Saturday, June 29, 2013

Fish Finelli Blog Tour + Author Interview with E.S. Farber

Fish Finelli: Seagulls Don't Eat Pickles by E.S. Farber
published April 2013

The Hook: When bully Bryce Billings bets Fish Finelli that he can’t find Captain Kidd’s legendary long-lost treasure, Fish and his friends embark on a quest to find real-life pirate treasure. Between sneaking into the library to track down Captain Kidd’s map, stowing away on a boat, and trespassing on an island, Fish and his friends have their work cut out for them. But will Fish actually be able to find Captain Kidd’s booty and win the bet? Appropriate for both boys and girls, this first book in the Fish Finelli series will inspire readers to use their imaginations, learn about the world around them, and appreciate the bonds of friendship.

Why I Loved It: Voice and perfect for younger middle grade boys and reluctant readers. Seriously, they will love it.

Want More? Read the first chapter here. Check out Fish's Facebook page.

Interview with E. S. Farber
(pictured with her son Niko)

Fish is a great character, what was your inspiration for writing him and this adventure? Also, which came to you first: the character or the plot?

My son, Niko, was my inspiration for Fish Finelli as a character and as a book series. (Fish Finelli is actually a nickname I gave him when he was small). His insatiable curiosity and interest in facts about everything from hieroglyphs to hot air balloons inspired me to create a boy character who, besides questions, has lots of answers and who, like Niko, loved learning so much, he wanted to share what he knew with everyone else. I also wanted to create a hero for boys who was smart and independent, spirited and compassionate, but also funny, with old-fashioned values and the grit to do what he set out to do. I wanted Fish to narrate in first person, sharing his “knowledge,” but not too much of it before he was interrupted by his two best friends. This was why I liked the idea of nonfiction sidebars as a way to include more information.

The character came first along with a few plot points—including the lobster piggy bank, the dare/bet, Roger and T.J, Uncle Norman and his boat, and the coveted Seagull motor. As soon as I decided to write in first person versus third, I heard Fish talking to me:

It all started the morning I broke into my lobster piggy bank. Its kind of funny I had money on my mind, since pretty soon all I was going to be thinking about was treasure. But a dares a dare, and there was no way I could take back what I said, kind of like Sir Isaac Newtons Third Law of Motion about how every action (the dare) has an equal and opposite reaction (taking the dare). It explains why the planets stay in their orbits and why if Bryce Billings calls you a baby for playing pirates then you tell him its not a game, its for real.

Which character did you enjoy writing the most and why?

I enjoyed writing all three main characters--Fish, Roger, and T.J.--because of the way they play off one another, making puns, poking fun, joking around. I know the story is moving in the right direction when I hear them talking to one another—then it’s almost like taking dictation, writing down what they come up with.

What's your favorite scene in the story?

My favorite scene in the story is the entire stakeout at the duck pond, particularly Fish’s swim through the mucky yucky water, Roger’s run-in with the mutant, and T.J.’s notes on the clipboard about Munch Eggs, the island where the treasure is supposedly buried.

You have a lot of facts for your story, how did you research for the story or was this part of your childhood?

I did lots of research for the story—I love researching—and because I spend so much time in the library I had a lot of amazing help from some amazing librarians and archivists. One book I found in the Long Island Collection of the East Hampton Library was all about a supposed secret pirate museum where the author had seen Captain Kidd’s “actual” treasure map, which he included in the book, and I used as the basis for the look of the treasure map in the story.

That's soo cool. My 9-yr-old will love that!

Can we expect more books about Fish and his gang?

Operation Fireball is the second Fish Finelli adventure, which is coming out in Spring 2014.

Why do you write for middle graders?
You know how J.M. Barrie writes in Peter Pan about Wendy when she is two and realizes that she must grow up that “Two is the beginning of the end?” Well, I guess in my experience it seems as if twelve is that end. The middle-grade age group is my favorite, because it’s before that growing-up time and all of the pressures of adolescence. It’s a time when kids are more likely to still believe in “magic.” I identify very strongly with that age group, and have many memories of that time period in my life—I actually often feel as if I am still twelve-years-old.

As a writer, do you plot out your whole story before you start or do you write by the seat of your pants?

Usually once I get the characters figured out and a sense of the story—then I start writing and see where the story wants to go by listening to the characters and feeling out what they want to do. I do an outline, but a loose one, which I tighten up as I go along. I always start by writing scenes for each chapter in a notebook, because I find my ideas (or the characters’ ideas) seem to flow more easily on paper—then once I feel sure of the direction of the chapter, I start typing.

You have an amazing middle grade voice. What advice can you give to aspiring writers about how to find a middle grade voice?

Thank you! As I said, I have a strong affinity for the middle-grade age group. My best advice to aspiring middle-grade writers is to channel their own inner middle-grade selves, including all the fears, worries, joys, triumphs, questions, insecurities, obsessions they remember. It’s also helpful to hang out with a bunch of middle-graders and listen to them talk, ask them questions, find out what they think, how they feel. I have to confess that sometimes after school when my son got off the bus and was telling me about his day, I would actually grab a notebook and take notes on what one kid said about something or someone, or a joke or riddle another one told, or a game they played at recess or a fight that happened at lunch.

Do you have a favorite place to write or snack to eat when you write? 
I wrote much of Seagulls Don’t Eat Pickles sitting in one carrel at the East Hampton Library on one particular maroon office type rolling chair.

I also like to write sitting in a comfy yellow chair I have at home. I like to eat apples and yogurt-covered raisins and drink Kombucha, which I feel is a synapse-firing type of beverage, perfect for the writing process.

Oooh, I love bookcases filled with books---mostly because of the smell. Your hideout looks divine! Thank you again for the interview and good luck to Fish and his gang!

Next stop on the Blog Tour: Ms. Yingling Reads on 7/2/13 for another interview + GIVEAWAY!!

Friday, June 28, 2013

The List: I binged again.

My daughter Lauren officially turned 11. Middle school this year, ack! We of course went book shopping to celebrate. They will all have my sickness by the time they leave for college. It wasn't really a binge because all my girls got a book, I got a few for me, and Lore picked two, right? She's been jones-ing for Inkspell and Inkdeath and the rest of the Ranger's Apprentice (I only have through 7) but when we got to the store, there were too many other choices.

Our book binge on Middle Grade:
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau (Lauren's Pick)
The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer (Lauren's Pick)
The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke (me)
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Warner (for Ava)
The School for Good and Evil by Domain Chainani (Everyone wanted this book)
Pandora Gets Frightened  by Carolyn Hennesy (Ava's Pick)
Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland (Bryn's Pick)
Brave (Morgan's Pick Picture book)

My YA musts:
The Elite by Kiera Cass
The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen

Of all the books, The School for Good and Evil everyone was fighting over who would read it first. And who can blame them, the cover is gorgeous. It makes me drool. Seriously, I'm swallowing spit. Shows the importance of a great cover. It just came out in May. I was drawn to it but read the flap before tucking it under my arm. Bryn and Ava both grabbed it purely on cover and we all laughed that we had picked up 3 copies.

What are your drooling for right now?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

She's Crafty: Adding Spit Shine

So my query is out there and while I wait, it is time to spit shine. I've been mad revising my current MG adventure for the past two months. So much so, I could no longer process. I rewrote one sentence 3 times before I just gave up and went to bed. I've let the manuscript go cold for two weeks so that I might spit shine this story one last there ever a last time, really? No. It won't be done until it has a cover wrapped around it and you can find it in a bookstore. But for now, I'm giving it one last shine until I hear from the agents.

So what is a revision spit shine? This is when you tighten prose and rework tells. My other writerly friend, Rondi, is querying and revising as well and she had some great advice on how to spit-shine: Every scene needs to be riveting, moving the story forward, every word a gem. And Janice Hardy really explains this best. I seriously have her blog open and go through searching for each word in my WIP. Tedious? Yes, but worth it. I find I'm catching a lot. I have pet words too that I need to delete or change. All my characters still love to slide. They slide through doors, across the floor, out of their get the point.

Do you have a pet word?

What do you do to spit shine a manuscript?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: What My Kids Are Reading

First things first, I need to announce the winner of the Chase Tinker and the House of Magic ebooks:


Congrats, the stories are fast and fun.

Now for today's pick or rather my kid's picks. I challenged my kids to read a book a week this summer and then I wanted them to post a review for MMGM. Bryn just finished the second book in The Accidental Adventure, she blew through it in 3 days which is kind of a big deal. But she needed to get to bed tonight because we have swim team in the morning. So look for her review next week. This week I thought I would spotlight what they are actually reading because I have a huge stack of middle grade books in my book room. It is always interesting to me what they pick and why. So I thought I would post those for today.

Lauren's (11 yr old) pick this week:
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Goodreads Blurb: Twelve-year-old Meggie learns that her father, who repairs and binds books for a living, can "read" fictional characters to life when one of those characters abducts them and tries to force him into service.

Why she picked it: Because she has literally read all my middle grade and this was the last book on the shelf. This is impressive because I have bookcases of MG and she even blew through my TBR pile. So why did she save this book for last? Because the print is small and the book is thick, it's a bit intimidating for a first book in a series. Also, she saw the movie many years ago and it sorta scared her, so she has been nervous to read it. She's 2/3 through and loving it. I have promised to go get the other two books in the series once she finishes.

Bryn's (9 yr old) pick this week:
The Invisible Tower by Nils Johnson-Shelton

Goodreads Blurb: Part of the spell has already been broken.
The first stones have begun to crumble.
In Artie Kingfisher’s world, wizards named Merlin, fire-breathing dragons, and swords called Excalibur exist only in legends and lore—until the day his video game Otherworld springs to life.
You are special, Arthur, Says the mysterious message in his game.

Why she picked it: The cover art. Mostly the dragon and the boy holding a sword which reminds her of Minecraft. Did I mention she's my tomboy? I love it. She just started it but I had to threaten lights out tonight---that's always a good sign of a good book.

Ava's (7 yr old) pick:
Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary

Goodreads BlurbNine-year-old Beezus Quimby has her hands full with her little sister, Ramona. Sure, other people have little sisters that bother them sometimes, but is there anyone in the world like Ramona? Whether she's taking one bite out of every apple in a box or secretly inviting 15 other 4-year-olds to the house for a party, Ramona is always making trouble--and getting all the attention. Every big sister can relate to the trials and tribulations Beezus must endure. Old enough to be expected to take responsibility for her little sister, yet young enough to be mortified by every embarrassing plight the precocious preschooler gets them into, Beezus is constantly struggling with her mixed-up feelings about the exasperating Ramona.

Why she picked it: She loved the movie and wanted to read the book. It's a bit hard for her, but we plow through a chapter every night. This was my favorite series as a kid. Love these books.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The List: Breaking Down the Best 100 Books Of All Time for Reluctant Readers

So there have been a ton of "Best Books Lists" floating around Pinterest. When I opened most of these lists, I realized, I've read the majority of the books and while some of them really are great, certain kids will not want to read them. So I thought I would harness my knowledge of middle grade books and break these lists into what I call the Best Books for Reluctant Readers. I plan to deconstruct or compile a new list every Friday, so check back if you need more recommendations.

First, what is a reluctant reader you (didn't) ask? This is your kid age 8 - 12 that hates to read, sees it as work or a chore, or can't be bothered with boring stories. One of my daughters, age 9, I still consider reluctant because she will put the book down if it doesn't keep her attention. She has started The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe like 3 times and still can't make it to when all the kids are in Narnia. She's seen the movie, she knows it gets good, but the beginning set up in England is way too boring for her. So yeah, CS Lewis isn't going to make this list. Gasp! I'm not saying it isn't a great book, it just isn't for your reluctant reader. You savvy?

So my first list to break down comes from The Children's Book Guide: 100 Best Children's Chapter Books of All-Time.

All-Time Best Books Your Kid Will Actually Finish:
Reluctant Readers (Girls & Boys 7-9)

  1. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  2. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
  3. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
  4. Redwall by Brian Jacques
  5. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O'Brien
  6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  7. Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
  8. The BFG by Roald Dahl
  9. Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
  10. A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snickett

Reluctant Readers (Girls 7-9)

  1. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitz...
  2. Judy Moody series by Megan McDonald..
  3. Matilda by Roald Dahl
  4. The Witches by Roald Dahl

Reluctant Readers (Boys & Girls 8-12)

  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
  2. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
  3. The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
  4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (and series) by J. K. Rowling
  5. Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
  6. The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson series) by Rick Riordan
  7. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (should read Percy Jackson series before starting this series)
  8. The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
  9. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
  10. The 39 Clues series: The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan
  11. The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
  12. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  13. Holes by Louis Sachar
  14. The Hobbit by J.R. Tolkein

Reluctant Readers (Girls 8-12)

  1. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  2. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
  3. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Yup, that's it. I know. There are other books I would put on my RR list but I was just deconstructing The Best 100. Sometimes it only takes a few of these RR books to hook your child on reading. When they are ready, have them dive into the list below. I put them in order of how I would introduce them to my kids.

When They are Ready for Something More

  1. Stuart Little by EB White
  2. The Borrowers by Mary Norton
  3. Frindle by Andrew Clements
  4. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  5. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
  6. The Boxcar Children by ...
  7. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
  8. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis 
  9. Peter Pan by JM bu...
  10. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
  11. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
  12. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Stewart
  13. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
  14. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  15. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
  16. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  17. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
  18. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
  19. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Curtis
  20. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  21. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  22. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
  23. Stone Fox by John Gardiner
  24. Shiloh by Phyllis Naylor
  25. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (may be a bit too girl book)
  26. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  27. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by brian Selznick
  28. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
  29. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

She's Crafty: Titles are Very Important

Oh yeah, I posted twice in a week people. It's on. I've officially climbed out of my writing cave. In May, I had the opportunity to go to The Big Sur in the Rockies Workshop put on by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency in Boulder, Co. Amazing. I'll be gushing over this workshop in several posts to come. Seriously, if you have the opportunity to go to a Big Sur, it's worth every penny if you are a children's or YA writer.

During the workshop, I got to be in a critique group with "the" Andrea Brown. I've met a couple agents from her agency, all extremely nice, which I can't say for other agents I've met at conferences, but I was ridiculously nervous to be in her group---she's a publishing legend to me...a rockstar of children's agents. So when she sat down with our group, I was even more blown away by how approachable, kind, and knowledgeable she was. She knows the biz and she's a champion for aspiring writers (unlike others, the-agent-who-must-not-be-named at Pike's Peak Conference this year, ahem). Can you hear the gushing, I know, I don't care. I admire this woman.

Each of the writers in our group got to read the first chapter of their manuscript and then got a critique from everyone. So when it came to my turn, I had crazy nerves, but I made it through. Thankfully, Andrea liked my story but she HATED my title. You know, I don't think hated bold cap really conveys how much she hated my title but let's not waste more words. It was a stinker and we spent a chunk of time brainstorming a new title for my contemporary MG adventure. So I thought it would be a good post for today.

  • Attract an agent to open your query. If it's bad, they will auto-reject. No joke.
  • Attract a middle grader to buy it/ check it out. Duh, it's all about sale... and bringing smiles to the children's faces.


  1. Appeal to the audience. Are you upper middle grade, lower middle grade, children's or YA? You need to make sure your title will appeal to that age group. In my case, 8 - 11 yr old boys (and girls). My original title wasn't necessarily a bad title but what Andrea pointed out: an 8 yr old boy is not going to look at it with that title. It sounded too boring. 
  2. Keep it short. Some books break this rule. So if you do, you better be extremely clever and it needs to roll off the tongue with intrigue. Although be careful because even the most clever titles, if too wordy, get lost. For example, I love the book The Girl Who Circumnavigated ... ah, see I can't remember the rest of the title because I always shorten it to that phrase. Mostly because it becomes too long for my friends to remember when they go to the store to buy it for their kids.
  3. Hint at the plot, genre, or character. What's the strongest element of your story? Do you have great characters or an exciting plot? Highlight what would appeal most to your target audience. 
  4. Be clever, funny, or memorable. Hopefully all three.
What tips do you have for writing a great title?

Now that you understand how to write a great title, let's flip this upside down. At the Big Sur Workshop, I also got to be in a group with Sarah Shumway, a children's editor at Harper Collins. (Squeal, I know, she was also super nice and helpful.) She told us that only 1 of 4 titles are the original title of the book. The publishing house likes to pick it. AND if you're with a big house, they'll take your ARC to Barnes & Noble or Amazon, and if they don't like it (or your cover), the publisher will change it again. Bit of a debbie-downer but it's how the industry works. 

What middle grade titles do you love? Have you ever bought a book just on the title?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Chase Tinker and the House of Magic + Interview & Giveaway

I'm so excited to be back in the MMGM and even more excited about the interview I got to do with the author Malia Ann Haberman. And she offered to give away the first 2 ebooks in the series. Woohoo! Her first book in the series is my pick today.

Chase Tinker and the House of Magic by Malia Ann Haberman
published in Aug 2012

Other Books in the Series:
2. Chase Tinker and the House of Secrets (2013)
3. Chase Tinker and the House of Destiny (2014)
4. Chase Tinker and the House of Mist

The Hook: After his dad goes missing, 13-yr-old Chase Tinker learns he has magical powers and a magical family. They must protect their house Relic from evil forces or their magic will be lost forever.

Why I liked it: Imagination and an easy page turner. The book is an easy recommend for anyone wanting more magic after reading Harry Potter. Chase and his brother go to live with their grandfather for the summer to learn about their magical abilities, but what they learn quickly is that the house itself is very magical and protects their family's house relic, the source of their magical power.

The house is a very fun and imaginative part of the story. Every room has its own abilities that the children can use like squirting root beer out your nose, teleporting to the beach, or being tormented by premonitions while they sleep.

This is a great adventure and great for reluctant readers. Definitely a boy book but girls will like it too.

My Interview with Malia Ann Haverman & Ebook Giveaway

The plot is very exciting, an easy and intriguing page turner. And I love Chase and Andy. I always like finding out which came to you first: the characters or the plot?
The magic house came to me first. I had a dream one night I was living in a gigantic house and every room was filled with magic. When I told my daughter about it, she thought it sounded like a great premise for a kids' lit book. So together we started throwing out ideas about characters, where the Tinkers' magic would come from, the bad guys, a missing parent and other stuff. We also had a great time thinking up all the different powers for the magical rooms.

My daughter is the one who picked the names Chase and Andy. When she first told me I said, "But I want to use the last name Tinker and when you say Chase Tinker fast, it comes out sounding like Chase Stinker." And she said, "So? Just figure out how to use that in the book." And so I did. Ha!

Which character did you enjoy writing the most and why?
Maxwell the ferret was a great character to write, but I think, of the humans, Chase Tinker would be my favorite. As the main character, I love making things happen to him. Good, bad, embarrassing, goofy, crazy; I just had a lot of fun with it.

What's your favorite scene in the story?                            
I have a few favorites, but one I really enjoyed writing is in the first chapter when Chase is in his room having problems with his power and then trying to figure out how to control it. I had fun thinking up crazy things that would happen if a person really was learning to control the telekinesis ability. I wanted it to be entertaining, yet have a serious tone as well, because he was also upset about his missing dad.  

This book is the first in a series, how many books will there be and when can we expect their publication?
There are four books in my Chase Tinker series. Book one "Chase Tinker and the House of Magic" is now out in ebook, audiobook, hardcover and trade paperback.

The 2nd book "Chase Tinker and the House of Secrets" was just released as an ebook. The other formats will be out in the fall.

Book 3 is called "Chase Tinker and the House of Destiny" and that will be out the beginning of 2014. It's actually already written.

The 4th and last book is called "Chase Tinker and the House of Mist." I'm currently in the middle of writing that one.

Why do you write for middle graders?
I've actually been interested in writing for middle graders and tweens for quite a while now. So when I came up with the idea for my Chase Tinker series, I was really excited. I think kids are wonderful to write books for because they're open and engaging, and they happen to love fun, adventure and silliness as much as I do. :) They also have such amazing energy and enthusiasm and, of course, imaginations. I have such a good time coming up with ideas for my books that I hope they'll really get a kick out of.

As a writer, do you plot out your whole story before you start or do you write by the seat of your pants?
When I first started "Chase Tinker and the House of Magic," I had ideas, but no clear outline to follow. I would just let things come to me as I wrote, and it worked out really well. But then, my then-agent, wanted me to outline the rest of the series. I thought, What?! Write everything down? Now that's just crazy talk! But I put on my thinking cap and got to work, and it's a good thing I did or I would've forgotten and missed out on loads of great ideas. So now, I guess you can say I'm a bit of both. :)

You have a great upper middle grade voice. What advice can you give to aspiring writers about how to find a middle grade voice?
Thank you! That's so nice of you to say, Brooke. I've worked really hard to get just the right voice that sounds like my own, and yet sounds like something middle graders would really enjoy reading. I guess the best advice I can give is to read lots of books in the age group and genre you're interested in writing, and then take what you like the best and put your own spin on it. I would also advise aspiring writers to just keep writing and writing until you feel you have a great voice to your books that people will want to read.

Do you have a favorite place to write or snack to eat when you write? 
I like to write sitting on my floor in my living room with my coffee table as my desk, my computer in front of me and my TV going as background noise. As for snacks, I'm not a big snacker, I just count the hours between meals so I can dig up something tasty in the kitchen. Most of all, I really look forward to dessert. :)                                                                

Want More? Author of  "The Chase Tinker Series" Malia loves dancing, reading, writing, sunsets, ladybugs, playing video games on her iPod, watching TV, and chocolate. She also has terrible motion sickness and hates onions. She's always wanted to have the ability to teleport and the power to move things with her mind. She lives in the Seattle area with her four wild and crazy ferrets.


Amazon: buy it  

To enter to win the first 2 ebooks in the Chase Tinker series, leave a comment below. 
The winner will be chosen at random on Thursday night. I'll announce the winner on Friday. If you don't have a blogger profile, leave a contact email. cheers!