Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Hena Khan!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re talking with Hena Khan, the author of the

ZAYD SALEEM, CHASING THE DREAM series!

Fourth grader Zayd Saleem has some serious hoop dreams. He’s not just going to be a professional basketball player. He’s going to be a star. A legend. The first Pakistani-American kid to make it to the NBA. He knows this deep in his soul. It’s his destiny. There are only a few small things in his way.

For starters, Zayd’s only on the D-team. (D stands for developmental, but to Zayd it’s always felt like a bad grade or something.) Not to mention, he’s a bit on the scrawny side, even for the fourth grade team. But his best friend Adam is on the Gold Team, and it’s Zayd’s dream for the two of them to play together.

His mom and dad don’t get it. They want him to practice his violin way more than his jump shot. When he gets caught blowing off his violin lessons to practice, Zayd’s parents lay down the ultimate punishment: he has to hang up his high tops and isn’t allowed to play basketball anymore.

As tryouts for the Gold Team approach, Zayd has to find the courage to stand up for himself and chase his dream. – Power Forward (Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream #1)

Let’s talk to this fantastic author about her awesome books!

This is Hena. Everyone say, “Hi, Hena!”

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Photo Credit: Havar Espedal

Welcome to Kick-butt Kidlit, Hena! Tell us about yourself!

Thanks for hosting me! I’m a writer who lives in Maryland, which is where I was born and raised by Pakistani immigrants to the U.S. People are amazed to hear that I have lived within the same five-mile radius my entire life, except for a study abroad to Spain while I was in college! I’m a mom to two teen boys and love to travel with my family, bake decadent desserts, and read in bed. I feel very lucky to be able write books that help introduce a bit about my background and culture to readers!

Where did the idea for the ZAYD SALEEM, CHASING THE DREAM series come from?

Like so many ideas, it came from something that really happened—but not to me. When we were driving to his parents’ house one day, my husband told me a story that I hadn’t heard before—about how he as a kid had the brilliant idea to sneak into the gym to play basketball when his mom dropped him off at school for violin lessons. He got away with it for a while, until he left his violin in the car when he got out, and his mom discovered it later. Thinking he needed it, she returned to the school to give it to him. And of course she went to the music room, and he wasn’t there. The story made me laugh as I imagined him hatching up this plan and getting busted! And that was the spark for the series about a basketball-obsessed boy who makes mistakes but has a good heart and a loving and family full of personalities that mirrors ours in many ways.

Ah! What a sneaky dude! Such a great backstory!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on the series?

First, I discovered that it’s incredibly satisfying to write a series, because you get to know your characters after writing the first book, and then have the chance to stick them in different situations and scenarios in future books and already know how they are going to feel or react, like they are real people.

Second, I realized that even though I wrote a sports-themed series, I could still include story lines I love to write about, like friendship, family, and culture, and that they had just as important a place in the stories.

The third and most interesting thing I found out though was probably the fact that my friends don’t think I’m funny in real life! After several of them read POWER FORWARD, the first book in the series, they said, with a with a mix of shock and accusation in their voices, “its really FUNNY!” or “it made me laugh and I didn’t expect it to be FUNNY!” or “good job, I didn’t know you could be FUNNY.” So there’s that. I wasn’t offended. 😀

Zayd, your main character, is a basketball player with dreams of making it big. Are you a big basketball fan or are you into some other form of sportsball?

I am a big basketball fan, and even though I can’t dribble or shoot a layup to save my life, I live in a household where everyone else plays regularly. We are all big fanatics. March Madness, the NCAA college basketball tournament, has almost a sacred role in my family and brackets are serious business. For the NBA, we are Washington Wizards fans, like Zayd Saleem and go to a handful of games each season, which is always exciting and at times heartbreaking. It was super convenient when writing this series to be able to bounce ideas (no pun intended) off of my husband and kids, and to have in-house fact checkers and helpers for designing games and play sequences.

That is so cool! I love how involved your family was with the whole process.

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

Beverly Cleary is my children’s literary hero, and I grew up immersed in her books, rereading them over and over again. I would love Zayd and his family to get to know Ramona Quimby and her cast of characters like Beezus and Henry Huggins and to share little adventures in their neighborhood together.

I would 100% read that crossover!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

I read the most when I was in my middle grade years and spent a lot of free time with my nose in a book. It’s when books spoke the loudest to me, and when characters I connected with helped to shape me. I wanted to write for the age group that can get truly lost in the magic of a story and forget the world around them, and grow as they connect with stories and absorb details, all while being entertained.

Any hints about your next book project?

Yes! I’m finishing up another middle grade novel about four sisters that I hope will be ready for publication next summer! It’s actually inspired by my favorite book of all time, Little Women, and in some ways is a love letter to that book. I can’t wait for others to read it.

Sounds great! Can’t wait to read it!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

Probably how much of being an author involves doing things that don’t come naturally to me. I know I like to play with words and tell stories. I know that I like to edit, sometimes even more than I like to write. But apart from learning how challenging and confusing the publishing industry can be to navigate, I didn’t realize that I would be tested in new ways and need to develop public speaking skills, take on a social media presence, learn to get out of my comfort zone and network and promote my work and so on. Authors need to get out there these days more than ever.

What are you reading right now?

I read YA and MG books almost exclusively and have a huge stack to read! At the moment I’m reading an ARC of the anthology BLACK ENOUGH, which I’m enjoying very much, and next on my list is The VANDERBEEKERS AND THE HIDDEN GARDEN by Karina Glaser.

Love the Vanderbeekers!

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

Probably that we all can get better at the things we are passionate about through practice and commitment—whether it’s hitting a ball, writing a beautiful sentence, or baking the perfect chocolate chip cookie. Everyone who has success has put in time and effort, and gotten up when they fell and tried again. As the amazing author Jacqueline Woodson said, “Brilliance is passion recognized.” We all have passions, and have to put in the work if we ever hope to be recognized as brilliant one day!

Yes! So true!

Thank you for joining us, Hena!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out the whole Zayd Saleem series!

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Add ZAYD SALEEM, CHASING THE DREAM on Goodreads!

Get in touch with Hena on Twitter, FacebookInstagram, or through her website.

Click here to enter to win a copy of POWER FORWARD, ON POINT, and BOUNCE BACK!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more fun interviews!

 

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KBKL Mega Middle Grade Mystery GIVEAWAY!

Kick-butt Kidlit Presents_

Since August, we’ve been putting the spotlight on middle grade mystery and shared posts from fourteen awesome authors! Now, to celebrate the end of this series, we’re hosting a giveaway! Click here to enter to win one copy of every book featured. That’s right!

You could win FOURTEEN (14!) SUPER COOL MIDDLE GRADE MYSTERIES!

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This giveaway is open to Canada and the US only and closes on Friday, October 5th.

Missed out on our magnificent MG mystery posts?
Check out the links below and read them all!

Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight on: MYSTERY Previous Posts

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Natasha Tarpley

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Kara LaReau

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Sheila Turnage

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Henry Lien

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jill Diamond

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Beth McMullen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Casey Lyall

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Kat Zhang

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: C.M. Surrisi

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Dora M. Mitchell

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Natasha Deen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Lauren Magaziner

KBKL Middle Grade Mysteries with: Kara LaReau!

Kick-butt Kidlit Presents_

Our new feature series (Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On:) continues this month with a focus on MYSTERY NOVELS! Specifically middle grade mystery because MG is our jam!

Let’s give a big Kick-butt welcome to our guest author for today, Kara LaReau! 

Bland Sisters

Unintentional Mystery, Intentional Humor: Writing The Uncanny Express

The Uncanny Express was the first mystery I ever wrote, and my decision to write a whodunit was fairly arbitrary: The Jolly Regina, the first story in the Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, took place on a ship and played with all the tropes of pirate and seafaring stories. It felt right that the second story should take place on a train, and what better tropes to celebrate than all things Agatha Christie, particularly in her masterpiece Murder on the Orient Express?

I already knew this book was going to be hard to write, especially as the second book in a trilogy, but I had no idea just how hard: the twisty plotting, the suspects and their alibis and motivations, getting the homage to Agatha Christie just right. And on top of all of that? It had to be funny. Thankfully, I just needed to follow Agatha Christie’s lead. The premise of her mysteries lends itself to a comic setup: the earnest detective set among eccentric characters is pretty much the straight man-funny man archetype, and I already use that archetype quite a bit throughout the series. Jaundice and Kale are the ultimate straight men — or would that be straight sisters?

But I don’t go “straight” to comedy when I write. My first (and second, and third) drafts are completely devoid of humor, or any detail, really. They’re all business, usually just the dialogue and direction that moves the plot forward. As I flesh things out and the characters come to life and the natural rhythms of the story become clear, the humor manifests, and it’s almost as if the jokes start telling themselves.

Some of the humor is in the naming of the characters, one of my great joys as a writer. I love finding just the right name to fit a character, and I especially love names that are fun to read and read aloud. For instance, my stand-in for Christie’s Hercule Poirot is the great detective Hugo Fromage, which is French for big cheese. A tweedy, put-upon maid is named Vera Dreary. Another character on the Uncanny Express is Countess Ima Goudenoff, which inspired this exchange:

“What is your first name, if I might ask?” inquired the great detective.

“It is Ima,” said the countess.

Ima Goudenoff?” Jaundice said.

“You are,” said Kale, patting her sister’s hand.

I love a good joke (obviously), but I also love using literary and cultural references to enhance my humor. Sometimes, my references are meant for kids, and other times, they can be a bit more sophisticated and adult. For instance, here’s a little joke that cheekily references Murder on the Orient Express:

“Everyone looks guilty,” Jaundice whispered.

“Well, they can’t all have done it,” said Kale. “How silly would that be?”

I hope that kids of all ages will enjoy The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, so I’ve included all kinds of humor — physical comedy, wordplay, even a bit of scatological humor (despite those who might pooh-pooh it) — for maximum entertainment. Also, I think the best stories are the ones you can come back to again and again, and discover something new and different and funny each time. I especially love going back to stories I loved as a kid and discovering whole new meanings with my (semi-)adult sensibility. It’s like a gift that keeps on giving.

I don’t know if I’ll ever write another mystery — though I’ve learned to never say never when it comes to writing stories. I’m glad I can say I wrote one, and I like to think that it works as a funny, punny read and a solid whodunit. I hope you agree.

Kara LaReau

Kara LaReau was born and raised in Connecticut. She received her Masters in Fine Arts in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts and later worked as an editor at Candlewick Press and at Scholastic Press. She is the author of picture books such as UGLY FISH, illustrated by Scott Magoon, and Good Night Little Monsters, illustrated by Brian Won; an award-winning chapter book series called The Infamous Ratsos, illustrated by Matt Myers; and a middle-grade trilogy called The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, illustrated by Jen Hill. Kara lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband and son and their cat.

Add THE UNCANNY EXPRESS (THE UNINTENTIONAL ADVENTURES OF THE BLAND SISTERS #2) on Goodreads!

Connect with Kara on Twitter or through her website!

Click here to win a copy of THE UNCANNY EXPRESS (THE UNINTENTIONAL ADVENTURES OF THE BLAND SISTERS #2)!

The final giveaway will be for EVERY SINGLE book featured in the Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY blog series so make sure you check it out on every post! (New options to enter will be added with each post.) Draw closes on Friday, October 5th at the end of our series.

Stay tuned for our final Spotlight on MYSTERY series post from Natasha Tarpley!

Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight on: MYSTERY Previous Posts

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Sheila Turnage

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Henry Lien

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jill Diamond

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Beth McMullen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Casey Lyall

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Kat Zhang

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: C.M. Surrisi

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Dora M. Mitchell

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Natasha Deen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Lauren Magaziner

KBKL Middle Grade Mysteries with: Sheila Turnage!

Kick-butt Kidlit Presents_

Our new feature series (Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On:) continues this month with a focus on MYSTERY NOVELS! Specifically middle grade mystery because MG is our jam!

Let’s give a big Kick-butt welcome to our guest author for today, Sheila Turnage! We sat down* with Sheila to chat about her new novel, THE LAW OF FINDERS KEEPERS. (*emailed because geography and technology)

The Law of Finders Keepers

Hi, Sheila! For the readers who are new to the world of Mo & Dale, would you mind providing a short overview of the series? 

Sure!  The Mo & Dale Mysteries, which kicked off with Newbery Honor winner THREE TIMES LUCKY, are set in Tupelo Landing, NC.  Each book is written as a stand-alone mystery taken on by eleven-year-old Miss Moses LoBeau and her best friends Dale Earnhardt Johnson III and Harm Crenshaw.

The arc that ties all the mysteries together is the biggest mystery of Mo’s life.  Mo was torn from her mother’s arms the day she was born and washed into Tupelo Landing by a hurricane.  So, of course, the mystery of all mysteries, for her, is ‘Where is my long-lost mother?’

In THE LAW OF FINDERS KEEPERS, which launched September 11, Mo and her fellow Desperado Detectives reopen that mystery as they also hunt for the pirate Blackbeard’s treasure.  So, this is a hunt for two kinds of treasure: treasure of the world and treasure of the heart.

What drew you to writing middle grade stories?

Honestly, I didn’t start out to write middle-grade mysteries.  I just set out, with THREE TIMES LUCKY, to write the best story I could for Mo LoBeau – rising sixth-grader, yellow belt karate student, and co-founder of the Desperado Detective Agency.

It turned out to be middle-grade, but that was never my intent going into it.

Having said that, I love writing these books!  I really think Middle Grade suits me.  They’re fast paced and have an innocence you don’t find in books for older readers.  I appreciate both of those things.

I love visiting schools and talking to kids, and receiving email from them.  (Sheila@SheilaTurnage.com)

What’s your favourite part about writing mysteries?

Solving the mystery!  Mysteries are puzzles, and I really enjoy figuring out how everything fits together.  So in THE LAW OF FINDERS KEEPERS, I love racing for the treasure, and I love finding out whether Mo will actually find her mom – and if she does, how that might affect all the characters in the book, not just Mo.

Mo and Dale are an awesome pair with a great friendship. How did you come up with those characters? 

Mo’s one of those characters who just pops onto the page.  I loved her as soon as I started “hearing” her voice in my imagination, if you know what I mean.  She’s so smart and strong, and so vulnerable.  And downright hilarious.

Dale grew alongside her.  He’s a great foil, and he adds a lot of humor and love to these books.  The two characters balance each other really well.

So I’d say Mo and Dale evolved together as I wrote and rewrote and rewrote these books.  I can’t really imagine one without the other.  Dale’s trust balances Mo’s worldliness, and his wisdom balances her temper and sometimes rash courage.  I love them together.

Any tips for people interested in writing a mystery series? 

Let’s start with tips for writing a mystery.  I’d say make sure your main character is likeable, see where the mystery leads you, make sure there’s a larger meaning to the mystery, and finally hide your clues!  I usually hide the clues last, after I understand how everything works.

I add tons of action, and as much humor as I can.  Because who wants to write a boring book?  Not me.

I think a series benefits from a longer arc, to tie the volumes together.  I think readers continue to follow Mo and Dale in part because they want to know more about Mo’s mother.  I keep that issue alive with letters Mo writes to her “Upstream Mother” in her Piggly Wiggly Chronicles, throughout all the books.  So that emotional thread is always there.

And that’s what they’re following up on in THE LAW OF FINDERS KEEPERS.

How do you construct your mysteries? Do you know the problem first? The perp? Do you start with a great idea for a clue? What’s your jumping off point?

Usually I start with something going spectacularly wrong, and let things develop from there.  Often I know who the perp is and have a good idea of the ending, but getting from beginning to end can be a mysterious process!

I may hope I know how the two connect, but honestly I just let the story unfold, and see what happens. I take a lot of wrong paths before I find the right one, as my editor Kathy Dawson can tell you.  But it seems to work out in the end.

We heard this is the last Mo & Dale novel! How does it feel to say good-bye to these characters after four adventures? 

It’s hard.  I love Mo and Dale and I could write about them forever.

At the same time, they’re aging as I write and I don’t want them to get too old in these books.  They’re at a super age – sweet and smart.  I’d like to keep them in that world.

And, too, Tupelo Landing is a small town – 148 people.  So far I’ve killed one man, wrecked a couple of race cars, put the beloved Grandmother Miss Lacy in the hospital for a while, kidnapped a few people…  I’m pretty sure I actually set the handsome racecar driver Lavender on fire in one book.  (Don’t worry, he’s fine.)

But honestly, how much can one set of characters take?

Who is your favourite fictional detective and why? 

Mo LoBeau, of course.  With Dale and Harm. 😀

But if you mean outside these books, I grew up reading the Hardy Boys.   I like Sherlock Holmes, because he’s smart and quirky.  And I freely admit I love all the BBC mystery series on television.

Our readers love discovering new books so tell us about one of your favourite recent reads! 

I’d say keep an eye out for THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS  by Gail Shepherd.  It’s not a mystery, but it’s a smart, funny book with a dynamite voice.  And it’s set in the southern USA, like my books are.

And lastly, what’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

My best advice is never stop writing what you love to write, and find a writing community.  I take a creative writing class at my local community college, for instance, and have for thirty-some years.  I love the feedback, the deadlines, and the family that forms between writers.

Fantastic advice! Thank you so much for joining us, Sheila!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, keep scrolling to enter our giveaway so you can win a copy of THE LAW OF FINDERS KEEPERS for YOUR book shelf!
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Sheila Turnage is an author, poet and journalist. Her book THREE TIMES LUCKY features Miss Moses LoBeau, rising sixth grader, and Mo’s best friend Dale Earnhardt Johnson, III. It’s set in Tupelo Landing, NC, population 148 minus 1 (murder).

In addition to The Mo & Dale Mysteries series, she is also the author of HAUNTED INNS OF THE SOUTHEAST, COMPASS AMERICAN GUIDE: NORTH CAROLINA, and TROUT THE MAGNIFICENT.

Sheila was born in Jacksonville, NC, and grew up on a tobacco farm in eastern North Carolina. She earned a B.A. degree in anthropology from East Carolina University in Greenville, NC.

She has worked as a freelance writer for many years. Her articles have been published by Southern Living, Our State, American Heritage, and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, among many others.

Sheila Turnage and her family live in North Carolina.

Add THE LAW OF FINDERS KEEPERS to Goodreads!

Connect with Sheila on Facebook or through her website!

Click here to win a copy of THE LAW OF FINDERS KEEPERS!

The final giveaway will be for EVERY SINGLE book featured in the Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY blog series so make sure you check it out on every post! (New options to enter will be added with each post.) Draw closes on Friday, October 5th at the end of our series.

KBKL Middle Grade Mysteries with: Henry Lien!

Kick-butt Kidlit Presents_

Our new feature series (Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On:) continues this month with a focus on MYSTERY NOVELS! Specifically middle grade mystery because MG is our jam!

Let’s give a big Kick-butt welcome to our guest author for today, Henry Lien! 

Peasprout Chen

Let’s talk about mystery mashups.

Mystery + Fantasy + Boarding School Story = Harry Potter

I think books one through four of the Harry Potter series were so beloved because they were in fact masterfully constructed mysteries mashed up with other genres. The first four books were, at heart, clockwork whodunnits dressed up in fantasy cosplay, all of it masquerading as a boarding school picaresque like Tom Brown’s Schooldays.

Mashups Hide Clues

The effect of mashing these genres together was ingenious: Rowling made the clues that she hid in plain view harder to spot because you were distracted by all the worldbuilding, tropes, and story components from those other genres. And I believe that one mark of a good mystery is that a single plot element is doing double, triple, quadruple, even quintuple duty to distract you from its true function as a clue in plain view regarding the central mystery.

Exhibit 1

In Prisoner of Azkaban, you thought that Hermione’s constant appearances in just about every class offered at Hogwarts served to 1) demonstrate her over-committed class schedule as a running joke; 2) illustrate the ambitiousness that we’d come to love in her; 3) give her opportunity to serve as a Greek chorus by expressing doubts about theories that professors raised in class regarding Sirius Black, etc.; and 4) develop the questioning nature of her character. So you thought you fully understood the plot reasons for Hermione’s constant appearances in every class. What you didn’t realize until you got to the big surprise was that the appearances were serving a fifth purpose, which was the real purpose, which involved a stunning plot twist in service of a mystery plot, and which turned everything that preceded upside down. And the whole time this was happening, there was an equally complex set of plot layers happening around Lupin.

This was breathtakingly masterful plotting and it was possible in part because we were distracted from the clues that Rowling strewed about in plain view by the riot of fantasy elements and the boarding school story tropes. The result was one of the greatest puzzle mysteries of all time.

Mystery + Kung Fu + Figure Skating + Fantasy + 10,000 Other Things = Peasprout Chen

I was inspired to become a writer by Prisoner of Azkaban. I wanted to achieve a puzzle story as brilliantly choreographed as that book. That was a tall request of a first novel but I had the same secret weapon Rowling had: I had a mashup mystery story.

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword is an Asian-lore middle grade fantasy about a girl who comes to an academy to study an invented sport that combines figure skating with kung fu. When someone starts vandalizing the buildings on the campus, everyone suspects immigrant Peasprout, who is thrust into a mission to clear her name on top of becoming a champion at her sport. The New York Times’ description of it emphasizes the deeply mashup nature: “It’s Hermione Granger meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets the Ice Capades meets Mean Girls. For all its disparate ingredients, though, Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword speaks in a single, strong voice, thanks to its spirited heroine.” What they left out is that it is also an action/adventure tale, a sports book, a boarding school story, a voicey faux memoir from a very unusual character POV, a sensitive LGBTQ coming of age story, and an Own Voices immigration tale. Oh, and a musical, sorta. There’s even a theme song that I wrote and Idina Menzel (“Frozen”, “Wicked”) sang the song at my book launch (check out www.henrylien.com for the video).

The effect of all these wildly diverse elements is that you’re distracted from the fact that what you’re reading is first and foremost a mystery story with clues scattered throughout that reward a second reading. To say more than that would risk spoilers. I’ll just say that almost no one has guessed the solution to the puzzle before the big reveal. I owe a lot of that to J.K. Rowling. Her work taught me that mashups allow for tricks and sleight of hand that achieve some wondrous things: true surprise and real storytelling magic.

Henry Lien.png

Henry Lien is a 2012 graduate of Clarion West, and his short fiction has appeared in publications like Asimov’s, earning several Nebula Award nominations. Born in Taiwan, Henry currently lives in Hollywood, California. He is the author of PEASPROUT CHEN, FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD and the upcoming PEASPROUT CHEN: BATTLE OF CHAMPIONS.

Add PEASPROUT CHEN, FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD on Goodreads!

Connect with Henry on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or through his website!

Click here to win a copy of PEASPROUT CHEN, FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD!

The final giveaway will be for EVERY SINGLE book featured in the Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY blog series so make sure you check it out on every post! (New options to enter will be added with each post.) Draw closes on Friday, October 5th at the end of our series.

Tune in on Friday for a guest post from Sheila Turnage!

Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight on: MYSTERY Previous Posts

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jill Diamond

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Beth McMullen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Casey Lyall

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Kat Zhang

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: C.M. Surrisi

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Dora M. Mitchell

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Natasha Deen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Lauren Magaziner

KBKL Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jill Diamond!

Kick-butt Kidlit Presents_

Our new feature series (Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On:) is kicking off this month with a focus on MYSTERY NOVELS! Specifically middle grade mystery because MG is our jam!

Let’s give a big Kick-butt welcome to our guest author for today, Jill Diamond! 

Lou Lou and Pea.png

Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!”

 This call to mystery action was spoken by one of the most famous literary characters of all time, Sherlock Holmes, to his crime-solving partner Dr. John Watson in Sir Arthur Conan Doyles’ The Abbey Grange. While Sherlock Holmes is unquestionably a master detective in his own right, it’s the team of Holmes and Watson that ultimately gets the mystery-solving job done. And it’s the dynamic friendship between the two characters that really keeps readers hooked. Holmes and Watson have a number of things in common – they are both intelligent, interested in sleuthing, and, depending on the specific depiction, fond of wearing hats. However, it’s the two best friends’ differences that add richness and depth to their adventures and their relationship. Alone, they are well-crafted characters but as a duo, they are mystery detective magic.

Mystery-solving friend duos or teams like Holmes and Watson are common in literature generally, but definitely have a special place in middle grade novels. Not only is the mystery genre particularly beloved in middle grade, the exploration of friendships is a common middle grade theme. Middle grade novels often address how friendships form, what makes them work well and endure or fall apart, and the benefits and challenges of friendship. And, what better way to examine friendship than against the backdrop of an exciting story that requires teamwork to resolve.

In my middle grade novels, LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE MURAL MYSTERY and LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE BICENTENNIAL BONANZA, the main characters, Lou Lou Bombay and Peacock Pearl are two best friends with much in common but, like Holmes and Watson, very different personalities and strengths. I thought it would be fun to interview them and have them tell you a bit about themselves, what makes their friendship special, and how they use it to solve mysteries in their neighborhood of El Corazón!

INTERVIEW WITH LOU LOU AND PEA

Q: How did you become friends?

Peacock Pearl: We were in the first grade and had a chart-making assignment. My chart showed my cleaning chores and Lou Lou’s showed the days that she watered her cactus. When a boy in our class, Kyle Longfellow spilled his chocolate milk on my chart, Lou Lou helped me make a new one, and we’ve been best friends ever since!

Q: What is the best thing about your friendship?

Lou Lou Bombay: We like a lot of the same things, which is really fun! We both love tea and scones and we’ve made them a part of our Friday friend tradition. We like going to see performances at the Heliotrope, the theater in our neighborhood. And we’re both really into solving problems and mysteries!

PP: We’re really different, too. I like art and fashion and Lou Lou is an excellent horticulturist. I speak Spanish and Lou Lou doesn’t. My favorite color is blue and Lou Lou likes red. Our differences keep things interesting!

Q: What is the most challenging thing about your friendship?

PP: Our differences are great – I wouldn’t change them – but they can make things challenging sometimes. Messes drive me crazy. I’m neat and clean and Lou Lou is not so neat and—

LL: Messy! You can say it. I’m messy!

PP: Lou Lou also interrupts me sometimes and I’m—

LL: You’re very polite and never interrupt. Oops! Sorry, I did it again! Pea likes to think things through and I like to charge into the action. I get bored with too much thinking.

Q: How does teamwork help you solve mysteries and problems?

LL: We both have different things we’re good at. For example, Pea’s love of art helped us with the mural mystery and my passion for horticulture came in useful with our city’s bicentennial bonanza celebration. When we combine our awesomeness, we’re unstoppable. (Mostly, at least. We did both get grounded recently for borrowing a diary while trying to solve a mystery).

PP: Yes, that was some unfortunate sleuthing-related business. We had good intentions but went about things a bit wrong, I suppose. But, like Lou Lou said, we have different talents, but we also have different ways of approaching things. I am cautious and logical, but Lou Lou is…spontaneous. Sometimes, you need to think things through when you’re solving a mystery and sometimes­—

LL: You just have to have guts and go for it!

PP: Exactly!

Q: What are some other examples of great mystery-solving teams

PP: The team of kids in THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY is one of my favorites. They’re like Pea and me because they use their differences to their advantage!

LL: I love the duo of Howard Wallace and Ivy Mason in the HOWARD WALLACE books. I like to think I’m a little like Ivy because she’s smart, kinda sassy, and gets the job done when it comes to mysteries!

Thank you for sharing, Lou Lou and Pea! It’s clear that, when it comes to mystery solving, teams are the bee’s knees. And, with so many wonderful and fun duos, trios, and groups looking for clues together in the pages of books, the reading possibilities are endless!

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Jill Diamond has loved children’s literature for as long as she can remember, thanks to her school librarian mother and long, cold winters in Maine. She presently lives in San Francisco, where, when she’s not writing, she hangs out with her husband and their son.

Jill is the author of the Lou Lou and Pea series. The second book in the series, Lou Lou and Pea and the Bicentennial Bonanza is available now!

Add LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE BICENTENNIAL BONANZA to Goodreads!

Connect with Jill on Twitter, Facebook, or through her website!

Click here to win a copy of LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE BICENTENNIAL BONANZA!

The final giveaway will be for EVERY SINGLE book featured in the Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY blog series so make sure you check it out on every post! (New options to enter will be added with each post.) Draw closes on Friday, October 5th at the end of our series.

Tune in next Wednesday for a guest post from Henry Lien!

Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight on: MYSTERY Previous Posts

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Beth McMullen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Casey Lyall

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Kat Zhang

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: C.M. Surrisi

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Dora M. Mitchell

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Natasha Deen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Lauren Magaziner

 

 

 

KBKL Middle Grade Mysteries with: Beth McMullen!

Kick-butt Kidlit Presents_

Our new feature series (Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On:) is kicking off this month with a focus on MYSTERY NOVELS! Specifically middle grade mystery because MG is our jam!

Let’s give a big Kick-butt welcome to our guest author for today, Beth McMullen! 

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As summer fades away, I like to look back and gauge if it was time well spent. Did we swim and camp and hike and sail and eat ice cream and read and go to the movies?

Did someone say movies?

Sure, we did the other stuff but, in my family, we are excellent and dedicated movie goers. Popcorn and Junior Mints, air conditioning and a dark theater. Perfection! And of course, being summer, we sat through a lot of sequels: Avengers: Infinity War, Incredibles 2, Hotel Transylvania 3, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Deadpool 2, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Ant-Man and The Wasp, and Mission: Impossible – Fallout. (There were a bunch of horror film sequels, too, but I am just too chicken to see those.)

Now I have nothing against sequels – I had my own come out on July 3rd actually – but they tend to adhere to the formula of more of the same but, you know, more. Bigger, louder, crazier, wilder. No matter what, crank up the thrills and chills.

And this got me thinking (you can do a lot of thinking during the obligatory thirty minutes of previews shown in theaters nowadays) about the potential problems of adding action/adventure elements to a story. Because here’s the thing – if those elements are gratuitous, your readers will know. They will fall out of your story and you will lose them.

Your thrills must be relevant to the plot. They must move the story forward and not exist simply because you thought it would be cool to send your main character off a fifty-foot cliff into a raging river while being chased by an irritated mama grizzly bear with extra-long claws and razor-sharp teeth. Do not compromise your story for the sake of a short-lived adrenaline rush.

I had an editor once who was ruthless on this point of relevant action or adventure elements. My manuscripts would return to me tattooed with Does this drive the plot forward? As in, is it necessary or are you indulging yourself at the expense of your story? Boy, how I bristled at this! I hated stripping out bits of dialog and prose that felt precious and necessary. But you know what? She was right. This unnecessary material slowed my pacing, muddled the story and lost the reader. It had to go.

Kill your darlings, as they say.

But done well, action/adventure is fun! And it can add some heart pounding, page turning excitement to a mystery, or any genre. So how do you do it well? Start by asking yourself these three questions:

  1. Does the action or adventure sequence contribute to the forward momentum of your story? If it is a tangent or unnecessary side trip, cut it out.
  2. Could the action happen in the world in which you are writing? If you work in fantasy or sci-fi, you will have more leeway than if you write contemporary realistic fiction. But world builders must be careful not to stretch the boundaries of what is possible in the environment they have created. Stay true to your own rules.
  3. Can you visualize the action? I call this the ‘movie rule’. As I work through a scene with lots of movement, I have to see it clearly in my head. If I can’t, I might need to rework the sequence of events or add details to bring it to life. This is where you need to be picky about what you include. Too much description slows down the momentum the action is meant to create. Choose wisely.

Writing action is some of the best fun you can have at a keyboard. I encourage you to write it with abandon and see what happens.

After all, it’s not you being chased off a cliff by grizzly bear.

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Beth McMullen is best known for the Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls trilogy, middle grade spy thrillers, packed with action and adventure.  She also writes the Sally Sin series for adult readers. Beth lives in Northern California with her husband, kids, cats and a very tolerant parakeet named Zeus.

Add MRS. SMITH’S SPY SCHOOL FOR GIRLS: POWER PLAY on Goodreads!

Connect with Beth on Twitter, Facebook, or through her website!

Click here to win a copy of MRS. SMITH’S SPY SCHOOL FOR GIRLS: POWER PLAY!

The final giveaway will be for EVERY SINGLE book featured in the Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY blog series so make sure you check it out on every post! (New options to enter will be added with each post.) Draw closes on Friday, October 5th at the end of our series.

Tune in Friday for a guest post from Jill Diamond!

Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight on: MYSTERY Previous Posts

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Casey Lyall

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Kat Zhang

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: C.M. Surrisi

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Dora M. Mitchell

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Natasha Deen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Lauren Magaziner