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.

Four on 400 October Feedback

Thank you to all the brave souls who entered this month’s Four on 400 contest!

Sharing your writing takes courage, and we appreciate your enthusiasm for our contest.Below, we’ve posted the first 400 words from this month’s winner, along with feedback from at least four of our members. We also encourage our readers to share their (constructive) suggestions and encouragement in the comments section below.

Camp Chrysalis (Middle Grade)

Baby carrots ruined Owen Fortner’s life.

Owen stood, braced against the door of the boys’ bathroom next to the kindergarten classroom. His safe haven during lunch for the last two weeks, it was about as far away from both his fifth-grade classroom and the lunch room as he could get. Only three days before summer vacation, Chris and Jerry found his hiding spot and were beating and pushing on the door to get in.

Owen relaxed his mind, pushing his thoughts to his twin sister, Allie. They’d been able to talk to each other mentally since they learned to speak. They found me. I’m in the bathroom over by the kindergarten, and I won’t be able to hold them off for long.

His sister’s voice was only a mumble in his mind until Owen focused on it.

…help. Just hold them off for as long as you can.

He’d only redirected his concentration for a moment, but it was enough that his sneakers slid on the hard tile floor.

The door opened a few inches before Owen could stop it. Sensing weakness like the ruthless predators they were, Jerry and Chris gave a coordinated effort and slid through.

Although fellow fifth-graders, Chris and Jerry stood much taller than Owen. Of course, Owen reflected, so did everyone else, including his twin sister. Chris’s lips curled back, revealing teeth too big for his mouth and the gap where a canine tooth should be—and was, two weeks ago…before The Baby Carrot Incident.

“Got you,” Chris snarled.

Owen backed up against the side of the bathroom stalls, thinking a swirly wouldn’t be so bad. No… he’d much prefer a swirly to getting punched hard enough to lose a tooth. Chris had been preaching “a tooth for a tooth” for the last two weeks. Jerry leaned against the closed door, making it difficult for anyone to interrupt them.

Owen circled in front of the sinks, hoping he could make it back around to the door and possibly escape.

All this because of baby carrots… Those stupid little orange vegetables his mother stuffed into his lunch two weeks ago. If only the small bag hadn’t been so darn hard to open. If only the carrots hadn’t exploded out of the package. If only they hadn’t landed on the floor just as Chris stepped, and made him slip, hit the table, and knock out his tooth.

Halli: Thank you for sharing! The first sentence definitely hooked me! As did the overall theme. The pacing is great and I loved the paragraph describing Chris and keeping up the mystery of the baby carrot incident. I have two tiny comments to mention. First, the part about Owen talking to his sister pulled me out of the immediate action and danger. If it is crucial to the first few pages and first chapter, I would recommend moving it a little farther down. Second, I had a hard time grounding myself in the first full paragraph. I think because there is a lot happening – the actions of the boys as well as three different locations. Overall, great job! Good luck.

Julie: I agree with Halli–great first line! And I actually like getting the twins’ telepathy onto the first page, but think it could be integrated a little bit more into the action so that it doesn’t pull us out of the narrative. Could you cut the lines about relaxing his mind and talking mentally and just have him think “I’m in the boy’s bathroom. Need help fast” and then let Ally respond. Kids will pick up on what you’re talking about without disrupting the tension of the door slowly working its way open. I think the “Although fellow fifth-graders” paragraph could be cut or condensed too. Stick to the immediate danger Owen is in, and the actions he takes to protect himself, and I think this will be a winning opening.

Richelle: I’m with Halli and Julie — great first line and very fun, fast-paced opening. That promise of the first line is dulled a bit with the next few paragraphs. I struggled a little with that first full paragraph. Try shorter sentences, maybe? And I don’t think you need to specify there where he is since he tells his twin in the next paragraph. Really think about what we absolutely must know to get through the rest of the scene and get rid of the rest — the curiosity of baby carrots, telepathy and the “tooth for a tooth” bullies will keep kids reading! And I’m with Julie — I don’t think we need to understand any of the history of Owen communicating with Allie. You can just have them do it urgently in that moment, and then explain it later when you give your readers a “take a breath” moment. Thanks for sharing!

Karin: Nice job! You throw us immediately into a tense scene that has us asking: will Owen escape? I think the last sentence in paragraph two is a little confusing as he’s bracing against the door but this is safe haven away from the two boys. “Figures that only three days before summer vacation, Chris and Jerry had found his hiding spot and were beating and pushing on the door to get in.(you don’t need to tell this as the action shows it.)” And “relaxed his mind” is awkward, and in fact I would cut that whole sentence. Then shorten the rest. “He needed his sister. They could talk to each other mentally ever since they could speak. Allie, they found me…” I love “swirly” and “tooth for a tooth”! This sounds like a fun adventure! Good luck going forward!

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October Four on 400 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 October, 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 info@thewingedpen.com

Want a chance to win an extra entry? Go to our Facebook page and find our post about the October 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 October 5th, so don’t wait––enter now! Good Luck!

Dear Anne of Green Gables

Welcome to a brand new series on The Winged Pen!

Here, we write love letters to our favorite books—the ones that shaped us, as writers and as people.

First up is the book that inspired me to start this series: Anne of Green Gables!

In case you haven’t read it, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables is the story of an orphan girl who, after being shipped to various abysmal foster homes, lands with an older couple (actually brother and sister) on an idyllic farm on Prince Edward Island.

I am an Anne girl. I get a glow just holding the book (especially the lovely edition from Puffin and Rifle Paper—yum!). My red-haired daughter is named Lucy, after Lucy Maud Montgomery.

There are a few things that made this book so influential to me.

First, Anne is not perfect. She tries really hard to be good, but she loses her temper, she messes things up royally, and she is given to fits of despair. I was a kid who worried all the time about doing the right thing, and seeing Anne’s horrid mistakes and tantrums gave me a gleeful thrill, and permission for my own imperfection. (Imperfection is good! I wrote a whole post on it.)

Second, L.M. Montgomery taught me about writing description. Here is how she describes the road to Anne’s new home, when Anne first sees it:

The “Avenue,” so called by the Newbridge people, was a stretch of road four or five hundred yards long, completely arched over with huge, wide-spreading apple-trees, planted years ago by an eccentric old farmer. Overhead was one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom. Below the boughs the air was full of a purple twilight and far ahead a glimpse of painted sunset sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle.

Isn’t that lovely? Oh, it makes me sigh every time.

Montgomery elevates the scenery of her beloved home while also being so specific that I can picture it. I see it perfectly, and I feel the same awed reaction that Anne experiences in that moment. I strive in my own writing to make descriptions that not just make a place real, but make it magical and inspiring.

Finally, Anne loves with her whole heart. Her joy at her new home is palpable. She takes the time to feel every moment and savor it. She doesn’t dwell on her unhappy background, but she is constantly amazed at her good fortune to end up in a place so enchanting. May we all be so grateful for the good in our lives!

Here’s my favorite quote:

“Dear old world”, she murmured, “you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”

In the comments, please share yours!

Kate Hillyer writes middle grade novels in the D.C. area, but is certain she’s going to make it to Prince Edward Island someday. Look for her in long red braids soon. In the meantime, she blogs here and at From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors, and maintains her own book blog at Kid Book List. She’s also a 2017 Cybils judge for poetry and novels in verse. You can find her on Twitter and at www.katehillyer.com. 

 

 

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Book Recommendation: The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding

I am a huge fan of creepy. Books, movies, decaying abandoned houses. So when The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken became available on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to read it. This book is the whole package of eerie while still having the humor middle grade readers love.

Goodreads

“I would say it’s a pleasure to meet thee, Prosperity Oceanus Redding, but truly, I only anticipate the delights of destroying thy happiness .”
Prosper is the only unexceptional Redding in his old and storied family history-that is, until he discovers the demon living inside him. Turns out Prosper’s great-great-great-great-great-something grandfather made-and then broke-a contract with a malefactor, a demon who exchanges fortune for eternal servitude. And, weirdly enough, four-thousand-year-old Alastor isn’t exactly the forgiving type. The fiend has reawakened with one purpose–to destroy the family whose success he ensured and who then betrayed him. With only days to break the curse and banish Alastor back to the demon realm, Prosper is playing unwilling host to the fiend, who delights in tormenting him with nasty insults and constant attempts to trick him into a contract. Yeah, Prosper will take his afterlife without a side of eternal servitude, thanks. But with the help of his long-lost uncle, Barnabas, and his daughter, Nell, a witch-in-training, it seems like Prosper has at least a fighting chance of ridding himself of Alastor before the demon escapes and wreaks havoc on his family.
Little does Prosper know, the malefactor’s control over his body grows stronger with each passing night and there’s a lot Alastor isn’t telling his dim-witted (but admittedly strong-willed) human host.

From #1 New York Times best-selling author Alexandra Bracken comes a tale of betrayal and revenge, of old hurts passed down from generation to generation. Can you ever fully right a wrong, ever truly escape your history? Or will Prosper and Alastor be doomed to repeat it? (NetGalley)

We meet Prosper on the first page and that’s where I fell in love with his voice.  He’s not the best student or the most popular, but he has a personality you can’t help but root for. Especially when we’re introduced to an ominous stranger who spies on Prosper, an angry and sadistic grandmother, a basement he’s forced into, and a ritual that involves a knife. (We haven’t even gotten to the haunted house yet!)

The fantastic characters don’t stop with Prosper. All are well-developed and have such strong motivations, it is easy to cheer them on, including the demon, Alastor, trying to possess him. It’s because of the strength of the characters that we don’t see the plot twists, and at one point, you have no idea who is good or evil.

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding is not just a tale to send chills down your spine or give you goosebumps. It’s not just about a boy who may or may not escape (no spoilers!) a centuries old pact with a demon. This story is about an underdog who puts others first and learns his own self worth.

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding is now available! You can find it at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and IndiBound. And don’t forget to check out author Alexandra Bracken’s website here.

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. You can find her on Twitter.