Posts Tagged New MG

Interview & 2 Giveaways with Kerry O’Malley Cerra

I’m excited to share this heartfelt interview with TWO generous giveaways with all of you! 

Kerry O’Malley Cerra is an award-winning author of middle grade books. Her first novel, Just a Drop of Water, landed on five state reading lists, won the Crystal Kite Award, a Florida Book Award, and was named to VOYA’s Top Shelf Fiction list for 2014. Her second novel, Hear Me, is out now. Stay tuned for her forthcoming book, Make a Little Wave, expected to debut sometime in 2024 with Carolrhoda Books, an imprint of Lerner Publishing. Kerry’s work has received praise from The New York Times, Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist, VOYA, and the Horn Book Guide calling her stories moving, perceptive, well-developed, and woven with an expert hand. Kerry lives in South Florida with her family and two poorly behaved rescue-dogs.

You can find Kerry on her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Welcome back to the Mixed-Up Files, Kerry! I loved interviewing you for your debut middle-grade novel, Just A Drop of Water, and am thrilled to celebrate the launch of Hear Me with you.

What sparked the idea for Hear Me?

Thanks, Mindy. I always appreciate your support, and not only for me. You are a champion for many authors! Always! The thing about Hear Me is that I never wanted to write about hearing loss. I toyed with maybe someday writing a character who happened to have hearing loss without it being the central theme, but even that wasn’t something I was sure I wanted to tackle. So in the meantime, I wrote stories of abled characters. After talking with a friend about the need for books with accurate hearing loss representation—and still vowing I wasn’t the person to write that book—the whole first chapter came to me in detail. I’ve heard authors say some books write themselves, and I never understood that. In fact, I was a bit jealous of it. Imagine a story that writes itself! Well, this one did. I wrote the first draft in only four months. It was extremely cathartic for me—the whole thing feels somewhat like a gift, actually. I struggled for years to accept my disability, and sure, I feel like much of that time was wasted, but I also now know that I needed that time to grieve my loss.

Kerry after having unilateral cochlear implant surgery

When I wrote chapter 1 that first night, the last line (now the last line of chapter 2) set the trajectory for the story. And it shocked me. It was visceral. Completely unplanned. But I knew right then what the storyline would be. Rayne wants desperately to talk to her audiologist alone, but her mom isn’t having it. Rayne says in her head that she’ll never have the chance to ask the doctor the one question she wants answered most—can her parents force her to have the cochlear implant surgery even if she doesn’t want it? I’ll never forget the moment my fingers typed that line. It was like, holy smokes, that’s what the book is about. I was locked in.

So back to your question. The topic of writing a hearing loss story came from a conversation with a publishing-friend, but the story itself took on a life of its own. I’d love for that to happen again someday. It was quite powerful.

Your entire book is powerful, too. And so needed. Thank you for writing it! Here’s a trailer so readers can get to know Rayne. 

What do you and the main character, Rayne, have in common…and how is she different from you?

Kerry showing her cochlear implant at a school visit

Rayne and I both have parents who love us very much. My parents, however, gifted me the privilege of having a say in whether I wore hearing aids or not. I’ll always be grateful for that because I wasn’t ready to accept my loss at age sixteen. But it’s fair to note that Rayne’s hearing loss is much more sudden and much more progressive than mine was. Still, I wish her parents had taken a step back and given them all time to deal.

We’re also different in that Rayne learns to love and accept herself more quickly than I did. She actually taught me a lot as she came to life on the page. She’s strong, fierce, and utterly determined to be heard. I’m a lot like that now, but I certainly wasn’t at her age.

And yet, both Rayne and I struggled physically and mentally when we were initially diagnosed. We both tried to hide our disabilities. We both tried to overcompensate because we had something to prove. We both felt stuck in between a hearing world and a deaf one.

Mostly, I’d like to think we both preserved and came out stronger. Neither of us feels broken anymore.


I’m tearing up reading this. I have 75% hearing loss and totally relate to the broken feeling Rayne has. Thank you so much for sharing such a heartfelt story. What would you like to say to anyone who feels broken?

Do you mean broken as it pertains to hearing loss only? If so, I have to say my favorite part of the book is when Mr. Lazar tells Rayne and her parents that it’s okay to take a step back. To take time to grieve Rayne’s hearing loss. Because it is a loss. And with grief, the thing is, there is no time frame for it. So give yourself permission to deal how you need to deal. And while you’re doing that, find your people. Find the ones who support you, who don’t forget about your disability, who make small efforts to help you however you need. They are out there. I’ve found online support groups to be awesome, too. People there share daily wins, but we also use it as a place to vent. It’s a safe space where you know you’re not alone, and that you’re completely okay just as you are. Sometimes we all need that reminder—disability or not.

Yes! We all need to know that we’re not alone, and we’re okay as we are. Thanks for the reminder. 

What is the universal truth in Hear Me, that makes it so relatable?

This goes well with your above question, actually. I think there are two universal truths in Hear Me, so even if someone doesn’t know what it’s like to have hearing loss, I hope they’ll still connect to Rayne’s story on some level.

First, Rayne wants to feel heard. It seems so simple, but she feels like her voice, her feelings, her wishes don’t matter. She has no say in one of the biggest decisions of her life. I’m guessing most everyone at some point has felt unheard, so I think they’ll relate to Rayne’s utter frustration.

But also, Rayne wants to feel like she’s okay just as she is. This goes along with your question about brokenness above, but it might not necessarily be such a big dramatic feeling for everyone. Still, I think we all have some insecurities that keep us from feeling whole. Maybe someone doesn’t feel smart enough, or pretty enough, or popular enough, or liked at all. Maybe they struggle with mental health, or with sports, or making friends. No matter how big or small, it can lead to one feeling broken—or not enough—in some way. So they’ll identify with Rayne on that. Overcoming that feeling is her biggest arc in the story, and all that angst and worry is right there on the page.

I put a lot of time into getting that emotion on the page authentically so that all readers could connect and feel for Rayne—knowing full well they might feel it within their own lives, too.


What surprised you while writing and revising Hear Me?

I don’t want to give too much away for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but the ending took me by complete surprise. I was 100% sure how the book would wrap up as soon as I wrote chapter 1, but something happened along the way that changed it entirely. I’m so glad for that and how it came to be because I think the ending is powerful. Sorry to be so vague. 🙂


Everyone can read your amazing book to find out what surprised you. 😊

I love how you use *** for missed words. At first, I found myself reading those parts slower, but then realized most of the methods I use to fill in words I miss hearing help fill in the blanks in your book. It might not be exactly what was said, but I’m pretty sure I catch the gist of it. It truly gives people a tiny glimpse of what it’s like to be in the shoes of someone who is hard of hearing or deaf. What tips do you use while trying to hear people that can help readers fill in those blanks? Can teachers modify this into a writing exercise with their students? 

On the page, readers will have an overall sense of the conversation, so that alone will help them figure out the general idea of what’s being said—even if they don’t know the actual words that are missing. This is true even as the conversations change in single scenes, but that’s not the case for me, at all, in real life. It’s incredibly frustrating when people switch topics. I have to work even harder to figure out what’s being talked about all over again. As you well know, this makes group settings uncomfortable and exhausting. But I don’t think the reader will have nearly as much trouble while reading this.

Mindy, I think your activity suggestion is fantastic! I’d love for teachers to have students take a page from the book and try to fill in the missing words. It would be so interesting to compare the assignments. Brilliant! 

Ooh, I love this, Kerry. I hope some teachers will share the results!

Do you have suggestions for people who meet someone who is hard of hearing or deaf? What can they do to communicate with them better? 

I want to note that I can’t speak for everyone when it comes to these answers. There is no one way to handle deafness. No right or wrong way to handle hearing loss. Some people are way more comfortable with their situation than others. But here are some general good practices to follow that I think will work for many. Always start by getting the attention of the person you want to speak to—so they’re aware and can pay attention. Don’t yell. Goodness, this is so offensive. For many of us, volume isn’t the issue. It’s clarity. Just because someone is hard of hearing or deaf doesn’t mean they’re dumb. They just need a little extra help. Face the person you’re talking to so they can read your lips. If you’re in a loud environment, know that this is exponentially more difficult, so be patient. Try not to forget about the person’s disability. It’s not one that is seen, yet it can be uncomfortable for some of us to have to constantly remind others of our need. These things really make me feel included and can sometimes be the difference for me continuing to socialize or go home, so I hope they are good tips for others with hearing loss or deafness, too.


Those are fantastic tips! They help me a lot, too.

What are you working on now?

I have another book, Make a Little Wave, coming out in 2024. It’s about a girl who’s trying to change shark fishing laws in Florida. And because the world still needs many more stories with disability representation, that character wears cochlear implants. Right now, I’m doing edits for that and a revision of a nonfiction picture book. I can’t talk about that one yet, but I hope to have good news on it very soon.

Also, I work as a high school media specialist. These days, that role feels extra charged politically, so it keeps me very busy.

Thanks so much for having me here, Mindy. I’m glad you loved Rayne’s story!

You’re welcome, Kerry. Thanks so much for joining us again. And wahoooo! I’m happy dancing about your upcoming MG. It sounds amazing! I hope you get an offer on your nonfiction picture book soon.

Giveaway time!

Kerry generously has TWO giveaways. Enter one or both of them on the Rafflecopters below. Winners will be shouted out on this post and e-mailed on October 14. 

One lucky winner will receive a copy of Hear Me

The winner is…

Joy Jones

A year after her hearing loss diagnosis, twelve-year-old Rayne’s doing her best to live a “normal” life and act like nothing’s changed. But her hearing keeps failing her. Even with hearing aids, she has trouble following conversations and hanging out with her friends the way she used to. Her grades are slipping, surfing is a bust, and she can’t understand the lyrics to her favorite singer’s new songs. Rayne’s parents are pushing for her to get cochlear implants, which could restore her hearing—though she would hear sounds differently. 

Rayne isn’t convinced the surgery for CIs is worth the risk and challenges. In fact, she’s terrified of it. She begs her parents to consider other options, but they’re not budging. 

With the surgery looming, Rayne sets off on a search for alternatives. Along the way, she discovers that “normal” can have many meanings—and that even though her ears may be broken, she is not.
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Enter below to win a critique of up to 10 pages of your novel…(or one PB). 

The winner is:

Jaymie Patricia Heilman
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Thanks for stopping by the Mixed-Up Files! Good luck with the awesome giveaways. 🙂

Ena Jones Interview & Two Giveaways

I’m thrilled to welcome Ena Jones back to the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle-Grade Authors to celebrate the release of her newest novel, SIX FEET BELOW ZERO.

Credit: McCardell Photography

Credit: McCardell Photography

Ena Jones writes contemporary middle-grade fiction (for children ages 8-12). She grew up in Northern Virginia, on the outskirts of Washington, DC, and currently lives in North Carolina. She loves to read a wide variety of books, hole up in her office and write fun stories, take long walks along the ocean, and cook yummy meals for family and friends.

You can find her on her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Here’s a link to the SIX FEET BELOW ZERO Educator’s Guide, courtesy of Holiday House.



What inspired you to write this book—and were there any surprises along the way?

A photo of Marie Jones, the inspiration for the character of Great-Grammy.

SIX FEET BELOW ZERO sprouted from a simple idea. I wanted to explore the question of guardianship, something both parents and kids think about. There’s always a fear: Where will the children end up if something happens to the parents? And will a new guardian have the best interests of the kids at heart? We all know that, from both parent and child perspectives, there are people who are not suited to the role of caregiver. And that’s where I started my “What if .  . .” questions.

The first character that came to me was “Great-Grammy,” who was inspired by my husband’s grandmother. I wanted a person who would find a way to protect the children any way she could, even if she weren’t around to do it herself. My husband’s grandmother was that kind of real-life force.

As for surprises, writing a novel is one long series of them. But the biggest surprise was that I found the courage to write—and finish—the book at all. I tried very hard to talk myself out of it, and even enlisted others to tell me it was a bad idea, mostly because of the role of the freezer. The entire concept seemed absurd for a middle grade novel. But as I wrote more and more scenes, the 10-year-old inside of me kept chuckling. And the heart of the story really meant something to me, so here we are a few years later.


I’m glad you didn’t talk yourself out of writing it! I love the heart of the story–and how it encourages readers to appreciate their families and things they often take for granted. You kept me chuckling throughout the book, too.

I love how fleshed out and unique all your characters are. What pieces of you and your life are in SIX FEET BELOW ZERO?

I’ll go back to my husband’s grandmother here, too. She lived on 10 acres of land just outside of Washington, DC, and we would visit her with our children and have the best time tromping around her property. As I wrote the book, I pictured her, the house, the wildlife and trees, and definitely the hundreds of groundhog holes! Revisiting that time in our lives was the best part of writing this story.

Here’s a photo of  my favorite tree on Marie’s property. Look closely, and you’ll see a swing she put up preparing for one of our visits.



Beginnings are so hard to nail…but yours sucked me in immediately. How did you decide where to start your book? 

The beginnings of books are hard! But they are so important. They’re the gateway into a story, where a reader will either keep going, or think “Meh,” and go on to the next book—or maybe out for ice cream.

I decided to play with a flashback approach. Flashbacks don’t always work, but I knew what I wanted: a compelling and humorous scene to kick off the story and act as a promise to readers about what’s to come. Something that might entice even the most reluctant readers to be curious about Rosie and Baker’s backstory, and all the events, personality-types, and attitudes, that led up to the BIG AWFUL THING that forever changed Rosie and Baker’s lives and ushered them into their “new normal.” 

First I tried an opening that took place at the midpoint of the story, where Rosie and Baker sat in a police station doing their best not to answer questions about their great-grandmother’s whereabouts. But the siblings didn’t know enough about their predicament yet, so that didn’t work.

After a bit of trial and error, I landed on a place further along in the story, at a point when they fully realized the foe they were up against and the stakes involved. And that’s where I found my beginning: Rosie starting an urgent last-chance email to her Aunt Tilly, letting everything the siblings had been through spill out.

And that’s the beginning that stuck.


What type of research did you need to do?

It seemed that I was always researching something. Trees, wills, historic graves, locks, and of course freezers . . . the list was endless. I even researched hairstyles. I needed a good one for Grim Hesper!


I love how you sprinkled humor throughout a book with a serious topic. What tips can you share for blending the two? 

For me, it all comes back to knowing the characters and their relationships with each other. Maybe characters are dealing with a serious or sad situation, but that doesn’t mean they’ve suddenly become other people. They are still themselves!

For instance, in SIX FEET BELOW ZERO, there’s a scene where Rosie and Baker, as they grieve the loss of their great-grandmother, have agreed to come together to do something that seems almost impossible.

The thing is, even in the midst of that difficult scene, they must deal with each other’s quirks and their own shortcomings. There’s a unique opportunity to hit on unspoken truths when feelings let loose under stress, especially between siblings. Who else would you let your guard down with?

Also, normal everyday things continue to happen, that ordinarily wouldn’t be a big deal, but within the serious and sad scenario Rosie and Baker have found themselves in, they get a chuckle.

So I guess that would be my biggest tip for balancing humor within a serious scene or story: When something big, scary, and/or bad, is happening, remember to add your characters’ personalities to the mix, whether those traits are annoying or endearing, and also throw in some evidence that real life hasn’t stopped just because characters are handling (or not handling!) the big, scary, or bad, things.


Thanks so much for those awesome tips! Can you share a writing exercise with us?

A few years ago I was at an SCBWI conference in Florida, and took a full day workshop led by Elizabeth Law, Backlist & Special Projects Editor at Holiday House Books, and Greg Pincus, screenwriter. They spent the day comparing writing stories for children with writing screenplays and developing movie concepts, and it was so much fun!

One of the most memorable parts for me was the segment about “Poster-izing Your Book,” as in movie poster. It’s the line that isn’t a blurb, or synopsis sentence, but that captures the essence of your story in a short sentence or two. It’s what you almost always see on movie posters at the theatre. Do an online image search for “movie posters” and you’ll pull up thousands of examples.

It was at that workshop where I came up with the idea we’re now using to introduce SIX FEET BELOW ZERO: 

A dead body. A missing will. An evil relative. 

The good news is, Great Grammy has a plan. The bad news is, she’s the dead body.

I highly suggest writers use this strategy on the book they’re writing, no matter what stage it’s in. It helps to study as many movie posters as possible, and then get to work. Fill a few notebook pages with words and short phrases that describe your book, and then start to put them together.

Try it. You’ll love it!

And if you ever have the opportunity to take this particular workshop led by Elizabeth and Greg, don’t miss it!


Wow! That sounds like an incredible workshop. I love your exercise! It’s fantastic for writers and I can picture teachers and students poster-izing books and movies and letting others guess what they are. 

Is there anything else you’d like to tell the Mixed-Up Files readers?

I write books that are contemporary, but have a “This would never happen!” vibe. The thing is, I’m basically that kid—my character—when I’m writing. In my world, it not only could happen, it did. I hope readers will connect with the characters in SIX FEET BELOW ZERO, but mostly I hope they enjoy the ride.

I also want to thank Elizabeth Law and Greg Pincus, who graciously allowed me to share the above exercise.


I definitely enjoyed the ride. 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by the Mixed-Up Files again, Ena…and for generously donating a copy of SIX FEET BELOW ZERO, a bookmark and recipe card to two lucky winners. Enter the Rafflecopters below!

A dead body. A missing will. An evil relative. The good news is, Great Grammy has a plan. The bad news is, she’s the dead body.

Rosie and Baker are hiding something. Something big. Their great grandmother made them promise to pretend she’s alive until they find her missing will and get it in the right hands. The will protects the family house from their grandmother, Grim Hesper, who would sell it and ship Rosie and Baker off to separate boarding schools. They’ve already lost their parents and Great Grammy–they can’t lose each other, too.

The siblings kick it into high gear to locate the will, keep their neighbors from prying, and safeguard the house. Rosie has no time to cope with her grief as disasters pop up around every carefully planned corner. She can’t even bring herself to read her last-ever letter from Great Grammy. But the lies get bigger and bigger as Rosie and Baker try to convince everyone that their great grandmother is still around, and they’ll need more than a six-month supply of frozen noodle casserole and mountains of toilet paper once their wicked grandmother shows up!


One copy of SIX FEET BELOW ZERO is open to everyone in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

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One copy of SIX FEET BELOW ZERO will go to a teacher, media specialist or book blogger in the U.S. or Puerto Rico. 

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Winners will be announced on April 15. Good luck everyone!