Author Interview: Ali Standish

Today we welcome debut middle-grade author Ali Standish to The Winged Pen. Ali is the author of THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE, which released on January 24th!

Pull up a chair and get comfy, Ali!

Thank you so much, and thanks for having me! 

Congrats on your debut middle-grade novel, THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE. It has been described as a beautifully written mystery about loss and grief. Tell us about your inspiration for the book.

I was inspired to write the book by a hodgepodge of things (I think this is the case for most books!). I was just leaving a teaching job I loved in Washington, D.C., where I worked with some incredible students. Some of them had been through some really tough stuff, and I remember thinking, “where are all the middle grade books that deal with these things?”

At the same time, I was ruminating about the nature of lying and storytelling, and the gray area that exists between them. I started thinking about a character who told stories that were dishonest on the surface and yet somehow true in a deeper sense. And then I paired her with a character who lied by omission, and bang! There were Coralee and Ethan.

Ah, lying and storytelling. That’s such an important concept to explore, because I’m sure most kids get mixed up in situations like this. Truth is important. Stories are too, as is forgiveness. THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE would make a great classroom read.

Your main characters, Ethan and Coralee, are of different races. Do you think this is important to the story?

Modeling an interracial friendship is definitely an important aspect of the story to me. I don’t think we see enough of these relationships in children’s literature, and that’s a shame. But it’s also important to note that Coralee was a black character since the moment I dreamed her up (before I had even thought of Ethan). I didn’t write her as black to make a point or to fulfill a quota. I think the reason I thought of her that way had more to do with the essence of her spirit. To elaborate a bit: We know that, because of societal and institutional factors, it is generally harder to be a black child in the U.S. than a white one. But when you look, for instance, at statistics on black women in education, you see that despite these hurtles, they are now the most educated group in the US. Struggle may be part of the black experience, but so is the overcoming of it. So going back and rereading the book now, I think I was trying to write Coralee so that her character would reflect some of the struggles many black children in the U.S. face, but also the joy and humor and triumph and bravery that make up part of their experience, too.

I LOVE Coralee. She’s smart, forthright, and energetic. What do you hope young readers take away from your story?

Hope. Understanding that the world takes things away from us, but it also brings us second chances and new friends.

What is your work/writing schedule?

It changes depending on where I am in the process and how much else I have going on! Right now, I’ve been doing about 4,000 words a day, in two blocks of time—first thing in the morning and then in the late afternoon. But that’s because I’ve set aside a few weeks to do nothing but write. Sometimes I’ll go weeks without writing a word, but during those stretches I’m always working away on my plot in my head.

4000 words a day! Wow, you’ve just raised the bar for me! Do you have any *strange* writing habits?

Possibly the fact that I don’t have a habit at all? I will write in bed, in a coffee shop, on a plane, with music, without music, in the morning, at night. I’m all over the map!

Which writers inspire you? Is there a recently published book you’d heartily recommend?

Growing up, my inspirations were Sharon Creech, Katherine Paterson, Jerry Spinelli and, of course, J.K. Rowling. They still are! Going back and reading childhood classics like The Secret Garden and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I am kind of in awe at how writers like Burnett and Lewis were able to create such an abundance of magic in so few words. As for recently published books? Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow, which was just named as a Newbery Honor book, is probably the best middle grade book I have read since I was a middle grader. And Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give is worth every ounce of the hype it’s gotten.

We share similar taste in books. Wolf Hollow definitely deserved the Newbery Honor. I can’t wait to get my hands on Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. It comes out very soon, folks! February 28th!!!

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

More middle grade! Another novel set in the deep south, this one with a magical twist

Sounds perfect, Ali! I can’t wait to read it. Now buckle up for the LIGHTNING ROUND!🌩

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Time travel. (Yes! Take me with you!)

Wooden pencil or mechanical?

Yuck! Pen, please. Better yet, keyboard.

Coffee or tea?

Tea until I die. Or have to get a root canal. (A girl after my heart!)❤️

Sweet or salty?

Salty. When I was living in the UK, my pet peeve was all the sweet popcorn flavors they kept coming up with. What’s wrong with plain butter?!🍿

Dog, cat, or other?

Dog, of course.

Plotter or pantser?

Pantser. Wait, can I change my answer??? This is why I am a plotter. 🙂

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?

Remember that writing takes practice. It’s something that you get better at over time. You can have the best idea in the world, but you’ve got to put in your practice hours before you will have the skill to write it. Rejection does not mean you failed. It means you need more practice. (That also means reading, particularly in the genre you write!)

I hear you! And it’s so true. There are no shortcuts to becoming a great rider. Thank you for stopping by Ali!

Find THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE at your local Indie or find it online.

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Indiebound.org

Goodreads

Ali Standish grew up in North Carolina and spent several years as an educator. She has a MFA in children’s writing from Hollis University and a MPhil in children’s literature from the University of Cambridge. She lives with her Finnish husband and rescue dog. THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE is her debut novel. Visit her at www.alistandish.com , on Twitter, or on Facebook.

 

 

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

Star in MG / YA Magazines

Although often not lucrative, magazine publications can offer you many benefits.

  • They help your name get out there and stand out from the crowd of writers;
  • they can give you a unique insight into the publication world;
  • they can help you be more productive and serve as experimental pieces;
  • they can help you connect with other authors;
  • you might attract the attention of an editor and get further and better offers such as writing for series;
  • finally but not least, short story credits will impress agents or editors because it tells them your work is worth both reading and paying for.

(NB: *CTS! Means “Closed To Submission.” Some magazines only accept submissions at specific times.)

 

Middle Grade Magazines:

CRICKET. Covers all ages. Have many different magazines: Babybugs, Clicks. Ladybug. Ask (arts and sciences). Spider. Cricket. Cobblestone (American history). Dig Into History. Faces (cultures). Muse (Fun science and tech). Cicada (YA). Welcome works by writers from underrepresented groups. <http://www.cricketmedia.com/submission-guidelines?_ga=1.139948403.1938444544.1485226635 >

EMBER. MG and YA. Age 10 to 18. Poetry, fiction, flash fiction, creative nonfiction. <http://emberjournal.org/submission-guidelines/>

 

 

 

FROSTFIRE WORLDS. Ages 8-18. Fantasy and science fiction stories up to 6000 words with strong world-building. Adventure stories, space opera, and magic opera. Also accept poems, art, articles, reviews, and interviews.<http://albanlake.com/guidelines-frostfire/>

NEW MOON. Girls 8 to 12. Fiction and non-fiction.
Show powerful women in charge of their lives. Show parents how to support girls “to express their voices, strengths, needs, problems, and dreams.” <http://newmoon.com/getting-published-daughters-com/>

SPACEPORTS & SPIDERSILK. Short stories, poems, art, brief essays on science and the environment, interviews, quizzes, fantasy, science fiction, and mild horror. Open to hard to sell stories. <http://nomadicdeliriumpress.com/spaceportsgl.htm>

 

WEE TALES. Magical, heart pounding tales, 2000 words maximum. <https://goldenfleecepress.com/submissions/>

 

 

YOUNG EXPLORER’S ADVENTURE GUIDE. Combine adventure, space, and science. Diverse characters, strong girls, and fun. <http://dreamingrobotpress.com/young-explorers-adventure-guide-submissions/>

 

 

YA Magazines:

 BALLOONS. 12 years-old and up. Looking for unconventional materials, “elements that could enlighten and amaze the young minds.” <http://www.balloons-lit-journal.com/submission.html>

CAST OF WONDERS. YA science fiction or high fantasy for podcasting. *CTS! <http://www.castofwonders.org/submissions/>

CBAY. Teens. Fantasy or science fiction. *CTS! <http://www.cbaybooks.com/submission-guidelines.html>

 

 

CRICKET. Covers all ages. Have many different magazines: Babybugs, Clicks. Ladybug. Ask (arts and sciences). Spider. Cricket. Cobblestone (American history). Dig Into History. Faces (cultures). Muse (Fun science and tech).

Cicada (YA). Welcome works by writers from underrepresented groups.   <http://www.cricketmedia.com/submission-guidelines?_ga=1.139948403.1938444544.1485226635>

 

EMBER. Ages 10 to 18. Poetry, fiction, flash fiction, creative nonfiction. <http://emberjournal.org/submission-guidelines/>

FOREST FOR THE TREES. Poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction up to 6,000 words. <https://ffttjournal.wordpress.com/contactsubmit/>

FROSTFIRE WORLDS. 8-18 and beyond. Fantasy and science fiction stories up to 6000 words with strong world-building. Adventure stories, space opera, and magic opera. Also accept poems, art, articles, reviews, and interviews. <http://albanlake.com/guidelines-frostfire/>

 

HUNGER MOUNTAIN. Short stories, poetry, novel/novella excerpts, and creative nonfiction. Follows themes. <http://hungermtn.org/submit/>

LUNCH TICKET. YA short stories and flash fiction up to 5,000 words. <https://lunchticket.submittable.com/submit/11940/young-adult-writing-for-young-people-13>

ONE TEEN STORY. Literary fiction between 3,000 and 8,000 words. <http://www.one-story.com/index.php?page=submit&pubcode=os>

 

 

REFRACTIONS. YA fantasy with a delicate, magical touch, 5000 words maximum. <https://goldenfleecepress.com/submissions/>

SPACEPORTS & SPIDERSILK. Short stories, poems, art, brief essays on science and the environment, interviews, quizzes, fantasy, science fiction, and mild horror. Opened to hard to sell stories. <http://nomadicdeliriumpress.com/spaceportsgl.htm>

SUCKER LITERARY. YA fiction up to 10,000 words. *CTS! <https://suckerliterarymagazine.wordpress.com/submission-guidelines/>

SUDDENLY LOST IN WORDS. Poetry, short stories, and memoirs up to 3000 words.
<http://writingcareer.com/suddenly-lost-in-words-re-opens-for-ya-short/>

YARN. Poetry, essays up to 3000 words, and fiction up to 6000 words. <http://yareview.net/how-to-submit/>

YOUTH IMAGINATION. Real issues facing teens, from 200 to 20K words. <http://youthimagination.silverpen.org/index.php/submission-guidelines>

 

 

CONCLUSION:

Think of making your stories crossover because it is difficult to find magazines looking for specific genres you might specialize in. You could make your YA stories reaching into adult realms. You could, for example, submit to TOR and CICADA at the same time.

Keep in mind that magazines pay little but expect the best.

Some magazines will only accept excerpts. Read guidelines carefully.

Have fun exploring and submitting!

 

Resource:

Duotrop Magazine List. < duotrope.com >

♥♥♥

If you liked this article, visit Sussu’s blogs, at Novel Without Further Ado and Book Riders for MG readers. Connect with her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Thanks for reading

 

 

Find Mentors after Pitch Wars?

If Pitch Wars 2017 seems too far away or too selective for you, you can always try out other mentorship programs available online.

Some are free and some come with a fee. I have listed both below.

But first….

What should you expect from a mentor?

A mentor is a professional who is ahead of the game and understands the industry better than you. By definition, a mentor advises, guides.

However, a mentor is not your friend, like a CP (critique partner) could be. A mentor is NOT someone with a magic wand like a Book Doctor or a Ghost Writer.

A mentor will point out what you need to work on, and will give you pointers and references.

Mentors will talk to you periodically, from just a few hours up to a year.

Finally, a mentor will be most helpful if you’ve tried your best, maybe won a few awards or competitions, sent a bunch of queries that did not amount to anything, and you’re now ready to move to the next level.

FREE MENTORSHIP PROGRAMS:

Writing with the stars is a mentorship opportunity for intermediate picture book writers and illustrators. 3 months mentorship. <http://beckytarabooks.com/contest/>

AWP Mentorship: Every Spring and Fall. The program matches new and established writers for a three-month series of modules covering topics from craft to publication to the writing life. < https://www.awpwriter.org/community_calendar/mentorship_program_overview>

Australian Society of Authors (ASA) mentorship. The ASA offers paid mentorships to all published and unpublished writers and picture book illustrators with a work-in-progress. <https://www.asauthors.org/emerging-writers-and-illustrators-mentorships>

CBS Diversity Institute’s Writers Mentoring Program (script writing) Will help you get your TV show on the way. <https://www.cbscorporation.com/diversity/diversity-institute/writers-mentoring-program/>

Gemini Ink Mentorship Program: Spring. Apply to the Gemini Ink 2016 Mentorship Program and be one of four writers chosen to work one-on-one over a six month period with a nationally recognized author on a book-length project, free of charge. < http://geminiink.org/writing-mentorships/>

SCBWI Mentorship Programs. Any SCBWI regions offer mentorship programs that match established members with up-and-coming authors and illustrators. Some of these programs are open to just members in a particular region, others are open to any SCBWI member. < https://www.scbwi.org/scbwi-mentorship-programs/>

WNDB (We Need Diverse Books) Mentorship Program: October.  For the 2017 year, WNDB is offering mentorships to ten upcoming voices—eight aspiring authors and two illustrators—who are diverse or working on diverse books. <http://weneeddiversebooks.org/aboutapply/>

Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Your Novel Year: Summer. Arizona State University. Online Certificate Program in the country for those looking to write Young Adult novels. <https://piper.asu.edu/novel>  

Leigh Shulman’s Women’s Writing Mentorship Exchange. For women. Will read through answers and choose 65 people to work with the mentors. Results come in June. <http://thefutureisred.com/birthday-giveaway-2016/>

The WoMentoring project. Accessible to only women, especially women who cannot afford a traditional mentorship program. This organization depends entirely on volunteers. <https://womentoringproject.co.uk/>  

1st 5 Pages Writing free Workshop. Will workshop your first five pages with authors and an agent. <http://www.1st5pageswritingworkshop.com/p/mentor-schedule.html>

MENTORSHIP PROGRAMS WITH A FEE:  

Inked Voices. An online group gathering professionals (agents, editors, writers) and a selective number of writers in a critique group.<https://www.inkedvoices.com/group/pro_groups/>

UCLA’s One-on-One Mentorships. Mentorships give you access to an instructor Monday through Friday for 4 full weeks.  You receive feedback every 12-24 hours for most work and 24-36 hours for longer material. <http://writers.uclaextension.edu/programs-services/mentorships/>

Amanda Hampson’s The Write Workshops, promises to complete your first draft in 12 months with a writing mentor. Affordable monthly fee (about $100). <http://thewriteworkshops.com/writingmentor/>

Novel in a Year Mentoring Course. In twelve monthly sessions, you will be able to submit instalments of up to 10,000 words for your editor to assess as you go. First month free. <http://www.danielgoldsmith.co.uk/writers_mentors.php>  

The Dzanc Creative Writing Mentorships is an online program designed to allow writers to work one-on-one with published authors and editors to shape their short story, novel, poem, or essay. Has an extensive list of authors ready to work with you. <http://www.dzancbooks.org/creative-writing-mentorships/>  

Creative nonfiction offers its own mentoring Program, at <https://www.creativenonfiction.org/mentoring-program>  

The NSW Writers’ Center Mentorship. A NSWWC mentorship is an opportunity for you to work one-on-one (either face-to-face, by email, Skype or over the phone) with an experienced writer or editor. <http://www.nswwc.org.au/support-for-writers/mentorship-program/>  

Blue Pencil mentorships. Professional children’s authors and illustrators who are Members of CANSCAIP will give a critique and answer five follow-up questions. You need to be a current CANSCAIP member before applying. <http://www.canscaip.org/Mentorship>  

Bespoke Mentoring. Mentoring for 3, 6 or 12 months. They will support you every step of the way, from structuring your novel to advice on where to go next with the final product. <https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/writers/services/bespoke-mentoring>

Australian Writers Mentoring Program to offer high-level mentoring to new and emerging writers of fiction and non-fiction.  The program runs over six months,  providing five one-on-one meetings with an established, award-winning writer.  Before each meeting the mentor will read up to ten thousand words of your work-in-progress. <http://writermentors.com/>  

GRANTS:

For parents with young kids. <http://apply.sustainableartsfoundation.org/>

RESOURCES:

Find a writing coach. <http://www.book-editing.com/writing-coach.html>

Mentoring and coaching. <http://www.nawe.co.uk/the-writers-compass/events-and-opportunities/mentoring-and-coaching.html>

 

If you liked this article, visit Sussu Leclerc at Novel Without Further Ado.

A follow up on Twitter or Pinterest is always appreciated.

Author Interview–Julie Leung

mice-of-the-round-table

We are thrilled to have on the blog today Julie Leung, a debut author whose middle grade novel releases on October 4th. MICE OF THE ROUNDTABLE: A TAIL OF CAMELOT is an epic new middle grade series in the tradition of Redwall and Poppy, based on Arthurian legend and told from the perspective of Camelot’s most humble creatures: mice. Young mouse Calib Christopher dreams of becoming a Knight of the Round Table. For generations, his family has led the mice who live just out of sight of the humans, defending Camelot from enemies both big and small. But when Calib and his friend Cecily discover that a new threat is gathering—one that could catch even the Two-Leggers unaware—it is up to them to unmask the real enemy, unite their forces, and save the castle they all call home. The book has received positive reviews from both Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal!

“A winning new adventure featuring a stalwart warrior mouse, heroic knights, and magical Camelot.” (Kirkus) “Leung employs classic language, with regal terms to re-create the timeless feel of Camelot.” (School Library Journal)

What drew you to this story for a retelling?

I grew up on a steady diet of the Redwall series. I checked out every book from the library and savored every feast scene and battle. And like most fans of fantasy fiction, my first taste of it came from tales of King Arthur and his knights. So when Paper Lantern Lit approached me with the project for Mice of the Round Table, I knew this was the perfect fit for me.  

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of retelling a story?

My favorite thing about writing an Arthurian retelling is that I can bake in references and literary Easter eggs that will hopefully pay off when the reader continues to explore the legends in their own right. On the flip side, I have to ensure that my story arc follows the trajectory that everyone expects—for the most part at least, I like to throw in some surprises. 😉

How much research did you do?

My research was twofold. I did a lot of digging into Arthurian legends themselves. But I quickly found that the versions we have come to know as canon have also been modified and tweaked through the ages. Different authors left in their own details and flourishes which I found fascinating.

I also refreshed myself on a lot of “rodent-as-hero” stories like Poppy, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and other classic tales. One of my biggest challenges was to correctly scale mice in a world built by humans.

What are some details you included to evoke the time period?

I tried to place the story in a timeless and familiar fairytale setting. That meant excising any words or terminology that sounded too modern and paying attention to the descriptions food and clothing to make sure they felt grounded within historical reason.

Why do you write middle grade?

The books that truly turned me into an insatiable reader for life were read when I was 8-12 years old. I wanted to write for this age because I could incorporate a sense of innocent wonder and adventure but at the same time introduce more complex themes.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid? 

Ozma of Oz by Frank L. Baum

How about a favorite middle grade that you’ve discovered as an adult?

I read the Tale of Despereaux for a college class and have been craving soup ever since.

What is your favorite piece of writing advice?

Write like you’re running out of time, adapted from the Hamilton musical. To keep myself focused on the goal of finishing a manuscript, I cultivate this sense of urgency in the back of mine: No one can tell your stories but yourself, and you owe it to your stories to see them to realization.   

julie-leung

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. She is also the mother of FictionToFashion.com, where she interprets her favorite books into outfits.

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.

You may accost her in the following formatsTwitterInstagram, and Goodreads.

Katharine Manning has a soft spot in her heart for mouse stories, dating back to third grade when she first read about Ralph and his motorcycle. She writes middle grade stories about brave girls, friendship, and occasionally, magic. She blogs here and at The Mixed-Up Files, and is thrilled to be a 2016 Cybils judge for poetry and novels in verse. You can see her middle grade book recommendations at Kid Book List, and can also find her at www.katharinemanning.com and on Twitter and Instagram

Interview with NYT Bestselling Author Megan Shepherd

Today, I’m excited to chat with Megan Shepherd. She’s well-known for her brilliant, edgy young adult fiction, but her latest novel, THE SECRET HORSES OF BRIAR HILL, is an unforgettable middle-grade story that reads like historical fiction rolled into a sweet magical fantasy.

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 1.36.59 PM

There are winged horses that live in the mirrors of Briar Hill hospital. In the mirrors that line its grand hallways, which once belonged to a princess. In those that reflect the elegant rooms, now filled with sick children. It is her secret.

One morning, when Emmaline climbs over the wall of the hospital’s abandoned gardens, she discovers something incredible: a white horse with broken wings has left the mirror-world and entered her own.

Tucked into the garden’s once-gleaming sundial, Emmaline finds a letter from the Horse Lord. He is hiding the wounded white horse, named Foxfire, from a dark and sinister force—a Black Horse who hunts by colorless moonlight. If Emmaline is to keep the Black Horse from finding her new friend, she must collect colorful objects with which to blind him. But where can Emmaline find color when her world is filled with gray?

“Magical, terrifying, and full of heart. Open these pages, and ride true.”-Kathi Appelt, Newbery Honor-winning author of The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

 “Emmaline’s narration is unreliable, flawlessly childlike, and deeply honest; her faith in magic brings her solace and, possibly, healing. The magical realism is reminiscent of the Chronicles of Narnia, Elizabeth Goudge, or a child’s version of Life of Pi…Readers will love this to pieces.” Kirkus Reviews, Starred review

 “Endearing characters, metaphors for life and death, and a slow revelation of the horrors of war give this slim novel a surprising amount of heft.”—Booklist, Starred review

THE SECRET HORSES OF BRIAR HILL is available for

pre-order now and releases on October 11th!

GoodreadsBarnes and NobleAmazon |   IndieBound

The historical aspects of THE SECRET HORSES OF BRIAR HILL are woven into the story so well that I was truly transported back in time. The setting details are careful chosen and beautifully described. The emotion is pure, sweet, and oh so real. The author drives the plot using not one, but two ticking clocks––the cycle of the moon and the main character’s rapidly declining health.

The ending of the story is both heartbreaking and beautiful, and it can be interpreted many different ways. Due to its historical significance and use of symbolism, THE SECRET HORSES OF BRIAR HILL is an excellent book for classroom discussion. Also, it is a great read-together book for parent and child.

This lovely novel of love, hope, magic, and true friendship is historical fiction, fantasy, mystery, and thriller all rolled into a story that reads like a classic tale that should be on every child’s bookshelf.

Okay, that’s enough gushing from me. Let’s talk to Megan Shepherd!

I adored the Author’s Note at the back of the book where you describe how this story came to you, the personal ties between this story and your grandfather, and all the research that went into the story. Reading THE SECRET HORSES OF BRIAR HILL feels very authentic, and I think this is because you’ve put so much of yourself into the storytelling. Can you tell us what that was like for you?

Megan: It does feel like a very personal book to me, without actually being autobiographical at all. I certainly wasn’t a child patient during WWII, nor have I ever seen winged horses! But I connected a lot with Emmaline, the 10-year-old main character. When I was young, I was often so frustrated by the mundane, regular world. I wanted adventure, magic, winged horses! I was also a very determined child. I refused to listen to anyone who told me I couldn’t do something. In fact, when I was eight, I wanted a horse very badly, but my parents wouldn’t let me have one. (In hindsight, this makes sense, as we lived right in town.) But I decided that I’d just get one myself, and when we took a trip to Ocracoke Island, where they have wild ponies, I brought my lasso and cowgirl boots and fully intended to catch one and bring it back in our minivan.

THE MADMAN’s DAUGHTER trilogy is young adult gothic horror. THE CAGE trilogy is young adult sci-fi. THE SECRET HORSES OF BRIAR HILL is middle-grade historical fiction with a touch of magic. Is there anything you can’t write? How have you managed to write in three different genres for young adults and children?

Megan: For some reason, I don’t quite know why, all my books feel similar in my head. They’re placed on different genre shelves in bookstores, but to me, they’re all exploring the same topics: looking at our society from the outside, the relationship between young people and animals, finding wonder and magic in the real world, especially in the darkness. Though it does feel very different to write YA, which is wonderfully angsty and tense, and MG, which is quite a bit sweeter.

All the scenes are exquisitely written and truly transported me back in time to WWII. Can you give us a couple of tips/tricks for achieving scenes like that?

Megan: Thank you! Luckily I had some great contacts in the UK to help advise me, and I’ve spent a bit of time there traveling and studying, and I’ve always been captivated by the setting. Whenever I write historical fiction, I do preliminary research to make certain my premise is plausible, and then I shut off the “research” part of my brain and just focus on mood while writing the story. Then, during editing, I turn back on the research part and comb through my manuscript to find any historical inaccuracies.

The ending! Oh, wow! There are so many different ways to interpret what happens. For me, I really liked that the story felt ended, but still felt alive somehow, like fantasy stories should. Did you know all along how you wanted the story to end?

Megan: The ending came as a surprise to me. In the original outline, the story had a different, slightly more definitive ending. But once I had worked through the first parts of the story, I knew that it could only end one way (ironically, in a way that is open to interpretation!).

This is your first published middle-grade story, but you actually started out as a middle-grade writer. Which do you think is more difficult to master, middle-grade voice or young adult voice?

Megan: The middle grade voice, definitely. Middle grade needs humor, even in dark books like mine, and it’s challenging to work in humor authentically without resorting to easy jokes or humor that seems to “talk down” to young readers.

So true! What is your work/writing schedule? 

Megan: In general, I try to keep normal working hours of Monday-Friday, 9-5. I love having weekends off. In the early mornings I work out and tend to the gardens, then I’m cleaned up and at my desk by 9 or 10, where I write for 2-3 hours, take a break for lunch, and then write or handle business issues for another 4-5 hours. But in reality, it varies greatly! Many days I’m traveling for work or teaching classes, which throws everything off. Other days I’m handling business all day. And still other times, I’ll dive into an intense writing session for several days of 12+ hours.

Do you have any strange writing habits?

Megan: I work best when my dog is in the office with me. I don’t know why, but it’s comforting to have another creature snoring away! Otherwise, I tend to be set in my ways, needing to be alone, have some tea and chocolate-covered espresso beans on hand. I’m in awe of authors who can write from anywhere or while on the road—that isn’t me at all!

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

Megan: I’m working on both a new middle grade stand-alone, and a new young adult series. Both are in the early stages so I don’t want to say too much! One takes place in the Appalachians, where I’ve lived most of my life, and the other takes place in a cool foreign city.

Yay on both accounts! Okay, here comes the lightning round. *hands you a slice of warm toast with homemade peach marmalade*

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Wooden!

Coffee or tea? Tea

Sweet or salty? Sweet

Dog, cat, horse, chickens, or other? (I believe I’ve seen a picture of a live chicken in your kitchen somewhere. Ha!) All of the above. Seriously, I could never chose! (And yes, there are chickens in our house far too often.)

Plotter or pantser? Plotter

Whew! Alright, last question. Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?

Be willing to put in the time. Not just the actual time writing, which can be hard enough, I know! But the time to grow as a writer, too. The years it takes to find your voice and to craft a story that really hasn’t been seen before, even if you’re writing about a common topic, like navigating high school, or werewolves. You can do it, but it requires patience. And this is coming from the least patient person in the world!

There is much wisdom in those words. Thanks so much for the interview, Megan!

Megan: Thank you, Michelle! These were fantastic questions! So nice to work with a fellow NC girl, and I am thrilled that you loved the book!!

After you add this to your TBR list, you’re going to want to head straight to Megan’s THE SECRET HORSES OF BRIAR HILL website where you can download coloring pages adapted from the beautiful illustrations in the book!

 

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 7.38.35 PM

New York Times bestselling author Megan Shepherd grew up in her family’s independent bookstore in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She is the author of several acclaimed young adult series and the middle grade novel The Secret Horses of Briar Hill. She now lives and writes on a 125-year-old farm outside Asheville, North Carolina, with her husband, two cats, and an especially scruffy dog. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and at meganshepherd.com.

 

 

Michelle Leonard is a chocolate biscotti baker, a math/science nerd, and a middle-grade fiction and nonfiction writer. Connect with her on Twitter: @MGYABookJunkie.