Category Archives: The Graham Cracker Plot

I wanna be a middle-grade ninja, too!

I had the opportunity to write a guest post on Middle Grade Ninja, a great industry blog I follow. Check it out here. I wrote about the nonfiction market as a path to publishing novels. There’s more than one way in the door. 

The Ninja is Robert Kent, author of All Together Now: A Zombie Story and the forthcoming Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees (coming this fall).

His blog has reviews, interviews and posts about the writing life. It’s my blog role model. It’s what my blog wants to be when it grows up. Maybe he gives lessons.

Meanwhile, enjoy.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting about my publication countdown for The Graham Cracker Plot. The release is Sept. 2 and I’ve got a long to-do list–including posting about my to-do list.



Ha-ha and tee-hee

My first YA novels – all unpublished – were heavy: a guy in jail, a school shooting, a cancer story.

My high school buddies listened politely to my plot summaries. They even read the guy-in-jail book. Then they said this: We think you’re funny. Why don’t you write something fun? Something funny?

That’s friendship code for these stories aren’t working.

So I took a stab at humor. It’s an intimidating writing style. There’s nothing worse than trying to be amusing and falling on your face – and not a ha-ha slapstick fall. An awkward, ugly fall.

People who’ve read The Graham Cracker Plot say it’s funny. Kids laugh when they read it. And a respected publishing house (Roaring Brook) bought it, so there can’t be too many awkward, ugly falls.


The release date is eight months away. My fingers are crossed for middle-grade giggles. Parent chuckles would be a bonus.

I’m not confident enough to blog something like, “How to Write Humor for Middle Grade.”

Someday, perhaps. But not today.

Read our very short book rev—

A feature in the Ladies Home Journal: “Fifteen Second Book Reviews.” (Hey, I was at the doctor’s office. It was LHJ or Fishing Weekly.)

Fifteen-second book reviews. Is that all a book is worth? Fifteen seconds? Why include book reviews at all? Why not just say, we think you’re too dumb to read.

I know the deal. Today’s popular magazines have one or two long stories, a bunch of quirky short copy, and lots of tidbits. The trendy design involves pages broken into blocks of color, and editors need copy to fill those boxes. Like makeup tips. Kim Kardashian never leaves the house without Cover Girl Lash-Building Mascara! Because we’re supposed to believe Kim spends $2.99 on drugstore make up. Or diet tips. Madonna kicks those chocolate cravings with kale!

But books in 15 seconds … That’s not enough time to tie your shoes, to blow your nose, to find the expiration date on yogurt.

Fifteen seconds. The amazing essayist Diana Joseph has a book title that can’t be read in 15 seconds: I’m Sorry You Feel That Way: The Astonishing but True Story of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother, and Friend to Man and Dog. Buy it anyway. It’s hilarious and poignant.

Fifteen seconds.

Luckily, my middle-grade novel, The Graham Cracker Plot, can be described in 15 seconds: Daisy and her sometimes friend Graham plot to break her father out of prison. But can it be reviewed with any insight in 15 seconds?

What about dense, classic literature? What about complex modern novels? What about challenging nonfiction?

The LHJ version:

East of Eden by John Steinbeck, a dead guy. Kinda long but pretty darn good.

The Corrections by the guy who dissed Oprah. Also long but pretty darn good.

The Graham Cracker Plot by someone new. Kinda short. Might be for kids. But pretty darn —

Damn. They ran out of seconds.

Book Trailer Part One

I have more than one year to prepare for the release of The Graham Cracker Plot. One year to plan and worry. And worry and worry and worry.

My recent internal debate: Do I need a book trailer? If you haven’t seen one, book trailers are short previews (much shorter than movie previews) of the book. The trailer should capture the book’s tone and tease the plot. If you’re lucky, the video goes viral and creates buzz for your book.

Tomorrow I’ll post about the benefits of a book trailer, doing them on a budget, and some links to book trailers.

But today, I’m clinging to the old-fashioned novel experience. Going to the bookstore and wandering for an hour. Picking up book after book. Trying to narrow the purchase. Finding a gem that will keep me awake, a book so good I have to put it in my purse in case I have time for a page or two.

My purchasing decision involves these steps.

  • The cover and title. The attention grabbers. If they’re intriguing, I’ll read the jacket copy.
  • The jacket copy. For me, this is the book trailer, minus the video.  It’s the tease.
  • The author. If I’ve read someone’s work and loved it, I’ll buy everything they write until they jump the shark. (Stephen King jumped the shark with Misery. I quietly filed for a writer-reader divorce.)
  • Placement: I always look through the store’s special displays.  I love the tables with books already sorted for me. “Debut Authors.” “Best Summer Reads.” “Award winners.” “New in paperback.” And, of course, “Clearance.”
First flip-flop: In my novel, there's one woman who tries to keep her trailer looking nice. These are part of her yard decor.

First flip-flop: In my novel, there’s one woman who tries to keep her trailer looking nice. These are part of her yard decor.

I’m not sure I want the author – or the author’s marketing team – eroding the joy of discovery and imagination with a trailer. I want to create the characters’ faces. I want to map out the town. I want to see the room in which the characters argue. All of this should occur in my imagination. The book trailer is a spoiler even if it doesn’t give away crucial plot points. When the writer types, The End, my reader mind believes the writer’s job is done.

As the writer, however, I’m intrigued with idea of giving readers a peek at my vision for setting and character. I’ve already taken some photos that translate my brain’s vision. I’m not sure what I’ll do with them, but I had a blast taking the pictures.

So, yes, I’m a flip-flopper. I confess.

More tomorrow.

The second born


Message to Novel II. But will she listen?

Message to Novel II. But will she listen?

Writing is easy:  All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. — Gene Fowler

For weeks, I’ve been busy with projects. After my book deal (The Graham Cracker Plot) was announced, I gave myself time off for marketing plans and tasks such as helping my mom clean her basement. A massive job–35 years worth of what I can only describe as “stuff.” I threatened to light a match, but we got through two rooms without arson.

Now it’s back to the laptop and my second middle-grade novel. Novel II is the second child. I know it’s wrong to compare child 2 to child 1, but that birth order thing isn’t quack psychology.

Novel I: Mature. Quick learner. Understood the world around her. A rule follower. She listened to me. She wanted to achieve. She wanted my approval.

Novel II: A rebel. She doesn’t listen to me. In some ways, she tries to challenge Novel I. She carves her own path. No matter how I guide her, Novel II wanders away. Occasionally, she takes me to an amazing place. Usually, it’s off the map. No, Novel II, you are not a thriller! You are a comedy with relationship growth! She slams her door and screams, I hate you! You’re the worst writer-mother ever!

Today, I’m planning special time with Novel II. We’ll have a healthy conversation. We’ll talk about her future. May she see the error of her ways.

The Shelley Tougas Plot


It happened.

My novel (The Graham Cracker Plot) will be released in the fall of 2014. A big thanks to my agent Susan Hawk and editor Nancy Mercado. They’re my dream team.

Here’s the announcement from Publishers Marketplace.

Shelley Tougas’s middle grade debut THE GRAHAM CRACKER PLOT, in which eleven year old Daisy and her sometimes-best friend Graham, plan to break Daisy’s father out of prison and escape to Canada, in spite of a massive rainstorm, a mini-pony and other calamities, to Nancy Mercado at Roaring Brook Press, in a very nice deal, at auction, in a two-book deal, for publication in Fall 2014, by Susan Hawk at The Bent Agency (World English).

I’m rarely speechless, but today I can only smile and dream.

Ramblings will resume tomorrow.