world of animals and magic that kids will want to return to again and again.

My thoughts:

As with book one, Leung creates two full worlds in Camelot: the world of the Two-Leggers and the world of the mice.

Her use of language, her ability to create memorable characters, and thrilling fight scenes is amazing.

It is not always easy to write animal stories that don't slip into comical cuteness or that ring true, but Julie Leung achieved this in spades. You care about her characters, and you want to see them succeed.

Equally her antagonists are fully developed and a match for our heroes.

Children will love Calib's newest adventure, finding their own path to bravery, strength and wisdom. Add in another beautiful cover, Leung's latest book will be gobbled up by children and the adults in their lives!

Want to learn more about Julie Leung? Visit her website

Want to win copies of Julie's books?

We're giving away a hardcover copy of Julie's last book, and a softcover copy of her first book.

In order to be entered in the contest, leave a comment below!

The contest runs Monday November 13th until Thursday November 16th. Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, November 6, 2017

Revise and Resubmit: A Gift or a Curse?

I was sitting at my computer one day when my email dinged—that glorious and terrifying sound for a querying writer. It’s infinitely more terrifying when you have fulls out to agents. When I saw the name of the sender, my heart dropped. It was from an agent that had my full. I tentatively clicked on the email expecting a couple line response including a thanks but I didn’t connect enough to take this on. To my surprise I saw a decent sized paragraph ending with the phrase “I’ve decided to pass, but I’d be happy to take a second look if you decide to revise.”

And here I was. It wasn’t a no, but it wasn’t the happy yes either. I was stuck in limbo. The gift and curse of a revise and resubmit. If I did it well it could be that yes, but if I screwed it up, didn’t do enough, or took it in a direction the agent didn’t like, it’d be a no. I didn’t know if I could handle that kind of pressure.

What did I do?

I reread the paragraph again. There was a line of notes about what the agent liked and many more about what wasn’t quite working. But in reading it again, I started to get angry. It didn’t seem like this agent even read my whole manuscript let alone really liked it. Why even ask for a revision? I stewed for a bit then messaged one of my critique partners with HELP WHAT DO I DO???

After what seemed like an eternity, my CP got back to me. I sent her a copy of the email from the agent. After reading it, she said, wow it sounds like this agent really likes your work and gave you a lot of great notes.

Wait, what? Were we even reading the same email? I expressed my concerns to my CP, and she told me to read the email again.

So I did. I read it about five more times. And the more I read it, the clearer it became. This agent did really like the story, and despite my original inference, it did appear she’d read the whole manuscript with interest in the concept and had passion for the story. But if I hadn’t taken a step back and gotten some additional advice, I might never have seen that. I might have just stewed in anger forever.

That said, there were still some items there that I agreed with and others I didn’t, most of the feedback though I didn’t know how to address. One of the comments was one I’d even seen before from two other agents, but I still didn’t know how to tackle it. So instead of responding that day to the agent, I sat on it. I periodically went back and read what the agent said expecting a great epiphany to hit me, but it didn’t.

I put the email aside, but in the back of my mind were some changes I had previously wanted to make running through my head. They didn’t really address the issues the agent raised, but it would make the story a bit better. And on top of that, was one piece of important information about my main character that I’d always known but hadn’t ever mentioned because I didn’t know how to make it mean anything to the story.

All this information was swirling around in my brain and bugging me. And then that evening when I sat down to watch TV something clicked. That piece of information about my main character I’d always known but not included, I finally knew how to make it matter. Even better, the key to making it mean something was rooted in the feedback I’d gotten from the agent. I’d had this comment twice before and not known what to do with it, but something in the way this agent had written it made it finally click in my brain. I FINALLY understood the problem and knew how to fix.

Once I’d made the big epiphany, the wheels began turning and the ideas were flowing. I took lots and lots of notes. When I felt like I had a clear path forward, I opened a reply email to the agent. I thanked her again for her time, that I appreciated her honest feedback, and let her know that I’d be interested in making some edits.

And then I hit send.

It wasn’t another minute before the panic set in. What was I thinking? I had no idea what I was doing. What if the agent hated the direction I was taking the manuscript? I hadn’t told her what I was thinking, just that I’d like to opportunity to edit with her feedback in mind. What if I did all this work and the answer was no?

After many frantic messages to my CPs and their reassuring words that I was doing the right thing because I had a direction and a passion to make this manuscript better, I finally calmed down a little bit. But I still had this fear in the back of my mind. A fear of doing what I needed to do, what was right for the story.

This fear was crippling me. There was so much riding on this. If I did this right, I could come out with an agent. If I didn’t, it was back to the dreaded query trenches. As my brain reeled I had to ask myself an important question. Was I doing this just to get an agent or because I wanted to make my manuscript better?

The answer was first and foremost that I wanted to make the manuscript better. Sure I wanted an agent, but whether that happened or not, I believed in this manuscript and the new direction I had planned up.

In order to move forward, I put the crippling thoughts aside (as best as I could), and threw myself head first into the edits. Sure the doubt crept in from time to time, but every time it did, I went back to that important question and my answer: this was about improving my manuscript, making it the best it could be.

And when I finally finished the edits and submitted them back to the agent, I was proud of the manuscript. I was proud of what it was and even more proud of what I accomplished. And whether that agent decides to take it on or not, I had the best piece of work I could offer. And that was something to smile about.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Reflecting and Rediscovering Your Reasons

I had a busy summer this year. 

Back in March I had an idea for a new manuscript. It was one of those moments several writers have experienced, just walking around and living life when the brain goes off on one of its semi-frequent divergent meanderings and BAM!, you stumble on one of those golden “What if” questions that sets off an avalanche of possibilities. Before long, you start to realize that, yes, there is a legitimately viable story idea coming together. 

It was exciting to have something new come on so strong. I decided immediately I wanted to do it right. I was going to have tons of writing time available in the summer, so I gave the idea the rest of the spring to percolate. I filled the whiteboard in my office with comp titles coming from other books, movies, television shows, video games, and even podcasts. I began tapping idea fragments into a massive list on my phone. I sought out middle grade titles that felt similar to my idea in one way or another, to measure what the boundaries were for the story I was planning and figure out how I might be able to push them.

Once the work started, it came fast. I wrote chronologically with only a rough outline in my head, something I’ve never done before. When the draft was finished, I stepped away for a few weeks, giving my head some time to clear while waiting for feedback. When I got back to it, I powered through the revisions at a challenging pace with an approximate deadline in mind. There was a day or two of sweet relief when I finally reached that goal, but then I started feeling an itch….

I knew NaNoWrimo 2017 would be starting in less than a week. I've been a semi-regular participant over time, but have sat out the past two years due to other writing projects and different commitments. I thought about giving it a try this year, and came up with a number of reasons why it seemed like a good idea: I’ve always enjoyed participating; it would be an amazing feather in my cap if I could lay claim to drafting two complete manuscripts inside of the same calendar year; I had been hit with another idea — not exactly a new idea but one from the vault I wanted to try someday, and the time was feeling right. Since I thought it could be at least a few weeks until I was in a position to do any other revisions on the new manuscript, I decided to sign up.

The thing was, as much as I love this new idea, there is little reason for me to think it will ever see the light of day. I’m a writer of middle grade fiction. This new project would be a memoir, based around one particular area of my life, and not really directed at a middle grade audience. I have no nonfiction platform in this area, so as far as publishing aspirations go, it seems like it’d be a tremendous long shot. Really the only reason I would have for taking on this project is because I want to write it so much.

I felt just as passionate about my middle grade story earlier in the year when I was working on it. The big difference is I wrote that knowing it had a decent chance of eventually being ready for submission, and hopefully would get as far as publication someday. This new one might end up only being something for me and, hopefully, friends and family to enjoy.

It has me thinking:
*Why do we write?
*Is it for the love of it? 
*Do we let goals dictate or influence which projects we commit to?
*Would we still throw ourselves into the work as completely, even if we knew nobody else would ever read it?
*What benefits are there for jumping outside of the box and exploring new areas, just for the sake of exploring?

Not everyone would have the same answers to these questions. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing to occasionally consider the reasons we have for choosing this life. It might reveal something about our choices, or it could provide us with a renewed focus. 

All I know is that right now, with literally hours until NaNoWriMo begins, I’m looking forward to whatever self-discovery comes along with this new project, both personally and from the perspective of pure writing. I think it’s going to be a good month. 

To anyone else out there about to take on NaNo this year, or just entering a new stage of a current work-in-progress, I’d encourage you to reflect on it. You might discover some interesting things.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Molly In The Middle ARC Giveaway

Middle grade author Ronni Arno’s MOLLY IN THE MIDDLE is a story about family changes, fitting in, and figuring out what’s more important—cementing your place with the “cool kids” at school or honoring a promise to a longtime friend. Here are my top five reasons to read this heartwarming middle grade:
1. Molly: She’s a loyal friend to Kellan, who faces a potential future in a wheelchair due to his muscular dystrophy. Molly can confide everything to Kellan, including details about her parents’ messy separation and her longing to stand out and feel less invisible.

2. Team Chocolate Chip Cookies: The name for Kellan’s Muscular Dystrophy Walk team, which includes best buddies Kellan and Molly, who train by walking, talking, and eating tons of cookies.

3. Rainbow-Colored Hair and Rainbow-Colored Converse: After her parents forget to take her to school and she misses the class field trip, Molly decides it’s time to finally take the spotlight.

4. A Country Club Birthday Bash Brunch: When Molly joins the popular crowd, she’s invited to an exclusive birthday brunch, complete with cinnamon-stuffed French toast, four-berry pancakes, eggs Benedict, breakfast burritos, vegetable frittata, quiche, apple pie waffles, and chocolate-banana smoothies.

5. Waterproof Mascara That Doesn’t Stand a Chance of Working: Molly discovers what we all know to be true: Even waterproof makeup smears when you realize you let down your very best friend.

For a chance to win an ARC of MOLLY IN THE MIDDLE, leave your email in the comments section below. A winner will be drawn at random.

Friday, October 20, 2017

3 Scene Elements to Make Your Story Shine

When I first started writing, I wrote whatever I wanted. Every day was like an extended brainstorming session. This can be a useful way to discover new ideas, overcome writer’s block, or express inner angst. 

But to craft a story others want to read, we must go beyond simple, frenzied writing. We need a guiding strategy. This may or may not include an outline (for me it does!). But it must include an understanding of vital scene elements. 

The scenes we write should matter, in the context of real life, and even more, in the context of the story. Whether appearing in the first draft or added in later, these three elements can make your story shine.

1. Be purposeful in choosing detail.

The details you choose should serve at least one of several purposes. They should set the mood, enhance theme, develop characters, or advance plot. These details must not be arbitrary.
Consider your character’s body language. What kind of clothes do they wear? What they are eating? What do these details reveal about their personality, their past, or their motivation? 
When deciding on the weather, consider how it can reflect the mood of the scene. Even a sunny day can be written to elicit feelings of anxiety or sadness. 
As you reread your early drafts, you may notice certain themes emerging. Take the time to develop these themes. Include metaphors and symbolism to reach this goal.
The reader will pick up on subtle details. Weave them into your narrative. As the story progresses, the details will stack up, revealing more about personality, motivations, character arc, and overarching theme.

2. Know what type of scene you are writing.

There are two basic scene types—action and reflection. These are often called Scene (action) and Sequel (reflection and decision-making based on what happened in the previous scene). This understanding of scene is described by Dwight V. Swain in his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer.
Scenes are narrative in which the main character(s) strive toward their goals in physical, purposeful ways. They struggle through challenges, which ultimately result in some sort of disaster. 
Sequels are when the character(s) react to the disaster. They wrestle with dilemmas (great place to show character growth and emphasize theme). Finally, they make decisions, which lead to the next scene.
Sometimes a scene can be both Scene and Sequel, back to back, without a visual break in the narrative. In fast paced adventures or near the climax, your characters may endure Scene after Scene without much break for reflection. Or reflection may be extremely brief (a sentence or two) so as not to slow the pace.
Understanding Scene and Sequel can help you write with purpose, sharpen your action scenes, and make your reflection scenes more emotionally intense and meaningful.
The template below is a useful guide. I fill it out from the perspective of the main character of the scene I'm preparing to write. This ensures that every scene has a driving force.
Reaction to disaster:

3. Include conflict

Scenes must also include conflict. It’s not enough for characters to wander through their story and arrive at the end in a never-ending state of harmony. Even characters who are on the same side often have different goals, motivations, and weaknesses. Just like in real life. Who never has conflict with friends or family? 
Be sure to explore the motivations of every character in your scene, whether before writing it or during an edit. Your deep insights into their background and motivations will enrich your writing. Suddenly you’re not scrambling for random details or mannerisms because you know your character’s underlying issues, both on a large scale and at the moment the scene takes place. 
Often characters share the same goal, but have different ideas about how to accomplish it. They may have different motivations for the shared goal. This will influence how they pursue the goal and whether or not they give up.
Each scene must contain some sort of conflict, be it inner conflict (great for Sequels), conflict with nature, conflict with an antagonist, or conflict within the protagonist’s team.
As you've developed as a writer, what are some lessons you've learned about well-crafted scenes?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Cover Reveal: VOICES FOR ALL: The Legend of ZoaBrio by Scott Vincent

Today we've got another great cover reveal! Author Scott Vincent told us a little bit about his debut Voices for All: The Legend of Zoabrio and gave us an exclusive look at the cover for the upcoming book. Find out more about Voices for All and make sure to check out the cover below!

Please tell us about your book
            Voices for All is a middle-grade novel about a 12-year-old girl named Stacey who discovers the secret to communicating with animals. It’s a fast-paced, action-adventure story with humor, mystery, and touches of magic. It begins with Stacey visiting a zoo, and everywhere she goes the animals erupt into pandemonium. They recognize a pendant she is wearing as being the symbol of ZoaBrio, a legendary world where animals and humans lived together as equals. The animals think she is their savior. Stacey has no idea what the pendant means, nor how she got it.
            Without spoiling the plot, Stacey soon learns to communicate with animals using a form of telepathy. This alarms a secret clan of cats and dogs that have sworn to keep that skill hidden from humans. Without human-to-animal communication, cats and dogs believe they will remain humans’ favorite companions. They are determined to keep Stacey’s discovery a secret, and Stacey must overthrow them before they silence her forever.
            Stacey is joined by a boisterous gorilla who thinks he’s the funniest animal ever, a serious ocelot who rants about animal rights, and Stacey’s friend Alex, a boy who’s not fond of animals yet braves the ensuing chaos to help his friend.        
            Between the laughs and outlandish plot, this story is about friendship, understanding, freedom, and equality — no matter what your species.

Who illustrated the cover?
            Leesha Hannigan. I’m a huge fan of her artwork, so I was delighted when she agreed to do the cover. I think she captured the three main characters perfectly. She also found a great balance between the story’s realistic setting, its funny characters, and its magical elements.

What inspired you to write this story?
            I love animals and I’ve always wondered what it would be like to talk with them. I like to imagine animals as having their own silent language, much like mental telepathy. If you watch animals in the wild, you’ll notice they can coordinate without making much noise, so this kind of makes sense. I wondered, what if animals talk to each other but we humans are the only ones who can’t hear them? What if a girl discovered how to do that? What if that skill had been hidden from us humans for thousands of years by some sort of conspiracy? The story evolved from there.
I also had help and inspiration from my two kids. I originally started writing this merely to entertain them, but it quickly grew into something more. They provided plot ideas, and they requested (in some cases insisted) that I add certain things, which expanded the story as we went. When we started, none of us knew how the story was going to end. I would write a chapter, read it aloud to them, and they’d come up with ways to make it better. Writing with them was tremendously fun.

When will the book be released, and how can people learn more about it?
            The e-book will be released on Amazon November 15th. Print paperbacks will be available soon after that. If anyone would like to start reading it now, I’ll happily send the first 9 chapters for free. That’s essentially the first quarter of the entire book. Anyone interested can visit my website at and enter an email address to tell me where to send the digital sample.

Please tell us about yourself
            This is my first novel, so I guess that makes me a soon-to-be debut author. When I was young, my parents had a lot of animals, and I even worked at a zoo one summer when I was a kid. I enjoy reading fast-paced, speculative fiction that makes me laugh. This book is my attempt to put all that into a fun story about animals yearning to be free. I currently live in Southern California with my wife, daughter, and son.

Title:  Voices for AllSub-title: The Legend of ZoaBrio
Publisher:  Venzi Productions
Release Date:  November 15, 2017
Length: 288 pages
Cover Illustrator: Leesha Hannigan

Blurb Description:
12-year-old Stacey discovers the secret to communicating with animals. Animals rejoice, thinking she is their long-awaited savior who can return them to a world where animals and humans once lived as equals. But not everyone loves a savior. A small clan of cats has kept this secret hidden from humans for generations, ensuring that dogs and cats remain humans' favorite companions. They are determined to destroy Stacey and keep her discovery a secret. Stacey must find and overthrow them before they silence her forever. 
 Voices for All is an adventure comedy about friendship, freedom and equality, no matter what your species. Join Stacey, her friend Alex, a wise-cracking gorilla, and a cast of animals yearning to be free as they fight for a world where animals are not as voiceless as we once thought.
About the Author:
Scott Vincent is a debut author who loves animals and likes to imagine what they are thinking. He grew up surrounded by a menagerie of different species, and worked as a zoo volunteer. Scott currently lives in Southern California with his wife, daughter, and son.

He can be followed online at and on Twitter via @ScottVincent65