Book Birthday: THE UNICORN QUEST by Kamilla Benko

Today we’re celebrating the publication of THE UNICORN QUEST, a middle grade novel that Bloomsbury describes as, “An enchanting, exciting fantasy about a real-world girl searching for her sister in a land full of magic and strange creatures, blending the timeless feel of The Last Unicorn and Wildwood with Frozen‘s powerful themes of identity, enchantment, and sisterhood.”

Those of you who follow me through Pitch Wars know that I have a *bit* of a thing for unicorns. (Shout out to #TeamUnicornMojo!) So the minute I heard about a book that combined three of my favorite story elements (Sisters! Magic! Unicorns!), I requested an advanced reader copy, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Before I get to my thoughts, here’s the publishers description of the story:

Claire Martinson still worries about her older sister Sophie, who battled a mysterious illness last year. But things are back to normal as they move into Windermere Manor . . . until the sisters climb a strange ladder in a fireplace and enter the magical land of Arden. 

There, they find a world in turmoil. The four guilds of magic no longer trust each other, the beloved unicorns have disappeared, and terrible wraiths roam freely. Scared, the girls return home. But when Sophie vanishes in the night, it will take all of Claire’s courage to climb back up the ladder, find her sister, and uncover the unicorns’ greatest secret.

And now, for my thoughts:

I’m happy to report that THE UNICORN QUEST lived up to my expectations, combining a fun, magical world with interesting characters and a sister relationship that feels very much rooted in real life. The fast-moving plot drove the story forward and I flew through the pages eager for each new development. I especially enjoyed the way Claire’s passion for art shaped the way she filtered the world and tied in to her adventure.

I agree that fans of THE LAST UNICORN and WILDWOOD will enjoy this story.

Copies are available at your local bookstores as well as online. Continue to learn more about the book (and author) by following THE UNICORN QUEST blog tour (dates and sites below).

Kamilla Benko spent most of her childhood climbing into wardrobes, trying to step through mirrors, and plotting to run away to an art museum. Now, she visits other worlds as a children’s book editor. Originally from Indiana, she currently lives in New York with her bookshelves, teapot, and hiking boots.

Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

A jack of all trades, JESSICA VITALIS worked for a private investigator, owned a modeling and talent agency, dabbled in television production, and obtained her MBA at Columbia Business School before embracing her passion for middle grade literature. She now lives in Canada, where she divides her time between chasing children and wrangling words. She also volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and eats copious amounts of chocolate. She’s represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch and would love to connect on Twitter or at www.jessicavitalis.com.

Middle Grade Fantasy: A Roundup of Modern Classics

Part of the fun of writing fiction is that you never know exactly what’s going to happen when you sit down at your desk. Still, I have generally leaned toward writing realistic, contemporary stories, and that’s what I’ve read for the last several years (to the exclusion of nearly everything else).

So when I started on my current work-in-progress, the last thing I expected was for it to be a fantasy, much less a fairy tale. But when my protagonist pricked her finger on a thorn from the stem of a rose (while sitting in a castle tower) on the very first page of my very first draft, I knew right away that I didn’t have a choice––I was about to plunge head first into a world of my own creation.

As I started to explore the genre, I realized the landscape had changed quite a bit since the days of THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN, HARRY POTTER, and NARNIA. Needless to say, I had my reading cut out for me.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I’d been missing out on a whole slew of amazing stories and gorgeous writing. From THE PRINCESS ACADEMY to THE GRAVEYARD BOOK (and everything in between), the genre quickly captured my heart.

I figure I can’t be the only one who has neglected the fantasy realm as an adult, so I thought I’d share some of the books I’ve been exploring. Whether you are new to the genre or you are searching for holiday gifts, here is a sample of some of the “modern classics” I think you (and the kids in your life) will find well worth your time:

Happy Reading! (And if you have more fantastic MG fantasy to suggest, please share in the comments below.)

Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

Jessica Vitalis is a middle grade author represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch. An active member of the literary community, Jessica volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor and with the We Need Diverse Books campaign. When she’s not pursuing her literary interests, Jessica can be found chasing her two precocious daughters around Ontario or eating copious amounts of chocolate.

Q&A with Middle Grade Author Julie Leung

Julie, congratulations on the release of your latest book, Mice of the Round Table (Voyage to Avalon) and welcome to The Winged Pen! Your cover is gorgeous––tell us about the story.

Julie: Young mouse Calib Christopher has nearly completed his training to become a squire to the Knights of Camelot when news of a deadly plague reaches the castle. Soon all of Camelot is showing signs of the illness, animals and humans alike. Desperate to find a cure, Calib and his friend Cecily set off on a voyage to find the healing land of Avalon. But even as their journey takes them over land and sea, back at home, Calib’s human friend Galahad discovers that the true enemy may have already found a way inside the castle walls…

Thanks, Julie––this sounds like a fantastic adventure! Let’s talk about your favorite children’s books. What books inspired you while writing?

One of the most influential books of my childhood would have to be The Neverending Story by Michael Ende—upon which a pretty cheesy, but also childhood-defining ’80 movie is based. As a secluded bookworm, I was absolutely enraptured by the idea that I could imagine something into “being.” I longed to be Bastian Balthazar Bux and get whisked away into a fantastical book. While I can’t say that it’s happened to me literally, I feel like I’ve achieved the next closest thing by becoming an author.

If you could whisk yourself into any of your favorite fantasy novels, which would you choose?

I probably wouldn’t survive very long before some undead thing ate me. But one of my favorite fictional places is the Old Kingdom in Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series. My other, safer answer would be Mossflower Wood in the Redwall series. I would incarnate as squirrel probably.

What are your favorite creative retellings of classic stories?

As a huge Oz fan (who read all the books past The Wizard of Oz, no less!), I enjoyed Wicked by Gregory Maguire a lot. I’m generally fascinated by good vs. evil dynamics getting turned on their heads when envisioned from the villain’s perspective. I also very much enjoyed Cinder by Marissa Meyer, which speaks to my Sailor Moon fangirl roots.

If you could retell any famous novel with mice, which would you pick?

Thinking of cool retellings is one of my favorite past times, so I have a lot of ideas along this vein. But if I had to pick, I would love to reimagine the Robin Hood adventure through the eyes of a woodland creature…maybe a scrappy pine marten. Have you googled pine martens? If you haven’t, you should. You won’t regret it.

Thanks for the tip! *makes mental note to google pine martens* Speaking of googling, when you’re writing a medieval fantasy, how much do you depend on research versus your own imagination?

As far as Arthurian lore goes, I’m lucky that this sandbox has already been played in by many authors before me. A lot of my research had more to do with folklore and literature than history. I revisited a lot Arthurian fictional classics in my preparation for writing: T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, Mary Stewart’s  Merlin trilogy, etc.

Before we go, can you tell us more about Calib Christopher’s next adventure?

In Books 1 and 2, I’ve been hinting at the idea that Camelot is perhaps doomed no matter what our heroes try to do. In the third book, we’ll see Galahad and Calib confront this prophecy and Camelot’s greatest enemies firsthand. The ending may surprise you.

 JULIE LEUNG was raised in the sleepy suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, though it may be more accurate to say she grew up in Oz and came of age in Middle-earth. By day, she is a senior marketing manager for Random House’s sci-fi/fantasy imprint, Del Rey Books. In her free time, she enjoys furtively sniffing books at used bookstores and winning at obscure board games. Her favorite mode of transportation is the library.

 

Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

A jack of all trades, JESSICA VITALIS worked for a private investigator, owned a modeling and talent agency, dabbled in television production, and obtained her MBA at Columbia Business School before embracing her passion for middle grade literature. She now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where she divides her time between chasing children and wrangling words. She also volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and eats copious amounts of chocolate. She’s represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch and would love to connect on Twitter or at www.jessicavitalis.com.

October Four on 400 Contest Window is Now Open!

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 October, 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 fourteenth 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 October 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 October 5th, so don’t wait––enter now! Good Luck!

Four on 400 September 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.

Middle Grade: REMY (Working Title)

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” Mahatma Gandhi

But the town was dirty and dying. Rémy hardly remembered it being otherwise. And what happened when more and more of the molecules afloat in this village became stained with the scum of fear?

She knelt in the dirt and lowered her face close to the ground, almost as if praying, like she’d seen Karthik’s mother do. But instead of praying, Rémy was scheming. She eyed the stones spread across the yard—hers red, Karthik’s blue—then glanced up at him. His back showed no sign of watching. Instead, he faced across the street, and she took the opportunity to give her General a shove. She sprang up from the ground, watching the General roll destructively through his array of blue stones and displace most of them.

Rémy sauntered to Karthik’s side, eyeing him to see if he’d noticed anything. But he leaned on his staff, watching his mother across the street. Missus Kapoor stood outside her front door with a screwdriver, twisting calmly at the door’s threshold. She dropped one small screw after another into the pocket of her apron, until she’d pried loose the Kindivine that had greeted every visitor to the Kapoor house since before Rémy and Karthik were born. This charm, too, went into the flowered apron, but she seemed to continue to hold it tightly, her hand remaining locked away inside that pocket as a truck rumbled past and hid her, leaving smoke in its wake.

The truck stopped in front of the Campanas’ house, where they had been lining up their belongings all morning. Those important enough to take. Cousins and granduncles worked swiftly, many hands piling these into and onto the truck, until it was precarious with the weight of their collective memories and tears. It was done in a smattering of minutes. Last, they tucked Greatmissus Campana into a small passenger roost and the truck lumbered off, a few young men hanging from its sides. A small boy Rémy didn’t know ran behind, waving and shouting.

“Karthikeya!” Their heads both snapped to where Missus Kapoor had reappeared at the door. “Time to eat!” she called.

Karthik hadn’t even looked at Rémy. But as he started across the street, she distinctly heard his voice carry back.

“I saw what you did. Expect retaliation.”

Rémy smiled at his small back, retreating across the great boundary of road.

Michelle– I can already tell this is going to be a compelling story about families being forced out of their homes and a young girl who is plotting a way to fight back. You can slow this down just a little to ground us in time and place. Because you’ve quoted Ghandi, I’m assuming this is India, but it would be helpful if there were details in the scene to confirm this–types of belongings, lingering smells of food in the air, etc. I’d also work on the first two sentences to create lines that will hook a reader. Here is a post about first lines that might help. Specifically, the “scum of fear” threw me out of the reading while I tried to understand what that meant. A few sentences down, you refer to “her General.” I wasn’t sure what that meant. Why is it “hers”? Overall though, this is a great start because you’ve piqued my interest! Best of luck!

Jessica: So much to love here! You’ve done a great job setting up the tension, which makes me want to continue reading. That said, the opening jumps around a little too much for me to fully immerse myself in the story. We go from Remy worrying about her world to her playing a game and then back to the troubles in her world. I’d suggest starting with the second paragraph; flesh out the game and setting just a touch more so that we don’t have to work so hard to figure out what she means by the General and we feel we’re there with her. After that, the opening flows nicely. Well done!

Karin: I love your language and the emotion and tension you create with Rémy as well as the other characters, who are also so beautifully anchored in action. I wouldn’t change too much at all. I would consider cutting the third sentence as it’s a little too telly and pulls me out of the story. Later you can consider replacing “his” before “array” with “Karthik’s” as a little clearer. Also, I pictured the truck rumbling past and leaving them in a wake of smoke, but in the fourth paragraph I was confused because this same truck stops at the Campana’s house. Perhaps you can give us as a transition some sense of distance here; for example, “At the end of the street the truck came to an abrupt stop at the Campanas’ house…” I don’t think you need paragraph 6 (two sentences) as a set up to K saying he saw what R did because  you did a wonderful job of showing us that K wasn’t looking at but at his mother, and without these sentences his remark is even more satisfying. These are minor nitpicky details because I really loved these 400 words!

Gabrielle: Your prose is lovely, and the feeling is dark, which I love. I think, too, you’ve done good work developing character and voice in page one. I agree, however, that it jumps around a lot–without the descriptive part of the narrative that we need to root us a little better. We meet too many people, too quickly, without seeing/sensing them or the space they occupy. It’s unusual, I think, to have the feeling and the pull of a narrative so well done, but be missing that (usually easier) piece. If you give us a few lines of sensory setting description, and/or physical character description, trickled in,  as the characters move through, it will space the scene out a little and help us see it as it happens. Do that, and I think this will be gold.

Coming Back After a Writing Hiatus

Does life ever get in the way of your writing? It does for me, and never more so than during my recent move from Georgia to Canada. With all of the logistics that came with moving a family internationally, I was forced to set aside my writing for a period of more months than I care to admit.

It wasn’t until after we were settled and my children started school that I finally had the time and emotional energy to get back to work. Unsure where to start after such a long break, I reached out to my friends at The Winged Pen to get their advice. Their thoughts were so helpful that I asked for their permission to share them with all of you.

Q: How do you get back to your writing after a hiatus?

 Halli: I’m dealing with that now. I just tried to jump into my manuscript, but I’ve been out of the story for so long, I’ve lost the feel and voice. So I am diving back in with research I need to do for the story.

Julie: Between travel and Pitch Wars, I took six weeks off this summer. I wanted to ease back into things, but not too gently because I didn’t want it to take another month for me to get going again. So this weekend, I made a 30-day revision plan. I reread my notes to myself about what needed to happen to take this zero draft from dumpster fire to something I could send to CPs by the end of September. I mapped out a new beat sheet (because I’m changing a couple of the plot points and getting rid of some others) and created a chapter map with color coding for the four act plot/character arc structure, with an added set of columns for the themes & subplots to make sure they’re echoing enough/making regular appearances in the storyline. Then yesterday, I sat down and started reading. It took me at least an hour, maybe two, to get back into the voice, but after a while, I was able to start making tweaks, and tweaks led to a new scene, and now I feel like I’m back in the groove. My ms just happens to have 30 chapters, so I wrote 1-30 on my chalkboard and will try my best to cross off at least one chapter a day until I’m done! That will hopefully give me some accountability, plus I get a huge sense of accomplishment when I cross off those numbers on the chalkboard.

Kate: What helps me, like Julie, is setting up a schedule. I did my month of poetry as a kickstart. Then I tried to get back into the manuscript, but was still dithering a bit. Finally, I just gave myself some deadlines. I’m writing 3k a week (2 pages a day, 6 days a week). I have a chart. I’ve accepted that I’m basically a toddler when it comes to whining and stubbornness, and sticker charts and rewards are really helpful!

Rebecca: Tackling a new revision is always intimidating. I find that setting a timed-goal for my first couple dips into revising really helps. The hard part is thinking about revising 96,000 words. If I pick a place to start and tell myself to work for 45 minutes and then I can have a break, I find by the end of the 45 minutes that I’m usually engaged with the work and happy to keep revising.

Richelle: Scheduling usually works for me. I like to dedicate a couple of nights a week to an away-from-home writing session. It’s on the calendar so everyone knows I’ll be unavailable. I find that having even just two nights a week to immerse myself in writing means that I can squeeze in shorter (but very productive) bursts the rest of the week because I have those longer stretches to really figure out what I need to do.

Jessica: In addition to incorporating many of the suggestions above, I’ve decided to jump back in by reading my entire manuscript and writing myself an edit letter—something that I can use as a roadmap for revisions.

One last thought:

People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.
– Harlan Ellison

With that in mind, let’s all get back to work!

Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

A jack of all trades, JESSICA VITALIS worked for a private investigator, owned a modeling and talent agency, dabbled in television production, and obtained her MBA at Columbia Business School before embracing her passion for middle grade literature. She now lives in Canada, where she divides her time between chasing children and wrangling words. She also volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and eats copious amounts of chocolate. She’s represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch and would love to connect on Twitter or at www.jessicavitalis.com.

The June #FourOn400 Kidlit Writing Contest is Now Open!

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 June, 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 fourteenth 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 June 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 June 5th, so don’t wait––enter now! Good Luck!

 May The Fourth be with you…

 

Book Birthday and Giveaway: Fakespeare by M.E. Castle

Today we’re joined by M.E. Castle, author of Fakespeare: Something Stinks in Hamlet.

Q: M.E., welcome to The Winged Pen! I can’t wait to share the details of the book giveaway (and fun bonus content) with our readers, but first, tell us more about your story.

A: In this silly middle school series, three kids get lost inside Shakespeare’s book and must help Hamlet finish his story in order to return home! 

Q: Sounds fun! Any chance you can give us a sneak peek?

A: Sure! Here’s an excerpt:

Dear Reader,

You are reading this because you expressed interest in the Get Lost Book Club.

Get ready to take a journey through time to a really smelly place known as Denmark. There, an evil uncle is trying to dethrone a prince who sees ghosts. Moat serpents will try to eat you. There may be a few sword fights, and a haunted graveyard. Your only allies are the world’s most reluctant reader, Kyle Word, his annoying neighbor, Halley, and his baby brother, Gross Gabe. Help them defeat Uncle Claudius and make it to the end of the story, or you’ll be trapped in Hamlet forever! 

Intrigued? Worried? Downright terrified? You should be. But if you’re ready for an adventure, step right up and follow me. It’s time to get lost.

Sincerely,
The Narrator

Q: What made you want to bring Shakespeare’s works to kids?

A: People don’t realize how much enjoyment kids can get out of Shakespeare. The thing is that they need to go see it performed rather than reading it. This is true of everybody’s enjoyment of Shakespeare but it’s particularly true for kids. These plays can captivate anybody when they’re well done, as I’ve seen many times in audiences with members as little as 4. You don’t need to catch every line to follow the story and feel the emotions it conveys. I suppose with these books I’m reminding people of the universal appeal of these works, and that anybody can understand and love them if they’re done right.

Q: How did you decide to bring a sense of humor to two such notoriously dark stories?

A: I cannot claim credit for Mr. Shakespeare’s idea. Even in his tragedies, he balanced out the somber stuff and the blood and the darkness with wit, jokes and gags. Hamlet’s constantly cracking jokes and mocking everyone around him. Juliet and the Nurse have a playful back and forth full of bawdy jibes. In the tragedies, characters often deal with their unpleasant situations the same way real people often do, with gallows humor. Then there are clownish characters like the Porter in Macbeth that serve to truly break up the ongoing gloom with a bright splash of comic relief. All I did was take that humor and broaden it to the whole situation. 

Q: I heard you’re an actor, as well as an author! How has this influenced your writing process?

A: Acting helps my writing by giving me a greater ability to put myself in a particular character’s shoes. Figuring out what a character wants at any particular time, how they might go about getting it, and what all the factors affecting them are is a complicated process, and it helps that I have so much training and experience in doing exactly that. 

Q: What’s your favorite Shakespeare play and why?

A: Oooooh, tough. Always tough, no matter how many times I’m asked. I’m going to have to name more than one. My ready go-to is Macbeth. I love that the main character is a celebrated hero that we get to watch descend into the depths of evil and madness. I love the element of the witches and the question of prophecy(and self-fulfillment). And Lady Macbeth is one of the best characters Shakespeare ever wrote, period. Second I’m going to say Othello, both because of a truly remarkable discussion of race and racism for a 500 year old work, and because Iago is the best villain ever put to paper and is the big dream role I’ve never gotten to play. Third, I have to say I think Romeo & Juliet is underrated. People like to dismiss it as Shakespeare 101, everybody does it, everybody’s sick of it, but I think it’s an amazing play, even by Shakespeare’s standards. It’s all of the side characters, like Mercutio, one of the most fascinating characters in the whole canon, that elevate the play so much. It’s more than just the balcony scene.

Q: The Fakespeare series features a mysterious book club that transports members into the plays of William Shakespeare. What books would you love to be transported in to?

A: Maybe an even more difficult question. Definitely some classic sci fi, any number of Asimov’s books or Le Guin’s short stories. I would love to romp around in the high adventure works of Robert E. Howard, who’s one of my favorites. I also have a great fondness for the British navy in the age of sail, and I’d love to pop into one of Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey novels and see life on a prowling frigate in Napoleonic times up close. 

And finally, the details our readers have been waiting for!

GIVEAWAY: To enter to win a copy of Fakespeare, simply tweet a link to this post by noon on Thursday, May 25th AND leave a comment below. The lucky winner will be contacted via Twitter. Good luck!

BONUS CONTENT: Download these fun (free) activities designed to engage young readers! FakespeareMadLibs FakespeareNames

And M.E., thanks for dropping by!

 M.E. Castle is a New York City-raised writer and actor currently living in Washington, DC. He is the author of the beloved Clone Chronicles, which introduced the world to Fisher Bas, his clones, a flying pig, and a large supporting cast of robots, aliens, and a very proper talking toaster. When not writing, he can be found performing the works of Shakespeare onstage, which has given him the expertise necessary to create the utterly scholarly and serious work, Fakespeare. You can find him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/mecastlebooks

To learn more about M.E. and his work, check out his interview over at Novel Novice.

Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

 A jack of all trades, JESSICA VITALIS worked for a private investigator, owned a modeling and talent agency, dabbled in television production, and obtained her MBA at Columbia Business School before embracing her passion for middle grade literature. She now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where she divides her time between chasing children and wrangling words. She also volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and eats copious amounts of chocolate. She’s represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch and would love to connect on Twitter or at www.jessicavitalis.com.

4 on 400: May 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.

Biting Secrets

YA Paranormal Romance

It happened the day the world went dark. Meteorologists still have no explanation. Experts blame the lining of the planets–others propose NASA blocked the sun’s rays with some experimental exposition. In my opinion, the Earth stopped rotating that day. At least, it did for me.

I’m scrubbing my surfboard for the third time tonight. It’s gleaming, ensnaring me with hopeful operation, but I won’t bend to its will. Not now, not ever again.

“Abigail,” his voice calls over the two-way radio.

I scrub harder, stripping it of the lies, its betrayal, of its vivid bloody warranty.

“Abigail, it’s going to disintegrate.”

I glance over my shoulder, sighing. Lucas leans against his balcony, smirking at me. His wild ringlets are sculpted to the base of his head, indicating fatigue.

I groan and grab my radio. “What do you want, Lucas?”

“You can’t scare me away, ice queen. It’s a full moon.”

I sigh, standing to face him. Lucas and I have been toying with walkie talkies since we were ten years old. We only live a few feet from each other, our balconies peering over the water at proportionate levels. On a serene night, our voices even stretch within reach. But tonight, the waves crash with ferocious intentions, snapping and snarling in an undulating captivity.

I hold the receiver to my lips. “Is this our new normal? Every time the moon is full, you bother me?”

“It depends,” he says. “Are you going to rub your board raw with every full moon?”

I glare at him–his gut-wrenching grin caked on a chiseled platter–and I can’t help but smile.

“Well, you know how I see it.”

I laugh, shaking my head. “Right, I have two options.”

“One, you run away with me. We can even go to the desert for all I care.”

“Or two, I surf again,” I mock him.

We linger in tarried silence under the loud moon. I’m weary with its volume, but I remember it clearly the night I was attacked: massive, scarring, morbid. I sigh as the waves crash in the distance–thunder orchestrating between the swells–and I try to ignore my synapses as they fire off salty images.

“Seeing as we’re only sixteen,” I finally break the silence, “I don’t think option one is on the roster.”

“Which leads to option two–my favorite option.”

Rebecca: You have an intriguing first paragraph. I like that it sets the stage for a paranormal story. I’d love more clarity on is what the night was like, other than dark. What does it feel like to have the planet stop rotating? How long has it been dark? The characters do not seem to be acting like something out of the ordinary is going on and if they did, that would act as a bridge between the opening and the intro to your characters.

The relationship between Abigail and Lucas sounds promising, but here were also some things that didn’t come across clearly. The surfboard “ensnaring me with hopeful operation,” the loud moon and “his gut-wrenching grin caked on a chiseled platter.” You need a bit more for the meaning to be clear to the reader.

Best of luck with this project!

Halli: I’m intrigued from the first paragraph. What happened that day? Why did the world go dark? It must be something huge if NASA can’t figure out what happened. I second what Rebecca said about wanting more information on this. You can still introduce the characters, but a suggestion would be to do so in relation to the dark event. By diving into the characters in an event like that, readers would be able to see and feel another side of them. One filled with deep emotion like fear. One more thought as I read this, I feel there are too many adjectives. It slowed down the reading for me and did not highlight those that were most important. Thanks so much for sharing! I love YA paranormal. Good luck!

Richelle: You’ve set up a super interesting premise, with a lot of interesting questions — how do they know when it’s day and when it’s night if it’s dark all the time? How are they coping on the other side of the world where it’s always day? What’s happening with food/crops? How has it impacted the animals and the weather? Fascinating! Because that was so intriguing, I found the conversation not holding my attention as much as it should. Can you feather in the information in that first paragraph as you go through the story, rather than dropping it up front? I also agree with Rebecca and Halli that you might consider using clearer language and fewer descriptors, especially up front. I love your creativity, but a few times, it took me right out of your story. Thanks for sharing and best of luck!

Gita: The world went dark? Count me in! I love the idea that something is happening on a cosmic level right at the beginning of your story and that it somehow may mirror what’s happening with these two teenagers. So yes, I’m intrigued. In that first paragraph, though, I’m a little unclear about what your narrator says when she notes, “At least it did for me”—does that mean the world didn’t go dark for others? Or is this a comment on something else? I’d clarify that. You’ve received so much good feedback above I don’t have much to add beyond a couple of suggestions for how to tame your metaphors, which as my fellow Pennies have said, confuse/distract rather than deepen our understanding of what’s happening. One, because you’re telling the story in first person POV, all these metaphors are ones Abigail is creating, since she’s the one telling the story. Is she really thinking of Lucas’s grin as “gut-wrenching” and “caked on a chiseled platter”? Two, you might consider honing the metaphors so they belong to one family of metaphors at a time (about the moon, or waves, for example) and simplify each metaphor says only one thing at a time, like “gut-wrenching.” Three—which is connected to my first point—these metaphors are a chance for you to show us who Abigail is and how she thinks. You’ve got a flair for words—now make those words work double-time for you. Happy writing!

Gabrielle: My favorite part starts with the dialogue, “Abigail, it’s going to disintegrate.” and ends with “within reach.”  In that section you’re revealing a relationship by having one character react to the actions of another. More importantly, he reacts to what those actions tell him. It’s got depth. You’re also painting the scene really well, without distracting us with some of the too-heavy prose that my fellow Pennies have pointed out above. Sometimes it’s the simplest language that is the most poignant, because it serves the characters.  It will be the people and what makes them special that will draw us in and keep us. Paint them first, and make us love them. Thank you for sharing your writing with us, and good luck!

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Book Birthday! THE SHADOWS WE KNOW BY HEART by Jennifer Park

Congratulations to our very own Winged pen Member, Jennifer Park. Her debut YA novel, THE SHADOWS WE KNOW BY HEART (Simon Pulse), releases today!

Jennifer joins us today to tell us about her book and announce the lucky winner of her swag giveaway.

Jennifer, welcome and congratulations! Tell us about your book. 

In this haunting and luminescent debut novel, a girl’s complicated family life starts to unravel after she finds herself falling for a mysterious boy who lives in the forest behind her house.

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.

Fantastic! Where can our readers purchase a copy?

 Barnes & NobleAmazon, or their local independent book store.

And now, for the big announcement (drum roll, please). Who is the winner of your swag package? 

The winner is … Laurie Lascos!

Congratulations Laurie! Jennifer, how does Laurie collect her prize?

I will send her an email and ask for her mailing address.

How exciting! Jennifer, thanks for dropping by!

Thanks for having me!

Jennifer Park grew up on the bayous of southeast Texas daydreaming of fantastical worlds. 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 kids, numerous dogs, a shamefully large number of garden snails, and one tortoise named Turquoise. Sometimes she does look out the window and hope to see Bigfoot.

Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

A jack of all trades, JESSICA VITALIS worked for a private investigator, owned a modeling and talent agency, dabbled in television production, and obtained her MBA at Columbia Business School before embracing her passion for middle grade literature. She now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where she divides her time between chasing children and wrangling words. She also volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and eats copious amounts of chocolate. She’s represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch and would love to connect on Twitter or at www.jessicavitalis.com.