Friday, February 28, 2014

Writer's Block Cupcakes

 So, remember back at the beginning of the month, how everyone was saying “Oh, look, it’s Groundhog's Day.  Did you know that the groundhog’s predictions are wrong more often than right?”  But THEN, this year, the groundhog said six more weeks of winter—and lo and behold, it’s been nothing but snow, and snow piles, and snow days, and rock salt shortages (at least where I live—your mileage may vary). 

And that got me thinking about writing “superstitions,” by which I mean those little rituals and habits we develop and writers, which are 100% guaranteed to work the way we need them to (again, your mileage may vary).  And I’m not talking about reasonable, sensible stuff that fits under the broad category of having a good work ethic.  I’m talking about the entirely EVEN MORE sensible practices which involve developing YOUR VERY OWN deeply rooted superstitions. 

I have heard tell of a writers’ group in Oregon that possessed a magic plastic tiara, which, if worn during the submission process, practically guaranteed a positive response.

And Barnes and Noble used to sell a magic concoction known as “Writers’ Chai” in their bookstores that, once drunk, guaranteed a productive work session. 

And then there are “Writer’s Block Cure Cupcakes,” that I just invented last week, which are to be made and eaten to cure writer’s block.  They are chocolate, which is important—and they are very easy to make, which is important if you are me.

Here is the recipe.

1. DON’T USE AN ELECTRIC MIXER.  The electricity will somehow mess up the magic part—or maybe it’s just that I’m usually too lazy to get my mixer out of its cupboard.
2. Put 1 cup sugar in a large bowl.
3. Put 1 cup flour in a large bowl.
4. Add 1 teaspoon baking powder
5. Add ½ teaspoon baking soda
6. Add ¾ teaspoon salt.  For extra good luck, put the salt in the bowl by pouring over your left shoulder.
7. Add ½ cup cocoa powder
8. Stir with spoon of your choice (although you will be happier if you don’t choose a teeny-tiny spoon).
9. Turn on the oven, set to 350.
10. Get a measuring up for liquids and put….
11.  …½ cup buttermilk in it (if you don’t have buttermilk, you can make it by taking regular milk, adding 1 ½ teaspoons of vinegar to it, and letting it sit for 5 minutes.  Or you can just use regular milk.)
12. ¼ cup oil
13. 2 tablespoons vanilla
14. 2 eggs
15. Stir all these liquids together.
16. Then add the stirred liquids to the stirred powdered and stir until everything is mixed into a big gloopy-looking mess of chocolate.
17. Then get 1 cup of piping hot/boiling coffee and pour into the big gloopy mess.  Stir and stir some more until everything is mixed together.  The batter will be thin. 
18. Even if you hate coffee (like I do), don’t skip this step.  You can’t taste the coffee in the cupcakes—it just somehow makes the chocolate taste more chocolately through some kind of magic I do not understand.
19. You can use instant coffee if you want.  The cupcakes don’t care.
20. Or if you really don’t feel like making coffee, add a ½ teaspoon espresso powder to recipe.  Put it in right after the salt, and add it by pouring it over your right shoulder.
21.  Put paper liners in a cupcake pan, or if you don’t have paper liners, grease and flour a cupcake pan.  This should make about 12 cupcakes.
22.  Pour batter into the cupcake pan. 
23. Bake for 15-17 or so minutes.  Put a toothpick in the middle of a cupcake to check for doneness.  When the toothpick comes back clean, take cupcakes out of oven.
24. Turn off oven (which I only mention because usually forget this part)
25. Eat a cupcake right then if you must. 
26. Let the cupcakes cool, put them in something airtight, and then put them in the fridge.  Writer’s Block Cure Cupcakes, like revenge and winter itself, are best served cold. 
27. If you want frosting, you are on your own.  I understand it is easy to make and that there are many fine recipes, but making it involves getting the mixer out, and that isn’t happening.
28. If you do make frosting, I recommend eating it off a spoon and leaving the cupcakes plain.  Frosting on spoons is highly acclaimed and rightfully so.  And plain cupcakes are perhaps even more delicious than frosted ones.
29. Now go write.  

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Writerly Recharge: by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

Even though it's a short one, February (or any month) can be one of those draggy ones for me, so I thought I'd share a few of the writerly pick-me-ups that I've collected along the way.  Sometimes a quick read of an inspiring post, a little time in a great book, a brief email exchange with another writer, or a little laughter can be just the thing when I'm feeling stuck, or bored with my own writing, or distracted, or...

Zadie Smith's 10 Rules of Writing.

Eudora Welty  on writing place.

 Karen Strong's lessons from a writing routine.

Anne Lamott, of course, because Bird by Bird.

And just yesterday, from the fabulous "This Itch of Writing" blog, tips for choosing between multiple writing projects.

And of course, a literary favourite, good old Twyla Tharp's Creative Habit, a put of strong black tea, and treating myself to a spiffy new notebook and Micron pen are always good for a boost!

I have a long list, but posting more might perhaps just maybe be procrastinating, and I need to pick one for the day and get to work.

What writing recharges do you use?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


I've got two books releasing this year:


and FERAL (YA, August).

...Which means I'm reinventing my author site, organizing two blog tours, sending copies for review, participating in online chats and discussions, designing giveaways...and writing my next books.  Large jobs to be sure--and a short month (February) can only add to the pressure to GET IT ALL DONE.

If you look at writerly jobs in big chunks (promote THE JUNCTION, write my next YA), you go nuts.  Which is why I love my planner.  It forces me to look at small, daily jobs (send out two JUNCTION giveaways, update tour dates, read 50 pages of first-pass pages for FERAL, type edits for first two chapters of next MG). 

I miss the deep-breath feeling of ending a semester.  It was such a great feeling driving away from a college campus after the last final had been taken knowing EVERYTHING was finished.  There is no real "finished" feeling in your professional life--just one task that winds up bleeding into the next, the next. 

But that's another reason why I love my planner--when I go to bed each night, I can see what I've accomplished each day, and can rest assured that I'm on track.  And I love knowing that the next day will be equally full...

Monday, February 24, 2014

Monthly Theme: Love to Beverly Cleary

Stephanie J. Blake

I still have several paperback books from my elementary school days. At book order time, my parents would give me $2.00, and I would spend days flipping through the flyer deciding on a book. It killed me to have to pick only one. Because of book club, I have nearly every one of Beverly Cleary's books.

This is my copy of Ellen Tebbits, an eighth printing in 1981. It cost only $1.75!

I have read this book at least 10 times. The story never gets old. The pages are yellow and the binding is breaking, but I love this book!
Here's my copy of Beezus and Ramona. It was only 60 cents.
See how naughty Ramona looks!
This copy of Henry and the Paper Route printed in 1972 is so fragile I can barely touch it for fear it will fall apart.
Whenever I would get a new book I would carefully install a bookplate.
My 3rd grade penmanship is so cute.
Buying books was so fun! (And still is!)
It's no wonder that reviewers of my book, The Marble Queen, have mentioned Ramona or Beverly Cleary.
Mrs. Cleary has probably been the biggest influence on my writing, and I love her for it.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Smack Dab in the Classroom: How Fan Fiction Can Inspire Kids to be Authors by Dia Calhoun

In middle school I was not only a voracious reader, I also a wrote fan fiction before there was a name for it. I loved the Little House on the Prairie books. But alas, there were only nine in the series. After devouring them all many times, I wanted to stay in that world. So I made up stories starring me as Laura. I didn’t just “retell” Wilder’s stories, I made up new ones.

A few year later, my imagination intrigued b Star Trek, I made up stories around that series, too. Sometimes I was the captain. Sometimes the science officer—a female Vulcan.

I firmly believe that my imaginative extrapolations of existing stories was part of what led me to becoming an author—of original stories! believe that kids today should be encouraged to do the same—write stories based on books they love.

But there is so much concern today about “plagiarism.” But consider music. Music has a long history of composers who wrote variations on the themes of other composers. This from Wikipedia:

“Many classical and later composers have written compositions in the form of variations on a theme by another composer . . . .Many of these works are called simply "Variations on a Theme of/by ...". Other works, which often involve substantial development or transformation of the base material, may have more fanciful titles such as Caprice, Fantasy, Paraphrase, Reminiscences, Rhapsody, etc.”

Fan fiction is not plagiarism. It is a point of departure for imagination and creative exercise. If this is made clear to kids, it is a wonderful way to get them started writing stories—especially kids who might not otherwise. If they can write a story based on one they’re already excited about, half the battle is won.

And who knows where that might lead? I would be honored if some kid started on the road to being an author by writing about Eckhart from my book After the River the Sun, or Eva from Eva of the Farm. Honored if my work could do for someone else what Laura Ingalls Wilder’s work did for me.

Dia Calhoun posts Smack Dab in the Classroom articles on the 23 day of every month. Learn more about Dia Calhoun on her blog.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Blessings in the Bleak Midwinter by Laurie Calkhoven

February's turning out to be a challenging month. Not writing-wise. I'm chugging along on a ghostwriting project that has been a lot  of fun.  But there have been other challenges. I won't go into detail, but let's just say that having a parent with Alzheimer's is a challenge.  I'm trying very hard to hold a strong intention that the right thing is going happen, but in the meantime there's been fear, sadness, and uncertainty to deal with.

But February has also been filled with blessings and miracles in my writing life.  The NJ SCBWI invited me to teach a day-long Meditations for Writers and Illustrators workshop along with a teacher named Mimi Cross who combines yoga and writing prompts. Teaching these kinds of workshops is one of my favorite things to do.  Here's a link in case anyone is in the tristate area and wants to join us. It's going to be a great day:

Then I got e-mails from Colorado fifth graders who are reading DANIEL AT THE SIEGE OF BOSTON, 1776, and I learned that it's been a grade-wide read aloud for a few years now. Their teacher followed up with this:  "I meant to tell you that reading this book is a highlight of the year.  Even though I've read it so many times, I love it again and again.  The questions and discussions are priceless."

A writer-friend sent me a charm to hang in my writing space that reads: "Write, Revise, Release," and "Give Your Story Wings."  It reminds me of the love and support that comes to be from other writers, and that thought alone does give me wings.

And finally, WILL AT THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG, 1863 won the Beacon of Freedom Award from the Williamsburg Regional Library in conjunction with Colonial Williamsburg. This is a child-voted award and that makes it all the more special. I can't wait to get down there (in early May) to accept the award in person!

These past few weeks have been filled with stress and sadness and fear, but also many blessings.  I guess I have to be grateful for all of it, the good and the bad, but I'm especially grateful for my wings.

Friday, February 21, 2014


One of the gifts of my neighborhood is Wild Rumpus Books, a magical bookstore with cats, and chickens and ferrets, and other gentle creatures, and a well-read staff that’s always able to put the perfect book into your hands. 
AGAINST THE ODDS, by Marjolijn Hof was that very book for me—a surprise find that was every bit as beautiful and moving as my bookstore friends promised that it would be.   A slim, middle grade novel published in the Netherlands to critical acclaim, AGAINST THE ODDS is the story of a young girl whose aid-worker father goes missing in a war zone. 
Impressed with this beautiful work, I reached out to Marjolijn Hof from across the sea.  And while I’d rather talk books and writing with Marjolijn in the Netherlands, I’m delighted for our pen-pal correspondence, and so grateful to have found her work.

First, congratulations on all your successes.  AGAINST THE ODDS, your first novel, won a number of major Dutch and Flemish children’s book prizes, and has been translated into nine languages.  Could you talk a little bit about writing your first book?  How long was it in the making? 
First of all, thank you very much for all the praise heaped upon me! And I do feel like going to that bookshop of yours right now, not because they recommended my book, but because it seems such a wonderful place to me.
I don’t look upon Against the Odds as my first book. I had already written stories for educative publishers and provided the narrative for a number of picture books. It was my first book for young adults, though, and also my first novel to appear with a regular publishing house and as such it was dubbed my ‘debut’, in spite of any qualifications I would try to make.
All in all it took me almost a year to complete.

How did you find an editor and publisher for it? 
As said before, I had previously worked for several other publishers, but I did not consider them suitable for Een kleine kans, as Against the Odds is called in Dutch. Then a co-worker put me in touch with Querido.

Were there particular narrative challenges you encountered in the process of writing the book? 
My stories tend to start with a question. What would it be like if…? As for Against the Odds: what would it be like if your dad decided to involve himself in something really dangerous. What would you do if you were frightfully worried about his safety? Empathy is one of the corner stones of my oeuvre: I try to ‘become’ my main characters and thence the story develops.  
In this case I wanted to do more than focus on the thoughts and feelings of the main character, I wanted the story to be more universal – a story that could be about any war. No specific country is mentioned for that reason, nor is Kiki’s age. Surprisingly, some reviewers did state them explicitly.
Combining the intimate and the universal was my greatest challenge. By consistently sticking to Kiki’s point of view, by closing up rather than zooming out, I could avoid referring to a particular war zone out in the big world, which is what gave the story its universal character.

Did you imagine your book would speak to so many people as you were working on it? 
No, not for a single moment. I allow that sort of question to interfere with the writing process as little as I can. Of course, as a writer of children’s literature you cannot but have a target readership in mind, but on the other hand I do not want to feel tied down by that. And I definitely do not wonder if the book will sell or not. I am highly critical of my own work and I go through phases of acute self-doubt, so I guess the opposite holds true, rather.
Most importantly, I concentrate on the work in hand rather than on what it may bring about. Once a book is finished, I will put it out of my mind quite easily. However, I found myself overwhelmed by the success of this book and the whole aftermath. Remember I was completely new to publicity and the limelight.

For some writers, early success can make later projects difficult.  Was that your experience? 
While writing it never bothered me at all. However, for quite some time Against the Odds kept being considered my best book, and that did get to me in a sense. It was as if I was over the hill. My latest book, De regels van drie (The Rules of Three) got a splendid reception and when a reviewer claimed it was as good, if not better than Against the Odds, that came as a relief.

I appeared on the scene rather late anyway, so whichever way you look at it, I remain a late-developer.

One of the things I admired so much in Against the Odds was your use of implication to develop character and conflict.  In fact, it was during a Wild Rumpus conversation about subtext in children’s’ literature that the staff put your book into my hands and insisted I should read it.  Are you aware of subtext as a literary device while you’re working?
Yes. I always try to create some breathing space in a text. I feel it is important to leave the readers some room for imagination, you should not spell everything out. It is a matter of trusting them. And another thing, I am keen on dialogues, which cannot do without a subtext or they will lack interest. I will revise and delete obsessively. Thus my prose will get sparer and sparer –  more is hinted at, less is said explicitly.

Humor also demands room and I cannot imagine ever writing a book in which it does not figure.

What are you working on now?  What are the delights and challenges in this new book?
At present I am working on an adventure story. The genre requires new skills and a different approach. The incubation took rather long, I am afraid, but now I have actually started writing. I am really up against it, but then I have never been one for easy options. Every story has its traps and pitfalls, whether it is the subject you struggle with or the structure. I am new to the adventure story, which makes the whole undertaking all the more rewarding and exciting.

With every new book I ask myself whether I can make it work and I am not at all sure. And that is exactly as it should be.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

“Middleview” Interview with Debut Author Gayle Rosengren

Posted by Tamera Wissinger

Today, Gayle Rosengren is joining Smack Dab In The Middle Blog for a guest “middleview” interview. Gayle’s debut middle grade novel WHAT THE MOON SAID, Putnam Young Readers Group, releases today, 02/20/2014! Congratulations, Gayle!

Here is a bit about Gayle:

Author Photo: Robert Beaverson
Gayle grew up in Chicago.  Like Esther, she enjoyed school, was an avid reader, and loved dogs and horses.  She attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where she majored in Creative Writing and was the editor of the literary magazine. Gayle never outgrew her passion for children's books, and she worked as a children's and young adult librarian at a public library for several years in the late 1980's and early 1990's, enthusiastically sharing her love of books with young people.

Also like Esther, Gayle eventually moved to Wisconsin, but by then she was a mother with three children.  She worked in the reference library, and later as a copy-editor, at American Girl.  During this time period she published short stories for children in Cricket, Ladybug, Jack and Jill and Children's Digest magazines.

Now Gayle writes full-time in her home just outside of Madison, Wisconsin, where she lives with her husband, Don, and slightly neurotic rescue dog, Fiona.  Gayle is living her dream, she says, writing books she hopes will make the same difference in children's lives as her favorite books and authors made in hers.  What the Moon Said is her first novel.

Here’s a description of WHAT THE MOON SAID:

What the Moon Said is the story of 10 year-old Esther and her family and how their love makes good times better and bad times bearable during the Great Depression.

Their move from the big city of Chicago to a small ramshackle farm in Wisconsin is full of changes for Esther.  Some of them are good, like being able to have a dog at last.  But some of them are bad, like having to use an outhouse because there is no indoor plumbing!

Join Esther on her "great adventure" and find out if she ever earns the hug she yearns for from her mother.   Find out what Esther discovers about luck—good and bad—and about the superstitions so important to her mother.  Find out what the moon said.

Here are the links to Gayle online: Website, Twitter, Goodreads

Now it’s time to hear from our guest:

Smack Dab Middleview with WHAT THE MOON SAID author Gayle Rosengren

1. In a nutshell, what does your main character, Esther, want?

Ever since Esther saw her friend Shirley's mother hug and kiss her and tell Shirley that she loved her, Esther has yearned for the same proof of love from her mother.  But Ma doesn't give hugs, let alone kisses and "I love you's".  Being a determined girl, however (we won't call her stubborn), Esther vows to find a way to make Ma love her and give her the gestures of affection that she craves.  

2. What is in Esther's way?

Ma is not just undemonstrative, she's full of superstitious beliefs that she brought with her from Russia as a young woman.  The harder Esther tries to impress Ma, the more she seems to anger her instead--by bringing an open umbrella into the house, putting new shoes on the table, killing a spider before breakfast, or committing any number of other wrong-doings that, according to Ma, call bad luck into their home. 

3. Did you know right away that this was your story, or did you discover it as you wrote? How did the story evolve? 

I knew I wanted to write a story that explored a "different" kind of mother-daughter relationship and how it compared to a demonstrably loving one, because I'd always been fascinated by the difference between my mother's way of mothering and my grandmother's far more restrained style.  I imagined that my mother had always wanted more affection than she received and that was why she was so extra-loving with my siblings and me.  I felt as if we got all the hugs and kisses and declarations of love that she wished she could have had.  And so the idea for this book was born.

Of course, like most stories, it changed quite a bit as I wrote it.  I realized I needed something specific in Ma's past to explain her rigid behavior, and then I needed a realistic way for Esther to find out about it.  But even when this part of the work was done, what I had was a sweet but "quiet" story that had great characters and setting but not enough tension.  What to do…what to do..?  The obvious, of course; I put it in a drawer for several years and worked on other manuscripts.  But I took Esther's story out and dusted it off a few years ago when I participated in a novel retreat with an editor from Putnam.  She loved the characters and the setting, but (ahem) thought it was a bit  too quiet. (Arghh!)  However, she had a suggestion for heightening the tension and action by adding more superstitions and increasing their significance to the story.  It was the perfect advice.  The story took off.  The editor took the novel. And I finally took the long-awaited leap from being a writer to being an author.

4. Was WHAT THE MOON SAID always for middle grade readers or not? If so, why did you choose middle grade? If not, what had to change for it to be considered a middle grade novel? 

In my mind it was always a middle grade story.  I wanted Esther to have one foot still in childhood and the other foot stepping out of it.  A doll, Margaret, was the tangible sign of this transition.  Esther is unable to set Margaret aside despite Ma's insistence that she's too old for dolls, and this sore point between them ultimately leads to an intense climactic scene. But realistically speaking, I think it's during this 8-12 year old period that kids start looking more closely at other families and comparing them to their own, so that Esther's suddenly noticing Ma's refusal to show (or speak of) her love is believable.

5. What is the best part of writing for middle grade readers? 

The best part is knowing that as a middle grade book it has such potential for making a life-long impression on its readers.  Middle grade is the sweet spot in children's literature.   These readers are youngsters who've  only recently discovered the amazing places that a book can take them. The books I read when I was that age are still as vivid in my mind today as they were when I first read them. I had no way of knowing it at the time, but the characters I met between those book covers (who were like real friends then) were destined to be "forever friends" and are still every bit as dear to me now.  I'd love to think that Esther's story might resonate that way for young readers of today.

Thank you for joining us on Smack Dab in the Middle Blog, Gayle. Again, congratulations on the release of WHAT THE MOON SAID!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Page a Day (February theme) by Claudia Mills

When I go to schools on author visits, I tell the students that I have written all of my books, fifty of them published so far, with my trademark hour a day/page a day system that has served me well for thirty years. I tell them that one paltry, pitiful, pathetic page looks like so little, but at the rate of a page a day, adds up to so much.

"If you write a page a day," I ask the students, "how many pages will you have at the end of a year?"

I now know that the first graders will raise their hands with answers like, "Twenty!" But most of the second graders and all of the third graders know: 365!

"And if it's leap year," I remind them, "you'll have 366! I love leap year, because I get one more day to write!"

This year is not leap year. This year February has in it only 28 days, not 29.

But 28 pages is still a LOT.

In my day job as a university professor, I've recommended the page-a-day system to doctoral students paralyzed  by the dread and horror of writing their dissertation. "Just write a page a day," I advise.

"Are you kidding?" they wail in despair. "I'll never get it done that way!"

"Ahh," I say. "And if you had started writing a page a day six months ago, where would you be now?"

And then they get it.

I've had  months where I hardly spend anything on my credit card - no plane tickets, no hotel bills, no major purchases of any kind - and yet when I get the monthly statement, the balance astonishes me. How could I owe over a thousand dollars just from Chipotle here and one-click there? Enough little bits add up to a whopping big total. (The same financial principle works for saving as well as for spending, but I've had fewer opportunities to test that first hand.)

February is the shortest month. It's often the coldest month. In one of my favorite books ever written, Heaven to Betsy by Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy's father comments re February, "When the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen."

But cold weather is cozy weather for writing. And a page a day written over the brief span of those 28 days (preferably while  curled up under a quilt and drinking hot chocolate) adds up to a bountiful harvest of pages come spring.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Valen-time (February Themes, Sarah Dooley)

There are two themes here at Smack Dab this month:  a Valentine to the person who got us writing, or tips on making the most of a short month.  But, being the indecisive writer I am, I've found myself combining the two. So, here it is:  a Valentine to the shortest writing month.

month of the heart,

with dawn and dusk
just hours apart

and heavy clouds
that dump new snow

on top of old
as cold winds blow

leaves little time 
for writer types

to put aside
their winter gripes

and shoveling duties
long enough

to find new words
and write new stuff.

It frustrates us
when days are brief

with chocolate hearts
our sole relief

and daylight fades
before we're through

with all the things
we have to do.

Still, when all 
is said and done,

would our stories
turn out as fun

if they didn't echo  
our winter rage,

hearts and snow drifts
on the page? 

Our characters
know how to love

and throw snowballs
and push and shove

through blinding wind
and bitter cold

To let their winter
tales unfold.

And, let's be honest,
If we were given

The extra time
for which we've striven,

We writer types
would spend all day

On Facebook -- 
Then rush anyway.

Happy February, guys! Spring's got to be almost here, right? 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day, Mom

By Ann Haywood Leal

I used to do it all of the time.  I'd have a fleeting moment where I would forget she was gone and I'd think I could just pick up the phone and call her.  But sixteen years have gone by, and it hasn't happened in a long while--until oddly enough, on Valentine's Day-- just two days ago.

I was walking to my car, thinking about my work-in-progress, and I thought to myself, I've got to tell Mom about this idea.  She'll like it.  

Maybe it's because she was always there when I was starting a writing project.  I associate those exciting, possibility-laden moments with her.

At the very beginning of my writing life, I got in huge trouble for writing "words" all over my little pink cardboard stove and refrigerator.  Most parents would immediately take away the crayons of a three-and-a-half-year-old who did that.  Not my mom.  She made sure I had enough paper and writing utensils to make my own books for my words.  My brothers and I were always allowed to use the sharp scissors.

Mom took us to the library every week.  She never rushed me, and we knew never to rush her.  Because books and everything that went with them took top priority.

She was working as a reading specialist and ARE YOU THERE, GOD?  IT'S ME, MARGARET.  was the hottest book around.  I could not get that book at the library.  The reserve list was a mile long.  Mom brought it home for me.  She had swiped it out of a kid's desk over the weekend.  "It'll take her a while to read it," Mom said.  "But I'm sure you can finish it over the weekend."  I read it twice that weekend and Mom popped it safely back in the girl's desk before she got there on Monday morning.

When my first book came out, I felt a tiny layer of sadness that Mom wouldn't ever get to see it.  She would have been thrilled beyond belief.  I mentioned this to my dear friend, Pat, who smiled and said, "Oh, she knows.  She definitely knows."

Happy Valentine's Day, Mom.

“Middleview” Interview with Debut Author Carmella Van Vleet

Posted by Tamera Wissinger

Today, Carmella Van Vleet is joining Smack Dab In The Middle Blog for a guest “middleview” interview. Carmella’s debut middle grade novel ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER, Holiday House, released on 02/14/2014! Congratulations, Carmella!

Here is a bit about Carmella:

Carmella Van Vleet is a former elementary school teacher and the author of numerous books for children and adults. Her work has appeared in Highlights for Children and Parenting. This is her first middle-grade novel. She lives in Ohio. 

Here’s a description of ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER:

A preteen girl struggling with ADHD must stick with a summer taekwondo class to prove that she’s dedicated enough to pursue her true passion: cake decorating.

Here are the links to Carmella online: Website, MiG Writers Blog, Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook

Now it’s time to hear from our guest:

Smack Dab Middleview with ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER author Carmella Van Vleet
1. In a nutshell, what does your main character, Eliza, want?

Eliza desperately wants to take a cake decorating class with her best friend, but her parents tell her “No.” When she overhears them saying it because they think she’ll just give up, she decides to prove she’s no quitter by taking over her brother’s spot in a taekwondo class.  

 2. What is in her way?

Eliza’s biggest obstacle is herself! Because she has ADHD, it’s hard for her to concentrate in class and keep track of her handbook, which she needs to test for her yellow belt. A “mean” girl from school also shows up in class and complicates things.

3. Did you know right away that this was your story, or did you discover it as you wrote? How did the story evolve?

Eliza’s personality came to me pretty easily and quickly. She’s very much a combination of me and my daughter, who has ADHD and was bullied like Eliza. What she wanted evolved, though. In the beginning, she just wanted to find a way to take the cake decorating class. But when I began revising with my agent’s feedback, it became clear that what she really wanted was to prove she could stick with something. I think Eliza was surprised as anyone that she actually liked taekwondo!

4. Was ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER always for middle grade readers or not? If so, why did you choose middle grade? If not, what had to change for it to be considered a middle grade novel?

ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER was always intended for middle grade readers. She just seemed like a natural fit for that audience. There’s a lot of anxiety about starting middle school. (At least there was for me!) And it’s a time when friendships are changing and kids are feeling the pressure to fit in. Eliza feels like an outsider; kids call her spaz and other names because of her ADHD. But I wanted to show kids that there’s a lot of really cool things about thinking outside of the box. I don’t think Eliza succeeds in spite of her ADHD, I think she succeeds *because* of it.

5. What is the best part of writing for middle grade readers?

Where do I begin?! Middle grade readers are awesome because they’re funny, smart and a lot wiser than many people give them credit for. And they’ll give an author a fair shot before they put a book down. 
I also enjoy writing for that age group because you can keep the story simple. By that I don’t mean that stories for them shouldn’t be challenging - because they’re up for challenging - I just mean that you don’t have to worry about things like romantic relationships or complicated plot lines. There’s something pure and universal about middle grade books.

6. Is there any downside?

Sometimes it’s hard to remember what it’s really like to be that age. It can be a real balancing act to write as your inner kid and still be an adult with some perspective. 

7. Your chapters in ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER are, at most, just a few pages long. And one of them is a single word! Why is that?

Eliza was a very talkative MC, but she also came to me at random times and in short scenes. So that’s the way I ended up writing her story. I discovered that I love using short chapters as a writer.   

8. How do you know so much about taekwondo? 

I’ve been training in taekwondo for about eight years, so I totally relate to Eliza’s struggle to step outside of her comfort zone. 

Thank you for joining us at Smack Dab in the Middle Blog, Carmella. Again, congratulations on the release of ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER!