Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Wise Words from Karuna Riazi

The Gauntlet is one of my most highly anticipated reads and if you missed it, the fabulous book released last week. I have some encouraging and inspirational words from the author herself. Enjoy!

Tips on Writing a Middle Grade

Fun fact: The Gauntlet is the first middle grade I’ve ever written. In this life. I never thought that I would be able to write in that voice, be honest and true to it, and plow through an entire draft (and another one, and another one, and I know you’re reading that in DJ Khaled’s voice now, guys) without feeling like I was condescending to or disappointing the audience the book was addressed to.

So, every time someone tells me that I managed to get the atmosphere down pat, that they found Farah relatable or even that I convinced them to consider writing a middle grade too – in the words of my dear friend Heidi Schultz: ONE OF US ONE OF US ONE OF US – it’s nothing less than remarkable to me.

This is all a preamble to say: I am not sure if I am 100% qualified to give you advice on writing a middle grade, but at the same time, I do feel 100% qualified to talk you through the awkward and uncertainty of being a (or thinking that you are a) YA writer with a possible interest in a middle grade project.

Sit yourselves down, my little grasshoppers, and I’ll offer you a list of my top five tips to venture into the world of middle grades:

5. You’ve probably heard this before, but read middle grades! It is a sad and undeniable fact that middle grades are often…not as appreciated as their older YA siblings, which is a darn shame because there’s so much bounty out there on the shelves and middle grades can be just as profound, heartfelt and hard-hitting when tackling tough issues.

Some of my personal suggestions, if you’re new to testing the waters: Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen (this is just…a master class in poetic, gorgeous fantasy that easily has YA appeal), Amina’s Voice from my Salaam Reads sister Hena Khan, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu and anything at all from Mike Jung if you really want pure joy in your life.

4. Get to know the experts! Follow their blogs, check out what books they are recommending, read their books without cracking the spines out (that hurts) and pick up on what you love about their voices and what they do with their particular skills.

Disclaimer: If you’re on the fence about writing a middle grade and are not sure if you want to take a project on in the near future, I suggest treading carefully around Anne Ursu – she’s a middle grade whisperer, in that she will whisper in your ear about how wonderful it would be for you to write one until you, incredibly enough, have indeed written one and are about to announce the sale. (True story.)

3. Listen to what the kids are saying. I’m a big sister, babysitter, substitute teacher and a very nosy individual who likes to note down conversations, favorite flavors of bubble gum, opinions on currently airing cartoons and whose little brother likes to eat dirt whenever the opportunity allows. I recommend doing the same. You’ll get a lot of good material, probably some reminders about aspects of your middle grade life that you thought you had already been distanced from, and one or two belly laughs as well.

2. Your style will translate over. Trust me. One of the things I worried about the most in writing The Gauntlet was watering down, or attempting to, my fondness for lengthy descriptions, extended metaphors and a lot of introspective thought. I won’t lie and say that my editor allowed me free rein on that (and with good reason), but at the end of the day, I can still flip through the book and see the areas where those parts of me and my writing still shine through. Your voice is your voice, no matter what you write.

1. Finally, just have fun with this! One of the most marvelous things about middle grades is, to me, how much enjoyment they can pack into a few chapters and how they can keep you snickering hours after you turned the last page. Really indulge your sense of fun and maybe even make a list of all the cool stuff you wanted to see in books back when you were stuffing chapter books in your backpack or browsing the Scholastic Book Fair, and see how much of it you can bring to life now.

Dig deep, smile wide, and see what incredible adventures you can have – and create. Good luck!

The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

When twelve-year-old Farah and her two best friends get sucked into a mechanical board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand—a puzzle game akin to a large Rubik’s cube—they know it’s up to them to defeat the game’s diabolical architect in order to save themselves and those who are trapped inside, including her baby brother Ahmed. But first they have to figure out how.

Under the tutelage of a lizard guide named Henrietta Peel and an aeronaut Vijay, the Farah and her friends battle camel spiders, red scorpions, grease monkeys, and sand cats as they prepare to face off with the maniacal Lord Amari, the man behind the machine. Can they defeat Amari at his own game…or will they, like the children who came before them, become cogs in the machine? - Goodreads

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