Category Archives: Middle Grade

From the Slush Pile to Success: An Interview with Debut Author Marcia Wells


Happy Monday, everyone! It has been an unforgivably long time since I featured an author interview, so to make amends, I’ve got a really dynamite one for you today. I’m excited to feature debut author Marcia Wells, whom I had the honor of meeting for the first time in…you guessed it: the slush pile! Her middle grade mystery novel, EDDIE RED UNDERCOVER hooked me from page one and I read it in a single sitting. She signed with agent Kristin Nelson, who soon landed her a book deal (no surprises there!) with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It’s such a thrill to see the result—super-sleuth Eddie’s first adventure comes out in hardcover tomorrow, April 1st. It has been named to the American Booksellers Association’s New Voices list for Spring 2014, and Kirkus calls it “[an] effervescent debut…A sure pleaser for anyone fond of knotty, lightweight capers solved with brainpower (and a little luck).” Way to go, Marcia!


marcia_wells_4146_EDITAbout Marcia: Marcia Wells taught middle school students for more than a decade before becoming a full-time writer. She lives with her husband and two kids in Vermont, where she knows entirely too much about chickens, pigs, and sword fighting. Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile is her debut novel. You can read more about her work at

AM: Welcome to Word Cafe, Marcia! It’s wonderful to have you. And congratulations on being featured at Bologna Children’s Book Fair last week!

So, your first Eddie Red novel comes out tomorrow. You must be ecstatic! Could you tell us a little about the journey leading up to this big day? How and when did you get started writing, and what led you to choose middle grade? 

MW: I am so thrilled- it’s a dream come true! I started writing five years ago while teaching math and Spanish to middle and high school students. The kids were hilarious and provided a lot of silly inspiration. One day, I just opened my computer and began to write. My first manuscript was a YA story and quite terrible, but a great learning experience (I had never taken a writing class). Eddie was my second manuscript, but it still took three years of editing and doing online writing classes (and A LOT of rejections) until he was signed by Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency. I love MG and YA books, and Eddie’s middle grade story just popped out naturally.


The illustrations for Eddie Red turned out amazing! I’m so curious about this collaboration where another person brings the images from an author’s imagination to life. What’s it like, working with an illustrator? Did you choose the artist (Marcos Calo) and how much input did you have in the process?

marcia-eddie-book-coverI love the illustrations, too! The publisher chose Marcos Calo, and I wasn’t familiar with his work. I loved what I saw on his website, and was very eager to see what he’d do with Eddie. I wasn’t disappointed. He really nailed the characters the first time around. We had a few back and forths on a couple of pictures, tiny details like the length of a beard so that the picture would match the text, but all in all, a very painless and wonderful process. I can’t begin to describe how cool it was to see my characters come to life. Amazing!

There were two funny coincidences working with Marcos- the first is that he’s from Spain, one of my most favorite places in the world. I studied and worked there for over two years, and am fluent in the language. So when it came to working together, we used a mix of Spanish and English- really fun! The second coincidence is that one of the bad guys in my book is named Marco. So it got a bit confusing, talking about Marco versus Marcos. At one point, the publisher even had the name “Marco Calo” on the title page! We got it all sorted out. 🙂


In your author bio, it sounds like you do a lot of research and planning for your Eddie Red stories when you visit New York City. Could you tell us a little about how your books take shape? What does your research and planning process look like? 

I think when it comes to writing a mystery, you have to be especially careful with plot: knowing when and how you reveal clues, keeping the action going, and constantly raising the stakes. When I first thought of Eddie, I had a vague idea of the crime and museum sites where it might take place, then I interviewed relatives who live in NYC about landmarks. I studied maps, did a ton of online research, and got inside the museums that way. The research then generated a lot of funny ideas. For example, the Neue Galerie (an art museum in NYC) has a fancy staircase in its lobby- suddenly I had an idea of Eddie chasing a bad guy down those stairs. Internet research is great, but nothing is as good as visiting the actual sites. Eddie Red Two takes place in Mexico- so I took my family there over Thanksgiving. That was a lot of fun!

I mix both planning and free writing. I try to stay organized with facts and details, but it’s so important to just sit down and let the story flow. A lot of great stuff comes out when I just let myself go with it, but also a lot of not-so-great stuff that needs to be cut. It’s all part of the process.


It sounds like Mystery on Museum Mile is going to be the first in a series. Can you give us any hints about Eddie’s upcoming adventures? And do you have any other writing projects percolating?

Eddie’s next adventure takes place on a family trip to Mexico (my Spanish background was very useful with that one). As for more books, I’d like him to return to New York City in number 3, and then on to new places (maybe even work in Washington for the secret service!). One important aspect of the series is that the reader learns about a new place, its art, history, and culture (without it feeling like learning). So I always keep that in mind when planning new adventures.

As for other projects, I have an MG/YA fantasy being considered by my publisher right now. This time starring a 15-year-old girl protagonist. Fingers crossed!


I love the sound of that! My fingers are crossed, too. Thanks again, Marcia!

Should Writers Worry About Trends in the Publishing Market?


Today I’m delving into my archive of guest posts to share some advice I gave at this year’s WriteOnCon. If you’re not familiar with it, WOC is a yearly online conference for YA/MG writers and I highly recommend it. Whether you write for adults or children, you’ll find lots of relevant content from authors, agents, and editors in their 2013 archive.

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Should Writers Worry About Trends on the Market?

trendsVanillaIceTwo pieces of advice you often hear in the writing business are “Agents love a savvy writer who knows what’s hot on the market,” and “Don’t write to fit the trends.” But aren’t those contradictory?

Not necessarily. It’s all about your frame of reference. Are you sitting down to begin a novel? Or putting the finishing touches on it? Where you are in the process determines whether you need to think about trends and marketing and the like.

Publishing trends have no place in the beginning stages of your writing process. One reason is that by the time you finish your book, the trend will either have died down, or agents and publishers will already have seen a hundred similar pitches. So many hopeful writers will have jumped on the Hunger Games/Twilight/Game of Thrones bandwagon that the chances of your novel standing out are slim. Another reason not to chase trends is that your heart probably won’t be in it, and readers will smell a rat. It’s one thing to sit down and force yourself to do a writing exercise—that can be a great way to generate ideas or power through writer’s block. But pounding out a story just because you think it will sell is like turning your entire novel into a writing exercise. Sounds exhausting!

So my advice is this: write the novel that has been percolating in your head for years, or that came to you in a mind-blowing dream last night, or that was sparked by an obscure headline at the back of last week’s paper. These are the stories that come from that mysterious realm of inspiration that has nothing to do with logic or planning or marketing. And they’re also the novels that break out, because readers can feel the spark.

You’ve done that? Great. Now you can start thinking about the market. Does your novel have something in common with a brand new bestseller? Great—you just might be poised to catch that wave. The trick will be to show how your novel appeals to the same readership and yet stands apart—how is it unique?

Or let’s say your novel is not like anything you’ve seen in a book store or online. If you’ve mastered your craft and you have a big story to tell, you could be the one setting the next trend. But it’s best not to tell agents that (arrogance is not considered a virtue in query letters!). Instead, show your knowledge of the market by outlining how you will help promote your book once it is published. Nowadays, no matter how “big” a publisher feels your book is going to be, you’ll still be expected to do a fair share of self-marketing.

In the end, the thing to remember is that most agents don’t want writers who methodically churn out simply “marketable” work—that’s a recipe for average books with average sales. Every agent I know is looking for something quite different: clients who write with passion and originality, and who know the industry well enough to promote their work effectively when the time comes. If there’s a “secret” recipe for success, I’d say that’s it.

An Interview with Author Janice Hardy


Janice Hardy RGB 72

For my first author interview, I’m thrilled to feature Janice Hardy, author of the acclaimed middle grade trilogy THE HEALING WARS (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Children’s). The UK edition of THE SHIFTER was shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize, and VOYA calls DARKFALL, the final book in the trilogy, “riveting and fast-paced. . . A thrilling novel and a satisfying resolution to a gripping series.” Congratulations, Janice!

About Janice:

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, BLUE FIRE, and the final book in the trilogy, DARKFALL. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel. You can visit her online at or chat with her about writing on her blog, The Other Side of the Story.

THE HEALING WARS is a big story. At what point did you see THE SHIFTER as part of a trilogy? Did you plan it that way or did you discover while writing it that you needed more room? And while we’re at it, are you an outliner or a just-turn-my-fingers-loose type of writer?

JH: It was just one book at the start, but about halfway through I saw a much larger story brewing. Nya triggered far-reaching events, and there was a lot more going on in her world than she knew about. It could stay as one book with a relatively happy ending, or continue on with the bigger problem and ramifications of her actions. I’m thrilled I got to chance to tell the full tale.The_Shifter_72

I’m an outliner for sure. I tried pantsing a book once and it was a huge mess. But I like to let the story evolve organically, so I outline the major turning points of a plot, and let the story unfold as I write (mini-pansting maybe?). I always know where I’m going, but rarely how I’ll get there. That keeps the story fresh for me, allows me to get the “first ideas” down on paper (in summary form) so better ideas can develop in the story. Once the first draft is done, I do a much more detailed outline and start the heavy structure work.

So which book was the hardest to write?

JH: BLUE FIRE, hands down. It was a monster. It took over a year to write, I did five “start over from scratch in a new document” rewrites, and it still needed a lot of revision after that. There were many tears and a lot of swearing. I even got sick right at the end of it. I HAD to turn it in by a certain date, and then I came down with a nasty flu. The last two weeks I was writing from bed, sick as can be and loopy on flu medicine.

As bad as it was though, it did teach me that A) I love this job, and B) even when things are really, really hard, I can do it if I keep pushBlue_Fire_72ing myself. I never want to go through that again, but I appreciate the lessons it taught me.

From a few of our conversations, I know you keep a crazy busy work schedule.  What does your writing day look like?

JH: I’m an early bird, so I’m up around six am every day. I hit the laptop and write until lunchtime (around 11-11:30) then have lunch, then back to my desk for my day job. Toward the end of the day, I do my blogging/social media/marketing things. I try to take weekends off to let the brain recharge, though when I’m on deadline that isn’t always possible. I used to do all my blogging for the week on Saturdays, but my New Year’s Resolution was to take more time for myself and not work so hard.

Can you give us any hints about what’s up next for you?

JH: I finished a YA fantasy late last year that my agent is currently reviewing. Soon as I get that back I’ll dive into revisions to get it ready to submit. It’s an early draft and still needs work, but I’m very excited about it. Right now, I’m nearing the end of a fun MG adventure caper. (And it’s probably done since I wrote this answer) It’s a departure for me, because it takes place in the real world, which I’ve never really done before. I’m having a ton of fun with it though.Darkfall_72

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?

JH: I’d be a graphic designer. Which is cheating a little, because I’m a designer already. That’s my day job, or I guess I should say, afternoon job. I spend my mornings playing with words and stories, and my afternoons playing with pictures and layouts. It’s a pretty good gig, actually.

Thanks, Janice! Can’t wait till your new projects hit the shelves.