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Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have Niki Lenz here to share about her new MG humorous contemporary THE STEPMOM SKAKE-UP. It sounds like a great story that is funny but also deals with contemporary issues that middle graders go through. Niki is also the author of another MG funny book, BERNICE BUTTMAN, MODEL CITIZEN, which got fantastic reviews.

Here’s a blurb of THE STEPMOM SHAKE-UP from Goodreads

After Grace's mom died, she and her dad grew extra close. They have special nicknames and are always busy with new projects-like building a puppy condo for their dog, Potus- and they love learning random facts about the US presidents. Grace thinks her little family of two is perfect.

Then some committee members at church suggest it's time for Dad to start dating again. And Dad agrees! Grace knows that adding a new member to the team will end in disaster.

No problem! She and her best friend have a plan: Operation Stepmoom Shake-Up! But what if a little shake-up is exactly what Grace's family needs?

Reverse PARENT TRAP-like antics offer a hilarious and heartwarming look at what it means to be a family.

Hi Niki! Thanks so much for joining us!

1. Tell us about yourself.

Hi! I am a wife and mom of two and I live here in Kansas City. I recently found out I will be adding “first grade teacher” to the bio in the 2020 school year. I love reading, writing, travel, jigsaw puzzles, glamping, red lipstick,  and oldies music.

2. Congrats on your new job. Where did you get the idea for THE STEPMOM SHAKE-UP?
My husband and I were hosting a small dinner party, and I am bad at small talk, so I asked everyone to share a childhood memory. One of the guys said that his father was a minister and he and his brother used to go with him to the hospital when he would pray with people. The kids would run around and play hide and seek in the hospital while their dad did the rounds. For some reason that image stuck with me and a few days later I wrote a scene with a girl and her best friend going with her preacher Dad to the hospital. The characters wouldn’t leave me alone and so a rough draft began to form. In the ironic ways of the writing process that scene later got cut, but that is where it all began.

3. Writing a humorous story sounds really hard to me, but you seem really good at it. How do you incorporate humor into your stories? What advice do you have for other authors?

Well, the biggest advantage I have in that department is that my sense of humor never seemed to   I think kids can tell when you are trying too hard to entertain them. It’s also important to spend a lot of time around real life kids. Listen to how they talk and what they find funny.

develop past the level of a twelve year old! When I am writing, I am not necessarily thinking “What will kids think is funny?” I am thinking “What do I think is funny?” I write to amuse myself.

4. That's great advice. Share a bit about Grace, the main character in your story. Was she a well-developed character in your mind when you started writing her story or did this come later?

Grace came to me fully formed because she is based largely on my own daughter. I love her free
spirit and artistic outfits. She has a quick wit and a mischievous streak, much like my girl. What was surprising to me was how much the Dad character morphed into my husband. He didn’t start off that way!

5. That's so funny how the Dad character turned into your husband.What was a challenge you faced in writing THE STEPMOM SKAKE-UP? How did you overcome it?

The biggest struggle with writing THE STEPMOM SHAKE-UP was the sheer amount of revisions we ended up doing. I did an extensive round with my agent, then another before acquisitions, then my first edit letter with my editor. At that point I felt like we should be pretty close to being done. Ha ha, no. The next round of edits involved an entirely new outline. I was scrambling to add brand new scenes and to cut whole characters. I cried every time I opened that edit letter. But you know what, in the end I think the story is stronger for it. It was during that ghastly round of edits that, in a move of desperation, I asked my daughter what she would do if she were trying to make two grown-ups fall in love. Without skipping a beat she said, “I’d give them one milkshake with two straws.” I turned on my heels and wrote that scene, which later inspired the new title and the cover art!

6. That does sound like a lot of revisions. Your agent is Kate Shafer Testerman. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like for your first and second book?

I had queried three other novels to about one hundred agents each. So if you are good at math, that means three hundred rejections. But I had a good feeling about my fourth novel. It had gotten some attention in an online contest and had a strong hook. So I narrowed my list to the top fifteen agents, my dream agents. Kate was on that list. She had been such an amazing partner in all of this. That fourth book didn’t sell, but BERNICE BUTTMAN, MODEL CITIZEN sold in the first round of subs to Random House. It was truly a dream come true. THE STEPMOM SHAKE-UP was my option book and having the publisher decide to acquire it too felt like lightning striking twice.

7. I saw on your website that you had a virtual launch party on June 17th to celebrate the release of your book. Share how you set this up and your plans for the event.

I am still hoping to work with my local library and indie bookstore to create an event that will be interactive and fun. We are brainstorming games, photo challenges, prizes and all kinds of fun.

8. How else are you planning to promote your book in these challenging times? What advice do you have for other authors whose books will be released soon?

The one thing that I learned after my first book came out is that you can really grind yourself into the

ground with promotion and it doesn’t really move the needle. Travel, school visits, conferences and festivals are a no go right now, so I am going to focus on blog tours and podcasts. I also think it’s important to try and give during promotion, not just talk about yourself all the time and expect people to want to buy your books. I have been doing a writer’s workshop series of videos on my website for teachers to use during this crazy time. I am trying to help in any way that I can, including buying A LOT of books from my local bookstore.

9. I really like your idea of thinking of promotions as an opportunity to give to others. BERNICE BUTTMAN, MODEL CITIZEN released in March 2019 and was your debut book. I’m always curious to learn what authors have learned from their experience being a debut author and what they might have done differently. What did you learn from that process and what would you have done differently, especially in terms of promoting your book and developing your social platform?

Being a debut author is strange. You go from very high highs ( LOOK! MY BOOK IS ON THIS LIST!) to very low lows ( SOMEONE JUST LEFT A SUPER MEAN REVIEW). I think the biggest thing that new authors should remember is that you wrote a book and that is an amazing accomplishment. Try not to compare your experience with anyone elses, because you will always feel like things aren’t fair. And just celebrate every little victory along the way.  I am not the person to ask about promoting or social platforms. I just try to be myself and help and give when I can.

10. What are you working on now?

I actually just bombarded my poor agent with three middle grade manuscripts and one picture book
manuscript that I am hoping will go out on sub soon. I have an idea for the next thing I am going to write, but it’s still swimming around in my head at the moment. It’s been a bit hard to get focused work done with all of (gestures at the world) this going on.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Niki. You can find Niki at www.nikilenz.com, follow her on Twitter @NikiRLenz, Instagram @Smile4Niki and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NikiLenzAuthor/

Niki is generously offering a signed hardback of THE STEPMOM SHAKE-UP for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower  of my blog and leave a comment by July 4th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is international.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (Wednesday for me this month) is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Here's what's coming up:

Wednesday, July 1st I have Chrys Fey here with a guest post and an e-book giveaway of one of her books and my IWSG post

Monday, July 6th I have an interview with debut author Ash Van Otterloo and a giveaway of her contemporary/fantasy CATTYWAMPUS FYI I read an ARC & loved it!

Monday, July 13th, I have interview with debut author Karin Biggs and giveaway of her YA fantasy THE KING'S 100

Monday, July 20th, I have with Jess Redman and a giveaway of her MG contemporary Quintessence

Wednesday, July 22nd, Angela Ackerman of Writers Helping Writers will be here to celebrate the release of THE OCCUPATION THESAURUS written by Becca Puglisi and her with a big giveaway  

Monday, July 27th I have an interview with Olivia Wildenstein and a giveaway of her YA romance Not Another Love Song 

Wednesday, July 29th I have an agent spotlight interview with Erin Casey and a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you on Wednesday, July 1st!


Natasha said...

Great interview!
The Stepmom Shake-up sounds like a great read!
Thanks for the chance to win!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

That's a lot of revisions, but sounds like they were ultimately worth it! Congratulations on the release. :)

Test said...
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Test said...

I loved the Stepmom Shake-Up! The cover is fantastic, and humorous fiction is the most popular with my students. Trust me, the revisions are definitely worth it, and I for one really appreciate a well edited novel. I read a lot that could use more work! msyingling(at)yahoo(dot) com.

nashvillecats2 said...

Sounds like a good read Natalie. Also a wonderful interview with Niki. have a lovely week. Keep yourself safe and well.


Brenda said...

The cover and premise sound wonderful. Congratulations to Niki on its release. Have a lovely week Natalie.

Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf said...

What a great interview! It was neat to hear how the original inspiration for the book ended up being removed, since the book had changed so much. It's also great that the milkshake scene happened, because the cover art is just wonderful! I'll pass on the giveaway, but thanks for the great post!

Computer Tutor said...

What great advice--about writing humor for kids. "What they think is funny..." Hoo boy that's a challenge.

Greg Pattridge said...

We need more funny contemporary stories like this one. MG is loaded with serious issues and it's nice to interject some humor. Funny how her husband crept into the story. Thanks for the great interview and for featuring on MMGM.

Ilona Bray said...

This does sound like something I would read in one sitting as a kid, and still would now. (But OMG, all those revisions.)

June McCrary Jacobs said...

What a clever plot, and I love the humor aspect. We can all use a little more laughter in our lives. The cover is so cute, too. Thanks for sharing this book and this author interview with us for MMGM, Natalie! :0}

Danielle H. said...

Finding humor in books is always fun. I have to read this novel! I shared on tumblr: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/621651953243602944/niki-lenz-interview-and-the-stepmom-skake-up

Samantha Bryant said...

These books sound so fun! Good luck in first grade!@samanthabwriter from
Balancing Act

Jan Lee said...

I follow on GFC, I follow on Facebook, I follow on Twitter, Hope I did this right. Thank you for the giveaway :)

Mary Preston said...

I'm no good at small talk either. Love the sound of this.


Flower T. said...

Sounds like a fun story! Thanks for sharing.

lkrichmanauthor said...

This book sounds great, and the insights into the whole process is so helpful!!

Michele❤️ said...

Such great advice! Gives me inspiration to keep going on my middle grade! Hope to keep following your career!

Nanc said...

Congratulations... you were so persistent, it gives me hope. I love what you are doing for the teachers with digital writing workshops. That's so awesome! xo

tetewa said...

Nice cover and thanks for the giveaway! tWarner419(at)aol(dot)com

Rosi said...

Wow. Niki is seriously prolific. 3 MGs and a PB all at once. Amazing. Thanks for the post. Most interesting.

Debra Branigan said...

I enjoyed the interview. I think people don't realize the struggle in writing at times. The book sounds like a great MG read. Best wishes on the new novel. Shared on twitter (https://twitter.com/BraniganDebra/status/1275745431079837698?s=20) (dbranigan27 (at) gmail (dot) com)

Rosie Russell said...

Hi Niki, congratulations on your new book, "The Stepmom Shake-Up." I enjoyed your interview with Natalie Aguirre and hearing more about your story. I will share with others on my pages, as well. It's nice to learn more about authors in the KCMO area.
Best wishes on your new story.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Fun interviews. The book sounds fun!

DMS said...

Congrats to Niki. The Stepmom Shake-up sounds like a fun book- and one that many kids will be able to relate to for sure. I know I have a stepmom. :) Thanks for the chance to win a copy! Wishing Niki the best of luck with her books and her new position as grade 1 teacher!

Michelle Mason said...

This book sounds amazing! I love reading books with humor. Congrats on the release!

Angie Quantrell said...

Great interview! This sounds like a very fun book to read! Congratulations and best wishes!

I shared on Twitter. :)

Tonja Drecker said...

I like the cover...and the title. It sounds like a fun read. Congratulations!

Melanie B said...

Sounds like a cute read, thanks for the chance! Following on your blog and twitter!

email: melanie_brac (at) yahoo (dot) com

Shared on twitter: https://twitter.com/craftychicky58/status/1277739987954515970

Patsy said...

I love how struggling with small talk eventually led you to write a whole novel. Proves what we see as disadvantages can sometimes be positives.

Sherry Ellis said...

It's funny how people you know in real life end up being models for characters in your story. It's happened to me, too.

NASSAH said...

Sounds so fun and beautiful congrats