Book tour brings Middleton ‘home’ to talk with local youth
Newly published author Dana Middleton says she is writing for the best audience on the planet—children ages 8 to 12. “I like writing for kids because kids are awesome,” she said, ”and by and large, they are hopeful, curious creatures.”
Middleton, who lives in Los Angeles with her author husband Peter Atkins, had moved to Dahlonega at the age of 16 when her parents, Anita and Guy Middleton, purchased a farm here. She still calls Dahlonega home as her family is here, and is currently in town on tour promoting her new novel, “The Infinity Year of Avalon James.” Middleton has been visiting Lumpkin schools this week and on Saturday, Jan. 28, will hold a book signing 2-4 p.m. at Giggle Monkey Toys on the square.
“The Infinity Year of Avalon James” is the story of friendship between two ten year olds, a girl and a boy, who share a secret about receiving “some kind of magic power” during their tenth year—a power that will be gone the day they turn 11. Young Avalon is dealing with bullying at school and problems at home, so has plenty of uses for whatever power might be coming her way.
While the book’s setting is not identified, it is definitely Dahlonega, said Middleton; so much of what is in the book comes from her experiences here, especially living on the farm. “And Granny and Pop-pop [grandparents of Avalon’s best friend Atticus] are my parents. This book really is a love letter to my parents,” said Middleton. “It is a wonderful thing for me that they landed here.”
But everything in the book is not familiar. While Middleton tells young writers to “write what you know”—that writing what you know makes a story richer and more real, she also tells them to not be afraid to “write what they don’t know”—giving them the opportunity to research, learn and use their imaginations. And she follows her own advice. While Avalon is a spelling champ, Middleton says she is not!
Middleton says response from her young readers has been amazing. After visiting a school in California recently she got “the nicest letters.” “I am so encouraged by the kids’ responses—they are so heartening,” said MIddleton.
Here in Dahlonega a group of 11 Lumpkin County Elementary School fourth and fifth graders has been reading and discussing the book for the past few weeks in an after-school book club with Middleton’s mother, retired teacher Anita MIddleton, and LCES teachers Margaret Bennett and Ashley Boegner. While Dana Middleton had visited with the book club on FaceTime, this week she was able to meet them in person.
The general consensus from those book club students was that they loved the book. Sarah Bozeman told Middleton that she could relate to Avalon because she herself had a friend like Atticus; Joseph Fuller said some of the characters reminded him of his own family, and Ava Jones said she thinks of Avalon like a best friend. The students were anxious to tell Middleton about their favorite parts—some heartwarming and some humorous, and when the author confided in the students that she was thinking about writing a second Avalon James book, she was met with a chorus of ooh’s and aah’s.
Middleton started her college career at what is now the University of North Georgia, and transferred to the University of Georgia where she majored in journalism. “I never imagined then that I would be writing for children,” she said.
After college she worked in the film industry—producing, scriptwriting, and more. But even though she had the opportunity early on to produce an Academy Award nominated short film, “Down on the Waterfront”—and even went to the Oscars, a career in film just didn’t “take off” as well as she had hoped. It was while working on a screenplay for a children’s film with another screenwriter that she discovered she had the “right temperament and imagination to write for kids.”
So with the desire to express her own creativity and an idea in her head for a children’s book, Middleton sat down to write. Her first book, “Lindo’s Light”—the story of a lightning bug with no light, was written for children about six years old. It was self-published.
“I loved writing it,” said Middleton. So when she came up with an idea for a second book, she wrote it too. “I wrote ‘The Infinity Year’ over the summer three years ago,” said Middleton, “and it was the most miraculous summer of my life.” She submitted it to a number of agents, then to agents who specialized in children’s books. It was Susan Hawk at the Bent Agency who finally called to say she read the book and “fell in love with it.”
“That was a life-changing moment for me,” said Middleton. She then worked with an editor to get the book ready for print. It was published by Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan and released in October. Her official book launch was at Once Upon a Time Bookstore in Montrose, Calif. — the oldest children’s bookstore in the country. It is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other locations.
Since “The Infinity Year” Middleton has been visiting schools and talking to middle grades students about her book and about being an author, but also about them—encouraging the students to develop their own creativity in whatever direction interests them. She encourages them to overcome their doubts about themselves and believe that what they have to say is worth saying.
Middleton has now completed another novel, this one aimed at children a little older—probably about 10-12, she said. “Open if You Dare” is set in the parts of Atlanta Middleton lived in before Dahlonega, and tells the story of some youngsters who stumble upon a mystery. It will be out next fall.