Learning to Love Audiobooks

We do a lot of book recommendations here on The Winged Pen because between the lot of us, we read all. the. books. From MG fantasy modern classics to hot new releases to Native American literature for young readers.

But recently, a fairly intense Mom Taxi schedule left me considering something new: audiobooks. I never got into audiobooks because I mistakenly imagined myself fidgeting while I tried to sit still for HOURS listening to a teetering tower of books on tape. This is probably due to the sheer length of such audiobook favorites as Harry Potter (Stephen Fry’s rendition of these is worth the extreme length!) and The Time Traveler’s Wife, which I listened to while perpetually nursing a baby years ago.

So this winter, I sent out feelers to friends in the bookish community and got a bunch of recommendations. I checked out a half dozen or so from the local library and have been happily binge-listening on every basketball or choir pickup, every run into Seattle for SCBWI activities, or even during drudgery like laundry-folding and dish-washing. Folks, I think I might be hooked.

Here are my favorites so far:

The Crossover and Booked by Kwame Alexander

I am a huge basketball fan, so I read The Crossover quite a while ago. But last month, I listened to the audiobook and fell in love with the story, and basketball, all over again.

When I heard that Booked was narrated by the author, I knew I had to listen to it next.

I’m hoping to listen to more verse novels on audiobook, including revisiting Brown Girl Dreaming, Inside Out and Back Again, and Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

This was one of the titles that bumped way up my TBR list after multiple bookish friends raved about it and now I know why. When two 18th century best friends and an annoying younger sister head to the continent for a year, major hijinks ensues.

A great love story, complicated family dynamics, alchemy, and pirates. How can you go wrong?

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

Listening to fiction is great, but catching up on craft books is an added bonus of my new audiobook habit. Not only is The Art of Memoir a definitive discussion of the form, but it has applications to anyone who writes story arcs.

And Mary Karr is hilarious, so hearing this in her own voice is totally worth it.

 

It’s Not Me, It’s You by Stephanie Kate Strohm

This audiobook is a little different because it’s told with an ensemble cast. That’s because the story itself is a fictional history project in which the main character, nicknamed AD, documents her romantic history from kindergarten to senior year of high school.

A deliciously voice-y romp of a book, this one’s enough fun to make me glad that I’m commuting into Seattle four times this week!

Other Recommendations from the Pennies:

I haven’t listened to these yet, but other Pennies also recommended:

  • Sherlock Holmes (Kate)
  • The Book Thief (Kate)
  • His Dark Materials (Kate)
  • Dracula (Michelle)
  • Secret of Nightingale Wood (Michelle)
  • Scorpio Races (Rebecca)
  • The Graveyard Book (Rebecca)
  • Between the World and Me (Richelle)
  • American Ghost (Richelle)

And if you want to try out audiobooks, but also want to support indie booksellers, consider a subscription to Libro.fm or see if your local library has an online subscription program like OverDrive. Mine has a pretty sizable collection that I can listen to right from my phone without dealing with pesky CDs.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Which one’s your favorite?

Book Recommendation: Shadow Weaver

The shadows that surround us aren’t always as they seem…

Shadow Weaver, by MarcyKate Connolly, is a middle grade fantasy story of family, friends, belonging, and betrayal – all woven together with beautiful magic.

Goodreads

Emmeline has grown up with a gift. Since the time she was a baby she has been able to control shadows. And her only friend and companion is her own shadow, Dar.

Disaster strikes when a noble family visits their home and offers to take Emmeline away and cure her of magic. Desperate not to lose her shadows, she turns to Dar who proposes a deal: Dar will change the noble’s mind, if Emmeline will help her become flesh as she once was. Emmeline agrees but the next morning the man in charge is in a coma and all that the witness saw was a long shadow with no one nearby to cast it. Scared to face punishment, Emmeline and Dar run away.

With the noble’s guards on her trail, Emmeline’s only hope of clearing her name is to escape capture and perform the ritual that will set Dar free. But Emmeline’s not sure she can trust Dar anymore, and it’s hard to keep secrets from someone who can never leave your side. Goodreads

This novel is one of the most beautifully written stories I’ve ever read. The author spins and shapes her words as smoothly as Emmeline weaves shadows. Her descriptions make the shadows come alive and leap off the page. The plot is both heartwarming and heartbreaking as it weaves good and evil in unpredictable ways as Emmeline prepares to bring her best friend back to life and find where she belongs.

The story is filled with interesting characters, some with special abilities, who play a part in Emmeline’s growth and the larger plot. It’s an adventure we feel privileged to take.

Shadow Weaver can be found at all major bookstores including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and independent bookstores. For more information on MarcyKate Connolly, check out her website.

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. Her middle grade science fiction novel is represented by Kathy Green of Kathryn Green Literary Agency. You can find Halli on Twitter.

Our January Four on 400 Feedback!

Thank you to all the brave souls who entered this month’s Four on 400 contest!

Sharing your writing takes courage, and we appreciate your enthusiasm for our contest.Below, we’ve posted the first 400 words from this month’s winner, along with feedback from at least four of our members. We also encourage our readers to share their (constructive) suggestions and encouragement in the comments section below.

Sotome, Japan

1614

 Tomoe Hasegawa stood on the porch of her home, sweeping up leftover beans with a thick-handled broom. That morning the villagers of Sotome had celebrated Setsubun by tossing roasted soybeans outside their homes to chase away the demons that brought bad luck. The annual festival signaled the coming of spring, a pleasant thought for Tomoe who wanted nothing more than the sea to grow warm enough for swimming.

She glanced up from her chores at the sound of horse’s hooves. A single horse and rider broke through the tree line, followed by twenty attendants on foot who paraded into the village carrying a wooden palanquin. Her broom paused mid-sweep.

Tomoe recognized the man on horseback as their daimyō, the local warlord who often met with the village elders, but she wondered about the mysterious visitor inside the palanquin. Could he be a messenger from the royal court? In her eleven years, she could not remember anyone of such prominence arriving in her village.

Papa was outside tallying sums with the other farmers. At the sight of visitors, he slipped off his spectacles and joined the other men to formally greet the procession.

The daimyō  addressed the villagers. “Citizens of Sotome, I present to you, Regional Deputy Enya, loyal servant of the esteemed Shogun.” The door of the palanquin slid open and Deputy Enya emerged, his silk robes brushing against the ground as he disembarked.

The villagers knelt and bowed low, touching their foreheads to the ground. Deputy Enya accepted their greeting with a nod of his head. Then the women and children resumed their prior activities while the men sat back on their heels awaiting news from the royal court. Deputy Enya unfurled a scroll of parchment and began to read.

Tomoe strained to hear the announcement. She sensed Mama behind her, hovering at the door like a leaf clinging to a branch. Her six-year-old brother Yoshi jostled noisily against Mama and a muffled baby’s cry escaped from the house next door. Tomoe inched her way off the porch. The moment her foot touched the dirt, Mama’s reprimand—sharp as a bird’s cry—stopped her in her tracks. Dutifully, Tomoe stepped back onto the porch.

A whine rose up from Yoshi, causing Mama to move inside to shush him. Tomoe glanced toward the house, weighing the certainty of Mama’s fury against the pull of her own curiosity.

Michelle: Beautiful, beautiful writing. I’m totally hooked and want to read more! My only suggestion would be to slow down the paragraph where Mama reprimands her. I wanted more detail here. What did she say or was her sharp reprimand with her eyes alone? Does Tomoe know why her mother is angry? Lovely metaphors and a great sense of time and place. Best of luck with this!

Halli:  I second Michelle with the beautiful writing. The words and style capture the time and place and truly puts us in 1614. You do a nice job of describing the scene as it flows. We know her father’s job, Tomoe’s age, family dynamics, and the gender roles of that time period. All through this I’m wondering what news Deputy Enya is bringing, and just when my curiosity is overwhelming me, I see I’m not alone. 🙂 Excellent job! Thank you for sharing.

Gita: I love the beginning of this story and wish I could keep reading! You’ve beautifully set the stage in a time and place most of your readers will not know, but you’ve done so in a way to make it feel very real. You use detail to create great texture—I’m thinking especially of the sounds you evoke—though there are a few places I feel there could be more detail to ground us in this world. For example, when you write that “villagers resumed their prior activities” it feels a bit thin to me—can you briefly say what were they doing before the deputy arrived? Similarly, I’m curious as to why the farmers are tallying sums.  I’d love a hint as to why they’re doing this, instead of farming—is it important to the story? Best of luck—I hope to see this story out in the world!

Gabrielle: You paint beautiful visual images, and I love the tension you create between her longing to know more, and her mother’s rules. I’d love to see more detail, as Gita said–some dialogue, and I think it could be very powerful to work in some different sensory details. I also think that it could be very powerful and telling to let us see some of the reactions to the announcement. It feels like such a rare occurrence should mean it’s important and impactful to the people it’s being read to, so seeing them react would be great, and would tell us a lot about how they see their leadership. Good luck with this!

How to Survive Your Toughest Draft

For the last couple of years, every time one of my writer pals would ask me what I was working on, the answer was the same breezy, “Oh, I’m still plugging away on that rockstar mom book I told you about ages ago.”

I’m pretty sure that more than a few of them wondered if I shouldn’t just give it up and move on to something else. Something that would actually get written. And if they didn’t, they were stronger, better writers than me because that was something I wondered every time I sat down with my laptop.

But I persisted, mostly out of sheer stubbornness, and I completed a very, very messy first draft in April of last year. In November, I finally had it shaped into something resembling a novel.

FINALLY!

I’m not sure why this draft took so much longer than anything else I’ve ever written. I could cite a busier-than-ever family life, or a robust year of paid freelance work. Maybe it was because most days, I can be best described as a “ball of anxiety with fingers.”

But I can tell you how I got through an interminable draft (and managed to avoid quitting writing entirely!).

I Was Selfish. My mantra this past year has been “eyes on your own paper.” I withdrew from social media, avoided contests, and spent a lot less time engaging with other writers. It was difficult, and I felt like a jerk, but I knew that my top priority needed to be getting my work done. I am thrilled for my friends who have been out in the world this past year, but I knew I would not be with them. Not right now. Right now, my entire focus had to be a bit selfish. Eyes on my own work.

But Not Too Selfish. Instead of focusing on what *I* wanted – to finish the draft, to write a great book, to get an agent, to get a publishing contract – I made a choice instead to focus on service. We’re writing books for people, specifically children and/or teens, to read. So while I wanted to tell the story of my heart, I kept in mind that, ultimately, that heart-story needed to be in service of the teenage reader. That guiding star helped me re-focus when my way wandered and kept me writing when it seemed I would never get done.

I lowered my expectations. For years, I wrote 1,000 words a day, five days a week. I had reasonable expectations of finishing a draft in a couple of months, of being able to query a book every year, of catching the attention of an agent in the near future. But this year, I realized that wasn’t going to be possible. I spent some time looking over those expectations in a bright light, and I realized that they weren’t doing me any good. I’m a goal-setter and a rule-follower, but that doesn’t matter much in the wider world. No one is lining up to give me a cookie because I did things in the right order, in the right way, at the right time. So I made 2017 the year of NO expectations, other than that I would keep my head down and keep writing.

I used a timer. In order to take some pressure off but still keep getting words down, I started writing for 15 timed minutes each day. That was it. When the timer went off, I stopped. If it was the middle of a sentence, so much the better! That way I had a starting point for the next day. There were days when I only logged 5-10 words on a tricky scene. But I counted those as writing sessions and just kept going.

I relinquished control. Years ago, a colleague of mine listened to me rant about how other people were failing to do their jobs and it was ruining what I was doing. She said, “Well, you can’t control the outcome. You can only control what you put in to it.” That rattled through my head this year. I can’t control what happens with this or any piece of writing. All I can do is control what I put into it. So that is all I worried about.

I reached out. A few times over the course of the year, I did reach out to other writers to share what was going on with me and to reconnect with their work. Getting out of my head was important, but even better was the chance to share in others’ creative processes, successes and challenges. I went out and saw art and live music, too, feeding my own creativity. Writing is so solitary that it’s nice to remember there are other artists out there traveling a similar path.

I looked for joy, not results. I won’t sugarcoat it: for months I was pretty sure I was going to quit writing entirely. Writing for me is a singular joy. Word counts and pursuing publication and developing platform are not joyful. Letting go of the results side of writing for goal-oriented me was painful for my ego, but it was manna for the creative part of my soul, the part that just wants to play with words and stories and doesn’t actually care if anyone reads them. That play without pressure was revitalizing in a way that I desperately needed this year.

Some might call what I experienced this past year Writer’s Block. But I don’t think that’s what it was, even after taking two years to draft a novel. After all, I wrote all the time, and the words flowed fine, when I could find the time to let them flow.

But something happened with this year, with this manuscript that tested me – and I was reminded again that writing fiction is not for the faint-hearted!

If you find yourself facing a similar time of slow production mixed with a bit of despair and a burning desire to quit the game entirely, I have some advice:

Take a deep breath.

Then: Head down, do the work however you can, don’t worry about the mess, keep your eyes on your own paper.

Find your joy.

 

RICHELLE MORGAN writes, works, plays and drinks too much coffee in Portland, Oregon, often in the company of her husband and their three spirited children. When not writing fiction for young adults and children, she pens fundraising letters and other marketing copy for progressive nonprofit organizations. Richelle keeps an occasional blog about nonprofit marketing and communication. She has also written feature articles for The Oregonian, and her short fiction has appeared in Voicecatcher. You can find her on Twitter.

Path To Publication: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Launch of a Debut Novel with Jennifer Park, author of THE SHADOWS WE KNOW BY HEART

Jennifer Parks, THE SHADOWS WE KNOW BY HEART, young adult bookThe Shadows We Know By Heart:
Leah Roberts’s life hasn’t been the same since her brother died ten years ago. Her mother won’t stop drinking, her father can’t let go of his bitter anger, and Leah herself has a secret she’s told no one: Sasquatches are real, and she’s been watching a trio of them in the woods behind her house for years.

Everything changes when Leah discovers that among the sasquatches lives a teenager. This alluring, enigmatic boy has no memory of his past and can barely speak, but Leah can’t shake his magnetic pull. Gradually, Leah’s life entwines with his, providing her the escape from reality she never knew she needed.

But when Leah’s two worlds suddenly collide in a deadly showdown, she uncovers a shocking truth as big and extraordinary as the legends themselves, one that could change her life forever.

The Shadows We Know By Heart was published last March. We were so excited for Jennifer as she journeyed the path to publication! Now that frenzy of manuscript edits and book signings has slowed, we wanted to talk to Jennifer about the high points and unexpected bumps on her journey. Thanks for joining us, Jennifer!

I clearly remember the post you wrote on The Winged Pen’s private Facebook page when Mandy Hubbard was reading your manuscript and Tweeting about how much she liked it! You were one of the first writers in our group to get an offer of representation.

Jennifer: Yes, that day was definitely the highlight of my publishing journey. Jennifer Park, THE SHADOWS WE KNOW BY HEART, young adult fictionI had only been querying Shadows for a few weeks, and Mandy was the first to request it. That was on a Monday. I reread the book again in a panic, just to make sure I was good with it, and sent it to her on Tuesday. By Thursday, she was tweeting about a book that shouldn’t work but totally did! Friday was a series of tweets about how she loved the book and was emailing the author right now. I was stalking Twitter at the time (because what else would I be doing?), and went straight to my email. I saw her name in the inbox and pretty much died. We talked that night, and by Monday, my book was on sub. 

That’s amazing! But other parts of your path to publication were bumpier. Can you tell us a little about that?

Jennifer: Yes, my pub date was pushed, like so many others are, because my original editor left the imprint, and they felt that if I released in fall of 2016, my book would have been lost in the crowd. That slowed things down quite a bit, but once I got my new editor, signed a contract, and got my edit letter (the week before Christmas!), things began moving quickly again.

What did you learn by working with comments from an editor rather than critique partners?

Jennifer: Well, with critique partners, I think you can sometimes choose what you want to change, based on their opinions and yours, versus an editor, where I changed every single thing she suggested. Granted, if there was something that I didn’t agree with, we would discuss it (and I’m not sure if there was even one thing), but the comments were spot on.

My editor asked tons of questions in her notes, especially about character. If a character did or said something, there needed to be a reason for it, like it needed to be something she could see them doing or saying as a part of their personality. And everything had to have a purpose… it had to forward the plot, or something within the MC.

What will be the follow-up to The Shadows We Know By Heart?

Jennifer: That is a really great question! I thought I knew the answer to that once upon a time. I’ve got a book on sub now and another with my agent waiting for feedback. I’ve got several in various stages of revision and completion to choose from next, but it’s hard to choose and focus when others are still up in the air. I run ideas by my agent as well, just to see what she thinks will be marketable.

Oh! I wanted a career in publishing to be all rainbows and unicorns after your first book makes its splash in the world! But the waiting never ends! If you could travel back in time and talk to your newbie-writer self, what advice would you give based on all you’ve learned?

The truth: this thing only gets harder. Have your dreams, but realize that reality is usually different from your expectations. Publishing is a business, plain and simple. But you’ll get stronger with each rejection, your writing will improve with each critique, and you’ll reach the point where it doesn’t tear you down anymore because you realize you have to write. Period. Because there is no other option. You are a writer. It’s not a job, it’s your life. Don’t write for trends, because they change. Keep trying to find that unique story that only you can tell, and make sure it’s the best version it can be.

Great advice! But now…prepare yourself for the lightning round!

Coffee or tea?

Coffee most of the time.

Hardcover, paperback or eReader?

eReader lately.

Pantser or plotter?

Pantser who is starting to see the wisdom in plotting.

Thanks, Jennifer, for being on blog today! And for readers who’d like to find out more about The Shadows We Know By Heart, you can find it on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound!

And now, the GIVEAWAY! Jennifer is giving away a signed copy of The Shadows We Know By Heart to one lucky reader! To enter this giveaway, just leave a comment below mentioning the book giveaway before Monday January 15th at 4 pm EST. We will draw a name from the Tri-Wizard Cup to select a winner!

Good luck!

Jennifer Park grew up on the bayous of southeast Texas, daydreaming of fantastical worlds amid magnolia trees and Spanish moss. A former middle school art teacher and current Ocean Artist Society member, she now lives tucked within the East Texas pines she loves. When she’s not writing, she spends her time overloading on soy mochas, hoarding chocolate, and managing her herd of one husband, two daughters, numerous dogs, a shamefully large number of garden snails, and one tortoise named Turquoise.

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She reviews young adult books, is a judge for the CYBILS YA Speculative Fiction book award and fangirls all things bookish. Find her on Twitter and Instagram, or on her website, writerebeccawrite.wordpress.com.

Book Recommendation: A Taxonomy of Love

A Taxonomy of Love is a coming of age novel that spans the teenage years of Spencer and Hope. Rarely, if ever, do we get to see this many years of a character’s life. So many books I’ve read have centered around a single incident or a specific time period. With this novel, I felt as if I’d watched these kids grow up.

The moment Spencer meets Hope the summer before seventh grade, it’s . . . something at first sight. He knows she’s special, possibly even magical. The pair become fast friends, climbing trees and planning world travels. After years of being outshone by his older brother and teased because of his Tourette syndrome, Spencer finally feels like he belongs. But as Hope and Spencer get older and life gets messier, the clear label of “friend” gets messier, too.
Through sibling feuds and family tragedies, new relationships and broken hearts, the two grow together and apart, and Spencer, an aspiring scientist, tries to map it all out using his trusty system of taxonomy. He wants to identify and classify their relationship, but in the end, he finds that life doesn’t always fit into easy-to-manage boxes, and it’s this messy complexity that makes life so rich and beautiful. (NetGalley)

One of the perks of a novel covering so many years is the ability to cover a wide range of topics, then see how they unravel, and what short and long term affects are on each character. The topics in this novel included Tourette syndrome (a neurological disorder), bullying, sibling rivalry, death, multigenerational relationships, young love, first times, and interracial relationships in the south. Whew! That’s a tremendous amount to fit into one story, but Rachael Allen does it seamlessly. The events and characters are woven together just like real life.

The relationships between the characters are what make this story special. They are realistic, not neat and wrapped up in a bow. The kids are faced with hardships and triumphs and it is how they deal with each situation that makes this book so addicting. The voices and characters are so beautifully crafted with strong voices that grow as the kids age, I did not want to let them go.

As an individual with Tourette syndrome, finding a novel with a character living with this disorder was what originally drew me to this book. I was so pleased with Spencer’s character and how Rachael Allen explained and dealt with the issues of his Tourette’s. Again as a novel that spans many years, readers are able to see how this disorder impacts his life at different stages. Like life, this is a disorder that is constantly changing.

You can purchase this book today at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and IndiBound

For more information about author Rachael Allen, you can find her here.

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. Her middle grade science fiction novel is represented by Kathy Green of Kathryn Green Literary Agency. You can find Halli on Twitter.

New Goals + New Approach = New Opportunities

Photo by Nordwood Themes

The new year is here. What does that mean? Resolutions! We all make them and unfortunately about one third of us break them. I’m sad to say I am in that group. Let me give you some examples from my life.

Resolution 1: Cut out frivilous spending. Reality: This beautiful journal with the sun and stars cover will make me a better writer. I need it.

Resolution 2: Stop eating sugar. Reality: My friend, who was born to be a baker, made a platter of chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting and a sugar Wonder Woman symbol. I can’t say no. That would be rude.

As writers, we face enough rejection. Why add more opportunities for that? If you’re like me, not meeting goals brings out self-doubt and I was sure the answer to this problem was not to make resolutions. But we all need things to strive for. It’s how we push ourselves, how we grow, and how we become better people.

After looking at what I accomplished last year and accepting that not everything works as planned (post here) , I realized my problem wasn’t the act of making goals, it was the types of goals I made. So this year I’m putting a new spin on my resolutions.

 

NEW APPROACH

Photo by Estee Janssen

As 2017 was coming to an end and I started thinking about what I wanted to accomplish in the coming year, two phrases put me on a new track.

First, my taekwondo instructor reminded me that pushing yourself a little every day leads to a big change at the end of the year. Okay, she was talking about stretching, but I’m sure the concept can be used for many things.

Second, during an interview, race car driver Danica Patrick said she strives to achieve her goals every day but acknowledges life happens and sometimes she’ll miss a few.

I’m using these concepts to make my resolutions this year. Instead of making big, inflexible goals, I’m focusing on achieving great things through persistence and being consistent.

Let’s look at a few writing goals I have seen online.

1. Write a book. Writing a book is a wonderful goal and you would assume in twelve months, you could make that happen. But sometimes the book does not want to be written. Not now, or ever. Or other times, life gets in the way and your planned writing time disappears.

New approach. Write. Write. Write. If it ends in a book (first draft or more), fantastic! If it doesn’t, know you are still working your way to a completed manuscript by working on your craft. It may be the one you started or it may be a completely different one. Either way, you are making progress

2. Find an agent. AKA: sign with an agent. There are hundreds (thousands?) of agents in this business, so it seems likely that at least one will like your writing. But this business is incredibly subjective and that is out of your control. As are slow times in the industry, agents’ vacations, and competition in the slush pile.

New approach. Realize the intricacies of this business and alter your goal a bit. Go hot and heavy on researching agents. Five a day, ten, or twenty. Their likes and dislikes. Enter contests. Sign up for manuscript critiques. And query. A lot. Make your goal to send out 100 queries this year. If you don’t find an agent, know you succeeded in doing all you could.

3. Sell a book. This may be more difficult than finding an agent. Traditional publishing is very difficult, and while there are a lot of publishing houses and a lot of editors, those lists are smaller than the agent list. Which means more competition in addition to individual tastes regarding genres and writing styles.

New approach. If you are in the position to sell a book, consider alternatives. Smaller presses, significant revisions, or self-publishing. You can also look at publishing stories in magazines and anthologies.

Here are a few of the writing goals I have for this year.

  • Play around with short stories
  • Revise my current WIP
  • Research writing in different genres
  • Do 15 minute writing sessions as many days during the week as possible.
  • Read books in different genres

I would love to hear your ideas for 2018 goals and any tips you have to keeping those resolutions!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. Her middle grade science fiction novel is represented by Kathy Green of Kathryn Green Literary Agency. You can find Halli on Twitter.

 

 

January’s Four on Four Hundred Contest


Q: What is Four on 400? 

A monthly contest that provides ONE LUCKY MG or YA WRITER with feedback on their opening 400 WORDS! As part of our ongoing mission to support writers, we’ll give a MG or YA writer feedback on their work from four of The Winged Pen’s contributors.

Q: Sounds exciting! How do I enter?

To enter, simply comment at the bottom of this post! At 4pm (EST) on the 5th of January, one winner will be randomly drawn from the Triwizard Cup. The winner will be notified and given 24 hours to submit his or her opening 400 WORDS. On the 14th of the month, the winner’s words, along with the title and genre of the work, will be posted to our blog with feedback from four of our members. Still have questions? See our Four on 400 page for additional details.

If you’re not sure how to leave a comment, check our FAQ page!

*Please check your email SPAM filter to make sure it will allow an email from info@thewingedpen.com

Want a chance to win an extra entry? Go to our Facebook page and find our post about the January Four on 400 contest. Then like and/or share our post. While you’re there, like our Facebook page if you haven’t already!

Remember, the contest window is only open until 4pm EST on January 5th, so don’t wait––enter now! Good Luck!

Book Recommendation: THE HAZEL WOOD by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood, Melissa Albert, YA book reviewPublisher’s Description

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away–by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began–and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Rebecca’s Thoughts

The Hazel Wood is as dark and creepy as the Grimm fairy tales its main character Alice has spent her childhood reading. The author’s vivid description pulls you first into Alice’s life in New York City and then into the stranger world of Hazel Wood and beyond. Alice’s thirst for the truth about herself and drive to find her mother propel the story forward, and obstacles at every turn and keep the pages turning quickly. I particularly liked the stories within this story–excerpts from her grandmother’s book provide glimpses of the twisted characters and deeds that lie ahead on Alice’s path. The Hazel Wood is a great pick for fans of Stranger Things and Holly Black’s novels.

I requested an advanced reader copy of The Hazel Wood  in exchange for an unbiased review.

The Hazel Woods will be release on January 30th. You can check it out on Goodreads or pre-order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Indiebound.

Need more book suggestions? If The Hazel Wood sounds good, you might also like some of the young adult fantasy and science fiction releases I read while judging nominees for the 2017 CYBILS YA Speculative Fiction award. I wrote short reviews of the best here:

5 Must-Reads from the CYBILS YA Speculative Fiction Award nominees.
– 5 More Great Reads from the CYBILS YA Spec Fic Award nominees.

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She reviews young adult books, is a judge for the CYBILS YA Speculative Fiction book award and fangirls all things bookish. Find her on Twitter and Instagram, or on her website, writerebeccawrite.wordpress.com.

Four on 400 December Contest Feedback

Thank you to all the brave souls who entered this month’s Four on 400 contest!

Sharing your writing takes courage, and we appreciate your enthusiasm for our contest.Below, we’ve posted the first 400 words from this month’s winner, along with feedback from at least four of our members. We also encourage our readers to share their (constructive) suggestions and encouragement in the comments section below.

THE BOY WHO FELL SIDEWAYS (MG Adventure)

The later it got, the more unfair it seemed.

Why do they get to go? Why not me?

Graeme tossed and turned as the grandfather clock ticked away the early morning hours.

I’m far more fluent in Shianese than Keith, and I’m better than Patricia at… well… nothing really. But crossing an Edge has always been my dream!
A toe poked out from under his blankets. He kicked in frustration, leaving his entire leg goosebumping in the cold night air.

And now I’m wide awake. I won’t get any sleep, and I’ll be cross and dopey for my first day at stupid Maydales, and I’ll never make any friends, and…
He lay back and envisioned his favourite fantasy, the one his much-older siblings would soon experience. Crossing an Edge of the cube-shaped world, and being Sideways.

Sideways! Where he’d walk on walls like a fly and slide up a slope. His gravity from here at home would stick to him for some weeks, until he eventually regravified. But before then…! All the experiments he could try! He’d be a bit scared, no doubt. If he were to fall, his gravity would pull him along, shooting across the landscape like a crossbow bolt. Of course, that wasn’t very likely. The embassy city was safe and well-designed, equally accessible to Shian residents and Anglian visitors.

Suddenly, Graeme sat up. He had a plan. He’d been making it for weeks without admitting it. He got up, dressed, tiptoed to the front hall, and searched the piles of his sister’s luggage, carefully stacked for the early-morning wagon.

Am I really going to do this?

There it was. The largest of Patricia’s specimen cases. Eventually, she would pack it with fascinating flora and fauna samples. But for the outbound trip to Shian, empty. Nearly five feet long, sturdy, padded, and pierced with air holes. A label even marked it “Fragile,” so it wouldn’t end up at the bottom of a pile in the ship’s hold.

Graeme sucked in a deep breath, opened the case and climbed in. He took a final look around the house, so comfortable, the site of so many memories, and nearly lost his nerve. But then he saw his ugly little trunk, full of his new school uniform and his old, tired life; and he lay back and closed the lid.

Laurel: Wow! You’ve packed lots of story into a small space and a very clear kickoff to adventure. Tiny things: “Why do they get to go?” in the second line threw me out and doesn’t feel–to me–as original and gripping as the rest of the piece. Personally, I’d rather get to know Graeme a little more before I hear his voice directly. I don’t think the reader would miss that line if it were gone. I wasn’t positive that “no doubt” was right for Graeme’s voice but I don’t know him and you very clearly do. I love the Sideways concept and the idea that someone can be regravified. Well done! I wonder what’s going to happen next!

Kristi: This is fantastic! I was so sucked in to the story and I love it when a story gives me so much action, but also so many hints at what’s going on ALL without feeling rushed or info dumped. I did feel the change of POV wasn’t really working. Maybe if those parts where in italics? BUT, I would need a good reason for it– and I’d be willing to read a chapter like that as long as it was clear by chapter two why it’s written as such. The only other comment I have is, won’t his sister notice her case is heavy? Otherwise, I love this!

Gabrielle: This is such a unique concept, and I think you’ve got a good start. Kristi points out the changing POV and I agree–that’s jarring. I think you could stand to slow this way down and let us feel it with him more. He comes to his plan too fast. The alternative would be to have him in bed already knowing what he’s going to do, but going over it all in his head–thinking it through, feeling where he is now for the last time. I think this could work really well, with inherent tension as he’s lying in bed freaking out. You’ve got some telling still happening. Try focusing on the micro. It’s the details that will draw us in and avoid those pitfalls.. What are his specific memories as he’s saying goodbye? What will he miss?  You’re on the right track with lines like – goosebumping in the cold night air. I love the line about his old truck too. Give us more detail, and spin it out for us so we’re right there with Graeme and this will be a very memorable story!

Julie: You’ve given us a tantalizing glimpse of a pretty cool world (which feels fantasy/sci-fi to me, not just straight contemporary adventure) and I love the title. I agree with what the others have said about the POV change. I think you’re switching between internals and third person narration, but it’s pretty jarring, especially for the opening page. The theme of him frustrated over being left behind at Maydales as his older sister get to cross the Edge feels great for middle grade, as does the idea that he’d stow away. But it feels a little rushed, which is keeping us from FEELING Graeme’s frustration building up to the point that he stows away. As Gabby said, slowing down and giving us more sensory details will ground us in the world and in Graeme’s experiences.

Best of luck!