Meet Ally Malinenko, author of Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb, a new Middle Grade novel about a descendent of William Shakespeare who gets kidnapped and goes on an adventure with her best friend. She was nice to stop by Working for the Mandroid to discuss what appeals to her about the Middle Grade format. Please welcome Ally Malinenko!
Why I Write Middle Grade?
By Ally Malinenko
Whenever I tell people that my novel Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb is Middle Grade they sort of wrinkle their face up in abject confusion. And I get it. It’s not YA – they know YA. They’re all familiar with Twilight. It’s not a baby book. So what is it? Usually I use authors to explain. I say Roald Dahl, J.K. Rowling, Madline L’Engle.
Then they usually ask why I wrote Middle Grade. And this is what I tell them: Because MG is one of the best possible reading times in your life. It’s about independence. It’s about letting go of the hand that constantly holds you back and reminds you to be safe and instead venturing out into the world to see what you might find. Or what might find you.
Watching kids read middle grade at the library, how engrossed and absorbed they are reminds me of how powerful middle grade books are. At that moment they exist in a multiverse. One that is made up of the slow fade of library books shelves and the chatter of toddlers into the magic of Camazotz, standing before “It” knowing that the battle for Father and Charles Wallace is still far from over. Or the worlds that meld from the sixth grade lunch room into the halls of Hogwarts, the moving staircases and the knowledge that you’re a wizard. If that child keeps reading, and grows up into a reader it will happen for them again, sure, but never with the power that it did then when they were 10 years old.
Also the characters in middle grade fiction are the ones I remember the most – the ones that left the biggest impact on me when I was a kid and that even now feel the most real. Meg Murray. Lucy and Edmond and Peter and Susan. Fiver and Hazel from Watership Down. Harry and Ron and Hermione. Lyra Belacqua. These were kids I understood – kids I could have been. Kids I was.
Also writing MG is fun. You can have crazy things happen. In Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb, the entirety of New York City has secret passageways from subway stations to broom closets. There are keys that change doors into time traveling portals that take you back to the 1500’s. There are quills that can transport you anywhere you write. There’s a giant inter-dimensional moving library. It’s Magic! And that was what I loved about books when I was younger - all that amazing magic.
Is there magic in YA or adult books? Of course there is. But it’s different – often more dangerous. Most of the magic in MG is the kind that you used to hope beyond hope was real. I write MG because even now, all grown up, I still wonder every time I open a closet door. If I reach all the way to the back – is there nothing but coat hangers and wall or are there pine needles and cold snowy air leading me to Mr. Tumnus. What if?
As Madeline L’Engle once said, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book is too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” Thanks Maddy. And that’s why I write Middle Grade.
About the Book
MEET LIZZY SPEARE…
…a normal twelve year old girl with a talent for writing, who has a very not normal family secret. And when Lizzy’s father vanishes, that secret will change her life in ways un
imagined. (Spoiler Alert! It turns out that Lizzy, or Elizabeth S. Speare, is the last living descendant of William Shakespeare. Shhh! Don’t tell anybody!)
Then Lizzy and her best friend Sammy are kidnapped, awakening in the faraway land of Manhattan. Their host is Jonathan Muse, whose job is to protect Lizzy from becoming the latest victim in a family feud going back nearly five hundred years. Is that why the mysterious, eye patch-wearing Dmitri Marlowe is after her? (Spoiler Alert 2—he’s the last living descendant of Christopher Marlowe, a friend and rival of Shakespeare’s. But keep it to yourself!) Is Marlowe after Lizzy’s family fortune rumored to be kept in the tomb of that bald guy with the goatee? Does he seek artistic immortality? Or Revenge (with a capital R) for a death long, long ago?
In a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, Lizzy and Sammy are thrust into the realm of the mythical and fantastic—from satyrs and Cyclopses to Middle Eastern cab drivers and Brooklyn hipsters in what is truly “an improbable fiction” as the Bard himself once wrote.