Yolanda Ridge

Children's Author

Middle Grade Grows Up

As you know from my reviews of  We Are All Made of Molecules and I’ll Give You The Sun, I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between young adult (YA) and middle grade (MG) books. Two of my recent works-in-progress have straddled the line between these two categories of children’s literature so I wanted to explore the line between YA and MG in more detail.

Generally speaking, MG fiction is aimed at 8 to 12-year-old readers. MG books typically feature main characters that are at the upper end of this age group and focus on family, friends, and school.

YA is generally aimed at the over 12 crowd but has an increasingly large following among adult readers. It tends to tackle more complex issues and there’s no limit on things like swearing, sex, and substance abuse. Main characters are usually 15 to 18-years-old.

So what do you do when the main character is thirteen or fourteen? This is an age that is ripe for exploration as kids are seeking more and more independence and taking on bigger and bigger challenges. What happens when you have a 12-year-old reader who’s not yet ready to be exposed to things that might be considered restricted?

You sometimes see MG split into upper and lower, with “upper middle grade titles” being marketed to 10 to 14-year-olds but this is a not an official category. I’ve been told in the past that anyone besides the most established of writers should avoid writing in this “literary black hole”.

Trouble in the Trees and Road Block were marketed toward 8 to 12-year-olds. Inside Hudson Pickle – which is longer with more complex subplots that includes the possibility  that Hudson’s uncle is using drugs – is marketed toward 9 to 12-year-olds. This could mean that my first two books were more “lower” and my third is more “upper”. Or it could just be a difference between the publishers. Inside Hudson Pickle was rejected by one publisher because it mentions drugs. Period. It was rejected by another because it wasn’t edgy enough. Luckily, Kids Can Press thought it was “just right” because it introduces young readers to the dangerous of drugs without showing any illicit use.

In an effort to avoid falling off the tightrope between YA and MG, I wrote my book Cruelty Free with a 15-year-old main character. Based on feedback that the voice was more MG, I’m re-writing it with a 13-year-old main character. My book Reasons to Tell started with a 13-year-old main character but has been described as more YA so I’m re-writing it with the main character as a 15-year-old.

It’s enough to make your head spin! And I’m not the only one getting caught in the storm.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors posted about the Blurred Line Between MG and YA with some great book recommendations and interviews with their authors. Project Mayhem also provides a list of “Gray Area” Stories: Novels for Older Middle School Readers. A similar list is available in the Publishers Weekly article, Middle Grade Books Take on Mature Topics, along with some suggestions to booksellers on where to shelve this types of titles. And Stacy Whitman shares my confusion on The state of MG vs YA when YA is so much older now from an author’s perspective that is very similar to my own.

It definitely feels like I’m walking on a tightrope writing between MG and YA and I know I’m not alone. I just hope it’s the young readers that are ultimately pulling the string.

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Publishing Contract for Inside Hudson Pickle

It’s official! My middle grade novel, Inside Hudson Pickle, will be published by Kids Can Press in Fall of 2017!

A huge thank-you to my agent, Amy Tompkins, for making the deal. I can’t wait to start working with the talented folks at Kids Can Press!

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Whole Novel Workshop… here I come!

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Thanks to a professional development grant from the Access Copyright Foundation I will be attending the whole novel workshop in August. The workshop is provided by Highlights Foundation at their beautiful site in the Pocono Mountains.

I just finished submitting the manuscript of my work-in-progress, Cruelty Free, to my mentor Jennifer Jacobson. I am so excited that this book, my first foray into the Young Adult genre (aimed specifically at 12 to 16-year-old readers), will be revised with the help of experts in the field. I am also thrilled about the prospect of spending a week with my peers, immersed in the creative process, while my kids hang out with their grandma and papa!

Thank you Access Copyright!! I will be sending a report from Highlights!!

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Thicken Thou Skin

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My latest thoughts on writing and rejection at The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors; Thicken Thou Skin.

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Big AGENT NEWS for me… read to the end to find out!

It’s been a busy month (or two or three…)

It started with a lot of this;

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as I queried agents with my recently completed, much revised (and still to be edited), work-in-progress, Inside Hudson Pickle. 

And then, as luck would have it, there was a lot of this;

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as I sent out partial and full versions of the manuscript and was lucky enough to receive three offers of representation!! Which lead to this;

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And now, heading into the summer (one day after Canada Day) it is all this;

 

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Because I am now represented by Amy Tompkins of the Transatlantic Literary Agency!

I am so excited about this next chapter in my writing career. Thanks for celebrating with me!

To be continued…

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Writing Process Blog Tour

1398701236080Jennifer Ellis, author of A Pair of Docks (a clever time travel novel – highly recommended), and the newly released In the Shadow of the Mosquito Constellation  just tagged me in a series of blog posts about the writing process.

Here’s how My Writing Process Blog Tour works: once tagged, you answer four questions about the writing process and then tag three other authors. At the bottom of this post, you will find the three talented authors I managed to tag (I’m still out of breath – chasing authors can be hard work!)

And now, the questions…

What am I working on?

I am actively working on NOT checking email while I search for an agent for my latest middle grade manuscript, Inside Hudson Pickle.

My current work-in-progress, tentatively titled Fire on Red, is about Ethan Matheson who readers of Trouble in the Trees will recognize as Bree’s neighbor. During author visits, I’ve had a lot of kids (boys, mostly) name Ethan as their favourite character. In response, I’ve moved him from Cedar Grove to Rossland where he does not fit in with the hardcore biking / skiing lifestyle. Instead of making friends, he spends his time hiking the local mountains (and trying to find some trees to climb) where he meets a recluse and stumbles upon the cause of a mysterious rash of forest fires that are putting his new home town at risk.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Great question! My immediate answer is that it’s contemporary – an honest portrayal of ordinary but loveable children dealing with the everyday problems of the real (western) world. I write the kind of books I loved when I was growing up, books like Judy Blume’s Are you there God? It’s me Margaret, that made me feel like I was reading about a friend (or myself.) For middle grade readers, these books have become somewhat rare in a market that is dominated by fantasy and farce.

Why do I write what I do?

I start with a premise I love – and I come up with about a hundred of these a day (okay – that’s an exaggeration but I do get enough ideas to find it distracting). I only write when the character involved starts “speaking” to me. Not in a crazy writer muttering to themselves kind of way… in a way that makes me feel I could really bring the character to life on the page.

Without consciously meaning to, I tend to write books that give hope and indirectly encourage children to speak up and make a difference (things I wanted to do myself when I was kid but often couldn’t). I’m not sure parents appreciate this when they come home from my author visits chanting “No More Rules!”

How does my writing process work?

Once I’ve got the idea and the character I write a very brief outline. Then I start typing – at least two hours a day at my treadmill desk. I try to move the story forward as quickly as possible to get a rough draft. Then I begin the tedious process of revising and rewriting – but only if I still want to spend time with that character (which often times I do, but only after a little – or long – break).

That’s it, folks! Thanks for the tag! To find out more about Jennifer Ellis, who in addition to being a smart, talented writer is also a fellow Rosslander and great walking partner, check out her blog. And make sure to visit the websites and blogs of the three amazing authors I managed to tag;

Sara Cassidy lives in Victoria with her three kids. Her fifth novel for kids and young teens, titled Skylark, was released by Orca this spring. Skylark is about a girl who discovers the transportive power of poetry while she is living in a car with her mother and brother. Sara’s previous titles have all been Canadian Children’s Book Centre Best Books selections with a Junior Library Guild Selection and Chocolate Lily Award finalist among them. Rumour has it that Sara has recently finished a novel for teens with the awesome title… Yolanda. Can’t wait to read it!

Mark Smith is an English teacher who has written for journals, travel companies, marketing companies, newspapers… and also has three kids. His debut novel, Caravaggio: Signed in Blood, is being released in October by Tradewind Books. Caravaggio: Signed in Blood is a historical novel for 12-14-year olds which follows Beppo Ghirlandi as he flees Rome with the artist Caravaggio – an adventure complete with sword fights, pirate battles, and even a bit of romance.

Lindsey Carmichael may have been my sister in a previous lifetime. Our professional lives have followed a similar pattern – from science degree to graduate school (almost in the same lab) to writing for kids – but our paths have only crossed virtually (and I can’t wait to meet her in person one day). She is the author of the award nominated book, Fox Talk (highly recommended), and eight other non-fiction titles including the forthcoming, Fuzzy Forensics.

These three writers will be posting their responses in the next week or so. I learned a lot answering the questions and reading the responses of other writers “on the tour” so I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to say.  For now, I’ve gotta run – have fun, everyone!

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Interesting link on facebook

Writing tips from Santa, Frosty, Rudolph, and the Gingerbread Man!

Courtesy of Darcy Pattison.  Happy Holidays!

 

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Schedule? What schedule?

During a recent author visit I was asked to describe a day in the life of an author.  I fumbled with the answer because my schedule seems so random and probably not at all representative of the “average” writer.

I’ve been thinking about the question a lot since then and I’ve come to a surprising conclusion; I actually do have a routine…. sort of.  In case the person who asked is still interested, I’ve decided to write it down.

After I get the kids on the school bus, I do whatever cleaning I have to do, as quickly as I can possibly do it (because I hate cleaning!)  Then I get on my treadmill desk and start adding words to my current work in progress.  I usually read what I wrote the day before but I try not to edit too much.  My goal is to write for two hours straight – enough time to complete a chapter or two.  When the time is up, I head for the shower (I don’t walk fast but I do cover the equivalent of over 10 km – uphill – which can work up quite a sweat!)

After lunch, I do errands, cook, bake… whatever needs to be done for my family.  If there is extra time, I write website content (for this site or the Mixed-Up Files), catch up on social media, work on a book review for grade reading, do my weekly critique for In the Middle Critters (my awesome on-line critique group), organize an author visit…   Some of these things have to wait until the evening, after my kids go to bed, but I try not to do them in the morning during my two hour “writing time”.  And I try not to work on my manuscript in the afternoon unless it is straight research.

At the SCBWI-LA Gary Schmidt responded to this same “day in the life” question with the confession that he never writes more than 500 words a day.  Because after that, the quality is just not there.  I think it’s the same with my two hour rule – if I write any longer, I end up cutting more words than I keep.  But it is a hard rule to follow.  I find it difficult to get started (and can’t let myself be distracted by things like social media) and once I’m into my story I literally have to drag myself away!

If you want to read more about the daily routines of famous authors, check out this post from brain pickings.

There may not be an average day in the life of the average author, but now you (and I) know the average weekday routine for not-so-famous me.  At least that was the schedule – before summer started.  Now that my kids are off school, all matters of order and routine are down the drain.  But maybe this post will help me get back into routine when September rolls around…

So thanks for asking!  Sorry I took so long to answer.

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The Walking Read

This Friday CWILL BC (Children’s Writers and Illustrator of BC) is hosting The Walking Read, a costume benefitting the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation.   Both these organizations are close to my heart as both have provided me with a community of caring people during times of need.

When Oliver and Spencer were born, they were in the care of BC Children’s Hospital for six months.  Every day I am grateful for the care they received from all the talented people who work there.  And now as a Children’s Author and member of CWILL BC, I am trying to do a little bit to give back.

Because The Walking Read is taking place in the lower mainland on June 14, 2013 (in the middle of my KLF book tour and all the craziness that the end of the school year entails) I will not be attending.  I will, however, be bidding on the on-line auction and encourage you to check it out too.   Because I have been responsible for sending letters to the donors, I know how many great things are up for grabs!!

More details about the event are available through the CWILL BC blog and the Georgia Straight.  My thanks to all the many talented people who have organized this event, most notably the amazing and  unstoppable Shar Levine.  I appreciate all her hard work more than I can say and I feel lucky to have been a (small) part of putting this event together!

Now – go bid!  The on-line auction closes at noon on June 13th.  Or better yet – go buy a ticket!  You’ll be supporting the BC Children’s Hospital and celebrating the 20th anniversary of CWILL BC, two truly amazing organizations.

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Advice from E.B. Lewis

This advice, from “aritstrator” E.B. Lewis, is too good not to share.

Thank you, Shelia Cornelison.  I’m off to enjoy some writing time… Happy Friday!

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