Wednesday, July 31, 2013

FROSTING AND FRIENDSHIP by Lisa Schroeder: Review and Giveaway via Michael G-G

(From the back cover): On a scale of disaster to delicious, twelve-year-old Lily Hubbard is definitely a disaster when it comes to baking. And when Lily is invited to be a part of a mother-daughter book club called The Baking Bookworms, she is both excited and terrified. None of her friends know that she can't actually bake. What Lily can do is make music--she's the lead singer for an all-girl band. The band's goal? To audition for a coveted spot in their school's annual Spring Fling.
But Lily's plans are suddenly thrown off course when she is asked to plan a Sweet Thirteen bash for her friend Sophie. Lily's big task? To make a showstopping, mouth-watering dessert for the party. Uh-oh.
Soon, Lily is buried in sugar and sheet music as she tries to juggle her commitments to her band and one of her best friends. In this yummy confection of a story from Lisa Schroeder, Lily learns that sometimes the best things in life can't be measured.

 (As I typed out the description of this sweet little book, it came to me that this would be an epic query letter text. The first line about a "scale of disaster to delicious" shows voice and would definitely catch an agent's eye. So, if you're a writer struggling with a query letter, study the above. It fits Matt MacNish's "Three Cs" of Character, Choice, and Consequences too.)

Review: I, and probably every other male on the planet, am not the market for this book. From the purple and pinks of the cover to the story itself, this is a book for girl readers. It therefore goes to show what a strong market this is: girls love these books. Who knew there was a "Baking Genre" in middle grade? (I've just visited another blog featuring this title, and the teenage reviewer described how she screamed with excitement when she received an ARC and a letter from the author.)

Despite having XY chromosomes, I did enjoy this story. It was an ultimately kind-hearted view of the messiness of friendships. There was a measure of competition, rivalry, and jealousy--but no full-bore meanness. Lily has a loving family and friends; her besetting problem is that she hasn't been true to herself and tried to pass herself off as someone she really isn't: she's a singer, not a baker, for "Sweet Uncle Pete's" sake.

There were enough complications to raise my anxiety level, especially on the day of the big party. Lisa Schroeder made me care for Lily, and therefore hope that she wouldn't go down in flames--or, to keep up with the baking metaphors--crumble in a mess of broken cake pops.

I'm sure older elementary girls and middle school girls would eat this up (sorry for all the food puns--I need to obviously go eat breakfast). For writers interested in capturing the psyches of young female characters, this would be a great series to study.

This is the third in Lisa Schroeder's middle grade series. The main characters of Sprinkles and Secrets and It's Raining Cupcakes!--Sophie and Isabel--are important secondary characters in Frosting and Friendship too.

About the author, from her website bio: Lisa Schroeder is the author of four teen verse novels including I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME and its companion, CHASING BROOKLYN, FAR FROM YOU, and the Oregon Book Award finalist, THE DAY BEFORE. Her latest book for teens is a combination of prose and poetry and is titled FALLING FOR YOU. She's also the author of the middle grade novels IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES and SPRINKLES AND SECRETS. Her books have been translated into several languages and have been selected for state reading lists. She lives in Oregon with her husband and two sons.

Find out more about Lisa and her books at or on Twitter at @Lisa_Schroeder.

I'm giving away my ARC of Frosting and Friendship. Just leave a comment, including a number between 1 and 212, and I will reply with a line from the book. The winner will be randomly selected on 8/1 and notified on this blog. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Nightstand Check, by Tracy Edward Wymer

Can't go wrong with Hiaasen. Hoot. Flush. Chomp. 

August is almost here, which means summer is almost over. Noooooooooo..... How does it go by so quickly? The real question is, how does it go by so quickly when I'm doing basically nothing? So far, my summer off from teaching has been full of home repairs (minor), day trips with the fam (fun!), and afternoons at the beach (funner!). We didn't plan a major vacation this summer, and that has turned out to be an awesome idea (note to self). 

When not patching drywall or hanging at Sea World with the fam, I've been reading and writing. Speaking of reading, two things I've always loved about the online literary community are the quality book recommendations and reviews. Honestly, I find about 75%* of the books I read from book reviews and blogs. Twitter is also a quality book recommendation source (depending on who you follow). 

For this mid-summer post, I thought I'd share what I've read this summer, and what I plan to read. Basically, these are the books sitting on my nightstand, or ones that are put away in my backpack ready to glide into my school library's book drop. 

Besides Carl Hiaasen's Scat, which I'm almost finished with, I've also read some other quality middle grade books. 

I must read because Mike Winchell said so. 

Great cover, great concept. Loved the voice. 

I have one YA book on my nightstand:

Honestly, the cover made me pick this up. And, the blurb is great. 
One of my personal reading goals is to read more "adult" fiction. I put "adult" in quotations because kids can read these books, too. They're not just limited to people over 18 years-old. These "adult" books are also on my nightstand, collecting dust under the middle grade books. Funny how that always happens. But I'll get to them soon (especially the Gaiman book!). Promise. 

Can't wait for this one! Loved Coraline and The Graveyard Book. 
My favorite King book is The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (a quiet little book).
I read a stellar interview with Ben Fountain. Therefore, I got the book.
If you love a book, or you hear great things about a book, the best deed a reader can do for an author is tell someone else about the book. 

So... what are you reading this summer? 

*the other 25% I find in my school's library

Monday, July 29, 2013

Vertical by Janet Eoff Berend

Janet Eoff Berend’s debut novel, Vertical, is a fast paced story that offers an inside view of the teenage skateboarding world. Knowing very little about the specifics of skateboarding, I appreciated the easy-to-use glossary of the terms, which helped me to better visualize some of the skate scenes. I think Vertical would be an excellent addition to classroom libraries because it will reach readers, reluctant or otherwise, who have an interest in skateboarding.

From the backcover: Skateboarder Josh Lowman witnesses one of the best skateboarders in town (the local bully) commit a crime. For days he agonizes over whether to tell anyone. Meanwhile, his friendships with a fellow skater, a girl in his English class, and a cool math tutor (a college student who skates) slowly steer him toward a new kind of courage.

One of the strengths of Vertical was the ongoing metaphor of skating compared to life in general. Another strength was the authenticity of the voice. And, without any spoilers, the climax of the story was surprising and intense.

 A little bit about the Publisher: BreakawayBooks: (from their website) Breakaway Books publishes literary and thoughtful writing on sports — fiction, poetry, and essays on the athletic experience. We are interested in the emotional and metaphysical side of sports, the inner life of the athlete. We also celebrate the many ways sport can serve as muse for excellent writing — both serious and playful.

The Book Trailer below does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of the book.

Congrats, Janet!!!

Friday, July 26, 2013

How to Answer FEAR, by Matthew MacNish

Watch the video. If you're a young kid, or the parent of a young kid, be aware there's some implied violence, and one semi-foul word, but if not, I hope you'll see how The First Sword of Bravos, Syrio Forel's admonition to Arya Stark is a perfect analogy for how to answer Fear. Just replace "death" with "fear."

In other words, when fear tries to take over your day, your life, your ambition, your dreams, and you feel like its crippling grip is latching on to whatever motivation you might have left to do what you do?

There's is only one thing you need say to Fear.

"Not today."

I bring this up, even though it's Friday and I don't want to keep you long, because I was recently offered a writing related opportunity. I can't share the details, but they really don't matter. What matters is that it was the kind of opportunity that for an unpublished writer like me, scared me half to death. I felt like I didn't belong. I felt like I had done nothing to have earned the right to be offered such an opportunity. I was convinced I wasn't good enough.

I spent over 24 hours running these thoughts through my head. I almost turned the opportunity down because of them.

But those thoughts? They were only Fear.

And what do we say to Fear?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

For the Love of Dragons by Shannon O'Donnell

My daughter has been going through a dragon phase for the last two years--like most kids do. There's just something about dragons that captures the hearts and minds of middle grade readers. On our last trip to the library, my daughter left with a total of 11 different books, all about dragons.

She received and then devoured the Wings of Fire series for her birthday in June. She LOVED them! Write faster, Tui Sutherland. 

Another favorite dragon story is the soon-to-be re-released series from Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell (authors of the Edge Chronicles), Wyrmeweald. My daughter could not put this one down, and I saw very little of my Kindle while she read it.

This is the series my daughter is currently reading and loving. Susan Fletcher is always a sure-fire hit!

No dragon post would be complete without Emily Rodda! She was my oldest son's VERY favorite when he was little and the reason he learned to love reading.

Dragonspell is the first book in the DragonKeeper Chronicles series.  There are 5 total, and I was so disappointed when they ended.  This is my favorite dragon series - no contest.  Kale is a wonderful character, one you will fall in love with immediately. Her dragons are adorable.  There are large dragons in this series, but Kale's are the size of kittens, and they each have magical properties and personalities.

These books can usually be found in the Christian fiction section of bookstores.  They have an amazing storyline with a powerful overall message. But even better than that, THEY ARE AWESOME!  Fun, playful, totally addictive!

There is no shortage of great dragon books out there, and eventually, most MG readers find them -- Dragonbreath, The Dragon in the Sock Drawer, Dragon Rider, Dragon Slippers, and we can't forget Project Mayhem's own Dawn Lairamore's, Ivy's Ever After . . .  What is your favorite MG dragon story/series?

Monday, July 22, 2013

When Should You Ignore Feedback? by Dianne K. Salerni

"I'm not listening!"
That’s a trick question, of course! You should never completely ignore feedback. 

There are times when you get feedback (from a critique partner, a beta reader, or even an agent) that seems useless to you, but even suggestions you aren’t going to use can tell you something about your manuscript – and the effectiveness of your story.

For example …

Genre Prejudice (“This isn’t what I usually read …”) – When I critique a manuscript in a genre I don’t normally read, I usually warn the writer that my suggestions may reflect that lack of experience. If the person giving you feedback doesn’t come out and say this directly, you can still usually tell, because s/he picks on elements that distinguish your genre. Sometimes, the reader does read your genre, but doesn’t like what you’ve done with it – or thinks you’ve broken the rules. This is a form of prejudice too, and the fact is, a unique twist to your genre makes your book stand out from the rest.

How You Learn From This – Make sure that you have your world-building and genre elements down pat. A person who doesn’t normally read your genre will critique the unfamiliar elements and maybe point out some weaknesses you overlooked. If you do break the traditional rules of your genre, make sure you do it in a consistent and logical way that actually benefits your story.

Sloppy Reading (“Who is that character again …?”) – Sometimes it seems as if the person giving feedback wasn’t paying attention while reading. They ask a question that you just answered and ask for clarification when you just explained the situation. They mix up characters.

How You Learn From This – Just because you explained something doesn’t mean the reader picked it up. Perhaps the explanation was in the wrong place or buried among extraneous information. You might need to remind the reader of something you already mentioned, or provide a more complete explanation. And if your reader is mixing up characters, consider that their names might be too similar, or you might not have given them enough distinguishing characteristics.

Piddling details (“What train did he take and how did he pay the fare?”) – Readers will sometimes ask for details that seem unimportant or which will slow down the story if you explain them. You find yourself looking at the critique notes and wondering, “Do they really care about this, or were they just looking for something, anything to pick on?”

How You Learn From This – You may be right and the details requested are not necessary for telling the story. But make sure you have the answers straight in your own head, or what seems like a piddling detail might become an actual plot hole. (ie: There is no train that will get him there in that amount of time, and don’t you remember, he lost his wallet back in chapter four?!)

Reader Hijacking (“If I were writing this story …”) – This kind of feedback can be particularly aggravating, because gosh – it’s not their story! No, you don’t want to turn that character into a werewolf, and no, you don’t want to change who wins in the love triangle, and no, you weren’t going to explore that side plot.

How You Learn From This – If the reader went off and envisioned a totally different story from the one you planned on telling, then your manuscript must have lacked whatever it needed to hold his/her attention. Figure out what was missing, and fix it!

Remember: no feedback, no matter how maddening, is ever truly useless!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Writing the Opposite Gender: J.K. Rowling and THE CUCKOO'S CALLING

As I’ve posted here before, I’m a major fan of J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, so when news came out that Ms. Rowling was the author of a new mystery for adults, I had to read it. I’m sure most of our readers have heard by now that The Cuckoo’s Calling, supposedly written by an ex-military man named Robert Galbraith, was actually written by J.K. Rowling. The story behind the unmasking is here:
One reason I wanted to read The Cuckoo’s Calling was to see if I could pick up any similarities with the Harry Potter books, books I’ve reread several times. I’ll admit upfront I absolutely could not tell. The only similarity I can find, trying hard to find one, is that I’m thoroughly enjoying the book, and the characters seem completely real to me, which is also my reaction to the world Rowling created at Hogwarts.
What surprised me most in the details of the unmasking was a comment that the reporters investigating the true authorship of the book thought it might have been written by a woman because of the accurate descriptions of women’s clothing. Granted, some men don’t notice details of clothing, but there are many who do. Good writers notice details, no matter what their gender. And in reading the book, I’m not finding Rowling’s descriptions jumping out at me as being overly detailed or female-like. The only section I found that seemed it might have been written by a woman, and only because I was looking for it, was the extremely realistic description of secretary Robin Ettacott’s day after her engagement. Could a man have written that? Absolutely, especially a man who has witnessed a friend’s or fiancée’s or sister’s reaction to such an event.
The whole idea of whether or not writers are capable of writing the opposite gender is debated among writers of adult fiction far more than middle grade. It’s so common now in middle grade, it’s hardly remarked upon, and that is largely thanks to J.K. Rowling, At the time the first Harry Potter book was published, we know she felt compelled to use initials because her books featured a boy main character. The success of the books taught most publishers that the gender of the author doesn’t matter, at least for middle grade.
I write from a boy’s POV, as do other Project Mayhemers, Eden Under Bowditch, Dianne Salerni, Marissa Burt, and Chris Eboch. Some of our members go even further outside a comfort zone of “write what you know” by writing from the perspective of nonhuman characters. Hilary Wagner writes from the POV of a rat, as does former member W.H. Beck. Of course, we don’t have rats weighing in on whether or not their portrayals are accurate, but if readers believe they are, that’s what is important.
I do believe to accurately write any character, there are some aspects to consider for believability.  In writing close third POV, I always think about what my character would notice when I’m writing descriptions. Most twelve-year-old will not notice the brand of women’s clothing a teacher is wearing. Nor will they notice great details about the landscape around them, unless it specifically impacts them. If a group of middle graders is walking down a street, ask them to describe what they’ve just passed. Most can’t tell you because they are intensely focused on the people around them, especially their friends. Getting that part right lends far more realism to a story than anything else.
I’m wondering if without the anonymous Twitter tip, Ms. Rowling could have stayed hidden longer had she chosen a woman’s name as a pen name. There is a long history of female mystery writers writing British male main characters. I love the novels by Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers, P.D. James, Elizabeth George and Martha Grimes. And in reading them, it never occurred to me to think about the gender of the writer.
For more details on the computer analysis run that suggested Rowling was the author, this is an interesting post:
~ Dee Garretson

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Chris Eboch on What’s in a Name? Finding a Title

Yesterday I posted about the challenges of finding the perfect title. I also asked some of my fellow writers to share their title experiences. The answers are as varied as you would expect from, well, a bunch of independent and creative people working in a quirky and sometimes baffling business.

Sometimes the right title speaks to you if you simply give it enough time.

Mayhemer Michael Winchell says, “It seems like for all 4 of my books I have gone with ‘untitled’ for about half the book until I write something and end up saying, ‘That’s it right there! That’s my title!’ I do the same with chapter titles. I never title chapters ahead of time because by the end there is always a phrase that jumps out and says, ‘I am your chapter title.’

On the other hand, some people start with title, and it inspires the book.

Mayhemer Michael Gettel-Gilmartin says, “I usually come up with a title and a main character before I even begin writing. For example, my middle grade time travel, which is about Shakespeare transported to modern times, is titled SHAKESPEARE ON THE LAM; and my w-i-p, about a group of middle school girls who are ‘dying’ to see a ghost, is called THE FRIDAY NIGHT FRIGHT CLUB. All of these titles popped into my head at the inception of my daydreaming process. A title is usually the catalyst for a story—at least in my case.”

Even those “gift” titles don’t always last, though. Dianne K. Salerni shared a story about her upcoming MG fantasy novel about a secret day of the week that only a few people experience.

“I had the name of the manuscript, GRUNSDAY, before I even had a plot for the story. But as the story developed, I felt that Grunsday was a little too humorous sounding for a plot that was becoming rather dramatic and serious. So, I wrote into the story line that Grunsday was just a nickname used by some of the characters to make fun of “the eighth day”—the secret day—but I kept it as the title.

When the book sold to HarperCollins, they also thought Grunsday was too humorous sounding. The editor said that I could continue to use the term “Grunsday” within the story, but that the title needed to be more epic sounding, like the concept itself and the series they wanted to build off it. She told me they had already re-named the book THE EIGHTH DAY and they hoped I was on-board with that, because everyone at HC was calling it that. And of course I said I was fine with it—because they were right!”

Editors and marketing people should be good with titles, right? But they’re not the only ones who can help. Nancy Butts says, “My editor didn’t like the working title, Into Thin Air, of my second novel. In any case, a best-selling non-fiction account of a doomed climbing expedition on Mt. Everest had been published the year before, so the title was out—and I was stumped for a replacement. Finally one of the wonderful writers in my critique suggested The Door in the Lake, which is taken from a pivotal scene in the novel.

Dianne K. Salerni shared a similar anecdote. “Originally, I self-published my [young adult] book about fraudulent spirit mediums under the title of HIGH SPIRITS, but when a traditional publisher, Sourcebooks, offered to pick it up and republish it, they wanted to change the title. I sent them half a dozen ideas, which they rejected. Then I compiled a list of a dozen more ideas I didn’t really like, just out of desperation. I shared my dilemma with my fifth grade reading class and jokingly said, ‘If you have any ideas for a better title, let me know.’ One girl submitted an idea to me via the classroom blog: WE CAN HEAR THE DEAD.  I subtracted one word from her suggestion and added it to my list of a dozen desperate ideas.  WE HEAR THE DEAD was the hands down favorite of the Sourcebooks team and the ultimate title of the book.” 

The lesson – ask everyone you know for help. Maybe someone else will have the perfect idea. But what if the perfect idea has already been taken? Titles can’t be copyrighted, but it can cause confusion if a well-known book has the title you want, or if there are many books by the same name.

Nancy Butts says, “I recently published my first indie book and learned the hard way that I should research titles before publication. The title Spontaneous Combustion  came to me very early in the writing process, and seemed so perfect that I shaped the entire text around it. I designed a cover using CreateSpace’s templates, customizing the colors, font, and background using a photo I’d taken in the Smokies. Then a week after I published the book on Amazon, I belatedly discovered that there were several other books with that same title. And one of them had been indie published just the month before using the same cover template. Aack! Fortunately, that author has customized the cover as much as I had, so they don’t look that much alike. And his book is an anthology for adults, so the damage isn’t too bad. But lesson learned!

Given the speed of publishing these days, researching titles is harder than it sounds. When I came up with the title for my adult romantic suspense, Whispers in the Dark (written as Kris Bock), I checked the title on Amazon. Not too much competition. But several others were published or republished during the months it took me to get the book out. Oh well. Maybe there’s no such thing as a perfect title after all.

Do you have any title stories to share?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Chris Eboch on What's in a Name? Finding a Title

At the end of the school year, I visited a friend’s gifted class to talk to the kids about The Eyes of Pharaoh. One enthusiastic girl asked how I came up with my titles, because, “Titles are really hard.” Sometimes they are, sometimes they appear like magic, and sometimes Circumstances Beyond Your Control interfere.

The Well of Sacrifice, a middle grade adventure set in ninth-century Mayan Guatemala, had that title from the start. On a summer-long trip to Mexico and Central America after college, I had visited many Mayan sites – including Chichen Itza, which had a sacrificial cenote. Imagining a girl tumbling into that “well” inspired the novel. It’s a dramatic title and along with the cover art helps suggest a Mayan historical adventure. It’s nice when you find the right title at the beginning.

An early cover concept
 The Eyes of Pharaoh, on the other hand, was a struggle. The working title was “Spy Dancer,” because the main character is training to be a temple dancer but winds up acting like a spy after a friend disappears. I never planned to actually use that title, but the muse was not cooperating in finding a better one.

When I finished editing the book (in other words, the last possible moment to come up with a good title before submissions), I started brainstorming title ideas. I wrote down any word or phrase associated with the novel – setting, characters, plot threads, theme. I probably had 30 or 40 words/phrases, and then I began mixing and matching.

Final cover
The head of the secret police in ancient Egypt was called “The Eyes of Pharaoh” or “The Eyes and Ears of Pharaoh.” This agent is a minor character in my book, but the character’s role doesn’t really matter – the concept fits with the ideas of spying and politics. The word Pharaoh helps identify the setting, and The Eyes of Pharaoh has a nice mysterious sound. Normally you wouldn’t title a book after a minor character, but in this case I think it works, which shows the advantage of jotting down everything in the brainstorming phase.

I like the title, but there is one problem – everyone, including those who’ve read it and loved it, calls it “Eyes of the Pharaoh.” Having people get your title wrong can’t be good. Fortunately, the first four hits from a Google search on that wording still turn up the book’s page on Amazon, my website, Goodreads, and Barnes & Noble, so I guess the damage can’t be too bad.

When I started my series about a brother and sister who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, I wanted to call it Ghost Hunters, but that was already taken by a reality TV show, so I used Ghost Trackers. A few months before the first book’s release, I got an urgent e-mail from my editor. A new Ghost Trackers TV show was coming out, featuring middle school kids, no less. We needed a new title.

I brainstormed all kinds of combinations of Ghost This and Haunted That. Finally, in the kind of epiphany that makes you wonder why you didn’t see it earlier, I realized it didn’t need to be Haunted-anything – Haunted alone worked.

But that created another problem. The first book had been called The Haunted Hotel. Haunted: The Haunted Hotel sounded silly, so we needed a new title for the first book. After another exhausting round of brainstorming, I came up with The Ghost on the Stairs. (Frankly, I like Haunted: The Ghost on the Stairs a lot better than Ghost Trackers: The Haunted Hotel, so I guess I should be thankful to the TV show.)

Using a title that referred to the ghost who was featured in the book set up a pattern for the other books in the series – The Riverboat Phantom, The Knight in the Shadows (that one was my editor’s suggestion), and The Ghost Miner’s Treasure.

A title has to do a lot – intrigue, give a sense of the book, stand out from the crowd. The title may be the hardest words that a writer writes.

I asked a couple of Project Mayhemers and other writers for their title processes, and I’ll be sharing those tomorrow. Sophie Masson had a post on Finding a Good Title on Writer Unboxed, if you want more examples or advice.

How about you? Do you judge a book by its title? Do you struggle with your own titles?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

DISNEYLANDERS review and giveaway!

Congrats to Racheal Mcgillivary, the winner of this giveaway!  Racheal, I've e-mailed you to get your mailing address.

A bit about DISNEYLANDERS from the publisher, Theme Park Press

If you’re going to fall in love for the first time, where better to do so than Disneyland? In Kate Abbott’s debut novel, Disneylanders, Casey Allison meets the boy of her dreams in the Happiest Place on Earth.

But what should be a magical milestone turns into a coming-of-age catastrophe thanks to Casey’s overprotective parents, some park bullies, and her own insecurities.

Set entirely in Disneyland, and chockful of park trivia, Disneylanders is a unique, charming chronicle of a young girl’s first crush and her determined struggle to escape her cloistered childhood in a place where childhood lasts forever.

Sound like something you might enjoy?  Good news!  I have a copy of DISNEYLANDERS to give away to one lucky Project Mayhem reader.  To enter, all you have to do is follow Project Mayhem blog and then comment below on what you love about Disneyland!  This giveaway will be open until Friday 7/19.  

I (Marissa) had the fun of reading DISNEYLANDERS a few weeks ago.  I found it to be  a bit of a coming-of-age story, a peek at a few summer days in Casey Allison's life.  We meet Casey on the way to her family’s annual summer vacation.  She’s an almost-fourteen-year-old poised on the edge of teenager-dom, about to step from the confusing (and oh so familiar) pain of changing friendships into the realm of high school, boys, and parental conflict.  

At first, I found it easy to brush aside Casey’s tortured thoughts over her former best friend’s betrayal and her nearly-obsessive crush on Bert, the nice boy she bumps into in line for a ride, as self-absorbed inner monologue, the last thing I as a parent would think a tween should read.  But I think that’s the grown-up me talking, the one who has forgotten how consuming those emotions can be, how difficult it is to detangle from childish ways of relating to the world, and how painful the growing-up pains really are. 

I think Kate Abbott does a great job capturing how extreme everything feels when your whole world is in transition and the unknowns of high school and belonging loom large.  I was a little ambivalent about Casey’s character: at first, she felt a touch precocious, a lot self-absorbed and whiny, and had moments of superiority (e.g. her triumph over the Bra-strap girls) that were cloying.  However, as mentioned above, perhaps that’s more the unlikeable reality of being a preteen than the character herself.  (At least, when I re-read old journals, I discover thirteen-year-old-me to be a touch precocious, a lot self-absorbed and whiny, and with plenty of moments of superiority – ha!)  So, the parent in me cringed at parts and the tween in me gobbled it all up.

In the end, I found myself appreciating Casey’s journey of self-discovery and growth and – even as not the target audience - encouraged to step out of some of my own long-grooved ways of relating to, or hiding from, the community around me.  I have to say that the mom in me choked a little at the over-the-top sketches of parental geekiness, but this was somewhat redeemed by Casey’s newfound ways of relating by the end of the book.  Similarly, the relationship between Casey and Bert felt a bit uneven to me – starting out quite old and a bit too self-aware and then tapering off to what felt like a more age-appropriate whirlwind of first boyfriend, first date, first kiss.  Because of those elements, I’d put this book as an upper-middle-grade or young YA read.

Finally, the writing is very strong, and the setting, meticulously detailed and enjoyable.  I shut the book really, really wanting to go to Disneyland.  I haven’t been to there in about twenty years, but the descriptions were spot on.  As I read, I could smell the water at the Pirates ride, feel the air conditioning in the Space Mountain line and hear the sqwaking of the Tiki Room.  For that alone, it was a fun read and jaunt down memory lane.  I’m sure die-hard Disney fans will love that element even more.  

Thanks so much to Theme Park Press and Kate Abbott for sending me a review copy!


Kate Abbott is a former video game guidebook writer and editor, literary journal fiction editor, and contributing editor for a Disney park-focused newsletter.
She received an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside, Palm Desert.
Kate lives in Sacramento, California, with her husband, son, terrier, and tiny parrots.
To learn more about Kate, visit her online at

Monday, July 15, 2013


Create Your Writer Platform: The Key to Building an Audience, Selling More Books and finding Success as an Author -- Chuck Sambuchino

I’ve read several books on author platform but have to confess never fully grasping the term until reading Chuck Sambuchino’s CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM. At its simplest level, a platform is an author’s visibility and reach -- the framework an author has and continues to build that let’s others know of his or her work.

Sambuchino describes his book as “a guide for all the hardworking writers out there who want a say in their own destinies.” Though there is no one-size-fits-all approach to establishing a platform, Sambuchino says the need for platform cannot be ignored, even for those of us who write fiction. The book is divided into three sections: The Principles of Platform, The Mechanics of Platform, and Author Case Studies. At the end of each chapter, literary agents weigh in on the chapter’s topic, giving readers perspectives outside of the author’s. One of the most helpful aspects of the book is the Case Study section, where twelve different authors from a variety of genres (memoir to self help, fiction to reference) reflect on the choices they made in building their platforms -- what worked, what they wish they’d done differently, what they believe makes them stand out from others in their field.

Sambuchino is also quick to say “this is a resource for those who realize that selling a book is not about blatant self-promotion.” It is more about relationships, the sharing of expertise, and supporting others along the way. Though written for the aspiring author, a lot of things resonated with me, a newly published author, such as the wisdom behind an author newsletter, establishing an “events” page on my blog, and always, that kindness and generosity go a long way.

Other books I can recommend that deal with author platform:

What are your feelings on and/or experiences with author platform?

Friday, July 12, 2013


The last book in the CJJ series is out now!

There are stories that personify “series” with just the mere pronunciation of their titles: The Matrix. Lord of the Rings. Star Wars. The Hunger Games…

…Charlie Joe Jackson!

Yes, I said it. My man Tommy Greenwald continues Charlie Joe Jackson’s ever-evolving story in the third installment of the series, CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO SUMMER VACATION. And having read and reviewed the first two, I’d say this one is my favorite of the bunch. Charlie Joe has given us his guide to NOT reading (book 1), his guide to extra credit (book 2), and now we are lucky to have his guide to summer vacation. All three of the books are hilarious and kid-friendly, but at the same time trick the young reader into…er…reading! I always loved how the original intention of the first book was to, obviously, hook reluctant readers by making them hopeful they’d find ways to avoid reading by picking up the book, but then trick them into reading. And enjoying it, most likely. Nice thinking, Greenwald, you trickster. CJJ would hate you for that, though.

Back when the first book came out, I snapped a pic of it on the shelves.
Now with this third book, CJJ is being shipped off to an academic summer camp called Camp Rituhbukkee (slyly pronounced “Read-a-Bookie”). So the non-nerdy CJJ is surrounded by a nerd-herd-and-then-some, which would lead one to wonder, hmm, maybe the mass nerdiness will rub off on CJJ. But, in his uniquely mischievous manner, CJJ contrarily thinks of something else: maybe his non-nerdiness can rub off on them?! Therein lies the crux of the third book: for CJJ to try to change the culture of Camp Rituhbukkee by helping the kids see that reading and learning just ain’t cool. But again, Greenwald applies the same reverse psychology as the story unfolds and the rubbing goes both ways (which sounds inappropriate, but you get the gist) and both sides learn quite a bit about the balance between work and play. Interspersed with cool comic drawings by J.P. Coovert (who illustrated the other CJJ books as well), and including letters written to/from CJJ to/from various people “back home” (characters from the first two books who readers will remember), this is a win-on-all-levels book.

Some of you may remember my son digging into the second book about a year ago.
If you have a reluctant reader in your life, or any kid, in fact, hand all three of the CJJ books off to him or her. Pretty sure the kid will thank you. My son did (see above).

Oh, and if you're all upset that the CJJ journey is over, I just got word from Greenwald himself that there will be at least two more in the CJJ series, not to mention a spin-off based on a character who is in book three, Jack Strong. Nice!