Between Tweens: Middle Grade Author Heather Brainerd

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Continuing with our April MG-Tween authors Blog Hop, and the last of the series, is my interview with Heather Fraser Brainerd. Heather has been writing since she was a child. After careers in both the insurance industry and early childhood education, she began writing again. Her published works include the YA paranormal romance Dream Shade and the first two books in the Jose Picada, PI series, a paranormal mystery for grown-ups, co-written with Heather’s brother David Fraser. Their first MG novel, Shadows of New York, will be released in 2014.

(To see the other blog hop interviews today with different questions and answers - including my answers on Suzanne’s blog - go to the links below this interview.)

SHADOWS OF NEW YORK summary: Eleven-year-old Josh Cooper is surprised when his new nanny ends up being a guy, but that pales in comparison to the dude nanny’s supernatural secret.

Sandy: Welcome Heather. Would you share where you like best to write, and is there special music you like to listen to as you write, or do you prefer silence?

Heather: I write on my laptop, so I can be found in any number of places, typing away. Sometimes I sit in my window seat, sometimes (if the weather is nice) on my porch. But I’m most likely to be found at my kitchen island. It’s centrally located, so I can hear what’s going on all over the house. That’s kind of important with three kids and a crazy dog! So, to answer the second part of this question, I don’t listen to music. I listen to my kids.

Sandy: Are any of your characters based on people you’ve really met?

Heather: Nope. My characters tend to pop into my mind, fully formed, begging for me to do something with them.

Sandy: What are some things you do to overcome writer’s block?

Heather: I pick up the phone and call my brother. He’s my co-author, and talking things through tends to clear writer’s block for both of us.

Sandy: Tell us about your revision process.

Heather: Well, when I co-write with my brother, we pass the manuscript back and forth via email. Each of us has total editing power over the other. So we’re constantly revising as we go along. Once a book is complete, we each do a read-through and make any necessary changes. Then, possibly, another read-though with more changes. We do this as many times as needed until we’re satisfied that the book is right.

Sandy: What are you doing or planning to do to grow as an author?

I want to get better at marketing and promotion. I’m actually looking for a workshop along those lines. If anyone out there knows of a good one, I’d love to hear about it.

Thank you, Heather. I look forward to reading your book when it is released.


To receive the full interview questions, please check out: Madeleine McLaughlin; Heather Fraser Brainerd (; and Suzanne de Montigny (

Between Tweens – Interview with Middle Grade Author Madeleine McLaughin

During the month of April four of us middle grade and tween authors are interviewing each other in a blog hop. Today Madeleine McLaughlin answers my questions, and my answers to her questions are on her blog at

Madeleine writes from Canada, and her first tween ebook Beggar Charlie and Hickory Dick is releasing this June with Muse It Young.

Sandy: Where do you like best to write, and is there special music you like to listen to as you write, or do you prefer silence?

Madeleine: I like to sit in my easy chair with my tiny computer on my lap. I often have the television on but don’t hear the program when I’m writing. It’s just to have chatter, although when I write early in the morning, I prefer silence.

Sandy: Great. Are any of your characters based on people you’ve really met?

Madeleine: A lot of them are based on aspects of myself. The children I write about are based on what I know of children and their psychology, not any specific child. I have a diploma in Child Psychology so I know something about how their minds work. At least I think I do.

Sandy: That’s a difficult thing to comprehend, indeed. So, as a writer, what are some things you do overcome writer’s block?

Madeleine: I never really get writer’s block but sometimes get stuck on a story plot line. In that case, I just leave the story alone for a while until I get an idea. I do all my heavy thinking in bed, right before I go to sleep. That’s where I got the idea for Beggar Charlie. I wrote the first paragraph using a tape-recorder. I think it turned out well.

Sandy: Me, too. Can you tell us about your revision process.

Madeleine: First, I write the first draft which is just typing out ideas, then I get critiqued by some interested readers. Then just keep re-writing until I’m happy with it. It can take over 60 revisions until I’m happy.

Sandy: Sixty revisions is a lot, but I’m sure it turns out the best it can be after all that. My final question is: What are you doing or planning to do to grow as an author?

Madeleine: I’m always reading non-fiction to learn new things. You’d be surprised how many ideas history can give you. Other than that, I’m just trying to expand my readership. Also, I’d like to try other genres. I’ve already done horror and I may go back to that, but I’d like to do other things, too.

Sandy: It sounds like you have varied writing talents, Madeleine. Thank you for joining us this week. Good luck in your sales and with future books.

The other two middle grade writers participating in this month’s blog hop with their own questions and answers are Heather Fraser Brainerd ( and  Suzanne de Montigny (

The Kind, the Funny, and the Peculiar Characters

This week I’ve realized my book characters are too bland and ordinary. Real life sure isn’t. It’s full of all sorts of interesting and dramatic characters.

* Five days ago I blogged about my encounter with kind and helpful strangers stopping to help me when my car broke. (See ) They stirred good feelings towards them with no way for me to pay them back. It was quite humbling.
* A second incident happened today as I walked through the parking lot to a grocery store. As I passed a car, a little dog inside started barking at me. Ever notice that the smaller the dog is, the quicker and higher pitched the yip, accompanied with lots of bouncing and jumping? (“See how tall I am? And how dare you approach my territory! Yap!”) Anyway, his yipping and jumping set off the car alarm.

I find it amusing how car alarms vary. Our own car alarm is rather wimpy. I set it off on purpose once. I had to get close to it to hear. It was a pitiful, “Oh, pooh. Oh, ow. Oh, and, yeah: help. But only if you wanna.” On the contrary, Mr. Yippy’s car alarm could be heard two blocks away. (“Yeah, you better keep walking, you human. Yip!”)

* And then there are the peculiar characters, like the Cedar Rapids, IA, dog owner whose loose dog bites neighborhood kids in their own yards and terrifies postal workers so there is no mail delivery in the neighborhood until the dog-owner-issue is resolved. There are many wonderful dog stories, but who really wants to read about irresponsible owners? Yuck.

* Another peculiar character involved my friend Freda.

The snow had finally melted after a long, long winter. Neighbor Qu, across the street from my friend Freda, was returning from a month in sunnier climes. Freda wanted her part of yard facing his driveway and around Qu’s mailbox (on her property) to be cleared of leaves and look welcoming. For two hours she used a pronged rake to scrape out the matted-to-the-ground leaves. She put them in a 12′ width line along border of Neighbor Yp’s wooden lot, but still on her property according to the boundary stakes still in the woods from after the May 2011 storm. She anticipated the leaves would compost quickly in the coming rain, and also deter the woods from their annual creep into her yard.

As she raked, Neighbor Yp walked past. She hadn’t seen him all winter except when he drove past. She said hi. He didn’t respond. Not unusual. For the past five years, he’s lived on the other side of the empty lot, which is covered with brush and chopped and downed trees. For in May of 2011, a fast-moving storm decimated Freda’s neighborhood. Besides taking lives and crushing houses, the storm uprooted about 90% of the trees in the forested lot, including four trees upon the root balls which Freda’s fence then sat.

That same afternoon of raking, Neighbor Qu returned, relaxed and tan. Freda walked over to welcome them home and return their house keys. When she turned to go home she noticed her raked leaves along the border were now scattered 10′ into her yard, assumedly from a leaf blower.


Freda re-raked the leaves, moving them more into her property, and put a black garden cloth over them so the now dried leaves wouldn’t blow onto someone else’s property and so they’d easier decompose.  Around the stake in the woods, two feet away from Freda’s leaves, she tied an orange string. Two hours later, the leaves were gone and the garden cloth and marker tossed into Freda’s yard.

How long could this silly property line business go on? If he had a concern while she was raking, why hadn’t he talked to her when he walked by?

Seeing Yp in his garage, Freda decided to ask him what was going on. She never got the chance.  Yp, constantly pacing and never making eye-contact, yelled, swore, and waved a 1960′s property map at her, unrolling it and rolling it repeatedly. Freda backed away a few paces, uncertain of what he was saying or what he would do next. She’d been witness to many angry family outbursts from Yp.

Yp accused Freda of not only moving the boundary stakes, but of tossing cement over the fence and of building a fence on his property. He waved the map at her again. The fence had been there decades before Freda moved in. Y threatened to tear down the fence, along with more swearing.

Shaking from the encounter, and afraid to say anything which might set Y off any more than he already was, and I sure don’t blame her, Freda left. Yp was fuming over twelve inches of leaves on the other side of his empty lot when his whole lot was a mess.

Freda vowed she’d go near the borderland as little as possible.  She told me she had no problem with letting him have the twelve inches, the two feet, or even more if he wanted it. But more worrying was that she hadn’t moved any stakes, and she certainly didn’t toss any cement over the fence. Falsely accused!

The latter comment confused my friend.  Yp assured her three years ago that he would take care of his uprooteed trees so Freda could have her backyard back. Five months after the storm, Freda finally contacted a fencing repair company. So at first Freda thought perhaps YP meant that the fence-repair people dumped the cement into the 6′ hole caused by an uprooted tree. They’d replaced about 10′ of fence, straightened the rest, and replaced a corner post. But, and I agreed with her, 1) if the fence people tossed the cement into the empty lot, a post would have to be attached to the cement, and 2) they were a reputable company and would never do such a thing.

Then Freda recalled seeing huge concrete chunks in the lot after the storm took down the trees. She took me to her backyard, keeping an eye out for Yp. The concrete lay about ten feet over the fenceline. I estimated that they weigh about 200-300 pounds.

I turned and stared warily at my friend. All I have to say is that from now on I’m going to have to be very careful around Miss Freda. If she did do what Yp accused her of, someone who can lift and toss that much weight, puts Scottish tree throwers to shame.

So there you have it: the kind, the funny, and the peculiar characters. They’re around us ever day. What about in your writing? Are your own characters as interesting?

Keep on writing!

Between Tweens: Interview with Middle Grade Author Suzanne de Montigny

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During the month of April, four tween authors are interviewing each other with different questions on each blog. This week I am interviewing Suzanne de Montigny, author of the tween eBook, The Shadow of the Unicorn: The Legacy, about a unicorn colt, a clairvoyant dinosaur, and the coming of destructive humans.

Suzanne wrote her first unicorn story at the age of twelve. Several years later, she discovered it in an old box in the basement, thus reigniting her love affair with unicorns. The Shadow of the Unicorn: The Legacy, is her first novel. Suzanne lives in Burnaby, B.C., Canada, with the four loves of her life — her husband, two boys, and Buddy the dog.

Sandy: The others will be asking you different questions, but I’m curious. Where do you like best to write, and is there special music you like to listen to as you write, or do you prefer silence?

Suzanne: Very definitely silence. I can’t chew gum and walk at the same time.

Sandy: Are any of your characters based on people you’ve really met?

Suzanne: There are many different elements of people in my characters, although some people very strongly and suspiciously resemble real people, but I’ll never say who.

Sandy: Many writers freeze up and develop writer’s block. So what are some things you do to overcome writer’s block?

Suzanne: I never have writer’s block. My problem is that I have so many stories and can’t get them down fast enough.

Sandy: Very good. Would you tell us about your revision process?

Suzanne: It’s the part I like best about writing. Perfecting. But sometimes I write so by the seat of my pants that I have quite a job organizing it afterward. It can be quite exhausting. Whoever said it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind must have been a writer.

Sandy: Funny. In conclusion, what are you doing or planning to do to grow as an author?

Suzanne: Just keep writing and reading.

Good plan. Thank you, Suzanne. I look forward to reading your book.

Suzanne’s book, The Shadow of the Unicorn: The Legacy, is available as an eBook on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, iBooks and Muse It Up Publishing.

To receive answers from the others participating with their questions each Tuesday of this month, please check out: Madeleine McLaughlin; Heather Fraser Brainerd (; Suzanne de Montigny http://suzannesthoughtsfortheday/

Good Samaritan Recipient

Coming home from church, my 20-year-old car stopped working at an intersection. First, a couple in their 30′s and jeans and sweatshirts stopped to help. Thank you, you two strangers. Very soon a thin man in his 40′s with bad teeth came over along with his eye-brow-pierced son. The elder was a mechanic and immediately spotted my detached coil pack which had arched, but not (yet) started a fire. The kind original couple who had stopped left with my thanks. Mechanic Man sent his son into nearby Walgreens to buy some electrical tape. I only had credit cards with me. When I started to follow the son into the store, his father waved the idea of payment away. He offered to push or follow me to my car-repair place, but I had groceries (including meat) sitting in the car and only lived a mile away. I figured I’d have a tow truck take it in on Monday since the car-place was closed on Sundays.

As Mechanic Man and I waited for the tape, we talked in front of my car. He told me how he was now 14 years clean from being a drug addict. I told him how hard it must have been to get away from that life and how I admired his strength. He responded, “It was easy. I just had to drive a wedge between me and everyone I knew.” But I knew that couldn’t have really been the least bit easy.

Then a police car pulled up behind my dead vehicle. I wasn’t sure if getting stalled on a street was breaking the law or not. I am so ignorant in so many areas. A man younger than my own sons climbed out. I wanted to tell the officer how much I appreciated all he did, and silently prayed for his safety in bad situations he may encounter in the future of his chosen career. He stayed with us until my patched-up car started.

Mechanic Man and Eyebrow Son followed me home. The elder then checked under the hood one last time to make sure the electrical tape hadn’t caught fire before he left with only my meager thanks.

The whole idea of Samaritans being good was shocking 2,000 years ago. They were society’s outcasts. A former drug addict in grubby bibs and bad teeth? Yep. Modern day Samaritan. Thank you for caring, kind Mechanic Man.

Top Four Marketing Tips for Books

Yes, there are thousands of marketing ideas. I want to list my top four here, and will address some others in April.

#1 Marketing tip for a book: Have a well-written book. Nothing is better advertizing than a well-written book.

#2 Marketing tip for a book: Have an outstanding cover design. Traditional house illustrators can be paid thousands of dollars for their work.

#3 Marketing tip for a book: Communicate with your readers, with the top way being a well-designed website.

And Lastly,

#4 Marketing tip for a book: Write another book. This develops a fan base.


Have fun with it. (<– That’s a freebee.)

Your Writing Process – Revisions and/or Rewrites


This morning I stared of out my work window at leaves sparkling in the sunshine in a light breeze. Then reality struck as I realized these are last fall’s brown oak leaves, clutching onto branches overhanging snow mounds, not-not-not giving way until the new leaves force them off next month. It made me think of my present WIP.

The story has been done for months. Then, as it sat while I was involved in other projects, I began to see ways to improve WIP Story, even wanting to delete it all and begin from page one on a blank screen.

This morning, it struck me that the old dried brown oak leaf represented my WIP Story. Then I went out and took a picture of the shivering old things. Realizing no one could see the shivering in a still photo (although I’ve inserted the shot), I took a video and panned up the tree. In my mindset, I was horrified to see ALL my WIPs fluttering before me. At least hundreds of my old ideas. Thousands.

Oh, spring, come quickly! I welcome fresh green ideas and stories.

(P.S. My original intent of this post was to ask what’s YOUR writing process – if you revise as you write, if you do multiple revisions, or if you go back to the beginning and rewrite?)

Try Something New (From What You Normally Write) — Non-fiction, anyone?

At a writers conference about 15 years ago, one speaker encouraged people to attend workshops at the conference in which they had no interest, in order to learn new things or experience from a different POV. Learning new things means stepping out of your nicely taped together box, but always well worthwhile–for the good or the bad. I am always learning new stuff.

I’ve worked on a sort-of sequel to my first book for about three years. I call it “a sort-of sequel” because it merely follows one of the characters from the first book over to a new location. Of course, this was going to be a breezy book to write. However, it was interrupted by craft-learning stuff like reading more books and doing other workshops on character and plot, and knowing if I worked with paper I would have dramatically tossed my several-times-revised first draft into the air to start from page one. The writing and revising of this book was also interrupted by family life stuff, like trees breaking down our house, cancer (for son 3,000 miles away) and stroke (for me). But hey, this sort-of-sequel is one of my babies. I didn’t have the heart to desert it.

Working alone, I must give myself my own book goals and deadlines. One thing I’ve learned is that my stunningly fabulous cover illustrator (wave to Charlie Volneck, along with a wink to Samantha Bell) is very, very busy (who isn’t?) and so I must plan on giving Charlie a four-month lead to when I expect to publish a book. Usually I’m off on my next book while I await her cover for my finished book. This was not the case for my sort-of-sequel. Miss Speedy-Pants Artist got the fabulous cover to me in only a couple of months. In the meantime, I’d discovered some major corrections needed in the plot of my baby, knowing it required some deep revisions. Also in the meantime, I’d been invited to be a speaker at a local writers conference at the end of March. In my bio for the conference, written last fall, I wrote that I have five books published, fully expecting this baby to be well out of the writer’s womb before the conference.

Did I mention deep revisions?

(Of course, there is my ABC colouring book and my adult thriller for which I thankfully used a pen name for, and my motorcycle tales. So five books published wouldn’t be a lie, just not books I’d like to wave in the air claiming.)

So, five weeks before the conference, in order to honor my five books published in my bio, I came up with this brilliant plan to write a non-fiction. I’d never written a non-fiction before, but for in my pre-writing and during-writing work, I spend more hours researching my historical fictions than I do actually writing-revising the story. I have about ten times the information of the era and place than ever gets into a book. Creating a short non-fiction as a companion book for the sort-of-sequel which will come out soon would be a breeze.

HA! Did I mention that I’ve never written a non-fiction book before?

I got my seven chapter titles down, outlined the important points to put in each chapter, pictured what illustrations or photos were needed for each, researched formating of a NF book (there are many), went to my good-ole-library and looked at some and took out a gazillion NF books for kids, and came home collapsing into a bawling puddle, sobbing, “I can’t do this! I can’t do this!”

Tantrum over, I not only pulled myself together, but the companion non-fiction book for my sort-of-sequel – which will be out soon.

I’ve not only learned something new, I’m back to being so in love with my baby that pushing it out of the writing womb will be a breeze. (Hm. Where have I heard that term before?)

Another Print Book v.s. eBook Shocker — and eBookstores in Airports

A year ago I’d talked at length to a book buyer for three bookstores in the Detroit Airport. He was actually very excited and gave me much promise particularly since he loved my genre (historical fiction). But because in my excitement I had no contact information except his name, I waited for my next flight out of Detroit this past weekend in order to drop off one of my books for him to preview. To my shock, the bookstore was gone. I asked one of the workers across the hallway what had happened. She informed me that the two bookstores in that terminal had changed over to sports stores last spring or summer. The Wall Street Journal was the only store now carrying books, and that was only if the author was on the best seller list. This kind clerk actually called the buyer from a year ago, who said he remembered me, apologized, and regretfully told me that books don’t sell. I thanked him, signed the copy of my book, and gave it away to the helpful clerk who apparently does read books, and was very excited about her gift.

I then went to the gate area to await the arrival of my plane, brooding on the sad state of economy where bookstores no longer existed. I felt like I was cast into some bookless utopian society I’d read about as a youth. When I pulled out of my depression, I looked around at my fellow waiting passengers. Out of about two hundred seated people, six slept, three read books or a magazine, and everyone else was on an electronic device. Everyone. Else.

So how are we to adapt to this shocking realization? (Granted, people were playing eGames as well as reading, but some people were reading!)

I was thinking there ought to be eBookstores in airports with QR tags along a wall, which could easily be both categorized by age and genre as well as rotated. The eBookstore would then get part of the profits for selling the books. All it would take is a scan from an electronic device and a “clerk” who would change the tags every week or every other week.


And finny-dib-dibs on the idea! I figure that for coming up with this sensational original idea, I would have my book covers and QR tags displayed in airports on a rotating basis, or maybe a 0.01% for every book sold this way.

Raise your eHand if you think this is also a brilliant idea.

(BTW, on my trip I read from both print books and ebooks. And on another-yet-similar note, about twenty-five years ago I came up with the idea of hand-held computers. At least I wrote about them in my novel. Seriously. Wouldn’t that be cool? Oh. Right. People have already invented that now. Sigh.)

Eureka! Whole Plot Threads

One of my critique partners, Rose Green, recently wrote, “I still need to do a major rewrite of this (story) because there are whole plot threads that haven’t been woven in properly.”

My first response was, “EXACTLY!” Only, I didn’t get that Eureka moment referring to her work, but of my own. I have two (more like five) novels completed through the rough drafts and several revisions and even through critique groups. Although I like the story/stories and the characters, I am still dissatisfied with them. I couldn’t figure out why I felt this way until Rose wrote this about her own WIP.

I’ve participated in whole-novel critiques, and read books on how to do it, and even taken a whole novel revision workshop. I think my problem has been that I can hit the ball and know the rules of the game, but I haven’t been as concerned with the follow-through.

Whole Plot Threads. Woven In Properly.

So now I’ll take my shrunken manuscript (wave to Darcy Pattison) and lay it, thinking how to weave in the whole plot.

Perhaps this was an eureka moment for someone reading this as well.

(Thank you, Rose.)