Mindy Hardwick's Blog

Author Mindy Hardwick Muses about Writing

Middle Grade Recommendations

For the last couple weeks, I’ve been waiting on my developmental edits on my middle grade to be returned from my editor. While I waited, I did a little more reading in current middle grade novels. This helps me with my own story as I study how other authors do things like increase the stakes and develop secondary characters (two of the areas which came back as needing a little work in my own middle grade)

Two of my favorite middle grade books were Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes and Clean Getaway by Nic Stone.

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone is a perfect middle grade road trip story. After Scoob gets in a little trouble and finds his spring break plans canceled, he ends up on a road trip with his mysterious Grandma. The two travel through the South, tracing a route white Grandma once wanted to take with black Grandpa in the late 60’s with the help of The Green Book. I’m not usually a fan of road trip stories, but when Scoob opens the old treasure box and pulls out the Green Book (which I honestly knew no history about the Green Book so this was really interesting to me) and Grandma steals a license plate from another car, I was hooked wondering: Who is this Grandma? And who is Grandpa who is in jail and Dad has never wanted to talk about with Scoob?

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes is a middle grade in which twelve-year- old Jerome has been shot by a police officer when holding a toy gun and mistaken for having a real one. He becomes a ghost and watches his parents walk through the grief of losing him and the trial with the police officer. The only person who can see him is the police officer’s daughter, Sarah. When Jerome becomes a ghost he is met by other ghost boys–namely Emmett Till who at first helps him negotiate this new ghost world and then encourages him to interact with Sarah so his story and others who have also been killed due to racism can be told. The story is very well plotted and moves quickly. The story is a great read that weaves historical fiction with our current times.

I would add both of these to any middle school classroom for either classroom libraries or as books to read in a literature circle/book group. (I am not a fan of whole class books as I think it’s hard to reach all readers with one book and encourage the use of literature circles/book groups where readers have a choice of books based on a theme)

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Summer Sale!

It’s summer and I’ve got two of my “summer” books for free at Smashwords this month as well as one of my non-summer books on sale for half off! The Smashword summer sale runs all month!

The first free summer book is Sweetheart Summer, a sweet contemporary small town romance. You can download Sweetheart Summer from Smashwords here.

Can small-town business competitors set aside their differences and find love in the second book in the Cranberry Bay sweet contemporary romance series.

Cranberry Bay sewing shop owner and activist Katie Coos campaigns tirelessly to preserve the community feel of the town she loves. Savvy and successful developer Sawyer Shuster, meanwhile, seeks to provide a future for his beloved childhood community through large-scale developments. When Katie reluctantly purchases an auction certificate for Sawyer’s handyman skills, both are determined to keep their distance. But as summer heats up, Katie and Sawyer’s feelings ignite until both must find a way to trust each other or risk losing not only their businesses but also their chance at love.

My second free summer book at the Smashwords July sale is Stained Glass Summer, a middle grade novel. This was my first published book and very dear to my heart! You can download Stained Glass Summer here.

Twelve-year-old Jasmine adores her photographer Father and wants to be an artist just like him. But when Dad abandons the family, Jasmine is sent to spend the summer with her Uncle on a Pacific Northwest Island. Soon, Jasmine is learning stained glass from island glass artist, Opal, and thinking she might just be developing a crush on Island boy, Cole. But, can she truly let go of her Father and call herself an artist by her own terms? The story will appeal to young readers between the ages of 8-12.

And my third book, Kids In Orange: Voices from Juvenile Detention is available for half off! This is a memoir about my experience running a poetry workshop with kids in juvenile detention. You can download that book here in the Smashwords sale. Happy reading!

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Writing the Picture Book Class

I’m offering my Writing the Picture Book Online Class again through WOW–Women on Writing.

The class runs from July 2 to July 29 and all work is posted on a Groups.IO chat group–so very easy to access. You can see the class outline here.

COURSE DESCRIPTION: Picture Books are the most beloved story form of children’s writing. But how easy is it to write one? In this class, we’ll look at how to create a memorable child character, how to craft a simple plot to be read multiple times, explore pacing, and do a little researching into the current picture book market. The class includes instructor feedback on all assignments, and a draft of an 800-word picture book. Students will be encouraged to spend an afternoon at their local library or elementary school reading picture books. The class is designed for those interested in learning how to write a picture book story and is very beneficial for illustrators wanting to know how to write a picture book.

I hope if learning to write a picture book is one of your goals, you will join us!

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Reading Middle Grade

I sent my middle grade manuscript off to my developmental editor, Sarah Cloots, Sarah and I have worked on four books together–including two of my middle grade novels (Stained Glass Summer and Seymour’s Secret) and my memoir, Kids in Orange: Voices from Juvenile Detention. This is our fourth book and although I always know the developmental edit will give me some work to do, she has a great sense of how to keep the story intact as I envisioned it and encourages me to draw out more of the story.

The developmental edit is when Sarah will look at the elements of the story–character, plot, flow. After I work on revisions, we’ll do another round for copy and line edits. When I am producing a book, I always have both a developmental edit and a copy edit as two separate edits. It’s not enough to just have critique partners. I need a professional editor to read the story from start to finish and work on it with me for a couple rounds to make sure everything is the best it can be. All of my spring and summer festivals and speaking events were canceled and thanks to Portland Literary Arts who awarded me a Booth Emergency Writers Fund payment due to all my canceled events this sprig and summer, this is a good time to work on taking a few more books to publication!

I’m also doing a little work on learning Adobe InDesign for a couple picture books, one which I hope to release later this fall–but that’s another post!

Due to COVID 19, I have been reading a lot more. For the last two months I’ve been catching up on some of my middle grade reading. As a writer, it’s always important to read what is current in your genre. It helps to study the books for not only what works well but also what didn’t work so well.

A few of the middle grade titles I’ve read lately include:

Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly is a story told from the point of view of four children. In a nutshell, the story is about  the class bully who tosses Virgil’s pet guinea pig to the bottom of a well and the other children have to find him and get him out. It’s a friendship contemporary story without a lot of hit you over the head action like so many middle grade books have become recently.

The thing I loved about this story was the diversity of the characters. One girl was deaf, one is Filipino-American living with a Grandmother and one is Japanese American who thinks she is a psychic and has a strong relationship with her sister. The characters each are fully fleshed out and bring a lot of complexity to the story.

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert popped on to my radar when I attended the virtual Everywhere Bookfest this spring and heard Brandy Colbert talk.

The story is a coming of age friendship story about two twelve year old girls. Alberta loves to surf and is the only black girl in her California mid-Coast town until Edie moves in next door with her Mom to run a B and B. The story involves a mystery about some journals the girls find in the attic, navigating middle school friendships, and first crushes. But it’s also a very true to now story as Alberta lives with her two Dads and her very pregnant birth mom comes to live with them for a few weeks before they have the baby, issues of systemic racism in the small white town at the school as well as a mean white girl who lives in the same neighborhood as Alberta and Edie. All the pieces layer together and make this book a fabulous read!

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo is not a new book. But when my Mom read it for our Mother/Daughter book group and sent copies to my sister and I, I devoured it in one sitting. Orphan Peter wants to know what’s happened to his sister and how can he find her, so he goes to a fortune teller who tells him to follow the elephant. Peter is confused. There is no elephant in town. But then..a magician’s trick goes wrong and an elephant appears–right in the lap of a woman watching the show and the elephant breaks her legs. What follows is a tale about multiple characters all caught up with this elephant and getting him back to where he belongs. It’s a great story with a message of hope–especially for the time we are in right now!

Let us know what you are reading in the comments below!

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Book Recommendations

In April, I got to attend the virtual Everywhere Bookfest. It was absolutely fabulous to hear various authors speak about their upcoming new releases.

Over the last month I have been working my way through some of those books–some are not out until later this summer. I signed up for Overdrive at my library so I could download ebooks. Even though my own books were first published with digital first publishers, I am still more of a “in the hand” book fan. But with COVID-19 I didn’t have much choice. I did use some of my gas money, that wasn’t going into my car, to buy a few books from Powells, I knew I couldn’t buy all the books I consume on a regular basis!

In light of what is currently going on, I have chosen to specifically feature black children’s authors who tell powerful stories and are career children’s writers.

Here are a few of my favorites I have read recently:

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The first book I read by Jewell Parker Rhodes was Ninth Ward a middle grade novel which takes place during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Black Brother Black Brother is her newest YA book and it didn’t disappoint. Two brothers–one white, one black, attend a private prep school in Massachusetts. They are from a biracial family where their black mother is a lawyer and works on civil rights cases.

Trey, the white brother excels in school. Donte is one of the few black students and seems to be always in the Principal’s office. Mostly due to the fact that a white boy, Alan, is picking on him and Donte is getting blamed. The book opens when Donte is unfairly treated and the cops are called and he is hauled off to the police station. He is not arrested but he does have to appear in juvenile court during the book. The story is about how Donte learns to control his anger by learning how to fence with a mentor, a black man who was a former Olympic fencer. The book draws attention to how fencing is a white sport at predominantly well to do prep high schools. I learned a lot about fencing and appreciated the attention drawn to the systematic racism at prep high schools. I would recommend this one to 7th, 8th, and 9th graders.

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I discovered Renee Watson when Salem, Oregon chose her YA book Piecing me Together to read for the city wide read this year. I was thrilled to see a YA book chosen for a city wide read!

Renee Watson grew up in Portland, Oregon and often sets her stories in Portland. This is her version of Ramona by Beverly Cleary. Like Ramona, Ryan Hart lives in a NE Portland neighborhood but she has to move when her Father who works at the post office loses his job and the family moves in to a smaller “cozy” rental house. Ryan knows how to make the best of no matter what life throws at her, just like her Grandmother who is a great supportive adult character in the story. 

Renee Watson often sets her stories in Portland neighborhoods and shows the racial inequalities in Portland housing. In this story, Ryan’s best friend moves to Lake Oswego and it’s contrasted to Ryan’s home and friends.

I really enjoyed the positive outlook Ryan brought to her story and the first chapter about names would make a great read aloud for a writing lesson on our names. Upper elementary kids in grades 3rd-5th will enjoy this one as well as adults who like middle grade!

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Look Both Ways is a fun read for middle graders. The stories are linked short stories which all take place on one neighborhood after school when kids are walking home. The opening story is about boogers.and include stories about a girl whose skateboard is tossed into the street, and a club of kids whose parents are all undergoing cancer treatment and they use a con candy lady to help them buy ice cream for one of the boy’s moms.

The stories are beautifully written and capture the middle school walk home very well. I’m not sure kids would want to read the whole thing but I think they would enjoy some of the short stories and it’d be a fun book to use when teaching adult writers with the prompt, “Your walk home from school.”

At the Everywhere Bookfest, I attended two virtual panels in which Jason Reynolds was one of the speakers. I first heard of Jason Reynolds this past year while subbing in a special education high school classroom. We were reading a magazine that had a profile article about him. Immediately, I was hooked and I had the kids looking up You Tube videos of who this author was and what he wrote. I don’t think the kids were as interested as I was in that lesson!

From Jason Reynold’s website, “Born in Washington, DC and raised in neighboring Oxon Hill, Maryland, Reynolds found inspiration in rap to begin writing poetry at nine years old. He focused on poetry for approximately the next two decades, only reading a novel cover to cover for the first time at age 17 and publishing several poetry collections before he published his own first novel.”

Jason Reynolds is the 2020-2021 National Ambassador for young people’s literature. “Reynolds will visit small towns across America to have meaningful discussions with young people. Through his platform, “GRAB THE MIC: Tell Your Story,” Reynolds, who regularly talks about his journey from reluctant reader to award-winning author, will redirect his focus as ambassador by listening and empowering students to embrace and share their own personal stories.”

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The Everywhere Book Fest

The Everywhere Book Fest is taking place this weekend. On Friday, there was a full day of children’s authors speaking in thirty minute and hour long virtual panels and talks which included everything from the process of writing to specific topics such as siblings in books.

The idea for the Everywhere Book Fest came together when children’s authors with new books found their events and school workshops all canceled due to COVID-19. They put together this fabulous two day free event! Links to buy their books are listed on the specific pages for each talk. I found myself adding to my Goodreads list often!

I haven’t had a full day of children’s literature in a very long time and it was very refreshing! In one of the talks, a fifth grade class was asking questions in the chat!

The Everywhere Book Fest is recorded so you can still watch the Friday talks! There is another day on Saturday! You can see the whole schedule here.

The talks I enjoyed on Friday were: Jason Reynolds discussing his books, a panel on siblings in books, Meg Medina talking about her writing process, and a fabulous panel called Write #Herstory.

Here is the Jason Reynolds talk.

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Writing the Picture Book Online Class

I know we don’t want to think about it–but even if we do return to some normal activity by July, the chances that a lot of our favorite festivals and events will be canceled are high. I’m supposed to participate in two summer festivals–one in Gig Harbor and one in Oregon City, Oregon and I’m kinda holding my breathe to see if they will go.

Sooo….in the meantime, I’m offering my Writing the Picture Book Online Class again through WOW–Women on Writing. Registration is now open!

The class runs from July 2 to July 29 and all work is posted on a Groups.IO chat group–so very easy to access. You can see the class outline here.

COURSE DESCRIPTION: Picture Books are the most beloved story form of children’s writing. But how easy is it to write one? In this class, we’ll look at how to create a memorable child character, how to craft a simple plot to be read multiple times, explore pacing, and do a little researching into the current picture book market. The class includes instructor feedback on all assignments, and a draft of an 800-word picture book. Students will be encouraged to spend an afternoon at their local library or elementary school reading picture books. The class is designed for those interested in learning how to write a picture book story and is very beneficial for illustrators wanting to know how to write a picture book.

I hope if learning to write a picture book is one of your goals, you will join us!

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Artist In Residence

How is everyone doing? It was slowly building but Oregon officially went to shelter in place today. Although they don’t call it that due to the other meanings those terms have been used for in times of emergencies. In Oregon, it’s a Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order.

My day job moved to at home last week. I teach in a hybrid online high school which is still in school. The part that I do on campus closed but the bulk of the teaching was already on line. This week is finally our spring break. It has been a long haul. I started this job seven weeks ago and the learning curve has been steep! I had planned to be at my cottage in Cannon Beach for the spring break week but due to my school going fully online and not needing to be on campus two days a week, I ended up coming out early and settled in. It’s easier to shelter in place when I have a backyard for my dog and spring is about to go full season and I can be in the yard.

One of the skills we teach our online high school students is how to block your time. It’s a good lesson and one I had to learn early in my work-from home days many years ago. Blocking your time gives structure to your day and a sense of purpose.

Some of my daily schedule doesn’t change from what I have been doing when I teach online, but some of the middle part of the day did with this week’s “artist in residence”.

So what does my schedule look like?

6:30-8:00: Greet the Day Make coffee, let the dog out, do small chores–empty dishwasher, etc. Read daily meditation books, journal a bit, check the news. (I hate to do this in that time period, but right now everything changes so fast I feel like it has to become a part of the morning check-in). This period has always been my morning routine and I put into place when I first began working from home and didn’t have to commute anymore. I don’t think well in the early morning hours and it’s not a productive time for me to work. I have held to it in my teaching online job too.

8:00-10:00: Art and Creativity Time. I signed up to participate in the Sketchbook Revival which is a fun free week long class in art and creativity. Today’s lesson was taught by mixed media artist, Carla Sonheim who I have known since 2011 and took some early classes with her at Journalfest at Fort Worden in Port Townsend. Today her lesson was box journal and blob drawings. Carla has lots of fun online classes which don’t take a lot of art supplies and can be done in short amounts of time. You can see her online classes here.

10:00-10:30: Break. Eat breakfast. I can’t eat much before this time, so at 10:00 I break and make a hot cereal, do a few more chores around the house (laundry, etc) and do a little stretching.

10:30-1:30. Writing. This week I am working on revising World is a Sniff. Luckily this morning in my email were two great FREE classes offered by Fiction University, Janice Hardy. One is on writing the novel and the other is on revision. I highly recommend these classes for either stage.

I am working through the revision class and today’s lesson was about identifying which plot structure my novel uses and identifying key points. I place this activity in this time slot because this is my most productive time of the day and revising needs a lot of my brain power.

1:30-2:30: Make lunch. Since I’m at home, I’m cooking lunch. Today was a Blue Apron meal and I made a cocoa cake which is a recipe from my Mom. It made the whole house smell great and it fuels that creativity piece for me.

2:30-3:00: Miscellaneous–email, blogging, setting up for tomorrow

3:00-4:00: Walk the dog. Cannon Beach removed all visitors for the next two weeks so we have a very quiet town to walk right now!

Evening Time: Varies: Reading, Zoom Yoga with my regular yoga studios who are doing Zoom Yoga, phone calls, tutoring an online student a couple times a week who has a different spring break, another walk.

Working from home can be challenging at first, but I have enjoyed the perks for many years now! Let us know how you are working and any tips!

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Finding the Good

Happy First Day of Spring! If we look at what is happening in the world right now it doesn’t necessarily feel like we should be celebrating spring. But, the beauty of nature is that it shows us there is a cycle at work always and after the darkest winters comes the most beautiful springs.

When I was twenty, I began attending 12-Step groups. My life had crashed to a standstill and I was being asked to look at how I did life. One of the early things I heard in those meetings was find the good. At the end of the day, name three things you are grateful for. That life crash at twenty was not the only one I’ve experienced. I recently went through a soul searching period in my career where everything came to a screeching standstill, including my finances, and I had to return to the basics of what I learned in those early 12-Step days. Lessons I carry with me thirty years later.

So I challenge you, find the good each day. At the end of the day, or at the beginning, list three things you are grateful for in this day. And one day at a time we do get through our dark moments.

Here are mine:

  1. I am finally getting to read those books in my To Be Read Pile!
  2. My Mom and sister and I started a Google Hangouts Book group in January, not realizing how important that would be now!
  3. It’s spring–and the puffins are returning to Haystack Rock! The daffodils are blooming and the magnolia trees in Portland are amazing!
  4. On my walk with Stormy on Wednesday afternoon, I saw many many families on bikes–dads, moms and kids. I saw Moms walking with their middle school daughters and one friend each. Finally! Family time!
  5. In February, I got an online high school teaching job, removing me from the substitute pool, giving me full medical benefits and a salary and thrusting me into the forefront of education right now. Our school is in session and enrollment is bulging. How I landed this job at this time will always be a moment of grace to me.
  6. I have more food in the house than I have had in years and years. I didn’t hoard anything but for the first time, I did full grocery shopping for ten days and everything is stocked. It feels very prosperous to have a full refrigerator and something I need to look at why I never allowed myself to do this before.
  7. I am so grateful to have my cottage at the beach which over the last three years became my home and community as I went through my own personal transitions in life. Those connections are priceless and the dog has his beach pals and I have my walking companions. This was the gift to come from my last period of personal crisis
  8. I live in a fabulous area–although we complain in the winter with our rain and wind, the reality is it’s an amazing area for nature and there are so many ways to social distance and yet still be outside.
  9. I have more creative projects than I know what to do with and maybe some of them might get done now.
  10. It’s nice to have the moments of stillness and not have to make excuses for why I don’t want to do something or feel guilty that I want quiet time.
  11. And finally……having gone through my own personal crisis, I know that although it can feel like everything is over in the middle of that crisis, the reality is each crisis I have gone through has birthed a new chapter of my life and they are always better fitted to who I am in that moment than the one that just ended.

So I challenge you, each day find the good!

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Fall on the Coast: A Dog’s View

A few weeks ago my story, “Fall on the Coast: A Dog’s View” was selected as one of the readings for the Cannon Beach Library Writer’s Celebration. The story is about a fall day in Cannon Beach told from the point of view of my cocker spaniel, Stormy. The story is an excerpt from my work in progress, World is a Sniff. Enjoy!

Fall on the Coast: A Dog’s View

In the middle of the night, I smell them. The dark and dank scent. I cuddle against my Human in the pillows and covers. I lift my head and stare toward the bedroom window. They are out there. The creatures who smell.

Elk.

I bury my nose against my Human and I only smell her.

In her sleepy state, she pets me. “Shhh…Stormy,” she says my name. “It’s okay.” I snuggle closer to her.  

In the morning, I leap out of bed. I retrieve my Human’s slippers and she serves my breakfast. My Human and I meet up with my dog pals on the coffee shop porch. Muffin and bagel crumbs land on the floor. My dog pals and I bump against each other in the dash for crumbs under the tables.

After coffee, my Human works on her computer and I snuggle beside her on the chair. After a while, I get bored. I use my best pleading whine and she clips on my leash. On our walk, I smell the dank and dark creatures. They are at the top of our hill. I lunge toward them.  Most turn away but one stares at me. Slowly, it takes a step toward me.

My Human tightens my leash. We run down the hill to the park. The scent of elk is all around us.

We pass by the creek. When we are far enough onto the beach, my Human slips off my leash. She throws my ball and my feet dance on the sand. When I get tired, we walk home. The dank, dark smell is gone.

That afternoon, the man in the big truck comes to the door. He hands my Human a box and like always, there is a treat for me. I wiggle and wiggle. I love the man in the big truck.

After dinner, my Human and I meet my dog pals at the end of the street for a beach walk. I am not as fast as I once was, and two beach walks a day is a lot for me now. My dog pals try to get me to play chase, but I can’t always keep up.  

Beach walking Humans always have treats. I like to walk by their sides. I whine a little until a treat finds its way out of a bag and into my mouth. Getting old on the beach isn’t so bad.

After the sun sets, Humans and dogs walk down the hill.  

I smell them again.

The dark, dank creatures.

They are close. 

Very close.

One of my dog pals is off leash. She dashes into the trees. The twigs snap. The dark, dank creatures are everywhere. My dog pal barks at them. She barks and barks.

Her Human calls to her. But she doesn’t come.

The elk lifts his leg to smoosh my dog pal.

The Humans all go silent.

I smell it.

Fear.  

And, then, I hear.

My Human is calling. A high-pitched voice that she learned at our puppy training classes. The Trainer Human told her to use that call if I ever ran into the road. She told her I would stop and come back immediately.

It works for elk too.

Suddenly, my dog pal runs out of the bushes and toward the Humans.

The dark, dank creatures clomp into the woods. Their scent lingers in the air.   

I am happy to walk back to the cottage. At bedtime, I snuggle next to my Human. 

Tonight, the dark, dank creatures do not pass by my house.

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