When I dove into Robert Paul Weston‘s middle grade book THE CREATURE DEPARTMENT, about the lovable creatures living inside an electronics factory, I was struck by the immense task middle grade writers face.There is the challenge of appealing to an adult and kid audience, the duty to educate and entertain young readers without being patronizing, and the responsibility to start them on a lifetime of reading and loving books.
We invited Robert to share his writing methodology and the arcane art of tapping into the world of a middle grader.
Tapping into the world of a middle grader is not easy and can be extremely dangerous. If you’ve ever tapped into a maple tree in the dead of January to extract the sweet, sweet nectar within, then you will have no idea how to tap into the middle grade world. Making maple syrup won’t help you. (This is probably a good time to admit that I am Canadian. To me and my people, maple syrup can always be forced into a clumsy metaphor for everything in life. Except this. It can’t help you tap into the world of a middle-grader.) To do that, you must follow these steps:
1. Have as much difficulty as possible dealing with the adult world.
Adults are crazy and misguided. They ceaselessly, fruitlessly chase after A) money, B) influence, and C) “meaningful, authentic experiences.” Fools! If you want to tap into the world of middle-graders chase after the following: A) Clouds. B) Non sequiturs. C) Butterflies as big as hippos with flaming wings and two heads, one that looks like Mussolini and another one with a long neck like a giraffe. Hint: This creature’s name is Siegfried.
2. Don’t forget that book you loved when you were nine years old.
Nine is a special age. It is the final, magical single digit of our lives and a year to be cherished forever. This of course is evidenced in the fact that it occurs in the middle of the middle grade world. Coincidence? No. Fate. Now, remember that book—the one you threw at Sylvia Kesselman after she kicked your butt in a dubious round of Duck, Duck, Goose and then page thirty-six went missing, but you didn’t care because you knew the story by heart, every word. Go read that book. Again and again and again.
3. Have as many imaginary friends as possible.
Remember that fuzzy purple one with the yellow horns? His name was Rudy McQuillen and now he works in the payroll office for Dover City Council. Remember him? Well, I’ll tell you this: He hates his job. So call him up and offer to buy him dinner. True, he only eats garden slugs and justice, but if you slip a tenner to the chef at Sal’s Imaginary Chop House, he can boil you up a pretty good retribution stew. Rudy’ll love it. You should call him. Seriously.
4. Lather, rinse, repeat.
This one is self-explanatory.
So there you have it. How to tap into the middle grade world in four easy steps. Please do me a favor and keep them secret.
Robert has an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia and has published short fiction in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. His stories have been nominated for the Journey Prize and the Fountain Award for Speculative Literature.
He has lived in Canada, Japan and Europe, but now lives in London, England with his far-more-talented wife.
You might also like: Exploring Middle Grade Fiction with Razorbill Editor Gillian Levinson.