February Four on 400 Feedback

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

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

 

Tainted Seeds, Young Adult, Contemporary Suspense, Chapter 1

Bree turned back to her older sister, who lagged behind despite her longer strides. Lily’s Adidas sneakers scuffed the cracked sidewalk with each unhurried step through the deserted neighborhood.

“What a waste of a summer day,” Lily said once she caught up.

“Come on, this is important to me.” Bree pressed the voter pamphlets protectively against her sweaty Say No to GMOs T-shirt. She’d spent the entire week mapping a route and rehearsing her speech. The least Lily could do was be more cheerful.

Her sister flicked her blond hair over her blistering, red shoulder. “You’re always chasing rainbows and leprechauns. No one’s going to vote for higher taxes to buy lettuce and light bulbs for schools.”

Bree forced a laugh. “People just need to be educated,” she said, but her voice had lost some of its earlier conviction as she took in yet another row of bungalows with peeling paint and weed-covered lawns.

“Aren’t you tired of having doors slammed in your face? It’s your sixteenth birthday. We could go to the mall, and I could help you spend that birthday check.”

Her sister had a point. Few residents in their working class town could afford much beyond the basics, and their resistance to change was only one of a thousand reasons she needed to get out of Boren Valley—or Boring Valley as she and her best friend Madeleine called it. Too bad she was tied up with camp counselor training today. She would’ve been more encouraging.

“I’m never going to make a difference around here.” Bree sighed. “Don’t know why I even bother.”

Lily bumped Bree affectionately and changed her tone. “Hey, that’s what makes you, you. It’s in your DNA.”

Bree fiddled with the glossy leaflets. “You’re not like me. And I’m nothing like Mama-Meri.”

“Nope. You must’ve gotten your ‘drive and determination’ from Mr. Banks.” Lily snickered as they climbed the crumbling steps to the next house. “And the stubbornness that’s always getting you in trouble too.”

Bree rolled her eyes. Mr. Banks was code for their shared sperm donor. All her differences from the rest of her family had been attributed to him from her darker coloring to her curves to her book smarts.

An elderly woman opened the door. With her hunched spine, she was even shorter than Bree.

Lily thrust a pamphlet into her wrinkled hand.

Kristi: There’s a lot to love here. Lots of little seeds have been planted that are sure to play into the suspense aspect of the story. My biggest overall comment is that I find this all very telling instead of showing. Bree is already wearing a Non GMO t-shirt and passing out pamphlets, so we don’t need an overload of details about her and her mission. The paragraph about the town was also too telling. I thought the details of the weeds in the yard and peeling paint were so perfect–THAT shows me the neighborhood! Having said that, I do really like these girls and I really have an idea of who both of them are. Kudos for creating two great characters!

Gita: Nice opening! You’ve done a great job, in a very short amount of time, of creating two distinct characters, each with her own personality and a shared backstory. Knowing that it’s YA suspense, I’d love more details to create an even more ominous feeling. So far the only details that read ‘suspense’ to me were the deserted neighborhood and crumbling steps. A signal characteristic of suspense is the feeling that something vital to the character’s well-being is at stake. Could you amp that feeling up—and create more tension about whatever that something is—in these opening lines? The more of that you have, the more hungrily your reader will turn the page. Good luck!

Halli: Thank you for sharing! This genre is one of my favorites. I loved the descriptions of the neighborhood: cracked sidewalk, peeling paint, and weed-covered lawns. That shows so much about the socio-economics of the neighborhood and how it contrasts with Bree’s mission. You did a nice job giving us a peek at Bree and Lily, with their clothing and comments, however, I agree with Kristi and Gita that some parts are too telling. I would like to see less telling – give us just enough to let us get a feel for each character –  then add a little suspense. At the beginning, that’s what the reader is there for. Thanks and good luck!

Karin:  Lots of great stuff here from the topic of GMOs to their sperm-donar father and intrigued to learn how you will play the two off! I agree you can cut some of the telling, which will also work to make it more suspenseful.  Bree’s mission can also be a little clearer as we learn she’s distributing voter pamphlets and she has a T-shirt against GMOs, but then Lily mentions  light bulbs in the schools. But you can show this later when she introduces herself to the elderly woman. One way you could tighten and hook the reader is cut paragraphs 2-5, so second paragraph would be “Aren’t you tired of having doors slammed in your face?” which I love! Remember you don’t need to tell the reader everything–you want us to be curious about finding out what’s going to happen. Thank you sharing this with us!

 

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YA Reads Author Bash: Gwen Katz

Gwen C Katz’s book, Among the Red Stars, has been so highly acclaimed and once you read the synopsis you’ll understand why!

World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.

Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines.

As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.

Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, learning to fight for yourself, and the perils of a world at war.

If you could only use movie titles to pitch your book, which two movies would you choose?

Saving Private Ryan meets A League of Their Own, maybe?

What was the timeline of your publishing journey from query to agent all the way to published book?

My story is pretty typical. I spent about a year querying before I got an agent and then another year on submission before I got an offer from an editor. I was a Pitch Wars alternate and I did a lot of pitch contests, but I ended up getting an agent the old-fashioned way.

 

A few rapid fire questions:

Coffee or Tea?

Tea (usually herbal)

Current obsession?

Lizards

Book recommendation:

Wait, one book? Well, I’m currently reading Nothing but Sky by Amy Trueblood and it’s phenomenal! It comes out on March 27 and I think anyone who enjoyed Among the Red Stars will love it.

I love Amy Trueblood! I’m also pretty excited about her book. So jealous you’re reading it now. Thanks for letting us host you and thanks to Ya Reads for highlighting so many authors. 

If you’d like to know more about Gwen you can find her here: 

Twitter

Goodreads

Facebook

Website

Meet Brock Shelley from What Book Hooked You? Podcast

 

The best people I know are people who start conversations and promote the creative things other people are doing. With my debut recently out in the world I owe so much to everyone who read, blogged, reviewed and posted about it. One way I want to reciprocate is by

introducing you all to Brock Shelley. He’s the creator of the What Book Hooked You? Podcast. It’s an informal chat about books and writing with YA and MG authors. Normally, I talk too fast and muddle up my words or start on a tangent, but Brock is one of those people who just puts you at ease and brings out a great conversation.

I love listening to podcasts, but I wouldn’t know the first thing about starting one. Do you want to tell us a little of the how’s and why’s you started What Book Hooked You?

Like you, I’m a big fan of podcasts. I can’t remember that last time I got in the car and turned on the radio. I always have podcasts on as I drive. I especially enjoy those focused around long form interviews. With my love of books and writing I couldn’t find a podcast that focused on author interviews that I really enjoyed. So I started exploring what it would take to start my own.

What’s been the biggest challenge of the podcast?

I would like to think of myself as tech savvy but there were many new facets to creating and releasing a podcast, in terms of understanding feeds, hosting, and sound editing. Once I became comfortable with that side of things, the next and on-going challenge was finding and reaching out to authors and book people I’d like to have on the podcast.

What’s been the biggest reward of the podcast?

I feel fortunate that so far I’ve been able to have so many great guests. I’ve loved hearing about the books that have meant so much to guests. With the authors it’s been interesting to listen to their individual journeys. The books that have inspired them, their writing process, challenges they’ve faced in their quest to share stories with others and be a published author.

You aren’t just into your podcast, you write as well. What do write and how in the world do find the time?

I do write and what will happen with that in the future, only time will tell. I tend to write coming-of-age stories that lean heavily into the category of YA, contemporary narratives that typically have a thread of magical realism.

It’s interesting how motivating this podcast has been in my life. While the setting up, conducting, and then posting podcast episodes take time, by having these conversations about books and writing I’ve found the number of books I’m reading and the amount of writing I’m producing have greatly increased. I can’t explain where all this time came from but I’m certainly not complaining.

I’d actually like to ask you one of your own questions. In our interview you asked me my favorite book-to-movie adaptations. Labyrinth spilled out of my mouth. It’s one of the most memorable and still enjoyable movies I’ve watched since forever. So, what’s your favorite adaptation and why?

As I mentioned I really like coming-of-age stories, so film adaptations like The Outsiders, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and The Virgin Suicides I consider to be great films. But my all-time favorite move based on a book is Stand By Me, which is taken from Stephen King’s novella, The Body. It always reminded me of my childhood and the cast is amazing. It is probably the movie I’ve watched the most.

This has been fun, Brock. I can’t wait to hear more from you and your podcast. If you, dear readers, want to find out what the podcast is all about here are the links:

Website

Twitter

The podcast for Apple IOS

The podcast on Android

Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out now with Simon & Schuster BFYR.

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Interview with Melissa Roske Author of KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN

Melissa Roske is the author of KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN She completely embodies the MG writing community because she’s about the friendliest and most supportive person you will meet. Before I talk to Melissa, here’s more about her book: 

Eleven-year-old Kat Greene has a lot on her pre-rinsed plate, thanks to her divorced mom’s obsession with cleaning. When Mom isn’t scrubbing every inch of their Greenwich Village apartment, she’s boiling the silverware or checking Kat’s sheets for bedbugs. It’s enough to drive any middle schooler crazy! Add friendship troubles to the mix, a crummy role in the school play, and Mom’s decision to try out for “Clean Sweep,” a competitive-cleaning TV game show, and what have you got? More trouble than Kat can handle—at least, without a little help from her friends.

I’m so excited about this book, Melissa! I recently finished OCDaniel and it’s definitely one of those books that has stuck with me. You also tackle OCD in your book and it’s both personal to you and underrepresented in MG lit. 

Would you like to let us know how OCD has played a part in your life and how it inspired Kat’s story?

This may sound strange, but OCD played a huge part in my life while I was growing up, but I didn’t know it. Let me explain. My dad used to check the locks on the front door, as well as the gas jets on the stove, over and over, especially before he went to sleep at night. I figured he was just being careful, but I now know he had OCD. Even stranger, it wasn’t until I was done writing the book that I realized that the mom in the story, who has a cleaning compulsion, is actually based on my dad. It honestly hadn’t occurred to me, at least not on a conscious level. My dad, however, in addition to being a “checker,” is the opposite of Kat’s mom. He is extremely messy and keeps everything. I actually found an expired credit card in his wallet from 1998! I have some OCD symptoms too, like the need to have my window shades fixed at a certain level, and feeling uncomfortable if a drawer is left open or a cabinet door is ajar. Still, I wouldn’t say my OCD adversely affects my life. It’s just annoying, and disconcerting at times. To my family, and to myself.

You’ve had a pretty prolific career from an advice columnist to a life coach. What was it that made you choose writing as your next career?

I’d always been interested in writing, especially creative writing, but it wasn’t until I was working as a life coach, helping my clients achieve their goals, that I realized I wasn’t achieving my goal: to write a novel. So I hired my own life coach, the amazing Sara Lewis Murre, and got down to work. Sara helped me to stay on track by holding me accountable for my writing goals. She suggested, for instance, that I establish a regular writing routine, using a timer for each session. I wasn’t allowed to leave my chair until the timer dinged! I also tried to adhere to a daily word count, which helped. Little by little, the words added up until I had an 80,000-word novel. It was chick-lit novel that ended up in my drawer, but that’s beside the point, isn’t it? 

How long did it take you to complete KAT?

As above, KAT was not my first book. My first book was a chick-lit novel called Good Girls Don’t Go Commando. I suspect the title was better than the book, because I was unable to obtain literary representation. Several agents actually liked the premise and requested pages, but apparently chick lit was “dead” and nobody thought the book would sell. Keeping that in mind, I decided to try my hand at another genre: middle-grade fiction. I wrote the first draft back in 2011. It was only 100 pages long, but I knew I had something I could work with, so I did another draft. And another. And then another. A billion drafts later (!), I started querying agents. Within a year I had representation, but the manuscript didn’t sell and my agent and I parted ways. I then rewrote the novel from top to bottom, changed the title, and started querying all over again. This time I found an agent who was able to sell the manuscript. I signed the contract with Charlesbridge in 2015.

What’s been the most surprising (or maybe frustrating) thing about the process of getting published?

How long everything takes. There’s a lot of waiting involved, which can be very, very frustrating. Still, I remind myself that waiting is part of the process, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Unfortunately, patience isn’t one of my strong points, so I need a lot of reminding!

I hear ya! And I think everyone in the query trenches can attest to this too. Thanks for joining us and all the best with KAT now out in the world!

If you want to know more about Melissa or her book, check her out here:
WebsiteFacebook / TwitterGoodreads

and her book here:

Amazon/ Barnes & Noble/ IndieBound/ Goodreads  

 

 

Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE.

August #Fouron400 Contest Window is 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 4th of August, 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 July 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 July 5th, so don’t wait––enter now! Good Luck!

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BRAVE NEW GIRLS #STEM Anthology: Inspiration for Future Female Engineers/Scientists

Releasing Today, August 1st, 2017!!!

Brave New Girls: Stories of Girls Who Science and Scheme is a collection of 22 stories about brainy young heroines who use their smarts to save the day. Edited by author Mary Fan, the anthology’s goal is to inspire girls (ages 12+) to study science and engineering. Even better, proceeds from the anthology fund scholarships for women through the Society of Women Engineers. The first Brave New Girls anthology, released in 2015, has provided several thousands of dollars’ worth of scholarships. Hopefully, this new anthology will provide many, many more, enabling more young women to pursue STEM careers!

 

Check out this fun Book Trailer for the anthology!

 

Also visit the Brave New Girls website!

Here are a few quick links where you can purchase the anthology to inspire all the #STEM girls in your life. And don’t forget, proceeds from the sale of the anthology provide scholarships for women to study engineering through the Society of Women Engineers, so please spread the word!!!!

Amazon

Barnes & Noble  

Indiebound

Quail Ridge Books (Raleigh, NC)

GoodReads

We’ve invited two authors from the anthology, the Winged Pen’s Michelle Leonard and fantasy author Karissa Laurel, to talk about women in science and science fiction.

I’d love to know how each of you ended up being passionate about women of science? What sparked the story you wrote for the anthology?

Karissa:  In my careers, I’ve tended to pursue the artistic and creative (not that there isn’t room for creativity in science and vice versa). However, I was raised by a woman of science. My mom was a biology major in college and spent years working as a cytologist. When I was in elementary school, she decided to change careers and went back to school to learn how to be a computer programmer—this was in the mid-to-late 80s. At the time, I didn’t understand it was rare for women to make that kind of career choice. I simply thought my mom could do anything she put her mind to. She’s always inspired me, and only as I get older do I realize what a pioneer she was.

Michelle:  I fell in love with science when I took high school chemistry. Everyone else hated our teacher. She was stern, like a drill sergeant, not at all warm. But Mrs. Davis was the smartest person I’d ever met, and she was black. Her fierceness and passion for science made an immediate impression on me (picture the Beyoncé of Chemistry, without all the razzle-dazzle). I became infatuated with learning everything Mrs. Davis could possibly teach me. We became good friends, even though she remained very stern, and distant, only referring to me by my last name. I often stayed after school to help her set up the next day’s lab, or I would grade tests and homework for her. She insisted that I should become an engineer and asked my guidance counselor to help me land an after-school job to make sure I’d have enough money to go to college.

The main character in my story, a biracial fifteen-year-old named Nina Jessup, is a mash-up of my chemistry teacher and me. Nina uses the blue LED technology I developed as an engineer to fight against something that has deeply troubled me and that I’ve fought against my entire life: racism.

Mrs. Davis has long since passed, but I’ve always felt indebted to her for her inspiration. I’m not a teacher, but I’ve always wanted to do what she did for me for someone else. This story is one attempt to do just that.

What are some science-girl clichés you’d love to see squashed and do you have a book or movie recommendation that does it well?

Karissa:  The first that comes to mind is the “Velma” cliché—yes, Velma from Scoobie Doo. Women in science are often portrayed as nerdy, stiff, robotic, and cold. Despite its flaws, the new Ghostbuster’s movie with Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon made me unbelievably happy because it represented a group of women with disparate and varying personalities all brought together by their passion for science. It took the women who are usually given “sidekick” status and made them the protagonists and heroes.

Michelle:  I whole-heartedly agree with Karissa, but I also get annoyed seeing female scientists portrayed as hot scientists because it’s the twisted trope, the opposite of a “Velma,” and diminishes respect for females in the profession. I’m also not a fan of mad scientists, especially in children’s literature, because it gives kids the wrong impression about science. Hello, does anyone want their child to grow up to be an evil genius? Most scientists save lives and work passionately to make the world a better place. Hidden Figures is a wonderful example of a movie/book showing the obstacles real scientists, especially women and minorities, face every day in their quest to advance knowledge for society and to protect our Earth and all its precious creatures. Those are the stories about scientists that kids need to hear.

Now, a bit of fun.

Time machine to travel back and forth in time or ability to stop & restart time at your will?

Karissa:  Dozens of books and movies have taught me that messing with the past or future is dangerous, and it’s impossible to calculate the consequences. Maybe killing Hitler before he came into power, or saving JFK from assassination, might have made the world a better place. But how are we to know it wouldn’t have made it worse in some way? I think I’d like to be able to stop and restart time. Now that I’m a mother with a teenager, it seems like the days are flying by. He’s growing up too fast, and I’m growing older too fast. I’d love to be able to slow time down, on occasion.

Michelle:  I’m with Karissa in believing that messing with the past could have unintended consequences, but I would do anything to be able to flash back to 1938, right as nuclear fission was discovered, to prevent the development the atomic bomb. The devastation at Hiroshima would be erased. I’d love to be able to stop and start time too. I could squeeze so much more reading in that way. *wiggles eyebrows.

Magical powers or computer brain?

Karissa:  I think what looks like magic is often just science that we don’t yet understand. I love that magic offers so many possibilities and would probably choose that answer, but having a computer brain, if it were big enough and complex enough, might serve the same purpose. With magic, maybe I could heal a person’s cancer. With a computer brain, maybe I could come up with a cure. Both powers come with a great need for responsibility and a strong moral ethos, however. To quote Stan Lee: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Michelle:  Scary news alert! We already have the technology to computerize our brains. So far, it’s being used mostly for medical purposes, but the possibilities are limitless and truly frightening. Magic, on the other hand? Yes, please sign me up!

You guys are the best! This was too fun.

Karissa Laurel lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky named Bonnie. Some of her favorite things are coffee, chocolate, and super heroes. She can quote The Princess Bride verbatim. On weekends, you can find her at flea-markets hunting for rusty things to re-use and re-purpose. She is the also the author of The Norse Chronicles, an adult urban fantasy series based on Norse mythology; and The Stormbourne Chronicles, a young adult fantasy and steampunk series. More information about those is available at her website. You can also connect with Karissa on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

Michelle Leonard was born to be a math and science nerd. After spending over ten years working with an engineering dream team developing commercial blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs), she escaped the world of seventy-hour workweeks. Nowadays, when Michelle’s not tinkering on her teleporter for transporting her talented daughters to important gigs or pushing books into young readers’ hands at her local Indie bookstore, she’s turning outlandish thoughts into stories for young readers. She lives with her science-savvy husband, three inspiring daughters, and a border collie who hates numbers. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.

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Interview with Darshana Khiani

I’m excited to introduce all of you to Darshana. She is the mastermind behind the blog Floweringminds.com where she features authors and promotes diversity in kidlit. My kind of gal.

Hi, Darshana! I’m excited to get to know you better because we share a love of Richard Scarry and Blondie. That pretty much sums up my childhood!

I’d like to focus on diversity since that’s what you advocate. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen recently in books for children.

Thank you very much for having me. I’m happy to be discussing diversity here.

Ever since the We Need Diverse Books organization came onto the scene in 2014, there has been an uptick in diverse books being published, more discussions on the topic of diversity at conferences, and publishers understanding the need for sensitivity readers. It is an exciting time; I hope this momentum continues and doesn’t get relegated to a trend. We are a diverse nation and our children’s literature should continue to reflect that.

What are some changes you project to be in the pipelines in the future?

I would like to see the continued breadth of stories within the various diverse categories. This will help break down stereotypes and give readers a richer experience. Nigerian author, Chimamada Adiche, gave an eloquent speech on “The Danger of a Single-Story”. Her talk struck a chord with me, as I remembered having to defend and explain my summer holidays in Kenya and India to fellow students when I was a child. Looking back, can I blame my classmates for their unawareness when the only images they saw of those countries were of malnourished, poor, and hungry children on fundraising infomercials? Within any diverse group, there will be a range of people and experiences and it is important for there to be a body of literature to show the full spectrum.

With the political climate being what it is today, there is a need for books where multiculturalism is at the forefront, discussing inclusivity and understanding. As our nation’s awareness increases, I hope we can see more stories with diverse characters where the primary focus is a universal truth and the multicultural part is secondary.

Are there any topics you’d love to read about that you haven’t read yet?

While there is a lot of discussion around racial, gender, religious diversity and neurodiversity, there isn’t much about economic diversity. There has been a smattering of books in MG and YA dealing with economic hardship but not enough. Back in 2008, I remember watching a 60 Minutes segment about the high percentage of homeless kids in Florida wondering if there were books that reflected their reality. Recently, there was a picture book, STILL A FAMILY by Brenda Sturgis, that had a lovely message of still being a family even though the father had to stay at a men’s shelter while the young daughter and mother were at the women’s shelter. Katherine Applegate’s MG novel, CRENSHAW, touched on childhood hunger.

Across the various diverse groups there has been an increase of books coming out in the YA and MG categories, but I’d like to see that diversity also reflected in both Picture Books and Early Chapter Books.

What’s your dream book that you’d like to read or even write?

As for my dream book to read, I’ll let you know once I find it. As for writing, one of the things on my writing bucket list is to create a modern rendition of the Akbar and Birbal Indian folktales. I loved the wit and wisdom in those stories.

What are you working on now?

Currently, I’m learning the craft of early chapter books as I try to convert one of my picture book South Asian characters into the longer format. I’m also constantly writing and revising picture books.

Also, I know you work with the We Need Diverse Books campaign as a picture book application reader. Do you have any advice for authors writing PBs?

Perfect timing! The We Need Diverse Books organization is currently accepting applications for readers until the end of August. Whether you are a picture book writer or a novelist, I highly recommend taking advantage of any opportunity that has you reading many stories in the category that you write. You will gain an appreciation of how fresh, original, and well-crafted a story needs to be in order to stand out.

 Additionally, for picture book writers, I would recommend reading as many current picture books as possible. I read about 250 a year. When I started back in 2011, the focus was on character-driven stories, then quirky and subversive – the market is constantly changing. Finally, of course: write, write, write. Picture books are a bit of a numbers game. The more stories you have out there, the better shot you have at something getting picked up. Kate Messner wrote an awesome post a while back titled “Picture Book Math”, where she discusses her productivity over a year.

On that note, I had better get back to my stories! Happy Writing!

Thank you so much, Darshana for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share with us. 

You can find out more about Darshana on her blog, twitter, Instagram: @dkwriter and Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/floweringminds/

Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out August 15th 2017 with Simon & Schuster BFYR. She is represented by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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4 on 400 July 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.

 

Working Title: Gravenhurst, Upper MG Fantasy

CHAPTER 1—EVERETT

            Everett opened his hotel room’s closet door, glancing at the mirror that reflected his sleepy eyes and blond, bed-head hair. His reflections in the mirror hanging on the other door directly behind him followed the previous one, but instead of getting smaller they were all the same size. And, one of the reflections was an ugly, yellow-green face. He rubbed his eyes. This shouldn’t be.

            He looked again, no strange face glared back. What’s going on? Another one of his imagi-morning experiences. Every morning for the past week he’d seen the strange, ugly green face. He thought it was because he was hungry or maybe because he was not sleeping as well as he did in his own bed.

            Hunger. That’s what it was.

He shrugged, and reached for a shirt.

A large black bat exploded out of the closet. Its wings brushed Everett’s head, then it circled above him.

            “Get away!” Everett ducked, waving his arms wildly as he ran around the around the room, avoiding the circling bat.

            The bat, about the size of a dove, with weird, oversized, red eyes, hovered near the ceiling. Everett stood still. His heart pounded and his chest heaved from huge gulps of air. He grabbed a wooden hanger and swung at the bat, missing each time. It moved faster than any bat Everett had ever seen as it flew toward the suite’s sitting room at the end of the hall. When he got there, the bat was gone. It had to be hiding. He poked the hanger behind a dark blue velvet couch, four wingback chairs, and matching dark blue velvet drapes.

Nothing.

            Bats couldn’t just disappear. Or … appear…

Everett wouldn’t have been as startled if the bat was in their barn back in Michigan. Besides, how could a bat that size get inside a downtown London hotel? The windows couldn’t be opened.

And something else …

Those large, bright red eyes that had followed his every move.

            Everett checked his photographic memory, mentally paging through each science book and nature magazine. Bats’ eyes were black or brown, but the cones inside the eyes reflected red from a flashlight. There were no red eyed bats … and no flashlight.

            After several slow, deep breaths, Everett noticed a pink sticky note on the coffee table:

Meet us in the restaurant downstairs.

Tell Jillian to hurry up.

Mom.

Jessica Vitalis: What an interesting opening; thanks for sharing! I love the idea of a bat attacking a boy in a London hotel room and appreciated the details you used (velvet couch and wingback chairs, etc.). The first couple of paragraphs didn’t necessarily do their job in terms of pulling me in to the story; my suggestion would be to start with Everett opening the closet door in the hotel and having the bat swoop out at him–maybe he even has the imagi-morning experience as his gaze sweeps past the mirror but it’s within the context of trying to get this bat out of his room (i.e. a passing glance in the mirror), which I think could be expanded quite a bit before revealing that the bat disappears. The action will suck us in and you can layer in details as far as traveling and not sleeping well, etc. as the action unfolds. Good luck!

Julie Artz: I’d love to read a MG fantasy about a boy with a photographic memory and a quirky voice (loved the “imagi-morning experiences”), but I agree with Jessica that this opening didn’t draw me in as much as I wished it had. Starting with a mirror felt a little cliche and jumping between the yellow-green face and the bat felt like too much for the opening scene. I wasn’t sure where my attention was supposed to be focused. I’d like to know a little bit more about what Everett wants in this scene–is he worried someone else will see the bat or that he’ll get in trouble? Why is he chasing it? What is he going to do now that it has disappeared? Maybe slow down a bit and immerse us more in this bat scene as a set-up for whatever is going to come next. Good luck!

Gabrielle Byrne: I think you’re on the right track with your active verbs and sharing some setting details (I also liked the wingback chairs), but it feels too busy to me. I think it may be that you’ve started in the wrong place, which happens a lot with drafting, to authors at all stages. I think we need to bond more with Everett–care more about him, to care about these weird things he’s experiencing. Who is he, and why is he in London instead of Michigan, and how does he feel about being there? If he’s been having these experiences the last few days, what’s that doing to him? We know he’s tired, but what is that like for him, and is he scared to look in the mirror–afraid of it happening again? Try backing the scene up a little, to when he’s thinking about just getting up, since he can’t sleep anyway. Play with this first page and try writing it a few different ways, focusing down on what it would be like to be Everett and what’s at stake for him in these first few moments. Good luck!

Marty Mayberry: What a creative premise! I love the idea of a yellow-green face in the mirror and a red-eyed bat bursting from the closet. You’ve done a great job describing the scene, as well as feeding in little details about Everett, without making this feel cumbersome. As others have noted, that first paragraph didn’t draw me in as much as I’d hoped. Starting with action (seeing the ugly, yellow-green face in the mirror) felt rushed. My preference is to be introduced to a character before things start to happen to him. I also wasn’t sure of Everett’s age in this initial scene. The fact that he was alone in a hotel room led me to believe Everett was an adult. Perhaps backing up and starting with an introduction to Everett and why he is alone in the hotel room (i.e., his parents are waiting downstairs, he has to hurry or xx will happen, etc.) will help ground the reader. Then you can introduce the face/bat. All the best with this!

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MYC: Finding Your Voice

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 character development with a warning to not let our friends write bad books!!

This week we’ll tackle the ever-elusive craft of VOICE!

Some of you may ask: Why is voice part of character development?

Well, friend, I’m soooo glad you asked. I once put the question to my Winged Pen peeps: What comes first, voice or plot? I truly thought it was one or the other that came first to any and everyone. I was so surprised when only two of us chose voice as our starting point.

Regardless of how you tackle writing a story, I stand by developing your character’s voice early on in the process. A strong voice will draw your readers in and make your story memorable. Voice sets the tone and creates opportunities for your character to take on the plot headfirst.

Articles and books often portray voice in a vague you’ve-got-it-or-ya-don’t kind of element. Everyone has a voice, it’s a matter of uncovering yours. Here are a few pointers how:

 

Do: Don’t:
1. Know your character well. (age, worldview, family dynamics, academic abilities, etc.) Interviewing is very helpful!! 1. Stereotype
2. Monologue (either out loud or on paper) 2. Confuse accents or colloquialism with voice
3. Read & re-read books with voice you love—Hound Dog True by Linda Urban and The Tiger Rising by Kate Dicamillo are a few I turn to. Conversely, pinpoint books/paragraphs you find aren’t authentic in voice and discuss why. 3. Don’t use your character’s culture as a way to add flourishes to their voice (eg. confusing and outlandish metaphors)

Number 3 under Don’ts leads me to what voice is versus what it isn’t:

Voice Is: Voice Isn’t:
1. Compelling 1. Confusing
2. Specific 2. Generic
3. Unique 3. Bland
4. Purposeful 4. Passive
5. Revealing 5. Disjointed

Knowing your character is like having a black and white coloring sheet and voice is the color you add to the picture. Mood, attitudes, personality, worldview all play a part in the colors you choose.

As an author you also have a unique voice. Do you write short, simple sentences? Are you prone to purple prose? Either way, you need to refine your writing and ensure it meets the Do’s and Is’s above. Both forms of writing are effective. Pick up any of Kate Dicamillo books and be wowed by her strong, poignant writing. Then pick up Laini Taylor and fall in love with magically spooky, but oh-so beautiful descriptions.

Your plot may control your character and her voice, but do not underestimate voice. It has the power to drive your plot. When done well, both your plot and your voice will compete in creating a well-developed story.

 

USEFUL TIDBITS FROM THE PROS:

[Voice] can reflect region, ethnicity or historical era as well as character. However, with these variants, a little goes a long way.

Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress

Voice= Person + Tense + Prosody

+ (Diction + Syntax + Tone + Imagination + Details)

Second Sight by Cheryl B. Klein

Once you discover the authenticity within yourself, you can move into all the other voices that inhabit your imagination with an assurance you never before experienced.

The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb

When you are at ease with family and friends, listen for the way you have of expressing ideas, your authentic voice.

The Writer’s Compass by Nancy Ellen Dodd

2 Voice Challenges:

  1. Your characters must have such distinct voices and speech patterns that if I were to take the dialogue tags out of your scenes, I could tell exactly who is speaking.
  2. When I pick up a book with the cover ripped off and no name on the pages, I should be able to read a paragraph and identify you as the author.

Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole

You’re after a particular, distinctive verbalization construct that perfectly conveys how he views the world and how his mind works.

Plot Versus Character by Jeff Gerke

Kristi is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out with S&S BFYR August 2017. She is repped by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.

How to Break Your Resolutions & Live to Tell About It

It’s still January and everyone’s talking about goals. Making goals, keeping goals, how to write your goals and Blah, Blah, Blah!

Actually, I’m a very goal oriented person. I love goals. I make goals to shatter them, not just reach them. BUT 2016 was a bit of a different story.

Shortly after finalizing the edits for my first book, I hit a huge snag. A snag that ripped right through my writing mojo and into all other aspects of my life.

  • I didn’t achieve my Good Reads goal of 60 books (Holy Crap!!! I was reading 100-200 books a year for the past 5 years! In 2016 I couldn’t even manage 1 a week!!!)
  • I wasted spent 8 months trudging through drafts and scribbles of a second manuscript only to agree with my agent that we needed to put it aside and start on another.
  • I failed my NaNoWriMo attempt. I wasn’t even motivated by the chart this year! Usually that rising bar graph is what gets me out of bed in November.
  • I got 0, zip, zilch writing done from mid-November till my kids started their new year on the 3rd of January.

Sure, I could have forced in some writing, but sometimes you just know it’s going to be crap. So I threw myself into some embroidery projects and my girls got me hooked to Dance Moms (don’t judge because all those episodes actually sparked a thread in my incomplete NaNo project).

As you review the month of January or even all of 2016 in preparation for 2017, it’s really important to remember a few things as you create and/or break your resolutions:

  1. Analyze your situation: Are you lacking the motivation or desire to write? Are you being lazy or in a funk? These are important distinctions to make. Sometimes I’m too scared to sit down and write because I know I set up a bunch of question marks for the next day and I’m avoiding rolling up my sleeves and writing through it. Other times, I’m truly, truly in a funk and everything feels stupid and worthless and hopeless.
  2. Don’t make excuses: It’s okay to give yourself a break and pull back when something isn’t working or go make that 20th cup of coffee or meet that friend you haven’t seen in months for lunch, BUT be sure you’re not just giving yourself any old excuse not to get your butt in the chair.
  3. Take the kind of advice you give: Ask yourself, “What would I tell my friend to do in this situation?” And do that. Don’t give in to the funk!
  4. Find people who motivate you and push you: There are too many downward spiraling moments in anyone’s writing journey not to have people to share it with. Writing people are everywhere! Find them!
  5. Don’t take yourself or your goals too seriously: Part of the creative process is the down time it takes to work problems, plots, themes, etc. out. You need to have an end goal. You need to get your butt in the chair, but also: life happens.

So, as you break into 2017 and possibly break a few resolutions, remember it’s okay to fail. View your setbacks as learning opportunities. Take a break, but don’t make excuses.

Happy 2017!

Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out 15th August 2017 with Simon & Schuster BFYR.