Giveaways

Interview with Author Laurie J. Edwards, Author of UNICORNS OF THE SECRET STABLE Series, Plus BOOK GIVEAWAY!

It’s wonderful to have Laurie J. Edwards on today talking about her newest book series, UNICORNS OF THE SECRET STABLE! Laurie and I met at my very first writer’s conference many years ago and our paths continue to cross—especially when it comes to writing unicorn stories. But Laurie doesn’t have just one new book out but FOUR. Yes, four books releasing at once for unicorn fans young and old to gobble up!

Here are the books in order:
Book 1: Unicorns to the Rescue

Book 2: Lucky and the Dragon

Book 3: Magical Unicorn Horns

Book 4: Mermaid Magic

Laurie is also giving away a copy of book one, UNICORNS TO THE RESCUE. Just enter the contest at the end of this post. U.S. residents only please.

What’s UNICORNS OF THE SECRET STABLE about?

There are unicorns behind Magic Moon Stable, but no one except Iris and Ruby knows they exist. As Unicorn Guardians, it is the sisters’ job to protect the unicorns and use their magic to keep them safe from the outside world.

Like their mother before them, Iris and her younger sister Ruby have been charged with hiding and protecting the unicorn world hidden on their ranch. The rest of the world sees only a stable with an old, tired horse, but when the girls turn the magic key to the paddock, they enter a lush land filled with forests, magical landscapes and creatures, & their beloved unicorns.

Interview with Laurie:

Donna: The idea of a hidden realm within our own is magical and mysterious. What inspired the idea for this realm and the series?

Laurie: For me, the line between reality and fantasy is easily crossed. As a child, I lived more in my imagination than in the everyday world. I caught raindrops in my upside-down umbrella while I watched fairies play in the rainbow-colored oil slicks on a rainy road. When I wandered home, drenched and dripping, my mother despaired of my dreaminess. But I was so caught up in spending time with otherworldly friends, I never noticed—or cared–that I was soaked.

When I was asked to take over this existing series, I jumped at the chance to expand the Enchanted Realm. Some of the world-building had already been done, but I had to come up with new places for the sisters to go, and I enjoyed imagining the possibilities for new adventures, new unicorns, new magical creatures, and new landscapes for each book. I got to dream up the world as I went along, which let me play out my childhood fantasies in the pages of a book.

 

Donna: Throughout the series, we get the stories told from multiple points of view from the sisters, Ruby and Iris. Why did you decide to give them both a chance to tell their story in separate books?

Laurie: I seem to be drawn to sisters who have opposite personalities. One is usually quieter, more serious, and plans ahead; the other is impulsive and spirited. Bet you can’t guess which one is me. 😊 Actually, most people see my quieter, shyer side, but the truth is: the wilder sister is closer to the inner me. I guess I feel the need to show life from different viewpoints. I did the same thing with the Second Chance Ranch series, which featured two twins with different personalities. It makes for some great conflicts as one sister rushes into things, and the other tries to keep her sibling out of danger. I also think it’s fun to see situations from different viewpoints. I try to choose adventures that will fit each sister and always ask myself which sister would be the most challenged by the situation. That’s the one who tells the story. I like each of my characters to face situations that will help them grow and change.

 

Donna: Your series not only has unicorns in it but other enchanting creatures like mermaids and dragons. What other magical creatures are you drawn to writing about and can we expect to see them in future stories?

Laurie: I love all magical creatures. In fact, a sneak peek into another middle-grade series I’m working on, The Birch Tree Chronicles, centers around a spell-challenged fairy and features gargoyles, so I’m sure some of those elements will find their way into the unicorn series. But overall, I like the softer, gentler magical creatures, and I have some ideas for combining several creatures to create some unique ones all my own.

 

Donna: You’ve written many books about ranches, what led to you to make the leap from writing about horses to unicorns?

Laurie: For me it wasn’t much of a leap, because unicorns are horses with one horn. 😊 I’ve always been a horse lover from the time I was young, and I’ve already mentioned how drawn I am to the fantasy world, so unicorns seemed like the perfect combination.

 

Donna: The final book in the series, MERMAID MAGIC, has Ruby exploring more of the Enchanted Realm leaving readers to wonder if future adventures await Ruby—and Iris—after this. Can we expect more stories in the series to come?

Laurie: I’m in the planning stages for more unicorn stories. Because the girls visit an underwater kingdom in the fourth book, I’d like some of the next books to center around mythical creatures who dwell in the sea. I also have ideas for quite a few more adventures. As the girls explore their secret realm, they’ll travel to many unusual settings and add new unicorns with different magical powers in each book.

Donna: Your legacy of stories includes a range of contemporary, magical, westerns, and non-fiction for all ages. What is it that you love about writing for the middle grade audience?

Laurie: I love spending time with middle graders. I taught in the early elementary grades and worked as a children’s librarian, so middle-graders are my favorite people. I love their imaginations and creativity, their eagerness to learn, and their enthusiasm for life. I sometimes think I’m still a middle-grader at heart. There’s a part deep inside of me that, like Peter Pan, never wants to grow up. And that part of me still believes in magic. Magic I hope spills onto the pages of my books.

 

Donna: Can you share what kind of story you’re working on now?

Laurie: I’m always writing several books at once. In addition to several adult novels and three picture books, I’m working on The Birch Tree Chronicles with a friend. In this four-book, middle-grade series, Birch Lockhart has no idea she has fairy powers. But after her parents disappear, she and her two younger siblings must learn to survive on their own while they fight the evil seeping their town with the help of an inept, absent-minded fairy.

I’m also doing final edits on a middle-grade fantasy, The Crystal Amulet, about a girl abandoned in the woods because of an ancient prophecy. She becomes the leader of a ragtag band of misfits who uncover a plot to destroy their village, and she must choose whether or not to risk her life to warn the people who cast her out of her village that they are in danger.

And I have one more middle-grade in the works, Silent Lies, historical fiction set during the Jewish pogroms in the Ukraine in the early 1900s.

 

About Laurie:

USA Today bestselling author Laurie J. Edwards has always loved books. In school, she got in trouble for reading during class. When she grew up, she chose jobs that let her spend time with books. First, she became a librarian and then an author. Now she not only reads, but she also creates stories for others to read. Laurie is also a freelance editor and illustrator. In addition to having more than 2300 magazine and educational articles published, she is the author of 60+ books for children and adults in print or forthcoming under several pen names. Visit Laurie at her website for more information.

 

Enter to win a copy of UNICORNS TO THE RESCUE!

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Interview with ABSURD WORDS Author Tara Lazar & Two Giveaways

Welcome back to the Mixed-Up Files, Tara! We’ve loved talking to you about how writers can excel at your awesome Storystorm challenge every January and what to do with their ideas after the challenge is finished. You also showed an easy way for teachers, media specialists, and parents to use Storystorm with children. You can find an interview with all these gems here! And in this post, you shared how Storystorm isn’t just for picture book writers.

And now I’m thrilled to interview Tara about her first MG (which is absolutely amazing for both a middle grade audience and all writers/creatives)! I’d like to welcome to the world Absurd Words: A kids’ fun and hilarious vocabulary builder for future word nerds!

How did you come up with the idea for Absurd Words?

I have a list of “Fun, Cool & Interesting Words” on my website, and it became the most accessed page on my site. So, I thought—why not turn it into a book?

 

Brilliant idea! What surprised you while writing this book?

So many things! The stories I found about word origins proved fascinating, I just couldn’t get enough of it! I even had to contact the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for a verification—yes, the Oscar people!

 

I’m amazed by how few words the average person uses compared to the amount of words that exist. What do you think are the most important reasons to learn new words?

The more words you know, the more words you can use, the more words you have to inform, educate and persuade others. Words equal power.

 

I love that…words equal power!

What are some fun ways teachers can use Absurd Words with their students?

Well, I have an entire section written that will be available soon! There are tons of games and writing exercises.

 

Ooh, that sounds like it will be such a helpful tool! If you follow Tara on Twitter, you’ll be one of the first to know when the games and writing exercises are up on her website.

In the meantime, I have an idea! Teachers can have kids look through Tara’s book and choose their favorite words to write on one side of an index card with the definition underneath (or on the back—as long as others can’t see it). In small groups, they take turns saying their word and having others write down what they think it means. The answers could be hilarious and might inspire a story! The person who chose the word shuffles the cards so they don’t know who wrote each one, reads them out loud—their favorite definition receives a point (or sticker). Then, they reveal the real definition. The person to their right reads their word, and the game (and learning) continues.  

 

Can you share a bit about your annual Storystorm challenge and how can writers use Absurd Words to help come up with awesome ideas?

These words will evoke memories and emotions, which will hopefully spur a few story ideas. I wrote about this for Storystorm a few days ago.

 

Such a great post. I love how these words evoke emotions. When I’ve needed inspiration for ideas, I’ve checked out your “Fun, Cool & Interesting Words” list. Now you have an entire book full of inspiring words and illustrations. They’ve already helped me come up with a few fun ideas this year.

 

It’s amazing that people can make up words and use them so much, they spread around and around…and end up in the dictionary! If you could choose one of your made-up words to go in the dictionary, what would it be—and why do you love it so much?

My favorite is “adogable” for a really cute pupster. I love it so much because I love animals so much! Frankly, I never met a pooch who wasn’t ADOGABLE!

 

I love, love, love adogable! My rescue pup is laying next to me and says she she’d be the perfect pup to show the world her adogable smile.

 

Can you share some tips to help kids and writers make up their own absurd words?

I made up the title of my first book: THE MONSTORE. The end of “monster” sounds like “store,” so I was able to crash them together easily. That’s all you have to do, find two words that can fit together like pieces in a puzzle (even if you have to force them a little)! These words are called portmanteaus, but that’s a long French word for something so simple. In ABSURD WORDS, I call them “crashwords” instead. Think about it, when these two words crash together, they lose a few letters here and there, like when a tire falls off and bounces away in a car crash.

Anyone can make up a crashword! A recent, popular one is “hangry,” made from hungry and angry. I know a lot about this word because my 15yo daughter never gets hungry, she goes straight to HANGRY. “I WANT AN EGG AND CHEESE SANDWICH NOW!” I thought I taught her better manners. [sigh]

 

Ooh, I’d love to see some crashwords in the comments! Who wants to share their favorites?

What are you working on now, Tara?

Some sequels! But I can’t say for which books!

 

So exciting! I can’t wait for more details. 😊

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

 

They say that if there’s a book you want to see in the world, you must write it yourself. As a kid, I always wanted a book like ABSURD WORDS. So, I finally wrote it myself. I wrote it for the kid in me, but I hope lots of other kids—big and small—also love it.

 

I already love it…and am sure it’ll have tons of fans. It’s such a fun and useful book. And as you said, words are power. Think of all the power these amazing, absurd words can create.

There’s still time to sign up for Storystorm, where the goal is to come up with 30 ideas by the end of January. And you can win awesome prizes like signed books, art, critiques and agent feedback on ideas, too.

Thank you so much for stopping by the Mixed-Up Files again, Tara. And happy birthday to Absurd Words!

Here’s TWO generous Zoom giveaways from Tara. The first is open to everyone. [Winner: Stephanie Wildman]

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This 30 minute Zoom is only open to teachers and media specialists for an author visit with Tara (she’ll even show up in PJs and let kids guess which ones she’ll be wearing ahead of time—which makes a fantastic graphing activity). [Winner: Mia Geiger]
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Winners will be shouted out on this post and Twitter on Wednesday, January 12. Good luck. 😊

 

Interview with Author Karen Pokras, author of THE BACKYARD SECRETS OF DANNY WEXLER, and BOOK GIVEAWAY!

I’m so thrilled to have Karen Pokras on today talking about her newest book, THE BACKYARD SECRETS OF DANNY WEXLER! Karen and I met at a writer’s conference many years ago and have since been part of a super cool writer’s group that meets once a week at a café to write alongside each other. It’s been a while since we’ve met up, of course, but even better for readers at From The Mixed Up-Files—we get Karen here today to talk about her new fun, adventurous, and heartfelt story! PLUS you could win a hardcover copy of THE BACKYARD SECRETS OF DANNY WEXLER. Just enter the contest at the end of this post. U.S. residents only please.

What’s THE BACKYARD SECRETS OF DANNY WEXLER all about? …

Eleven-year-old Danny Wexler, the only Jewish boy in his town during the late 1970s, is obsessed with the Bermuda Triangle. When a local child goes missing, Danny’s convinced it’s connected to an old Bermuda Triangle theory involving UFOs. With his two best friends and their Spacetron telescope, Danny heads to his backyard to investigate. But hunting for extraterrestrials is complicated, and it doesn’t help that his friend Nicholas’s mom doesn’t want her son hanging out with a Jewish boy. Equipped with his super-secret spy notebook, Danny sets out to fight both the aliens and the growing antisemitism in the town, in hopes of mending his divided community.

Interview with Karen

Donna: The story is rich with family bonds, community connections, and 1970s nostalgia that adds a fun and deeper layer to the story. How much research was involved in writing a story set in this time period and how much of the 1970s references were inspired from your own childhood?

Karen: First, thank you so much for having me on From The Mixed-Up Files today!

In 1978, the year the story takes place, I was ten years old, so there is definitely a lot that is taken straight from my own childhood. At the same time, that was many years ago and I wanted to make sure I was capturing the time accurately. That’s mostly where the research came in, looking up things like what movies were the biggest box office hits (Grease), whether or not nurses wore caps on their heads (yes and no), and what pizza toppings were the most popular (pepperoni.) A couple of other fun facts I learned: the video game Space Invaders came out in 1978 and movie prices were only $2.00. I also put out a crowdsource call on Facebook asking friends to share some of their own favorite 1970s memories. The responses were so fun to sort through.

Donna: Danny is a sweet and endearing character who struggles at times and fumbles a bit in his choices and beliefs, making him very relatable to readers. Is his character based on anyone you know?

Karen: Like most of the characters I write, Danny is a combination of many people I know. I love to mingle real life observations and memories when creating characters. Part of the fun in writing a character like Danny is exploring his fumbles and watching him figure his way through, even if messy. The goal is for young readers to say yeah, I get it, I’ve been there, or I’m going through that, or this is something I want to remember because it’s important and it can help others.

Donna: The story is full of zany adventures for Danny and his friends such as investigating The Bermuda Triangle, aliens, werewolves, and urban myths that young readers will be sure to enjoy. How did you create the idea to blend all these things together in a story?

Karen: As a child, I remember being so curious about the Bermuda Triangle and UFOs. Those were always big topics in my house and among my neighborhood friends. I also had a completely irrational fear of a white van kidnapper. I honestly have no idea where it came from, but to me it was very real. I’m sure my older brother put it my head. (P.S. I’m not at all sure he did, but when I was 10, I blamed everything on him, so we’ll go with that.) When sitting down to write a story that took place in 1978, I knew I wanted all of these elements that were a big part of my own childhood. As for the werewolf, I have no explanation, other than: welcome to my ten-year-old writing brain.

Donna: While a fun adventure, the story also has more meaningful threads of cultural divides, multi-generational relationships, anti-Semitism, and strength of community bonds. What prompted you to combine light-hearted high jinks with these rich and heartfelt threads?

Karen: In 2017, when I’d first started thinking about writing a new story and began brainstorming with memories from my childhood, I knew I wanted to write about a small town in the 1970s with a strong community bond. I also knew the story would have humor and high jinks as that’s where my middle grade voice always tends to land. At the same time, however, I’d been watching acts of antisemitism nationally and locally month after month: Charlottesville, Jewish cemeteries being vandalized just miles away, people finding KKK fliers on their cars in my community. While it all terrified me, I also felt compelled to write about it, and so my focus shifted to make room in the story’s underlying themes, adding in the multi-generational relationship to help facilitate the discussion.

Donna: Unfortunately, anti-Semitism and bullying in many forms are just as relevant today as they were in the 1970s—and often go hand-in-hand. Were there any experiences of both from your own childhood that helped drive your writing?

Karen: There definitely were. It’s funny how we keep certain memories buried. The deeper I got into Danny’s story, the more I would remember specific incidents from my childhood, through college and graduate school, straight into adulthood, all of which helped to drive the story. There’s no doubt this was a difficult book to write, particularly the ending, because there is no neat “tie it in a bow” resolution-type ending for antisemitism and other forms of bullying on a wide-scale.

Donna: There are many “what if?” scenarios throughout Danny’s story that add to the mystery and mayhem and will appeal to young reader’s imaginations. Do you use your own “what-if?” process to write books and if so, how does that work?

Karen: I’m pretty sure my brain is on a constant loop of “what-if.”  When it comes to writing books, I absolutely gravitate toward a “what-if” approach. For this book in particular, I spent a good deal of time journaling and exploring my own personal memories and feelings. I had a very, very loose picture with a few random scenes, but really no idea of how to get there or even how these scenes would fit together. I remember early in the process sending chapters to my critique partner with the message “here’s another chapter to the story without a story.” Slowly though things started coming together. So yes, there were a lot of “what ifs” and my critique partner is basically a saint for letting me run them all by her.

Donna: I love Danny’s Super Secret Spy Notebook. Where did this idea come from—and did you have your own secret notebook as a child to record secrets in?

Karen: I wish I had a really cool answer for this one, but I don’t. It’s one of those things that popped into my head at some point during one of those “what if” moments. While I did keep diaries as a child, they were very different from Danny’s Super Secret Spy Notebook. They were the kind with a lock and silver-edged paper, and I was always losing the key. I have no idea what became of them, and occasionally wonder if they wound up in the trash, or if someone has all my secrets stashed away somewhere.

Donna: Can you share what current story you’re working on, and does it explore similar themes in The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler or new ones?

Karen: I have a couple of manuscripts in the works and while both are very different than Danny Wexler, they both have multi-generational relationships, quirky/funny characters, and meaningful underlying themes. The first, about a science-loving girl who moves into a house that’s rumored to be haunted, is on submission, and the other, about to head out on submission, is about ballet and also examines antisemitism, but under very different circumstances. I’m hoping to share more information about both of these stories soon! Thank You, Donna!

About Karen:

Karen Pokras is a daisy lover, cat wrangler, and occasional baker. She has been writing for children for over ten years, winning several indie literary awards for her middle grade works. Always an avid reader, Karen found her passion for writing later in life and now runs all of her stories past the furry ears of her two feline editorial assistants before anyone else. A numbers geek at heart, she enjoys a good spreadsheet almost as much as she loves storytelling. A native of Connecticut, Karen is the proud mom to three brilliant children who still provide an endless stream of great book material. She lives with her family outside of Philadelphia. ​For more information, visit karenpokras.com.

Karen’s social media links:

Website: www.karenpokras.com

Instagram: @karenpokras_author

Facebook:  www.facebook.com/karenptoz

Twitter: @karentoz

 

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