An interview with Linda Joy Singleton

Linda Joy Singleton is the author of over twenty five books, ranging from picture books to award winning young adult. What I love about Linda’s books, especially the Curious Cat Spy Club series which I just finished reading, is that her characters feel familiar. I can see traces of my own friends when I was young and my kids’ friends, who seem always to be in my house these days. This character comfort level sucks me in fully and completely. I am ready to go wherever the story takes me.

(Buy the books: Amazon, B&N, IndieBound or purchase at your local bookstore.)

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

My parents surrounded me with books. My earliest book memory is of Pokey Little Puppy, Water Babies and Topsy Turvy Land. By 8, I was writing my own stories. And by 11, I wrote a suspense novel called Holiday Terror. When I was 14, my father took a writing class and taught me how to professionally submit to publishers. I still have some very nice rejections from the short stories I submitted to American Girl Magazine.

You write picture books (most recently the adorable Lucy Loves Goosey), middle grade and YA. Which do enjoy the most?

I am always the most excited by whatever book I’m currently writing. I love all genres and enjoy challenging myself with new projects. With picture books, when a good idea comes to me it feels like the universe has given me a gift. And seeing my words come alive in the drawings is magical. Lucy Loves Goosey was especially meaningful as it was inspired by my little dog Lucy and my young granddaughter who longed for a big sister.

I also have loads of fun writing much longer and more complicated YA books. The last YA I had published was Memory Girl, a futuristic mystery. Before that it was Dead Girl trilogy and The Seer series. I loved the fan emails I received from my The Seer readers. The main question was always, “Will Sabine and Dominic get together?” I was happy to answer yes, and gave my fans a romantic ghost mystery in the 6th book Magician’s Muse. I printed out all the letters and treasure them.

Of course, if I had to chose a genre, middle-grade mysteries hold a special place in my heart. I have had a wonderful time writing the Curious Cat Spy Club, combining my love of animals and mysteries.

In The Curious Cat Spy Club series (for middle grade readers) Kelsey, Becca and Leo solve animal related mysteries and pets play a central role. Did you have a lot of pets growing up? How about now?

As a child we always had many cats and a dog. Our dog Sandy grew up with me. When I left home, I had dogs and cats, too. I currently have two little dogs (Lucy & Roxy) and three cats (Sunny, Kinky & Molly). We have horses, peacocks, guinea hens and pigs on our 28 acres.

The Curious Cat Spy Club series wraps up with The Trail of the Ghost Bunny, set to release on September 1st. Was it hard to leave the kids after six books?

OMG—Very hard!! It breaks my heart. Ending a series is like a tragic empty nest syndrome because my characters have moved out of my head. I used to cry when a series ended—especially Regeneration and The Seer. I couldn’t let the characters go, so I wrote another Regeneration (Cloned and Dangerous) which I posted on Wattpad. Also  I wrote short stories with The Seer and Dead Girl characters: Dark-Lifers Revenge and Dominic’s Story are free online. I recently wrote a new short story for the CCSC titled Dog Rescue Time Warp which will be available soon. Check my website and/or sign up for my author newsletter for how to get this or the spy packet.

Who are your favorite authors?

So many!! I am obsessed with reading and challenge myself to read over 100 books a year. I alternate between adult mysteries and juvenile fiction. My favorite mystery authors are Kate Morton, Marcia Muller, Nancy Atherton, Rhys Bowen, and Victoria Laurie. My favorite juvenile book authors are: Ingrid Law, J.K. Rowling (of course!), Angie Sage, Alex Flinn, April Henry, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman and Jessica Townsend (her new book NEVERMOOR is amazing!).

What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?

Walking. I love oceans and lakes and trees. Going on long walks makes me happy.

What are you working on right now?

A new series which is on submission with several publishers. It’s a chapter book series about resourceful kids who care about animals in a unique way. Fingers crossed it sells soon!!

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

My email is  ljscheer@yahoo.com

Also sign up to find out the latest news and giveaways in my newsletter at www.LindaJoySingleton.com.  I answer all fan letters!! 

   

Coming July 3rd! (which is kind of soon)

I can’t believe it is not even two months until Power Play releases!  How did that happen?  Pre-order today to make sure it is on your doorstep July 3rd. I can’t wait for this book. It’s a lot of fun – perfect for the beach, the lake, the backyard sprinkler, wherever summer might take you.

Pre-order: AmazonBarnes & Noble, IndieBound or visit your local bookstore.

 

“Once again, Abby’s cheeky, first-person, present-tense narration lends immediacy, realism, and humor to her well-intended penchant for precarious adventure.” – KIRKUS

The Sophomore Effort

What is it like for an author to write that second book? I talked to Sally J. Pla and Elly Swartz about this very thing over at the Mixed Up Files blog. Check it out here:

The Sophomore Effort

Jonathan Roth, debut author of the Beep and Bob series, answers some questions…

Chapter books are where the magic happens. Finally able to tackle books on his own, my son delighted in more challenging prose, exciting plot twists and bright illustrations. He was taking the first step toward a lifetime of reading.

I love the humor and madcap adventures many of these books offer, often in series form, where kids can plow forward without pause. School Library Journal says of Jonathan Roth’s Beep and Bob series ‘Roth creates many unusual space terms and infuses the story with humor and gross details that are sure to make kids giggle. Beep is a cute and fun sidekick and Bob is ­relatable as an average kid in a not-so-average situation.’ This is exactly the type of series that has kids asking for more!

Beep and Bob: Too Much Space (Amazon, B&N, Indiebound) and Party Crashers (Amazon, B&N, Indiebound) are both available now. 

 

Now a few questions for the author…

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

My father was an English teacher and my mother is a painter, so books and art were always a big part of my childhood environment. Back then (last century!) there weren’t nearly as many awesome chapter books or middle grade novels as there now, so I mostly read comics or adult sci-fi (I could have really used fun school/action books like Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls!). I was also fascinated with such classics as Alice in Wonderland and Charlotte’s Web (look for the references in my first Beep and Bob). Also, a real game changer was when my sixth grade teacher read Paul Zindel’s The Pigman aloud to us. It was about real kids doing real things, and it was absolutely poignant and even had fun doodles on some pages. My mind was blown (and not just because they drank beer).

The Beep and Bob series takes place in space. Were you interested in space as a child? What is your research process like?

My love of space, and any relevant research, takes three forms: favorite childhood sci-fi like Star Trek, Star Wars and E.T; an obsession with the real life stories behind the Apollo moon missions and other NASA adventures; and my love for the wonder of nature and being able to gaze with my with own eyes upon distant stars and worlds.

I love the pictures in this series! Do you illustrate your own work? Which is more fun, illustrating or writing?

Yes, I feel fortunate to get illustrate my own stories. But even though I went to art school and teach art to elementary kids for a living, the writing is where Beep and Bob truly come to life for me. But doing the illustrations is a lot of fun, too, especially because I can blast rock and jazz instead of the usual classical that I write to (writing with lyrics being sung or too much noise is distracting to me).

Who are your favorite authors?

Favorites are hard, but I certainly can trace much of my influence to such creators as Charles Schulz, Bill Watterson, Jeff Kinney and the true master of short, silly fiction, J.R.R. Tolkien. I also credit such perfect, concise and touching books as The Giver, Shiloh, Bridge to Terabithia, and Holes for showing me the amazing range of what is possible.

What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?

When I’m not writing or illustrating, I like to really go wild and…read. Preferably in bed. Though I also love to be outdoors, either walking with my wife or off on a cycling adventure.

What are you working on right now?

Even though Beep and Bob books 1 and 2 are just coming out, the manuscripts for books 3 and 4 have already been handed in, and I’m currently working on the illustrations for both. As you know, books require a lot of lead time!

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

There are a couple options on the contact page of my website, www.beepandbob.com. Look forward to hearing from folks!

 

A chat with Sally Pla, author of Stanley Will Probably Be Fine

It was a thrill to read Sally Pla’s The Someday Birds when it came out last year so I was excited to dig into her newest novel, Stanley Will Probably Be Fine. And it lived up to expectations!

Stanley, suffering from a sensory processing disorder, lives in today’s new ‘normal’, dealing with lockdown drills at school, not to mention friend drama. But  his keen awareness of his own anxiety makes him relatable – elements of his struggles will resonate with almost everyone. Stanley escapes into comic books, where good and evil are often clear cut and logical.

I found this pivot away from a taxing reality both brave and heartbreaking.  Stanley reminds us that while the world may not make sense, we need strategies to live in it, and his journey toward doing just that will have you rooting for him all the way. And now, lucky us, some Q&A with author Sally Pla.

(Buy the book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound)

Who were your favorite authors as a kid?

There weren’t many books in my house when I was a kid. I remember an old copy of Hans Christian Anderson. There was a set of Dickens that my late grandfather found on a sidewalk (the story goes), and carted home in his wheel barrel. There was a beautiful 19th century copy of Tennyson on the shelf (I still have it), a circa 1910 medical book with nightmare-inducing photos, an encyclopedia, and an art book on German Expressionism which was almost as scary as the medical book.

Once I got old enough to bike to the library by myself, my world brightened considerably! Nancy Drew, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Laura Ingalls Wilder, E.L. Konigsburg, Aahhhhhh!!!! Also, animal stories! Misty of Chincoteague! Dr. Doolittle! I reread James Herriott’s “All Things Great and Small” series a million times and decided that when I grew up, I’d become a vet in Yorkshire.

Both The Someday Birds and Stanley Will Probably Be Fine deal with children suffering from anxiety. What process do you go through to make sure your depictions are accurate?

Charlie in The Someday Birds and Stanley in Stanley Will Probably Be Fine are indeed both anxious. This was no problem at all to write. I have been anxious my whole life. Every physical symptom, every awfulizing, catastrophizing thought those characters have, are thoughts and symptoms and feelings that I have had. They are me; I am them.

Kids deal with things like active shooter and shelter in place drills in school all the time these days. How did you decide this could work as the focus of a middle grade novel?

We had a school principal, when my three boys were in elementary, who had a peculiar code phrase for initiating a drill. He’d get on the intercom and say: “John Lockdown is in the building!”

Now, everyone thought that was kind of funny. At home, my boys would run around playing this James Bond sort of gun chase game, pretending to be “John Lockdown.” They weren’t freaked out by the drills, not really.

But I was. What kind of a world do we have, when school kids accept as normal the possibility of an intruder bursting in and shooting them in cold blood? When they come home and cheerfully play-act about it?

This really bothered me.

I got to thinking: What if we don’t become inured to it? What if we fight against this societal desensitization? And so, further: What kind of a kid would have a problem with the normalization of violence in his life? What would that kid look like, and act like? What could that kid teach us, if we slipped inside his skin for a while?

Stanley is so wonderful, genuine and relatable. Is he based on anyone you know? Where did he come from?

Stanley is just Stanley. He has many of the same issues as Charlie in The Someday Birds, but Stanley has a dark, sardonic little sense of humor about himself and the world. Now that he exists, I love him like my own kin. Thank you for liking him too!

Superhero comic books are Stanley’s escape from reality and you include multiple panels from Stanley’s own comic creation, John Lockdown. Loved these! Did you work closely with an illustrator to get them right or did you do them yourself?

I did do my own version of Stan’s comic panels, just to storyboard it and see what needed to go where. But thank goodness for artist Steve Wolfhard! Steve’s a veteran comic artist whose work can be seen, most notably, on Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time. I think Steve’s art in the book (and on its cover) is just amazing. Originally, there were to be many, many more panels of Stanley’s comics. I so wish we could have included them all! Gosh darn!

Secondary characters can often feel cliché but yours, primarily Stanley’s messy family, provide depth and richness to the book. How much backstory do you create for them to achieve this, that never makes it to the page?

I write a lot of backstory, and take a lot of different approaches. At first, Stanley had two older brothers, not one. And he had both a dad and mom, but no grandpa… Things shifted a lot. What I like to do, repeatedly, is draw a bubble map with my main character in the center. Then I put each secondary character in a bubble around him. Each secondary character has to challenge the main character in a different, unique way, so the main character is always being tugged in different interesting directions. The bubble maps help me visualize this. Then, the supporting cast’s personalities grow from this. I also do a lot of journaling on each of them, until I can consistently hear their voices in my head.

What are you currently working on?

A love story between a big lonely girl named Alice Eugenia McMann and a woolly mammoth named Snowball, with a lot of cutting-edge genomic science – and an 85 year old best buddy — thrown in. It is not set in Yorkshire.

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

Check out www.sallyjpla.com — there’s a “contact me” link! Or email sallyjplawrites@gmail.com.

 

Creative Writing Club for Kids

At the beginning of the school year I got the crazy idea that kids might like a forum in which to do creative writing. Although they get some in the classroom, I was thinking of a completely non-judgmental environment where I guide them but they ultimately do what they want, where there are no wrong answers or points off for misspelling a word. Really, I wanted for them the kind of club I would have loved as a child myself.

Each session is roughly an hour, once a month. I provide notebooks, pencils and anything else we require (the PTA reimburses me which is lovely).  I tend to raffle off  middle grade books after I’m done reading them and the kids get a kick out of this. Below is the general outline of what I do during different sessions. It’s easy to mix and match or just use the information as a jumping off point. I’ll continue to add sessions as we make our way through the year.

I thought the club might attract ten students but I regularly get thirty. Pretty cool. Feel free to email me with any questions! (for more info on how to get started, see my post on The Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors site!)

kids hard at work

Creative Writing Club Session #1

What is a setting? The time and place where a story happens. Future, past, now, outer space, a farm, school, New York City, etc.

Describe the setting from your favorite book or movie.

Select a photograph from the pile. (This is a pile of magazine photos of settings – beach, ocean, mountains, etc – pasted on paper.)

Exercise 1: describe the picture. Use all your senses. What does it smell like here? Is it cold or hot? What time of day is it? Etc.

Read a loud. (Totally voluntary – I STRESS this because some kids will run away screaming rather then share their work. I’ve found that after a few sessions so many more kids are willing to read.)

Exercise 2: pass photo to the left. Describe the scene as if YOU were in it. “I am….”

Read a loud

Exercise 3: pass photo again. Imagine you’re an animal in the photo. Describe the photo from the animal’s point of view.

Read a loud

Exercise 4: Free writing.

One day a spaceship landed on the playground and…

Use these three words in your story: rainy, Pogo ball, Doritos.

Read aloud.

Creative Writing Club Session #2

Free writing: It was Thanksgiving Day. I went outside and met a Turkey, who said….

1) Explode

2) Smelly

3) Purple

Read aloud.

Character Description

 The people who show up in your story – they don’t have to be human – could be alien or animal.

Main characters – we know a lot about them. They are the focus of the story or are telling the story.

Secondary characters – those are the ones that only show up for a little bit here and there. They can be important but we don’t spend a lot of time with them.

 Pick a character out of the bag. (I put a bunch of descriptions of possible main characters in a bag – Martian, Mad Scientist, Astronaut, Olympic Skier, etc) Describe this character: what does she look like? Sound like? Smell like? Where does she live? Does she fit in? Who does she hang around with? What does she do for fun? What does she like to eat? Does she have a family? Pets? How does she spend her time? What are her strengths and weaknesses? Is she courageous? What is she afraid of? What annoys her?

Read aloud.

Simple Story

Pick a Setting and Action. Write a simple story using your character, setting and action.

Read aloud

Repeat.

Amplify a Sentence

 (I call this Blowing Up a Sentence) Add descriptions and details to make it more interesting. Funny is good and most of these end up ridiculous but most more interesting than the original.

“I walked down the street.”

“I went swimming.”

Creative Writing Session #3

Quick Paragraphs

Write these questions up on the board. Have the students answer them. Give them five minutes per question set. Share. (my kids LOVED these; I’ll be sure to use them again.)

Example 1:

  • Who just snuck out the back door?
  • What were they carrying?
  • Where were they going?

Example 2:

  • Who is Ethan?
  • Why is he crying?
  • What is he going to do about it?

Example 3:

  • Whose house is Julia leaving?
  • Why was she there?
  • Where is she going now?

Superhero Exercise

Building on the five minute questions exercise, invent a super hero. What is your super power and who did you battle? Share.

Free Writing

Have students continue working on something they’ve already started or give them a new writing prompt.