Posts Tagged fantasy quests for middle-grade

Editor Spotlight: Georgia McBride, Georgia McBride Media Group

Georgia McBride is founder and editor of Georgia McBride Media Group, which is home to Month9Books, Swoon Romance, and Tantrum Books. She has used her experience launching brands in the music business, licensing music to film and TV, launching new technology products, and marketing and product development to build the Georgia McBride Media Group brand. Georgia is one of Publishers Marketplace’s most prolific editors. She’s completed over 225 publishing, audiobook, and film/TV deals on behalf of three imprints since 2012. Georgia founded the #YAlitchat hashtag and weekly chat on Twitter in 2009.

Hi Georgia, thanks for chatting with us!
You’re publishing two of my 2019 middle grade debut-mates: Malayna Evans and Kristin Thorsness. Can you talk about what originally sparked your interest and made you want to acquire their debut novels?

Thanks for having me, and congratulations on your debut! Malayna’s Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh has everything a kids’ action adventure fantasy should have but most of all, it has heart. Sure it’s a time travel adventure that takes Jagger and his little sister back to the Ancient Egyptian court, but it’s also funny and full of historical references and gags. So, while readers go on this harrowing adventure, they learn about Ancient Egypt and laugh the entire time. Additionally, the characters in this series are biracial, like my own kids, so I definitely was intrigued when it crossed my inbox. Representation is so important, especially at this age.

On the other hand, Kristin’s The Wicked Tree, which went through a title change after acquisition is spooky, atmospheric, and creepy. When I read it for the first time, it reminded me of a spooky tree outside my bedroom window when I was about the same age as the main character, Tav. I remember seeing a figure in the tree one night and screaming at the top of my lungs. None of the adults believed me, of course. The Wicked Tree captured all those creepy feelings I had back then, and I knew it would have a similar effect on readers. It’s also got a pretty cool mystery. So readers can put on their detective caps while getting spooked out.

With both of these stories, and especially for middle grade, I’m looking for something that makes the story and its characters unique. In both examples, I made a personal connection to the characters in both stories, so that helped.

Both these novels, The Wicked Tree, and Jagger Jones & The Mummy’s Ankh are in some sense quest/mystery novels. And Jagger is set in a very remote historical period. Are there any particular challenges in editing these genres?

I’m a lucky editor in that the author of Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh, Malayna Evans, has Ph. D. in Ancient Egyptology. That said, we did try our best to fact-check. We still asked questions, challenged assertions, and focused a lot on consistency during the edits.

For Kristin’s The Wicked Tree, we looked at the logic and reasoning behind the mystery and why characters did and said what they did – or why not. Mysteries can always be solved, and therefore, they have to follow basic and consistent logic, even with twists and even if it isn’t something a reader would personally do, think, or say.

Can you talk about your experience in the music business? What aspects do the music and book industry share?

As you can imagine, working in the music business is a lot of fun. It is also a lot of hard work. The music business and publishing business are very much alike in that my roles have remained basically the same. When I worked in music I did so mostly in marketing, talent acquisition, and packaging. Whether it is discovering, marketing, packaging, producing, editing, etc., the process and prospects are almost identical.

I miss the music business though. I no longer get free music now that I’m out. And, as of this year, I have had to pay to attend concerts. That is definitely new for me. I love what I do as a publisher, though. The similarities in my roles prepared me to hit the ground running in 2011. And now, I get free books and invites to all manner of spectacular bookish things.

What’s the number one thing authors can do, pre- or post-publication, to help boost sales of their books?

Be available. Be personable. Engage your audience in an authentic way. That may include in-person events, online, on social media, etc. I encourage those who write children’s literature to go where the kids are.

On average, middle schoolers spend 6-8 hours of their days in school. They receive book recommendations from teachers, librarians or media specialists, book fairs, etc. Engage that audience frequently, and you will soon start to build your own. Don’t give up or be discouraged if you don’t hit it out of the park on book 1. Stay focused, determined, and undeterred.

What’s an under-represented middle-grade genre or topic that you’d like to see more of?

This fall we published BERTIE’S BOOK OF SPOOKY WONDERS about a little girl who has difficulty making good choices. Her mother’s impending wedding to a widower with two kids compounds her difficulties. Of course, being TantrumBooks/Month9Books there’s magic and some spooky goings on in this story also, thus the wolves and raven on the cover!

As parents, we tend to focus on perfect behavior and good decision making for our kids, and sometimes fail to realize that our kids may struggle with impulse control and or feelings of anxiety. We expect our kids to manage their emotions and feelings well most of the time. Some kids are going through so much at home, and it can sometimes manifest as acting out. I love that BERTIE’S BOOK OF SPOOKY WONDERS tackles these issues. In her new blended family, Bertie’s parents are very much around, and are trying to help her cope. I would like to see more stories about coping with life in general and all the pressure twelve-year-olds are under to adapt in these modern times.

Do you have other forthcoming middle-grade novels you’d like to introduce us to?

Of course we have the sequels to Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh and The Wicked Tree releasing in 2020. We also have The Prince and the Goblin, a heavily illustrated adventure fantasy told from the point of view of a goblin who wants more from his life. Then there’s Kids from G.H.O.S.T, a graphic novel about kid ghost detectives, and The Fate of Freddy Mitchell, which is the new one from Andrew Buckley, author of Hair in all the Wrong Places.

Thanks so much for your time, Georgia!

Thank you!

Follow Georgia on Twitter: @georgia_mcbride
On Instagram @iamgeorgiamcbride, @month9books
Or visit her website at https://www.georgiamcbride.com/

Writing Quest Stories

  My fascination for quest stories began when I was in middle school.  At the time, our bespectacled young boy named Harry Potter wasn’t born yet. However, because I lived in India, I had the exposure to fantasy quest stories based on Indian culture. I read  Ramayana and Mahabharata epic novels, and stories from other Hindu texts. Those fantasy stories have been in the world for centuries, even millenia in some cases.

I often compare what I grew up reading to the middle grade quest novels of authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling. My brain is hardwired to pay attention to the common themes in the characters’ growth, and appreciate the similarities and deeper meaning in the journeys of the characters.

 

Quest stories make the characters seek something, and we as readers get to join them on the ride. In her book, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones describes a quest as “a large-scale treasure hunt, with clues scattered all over the continent, a few false leads, mystical masters as game-show hosts, and the dark lord and the terrain who make the quest interestingly difficult”(153). Therefore, the hero leaves her comfortable, ordinary surroundings to venture into a challenging, unfamiliar world where she encounters conflicts with antagonistic, challenging forces before achieving her goal.

In this post, we will take a look at two fantasy quest novels:

Where the Mountain Meets The Moon by Grace Lin    

and 

The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz by Frank L. Baum

We will focus on some of the common themes around plot, conflict and change that made these quest stories timeless reads.

Plot:

If you’ve been writing fiction for even a short while, you have probably heard or used the word “plot” in your critique conversations. In his book, The Plot Thickens, Noah Lukeman writes that “plot is not just about having a single great idea; on the contrary, a good plot is an amalgamation of many ideas or elements of writing, including characterization, journey, suspense, conflict, and context” (xv). Therefore, while an idea is important, a plot doesn’t exist without the supporting elements that make up the story.

In Where The Mountain Meets The Moon, the main character Minli sets off on an extraordinary journey of adventure and folklore to find the Old Man on the moon to ask him how she can change her family’s fortune.

In the Wizard Of Oz, Dorothy and her dog Toto are swept away from a Kansas farm to the Land of Oz by a cyclone.

Minli’s quest is to find the Old Man on the moon. Dorothy’s quest is to return to her home in Kansas again.

In both the stories, Grace Lin and Frank L. Baum spend considerable amount of time at the beginning of the book establishing their main characters’ normal life before they take off on their journeys. The authors introduce the readers to the secondary characters and set up the cultural context. The settings create a vivid contrast with the strange new worlds Minli and Dorothy enter. All these elements together make strong plot structures for the stories.

Conflict:

Story plots must always involve conflicts.  Philip Athans writes in his book, The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction that “unless your protagonist comes into conflict – in the broadest sense of the word – with someone or something, you have no plot, no story, and no novel” (25). Therefore, it is exceedingly important to put the characters in difficult situations that cause conflict.

In Where the Mountain Meets The Moon, the central conflict for Minli is that her family’s fortune is very weak. So she goes on an adventure to have a better fortune, make friends and bring green to the Fruitless mountain.

In The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, the main conflict is that Dorothy thinks that life will be better someplace else (i.e. over the rainbow). She runs away from home, gets caught in a tornado, and ends up in another world. Finally, she is desperate to find her way back home.

Baum and Lin put their characters in conflict arising circumstances, and raise the stakes to increase the importance of their story goals. How Dorothy and Minli deal with the conflicts show us a great deal about their traits and personalities. They force the reader to take sides and keep reading.

Change:

In Where The Mountain Meets The Moon, Minli has a lively and impulsive spirit that is different from her parents. She makes friends along the way in her journey. She even befriends a dragon. But when Minli finally reaches home from the Never-Ending Mountain at the end, she realizes that all her questions are answered. Minli’s village is prosperous again, and she is thankful for her family.

In The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, there’s an inherent change in Dorothy’s character when she meets other characters like the scare crow, the Tin Man, the lion, the wicked witch of the west and the wizard. In the end, Baum shows the change in Dorothy by having her realize that the special world of Oz must eventually be left behind if she has to get back to Kansas. This marks her decision to return to her home where Uncle Henry and Aunt Em live. The quest becomes meaningful when Dorothy returns to Kansas with a lesson from Oz. Dorothy finally returns to Kansas with the knowledge that she is loved, and that there is no place like home.

Even though The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz and Where The Mountain Meets The Moon were written and published at different time periods (1900 and 2009) and have different cultural references and symbolisms, Baum and Lin have made their characters embark on profound journeys that eventually lead them to self-realization and change from within.

Minli’s and Dorothy’s quests sum up themes that center around courage, coming of age, exploration, and family. The novels take us on fascinating journeys that emphasize similar quest elements of plot, conflicts, and change, which in turn give the characters growth and meaning.

And now, to jump into the world of quest stories, here’s a quick list of some recent books:

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Fish by L.S. Matthews

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake

My Side Of The Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Fog Magic by Julia L. Sauer

What are your favorite quest novels? What do you like about them? Share with us in the comments below.