Interview with Adrienne Kress

Adrienne Kress is so cool. She’s an actor, playwright, filmmaker, and director. She teaches drama to kids, and she has her own production company. Most importantly for our purposes here, she is an author, of fantastical middle grade adventure stories with daring girls and careful boys, absurd predicaments and narrow escapes. I first came to love Adrienne’s work when I read her book, ALEX AND THE IRONIC GENTLEMAN, about a girl who sets off to rescue her favorite teacher after he is kidnapped by pirates.

Adrienne’s new book is THE EXPLORERS: THE DOOR IN THE ALLEY. Here is the description:

This is one of those stories that start with a pig in a teeny hat. It’s not the one you’re thinking about. (This story is way better than that one.)

This pig-in-a-teeny-hat story starts when a very uninquisitive boy stumbles upon a very mysterious society. After that, there is danger and adventure; there are missing persons, hired thugs, a hidden box, a lost map, and famous explorers; and also a girl on a rescue mission.

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is the first book in a series that is sure to hit young readers right in the funny bone.

Doesn’t that sound fun? It is. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of THE EXPLORERS, and quickly fell in love with the witty language, the exciting plot, and the main relatable main characters, careful Sebastian and daring Evie. Adrienne agreed to answer a few questions for The Winged Pen.

  1. Your books are so wild and fun. What do you do to get in the right mindset to let your creativity flow?

Thank you! I’m very happy that you find my books so engaging. What you’re asking is how do I get inspired. And that changes constantly. These days, though, it’s not about getting into any kind of mindset, it’s sitting down and getting to work. I used to find I could only create when my imagination was on fire with ideas, but as I started to write more, it became necessary to learn how to treat writing like a job. I remember the first time I “forced” myself to write. It was a struggle and I worried so much that the effort was going to show on the page. But I was stunned when I reread the work later and found that it came across much in the same way as those bits written out of pure inspiration. So it’s a combination of inspiration (because you still have to come up with the ideas, etc.) and getting down to it. And, it’s a very good feeling, really, knowing you can write without the muse constantly sitting on your shoulder and whispering in your ear. It’s still not easy, but it is very freeing.

  1. Was this always written with two points of view? Why did you decide to write it this way? What did you gain or lose?

I actually started with just Sebastian while I was planning out the book. But pretty quickly I realized I wanted to write about a girl as well. I had written from several points of view before in my YA book THE FRIDAY SOCIETY so I had some experience in this area. And I don’t really think I lost anything by making that choice. I feel like I gained a great deal by adding another perspective. Evie’s connection to the team makes the adventure personal right from the start rather than just something interesting to an outsider. Sebastian starts as kind of the person on the outside looking in, almost in a way representing the readers themselves, but as Sebastian gets more involved, the situation becomes more personal to him too. Sebastian’s development gives another dimension to the story. So I gained the opportunity to engage with the readers in more ways.

  1. Was there anything particularly challenging about writing this book? Or particularly fun?

Figuring out what they were searching for was oddly difficult. I knew it had to do with that mysterious exploration, and I knew all five members of the team had to be involved somehow. The key was not the first thing I thought of, though it definitely was the best choice once I thought of it.

As for fun, well, I always love writing animal characters. So I got very excited every time that opportunity presented itself. Of course, since the story all comes from my brain, I made sure to present such an opportunity to myself as often as possible. As you may have noticed . . .

  1. What other projects are you working on now?

I’m currently finishing up copy edits on the second book in THE EXPLORERS series, and will be shortly starting to write the third. And I am acting in a Fringe play this summer here in Toronto, a fun parody of Shakespeare called MACBETH’S HEAD.

  1. What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

It isn’t specifically writing advice, but I like to turn to Dory from Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming.” There are so many things out of our control as writers. There are even things that are just pure luck. But the one thing we can do is just keep writing. That’s what we can take ownership of.

  1. What were your favorite books when you were a kid? And how about kid books that you discovered as an adult?

As a kid I was a big fan of both Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. I also enjoyed the Encyclopedia Brown detective books a lot. And The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. My dad read me some grown-up books too. Lord of the Rings really stayed with me. And he also introduced The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to me as well. That book changed everything about how I looked at writing – and kind of life as well. As a kid I fell in love with the absurdity.

As an adult, well, I mean I guess I have to say the biggest kid book I discovered as an adult is probably the most obvious as well. I’m a huge Harry Potterphile. But can you blame me??

 

Katharine Manning now wants to make teeny hats for her cats. Anyone with miniature millinery skills, please get in touch. You can reach her here and at Mixed Up Files, as well as on Twitter, Instagram, and at www.katharinemanning.com.

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

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

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

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

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

A: Sure! Here’s an excerpt:

Dear Reader,

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

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

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

Sincerely,
The Narrator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And M.E., thanks for dropping by!

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

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

Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

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

Interview and Swag Giveaway with Debut Author Jennifer Park

Tragedy. Romance. Mystery. Bigfoot.

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

Jennifer, congratulations! Tell us about your book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which character in the story is your favorite?

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

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

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

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

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

How do our readers enter?

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

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

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

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

Thanks so much for having me!

Jennifer Park grew up on the bayous of southeast Texas daydreaming of fantastical worlds. A former middle school art teacher, and current Ocean Artist Society member, she now lives tucked within the East Texas pines she loves. When she’s not writing, she spends her time overloading on soy mochas, hoarding chocolate, and managing her herd of one husband, two kids, numerous dogs, a shamefully large number of garden snails, and one tortoise named Turquoise. Sometimes she does look out the window and hope to see Bigfoot.

Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

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

 

 

Picture Book Author Interview: Camille Andros

I’ve been obsessing about this picture book for almost a year now. Finally, finally, finally March is here! CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED releases March 14th and would make THE. BEST. EASTER/SPRING. GIFT. POSSIBLE!

Charlotte is a serious scientist. She solves important problems by following the scientific method. She has all the right equipment: protective glasses, a lab coat, a clipboard, and a magnifying glass. What she doesn’t have is space. She has so many brothers and sisters (she is a rabbit, after all) that she is too squished to work on her experiments! Can she use science to solve her problem? This funny, satisfying story is a playful introduction to the scientific method and perfect for inspiring an interest in STEM subjects.

Bunnies! Science! Two of my favorite things! And here to tell us more about Charlotte is author Camille Andros!

Welcome to THE WINGED PEN, Camille, and congrats on your debut picture book, CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED. Tell us about your inspiration for Charlotte and the STEM focus in this book.

I was in the shower (where all the best ideas are realized) when I decided I wanted Charlotte to be a scientist. I always loved science as a kid but felt like I wasn’t smart enough to be one. I want kids to know that being a scientist can look like a lot of different things and if they love it, they should do it!

Absolutely! Science is for everyone! Charlotte is a rabbit with many brothers and sisters, which causes her a bit of trouble. Tell us about your “qualifications” for writing a story about a character with a BIG family. 🙂

The original idea for a bunny story with a big family came from my husband. Together we have six children. My husband is the sixth of ten children. All those ten children have their own children so there are sixty-seven cousins. When everyone is all together it is eighty-nine people. On my side of the family I am the oldest of seven kids and there are twenty- four cousins and forty people when we are all together. My kids have a total of eighty-five first cousins.

I cannot even imagine all those nieces and nephews! What do you hope young readers take away from your story? 

I hope young readers never stop asking questions and know that being a scientist can look like many different things. Loving your family and learning how to best get along with them doesn’t hurt either. 😉 

What is your work/writing schedule?

I wish I had a regular schedule, but I take each day at a time. At the start of each day (or the night before) I figure out what the most important things to do in that day are. Sometimes it is working on a story, sometimes it’s revising, sometimes it’s doing stuff like this-doing interviews, recording podcasts, school visits. And sometimes–it’s laundry. It’s different every day.

Do you have any strange writing habits?

I don’t think this is super strange but when I am creating something totally new, I snack. A Lot. Chocolate, ice cream, popcorn, chocolate…;) But when I am revising I am all business. No treats/food.

In that regard, we are identical twins. I just have to stretch out revising long enough to lose any weight I gain during drafting! Which writers inspire you? Is there a recently published book you’d heartily recommend?

I love Virginia Lee Burton, Barbara Cooney, Alan Say, Kevin Henkes, Phil and Erin Stead, Mac Barnett, Adam Rex, and Jon Klassen. There are so many more.  I think one of the most beautiful picture books in the last few years is SWAN-THE LIFE AND DANCE OF ANNA PAVLOVA by Laurel Snyder Illsutrated by Julie Morstad. It’s exquisite.

Tell us a little about the other books you’ve sold.

Next year I have a book coming out with Julie Morstad as the illustrator called THE DRESS AND THE GIRL. It’s about a girl and her favorite dress and how they get separated from each other when the girl’s family immigrates to the United States. It’s about love and loss and their journey to find each other again.

Oh, that sounds lovely and I love the immigration theme. What can you tell us about what you’re working on now?

Right now I’m working on the second Charlotte the Scientist book that will also be coming out next year.

CAN. NOT. WAIT for both of those books! Okay, my friend. Buckle up for the lightning round. *Hands Camille a bowl of chocolate ice cream.

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Hmmm maybe to have the ability to apparate. To think about a place and be able to be there would be awesome.

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Wooden and sharp.

Coffee or tea? Hot Chocolate 😉

Sweet or salty? Both

Dog, cat, or other? Neither (sorry-I have six kids instead of pets)

Plotter or pantser? A little of both.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there? Never give up. The writers who are published are the ones who just kept trying.

Great advice! Thanks so much for joining us, Camille!

Here’s an adorable picture of Charlotte wearing her safety goggles for you to swoon over while you hop on over to Goodreads to add it to your TBR.

CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED would make the perfect gift for all the little scientists in your life and is available for pre-order through your local indie or through one of the following links.

Indiebound

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

 

Camille always carries a small black notebook on her travels to far-flung places to record the stories she imagines (even on the days when “far-flung” is her backyard vegetable garden.) She has her BA in Health Science, is an EMT, and won 1st place in the school science fair as a kindergartner. She’s addicted to the smell of a newborn baby, which may explain why she has six children! Dancing ballet for 14 years left her with an appreciation of beautiful things – warm fresh bread, a quiet sunset after a hectic day, and a new picture book. Find out more about Camille by checking out her website or following her on Facebook or Twitter!

 

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.

The Mesmerist! Interview with Ronald L. Smith

I’ve got an irresistibly spooky #FridayReads suggestion for you today! Ronald L. Smith, Winner of the 2016 Coretta Scott King New Author Award for his debut middle-grade novel HOODOO, has a new book out. Cue the fog machine! THE MESMERIST, a thrilling mix of creepy, urban fantasy and historical fiction, released on 2/21/17.

Perfect for fans of the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series and Lockwood & Co, Ronald L. Smith dazzles us with his latest tale of an unlikely heroine, 13 yo Jessamine, who lives in Victorian England.

Jessamine’s story begins during a time of tension in London. A mysterious plague is spreading rapidly, especially among the poorest and most vulnerable citizens. The rise of the deadly disease has been blamed on immigrants and communists. Jess is mostly isolated from the turmoil, as she lives outside of the city with her mother making a living as sham spiritualists.

But Jess’s life takes a sudden turn when in the midst of her “summoning” of spirits she receives a real message from the dead. Her fear-stricken mother insists they must visit Balthazar, an old family friend in London. During this visit, Jess discovers not only that she’s a mesmerist (someone who is able to read people’s thoughts) but her parents were both active members of the League of Ravens , a group who has been fighting Mephisto, a gang whose purpose is reanimating the dead.

Jess joins forces with other “gifted” children, training to fight the ghouls and monsters wreaking havoc on the already troubled city,  to form a new League of Ravens. But before she’s ready to take on Mephisto in London’s dark supernatural underworld, she must garner the strength to transform from a proper young lady concerned with etiquette/appearance into a brave and dangerous warrior. As she does, she uncovers horrible truths about herself, her family, and the never-ending battle between good and evil.

In THE MESMERIST, Ronald L. Smith weaves the history of the London underground into an creepy, atmospheric plot filled with wonderful twists. Even with the meticulous world-building, which is just as masterful as in HOODOO, THE MESMERIST is a fast-past read, sure to appeal to readers who love spooky fiction.

Run to your favorite indie, the library, or buy it using these links.

Indiebound      Barnes and Noble     Amazon      Goodreads

I was lucky enough to catch up with Ronald L. Smith this week to ask him a few burning questions I had after reading THE MESMERIST.

Congrats on your latest release, Ron. Tell us about your inspiration for THE MESMERIST.

Some of the first books I read as a kid were by British authors such as Alan Garner, C.S. Lewis, Eleanor Cameron and others. I found them in our local library. These books left an indelible mark on my imagination. I wanted to give tribute of a sort to those books while also adding themes that fit our current climate. 

THE MESMERIST includes themes that America is struggling deeply with now, such as racial bias, poverty, and immigration. What do you hope young readers will take away from your story?

It’s interesting how that worked out. I had a feeling that some of the themes in the book were going to be very prescient. I don’t know if I particularly wanted to teach a lesson or impart any wisdom, but if a child finishes the book and sees that all people should be treated equally, regardless of their station in life, then that is a good thing.  

Hear, hear! The cover of THE MESMERIST is outstanding and sets the reader up for the fantastically spooky atmosphere of the book. Did you have any input in the cover or is it the pure genius of Lisa K. Weber?

It is a great cover. We authors usually have some say in the cover design, but ultimately it’s up to the artist and publisher. I think it turned out really well. Her background is in comics. She does a great one called Hex. Her style fits The Mesmerist perfectly. I was very pleased.

Dying to know, will there be more stories about the League of Ravens?

Wow, that would be kind of fun. I’d have to think about it. I’m sure there are some other battles to be fought against supernatural bad guys. We shall see! 

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

Well, one of the projects is Top Secret, so I am sworn to secrecy. I can tell you a little about my next book, which will have to do with scary aliens and a kid who believes he is being visited by them. It’s more contemporary than sci-fi and is quite different for me. I can’t wait to get it in readers’ hands.

What is your work/writing schedule?

Drag myself to computer. Stare at screen. Have anxiety attack. Try to write some words that make sense. Repeat on the hour.  

Do you have any strange writing habits?

See above. Not really. I usually write in cafes. When the weather is nice I try to sit outside at some of my favorite places. If I write at home I sometimes have classical music on very softly in the background to relax. Bach’s Goldberg Variations is a favorite.

And now for the lightning round. Hands Ronald L. Smith a brownie for strength.

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Being able to write novels quickly.

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Hmm. Wooden. Blackwings.

Coffee or tea? Coffee all day.

Sweet or salty? Salty!

Dog, cat, or other? Hmm. Manticore?

Plotter or pantser? Pantser all the way.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?

Butt in chair.

Finish what you start.

Keep your eyes on your own paper.

Never give up.  

Great advice! Thank so much for chatting with me, and I CAN. NOT. WAIT. to get my hands on the contemporary/sci-fi book!

Thanks so much for thinking of me and reaching out! It was a lot of fun. 
To learn more about Ronald L. Smith, the world-building master and plot twisting author of Hoodoo and The Mesmerist, check out his website or follow him on Twitter. 

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.