Author Interview–Julie Leung

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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.   

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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

Going Dark: How Do You Tune Out Online “Noise”?

focusAfter being almost completely disconnected for ten days this summer, I found it a bit jarring once I returned to my normal online-heavy life. I’m deep into drafting at the moment, and all that “noise” has been wreaking havoc with my ability to focus. Hearing about others’ progress, chasing the link to yet another craft article or agent’s wishlist, or just keeping up with the daily lives of friends can be distracting. When I’m drafting, I need to keep my head down and my eyes on my own work.

I’m thinking about ways to keep myself wrapped in that vacation quiet by going “dark” (or at least darker!) on social media and the Internet, but I’m not sure how to do that while still maintaining my connections and taking care of business.

So, of course, I turned to my fellow Pennies for their wisdom. Here’s what they said about drafting and the need to go dark on some front:

Sussu: I go deep down in my cave when I draft. I need to retrieve authentic feelings, feelings I have experienced before I can lay them down on the page. At home, we have unplugging periods of time. No one in the house is allowed to plug in any way. No movie, no tweeting, no phone. These periods of complete silence help me go deep down inside myself. That doesn’t mean we are not communicating, because we are, but the communication is different. I also can use these moments to discuss a story and what my family would like to see in my next book. At the end of the day, I’m all fueled up.

Kristi: I don’t go dark on the technological front, but I do on the reading front. Having said that, I do disconnect during the day and “reward” myself with internet connection for a bit after the kids are sorted and in bed. I even try to keep my research down to a minimum and instead create a list of things I want to research so I don’t get too distracted. But I’ve found that reading during my drafting tends to really distract me. If I go dark on social media, I find that I just never catch up.

Rebecca: Like Kristi, I go dark on reading. (Okay, maybe brown out, not pitch black.) I find if I write a lot or a particularly difficult chapter that my brain is literally tired and I don’t want to pick up a book, but just veg in front of the TV or even just “be” to relax. I also feel like I need more blank space to process where I am in the story, and what needs to come next, and what the characters are feeling. I create very long lists of things to research or deepen. I’m 19 chapters into a story right now and still using [nightmare] for a bully I haven’t fully developed and [bg1] for the first bad guy. That way I can concentrate on the two main characters and the plot for the moment, then go back and search and replace once I’m ready to get serious about those characters.

Gita: I find being online incredibly distracting, whether I’m drafting or revising. I really prefer to start a writing day—any day, in fact—without checking my phone or anything else, like I did today. While I’m working, I use an app called Self Control that blocks internet access. I need that quiet to think, reflect: to work from the depths rather from the surface. I personally love to read alongside my writing, but what I read has to be excellent: I only want good words in my head. 🙂 When researching for my (future) Writer’s Desk post, I came across Austin Kleon’s great post on just this topic—he includes Joseph Campbell, Edward Tufte, and Francis Ford Coppola’s take on what Campbell calls “the bliss station.”

Mark: I do stop reading MG books because the voice does tend to get in the way. I like reading adult fiction while I’m writing MG though. There might be some phrase or beautiful passage that helps me sprinkle some new ideas into my project. I’m finding it hard to get going on my next revision, but I’m trying to be patient with myself and use the time to think and reorganizing in my mind. I think it’s actually probably a good thing that I’m forced to think before diving back in. I can reflect on how to approach my fixes this way. Plus I use the opportunity to distract myself with shorter projects and problem solve on those for a time. I liked what Jeff Zentner said in Gabrielle’s interview. That he sits with it for weeks, even months, before writing. I like that idea. Daydreaming about your story is part of the process.

Julie: I’m terrible at this! This winter, I started getting up and drafting for 60-90 minutes BEFORE I was allowed to check Twitter/Facebook/email. This has given me a big productivity boost. And I know some people who are even more rigorous about it–one of my husband’s colleagues, who is a designer, only checks email twice a day at 10 and 2 so that he has three big chunks of creative time during the work day. I may try that in the school year because I spend way too much time stalking email and hanging out with you guys on Twitter/Facebook.

How do you increase your focus and tune out the “noise” of online life — or life in general? Do you need tunnel vision while you draft? We’d love to hear your tips — sound off in the comments!

How I had a Productive Summer

Or as I like to say, how I made the most of interrupted time.

Think back to June. Was this you?

“I have an incredible writing project planned for this summer. I’ll write a first draft. Complete revisions. Write, query, get the book published, and go on a worldwide book tour. All before school starts in September.”

Well, that did sound a bit like me (minus the book tour. Do you think I’m delusional?) I set a deadline of August 30th. to finish revisions on my WIP. The timing was perfect. It had been resting for weeks (per Stephen King), I was dreaming about the characters and plot holes, and I gave myself almost three months to complete them. What could go wrong?

Duh, summer!

Picture this:

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Monday, the second week of June, CBS This Morning just finished. I skipped to my writing desk and opened my laptop. Aaahhh. #amwriting.

Duh, summer!

Son#2 stomped downstairs.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Smshidhgehisld,” he said. I translated it as good morning, and since I was in such a deliriously happy mood, I may have imagined he said I love you. Unfortunately, it was most likely “why is it so bright outside?”

But to be honest, I was too excited to get to work to make sense of it.

I sipped coffee, ignored Teen Titans Go on TV in the family room, and opened chapter one. I reworded the first paragraph.

Duh, summer!

Son#1 shuffled downstairs. He’s not a morning person.

“We have no milk!”

As a kid lit writer, no milk was something my main character would complain about, but duh, summer! I sipped more coffee, took a deep breath, and turned the computer off. There were more important issues to tackle. Really, the thought of cereal without milk, or having to eat waffles for breakfast, was inconceivable. Right?

Between taking care of every day needs, vacations, hanging out with the kids until they remembered I was an adult and therefore boring, and the unexpected houseguests (which came in the form of a copperhead snake that sent my son to the hospital), I realized revisions would not be possible. But that didn’t stop me from trying, getting frustrated, and trying again.

Then sometime toward the end of June, a light bulb went off. I actually saw stars and it was not from being hit in the head sparring. I realized there was writing time during the summer. It was just in five or ten minute intervals.

Instead of saying what the hecks, packing up my writing materials, and being completely unproductive this summer, I learned how to make the most of those cherished minutes I found during the day.

Here are a few activities I did during those times:

  1. Writing exercises. Fifteen minutes, or five. There was no rule. I found writing for even a few minutes energized my creativity and brought out the joy in writing.image
  1. Catching up on writing articles. I read and took notes on the dozens of saved newsletters, links to blog posts (like the amazing ones from The Winged Pen), and Facebook posts about writing.
  1. Making notes for future stories. Just because I was deeply involved in one story didn’t mean ideas for future ones dried up. I wrote them down as fast as they came and expanded on a few when I had extra time.
  1. Research. I scanned the Internet, books, and watched TV. I talked to people about subjects, places, and names. All of which will help me dive deeper into my WIP as well as future stories. How else would I have learned about phillumenists. I had no clue there was a name for a person who collected matchbooks. What a unique character quirk.
  1. Read. Of course that goes without saying.

So this summer, instead of being unproductive, which to me meant cranky, I did a little bit of everything. And all those tips will make the revision of my WIP even better.

I would love to hear what you did this summer and how you found ways to be productive. Please leave them in the comments below.

IMG_2142 - Version 2 A third degree black belt in taekwondo, 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.

 

Interview with Kelly Barnhill: Author of THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON and THE WITCH’s BOY

I had the COMPLETE PLEASURE of chatting with Kelly Barnhill, author of THE WITCH’S BOY, THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON (which I reviewed here last Friday), and many other beloved middle-grade fiction and nonfiction books. THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON is my ✨Favorite Middle-Grade 2016 Read ✨ so far, and I couldn’t think of any better way to celebrate #NationalBookLoversDay AND THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON’s book birthday than to share our hot-off-the-presses interview with you.

Kelly, welcome to The Winged Pen and thanks so much for chatting with me! Your prose is like a lullaby, so smooth and lush. When I read your enchanting words, the rest of the world slips away. I don’t get it. How do you do that? Am I truly being enmagicked? Or would you possibly share some of your craft secrets to those of aspiring for the same type of effect? Do you read your work aloud? Do you spend hours making each lovely sentence?

photo credit Bruce Silcox
photo credit Bruce Silcox

So, here’s a thing about me: I’m an aural thinker. I don’t “think in pictures” and if I want to try and get a visual in my head, it is a tremendous amount of work. I think in words and words and pretty words. For me, landing on a sentence that pleases me — that feels good in the ear and the mouth and that resonates in the body when you say it out loud — that’s the fundamental basis of the story. Everything else builds around it. When I’m writing and when I’m editing, I do an embarrassing amount of work out loud — so much so that I can make myself hoarse after a long day. I will read a section over and over and over again out loud — often standing and performing to no one but the guinea pig and the dog — until it feels solid and correct and true. 

Love the visual of you performing for your furry friends! What is your work/writing schedule? 

Typically, I get up, get the kids ready for school, go for a run, and then write until they get home at the end of the day. Assuming my day isn’t disrupted by doctor visits or teacher visits or volunteering or cleaning the house. On a good day, I can get four hours of writing in a row. On a less good day, it will only be fifteen minutes. I do try to do something on the book each day – whether it’s writing, note taking, researching or laying flat on my office floor, just thinking.

It’s inspiring to know that you find a way to make the most of even fifteen minutes!

You’ve published short stories, nonfiction, and middle-grade fiction. Whew! Do you work on multiple projects at a time?

Always. I am restless, impatient and easily bored.

What is your most difficult craft hurdle?

Self doubt. Crippling, nasty, mean, and near-constant self-doubt. It can stop any decent story in its tracks and can send any deadline hurtling into the emptiest reaches of the universe. My third book, The Witch’s Boy, almost didn’t exist at all. I had completely given up hope on it and erased the whole thing – poof! Fortunately, I have a very excellent writing group who are all very bossy, and they just emailed the draft that I had sent them back to me and told me to stop being such a dummy. For those of you who struggle similarly with crushing self-doubt, I suggest getting a critique group — the bossier the better.

So glad that your writing group saved THE WITCH’S BOY from the emptiest reaches of the universe! You are so right about bossy critique partners. Here at THE WINGED PEN we often peel each other off the floor, dust each other off, and give a swift pat on the you-know-what when necessary. I couldn’t imagine trying to write without a community of supporters. (Sending out love to all my CPs right now. ❤️)

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

My reading tastes are all over the map. I recently read A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab, which was fantastic, and The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli was mind-blowing. I finally forced myself to read The Shepherd’s Crown, Terry Pratchett’s last book, and it broke my heart just as I thought it would — and mended it right back up again. Good old Pratchett. The world is a gloomier place since he left us. And I am re-reading Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, just because.

Oooh! Just hopped on Goodreads and added those to my TBR! Thanks!

Do you have any strange writing habits?

Not really. I think my writing life is actually very dull. I wake up early, get my kids ready for school, walk the dog (his name is Sirius Black), and then get to work. If I get stuck, I do push-ups until I can’t stand it anymore and then return to the page. Sometimes I go for a run, and write in my head, stringing sentence after sentence like beads on a string, writing it all down when I get back. Mostly, though, it’s just banker’s hours, every day, me and the page, sentence after sentence until the thing is done.

❤️Sirius Black. Don’t love push-ups! Wow oh wow! Push-ups ’til you drop. *flexes bicep, sighs* You’ve inspired me. I’ll try to learn to love them.

Why do you write for children?

I write for kids because the world is strange, and children like strange things. I write for kids because I like kids, and I like how they think. I write for kids because childhood is, by its very nature, expansive, exploratory, and utterly wild.

You just did it again. My heart did this weird wiggle thing that felt so good. ❤️ Kids are…the best. Your books truly read like a love story to kids and kids at heart.

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

A couple of things. I am finishing up a book called The Sugar House, which is a modern re-telling of Hansel and Gretel — with a little bit of the old Mother Hulda tales added in for good measure. Also it takes place in Minneapolis with a main character who can’t seem to do anything right, and who has been expelled after he accidentally almost blew up the school — not really, but that’s how it played in the media. Anyway, it’s a story about a kid who can’t seem to escape his own narrative — people always see him as a screw-up and a “bad kid.” And when he discovers something truly terrifying in his neighborhood, he has to decide what he’s going to do about it — since people will continue to see him as a bad boy, even when he’s trying to do something good.

I’m also working on a new story that is requiring me to do research into alchemy, poisons, the Holy Roman Empire, ship building, piracy, Euclid’s Elements, Euler’s Mechanica, and a particularly devilish composition for the mandolin. Also the nature of death.

Both of those sound amazing. CAN. NOT. WAIT. to hold those books! And I’m a geek girl, so Euclid/Euler…whoa, be still my heart!

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

I already have one. I have the ability to make people feel completely amazing about themselves. This is true. I can send GIANT LOVE BEAMS inducing feelings of well-being and hopefulness and general efficaciousness to anyone I choose. I do it all the time. I’m basically Other-People’s-Self-Esteem-Man. Or Woman, I mean.

GIANT LOVE BEAMS! *soul melts  You wield your power so well. We can feel it in your stories, like a megaphone right to the heart.

Here comes the lightning round. *hands you a slice of warm blackberry pie*

Wooden pencil or mechanical?

Wood. Always.

Coffee or tea?

Tea. Now, then, tomorrow, yesterday, one minute ago, one hour from now, and forever.

Sweet or salty?

Salt. Unless it’s sweet. And then later, salt.

Dog, cat, or other?

I love cats but my husband can’t stand them, as his heart is, alas, a cinder. We have dogs. I love dogs. I miss cats.

Plotter or pantser?

Pants. All the way. Mostly because pants is a funny word.

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

Don’t be afraid to write lousy words. Don’t be afraid to write lousy pages. Don’t be afraid to write lousy stories. Sometimes we have to write the lousy stuff in order to get to the good stuff. It works. I promise. (Also you are amazing. Amazing. Every single beautiful sexy genius one of you. What you’re doing is important and wonderful. Keep being amazing.)

Swoon. Aww…thanks so much for the encouragement! We hope all our blog readers take that advice to heart.

THANK YOU so much for taking the time to chat with us, Kelly! We can’t wait to devour your next book!

For more info and links related to Kelly Barnhill’s latest release THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON, please click here.Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 9.46.28 PM

Connect with Kelly Barnhill at www.kellybarnhill.com. EVEN BETTER meet her and many other Algonquin Young Reader Authors like  

Tracey Baptiste, author of The Jumbies

Brian Farrey, author of The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse

Karen Rivers, author of The Girl in the Well Is Me

Adam Shaughnessy, author of The Unbelievable FIB #2: Over the Underworld, releasing in September

Tania Unsworth, author of Brightwood, releasing in September

on their fall #iLoveMG tour.

Check out the #iLoveMG tour listing to see if they’re coming somewhere near you!

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IMG_2370Michelle Leonard is a chocolate biscotti baker, a math/science nerd, and a middle-grade fiction and nonfiction writer. Connect with her on Twitter: @MGYABookJunkie.

 

 

8 on Eight: August Contest 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.

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 August 31st. 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.

 

ZACH BEACON STRIKES OUT: Contemporary middle-grade novel

I knocked the dirt from my cleats and glared at the pitcher. “Gimme a fast one, Joey, if you’ve still got it in you.”

“Whatever, man. It’ll be midnight before my arm gets tired.” Joey went into a windup—and fell over laughing.

I’d done my signature bat-waggle butt-wiggle. It gets them every time.

“All right, Zach, knock it off,” said Coach Clark from the dugout.

I rested the bat on my shoulder. “Aw, Coach, we’re just messing around.”

“Zachary!” yelled a voice from the stands. “This is the last day of spring tryouts. Pay attention!”

Jessica: This opening does a good job of pulling me in to a concrete scene. That said, I can’t quite put a finger on Zachary. In the first line, he issues an ultimatum to the pitcher and glares at him, which makes him seem quite intense. But then the butt-wiggle (which I love) tells me he’s a total goofball. My sense is that he’s baiting the pitcher with the first line, but I’m not sure why he would glare, rather than grin or something more consistent with him being a clown. In addition, I wonder about the voice yelling from the stands. It feels as though the voice knows Zachary quite well, which makes me think Zachary would immediately recognize it (Mom or Dad, perhaps?) rather than think of it as “the voice,” which feels unfamiliar. Overall, though, this is a solid opening that would make me want to read on. Nice work!

Michelle: Love your opening! A lot of first-person POV middle-grade opens with the MC telling you a bunch of stuff, but you smartly skipped all of that and pulled us into the scene. You do a great job of giving us glimpses into the MC and his relationship with Joey, which is no easy task within 8 lines. I agree with Jessica that the word glare threw me off, because at first I thought Zachary and Joey were adversaries. But I’m pretty sure they’re buds.

Just a couple of things I want to point out. The sequencing here threw me off.

“Whatever, man. It’ll be midnight before my arm gets tired.” Joey went into a windup—and fell over laughing.

I’d done my signature bat-waggle butt-wiggle. It gets them every time.

I think you need at minimum a paragraph break between Joey’s dialogue and his action since the bat-waggle butt wiggle happens before he falls over. Even better, I think having Joey do something else before the windup would help- like wipe the sweat of his face, adjust his cap, nod with a focussed gaze on Zachary. Also, should the last sentence here say, “It gets him every time?” Or is this a move he always uses on the pitcher?

It would also be nice if we know how the coach reacts to what Zachary says to him before you break to the voice (is this someone he knows?) in the bleachers.

Have you considered writing this in close third POV? I’ve been playing with your words in my head, and I think it would work really well with your story.

I would definitely want to read more! Keep in touch with us about how things go!

Richelle: You have a lot of zing in this opening — I love how it moves. I agree with Jessica that there’s a bit of a disconnect between the glaring, smack-talk Zachary and the butt-wiggle Zachary. While I love both moments, it does feel like two different kids. When we later learn that this is spring try-outs, it made me wonder: Does Zachary take try-outs seriously? Or is he assured a place on the team and so feels comfortable joking around? What about Joey? Is he nervous about making the team? How do their respective attitudes about try-outs color this interaction?

I also agree with Michelle that the sequencing of the pitcher falling over and the butt-wiggle — it threw me off, and I had to read twice to figure out what was happening. And since I love character motivation, I really wanted to know why Zachary was joking around. Is he trying to mess Joey up? Trying to lighten the mood for everyone? Is that his way of shaking off his own tension?

Generally, I would love to see Zachary interacting more within the scene. How  does he respond to Joey’s trash-talk? How does the coach’s gentle rebuke made him feel? What does he want out of this moment — to make the team? To get attention? To get under Joey’s skin? To get try-outs over with?

Thank you for sharing. I love the title, and as a baseball fan, this seems like a very fun read! Can’t wait to hear how it goes!

Halli: Thank you for sharing your work! I am a huge baseball fan and the title grabbed me right away. You have a great opening here, getting us right into the action. Reading this, I felt like I was in the stands watching the kids play. You did a great job of setting the scene with just a few words – I knocked the dirt from my cleats and glared at the pitcher. Even those not familiar with baseball would be able to identify with that.

My comments are pretty much the same as the others. At the beginning, I though Zach was taunting Joey by glaring at him, but come to find later, they are friends or at least friendly acquaintances. Just changing that word will make all the difference.

My other comment is about the order of the sentences involving the butt-wiggle and Joey falling down laughing. They seem out of order so I’m current, then thrown back. As a reader, I prefer to keep moving forward. I am also in agreement about identifying the “voice” from the stands. Unless you have a reason to be mysterious, which we may not know in these eight lines, I would identify that person.

Katharine: I love a MG sports story! Fantastic title, and your MC sounds like loads of fun. I also love that you start us right in the action – perfect! And the butt wiggle dance is hysterical. My son did something similar in his short-lived little league career.

I agree with the other Pennies about the disconnect between the glare aimed at the pitcher and the goofing off behavior. I think it would help if you changed the word glare to something a little more clearly silly and over-the-top, like “shot him my best [insert baseball player – sorry! don’t know baseball!] scowl.” I also found myself a little thrown when I heard it was the last day of spring tryouts, which sounds kind of important and like he wouldn’t be goofing off. Is that right? If so, I hope we get a sense quickly of how Zach is actually feeling – is he goofing off because he’s super nervous? Does he think this is all a joke? Is he trying to impress someone in the crowd? Oh, and I would agree with the others that if that yell from the stands is a parent, he’d identify the voice immediately.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing, and best of luck with it!

Kristi: I love it when a story makes me laugh in the first few lines. Zach’s spunk and goofiness make this instantly engaging. I agree with the previous comments that you can change the sequence of the butt wiggle and then the pitcher falling over. I do like having the coach comment that they need to knock it off, but then I think you need to get back to Zach and focus on him. How is he viewing the situation and the impending tryouts? You’ve drawn us in with a great start, so don’t lose us! This sounds like such a fun read. All the best with it.

Rebecca: I love your MC’s voice and the fact that you’ve started in the middle of the action! Everyone else has already talked about the glare and identifying who “the voice” is so I won’t belabor it. What I think is important here is that it sounds like you have a very strong picture of Zach in your head. Good for you! That’s tough to do, right? But so important. So now your work is to convey that clear picture to your audience, and that’s even harder. Sometimes the only way to see how a reader will react is to share your work, like this, and see where the reader reaction is not what you intended, and make adjustments. I had a best friend smirking at my MC in a first chapter for months before I realized my critique partners thought he was making fun of the MC. But I thought the best friend’s natural reaction to most things was a smirk. He was just a laid back guy that found the humor in everything, even annoying things that happened to his best friend. But figuring out that it was being read differently than I’d intended and fixing it allowed me to convey both characters more strongly.

Great job on your opening lines and best wishes for your progress with the story!

Sussu: Thank you for submitting to The Winged Pen. It takes courage to put your writing out there. Kuddos to you!

This opening, IMO, does a good job setting the mood. It reflects the title well. The opening also does a good job answering the question who? Where? I immediately know what’s going on and I can picture the game easily. The problem is this setting has been used a lot and I wonder how you could make it a little more original.

The conflict is clear though and pulls me in right away. But because the story wants to be funny, the tension I sense in the first sentences disappears completely when Joey laughs. I feel like this is not supposed to be funny because Joey and Zachary are rivals of some sort. Zachary “glares” at Joey and dares him. I feel like the beginning goes in different directions. It’s not grounded enough for me. Also I’m not sure I like that Zach explains himself “We’re messing around.” I’d like him to be more daring. I’d like to see more of his personality breaking through. For example, saying “Let it be, coach!” would make him sound more courageous and more daring. That’s definitely how he appears in the first sentence. Of course the voice has to reflect the age better.

Also, I found the switch between tenses confusing.

What I would recommend for this beginning is 1) to keep everything in one tense.2) Then the actions should appear in the order they happen. 3) I also would like to see the consequences of what Zach does, and the stakes. The beginning could work well as a mini-scene and hook the reader better as such because it would have a beginning, a middle and an end. And we would then want to read more to see what’s going to happen next. Remember that each part of a story (dialogue, scene, chapter) answers a question. What is the question here and is it answered?

EXAMPLE:

I knocked the dirt from my cleats and glared at the pitcher. “Gimme a fast one, Joey, if you’ve still got it in you.”

“Whatever, man. It’ll be midnight before my arm gets tired.” Joey went into a windup.

 I did my signature bat-waggle butt-wiggle. So what? It got them every time.

Joey fell over laughing, missing the ball. Strike.

“All right, Zach, knock it off,” said Coach Clark from the dugout. “You’re done.”

I rested the bat on my shoulder. “Aw, Coach, I can’t be done.”

“Zachary!” yelled my mom from the stands. “This is the last day of spring tryouts. Pay attention!”

Joey cackles.

Seriously, mom!

Thank you for trusting us with your story and good luck in the publishing world.