Meet the Winged Pen Pitch Wars Mentors!

Pitch Wars, Winged Pen Pitch Wars MentorsIt’s Pitch Wars time and this year 4 members of The Winged Pen are sharpening their pencils and cracking their knuckles, getting ready to help a lucky mentee revise their ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT so that it shines in the agent round! We know what awesome advice these ladies have provided on our own manuscripts and we want to make sure anyone considering submitting to Pitch Wars chooses them!

The Winged Pen Pitch Wars mentors are:
Julie Artz and Jessica Vitalis – co-mentoring middle grade
Gabrielle Byrne – mentoring middle grade
Marty Mayberry – mentoring adult

Have you ever been on the other side of a writing contest…submitting? If so, what did you learn from the experience?

Julie: I was a hopeful in 2014, but wasn’t selected. Then I entered a new manuscript in 2015

A photo of author Julie Artz
Photo credit: Gail Werner

and was selected by the amazing Juliana Brandt. She managed to cram what I think of as an intensive MFA into two months, teaching me about story structure and writing emotion and so much more.

I’m a big fan of contests (having also been in Pitch Slam and a few others), but the biggest thing I’ve learned is that everyone needs to find their own path. I didn’t get my agent with my Pitch Wars manuscript, but I still think everything I learned during the contests allowed me to write the manuscript that got me my agent.

Jessica: The one and only writing contest I ever entered was…Pitch Wars! I was absolutely sure my manuscript was as polished as I could make it on my own. After 120+ rejections on my two previous manuscripts, I was desperate for a mentor to help take my work to the next level. Unfortunately, I wasn’t selected. *cue wails of despair*

The good news? I got a call from my agent (who had seen my manuscript during WriteOnCon) offering representation the day after the mentees were announced. This whole experience taught me several valuable lessons: don’t rush the process (after I felt the manuscript was “ready,” I set it aside for a few months and then read/edited with fresh eyes before sending it out, which was something I hadn’t done with the two previous manuscripts), there is no one right path in this industry, and most important of all: NEVER GIVE UP!

Gabrielle: I’ve entered several contests, including Pitch Wars. The first time I entered, I didn’t get in. The second time, I squeaked in as the very last alternate. What did I learn? I learned tons about revision, and diving in, and persisting. I also learned that without fail, the writing community would bolster my spirits and push me forward, if I reached out. That book eventually got me represented, in no small part because of those Pitch Wars revisions.

Along the way, I made some really good friends as well as critique partners, and I’ve had the privilege of watching people I know and love rise to the top of their game and get published.

Marty: I was a PitchWars Alternate in ’13, but got no requests. This hit hard, but I ultimately signed with my agent (for that MS) through a Twitter pitch event. So, hang in there. There are many different paths to success.

 

What draws you into a story?

Julie: There is a magic combination of fresh premise (even in a retelling!), compelling voice, and starting the story at the point where stakes and conflict will come together in the right way to make questions pop into my head as I read. Then I know I’m hooked.

Jessica: Voice, voice, voice, and voice. Oh, and did I mention voice? (Also: an intriguing premise accompanied by superb writing.)

Gabrielle: I want to connect with the character. That’s partly about the voice, but it’s also being clear about what’s at stake, and what those stakes mean to the MC. The world building (fantasy or otherwise) is a huge draw for me too. A well written world can be such a vivid experience, and if it’s accompanied by clear stakes, and a unique voice, it’s pure gold.

Marty: There’s probably an echo here, but Voice. Hook me with a character I want to follow for 80,000 words.

In an ideal world, what would be your plan for working with your mentee?Pitch Wars, Pitch Wars Mentors

Julie: I’m very big-picture oriented. So I’ll be deep diving into the character arc and major plot structure in my edit letter, along with looking for themes, motifs, and imagery that can be used not only to up tension in the story, but to reinforce the character’s arc. I’m also a big believer in homework, so my mentee can expect a list of comp titles to check out, as well as craft articles/blog posts and maybe even books to refer to during revision.

My amazing co-mentor, Jessica Vitalis, is way better with the line edits than I am, although I’ll also take a look for repeated issues like wordy dialogue, junk words, emotional telling, and saggy pace/lagging tension in a second pass.

Jessica:  Typically I start with a detailed (and lengthy) edit letter covering big picture elements (plot, structure, character development, etc.), which leads to a week or two of intense brainstorming. After the big stuff is done, I go crazy with my red pen. Along the way, we’ll get to know each other really well and become critique partners and BFFs (you did say in my ideal world, right?). Of course this year I’m co-mentoring with the inimitable Julie Artz, so we’re going to be double trouble the whole process is going to be extra amazing.

Gabrielle: Like with the other pennies, my mentee will get a long edit letter. Depending on what I think the issues with the manuscript are, I’ll share my thoughts about the pacing and character arcs, the world/setting, the dialogue, the secondary plot lines, the character relationships, and the prose. If there’s a big change–to plot or character–that I want to recommend, I’ll probably already have mentioned it to them, but we’ll have a more in-depth conversation about it early in the process.

It’s possible I’ll give my mentee a week or so of “homework”.  This might consist of reading a book or two critically, with particular things in mind, or it might be short writing exercises to strengthen particular skills, or both. After my mentee’s done their edits, I’ll comb through the manuscript a second time and we’ll tighten things up, and smooth things out. Voila!

Marty: I’m co-mentoring adult with Léonie Kelsall year. We’ll offer our mentee what I gave my prior mentees: Complete read-through with edit letter, ongoing discussion about edits & support as needed, plus a second read-through if there’s time, which will include line edits. We’ll also help with the synopsis, query, and first page/pitch for the agent round. We’ll be there for our mentee after PitchWars when they get requests, offers, etc., and then promote their books when they sell. We’re the complete package. LOL.

Lightening round! Fasten your seat belts!
Favorite writing snack?

Julie: Macadamia nuts or roasted almonds. With oodles of tea, of course.

Jessica: I don’t necessarily have an all-time favorite, but right now I’m on a peanut M&M binge.

Gabrielle: Sourdough toast with almond butter, popcorn with Siracha, or cashews with Thai spices, depending on the scene. Coffee. That’s a snack, right?

Marty: Lately: pickles, especially Sweet Chili Thai. And Earl Grey Tea.

Favorite 5 minute break between writing/revising chapters?

Julie: Twitter! Or loving up on my kitties, who typically sit in my lap while I’m working anyway.

Jessica: I often get cold when I write, so I occasionally do jumping jacks or burpees to warm up.

Gabrielle: 5 minutes? Sheesh. Make coffee, I guess. Light a candle maybe? If I need a real break though, I take a long hot shower, or go on a walk. Both really help work through blocks and problems.

Marty: Walk, walk, walk. I aim for >14,000 steps on my pedometer daily.

Favorite writing craft book?

Julie: Story Genius by Lisa Cron changed my writing life.

Jessica: I’m currently obsessed with Story Engineering.

Gabrielle: My newest obsession is The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird, but I’ve long loved Stein on Writing by Sol Stein as well. It’s an oldie, but a goodie.

Marty: Stephen King’s On Writing.

Thanks to Julie, Jessica, Gabby and Marty for being on the blog today! Thanks also to Brenda Drake, queen of Pitch Wars, for hosting the awesome contest and to the whole team that helps her run it!

If you want deep a little deeper on our mentors, you can find last year’s interview of the Winged Pen Pitch War Mentors or click their names below to find their Pitch War bios and wish lists.
Julie Artz
Jessica Vitalis
Gabrielle Byrne
Marty Mayberry

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She on Twitter at @RebeccaJ_Allen and her website is writerebeccawrite.wordpress.com.

 

 

Author Alan Gratz talks about REFUGEE

Three gutsy protagonist, three continents, three different time periods. How’s that work? Well, you won’t have to wait much longer to discover how middle-grade author Alan Gratz weaves these interconnecting stories together in a way that Kirkus Reviews has called a “feat nothing short of brilliant.” His latest novel REFUGEE hits bookstore shelves on July 25th, 2017.

We are delighted to talk with Alan Gratz about REFUGEE and writing.

 

AmazonBarnes and NobleGoodreadsIndiebound  |  Malaprops (ask for a signed copy!)

Welcome, Alan! Tell us about your inspiration for REFUGEE.

The idea for Refugee came from a number of different places, over the course of many weeks. It began with the story of the Jewish refugees on board the MS St. Louis. I was looking for a way into that story when my family and I took a vacation to the Florida Keys, and we woke one morning to find a raft on the beach that refugees had used to come to America. We had no way of knowing where the raft had originated, or if the people who set out in it had made it to safety, but it got me thinking about how so many people are risking their lives every day to have what I and my family have.

I wanted to tell the story of the MS St. Louis, but now I also wanted to write something about Cuban refugees coming to America by raft! And then—this was in early 2016—we came home every night to reports on the news and the Internet about the Syrian refugee crisis. I wanted to write a book about the MS St. Louis, I wanted to write a book about Cuban refugees coming to America, and now I wanted to write a book about the plight of Syrian refugees! Finally I realized—what if I wrote a single book about all three, linking the families across the ages and across the globe? That’s how Refugee was born.

You often write about young people tacking adversity head on. What do you hope readers will take away from REFUGEE?

I want young readers to see refugees. My family and I knew refugees were risking their lives to come to this country officially and unofficially every single day, but because we don’t live on the front lines of that struggle, we didn’t see it every day. Out of sight was definitely out of mind. I hope that Refugee does for young readers what that raft on the beach in Florida did for me and my family: make the invisible visible again.

I also hope that young American readers understand that, unless their family is Native American, we are ALL immigrants. Whether their families came over on the Mayflower, or came here on a raft last year, we’re all Americans, and it’s that immigrant melting pot that made this country great, and continues to do so.

Whew! In 2015, 2016, and 2017 you’ve released two middle-grade books each of those years? How?? Magic, time turning? You’ve gotta share your secret. Okay, maybe you don’t have to tell us, but you’ve obviously figure out some strategy to getting words on a page. What tips do you have for us on making time to write?

Did I? Oh, wow. I guess so! Pardon me while I go pass out… Seriously though, I’m not happy unless I’m writing. I’ve been doing a lot more school visits of late—I think I did more than a hundred last school year!—which also takes away writing time. So the first thing I had to do was say no travel for six months out of the year: December through February, and June, July, and August. (I still break that rule all the time, but I do TRY to hold to it.)

Then, for those six months, I’m working on new books all the time. For my historical novels, I do about a month of heavy research for each, where I’m doing nothing else during my “writing” time but reading books about my subject and taking notes. Then once I’ve got enough research to build a rough story, I’ll start working up an outline. I’m a big proponent of outlining. It takes me another month to create a detailed outline, where I lay out what happens in every single chapter.

During this time, I’ll also work on character creation and do fill-in research for parts of the story my first round didn’t cover. Then, once all that pre-writing is done, I can usually write a first draft in about a month, at the rate of about two chapters a day. That’s my three month block! I turn the book in, and my terrific editor takes over. She’ll get the book back to me while I’m on the road visiting schools again, and then I’ll begin the revision process when I get back.

All the traveling I’m doing now may knock me down to one book a year, but that’s probably better for my sanity in the long run. But I learned to be a disciplined writer doing non-fiction advertising and marketing work before I was a novelist, so when it’s time to get writing done, I just sit down and do it!

Your other 2017 middle-grade novel, BAN THIS BOOK, releasing next month, has a main character, Amy Anne, who is a girl after my heart. Tell us something about the story that will make us want to add BAN THIS BOOK to our Must Order and To Be Read ASAP List.

Well, I’ll give you the elevator pitch first: Ban This Book is the story of a fourth grade girl who goes to a school where a parent start banning and challenging books. As a protest, Amy Anne takes those books and hides them in her locker and starts checking them out to other students in secret as a Banned Books Locker Library. And all the kids’ books that are banned in the story have actually been banned in the last couple of decades in America! It’s (what I hope is) a funny, heartfelt story about the issue of book banning, as well as my love letter to middle grade novels.

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

When I visited Japan seven years ago, I met a man who had been a young boy on Okinawa when the Americans invaded in 1945, toward the end of World War II. He told me that the Japanese Army pulled him out of school, lined him up with the other middle school boys, and gave them each a grenade. Their instructions: go off into the forest and don’t come back until you’ve killed an American. That’s the first chapter of the new book I’m writing, which I’m calling Grenade. That will be out in late summer/early fall of 2018.

Buckle up for the…Lightning Round (*hands you a slice of pepperoni pizza for strength)

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Super speed! The Flash is my all-time favorite super hero.

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Always wooden. I never got the hang of mechanicals.

Coffee or tea? Coca-cola!

Sweet or salty? Always salty! If I could live on French fries, torilla chips, and popcorn, I would. Or maybe I already do…?

Dog, cat, or other? I’ve had both, but the answer is dog. Mine’s name is Augie. He’s a rescue mutt.

Plotter or pantser? Plotter! (As you now know!)

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?

You’ll hear this from a lot of professional authors, but that’s because it’s true: talent matters, but what really gets you published is persistence. I’ve met so many writers who give up after one or two rejections. You have to keep sending your stuff out, and keep getting rejected until someone says yes. And while you’re sending out one book, start writing the next. And the next. And the next.

I was still subbing (and getting rejection letters for) the first two YA novels I’d written when I wrote Samurai Shortstop, which would ultimately become my first sold and published novel. I’ve never sold those previous two manuscripts—they just weren’t good enough. Write, write, write, submit, submit, submit, and get better at what you’re doing with every attempt. Then, if you stick with it long enough, you’ll break through.

 

Photo credit: Wes Stitt

What an inspiring interview! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us! And best of luck with both of your new books!

Alan Gratz has been putting kids in fictional danger since 2006. You can find out more about Alan and subscribe to his newsletter by visiting Alan’s website.

 

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 1, 2017. Proceeds from the anthology will be used for scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

Subscribe to The Winged Pen and never miss a post, including our monthly #FourOn400 writing contest for middle grade and young adult. 

 

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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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Interview with Kristi Wientge, Author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE, and her agent Patricia Nelson

middle grade books, Karma Kullar's MustacheWe’re psyched for the launch of Winged Pen member, Kristi Wientge’s, middle grade debut. Karma Khullar’s Mustache will hit bookstore shelves on August 15th! We invited Kristi and her agent, Patricia Nelson of the Marsal Lyon Agency, to talk about Karma and how this story became a book.

Patricia, what first drew you to Karma Khullar’s Mustache?

Patricia: I knew when I first started reading that this novel was the whole package. First of all, as a huge Judy Blume fan, I’m always drawn to contemporary middle grade that deals with the uncomfortable realities of growing up, and I had never seen an MG novel about body hair before, so that made me intrigued right from the pitch. Then, on top of having a great concept, Kristi’s writing had a fantastic specificity – every character in the book, from Karma’s best friend to her obnoxious brother, felt perfectly real, like they could just step right off the page. I was struck by what a great job the book does of braiding together issues of family, friendship, culture, and body image to show all the layers of Karma’s world. Plus, perhaps most importantly of all, Karma’s voice stood out—as a narrator, she’s funny and insightful and has a very unique way of looking at the world that’s relatable while also being completely her own. I loved her right from the first chapter!

Kristi, what made you feel comfortable putting the sale of your story in Patricia’s hands?

Kristi Wientge, Karma Khullar's MustacheKristi:  I actually spent the few days between my email with her and the day we had the call set up scouring every blog post for lists of questions I should ask. Can you believe it that straight away Patricia basically ticked right down my list of questions without me even having to ask a single one?! Not only did that win me over, but it was also her complete excitement for Karma. I felt that she really got what I was going for.

Patricia, what are middle grade readers looking for in a story?

Patricia: Voice is a huge part of it! Kids have exceptionally well-tuned BS detectors, so the Patricia Nelson, Karma Kullar's Mustachevoice really needs to feel genuinely and authentically “kid,” not like an adult trying to sound like a kid. Beyond that, pacing is key in this category—the story needs to move along swiftly, with enough exciting plot developments going on to keep a young reader turning the pages.

Kristi, does Karma have a superpower? If so, what is it?

Kristi: Karma is resilient, super hero resilient.

Patricia, what would you say Karma’s superpower is?

Patricia: I’d say Karma’s superpower is how inventive and imaginative she is—she definitely has no shortage of creative mustache-elimination ideas. 🙂

Kristi: I understand you have a surprise for Winged Pen readers today.

Kristi: We have a giveaway! Win a copy of Karma Khullar’s Mustache by commenting below by 5 p.m. EST on July 17th. The name of one lucky winner will be pulled from the Tri-wizard cup!* International entrees welcome!

Thank you for being on the Winged Pen, ladies!

You can find out more about Karma Khullar’s Mustache or pre-order on the following sites:
Goodreads
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indiebound

Want to know more about Kristi and Karma? Here’s a link to our first interview of Kristi Wientge.

* This is not an advanced reader copy but the actual publication copy of the book, so it may take a couple weeks to ship, depending on when Kristi receives her copies.

Rebecca J. Allen, young adult writer
Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She’s on Twitter and her website is here.

 

 

The Unicorn in the Barn: Review/Author Interview with Jacqueline Ogburn

Today we welcome to The Winged Pen the author of one of my all-time favorite picture books, THE MAGIC NESTING DOLLS. Jacqueline Ogburn is the author of ten picture books and, in just a few short days, the world will be able to read her beautiful debut middle-grade novel, THE UNICORN IN THE BARN.

 

… the presence of the unicorn and other magical creatures adding just a touch of whimsy to a story about very real emotions. A sensitive, moving debut.-Kirkus reviews

Eleven-year-old Eric Harper lives on his family’s farm in Chinaberry Creek. Due to his grandmother’s illness, they’ve sold her home to a new veterinarian in town to help pay bills. The veterinarian takes care of the many wild and unusual animals that live in the area around the Harper’s land. One day, Eric spots a lame unicorn and the veterinarian invites him to work with her and her young daughter to treat the animals. As Eric learns there are magical creatures that live in their woods, he also discovers family secrets that will change his life forever.

THE UNICORN IN THE BARN is both deeply imaginative and real at the same time. It deals with family death in a tender way for young readers. It is a coming-of-age story fully of whimsy, appropriate for ages 9-12 and would make a great read-together book. Rebecca Green’s black-and-white illustrations beautifully compliment the simple and heartfelt prose.

 

THE UNICORN IN THE BARN goes on sale on July 4th, 2017  at your local indie or here:

Goodreads

Amazon 

Barnes and Noble  

IndieBound

 

Welcome to The Winged Pen, Jackie! Reading THE UNICORN IN THE BARN was like a walk down memory lane for me, hanging out on the farm and playing the mysterious woods near my home. Does the fictional Chinaberry Creek represent an actual place from your childhood?

JO: Yes, the setting is based on my grandparents’ farm in Cabarrus County, in-between Concord and Albemarle. I would spend at least week there every summer.  When I was little, they still had cows, chickens, barn cats and for while goats, as well as several Chihuahuas that were house pets. Several of my cousins lived in houses and land that used to be part of the original farm. The house is a rambling two story and there are lots of smaller buildings clustered around it—the tractor shed, a couple of chicken houses, a potato house, corn crib, and of course, a barn.  I moved things around a bit, as the barn was in a pasture down the hill, not next to the house. There are still a lot of woods around and a creek and a pond in the pasture.  I named the nearby town Chinaberry Creek, because my mother loved Chinaberry trees. 

 

It’s interesting how the story seems so simple and innocent, yet deep and moving. I think this may be related to your experience as a picture book writer. How was the process different for writing a middle-grade novel different from writing a picture book?

Novels have so much middle!  A picture book I could figure out the structure and characters in my head, then write a draft that would be very close to that.  I tried outlining this, but as I wrote, the number of scenes and chapters kept expanding.  I knew the beginning and the end, but the rest of the novel, all the middle, kept growing, as I realized more things had to happen to get to the end.  Novels also require a lot more description of the setting and action.  Even though this book ended up with a lot of illustrations, I couldn’t count on the art expressing those things.

While I love fantasy, I wanted this story to be a contemporary fantasy, for it to be as realistic and matter-of-fact as possible.  Moonpearl isn’t a rainbow sparkle unicorn, she needs someone to muck out her stall and pick the burrs out of her mane.

 To achieve that, I did some interesting hands-on research. For six months, I was a volunteer at the Piedmont Wildlife Center, and did most of the same chores Eric did – sweeping, mopping, cleaning out cages, washing dishes, fixing food and water.  That’s how I met Bobby Schopler, the vet who read the manuscript for me and now works at the Duke Lemur Center. I read dozens of books by vets and visited a couple of horse barns to make sure the physical details were well grounded.

 I knew early on that if I was going to have a story about healing, that there also had to be loss. At one point, I called a writer friend nearly in tears because I realized that I had to include the death of an animal for the story to be properly grounded.

 

From the story, it’s obvious that you care deeply for animals. Can you tell us about your how your real-life experiences turned into this beautiful story that is partly a love letter to animals?

The book is a lot of wish fulfillment for me. I did love animals as a kid and read tons of books about them, especially horse stories. We only had one dog, Rusty, when I was growing up. He was a sweet red-brown Chihuahua. I also kept lots of caterpillars and grasshoppers in jars, and had goldfish and guppies. Fish are nice to watch, but not very cuddly. My mother had enough to do with raising five kids, and as a farm girl, she was less sentimental about animals.  Her brother, my Uncle Jackie, adored them, and there is a lot of him in Eric.

Now I am a cat person. Our tuxedo cat, Java, likes to sit on my chest, just under my chin while I read in bed.  I spent about a year in between cats while working on the book and it made me realize how much I like having a nonhuman companion. They deserve attention, affection and respect as much as people do.   

 

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

I have a few chapters on a sequel, where Allegra is the main character. She’s more complicated and prickly than Eric. Timothy the Cheshire cat and Prissy the goose are still around, but there will be other magical creatures as well.

 

Lightning round (hands Jackie a cookie, for strength)!

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Flying

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Wooden

Coffee or tea? Hot coffee, but ice tea

Sweet or salty?  Salty

Dog, cat, or other?  Cat

Plotter or pantser?  Both. Even when it’s tightly plotted, like a picture book, there are surprises and detours along the way.

 

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?

Read widely, not just in the genre that you love, but other things, including nonfiction. Curiosity is an important trait for a writer, to wonder “what if” and then to be driven to find out the things that could and would happen after that. 

 

Excellent advice and thanks so much to Jackie for stopping by to talk with us! Want to see unicorns in the real world?. Follow Jacqueline Ogburn on Instagram, and you can also find out more about her here!   

And click here for a special limited-time Instagram giveaway!!!

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.

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