Why You Should Sub to #TeamMascaraTracks: A recommendation from Kit Rosewater





Kit was one of our Pitch Wars mentees last year. Her entry got the most agent requests in the MG category last year and she received her first agent offer within 48 hours of the agent round ending. We asked for a “blurb” to recommend us to Pitch Wars hopefuls and this is what she said.


“You could not ask for more supportive mentors in Amanda and Cindy. From the second I read their wish list in the summer of 2016 I knew we would make a perfect match, and I still hold that belief true. Though in retrospect, I realize the match with these two mentors was not paved due to a particular style or element they were seeking in narrative. I felt a connection to these two because at their core, they want to aid and champion sensitive and sincere middle grade fiction.

Though I was asked to rewrite the manuscript, I knew from the beginning that they “got” my story. Amanda and Cindy have the unique ability in plucking key emotions, interactions, and symbols from a text, and carrying those gently forward while rearranging all the trappings around them. Though nearly every word of my manuscript was switched around and deleted and rewritten by the time the agent round arrived, it felt more like my vision than ever. Cindy and Amanda knew what I was after in my writing, and helped me to maintain the things I found most important, even through completely fresh drafts. This is a vital skill to have in the process of revising, and one I shall carry with me forever.

One might believe that the agent round brings goodbyes and finalities of the mentor/mentee relationship in Pitch Wars. Not so with Amanda and Cindy. I would argue that our bond as friends truly flourished in this time, and has continued to flourish since the contest’s end. Throughout the months after Pitch Wars, we have traded manuscripts, advice, support, tears, and happy dances. These are people who stick to you for a lifetime. These people are, in essence, like the stories they most want to see. They continue to support and inspire their mentees long after the chapter of Pitch Wars has ended.”



Why You Should Submit to #TeamMascaraTracks: A Recommendation from Cory Leonardo


Cory Leonardo is the author of CALL ME ALASTAIR, which will be published by Aladdin in Summer 2019. She was also one of our Pitch Wars mentees last year. We asked her if she’d give us a “blurb” to convince you all of our awesomeness and she basically sent the best letter ever. We hope it gives you some insight into what you can expect from us.

Dear MG Pitch Wars hopeful,
When Amanda and Cindy asked me to write a testimonial for their mentor page this year, I jumped at the chance to tout the impressive list of gosh-darn, superhuman everythings they offer their potential mentee. It’s how I’ve come to write you this letter. The next step, of course, is to name every one and try to rightly convince you that the buck stops here at #teammascaratracks. I assure you: I will fail miserably. There are too many things to count and not enough words in my trusty thesaurus to describe them.
For those pressed for time or a wee bit antsy, let me leave you with the one sentence you need to come away from this letter with:

giphy-downsized (1)
Okay, so that was two sentences. But, thank you. You may now go back to your regularly scheduled program.
Now, for those of you willing to hang in a little longer, I’d be honored if you’d lend me your eyeballs for a few minutes more. I’ll try to do this justice.
I stumbled upon Pitch Wars the last week of July last year. I’d recently finished a first draft of my MG novel, CALL ME ALASTAIR, and was planning on revising and submitting to agents in the fall. But after reading up on Pitch Wars and seeing the astronomical success rates (and after, I’ll admit, some hemming and hawing, for I’m woefully indecisive), I decided I would submit. The next question was to whom. Not many—okay, no one—wanted a novel about an anthropomorphic parrot. In fact, most of the mentor wish lists included the dreaded phrase, “no talking animals,” and it seemed my fate was sealed. I selected a few maybes to put on my list, and then came across Amanda’s and Cindy’s wish list. I remember it distinctly. I remember the heart-hammering feeling of knowing that this, this! would be a dream come true. I fell in love with their voices, their wit, their camaraderie, their passion for children’s literature and this wild, wonderful thing called writing. I shared so many of their favorite books and authors and knew we loved the same heart-felt tear-jerker. I knew my book fit what they were looking for.
There it was. I think the exact terminology was, “We’re not fans of books with talking animals.” Part of me wanted to cry. I was already convinced ALASTAIR needed them, that if anyone could fall in love with a talking parrot and his story, it was these two. I took a risk and submitted anyway. In fact, just in case there was an order to these things and the first-selected mentors got first dibs, I stacked my list. #Teammascaratracks was at the tippy top.
It was 9 p.m. the night before I was leaving for a 5 a.m. 15-hour drive. I snapped my laptop shut and resumed packing, thankful the submission was done and nervous about how it would all turn out.
It would come as a bit of a surprise (note the sarcasm) that less than two hours later I got an email from Amanda saying she’d like the synopsis. Approximately 3.5 seconds of rejoicing was quickly snuffed out when I realized I had no synopsis. No problem. I thanked my lucky stars I was an English major once-upon-a-time and had spent many the all-nighter writing papers. Admittedly, there was some Googling involved and a lot of mad-hatter typing, but sometime after 3 a.m. that bad boy was submitted.

giphy-downsized (2)
Two hours of sleep is fine when your husband’s driving, I told myself. But then, the next morning, another email. This time: 50 pages. 50 pages I hadn’t yet edited, and the suggestion that adding POVs might be needed. I spent the rest of the car ride chewing on that little tidbit, and by the time we’d arrived at the beach, I knew there was a way I could do it. I spent most of the night editing and sending off my reply.
Again, all was well. The sun was shining, the beach was calling. Life was one glorious palm tree after another. Until…

Another email. Amanda and Cindy wanted the rest of the book. Another 140 unedited pages.
Long story short, there was a full day fixing those and sending them off. And then there was nothing left to do but chew my fingernails until the announcements were made two weeks later.
I was genuinely shocked when they picked me. I’d been Twitter-stalking them but hadn’t suspected. A year later it comes as quite the surprise that they were able to hold it in so long (here’s looking at you, Amanda). Amanda’s like a three-year-old with a secret. I’m certain that if you asked her family, there are times where they’ll find her sitting on her hands in front of her computer so as not to type those secrets away. It’s adorable, frankly. But they kept it in (there was one questionable GIF), and once all our names were plastered up there on that glorious Pitch Wars document, there was much rejoicing.

giphy-downsized (3)This is basically Amanda with a secret.

Oh, and a 6-page edit letter. Single-spaced.
Team Mascara Tracks is nothing if not prompt.
Pitch Wars hopeful, if you are ever the recipient of such a letter, let me reassure you. You will cry from joy at your mentor’s gushing—but will weep uncontrollably from fear and uncertainty at the rest. I had never received such detailed notes on even a page of any manuscript I’d written, and here I’d received a comment on all of it. Comps. Concerns. Structure. Plot. Pacing. Characterization. Theme. Big picture. Small picture. Resources. Everything. I was astounded that they took the time and had thought about my book so deeply and thoroughly. But I was also a bit heartbroken. There were things wrong with my book! There were concerns! The title! The climax! My book needed work!
One thing I’ve found is that every edit letter is the same in one respect. It will crush you for a bit. But you will pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, wipe the tears from your eyes, and get to work. Every. Single. Thing Amanda and Cindy said, every one, was right on. Over the next few months, I grew to trust their instincts more and more. They were always right, and every time I took a little while for their comments to sink in, I’d come to the same conclusion, make the necessary changes, and every time the book was better.
These two marvels spent hours upon hours upon hours, reading, sending notes, doing line edits, big picture edits, researching agents, answering a random assortment of questions, walking me through agent phone calls, the submission process… the list could go on forever. I will, always and forever, be indebted to these amazingly beautiful women who daily astound me with the scope of their imaginations, their knowledge of writing and the writing industry, their willingness to help, and their passion to teach and promote other writers. The fact that they’re phenomenal writers themselves (who somehow find the time to do it in between being awesome everywhere else) pretty much seals the deal: they’re the best ever. It’s official.
Amanda and Cindy have been my cheerleaders, my editors, my teachers. They are writer-mamas who know when to offer a virtual hug or a virtual lecture (though you never feel naughty, only that you want to rise to their expectations). They do all they do with joy, grace, enthusiasm, skill, and a whole lotta love. Today, they are more than all that, however. They’re my beloved friends. (And I’ve already informed them I’ll never be able to write another book without them.) They are a treasure to me.
I can say now that CALL ME ALASTAIR would never be the book it is without them. It would never have garnered the attention of agents like it did, gotten several offers, sold to S&S/Aladdin, and would not be cozying up to a bookstore shelf in Summer of 2019, were it not for Amanda Hill and Cindy Baldwin, #teammascaratracks, human beings extraordinaire. In a few years, when I’m holding my book in my hands, I will never look at it and not think of them. (The same is true for parrot and Jane Austen GIFs).

giphy-downsized (4)The questionable gif mentioned above.

If I can leave you, dear Pitch Wars hopeful, with one piece of advice, it is this: take a chance at these two, the very best mentors this experience can offer. Make a wish, say a prayer. Watch for falling stars, hunt for clovers, save your birthday candles, and collect as many dandelion puffs as your arms can carry. I’ll be crossing my fingers for you.
All my love,
Cory Leonardo


Practicing and Improving VOICE

This blog post is a compilation of a tweet thread I posted this morning. I’ve added a few thoughts here and there to the original thread and a few extra exercises at the end. Hope it helps!

Ok #pitchwars You’re going to hear this a lot over the next few weeks.

You need a killer voice.
Paired with…
I can’t teach voice.

Which is true, but can be so frustrating to hear.
So, while I can’t teach you how to write a killer voice, you CAN practice.

Here are a few thoughts on how to practice voice if you’re struggling.

1. Write the same scene but change who the MC is. Perhaps in one form, they’re a dudebro, and then write it again w/the MC as a scientist. Notice what this changes in the narration. While the events of your scene may stay the same, a change in narrator should change everything else. What your character notices, how they describe it, how they react to it physically and emotionally. These are all elements of an immersive voice.

But there are other more subtle things you can practice, too.

2. Make a word/phrase list. Make two columns, in one write several different emotions or reactions. In the other column, write the go to phrases for that. In our 2016 mentee’s, CALL ME ALASTAIR, her medically obsessed MC writes “OMGAD” when exclaiming. (GAD=general anxiety disorder) My friend (and fellow mentor) Julie Artz likes to add to this list details like which of the five senses her character is most sensitive to, which part of their body reacts to things most.

It’s little details, but it makes a huge difference.

3. Try meditating as your character. I mean it! Close your eyes, take deep breaths, and try to become one with your MC. It sounds crazy, but that’s what I do. What do they see? Think about their height and literally “get on their level.” That alone should change how they describe certain things. How do they move through their world? How do they feel it? Try to make all of that a part of your body. Then bring it out and into the words you type.

Okay, hippie dippie enough for you? Let’s move on.

4. Try writing in another authors voice. Choose someone with a REALLY strong voice. Write in the voice of CATCHER IN THE RYE. Write in the voice of Douglas Adams. Or JK Rowling. Or Lemony Snicket. This is a great way to notice what makes those strong voices.

5. If you’re still struggling, or feel like you only have one voice, try an out there, totally different kind of MC. I was worried about voice for my last WIP, so I decided to try out a wise, British narrator. Because, hey. Why not? It worked. So go crazy. Give your character an awesome hobby that can leak into their wording and way they describe things. Have them be a collector or something, obsessed with some historical or pop culture thing. Whatever it is, just let it infuse into every chapter of your book somehow. I like this post from my co-mentor Cindy on letting your character’s “freak flag” fly.

6. Always remember, voice isn’t just the words you use but what your MC notices and how they react physically and emotionally.

7. Read Aloud. First do this with published books with great voice. Notice what a great written voice does to the way you read a book aloud. With the best, you will notice yourself actually falling into a cadence. A rhythm to the words. Almost like, this book can only be read one way. THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON is like this for me. Also, WOLF HOLLOW. I read that one aloud and even though I didn’t mean to, found myself taking on a light accent. Cindy’s WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW is the same way. You should be able to do this with your own writing, too. Read it aloud and notice where the cadence feels off or where you find yourself sort of stumbling or falling out of that rhythm. Then fix it. After that, give your manuscript to a really good friend or your partner to read aloud. See if THEY fall into a cadence reading it. If they can’t help bringing it to life. Notice the boring or less alive patches in their voice. Fix those!

Some additional exercises that might help.

Like the first exercise above but a little different. Think of a family story or scene from a recent outing. Imagine how your mom would narrate. Then imagine how your dad would narrate it.

This one won’t work for everyone, but it will for some people. Write for your character in free verse. I don’t know what it is, but verse helps me get to the heart of a character and their voice in five minutes flat.

Try just being yourself. How would you describe this scene to your very closest friend? Don’t clean it up. Leave in all the little asides, snide remarks, inside jokes, fragmented sentences. All of it. Be free and easy and totally yourself. What you come up with should be really voicey. After all, you are an awesome MC, right?

To finish off, I just want to let you know that the very first draft of THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC had very little voice. And what it did have was basically the voice of my last MC. I knew it needed work. But there were a few times as I was writing, that a different voice snuck in. I literally stopped writing, marked those spots and left a note for myself saying, “This is Kate’s voice!” Then after I finished drafting, I went back to those moments, read them, and kind of pondered them for a couple weeks before sitting down and rewriting the entire manuscript in the RIGHT voice this time.

Maybe nobody can teach voice. But you CAN practice it, learn it, and improve it. Good luck!


I’m so pleased to get to finally announce my book deal! THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC will be published by Boyds Mills Press in Fall 2018.

This is a dream come true. It was also a lot of work. Several big revisions, one on a crazy short timeline. But it was all worth it.

If you’re feeling like you’ll never make it and thinking about giving up, feel free to contact me. My story will give you hope. I promise.

Keep working. Keep learning. Keep writing. Keep believing and giving and trusting with all your heart. You’ll get there!

You can find the official announcement here. http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/73623-rights-report-week-of-may-16-2017.html

And you can add my book on Goodreads here! https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35158167-the-three-rules-of-everyday-magic

Guardian of Secrets Cover Reveal!


Let us know what you think of the cover for Guardian of Secrets (Library Jumpers, #2) by Brenda Drake which releases February 7, 2017!

This cover reveal is brought to you by Entangled TEEN & YA Interrobang!

I love Brenda Drake! And I love Brenda’s books! Her cover for book 2 in her Library Jumpers series is STUNNING! Check it out (along with her thoughts on it!)

Brenda Drake’s thoughts on the cover:

I had an idea of what I wanted the cover of Guardian of Secrets to look like the entire time I was writing the story. I was delighted (I might have screamed) when the cover showed up in my email and it was EXACTLY what I’d imagined. I love that it’s blue since part of the setting of the book takes place in a cold climate. I’m thrilled the couple is on it, too. They resemble the characters I’ve created in my mind perfectly. The cover is so beautiful, and I’m beyond excited to share it with everyone!






About Guardian of Secrets (Library Jumpers, #2):

Being a Sentinel isn’t all fairytales and secret gardens.

Sure, jumping through books into the world’s most beautiful libraries to protect humans from mystical creatures is awesome. No one knows that better than Gia Kearns, but she could do without the part where people are always trying to kill her. Oh, and the fact that Pop and her had to move away from her friends and life as she knew it.

And if that isn’t enough, her boyfriend, Arik, is acting strangely. Like, maybe she should be calling him “ex,” since he’s so into another girl. But she doesn’t have time to be mad or even jealous, because someone has to save the world from the upcoming apocalypse, and it looks like that’s going to be Gia.

Maybe. If she survives.

Want to read more? Pre-order your copy of Guardian of Secrets (Library Jumpers, #2) by Brenda Drake today!


Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Amazon CA | Amazon UK

A Sneak Peek and a Sale!

Touching Fate by Brenda Drake | JenHalliganPR.com

I’m so excited to take part in Brenda Drake’s Sale & Excerpt Blitz for TOUCHING FATE! Check out the excerpt below and grab it for just $0.99, peek at CURSING FATE (book 2), and be sure to enter the amazing giveaway!

Touching Fate by Brenda DrakeAster Layne believes in physics, not psychics. A tarot card reading on the Ocean City Boardwalk should have been a ridiculous, just-for-fun thing. It wasn’t. Aster discovers she has a very unscientific gift—with a simple touch of the cards, she can change a person’s fate.

Reese Van Buren is cursed. Like the kind of old-school, centuries-old curse that runs in royal families. Every firstborn son is doomed to die on his eighteenth birthday—and Reese’s is coming up fast. Bummer. He tries to distract himself from his inevitable death…only to find the one person who can save him.

Aster doesn’t know that the hot Dutch guy she’s just met needs her help–or that he’s about to die.

But worst of all…she doesn’t know that her new gift comes with dark, dark consequences that can harm everyone she loves.

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Excerpt from TOUCHING FATE

They spread a blanket on the sand and sat on top of it. Aster pulled her legs into a pretzel. “So what’s in the box?”

“You aren’t the patient type, are you?” He undid the ribbon holding the package closed and flipped open the top, then handed her a napkin.

The wind whipped Aster’s hair across her face and she tucked it behind her ears. “Nice thermos,” she said.

“My mother sent it to us. She has an addiction to online purchasing.” He lifted out a cream puff.

It was her favorite pastry at the shop. “I’m impressed. You did your research. I’ll have to thank Leah later.”

He chuckled, handing her the pastry. “You will. She was very specific.”

She took a bite, the creamy, sugary goodness tasting like heaven on her tongue.

“Good, huh?”

She nodded, not wanting to speak and spray powdered sugar at him or something.

He unscrewed the thermos and poured a brown liquid into the cap. “Hot cocoa?” he asked, and passed the cap to her.

“Obviously,” she said, taking a sip. Because cream puffs tasted best with hot chocolate. It was sweet that he’d taken the time to find out what she liked.

They ate in silence, but it wasn’t boring. It was more like…comfortable. When they finished, Reese screwed the cap back onto the thermos and placed the used napkins in the box. He scooted as close as he could get to her. She leaned her head on his shoulder, and he slid his arm behind her back. They watched the sun set on the ocean and listened to the waves clap against the beach.

“It’s beautiful here,” Reese said, finally.

She raised her head to look into his eyes. “This is the best date ever.”

He smiled, brushing crumbs away from the corner of her mouth. Her heart shivered as his fingers moved to her chin and lifted her mouth to his. The kiss was soft and gentle, and way too short for Aster. He pulled away, a serious expression on his face.

“Do you believe in fate?” he said softly.

Aster swallowed back her surprise.

“I think I do,” she said, recovering. It was a lame response. Before meeting Miri, she probably would have said she did right off. It used to be just a word without meaning. But now, it held a power beyond that of a simple definition in a dictionary. She had looked the word up. Fate was unavoidable. Something that couldn’t be measured. Yet she had the ability to shift it. She worried she didn’t have the maturity to know when to let sleeping fates lie.

“I believe in it,” Reese said with a nod. “We were to go straight to Florida, but I had an urge to stop in Ocean City. I felt you. Fate brought us together.”

“I thought it was an ice cream cone.” She giggled.

Oh God, Aster, stop giggling, already.

He touched her cheek. “I’m being serious here. I don’t want to hesitate anymore. There isn’t much time. I’ll only be here a few months.”

Grab your copy of TOUCHING FATE for $0.99 for a limited time only!

Touching Fate by Brenda Drake | JenHaliliganPR.com

Cursing Fate by Brenda DrakeCURSING FATE (The Fated #2) 

Release Date: November 21, 2016

Add to Goodreads | Pre-order on Amazon

Iris Layne has always been the sweet sister. She’s kind to everyone, including her best friend Wade… Until she makes a horrible mistake and breaks his heart. All she wants is to go back to before ‘the dumping’.

Of course, Wade would rather see her in hell first. But then Iris touches her sister’s tarot cards and unleashes an evil curse intent on playing a deadly game where no one Iris loves is safe, especially Wade.

Join the celebration for CURSING FATE’s release! Sign up to take part in the Release Day Launch on November 21st (open to everyone)!

Brenda DrakeAbout Brenda Drake

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Pinterest | Instagram

Brenda Drake grew up the youngest of three children, an Air Force brat, and the continual new kid at school. Her fondest memories growing up are of her eccentric, Irish grandmother’s animated tales, which gave her a strong love for storytelling.

So it was only fitting that she would choose to write stories with a bend toward the fantastical. When she’s not writing or hanging out with her family, she haunts libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops, or reads someplace quiet and not at all exotic (much to her disappointment).


One winner will receive a Touching Fate Prize Pack including: Mini Tarot Cards; Infinity Bracelet; Blackheart Choker Necklace; Pumpkin Spice Badgerface Lip Balm; signed Bookmarks; and signed stickers for bookplates!

Touching Fate Giveaway

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Writing a Verse Novel: An Interview With Shari Green

I’m so excited to be here today with Shari Green, author of ROOT BEER CANDY AND OTHER MIRACLES. I had the chance to read an advanced copy of this book and it is just one of those classic-feeling, lovely, and heartfelt middle-grade novels. I loved it.

So I asked Shari about her new book and writing in verse!

I know you don’t only write in verse. You have a previous YA novel out written in prose. But why did you write THIS book in verse?

I had several false starts with this book, struggling to find the voice and to figure out who Bailey was. Several things converged serendipitously, nudging me to try verse, and as soon as I started it was like “aha! there’s Bailey” and the words finally flowed. I should’ve clued in sooner, really, as my writing always tends to be lean and somewhat lyrical—the transition to verse felt like a natural one for me.


How did you feel when you first started writing in verse? Were you nervous? How did you get over that?

I felt great about it as long as I didn’t actually think about it! Verse does suit my natural writing voice, but when I think about “real poets” and “real poetry”, I’m likely to get hit with a serious case of imposter syndrome. I’ve never thought of myself as a poet—I’ve got no formal training and little experience. So, I try not to think about it, haha.


I love the conversations Bailey has with Our Lady of the Bay. How did you come up with that? Did it just come to you, or were you trying to fill a need that you saw?

I knew I needed something to build the relationship between Bailey and OLOTB. I imagined Bailey sitting in the sand, back against the driftwood, having some great heart-to-hearts with OLOTB, but I didn’t know if these times would be real or in her head or what. I wrote these conversations on a whim, then sat back and thought about them. Even though they were so different from the rest of the text (and I didn’t know then if they’d end up staying in the book), I liked them. By leaving them simply as dialogue, there’s an ambiguity that I quite like—are they real? magic? imaginary? (I know what I think…what do you think? heh.)



Now, I’m lucky enough to have read an early draft of another verse novel you’re working on. And I thought it was interesting that it was so different from this one. Your poems are much longer in ROOT BEER CANDY AND OTHER MIRACLES. Do you want to talk about why the different styles and how that happened?

Interesting! I didn’t realize that was the case, but I suspect some of the length of the RBCAOM poems came during revisions. I always have to expand during revisions. I think RBCAOM grew from 14k in early drafts to about 20k in the final draft. So maybe the new story has some growing to do, or maybe the scenes in the new one are just more vignette-ish, if that makes sense.


There aren’t any real “rules” for free verse. But do you have any personal rules or way of doing things when you write in verse?

My approach to writing in verse is still developing, for sure. I love that there are no official rules! I think personal rules that are emerging for me include: (1) story first, just as with prose—kill unneeded darlings, no matter how poetic they are; (2) include a strong image or emotion in every scene; (3) musicality is key—choose words and line breaks to create the sound, rhythm, and tempo I want; and (4) play—with shape, sound, structure, poetic forms.


How do you know how to split up the lines of your free verse?

I most often choose line breaks either for rhythm or emphasis—so, I often break where there would be a slight natural pause (reading it aloud is critical!), or where I want to put a bit of a spotlight on a word or phrase. I also choose line breaks according to white space—the visual aspect of the poem, which is sometimes a very intentional thing for me, and sometimes not.


What is your favorite verse novel? Which would you recommend to study for those wanting to write in verse?

I can’t (won’t?) narrow it down to a favorite, lol. There are so many wonderful verse novels! I definitely recommend reading lots of different ones, to open one’s mind to possibilities—there are novels completely in free verse, novels that use a wide variety of poetic forms, single POV, dual or multi POV, contemporary, historical, memoir, etc. I hadn’t read a lot of verse novels when I wrote ROOT BEER CANDY AND OTHER MIRACLES, but now I’m devouring them. So much to learn!


Thank you so much, Shari!

Thank you so much for the great questions, Amanda, and for hosting me on your blog. Cheers! *passes a stick of root beer candy to Amanda*


Do you want to win a copy of ROOT BEER CANDY AND OTHER MIRACLES? (Hint: You do!) Enter to win a copy and a swag pack. You can get three entries into this drawing. One entry for adding ROOT BEER CANDY AND OTHER MIRACLES to your Goodreads shelf and posting a link in the comments, one entry for following @sharigreen on Twitter and leaving your Twitter handle in the comments, and a third entry for writing a couplet about the beach…in the comments, of course! 

*Make sure you are following me on Twitter to find out who wins. I’ll pick a winner on October 17th and announce there..*

Writing a Verse Novel: An Interview with Laura Shovan (Part II)

Welcome to Part II of my interview with Laura Shovan, author of The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Yesterday, this interview focused on the differences between prose and verse novels and getting started. Today, we’re going to focus more on poetic tools and techniques.

What are some of your favorite poetic tools?

Studying and learning from other poets. I love using Kay Ryan’s poems as a model. Her language is so economical, smart, and funny.

How do you know how to split up the lines of your free verse?

I spend a lot of my revision time on line breaks. Reading a poem aloud helps.

I’ve heard verse novelists talk about revising the “shape” of their poems. And I didn’t understand it until I started writing in verse. How do you revise the shape of your poems? Or, how do you decide to use an actual shape poem?

This is related to your previous question. When I’m revising, I’ll often try a poem out with long lines, then short lines. I’ll see what it looks like in tercets, then unrhymed quatrains. It’s trial and error until I find a balance between form and words that feels right for the poem.

Do you feel like verse novels have a little bit more leeway with plot structures?

I feel like novels written in poems don’t have to fill every space on the page with information. When the reader finishes a poem and turns the page to read the next one, I trust that she is going to make connections between the two texts. I love this dynamic! There are discoveries hidden or suggested in the poems for the reader to find and carry forward as the story moves along.

How do you handle dialogue in a verse novel? What are some of the favorite ways you’ve seen in other verse novels?

Three common options are: Use quotation marks as you would in prose. Italicize dialogue spoken by another character (who is not the speaker of the poem). Create a right-hand column of verse text for words spoken by the other character.

Transitioning between scenes or periods of time or setting is tricky in a verse novel. What are some ways you’ve done this?

This is where the title of a poem is your friend. Let’s say there is information you have to communicate, such as a new setting or a jump in time, but putting it in the text of the poem weighs the verse down. Put that information in the title. For instance, title the poem, “At Grandma’s House” or “Vacation is Over” and go on from there.

This is a great technique for poetry in general. Titles can do so many things! Create tension, set a tone, or communicate an important piece of information.

When I first started writing verse, someone told me to make use of “the white space.” Can you talk about what that means and how you do it?

That’s a complicated question. My guess is that the person who told you this wanted you to think about the page differently – not as something to be filled up with words, but as a visual, as well as a literary experience.

When I write for children, I’m aware that one function of white space on the page is to chunk information. “Chunking” is used in the elementary school classroom to break up information, so that it’s less overwhelming for students (especially those who have visual or language based learning differences). The stanzas of the poem work in much the same way, breaking up phrases and images with white space, so a young reader can absorb the poem a piece at a time. I think this is one reason why poetry is popular with emerging readers.

In your book, you had many different characters and each had their own voice. I was so impressed by that. How is voice different in verse than in prose? How do you nail it?

Thank you, Amanda. Personally, I find it easier to create a spare voice in a poem. In prose, my middle grade characters are very chatty and tend to over-share, at least in early drafts.

In your book, you used several different kinds of poems. What makes you decide what kind of poem to use? Do you use a certain style for only certain times?

The form of the poem is intentional. My favorite example of this in THE LAST FIFTH GRADE is the three sonnets. All three poems happen when one of the characters is feeling boxed in by the expectations of his or her peers. The strict rules of a sonnet reflect the constraint that the characters are feeling in those moments.

What is the importance of poetry in a child’s life?

In addition to the chunking mentioned above, I’ve seen how positively children respond to poetry’s playfulness with language. When we read and write poetry together, we’re showing children that they can be intentional with language. Poetry asks us to slow down and think carefully about what we say. The words we choose to use matter, not only in writing, but in how we speak to others as well.

Poetry is also a safe place to express hurt, grief, and love. I wrote about the importance of poetry in children’s emotional lives for the Baltimore Sun this spring. You can find the op-ed here: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-pocket-poem-20160421-story.html


Thank you so much to Laura Shovan for answering all my questions. If you want to win a copy of The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary then comment with a line from your favorite poem to enter the drawing. And be sure to comment on yesterday’s post to be entered twice!

Writing a Verse Novel: An Interview with Laura Shovan

Back in October of last year, I began drafting a verse novel. It was really scary at first because there isn’t much out there about how to write a verse novel. There seem to be rules and no rules at the same time. Freedom but tools and techniques I should know. For the past year, I’ve stumbled along and learned a lot. Now I want to start a blog series to talk about “how” to write a verse novel.

Laura-Shovan1-209x300  last fifth grade

For my first post, I was able to interview the amazing Laura Shovan, author of the MG verse novel The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. I asked A LOT  of questions, so I’ll be splitting her interview up into two posts. Today we’ll be focusing on the idea of writing in verse and how it differs from writing in prose. Tomorrow we’ll focus on verse tools and techniques.

I hope you find Laura’s answers as helpful and insightful as I did.

Do you only write in verse?

I write in a variety of forms. When there’s something I feel compelled to write about, often the subject itself defines the form. A reaction to a news item might fill the small space of a poem, instead of developing into a short story (an example is my poem “Rattlesnake Bites Man in Walmart Garden Center” here: https://qarrtsiluni.com/2013/05/13/rattlesnake-bites-man-in-walmart-garden-center/). My current work-in-progress began as a series of poems and sketches. It has developed into a middle grade novel written in prose.

What makes you decide to write a story in verse rather than prose?

I don’t think I could have written THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY in prose. Poetry allowed me to differentiate the voices of the 18 characters. I used line breaks and white space in the poems to help readers hear the cadence and rhythm of each character’s style of speaking. Kwame Alexander’s book THE CROSSOVER, is a great example of this technique. He creates his main character’s voice not only in the words used, but also in the way they flow across the page.

What are the differences in drafting a verse novel rather than a prose novel?

In THE LAST FIFTH GRADE, developing a plot through the voices of Ms. Hill’s class was like putting together a jig-saw puzzle with moving pieces. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. Each character has many poems that didn’t make it into the book. Once I put everything together, I found holes in the story and character arcs, went back and filled them in with more poems. My CPs and my editor gave me wonderful guidance in this process.

My struggle with writing a prose novel is training myself to write from beginning to end. I want to focus on important scenes and set-pieces, put them in a loose order, and fill in the holes. I’m learning that this isn’t an efficient way to write fiction.

There aren’t any real “rules” for free verse. But do you have any personal rules or way of doing things when you write in verse?

When I visit students as a poet-in-the-schools, we talk about form poems and free verse. Children like playing with traditional forms, but they also like the idea that, in a free verse poem, it is the individual poet who makes the rules. Free verse poems do have structure and can use rhyme (often internal). That’s up to the poet.

One of my revision techniques for poetry is to rewrite a free verse poem in a traditional form, such as a triolet. Sometimes this helps me see extraneous phrases, or opportunities for rhythm that I’d missed.

Do you have a verse style? What is it?

I’m still uncovering my style as a poet an author. One of my favorite forms is the persona poem, where a character speaks in a poetic monologue. THE LAST FIFTH GRADE is a book of persona poems.

What sort of stories do you think are best served by verse?

My favorite novels in verse are voice-driven. LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech, THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander, and THE LANGUAGE INSIDE by Holly Thompson each take us inside the experiences and emotions of the main character. The model for THE LAST FIFTH GRADE is a 1915 verse novel, SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY, by Edgar Lee Masters.


Where did the idea for THE LAST FIFTH GRADE come from?

When my son was in fifth grade, I was struck by all of the in-jokes, traditions, and shared interests of his class. With their teacher, Jason Schoenhut, the children built a true community. One of my favorite books about how communities function is SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY, which is a series of persona poems spoken by the people who live in small town outside of Chicago. My inspiration came from the intersection of these two things.


Do you want to get your hands on a copy of Laura’s fabulous book? (It’s amazing!) She’s giving away a signed copy to a reader of this blog. Leave a comment with a haiku about writing in the comments to enter the drawing. You’ll get another chance to enter tomorrow with part 2 of the interview. Comment on both posts and double your chances!

Make Me FEEL It: Connection

Welcome to Part 2 of this blog series on making your reader feel something.

Part 1 is here.

Today we’re going to talk about the need for connection in making your reader feel something. This encompasses a few different facets. So let’s talk about them.

The reader must feel connected to the character. This is why you hear so much about the need for “likable” or “sympathetic” characters. If your character is just plain flat annoying or a huge jerk with no redeeming qualities, chances are your reader isn’t going to care if something horrible happens to them. This doesn’t mean you can’t have an “unlikable” character, it just means that there has to be something that connects me to that character and makes me want what they want or at least want to go along the ride with them.

This can be accomplished in a number of ways.

1.  Voice! A great, strong voice can overcome a lot of character flaws.

2.  Save the cat! I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase. It’s the title a really popular book for screenwriters that authors also love. The idea is that you can have an unlikable/very flawed character, but at the beginning you need to show us that there is something good in them. Have them “save the cat” or do something small yet noble. Just something so we can see they are redeemable and worth rooting for.

3. Give them some room on the page to breathe. I struggle with this one. But let us see that your character is a person outside of their big story problem. Help us see what’s special about them and connect to them like someone we want to be friends with for one reason or another.


Okay, so let’s talk about another facet of connection.

In order to create an emotional response in the reader to a certain event, you need to begin by showing us the opposite. That probably sounds confusing. Let me explain. If you want me to feel surprised because something totally unexpected or out of the ordinary happened, then you need to begin by showing me what is expected and what is ordinary. I see many writers try to clear this hurdle by just giving me backstory when the unexpected event happens, explaining why it’s such a surprise. But when you do that, I don’t feel surprised. I just sort of shrug and say, “Well, okay. I guess it’s surprising.”

If you want me to feel the shock and confusion of a natural disaster or bombing or something huge and tragic like that, you have to give me at least a few pages of peace, of the character going about their business. when you allow me to settle into that, then I will truly have a WTH? moment when you bring the world crashing down.


You need to connect me to the relationships in your book. This is something I learned in writing/revising my Pitch Wars book last year. I have a friendship fall apart very early on in the book. But nobody cared enough until I took a couple chapters to show why that friendship was special to begin with. This is important with any relationship but especially friendships. If you going to strain the relationship and want me to long for it to be repaired, you have to first help me connect to and invest in the relationship. When you just tell me that so and so are best friends, but my first real time seeing it on the page is when it’s fizzling out, I’m apt to just think the best friend is a brat and actually root for the character to move on. And that drains your strained relationship of tension.

This idea of connecting me to relationships also works in kind of the opposite way too. If your MC is working on building a relationship with someone, then you need to first let me see what they are missing without that relationship. You need me to connect to the character’s motivations for wanting that relationship. Show me that “dysfunctional” normal. Then I’ll root for you all the way through the book. Then when your inciting incident happens that puts further strain on making that relationship or improved relationship possible, I will feel the fear and discouragement right along with your MC. But don’t just show the inciting incident happen and then say, “Now I’ll never win the approval of so and so.” That doesn’t make me care. That doesn’t make me feel. Connect me to the need and the fear first, then start the dumpster fire.

There are some things that don’t need a lot of build up to connect to. The loss of a parent or a child, divorce, moving. There are just some experiences that we all understand and connect with instantaneously. I don’t need to see your MC interact with their dad to connect to the pain they feel when he’s gone. I immediately understand and connect to that pain, because I can imagine it in my own life. So sometimes you CAN jump right into the inciting incident without connecting me to “before” as much as usual. But please don’t just assume you’re the exception. Get a beta reader. Make sure they are feeling what they’re supposed to.

I hope that helps with the idea of laying a groundwork for connection to pave the way for helping your reader FEEL it.