First of all, I just want to thank everyone, near and far, who has been supporting Beep and Bob. It means so much to me. If you were at the series launch event at Barnes & Noble this past weekend, you may have noted that one of the most important things I said is that while my name alone is on the cover of the book, creating even a silly chapter book series is a group effort. Though my editor was in New York and my agent in California, many of the faces behind helping me along my journey to get this series published were in attendance, including my mom, Karen, my wife, Lisa Marie, my sisters Catherine and Elizabeth, my brother Matt (with nephew Arthur), and my critique partners Fataima, Lauren and Robin. Their names are all listed at the end of book 1, and Beep and Bob would truly not be here without them. Beep says YAY to you all!








Getting to Know: Brad McLelland

If I mentioned that I just discovered a cool new middle-grade series about a young orphan on the hunt for a magical stone, you might say, uh, Harry Potter came out 20 years ago. But what if that orphan lived in 1850s Missouri, and had to fight off a horde of zombie outlaws? If you know some kids ready for a different kind of fantasy, I heartily encourage them check out Legends of the Lost Causes (Henry Holt), which released this past week. I caught up with co-author Brad McLelland, who talked to me about his kidlit debut:

Me: Can you sum up Legends of the Lost Causes for the uninitiated?

Brad: Legends is the first book in a 4-book Western Fantasy series that tells the story of 13-year-old Keech Blackwood, a frontier-smart orphan in 1855 Missouri who encounters a deadly desperado named Bad Whiskey Nelson. A devastating act of violence turns Keech on a path toward vengeance, and along the road to meting out his retribution he runs into other orphans who’ve suffered similar tragedies. The kids form a posse and hunt the outlaw together, but along the way, they uncover Bad Whiskey’s devilish plot to retrieve an ancient relic known as the Char Stone. And Whiskey’s not alone in the hunt. He brings along a horde of undead outlaws, relentless in their dark business. Imagine The Goonies with the raw, gritty realism of Louis L’Amour and the dark thrills of The Walking Dead, and you have Legends of the Lost Causes!

What sparked the creation of your book?

Legends took its first tiny breath as a short story concept in my head several years ago. I envisioned a tale about a dark outlaw in pursuit of an ancient artifact. That was all I had. I never wrote the story, and it quickly faded into the background. The concept leaped back to life after I met Louis Sylvester in the Oklahoma State University creative writing program in Stillwater. We started swapping fiction ideas one day at a friend’s birthday party, and realized we shared a lot in common with our writing and interests. I told him the basic outlaw premise and he just started listing off the coolest concepts. In other words, I knew I had just found a writing partner.

The obvious and not-so-obvious influences on Legends are…?

Although Legends features undead villains and dark magic, I have to list Charles Portis’s True Grit at the very top of the “Most Obvious” column. Louis and I both love that brilliant novel and its scrappy, resourceful MC, a 14-year-old girl named Mattie Ross, who hunts her father’s killer with U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. Two other obvious influences would have to be Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Sequence, and Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I think some not-so-obvious influences would include Little House on the Prairie (yes, really!), maybe a sprinkle of Jonah Hex, and the fantastic junior detective series, The Three Investigators by Robert Arthur Jr.

Can you share about your creative process? About having a writing partner?

Louis Sylvester

I like to call our creative process “controlled chaos.” Louis and I have worked out a fantastic system for writing together, but the system itself might make other writers cringe at the mere thought of it.

We start by discussing the story we want to tell and writing a loose outline. Then we take turns drafting each chapter. For example, I write a chapter, then send it to Louis, then he reads through it, makes some changes and adjustments for voice and style, then writes a new chapter and sends it back. My next step is to look at the edits on my first chapter and then make changes on the next, and so forth. In that manner, we’re always editing and always writing new material, a conveyor belt of word-churning that I call a “perpetual motion machine” of drafting and redrafting. When you work in a system like that, you have to be prepared to endure some heartache when you see your partner erase a sentence you love — but in the end, the process works so well for the shared, overall vision. We end up with a book in which every word and syllable feels like a diamond to us.

What’s the most surprising thing to you about your publishing journey?

I would have to list two things that have surprised me the most. The first is that I’ve found a writing partner who feels like true family, a close friend who works so perfectly lock-step with my mind and creativity. The second has to be the pure awesomeness of our publishing team. Our agent, Brooks Sherman, and the entire Macmillan squad working on this project are just exceptional human beings, with nothing but a desire to help me and Louis fulfill our dream and get the best books possible on the shelves.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I’m actually finding it harder and harder these days to break away from Keech and the gang, but when I do find a little time, I love to play board games and put together jigsaw puzzles with my wife, Alisha, and stepdaughter, Chloe. We also enjoy going to movies on the weekends, geeking out together over the latest Marvel and Pixar films.

Any advice to kids who like to write? And to adults who want to write for kids?

My strongest advice is simply to stick with it—and by “it,” I mean the entire process, from reading all the books you can cram, to honing your craft, to querying agents and beyond. I know that sounds like an “easy-for-you-to-say” kind of thing, but in mine and Louis’s case, perseverance and patience are exactly the tools that paid off. We started work on Legends all the way back in 2010, and even though life changes threw heavy speedbumps onto our path, we stuck with the process and never gave up on the dream of publication. Three years after we typed the first word of Book 1, we acquired Brooks as our agent, and three years after that, he sold our series to Macmillan. So I would say put the straps on tight when you take the author’s seat, don’t look away from your goal, and don’t be afraid to fail from time to time.

As an illustrator who works on my own covers, I’m always interested in learning an author’s involvement in and reaction to their own cover?

Months before Macmillan even offered the first glimpse of our cover, we learned who the publisher was courting to be our cover artist—the fabulous Alexandria Neonakis, an illustrator and graphic designer from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. We looked at Alex’s portfolio and grew very excited about the visual beauty she would bring to our story. Then after we began working with our editor, we started sharing concepts back and forth. The Macmillan sales team suggested a “bird’s eye” view of the Lost Causes wrapping around both the front and back of the book—an idea that Louis and I found completely intriguing. The resulting design, however, was a complete surprise to us. And when Alex finally unveiled it, we were just floored.

What’s next for Keech and the gang?

Well, the particulars are a bit top-secret at the moment, but I can tell you that the kids will encounter a multitude of tight situations in Book 2. Rumors have it they’ll discover a deep mystery surrounding a place called Bonfire Crossing, and they might even come face-to-face with a monster unlike anything they faced in Missouri. More to come very soon, when we  the title reveal!

Thanks, Brad, can’t wait! Wishing you and Louis much success!

Check out Brad at and the official series site at!


Getting to Know: Eliot Sappingfield



If I’m allowed to judge a book by its cover, I have to admit I was immediately blown away the moment I saw an advance copy of Eliot Sappingfield’s debut middle-grade novel, A Problematic Paradox (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, January 23, 2018). The fine-line detail, the color scheme, the constellations and lettering; I knew this was one I had to read. If I’m then allowed to judge a book by its story, I soon found myself enthralled in this whimsical and exciting tale of a girl who attends a hidden school for geniuses, all the while on the hunt for her missing father, who has been abducted by a gang of extraterrestrials. Forget that school for wizards, this is the new place to be. I caught up with the author to learn more:

Me: Hi, Eliot. I love your new book. Can you sum up A Problematic Paradox for the uninitiated?

Eliot: Sure! A Problematic Paradox is a humorous sci-fi book where an awkward, yet unapologetically brilliant girl takes refuge in a community of friendly humanoid aliens after her father is kidnapped by a group of much less friendly and much less humanoid aliens. If you’ve ever seen Sleepless in Seattle, it’s nothing like that.

What sparked the creation of your work?

My daughters did. They’re interesting, intelligent girls… and they complained about there not being enough girl lead characters in science fiction, so I decided to try making one and within a week it had developed a life of its own.

Can you share about your creative process?

My process is erratic and obsessive, and probably not a good model for others to follow. I’ll spend weeks where writing is what I do with every moment I’m awake and not otherwise occupied, and weeks where I do absolutely nothing but kind of think about it from time to time, usually when I’m trying to solve a problem I’ve written myself into.

What’s the most surprising thing to you about your publishing journey?

Everything. When I finished the book I had a seriously misinformed idea of what the industry was like, and have had to pick it up as I go along. I still really struggle with self-promotion, it feels completely unnatural to me.

The obvious and not-so-obvious influences on Problematic are…?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide books and Lovecraft are pretty obvious. I also really love the absurd kind of humor you see in books by Vonnegut and Joseph Heller.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I have a day job that takes up a lot of my time. Some friends run a tabletop gaming group, and that’s a lot of fun. I also like to hang around with my wife and kids when they aren’t too busy for me.

Any advice to kids who like to write? And to adults who want to write for kids?

Read as much as you can, whatever interests you, even if it’s descriptions of shipbuilding methods from the 1880s. Write as much as you can and do your best to have fun while you’re doing it- if you’re writing something that feels like pulling teeth, that’s probably how it’ll feel to the reader.

As an illustrator who works on my own covers, I’m always interested in learning an author’s involvement in and reaction to their own cover?

I LOVE my cover. My day job involves more than a little graphic design, so right from the get-go I figured I’d want to offer input and advice on how it turned out. Then the artist John Hendrix, sent us his first draft and I honestly couldn’t find anything I’d change.

What’s next for Nikola and the gang?

More madcap hijinks, probably. I’m hard at work putting the final touches on book two, which will pick up where book one left off.

And lastly: Do they need any visiting art teachers at The School, and if so, think I have a shot at being hired?

I get the idea you might be too emotionally stable. Besides, there’s a very high chance of frequent exposure to radiation and ill-tempered sentient art supplies.

Thanks so much, Eliot. I wish A Problematic Paradox much success!

Learn more at:

Getting to Know: Jackie Yeager

This year, in my ongoing conversations with fellow kidlit creators, I’m going to focus on members of the Electric Eighteens, a group of middle-grade and YA debut authors. First up is Jackie Yeager, whose exciting STEM-friendly novel, SPIN THE GOLDEN LIGHT BULB (Amberjack Publishing), releases January 9th!

Me: Can you sum up your book for the uninitiated?

Jackie: Sure! Spin the Golden Light Bulb, a middle grade story of magical realism, is set in the year 2071. Eleven year-old Kia Krumpet, who has trouble keeping friends at school, is determined to build the 67 inventions she has thought up. But at the end of sixth grade, kids all over the country are sorted, forced to study one academic program for their remaining school years. Therefore, kids are forbidden to build inventions unless they earn a place at PIPS, the Piedmont Inventor’s Prep School.

When Kia and four other kids in NY state are selected to compete for spots at PIPS, they travel to Camp Piedmont, training camp for the Piedmont National Finals, where they encounter a world full of floating playgrounds, switching bunk beds, and robotic monkey assistants…and a technical task they must solve as creatively as possible against forty-nine other state teams. But working with teammates is hard and the level of competition is beyond what even Kia is used to. She and her teammates must learn to work together and create something incredible if they have any chance of earning their place at the best inventor’s school in the country—and keeping their newfound friendship intact.

What sparked the creation of your story?

For several years, I coached my kids’ middle school Odyssey of the Mind teams. The creative problem-solving competition involves solving a long term problem over several months by creating an object and then presenting it to a panel of judges in the form of a skit. In 2011, when my son was eleven, his team did very well and earned a chance to compete in the World Finals. It was an incredible several months for him, for his four teammates, and for me! After that trip, I realized I had a really great story in the making. That competition, along with the experience they had together as a team, was the springboard for Spin the Golden Light Bulb. The book isn’t about Odyssey of the Mind, but it was definitely inspired by it.

Can you share about your creative process?

It takes me a long time to formulate an idea for a story. I’ll spend months walking around in a fog, dreaming up characters and a rough plot before I sit down to write anything. I always start with a main character and put them into some sort of intense situation. Once I have that, the rest comes more easily. I make a loose outline and draft from there. But I’m not someone who can draft a whole manuscript without revising. I would be a horrible candidate for NaNoWriMo! I draft a few chapters and then revise, then draft a few more and then revise all that I’ve written to that point. It seems to take me forever to complete a manuscript! Once I write The End though, it’s actually pretty good—not perfect or polished, but not awful!

What’s the most surprising thing to you about your publishing journey?

Aside from the fact that it took me such a long time to find an agent, I’ve been pleasantly surprised how smoothly the publishing process has gone. I had heard some horror stories through the years but I’ve been fortunate not to run into any problems with publishers, editors, etc. I signed with a new literary agency, a new agent, and a relatively new publisher. They all took a chance on me and I suppose I took a chance on them as well. It could have been a recipe for the perfect storm but instead it has been a perfect collaboration. I guess I’m surprised (and thankful!) at how wonderful the whole journey has been!

The obvious and not-so-obvious influences on Spin are…?

The obvious influence on this book has been the Odyssey of the Mind competition and the kids I’ve coached. If you’ve ever participated in OotM, you’ll notice many similarities to the Piedmont Challenge and the Piedmont National Finals! The not-so-obvious influence? Nacho Cheese Ball! You’ll have to read the book to find out what that is, but an imaginary version was created by my real life Odyssey of the Mind team for the World Finals. This and other parts of their real life skits are sprinkled throughout the story.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I’m with my family a lot. Our house is always busy with teenagers and I love that! Just hanging out at home—when we are all home, is my favorite. With my daughter in college now though, I’d have to say I spend most of my time at hockey rinks, or track or cross country meets, watching my son in one of his many sports events. But I love going out to lunch, dinner, or even coffee to catch up with my husband or friends too. Chatting is my favorite thing to do, I guess!

What advice would you give to kids who like to write? And to adults who want to write for kids?

I would tell kids that writing is the best way to become better at writing, but traditional writing is not the only way it has to happen. I spent my childhood writing plays and skits, and thinking up cheers for my cheerleading squads—not very traditional! If you love words, play around with them in any way that makes sense for you, because if you love doing that, you’ll keep at it—you’ll keep writing, and that’s how you’ll become really great at it!

I would tell adults who want to write for kids that spending time with kids is ultra important. There’s no other way to know what kids are really like so that they can be portrayed authentically in your writing. Reading current middle grade books is equally important too. You’ll learn something new from every single one—both good and bad. But most of all writing a lot is a must. The only way to write an excellent manuscript is to write a poor one first—and maybe a mediocre one after that. My first few manuscripts were nothing stellar (far from it, in fact!) but I got better with each one and you will too.

What’s next for Kia and the gang?

I’m thrilled to say that their adventure is not over yet! Spin the Golden Light Bulb has paved the way for a sequel. Kia, Ander, Mare, Jax, and Jillian will be featured in the second of the Crimson Five books: Flip the Silver Switch…which will be released on July 10, 2018! There’ll be more inventions, more drama, and more creative tasks to solve. But this time there’ll be an international flavor with an extensive cast of characters, and even more secrets for the kids to uncover.

And lastly: Are you, like your characters, an aspiring inventor?

I wish! I’m constantly dreaming up ways to make everyday objects more fun and invent the next big thing. But I have no idea how to make any of the ideas I have happen! So I guess this book is a way for me to channel my inner inventor and showcase my own imaginary inventions!

Jackie’s website is: and you can follow her on:

Twitter: @JackieYeager
Instagram: Jackie_yeager
Facebook: Jackie Yeager, Author

Thanks, Jackie, and wishing your book much success!










Getting to Know: Ginger Rue

Of all hypothetical powers one may daydream about having, I have to admit I’ve always had a fondness for the ability to freeze time (especially in the middle of some of the hectic art classes I teach; instant quiet! Bathroom break! Time to kick back and read!) It’s a trope that comes up often in fiction, too, from the very-adult novel The Fermata, to one of the Halloween stories in the Simpsons. But up until Ginger Rue’s fun new chapter book series for 7-10 year olds, which begins with ALECA ZAMM IS A WONDER, I’d never seen this power depicted so well in kidlit before. I contacted Ginger to learn more about her series and her writing process.

Q: Can you sum up Aleca Zamm for the uninitiated?

Ginger: The ALECA ZAMM series is about a girl who feels like she’s not special in any way. Then, on her tenth birthday, she discovers she can stop time just by saying her name, and restart time the same way at her leisure.

Q: What sparked the creation of your series?

Ginger: I actually wrote a series of these stories when I was in sixth grade. It was kind of cool because my teacher (who was awesome) let me read them to the class, and my class loved them and kept asking for new installments. It was a reward at the end of the week: if everyone behaved well through Friday, the teacher let me read one of the girl-who-stops-time stories aloud. Did I save any of the stories I wrote when I was 11 or 12? Sadly, no, I did not. What I wouldn’t give to have those stories now!

Q: Can you share about your creative process?

Ginger: It was funny because I was having this really down time when I remembered the Aleca stories of my youth. I was in my 40s, had the flu or some really terrible sinus infection, and I’d pulled my back out on top of that, so I was on all this medication and feeling horrible, and I was lying in bed sort of re-evaluating my life choices, berating myself for thinking that I could make it as a writer. I tried to remember what in the world had ever made me think I was any good at writing, why I’d ever thought I could do this for a living. And that’s when I remembered the Aleca stories from sixth grade. I thought, “Man, the kids in my class absolutely loved those stories, and they were so fun to write!” I think one of the kids in my class had actually written fan fiction, even though that wasn’t a term we had back then. I thought, wow, maybe that’s the book I ought to write. So once I was up and about again, I emailed my agent and sheepishly said, “I know we still haven’t sold my last project, but I have this idea for a children’s chapter book series….” I was afraid she would think I’d lost my mind, but she said, “Go for it!” I sat down to write ALECA and was amazed at how much fun it was and how easily it came together. Maybe this was because I’d been doing 40,000-50,000-word manuscripts up until this point (ALECA is about 12,000), or maybe it was because I was just having fun with it, making myself laugh, never really expecting anyone else to see it, but I remember it came together sort of magically.

Q: The obvious and not-so-obvious influences on Aleca Zamm are…?

Ginger: Well, I think there is no way to get around how much Barbara Park’s JUNIE B. JONES influenced me as far as reminding me how much fun elementary chapter books can be. I read all of those to my daughters when they were young, and we laughed ourselves silly. I also really loved Beverly Cleary’s books when I was young. She always made me laugh. I think Junie B. and Ramona have the sort of sass and spunk that Aleca maybe inherited.

As far as influences on the characters, I had a great aunt named Aunt Zelpher. I didn’t meet her until I was in high school, but I’d heard my mom and grandmother talk about her for years. My mom’s family is from Mississippi, so when they pronounce things, it’s rarely like they’re spelled. They’d say, “Aint Zephyr this” and “Aint Zephyr that.” And I recall thinking that it was so magical and mysterious that this woman was named after the west wind. I was disappointed to find out that wasn’t actually her name! She was a tiny little spunky woman, and I liked her immediately, even though I think I was around her only once or twice. All the women on my mom’s side of the family are like that: sassy and no-nonsense and will say anything to anybody. So Aunt Zephyr in the book reminds me a lot of my mom and my aunt Betty, my mom’s sister. There’s a scene in the first ALECA book where Aunt Zephyr sees her nephew after many years have passed, and she tells him he hasn’t changed a bit, only to immediately follow that up with, “Of course, I’m lying. Your hair is gray and you’re developing jowls,” or something to that effect. It made me LOL when I wrote it, just picturing my aunt saying that. Also, when I hear Aunt Zephyr’s voice in my head when I’m writing, she sounds exactly like my 12th grade English teacher, Mrs. Roby, who was a tiny little woman who struck fear into the hearts of all her students. Aunt Zephyr is an amalgamation of all these strong women I’ve known. I guess I like the juxtaposition of a small, frail older woman with a big, strong presence. (Although my mom and my aunt Betty are not frail. They were both nurses and have the strength and energy of women half their age, combined with a take-no-prisoners attitude. The last time a coyote got into my cousin’s chicken house, Betty very nonchalantly just went out there and killed it!)

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?

Ginger: I take my kids to the orthodontist! Seriously, between the three of them, I feel like I take somebody to some kind of appointment every day! But I am extremely grateful I get to do that. I also have a puppy who now runs much of my life. Other than that, I am a contributing editor for GUIDEPOSTS magazine, so I usually have one or two articles in the works for them at all times, if I’m lucky.

Q: What advice would you give to kids who like to write? And to adults who want to write for kids?

Ginger: Well, first of all, I’d tell those kids to SAVE THEIR STORIES…because you could wind up in your 40s reworking them! And it would be nice to remember specifically what plot points and characterizations appealed to you when you were that age. For adults who want to write for kids, I guess I’d remind them not to be preachy. Make the child character drive the plot. Get the adults out of the way as much as possible, unless they’re nutty and colorful and a kid at heart.

Q: What’s next for Aleca? Any non-Aleca projects on the horizon?

Ginger: After the fourth ALECA novel comes out, I’m not sure. I hope there will be more because I have a lot of places we could go with that, and I’m not sick of any of the characters yet, so that’s pretty cool. But we’ll see. Right now, I’m actually working on a nonfiction project for middle grade and on a young adult novel.

Q: And finally: if you could freeze time, what would you do with your power?

Ginger: I wish I could have a hallway with several doors, one for each year of my life, and that whenever I wanted to, I could open the door to that year, walk in, and be that age again for a little while. I have no doubt that the doors I would open most frequently would be the ones to the years when my children were little. Oh, to be able to rock them to sleep, or have them sit on my lap and color again, or to cuddle up and read a picture book together! It all goes by too fast, but if we could freeze it and keep it, we might never restart time—we might just stay there always. But it’s also pretty great to live in the now, when they are old enough to offer hilarious sarcastic commentaries! Each phase of life has its own charms, but yes, freezing time to savor it all a little longer would be wonderful.

Me: Thank you, Ginger. I’m wishing the Aleca Zamm series much success!

You can find Ginger at  or on her Facebook page at