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



Our February #Fouron400 Kidlit Writing Contest Window is now Open!

Q: What is Four on 400? 

A monthly contest that provides ONE LUCKY MG or YA WRITER with feedback on their opening 400 WORDS! As part of our ongoing mission to support writers, we’ll give a MG or YA writer feedback on their work from four of The Winged Pen’s contributors.

Q: Sounds exciting! How do I enter?

To enter, simply comment at the bottom of this post! At 4pm (EST) on the 5th of February, one winner will be randomly drawn from the Triwizard Cup. The winner will be notified and given 24 hours to submit his or her opening 400 WORDS. On the fourteenth of the month, the winner’s words, along with the title and genre of the work, will be posted to our blog with feedback from four of our members. Still have questions? See our Four on 400 page for additional details.

If you’re not sure how to leave a comment, check our FAQ page!

*Please check your email SPAM filter to make sure it will allow an email from

Want a chance to win an extra entry? Go to our Facebook page and find our post about the February Four on 400 contest. Then like and/or share our post. While you’re there, like our Facebook page if you haven’t already!

Remember, the contest window is only open until 4pm EST on February 5th, so don’t wait––enter now! Good Luck!

8 on Eight: December Feedback

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

Below, we’ve posted the first 8 lines from this month’s winner, along with feedback from at least eight of our members. We also encourage our readers to share their (constructive) suggestions and encouragement in the comments section below.

*Reminder: there is no 8 on Eight next month. Enjoy your holidays!


My story starts in the same place that it ends: Dad died almost a year ago, and I killed him. I didn’t use a gun – I wasn’t even there when it happened – and I didn’t hire anyone, either. It’s just that I’m responsible, and if I ever explained my role in his death to Mom and Jeffrey, they would never forgive me. So this is my secret, one I’ll carry with me until my last day.

If I’m right, that’s exactly eleven days from now.

I’ve closed my door so I can think in peace, but that doesn’t stop Jeffrey from barging in unannounced wearing his Thor helmet. He’s just gotten home from trick-or-treating, and as usual, he’s the superhero of bad timing.

Richelle: This is a very strong opening! I like the mystery, the shocking nature of her confessions, the details about the narrator’s brother — it’s all really working for me. Although the opening phrase is evocative, I am not sure you need it. I got a little hung up on “My story starts in the same place it ends” trying to figure out what that meant and how that would work. It wouldn’t keep me from reading on at all, but I think the statement about the father is enough of a grabber. I also think you can make the transition from the macro (I have this huge secret) to the micro (I’m sitting in my room when my be-costumed brother bursts in) a little snappier, too. Why is the narrator thinking about all this now? Is this the first chance in a while to be alone? Or is this routine? Is the eleven-days-until-I’m-dead information new? What is it about this particular moment of brooding that makes it special enough to start your story? I don’t have much more to say — you’ve hooked me in just a few lines! Great job — and good luck!

Michelle: Whoa! I’m intrigued and dying to read more. I only have two small suggestions. 1) I agree with Richelle. Kill the first part of the sentence. It makes the opening even stronger! 2) IMO, the third sentence is clunky compared to the rest of what you’ve shared with us: “It’s just that I’m responsible, and if I ever explained my role in his death to Mom and Jeffrey, they would never forgive me.” Play around with it a bit. Maybe two separate sentences. Or maybe (and this is what I truly believe), we don’t need you to tell this. We’ll figure it out soon enough when you show us in the story. Good luck! And keep in touch to let us know how it goes!

Jessica: This is fantastic; I’m definitely hooked! By way of suggestions, I’d agree with Richelle and Michelle; I think you can easily drop that first sentence and it will better capture our attention. Michelle’s suggestion that you might be able to drop the sentence about telling Mom and Jeffrey also resonated with me; I think you could play with the wording such that you could move right from the opening to the secret. Finally, I’d encourage you to double check your use of em dashes; these look to me like en dashes (or even hyphens?) and em dashes don’t typically have spaces before or after. But overall, this is a great opening. Nicely done!

Gabrielle: I think this is a great opening, and you have tension and conflict right where it belongs. I don’t disagree with any of the other Pennies that have commented, but I’ll add that I think you can tighten up the prose a little. Play with using some shorter sentences. They have more inherent tension. So, for example, “I didn’t use a gun. I wasn’t there when it happened. Before you ask, I didn’t hire anyone, either.”  I agree you can lose the “I’m responsible” line. It’s redundant here, and less powerful that what you’ve already said.  I love the introduction of the brother. You could work in a little more setting detail in the last paragraph, I think, so we can see the space she’s in.  Great, compelling beginning.

Kristi: Wowza! I’m jumping on the “I’m hooked” wagon with everyone else. Definitely very compelling. One of the my favorite lines is when you give us the 11 days the MC has to live. This definitely sets off the ticking time bomb right away. There really isn’t anything for me to add except that I totally agree with what has already been said. You can definitely shorten and cut some of the above to tighten the tension. My only suggestion would be to have your MC doing something other than sitting and thinking. Yes, you can probably get away with this because of how you’ve set up your first line, but why waste space. If he was doing chin-ups or bouncing a ball or even just on his computer, anything to give him a bit of action.

Halli: Well you had me at the title! And kept me going the more I read. Unlike the comments above, I don’t mind the first sentence. For me, the sticking point was after “I wasn’t even there when it happened.” A suggestion would be to take out the line of not hiring someone because that is just one of hundreds of possibilities of someone dying outside your presence. And I do agree with tightening up the sentence starting with I’m responsible. Fantastic job! I will be keeping my eye out for this 🙂

Julie: You’ve gotten some great advice (man, it’s always hard to go last!). I agree with Kristi that the “eleven days from now” line is the most evocative for me and if you can rework this a bit to put that in the spotlight, while using some shorter, more tension-filled sentences, I think you’ll have a must-read opener, especially since your premise and title are so intriguing. I’d say spend some time thinking about what makes the story start right in this moment–what triggered her to think about her father’s death while she sat there in her room on Halloween–and that might help you punch up what is already a solid beginning. Best of luck!

Rebecca:  Your topic is compelling. We know from the first sentence that something big is going to happen in this story and that the timeline is tight. That’s great! I also like your YA voice and the “superhero of bad timing.”

But you’re start has a telly feel. No action, dialogue or setting. I would break up the internals. A natural place to do this would be to have the little brother barge into the room with some dialogue. I think that also giving your MC an action, a nervous tick, or movement around his room so we know that’s where he is, would break this up and allow the reader to picture the scene while we’re hearing the heavy concerns on the MC’s mind through the internals.

All the best with your story!


Literary Agent Spotlight – Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group

Rejection isn’t people telling you you’re not good. It’s people telling you’re not good enough yet.

Mark Gottlieb grew up around the publishing industry. His father is the Chairman of the mark-gottliebTrident Media Group literary agency and Mark knew from an early age he wanted a career in publishing. He graduated from Emerson College with a focus in publishing and worked at Penguin Books before joining Trident. Mark ran Trident’s Audio Department, doubling its sales, and is now actively building his client list. Multiple sales in science fiction, thriller, and graphic novels have put him at the top of the Publisher Marketplace rankings for those categories, as well as overall sales.

Thanks for stopping by The Winged Pen today, Mark! If you think back to when you started in Emerson’s publishing program, in what ways is your job today what you expected it would be? In what ways is it different?

Book publishing was going through a lot of changes while I was at Emerson. The Kindle had just come out and Amazon was changing the publishing landscape.

Back then, I wanted to be an editor, but I had a very old-fashioned view of the publishing industry. One professor assigned Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, about the famed editor of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe and others. The book related how Perkins not only edited his authors’ manuscripts, but advocated for them, ensuring the author’s freedom of speech, getting an author an advance if they drank all their money away, or even letting Thom Wolfe sleep on his couch to get a manuscript written. Maxwell Perkin’s story was recently adapted into the movie Genius, starring Jude Law and Colin Firth.  Things like this would never fly today. Publishing companies have become very corporate.

The more I read about Maxwell Perkins, the more I realized the way he advocated for his authors sounded less like the role of an editor in publishing today and more like what my father did as a literary agent at Trident. Because of the nature of the publishing beast, editors have very little time to edit. They acquire projects and steer manuscripts through the publishing process at their company. Some editors work with authors the way Perkins did, max-perkinsbut most expect a manuscript to come in fully polished and that’s why you see literary agents working with authors to get their books into the best possible shape for submission. Reading that book was wake up call for me.

What kind of books are you looking to represent?

My deals have been all over the place. In children’s books I’ve worked on young adult, middle grade and picture books. I’ve also worked on sci fi/fantasy, graphic novels, romance, women’s fiction, creative nonfiction, and memoirs. Some agents want to be known as the woman you want to go to if you want a romance book or the guy to go to if you write military fiction. I’m more interested in diversifying what I do and working on all types of projects that interest me.

Our readers are primarily children’s book writers – young adult, middle grade and picture book. What trends do you see in those categories and what are you looking for in your slush pile?

I’m fairly open in young adult and middle grade. People are still on the John Green kick. They’re looking for contemporary, almost romantic themes in young adult. Editors say they’re tired of post-apocalyptic settings after Hunger Games or the James Dashner books. Of course, they say that until something else comes along to change their minds!

I think what helps in YA or MG books, especially since boys in this age group are sometimes viewed as reluctant readers, is to have a main character who is a girl, or at least a primary character. I don’t think Harry Potter would have taken off the way it did if Hermione hadn’t been so prominent. Or for YA and MG books for boys, it’s good to have fantasy or science fiction elements because boys at that age are drawn to those genres, which is why the Maze Runner books have done so well.

Picture books are tough because a lot of ideas are developed in-house by publishers. I’m open to them if they are developed by a writer/illustrator, especially one who has won awards, but otherwise they can be difficult to sell. Chapter books are tough for the same reasons.

Most authors have “Dream Agents” that they’d love to represent them. What would your “Dream Author” be like?

My dream author would have faith in the process. This industry takes time. It’s hurry up and wait because it takes time to read manuscripts. Even if things are quiet on my end, I’m still working on their behalf. I’m like the Wizard of Oz, pulling the strings behind the curtain.

A dream author would also understand that they are important to marketing and promoting their book.   If Tim Burton has a new movie coming out starring Johnny Depp, people want to hear from Tim Burton or Johnny Depp. They’re not interested in hearing from the cameraman or the guy who holds the boom mike. The author is unique in that they are like the director, the actor, the screenplay writer, the lighting guy, every important part of making their book. They are so central to the process. It’s a tough gig but readers really want to hear about a book from the author, so authors need to nurture their book to ensure its success.

Also, authors should write well. That’s a given.

What makes you want to read more of a submission?

If a query letter is well written it’s a good indication to me that the manuscript will be well written. The first two sentences are really important and need to hook the reader.

It’s important for writers to learn how to summarize their story. What you write in your query letter could be used to craft the pitch letter to editors or even become the jacket copy on the book.

Do you like to see personalization in a query letter or just want to see the pitch?

Agents in our industry have our egos stroked enough. I don’t need authors to say, “I really like your work,” or, “My book is a good fit for you because it’s like XYZ book you represented.” Agents know writers are approaching other agents as well.

When agents request manuscripts, authors should be wary about requests for an exclusive, meaning that author won’t send the manuscript to other agents. The agent could sit on their hands for months. I don’t ask for exclusives. If there’s a project that interests me, I try and read it in two or three days or at least within a week. If I take a manuscript home and stay up all night reading it and call the author the next day, it shows I’m competitive. I care about this project and wanted to get ahead of everyone else.

What words of wisdom would you like to share with aspiring authors?

Submit to agents who are building their lists. Writers submit to my father and he’s not going to take a new author unless he or she is a New York Times bestseller. Even if he likes a query, he’s going to pass it on to someone else in the agency. It’s better to take the time to research the agents and figure out for yourself who would be best for your manuscript.

I’d also advise authors that making mistakes and learning from them is a very important part of growth. It’s painful. People say it takes until the author’s fourth manuscript before they have one that is publishable. But you can compare it to competing in a tournament. There’s only one first place medal. Everyone else lost, even if they came in second or third. But you could say that the person who came in first really lost because they probably didn’t learn anything. They just used the skills they’d already developed. But the person who came in last knows a lot more about what they need to work on to do better next time, and in a way, that’s winning.

Instead of sitting quietly in the back at writing conferences because you’re nervous, participate. I’m happier when people make mistakes because they find out what they have to work on. The time when you are writing those first couple books is a very good time for a debut author to learn the foundation they’ll need for the rest of their career.

Rejection isn’t people telling you you’re not good. It’s people telling you’re not good enough yet.

Now for the speed round – Coffee or tea?

Both. Coffee first thing so I can hit the ground running. Then I switch to green tea.

Sweet or Salty?dingus-and-willow


Cat or dog?

I have two cats now, Dingus and Willow. They’re Singapuras. But I grew up with dogs and would like to have a couple, eventually, when I move out of the city.

Paperback, Hardcover, Audio, or E-book?

In an ideal world I’d read the paperback and let it get dinged up, and I’d let the hardcover sit pristinely on my shelf. The hardcover book is a technology that’s been perfected. My wife, who also works in publishing, and I love books. We have so many we really need to give some away but it’s hard to part with them!

Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us at The Winged Pen today, Mark!

And to our readers, you can find out more about Mark on Publishers Marketplace or query him via Trident’s website. Mark has generously offered to critique a query letter from one reader who comments on this post. Query letters for middle grade or young adult manuscripts will be considered. Please comment by 12 pm Eastern on Saturday the 15th to enter. We’ll draw a winner from the TriWizard cup and get in touch with him or her by email.

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

Photo by Pam Vaughan
Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade and young adult stories that blend mystery and adventure. Her best story ideas come from her two crazy kids. She’s on Twitter and her website is here.


8 on Eight: October Contest Feedback

eight on eight 2

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

If your name wasn’t drawn from the Triwizard cup this time around, keep an eye out for when our next contest window opens at 8 PM on October 30th. Below, we’ve posted the first 8 lines from this month’s winner, along with feedback from at least eight of our members. We also encourage our readers to share their (constructive) suggestions and encouragement in the comments section below.

Bear with Bear – A picture book about an unusual child who wishes to have an unusual pet.

Bear was exploring a maggot he found in an apple.
“I think you’ll be a scientist like me when you grow up,” Dad said with a smile.
“Yeah!” Bear waved the magnifying glass. “And I’ll have my pet maggot and even a pet snake!”
“Yuck, snakes,” Bear’s little sister, Penelope, said. Then she noticed the maggot and mouthed a long eww.
“What’s that?” Mom twisted up her mouth at the sight of the maggot. “Someone might eat that by mistake,” she said, and threw Bear’s pet into the garbage disposal.


Gita: Thanks for sharing this with us! I love this concept. The idea of a strange and unusual pet is charming and I think both children and parents will find it fun. I like that you will be opening their minds to all sorts of new pet possibilities!:) I feel sympathy for Bear when his mom throws his maggot into the garbage disposal, but I wondered if the family as a whole wasn’t a little too familiar or predictable. There’s the adventurous boy, the scientist dad, the little sister who doesn’t like maggots or snakes, and the squeamish mom. Might you consider giving each one a twist that would make them feel more fresh?

Jessica: This is a fun idea! I agree with Gita that it feels somewhat predictable; perhaps looks for a fresh way to introduce the story that will heighten the emotional stakes. Right now, it reads that Bear just found the maggot (he hasn’t even named it yet) so we don’t feel an emotional impact when Mom throws it away. Good luck!

Kristi: Thanks for entering and congratulations on being chosen! I agree with the above comments so I won’t rehash what’s already been said. My first thought is actually concerning your first line. You’re writing about a strange, interesting and new pet– a maggot! There’s got to be a  really exciting way to start this story off. A stand-out first line will grab your reader. It’ll give Bear a voice that immediately creates that bond Jessica hinted at. All the  best as you move forward with this project!

Michelle: So cute and kids love books about creatures that make us squeamish like maggots and snakes! I agree with all of the above and think Kristi’s idea to add some punch to your opening line will go a long way in drawing in your young reader’s interest! For ideas on writing great opening lines, you might want to check this post! I’d also suggest that you think about what can be shown in illustration to leave out unnecessary words like “said Dad with a smile.” I’m a little confused about “A picture book about an unusual child who wishes to have an unusual pet” because we’re talking about a bear not a child. And what makes him unusual. We should probably get a sense of this immediately. Best wishes on your writing! Keep in touch!

Sussu: Thank you for submitted your writing to our contest. Picture books are still hot and we need more.

First of all, I really like the idea of the story: an unusual child who wants an unusual pet. That tells me diversity is going to be on the menu, and more diverse books is a great idea. I was engaged by the story from the start. I felt so disappointed not to know the ending. You got me. The story also shows kids that even a maggot is important and we should care for and respect every living creature. This powerful theme will probably appeal to children. I also like the family dynamics. I could feel the energy and every bear’s personality. I think the story will do just fine. I was hooked and the mention of the maggot surprised me, which is really what you want to do too. My only concern about this story is the diversity. Bear stories are the staple of many childhood, so maybe a different character might work better or surprise us more. Think of a family of birds caring for a maggot. Now, that would be something else. As an illustrator, I see more potential with a character we do not expect. I agree with Michelle that if your intention is to show an unusual character, then go wild with the idea. Being unusual could be interpreted in so many ways; the character could have an handicap too. When we write stories, it is always a good idea to think of our readers and to reach out to all audiences.

This being said, this story is charming and I can see the appeal. Good luck with it.

Julie I agree with what’s been said. Stories with gross factor and unusual twists like a pet maggot seem to have lasting appeal with target age group for PBs (3-5 year-olds), but this needs a fresh angle to stand out. So what can you do to draw the reader into Bear’s story in a fresh way? Make us empathize with his desire for a new, unusual pet, make us sad when the maggot goes down the drain, and make us cheer for him when he eventually (I hope) saves the maggot from the disposal. Is there anything you can do that will turn the traditional gender stereotypes in the current draft on their head? Take the kernel of story you’ve got here and do some brainstorming to see what you come up with. Best of luck!

Richelle: Thank you for sharing! Like my fellow Pennies, I liked the idea of an unusual pet — my children are riveted by the myriad of insects and other un-fuzzy pets that the science teacher at their school keeps in his classroom. I can see this idea resonating. I also agree that your opening line could have more pop and that the strict gender divisions could hurt your story’s chances. I don’t have a good sense of Bear’s emotional connection to the maggot. Why does he decide the maggot should be a pet instead of a pest? How does he feel about his family’s reactions? Does he have a vision for the kind of pet the maggot will be? (When my children ask for pets, they invariably tell me how they will play with them and care for them — tell us how Bear thinks life will be better with a maggot pet!) Finally, I recommend making a dummy — it will really help you see what words/descriptions are extraneous. Good luck!

Karin: I love the idea of an unusual pet, but as there are already many books out there on this subject, be sure to check them out, like Strictly No Elephants and Rhinos Don’t Eat Pancakes. Your first line could be stronger, and I think bear would be “observing” rather than “exploring” the maggot in his apple. And why does Bear say that when he’s a scientist, he’ll also have a pet snake? We want to know why Bear loves the maggot so much that he wants him as a pet. If he’s going to be a scientist, is Bear trying to see how maggot wiggles or how he boroughs a tunnel? For example, you could start like this: “Bear peered through his magnifying glass at Maggot, who was nibbling a tiny tunnel through his apple.” I love the idea of a pet maggot as it’s unique and offers lots of opportunity to explore why a maggot would make a good pet. Maybe he even chomps through Bear’s garbage, turning it into compost! 🙂