Middle Grade Goodness

An Interview with Patrick Jennings – Author of Hissy Fitz

Author Photo

I’m so excited that I recently had the opportunity to interview Patrick Jennings as part of the Egmont’s Last List blog hop. I also will be giving away one of Patrick’s books after the interview, so be sure to enter!

I’m an elementary school librarian so Patrick Jennings, the author of Hissy Fitz, was at the top of my list. He has written so many books that I have in my library (and that I check out often to so many students!) I know Hissy Fitz will be a new favorite!

Hissy Fitz released last month from Egmont USA. Here’s a little about it, taken from the Egmont website.

Hissy Fitz Book CoverHissy Fitz lives with some two-legged creatures who are destined to serve him in every possible way and understand his every whim. Sadly, these creatures are sorely lacking in their skills. For one thing–they touch him when they want to touch him. Don’t they know that the two-legged are there for him to touch when he wants to–meaning when he wants food? Petting wakes him up! They speak to him–don’t they know the two-legged should be seen–so Hissy knows where to order food–and not heard! It’s becoming intolerable. What is this irascible cat to do?

EGMONT USA • ISBN: 978-606845967

Find the at your local book shop, or order it from your favorite online outlet via my website: http://www.patrickjennings.com/tigers-books/

Follow Hissy Fitz’s twitter feed! @TheHissyFitz

“With its short chapters, snappy dialogue, and fast-moving plot, this book will be popular with newly independent readers.” —School Library Journal 

“Hissy’s drily delivered complaints and observations (“Humans are the noisiest creatures alive. I’m not sure there is any escape”) entertain, while Hissy’s frustration at his dependence on large humans who annoy him will likely resonate with many a reader.” Publisher’s Weekly 

Where did you get your inspiration for Hissy Fitz?

During a writing workshop with about a hundred fifth graders in Bloomfield, Michigan. We were brainstorming a story about a cat when one student suggested it be insomniac. When I asked how it might overcome its sleeplessness, another student raised his hand. “It could go see a life coach.” Other suggestions were tai chi, hypnosis, and exercise. I chose the latter.

I see that Hissy Fitz has his own Twitter account that is quite funny. Does he enjoy tweeting?

Hissy tweets on the family laptop after they have all gone to sleep and he isn’t able to. I don’t know if he enjoys tweeting per se, but it does seem to give him a platform to vent his rancor, which rarely cools.

What was the hardest part about writing the book?

Keeping the balance right. If Hissy became irredeemably nasty, no one would like him. But if I toned his nastiness down to the point that he was merely grouchy, he’s would lose the razor-sharp edge to his personality, which is what I think makes him distinctive.
Would you consider yourself a cat person?

I had cats for twenty years, but I was never an avowed cat person. I’m certainly not one of those crazy cat people. I never talked to my cats, or bought them clothing or jewels. I never subscribed to cat magazines. I never took a cat to a life coach. I ended up with a cat accidentally, and it worked out. Cats, like writers, are content to lounge around for hours during the day.

What is your favorite part of your main character, Hissy?

His self-possession. He knows who and what he is, what he needs and wants, and he doesn’t suffer fools lightly.


About Patrick:

Patrick Jennings’s books for young readers have received honors from Publishers Weekly, The Horn Book, Smithsonian Magazine, the PEN Center USA, the Woman’s National Book Association, and the Chicago and New York Public Libraries. The Seattle Public Library awarded his book, Guinea Dog, the Washington State Book Award of 2011. His book, Faith and the Electric Dogs, is currently being adapted for the screen. His new book, Hissy Fitz, was published in January 2015. He currently writes full time in his home in Port Townsend, Washington. 

Patrick generously donated a copy of Odd, Weird & Little (North American entries only, please) for me to give away to a lucky winner. To enter please see the entry area below!


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I Have Exciting News!

That I’ve put off posting for a month. Why is this so hard to put into words? I’m a writer, right? Words are supposed to be my thing. But maybe it’s that sometimes some things are too big for words. This would be one of those things.

My middle-grade novel, THE INHABITANT OF ALEXIS O’RILEY sold to Egmont USA!


All the feelings. All the words. All the screams.
But most of all, I’m so excited that the world will get the chance to know Nessa and Alexis, these characters who I’ve fallen in love with this past year.

Almost exactly five years ago I picked up a pen (or maybe it was a mechanical pencil?) and told my husband that I was going to write a book. He was ready to commit me, and I’m not just saying that to make this blog post all dramatic and interesting. He really thought I was crazy.

I had to learn a LOT that first year with that first book. When it was finished and I’d had lots of people read through it and give input I spent the next year sending it out to 100 agents. Ten of them read it, but eventually they all passed. I’m all about even numbers and 100 seemed like a good stopping point for me. It had been a year. I was ready to move on.

The next year I wrote another book and when it was done and polished I sent it out to some agents. There was a lot more interest, and it got me my wonderful agent, but it had the ‘dystopian curse’ attached to it.  As much as editors seemed to like it, it was a hard sell. I had major surgery and had to put my writing on hold for a year. At that point I was wondering if I’d ever be able to write again. Not that I didn’t try, I did. I hobbled out to the dining room a few times, propped my cast up on some pillows and wrote the first chapter of what would eventually become THE INHABITANT OF ALEXIS O’RILEY. But I hated what I wrote. The concept was good, I just had no interest in writing it. I wasn’t excited about it. So I left it alone.

Thankfully, about a year later I opened up the laptop again and got to work on INHABITANT. I wrote it in a month. Over the summer I went back and forth with my agent and his wonderful assistant, Sam. We worked out kinks, filled plot holes, and got it into shape.

Meanwhile, there is a children’s writing conference my friend, Renee and I go to every year – the Northern Ohio SCBWI Conference. I signed up for a critique of my first ten pages with an editor at Egmont USA named Alison Weiss. I would get to meet her face-to-face and let her rip apart what I’d written. (Sounds like fun, right?)

I try not to be nervous for these things, I’ve done them before and everyone is usually very polite when they point out all of the things you’ve done wrong. I had seen Alison in the big conference room during the general session and knew who she was because my friend had just been in one of her classes. When the session let out about a half-hour early, I was thrilled. It would give me time to run up to my room and brush my teeth before I met with her.

Renee and I quickly made our way to the elevators and stepped onto the same elevator as Alison. She mentioned to us that she was going up to start another round of critique meetings and I think I squeaked a “with me” or something silly like that. We were silent until the door opened and Alison must have seen my name on my name tag. She turned around and said, “Holly! I’m so excited to talk to you about your book!”

In my shocked stupor I think I said something like, “Uh, oh.” She backed out of the elevator, laughing, and said “Oh, no. It’s a good thing!”

And then I had to go up to my room, shaking, and wait a half-hour. I may or may not have brushed my teeth ten times. I may or may not have called my husband to freak out. I did tease a guy for belching loudly in the hallway.

With a little more hope that INHABITANT wouldn’t be ripped to pieces, I went back downstairs to meet with Alison. She was a complete sweetheart, and we had a good laugh about how she scared me in the elevator. And she LOVED my book. All of the words, all of the gushing, did my heart so good. She got it like I was hoping an editor would get it and I got to hear how much she loved it face-to-face. She couldn’t wait to read the rest and asked for me to have my agent send it to her as soon as possible. It was fifteen minutes that I won’t forget anytime soon. Maybe never. I think I floated out of the room.

But I was worried, too. She only read ten pages. What if she hates the other 178? I went back to my room and emailed Josh with her request, who in his infinite awesomeness replied to my email during his anniversary dinner with his wife. I’m so glad she’s just as infinitely awesome as her husband. 😉 I hope I didn’t get him in trouble.

Then the waiting began. It’s a killer. In that time I did a LOT of internet searches to see how long these things take and got everything from hours to days to months. So I’ll tell you that with mine it took a few days over a month from submission to offer.

I’m SO excited to work with Alison Weiss, who is just as lovely in person as she seems online. And I’m also so thrilled to now be an Egmont author. Everyone is so friendly and they publish such AMAZING books! And most of all, I’m excited for you (or your middle-grader) to read the book.

If you want to add it to your to-read Goodreads list, just click on the button below!



I recently attended a great class presented by Jodi Casella at the Northern Ohio SCBWI Conference about organizing your book after you’ve written it. She shared so many amazing ways that authors use to keep their books straight so I thought I’d share mine with you.

When I started writing my first book four years ago I was a pantser. And I was so proud of it!
“Me? I don’t need no stinkin’ outline!”

That book didn’t get me far. Great concept, great hook, big hot mess. So for the next book I bent on my pantser ways just a little and was more organized when I wrote it. But still not enough. And it took me forever.

Over a year ago I mentioned an idea for a new middle-grade novel to my agent and when he emailed back to tell me he loved the idea, he mentioned that he’d love to take a look at my outline. Oh, good lord. My what? For a brief moment I thought of telling him, “I don’t do those kinds of things”. But I didn’t. Instead I sat down and actually wrote a chapter outline for the whole book.

Then I had my foot surgery and life became one big hot mess so the outline and the book idea faded into the depths of my hard drive. Until I dug it back out this March. And I followed that outline as I drafted. Not exactly, but there was enough there that it helped me draft the book in a little over a month. It was liberating! I will never write without one again.

timelineForBlogBut when the book was finished I worried that my rough outline didn’t keep the scenes, days and details straight enough. Lucky for me I happened to see a post on Twitter by the talented Kat Zhang with a link to the Timeline feature on ReadWriteThink.org and it blew. my. mind.

Seriously. You organize your points however you want and when you’re done, you save it to your computer. Then when you want to open it up again, just pull that file back up through the website and move things around. It even lets you upload photos. This –> is the first half of my book. I organized my timeline by day (so I knew if I had my MC going to school on a Sunday) and ended up doing it in two halves with two different files because the book spanned a period of three weeks.

My book was suddenly organized!
Having this tool made my revisions a breeze. When I needed to figure out where to move scenes and what couldn’t go before something else happened…
This was perfect.
And for it being free software, you really can’t beat it.


I’m writing this post from a hotel in Cleveland. I woke up at 5:15 and haven’t been able to go back to sleep.

Sure, one of the reasons is probably that the bed is too soft (seriously – since when would that be a problem?) but the other bigger problem is the huge info dump my brain is trying to process after this weekend.

I’m here because I attended the Northern Ohio SCBWI Conference and there was so much good/useful/fantastic information thrown at me that I think my brain is refusing to shut down until it goes over (and over!) every single detail. Doesn’t help with the whole sleep issue.

These conferences are so valuable. It’s an opportunity to improve your craft. It’s an opportunity to network. It’s an opportunity to get renewed, refreshed, and re-energized to do what you do best.


If you ever get a chance to go to one – take that chance. You won’t regret it.

Beta Notes

This is my Saturday.
Hanging out with notes from my beta readers.
I love getting thoughts and comments from readers. Back when I wrote my first book and got my first beta reader for it I was scared to death to get her emails. So sure she was going to hate what she read and tell me I was a moron for writing it. (That didn’t happen)
Over the past few years I’ve LOVED to get thoughts from readers. I have a few readers who let me know EXACTLY what they’re feeling when they read different parts of the book and I feel like I’m in their head, reading it from a whole new perspective. I have a few readers who email their thoughts, a few that call and a few that write things down next to the text. My friend Abby draws me little hearts when she likes something she reads (my favorite!)
I’m a dreamer when I write. Things don’t always make sense, and they’re not always possible. My readers are really good at grounding me and bringing me back down to earth. In fact I got a call at work from my husband this past week where he started the conversation with “Are you crazy? Do you think submarines are made out of fruit roll-ups?” ha ha ha – well, they’d be pretty yummy if they were, wouldn’t they?
I’m diving back into sorting through my reader notes. Each one makes this story so much better and that makes Holly a happy girl.

Middle Grade May – Stargirl

Recently for Children’s Book Week the entire school dressed as their favorite book characters. It was a fun day!

Of course I dressed up (um…Librarian? How could I not?) — here is a photo of my daughters and I. Can you guess who we were?
Our fourth grade teacher dressed in a flapper costume and said she was Stargirl. I loved her costume, but hadn’t read the book yet. Time to fix that!
I read it in a few hours. Loved it! Couldn’t put it down. I don’t understand why it took me so long to read it.
Stargirl makes her own name(s), dresses however she wants (and not how everyone else dresses), brings a ukulele to school with her and serenades people on their birthday, makes random cards for people and delivers them, and all other non-conformist things. She doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.
At first, the other students love her and her differences, but after a while they turn on her for being so different.
Throughout the whole book I was either like, “OMG, that is SO me!” or “OMG, I wish that was me!” I think everyone who reads this (boy or girl) will see at least a little of themselves in Stargirl.
This is such a fantastic story about fitting in and even more importantly – not fitting in.
If you haven’t read it, then please do! It’s the best book I’ve read so far this year. Can’t wait to read LOVE, STARGIRL.

Middle Grade May – The One and Only Ivan

I decided to read only middle grade books in May (hence the name — Middle Grade May!) and I thought I’d share a few of the ones I’ve been reading on my blog with a little review.

The One and Only Ivan
By Katherine Applegate

I wasn’t sure what to think of this one, animal stories aren’t usually my favorite, but I’ve seen it on just about every list, so I thought — why not?

I downloaded it before I left for an all-night mall lock-in with my daughter.

Could. Not. Put. It. Down.
Even with dance music from the DJ blaring in one ear and hundreds of screaming, dancing, running girls blaring in the other one.

This is the first book I’ve ever read of Katherine Applegates, even though my students adore her Animorph’s series. I don’t know if this is her normal style of writing, but I LOVED it. Simple and beautiful. The characters she created were wonderful and I used four kleenex’s when I read it. That’s my idea of an amazing book.

In fact, I loved it so much that I downloaded it on my 10-year-old daughter’s Nook for her to read. I asked her for a quick review for the blog, so I’m sharing it here. She took the word “quick” seriously. 😉

Audrey’s (Age 10) Review:

It was cute and one of the best books I’ve ever read. I liked how the chapters were small and my favorite character was Bob.