YA Author Rendezvous

Creativity Unleashed: Books for the young and the young at heart


April 2016

Author Spotlight: Elizabeth Woodrum

beth woodrum
Interview by Michelle Lynn

An Interview with Elizabeth Woodrum

Hi Elizabeth! Welcome to YAAR. First things first, can you tell me about your books.

I write a children’s mystery series called The Maisy Files. There are currently three books in the series. The main character is the fourth-grade detective, Maisy Sawyer. She is a bit unlike her peers because she enjoys old-fashioned mystery movies and envisions herself to be in a black and white world when solving her cases.

I’ve read all three of your books and can say honestly that you’ve written a fantastic crop of young characters. Who’s your favorite?

While I adore Maisy, her friend Veronica is my favorite. She is starting to want to help Maisy with some of her cases, but she’s not always very stealthy while she is working with Maisy. Plus, she and I share a deep love of chocolate.

Maisy is an absolutely adorable kid. Precocious and sweet all at the same time. Is she based on someone in real life?

I wouldn’t say that she is based on a particular person. But, I taught fourth-grade for a decade. I would say she’s a bit of a mixture of a variety of kids I’ve worked with over the years in terms of her personality.

So, you write mystery, but for the younger crowd. How do you balance the intrigue of this genre with the constraints of your demographic? Basically, it can’t be too scary, but it still has to be mysterious, right?

This is where I believe being a teacher has been very helpful. The stories can’t be too scary, but they have to grab kids’ attention. Most readers in my target audience respond just as well to the tension created by curiosity as they do by something scary. I write with my “teacher hat” on and make sure what I’m writing is something that I, as a teacher, would be comfortable reading aloud to a class. I’ve found that mini-cliffhangers seem to be the best approach to keeping kids turning pages.

The younger the reader, the more difficult it is to write a story that holds their interest. What made you want to tackle this challenge rather than an adult mystery series that would be able to follow a more standard formula?

Again, I think that teaching kids of this age for so long made me feel like this would actually be easier than writing for adult readers. I know this age of student very well. The experience I had teaching that age group gave me plenty of realistic scenarios that I can incorporate into my books to make them relatable.

Were there alternate endings that you considered?

I don’t believe I’ve ever had an alternate ending in mind. I usually start with a general outline of what will happen at the main points in the book. But, the specific details work themselves out in the writing process.

Are there other authors who’ve inspired you to write?

JK Rowling and Nicholas Sparks are my two favorite authors. They write very different genres, but I find that reading or rereading their work makes me what to get writing.

What age were you when you started writing?

I’ve enjoyed writing since I was in elementary school myself. I can’t say that I really remember a specific time when I started. I haven’t always sat down to write creatively, but writing has always come easily for me.

The dreaded writer’s block. It’s hard to avoid it. Have you experienced it?

I do. I find that it’s best to take some time off and toy with ideas for a while before trying to get back at it. I’ve had horrible results when I try to just push through it. I’ve ended up throwing everything out on more than one occasion.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

I have a very broad outline. I know the main case Maisy will encounter and I know “whodunit.” I plan out a few main events along the way. But, overall, I do better when I just sit and write. I usually stay close to the main outline, but the minor details change a lot as I go.

When we write, our characters become our friends, our family because we spend so much time with them. Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?

I do wish Maisy were real! I bet she’d be a real treat to have in class.

Here’s a fun one for you – If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?

I would be able to stop time. I never have enough to get everything I need to done!

If you could have any accent from anywhere in the world, what would you choose?

I like both British and Australian accents.

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

I decide to self-publish. So, most of the challenges were just making sure I knew enough about the process to put out a good book that was worthwhile for people to read.

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?

I probably would have given myself more time to spread things out. After I finished the book, I set up my website, mailing list, Facebook page, Twitter, virtual book tours and many other things. It was all so crammed together that it was very stressful.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

I don’t have very many details yet, or even a working title. But, I believe it will deal with the theft of food from Maisy’s school cafeteria. I think this one may tug at the heartstrings a little more than the previous books.

Criticism is a very real and very hard part of being an author. How do you deal with it?

I go back and read really great reviews or view messages I’ve received from readers who enjoyed my work.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Take the time to learn how to write correctly. Then, take a creative writing course to learn how to best structure a longer writing piece. A lot of people have great ideas, but putting them together is the hardest part.

Do you have any strange writing habits?

I don’t know that I’d call them strange. But, I do tend to write in my pajamas with a cup of hot chocolate.

And lastly, to all the YAAR readers and aspiring writers out there – how important do you think reading is to your writing?

I think reading is vital to writing. Reading great stories that catch my attention helps me be more creative. Also, the more I write, the more I am able to pick apart a story I’m reading and notice the way the author structured it. It helps me get ideas and it helps me identify strategies I don’t want to use, particularly if something I read has some sort of flaw that pulls me out of it as a reader.

Thanks for talking to us Elizabeth!

Don’t forget to check out the adorable Maisy Files series. You won’t regret it!

Praise for the Maisy Files:

“This is definitely a must read for the young reader you are trying to interest in the world of fiction. It’s written in a way that it never gets boring and it’s short enough to keep the interest of even the most reluctant reader.”

“I loved how Elizabeth Woodrum wrote this story. She made it clever and whimsical without being condescending.”

“Even though the book was short, as it was written for a younger age range, the characters were developed well, the plot was completely satisfied by the end of the story, and the mystery was well-constructed.”

Writing Techniques to Set You on the Right Track

Writing Techniques to Set You on the Right Track - Beth Rodgers

Written by Beth Rodgers

I’ve always wanted to be a writer.  So, I’ve picked up some book writing techniques over the years that I have always used to my benefit, and I hope to help you use for your own benefit.

Even as a little girl in elementary school, I wrote journal entries describing the desire I had to be an author.  Journal entries are especially helpful for those writers who are lost in their own writer’s block and need more techniques to get them out of it.

The main issue that I encounter in my own writing is introductions.  I most always end up pleased with my choice of title or opening paragraph, but they give me more trouble than they’re worth.  So, I sometimes come up with or search for story starters and poem starters as a means of helping me think of beginnings.

When I was in middle school and early high school, I was in love with the idea of learning how to write a story (I still am!).  I had fun.  Writing wasn’t a chore; it was a pleasure.  I loved learning how to write a story, an anecdote, and other styles that teachers would provide.  It was also enjoyable to increase my knowledge of literary terms, including learning to define words like “anachronism” and consider how to use those devices within my writing.  It is because of these early experiences that I feel I have garnered some expertise in the matter of book writing.  

When eighth grade rolled around, I parodied the pop culture phenomenon that was Beverly Hills, 90210 and wrote my own version: Lathrup Village, 48076.  

Your writing does not have to be yours to be inspired by you.  You make it what it is.  Find ways to pull the most useful items you have and use them to structure your own writing.

As time went on, young adult stories seemed to fit me to a tee, as I was a young adult myself. Junior year of high school was the year that cemented my desire to be a full-fledged author, as I wrote my first novel that year.  I used tips and techniques that my junior year English teacher provided me with, as well as some of my own that I had garnered from my own writing experience.  One of these tips was to watch for redundancy.  Learning to make sure that you are not becoming overly repetitive with what you have to say is important in any type of writing.

My first novel started out as a short story I had written my sophomore year.  When first assigned, it had to be 3-5 pages, and about anything we wished.  I wrote about the most unpopular boy, a main character named Phillip, who likes the most popular girl, Susie, while dealing with his best friend moving away, and gaining a new best friend while using quick wit and a caring manner.

Little did I know I would continue this young adult novel-in-the-making my junior year and add in new  characters, along with some surprise return character cameos who served to further complicate the never-peaceful teenage lives that the main characters constantly led.  

This just proved all the more that conflict sells.  People enjoy reading about the trials and tribulations of others and possess a desperate desire to see how it all turns out.  

My use of character development, conflicts, twists and turns, and a passion for my subject matter are central pieces of the puzzle that make up the book writing techniques that I use.  

TV and movies serve to delineate this point all the more.  As an avid TV and movie viewer, I am constantly spotting potential book writing techniques and strategies that writers use to keep their audiences at the ready for anything that might possibly occur.

Some TV and movie writers like to start at a season or series finale, or with a particular scene, and work backward to what they feel will be the best starting point.  Others remain mysterious and keep you guessing to see what will happen next.  This is useful in TV writing, but is prevalent in movie scripts, as they have a shorter amount of time in which to tease you with potential scenarios and keep you guessing to find out which will actually come to fruition.  

It’s amazing to look back on shows that have been on for years or have gone off the air already, and realize that the whole plotline, or at least the vast majority of main ideas, have definite ties back to the very first episode of that series.  A great example of this can be found when watching the pilot episode of Friends.  If you have watched most or all of that series, re-watch the pilot and see what I mean.

Going back in time a bit, the astute Ben Matlock and Lieutenant Columbo solidified the power of a few key phrases and wording styles as they investigated their cases and solved them with barely any trouble.

Perspective is very important in writing, especially when writing from a specific point of view.  You have to be able to see what you read, watch, and write as positive, negative, happy, sad, or a gaggle of other emotions in order to truly know that you have tried every angle to make your writing shine.

So always view your writing as a glass half full.  Watch TV and movies to see and hear the masters at work.  Read your favorite authors to investigate for yourself how great minds work.  Write a novel, book, play, or even a doctoral thesis.  Use techniques that you have learned and that you are learning as you are in the process of writing.  Open your mind and see all the possibilities that writing offers.

Jenny’s Dad’s 1-Ingredient Vegan Burger

Healthy Vegan Lentil Burger Recipe by Cynthia PortWritten by Cynthia Port

I write what I know, and since I know me and I write humor, my books make fun of all the ridiculous facets of me.  The facet I’ll tell you about today is my relationship with healthy eating.  I know . . . what could possibly be funny about that?  But trust me, following this food lifestyle gets ridiculous faster than eating purple cabbage will turn your pee pink.

All my life I’ve been a foodie; I love to cook and plan meals.  For the past 4 years I’ve been a gluten free vegan foodie cooking almost entirely from scratch. This of course had to make it into my books, which it did, in the form of the dad of a protagonist.  He doesn’t even have a name, actually – so far he’s just “Jenny’s Dad”.  A confirmed health nut, he runs the “Incredible Bulk” co-op, its shelves stocked with bags and boxes of powdered and freeze dried foodstuffs that would be really good for you if you could somehow convince yourself to eat it.  His favorite after school snack to make for poor Jenny is rice cakes with partially melted “not-cheese” globs, washed down with carob un-milk.  And did I mention the “Just the Flax” crackers made with flax seeds, flax germ, flax meal, puffed flax and essence of flax? Nom nom!

In the spirit of Jenny’s dad, here’s a recipe that sounds pretty terrible, but is actually really, really delicious.  With only ONE, all natural, whole food ingredient, you can serve it to all of your food challenged friends without worry.  Actually, that one ingredient is just the base.  To that you will add whatever spices and flavorings you desire.  Add Mexican spice and you’ve got a crispy, protein and fiber-rich taco filling.  Add Italian spices and make up some vegballs for your spaghetti.  Cook up some patty shapes and then crisp them up on the grill at your next backyard get-together (but bring some extras because everybody will be curious to try one!).  Once cooked, they freeze beautifully.  Here we go!


Healthy Vegan Lentil Burger Recipe by Cynthia Port1 cup Urad Lentils (small, black-skinned lentils available in any Indian grocery store or on-line.) You can get them with or without the skins, but the skins do add some flavor.  Okay, I admit, this is a weird ingredient, but it’s el cheapo and it’s also the only required ingredient, so CHEF-UP AND FIND IT!!

PREPARATION: Soak the lentils in water for 90 minutes to 2 hours.  While they are soaking, read all about how amazing urad lentils really are:

After soaking, drain the lentils in a colander and scoop a generous third of them into a food processor.  Add ¼ cup water and grind till you get a fluffy paste (3-4 minutes).  Add another third of the lentils and another ¼ cup water and grind for 1 minute.  Add the remaining lentils and grind for just a few seconds.  Having lentils that are fully ground, partially ground, and whole gives the patties more texture and crunch.

Water amounts vary depending on how long you soaked and how thoroughly you drained, so it’s hard to give an exact amount, but use enough water till the thickness of the mixture is somewhere between peanut butter and chocolate pudding.

That’s it!  Now just stir in salt and spices.  I use 3/4 tsp salt and a teaspoon of paprika (for coloring). For Indian flavor, add curry powder (or a mix of cumin, coriander, black pepper, red pepper, turmeric).  For Italian, add dried basil, oregano, black pepper and garlic powder.  For Mexican, use chili powder, cumin, oregano and black pepper.  There’s no raw animal products in here, so feel free to taste as you go until you get the spiciness you want.

Heat a nonstick skillet (I use cast iron because, again, health nut) to medium high and add oil (canola or coconut is great).  Drop batter into the pan and watch how it sets up like magic as it cooks (because lentils actually are magic). Cook on the first side till nicely browned and crispy, then flip, adding more oil if you need it.  Use about a 1/3 cup for veggie burgers, smoothing into a patty shape.  Drop by the teaspoon for vegballs and do not flatten.  For taco filling, make thin patties and then slice them up into fajita strips when they are done, tossing on extra Mexican spices just before serving.

That’s it!  Now go make some.  Jenny’s dad will be so proud of you, and your body will be grateful for all the anti-oxidants and fiber!


Breaking Writer’s Block

How to Break Writers BlockWritten by Beth Rodgers

There are so many places to visit and ideas to consider that I find it hard to even know where to begin. Breaking writer’s block should be much easier, however, once you explore the places and think about the people who help provide you with the best writing fodder.

Just last month, I had my second child. I must say that children really do say the darndest things much of the time, and that holds true with my toddler, but with newborns, just watching them and feeding off of their energy and sweet smiles can provide a whole different set of instincts that can be stupendously helpful in writing.

There are also museums, libraries, movie theaters, sports arenas, comedy clubs, and a variety of other locations to inspire fun writing ideas. Some of these places may have children around, while others will only have adults or senior citizens, and others will have a mixture of all three. Viewing people through the perspective of locations they go to and the different demographics they go with can be especially telling when investigating new and distinct writing techniques.

Now, you must have an open mind. All the places mentioned above will have creative writing guides who will be happy to share their expertise with you. Just remember, you don’t have to visit any or all of the places listed here. There may be other places you frequent, or places you do not go so frequently that you want to re-visit. Sometimes re-visiting locations, or even characters or settings that you have written and left alone for a while, can help you get back on the right track, as you look at each once again from a fresh viewpoint.

Here is a sampling of some of the creative writing guides you might find as you visit a variety of these places:

Creative Writing Guide #1: Museums and Docents

You’ll find a guide to breaking writer’s block at almost any museum you visit. There are hosts and hostesses who act as docents, and who will at least point you in the right direction, if not lead you on a tour of inspirational areas that just may heighten your writing interest in a new (or old) topic. I myself love visiting presidential homes that have been turned into makeshift museums. I find the historical value fascinating, and the woodwork or other decorations in the home oftentimes provide me with unique ideas for settings that I might want to incorporate into my own writing in some way.

Creative Writing Guide #2: Libraries and Librarians

If you are a writer or a reader, this should be a no-brainer for you. Libraries are chock full of what we love – books, books, and more books! Librarians will be your guide to help you research what interests you at your local library. A variety of books, CDs, movies, and possibly even microfiche (remember that?!) to supplement the ever-popular Internet will be available at most locations you visit.

Creative Writing Guide #3: Movies and Scriptwriters

It may sound ridiculous that anything original can come out of the movies anymore. There are some great ones still, mind you, but they are few and far between compared to the feature films of the past.

Visit movie theaters and video stores (yes, they still exist!). Allow scriptwriters to be your creative writing guides in discovering what writing formats work best for them, how those styles make you like or dislike their work all the more or less, and how you can use these same formats for breaking your writer’s block.

Creative Writing Guide #4: Sports Games

Go to a game. Don’t just attend baseball, basketball, hockey, or football games. Try something new. Find a soccer game in your area. Watch a high school team play lacrosse. Seek out a rugby tournament. Some of the best writing in movies, books, and newspapers come from America’s favorite pastimes.

Don’t discount the power of watching a sports game. The fact that you enjoy it means that you can discuss it at some length, and therefore you can write about it with some sense of authority.

Creative Writing Guide #5: Comedians and Comedy Clubs

Comedy clubs are popular, and more and more people are repeating jokes that Dane Cook, Amy Schumer, Jimmy Fallon, and other comedians are reciting. After all, if Saturday Night Live wasn’t popular, it would be off the air. It has been running in syndication since 1975, and its popularity is still sky-high.

Comedians are writers, too. So use them as your creative writing guides. They use other comedians, as well as book, TV, and movie writers to help them come up with new and sensational jokes. They feed off of pop culture, news stories, and interesting things that happen to them or that they come across.

So, pretend that you’re a comedian – at least in the sense that you pick and choose what best works for you, and write those ideas down. You’ll soon find that you are breaking writer’s block for good if your mind is constantly churning and ideas are constantly being written down.

It sounds hard, but breaking writer’s block is an easy task. Visit some of these places as well as others that come to mind. Write down what you see and hear. Attend concerts, ask questions, listen to what is being said in line in front of you at a Starbucks. You may be surprised at what you come across.

April – New Releases

by Patrick Hodges

Several great books to tell you about this month!


2/27 – Twisted by Elizabeth Montgomery

twistedWho could’ve known one pair of shoes could cause so much trouble.

Dee’s lost the sparkly red heels, and when she befriends a witch to help her find a way home, she finds herself down the rabbit hole. With the veil between Wonderland and Oz torn wide open, things go awry.

The flying monkeys are loose in the Kingdom, Hatter is lost on the sun-colored brick road, and betwixt a battle of the worlds, the Red Queen seeks power, but all Dee wants is to go home.


Genre: YA/Paranormal

Link to the Book on Amazon HERE


3/14 – The Lost: Tales of the Ablockalypse Book 2 by David H. Scott

the lostSteve was destined to be a hero. Or maybe he wasn’t. To be honest, he wasn’t sure anymore. But since the monsters won’t stop spawning and attacking his village, he finds himself forced into the role. Along with his friends, his dog, and an impossibly red dragon, he is determined to bring peace to all block-kind.

Genre: Middle Grade/Fantasy




Purchase The Lost HERE


4/1 – Tales from P.A.W.S. by Debbie Manber Kupfer

tales from pawsCats and Wolves and Tegs – Oh my!
Meet Alistair, Ramora and Griddlebone in three stories from the world of P.A.W.S.






Genre: YA/Fantasy

Available for Pre-order on Amazon HERE


4/13 – The Passage, a Dance, & a Little White Dress (Enlighten Series Book 2) by Kristin D. van Rissegham

passageIt’s been a week since 17-year-old Zoe Jabril found out her best friend is a Guardian Angel, her boyfriend is a Nephilim, and a fellow classmate is a Fairy. What makes Zoe so special? She’s destined to unify Enlightens to battle evil—that is, if Demons don’t kill her first.

With “Project: Enlightens Unite” underway, Zoe learns the history of the area wolf pack and realizes she’s in a race against time to get her newly discovered talents under control. Despite struggling to fight a mysterious attraction to her new neighbor, rescue her boyfriend from Demons, and travel into Fairyland to convince the Summer King to join the fight, Zoe must still attend high school classes so her nosy parents don’t suspect anything is out of the ordinary before Demons can mount another attack.

Zoe will need all the help she can get, from the most unlikely of sources, if she’s to save her boyfriend’s life and prevent the Devil from escaping Hell on her eighteenth birthday.

Genre: YA/Fantasy

Available for Pre-order on Amazon HERE


4/30 – Mourning Memories (Liliana Book 2) by Lauren Mayhew

mourning memoriesSECRETS. LIES. DECEPTION.

Having managed to free herself from Duana’s prison, Liliana Frye still needs to find her family. Samson, her brother, her fiancée Asher and best friend Justin have waited 174 years to see her again, but she still doesn’t know exactly where they are.

A letter from her father reveals secrets about Liliana that will undoubtedly change her world. She begins to realise why Duana so desperately wants to steal her powers and is determined to never let her complete her aim to become the most powerful Custos the world has ever seen.

New friends are made, old friends return and Liliana needs to decide who she can trust.

Genre: YA/Paranormal

Available for Pre-order on Amazon HERE


American English VS British English

American English vs British English in writingWritten by Lauren Mayhew

Ok, this may seem obvious to most of you, but here is a quick pointer to differences in English and American English words. I have read many books written by non-British authors that contain English characters and not all of the terminology has been correct. The same can be said for British authors writing American characters too.

To me as a reader, this is only relevant to books written in first person or for dialogue. In descriptive text, feel free to use ‘Organization’ instead of ‘Organisation’. This is only relevant to when a British/ American character is speaking/ thinking.

I know that if I was writing an American, Australian or British character, I’d need to do some research into certain words that may be different. Here’s a little list of words or phrases that are used differently. (I’ve put the American English first.)

Band-Aid  –  Plaster

Bangs  –  Fringe

Block  –  Street

Candy  –  Sweets

Cell Phone  –  Mobile Phone (to be honest, I just say phone..)

Crossing Guard  –  Lollipop Man/ Lady (you probably won’t ever have to use this one, but I love it)

Diaper  –  Nappy

Fall  –  Autumn

Faucet  –  Tap

Flashlight  –  Torch

French Fries  –  Chips

Galoshes  –  Wellies

Gas  –  Petrol

Jello  –  Jelly

Jelly  –  Jam

Math  –  Maths

Mom/ Mommy  –  Mum/ Mummy

Pants  –  Trousers (pants mean underwear in England)

Potato Chips  –  Crisps

Recess  –   Break Time

Robe  –  Dressing Gown

Sidewalk  –  Pavement

Sneakers  –  Trainers

Soccer  –  Football

Sweater  –  Jumper

Trash Can  –  Dustbin

Vacation  –  Holiday

A Fortnight is a measurement of time. A fortnight is equal to two weeks.

After Patrick ever so kindly edited my book, he brought a few more words and phrases to my attention that I presumed everyone knew! Here they are:

Coconut Shy  –  This is a fairgound game where coconuts are sat on little pedestals and you American English vs British English Coconut Shyhave to try and knock one off with a ball to win a prize.

Eggs and Soldiers  –  A boiled egg with toast cut into strips (soldiers) to dunk into it.

Faffing around  –  To ‘faff’ around: to spend your time doing a lot of things that are not important instead of the thing that you should be doing.

Stonking  –  Used to emphasize something that is impressive, exciting or very big. I used it like this: How do you hide a stonking great Land Rover?

There are so many words that I would love to put in here, but most of them aren’t really appropriate for a YA audience. If you’re ever in doubt about a word, ask someone. I’d be more than happy to help any fellow authors with British slang. Just send me a message or tweet!

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