I may be a grown adult, but I still love to read middle grade novels and then share them with others. There's just something special about that age group and level. Today, author C.W. Allen talks about her love for writing this genre as well as shares an excerpt from The Secret Benefits of Invisibility. Let the author know your thoughts in the comments section. Be sure to follow the tour for even more! Best of luck entering the giveaway!
For Zed and Tuesday, adjusting to life in modern-meets-medieval Falinnheim means normal is relative. Lots of kids deal with moving, starting new schools, and doing chores. But normally, those schools aren't in underground bunkers full of secret agents, and the chore list doesn't involve herding dodos. The one thing that hasn't changed: all the adults treat them like they're invisible.
When a security breach interrupts a school field trip, the siblings find themselves locked out of the Resistance base. With the adults trapped inside, it's up to Tuesday, Zed, and their friends to save the day. And for once, being ignored and underestimated is coming in handy. After all, who would suspect a bunch of kids are capable of taking down the intruders that captured their families, let alone the murderous dictator that put them into hiding in the first place?
Turns out invisibility might just have its benefits.
Fariq lifted the latch and stepped back to let the doors swing slowly open. An avalanche of dodos poured out, brushing past them like a flock of short, grumpy businessmen in dusty grey suits, impatiently bustling around a train station on their way somewhere more important.
Zed jumped out of the way and whipped out his notebook and pencil. Tuesday jumped too, but more in alarm than amazement.
"Augh!" she yelled. "Why are they so big?" She flinched away as one of the dodos brushed past her leg. Its bald, leathery face came all the way up to her hip.
Zed was too busy sketching to look up. "What were you expecting?"
"I don't know!" Tuesday blathered. "Smaller, I guess! Slower. Dumber. More like chickens!"
It would have taken a Leaning Tower of Chickens stacked three high to see eye to eye with a dodo. They looked like gigantic turkeys with their tail feathers plucked and stunted wings tucked in by their sides, with bulbous bike horns for heads. It was like someone cobbled together a Frankenbird out of spare parts as a prank.
"It's okay," said Fariq in his customary monotone. "Bird phobias are really common. I don't like spiders much, myself."
"I'm not afraid of them," Tuesday protested. "Just…surprised."
Celia brushed past them with her rake, dropping a derisive chuckle as she passed. "Honestly, it's like you've never seen a common dodo before. You panic about worms in the garden wing too? Or is Her Highness too important to get her hands dirty with the commoners?"
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While I have published a few short stories and essays for adults, my true love and the bulk of my publishing effort is definitely with middle grade novels, especially stories with a mystery or speculative angle. It's what I read in my free time, and it's where my storytelling naturally drifts. There's a mantra that goes around the writing community: "Write the book you want to read." This is definitely true, since a writer will need that fire for the story to keep slogging through the long writing process, and the often unforgiving publishing process after that. But I think there's an extra layer of meaning to the mantra, that it's a privilege to contribute to the body of work that sustained me through my own tween years (and beyond). There's no feeling in the world like seeing your own story on the same library and bookstore shelves as your heroes.
I so vividly remember what it felt like to be my readers' age. Being a tween is equally frustrating and magical. On one hand, there's a sense of being stuck in-between: too young for teen privileges, but old enough that adults have more expectations of you. On the other hand, being in-between can be a kind of superpower: middle grade readers are capable enough to do things independently, but still young enough to have a sense of wonder, creativity, and idealism that the world often leeches out of people as they age. I think this dynamic creates a lot of interesting opportunities for characters to have independent adventures while still seeing the world differently than adults do. It also presents some unique challenges. An adult character is in charge of their own money, schedule, and transportation. They don't need permission to do things. Even if their decisions might have negative consequences, doing what they want is still a matter of simply choosing to. Kids have a lot more restrictions, which creates more interesting plot hurdles for the characters to get over.
I have another mantra I try to apply to all my writing: I want to create "stories where kids succeed because they're kids, not in spite of it." I want my characters to show off the superpowers kids have, the skills adults forget about, rather than pulling off their successes "okay for a kid, I guess". This is a major focus in The Secret Benefits of Invisibility, where the kids find out that being ignored and underestimated makes them ideal candidates for spy missions! I hope my readers will see themselves in the characters' struggles and cheer their victories, and take away some extra confidence about fighting their own battles, whatever they may be.
C.W. Allen is a Nebraskan by birth, a Texan by experience, a Hoosier by marriage, and a Utahn by geography. She knew she wanted to be a writer the moment she read The Westing Game at age twelve, but took a few detours along the way as a veterinary nurse, an appliance repair secretary, and a homeschool parent.
She recently settled in the high desert of rural Utah with her husband, their three children, and a noisy flock of orphaned ideas. Someday she will create literary homes for all of them. (The ideas, not her family.)
Relatively Normal Secrets (Cinnabar Moth Publishing, Fall 2021) is her debut novel. She writes fantasy novels for tweens, picture books for children, and short stories and poems for former children. Her work will appear in numerous anthologies in 2021. She is also a frequent guest presenter at writing conferences and club meetings, which helps her procrastinate knuckling down to any actual writing.
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