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!

MYC: Using Metaphor

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss pre-writing and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we talked about revising your world building. This week, Gita Trelease and Gabrielle Byrne talk about how to create powerful metaphors.

Metaphor and simile are among the richest, most useful tools in any writer’s kit. The word “metaphor” comes from the Greek metapherein: meta, meaning “across, over” and pherein, meaning “carry, or bear.”  The word describes what a metaphor does: it carries meaning from one place to another.

A writer uses metaphor and simile to do the same thing, that is, by “carrying meaning” from one thing to another, a metaphor brings together two seemingly dissimilar things as a way of deepening the reader’s understanding. Ideally, the comparisons are surprising and help the reader see something they hadn’t seen before.

Simile uses “like” or “as” to highlight one aspect of similarity: “Pip’s uncle was like a burning-down house, angry and about to collapse.” Or, “Pip’s uncle was as angry as a burning-down house.” Here, I’m saying that Pip’s uncle was angry in the same way a raging house fire is angry, but that’s all I’m saying. A simile is specific and limited, because sometimes you just want to talk about one aspect of the two things you’re comparing.

Metaphor, though, sets up an identity for the reader (and often the writer) to explore. Using metaphor, I would say, “Pip’s uncle was a burning-down house.” Pip’s uncle = burning-down house. He is the whole flaming thing, not just a part of it. And once I’ve set that identity up, I can go further if I want, extending the metaphor: “Pip’s uncle was a burning-down house. And if you’d forgotten something inside, you weren’t never going back in to get it.”  I could even keep going, describing the burning house, how the fire started, what was destroyed—all the while still describing Pip’s uncle.

At the root, metaphor and simile are both powerful tools in the author’s arsenal, but both are just comparisons. So what makes them so powerful then, you might ask. My explanation is that writing a book is a little like a bachelor party.

Um, sorry Gabby, you lost me.

So, you know that bit when all the guys pile in the window and pretend-kidnap the groom and tie him to a chair and take him out and lead him from one place to another and the whole thing is a blast for everyone? Yeah, that. That’s what authors do. We go in and stealthily bind the reader to our story like a bachelor to his party chair. One loop for the characters they love, another for exciting plot lines, one for beautiful prose, and metaphors? Metaphors make great knots. They connect the physical and the emotional, or the emotional and the spiritual, using details that plumb the story’s heart. They tie the reader to the character in deep ways that can’t be easily undone.

Her hair rose in the wind, black ribbons that whipped the air, her anger holding back the storm.

  • Physical (black hair)
  • Emotional (she’s mad about something)
  • Spiritual (okay it’s a stretch, but the storm)

The best metaphors (IMHO) always draw from at least two of these areas. Added to this is that there are certain categories of things, that are intrinsically bound to our human hearts. Their very nature is emotional. Using one of these categories in your metaphor makes the knot that much stronger. I talked a little about these in the MYC post on fantasy world building (weather, food, housing, and religion/spirituality). On top of these universal categories, you may also have some “Bonus character quality” categories that are deeply powerful, because they act as reminders to the reader of the essence of the character/s in that scene. For example, a cook is going to use lots of food metaphors, but a soldier might use lots of battle/blood/loss metaphors. A seamstress might describe things using lots of sewing metaphors:

The sparks in his dark eyes gleamed, silver threads tugging her forward and meant just for her.

  • Physical (dark eyes)
  • Emotional (passion)
  • Bonus Quality (she’s a seamstress)

These character-specific metaphors can also work by comparing something that’s happening to one character, to a quality in another:

The needle of her intent sharpened against Billy’s guileless smile.

The comparisons can work alone (the sea was a cold embrace), or you can deepen them further with added details (the sea was a cold embrace, heartless and unforgiving). It can be fun to play with reader expectation at this level too, as in this simile:

Her teeth were like Desperado pearls, and I figured they were just as stolen.

Last but not least, the way an author uses metaphor can set up a tone for the whole book. A dark, psychological thriller might use dark and eerie metaphors:

She waited, holding her breath until she was certain the men had gone. Her feet pressed against the cold tile as a single beam of moonlight arched across the kitchen floor, a slow, silent bird diving toward dawn.   

While a quirky, funnier story might go with quirky, funny metaphors:

The new girl had a pancake face, wide and doughy, but sure to make a person happy by the time breakfast was over.

Playing with metaphor is a great way to get more energy and depth into your story. If you use them to explore your characters and your world, you’ll be sure to lift the whole manuscript to another level.

We hope you’ll come back next for next Wednesday’s MYC post to learn about Writing With Sensitivity.

Gabrielle Byrne’s debut MG fantasy, RISE OF THE DRAGON MOON, is due out in Winter, 2019 with Imprint/Macmillan. She’s represented by Catherine Drayton. Learn more about her at www.gkbyrnebooks.com

Gita Trelease writes YA fantasy. She was born in Sweden and has lived in France, Italy, and the United States. In her former life as a college professor, she taught classes on fairy tales, monsters, and Victorian criminals. Along with her artist husband, teenage son, and Maine Coon, Gita divides her time between a boarding school in Massachusetts and the wild Maine coast. Her current project takes place during the French Revolution: hot-air balloons and gambling, decadence and dark magic. Also, wigs. She is represented by Molly Ker Hawn at The Bent Agency. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.




MYC: Revising A World

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we continued our series on revision with Dynamic Dialogue. This week, we’re diving in to how to revise your world-building.

Building a world is a lot like building a life. There are a lot of ways to do it. For me, when I’ve got pages and pages of ideas and details, and mythology, and STUFF written about my world, it can be difficult to sort out what’s important to keep, and what’s chaff. In the moments when I begin writing my story, I try to remember that the world is like another character. It gains power in relation to other characters.

What that means is that it’s the details that are important. Not just any details, but those which tie to the heart of the people in that place—the details that matter to the characters. A few well-placed details of the world, in relationship with the characters are much more evocative than a vast array of details that aren’t bound to someone’s heart. Compare these two approaches to sharing details of a world:

Example 1: The table was scattered with oogleberries, picked from the tanglewood that hangs from the darkest edges of the cliffs of Baka. The sour purple berries weren’t ripe, and with a growl, I threw them to a banglebird sitting on the veranda.

Example 2: I sat down and popped a handful of oogleberries in my mouth, letting out a squeak as the bitter zing tensed all the muscles in my jaw. Mara had done it again. I’d lost count of how many times I had told my sister to pinch the leaves to see if they were ripe. It was like she was doing it on purpose. Groaning, I spit the berries out in my hand, resolving to make Mara eat them herself. This was just perfect. Now I would go to school with a headache and purple stains on my hand. I could forget about a good first impression. Everyone would take one look at me and think—amateur.

Taken at face value, the first paragraph has more world-building in it. It’s a broader stroke. The problem is we don’t connect with it. It has no real relationship to us. It’s when we dig deeper, and put it in relationship with the MC, and her sister, that we connect. We can learn about the banglebirds, and the cliffs, and the tanglewood as we get to them, in the context of the story, and when they matter.

That’s not to say things can’t sometimes be mentioned in passing, but those things should be a set up. If there are things in your world that need history/explanation (at some point) they should serve the story. They can serve the plot, or they can serve the internal development of the character, but they should matter.

For example, we first hear about a “bezoar” in passing, in Harry Potter’s first ever poisons lesson. We hear about it again, in the Goblet of Fire, when Harry is freaking out about how to ask Cho Chang to the ball. Bezoars come up again during potions class, in Half-Blood Prince, and then at last, Harry remembers what he’s learned about a bezoar and must find one to save his friend’s life. The details about the thing are trickled in when they’re relevant  (potions class) to move the story, as we need to know them. This works as a fantastic set up, because it’s repeated, and because it’s not swamped in a mire of other factoids. We learn more as Harry comes into relationship with the bezoar, and as it becomes important. Beware of stacking oddities and details simply to say, ‘hey look at all the stuff I know about this world’.

By revealing your world as your characters move through it, it becomes easier to figure out which details are vital and evocative, and which can be cut, or left in the pages of your pre-work for another time, or another book. It may be anti-intuitive at first (more is better, right?), but you’ll find that it’s the micro—the deeper dive over the course of the story—that will have universal appeal, and will paint the broader picture of your world.

–GABRIELLE K. BYRNE writes MG/YA fantasy in Olympia, Washington where she lives with her husband and two daughters. Gabby studied opera in Philadelphia, medieval studies in New York, literature in Scotland, and marine biology in the Pacific Northwest, but writing is the common thread that ties all her passions together. Her debut, RISE OF THE DRAGON MOON, comes out in winter, 2019 with Imprint/Macmillan. She is represented by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management. Find her on Twitter. Her web site is here.


NEW AGENT ALERT! Meet Hilary Harwell of KT Literary

I am thrilled beyond belief to introduce you to Hilary Harwell. Full disclosure, she’s one of my dearest friends, a long-time critique partner and a member of The Winged Pen critique fellowship. NOW SHE’S AN AGENT TOO–for the renowned KT Literary agency.  I’m also excited to share that Hilary will be a participating agent in Pitch Wars this year. She’s opening up to queries at the start of August, and here’s your chance to get to know her!

G: Hi Hilary. *grins*

H: Hi Gab. *grins*

G: So, what made you want to become an agent?

H: Besides loving the art of storytelling, I’m in love with being able to bring amazing, impactful stories into the world and into the hands of children just as they’re opening their minds to the power of story. To help all children and young people find themselves inside the pages of a book, I mean, how incredible is it to be a part of that?!

G: What would you say sets KT Literary apart from other agencies?

H: Well, first of all, we have a ton of knowledge and talent amongst all of our agents. Kate, Sara, Renee, and Hannah are all brilliant and well-connected, and all around great people. Then, of course, there are our amazing clients. I had the privilege of meeting many them on our annual KT Literary retreat this past February in Lake Arrowhead, California (and yes, our agency hosts an annual retreat – that in and of itself sets us apart!). They are all such wonderful, supportive, talented folks and we’re lucky to have them!

G: Talk a little about what you’ll be looking for in the slush? What kind of books are you hoping to find?

H: At the present moment I’m focusing on middle grade and young adult projects. I’m interested in all genres – dark fantasy, thrillers, psychological horror, contemporary, mystery – though I’m probably not the best choice for slasher horror, suicide stories, or high fantasy unless it’s 100% original. I’m generally not a huge fan of elves, fairies, and their ilk. I especially love heartfelt contemporary, and though I recently signed an amazing author and her Chinese adoption middle grade contemporary, I still have a soft spot for these types of stories, especially if they’re told from diverse perspectives.

G: What are some of your favorite books?

H: So many! My more recent faves are: The Hate U Give, Exit Pursued by a Bear, Frost Blood, Caraval, The Diviners, The Blackthorn Key, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, Out of My Mind, The Thickety, Anna and The French Kiss (and ISLA and LOLA), Open Road Summer, The Duff, We Were Liars, The Night Gardener, Rules for Stealing Stars, Salt to the Sea, The Wrath and The Dawn, The Scorpio Races, A Curious Tale of the In-Between, Seraphina and the Black Cloak, The Grisha Trilogy, I’ll Give You The Sun, Splendors and Glooms, A Snicker of Magic, The Graveyard Book, The Mysterious Benedict Society, An Untamed State, The Bourbon Thief, The Girl on The Train, and Crank (anything by Ellen Hopkins)

I don’t want to leave out the older faves though, because they’re such classics and I find myself returning to them again and again. I love books like: Bridge to Terabithia, The Hobbit, Black Beauty, The Black Stallion series, Hatchet, The Call of the Wild, White Fang, Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Westing Game, James and the Giant Peach, THE BFG, IT, A Wrinkle in Time,  and The Secret Garden.

 G: Okay. When do you open for queries, and how can authors submit to you?

H: I open to queries August 1st. Authors can find our complete submission instructions on the KT Literary website (www.ktliterary.com). But for the sake of convenience, you can reach me at hilaryquery@ktliterary.com. Please send me your query letter and the first three pages of your manuscript. I’m looking forwarding to reading your work!

G: Okay, Pally. are you ready for this? *hands Hilary mirrored sunglasses*

H: Let’s do it.


G: Coffee or Tea?

H: Both, but usually coffee.

G: Sweet or savory?

H: Both, but usually savory.

G: Cats or Dogs (or other)?

H: Both. And horses. And fish. And toads. And salamanders. (I grew up in the woods. Catching things was kinda my thing. As was climbing trees.)

G: Curve Ball! Lynda Carter or Gal Gadot?

H: I don’t know? I guess I have to go with Lynda Carter because I have a thing for originals.

Thanks, Hilary, for joining us today (and everyday) at the Winged Pen! 

Hilary joined the KT Literary team to support office operations and assist with queries and manuscripts, and now acts as Associate Agent with clients of her own. She graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder, with a degree in Anthropology and went on to work in the back office of a major Swiss Investment Bank for eight years before deciding to trade numbers for letters. When not reading or editing or writing stories of her own, Hilary likes to hike the Rockies with her family and dreams of one day owning her own horses. Connect with her on Twitter and check out her blog.

—Gabrielle Byrne (G.K. Byrne) writes fantasy for middle graders. Gabby has a Master’s degree in literature and a second bachelors in environmental studies. When she’s not writing, you can frequently find her fishing spineless critters out of the Salish sea with her husband and two daughters. She is represented by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management. Gabby is also a Pitch Wars mentor. Her web site is here.






I don’t normally review picture books, but when one of my fellows at The Winged Pen mentioned there was a chance to review STAND UP AND SING! Pete Seeger, Folk Music and the Path to Justice, I jumped at the chance. As a singer, social justice advocate, and fan of Pete Seeger, how could I not? The truth is, this book is important–not only because of the accomplishments of a man who committed himself fully to his truth, and to bringing people together to make real change in the world. It’s important because of the divisions, and diversions, of our world right now. As Peter Yarrow, folk-famous in his own right, says in his forward, “What Pete taught us is how to keep on keepin’ on, how to keep on singing, how to not become cynical, and how to turn challenge and adversity into greater determination and love for one another.” I can’t think of a more timely message, for adults and children of all stripes, as well as for musicians, artists and writers.

The book is a biography, and right from the start, it’s clear that the author, Susanna Reich, put love and effort into her research. She’s given us Pete’s early life, through the dark days of the depression, and shares how music gave him a way to connect to the experiences of others. He took these experiences and made music a vehicle to share his hopes and fears, and to bring people together.

Pete Seeger’s work to support Unions, as a key player in the Civil Rights Movement at Dr. King’s side, and as a pacifist, are explored without shying away from some of the dangers and challenges this brought into his life. Without being moralistic, STAND UP AND SING! tells the story of one man, and how he found a way to come to terms with things he disliked about the world–a way which gave others strength and courage to continue fighting for social justice. The illustrations by Adam Gustavson, are atmospheric and evocative throughout.

The book is not a light read. It offers deep, age-appropriate, insight into Pete Seeger’s life, but although there’s a lot of text, it is balanced by the number, and quality, of the illustrations. STAND UP AND SING! is a book that families and classrooms can, and in my view should, share together as a way to have important conversations about what each of us stands for, how we choose to stand, and being yourself, even in the face of great adversity.

Gabrielle Byrne lives in the rainy wilds of the Pacific Northwest with her husband, two daughters, and a wide variety of critters. She writes middle grade fantasy, and is a mentor for the Pitch Wars contest. You can find her on twitter at @GKByrne. She’s represented by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management.

Author Interview – Krystal Sutherland

Gabby: I’m very excited to spend a little time today with Krystal Sutherland, the fabulous debut author of OUR CHEMICAL HEARTS, out now. In addition to writing love stories you want to crawl into, Krystal travels the world being fabulous in fabulous places. Welcome to Winged Pen, Krystal! krystal-23-09-16-hi-res-6

Krystal: Thank you so much for having me!

Gabby: Okay, let’s get to it. Can you tell us about the best writing advice you ever got?

Krystal: The best writing advice I ever got was actually from a famous Australian artist called Del Kathryn Barton. I was interviewing her for my university’s magazine and I asked her if she had any advice for aspiring artists. Most people say some iteration of “Never give up”, but Del said “If you can live without art, do it, because this is a hard life.” That just really resonated with me. I thought to myself, “Can I live without writing?” The answer was no.

What was your favorite book as a kid?

Krystal: Harry Potter all the way! My family was very religious growing up and I was banned from reading fantasy, but especially Harry. I took matters into my own hands and stole a copy from the local library and read it in secret. It changed my life.

How about your favorite book this year?

Krystal: Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King and Will Kostakis’ The Sidekicks both had me ugly crying. So good!

Which writers inspire you?

Krystal: When I was a teen, my biggest inspiration was Scott Westerfeld. He was the first writer who made me want to be a writer.

Can you talk about your most difficult craft hurdle?

Krystal: When I wrote Our Chemical Hearts, I was studying fulltime, working two jobs and completing a publishing internship. I used to think, “If only I had more time, writing would be so much easier.” Now I write fulltime, and I swear I get less done now than I did back then. I need more structure!

Gabby: Your debut book, OUR CHEMICAL HEARTS, just came out. What’s it about and what was the inspiration for the story?

och-coverKrystal: It’s about the bittersweet (aka terribly gut-wrenching) experience of falling in love for the first time, and discovering that not all love stories have happy endings. I was inspired by my first heartbreak!

Gabby: You travel a lot. Where’s your favorite place to write?

Krystal: I can write just about anywhere, although I found myself particularly productive when I was on a sailing boat in Croatia, so I’m going to say there.

Do you ever get writer’s block? How do you get past it?

Krystal: Yes! Usually when I’m about a month out from finishing a draft and I’ve written all the “exciting” parts of the book and all that’s left to do is string the pieces together into a cohesive whole. I think most of writer’s block comes from self-doubt and being worried that you’re going to write something shit. You need to give yourself room to be bad. When I get blocked, I write the simplest, dumbest sentences I can think of – and usually I’ll read them later and find they were exactly what the manuscript needed.

You’re getting ready to do your first tour – tell us where you’re going! What are you looking forward to?

Krystal: I’m very lucky to be doing an epic international tour to three continents! I’ve already completed my Australian leg, but I’m in the US now. I’m about to head to St. Louis, Minneapolis and Denver, which are three cities I’ve never been to before so I’m excited to check them out! Then I’m off to the UK for two weeks, and the Netherlands and Belgium after that. I finished the draft of Our Chemical Hearts in Amsterdam, so I can’t wait to go back to the little café I wrote in and visit.

Gabby: Alright, are you ready for our Lightning Round? *hands you magic compass*

Krystal: Sure?

Gabby: Coffee or tea?

Krystal: Tea!

Gabby: Sweet or salty?

Krystal: I have a terrible sweet tooth!

Gabby: Dog or cat (or other)

Krystal: Such a cop out, but both! Cat for the writer in my, dog for the rest.

Gabby: Plotter or pantser?

Krystal: Very much a pantser. When I set out, I know the beginning, I know the end, but I know nothing in between.

Thanks so much for hanging with me here at Winged Pen, Krystal! Be sure to watch Krystal’s web site for news and tour dates! http://krystalsutherland.com/

— Gabrielle Byrne lives in rainy wilds of the Pacific Northwest, and writes dark and twisty tales for middle graders. She is represented by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management. Find her on Twitter.






Interview–Youth Librarians of Olympia, WA

Gabby Byrne: Today I have the great pleasure of interviewing two of my local Youth Librarians, working their special brand of book-magic here in Olympia, Washington. Now, if you’re a book person, you are already fully aware of this magic. It’s an uncanny blend of mind-reading, match-making and prophesying. How do they do it, and what are the dark wanderings that brought them to their work? Let’s dive in. What made each of you want to become librarians and what did that path look like?

MaryMary: Mine wasn’t a straight and narrow path! Love is involved—are you curious? When my first love and I were really in love, we were blissfully broke. The library was one of our only options for entertainment. We spent hours searching for and finding treasures. One day it occurred to me that I should try to get a job at there. So I did, and the rest is history! I started as a Circulation Assistant, but when a position opened up in youth services, I jumped on it. Once I got a taste of how amazing presenting storytimes to young children is, I was totally hooked on librarianship. I love being part of an institution whose most basic function is to provide access to information, entertainment, life changing stories, resources to help with issues of daily life, education, social services needs, etc. Programming for kids and teens is such a joy—the library truly feels like the community’s living room when you’ve got a couple hundred kids and adults grooving together to Caspar Babypants or dancing to a local band at our annual Biblioball event!

SaraLSara: When I was a kid, I wanted to do one of two things: be an author, or an actor. The older I got, the more voraciously I wanted to act as a living…and then when I got to college and started getting anxiety stomachaches every time I had to wait to find out if I got a part in a play or not, I realized that the acting life was not for me. It takes a special person to be ok with living job-to-job. I was a double major in theatre and English, so I switched to my other love, and decided I was going to be a literature professor. So I took the English GRE and literally failed. I don’t know if I’d ever failed anything before that, and I felt totally defeated – I was an English major with what seemed to be a completely subpar knowledge of the subject I cared so much about. But then, as I was walking through one of my favorite bookstores in the kid’s section, I realized WHY I had failed. Because in all the self-directed work in my undergrad program, I chose children’s literature. I wrote my thesis about Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. I wrote a final paper about the short story version of The Brave Little Toaster. Of course the stuffy old GRE wasn’t going to ask me questions about the literature I loved, because I loved books written for kids and teens. So as soon as I graduated, I got a job in the University of Washington’s Architecture Library and applied for the UW iSchool to become a Youth Services librarian. And it’s funny, because I got into librarianship because I loved literature, but this is not really a book job. Of course, books are a part of it – but it’s really a people job. The kids and the teens I work with and for are by far the best part of every day, and I LOVE developing relationships with them.

Gabby: What was your favorite book, or books, as a kid?

Mary: The first book that made me cry was Gentle Ben, by Walt Morey, about book1a boy and an Alaskan brown bear. It made me understand the subtle power of books and how a story can help readers recognize and become familiar with the deep, complex emotions within themselves. My sixth grade teacher read the class, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and I was so impressed with the possibility of leaving home that I obsessed for weeks about it!

Sara: Every book I remember obsessing over as a kid was given to me by book2either my elementary school librarian or the children’s librarian at my local library. The ones I remember reading over and over and over again were: The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, The White Mountains and The City of Gold and Lead by John Christopher, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, The Giver by Lois Lowry, and Terror at the Zoo by Peg Kehret.

Gabby: What books, or series are you excited about this year?

Mary: You know, I read School Library Journal to keep up on what’s comingbook3 out and what gets great reviews, but I’m one of those aimless readers. I want to read spontaneously and kind of follow the path of my interests. I read two books by Dan Gemeinhart, a Washington resident. His most recent book, published at the beginning of this year, Some Kind of Courage is a historical survival story that is packed with action and details about pieces of Washington state history back in the 1890’s.

Sara: The best kid lit books I’ve read recently are: Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones (an epistolary novel featuring chickens with super powers), The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (creepy adventure story based on Caribbean folklore), Pax by Sara Pennypacker (tearjerker about a kid and his pet fox), and The Detour by S.A. Bodeen (basically it’s Stephen King’s Misery for teens). As for upcoming books – if I’m being honest I have to admit that I always feel a little behind in my reading. There is SO MUCH good stuff being published at all times, that I often feel likebook 5book 4 I am just staying above water. I try to read as much of the already published awesome stuff, so I can actually put in the hands of kids and teens, rather than getting super excited about things that aren’t out yet. It’s overwhelming how much great stuff comes out constantly!

Gabby: Librarians have a unique perspective on literature. You know what kids are reading, what parents are asking for – and what’s marketable. Talk about that a little. What trends are you seeing in kidlit?

Mary: Kids ask me at least once a day for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. The interest in those books is still very strong–what a genius (rich genius) Jeff Kinney is, especially when you consider that the first book was published in 2007!  Rachel Renee Russell’s series, Dork Diaries, are still in great demand as well. Also books that feature fairy tale characters are really popular: Chris Colfer’s series, The Land of Stories, and Micheal Buckley’s The Sisters Grimm. One trend I see, and I actually hope it’s not a trend because it should never go away or pass, is publishing more books that feature non-white characters. There is a huge campaign in children’s books called, We Need Diverse Books, and we’re seeing more books whose characters are non-white and their stories are not about the fact that they are racially/ethnically diverse. Their mission as stated on their website is: “Putting more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children.”

Sara: Diversity! Or at least, the attempt at diversity. Things are getting so much better, but there’s still a long way to go. Parents and teachers and librarians are asking for more diversity in youth literature, and we’re FINALLY starting to see it. Genre fiction with people of color. Characters with disabilities. Books written by people of color. I hope that in five years our collections will more accurately reflect the diversity of the people who use them (both the characters and the authors). We’re not there yet, but I feel the surge toward it. Beyond that, it seems like the Greek mythology/fantasy adventure/dystopian trend is going to last forever. Kids read fantasy adventure stories along the lines of Percy Jackson rabidly, and I don’t see that dying down anytime soon.

Gabby: What’s the most difficult thing about being a librarian? How can parents, teachers, and writers support you and your work?

Mary: It’s hard to answer how all those folks can help support me and my work because I see myself as the support person to the above groups. I think supporting libraries and spreading the good word about them with their children, students and audience is an excellent way to support me and my work. You want to make me happy, come hang out at the library, talk to me, tell me what you’re reading, ask me what I’m reading, tell me how excited you are about learning more about a subject, attend our awesome programs, make a new friend at the library!

Sara: Honestly, the most difficult thing for me is finding time to do more than just preach to the choir. The people who physically come in to the library are already in the know about how awesome the library is. They come to our free programs and our storytimes and our book clubs because they know what an amazing community resource we are. I wish I had more time to get out into the community and impact those who don’t already know how magical the library is. I want to do more outreach to at-risk youth and the people who truly need our free services, and can’t get to the library for one reason or another. Basically, it boils down to always wanting to be doing more for our communities, and not having the resources and time to do so. The most important thing that parents, teachers, and writers can do to support our work is to help spread the word about the incredible things the library can do for people. Encourage people to vote for the library when it comes up in elections so we can get more staff and better buildings and more resources. Remind people that they can attend free early literacy programming and social events for teens. The more people who help us spread the gospel of the library, the better we can serve our communities!

Gabby: How have changes in technology impacted libraries? Do you see these changes as mostly positive, mostly negative, or neither?

Mary: As long as kids and teens keep leaving the library with armloads of books, I think something very positive is going on. I love it that digital books are so accessible to people and that patrons can browse our ebook catalog from home and have a book delivered to their device in seconds!

Sara: It’s funny, because I never really worked in libraries before they were filled with technology. I’m a 90s kid – I’ve had a computer since I was in 6th grade, and I have never (not even once) used a card catalog. I see technology as an integral part of libraries. The advent of eBooks and online database resources has been SO amazing for people – you don’t even need to come in to the library to use the library anymore, so the barrier of coming into our physical space is somewhat removed. We aren’t just a building anymore, we’re an online space. The library evens the playing field. You don’t have to pay an internet bill to use the internet if you have a library card.

Gabby: What are some fun, creative ways that you’ve used to encourage kids to get excited about reading?

Mary: Book talks! Sara and I visited almost every elementary school in Olympia in the spring. We prepared book talks and presented them both to classrooms and at assemblies to the entire school. The very best thing about interacting with kids around books is having a sincere conversation about what I loved about a book, or what scared me, or made me laugh or made me cry. Stories have a magical way of connecting us to each other and to that universal experience of being human.

Sara: I think that the number one best way I have to get kids excited about reading is booktalking. Once a year (right before Summer Reading), we get the magical opportunity to visit all the elementary schools in our school district. We use these visits to talk up Summer Reading, but my favorite part of them is booktalking. Booktalking is a pretty library jargony term, so I suppose I should explain it. Basically, it means presenting a book in front of a group of people in a way that will hook them into wanting to read it. I take great pleasure in finding creative and unique ways to get a kid excited about reading a book. For example, I just booktalked Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, and I wrote my booktalk in the style of a letter, which is how the book is written. The amazing thing to me is how well booktalking works. When I started talking about The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste in mid-May, we had eight copies with no holds. Now, more than a month into summer (and more than a month since I stopped booktalking), every copy is checked out and there’s a hold list of 24 people.

Gabby: AND now…our lightning round. Are you ready? *gives Mary and Sara sunglasses for spatial-temporal shift*

Mary: *Smiles*

Sara: * Makes Wayne’s World sound effects*

Gabby: Coffee or tea?

Mary: Tea— a nice smoky Yunnan with whole milk and sugar every morning first thing. An occasional coffee in the afternoon as needed!

Sara: I have been coffee-less for the last two years, and drink tea every day. I couldn’t cut out caffeine entirely. I tried.

Gabby: Sweet or salty?

Mary: Both, for sure! Salted caramel anything is just fine with me.

Sara: For the most part, salty. Especially if cheese is involved.

Gabby: Dog, cat, or other?

Mary: Dog, yes, dog!! I love books about dogs—Gary Paulsen’s collection, My Life in Dog Years is my go to comfort book!

Sara: Cat. Specifically, my tiny weirdo tortie, Clementine.

Gabby: Paperback, Hardcover, Audio, or E-book?

Mary: In this order: Hardcover, Paperback, Audio E-Book!

Sara: All of the above. Audiobooks while I’m doing chores around the house, E-book if the library copy is available and doesn’t have any holds, and physical book if the E-book is checked out.

Alright! Thanks so much for letting me interview you for The Winged Pen. Want more, dear readers? Go chat up your local youth librarian and find out what they’re reading!

— Gabrielle Byrne lives in rainy wilds of the Pacific Northwest, and writes dark and twisty tales for middle graders. She is represented by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management. Find her on Twitter.

Author Interview — Jeff Zentner

jeffGabby: Today, I’m thrilled to be chatting with Jeff Zentner. He’s the author of the YA novel, THE SERPENT KING, out now, and GOODBYE DAYS, coming out in March of 2017. If you’ve read Jeff’s work, you already know you better have your tissues handy. Jeff lives in Nashville, TN where he like to rock out, show kids how to rock out, and write books that will make you cry. Thanks for hanging out with us, Jeff!

Jeff: Thanks for having me on Winged Pen!

Gabby: I’m going to dive right in. What’s the best writing advice you ever got?

Jeff: I always struggle with story stakes because I find people just living their lives so fascinating. My two amazing critique partners, Kerry Kletter, and Adriana Mather, both gave me the advice to “put a ticking clock” on my story, have something impending, something my characters are racing.

Gabby: What was your favorite book as a kid? How about this year?

Jeff: As a middle grader, my favorite book was A HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS, by John Bellairs. As a young adult, it was THE OUTSIDERS, by SE Hinton. My favorite book this year has been OLD SCHOOL by Tobias Wolff.

Gabby: What writers inspire you?

Jeff: My friend Kerry Kletter inspires me with her use of metaphor and lyricism. I’m also hugely inspired by Jesmyn Ward, Joan Didion, Marilynne Robinson, Michael Ondaatje, Ocean Vuong, Donna Tartt, Stephen King, Joe Bolton, Charles Frazier, Anthony Doerr, Phillipp Meyer, Cormac McCarthy, and Leslie Marmon Silko.

Gabby: Can you talk about your most difficult craft hurdle?

Jeff: Try as I might, my first drafts never have high enough stakes. I’m so content with very quiet stories. But ultimately, I want my stories to be more propulsive, and that won’t happen without stakes.

Gabby: I’ve read that you came to writing through your work in music. How did that happen? Are you still involved in the Nashville music scene?

Jeff: I’m pretty much retired from music. I have time for a day job, and one serious creative pursuit. So I pick writing. I do still maintain my connection to the music world through my work with Tennessee Teen Rock Camp, and Southern Girls Rock Camp.

Gabby: What is your work/writing schedule?

Jeff: I’m not one of these writers who writes every day. I go months without writing a word in my work in progress. But I do a lot of writing in my head, especially when I go on walks. I consider consuming other stories – books, TV—part of my writing process. When I’m in a writing phase, I’ll write for 45 minutes on the bus on my way into work, over my lunch hour, and for the 45 minute bus commute home. I try to do 1,000-1,500 words a day. I can generally do that without having to work nights.

Gabby: Do you ever get writer’s block? How do you get past it?

Jeff: Sure. I go for walks. I’ve never gone on a walk without finding a solution to a problem.

Gabby: Your newest book, GOODBYE DAYS, comes out in March, 2017. What’s it about and what was the inspiration for the story?

Jeff: It’s about a young man struggling with grief and guilt in the wake of the death of his three best friends, which he may have caused by texting them. While struggling with panic attacks, and undergoing therapy for them, and contending with the threat of prosecution, he embarks on a series of “goodbye days” with the families of his friends. On these, he spends one last day with them trying to recreate their friend and loved one’s life for one more day. It was inspired by my obsession with death and loss.

Gabby: Do you have any strange writing habits?

Jeff: Before I’ll begin writing, I invite my characters into my head for a months-long residency, where they have conversations and I listen in and eavesdrop, until by the time I start writing their story, they’re telling me their story and I’m not telling them their story.

Gserpentabby: One of the quotes I’ve seen floating around about THE SERPENT KING, is from the New York Public Library. They said, “Move over, John Green; Zentner is coming for you.”  So, my question to you is, do you have anything you want to say to John Green? Will there be fisticuffs?

Jeff: I would say, “Move over, John Green, I’m coming for you,” and he would call down from his castle walls, “What? I can’t hear you!” And I would yell back, “I said I really loved Looking for Alaska!” In all seriousness, I really enjoy John Green’s books and I think he does a tremendous amount of good in the world. I’m glad he exists.

Gabby: Okay, Jeff. It’s time for the Lightning Round. *hands Jeff a burger* Ready?

Jeff: Mmmph [eating burger]

Gabby: Coffee or tea?

Jeff: Moroccan mint tea from Trader Joe’s. I’m a junky.

Gabby: Sweet or salty?

Jeff: Yes. I’m a kettle corn man.

Gabby: Dog, cat, or other?

Jeff: Dogs, but I feel no great need or desire to actually own one.

Gabby: Plotter or pantser?

Jeff: Plotter. Who often wears pants.


Well, thanks for hanging out with me at The Winged Pen. We’re wishing you even more success with GOODBYE DAYS. For all you readers and writers out there, we strongly advise you to check out THE SERPENT KING, if you haven’t already, and to keep a weather eye for GOODBYE DAYS. Don’t forget your tissues.

— Gabrielle Byrne lives in rainy wilds of the Pacific Northwest, and writes dark and twisty tales for middle graders. She is represented by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management. Find her on Twitter.

How We Read & What’s On My Nightstand

Ahhhh, the dog days of summer. Heat like syrup. Thunder rolls. Falling into the soft, ink-scented comforts of a good story, told well. If you’re anything like me though, summer rolls through your life with the speed of a locomotive, and your only chance to slow it down is to throw a beach towel across the tracks and derail that sucker.

Still. Every year, I look with hopeful eyes at the tall stack of books on my nightstand and whisper sweet promises to myself—extra reading time. Yes, you will be mine. I want to share which stories I’m hoping to spend time with soon, but one of my fine Winged Pen colleagues suggested I also share some of our WP reading styles. How do Winged Pennies read, and when?

GABBY BYRNE:  I’m a late night reader. I have a full-time day job, and kids, so that’s the time I’ve got. I don’t tend to read when I’m drafting, but I do read when I’m editing (my own stuff, or CP stuff). It’s a rare book that I read more than once (The Hills is Lonely currently holds the record). If I don’t like a book, I don’t finish it. I didn’t used to be that way. When I was younger, I’d compulsively read to the end, unless I hated it—a lot. Now, I have no time or energy for books I’m not enjoying or learning from.  Which book I read first is mood-driven.

MARTY MAYBERRY: I work 40 hrs/wk as an RN and drive 8 hours to work, but my kids are grown, so that gives me more time for myself. I don’t read when I’m writing or editing because I fear being influenced. But, I’ll read when CPing and in between writing, 3-4 books in a week. Since I write both YA and adult, I try to alternate the categories. I buy books when they appeal and add them to my TBR pile, then read whichever appeals the most first.

JESSICA VITALIS: I used to finish every book I started. But my time has become too precious. These days, if I can put a book down and walk away without thinking about it, I won’t go back and finish it. I typically read in bursts, powering through several books at a time and then taking a break when I’m deep in writing mode. Since my nightstand is always overflowing with unread books, I generally pick the one I’m most eager to read from the pile. But sometimes, my book selection depends on my mood.

SUSSU LECLERC: I usually read three books at the same time. I listen to YA fantasy audiobooks either in the car or during nap time with both of my kids. I also read at bedtime to my youngest son who prefers adventure MG. Finally, I read a non-fiction book (usually about writing during the day.) This is without counting the stories we read during homeschooling hours. It does take me a lot of time to finish a book, but I get the job done and I get two people to discuss literature with. Epic!

HILARY HARWELL: With the mss I read for the agent, I don’t always have tons of time for all the books I’d like to read. I usually hit up the library for 2-3 at a time and try to read a published book or two a month. It helps balance out some of the gems from the slush. 😉 Like Jessica, if I’m not feeling the book, I just won’t finish.

JULIE ARTZ: I used to read to the end of every book I started. Now I often stop after the first few chapters if I’m not feeling it. Between my editing clients, CPs, and a huge amount of nonfiction research on my current WIP, I haven’t gotten much reading done this spring/summer and I’m antsy about how my TBR list is growing out of control. I have to be in the mood to read a book, so I usually have a variety of age ranges and genres on my nightstand and Kindle so I can quickly find one that feels just right.

HALLI GOMEZ: For me, I try to read in the genre I am writing in, for example, I am reading a boy main character YA and the next one will be about a character with mental illness. I also have a book on my phone and another one on my iPad (both of which are horror short story anthologies). I don’t have a problem reading when I’m drafting or revising, in fact, I prefer to do that as long as it is in the same genre. I would love to be able to put down a book I don’t like (I’ve only done that twice that I can remember) and the book I’m reading now is terrible! But for some reason, oh yeah, OCD, I have to finish it

GITA PANJABI TRELEASE: When I’m stuck, I *want* to be influenced by something good, so like Halli, I’ll read something in my genre. Or something that’s somehow similar. But it must be excellent, or I will toss it aside. I don’t want to be influenced in the wrong way and at this point in my life, I only want to read good books. When I’m revising, I find craft books can give me good ideas.




THE REAL BOY, by Anne Ursu

THE WOLF WILDER, by Katherine Rundell


THE DARK IS RISING, by Susan Cooper




LISTEN SLOWLY, by Thanhha Lai

BRIDE OF SLUG MAN, by Julie Mata

THREE TIMES LUCKY, by Sheila Turnage

In addition to my friends at the WP, I’d like to give a shout out to the following tweeps for their recommendations: @MissDahlELama, @mariekeyn, @Reader_Fictions, @ShaunieDarko, @Bibliogato, @JMCWrites, @rklipman, @EMKokie.

gabrielle byrne2GABRIELLE K. BYRNE lives in Olympia, Washington and writes fantasy for middle graders.  She is represented by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management. Find her on Twitter. Her web site is here.

Interview with Author — Kerry Kletter

Today, Winged Pen is thrilled to spend time with the (fabulous) debut author of the YA book, THE FIRST TIME SHE DROWNED. Kerry Kletter is in the house! I’m especially excited to get to know Kerry better, as we not only have the same agent, but also share a country and a coastline! Yay! Thanks for being here, Kerry.

Kerry: Thanks for having me on Winged Pen!

Gabby: Okay, can you tell us about the best writing advice you ever got?

Kerry: A fellow writer, Jen E Smith told me very early on in my career to study screenplay structure. Life-changing advice.

Gabby: What was your favorite book as a kid?

Kerry: Blubber by Judy Blume. I also wanted to be Harriet the Spy for many years. Still do, actually.

Gabby: How about your favorite book this year?

Kerry: In adult lit, the nonfiction book WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR by Paul Kalanithi, which is profound, extraordinary. In YA, THE SERPENT KING by Jeff Zentner which I think is destined to be a classic. I’m also reading a book of poetry called NIGHT SKY WITH EXIT WOUNDS by Ocean Vuong, and it is so beautiful it physically hurts to read.

Gabby: I loved THE SERPENT KING too. Tell us about which writers inspire you.

Kerry: I am most inspired by beautiful language, so Elizabeth Strout, Tobias Wolff, Jo Ann Beard, Pat Conroy, Frank Conroy, Emily St. John Mandel, Donna Tartt, Jennifer Egan etc. I could go on and on. Give me a book with beautiful language, and two sentences in I just want to start writing.

 Gabby: Can you talk about your most difficult craft hurdle?

Kerry: I am not a big fan of plotting. I find it a necessary evil. But it tortures me. It bores me.

Gabby: What is your work/writing schedule?

Kerry: I pretty much write every second I get. Which is not to say I produce a lot. I’m a very slow writer.

Gabby: THE FIRST TIME SHE DROWNED is your debut novel. What about the process has been surprising?

Kerry: I think what’s surprised me most is how supportive people are, friends, family, the writing community. It has blown me away.

Gabby: Tell us about the book. What inspired it?

the firstTHE FIRST TIME SHE DROWNED is about a girl who is committed for two and a half years to a psych ward by her mother for something she says she didn’t do. When she turns 18 she signs herself out against medical advice and attempts to start over but her mother reappears in her life, throwing everything she knows about her past and herself into question.

The inspiration came from a variety of places. I’ve always been interested in complicated family dynamics and trauma—and how these things tend to get passed down from generation to generation, playing out in very predictable ways within families. I also wanted to examine what can happen when mental illness is undiagnosed and untreated within a family—how difficult it can be to determine where the sickness actually lies—who is acting and who is reacting and how fine the line between them can be. And at the end of the day, I think I just wanted to write a book that speaks to people, both teens and adults, who have felt unloved by a parent, who have struggled with the identity issues and the emotional wounds that accompany that. I wanted to hold up a validating mirror to that experience and I wanted to write about going on and being okay.

Gabby: What next? What can you tell us about what you’re working on now?

Kerry: I’m finishing up an adult novel right now. I’m too superstitious to say more than that!

Gabby: Do you have any strange writing habits?

Kerry: Not really. Or if they are strange, I am unaware of them being so! I do type with two fingers which is a habit born of my failure to learn typing in high school.

Gabby: Ha! I love that. So…if you had a super power, what would it be? Don’t say typing.

Kerry: LOL. I’d pick the ability to end suffering.

Gabby: Okay – here’s comes the lightning round. *hands Kerry a cookie*

Kerry: I’m ready.

Gabby: Coffee or tea?

Kerry: Coffee

Gabby: Sweet or salty?

Kerry: Sweet

Gabby: Dog, cat, or other?

Kerry: Dog

Gabby: Plotter or pantser?

Kerry: A little bit of both.

Gabby: Whew! Alright, last question. Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?

Read as much as possible. Learn to accept criticism and always strive to be better than you are. Enjoy the process. Support other writers. Expect rejection. Expect that it will be hard. If you truly love it, do it anyway.

 Thanks so much for joining us at Winged Pen, Kerry. We wish you all the luck in the world.

— Gabrielle Byrne lives in rainy wilds of the Pacific Northwest, and writes dark and twisty tales for middle graders. She is represented by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management. Find her on Twitter.