One Writer’s Journey

October 5, 2017

Novel or Movie: Wonder

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Somehow I’ve managed to not yet read Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  If you know me, it isn’t any big surprise.  I don’t handle bummer books particularly well.  But I am apparently writing a middle grade novel.  I thought it was a chapter book but my characters are rather obstinate.  It is middle grade.

So I asked people to recommend middle grade novels for me to study.  When a young reader champions a book, I pay attention.  And one that came up again and again from the kids themselves was Wonder.  So I took a look and apparently I was wrong when I labeled it a bummer book.

Now I just have to manage to get it read before the movie comes out.  Manage? It isn’t all that long.

There is a waiting list!  Why the exclamation mark?  Because I love it when I want a book from the library and there’s a waiting list.  And this one must be extra amazing because there is a waiting list for the print book, the large print edition, the audio-to-go edition and the book on CD.  How cool is that?

One of the things that I keep an eye on as I read a book and then see the movie is how the two differ.  The problem is that a movie and a book are two very different forms.  Generally, a book can handle more introspection than a movie but they’ve solved that with a first person voice over.  In an especially long book, subplots and characters sometimes have to fall by the wayside to make the whole story fit.  And things that might not be too gruesome in print can be horrifying on-screen.  Not that I’m expecting a lot of horrifying.  You know now that I really know that the book is about.

If you haven’t read it yet, why not request your copy?  And until it comes, you can always occupy yourself with the trailer below.



September 11, 2017

Books with Chapters: Where Does Middle Grade Fit In?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:00 am
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While I work on my latest nonfiction manuscript, I’ve been pounding out a new fiction draft.  Initially I thought it was a chapter book.  Because of this, when I needed a mentor book, I pulled out a Magic Tree House.  Those are fantasy.  Mine is fantasy.  Those have two main characters.  Mine has two main characters.

I read through the Magic Tree House book.  Once I had a good feel for the characters and the pacing, I got to work. But as I drafted my manuscript, I found myself holding back.  “No, that doesn’t sound like an eight year-old. That sounds like a ten year-old.”  I haven’t been 100% comfortable having to do this.

Finally I started to wonder if maybe this really isn’t a chapter book.  It doesn’t feel like an older middle grade (a large part of my reading) but maybe it is a younger middle grade.  I realized that I need to do some more research, so I posted a question on Facebook asking my writer, teacher and librarian friends to make recommendations.

Wow.  The book titles have been pouring in and, although some of them are definitely older middle grade, some of them are in the younger part of the middle grade spectrum.  That’s part of what makes middle grade so tough as a “target book type.”  Middle grade isn’t one level as much as it is two.

Emma Dryden firmed up this thought when she commented on my post.  She reminded me that a younger MG character should be 10-12.  An older character, 12-14.  The plot, themes, emotion, psych and more has to fit within those age ranges.  This will, she pointed out, also impact the voice and POV.  Voice. That is definitely what tipped me off that I had a problem.  My character sounded too old.

My story is definitely younger middle grade with a character who is 10.  Fourth grade.  Not a second grader which is the age/level I tried to force.  Yes, this means I need to tinker with the first five chapters but that’s okay.  Now I can quit trying to hold my slightly sassy character back and just write.


For additional posts on writing for the middle grade market, see Middle Grade vs Young Adult and Writing Middle Grade Nonfiction.


August 24, 2017

Dialogue, Narrative, and Action: Getting the Right Balance, part 2

Yesterday I discussed just how to balance these elements in a chapter book.  In my two page sample, 3 lines were narrative, in this case interior dialogue.  Half of what remained was dialogue and the other half was action. I had been reading about not using too much narrative and wanted to see how much was too much for these younger independent readers.  Apparently, I am going to have to keep it tight.

Middle grade

But what about books for older readers?  Today I have samples from a middle grade novel, Gossamer by Lois Lowry, a young adult novel, The Demon’s Lexicon by Rees Brennan, and an adult novel, The Right Side by Spencer Quinn.  These were chosen without an ounce of science.  Basically all three were within reach of my desk chair.

So how do the various elements balance out?  In the middle grade novel, dialogue (again in green) makes up about 1/2 of the total text.  I counted roughly 26 lines of dialogue.  The rest was split about equally between action (orange) and narrative (pink).  That large block of narrative on the lower left is a flashback.  The rest is interior dialogue.  All in all, roughly 1/4 of the total is narrative.

Young adult

Like the middle grade, the young adult novel is fantasy so I expected it to be narrative/setting heavy.  This time around the blocks are almost equal.  Narrative has a slightly larger portion with 22 lines.  A small amount of this is flashback and even less is interior dialogue.  But I expected very little interior dialogue.  This mean character is not particularly self-aware.  Most of the narrative is setting.  19 lines each are dialogue and action.  So that’s a fairly even balance between the three elements.  And, yes, these two pages were chosen at random.


The adult novel was a completely different situation.  Action takes up half of the total with 31 lines.  Dialogue?  A scant 9 lines.  The remaining 22 lines are narrative.  Before making any decisions on this book, I’d want to do another random sample to see if it would have more dialogue. Why?  Because it felt like it had more dialogue than this.  That said, it is a book about a vet with PTSD.  She is far from chatty so this might be the rule while the parts I’m remember where the exception.

Whether your novel is a chapter book or an adult novel, it is clear that no single element should take up more than 50% of the total.  What works well for your book will vary with the type of book that you are writing as well as the type of scene. A battle scene will likely have more action than other scenes.  A scene where the sleuth solves the mystery might have more dialogue or narrative.

Still, you obviously can’t have any single element take up more than its fair share of space.  Not if you hope to achieve balance.


March 21, 2017

Middle Grade vs Young Adult

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:54 am
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How can you tell if a teen novel is written for middle graders or young adults?  For some people, the difference revolves around sex.  If the characters are doing it, it must be young adult.  But not all young adult novels feature sex.  Some people think it has to do with the stakes or just how serious the subject matter is.  But some middle grade books deal with things that are all kinds of serious.

One of my favorite examples of an oh so serious middle grade novel is Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand.  In spite of the fact that this book is for slightly younger reader it includes:

  • The main character has clinical depression.
  • Her parents are estranged from her grandparents.
  • Her grandmother is being treated for cancer.
  • Someone was blamed for a crime he didn’t commit to protect the town darling.

And those are just the things that I can remember just over half a year after reading the book.

Here are some of the differences that I’ve noticed.

Middle grade novels:

  • Feature main characters who are younger teens or tweens.
  • They have less autonomy thus may be sent to stay with grandma.
  • They sometimes require the help of an older teen to solve the story problem.
  • They are most often trying to find their place within their family or social circle.
  • If there is attraction, it is generally pretty innocent — kissing, hand holding.

Young adult novels:

  • Feature high school aged characters.
  • They have a lot more independence and usually don’t need anyone to drive them around.
  • They may require help but are more likely to go to a contemporary than someone older.
  • They are often trying to break away from their families or social circle.  They are becoming their own people and often rock the world back in doing so.
  • These novels are longer and more complex with more subplots.

These aren’t the only differences but they are a start to developing an understanding.  The more children’s novels your read, the more easily you will be able to tell the difference.  Teens question everything.  They know that adults are clueless.  Middle grade readers have begun to suspect and may gather the proof they need in the course of the story.



January 6, 2017

Books with Chapters vs Chapter Books: Why You Need to Know The Difference

writing-termsLast night we had someone new at critique group. I don’t just mean new to our critique group.  I mean new to any professional critique group.  I realized this when I noticed that she called anything and everything that has chapters a chapter book. This really drove home why it is so important to know the terminology before you start to submit your work.  Use a term wrong and editors will realize you don’t know the industry.  Here are a few of the book related terms you need to know.

Board Book: This is a book for toddlers.  It is made out of cardboard and is meant to hold up to small people who don’t have the finesse not to damage a picture book.

Picture Books:  These fully illustrated books are written for children preschool-aged through grade school although most of the audience is preschool through about 8.  The text and illustrations work together to tell the story, each telling slightly different parts of the story.  Because of how they are printed, they are most often 32 pages.  The text may feel advanced since it is read to the child.

Early/Beginning Readers:  These books have a smaller trim size than a picture book.  This gives them the appearance of a “big kid’s” novel.   Many are fully illustrated but instead of expanding on the story the illustrations are there to help the reader decipher the text.  The text is easier than that of a picture book.

Chapter books:  These are for readers who are reading independently.  They aren’t ready for the longer books that middle graders read but they want the chapters.  The still enjoy illustrations but most if not all illustrations are black and white. Think Magic Tree House.  No subplots.

Middle grade novels.  These are for older grade school students.  Yes.  Older grade school.  Remember kids tend to read up.  Subplots are to be expected but these books aren’t nearly as edgy as young adult books.  There is a lot of diversity in terms of reading level and maturity of content.

Young Adult Novels.  These are novels for middle schoolers and high schoolers.  In spite of what some people think, all young adult novels are not super sexy but these kids are heading toward adulthood.

Using chapter book to describe true chapter books, middle grade books and young adult books is going to mark you as a newbie.  Don’t do this to yourself.  Read.  Learn the terminology.  Talk to other writers.  Then submit your work.  Otherwise the first impression you make on the editor will be one of confusion vs giving your work the opportunity it needs to shine.


May 22, 2014

Call for Manuscripts

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:41 am
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Call for SubmissionsSpellbound, a speculative fiction magazine for middle grade readers, has a call out for its Fall 2014 issue, themed “Magical Cats.”

Raechel Henderson, fiction editor, wants protagonists who actively resolve story problems and conflicts.  Word length up to 2500 words.

Marcie Tentchoff, poetry editor, wants short poetry, whether free verse or traditional, with elements of speculative fiction. Length 8-36 lines.

Payment: 2.5 cents/word for stories, $10-$20 for poems.

Deadline:  June 30.

Read complete guidelines here.




November 21, 2013

Regnery Publishing Expands Children’s Offerings

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:58 am
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Regnery Publishing has added  Regnery Adventure to its children’s list.  To launch the imprint, the company signed a middle-grade fiction series, The Kerman Derman Chronicles, by author and broadcast journalist Raymond Arroyo.

The first title in the series, Kerman Derman and the Relic of Perilous Falls, will be released in June 2014. A spokesperson said the company is in discussions for other series but in 2014 will focus on Kerman Derman. 

In June 2012, Regnery entered the children’s market with Little Patriot Press.  This imprint currently has 14 picture book titles aimed at children ages 5-8. Diane Reeves is the editorial director for both the children’s and middle grade books.

Since Regnery emphasizes that they publish great conservative books by great conservative authors, I know I wouldn’t be a good match for this particular publisher although one of you might have something suitable for one of their imprints.


September 25, 2013

Call for Submissions: Magazine Market

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:41 am
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Call for Submissions

I just found out about Spellbound, a middle grade fantasy e-zine for readers 8-12 years old.  It is a quarterly, themed e-zine.  Stress here is on middle grade as distinct from YA.

Here is the list of current themes along with the submissions periods.  In other words, don’t try to get a jump on the sea monsters theme and submit during the reading period for giants.

  • Winter 2013: Giants, Reading/Submissions Period: July 1 – September 30, 2013
  • Spring 2014: Dwarves, Reading/Submissions Period: October 1 – December 31, 2013
  • Summer 2014: Sea Monsters, Reading/Submissions Period: January 1 – March 31, 2014
  • Fall 2014: Magical Cats: Reading/Submissions Period: April 1 –  June 30, 2014
  • Winter 2014: Elementals: Reading/Submissions Period: July 1 – September 30, 2014

The website says they respond to all submissions.

Here are the guidelines for fiction:

Fiction Editor: Raechel Henderson

Word limit = 2,500
Payment = 2.5 cents per word
Rights bought: First World Electronic English-language Rights
Multiple submissions okay
No simultaneous submissions

What they are looking for:  stories involving magic, myth, legend and adventure in a fantasy setting.

Of special interest are:

  • Young protagonists with girls in “heroic” roles.
  • Non-Western European settings, characters and stories.
  • Minorities and disabled characters.
  • Stories where children protagonists have an active role in the story’s resolution.

Please send fiction submissions to submissions@eggplantproductions.comSend submissions in the body of the e-mail. No attachments!

For guidelines on poetry and illustrations, check out the Spellbound guidelines online.

I hope at least a few of you have appropriate manuscripts ready to go!



March 30, 2010

The Shifter by Janice Hardy

Just a quick note to let you know that I’ve posted a review of Janice Hardy’s The Shifter. It is on my review blog, Bookshelf: What We’re Reading.

For those of you who aren’t quite certain what the difference is between a middle grade and a young adult novel, pick up this book as well as The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Both books deal with life and death situations, deceit and sexual tension. They both have teens fixing problems created by adults.

But one is for tweens and the other for teens.  Read them and see if you can pick out just how the authors have done it.


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