Category Archives: Middle Grade

That Feeling of Relief

So, the feeling of relief…it is pretty amazing, right? Take the following examples:

  • Sitting down with a gaming controller after a long day.
  • Taking off shin guards after a soccer game.
  • An ice-cold drink of water after mowing the lawn on a 100+ degree day.
  • Pulling a foot out of one of those tight ski boots after a long day on the slope (this could also be replaced with a too-tight bicycle cleat after a long ride).
  • That first plate from your favorite buffet after a day of fasting in eager anticipation.

imageI could go on, but hopefully you see where I’m going with this. As I thought about what I wanted to write for this post, I couldn’t help but consider my own current mindset. You see, I just finished Ragesong: Alliance, and that beautiful ‘I can finally sit back for a minute’ feeling hit. It was a huge relief.

With my current schedule, I am usually able to churn out one or two books a year. It isn’t a lot, I know. I learned a long time ago that failure to prioritize can lead to some pretty hairy situations, however, and it is always worth avoiding those. In the example of my writing, I found a schedule that works for me…more or less.

So, here I sit, excited for tonight. After the kids go to bed, I can relax and unwind in the best way possible. That’s right! I’m talking about video
games (where did your mind go, people??). There is nothing better than sitting down for a nice binge session on video games when you feel you completely deserve it. Alliance is in the hands of my editor and I get to dust my hands off and wait until it comes back.

Here’s the thing. For the past several months I have been struggling to stay on target with Alliance. I would find things to occupy my time that kept me from writing in the evenings. Stupid things, like: video games, Facebook, YouTube, Netflix, etc… In short, I was finding it extremely difficult to stay focused. The downside (and upside) was that I had readers hitting me up to know what was going to happen next. In all sincerity, I love it when this happens because it shows that a reader is invested and they care. It is extremely motivating. So, like any good procrastinator, I grounded myself. I would not allow myself to enjoy in any late night gaming sessions until after I finished.

Oh boy, it was grueling at times! The only use my poor ps4 received for the last several months was when I would watch a movie with my kids. It was tough, but since I wanted to play, I was able to focus more and I was able to finish the book. I will say, that I can’t remember enjoying a gaming session quite as much as the one I had the night I sent Alliance to my editor. It was SO great!

At first, I simply enjoyed the night for what it was. Kids in bed, the wife NES_controllerwatching T.V. in the other room and me, sitting on the couch with a controller in hand watching the opening cut scenes for MGS5. Now, as I sit back and consider that euphoric feeling, I realize it wasn’t just the gaming. It was the fact that I could sit down and play without a shred of guilt because I had accomplished something I was proud of. I knew that in that moment, there was nothing more I could do for my book, and I really felt I had earned that time.

Upon coming to that conclusion, I tried to think about what I can do to experience it again. Because, honestly, there is nothing quite as good as a guilt-free evening of doing something you love without the nagging feeling that you should be doing something else. So, my question to myself was, ‘what can I do to experience it again?’ The answer of course comes by way of lists. Why? Because…lists.

  1. Set worthwhile goals – Half of the reason I enjoyed the reward as much as I did was because I felt like I had accomplished something truly worthwhile.
  2. Set reasonable expectations – I was already through with a good portion of the book. I knew that my goal obtainable. I was not setting myself up for failure by trying to do too much.
  3. Find what works – Withholding something enjoyable not only gave me motivation, but I also found that I enjoyed it all the more after taking time away. ‘Absence doth make the heart grow fonder.’ There’s a lot of truth to that.
  4. Enjoy the reward – Give yourself time to enjoy the fruits. Don’t rush on to the next project so fast that you can’t sit back and take joy in what you have done.

In life, we do a lot of things in life that aren’t easy. I found that occasionally those tasks can become more manageable when we are properly motivated. Not to mention, the end result can make a fun experience even more incredible. I’d love to keep writing…but I’ve got games to catch up on before the PlayStation Holiday rush hits. So, until next time, folks!


J.R. Simmons
– Author of the Ragesong Saga

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00072]

Tweens are all little monsters, right?

When I hear the words “middle school”, a certain part of me shudders. Amidst the vague recollections of science labs or choir concerts is the overriding memory that kids in middle school are just plain awful to each other. The pecking order, the mockery, the sneering looks, the constant mood swings and drama … the fear that if you do one thing wrong you’ll be branded as a loser for the year.

photo credit: gurl.com
photo credit: gurl.com

Was it really that bad?

 

My daughter, who I’ve home schooled since kindergarten, will now be entering the local public middle school, and she does so with some trepidation because of what she’s heard from neighborhood kids about how mean some kids can be. She’s afraid of being bullied even as her own response to the slightest criticism is to retaliate in forces times ten.

 

Much of the middle grade literature I’ve read in the last few years deals with this kid cruelty. In every single book, there is at least one jerk or jerkette who seems to make it a daily goal to antagonize the main character.

 

Why is this what sticks out? Are middle schoolers all complete monsters? Really?

photo credit: vulture.com
photo credit: vulture.com

The hugely popular series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is brilliant on many levels for humor and relatability, but one thing author Jeff Kinney does is pure genius. He makes a jerk the protagonist. Greg Heffley is (in the words of his own best friend) “not a good friend”. The kid is completely self-absorbed and relates to the entire world with the intent of getting what he wants out of life—comfort, popularity, etc. The beauty of the “diary” format, is that we see how completely oblivious he is about the fact that he’s a jerk. We see his motivations (at least those of us readers who are not middle schoolers) as selfish, but ultimately very  human.

 

And so we root for Greg (except when he’s mean to Rowley—the rare face of the genuinely nice kid). Why? Because we can see both sides of the story. We see where he feels oppressed and where he shows ambition. We see where he feels embarrassed and where he finds triumph. We see where he feels longing and where he experiences fulfillment. These are emotions all of us can understand.

 

Yes, he fails to see the needs of others much, but that’ll come with age. In the meantime, we would do well to remember that tweens aren’t beasties. They’re just like you and me. Just … immature and self-centered about it. Developmental psychologists will tell you that’s pretty much par for the course.

 

What else is the norm? Idealism and a budding sense of justice. Competition and the desire to improve. Friendship and the need to connect with others. Independence and an emerging capacity to take on responsibility. Creativity and a seemingly limitless appetite for humor.

 

All-in-all, it’s an intriguing balance. One that makes for fun books and interesting kids. The future looks bright … as long as they can survive the 8th grade!

 


A shot B&WLia London’s books Magian High and The Gypsy Pearl both address bullying and the whole “mean kid” syndrome and how to rise above it by changing the way you look at people.

Scary Stories for Summer Reading!

I’ve enjoyed some great reads the past couple months I wanted to recommend to you. Maybe you’ll discover a new read!

Children of the After: Awakening

A post-apocalyptic thriller starring a teenage boy, pre-teen girl, and their little brother.
See it on Amazon

Woven

Surprise! It’s a ghost story adventure!
See it on Amazon

stepsister

This time there’s a haunting–and it’s not a friendly ghost. Based in the Muslim faith.
See it on Amazon

I just realized there’s been a slightly darker theme to my reading lately. Huh. Well, maybe you enjoy stories that take you to the edge of fear, too!

Have you read these books? What great books have you read lately?

________________________________________________________________________

Alex 1 (2)Alex Banks likes to say she holds a black belt in awesome since the only kind of kicking-butt she does is on paper. She lives in Utah with her kickin’ husband, two sparring sons, one ninja cat, one samurai dog and four zen turtles.

Alex writes Young Adult and New Adult fiction (suitable for readers over fourteen) under the name Ali Cross.
Blog/Website | Facebook Amazon | Goodreads | Twitter

Add the Book “Wonder” to your Tween’s TBR Pile!

 

Hello everyone! I hope all is well with you! I’m Lisa Orchard the bestselling author of “The Super Spies” series and I’m here today to recommend an awesome book for your tween.

Back in March, I read the book “Wonder.” So did my son. There were many lessons in that story and my son and I got to talking about a few of them. It was nice to have that kind of dialogue with him, and I chalked it up to a bonding moment between us.

The story is about Auggie Pullman, he has a birth defect that makes his face abnormal in appearance. He’s been homeschooled his whole life, but now he’s being mainstreamed into a public school. It’s the story of how Auggie deals with his peers reactions to his disability. It’s heartbreaking at times and you really feel his pain.

It’s also triumphant, because Auggie never quits even though he wants to. He’s a strong “little dude” and his strength shines through.

This is an incredible story of perseverance, empathy, and friendship. Lessons we all want our tweens to learn. I highly recommend this book. The cover and blurb are below.

How about you? Do you have any great book recommendations for tweens?

 

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

“Wonder is the best kids’ book of the year,” said Emily Bazelon, senior editor at Slate.com and author of Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” —indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.

 

20111210_ABS_1296[1]Lisa Orchard grew up loving books. She was hooked on books by the fifth grade and even wrote a few of her own. She knew she wanted to be a writer even then. Her first published works are the “Super Spies Series.” These stories revolve around a group of friends who form their own detective squad and the cases they solve. “The Starlight Chronicles,” is the next series Lisa created with musical misfit, Lark Singer as her main character.

Lisa resides in Michigan with her husband, Steve, and two wonderful boys. Currently, she’s working on the next book in the Starlight Chronicles Series along with a few new ideas that may turn into stand-alone novels. When she’s not writing she enjoys spending time with her family, running, hiking, and reading.

Writing Something New

For the past four years I have been publishing an action/adventure series  that takes place in ancient Nubia. There are currently four books in the PRINCESS KANDAKE series and right now I am working on book number five, Decisions of a Queen. It started out as a labor of love for my granddaughter when she asked me one question. “Nana, where are all the beautiful brown princesses?” My research led me to creating one story that turned into a series of five books.

I have truly enjoyed all of the research that has gone into making the stories and culture as real as possible. Along the way, I learned quite a bit about history, African culture, and the rulers of past kingdoms. There were times when I got so caught up in the research that only deadlines could tear me away from the facts and occurrences of ancient times. I was surprised by the number of things in current African American culture that have their roots in ancient times on the continent of my ancestors. But now it is time for me to move on, time for me to return to my first fictional infatuation…science fiction.

Because many of my readers are accustomed to my writing about things of long ago, I determined that it might be helpful to break them in gently to the odd and strange twists of my imagination. So, last year I published a book of short stories entitled Obscura. Each tale is designed to keep the reader thinking, to cause their imaginations to carry them beyond the end of the story.

This year I will be releasing the first book of a new series that is considered contemporary science fiction…and that is only the beginning of my foray into the odd and strange. Switching gears from the old and ancient to all things new and nearly unimagined has been tough, but oh so much fun. My imagination is totally unleashed. Keep an eye out for the strange and obscure, you’re likely to find me lurking somewhere nearby.