8 on Eight September Contest Window is now open!

eight on eight 2Fellow writers! The 8 on Eight contest window is OPEN!

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Q: I must have missed the announcement. What is 8 on Eight? 

A monthly contest that provides one lucky kidlit writer with feedback on their opening eight lines! As part of our ongoing mission to support writers, we’ll give a PB, CB, MG, or YA writer feedback on their work from at least 8 of The Winged Pen’s contributors.

Q: Sounds exciting! How do I enter?

To enter, simply comment at the bottom of this post! At 8pm (EST) on the first day of September, 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 eight lines. On the eighth of the month, the winner’s eight lines, along with the title and genre of the work, will be posted to our blog with feedback from at least 8 of our members. Still have questions? See our 8 on Eight page for additional details.

Remember, the contest window is only open until 8pm EST on September 1st, so don’t wait––enter now!

Best of luck! (And please help spread the word!)

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8 on Eight: August Contest Feedback

eight on eight 2Thank you to all the brave souls who entered this month’s 8 on Eight contest! Sharing your writing takes courage, and we appreciate your enthusiasm for our contest.

If your name wasn’t drawn from the Triwizard cup this time around, keep an eye out for when our next contest window opens at 8 PM on August 31st. Below, we’ve posted the first 8 lines from this month’s winner, along with feedback from at least eight of our members. We also encourage our readers to share their (constructive) suggestions and encouragement in the comments section below.

 

ZACH BEACON STRIKES OUT: Contemporary middle-grade novel

I knocked the dirt from my cleats and glared at the pitcher. “Gimme a fast one, Joey, if you’ve still got it in you.”

“Whatever, man. It’ll be midnight before my arm gets tired.” Joey went into a windup—and fell over laughing.

I’d done my signature bat-waggle butt-wiggle. It gets them every time.

“All right, Zach, knock it off,” said Coach Clark from the dugout.

I rested the bat on my shoulder. “Aw, Coach, we’re just messing around.”

“Zachary!” yelled a voice from the stands. “This is the last day of spring tryouts. Pay attention!”

Jessica: This opening does a good job of pulling me in to a concrete scene. That said, I can’t quite put a finger on Zachary. In the first line, he issues an ultimatum to the pitcher and glares at him, which makes him seem quite intense. But then the butt-wiggle (which I love) tells me he’s a total goofball. My sense is that he’s baiting the pitcher with the first line, but I’m not sure why he would glare, rather than grin or something more consistent with him being a clown. In addition, I wonder about the voice yelling from the stands. It feels as though the voice knows Zachary quite well, which makes me think Zachary would immediately recognize it (Mom or Dad, perhaps?) rather than think of it as “the voice,” which feels unfamiliar. Overall, though, this is a solid opening that would make me want to read on. Nice work!

Michelle: Love your opening! A lot of first-person POV middle-grade opens with the MC telling you a bunch of stuff, but you smartly skipped all of that and pulled us into the scene. You do a great job of giving us glimpses into the MC and his relationship with Joey, which is no easy task within 8 lines. I agree with Jessica that the word glare threw me off, because at first I thought Zachary and Joey were adversaries. But I’m pretty sure they’re buds.

Just a couple of things I want to point out. The sequencing here threw me off.

“Whatever, man. It’ll be midnight before my arm gets tired.” Joey went into a windup—and fell over laughing.

I’d done my signature bat-waggle butt-wiggle. It gets them every time.

I think you need at minimum a paragraph break between Joey’s dialogue and his action since the bat-waggle butt wiggle happens before he falls over. Even better, I think having Joey do something else before the windup would help- like wipe the sweat of his face, adjust his cap, nod with a focussed gaze on Zachary. Also, should the last sentence here say, “It gets him every time?” Or is this a move he always uses on the pitcher?

It would also be nice if we know how the coach reacts to what Zachary says to him before you break to the voice (is this someone he knows?) in the bleachers.

Have you considered writing this in close third POV? I’ve been playing with your words in my head, and I think it would work really well with your story.

I would definitely want to read more! Keep in touch with us about how things go!

Richelle: You have a lot of zing in this opening — I love how it moves. I agree with Jessica that there’s a bit of a disconnect between the glaring, smack-talk Zachary and the butt-wiggle Zachary. While I love both moments, it does feel like two different kids. When we later learn that this is spring try-outs, it made me wonder: Does Zachary take try-outs seriously? Or is he assured a place on the team and so feels comfortable joking around? What about Joey? Is he nervous about making the team? How do their respective attitudes about try-outs color this interaction?

I also agree with Michelle that the sequencing of the pitcher falling over and the butt-wiggle — it threw me off, and I had to read twice to figure out what was happening. And since I love character motivation, I really wanted to know why Zachary was joking around. Is he trying to mess Joey up? Trying to lighten the mood for everyone? Is that his way of shaking off his own tension?

Generally, I would love to see Zachary interacting more within the scene. How  does he respond to Joey’s trash-talk? How does the coach’s gentle rebuke made him feel? What does he want out of this moment — to make the team? To get attention? To get under Joey’s skin? To get try-outs over with?

Thank you for sharing. I love the title, and as a baseball fan, this seems like a very fun read! Can’t wait to hear how it goes!

Halli: Thank you for sharing your work! I am a huge baseball fan and the title grabbed me right away. You have a great opening here, getting us right into the action. Reading this, I felt like I was in the stands watching the kids play. You did a great job of setting the scene with just a few words – I knocked the dirt from my cleats and glared at the pitcher. Even those not familiar with baseball would be able to identify with that.

My comments are pretty much the same as the others. At the beginning, I though Zach was taunting Joey by glaring at him, but come to find later, they are friends or at least friendly acquaintances. Just changing that word will make all the difference.

My other comment is about the order of the sentences involving the butt-wiggle and Joey falling down laughing. They seem out of order so I’m current, then thrown back. As a reader, I prefer to keep moving forward. I am also in agreement about identifying the “voice” from the stands. Unless you have a reason to be mysterious, which we may not know in these eight lines, I would identify that person.

Katharine: I love a MG sports story! Fantastic title, and your MC sounds like loads of fun. I also love that you start us right in the action – perfect! And the butt wiggle dance is hysterical. My son did something similar in his short-lived little league career.

I agree with the other Pennies about the disconnect between the glare aimed at the pitcher and the goofing off behavior. I think it would help if you changed the word glare to something a little more clearly silly and over-the-top, like “shot him my best [insert baseball player – sorry! don’t know baseball!] scowl.” I also found myself a little thrown when I heard it was the last day of spring tryouts, which sounds kind of important and like he wouldn’t be goofing off. Is that right? If so, I hope we get a sense quickly of how Zach is actually feeling – is he goofing off because he’s super nervous? Does he think this is all a joke? Is he trying to impress someone in the crowd? Oh, and I would agree with the others that if that yell from the stands is a parent, he’d identify the voice immediately.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing, and best of luck with it!

Kristi: I love it when a story makes me laugh in the first few lines. Zach’s spunk and goofiness make this instantly engaging. I agree with the previous comments that you can change the sequence of the butt wiggle and then the pitcher falling over. I do like having the coach comment that they need to knock it off, but then I think you need to get back to Zach and focus on him. How is he viewing the situation and the impending tryouts? You’ve drawn us in with a great start, so don’t lose us! This sounds like such a fun read. All the best with it.

Rebecca: I love your MC’s voice and the fact that you’ve started in the middle of the action! Everyone else has already talked about the glare and identifying who “the voice” is so I won’t belabor it. What I think is important here is that it sounds like you have a very strong picture of Zach in your head. Good for you! That’s tough to do, right? But so important. So now your work is to convey that clear picture to your audience, and that’s even harder. Sometimes the only way to see how a reader will react is to share your work, like this, and see where the reader reaction is not what you intended, and make adjustments. I had a best friend smirking at my MC in a first chapter for months before I realized my critique partners thought he was making fun of the MC. But I thought the best friend’s natural reaction to most things was a smirk. He was just a laid back guy that found the humor in everything, even annoying things that happened to his best friend. But figuring out that it was being read differently than I’d intended and fixing it allowed me to convey both characters more strongly.

Great job on your opening lines and best wishes for your progress with the story!

Sussu: Thank you for submitting to The Winged Pen. It takes courage to put your writing out there. Kuddos to you!

This opening, IMO, does a good job setting the mood. It reflects the title well. The opening also does a good job answering the question who? Where? I immediately know what’s going on and I can picture the game easily. The problem is this setting has been used a lot and I wonder how you could make it a little more original.

The conflict is clear though and pulls me in right away. But because the story wants to be funny, the tension I sense in the first sentences disappears completely when Joey laughs. I feel like this is not supposed to be funny because Joey and Zachary are rivals of some sort. Zachary “glares” at Joey and dares him. I feel like the beginning goes in different directions. It’s not grounded enough for me. Also I’m not sure I like that Zach explains himself “We’re messing around.” I’d like him to be more daring. I’d like to see more of his personality breaking through. For example, saying “Let it be, coach!” would make him sound more courageous and more daring. That’s definitely how he appears in the first sentence. Of course the voice has to reflect the age better.

Also, I found the switch between tenses confusing.

What I would recommend for this beginning is 1) to keep everything in one tense.2) Then the actions should appear in the order they happen. 3) I also would like to see the consequences of what Zach does, and the stakes. The beginning could work well as a mini-scene and hook the reader better as such because it would have a beginning, a middle and an end. And we would then want to read more to see what’s going to happen next. Remember that each part of a story (dialogue, scene, chapter) answers a question. What is the question here and is it answered?

EXAMPLE:

I knocked the dirt from my cleats and glared at the pitcher. “Gimme a fast one, Joey, if you’ve still got it in you.”

“Whatever, man. It’ll be midnight before my arm gets tired.” Joey went into a windup.

 I did my signature bat-waggle butt-wiggle. So what? It got them every time.

Joey fell over laughing, missing the ball. Strike.

“All right, Zach, knock it off,” said Coach Clark from the dugout. “You’re done.”

I rested the bat on my shoulder. “Aw, Coach, I can’t be done.”

“Zachary!” yelled my mom from the stands. “This is the last day of spring tryouts. Pay attention!”

Joey cackles.

Seriously, mom!

Thank you for trusting us with your story and good luck in the publishing world.

FOWP Spotlight Interview! Featuring Gabrielle

Those of you who have been following the blog have probably clicked on our bio page to see who we are. But, come on, we all know we’re more than a posed photo and a blurb. We’ve all got families and lives, too. 

I’d like to get to know each of our blog contributors better and decided to start with Gabrielle because we’ve recently swapped some pages and she’s just an overall cool lady!

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Alright, Gabrielle. Our readers can take a look at your bio to find out about you, sure, but I’d like to know more.

Gab: I’m excited to spend time with you, Kristi!

What’s the best thing about where you live?

Gab: Well, I’ve been in the Pacific Northwest for about twenty years now and I love it here. Drive for a day in any direction and you’ll find yourself in a completely different environment, and all of them beautiful. We’re in a small city, but sandwiched between Seattle and Portland, so there’s always lots to do. West is the ocean and to the northwest is the rainforest. Head east and you’ll hit the Cascade mountain range, then the desert. The smell of sagebrush in the rain is a joy. I love the rain, and we’ve got lots of that. There are huge evergreen trees everywhere, and there’s nothing better than watching the Rainier volcano bloom in the sunset. I adore living in the Northwest.

What’s the last book you read?

Gab: A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd. That had been on my list for a while! I also recently read Kraken, by China Mieville. That one gets my weirdest apocalypse story evah award. Loved it though.

Last Song you listened to on repeat:

Gab: Water Song by Takenobu, but I listen to rain all the time and it’s great to write to. If it’s not raining, I’ll often put rain on my computer, or cat purrs.

TV show you’re obsessed with currently: Vikings.

Dinner is on the stove, but the best first line for your WIP pops in your head and if you don’t write it down NOW, you’ll lose it forever…What do you do?

Gab: Oh, I burn dinner. No question. We have dinner every night, but best-ever-first-lines don’t happen every day. Luckily, my family loves me.

You’re packing a bag of books for a desert island, which 5 books make it in the bag? I’d try and bring a variety. My plan would be to memorize them and then tell other stories–prequels and sequels around the fire to all the other survivors. That way, they definitely don’t feed me to the giant spiders, or whatever, as a sacrifice. So, yeah. Gotta have some variety:

The Hills is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith, because it’s funny as all-get-out, and sweet, and it will pick you up out of any funk.

Jane Eyre, because hello, gorgeous classic.

I’d be hard pressed to choose between The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson, and American Gods by Neil Gaimin. Both are dark and rich and complex.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy, by Karen Foxlee for awesomeness, and a setting that just won’t quit.

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier for the scary stuff.

The Bartimaeous Trilogy, by Jonathan Stroud because I love it and that it all. But leaving his Lockwood books would be sooo hard.

I know that’s not five. If my bag’s too heavy, the sunscreen and jeans are out. I figure I’m going to end up in leaves and leather eventually.

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Your writing journey in numbers:

6 manuscripts (maybe 7, depending on what I count) before offer of rep.

5 years in the query trenches

100s of queries sent

Multiple offers

Your current WIP in five words:

Strongarm sisters fight, plus dragons

What’s next for you?

Well, I’m just about done drafting the WIP. That will need to go in front of CPs, and then my agent, for edits. I’m also really looking forward to being a mentor for Pitch Wars!

Let me just say, I’d love to get stuck on an island with you as my storyteller/entertainment! You could really help me amp up the stakes of my own stories. I’m so excited for Pitch Wars and to see this WIP (btw, it’s on my computer NOW and I’m just loving it so far!)
Photo on 3-19-15 at 1.23 PM #2KRISTI WIENTGE is originally from Ohio where she grew up writing stories about animals and, her favorite, a jet-setting mouse. After studying to become a teacher for children with special needs, she spent several years exploring the world from China to England, teaching her students everything from English to how to flip their eyelids inside out before finally calling Singapore home. Now, all her adventures revolve around her four children and within the contemporary MG books she writes. Her debut middle grade novel KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE will release from Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers in summer 2017. You can find her on Twitter.

Book Buying Advice from the Kiddos

Today I’ve teamed up with my eldest daughter, Sylvia , because it’s her 11th birthday. And anyone who knows me knows if it’s your birthday (or any holiday) you’re getting a book from me.

In her earlier days, Sylvia was an easy girl to buy books for. She loved whatever I picked out. Now…. Well, it’s much more difficult. I seriously think it’s easier to buy her clothes than it is to pick out a book that she’ll actually read.

Sylvia nods her head vigorously here. 

So, I’ve decided to interview her and find out what she looks for in a book and how she decides what to read. And because we did this interview at home, one of her sisters, Surjee (9), joined in the conversation.

I’ll give her a chance to describe the books I’ve selected for her in her own words:

Surjee jumping in straight away: Boring.

Sylvia: Boooring! I don’t care. I just act like, “oh wow”, but I never read it. Then when you say, “I read this when I was your age,” I’m like “Yeah right, I’m not reading it now.”

How do you choose a book at the library or bookstore?

Surjee: I judge a book by its cover.

Sylvia: Yes, the cover is important, but it’s mostly the colors I look at.

Surjee: Like Falling In, boring. I mean come on—it’s boots. I never read past the 1st page.

Sylvia: Be glad you didn’t. It didn’t get any better. I read 3 pages.

So what makes you want to read a book?

Sylvia: If a lot of people have read it.

Surjee: If my friends like it.

Sylvia: The size of the words—if it’s too big it looks like a baby book, if it’s too little it just looks like you have to read the whole thing and it’ll take forever.

Surjee: I’ll only read it if it’s medium-sized words AND thickness.

Sylvia: And the last 3 pages better be interesting or I don’t read them. I’m just like, “Oh, I finished reading this.”

But if you’re in the bookstore or the library, how do you know you want to get that book?

Sylvia: I read the 1st page.

Surjee: Sometimes the 1st chapter.

Sylvia: It has to be funny. That’s most important. But also colorful, but not like pink. Not many kids like pink. And it should have an interesting title. Something cool like Dork Diaries because it sounds funny.

What about KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE? Is that a good title? (that’s my book btw…)

Sylvia: It sounds okaaaay…. Mustaches are getting old. People will be like that’s so two years ago. Maybe Karma Khullar’s Instagram Account might be better.

Would you read a book your:

Teacher suggested: NO! (both girls in unison)

Mom suggested: NO! (both girls in unison)

Sylvia: The only thing you suggested that was good was Wonder.

Surjee: Harry Potter is the only book I liked you told me to read.

Yia yia suggested: Depends

Aunts suggested:

Sylvia: Might be weird because our cousins like some weird books… I would just look at the cover and decide. Usually if I don’t like it I just read while they’re there and then hide it on bookshelf like I did when Auntie Erica gave me Anne of Green Gables.

I’m going to email this blog post to the family I hope you know…

What’s your advice to adults buying books for a kid?

Sylvia: -The cover should match the personality of the kids.

-Read the 1st page- shouldn’t sound too formal. Diaries are more interesting.

-What’s going to happen must not be like these fairies are on a mission to find something.

-It can be outrageous or real, as long as it’s funny and interesting.

Surjee: Stick to graphic novels only.

You girls have definitely given me a lot to think about. I’m not sure you’ve really made my shopping any easier, but my take aways from this are:

  1. Before you buy a “classic” (Sylvia deems this any book you read as a kid and are trying to get your own child to read), ask yourself: Have I reread the book in the last 2 years? (you might be surprised how much of the book you didn’t really remember or even like any more.)
  1. The best sellers list is an excellent benchmark, but not the books with awards—those are liken to teacher/parent chosen books. Yes, New York Times Bestseller is MUCH more meaningful to your reader than a Caldecott Medal or Printz Award or a Newbery.
  1. Get the child in your life a gift card from the bookstore and save yourself the stress!

FullSizeRenderSylvia is flawless and can be found reading Dork Diaries when not taking selfies or eating tacos or taking selfies while eating tacos.

IMG_1099 Surjee never leaves home without her wand. When she’s not reading or watching Harry Potter she can be found reading Amulet or Zita the Spacegirl.

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Kristi, their mom, endures the tireless mission of putting good books into their hands.

Interview with MG author Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Hi, Wendy. I’m really excited to talk to you not only because you recently revealed the cover of your debut upcoming book, It’s a mystery, Pig-Face, but also because you’ve got a unique story about how you got there!

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Let’s start with the first question I’ve been dying to ask, how did you make the jump from CEO to author? I kind of imagine you yelling, “I quit!” and storming out of the office!

Ha! It was almost that dramatic (at least to me!) but not quite!

I had written years before and at university and it had always been my dream to write for children. But then I allowed working and having my own children to side-track me. Comments like “You can’t make a living as a writer”, “You have no connections in the industry” and “You don’t have an MFA” also didn’t help my confidence. So I kept working and I rose up through the ranks until I became head of my government’s Department of Education, overseeing a nearly billion dollar budget and hundreds of staff. I was at the top of the game, but I wasn’t happy, because the dream of writing was always there at the back of my mind. My father’s death was my wake-up call and my permission slip. What was I waiting for?

The day I gave notice was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I knew people would think it was foolish to walk away from such a good job to switch careers for something that might never pan out. Then I realized I didn’t care what other people thought. I was going to give this a shot, and I decided to apply the same principles to my new career that had gotten me to the top in my old one:

1) Be willing to change things when I got better information (the key is to become a good writer, not to think your work is so precious it can’t benefit from advice and criticism)
2) Be excellent. I can always tell when I’m cutting corners or being lazy. Cutting corners and being lazy doesn’t equal publication at least for me!
3) Be kind, optimistic, and patient. For the first two years, I had to be my own cheerleader because nothing was happening. I just had to believe the work I was putting into my writing would result in something wonderful. Even more importantly, I had to tell myself this wasn’t a race; others’ success did not mean I wouldn’t also have success.

Once you committed to writing, how many queries did you send out before you found your agent?

Oh the first year was horrendous! I hadn’t written in SO long, the business had changed so much and I lived hundreds of miles away from conferences that could have helped me. So I read tons of books on the craft of writing, took tons of online courses, wrote and rewrote, and hired professionals to give me critiques. It was very humbling to be starting all over again, and I queried WAY too early. I was sure everyone was waiting for my book. They weren’t. After about twenty or thirty queries I stopped, realized I was not following my own principle #2 and did a massive rewrite based on the feedback I was getting. I began to submit again in September 2014. I think I submitted to about 15 agencies that month and almost all of them asked for full or partial manuscripts. Finally, I could see the work I was doing was paying off. The week I signed with my agent, Lauren Galit of LKG Agency, I was in discussions with several other agents to represent me. But I chose Lauren because not only was she smart, she was witty and straightforward. The day Lauren signed me, I cried. It was almost two years after I’d left my old job and finally, I’ had a foot in the door! She sold my book a few months later!

What inspired this book?

The book is a kind of love letter to the small town where I grew up. The kids in our neighbourhood were always looking for mysteries to solve. If we couldn’t find one, we made one up, and not always successfully! Tracy, the main character in It’s a Mystery, Pig Face!, makes a lot of mistakes and assumptions about things based on how she sees the world.

Alright, now that we know you’re not only a super business lady and author, what’s another super power you’d like to add to your troupe?

Singer. I wish I could sing like Adele! Sadly, this one will likely evade me forever! It was not be my third career!

Do you write at night or in the morning?

Morning all the way.

Fill in the blank: I must have ______ when I’m writing.

I must have quiet when I’m writing and I must dither on the computer for exactly fifteen minutes. Don’t ask me why – maybe to get it out of my system?

Thanks, Wendy! It’s been fun. You can find out more about Wendy on her website and check out her books here.

Wendy McLeod MacKnight grew up in a magical small town with a library card as her prized possession. Over the course of her professional life, she’s been responsible for early childhoWendy McLeod MacKnight 9565od and child welfare programming, and ended her public service career as head of the Government of New Brunswick’s Department of Education. Then one day she woke up and decided it was time to pursue her life-long dream of writing books for children. It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! is her debut novel and any resemblance to the author is purely intentional. Wendy lives in New Brunswick, Canada with her family, Indy the Wonder Dog, her garden, and a ne’er-do-well groundhog.