Writing Inspiration with Author Jenny Goebel

I’m often asked by parents for book recommendations for their children. One that tops my list is Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel. The world of Fortune Falls is so wonderfully creative and features something kids love to explore—luck and superstitions.

Goebel, J_Lo-Res-31

MGM: A few of the unlucky things that happen in Fortune Falls I’d never heard of (i.e. dropping a comb is a sign of coming disappointment). How did you go about doing research for the book?25679785

JG: At first, the research for Fortune Falls was simply a matter of reaching back to the superstitious days of my youth. Twelve-year-old Jenny never passed a penny without picking it up, and hopping over sidewalk cracks was an absolute must. When I’d exhausted all the playground chants and sleepover whispers I could recall, I scoured the internet for any mention of good luck and bad luck. I also pressed family and friends to share any irrational beliefs they held, or had at least heard of. Many superstitions I encountered didn’t quite work for this book, such as the most ill-fated time of month to make mayonnaise, and the medical benefits of bathing in warm chicken blood in the light of a full moon. No doubt, it was some of the most curious research I’ve done for any project.

MGM: This story must make for some fun school visits. What’s the most interesting or surprising question you’ve received from a student?

JG: Yes! This story has made for some fun school visits. I think what has been most interesting, though, wasn’t a single question, but a certain type of question I seem to get asked repetitively. At nearly every event, a kid will raise his or her hand and then proceed to test the parameters I set for Fortune Falls. “What if the sidewalk cracks are covered in snow and you’re stepping on the snow instead of the cracks? Why do they have sidewalks in Fortune Falls at all? How close can you get to a cemetery without holding your breath and still be safe? Why doesn’t Sadie do X?” (X being any number of solutions for Sadie’s dire predicament.) There’s something about a world where luck has so much bearing on everything that seems to really resonate with young readers. I think it’s because many of them feel powerless in their own lives, so they identify with Sadie and want to find loopholes for her; they want to find a means of escape. Kids have a strong sense of justice, and that inspires me. It gives me hope.

MGM: You’ve published three middle grade books. What advice do you have about writing for this age group? 

JG: Even though middle grade seems to be my sweet spot, I never set out to write a book for a particular age group. I have an idea, and then I search for the best, most truthful way to tell it with the most believable characters I can come up with. I feel like if I do anything other than that—if I’m trying to hit all the right beats instead of listening to the way the story wants to be told— I’ll end up with book that feels formulaic and readers will see right through it. I’m being vague, though, aren’t I? And what I just said doesn’t sound very advice-like. I’ll try again. Middle grade readers are smart and savvy. Don’t underestimate them.

MGM: Will we see any more stories about Fortune Falls or perhaps about the students at Banes School for Luckless Adolescents (which I personally would like to read about)? 

JG: This is yet to be determined. I’m not contracted to write any other books set in a world where superstitions are real, but if the demand is great enough . . . I could only be so lucky! In other words, if you’re reading this and you’d like to see a sequel, please please please help spread the word about Fortune Falls. Also, a little finger crossing never hurts!

MGM: What new projects can we look forward to seeing next? 

JG: I wish I knew! My creative well was sucked dry while working on two books simultaneously. Fortune Falls and Mission Hurricane (The 39 Clues: Doublecross Book 3) were both released this past January. I then spent a large portion of the spring promoting the books and visiting schools, which didn’t leave much time for dreaming up new worlds and characters. I’m back at it now, but my ideas are in the early fragile stages and I don’t want to say too much about them and jinx myself. Apparently, writing Fortune Falls has rekindled my superstitious nature.

Thank you to Jenny for spending time with the mafia family. To learn more about all of her books, visit her website at http://www.jennygoebel.com

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MG Book Review: The Door By the Staircase by Katherine Marsh

The Door by the Staircase by Katherine Marsh

I guarantee The Door by the Staircase will make you hungry for two things: Russian food and good old-fashioned fairy tales. The first is an odd thing to say about a book about Baba Yaga, the Russian witch who eats children, but it’s true. Our heroine Mary is always eating such wonderful things. It hardly matters that we know the witch is trying to fatten her up!

This book, like a good dinner has all the right fixings: a brave orphan, a witch who eats children, a villain you won’t see coming, a cast of odd and likable characters and plenty of magic. It even has a talking cat! The table is set for an old-fashioned fairy tale, but Marsh adds more. Let’s call it spice that is so unexpected (like this story takes place in upstate New York not in Russia) it takes the story further.

Mary is an orphan who has been adopted by an old woman known only as Madame Z. She goes to live with her in an odd house on the outskirts of an even odder town that is full of magicians and fortunetellers. When Mary discovers who the old woman is she is tempted to run away but the stable hand tells her not to. The witch will only hunt her down, he says, but if she is brave enough to stay, the witch may take a liking to her.  Mary is brave, but not stupid. She be-friends the son of a magician and together they look for a way to save Mary. But things are not always what they seem. Mary will soon have to find a way to save the witch. If she succeeds, she will end up with true friendship and a real home.

With just enough suspense and danger to keep readers on the edge of their seats, magic and humor, this one is an instant classic. Well done! It is a must read.

To buy now, click here!

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MG Book Review – The Thing About Leftovers

Happy Release Day to C.C. Payne! Her book, The Thing About Leftovers, comes out today!


The Book:



The Blurb: 

Fizzy is a good Southern girl who just wants to be perfect. And win the Southern Living cook-off. The being perfect part is hard though, since her parents’ divorced and everything in her life has changed. Wary of her too-perfect stepmom and her mom’s neat-freak, dismissive boyfriend, she’s often angry or upset and feels like a guest in both homes. She tells herself to face facts: She’s a “leftover” kid from a marriage that her parents want to forget. But she has to keep all of that to herself, because a good Southern girl never yells, or throws fits, or says anything that might hurt other people’s feelings—instead she throws her shoulders back, says yes ma’am, and tries to do better. So Fizzy tries her best, but it’s hard to stay quiet when her family keeps getting more complicated. Fortunately, the Southern Living cook-off gives her a welcome distraction, as do her new friends Miyoko and Zach, who have parent issues of their own.

The Buzz:

“Fizzy’s first-person narration is by turns hilarious and poignant as she struggles to find her voice. . . . The subjects of divorce and middle school drama are well handled. Tween readers will appreciate this gentle read as they empathize with Fizzy’s feelings of inadequacy and root for her success.”School Library Journal

“Payne provides plenty of realistic detail here about Fizzy’s slowly evolving relationships with her parents, stepparents, and new friends. . . . Her growth feels authentic and her progress well-earned. Readers experiencing family challenges of their own will laugh and cry with Fizzy, rejoicing as she cooks up quite the satisfying new life for herself.”Kirkus Reviews

Continue reading

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MG Book Review: When Friendship Follows You Home by Paul Griffin

When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin

Paul Griffin’s newest middle grade novel, When Friendship Followed Me Home, is a beautiful book. By turns funny, sad, sweet, and thoughtful, it surprised me over and over. The story follows former foster child Ben Coffin, a Coney Island kid who’s used to getting picked on and who prefers hanging out with characters in books and his imagination rather than other kids. But all that changes when he meets Flip, a scruffy, abandoned mutt. Ben also befriends Halley, a fellow reader who begs him to start writing a book with her.

When Ben agrees a whole new world of friendship, loss, and love opens up before him—and changes everything for better and worse. I’d say more about that, but if I did I’d ruin the many twists and turns of Ben’s story.

I recommend this book not just because it’s a stepping stone to tough, beautiful, necessary young adult books like The Fault in Our Stars, but also for the richness of the setting, the variety of characters, and the uniqueness of Ben’s plight.

My heart broke and mended a dozen times as I read When Friendship Followed Me Home, and its characters stay with me. There’s one thing that Ben says near the end of the book that gets me every time: “My favorite thing about Halley Lorentz will always be this: Every time she hugged you it was like she hadn’t seen you in a long, long time. I’ll never forget the way she held hands wither, cold and trembly and hard enough to make your fingers ache a little the next day…”

{Good grief, there I go, crying again at the public library while reading this book…}

In short: read When Friendship Followed Me Home. You’ll cry, laugh, and then pass it on to your friends (after giving them a fierce hug, like you haven’t seen them for a long time). Highly, highly recommended.

To buy now, click here!

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Author Interview: Extraordinary Sam by Kevin Springer

Extraordinary Sam & The Adventurer’s Guild is a fun, action-packed novel that’s a great summertime read for middle graders. We caught up with Kevin and asked him about his enthusiasm for adventure stories.Kevin_Springer_3_400x400[1]

Middle Grade Mafia: Have you found that the book is most popular with a certain group of readers?

Kevin Springer: When writing Extraordinary Sam, I didn’t think about writing for a specific group. I wanted to create a story that is relatable to whoever picks it up. My reviews have been from kids as young as six and even a group from a senior care center. There have been parents of kids who have written me to tell me that their child enjoyed it, so they picked it up and loved it just as much as their kid.

Sam Front Cover

MGM: For those who haven’t read it yet, what other books/movies would draw a comparison to Extraordinary Sam?

KS: There have been many stories written about kids being transported into a different world and have to overcome obstacles to get home (it fits very well within the Hero’s Journey construct). So, if you enjoy a good adventure book, you will feel right at home reading Sam. As for movies, I found inspiration in a few places. There is a little bit of Secret Life of Walter Mitty, with a dash of the TV show from the 80’s, Quantum Leap, and a sprinkling of Pirates of the Caribbean and Treasure Island. I named the realm Sam travels to Ashling, an Irish Gaelic name meaning dream or vision.

MGM: After the initial release, it is up to the author to continue promoting their book. What have you felt has worked best for you?

KS: Over the past year, I’ve made it a priority to get school visits. Being in front of my target readers is the best place to create buzz about the book. I have also tried to get my name out there by being active in my regional chapter of SCBWI, contributing to a group blog, and volunteering to be a mentor for Pitch Wars. I have to admit, I have started up conversations with parents that are with MG age kids that are carrying a book or talking about reading. In some ways, I am like a proud parent who talks about their kid’s piano recital, but less pushy and annoying (I hope). I’ve learned I can’t be afraid to put myself out there and talk about my book. Continue reading

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Agency News: Agent Seeking MG


Hot off the presses! The Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency has a new agent and she is looking for middle grade fiction! Meet Suzy Evans –

Suzy holds a Ph.D. in history from UC Berkeley. Her most recent books include Machiavelli for Moms (Simon & Schuster) and Forgotten Crimes: The Holocaust and People with Disabilities. She’s also a ghostwriter for a #1 New York Times bestselling author with more than 25 million copies in print and her first children’s book will be published by HarperCollins in 2017.
Yeah, yeah, but what is she looking for???
 “I have a great love of middle grade and am particularly on the hunt for lively, engaging, original nonfiction that really *pops* off the page and makes kids excited about reading and learning; wacky/hilarious/silly commercial MG fiction with series potential; and graphic novels that bring history, great works of literature and fascinating historical figures (think Socrates! Machiavelli! Hamilton!) to life.”

Ready to submit? Pay close attention to the submission guidelines as they vary for different agents. Here’s the 411 on how to submit to Suzy:

For all queries, please include the word “QUERY” in your subject line and email to suzy@dijkstraagency.com.

Fiction: Please send a query letter, a 1-page synopsis, a brief bio (including a description of your publishing history), and the first 10-15 pages of your manuscript. Please send all items in the body of the email, not as an attachment.

Non-fiction: Please send a query letter, an overview of your project including a chapter outline, a brief bio (including a description of your publishing history), a description of competing books, and the first 10-15 pages of your first chapter. If we are interested, we will ask you to send your complete proposal. Please send all items in the body of the email, not as an attachment.

From everyone here at the Mafia – good luck!

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The Writer’s Toolkit: The Rewrite Formula

stephen king on writing

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Of all the writing books I’ve read, Stephen King’s is my favorite. Just as the title says, it’s part memoir and part craft. Being the master storyteller that he is, King interweaves his personal journey from high school newspaper editor to best-selling author. He shares his experiences as a way to give wannabe writers insight into what the writing life is like including his rejections and what he learned from them.

King started writing short stories when he was thirteen. When he got his first rejection from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, he pounded a nail into the wall of his attic bedroom and stuck the rejection on it. He said, “I felt pretty good, actually. When you’re too young to shave, optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure.”

Eventually, he progressed from form rejection letters to letters with hand-written notes. One of those rejection letters had some of the most valuable writing advice he ever received. It said, “Not bad, but puffy. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%.”

The Rewrite Formula, as King calls it, was one of the reasons he started selling stories. He learned that every story is collapsible to some degree and the effects of cutting often make an amazing difference.

As a freelance magazine writer, I learned long ago the art of trimming excess words. Sometimes my first draft would be as much as 2,000 words when my editor had asked for 1,200 words. That kind of cutting required some tough choices, but I learned how to do it and keep the story intact. When I started writing fiction, I didn’t think I needed to worry about word count because I wouldn’t have strict limits anymore. After reading On Writing, I realized that cutting was just as important, if not more so, for fiction. Just as boiling some of the water out of soup makes the flavor stronger, getting rid of unimportant words makes the narrative more vibrant.

The Rewrite Formula is just one of many valuable insights and advice in On Writing. I highly recommend it. With King’s autobiography included, it’s a good read even if you’re not a writer. Click here to buy now.

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Author Interview: After The Book Launch With Lisa Lewis Tyre

Lisa Lewis Tyre’s debut middle grade novel Last in a Long Line of Rebels launched in September, 2015 with starred reviews. I asked her about her launch experience as well as what happens after the launch.


MGM: So, now that you’ve experienced the book launch, was there anything unexpected or would do differently for your next launch?

LLT: My launch was so much fun. I had a celebration at my local Indie bookstore, Fox Tale Books, and invited everyone I knew. It was a great party and my most successful book signing. If I had to do it over again, I’d try to enjoy the moment more.Last in the Long Line of Rebels by Lisa Lewis Tyre


MGM: Has social media helped promote your book and which platform has worked best?

LLT: Yes, in a variety of ways. Facebook helped me spread the message to friends and family that might not otherwise have heard that I’d written a book. Twitter is actually my favorite social media tool because of the number of writers, agents, and book lovers who gather there. It’s very much a community. Through Twitter, Brenda Drake, the creator of Pitch Wars, found me and asked me to be a PW mentor. During the contest, I found a story I loved and mentored a lovely writer. I found out recently that she is a teacher, and she bought and read my book, then ordered 110 copies for her school! For me, social media is a tool to connect with, and encourage other writers. Sales is a product of that, but not the goal.

MGM: After the big push of a launch, what other ways can author’s impact sales?

LLT: Boy, do I wish I knew the answer to this! I just try to give my book every opportunity to be in front of the public. I participate in book signings, book festivals, and library conferences. I have a free curriculum guide for teachers on my website and I do school visits. I participate in mentoring programs with other writers, teach at SCBWI events, and held a contest this year called The Bertie for middle-schoolers. And I do as many interviews like this one as possible, so thank you!

MGM: You’ve received wonderful reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. Do you pay much attention to the ratings or do you try to steer clear?

LLT: I do read the reviews. I am grateful whenever a reader takes the time to write something. Obviously I like the nice reviews better, but I try to learn something from them all.

MGM: One of your characters experiences modern day racism. Have you had many questions from readers about this?

LLT: I’ve had several people comment on it and I was asked to speak on a panel at a book festival regarding racism in middle-grade novels. I think most kids identify with how heartbroken Lou is to find racism in her small town.

MGM: What has been your favorite comment from a reader?

LLT: I love connecting with readers and I’ve had some sweet letters. A young lady stopped me recently to say she’d enjoyed REBELS so much she read it twice. That was a good day. 🙂


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The Writer’s Toolkit: The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi


I am always on the lookout for resource books that can help me find that right word or phrase that will convey the exact tone in a scene. In the past, I have shared a few of my favorites, but last week I discovered a new one to sit on my desk for quick reference.

The Emotion Thesaurus is filled with a variety of emotions and provides writers with physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, and cues for suppressed and long term experience with that emotion. The suggestions provided by the authors cover a range of each emotion from mild to extreme.

When writing, I can usually get into the head of my characters and convey their emotional response to the reader, but when editing, I find that I tend to express these responses in similar ways. With this book at my side, I can quickly vary the response and provide variation to how the different characters experience an emotion.

So, whether you are looking for the right body language for your character’s disgust or express suppressed paranoia, I highly recommend this book to add to your writing toolkit.

Click here to buy now!

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MG Book Review: Serafina and the Twisted Staff by Robert Beatty

twisted staff

I always consider it a bonus when a sequel is as good as the original. But a sequel that is better than the original is a rare treat. SERAFINA AND THE TWISTED STAFF is that rare treat. In the first book, Serafina and the Black Cloak, we met Serafina who lives with her father in the basement of the Biltmore House in 1899. As a catamount (part human-part cat), Serafina has unique physical abilities that help her solve the mystery of the missing children. Read more about the Black Cloak here.

In the Twisted Staff, Serafina is out hunting in the woods at night when she sees a weird old man with a twisted staff and five wolfhounds. The man sics the dogs on Serafina. Injured and terrified, she manages to escape, but is even more frightened by the evil she senses. Who was that man and why are all of the animals in the forest fleeing? The animals at the Biltmore start acting strangely too. After Braeden Vanderbilt’s dog Gideon attacks Serafina, she wonders if the Vanderbilts will believe that the terrible old man with his twisted staff is controlling the animals or will they blame her. Continue reading

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