Kell Andrews

Writer for children. Middle-grade debut, DEADWOOD, coming from Spencer Hill, June 2014. Member of Operation Awesome, Project Mayhem, SCBWI.Official site at

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I wrote a guest post for Leandra Wallace last week about revising a character out of Deadwood, and today I got a new Google Alert that looked a little, well, funny. That’s because the post was appropriated by Russian blog, and I presume translated into Russian, and back into English with automatic software. I tried to be funny in my original post, but believe me, this is funnier. I don’t want to link but I don’t feel at all guilty about reappropriating my own post:


When I foremost had the idea for my mean-grade fantasy/mystery Deadwood (Spencer Hill, 2014), I knew it was hither and thither a cursed tree with messages carved in its bark. But one of the challenges of this scenario is that trees are not the most active characters. Sure, they’re great persons at photosynthesis, removing pollutants from the zephyr, and providing the oxygen we exist, but they’re terrible communicators and they verge to be, well, rooted. They don’t get around much.

So when I began penmanship the story, I introduced a talking squirrel person who acts as the tree’s representative – its Watcher. That makes good mental capacity, right? A squirrel is much besides likely to be able to speak than a tree because they verily have mouths. They are scrappy in a small degree critters, able to leap from tree to rooftop in a pure bound, probably excellent at eavesdropping, what one. is handy in a mystery. And who doesn’t be in ~ with talking animals?

Apparently, many people vouchsafe not, beginning with my agent at the time. When I told her hither and thither the story I was working ~ward, she was lukewarm. Lose the squirrel, she declared.

But but but. How could I let slip through the fingers the squirrel? Without him, the fable seemed so drab, so colorless, in the same state rodent-free.

And then I came up by a better way for the tree to bestow. – through the carvings on its bark. It couldn’t talk, but it could unsubstantial up the letters to write sentence messages. And once the tree had a voice, the story – and the Spirit Tree itself for example a character – came into point of concentration.

Then in honor of my cruelly deleted squirrel bent, the town high school mascot became the Black Squirrels. About 25% of the Eastern ~-headed squirrels in the Philadelphia lower Main Line outskirts are actually black, and Haverford College furthermore uses the nickname Black Squirrels by reason of some sports teams. So the dismal squirrel helps place the story in a exceedingly specific geography.

But was my constructer agent right? Maybe. She closed away one avenue, and I had to rethink the undivided story. And that made it upper hand – tighter, maybe scarier, with additional focus on my main characters Hannah and Martin and adhering the tree itself as a living entity. I like having the tree converse in for itself – it may have ~ing a plant, but it still has procurement.

Then again, a squirrel character didn’t harm Kate DiCamillo’s Flora and Ulysses, or Daisy Whitney’s Ben Fox, Zombie Squirrel Hunter, not the same middle grade book from Spencer Hill.

You can judge for yourself whether the squirrel deserved a appoint in the story before I in such a manner brutally wrote him out. Here’s a deleted exhibition where the squirrel first showed up.

First Draft: The Squirrel

Crack! Splintered branches and very damp leaves rained down on them, and Martin was engulfed in a cyclone of sharp claws, white teeth, and dampness fur. He beat the animal not upon, screaming manfully, until his arms were flogging at empty air.
“Stop, stay!” Hannah cried, taking his projection. “It’s just a squirrel.”
Martin peered from one side his arms. A small black squirrel stared back, spasm its tail.
“I never sententious precept a squirrel fall out of a tree. Maybe the lightning or passion hurt him.” Hannah bent into disgrace, moving in slow motion, to take a closer behold. “Easy, little guy.”
Martin jumped following her. “Watch out! It could exist rabid. I think it even scintilla me!”
The squirrel sniffed banefully. Then it uttered, “I most certainly am not rampant.”
Hannah leapt to her feet, stumbling loath into Martin.
The squirrel worried its hands and continued creakily, “I wouldn’t be obliged bitten you if you had been again polite. This is my home, you be aware of.” The squirrel chewed its language, spitting them out with great compression into a small compass.
Hannah reached out again, looking in the same manner with if she meant to pass her intervention straight through the little animal. The squirrel hopped loath. “You … you utter.”
“I do now. I didn’t to the time when that lightning struck. Pardon me whether or not I’m a little hoarse, no more than. I understand English well enough in the pattern of listening to you humans jabbering forward for the past twenty-five years. You every part of talk entirely too much.”
“What are you?” Hannah asked, large-eyed and unsure. Martin couldn’t lead himself to address the pointy contemptible creature yet. “You can’t have ~ing a squirrel. You can’t exist talking.”
“What else would I have existence? In fact I’m the fowl of the air watcher for this tree. You appeal to it the spirit tree, I credit, but its spirit has existed distant longer than your destructive school traditions. Violent creatures, you are. Stomping and crashing, slashing with your knives and shouting with emphatic voices. All the same.”
Angry, Martin set his voice. “I’m not unit of them. I tried to relieve!”
“You’ll have to cheat better than that.”
“Me? Some watcher you are. I was grievous to stop those kids from carving it. You should have bit them!”
“I watch. I don’t conductor. The curse will bite them harder than I continually could.”
“The curse?”
“Yes, the curse. The moment this tree was defaced, this court end was cursed. The curse follows altogether who are complicit.”
“You abominable them?”
“Not I. The ravish. I was cursed along with the tree to exist its watcher. And not them.”
Hannah waved her armor. “Hold on. Talking squirrels, a denounce, now a witch?”
“Yes. A sorceress cursed the town, and the invoke remains until the tree is healed.”
“You pitiful my brother is cursed? We’re tormenting?”
The squirrel paused. “Unless you can heal the tree. The tree has nuncupative – maybe you’re the ones meant to help the enchantment. And I’ll refrain from you. Twenty-five years of acorns is in a great degree too many. I am as abominable as the rest of you.”
“No.” Hannah closed her eyes and shook her upper part. “This can’t be happening. I must be dreaming.”
“Then I’m dreaming too,” Martin said.
“This can’t have ~ing real. I’ve got to reach out of here.”
“You can’t permission me with this creepy little appurtenances!” Martin called after her, except Hannah had already swung a leg above her bike. She hurtled down the hill in a spray of mud. He graceless sight of her in the trees and driving rain under the jurisdiction she reached the bottom.ilari

My middle grade debut, Deadwood, is available again! 


Deadwood, my middle-grade mystery fantasy debut, is out from Spencer Hill Press at long last

This is the second go-round for me, and believe me, I know how fragile the dream of writing is. My kids’ contemporary fantasy was first released by a small press which went out of business, and now it’s out in a beautiful new edition from Spencer Hill Press. There have been a lot of twists, bumps, and flat tires on this road.

I’ve been telling my story here on the Operation Awesome blog for four years now, and I’m so grateful for the support this community has shown me. I might not still be writing if I hadn’t been forced to have something to say by the bloggers, friends, and readers of OA. In my first blog post in 2010, I wrote, “It’s hard to put myself out to the world as a writer, to suggest to others in the literary community that I have something worth saying. As an unpublished writer, the hardest part is to expose my dreams to family, friends, and not-so-friends before those dreams have been fulfilled.”

Read the full story and enter a giveaway on Operation Awesome »


My Heart Was Hollow

If I hadn’t had an idea for a Deadwood sequel, today’s discovery along Cobb Creek would have given me one. I’m glad I have these photos, because otherwise who would believe this is anything but symbolic fancy?

So here’s a poem in character, from these prompts:

My heart was hollow

Filled with rotting leaves fallen from my own missing branches

Ancient broken glass unburied when the creek raged muddy brown

Shards that traveled farther than I had, rooted here

The scars healed over, strange in shape but

I was whole again because I said I was whole

My heart grew leaves

My misshapen heart grew green and stretched toward the dappled light

And you marked it again

On Saturday, May 31, I went to Book Expo America 2014 for the first time. The Javits Center is a huge place, and the experience is a bit overwhelming. Thus the only picture on my phone is this one:

Spencer Hill founder Kate Kaynak took this of me with Laura Diamond, author of The Zodiac Collector, before our joint signing.

But through the magic of social media, it is not the only photo of me. I show up, Where’s Waldo-like, in the background of other photos.

Read the rest of the post »

Many writers have a number they track. For most of us, it’s the number of rejections we’ve received. Somewhere around rejection 100, I began to take a perverse pride in the growing tally. Rejection is the author’s badge of honor, right?

Then picture book writer Carol Gordon Ekster posted this on Twitter the other day:

It occurred to me that I’ve been counting all wrong. The number I should be tracking is not my rejections, but my submissions. As Carol wrote, you can’t get published if you don’t submit. And you can’t control your rejections — only your submissions.

I’m not advocating for leafleting the publishing world with books that aren’t ready, blanketing editors who aren’t right. But if you’re counting submissions, there’s no number that’s too high.

Read the rest at Operation Awesome >

Middle-grade and children’s writer Dionna L. Mann tagged me in the Writing Process Blog Hop, a colossal chain letter of writing insight. Thanks, Dionna!


First a little about Dionna L. Mann. I first got to know her vivid, poetic writing through her middle-grade novel, Freedom Pen, about two rural Virginian children determined to rescue a pitbull puppy. Dionna is a freelance journalist for Charlottesville Family and writes children’s nonfiction, with her work appearing children have appeared in Wee Ones, Stories for Children, and Highlights for Children and LADYBUG. Dionna has an amazing grasp of voice, both for her characters and as an author, and has published articles regarding the craft of writing for children in Kid Magazine Writer, the Institute of Children’s Literature & in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ newsletters.

Find Dionna L. Mann at her website,

Now here are my writing process answers.

1.  What am I working on?
I’ve been spending a lot of time on my picture books lately, and I’m working on adding some nonfiction backmatter to one and revise a few others to get them submission-ready. I’m also at the beginning of a sequel to Deadwood, my middle-grade fantasy that will be released by Spencer Hill middle-grade June 24.

2.  How does my work differ from others of this genre?
I write “small magic” – in Deadwood Hannah and Martin are trying to save a tree, not the world. There is magic, but it’s limited and it’s supposed to be almost scientific so that it seems plausible. There aren’t big superpowers – just small ones, with contemporary situations and relationships that anchor the story to real life.

3.  Why do I write what I do?
I don’t know why some stories grab me – I’m looking for a twist on what could actually happen — real life amplified a bit. I search for interesting situations and then try to make them a bit bigger. I’m surprised sometimes when certain themes emerge — middle grade and picture books! — like individualism, science, environmentalism.

4.  How does my writing process work?
I usually take a long time between having an idea and a draft. I’m a slow writer  – I aim for 500 words a day, not 1000. Sometimes I’m happy with 300. When I write middle-grade, I like to have a fairly complete outline, synopsis, and research in place before I start. But can really procrastinate endlessly in planning, so at some point, I just begin, and then work a little ahead at a time. The holes usually fill themselves in in unexpected ways.

For picture books, I usually hold onto an idea for a long time while I work out how to write it. Then when I do, the draft usually comes pretty quickly and cleanly – although also too long. I am more likely to have a 1000-word day when writing the first draft of a picture book, and that is not a good thing!

Thanks for tagging me, Dionna. Now I pay it forward by tagging some of my writing friends.

Amparo Ortiz


I tagged Amparo because I just beta read her YA traditional fantasy, and I want the world to know about it too. I got to know Amparo as the co-founder of the Operation Awesome blog, home of the Mystery Agent contest. She’s a self-professed super fan — a proud Potterhead, Whedonite, Marshmallow, Sherlockian, Supernaturalist, and a Whovian-in-progress. A resident of beautiful Puerto Rico, Amparo speaks two and a half languages (Spanish, English, and sort of Italian) and is finishing up her Master’s degree in Literature.

Find Amparo Ortiz at her blog and Twitter.

Jenna Nelson


I tagged Jenna because she always has an Intriguing new project in the works. Jenna will debut with Virgin, her upcoming YA paranormal from World Weaver Press, and she’s a versatile YA and MG fantasy and scifi author. Jenna grew up in Shoreview, MN, and moved to California to find refuge in a land of film, her favorite pastime.

Soon Jenna noticed that the TV needed turning up, spoken words seemed muted, and everyone sounded like Charlie Brown’s parents. Diagnosed with a significant hearing loss, Jenna turned from movies to books, where every word was savored and none were missed.

Find Jenna Nelson at her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

R.M. Clark


I tagged R.M. because I want to know how he gets in the head of his 12-year-old characters. He’s the author of The Secret of Haney Field, his latest middle-grade mystery, due out September 2 from MB Publishing. By day, R. M. is a computer scientist and adult and childrens’ book writer who lives in a small New England town with his wife, two sons, one dog and one cat. At night, he’s a mystery writer and photo research ninja.

Find R.M. Clark at his website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Thanks to Dionna for tagging me. Don’t break the chain, friends!

When I wrote Deadwood, it was a standalone. The story was resolved at the end, and I didn’t see how it could continue. Some readers asked if there would be a sequel, and the answer was no.

Then I found another story for Martin and Hannah. I had other projects before it came to the surface, and it simmered for a long time (nearly burning dry and setting off the fire alarm along the way). But now, with the Spencer Hill Middle Grade release of my debut approaching June 24, my thoughts have turned back to the world of Deadwood and my 12-year-old characters. I want to be in their heads again, and at last my Deadwood sequel moving off my story-ideas list and into a work in progress. and not just another item on my story-ideas list.

Read more on Operation Awesome »

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve joined the wise and wild minds of Project Middle-Grade Mayhem, a blog of kids’ writers in a community for readers, teachers, and librarians. I’ve been a long time reader of the site, founded by Hilary Wagner (Nightshade City) books, and I was honored to be invited by exiting member, Dee Garretson (Wildfire Run). I’m sharing my welcome with fellow Mayhemmers Jim Hill (Cape Cod Writers Center)  and Joanne Roddy (Jules and the Djinn Master) — good company!

My first post on Project Mayhem will be May 13 — looking forward to sharing some thoughts (once I come up with them).

Read the announcement »