Friday, March 30, 2012

Review and Giveaway - Elliot Stone and the Mystery of the Summer Vacation Sea Monster

Written by: L.P. Chase
Illustrated by: Carl DiRocco

From the back cover:

Elliot Stone's Summer is ruined! not only will he be away from his best friend Jake, but he'll have to miss Cassie's graduation party of the century while he spends an entire month in a Vermont cabin on Lake Bomoseen. After Elliot's dad shares the legend of the Loch Ness Monster, a month at the lake suddenly doesn't seem so boring. The situation quickly escalates as Elliot encounters a strange sighting in the lake. But when he meets Marley, the totally cute girl next door, they embark on a mission he hadn't quite planned on.

My thoughts:

It was after I finished reading the book that I discovered L.P. Chase has written several other Elliot Stone novels, so readers may already be familiar with the cast of characters. This was my first foray into Elliot's world, and I thought it was an overall success.

The writing is nice, the story has a good pace, the characters are interesting, and the setting took me back to happy camping memories. I've always been a big fan of mysteries, so seeing the twists and turns of a puzzle for this age-group makes me happy, and I think readers will enjoy the Loch Ness references and sleuthing.

The mom side of me prickled a bit when the story opened with Elliot griping about missing a party because he was going on the annual family vacation, something he usually looks forward to every summer. I know kids can have attitudes - I have three boys after all - ha! - but I was immediately distanced by Elliot's complaining. (Admittedly, I can't say a kid would feel the same way. ;) I am happy to report that things cleared up rather quickly after that, and Elliot proved to be a relatable character after all.

Finally, a word about the illustrations. I loved them! And so did my just-beginning-to-read son. He was immediately drawn to the cover and interested in the story. Job well done!

While Elliot's adventures are solidly middle-grade, this book falls on the younger end of the spectrum. I think a reader making the transition from chapter books to middle grade fare would find Elliot's adventures a nice addition to his or her library.

Thanks so much to Blue Marlin Publications for sending me a copy of the book!

Enter to win a copy of Elliot Stone, follow Team Mayhem and leave a comment telling us a favorite camping memory (or book)!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Twitterific Middle-Grade Book Giveaway!

Hello everyone! Project Mayhem is finally on twitter! So, if you're twitterific please give us a follow and we promise we'll stalk you back! We've also done a bit of redesign on the blog. It was time! We are still making some much needed overhauls, but if you don't like it please complain to management and we'll see what we can do! We are all about pleasing our readers!

In honor of our new design and social media triumphs (because opening that twitter account took a whole five seconds) we'll be giving away a big box of stunning new middle-grade books/ARC's--hot of the presses!

Here is what one lucky winner will get:
  1. Mimi by John Newman (Candlewick Press)
  2. The Beyonders, Seeds of Rebellion by Brandon Mull (Aladdin)
  3. Tua and the Elephant by R.P. Harris (Chronicle Books)
  4. Haunted Histories by J.H. Everett & Marilyn Scott-Waters (Henry Holt)
  5. The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen (Scholastic)
  6. Little Dog, Lost by Marion Dane Bauer (Atheneum)
  7. Nightshade City by Hilary Wagner (Holiday House)
  8. The Wild Book by Margarita Engle (Harcourt)
Wow, that's eight books! 

To enter the contest:
  1. Leave a comment on social media in your life: Do you love it, hate it, addicted, or are you a recently recovered addict?? 
  2. If you don't already, please follow the PM blog, by going to that little gray sidebar on the right and adding yourself to our Head Mischief Makers via Google Connect!
  3. Follow us on twitter. If you don't have an account we'll just have to go by the honor system!
  4. Spread the word! This is 100% optional, but greatly appreciated!
Winner will be annouced on Thursday of next week! Thanks to everyone who's built up Project Mayhem! It seems like we are exploding these days and we are so happy to have you all be part of our combustion!

Monday, March 26, 2012

What was your First Middle Grade Novel?

Merry Monday morning, Mayhemers! I know, it's hard to be chipper on a Monday, but I'm here at work, at 6 AM, so I've got little choice. Well, I suppose I could be grumpy, but it's hard enough to make it through the day as is.

Anyway, today I want to talk about what the first book we fell in love with around the age of MG readers (or in my case, a little before, but that's okay). Now, I know, this is a bit of a stretch. There was no such thing as MG or YA when Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, and it's hard to argue it's a Middle Grade novel when the main character is 50 years old in the book (if I remember correctly). But, I think the argument can be made that were The Hobbit written today, someone in one of the Big 6's marketing departments would sell it as a Middle Grade Fantasy.

Now, I could easily be wrong, but I'll try to make an argument for why it might work. For one thing, even though Bilbo is 50 something, he's a Hobbit, and Hobbits, while hale and hardy, and somehow far more resistant to the power of magic rings than men, aren't actually considered adults until they're 33. So a fifty-year-old Hobbit is still somewhat young. And besides, even full grown Hobbits are just cute. They're always sort of roly-poly, optimistic, and clever. They're the perfect characters for young readers to enjoy, even if they do smoke and drink a lot.

Another thing that I think makes this book one that would fit in well as MG is the plot, and the level of adult content it includes. Which is to say: very little. There is some violence, but it is almost always resolved comically or with a pleasant escape, and there is never any death, unless you count the dragon at the end. Bilbo and his Dwarves escape the trolls when the sun comes up and turns them to stone. They escape the Goblins when the Eagles pluck them from the trees. They escape the Wood Elves by riding barrels down the river. These are all clever ways to get out of danger without including something that would frighten young children. Heck, I read this book in like third grade, and I absolutely fell in love with it. I had the read along graphic novel version that came with a vinyl record you could listen to.

So I could probably go on about this book, and Tolkien, forever, but the point here is that this was the first full length novel I read as a boy, and it engendered my love of reading ever since. It wasn't technically a MG novel at the time, but I think it would fit in on that shelf today, and I have certainly let my kids read it, as young as they wanted to. I can't wait until my nephew is 8 or so, and I can turn him on to Middle Earth as well. Are any of you as excited for the film adaptation as I am?

What do you guys think? Have you read The Hobbit? Think it would sell as MG if published today? What MG books first influenced your love of reading?

Friday, March 23, 2012

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…

The deadline is fast approaching for one of my favorite writing contests of all timethe annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. You all know who Edward George Bulwer-Lytton is. Yes, you do!! Even if you don't realize you do. Who hasn't heard the famous line, "It was a dark and stormy night"? This is the opening line of Mr. Bulwer-Lytton's 1830 novel, PAUL CLIFFORD. Well, it's actually part of the opening line. The full line is:

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrentsexcept at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

Somehow, somewhere in time, Mr. Bulwer-Lytton's stormy opener became the poster child for bad, cliched opening lines, a stigma I think is perhaps rather a little unfair, seeing as he also coined the poetic and popular "the pen is mightier than the sword," among other well-known adages. Still, in tribute to Bulwer-Lytton's (in)famous opening sentence, Professor Scott Rice of the San Jose University English Department hosts the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which the competition's website describes as "a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels."

The contest, nearly 30 years running, has produced some absolute whoppers of opening lines. Here's a sampling:

The bone-chilling scream split the warm summer night in two, the first half being before the scream when it was fairly balmy and calm and pleasant for those who hadn't heard the scream at all, but not calm or balmy or even very nice for those who did hear the scream, discounting the little period of time during the actual scream itself when your ears might have been hearing it but your brain wasn't reacting yet to let you know.
--Patricia E. Presutti, Lewiston, New York (1986 Winner)

She wasn't really my type, a hard-looking but untalented reporter from the local cat box liner, but the first second that the third-rate representative of the fourth estate cracked open a new fifth of old Scotch, my sixth sense said seventh heaven was as close as an eighth note from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, so, nervous as a tenth grader drowning in eleventh-hour cramming for a physics exam, I swept her into my longing arms, and, humming "The Twelfth of Never," I got lucky on Friday the thirteenth.
--Wm. W. "Buddy" Ocheltree, Port Townsend, Washington (1993 Winner)

Paul Revere had just discovered that someone in Boston was a spy for the British, and when he saw the young woman believed to be the spy's girlfriend in an Italian restaurant he said to the waiter, "Hold the spumoni--I'm going to follow the chick an' catch a Tory."
--John L. Ashman, Houston, Texas (1995 Winner)

Through the gathering gloom of a late-October afternoon, along the greasy, cracked paving-stones slick from the sputum of the sky, Stanley Ruddlethorp wearily trudged up the hill from the cemetery where his wife, sister, brother, and three children were all buried, and forced open the door of his decaying house, blissfully unaware of the catastrophe that was soon to devastate his life.
--Dr. David Chuter, Kingston, Surrey, England (1999 Winner)
They had but one last remaining night together, so they embraced each other as tightly as that two-flavor entwined string cheese that is orange and yellowish-white, the orange probably being a bland Cheddar and the white . . . Mozzarella, although it could possibly be Provolone or just plain American, as it really doesn't taste distinctly dissimilar from the orange, yet they would have you believe it does by coloring it differently.
--Mariann Simms, Wetumpka, Alabama (2003 Winner)

Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blown’ off Nantucket Sound from nor’ east and the dogs are howlin’ for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the “Ellie May,” a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin’ and, Davey Jonesw be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests.
--David McKenzie, Federal Way, Washington (2009 Winner)

The deadline for entries is April 15, which their website is quick to point out is "a date that Americans associate with painful submissions and making up bad stories." But even if you're not interested in entering, I strongly recommend you spend some time reading over the opening lines of past winners at the contest's website (click on "Lyttony of Grand Prize Winners"), for both a good laugh and some great examples of truly creative writing. Here, too, is the line-up of 2011 winners.

And yes, I suppose there is a lesson in all this, about the importance of a really fabulous opening line. Personally, I love opening lines that grab you in some way, whether they're really gripping, surprising, or raise an intriguing question that compels you to read further for answers. Remember, your opening line sets the tone for everything that followsthe entire bookand it can really grab readersor really put them off. So, it's probably worth investing a little extra time to make sure it has the desired effect. :)

photo credit: Alphafish DMPaine via photopin cc

photo credit: fd via photopin cc

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Guest Interview with Jennifer Nielsen

Elliot and the Goblin War Trilogy
by Jennifer Nielsen

Most of the hoo-rah surrounding Jennifer right now is about her upcoming release of THE FALSE PRINCE, which we're all eagerly awaiting.  What we haven't heard much about is the upcoming release of the third book in her Underworld trilogy--which is positively AWESOME! Both books are scheduled for release on April 1st

After reading Elliot and the Goblin War with my 10-year-old son and laughing like lunatics, I knew I had to contact Jennifer and help get the word out about this series. It is way too much fun! She was kind enough to agree to an interview, and once I got over my fan-girl screeching, I came up with a few questions for her. But first, a little bit about book one.

Elliot and the Goblin War - Booklist Blurb
This opens with a warning: only seven children who have read this book lived to tell about it. In truth, this is more silly than scary, though kids might like that, too. Elliot is out trick-or-treating one Halloween night when he runs into a girl in an elf costume being chased by goblins. As it turns out, she really is an elf—well, actually a brownie—and the goblins are after her. For reasons that involve the delicious taste of brownies, the encounter leads to a war launched by the goblins against the brownies, into which the human Elliot finds himself dragged. In fact, he becomes king of the brownies and thus responsible for their welfare. Oh dear. Funny names (Fudd Fartwick, Tubs Lawless) and unexpected events (almost being scared to death) tumble through the pages, and Nielsen writes about them with tongue in cheek. Elliot and the goblin on the cover should draw ’em in. Grades 3-5. --Ilene Cooper

Does that sound awesome or what? 
And the upcoming finale . . .

Elliot and the Last Underworld War: Underworld #3
Goodreads Blurb:
Being King of the Brownies is no easy job! Elliot outsmarted the Goblins and foiled the Pixie Plot, but now he's being threatened by a giant Yeti. Oh, and there's a mermaid hiding in his bathtub. Elliot might be able to survive some unusual self-defense lessons and a kingnapping plot, but can he withstand the friendship of the neighbor girl--his archnemesis--Cami Wortson?

And now for the interview!!

1. Tell us a little about yourself and your books. 

Thanks so much for having me as a guest on your blog, Shannon! My debut book was ELLIOT AND THE GOBLIN WAR, about an 11-year-old boy who becomes king of the Brownies and accidentally launches an interspecies war. The final book of that trilogy, ELLIOT AND THE LAST UNDERWORLD WAR, is out on April 1.

I’m also the author of THE FALSE PRINCE, which I’ll release with Scholastic on April 1 as well, about a defiant orphan who becomes trapped in a contest where he must either commit treason by impersonating the kingdom’s lost prince, or be killed.

For me personally, I’ve lived in northern Utah throughout my life, love to travel, and have an incurable obsession with dark chocolate. Or, if it is curable, I’m not asking how. 

2. Many of our readers are also writers. What advice would you give to aspiring authors for when we hopefully become debut authors? 

Whatever your writing goal, consider it the summit of a mountain, then know that there are a hundred ways to the top. But I think it’s very important to keep your eye on the summit so that you are not distracted on the climb. It’s so easy in this field to choose smaller day hikes: contests, blogging, social media, magazine articles, etc. Sometimes these are important milestones along your path – sometimes they are even key to you reaching the summit. However, often they are little more than temporary ego boosts, time wasters, and side trips that keep you from the bigger goal you most want. So my advice is definitely to keep your eye fixed on your goal. And then keep on climbing. 

3. In my opinion, one of the strengths of this series is the personality of the narrator and the narrator's comments directed straight at the reader. This is a technique we seldom see in novels (and one I've often seen criticized). How did you decide to use the narrator that way? 

It wasn’t really a matter of me sitting down and debating one technique versus the other. It was just the way the narrative emerged. I think a lot of the style is really just my easily distracted mind thinking of funny side jokes as I was writing and wanting a way to work them in. 

4. My son thinks you are HI-LAR-I-OUS! And so do I. Can you share any advice about creating fun voices and the use of humor? 

Thank you very much for the compliment. I think humor writing is tricky because some things that are funny when spoken aloud don’t necessarily translate to being written on a page. And humor is a personal thing; what is funny to one person might not be to another.

So I think for anyone attempting to write humor, it’s a matter of becoming comfortable with your own style and not trying to please everybody. And take your humor writing very seriously – the one thing nearly all comic characters have in common is that they have no idea how funny they are.

It also helps to really know your audience. In this series, I am definitely writing to middle grade children. One type of humor children tend to enjoy is non sequitur absurdity, such as in GOBLIN WAR, where part of the cause of the war against the Brownies is the Goblins “logically” deciding that this is their best means to get more pickles.

5. The Underworld Chronicles is a trilogy. Did you have the whole series mapped out in your head when you started? Can you share any advice about trilogy writing?

When I wrote ELLIOT AND THE GOBLIN WAR, I had no idea whether it would be a standalone book or a series. If it was picked up as a series, I knew very early on how I wanted it to end, which you’ll read in book 3. But it was fun to explore Elliot’s adventures along the way to the final battle.

I think there are three important things to remember when writing a trilogy. First, be sure that you have a concept that can be carried across the length of the series. So you think of the books as one very long story built on three smaller episodes. Second, that you give each book its own story arc, so each book comes to a resolution. But you also leave enough story for the next book. And third, a trilogy has to escalate. No matter how intense Book 1 is, Book 2 has to be bigger, and Book 3 bigger than that. Readers will also want to see something new from their characters in each book, so they don’t feel that they’re reading recycled words. That can be tricky, but for an author it’s a very exciting challenge.

Thank you so much, Jennifer. I wish you luck with BOTH books. Hopefully, April 1st will rock your socks off!
Jennifer's Goodreads page HERE
Jennifer's website HERE
Jennifer on Twitter: HERE
Now, please help me get the word out about Elliot. 
These books are way too much fun to miss!

Monday, March 19, 2012

New Middle Grade Books on The Titanic - Why the Fascination with Disaster?

The 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster is coming up this April, and there are several new books out for middle grade readers about it, both fiction and nonfiction. When I decided to write this post focusing on these books, I started to wonder why it has held such a fascination for so many people, including kids who have never even seen the Leonardo DeCaprio movie. For those who aren’t fascinated by it, it can seem like a morbid topic, and hard to understand why some want to read about it. I asked several writer friends for their opinions and got some great answers:

The protracted nature of the disaster – It gave a chance for people to react, testing the limits of their bravery. If it had all been over suddenly, like in an explosion, there would have been no human element.

The unusual element added by the iceberg - The unsinkable ship sank from a cause that fits into the category of stranger than fiction.   

The lure of imagining yourself on the ship – In so much fiction, the exciting part is trying to figure out how you would react in such a situation, in a sense testing out the limits of your own bravery and ingenuity.

These are only a few possibilities. I was surprised by how many people remember liking disaster stories as children, and clearly they are still popular today
Here are a few of the new books just out or coming out.


This is the story of a twelve-year-old who sneaks aboard the Titanic, a passenger who is rare book collector and a thief who is out to steal a rare book, all in the midst of the disaster. The rare book collector in the story, Harry Widener, was an actual passenger on the fatal voyage, so I thought that was a fascinating premise on which to build a story. The addition of a mystery involving Sir Francis Bacon, alchemy and a girl who can pick locks adds to the fun.

KASPAR THE TITANIC CAT by Micheal Morpurgo
There were pets aboard the Titanic, and this is about a fictional one, a cat, who through a convoluted set of circumstances ends up on board along with a fourteen-year-old stowaway and a young heiress.  About half of the story takes place before they board the ship, and it gives a nice feel for the time period. This was first published in Great Britain in 2008 with the title Kaspar Prince of Cats, but was only released in the U.S. this year. The illustrations are useful to get a sense of the time period.

CAN YOU SURVIVE THE TITANIC? An Interactive Survival Adventure by Allison Lassieur
Similar to the old Choose Your Own Adventure Stories, in this book you can choose to be a surgeon’s assistant, a governess in charge of three children, or a twelve-year-old boy traveling with his father. This is very easy to read with some nice illustrations. My daughter enjoyed it very much.




This book doesn’t come out until April 3rd, but it looks like a good choice for the middle graders who want the facts, those nonfiction readers who devour books with good details. It got a great Kirkus review: “The format is irresistible, each answer just long enough to provide essential information...overall this will be a sure hit with young readers.” Since I didn’t get a chance to read this before the post, I emailed the author and asked her to give us one fact she learned in her research that really surprised her. Here’s her answer: “I'd say it was that the hull wasn't so much ripped open by the iceberg, as it was unzipped. Poor quality, cheap bolts were used to attach the sheets of metal along the hull. When the iceberg scraped alongside the hull, the iceberg sheared off the bolt heads and the sheets of metal came apart. This was discovered by analyzing the metal of bolts retrieved from the wreck site."

So were any of you fascinated by the Titanic or do you know kids now who are? I’d love to hear your thoughts on why it has gripped the imaginations of so many.

~Dee Garretson

Friday, March 16, 2012

Trailer for Lynne Kelly's CHAINED

Folks, I'm here to tell you a shocking truth. The Chinese zodiac has got it all wrong. It's not the Year of the Dragon. It's the Year of the Elephant.

Okay, now that I've caused riots in the streets, let me explain. I've just come from reading two books in which elephants have a starring role, THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN and TUA AND THE ELEPHANT. Now we must add Lynne Kelly's debut, CHAINED. Heck, as Lynne Kelly remarked to me, elephants may just be the new vampires!

CHAINED has already been mentioned on Project Mayhem. (Remember Caroline's post in December when she got us all excited about five MG debuts?) Now we have the great honor of being one of the first to reveal the book trailer.

This is an amazing trailer, don't you agree? I had the pleasure of an e-mail exchange with Lynne Kelly. What, I asked, was the inspiration behind CHAINED, and what sort of research did she have to do? Here are her answers:

The research involved a lot of reading--books and online materials, but most importantly, talking to people who've lived in India and people who work with elephants. Especially about Indian culture, I learned things from corresponding with people that I couldn't have picked up from any amount of reading.

As for what inspired the book, I'd heard a "Don't be like an elephant" cautionary tale about how a young elephant that's tied up will struggle and struggle to break free, but when it gives up, it gives up for good. So later, the full-grown elephant is still tethered by that same small rope or chain, even though it's big enough to break free. When I heard that I'd thought it would make a great children's story, but I was thinking I'd write a picture book about it. That idea grew into the novel it is now, so although it's a completely different book than the one I first imagined, that elephant held by a small chain is still there.

I have a feeling that CHAINED is going to be a massive success. Thank you, Lynne, for creating such a profound and moving story.

CHAINED will be on the shelves May 8th, 2012. If you visit Lynne's blog on Tuesday the 20th (I'm tying a string around my finger!) you can learn how she made the trailer. She'll also have a longer version of it there.

Thanks for stopping by to celebrate Lynne Kelly, her novel, and THE YEAR OF THE ELEPHANT. (Fade to sounds of trumpeting.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Double Helix of Plot and Character

For me, plot and character are interwoven like the DNA strands in a Double Helix. I map out character arcs and plot arcs, but end up looking at them together more than separately because the story has to work as a whole.

Here are a few things I do to develop character and plot throughout the writing process:

1. Sometimes I write my MC's life story up until the book starts. This helps me to develop his voice for the actual novel. Nothing beats voice when it comes to story-telling. Your character can be doing something as boring as changing a light-bulb if he’s got a great voice. Okay, he probably couldn't just change a light bulb for the whole story--unless he had a really cool side-kick.

2.  In the first draft I ask questions like this continually: What does my character want? What does my character need? What are his internal conflicts? The answers to these questions help shape the plot.

3.  And all throughout the revision process I keep asking myself: What is my character feeling right now? If I know his back story, I can usually get in touch with what he is going through. Often those feelings make it into the story as thoughts, actions or gestures. And these are the things that show who he is and what he is struggling with.

4. My final thought for today: Have your characters take risks. And to have them take risks, put them in risky situations.

Thanks for stopping by. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Reading to write

We all know that one of the foremost pieces of advice for writers in general is to read what you write. For us, obviously, it's middle-grade.

But we hardly have enough time to squeeze in a daily (or weekly) spurt of writing time. As well, the perennial fear of losing one's "touch" if we start a new novel in the middle of writing our own pops up. And then there's the issue of what to read, exactly. If I write contemporary, does that mean I can only learn from like contemporary novels? It's enough to turn a writer off books totally. ...Well, probably not. After all, we loved books enough to try our hand at this career.

The best way to tackle these problems, for me, is to set a reading goal.

Kind of like a word quota, this reading goal will be specific, achievable and balanced. (I'm feeling like a personal trainer of some sort now, hehe...) For a very basic guideline, all you have to do is set a specific number of books you want to have finished by the end of the year. Of course, being the type A personality that I am, I came up with two more guidelines you can apply to build your to-read list:

Age category & genre. If you'd like to focus on sci-fi middle-grade and dabble in fantasy on the side, go ahead and tweak your list. A while later you might want to get back into the groove of writing contemporary. In that case, switch a few titles up your list, easy-peasy.

Checkpoints. Saying you want to read fifty books by the end of August is perhaps just a little too broad. Checkpoints are dandy little things that can help keep you on track. (Okay, now I really feel like a personal trainer.) Try setting a goal to read a certain number a month -- and make adjustments for holidays, too. For example, spring break's just started. So, I decided to plow through at least ten books in my ginormous stack of library books this week. I might not make it, but then again, I might! (And if I don't, I'll probably be paying some fines pretty soon...)

Over the book blogosphere you'll find tonnes of reading challenges in all varieties aimed specifically at helping you, well, read books. Or you could keep it simple and just aim for a number. Whichever route you choose, you can't go wrong; after all, you're reading. What could be more right?


PS: As for me, I've read thirty-four books so far. Seeing how it's only March... I'm optimistic. ;) What's your goal this year?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Are Your (Book) Roots Showing?

This is not me.

Hi, everyone! Another new Mayhemer here. Long time middle grade book lover, though. In fact, in a way, that’s what my post is about today. I was all set to write on a different topic for my inaugural Project Mayhem entry, then I went to the bookstore last Saturday. And I came across THIS:

This is the cover on the copy I bought, but I find it puzzling--the mice look like cats, don't they? And the original art was by Garth Williams. (See above ^.) Replacing Garth Williams!?

THE RESCUERS by Margery Sharp! Have you read this book? (Not to be confused with the also fun, but so-different-you-can-hardly-recognize-it movie.) Oh, so good.

THE RESCUERS was one of those books for me when I was a kid. A book I came back to visit, time after time, in my tiny school library. So much so, that when I saw this in the bookstore last weekend, it reminded me of how much my upcoming novel, MALCOLM AT MIDNIGHT, is rooted in the humor and heart of THE RESCUERS.

Which got me thinking. And that made me change my post topic. And now--ta-dum!--you're going to be treated to an extended metaphor. (I know! I hope I don’t get kicked out of the group after my first post.)

I started wondering . . . what other books were my roots? Ones that influenced who I grew up to be? That became a part of me? That changed my world and caused me to sprout in a different direction?

What books are my own stories grounded in?

In the branch of me that wrote MALCOLM, I can see roots that go way down deep, like THE RESCUERS'. There's also a little bit of RAMONA (I named the teacher Mr. Binney). Some RATS OF NIMH--those rats were so clever! More heart from THE SUMMER OF THE MONKEYS. Goofiness from BUNNICULA. Maybe even the re-purposing of household items from THE BORROWERS. But there are newer roots for MALCOLM, too. Like THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX. The mysteries in HARRY POTTER. And Andrew Clements’ classroom banter.

I love digging around and seeing how these book roots of mine grew together into something new. But it's also a scary thought as author who has a first book coming out this year. Will my book cause ideas and feelings to germinate in someone else . . . years later? Author Sid Fleischman said, "The books we enjoy as children stay with us forever--they have a special impact." Eep. That's a big responsibility!

Now, granted, I probably have more or deeper book roots than the average person. I grew up to be both a children’s librarian and a children’s author, after all. My book roots probably look like those plants you get from the garden center that have been in their pots too long—all twisted and tangled and wrapped around and around themselves. I sometimes have a hard time talking about non-book-related things.

But I’ll bet you have book roots, too. If you’re a writer, what stories did your books grow from? And if you don’t write, well, I’ll bet if you dig down deep enough, your book roots are there, too.

I’d love to hear about them. After all, I’m still leafing out new branches.

*~W.H. Beck~*

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Hello All! Eden Bodwitch Unger here, new Project Mayhem Team Member! This is my very first post!

I have been doing classroom visits at several school here in Cairo, Egypt. While I feel flattered that all the schools in town are so excited to have me, I know that many had visiting authors cancel because of the civil unrest. With all the, well, mayhem, it’s still safer than West Baltimore at night. When we’re in the US, either in Baltimore where we still have a home, or in Boston, New York, or California where we have family, freedom is curtailed by dangerous streets. In Cairo, the idea of ‘dangerous streets’ refers to heavy signal-free traffic (there are no lights or stop signs) and giant plates of bread precariously balanced on the heads of moped riders. My kids cruise all over the neighborhood in taxis and walk home after dark. In general, Egyptians are kind and friendly. We have never felt the kind of worry that we have felt in large American cities. Things are somewhat different since the revolution, but overall, we still feel this way. There are people taking advantage of the fact there is no real government, but could you imagine what a year without police and leaders would look like in the US? Still, I understand why some people opted not to come as a visiting authors. I suppose it’s the devil you know.
My debut book!

That said, with all these school visits, I’ve gotten to sign lots of books. But mostly, I’ve gotten to talk to kids. These are kids from all over the world who are living in a different country. Or kids from that country who are going to a school full of kids from everywhere else. We call kids who live in a community of expats who don’t live in their own culture ‘Third Culture kids.’ They create a culture that is not integrated fully into the native culture, nor is it a culture on its home turf. For the most part, these kids are poised and engaged. They are all diplomats in a very real way. Some of them have never lived in their native lands, but still identify with them, if from afar.

Another thing about these kids… they read. They read like kids read everywhere, although they tend to travel more so there are more opportunities to be stuck somewhere that has no internet so they are captive readers. And what do they read? They read what everyone their age reads! Rick Riordan, Garth Nix, J K Rowling, and some of us at Project MG Mayhem, too. They are thrilled to meet authors and talk about books. And they are excited to read something new.

I thought that perhaps because they are always experiencing something new- they move around and new people are always arriving at the school- they are more open to reading new things and not just what everyone else is reading. But thinking of class visits in the US, I realize that kids are psyched to read a book they can connect with a face. So what is different about the readers in far off lands? What is different about third culture kids? As far as I can tell, the difference is that they have a harder time getting their hands on books and fewer people come to visit.

Third-Culture kids are often more aware of the world. They might live in third-world countries that affect the way they think of the planet. Third Culture kids might speak or understand more languages and have eaten more strange and wonderful things. But as readers, they are like kids anywhere. They want to be engaged. They want to have fun. They want to read adventures and mysteries and get lost in a good book. Sometimes that book will get them through a war or an evacuation or a separation from their family. However global-minded they are, however poised, wherever they find themselves ambassadors of youth culture, these kids want good books, just like the kid next door.

Thanks for reading, everyone! 


Monday, March 5, 2012

Time to Write

Let's face it, we're all jugglers.

I am the youngest of three boys. My brothers both got married and started families long before I did. As the lone bachelor for years, I couldn't understand certain things my brothers had going on in their lives. I wondered how they could go to bed and wake so early. I wondered why they hadn't seen a ball game that HAD to be watched. I wondered why they had no time to go fishing, or shoot some hoops. Whenever I'd ask, they'd laugh and say, "You'll see." Basically, they were telling me once I got married and had kids of my own the answers would all be clear. That I'd understand how strapped for time you are when you are married with children. I usually laughed them off and shook my head.

Well, my brothers were right. I hate that! Now that I am married with child(ren), I most certainly DO see.

My son is an active little boy and my daughter will be "checking in" sometime in a couple months' time. And all this means time is so, so precious nowadays.

I feel like this dude when it comes to writing.

And that leads me to the crux of this post: Time management for writers. 

I know so many authors who claim you MUST write every day, without fail. Even if it's a few words, they say, you must write. These are the “every day writers.”

I do not fall in line with this way of thinking. I’m more of a “binger” (a writer who goes on binges and writes in huge chunks). I write when the spirit takes me over and then I'm like a train barreling straight ahead with an endless supply of coal to keep it moving. I am obsessive with regards to writing, and this very trait (flaw, some might say) won't allow me to write every day. I'd be stuck in an endless, daily marathon of writing from wake to slumber each day. And being a teacher and new parent, I can't do this. So I do everything possible to carve chunks of time away from life to write when I go on my binges.

What about you? What is your routine? Are you an every day writer? Or maybe you’re a “binger” like me? Perhaps a combination? Do tell…

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Better Late Than Never?

Alas! I forgot to post the winner of Shelli's marketing giveaway on 3/1. But I'm thrilled to announce it today:

Rhondi Vilott

You've won an hour long marketing consultation with Shelli! Congratulations! I'll be contacting you shortly.

Friday, March 2, 2012

DO Judge a Book by its Cover

This is my daughter, Madison. She's ten years old. She is basically the perfect middle grade reader. She reads some stuff above her level, like The Hunger Games, but she especially loves books about kids around her age. Mayhemer stuff.

This photo is pretty recent, but she reads so many books, and reads them so fast, I can't even remember what she was reading that day. I think it may have been a Rick Riordan.

Anyway, I decided it would be fun to poll her about some of her favorite covers of the books we own, and see if she could explain why she liked them. The rules were: no books by our friends at PM. We do love us some of these books, but it didn't seem fair to just toot our own horn, so to speak. Also, they had to be books she hasn't read yet. No letting the story itself cloud her judgement. So, I asked her to line up her five favorite books, based on covers alone, of the middle grade novels we own.

Here are her picks, in order from favorite to, well, fifth favorite, and some brief thoughts from each of us:

Peter and the Shadow Thieves

Madi: Peter and the Shadow of Thieves - It looks cool, because there is a shadowy figure trying to take the two kids. It also looks cool because it looks as if the kids are flying.

Daddy: I can see why she would like this. The figure in the foreground is a bit creeptastic, but it's not so prominent as to be terrifying. I too love the flying kids, and the pixie dust or the faerie that seems to be following them. I haven't read this one, but isn't this the second book in the series?

The Time Travelers

Madi: The Time Travelers - Two kids are falling from strange branches. I also like the quote it has on the cover.

Daddy: Strange branches, eh? I suppose you could call them that. If this was my list, I would have put this cover first. I forget what this style of drawing is called, with the accentuated black outlines around things, but I love it. I assume she means the quote about Harry Potter. You can't really beat that kind of comparison.

The Familiars

Madi: The Familiars - It's a cute cover, because there are animals on it. It's also is a book you would think the animals would talk.

Daddy: I bet they do. I don't like this cover as much as the next one, but there is something to be said for that cat's stance, and his poor torn ear.

Museum of Thieves

Madi: Museum of Thieves - The boy and girl look like they will walk up into a mysterious place. I also like the name of the book, Museum of Thieves.

Daddy: This is probably my second favorite of all these covers. I mean the bird, the lighting, the air of mystery with the kids backs turned. Everything about this cover screams adventure inside to me.

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoners Dilemma

Madi: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoners Dilemma - I like how it's crowded, but subtle. I also like how it's called the "Mysterious" Benedict Society.

Daddy: I don't know why I couldn't find a better image of this one. It sure looks blurry, doesn't it? Anyway, this is like the third of fourth book in this series, and Madison has read the first two and loved them. All the covers are similar, kind of quirky, kind of fun, and always a bit busy.

So that's it. What do you guys think? How would you have ordered these? Or what are your five favorite books, based on covers alone?