Reluctant Reader Resources

#Summerreading is upon us. If you have a reluctant reader under your roof, this can be challenging for everyone involved. Here are a few resources to help out.

 

  1. I made a guide with tips I’ve used with my kids and also things I’ve heard along the way that might work. Find it here.
  2. This is a great article on middle grade reluctant readers.
  3. Book Riot’s Karina Glaser has an excellent KidLit newsletter with tips and recommendations. Sign up here for The Kids Are All Right.
  4. Make it fun with #summerreading Bingo! 

Giveaway #1!!

One month until Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls is out! To celebrate, I’m giving away one of these very cool phone cases. I’ve been getting compliments. For real. So subscribe to my newsletter and be entered to win. Drawing on Sunday, June 11th.

That’s it! No too hard, right? After all, it’s Monday. Let’s not get too crazy…

(limited to iPhone and Galaxy models)

(if you’re already a subscriber, just share this on social media – be sure to tag me! – and be entered to win!)

 

Mighty Girls

When I was a kid we had Dorothy, a girl unafraid, resilient, adventurous, smart, loyal, curious, capable and determined. Sure, she had those fancy ruby slippers but her strength came from inside.

(Never mind the flying monkeys, I’d have been out of there the minute this happened: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IErqIMLwtQ)

Today Dorothy has a wealth of fictional sisters. Sophie. Honorine. Freya. Annabeth. Gracie. Sadie. Alanna. Valor. Miri. Lady Ada and Mary Godwin. Hilary Westfield. Coraline. Liza and so many more.

How lucky for girls growing up today. How remarkable to have all these examples of girls being girls being incredible. Action and adventure, chills and thrills are no longer just for boy characters. Girls are no longer relegated to the position of sidekick. Whether readers take this out on the soccer field or into math class, the mirrors and windows these stories provide is critical.

On July 4th, my latest novel, Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls, releases. Abby Hunter is one of these girls, absolutely sure she can get the job done, even if it doesn’t always go her way the first time. Or the second. Or maybe even the third. Like Dorothy, she’s not afraid to try. She won’t back down or away. I hope you enjoy her as much as I have.

To recognize these smart and intrepid fictional girls, I want to spend the weeks running up to the release of Mrs. Smith’s highlighting some of my favorites.

There will be book talk, author interviews, giveaways and more. Stay tuned!

But before you go, I have a mission for you (if you hear the Mission Impossible music in your head, that doesn’t mean you’re crazy): get one of these books into the hands of the #fiercegirl or #mightygirl in your life!  

(for full book list, click here)

Or share one of your favorites with me.

Alanna
Coraline
Gracie
Sophie
Annabeth
Honorine
Miri
Liza

 

Valor
Lady Ada & Mary Godwin
Freya

 

An interview with Ruth Lauren, author of The Prisoner of Ice and Snow

School Library Journal handed down this verdict for The Prisoner of Ice and Snow: Anyone who likes adventure, survival stories, folktales, or novels with strong female protagonists will not be able to put this down.

And this is exactly why I love this book. The fast pace, the vivid female characters, both good and bad, and the fight against the odds. I expect all kids will find this fantasy thrilling, especially girls, who are sometimes relegated to the role of side kick in middle grade action/adventure. Add this to your shelves! But before you do, see what author Ruth Lauren has to say about writing this book. If you are working on middle grade fantasy yourself, read closely Ruth’s process for world building – fascinating!

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading a book. It was something I innately loved. I lived most of my young childhood with my nose in a book, but it never occurred to me to write, not until I was in my thirties. But after I wrote my first book (70,000 words of very terrible YA paranormal) there hasn’t been a time when I haven’t been working on a manuscript.

What was the hardest part of writing The Prisoner of Ice and Snow? 

I’d actually been on submission to publishers with three other books before Prisoner. None had sold and I was pretty much in despair. All those books were contemporary, so when I wrote Prisoner it was because I wanted to have fun and write a fantasy adventure all about girls, which was very different to what I’d been writing before. Something clicked and I really did have a lot of fun writing it. It sold at auction almost immediately. So all the hard parts about writing for me actually came before I wrote Prisoner! (And after, of course. Book 2 wasn’t quite as easy!)

The world building is so fabulous in this book. Did it come to you all at once or did you build it up as you went along?

Thank you! The general idea came to me first. I was watching Prison Break with my son and I wondered what that sort of story would be like if it was about two young sisters instead. After that I thought about where I could place the sisters to make their escape from prison even more challenging. I wanted an unforgiving climate and terrain in a cold, snowy, frozen world where the elements themselves could cause problems for the characters and bleed through into every part of the planning Valor has to do to try to break her sister out of prison. Some of it stemmed from looking at images on Pinterest. I make a board for every idea that I have and I find it really helps me to visualize the world and individual scenes if I can link it to a picture. I drew on elements of the Russian landscape and traditional clothing but I also wanted to create a matriarchal world where only women can rule and where they often have positions of power.

Prisoner is populated by strong female characters – both good and evil. Which were more fun to write?

The evil ones of course! I did have a lot of fun with Valor because she’s headstrong and flawed and impulsive, but it was very satisfying to write all these female characters in ruling positions and places of power—and then have them sometimes abuse that power!

I wanted the sisters to inhabit a world where it would never occur to them that positions of power weren’t open or available to them. They don’t have to struggle or overcome to gain those positions and they see women in every role I put in the book—from ruler to doctor to prison guard to hunter. It’s something every child should see reflected in books and in the real world.

Who are your favorite authors?

So many! Although I have to acknowledge that some of them have problematic aspects that I didn’t understand when I was a child. I loved and still love Watership Down, The Secret Garden and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

More recently I’ve loved books by Gillian Flynn, Patrick Ness, Ryan Graudin, Kristin Cashore, Laini Taylor, Maggie Steifvater, Rainbow Rowell and Katherine Rundell.

My absolute favourite as an adult is The Night Circus.

What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?

Boring and obvious answer: reading. I do love going to the cinema and eating out though. And I’m a big fan of taking a walk in the woods. I have a lot of kids and cats too—they’re my favourites.

What are you working on right now?

I’m currently drafting an exciting middle grade sci-fi standalone set on another planet, which I hope you’ll get to read one day.

There’s also a sequel to PRISONER OF ICE AND SNOW. It’s called SEEKER OF THE CROWN, coming from Bloomsbury in April 2018. No spoilers, but I can’t wait to go back to Demidova with Valor and Sasha for more adventures.

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

You can find me on twitter: @Ruth__Lauren

Instagram: @Ruth_Lauren

Or on my website: www.ruthlauren.com

 

 

 

 

An interview with Mark Maciejewski, author of I Am Fartacus

I was fortunate enough to read an early version of I Am Fartacus. I live for funny and this novel delivers, twisting traditional ideas of hero and villain to hilarious effect. As Chub and his misfit crew set out to take down popular Archer’s evil empire,  Mark somehow manages to make both sides sympathetic, pushing the reader to see the whole situation. Fartacus is a wonderful addition to any middle grade collection AND I got the author to answer some questions. Awesome, right??  Here we go…

 

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

Probably in part because stories were the only part of school that I enjoyed. Also, my mom was functionally illiterate. She read with me every night, but what I didn’t find out until much later was that she was learning to read by reading with me.

What was the hardest part of writing I Am Fartacus? (And how often did you crack yourself up in the process?)

The hardest part for me was remaining focused and just finishing the work. I believe that persistence beats talent any day.

How did you know I crack myself up? My wife is a writer too, and she sometimes has to leave the room when I’m writing because I laugh so much. The weird part is that I don’t feel like I’m laughing at my own jokes so much as I’m laughing at the characters and the things they say and do. I also laugh a lot when I’m revising and re-reading because I honestly forget most of the funny stuff right after I write it.

Chub is so relatable as a middle grade hero. Did it take time to get him right or did he arrive fully formed, albeit bald, in your head?

He arrived pretty much fully formed, but then he evolved during revisions. Early on he really fancied himself as Alanmoore’s resident supervillain against the resident superhero, the Arch (who was originally called “the Chad”.) My agent convinced me to tone down that part of his character to make him more relatable. I wasn’t super keen at first, since I’d always envisioned him that way, but she was right. He’s much more sympathetic now, which I think sweetens the emotional growth he goes through by the end.

Is Archer based on anyone you knew in middle school? Do you enjoy writing good guys or bad guys more?

Archer isn’t anyone in particular. He’s an amalgam of kids we all knew who got these seemingly superhuman powers years before anyone else.

I suppose I prefer bad guys, but they have to be relatable to be truly interesting. Although Chub is kind of an anti-hero, Archer, the ostensible hero, is actually the bad guy in this book. But I hope he becomes relatable enough that readers will feel something for him by the end.

Who are your favorite authors?

For adult works I like Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Hemmingway, Tom Wolff, Tom Robbins, Chuck Palahniuk.

For Kidlit I love Neil Gaiman, Marcus Zusak, Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein, Eoin Colfer, Neal Shusterman, Nancy Farmer, just to name a few.

What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?

I love to read, do crosswords, garden with my wife, and golf.

What are you working on right now?

I’ve heard from a lot of kids who are really into graphic novels, and wish Fartacus had illustrations. So, I’m working on a new book about a kid who thinks his dad might be a superhero. I’m hoping it’ll be illustrated, comic book style, to go along with the superhero/villain theme.

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

They can contact me through my website, Markmaciejewski.com or on Twitter @Magicjetski

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crow

One hundred and twenty seven yoga classes later and I can do Crow Pose. Don’t know that that is? Well, I think you can live a complete and happy life without knowing but if you’re curious, here it is:

In the process of reaching this milestone, I fell on my face. A lot. And I mean that literally, just went right past ‘balanced’ and landed on my nose. In yoga, we are not meant to judge one another but I could feel the pity around me, wafting off my twenty something classmates. After all, they balanced.

But here’s the thing. Every time the instructor asked for this pose, I gave it a shot. Because by not trying, I guaranteed I would never get there. And then one day, I balanced. Happy fireworks went off in my head. If I can master crow, what’s next? Wounded peacock? Yoga sleep pose? Okay, that one is just gross and we should probably not get ahead of ourselves here. 

 

There are so many things that will get in your way as you travel toward a dream or desire. I’m right now on the one-millionth rewrite of a story I very much want to tell but I keep stumbling. It works and then it doesn’t. I like it and then I don’t. It stares at me and I stare back. But I keep returning. I keep falling on my face. Is this a waste of time? Stupid? Pointless? Should I turn my attention to something else?
I don’t know. What I do know is I’m not ready to give up.  I’m waiting for the crow.
 

3-sentence (or so) Book Recommendations

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline (YA). I only have one today because I’ve been so busy lately my reading has fallen behind. That is not cool. But this book is. Sure, it takes place in a dystopian future but its heart is 1980s pop culture gold. From John Hughes to Pac Man to more obscure references I actually had to think about, I challenge you to not be sucked in.

Boarding school. It’s really a thing.

When I tell people from California that I went to boarding school, they always ask the same wide eyed question: What did you do?

 It took me a few rounds to figure out the assumption: bad behavior + getting caught = boarding school. After I make it clear I wasn’t a juvenile delinquent sent up the river for stealing cars or other unsavory behavior, I explain that these schools are actually desirable. You have to apply to them. They might not let you in. At this point, my California people just kind of look at me funny and I gently nudge the conversation to the weather or the San Francisco Giants or where to get really good sushi.

 But I get it. The idea of boarding school is weird. It seems like it should only happen in fiction. Take five hundred fourteen to eighteen year olds, lock them up together and remove all parental supervision. Who thought this was a good idea? I’ll be honest. Boarding school wasn’t my finest hour. I was awkward, fat, clueless and hopeless, surrounded by kids who skied the Alps during spring break and tanned on the beaches of St. Barts (back when tanning wasn’t the skin equivalent of smoking). I could barely find those places on a map. When I read Harry Potter, I remember thinking we had a Voldemort, too. He can be named but I won’t do that here.

 There were some ugly moments. When I finally graduated, it was with great relief that I discovered there was lots of life still ahead of me and what I was did not determine who I would be.

Still, this experience floated around, looking for purchase. Where exactly in my creative landscape was boarding school going to land because surely it had to land somewhere? I tried an adult thriller with a long forgotten murder but that didn’t work. I played with the idea of a television series but couldn’t get it to click. The answer turned out to be a middle grade series about spies. Surprised me, too. Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls is not dark or angsty or moody, like we all were. It’s funny and light hearted and I couldn’t quite figure out how that happened if most of my memories of that time are not funny, at least not in a good way.

But of course if you drink a lot of coffee and stare into space for long enough, the answers do appear. Abby Hunter, the twelve year old hero of this series, is the girl I wish I had been back then. In writing her, I forgive my young self for not measuring up.

It did not look like this.
It looked like this.

Book Suggestions 

While we’re on the boarding school theme, there are a number of books (other than Harry Potter!) that use this setting for its richness and chaos, some fun, some sinister, some very dark. A few examples:

 1. Spy School, by Stuart Gibbs (middle grade).  Kid gets recruited for the CIA and ends up in a special school for training spies. Things get wildly and hilariously out of hand. Fast paced and fun, the kids will love this one.

 2. Looking for Alaska, by John Green (YA). As is John Green’s way, this novel deals with dark themes. Follow sixteen year old Miles Halter as he heads to boarding school, soon to discover his life will never be the same again.

 3. Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld (adult). Ouch. This one was like being back there (PTSD anyone??). But as much as I wanted to run away, the writing is so compelling, I had to see it through. I love this author and this is one of her best.

 4. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro (adult). I read this book in one sitting. It’s a masterpiece that happens to involve a boarding school of sorts. I first read this years ago and I still find it creeping into my thoughts on a regular basis. Don’t miss it.

  

So you wanna write a book?

Back in August, I started taking a Vinyasa yoga class. Today, I’m one hundred classes in and while I am thisclose to being able to touch my toes (a miracle!) I have yet to achieve spiritual enlightenment. Apparently, that takes years. Which leads me to a conversation I had last week with a recent acquaintance.

Him: I want to write a book. I have the best idea.
Me: Great!
Him: it’s going to be a bestseller.
Me: Great!
Him: how long does it take to write a bestseller?
Me: as long as it takes to achieve spiritual enlightenment in yoga.

He didn’t laugh. Maybe it was my delivery? But I have these conversations all the time. People are curious about writing books, either because they like to read or they have a book inside them looking for a way out. The questions always peak this time of year. With spring on the horizon we’re coming out of hibernation and dusting off our dreams.

So in celebration of the flowers bursting out all over my California town, I offer this: if you have a question about the writing process or the publishing industry that you want to ask or you have a friend who does, email me: Beth@BethMcMullenBooks.com

No question is too big or small or inane or silly. I bet I have asked most of them myself at some point in time.

And I promise, no stupid jokes about spiritual enlightenment.

Have a great day, my friends!

Where are you, James Bond?

 

International Spy Museum

I remember seeing the James Bond movie Moonraker back in the Jurassic Era when Roger Moore played the part. We were at the drive in movie theater, swatting mosquitoes the size of 747s and trying to eek out more volume from the tinny speaker dangling in our window.

not yet.

 

I was a kid but old enough to know a plot that involved hijacking the space shuttle was kind of ridiculous. And I didn’t understand the Bond Girls. If they wanted to be truly badass, why on earth would they dress like they did? Who wants to fight bad guys in heels and a clingy sequined mini-dress? But one thing is clear. Bond isn’t going anywhere.

Everyone knows the bad guys are the most interesting.

Evidence? Recently I had a chance to visit the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. Seriously, this was research, folks. I’m in the middle of a spy series and I need material. Anyway, the museum hosts an extensive James Bond exhibit, with movie props and costumes and details on special effects. There was a super creepy interview with the actor who played Jaws and he was lovely and funny and it freaked me out. The museum was crowded. People couldn’t get enough of our cultures pre-eminent spy.

 

Can I order these from Amazon?

So why do spies capture our imagination? Why do I keep returning to them every time I sit down to start a new project? Sure, there is the Teflon superhero quality to a character like James Bond but it’s something more than that.

Or how about these?

When writing fiction, the ambiguity inherent in the spying life is rich with possibility. It’s the idea that things are not as they appear, that under the obvious are layers of the unknown.  That guy walking down the street in front of you – maybe he’s recording the conversation the woman in front of him is having with the guy in the hat who looks suspicious. Maybe they’re plotting world domination? Or maybe he works for the bad guys and she’s the mark. Or flip that. Or maybe she’s the only thing standing between chaos and us. It could be you’re on a mission right now.

Or maybe I am.

 

From the Website
In case you missed it….

1. An interview with middle grade author Sally J. Pla, author of The Someday Birds (love this book!)
2. An interview with Edgar Nominee Sarah Lariviere
3. Tips on creative writing with kids

What I’m reading

The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (adult). I can’t decide what I think. Have any of you read this book? Help me.

Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys (YA). Set during the final days of WWII, four teenagers with secrets flee the advancing Soviets. Based on the actual events surrounding the Wilhelm Gustloff maritime disaster, this novel does a great job making history come alive.

Wolf Hollow, by Lauren Wolk (MG). Another historical. Am I hiding out in the past because the present is so alarming? Possibly. But the past is alarming too as evidenced by this beautifully written novel about a Pennsylvania girl living in the shadow of a war finished and one about to begin. There is much to be learned here about compassion and resilience while illuminating some of the darkest corners of our history.

AND I can’t let you go without talking about Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix. Has anyone watched this show? I AM FREAKING OUT. So gross. So funny. Please watch it and get back to me.