I wasn't going to post this, but then my wife said, "Dude, it sounds like your big number on Broadway, and you're
singing it alone on stage with your arms spread apart all dramatically
at the end of the show!"
I am Mike, a brand spanking new Pitch Wars mentor. I have one face, two elbows, and ten toes. Nothing else. Just those thirteen things stuck together and tap-dancing down the street. Actually, I'm this guy...
I’m a neurodivergent middle grade author, father, musician, and fifth grade teacher. I take all four jobs one-fourth seriously so they equal one whole when stacked together. I write contemporary middle grade, and my debut novel, I AM DRUMS, is about a girl who can't sit still because she hears rhythms in her head all day long.
Here's my book cuddling with my drum set. My guitar amp might be in the background somewhere.
I love writing and recording music. I multitrack so that I can be the full band. Here's a song I recorded this summer.
Sometimes I draw silly pictures and post them with the hashtag #ICantDrawEither.
I also make videos where I play drums on random things. I call them #TheWorldIsADrum videos. Here are a few of me playing on newspapers, kid toys, pizza pans, and pizza dough.
But really, though, I'm just a guy trying to make the query trenches a little less lonely. I knew zero people in publishing the day I got “The Call” from my agent. I didn't even know Pitch Wars was a thing until long after I'd sold my first book. I became a mentor because it's something I'd have embraced. Writing is a lonely job, and I want to help someone discover their middle grade voice outside of that bubble. What am I looking for? The stories that hit me the hardest aren't the ones I ask for -- they're the ones I never knew I needed. That makes it tough to write a wish list, but hey, I've got to try. I gravitate toward contemporary middle grade, and I'm a rock solid voice guy. Your premise might be the coolest thing ever, but 9 times out of 10 the reason I put a book down is the MC doesn't feel authentic. As a father and fifth grade teacher I spend more time with kids than adults, so I want to hear the way kids really talk and act in your dialogue and narration. I also love characters that help kids feel less alone. I'd love to mentor a heartfelt book that feels like it was written for “that one unique reader”. Quirky characters are fantastic as long as they're authentically crafted, fit the story you're trying to tell, and don't feel forced. The same goes for funny books. Authentic humor is tricky, but a joy to read when an author can pull it off. Well written and researched neurodivergent characters will catch my ear if you can do it respectfully. One of my teaching beliefs is that all behavior is purposeful, so I have a soft spot for complicated antagonists who might have been protagonists under different circumstances. The same goes for protagonists who make terrible mistakes and characters who walk somewhere between the two. What are your favorite middle grade books? My favorites change constantly, but at 7:45 AM on July 18th they are/were the following: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli Call Me Hope by Gretchen Olson The Crossover by Kwame Alexander When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech Ghost by Jason Reynolds
What are you NOT looking for?
Funny books that aren't actually funny. I swear I don't mean this as snotty as it sounds! :) It's just important to acknowledge how much it hurts reader immersion when a joke falls flat. It's harder to make kids laugh than most authors realize, and forced humor and/or absence of comedic timing sticks out (and not in a good way). Comedy, like voice, should feel natural, and if you know for certain how it's done then you're probably doing it wrong. So send me your humorous submissions. Just ask yourself if a real kid who isn't related to you would laugh at it first! :) I'm also not a fan of unnecessary words and details, so if your manuscript is at 200k words I'm probably not your guy. Okay, you're looking for contemporary middle grade. Anything else?
The right sf/f story will pull me in if I want to hang out in the world and chill with your characters. Their personalities should reach well beyond what the plot and world require.
SPOILERS AHEAD: Please note that in order to continue blogging about the I AM DRUMS Soundtrack I will have to step into mild spoiler territory. If you haven't read the book yet, do that now.
I knew from the beginning this song had to represent a sad moment in the book. It almost became "Housebound Until Further Notice", but the chorus has an aura of slyness that made it more appropriate for earlier in the book, when Sam is making some questionable decisions.
I've always loved the sound of acoustic and electric guitars with harmonizing dual parts, and that's definitely on display in the second verse. It gives the whole song a hypnotic sound that I hadn't initially intended.
Recording the drums for the bridge was a nightmare. It's not difficult to play, but I recorded it a bunch of times and the groove was always off. Weird, funky, jazzy songs like this don't work unless the groove is as close to perfect as human hands are capable.
I still listen to the bridge and feel like the whole thing is audible trash, but everyone who hears it loves it so I guess I'm the weirdo here.
This is easily one of my two favorite songs on the album. I'm really proud of the arrangement. The opening riff is a force to be reckoned with, and I want to jump up and down whenever the Grosso Brothers Band plays it live.
This is the only drum track on the album recorded without a snare mic, and in some ways I like this drum mix the best as a result. I'd love to say it was intentional, but the truth is I forgot to hook up the XLR cable to the mixing board before I hit record. At first I didn't even realize I was only using two mics (a kick drum and overhead) because the overhead mic had done such a great job picking it up.
The lesson here is you never manage to record the sound you want, but you may discover the sound you didn't know you wanted.
Another fun fact: at one point I tried playing the opening bars before the drums and distortion kick in with an acoustic guitar. I almost released it that way, too, and I would've had no regrets if I'd done that. It sounded great both ways, but just like writers and teachers are always making decisions, so are musicians, especially in the studio.
I didn't realize it at the time, but there's a half-time riff in this one that is very much inspired by Carla Azar and Autolux, a drummer and band name-dropped in the book.
Behind the Soundtrack is a blog series featuring anecdotes and reflections on writing and recording Songs for Sam(antha): the I AM DRUMS Soundtrack. Go here to listen to samples from the entire album.
"Encyclopedia Toms" was originally the second song on the album, following an opening track that was tentatively titled "Take That, Danny!" at one point and "It Wasn't a Drumstick" at another.
I ended up bumping it up to the opening track because it felt right to open the album with a deceptively quiet riff that explodes when the chorus hits. The first minute of the song is like listening to a beginning musician transforming into a pro. It seemed appropriate for what might be in Sam's head while playing her fake desk set and imagining the real thing.
At one point I wanted a shuffling drum beat for the opening riff, but thankfully I dumped that idea. The drums really started coming together when I figured out the ride pattern on the chorus. The driving, flying-down-the-highway-powered-by-the-speed-of-rock drumbeat for the rest of the song came naturally after that.
I worried about the title at first. It made sense for the story, of course, but I almost made the ill-advised decision to alter the drum beats to have more toms. If there is one thing I've learned about any form of art, it's that inauthentic, inorganic additions to meet imaginary criteria are almost always a mistake.
And I'd already managed to get some wicked tom fills in, so the title was already fitting.
I've wanted to host a giveaway exclusively for educators for a long time.
Why? Your classroom rocks. Your students rock. YOU rock. But how is anyone ever going to know unless you have the "I AM DRUMS Classroom Rockout Pack"?
What's the Classroom Rockout Pack? It's a giveaway exclusively for classroom teachers and school librarians, running for approximately two weeks until April 4th.
I'm serious. Here is a list of people who CAN enter:
1) Classroom teachers
2) School librarians
Here is a list of people who CAN'T enter:
1) Stock Brokers
2) Personal Chefs
3) Your father
4) Dr. Dre
5) Daisy Ridley
6) Donald Trump (yeah, I had to go there)
7) Your neighbor with the really big dog
8) Anyone else who isn't an educator
Here's what the Classroom Rockout Pack contains:
- One signed hardcover of I AM DRUMS for your classroom library.
- A drumstick and postcard for each of your students (classrooms come in all sizes, but I unfortunately will not be able to supply more than 35 sticks at max and appreciate your honesty as to your actual number of students)
So what are you waiting for? Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!