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.

 

 

Interview and Swag Giveaway with Debut Author Jennifer Park

Tragedy. Romance. Mystery. Bigfoot.

Jennifer Park’s young adult novel, THE SHADOWS WE KNOW BY HEART (Simon Pulse, March 14th) has it all! Today, I’m thrilled to interview our very own Winged Pen member and help her celebrate her upcoming debut with a swag giveaway.

Jennifer, congratulations! Tell us about your book.

Thanks so much!! THE SHADOWS WE KNOW BY HEART is a contemporary retelling of Tarzan, set in the piney woods of East Texas. With Bigfoot!

This is a great twist on the legend of Bigfoot; how did you come up with the idea?

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea that there are still species out there that science can’t yet prove exists, yet thousands of eye-witness accounts suggest otherwise. My interest in Bigfoot began with watching the show Finding Bigfoot, and went from there. It was actually my mom’s idea to write the book, and I tossed it around for a while before I began writing, simply trying to find a serious way to handle the subject.

It’s safe to say that your main character, Leah Roberts, comes from a troubled home. Did she come to you fully formed, or how did her character develop for you?

She does, and I needed her to have a reason to go to the woods, to have that be her place of escape, and a secret of her own that she’s willing to protect at all costs.

No, she didn’t. I had a vague idea when I started of who I wanted her to be, but it wasn’t truly nailed down until well into final editing stages that she really became who you see now.

Which character in the story is your favorite?

Definitely Bee, the central Bigfoot character. I loved writing her scenes. I think she brings such humor and deep moments for Leah. I wish she wasn’t just a fictional character! I’d be a forest pirate with her any day. 🙂

Tell us about the editing process; what surprised you the most?

I really loved seeing how the book was developed through each stage of the editing process. By the time I turned in that last round of edits, I think I knew my characters far better afterwards than before. And also discovered that some of my characters winked a lot and I never noticed until my editor pointed it out.

And now, the fun begins! Tell us about the pile of swag you are giving away.

Yay! Yes, I’ve got a signed copy of THE SHADOWS WE KNOW BY HEART, a bookmark with an adorable Bigfoot charm, and a signed art print for the winner!

How do our readers enter?

All they have to do is post a link to this interview to their Twitter account and leave a comment below between now and noon on March 13th. The winner (whose name will be pulled from our Triwizard cup) will be announced on our blog the morning of March 14th (the same day as my book birthday!).

Are there any other ways our readers can get their hands on swag?

Yes! I’m also running a swag giveaway for pre-orders on Twitter beginning March 1 . Follow me for details. And if you happen to be at Barnes & Noble in Beaumont, TX on March 18, I’ll be there signing books and handing out swag as well.

Jennifer, thanks for joining us today, and congratulations again on your debut.

Thanks so much 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.

 

 

Book Talk with Author Jessica Lawson

Jessica Lawson is not only the author of three terrific middle grade books, she’s also an all-around cool human being. When she discovered my daughter was a fan, she commenced a covert operation to make sure a swag bag, along with a handwritten note, was waiting under the tree for my daughter on Christmas morning. Today, she’s agreed to chat with the Winged Pen.

Jessica, welcome! Your first two novels, The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher and Nooks & Crannies, are both historical (although with vastly different settings). They also feature strong female protagonists with interesting sidekicks; was this intentional?

First of all, thank you so much for having me on the blog! As for character choices, it was definitely a deliberate choice of mine to make Becky Thatcher a strong female—I always wished the original Twain-written character had more mischief about her, so it was fun to make that happen. And, as I was already playing around with character roles, I got a bit of satisfaction out of making Amy Lawrence—Tom Sawyer’s previous “love”— the best friend character. As for Tabitha Crum, lead character in Nooks & Crannies, she was raised to be very solitary and quiet. Giving her a mouse sidekick to chat with allowed her to express her other side—clever, introspective, funny, and vulnerable. 

Your latest novel, Waiting for Augusta, includes an element of magical realism; tell us more!

It’s the story of Ben Putter, a boy who runs away and travels over 400 miles in an attempt to scatter his father’s ashes on the 18th green of a very famous golf course. The ashes speak to him along the way, helping both Ben and his dad come to terms with their broken relationship.

Was it hard making the switch from realistic/historical to magical realism? I’ve heard some agents/editors talk about the importance of being able to “shelve” books together; did you encounter any resistance when you pitched switching genres? 

Strangely enough, I didn’t really see it as magical realism when I was writing it. To me, it was natural that a very creative young boy might stare at a cremation urn and imagine what his father might be saying, were he still alive. The conversations between the two of them came the same way they would have if the dad was still alive, though Ben feels a bit more free to speak his mind.

I think the shift into magical realism was tempered by the historical setting, so it didn’t seem like too much of a genre switch. I interviewed my agent about marketing books that seem different, and how she does that when trying to sell my stories- you can read that post here.

Simon & Schuster has published all three of your novels; how has your relationship with your editor evolved over time? Is he/she instrumental in developing new story ideas, or do you pitch a story once you’ve already fleshed it out?

I had the same fabulous editor for my first three books, and she and I became more and more comfortable in knowing what the other person needed to make the best book possible. I develop story ideas with my agent, then show my editor fleshed-out pages and a summary once it’s time to pitch a new idea.

My next book, UNDER THE BOTTLE BRIDGE, will be out next fall and is the first book with my new editor. It’s an autumn story set in a modern artisan village that has a heavy focus on traditional arts. The main character, Minna, comes from a long line of woodworkers. It’s full of covered bridges, looming deadlines, mysterious bottle messages, and family legacies! 

With three books published and a fourth scheduled to hit shelves in September, you are an incredibly productive writer! What does your “typical” day look like?

Aw, thank you! As a mom to two young kids, I write in spurts, whenever the opportunity presents itself. There’s no typical day writing-wise, but I’ve found that writing plot notes and bits of dialogue on post-its or notebooks is something I consistently do that really helps me stay focused when I do get time to draft.

Finally, a speed round!

Coffee or tea?  Coffee

Sweet or salty?  Salty

Dog or cat?  Dog (though I have a cat :))

Plotter or pantser?  Pantser

E-book or physical book?  Physical book

Jessica, thank you for dropping by! 

Thank you so much for having me!

Jessica Lawson is the author of The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher, a book that Publishers Weekly called “a delightfully clever debut” in a starred review, and Nooks & Crannies, a Junior Library Guild Selection and recipient of three starred reviews. Her latest middle grade novel, Waiting for Augusta, is also a Junior Library Guild Selection. You can learn more about Jessica on her website  or at Simon & Schuster

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.

The Radius of Us

Marie Marquardt is the author of two YA novels. Her first, Dream Things True, is a gorgeous coming-of-age story that gives voice to the undocumented immigrant experience. On the jacket, author Jennifer Mathieu describes the story as one that will “forever change the way you view those who live their lives in the shadows” and I have to agree—Marie’s stories should be required reading for children and adults alike.

Today, Marie joins us to celebrate the release of her second novel, The Radius of Us. Marie, welcome to The Winged Pen and congratulations on your new release! Tell us about The Radius of Us.

The Radius of Us is a love story about two teenagers who struggle to overcome their past and become survivors together. Gretchen was a victim of assault robbery who suffers debilitating panic attacks. When the story opens, she sees Phoenix chasing a dog through a neighborhood park. She mistakes him for her attacker and then feels incredibly guilty and embarrassed about it (as she should!).

Phoenix is an eighteen-year-old university student who took his little brother and fled a dangerous community in El Salvador, after gang members threatened to take their lives. He and his brother were separated at the U.S./ Mexico border, and he was sent to detention. Now he’s living in a posh Atlanta suburb with a kind couple (He calls them “sweet, churchy lesbians”). They found him a lawyer, got him out of detention, and took him in.

As Phoenix struggles to be reunited with his brother and get permission to stay in the United States, he and Gretchen develop a deepening connection. But the shared past experiences that improbably link them also have the potential to tear them apart.

One of the common threads in both Dream Things True and The Radius of Us is that they feature characters who seem to have nothing in common but end up developing deep and compelling relationships; why is this theme important to you?

I think this is the most important theme – not only for my books, but for life! When people with diverse backgrounds and identities seek the things we share in common, we develop real, complex relationships. It’s only inside these relationships that we can honestly explore our differences and the dynamics of power that shape them. With trust and understanding, we can begin to challenge those insidious systems that work to keep us apart.

Your stories are fiction, yet they ring undeniably “true”––is this a case of writing what you know?

Yes, it is. I have been working with immigrants from Latin America for a couple of decades now, as an academic researcher, friend and advocate. My second book, The Radius of Us, builds on my work with asylum-seekers in detention, through a non-profit that called El Refugio. We visit with men who are detained at the Stewart Detention Center in southwest Georgia. Since about 2013, the government has been sending young asylum seekers from Central America, who were detained at the U.S./ Mexico border, to Stewart while they await their asylum hearings. I have spent many hours talking on the phone through the glass with teenagers like Phoenix – mostly listening. I wrote this book because I wanted a way to honor their stories – and to thank them for trusting me enough to share them.

One of the things that I always find fascinating is each author’s path to publication; would you please share yours?

My path was rocky, winding, and steep. If I didn’t care so much about getting these stories out into the world, I would have quit years ago!

For me, the biggest challenge was finding an agent. That took about a dozen revisions on my first manuscript and many dozens of queries. Once I found my agent, things started to fall into place. I am incredibly fortunate to have a talented, committed agent (Erin Harris at Folio Literary Management) who is both my fierce advocate and my careful critic.

Your illustrator, Carlos Alfredo Morataya, has a special story of his own. Can you share a little of his journey with us?

I met Carlos through a mutual friend and I asked if he’d be interested in the project. The moment I saw Carlos’ first sketch, I knew I had found the perfect illustrator.

What I didn’t know was how may similarities there were between Carlos’ own journey and that of my book’s characters. Carlos was orphaned at age 8 and he came to the U.S. from Guatemala at age 18. He’s been through a great deal in his short life, and he’s a remarkable person. He now studies art education at University of North Georgia. I know he will accomplish great things!

And finally, a fun question to round out the interview. If you could cast the main characters in The Radius of Us to appear in a feature film, who would you choose?

I’d love for Phoenix to be played by a Salvadoran actor. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many in the U.S. to choose from who are the right age. Kevin Hernandez is great—still a little young, but by the time a movie goes into production, he might be ready!

Bonny Wright would make a great Gretchen —but I’m not sure anyone will ever see her as anything but Ginny Weasley, plus I wouldn’t want fans of Harry Potter to hate Phoenix for stealing his wife. Harry Potter fans tend to be intense.

Marie, thanks for your time! 

Marie Marquardt is author of young adult novels, The      Radius of Us and Dream Things True, as well as a college  professor at Emory University, and an immigration    advocate. She is also the co-chair of El Refugio, a Georgia  non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their  families. She has been interviewed on National Public  Radio, Public Radio International, and BBC America, among many other media outlets. Visit her website at www.mariemarquardt.com and follow her on Twitter: @MarieFMarquardt and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MarieMarquardtAuthor.

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.