Posts Tagged fantasy

Cover reveal! Lisa Schmid’s HART & SOULS

A special treat today: A COVER REVEAL Hart & Souls, written by my friend and fellow Mixed-Up Files contributor, Lisa Schmid! Out 7/23/24!

Now, before we reveal the cover…

Hart & Souls: A summary

After getting bullied at Figueroa Elementary, Stix Hart wants nothing more than to be invisible as he starts middle school. He’s heard all the horror stories, but none involved ghosts.

On Stix’s first day of sixth grade, his anxiety is off the charts. It doesn’t help when he encounters an older kid who reminds him of his old nemesis, Xander Mack. Soon after, he encounters two other students who take a keen interest in him. He quickly learns the spooky truth—the trio are ghosts in need of a solid. They are stuck in middle school and cannot move on until they resolve their unfinished business. It’s up to Stix to figure out how to help these not-so-normal new friends. To succeed, he must use his unique abilities: drumming talent, a big heart, and anxiety to sort out this paranormal predicament.


(Isn’t it a beauty?)

Interview with Lisa Schmid

MR: Congrats on the upcoming publication of your spooky MG, Hart & Souls (7/23/24)! I’m honored to host your cover reveal—especially on Friday the 13th 🙂

LS: Thank you so much! I am giddy to share my new cover with the world. I’m especially delighted that you signed up for hosting duties. I feel like we’ve been on this author’s journey together and have so much in common—one might even say we are soul sisters.

 MR: Ooh, I LOVE that! Now, tell me: What was the inspiration behind Hart & Souls

LS: The idea for Hart & Souls came to me after encountering the local “school bully” at Target. He was on the phone at the front of the store, frightened and crying. After eavesdropping, I learned no one had picked him up from school, and he didn’t know where else to go. It was heartbreaking. I kept an eye on him until his dad arrived, but it got me thinking. An important lesson I’ve always taught my son is that when somebody is unkind, it usually means they’re fighting a battle we know nothing about.

At that moment, I knew I had my next book. By the time I finished shopping, the title HART & SOULS was swirling around my brain. While sitting in the parking lot, I figured out how the story would begin and end. I’ve never veered off course—I knew I had something special. I actually recreated the Target scene in my book through the eyes of Stix. It still makes me tear up when I read the chapter.

MR: How long did it take you to write the novel, Lisa?

LS: It took me about a year and a half to write. I am a card-carrying Pantser, so I work out the details as I go. Unfortunately, I always get stuck when I reach the “mushy” middle. Sometimes, I need to let things percolate before moving forward. I hit a couple of bumps in the road, but in the end, much like my lost souls, I found my way home.

About the Artist

MR: Since this is a cover reveal (!!!), I’d love to know more about your gorgeous cover—and about the artist, Carolina Vázquez.

LS: I am so in love with this cover! Carolina totally captured the heart and soul of this story. The expression on Stix’s face makes me giggle—it personifies his state of mind to a tee. And the three ghosts are just as I had imagined them to be. I want to hug each one and let them know everything will be all right.

I am also obsessed with the details that make it so extraordinary. Little nuances like the talent show flier on a backpack, and my favorite: the ghost’s individual auras reflecting off Stix. It makes my heart sing!

HART & SOULS is Carolina’s debut middle grade cover, and I think she knocked it out of the park.

Fun fact: her debut picture book cover, TANGO RED RIDING HOOD, was written by a local author, Rachel S. Hobbs. I recently connected the dots and will attend Rachel’s book signing next week.

What a small world—A fabulous illustrator from Argentina ends up working with a pair of California girls on her first two books.

I can hardly wait to take a picture of us together and share it with Carolina.

MR: What was the process like in choosing the cover? I know it’s different for every writer, and every artist.

LS: I am so lucky that my AMAZING agent, Leslie Zampetti, found the perfect home for my little ghost story. Andrews McMeel Kids is a fantastic publisher that encourages a collaborative experience. My wonderful editor, Hannah Dussold, and I threw out a couple of ideas for Carolina, and she came back with this gorgeous cover.

There were, of course, minor tweaks and changes, but overall, Carolina nailed it. I am so grateful for her patience and creativity. And the good news . . . she’s creating thirty interior illustrations, so you will be seeing a lot more of her art!

MR: Congrats again, Lisa, on Hart & Souls. I can’t wait to read it. And I encourage Mixed-Up Files readers to pre-order it!

LS: Thanks so much. And thank you to everybody for pre-ordering my book. I truly hope you enjoy my ghost story. I loved writing it for you.

Author bio

Lisa Schmid is an author and co-host of the podcast Writers With Wrinkles. When she’s not scaring up ghostly adventures, she’s most likely visiting schools to talk about writing and books. She lives in Northern California with her husband, son, two dogs, and one very sneaky hamster. Learn more about Lisa on her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Artist bio

Carolina Vázquez was born in 2000 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She was endlessly inspired by books and animation from an early age and started taking drawing classes when she was thirteen. She graduated from Palermo University with a degree in Illustration Design in 2021. Since then, she has been working on children’s illustration projects such as picture books, magazines and board games. Learn more about Carolina on her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

WNDMG Wednesday – Introducing Isi Hendrix

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado


Introducing Isi Hendrix

Hello, WNDMG Wednesday readers … I am so excited for this month’s post. I get to introduce you to the amazing Isi Hendrix, author of the Afrofantasy MG Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans. (HarperCollins – USA and Usborne – UK, September 2023) It’s such a high-profile debut novel, it got TWO debut days: one here in the USA and one in the UK!

About Adia Kelbara

Adia Kelbara USA book cover

United States Cover

Adia Kelbara cover illustration

United Kingdom Cover

Life is tough for twelve-year-old orphan Adia. Her aunt and uncle believe she’s an ogbanje, a demon-possessed child that brings misfortune wherever they go, and Adia can’t disagree—especially when she suddenly manifests mysterious powers that she can’t control, causing an earthquake in her village.

So when Adia is offered a kitchen apprenticeship at the faraway Academy of Shamans, she flees with nothing but a pouch of change, her cat Bubbles, and the hope that someone there can figure out what’s wrong with her—and fix it. But just as she’s settling in, Adia stumbles upon a shocking secret: Unlike her, the kingdom’s emperor really is possessed—by a demon more wicked than any other. And he’s on his way to the Academy for a visit.

Joining forces with a snarky goddess, a 500-year-old warrior girl, and an annoying soldier-in-training, Adia must travel through hidden realms to exorcise the emperor and save her kingdom. But to succeed, she first must come to understand the powers inside her….

The fate of the world hangs in the balance.

Interview with Isi Hendrix

WNDMG: Welcome to the We Need Diverse MG (WNDMG) series. We’re honored to have you here!

First off, I have to say, I absolutely loved Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans. Your debut novel is the definition of propulsive reading. Adia is so easy to root for and connect with—plus, she’s wry and funny. This is a really hard mix of character traits to pull off, and I’m so impressed!

Developing Adia

WNDMG: What influences helped you develop Adia Kelbara herself?

author headshot - black woman with long curly braids framed by flowering plants

Monique Cooper Photography

IH: Adia is a twelve-year-old orphan living with her aunt and uncle. She doesn’t fit in with her family or anyone in her village of the Swamplands, which is currently overrun by missionaries. The missionaries showed up years ago and told Adia’s people that everything they believed in was wrong, and that to be good, they had to follow the beliefs of the people behind the Sunless Mountains. But Adia questions what she’s told.

I’m borrowing from real life with that aspect of Adia’s personality. My family’s conservative religion (introduced to my tribe by Western missionaries) absolutely did not feel right to me and I was her age when I began to question things and where this religion had even come from because it certainly wasn’t anything that was native to the Igbo people. So, for me, Adia represents the strength of indigenous wisdom and the ancestral knowledge that’s woven into our DNA that no invader or colonizing force can ever erase.

Adia Kelbara character art black tween wearing yellow dress in forest with orange cat

The Guardian Deity

WNDMG: What was the inspiration for Ginikanwa?

IH: Ah, Gini. My snarky Goddess. I’ve always loved the older, powerful mentor in fantasy novels, like Gandalf. Thankfully times are changing, but for far too long that role was almost always exclusively delegated to a grey bearded white man. So, I knew that I wanted Adia’s teacher and mentor in these books to be a woman, specifically an African goddess or an Alusi—a guardian deity of the Igbo people.

Book Banning and World Building

WNDMG: Your themes are so current and relevant, this book is almost contemporary. You tackle topics like religion, colonialism and mental and emotional health with grace and passion. Was this always going to be a book about colonialism or did that piece reveal itself to you as you wrote?

 IH: It revealed itself to me as I was writing it. I wrote my first draft before this book banning atrocity America is currently dealing with was in full swing, and even then I assumed I was writing something that would be banned. But once I saw what was coming out in this story, especially the commentary about religious colonization which is very personal to me, there was no turning back.

Blurb graphic adia kelbara

Let the Story be Born

WNDMG: As a writer, I am always curious about how authors choose genre. What was your process for deciding the best way to tell Adia’s story?

IH: I read widely, but (so far) every time I try to write a story it comes out as a fantasy story. So, I don’t fight it. I let the story that wants to be born be born. And I’m so glad it came out this way. Using a fantasy setting lets me explore these heavy themes in a way that—I hope—is accessible to children and also just a fun adventure story.  I re-read books now that were my favorite as a child like A Wrinkle in Time, and I’m in awe at how L’Engle and authors like her wrote these profound books that you could write a whole doctorate thesis about, but it’s also a book I probably read fifty times before I was ten years old. So, I think speculative fiction is a great way to explore big ideas and themes with young readers. Madeline L’Engle said one of my favorite quotes on writing. “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

((If you’re enjoying this interview with MG fantasy author Isi Hendrix, you might also like this archived WNDMG Wednesday interview with fantasy author Kaela Rivera)) 

Changes, Challenges, and Easter Eggs

 WNDMG: From the time you drafted Adia to the time you got your publishing deal, what has been the biggest change in your manuscript?

 IH: Ah, that’s hard to say without giving a huge spoiler! I’ll just say that a character I’d originally given an almost forgettable role to, ended up playing a major part of the story.

WNDMG: What was the hardest part of the book to write?

IH: Character-wise, I always struggled when my mentor or agent or editors wanted me to dive deeper into a character I don’t particularly like. The way I can’t stand this character you’d never think I was the one who created him. So, in my early drafts I tended to just blow him off as an irredeemable jerk. But everyone asked for the motivation behind why he behaves the way he does so I had to tap into that, and the story is all the better for it. Yes, I would have had an easier time writing a full-on villain, verses someone who’s morally gray. But the morally grey ones make for complex characters in the end.

WNDMG: Do you have any Easter Eggs in there?

Adia’s name is Swahili for gift and very fitting. But it’s also from one of my favorite song, “Adia” by Sarah McLachlan, and the song’s chorus is also extremely fitting for this character. It keeps repeating that “We are born innocent. Believe me, Adia, we are still innocent.” So I love that her name has a lot of layers in there. Naming every other character in this book took me a minute, but I knew Adia’s name right away.

character art Adia in purple dress surrounded by flowers

(There also may or may not be a Mean Girl’s reference somewhere in the book, because this book definitely has a mean girl in it.)

The Final Battle

WNDMG: Is there one scene you can point to that is the most important scene to you?

IH: The final battle scene. I’m not a visual writer. I don’t see everything in my head like a movie (and I wish I did). But that was the one scene that I watched play out from beginning to end. I was walking one evening and this download came out of nowhere. I froze on the sidewalk and was almost in tears. Then I ran home to write it all out.  I even had to go back and rewrite a lot of the book because I understood that was how it had to end. So that final battle scene where Adia goes up against the antagonist will always be what I consider the most important.

What’s Next

WNDMG: This is the first book in a planned trilogy. Can you tell us anything at all about what we can expect from Adia in Book Two? (Yes, this is definitely the sign of an impatient reader asking!)

IH: You’re going to find Adia back at the Academy of Shamans, this time as a student! But as always, everything goes sideways whenever Adia is at that school. So you’re going to see her dealing with a mysterious illness that’s plaguing the students and the kingdom.

WNDMG: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like to share with our readers?

IH: Read widely and read banned books!

WNDMGSo many congratulations to you from all of us at WNDMG and From the Mixed-Up Files … of Middle-Grade Authors!

Isi Hendrix author photo smiling Black woman with long braids wearing gold dress holding gold UK edition of book

About Isi Hendrix:

Isi Hendrix is a Nigerian American children’s book author who has been lucky enough to live and work all over the world, from the Himalayas to the Amazon rainforest, during her past life as an anthropologist. Now she’s based in her hometown of Brooklyn, NY, where she lives with a rotating roster of foster kittens and a stubborn refusal to accept that she is highly allergic to cats.

Isi’s debut middle grade novel, Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans, released in September, 2023.

To Buy Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans:


Barnes and Noble

Stay in touch with Isi via her website!

Author Spotlight: Landra Jennings + a GIVEAWAY


In today’s Author Spotlight, Jo Hackl chats with author Landra Jennings about her new middle-grade novel, Wand (Clarion Books, October 31). She’ll share her inspiration behind writing it, the works of literature that influenced it, and the surprising muse for the bird characters! Plus, there’s a chance to win a finished/signed copy of Wand if you enter the giveaway. Scroll down for details.


Book Summary:

A dazzling story of grief and found family wrapped in a spellbinding fairy tale, perfect for fans of Anne Ursu and Jodi Lynn Anderson.

Eleven-year-old Mira wishes everything could go back to the way it was. Before she changed schools and had to quit gymnastics. Especially before Papa died. Now she spends her days cooking and cleaning for her stepsisters and Val—who she still won’t call mom and still won’t forgive for the terrible thing she did.

When a mysterious girl named Lyndame appears out of the woods wielding a powerful wand, she makes Mira an offer she can’t refuse: she will grant Mira three wishes.

What if magic isn’t just pretend after all? What if these wishes could fix everything? But in the quiet town of Between, Georgia, where secrets lurk and rumors swirl of strange creatures, nothing is as it seems, and everything comes at a price.

Rising talent Landra Jennings weaves together an enchanting, modern fairy tale with eloquence and compassion about finding hope after loss—and finding belonging in the places we least expect.


Interview with Landra Jennings

JH: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Landra! Thanks for joining us today.

LJ: Thank you so much for having me.

JH:  First I have to tell you how much I loved Wand. The story felt gothic and suspenseful, like your first book, and I loved the adventure. I enjoyed  the fairy tale elements. Can you please tell us about your inspiration to write it?

LJ: Thanks so much! You’re right about the fairy tale elements. I’d say I had three areas of inspiration. Firstly, this is my take on Cinderella for middle grade. I wanted to figure out what a happy ending looked like for eleven-year-old Mira, whose story starts in in modern-day Georgia. Her father has passed away, leaving her with a stepmother and two step sisters, and she’s still grieving. Similar to other modern interpretations of Cinderella, I wanted Mira to figure out her happy ending for herself versus finding a literal ‘prince.’ Secondly, I’ve also realized in the process of writing that I start stories with some big emotion and build from there. My first book was focused on the difficulty in detaching from that one friend (or sibling) that you’ve become too dependent on and learning how to become an independent person. Wand is about grief; how once we’ve experienced the pain of losing someone, whether it be through death or some other way, we can build those walls around ourselves to protect from future pain, and how that can isolate us from the world. We might really want something magical to fix everything and take our pain away versus facing the pain head-on. I wanted to explore the process of breaking down those walls from the perspective of a child. Finally, while I was editing Wand, I read The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, an amazing YA portal fantasy and that book started me on a binge of reading and re-reading portal fantasies, mostly middle grade works. So those other fantasies were also influential as I developed the plot.

Portal Fantasy Influences

JH: Why a portal fantasy? Please tell us more about that.

LJ: Portal fantasy is a very broad category, really. A character travels from one world to another through a “portal,” a passageway of some sort, whether it be a tornado as in L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, or a mysterious wooden door, as in Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.

Sometimes the characters stumble onto the portal as in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Sometimes they deliberately seek it out, as in the Hogwarts Express train in J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Or sometimes (and this is really fun) they create the portal themselves as in Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife or in Kwame Mbalia’s Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky.

I’ve mostly been reading about portals where characters travel from our ordinary world to the fantasy world. Sometimes they’re escaping a bad situation or boredom, and other times they’re searching for something specific. As readers, a book can be an escape to begin with and I love the function of a portal in taking the reader that much further away from their reality. It’s a very different world readers enter and they can work out their big emotions in a place far removed from their own problems. In Wand, the portal to the other world is a pond. My main character, Mira, is searching for her true family and a place she can belong. Mira has built up those emotional walls, protecting herself. Leaving the modern world and going to a new one by jumping into the pond is a way of avoiding confronting her powerful emotions.

The Role of the Wand and Magic

JH: Let’s talk about the wand. It’s in the title obviously, and I noticed its significance in the story. What is the role of the magic wand in the book?

LJ: The wand in my book represents the wish to “magic away” your problems. And the use of the wand in the narrative tracks along with Mira’s journey of processing her grief. In many versions of Cinderella, like Disney’s version, the heroine does not have the ability to use the magic wand herself. She is dependent on powerful others, such as a fairy godmother, who can wield it. The fairy godmother character in Wand is a teen named Lyndame who offers to grant Mira wishes, misrepresenting the power of the wand and her purpose in offering the wishes. Once Mira figures that out, she does get the wand for herself and she can wield it. Even though Mira’s intuition tells her that she shouldn’t use it, she does use it, to disastrous effect.

Favorite Character

JH: Who was your favorite character to write?

LJ: Lyndame, the antagonist. She’s so independent, yet so angry. She is processing her grief very differently than Mira, becoming a cautionary tale and demonstrating the emotional wreckage that can happen if an individual can’t work through grief and move on.

Favorite Scene

JH: What was your favorite scene to write?

LJ: I think one of my favorites is the girls together, upstairs in Mira’s bedroom. Mira’s been sent to her room without dinner and her stepsisters bring up a board game and some mushy microwave pizza. There’s not a whole lot of dialogue and it’s not a complicated scene, but there’s a lot of sub-text about demonstrating care for someone else.

Inspiration for the fascinating bird characters

JH: Can you tell us about the inspiration for the bird characters in the book? I noticed there are actually two in the main cast!

LJ: I love birds of all sorts. That love started as a child. I remember when I was 10 years old, using my last 50 cents to buy a used bird cage at a garage sale and begging my mother to let me have a parakeet. She didn’t! (I now recognize the wisdom of this decision). As an adult, I was finally able to get a parakeet: Momo. He became a tiny and beloved member of our family, moving with us from Chicago to Greenville, and living for 11 years.

Lately, I’m fascinated by wild birds, like hummingbirds and crows. I loved the idea of a crow to support Mira in her journey. As Bandit the crow is from the ordinary world, it was important to me that he be an ordinary crow. However, there’s no reason to enhance crows from the way they actually are. They are extraordinary to begin with, very intelligent, and there is so much research available from which to draw. I read about some crow species using found objects as tools and I knew I had to include that behavior in the book.  Source: I had a little more leeway with the character of Edwin, the golden bird who made it into the cover art. He’s from a magical land so I could make him a little more human-like. Overall, I enjoyed the parallel of having both the protagonist and the antagonist having bird companions.

To the Heart of Wand

JH: What would you most like for readers to take away from the book?

LJ: At its heart, the book is about family. However, you define family—whether it be the family you are born into or the one you find along the way. About recognizing that your family might not be perfect (can’t be perfect) but might be what you need to support you in your life, anyway.

Lightning Round!

No MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so. . . .

Favorite cities (besides the one you live in):

Chicago. My kids were both born there.

 Scale of 1 to 10—How good of a driver are you?

Eh. Maybe an 8. I’m very cautious and slow (careful about distracted driving!) but my reflexes aren’t what they used to be.

Would you rather be able to speak every language in the world or talk to animals?

Talk to animals!

 Favorite ice cream?

Mint chocolate chip.

 Dawn or dusk?

Dusk. Such a gorgeous and mysterious time.

 Favorite childhood TV show?

Well, that really dates me. My favorite was Space Giants. When I look back on that now, it’s kind of an embarrassing choice because the scripts and special effects weren’t exactly top notch.

 What’s the best advice you ever received?

Be accountable. Follow through on what you’ve promised and if you make a mistake, apologize.


 JH: How can readers obtain a copy of the book? And for our educators and librarians, do you offer reading guides?

LJ: The book can be preordered at your local independent bookstores, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon, or any place books are sold. Personalized copies can be preordered at Fiction Addiction in Greenville, SC: And yes! I have an amazing curriculum supplement, with tons of fun and educational activities, to accompany my first book, and a curriculum supplement is soon to come for Wand. My multi-talented and multi-credentialed (EdS and M.Ed.) sister, Kinla Nelson, created both of these. And both will be available on my website.


And now. . . .


For a chance to win a signed copy of Wand, comment on the blog—and, if you’re on Twitter/X, on the Mixed-Up Files  Twitter/X account, for an extra chance to win!  (Giveaway ends September 18, 2023, MIDNIGHT EST.) U.S. only, please. Book will be mailed after publication. To enter, click here


About the Author 

Landra Jennings is a Greenville, South Carolina-based writer, author of middle-grade fantasy novels The Whispering Fog and the forthcoming Wand (October 31, 2023) published by HarperCollins Clarion Books. She holds an MBA from Northwestern University and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University in Minneapolis where she won the Anne Tews Schwab Scholarship for Excellence in Critical Writing and the Walden Pond Press Scholarship in Middle Grade Fiction and Non-Fiction. She is passionate about encouraging a love of reading and writing in children. You can learn more about Landra on her website. You can follow her on Instagram and Goodreads.