Path To Publication: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Launch of a Debut Novel with Jennifer Park, author of THE SHADOWS WE KNOW BY HEART

Jennifer Parks, THE SHADOWS WE KNOW BY HEART, young adult bookThe Shadows We Know By Heart:
Leah Roberts’s life hasn’t been the same since her brother died ten years ago. Her mother won’t stop drinking, her father can’t let go of his bitter anger, and Leah herself has a secret she’s told no one: Sasquatches are real, and she’s been watching a trio of them in the woods behind her house for years.

Everything changes when Leah discovers that among the sasquatches lives a teenager. This alluring, enigmatic boy has no memory of his past and can barely speak, but Leah can’t shake his magnetic pull. Gradually, Leah’s life entwines with his, providing her the escape from reality she never knew she needed.

But when Leah’s two worlds suddenly collide in a deadly showdown, she uncovers a shocking truth as big and extraordinary as the legends themselves, one that could change her life forever.

The Shadows We Know By Heart was published last March. We were so excited for Jennifer as she journeyed the path to publication! Now that frenzy of manuscript edits and book signings has slowed, we wanted to talk to Jennifer about the high points and unexpected bumps on her journey. Thanks for joining us, Jennifer!

I clearly remember the post you wrote on The Winged Pen’s private Facebook page when Mandy Hubbard was reading your manuscript and Tweeting about how much she liked it! You were one of the first writers in our group to get an offer of representation.

Jennifer: Yes, that day was definitely the highlight of my publishing journey. Jennifer Park, THE SHADOWS WE KNOW BY HEART, young adult fictionI had only been querying Shadows for a few weeks, and Mandy was the first to request it. That was on a Monday. I reread the book again in a panic, just to make sure I was good with it, and sent it to her on Tuesday. By Thursday, she was tweeting about a book that shouldn’t work but totally did! Friday was a series of tweets about how she loved the book and was emailing the author right now. I was stalking Twitter at the time (because what else would I be doing?), and went straight to my email. I saw her name in the inbox and pretty much died. We talked that night, and by Monday, my book was on sub. 

That’s amazing! But other parts of your path to publication were bumpier. Can you tell us a little about that?

Jennifer: Yes, my pub date was pushed, like so many others are, because my original editor left the imprint, and they felt that if I released in fall of 2016, my book would have been lost in the crowd. That slowed things down quite a bit, but once I got my new editor, signed a contract, and got my edit letter (the week before Christmas!), things began moving quickly again.

What did you learn by working with comments from an editor rather than critique partners?

Jennifer: Well, with critique partners, I think you can sometimes choose what you want to change, based on their opinions and yours, versus an editor, where I changed every single thing she suggested. Granted, if there was something that I didn’t agree with, we would discuss it (and I’m not sure if there was even one thing), but the comments were spot on.

My editor asked tons of questions in her notes, especially about character. If a character did or said something, there needed to be a reason for it, like it needed to be something she could see them doing or saying as a part of their personality. And everything had to have a purpose… it had to forward the plot, or something within the MC.

What will be the follow-up to The Shadows We Know By Heart?

Jennifer: That is a really great question! I thought I knew the answer to that once upon a time. I’ve got a book on sub now and another with my agent waiting for feedback. I’ve got several in various stages of revision and completion to choose from next, but it’s hard to choose and focus when others are still up in the air. I run ideas by my agent as well, just to see what she thinks will be marketable.

Oh! I wanted a career in publishing to be all rainbows and unicorns after your first book makes its splash in the world! But the waiting never ends! If you could travel back in time and talk to your newbie-writer self, what advice would you give based on all you’ve learned?

The truth: this thing only gets harder. Have your dreams, but realize that reality is usually different from your expectations. Publishing is a business, plain and simple. But you’ll get stronger with each rejection, your writing will improve with each critique, and you’ll reach the point where it doesn’t tear you down anymore because you realize you have to write. Period. Because there is no other option. You are a writer. It’s not a job, it’s your life. Don’t write for trends, because they change. Keep trying to find that unique story that only you can tell, and make sure it’s the best version it can be.

Great advice! But now…prepare yourself for the lightning round!

Coffee or tea?

Coffee most of the time.

Hardcover, paperback or eReader?

eReader lately.

Pantser or plotter?

Pantser who is starting to see the wisdom in plotting.

Thanks, Jennifer, for being on blog today! And for readers who’d like to find out more about The Shadows We Know By Heart, you can find it on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound!

And now, the GIVEAWAY! Jennifer is giving away a signed copy of The Shadows We Know By Heart to one lucky reader! To enter this giveaway, just leave a comment below mentioning the book giveaway before Monday January 15th at 4 pm EST. We will draw a name from the Tri-Wizard Cup to select a winner!

Good luck!

Jennifer Park grew up on the bayous of southeast Texas, daydreaming of fantastical worlds amid magnolia trees and Spanish moss. 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 daughters, numerous dogs, a shamefully large number of garden snails, and one tortoise named Turquoise.

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 reviews young adult books, is a judge for the CYBILS YA Speculative Fiction book award and fangirls all things bookish. Find her on Twitter and Instagram, or on her website, writerebeccawrite.wordpress.com.

Daughter 4254: A New Dystopian Series about fighting for the arts #D4254


The soon-to-be-released futuristic dystopian young adult novel Daughter 4254 started out as an ebook on Wattpad that received over         ******1 million******   views. Impressed by the attention it had received, the publishers at Owl Hollow Press invited Leigh Statham to publish Daughter 4254 as a series of novels. The original story has been revised and enhanced, and the first novel in the trilogy releases on November 7th!

Goodreads | Amazon | Kindle | iBooks   Coming soon to Barnes and Noble and Indiebound!

 

Daughter4254 used to think life in a community where art, music, and names are outlawed would suffocate her creative spirit—until she is left to rot in prison and realizes there is far worse.

When she meets Thomas, a fellow inmate, who tells stories of the mythical mountain colonies where people have names and the arts thrive, she finds a shred of hope. Together they plot an escape, knowing they’ll die if they fail. Or worse, their consciousness will be taken by the MindWipe, leaving their bodies free for government use.

When nothing goes as planned, Daughter4254 must choose between using her mother’s secrets of the rebellion to better the world she hates and following her heart to the quiet life of freedom she has always craved.

We are thrilled to talk with young adult author Leigh Statham about Daughter4254 and her Wattpad success.

Hi Leigh! Welcome to The Winged Pen! Tell us about the inspiration for Daughter4254.

Leigh:  My inspiration came from a lot of different sources. I’m a big fan of classic dystopian literature, especially Fahrenheit 451, and Chinese history. The Chinese Cultural Revolution was a period when the government, or more specifically Mao Zedong, decided that all art should “serve the people” which quickly translated into “serve the state.” Many great artists were ridiculed and great works of art and literature were gathered and destroyed. It’s a crushing story and one that China openly regrets now.

As a creative person, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have your life’s work be illegal. Fast forward to American culture today, with the educational budget cuts that force public schools in the poorest areas to cut funding for the arts at all levels of childhood development, and we’ve got a quieter yet equally nefarious situation on our hands. I think it’s important to express how important the arts are not only to our children but to humans in general. Daughter 4254 takes place in a futurist society where artistic expression is illegal. 

What the plans are for the series?

I never planned on writing a series. I love how Lowry ends The Giver, and I know she didn’t plan on writing more books after that one, but I had so many amazing kids asking for more when I posted the book on Wattpad. I decided to go ahead and see where Daughter 4254 might take me. Writing the second book was a really fun process. I got a lot of input from readers and wrote and published it serially on Wattpad. You just don’t find that kind of interaction anywhere else as a writer. Yes, the results are pretty rough around the edges, no final edits, just writing, quick edits, then posts with comments from readers. The good news is that the series is now in the capable hands of the editing team at Owl Hollow Press, so the final product will be a shining star.

So let’s talk about Wattpad a bit. First off, why did you choose to first post this novel there?

When I first finished the novel, I was querying on the heels of The Hunger Games and Divergent mania. The market was overloaded with dystopian books. A friend told me about this “cool new” website I should try out. I’m a pretty big risk taker, so I threw it up there to see what would happen and worked on another book.

Over 1 million views! That blows my mind. Why you think it was so popular?

I got a lot of views because I participated in the community. I would read for people who asked me to. I would leave comments and return compliments. I answered every email I got for several years. Finally, someone nominated my book to be “featured.” This means Wattpad puts it on the front page and anyone bored and surfing for something new to read will see it and hopefully get sucked in. A year or so later, it was nominated for the Wattpad top ten dystopian novels in conjunction with the release of the Insurgent movie and then it made the Wattpad top ten list when The Fifth Wave movie came out. Wattpad is big on book/movie crossovers and even has its own studios now. They surf the books there, looking for screenplay potential. Anyway, the rest is history. My reads, votes, and followers skyrocketed. I’m having a hard time keeping up with requests and replies, but I’m still working on it. Wattpad readers, please don’t give up on me! 

Any words of wisdom for authors who might want to try using Wattpad?

Jump in with both feet! It’s mostly an adult and YA audience. Romance does great there. Most of all, be a part of the community. That’s what it’s all about. Some people think you post a book there and if it’s good enough it will get noticed. Not so. You have to participate. Go make friends. Get out of your writerly cave and interact. Scary, I know, but you can do it!

Very interesting, Leigh! Buckle up for the lightning round! *Hands Leigh a piece of cheesecake, made by her lovely 11-year-old baking-master daughter.

If you had a superpower, what would it be? I would love to be able to talk to animals, or maybe be invisible, but I’d have to be able to take my clothes with me. None of this running around naked nonsense! 

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Wood

Coffee or tea? Herbal tea

Sweet or salty?  Both!

Dog, cat, or other? All the above, plus chickens

Plotter or pantser? Pantser, although I’m getting to be more of a plotter every day.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there? Read everything. Write often. Be kind. Go out and support a creative person today! Even if that creative person is just yourself— it’s important to nurture and grow our talents. Our future is in our hands.

Thank you so much, Leigh, for taking the time to talk to us. And best wishes for Daughter 4254 and the next books in the series!

This was fantastic! Thank you, Michelle!!

Leigh Statham was raised in the wilds of rural Idaho, but found her heart in New York City. She worked at many interesting jobs before settling in as a mother and writer.

She now resides in North Carolina with her husband, four children, five chickens, and two suspected serial killer cats.

Leigh is currently working on an MFA, has written countless short stories, and is the author of two published novels: The Perilous Journey of the Not-So-Innocuous Girl and The Perilous Journey of the Much-Too-Spontaneous Girl. She is also the winner of the 2016 Southeast Review Nonfiction Prize for her short story “The Ditch Bank and the Fenceline.”

Facebook  |   Twitter    |    Website    |     Wattpad

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, an Indie children/teens bookseller, 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, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

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Q&A with Middle Grade Author Julie Leung

Julie, congratulations on the release of your latest book, Mice of the Round Table (Voyage to Avalon) and welcome to The Winged Pen! Your cover is gorgeous––tell us about the story.

Julie: Young mouse Calib Christopher has nearly completed his training to become a squire to the Knights of Camelot when news of a deadly plague reaches the castle. Soon all of Camelot is showing signs of the illness, animals and humans alike. Desperate to find a cure, Calib and his friend Cecily set off on a voyage to find the healing land of Avalon. But even as their journey takes them over land and sea, back at home, Calib’s human friend Galahad discovers that the true enemy may have already found a way inside the castle walls…

Thanks, Julie––this sounds like a fantastic adventure! Let’s talk about your favorite children’s books. What books inspired you while writing?

One of the most influential books of my childhood would have to be The Neverending Story by Michael Ende—upon which a pretty cheesy, but also childhood-defining ’80 movie is based. As a secluded bookworm, I was absolutely enraptured by the idea that I could imagine something into “being.” I longed to be Bastian Balthazar Bux and get whisked away into a fantastical book. While I can’t say that it’s happened to me literally, I feel like I’ve achieved the next closest thing by becoming an author.

If you could whisk yourself into any of your favorite fantasy novels, which would you choose?

I probably wouldn’t survive very long before some undead thing ate me. But one of my favorite fictional places is the Old Kingdom in Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series. My other, safer answer would be Mossflower Wood in the Redwall series. I would incarnate as squirrel probably.

What are your favorite creative retellings of classic stories?

As a huge Oz fan (who read all the books past The Wizard of Oz, no less!), I enjoyed Wicked by Gregory Maguire a lot. I’m generally fascinated by good vs. evil dynamics getting turned on their heads when envisioned from the villain’s perspective. I also very much enjoyed Cinder by Marissa Meyer, which speaks to my Sailor Moon fangirl roots.

If you could retell any famous novel with mice, which would you pick?

Thinking of cool retellings is one of my favorite past times, so I have a lot of ideas along this vein. But if I had to pick, I would love to reimagine the Robin Hood adventure through the eyes of a woodland creature…maybe a scrappy pine marten. Have you googled pine martens? If you haven’t, you should. You won’t regret it.

Thanks for the tip! *makes mental note to google pine martens* Speaking of googling, when you’re writing a medieval fantasy, how much do you depend on research versus your own imagination?

As far as Arthurian lore goes, I’m lucky that this sandbox has already been played in by many authors before me. A lot of my research had more to do with folklore and literature than history. I revisited a lot Arthurian fictional classics in my preparation for writing: T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, Mary Stewart’s  Merlin trilogy, etc.

Before we go, can you tell us more about Calib Christopher’s next adventure?

In Books 1 and 2, I’ve been hinting at the idea that Camelot is perhaps doomed no matter what our heroes try to do. In the third book, we’ll see Galahad and Calib confront this prophecy and Camelot’s greatest enemies firsthand. The ending may surprise you.

 JULIE LEUNG was raised in the sleepy suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, though it may be more accurate to say she grew up in Oz and came of age in Middle-earth. By day, she is a senior marketing manager for Random House’s sci-fi/fantasy imprint, Del Rey Books. In her free time, she enjoys furtively sniffing books at used bookstores and winning at obscure board games. Her favorite mode of transportation is the library.

 

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.

Nic Stone Interview: Dear Martin

Black Yale-bound graduating senior Justyce McAllister’s good life at his prestigious, mostly-white prep school takes on a new harsh reality after he’s falsely accused of crimes and roughed up by a policeman while innocently helping a friend. Meanwhile, daily news accounts of young black men being shot or arrested flood the airwaves, stirring up strong opinions among his classmates. As Justyce searches for answers to explain why he’s now facing scorn from his peers despite being a good kid and a star student, he writes letters to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When a second run in with police ends in tragedy, Justyce grapples with being powerless to escape systemic racism. He can’t help but question if Dr. King’s teachings are still relevant and starts looking for answers in a place he thought he’d left behind.

Author Nic Stone doesn’t give us the answers, but she frames questions in a fresh, thoughtful way, promoting deeper dialogue helpful for understanding and confronting racism and social injustice. It’s impossible to read DEAR MARTIN without feeling changed, moved. A must-read for high schoolers and older.

I am more than thrilled to welcome Nic Stone to The Winged Pen! Congratulations, Nic! DEAR MARTIN is an important, powerful book that I hope many, many people—especially teens—will read. Writing it must have been difficult both technically and emotionally, but I’m thankful you did. This book will change lives.

Nic:  Eep! Making me blush already! Thanks for having me 🙂

Obviously, Justyce is a pretty level-headed and very intelligent guy. Even so, he finds himself in trouble, serious trouble, many times throughout the story. What do you hope your readers will learn from his struggles?

In a nutshell, that being smart and doing *stupid* things aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, one rarely has anything to do with the other. I, like Justyce, was a highly intelligent, generally level-headed teenager… but that didn’t stop me from keying my mom’s car. Even Einstein was capable of punching someone in the face when he was pissed off, you know? ALL of us have the capacity to let our emotions to get the best of us. We should constantly bear that in mind.

Justyce is black. He benefits from a great relationship with a black professor in the story, but there are also some important white characters who influence and support him. Justyce is very aware of the importance of these white people in his life, but he also feels conflicted about it. Justyce’s internal dialogue about this seemed very heartfelt and brings some important considerations about interracial friendships to the surface. Could you talk about that a bit more?

So I grew up with very excellent white people who, to this day, are very supportive of me and my work, even when it makes them uncomfortable. And it does. There’s also some validity to the notion that once you really get to know another person, their race becomes peripheral, in a sense (hence that whole “I don’t even see you as [insert marginalized racial identity]” statement that, while likely true, is also a microaggression). BUT in order for any relationship to work, it has to be built on mutual respect and concern for the other person’s well-being. There has to be a willingness to set aside one’s own preconceived notions for the sake of stepping into the other person’s shoes and making an attempt to see the world as they do.

But even saying that makes me uncomfortable because I know there will be some (white) people who take it and say “SEE! You’re supposed to try and see things from MY perspective!” People like this won’t do well in friendships/relationships with people who are different from them. Hell, people like this won’t do well in any relationships because they’re too self-focused.

Bottom line here: if you value and respect other people, are open to hearing their opinions and experiences, and have their well-being as your highest priority, you’ll be the best friend anyone could ask for regardless of race.

I know many white people who might be too afraid to read this story. Maybe they think the story will be too angry (IMO, it’s not angry at all) or just not for them. Why should they read Dear Martin?

Exactly because this question exists, lol! This is the thing: if we don’t explore experiences outside of our own, our worlds will stay small. Books are the perfect place to explore other people’s experiences and emotions because… well because they’re inanimate. Even if a book contains someone’s expression of anger, the book can’t hurt you. It can’t lash out or scream at you or punch you in a fit of furious passion. Books are the perfect place to grapple with things that make us uncomfortable, opinions that differ from our own, experiences we could never live because they don’t require an immediate response out of us, you know? They don’t stare at you waiting for you to say something. You can sit with the information. Chew on it. Swallow the meat and spit out the bones. And you can put them down and never pick them up again, and they won’t hold a grudge. In my opinion, stepping outside of your comfort zone to read something that makes you nervous can only make you a more thoughtful, well-rounded person.

Readers who want to know a bit more about the birth of this story should check out your interview at Adventures in YA Publishing. I was thrilled to hear that you’ve got another book in the works. Can you share anything about it with us?

By the time this interview goes live, I will have turned my copyedits in, LOL. Book 2, as we’ll refer to it for now, already has a title and a cover (that I LOVE) and a slated pub date. What I can say about it is that while it’s different from Dear Martin, it deals with another marginalized aspect of my identity (yay #intersectionality!), and it’s the book I wish I’d had back when I was trying to figure some things out about myself.

I loved your YouTube interview with Adam Silvera, especially the part where you speak to aspiring black authors. Your words, “You are power” are so true. We need to read and share these stories. We talked about this quite a bit at the MadCapRT Writing Cross Culturally workshop where you and I met in March 2017, but could you tell us what advice you have for white authors. What can we do to support diversity in literature?

YOU, Michelle, are doing the best thing you could possibly do: reading and promoting books by and about people of color. The other thing I would say to white authors is: be willing to step aside. Just last week, a white author I know was complaining (in private, so the person shall remain unnamed) because a black author at the same imprint—the only black author at this imprint, mind you—got to fly to New York to assist with the photo shoot for said black author’s book cover whereas the publisher is using stock images for the white author’s cover. There was this cry of, “It’s not fair!” and while I can understand how the white author would perceive things that way, frankly, it wasn’t fair four years ago when my first agent struggled to garner editor interest in the first book I ever wrote because they didn’t think a black lead would sell. Yes, it sucks to feel like what you’re creating isn’t being valued, and it’s not any one white author’s fault the industry has a diversity problem it’s working to remedy. But it also wasn’t any one black author or Indian author or disabled author or gay author’s fault the problem existed in the first place.

Buckle up for the lightning round! *Hands Nic a cupcake with frosting the same color as her gorgeous purple lipstick. (Seriously, you need to check out Nic’s lipstick game on Instagram. Bonus: she often posts pics of her beautiful family.)

Nic’s side note: wouldn’t it be amazing if one could eat a cupcake and wind up with perfectly {insert frosting color} lips? Someone should invent that. I would be all over it.

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Already have two: I make people and control minds. (Such is the life of a mother/author. **bows**)

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Sakura Stardust Gelly Roll gel pen. (Okay fine: mechanical, 0.5 pt.)

Coffee or tea? Coffee. No brainer.

Sweet or salty?  Both simultaneously? (PLZ DON’T MAKE ME CHOOSE I NEED BOTH OKAY #saltedcarameleverything)

Dog, cat, or other? Do human babies count? Because I like those best. Super snuggly without the shedding.

Plotter or pantser? Plotter. In pants.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?  Think critically, stay open to being wrong, and never stop learning. Seriously. These are the best things you can do for your writing and your life.

Thank you so much, Nic, for taking the time to talk to us. And best wishes for Dear Martin and your future books!

Information about Nic Stone’s release party in Atlanta on October 17th is to the right, but for those who can’t make it stop by your local Indie or check out these links to purchase DEAR MARTIN: 

Indiebound | Goodreads | Amazon | B&N

 

 

 

Photo credit: Nigel Livingstone

About Nic Stone
Nic Stone was born and raised in a suburb of Atlanta, GA, and the only thing she loves more than an adventure is a good story about one. After graduating from Spelman College, she worked extensively in teen mentoring and lived in Israel for a few years before returning to the US to write full-time. Growing up with a wide range of cultures, religions, and backgrounds, Stone strives to bring these diverse voices and stories to her work. Stone lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons.
Website | Twitter | Instagram

 

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, an Indie children/teens bookseller, 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, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

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Meet Jada Jones! New chapter books by Kelly Starling Lyons

Happy Birthday to Jada Jones! She’s a “rock” star and a good citizen in two new chapter books released September 19th by Kelly Starling Lyons and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodreads: Rock Star                                                           Goodreads: Class Act

“Jada Jones thinks there’s nothing cooler than rocks. So, when her teacher gives the class a group project on rocks and minerals, Jada knows she’s going to rock the assignment. Her only problem is finding a group of friends to work with. For Jada, rocks are easier to find than friends. Or are they?” –back cover of JADA JONES ROCK STAR

These five sentences sum up my entire childhood. I was always the kid who liked things no one else liked—slime mold, rocks, microscopes, math homework. But Jada has skills I didn’t have. Not only does she “rock” science, but in JADA JONES ROCK STAR she figures out how to “rock” friendships too. What I would have done to have a friend like Jada while growing up!

This chapter book wins 5 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 stars from me for being fast-paced and easy-to-read with relatable, interesting characters including BFF to all, Jada Jones❤️. Add to this Jada’s love of science and Vanessa Brantley Newton’s gorgeous illustrations––and BOOM! This becomes a book I’m excited to recommend to all my young friends. I can’t wait to feast my eyes on CLASS ACT because it’s about another topic near and dear to me:  being a good citizen!

But don’t take my word for it! Kirkus and School Library Journal think these are top-notch reads for young readers too!

Hurry to your local bookstore to ask for them.  Indiebound   Barnes & Noble  Amazon

I’m honored to have Kelly Starling Lyons here to talk with us about Jada Jones and writing. Kelly is the award-winning author of many books for young people including ONE MORE DINO ON THE FLOOR, HOPE’S GIFT, ONE MILLION MEN AND ME, ELLEN’S BROOM, and one of my favorite’s TEA CAKES FOR TOSH. She is also a member of The Brown Bookshelf, which you can learn more about in Kelly’s interview at From the Mixed Up Files. What I love most about Kelly’s stories is they’re always about special moments, the perfect antidote for our fast-paced world. Not only do her stories linger with you, but I often find myself reflecting on my own memories after reading one of her books. What a beautiful gift to readers!

Welcome, Kelly! Thank you so much for taking time out to talk with us at The Winged Pen!

You’re the author of several picture books including ONE MORE DINO ON THE FLOOR, ONE MILLION MEN AND ME, and many others including one of my favorites, TEACAKES for TOSH. How was the process for writing a chapter book different from writing a picture book?

Thanks so much for your support, Michelle. You have to write tight with a picture book. You want to create visual scenes that open up illustrative possibilities for the artist who is your storytelling partner. Lyricism and rhythm are important, because picture books are often read aloud.

Writing a chapter book meant I had more space to tell the story. I could include more description and dialogue. Kids would be reading these stories mostly on their own, so I needed to end each chapter with a little hook to keep them turning the page. My first book, NEATE: Eddie’s Ordeal, was a chapter book. It was cool returning to that genre.

Jada Jones loves rocks in book one, runs for class representative in book two, and is overall a great role model for citizenship and navigating the friendship woes that most of us have experienced. Do these experiences come from your own childhood?

 Jada is mostly inspired by my daughter and girls I’ve met during school visits. But there’s a bit of me in her too.  I collected rocks as a kid. My favorite was a hunk of quartz I found when visiting an aunt in Eden, NC. Like Jada, I cared a lot about friendships. Her experiences in the books celebrate the bravery and resilience of smart, big-hearted kids I know.

It was important to me to center an African-American girl. We need more chapter books featuring kids of color. I’m proud that Jada will help kids see themselves and their friends.

The illustrations from Vanessa Brantley Newton gives me the same happy, warm feeling that the text does. Have you worked with her before? Did you have any input in the illustrations?

Vanessa is my sister-friend. I’ve always been a big admirer of her art, but I haven’t worked with her before. I feel so blessed that she’s the illustrator for the Jada Jones series. She captured Jada’s joy, brilliance and sensitivity in such a lovely way. The final decisions regarding artwork are up to the art director, illustrator and editor. But my editor did share Vanessa’s wonderful sketches with me and gave me the chance to share thoughts.

Will there be more Jada stories? I hope so. If kids really like the first two books, that could bring the chance for more. Crossing my fingers.

What can you tell us about what you’re working on now? I’m working on a picture book biography of an unsung African-American trailblazer and a forthcoming picture book that celebrates family coming together to honor their heritage and land.

Whoa! Those books sound awesome! Here goes the Lightning Round? Hands Kelly a chocolate bar for strength!

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

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Wooden pencil.

Coffee or tea? Tea.

Sweet or salty?  Both. I love chasing something salty with something sweet like popcorn with chocolate.

Dog, cat, or other?  Dog.

Plotter or pantser? Both.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there? The best advice I received was years ago at the Highlights Writers Workshop at Chautauqua. Editor Patti Gauch told us to “write the story only you can tell.” Dig deep and find stories that celebrate children and are informed by who you are. Another piece of advice I give to emerging authors is don’t let rejections get you down. All it takes is one yes.

Thank you again, Kelly! Happy book birthday to you and wonderful Jada!

Kelly Starling Lyons is an award-winning author,  a writing mentor active in SCBWI, and a member of The Brown Bookshelf, a group dedicated to spreading “awareness about the myriad of Black voices writing for young readers.” Visit her website to learn more about her. And Jada has a website too! 

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a children/teens bookseller, 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, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

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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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NYTimes Author Alan Gratz talks about REFUGEE and BAN THIS BOOK

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.” REFUGEE hit bookstore shelves in July 2017 and made it to the NYTimes best-sellers list for middle grade fiction twice in August. BAN THIS BOOK released on August 29th!

We are delighted to talk with Alan Gratz about REFUGEE, BAN THIS BOOK, 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 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, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology will fund 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 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.

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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.