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 >>


    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 >>


      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 >>


        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.


        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.



          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

            Who Tells the Story?

            On Wednesday, I took my daughters to see Maleficent. We’re going to see Wicked on Broadway today with Girl Scouts, which makes this Misunderstood Women Week.

            Yesterday my older daughter mentioned Morgan La Fey, who she knows mostly from the Magic Tree House and Sisters Grimm series. I said the character she was really from King Arthur and that in that story, she wasn’t a good guy. Her eyes widened and she said, “Morgan La Fey is a bad guy?”

            And of course my answer was, “It depends who is telling the story.”

            Read the rest of the story on Operation Awesome >>


              That Middle Grade Voice

              The long and the short:
              Character sketch for a chapter-book-
              middle-grade story

              By the time I was middle-grade age, I wanted to be a writer, but for grownups. It was only as a grownup that I found my voice writing for middle grade. It’s not a coincidence I moved from writing for adults straight past YA to middle grade. Those were the books that made me love reading, and it turned out that I have a middle-grade voice.

              Not-blurry middle-grade voice

              So what’s middle-grade voice? It’s elusive — one of those “you know it when you see it” things. You know it whether it’s Lemony Snicket’s wry, formal omniscient or Rachel Renee Russell’s effusive, run-on first person. And while the lines might be blurry, middle-grade voice itself never is. It’s clear and succinct — no words wasted, whether lyrical or comedic, prose or verse.

              Once you have that voice, it’s a bit persistent.

              The long story of a short story

              Once I decided to write middle-grade, I wrote two novels. (The second written  turned out to be Deadwood, which releases June 24 from Spencer Hill, and the first of which has not yet decided what it will turn out to be). Then I had a great idea for younger story — a chapter book featuring second-graders. The draft was 6,000 words, and I loved it. But I was between agents, and my querying efforts yielded exactly zero agent requests — chapter books are not great agent bait. My single request, actually, was from an editor in an early reader/chapter book imprint who found the voice (third person, whimsical) to be charming but the story too thin for 6,000 words.

              Read the rest of the story on Project Mayhem >>


                On Childish Things

                This week there was another controversy where a columnist criticized adult readers of YA, believing that they should feel ashamed for reading books marketed to teens.

                So what would she think of me? I write and read middle-grade novels and picture books.

                The answer is that I don’t care. Someone more brilliant has said what I think:

                “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

                ― C.S. Lewis

                This isn’t exactly true of me. When I was ten, I read fairy tales and I wasn’t ashamed. But when I was thirty, I saw adults reading Harry Potter, and I thought they should be.

                Then I read it too.

                Read the rest of the post on Operation Awesome >>


                  BEA, by the pictures

                  On Saturday, May 31, I went to Book Expo America 2014 for the first time. The Javits Center is a huge place, and the experience is a bit overwhelming. Thus the only picture on my phone is this one:

                  Spencer Hill founder Kate Kaynak took this of me with Laura Diamond, author of The Zodiac Collector, before our joint signing.

                  But through the magic of social media, it is not the only photo of me. I show up, Where’s Waldo-like, in the background of quite a few other photos. For example, Laura was more diligent about recording the event for a post on YAtopia, and she took this:

                  You can see how much fun it was to sign books — a huge honor to meet so many blogger and readers who attended the BookCon, and wonderful to connect in person with my editor Jennifer Carson and publicist Damaris Cardinali.

                  And here’s one of my favorites, taken by Karen Chaplin @CapChapReads:

                  That’s me in the middle of the huge crowd at the #WeNeedDiverseBooks panel — such excitement in the room. I finally met some of the originators of the campaign. The event has been covered widely and well, and I managed to live tweet some of the event, covered in a separate post.

                  Thanks for the great experience to all I met.