What Writing Picture Books Taught Me About Novels

I am a middle-grade writer first, but not only.

I read so many picture books when my children were young that I wanted to write one. Finally an idea hit me, and the story flowed out in a sitting. But that was the beginning — that story required many, many more sittings, drafts, and subsequent stories that improved on my first effort. As simple as a picture book manuscript looks, it’s hard to write one.

Switching gears between middle grade and picture books creates challenges, but it has its lessons. Here’s what I’ve taken into my middle-grade fiction from my efforts to write for younger readers.

Read the rest of the post on Project Mayhem >>

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    Review from Foreword Magazine

    Super pleased by a new review for Deadwood from Foreword Magazine! Here’s one of my favorite parts (it’s but hard to choose!):

    “…these two strong characters — both of them sporty and clever, with diverse backgrounds — can hold their own. Short chapters amp up the pace and hold attention, bolstering the story’s wild suspense.”

    Foreword review DEADWOOD

     

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      Review in School Library Journal

      Deadwood is reviewed in the August 2014 issue of School Library Journal, and it’s a good one! I’m so happy to be included.

      “…the story is fun and engaging, and the characters have enough depth to make them interesting… budding tree huggers will love the sweet bond that forms between the kids and this unusual personification of Mother Nature.”

      Read the whole SLJ review >>

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        The Lost Squirrel: Deleting a character and adding depth

        What's more better than a talking squirrel? A squnk! I see this little critter very rarely in my neighborhood. She's an Eastern gray squirrel in the black variant, like about 25% of the squirrels in my neighborhood. What make this one stand out is her white-tipped tail.

        What’s more better than a talking squirrel? A squnk! I see this little critter very rarely in my neighborhood. She’s an Eastern gray squirrel in the black variant, like about 25% of the squirrels in my neighborhood. What make this one stand out is her white-tipped tail.

        When I first had the idea for my middle-grade fantasy/mystery Deadwood (Spencer Hill, 2014), I knew it was about a cursed tree with messages carved in its bark. But one of the challenges of this scenario is that trees are not the most active characters. Sure, they’re great at photosynthesis, removing pollutants from the air, and providing the oxygen we breathe, but they’re terrible communicators and they tend to be, well, rooted. They don’t get around much.

        So when I began writing the story, I introduced a talking squirrel character who acts as the tree’s representative – its Watcher. That makes sense, right? A squirrel is much more likely to be able to talk than a tree because they actually have mouths. They are scrappy little critters, able to leap from tree to rooftop in a single bound, probably excellent at eavesdropping, which is handy in a mystery. And who doesn’t love talking animals?

        Apparently, many people do not, beginning with my agent at the time. When I told her about the story I was working on, she was lukewarm. Lose the squirrel, she said.

        But but but. How could I lose the squirrel? Without him, the story seemed so drab, so colorless, so rodent-free.

        Read the whole post at Leandra Wallace’s blog >>

        Read a deleted scene with the squirrel >>

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          Scary Stories for Summer Nights

          ghostfaced tree-no words

          Who said trees couldn’t be scary?

          Anybody can scare a middle-grader with age-inappropriate scenarios. But what makes a book frightening within a strictly middle-grade world view?

          Once my first book came out last month, I braced myself for reader reactions. One thing that I was surprised to hear is that Deadwood can be scary for the youngest middle-grade readers.  I didn’t know I was writing a scary book — suspenseful, yes, but scary? It’s not violent or graphic by any means, and I have a low tolerance for gore even as an adult. And it’s about a tree — not high on anyone’s list of spooky things.

          Then I realized that the scariness comes from the supernatural occurrence in an otherwise realistic setting. A book is scarier if it seems as if it could really happen in the reader’s world. At 2 a.m., what seems scarier: a tale of a harmless ghost that hums sweet nursery rhymes in the hallway, or a book about a ferocious dragon that terrorizes a medieval village? (Trick question: nursery rhymes are naturally scary.)

          But as a principle of spooky tales, familiarity makes frightening, whether the suburban school settings of R.L.Stine or “it happened to someone my cousin knows” of urban legends and campfire tales.

          Read the list on Project Mayhem >>

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            Book Event: Penn Wynne Library

            I had a fantastic visit at  Penn Wynne Library August 19, 6:30 p.m. I love speaking with young readers, especially in the area which inspired Deadwood. I especially enjoyed previewing a new story I’ve written — and of course, the Corner Bakery cookies. Thanks to all the readers, Corner Bakery, and children’s librarian Alison King.

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              Return to the scene of inspiration

              Deadwood and arborglyphs I took my new copy of Deadwood out to the tree that first sparked the idea. It’s a gorgeous old American beech (Fagus grandifolia) in Wynnewood Valley Park, a small wooded park near my home in Lower Merion, PA, that I spotted when I was brainstorming for a new novel idea four years ago. The arborglyphs in the bark were both interesting and disturbing, and I started to wonder what kind of magic they could introduce. That seed of an idea grew into Deadwood.

              Now Deadwood is out as an ebook and paperback from Spencer Hill Press, and the book and the tree have finally met, leaf to leaf.

              Read the whole story behind the story >>

              Learn more about tree carvings (arborglyphs) >>

              Buy Deadwood >>

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                Deadwood Release! My Debut Redux

                Deadwood, my middle-grade mystery fantasy debut, is out from Spencer Hill Press today! What a great feeling — exhilaration, anxiety, the realization of a long-held dream.

                But wait… this feeling is so familiar. Is it deja vu?

                Not quite. It’s Debut Redux.

                My kids’ contemporary fantasy was released by a small press which went out of business, and now it’s being re-released by the innovative, risk-taking folks at Spencer Hill Middle Grade, including my wonderful editor Jennifer Carson. I hold deep gratitude for the writers, family, and friends who supported me throughout the process.The story of how I got here is a long and twisty one, but I like the ending.

                Or is this beginning?

                Either way, some things are better the second time around.

                Deadwood by Kell Andrews

                Order  on  Amazon, Barnes and Noble, BAM, Powell’s, or from your favorite independent bookstore, including Children’s Book World and Paperback Exchange.

                deadwood-cover

                Sometimes a lucky ritual becomes a curse.

                Seventh-grader Martin Cruz hates his rotten new town, Lower Brynwood, but with his mom fighting a war in Afghanistan, he has no other choice but to live with his crazy aunt. Then he gets a message from a tree telling him it’s cursed—and so is he.

                It’s not just any tree either, it’s the Spirit Tree, an ancient beech the football team carves for good luck before the season opener. But every year they lose.

                Now the Spirit Tree is dying, and the other trees in the park are toppling around it like dominoes. The town is plagued with unexplainable accidents and people begin to fade, drained of life.

                Martin must team up with a know-it-all soccer star, Hannah Vaughan, if he has any chance of breaking the curse. If they fail to save the Spirit Tree, it could mean the destruction of Lower Brynwood and a permanent case of bad luck.

                 

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                  Deadwood Blog Tour!

                  I have a whirlwind blog tour this week with giveaways to celebrate the launch of Deadwood June 24! Here’s the schedule:

                  June 23rd
                  June 24th
                  Literary Winner  | Review
                  Brooke Blogs | Review
                  Because Reading is Better Than Real Life | Top Five Things You Didn’t Know About the World in Deadwood
                  June 25th
                  Book Lovers Life | Highlight & Giveaway
                  June 26th
                  June 27th
                  The Cover Contessa  | Interview
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