Monsters, Marvels, and Middle Grade with Alysa Wishingrad

graphic showing The Verdigris Pawn and Between Monsters and Marvels book covers









I first met Alysa Wishingrad on Clubhouse. If you’re not familiar with the app, just know at one point it had become a haven for writers seeking community with like-minded scribes—however short-lived. Alysa and I would meet up with a few others and have writing sprints and I recall being so excited to one day read Between Monsters and Marvels. This middle-grade fantasy comes out on September 12, but dear friends, NetGalley has finally started to show me some love, and amongst the ARCs (advanced readers copies) that I basked in this summer, was Alysa’s lovely, second middle-grade novel. Between Monsters and Marvels blew me away.

I had the true pleasure of interviewing Alysa about this treasure of a story, her writing process, and all things Dare—the gritty main character that readers will fall in love with. Read on below.

Let’s start with some questions for the writers out there researching MG books!


“The coarseness of our weave scratches their more refined sensibilities, but our thicker fibers make us more durable.”  When you write delicious lines like these, are they the result of revisions or do they pour out of your head during your drafting process? So much of the writing in Between Monsters and Marvels is lyrical and visual. I guess what I’m really asking is, how do you do it? What does your writing process look like?


Ines, thank you so much for having me, I’m so happy to be chatting with you!

I tend to say that my process is kind of sloppy because I’m not a traditional outliner, I don’t use notecards or have a big whiteboard. But there is a logic and system at work, it’s just very slow. I have to let ideas stew in the back of my head for a good long time until I can begin to see the world in my mind’s eye — I need to be able to see it like a movie. I am an acolyte of paper and pencil so as soon as I begin to get the first whiffs of an idea I start a notebook and get to jotting down ideas and questions. Lots of questions. Who are they? What do they want? Why do they want it? Why are they where they are, and what forces had to coalesce to get them there? I push myself to try to look around corners and really search for the hidden truths hiding out of sight so I can learn as much about my characters, their world, and the problems they’re facing as I can.

Then eventually the writing begins, and I start playing around to try and find the voice. That’s the key for me- once I find the voice then I can begin in earnest. On those days when I’m in the voice, words flow. But by flow, I do not mean they rush out of me. I am a pretty slow, line-level drafter, and will work out a moment until it’s just the right set piece. BUT, and this is the important part, just because a line or beat sets me up to find the rest of the scene or chapter, that doesn’t mean it ultimately stays in. I used to think being able to string together a pretty line was the key to good writing. Silly me, pretty lines are all fine and well, but they have to hit at the heart of the tale you’re weaving.

Finally, my process on both THE VERDIGRIS PAWN and BETWEEN MONSTERS AND MARVELS involved chucking either a completed (and sold) draft, or large swaths and beginning again from the blank page. I’ve done all the hard work at this point, I know the arc, the world, and my MC, so now I have the knowledge and the freedom to roll the story out the right way.


It’s so easy to lose oneself in Between Monsters and Marvels and feel like you’re running right alongside Dare in the Must or on the shores of Barrow’s Bay. What is your favorite piece of advice for middle-grade fans who want to write stories like yours, with such deep world-building and character development?


That’s very nice of you, Ines! I’d say take your time! Ask lots of questions. Interrogate your choices, ask yourself why you’ve made the choices you’ve made. Don’t settle for, “that works.” Push yourself beyond your first, second, or even your third idea.

Just as it takes time to get to know a new person in your life, getting to know a character or your world, is about seeing through all the layers. I try to look at my characters from many different angles and put them through a kind of stress test. How would they respond in any given set of circumstances? And is how they respond how they’d want to? Do they understand how others perceive them? Do they like it? Do they even care? How do they want to be seen, and why is that so important to them?

It’s one thing for me to understand a character by their outward persona— how they present themselves to the world. But they truly begin to come to life when I dig to find out what lies behind the mask. What stories are they telling themselves about themselves?

As far as world-building, I say consider everything – how does the society function, what’s its history, how did it come to look the way it does now. While so much of this work might never wind up on the page, having a full and complete understanding of your world’s geography, history, belief system, etc., helps bring a place to life. And do your research, but unless you’re writing straight historical, I’d say don’t do too much so that you feel hemmed in by it.


For the writers wishing to write in the third person, how did you manage to make us feel so very much in the head of Dare? The narrator’s voice, though third, allows us to feel Dare’s humor, her curious mind, and her perspective.


Third is tricky, but it’s my favorite POV to both write and read. John Gardner’s writings on psychic distance were incredibly helpful to me. The way he talks about the lens zooming in and out just made it click— there’s that visual, movie brain again.

But it was mentor texts— reading and studying how other authors have drawn us in through close third— that were my best teachers. My copies of Laurie Halse Anderson’s middle grades are marked up in a sea of yellow highlighters! The power of her observations just always makes me feel like I am living in the skin of her characters.

Fundamentally though, I think the key goes back to truly understanding your character, knowing not only what they like or don’t like, what they want or don’t want, but how they see the world. It’s really like positioning yourself behind their eyes and experiencing life as they do. I often think of that alien that controls Vince D’Onofrio’s character in the first Men In Black!

On making connections with young MG readers.


Dare is described as wild, tough, and gritty. But she’s also very sweet and thoughtful, and I get the impression that as much as she seems to not want to belong in Barrow’s Bay, deep down she yearns for that belonging or acceptance. For example, when she vows to be more like her father, invisible, rather than be herself.

How were you hoping children would connect with Dare, how she sees herself, and her place in her world?


We all feel like outsiders at some point, whether we admit it or not, and we all have different coping mechanisms. Some of us do everything we can to try to fit in, squeeze ourselves into a mold that winds up stifling us. Others rebel and dare people to try and get close. But deep inside we all just want to be seen for who we are.

Dare refers to all her points and angles (her opinions, intelligence, and her innate ability to see past the illusions people weave) as her awful. And when we meet her, she fairly revels in getting a rise out of people. Then, as she begins to worry about her father, she tries to make a deal with the stars at night to save him –she promises to try to fit in, to hide her awful. But through the course of her story, she begins to understand it’s those very points and angles that made her stick out like a rose among the lilies that are her greatest strengths.

That’s what I hope readers of all ages take away from my Dare— those things we think of as our faults and foibles are our superpowers, it’s up to us to learn how to use them.

Book reccos à la Alysa!


Can you give us a list of your favorite middle-grade books? From when you were in middle school and from today, what books have inspired you?


Oh yes, this is my favorite part!

Growing up some of my most favorites were: Charlotte’s Web [still can’t think of that story without wanting to cry], A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Borrowers, so many of the Roald Dahl stories, and The Chronicles of Prydain. But I also read a whole lot of books that I’d pull off my parent’s shelves. I’m sure 97% that what I read at the time went right over my head, but they pushed me to consider views of the world I would not otherwise have. John Updike’s Rabbit series was a favorite when I was 12. It makes little sense. What does a 12 year-old girl have in common with a man having a midlife crisis? Well, a lot it turns out. We all face a kind of existential angst at different ages.

Some of my recent faves include:

  • The Troubled Girls of Dragomire Academy by Anne Ursu
  • Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson
  • Hana Hsu and the Ghost Crab Nation by Sylvia Liu
  • The Skull by Jon Klassen
  • The Plentiful Darkness by Heather Kassner
  • Adia Kelbara and The Circle of Shamans by Isi Hendrix, coming out Sept 19th!

Speaking of Inspiration…


The setting is so clearly detailed that it’s easy for any reader to dive into the pages and travel through them to get to Dare’s world. Is there a real place that inspired the fictional island of Barrow’s Bay or the mainland (The Must/City on the Pike)?


Barrow’s Bay was directly inspired by Jekyll and Cumberland Islands— both off the coast of Georgia. At the turn of the 20th century, they were exclusively inhabited by the very wealthiest industrialists in the country. Mackinac Island in Michigan, was also a playground for the very wealthy. But the sense of isolation and mystery was inspired by Put-in-Bay in Ohio. I have a friend who grew up there, and her stories of being iced in over the winter and that sense of wilderness absolutely fed my imagination.

City on the Pike was inspired by the countless cities in both the US and the UK that were absolutely overrun and transformed by the rapid growth of factories during the Industrial Revolution. Sadly, the Must is any one of all too many neighborhoods in the cities that were once thriving communities that were ruined by pollution and the nearly inescapable poverty borne of the inequity of the system.


Thank you so much for having me, Ines, it’s been such a pleasure to chat with you!

You can pre-order BETWEEN MONSTERS AND MARVELS from your favorite indie, or from mine, Oblong Books, for signed copies and some MARVELous swag  (


About Alysa Wishingrad

Author Alysa Wishingrad

‌‌Alysa Wishingrad writes fantastical stories for young readers, tales that ask; is the truth really true? Her favorite stories are those that meld the historical with the fantastic, and that find ways to shine a light on both the things that divide and unite us all.

She is the author of Between Monsters and Marvels and The Verdigris Pawn, which was a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection.

Alysa lives in the Hudson Valley with her family, two demanding rescue dogs, and a cat-shaped dog, who is either a monster or a marvel, depending on the day.

You can find her at:

Instagram & Threads @alysawishingradwrites


Twitter @agwishingrad

((If you enjoyed this post, check out this one.))

It Found Us: Lindsay Currie Interview

Do you know a child or student who LOVES scary? They will really enjoy Lindsay Currie’s books. Her newest book, It Found Us, is coming out tomorrow, September 5!

About the Book

Hi Lindsay! I believe I discovered your books on Twitter. When I saw the cover of It Found Us, I had to read it! As I was waiting for the release of the ARC, I read What Lives in the Woods (LOVED IT!). Can you give us a short summary of your newest spooky middle grade, It Found Us?

Absolutely! IT FOUND US follows the story of aspiring podcaster and amateur sleuth, Hazel Woods. Hazel is a gifted young detective, but the adults in her life don’t see it that way. They use words like “snoop” and “pest” to describe her which is hurtful to Hazel. So, when the opportunity to solve a very big, very serious mystery falls into her lap – the vanishing of her older brother Den’s best friend, Everett Michaels – she takes it. Everett was last seen playing an after-dark game of hide-and-seek with Den and a group of friends in a local graveyard – a notoriously haunted graveyard. When terrifying clues begin to appear to Hazel, she realizes there might be more to finding Everett than scent tracking dogs and search parties . . . and time is ticking.

Who would especially enjoy this book?
Anyone who enjoys mysteries, forgotten history, or ghost stories is going to love this book! Same for those who read and appreciated Nancy Drew. Hazel is such a brave, courageous, and empathetic sleuth, and her relationship with her brother is layered and realistic.

About the Author

Did you enjoy scary books as a child? What were some of your favorites?

I did, but there really weren’t as many as there should’ve been! One of the first ones I remember reading (and being wholeheartedly frightened of, haha) was called The Dollhouse Murders. I’ve talked about this book in other interviews because while there are elements of it that did not age well, the mystery did unfold in a fantastically tense way. I recall being simultaneously afraid to continue reading, but too hooked to stop. The perfect blend!

What books and movies have influenced your books? 

Oh, so many! I’ll admit that I’m a fan of leaving what I call Easter eggs in my stories – little homages to movies or books I love. IT FOUND US opens with Hazel sneaking around her neighborhood to find out who is allowing their dog to poop on cranky Mr. Andrew’s lawn. This is a small nod to the movie The Burbs, where we see two characters arguing over a dog that has been trained to relieve itself on other people’s lawns. I’m sure most of my readers won’t see that connection, but it made me smile 😀And truly, I was a Nancy Drew fan (still am) and intentionally tried to create a vibe that was reminiscent of those books. Lastly, there is a mention of Kate Warne in this book. Kate is largely considered to be the first female detective and worked with Pinkerton’s detective agency. She is buried about five minutes from my house in my favorite graveyard, Graceland cemetery.

What was your path to becoming an author? Any other interesting jobs you have had?
I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years! I wrote business conferences, sold real estate, and was even in flight school because I was training to interview with the FBI. No, I’m not joking. Can you imagine me as Special Agent Currie? *cue laughter* When I finally decided to pursue writing as a career, it took a long time to break in. Many years to get an agent and many years to sell a book. I wouldn’t trade any of it, though. I learned how to work through rejection and showed my children (who were little at the time) that if you don’t give up, you can succeed.

What is something from your childhood that you snuck into the book? (Were you similar to Hazel and liked to investigate?)
I was definitely a curious child who talked a lot and asked all the questions. I distinctly remember feeling as though I was never going to be taken seriously by the adults in my life and I hated it. That’s who I wrote this book for. The pests and snoops of the world.

All right, I have to ask: Do you believe in ghosts? Tell us more!
Yes! I get this question a lot at school visits and the truth is, I’m one of those people who is open to believing until you prove I shouldn’t. So, no . . . I haven’t seen a ghost. But I also haven’t seen evidence that they don’t exist. I’ve also had some genuinely hair-raising experiences while researching that makes me wonder.


Your books are scary! I was surprised how, as an adult, I was actually scared! LOL. How do you decide what is too scary for middle grade?

I generally feel like this is a gut instinct. I don’t write any gore into my books, so that avoids ever having to draw a line there. But in terms of the other scares, if it feels like too much, I give it extra consideration. I’m also lucky to have wonderful critique partners and a fantastic editor who not only understands what I’m trying to do, but supports me by making sure I stay inside the lines.

Did you always set out to write scary middle grade?

Not really, no! My first middle-grade story, THE PECULIAR INCIDENT ON SHADY STREET, came to me as an idea first. It had this Goonies vibe that just struck me as so fun and so perfectly middle-grade that I decided to give it a shot. Then I never looked back. Middle-grade readers are so clever and fun and up for adventure. I love writing for this age group!

Where does your story idea begin—with the scary element? The resolution? Do you make an outline? (Are you a plotter or a pantser with the genre?)

I’ve always been so jealous of people who can plot with their beautiful corkboards and post it notes and highlighted, bullet-pointed lists. I cannot do that. I’m a pantser all the way! I generally know where my story is going to begin and where I want it to end, but the middle is all just one big roller coaster!

I love how there is a real historic connection with this story. Do all your spooky books have a historic connection?
Thank you! I love this, too. It’s no secret that I’m a history nerd – especially when it comes to people and events that can be considered “lost” or forgotten history. Once I come across something that captures my imagination, I build my story from there. I don’t want to give away anything, but the tragedy at the heart of IT FOUND US is something I’d never heard of before writing this book and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to highlight it through the mystery in this story. As of right now, all of my books with the exception of THE GIRL IN WHITE, do feature some connection to real history!

For Teachers

Do you have a curriculum guide or discussion questions posted online? 
Yes! Check out the teacher resources page on my website at: There is a detailed discussion guide with questions for all of my titles posted there!

Are you doing school visits related to this book? 
Absolutely! My school presentations are generally targeted at grades 4th-7th and I’m taking requests for October/November currently. Check out this link for details! 

How can we learn more about you?
My website is and I can be found goofing off on Twitter (I’m a Chicagoan who still says “Sears Tower” so I’m not likely to adopt “X” anytime soon), Instagram, Threads and Bluesky under the username @lindsayncurrie. I’m also on TikTok at @lindsaycurrieauthor! Come say hi!

I’m excited to read more of your books, Lindsay! Thanks for your time.
Thank you so much for this delightful interview! I’m so excited for IT FOUND US to hit shelves. Be on the lookout for a cover reveal soon for my next book – THE MYSTERY OF LOCKED ROOMS, which is action-packed adventure novel about three friends who team up to find a hidden treasure in an abandoned 1950’s funhouse!

Happy Birthday to A Horse Named Sky!

We are delighted to wish Happy Birthday to A Horse Named Sky, which Greenwillow Books just released. It’s the third in Rosanne Parry’s acclaimed Voice of the Wilderness novels. This one features a wild colt captured and forced into service by the Pony Express. We’re talking with Rosanne about how she wrote this story.
MUF: Rosanne, congratulations on another marvelously crafted (and beautifully illustrated) novel that invites readers into the world of a wild animal. Like all your novels, A Horse Called Sky is based on curiosity and on extensive research.  Was some of that done on location, in the places where wild horses live or have lived? If so, what was that like?

ROSANNE: I did travel quite a bit to learn about the wild horses in my story. I visited the Virginia Range just east of Reno, Nevada where my story begins and  I camped and hiked in the Steens Mountain Wilderness in Oregon where my story ends. I hiked over the summit of the Sierra Nevada mountains on the Pony Express Trail and I talked to all kinds of people. Paiute historians, wild horse conservationists, ranchers, geologists and hydrologists, and a variety of people who own, train or ride horses much more often than me.

MUF: In researching wild horses, what were some of the discoveries about them and their society that most interested you?

On the lookout!

ROSANNE: I have been fascinated by how horses communicate with their whole bodies in some very big and obvious ways and in some very subtle ways. Once when we were looking at mustangs from 100 yards away or so (like you are supposed to) a yearling got curious about me and approached. She walked right up to me, and then turned her head and neck to the side which is how a horse invites you to come closer. It was so sweet! I wanted to hug that little horse so much! But about 20 yards behind her the mare was fixing me with a look! Lips pressed together. It was subtle but I could see in an instant how unhappy she was. I did not take one step closer to the yearling! And as soon as she saw her mother watching her, she sprinted away from me.

I also saw a large group of mares and their stallions together and a smaller group of bachelor stallions alongside them. The youngsters got a little boisterous with each other. They started with just snorting and kicking dirt at each other. But then they reared up and started throwing kicks. One of the older stallions lifted up his head and gave one snort in the direction of the younger males.  They stopped fighting instantly. A subtle gesture with a huge response. It really made me think about the structure of a band of wild horses. They are very deferential to each other. The males do fight, but for the most part they are very conflict avoidant. It’s pretty inspiring.

MUF: There is much information in the back of your book about the status of wild horses and their environment in the present. You could have written a contemporary story about wild horses.  What was your thought in setting your novel during the brief run of the Pony Express in the early 19thcentury?

ROSANNE: It was the dearest ambition of my 8 year old self to be a pony express rider. 1. Outdoors 2. Moving fast 3. Excellent pay 4. Very little supervision. Four of my favorite things to this day! When I learned that the pony express had in fact taken mustangs off the range to run the more difficult and dangerous sections in the mountains of the west, I knew I had a story kids could really root for. And then I dug into the history of the Piaute War and the Comstock silver mine in the Virginia Range and the enslavement of Indigenous Americans in California, & the surrounding territories, and the history of Black cowboys.  Well it was all very interesting and piece of American history not so commonly talked about.

MUF: You set a task for yourself by having an animal character be your narrator. He can only communicate and connect with readers using perceptions and responses a horse would have.  Readers then have to guess at the actual object, animals, or words for things (and they do). I love the way Sky classifies humans by the colors of their hides and “manes” and identifies the stallions, colts, and mares among them. What things did you have to think hardest about to get them across through Sky?

ROSANNE: I love to think about how an animal perceives the world. It was very different to write about a prey animal as the last two Voice of the Wilderness books were predators—a wolf and an orca. Horses, even well cared for domestic horses, are always on the alert for danger. They notice the smallest things and every change of mood in the members of their family band.

The hardest part to write was thinking through the human interactions, understanding how horses regard humans and try to communicate with them. When I chose the wrangler who teaches Sky to accept a saddle and bridle, I chose a former slave. A person who would have a natural compassion for a creature who has newly lost his freedom. I studied both historic and contemporary horse training methods. The more gentle training model the wrangler uses was fairly common in the 1800s. Writing the actual steps in the gentling process from the point of view of a horse who doesn’t know what’s going on took lots of drafts.

MUF: And now let’s hear from Sky’s illustrator, Kirbi Fagan. Kirbi  is recognized for her cover art in adult, YA, and Middle-grade fiction as well as comic books projects such as Black Panther/Shuyri and Firefly. She illustrated this book in pan pastels.

MUF: Brava, Kirbi! Aren’t horses one of the more difficult animals to draw?  Love helps, right?

KIRBI: Thank you. It does take a certain kind of artist to take on drawing over a hundred illustrations of horses! My agent asked if I was tired of horses after I turned in my last revisions. I’m not. In fact, I think my inner horse girl is living her best life. Horses have lived alongside people for so long, it’s one of the animals humans can recognize quickly. That’s why, even for a novice, it’s easy to spot a bad horse drawing. All of this to say, yes, drawing horses is tough. 

MUF: Are wild horses an extra challenge?

KIRBI: I visited as many different horses as I could, I did proper studies to refer to, and drew in the field. I felt prepared (and inspired!). Seeing the range of diversity from horse to horse is freeing and helped me loosen up. Mustangs are on the more petite side, and I was lucky to meet Maggie, who lives about an hour away from me, who fit the size of Sky’s band roughly. Thanks Maggie!

MUF: Does being free but also having to provide for themselves change wild horses’ appearance or stance or carriage, compared to domestic horses?

KIRBI: The truth is, a lot of wild horses are dehydrated and undernourished. Likely worse today than during the Pony Express times. Today, wild horses will show characteristics of draft horses and thoroughbred horses. When most people think of wild horses many think of the swath of colors and markings. This reputation is well deserved. Wild horses roam great distances and these rugged terrains are not kind. Manes are ragged and mangled, sometimes even with burrs. They bear all sorts of battle wounds. They aren’t groomed, so when their coats change with the seasons, it’s a string of bad hair days!

MUF: Thank you, Rosanne and Kirbi, for taking time to share some of what went into creating this book!  Readers, treat yourselves to Rosanne’s unique and moving way of writing an animal’s story in A Horse Named Sky.  Also in the other two books in the Voices of the Wilderness series: A Wolf called Wander, and A Whale of the Wild.   (And keep an eye out for Kirbi’s debut author/illustrated picture book appearing in 2025).