Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Writer's Voice 2015: Query and First 250 of... The Friday Night Fright Club

Holy Moly!  Alerted this morning by a tweet from the great Krista Van Dolzer, I entered The Writer's Voice, and the bot picked me. Now, if it would just pick me some winning lottery numbers, I could retire from this malarkey and make my home in the Canary Islands. (The Don, by the way, is all over this. He thinks I've won The Eurovision Song Contest. I'm not disabusing him--as long as I don't have to wear sequins.)

Here we go:


Dear Ms. Awesome-Agent,

Twelve-year-old Nita Adams desperately wants to see a ghost. After all, she’s president of the Friday Night Fright Club and an expert in all things paranormal—and she needs her friends to focus more on phantoms than on sports and boys. (As if boys could ever compete with banshees or bhoots—Indian ghosts with backward facing feet!)

To make matters worse, there’s trouble with the new girl in school. Destiny claims to be a REAL summoner, and she appears to be taking over Nita’s friends’ minds. Nita rises to Destiny’s challenge, and the race to see who can summon a spirit is on. Ouija boards, spell books, magical lockets, and sneaking into “haunted” houses are all part of the duel.

However, as Nita discovers, some spirits should definitely remain unsummoned. That's because the spirit she unleashes has mayhem and murder on his mind. And if Nita can’t stop him, someone close to her may very well end up dead.

THE FRIDAY NIGHT FRIGHT CLUB is a middle grade ghost story, complete at 45,000 words. I like to think of it as being a bit like Heather Vogel Frederick's Mother-Daughter Book Club series--if the only books the girls ever wanted to read were GoosebumpsI'm querying you specifically because (xyz etc.)

I belong to the SCBWI, and am active in children's literature circles, managing the group blog Project Mayhem: The Manic Minds of Middle Grade Writers. For the past three years, I have also judged middle grade fiction for the Cybils’ awards. Originally from England, I now live in Portland, Oregon.
Thank you for your time and consideration,

Michael Gettel-Gilmartin

First 250:

The skull gleamed in the dim light of the battery-powered votive candles. Wisps of fog snaked through its empty eye sockets, and its yellowing teeth grinned as it faced one bedroom wall and then another. For a moment, it trembled in Nita’s Adams’ hand. Then it swooped down and smacked the seventh-grade social studies textbook lying beneath it.
Nita shook the skull a couple more times, for good measure. “I, the Mistress of Graves, call this meeting of the Friday Night Fright Club to order,” she said, in her spookiest voice.
As if on cue, the wind roared through the fir trees in the ravine behind Nita’s neighborhood. Rain tap-tap-tapped against her bedroom window. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the tapping was the sound of a ghost, desperate to return to a previous life? Nita would race to the window and let the lost spirit in.
She had to admit it: October in Oregon was totally her favorite month. Tonight, in honor of Halloween—only a couple of weeks away—she was doing everything in her power to amp up the fear factor. It seemed to be working—at least with one of her best friends. Brenny, wide-eyed, looked completely spooked. Now, to complete the mission and terrify Maddie…
Nita positioned the plastic skull in front of her and flung her arms wide. Vapor from the fog machine on her dresser swirled around all three of them. They looked like wraiths.
“I have two words for you,” Nita said. “Bloody Mary.”

Monday, May 18, 2015

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: MIDNIGHT BLUE by Pauline Fisk

Midnight Blue by Pauline Fisk (Bloomsbury 2003--first published in 1990)

It's been all-go in Mafioso land, what with the eldest mini-maf graduating from high school in less than two weeks; middle mini-maf having just completed a middle school run of The Sound of Music; and mini mini-maf still in mourning because of the Portland Trailblazers defeat in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Also, as my one reader pointed out last week, I am in the midst of querying--having parted ways with my agent in early January. The Don has told me his cousin Alfonso is available and only takes 50% of any deals made, but I'm holding out for better terms (and an agent who actually reads!)

Those of you who know me well, know that I have somewhat of a morbid streak. This manifests especially when an author dies. Immediately after reading their obituary, I want to read all their books--even, nay especially--if I've never heard of them before.

This is what happened with MIDNIGHT BLUE, the absolutely stunning novel by Pauline Fisk, an English author who died in January. Her obituary in The Guardian described her as an author "with a strong sense of place and a rare gift for blending the natural with the supernatural in ways that made the latter seem entirely credible."

Now, I am also a writer who loves to blend the natural with the supernatural. My books are set in modern times, but there's always something a little "off" in the world--objects that allow one to time travel, or ghosts. So I knew I had to read Midnight Blue right away (or at least right after I finished Moby Dick  for my book group.) I wasn't disappointed.

What It's About: 

Bonnie, a girl torn between the harsh reality of her mother's weaknesses and her grandmother's strong will escapes her home one day by sneaking into her neighbor's hot air balloon. But instead of flying into the clouds and back down, she lands in another world, something like her own, but both kinder and somehow much more terrifying. She's not sure if she can ever leave this nearly parallel world and return to her own. And if she did, she isn't sure she'll be able to bring back with her the sense of warmth and love she has grown to cherish. Amazingly, she does both.

Opening Lines:
"It began as it always did with sweet, solitary notes of music that called to her from somewhere beyond the sky, a single piper's cry that reached down for her and scooped her over the roof tops and streets, office blocks and electric pylons, railway stations, shops and parks."

Why I Loved It:
As I mentioned above, Fisk's world is a recognizable one, but one that is suffused with magic. Her writing is lyrical, and her sense of place is extraordinary. Here she is, describing the hill in which Bonnie has landed with her balloon:
"The holly grove was ancient. The trees were twisted and dark, their branches tortuous. They formed a dense, gnarled ring with a large grass-and-moss clearing in the centre. You slipped into that ring and it was as if you'd entered another world....Long strands of fleece hung like listless washing on a line. Last dots of pink foxglove wilted in their shade."

There is also great suspense, because the people who inhabit this parallel world are people who Bonnie recognizes. Dad is like her neighbor, Michael; Mum is like her own mother, Maybelle; and Arabella is like Bonnie herself. Into this world comes the figure whom Bonnie fears most, her domineering grandmother, whom she calls "Grandbag." This new manifestation of Grandbag--Grandmother Marvell--has a magic mirror which can suck out a person's soul and leave them as a husk, a weird approximation of themselves. The novel ventures into dark places--literally!--as Bonnie and her friend, Jim, the shadow boy, try and outwit Grandmother Marvell and rescue Arabella from a horrible fate in the mirror.

This novel will stay with me for a very long time, and I look forward to reading more of Pauline Fisk's work.

About The Author:
Pauline Fisk was born in London in 1948, and moved to Shropshire with her husband, David Davies, in 1972. She wrote 11 books for children, including Midnight Blue and Sabrina Fludde (2002), often considered her most ambitious work. As she said of herself: “My whole life has been spent trying to bring together real life and the world of fantasy, in particular by finding new and interesting ways of expressing a sense of the magical in my writing. Ever since I was five years old, hunting down fairies in the back alley behind my parents’ house, a sense of more to life than meets the eye has been part of who I am. When I was a child, life was one big fairytale. That was how I felt. But how to get into that fairytale?”

Pauline Fisk had three daughters and two sons. She died on January 25th, 2015.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Over at Project Mayhem today, featuring Tara Dairman's THE STARS OF SUMMER

Blog Tour button designed by Kristin Rae
I've been neglecting Middle Grade Mafioso horribly--mainly because I'm currently querying agents as well as cracking the whip as blog manager over at Project Mayhem.

Speaking of which, Project Mayhem is last stop on Tara Dairman's The Stars of Summer Blog Tour. 

As I say in my review, it's hard to get a grizzled old Middle Grade Mafioso to laugh. (Tears are a different story. I'm getting much more lachrymose in my old age, when I think of the vicissitudes of life.) But reading The Stars of Summer, I laughed a lot. Knowing, as I do, how much kids this age are into cooking shows, I'm betting that Tara has another hit on her hands.

If you're so inclined today, hop on over to the Project to say Hi! 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

GIVEAWAY of Tom Gates: Excellent Excuses (and Other Good Stuff) Prize Pack

Tom Gates: Excellent Excuses (and Other Good Stuff) is the second installment in Liz Pichon’s series for middle-grade readers. Tom Gates is a best-selling phenomenon in the UK and kids on this side of the pond will love him too.

Tom Gates #2: Excellent Excuses (and Other Good Stuff)
by Liz Pichon
9780763674748 – On Sale May 12th, 2015

What It's About: No school for two whole weeks! Now Tom has plenty of time for the good stuff, like finding new ways (so many!) to annoy his big sister, Delia. Or watching TV and eating caramel candy. Or most important, band practice for DOGZOMBIES in his best friend Derek’s garage (while not encouraging Derek’s ’60s-music-crazed dad). All that stands between this band and rock greatness is, well, a song (besides “Delia’s a Weirdo”). And finding a drummer. And landing a gig. Will Tom let a killer toothache and pesky overdue homework get in his way?

Prize pack includes:
One galley of Tom Gates: Excellent Excuses (and Other Good Stuff) by Liz Pichon
One Tom Gates bookmark
One Tom Gates tote bag

Book page on Candlewick
Tom Gates activity kit

Follow Liz Pichon on Twitter
Follow Candlewick on Twitter
Subscribe to Candlewick on YouTube

Leave a comment and you'll be entered in the prize pack giveaway. (US/Canada readers only, please.)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: ABBY SPENCER GOES TO BOLLYWOOD by Varsha Bajaj

ABBY SPENCER GOES TO BOLLYWOOD by Varsha Bajaj (Albert Whitman and Company, March 2014)

What It's About (from Goodreads): What thirteen-year-old Abby wants most is to meet her father. She just never imagined he would be a huge film star--in Bollywood! Now she's traveling to Mumbai to get to know her famous father. Abby is overwhelmed by the culture clash, the pressures of being the daughter of India's most famous celebrity, and the burden of keeping her identity a secret. But as she learns to navigate her new surroundings, she just might discover where she really belongs.

Opening Lines: "The one thing I want in my life...? Hmm.
Miss Cooper needs to know that? Really?
My eyes dart from Zoey on my right to Priya diagonally across from me to the clock directly above Miss Cooper's head. Three minutes to the bell. Unlike me, my friends are scribbling furiously."

What I Loved About It:

Varsha Bajaj got the MG voice just right. Abby is a likable character, with friends. The novel moves swiftly (Abby has an allergic reaction in the first chapter, which rapidly raises questions about whether her father--whom she's never met--might also have a similar allergy) and soon Abby is on her way to India, where her father is a huge Bollywood star. There, culture shock awaits as she experiences Mumbai as "both a city of dreams and of extreme poverty."

Quite unusually for middle grade, there really aren't any antagonistic adults either. Abby is greeted and welcomed in India by her grandmother, her father, and the servants of the house. Her father's girlfriend, a famous actress, is also kind to her. Essentially, Abby's only enemy is herself, as she goes through very relatable emotions about her relationship with her dad and whether he wants to accept her publicly or not.

There is also a very sweet (and completely MG!) romance between Abby and Shaan--an Indian-American boy who is also visiting family in India.

I also think the cover is delightful!

N.B. ABBY SPENCER GOES TO BOLLYWOOD was a middle grade finalist for the 2014 Cybils award.

I contacted Varsha Bajaj, and am thrilled that she graciously agreed to answer the Mafioso questions. Here goes:

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) authors): Kate D’Camillo, Gary Schmidt, and Lynda Mullaly Hunt are some of my favorites.

2) What's on your nightstand now?
Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, Stitching Snow by RC Lewis, The Truth about Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh, and All Four Stars by Tara Daiman.

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it.
I loved writing the scene where Abby and Shaan go for a ride in the rickshaw. I love rickshaw rides myself. They are bumpy and I love the way rickshaws are decorated. Each one has an over the top unique style. Rickshaws have a roof but no doors and that to me is a bit crazy.

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at....
Putting my feet up and reading a book all afternoon. I have a hot cup of chai and possibly chips to munch on while I read. (MGM: I agree--that sounds delightful!)

5) My favorite breakfast is...
Toasted bagel with butter, or scrambled eggs on an English muffin and if I am splurging and it is available a dosa.

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?
I have to choose one? I want to see the world but I would especially love to visit Italy. (MGM: The Don gives you his seal of approval, Varsha!)

About the Author: 
Originally from Mumbai, India, Varsha Bajaj came to the United States in 1986 as a graduate student. As she says in her website bio: "After a dozen intermediate years in which I got a Masters degree, worked as a Counselor, got married, had two children and became a citizen, I started writing. It was 1999, two years after my daughter was born; my son was five and I had fallen in love with the picture book." Prior to Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood, Varsha published two picture books: How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight? (2004) and T is For Taj Mahal: An India Alphabet (2011). She is represented by Jill Corcoran at the Jill Corcoran Literary Agency.

Varsha Bajaj's website  Twitter

Thanks for stopping by today! Ciao!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: SURVIVING BEAR ISLAND by Paul Greci

SURVIVING BEAR ISLAND by Paul Greci (Move Books, March 2015)

Paul Greci is one of my Project Mayhem colleagues, and this is his debut. And a very fine debut it is too!

What It's About: (From the Move Books website)
Tom is kayaking with his father in Prince William Sound near Bear Island. When the waters turn rough and the boat overturns, Tom is stranded and alone with a pocket survival pack his father insisted he carry. But is it enough? Will he survive on the desolate island where his only company are bears, other wild animals and the harsh terrain? His dad would know what to do, but is Tom savvy enough to survive?

Opening Lines: 
A wall of dog-like heads was closing in on us. Sea lions, six or eight of them, swam side by side. They raced toward us like they were gonna swim right through us, stretching their necks and plowing through the water like they had motors attached to their backs. I gripped my paddle tighter and held it just above the water, waiting, watching, just like Dad. then, at the last second they dove."

Why I Loved It:
I must confess I'm not much of an outdoorsman, and the reality is that I wouldn't last more than a day stranded on an island inhabited mostly by bears. But Paul Greci's novel was so engrossing and so lifelike that I really began to feel like I was in Tom Parker's head during this ordeal.

Tom survives for more than sixty days, using his ingenuity and paying heed to the teachings of his father, who appears to have been lost at sea. In fact, Tom believes he actually hears his fathers voice--and this adds to the book's innate tension: will he find (or be found by) his father? Or is he really alone, and will he be able to hunt and gather enough food to survive? There are incidents with bears, porcupines, salmon, and a baby sea otter--as well as a heart-pounding bear chase.

The novel is made even richer by the zigzags in the narrative as it moves in time between Tom's present, and the past events which led to the accident--as well as the knowledge that Tom's mother also died in an accident, and the guilt that Tom carries because of that.

Finally, the book also brings Alaska to life. Paul Greci knows the land about which he writes, and the setting is as much a character as any of the humans depicted within.

I treated Paul to the traditional mafioso interview--as well as some special extra questions about Alaska. Enjoy!

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
I have many favorites, but here are three: Will Hobbs, Jill Patton Walsh, Natalie Babbitt.

2) What's on your nightstand now?
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it:
Let’s see. The scene where Tom encounters a sea otter pup. I like this scene because it illustrates the complexities involved in making external survival decisions coupled with internal conflict. And, the scene turned one of my readers into a vegetarian.

4) Fill in the blank: I am really awesome at... getting up early in the morning and squeezing in some writing time before heading to work.

5) My favorite breakfast is... oatmeal. I eat it five days a week. Pretty boring, I know. But it is grounding, too.

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?
Wow! There are so many places I’d love to go but I’ll just choose one. I’ve always been fascinated by Easter Island and those big stone statues.

Some extra questions: Have you ever been stranded like Tom?
I have never been stranded like Tom but I have felt like I’ve been a couple of paddle strokes away from being in his position on a few occasions in remote corners of Prince William Sound.

Did you have real-life experience of catching and eating porcupine (as well as salmon and deer)--or did you come by your information another way?
I have fished for salmon many times and have cooked them the way Tom does. On a solo kayak trip I came up with the cooking method that Tom uses. I have never eaten a porcupine!

Have you ever been chased by a bear?
I have seen polar bears gnawing on a whale carcass, grizzly bears digging for ground squirrels, and black bears fishing for salmon. I have had bears zip by me running 30 plus miles per hour, but I never been chased by a bear. I hope I am not jinxing myself by making that statement!!

About the Author: Paul Greci is a teacher and writer who lives in Fairbanks, Alaska. If you want to see photos of his many adventures, you can find them on his Bio page on his website, Northwriter.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Middle School Literature Circle: Revisiting THE HUNGER GAMES

My son's 6th grade class was doing literature circles, and his teacher asked for parent volunteers to help out. Being a kind and generous mafioso, I doffed my fedora and told him I was his man. So, for the past three Thursdays, I've been meeting with 7 students (1 boy and 6 girls) to hear their take on THE HUNGER GAMES.

Now, I'm not sure if THG can truly be considered middle grade, but it certainly appeals to middle schoolers. No surprise but, although several of the students had read the book before, ALL of them has seen the movies. Here is a sampling of their opinions:

1). To a person, they wanted the action in the book to start sooner. "Get to the Arena" seemed to be the general battle cry.

2) Several had parents who did not approve of the book (but I guess they let their kid read and/or watch the movie anyway.) Interestingly, before one of the sessions, I had to endure one of the other parent volunteers excoriating the novel. "Who would ever allow their children to take part in such a grisly event," she bewailed. When I shared this with my group, they rolled their eyes. "Hey, the parents didn't have a choice!" they said.

3) The majority of the readers read ahead each week, testament to Susan Collins's skill in pacing and building tension. She's great at tantalizing chapter endings!

4) They gave three cheers for strong female characters. "Love triangles" didn't bother them. (I know that they bother a number of other writers and readers, because they are an overdone trope. My middle schoolers didn't bat an eye.)

5) They enjoy dystopian fiction. There were discussions about other books, such as Divergent and Matched. Agents and editors may be tired of dystopia, but the interest is still out there.

6) They were all eager to read on in the series. "Hey," one of them plotted. "Let's ask Mr. C. if we can read Catching Fire for our next literature circle."

I have to say I had a great time with them. They were engaged and enthusiastic. It's nice to know that reading and discussing books still matters!

I'm heading off on Spring Break, and hoping to get a little reading in. May the reading and writing force be with you. Ciao!