Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Bethany Weaver Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/26/2024
  • Rebecca Williamson Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 7/8/2024
  • Sheila Fernley Agent Spotlight Interview, Critique Giveaway, and One-Hour Zoom Call on 7/29/2024
  • Erica McGrath Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 8/12/2024

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated through the letter "K" as of 3/28/2024 and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for more information as I find the time to update more agent spotlights.

Ruby, Not Just on Tuesday

A long-time writer friend of mine, Carol Anne Shaw (author of Hannah and the Spindle Whorl), has a fun new side project I thought I'd share. It's a blog novel called Ruby, Not Just on Tuesday. Here's the summary:
Introducing the fictional world of 17-year-old Ruby Ross (created by published author Carol Anne Shaw). Ruby is a painter, avid reader, writer, supreme idealist and collector of ugly argyle cardigans. She has been known to go to ridiculous measures for a date square, is an avid fan of all things four-legged, and is a hard-core tea granny. She hates bullsh*t, loves her quirky friends, barely tolerates her parents and has a hard time believing that she and her two sisters share the same DNA. Welcome to the adventures of Ruby Ross, a quintessential square peg trying to navigate her way through a "round hole" world.
This started as a writing exercise for Carol Anne and has turned into a new favorite pastime. I love the journalistic approach and how she goes so far as to include artwork and pictures. If you're looking for a fun read and want to follow Ruby's journal, do check it out! She's quite the character.


First of all, I'm so excited about new blog design. I LOVE it! Casey and I have been bouncing around ideas and she came up with this fabulous design for our banner. Thank you so much Casey for doing this. Especially since I don't know how to do this yet.

Next I'll announce the winner of ARTICLE 5. The winner is:


Congrats! E-mail me your address so I can send you your book.

Today I’m excited to interview debut author MerrieHaskell about her book THE PRINCESS CURSE which was released September 16, 2011. When I read in an interview with Merrie thatshe literally lives 10 minutes from me, I knew I had to interview her. I loved how Merrie plotted this. Her story definitely did not suffer from middle story sag. It was like Wow! There's so much more here.

Here’s a description from Amazon:

Twelve princesses suffer from a puzzling (if silly) curse, and anyone who ends it will win a reward. Reveka, a sharp-witted and irreverent apprentice herbalist, wants that reward. But her investigations lead to deeper mysteries and a daunting choice—will she break the curse at the peril of her own soul?

Hi Merrie. Thanks so much for joining us.

Thanks for having me!

1. Tell us a little about yourself and how you became a writer.

Oh, gosh. Long story boring or short story too short? There is toomuch; let me sum up. I’ve been writing stories since I was seven or so. My momeven saved my first story, so I have proof! However, it wasn’t until I had verynearly turned 28 before I woke up and said, “You know, if you don’t do this,you’ll never do this.” I’d been writing much more consistently throughout thatprevious year, but I’d rarely submitted anything for publication--and certainlynever with vigor or persistence.

But in any case, I had always wanted to be a writer,to the point where, when experiencing something awkward or awful or painful orweird or [insert your favorite negative emotion], I would fantasize about howthis would make me a better writer--which would lead me to analyzing the bademotion/situation from a more distanced perspective. I don’t think that’sunique to writers--I think actors and other sorts of artists who perform do thesame thing. I’ve been doing it since I was at least eleven.

2. That's awesome your mom saved the story. Maybe she knew you'd be an author one day. Your book is set in
Romania. I read that you didn’t knowanything about the country before writing your book. What research did you doin developing the setting?

Well, that’s not quite true. I did knowsomething about
Romania. My cousin married a Romanianwoman about five years prior to my writing the book, and I knew a lot abouther--I’d certainly eaten a lot of her cooking, too, and I think there’ssomething inherently vital in experiencing a culture’s cuisine. My aunt andcousin had visited Romania a few times, and had comeback with lots of stories (and pictures!). That said, I only knew much aboutdaily life in the modern era amongst a very slender demographic that consistsof young, educated, half-Hungarian women (my cousin’s wife and her sister).

Romanian history, on the other hand, was something Iknew only slightly and in patchwork format from Roman and Byzantine and Ottomanhistory, and a sixth-grade unit on communism! And frankly, I never put togetherthat a lot of the history of Rome that I knew had a darn thingto do with Romania. I would say prior to mycousin’s marriage I knew almost nothing about Romania; between the marriage and thecommencement of the book, I knew select things. Overall, though--I have to say,not knowing a country’s myths and legends means you don’t know anything aboutit, and it took writing this book to get any facility with that at all.

In college, I was an anthropology major, and sincethen I’ve been working in a major academic research library, so I have areasonable facility with finding information. I read all the anthropological,historical, sociological, etc. information I could get my hands on about Romania, both books and articles. Italked to librarians and got their help finding materials. I read every book ofRomanian fairy tales and legends I could get my hands on (and often had toresort to interlibrary loan). I subscribed to Romanian blogs. I learned somevery poor Romanian. I spent a lot of time with Romanian etymologies and Googletranslate. I read guide books. I stalked satellite imagery. I read historicalatlases. I watched anything I could find--the Romanian episodes of Top Gear,Man vs. Wild, and Anthony Bourdain’s show, for example. I talked to mycousin, too! And then, just after the book went to copyediting, I actuallymanaged to get to Romania, so I had time to correctanything I might have gotten wrong in the galleys.

The sad thing is, I think I found everything inEnglish that there is to be read about Romania, and I still felt semi-bereftwithout going there. It’s hard to write a culture you have not steeped in foryour whole life. I was lucky in that I had three years with Romania, since it took that longbetween writing the book and releasing it (there was an agent hunt and a bookcontract in the middle). I wish I had more time. I glossed the surface of somany things. My biggest concern was getting something big absolutely wrong, ormaking Romanians feel like I had been an extremely inconsiderate tourist intheir culture. It still is, in fact; I wait daily for that outraged email.

3. Wow! I can't think of anyone doing so much research to try to be accurate. I don't think you should worry about someone getting upset. You did everything you could to get it right. I also read that you never intended your story tobe a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Tell us how it developed into or couldbe perceived as a retelling of this story.

Ultimately, the only story I set out to retell was“The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Now, I’ve always felt very unsatisfied by thatfairy tale, because it doesn’t explain much of the why. The why got going solong past the midpoint of this book that it’s almost like two books have beenput together. If I intended to add anything in, it was only theHades/Persephone mythos, which is probably the forerunner of “Beauty and theBeast.” But honestly, I didn’t perceive “Beauty and the Beast” until I saw iton the jacket flap copy of the book. For one thing, I did not set out toretell “Beauty and the Beast” because, for my money, it’s been retold in two ofthe best ways possible (by the same author: Robin McKinley). And I would havetold you I had nothing to add to that story, so I couldn’t possibly be tryingto retell it. But you know? I see now what people see. I can’t deny it’s verylike “Beauty and the Beast.”

4. That's really something how you didn't realize it was like Beauty and the Beast. Though your take is very unique. Maybe that's why you didn't see it at first. You’ve got a lot of characters, including twelveprincesses. What were the challenges in making them all unique and do you haveany tips on character development?

Well, to start with , I didn’t name all of theprincesses in the book, you may have noticed. I do have all their names writtendown on a sheet of paper, of course, but realistically, there’s no point forthe audience to know all of them. I only needed 3.5 princesses to stand out:Lacrimora, our seeming villain; Otilia, our sympathetic princess; Maricara, ourtrue villain; and then all the other princesses combined equal about half aprincess for the purposes of the novel. They’re there, but they’rebackgrounded. In retrospect, I perhaps should have tried to develop a groupidentity more for them. Perhaps I did. “The princesses” are referred to a lotmore than any individual one.

But beyond the princesses there are just a ton ofcharacters. I feel bad that I lost at least one of them halfway through--thecobbler’s apprentice never shows back up from his first scene. I tried to writehim in over and over and over--there are drafts with tons of him--but he nevermade it past that one scene in the end.

I used a few methods for character differentiation. Itried in early drafts to associate a color or a physical feature or abackground fact with different characters, though I know that many of those didnot survive contact with the 8th draft. It really helped that I had everyonevery firm in my head. If I had trouble with a character, I would hold a, erm,private conversation with them (purely as a writing exercise).

By the end, I felt like I practically lived in CastleSylvian--I could have walked to the privies in the middle of the night, and Icertainly would have been able to send everyone a birthday card on time.Perhaps this is an artifact of having a very large extended family plus workingin a very large department of a very large library; I’m used to being one ofabout 30 people that I work closely with on a regular basis.

5. That's a great idea to focus on the three most important of the princesses and the most important characters in your story in general. You did a fantastic job plotting your story. Many authors mighthave ended the story with the discovery of the princess’ secret and a quickresolution but that revelation was in the middle of the story and there was somuch more plot-wise after that. Tell us about the process of plotting out yourstory. Were there any major changes after the first draft?

The very, very first draft for this book was actuallya novelette, it did end at that point. Dragos had a different name, he wassolely a villain, and Pa kills him. When I decided to turn the shorter storyinto a book, I immediately knew that I hated that ending. I can’t standsimplistic villains. Further, I already knew the history of how the 12 sistersended up in the Underworld, dancing, and I knew it was really the eldest’sfault--she threw the rest under the bus to save herself. I had no interest inpunishing Dragos (then named Lord Bogden); I suspected his motives were pure inthe end.

Once I knew that the story didn’t end there, I knewthe ending almost immediately. It would be Reveka staring down into a well,feeling morose about what she’d done in the Underworld--what that was, exactly,I didn’t know. But I wanted her dad to ask her if she was okay, if he was toolate in rescuing her, and she was going to lie to him. For the first, I don’tknow, four drafts, the book ended with, “‘You weren’t too late, Pa,’ I lied.”

Major changes... well, yeah, the first half of thebook used to feature an extremely long sequence with Reveka getting lost in theforest, an assassin, meeting first Frumos, then Mihas, and finally Otilia’sfamily on her way back to the castle, as well as a blacksmith named Jonic whowas later merged into the character of Armas. It was my agent who actuallycalled out that this sequence as unnecessarily long, though frankly, I didn’ttake it all out until my editor kept saying, “The first part of the book...something is wrong.” It took me a while to see how that didn’t work. I had avery journeyman (maybe even apprentice) writer’s view on how to introducecharacters. Bring them on one at a time! In dramatic ways! With import and intriguein every moment! It was silly.

The second half of the book went through a lot ofrestructuring--there’s such a tone shift from the first to second half, and myeditor wanted to make sure it matched a little better than it did when shefirst got the manuscript. I can’t say enough about how brilliant both my editorand agent are; I have supremely lucked out with both of them. I have learned somuch, and continue to learn, from both of them. It’s very humbling. It alsomakes me extremely impatient with people who dismiss editors and agents,because while I do truly believe that the wrong agent is worse than no agent,there is no book that can’t be made better with a keen editorial eye and awriter who listens.

6. That's great how your agent and editor helped you. And it is so important to be willing to change things like you did. It gives us all hope that we can fix our less-than-perfect plots. I know you work full-time at
University of Michigan too. Share how you jugglewriting, marketing your book, and working full-time for the rest of us who haveto do the same thing.

Well, first, I have an incredibly understanding bossat UM, and I burn a lot of vacation time on writing and writing-related things.But most of the juggling is done by being ruthless about cutting myextracurriculars.

So--knowing that 40 hours a week are at work, andanother 5 hours are commuting, and 5 hours beyond that are lunches, that’s 50hours I spend away from home. I write during lunch breaks--I can usually get500 words in, sometimes a thousand. I dictate memos or listen to writing booksand podcasts on the commute. At home, we eat dinner and watch a very littletelevision before the Writing Hammer is brought out (a squeaky plastic hammermy husband bought at Cedar Point), and it is pounded like an obnoxious gavel ifI’m not writing promptly at 8PM. Then, I write between 8-11.

I get Thursday nights off. Though mostly, that nightends up being the marketing/email answering night.

I have to say, it’s the marketing that suffers. I keepa Twitter account and a blog, and I have to use a scheduler on both to makesure everything gets updated semi-regularly. I am keen on anylabor-saving/time-saving device or program you can think of. I have the addonthat disables the Internet on my browser after 15 minutes. I only watchtelevision through the DVR (saves up to 12 minutes per hour of TV!).

7. Your schedule sounds similar to mine though I can get some work done before my full-time jobk and stop working at 9. I try to be productive on my lunch hour too. I so agree you have to be disciplined to work and get writing/social networking done. Though I could use to disable the Internet.Your agent is Caitlin Blasdell. Tell us about yourroad to obtain an agent and a publisher.

I will tell you right now: I was lucky and I’ve had iteasy. I don’t think that speaks to the quality of my writing or anything likethat--I mean, I’m competent, I hope!--but more to right book, right time, rightmarket, right agent, right editor, right... everything.

I wrote The Princess Curse over the summer of2008, but didn’t look for an agent until March 2009. I studied the heck out ofagentquery.com, and zeroed in on a list of 51 agents that represented the threegenres I believed I would eventually want to write in (YA, women’s fiction, andsf/f). Then I ranked them based on what I knew about them, in particular, whothey represented and their records with foreign sales. Then I queried 3 agents.I had a system: query three, and for every rejection, query 2 more.

In the interest of full disclosure: my top 3 wereCaitlin, Jennifer Jackson (who had just started repping YA), and... oh, ScottWesterfeld’s agent. I forget her name.

Anyway, almost straight out of the gate (well within aweek), Caitlin asked for a partial.

I had no plan for success! Just rejection. So Ipanicked and queried 5 more agents. Just so I wouldn’t be dead in the waterwhen the inevitable rejection was forthcoming. (As someone who cut her teeth onscience fiction short stories, success right out of the gate was notanticipated.) And then Caitlin asked for a full, and I didn’t know what tothink.

While the full was with Caitlin, I got threerejections. I signed with Caitlin at the beginning of April, and immediatelygot two more requests for partials, that I politely urned down--and about threemonths later, the last rejections came trickling in.

Caitlin and I did edits, and I dragged my feet on themout of a bad perfectionist moment. The MS was ready to go in November 2009, andshe put it out on submission, in spite of the adage that nothing ever sells inlate fall. But it did--about 3 weeks in, there was an auction. Prior to theauction, I had some phone conversations with a few of the editors who wereinterested, which was a surreal experience--“Here’s how I’d want to change thebook if we bought it.” People sure can have different visions... Thankfully,the best bid was from the editor who liked the heart of the book the way itwas--no beefing up of romantic triangles, no making the father into abrother... Cue angelic chorus + sighs of relief!

8. Yes, we all want to be that lucky. What did you do to market your book? In retrospectare there things that worked really well or that you wished you had donedifferently?

I did a few Goodreads giveaways, plus one on Twitterand one on Facebook. I started a blog--less for promotion and more for “here’sa place for me to disseminate information and for people to ask questions.”(I’ve been blogging on various platforms since 2000, so I didn’t have anyillusions about what a blog might actually do for me.) I joined the Elevensies,which was a group of YA/MG authors with debuts out in 2011; they were/are agreat resource, and they did giveaways and printed up fantastic posters. I helda reading at the library (where I work), which was open to the public, andpurchased a magnificent cake for it--we had 90 people attend. I attendedscience fiction conventions, but I would have done that anyway.

Overall, the thing to remember about marketing in generalis that marketing is not simply advertising. The best marketing for my book wasfrom my publisher’s marketing people and my editor; they talked up the book at
ALA and to librarians, theycirculated advanced reading copies, they made sure I got a good spot on the newreleases shelf in MG... It’s hard to market to ten-year-olds, but if anyone cando it, I’m sure it’s HarperCollins. That’s all stuff that would have beenimpossible for me to do, and I don’t know that there’s much that could beat it.

9. What are you working on now?

I am working with my editor on another stand alone MG,which I am currently calling A Handbook for Dragon Slayers, set on the
Rhine River in the 1130s. There is anextremely faint connection to The Princess Curse, and I consider it setin the same world--the same slightly sideways version of Europe, even though we are hundredsof miles and years away from Reveka’s story. We’ll see if the title sticks.

Thanks Merrie for all your advice. You can findMerrie at her website and her blog.

Merrie generously offered a copy of THE PRINCESS CURSE for a giveaway.All you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re nota follower) and leave a comment by midnighton March 10th. I’ll announce the winner on March 12th. If your e-mail isnot on Blogger, please list it in your comment. International entries arewelcome.

If you mention this contest on your blog, Twitter, orFacebook, please let me know in the comments and I’ll give you an extra entry.

Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays was started by ShannonWhitney Messenger to spotlight middle grade authors. Check it out here.

And check out these other Marvelous Monday Middle GradeReviewers:

Here's what coming up in the next few weeks. On Friday, Casey is interviewing Deborah Blumenthal with a giveaway of THE LIFEGUARD. Next Monday I'll be doing a newer release YA giveaway. The following Monday I'm interviewing a middle grader for my ASK THE EXPERT series and giving away another popular debut YA book. Then the next Monday I'll be interviewing Jenny Lundquist and giving away an ARC of SEEING CINDERELLA. I seriously loved that book.

Hope to see you next Monday!

Agent Spotlight: Marie Lamba

This week's Agent Spotlight features Marie Lamba of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency.
Status: Open to submissions, actively building her client list.
marielambaAbout: Marie Lamba (www.marielamba.com) is author of the young adult novels What I Meant… (Random House), Over My Head and Drawn, of the picture book Green Green: A Community Gardening Story(Farrar Straus Giroux), and of the upcoming picture book A Day So Gray (Clarion). Her articles appear in more than 100 publications, and she's a frequent contributor to Writer’s Digest.  Marie has worked as an editor, an award-winning public relations writer, a book publicist, and has taught classes on novel writing and on author promotion. ” (From the agency website)
About the Agency:
The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency is a New York City-based full-service literary agency founded in 2001 and named one of the top 25 literary agencies in the country by Writer’s Digest. The agency represents children’s literature for all ages – picture books and middle-grade and young adult novels – but also represents high-quality adult fiction and non-fiction in a wide range of genres. JDLA is proud to represent illustrators, as well as screenwriters for both television and film, including Emmy and Peabody Award-winning writers and illustrators. What sets JDLA apart from other agencies is our holistic approach to managing every aspect of an author’s career to make the most of their project's potential.” (From the agency website)
Web Presence:
JD Lit Website.
Author website/blog.
Manuscript Wish List
What She's Looking For:
Picture books, middle grade and young adult fiction and non-fiction and adult fiction and nonfiction.
From the Website:
I'm currently seeking middle grade and young adult fiction and non-fiction, especially with diverse points of view, or a STEM tie-in. I also want general adult fiction and women’s fiction. I’d love to find an original women's novel that would inspire the next smart and funny chick flick. I want memoirs with strong voices and unique, inspiring stories (especially foodie memoirs, or ones with a celebrity or pop culture connection). I also represent a select number of established illustrators and picture book authors. I’d love a fresh non-gory ghost story for any age. I’m fascinated with hidden treasures, artifacts and with discovering ancient civilizations right beneath our feet. I’m a huge fan of folklore and fairy tales, and, while I wouldn’t want a retelling, I always enjoy those elements woven into a story in a unique way. Overall, books that are original, moving and/or hilarious are especially welcome.” (From the agency website)
What She Isn't Looking For:
I'm NOT interested in Christian fiction, adult non-fiction, horsey books, genre science fiction or high fantasy (though I am open to speculative elements, especially in middle grade fiction), erotica, category romance (though romantic elements are welcomed in novels), or books that feature graphic violence.” (From the agency website)
Editorial Agent?
Yes, as needed.
Some favorite titles on my reading shelf include One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London, Searching for Caleb by Anne Tyler, Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger, The Once and Future King by T.H. White, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Shug by Jenny Han, Little Bear’s Big House by Benjamin Chaud, and Dogzilla and Hallo-weiner by Dav Pilkey. I’m also a big fan of the shows Veronica MarsThe CrownTo All the Boys I’ve Loved BeforeThe Queen’s Gambit, and Bridgerton, and the flicks Never Have I Ever and Lovebirds. For more insight into my tastes, check out the books I’ve authored, as well as the works of the authors I represent, and visit marielamba.com for my Agent Monday blog posts.” (From the agency website)
The agency represents over 200 clients, including a PEN Award-winner and a Newbery Honor Medal winner. A list of selected clients can be found on the agency website. 
Ms. Lamba’s clients include: Carmella Van Vleet, Tracey Baptiste, Erin Teagan, Harmony Verna, Gregory Frost, among others.
Query Methods:
E-mail: No
Snail-Mail: No.
Online-Form: Yes.
Submission Guidelines (always verify):
Submit your query via Marie Lamba's Query Manager Page.
Query only one agent at the agency at a time. 
See the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency website for complete, up-to-date submission guidelines. 
Response Times:
She responds to all submissions that follow the guidelines, but her time period for doing so varies widely depending on her workload.
What's the Buzz?
Marie Lamba began agenting July of 2011 and is actively building her client list. She has been very selective so far.
You can find her on Twitter and her blog where she talks about her books, writing and, occasionally, agenting things.
Worth Your Time:
(Agent) Interviews and Podcasts:
Podcast with Marie Lamba (YouTube) at Middle Grade Ninja (08/2021)
Interview at EasternPennPoints (03/2019)
Interview at Quick Brown Fox (04/2017)
Blog Stuff:
Ms. Lamba has a blog on her author website. She has an Agent Monday post where she often spotlights other agents.
Please see the Jennifer DeChiara website for contact and query information.
Profile Details:
Last updated: 3/29/2024 
Agent Contacted For Review? Yes.
Last Reviewed By Agent? 4/30/19.
Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at natalieiaguirre7@gmail.com

Note: These agent profiles and interviews presently focus on agents who accept children's fiction. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found here is subject to change.

Tip Tuesday #118

Tip Tuesday features writers' tips on craft, research, querying, blogging, marketing, inspiration, and more. If you'd like to send in a tip, please e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

I have another fantastic tip from Ryann Kerekes today. I posted one from her a couple weeks ago (Tip #116) and she also sent in Tip #101. Ryann blogs at Novel Addiction where she last posted on what makes a writer succeed. While poking around her blog, I also noticed she's now represented. Congrats, Ryann!! After you read her tip below, hop over and check out her latest posts.

How to Plot - free writing course!

Can't afford to attend a conference? Check out the free video tutorial series, How to Plot a Novel, Screenplay or Memoir by the Plot Whisperer, Martha Alderson.

I watched all 27 videos (they’re short, around 6-8 minutes each) and highly recommend them.

A few things I'm working on this week:

- Defining my characters and their short term and long term goals.

- Giving my character a flaw that’s going to work against them achieving their goals.

~Ryann Kerekes


First I'll do one of my favorite things and announce the winners of my blogversary giveaway.

The winners of THE SCORPIO RACES are:


The winner of INSIDE OUT is:


The winner of MY NOT SO STILL LIFE is:


The winner of LEVIATHAN is:


And finally The winner of TELL ME A SECRET is:


Congrats! E-mail me your addresses so I can send you your books. Carmen, I don't have your e-mail so e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.

Today I’m excited to interview 15-year old Jenna Gustafson, a published debut middle grade author, for my Ask The Expert series. Her middle grade novel, SAVING FORT SMOKY, was published November 10, 2010. I found out about Jenna through Shannon O’Donnell at Book Dreaming, who did a blog post about meeting Jenna and asking other bloggers to spread the word about her book. If you don't follow Shannon's blog, I really recommend that you do.

Here’s a description of SAVING FORT SMOKY from Goodreads

There's only one hope for Fort Smoky to survive. After a devastating fire ravages the homes of Fort Smoky, it's up to young Ben Clearwater and his sister and friends to help the residents and get to Fort Futureland to save the people before the harsh, cold winter sets in. To get there, they will have to trek through unknown mountains, relying on Running Wind's compass and Big Jim's maps of the land while struggling against the harsh forces of Mother Nature. Fort Futureland is a place of new and interesting contraptions, like cars and computers, the four children have never seen, and they are captivated. But the children soon uncover a sinister plot to destroy their beloved Fort Smoky. Will they be able to stop the evil leaders of Fort Futureland? Will they ever make it home? Will they be heroes for Saving Fort Smoky? Join young author Jenna Gustafson in this action-packed adventure of four friends teeming with courage, bravery, and determination. Readers will be caught up in this action-filled, futuristic adventure as they follow Ben, his sister, and friends while they struggle to save their home and family using their skills and cunning. It's an enjoyable read for upper elementary students. Sheryl Stansbury, media specialist, Washington Middle School Jenna Gustafson lives happily in Montana with her parents and brother. While she has won local short story contests, this is her first book. She hopes to inspire other children to chase their dreams and understand that they are never too young to accomplish something.

Hi Jenna. Thanks so much for joining us.

1.  Please tell us a little bit about yourself, your school, and how you became a writer.

            I am Jenna Gustafson, a small town girl who loves nothing more than to bury herself in a good book or go on an invigorating hike.  I have a little brother named Jade who I do everything with, a wild imagination, and a go-big-or-go-home personality that is awestruck by God.
Over the years I have poured myself into my friends, dance, cross country, and track.  I take a certain pride in my academics, and I enjoy my high school, where the student body and staff combine to look like a large, weird, and sometimes dysfunctional family to any outsider.  I am particularly fond of art (illustration) and the sciences.  English has always been an easy A for me, but oddly, this is not where my love for writing began.
In about fifth grade I received a diary for my birthday.  I found that I express myself the best on paper, and from then on I have carefully recorded all my adventures and misadventures.  Writing, for me, is freedom at its finest.

2.  Wow! It sounds like you have a lot of interests. I read that you wrote SAVING FORT SMOKY in 7th grade. How long did it take to write the first draft and how many revisions did it go through before you tried to get it published?

            My seventh grade advanced English teacher essentially launched my writing career by giving our class a short story assignment.  The first rough draft of my story was completed after about three weeks of spin-as-you-go plotting and countless hours of typing.  Did you know that after a certain amount of time on Microsoft Word, a prompt actually reminds you to stretch your fingers and avert your eyes from the screen?!  As deadlines for the class drew near, I reluctantly ended my story.  It was then poked, prodded and remolded in the following three weeks for the A.  Later that summer I added a more meat to the manuscript before I sent it to the publisher.  I would say it went through about six rounds of editing before the final proof was submitted.
3.  That's so awesome how you were able to get the draft and then the edits done so quickly. And what a great idea to work on edits over the summer. How did you come up with your idea for your story and the idea of the less modern Fort Smoky and the futuristic Fort Futureland?
            When I wrote Saving Fort Smoky I was in a profound Louis L’Amour phase, and was primarily reading shoot em’ up westerns.  Naturally, this style found its way into my writing.  I have always been intrigued by fantasy as well, and decided to throw a monkey wrench in the preconceived idea of how westerns “had to be” and added my own spin into my tale for fun.  The story seemed more unique and less faceless when I placed a touch of future in a historical setting.  Hence, Fort Smoky and Fort Futureland sprang to life.

4.  Tell us a bit about your road to publication and how you found your publisher.
            The summer after my little story was born, my resolve to get it published hardened, and I spent every waking hour researching everything publishing; agents, self publishing, traditional publishing, and the pitfalls of all.  Call it a three month homework assignment.  I placed all my data in a spreadsheet format and scrutinized the differences between the trustworthy companies I had found.  The problem?  Most of the companies at the top of my list were of the self publishing variety, and cost an arm and a leg.  This was because I didn’t want to risk getting an agent and spend unnecessary money to get accepted by a high profile traditional publisher.  I wasn’t looking to get into the big leagues. I wanted a start where I could make back the money, learn about entrepreneurship, get good publicity, and keep my rights.
            Awfully high expectations for a seventh grader, and the self publishers just weren’t cutting it.
            Finally, near wit’s end, I stumbled across Tate Publishing, a hybrid.  This company demonstrated self publisher and traditional publisher characteristics, accepted few, and took their business seriously.  Before submitting my manuscript I doubted my story’s worth and questioned what I was doing in book world a few times, but in the end I leaped for the opportunity, and by some miracle, managed to drag my parents along for the ride.  I’m sure you can imagine they’re reaction to all this.
            After much debate, they decided to back me on the euphoric day I got my acceptance letter from Tate Publishing.  Getting published has been a very wild ride, one that taught me many useful skills and made me grow up fast.  I don’t regret a thing.

5.  You certainly did your research. And it was definitely a well-thought out plan, especially since you were in middle school at the time. I'm impressed. How have you marketed your book and has that changed at all since your book was first published?

            I was launched out of production into marketing in the fall of 2010.  It was in a whirlwind of long hours at local craft shows, school presentations, and book fairs.  Business was looking good.
            Suddenly winter came and the fairs left, vaporizing my marketing strategy.  There is only so much a fourteen year old can do with no wheels, no money, and a rural geographic location.  I turned to the web for supporters, but my success there was limited.  The Internet is a very vast place, and should not be attempted by an amateur without a guide.  Luckily, several months later, Shannon O’Donnell took me under her wing and set up a blog tour for me.  Now I am working on introducing myself to everyone via interviews like this one.

6I'm so grateful that I met Shannon too through her blog. She's a great friend. What type of books do you read and has writing changed what you read, if at all? What books are you waiting to be released?

            My favorite genres to read are fantasy and YA fiction of superb quality.  Becoming an author has made me even more appreciative of books, yet my mind has also become more cynical.  Nit-picky criticism of plotting, planning, and grammar comes almost second nature to me, and I can’t help but notice good usage of these elements in other people’s work.  Books that have been released recently that I am interested in are Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, and Crossed by Ally Condie.

7.  Fantasy is my favorite genre too. Do you read any teen book blogs, author blogs, or author or publisher websites? Become a fan of an author on Facebook? Why? Has this changed at all since you started writing?

            Honestly, I spend my precious spare time reading books only.  If I run across an exceptional story, I visit the author’s website to see how they market their books.  I am always curious to see what works.  Sometimes I also check out the publisher’s website.  Before I got published this would have never crossed my mind.
            I have yet to become a fan of an author on Facebook.  I see no reason to impersonally add to the already huge fan base of most outstanding authors.  I would rather simply enjoy the book than become a statistic.

8.  Having a daughter in high school, I'm not surprised that you don't have time to read blogs or be on the Internet much. Are there things your favorite authors could do that would make you more likely to visit their website, their blog, or become a fan on Facebook? How are you using this knowledge to promote your own book?

            Authors have to have some kind of addictive material at their disposal to draw readers and fans, such as games promoted by the 39 Clues, juicy/helpful blogs, or contests with prizes.  They also must have amazing advertising, and tantalize the readers with bait found exclusively at their website or blog in the back or their books.
            I would use these tactics if more people knew about my book, but as of right now, Saving Fort Smoky is too unknown for me to really push people in the direction of my website.  In order to coax readers, you need readers.  These ideas of marketing tend to work far better with oceans of followers.

9.  The contest idea is excellent. I've found through blogging that an interview with an author gets way more interest when it's linked to a book giveaway. What are you working on now?

            Between sports and school, I am gratefully writing posts for bloggers, scheming over my next book, and attempting to generate more sales for Saving Fort Smoky so I can continue down the enchanted road of publication.

Thanks so much for all your advice Jenna. Jenna has generously offered a copy of SAVING FORT SMOKY for a giveaway. Details will be at the end of this post. I'm hoping whoever wins it will help Jenna spread the word about her book by passing it on.

And I'm hoping some of you can help her spread the word about her book through your blogs. My daughter's in 9th grade and with homework and sports like Jenna's doing, I know she doesn't have the time we adults do to connect with other authors and book bloggers to market her book. There's too much homework. So if you're interested in interviewing Jenna, e-mail me and I'll forward her e-mail to you. Here's a great opportunity for you to Pay It Forward and help a debut author.

I'm also giving away an ARC of UNDER THE NEVER SKY. Here's a blurb from Goodreads:



Aria has lived her whole life in the protected dome of Reverie. Her entire world confined to its spaces, she's never thought to dream of what lies beyond its doors. So when her mother goes missing, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland long enough to find her are slim.

Then Aria meets an outsider named Perry. He's searching for someone too. He's also wild - a savage - but might be her best hope at staying alive.

If they can survive, they are each other's best hope for finding answers

I loved this book. The contrast between Aria's world and Perry's is so sharp. It was fascinating to watch Aria, who had lived mostly in a virtual world, have to cope with living in Perry's Outsider world. And watching how their relationship developed, which was definitely antagonistic at the start, felt like a natural progression, which I loved. Trust me, this is a book you want to read.

So onto today's contests. Jenna is giving away one copy of SAVING FORT SMOKY and I’m giving away my ARC of UNDER THE NEVER SKY. All you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment about Jenna's interview by midnight on March 10th. I’ll announce the winners on March 12th. If your e-mail is not on Blogger, please list it in your comment. International entries are welcome.

If you mention this contest on your blog, Twitter, or Facebook, please let me know in the comments and I’ll give you an extra entry.

Here's what's coming up. Next Monday I'm interviewing Merrie Haskell and giving away a copy of her debut book THE PRINCESS CURSE. On Friday next week, Casey is interviewing Deborah Blumenthal with an ARC giveaway of THE LIFEGUARD. The following Monday I'll be doing a YA newer releases giveaway.

Hope to see you next Monday!

Agent Spotlight: Linda Epstein

This week's Agent Spotlight features Linda Epstein of Emerald City Literary Agency.
Status: Currently closed to submissions. Check the agency website to find out when she reopens to submissions as she periodically opens to submissions.
linda-epsteinAbout: “Linda Epstein is at the helm of the Emerald City Literary Agency east coast office. In addition to being an agent, Linda writes books for children and teens, poetry for adults, and teaches creative writing.
Representing picture books, middle grade and young adult fiction, as well as select children’s nonfiction, Linda does not represent adult literature. She is also responsible for film and television rights for the agency.” (From the agency website)
About the Agency:
"Emerald City Literary Agency is a boutique, full-service literary agency founded in Seattle, Washington– otherwise known as the Emerald City, hence the agency’s name. ECLA now has offices in both Seattle and New York.
"Our location isn’t the only reason we chose our name. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her new friends are in search of their greatest desires… and they head to The Emerald City to find them.
"The desire to be published might just be the biggest dream you can imagine. And if you found this website, then you must have something in common with Dorothy and her trio of new friends, because you’re on a journey to find someone who can grant your greatest wish.We want the chance to partner with you–to help you down the yellow brick road to the place of your dreams." (From the agency website)
Web Presence:
Emerald City Literary Agency Website.
Publisher’s Marketplace page.
The Blabbermouth (blog). (Not currently posting on blog but has some useful information and links to interviews.)
What She's Looking For:
From Manuscript Wish List:"I represent children’s literature, including picture books, middle grade, and young adult fiction, as well as select nonfiction. I’m looking for quirky, offbeat stories, or stories we’ve heard before but that are told in a new way or with a unique slant or point of view. Some of the topics I’m interested in are: women’s issues, feminism, equality, diversity, GLBTQ stories, Jewish stories, the environment, climate change, history, the social sciences, and STEM topics. I’m eager to work with people of color and other authors who are under represented in publishing. Also, I don’t like to read super scary things."
What She Isn't Looking For:
Adult fiction, screenplays, poetry, or short stories (From the agency website)
Editorial Agent?
Yes, as needed. See this post on her blog.
See a complete list of Ms. Epstein's clients on the agency website.
Query Methods: Currently closed to submissions.
E-mail: No.
Snail-Mail: No.
Online-Form: No.
Submission Guidelines (always verify):
See the Emerald City Literary Agency website for complete, up-to-date submission guidelines.
Related blog posts:
When Sending a Query: What to Include and What Not to Include (01/2012).
Hard Truth: Top 3 Reasons to Immediately Reject a Query (11/2011).
Response Times:
Interviews and Posts:
Podcast at Middle Grade Ninja (07/2022)
Featured Agent at 12 x 12 (09/2016)
Agent Spotlight: Linda P. Epstein at Kidlit411 (05/2015)
Q&A With Linda Epstein at Scribes & Scripts (05/2015)
7 Questions for Literary Agent Linda Epstein at Middle Grade Ninja (10/2013)
Literary Agent Interview at Writer's Digest (05/2013)
Blog Stuff:
Ms. Epstein has an old blog called The Blabbermouth. There are a lot of posts that will give you insight into her preferences and agenting style. As always, I recommend reading through the archives.
Please see Emerald City Literary Agency's website for contact and query information.
Profile Details:
Last updated: 1/28/2023.
Agent Contacted For Review? Yes.
Last Reviewed By Agent? 5/3/20.


Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at natalieiaguirre7(at)gmail(dot)com

Note: These agent profiles presently focus on agents who accept children's fiction. They are not interviews. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found herein is subject to change.

Tip Tuesday #117

Tip Tuesday features writers' tips on craft, research, querying, blogging, marketing, inspiration, and more. If you'd like to send in a tip, please e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!
Today I have a tip from Christie Wright Wild. Christie writes picture books and middle grade and has been hanging around Lit Rambles for quite awhile now. You can find her at her website and blog as well as read a previous tip submitted by her here. Here's Christie's latest:

This is a research tip. We all know that Wikipedia is not a reliable source to cite for nonfiction research. However, it CAN be a reliable source for a STARTING point, even for fiction. It can define words, events, and people. It can give you more info for ideas of phrases to put in those lovely search engines we like calling "friend." Wikipedia will provide links to it's sources, leading you on a wonderful maze hopefully leading you to a small block of cheese at the end. I guarantee, somewhere along your path, you'll find a bit of gold at the end of your rainbow. And hopefully, it will be far, far away from Wiki. And thankfully, Wiki will have put us on a path in the right direction. Have fun at Wiki - it's the ticket-taker to your researching theme park fun!

~Christie Wright Wild


Today I’m excited to interview Kristen Simmons about her debut book ARTICLE 5 which was released on January 31, 2012. Being an attorney, I loved how Kristen explored a world where the Bill of Rights were revoked and replaced by the Moral Statutes. And Kristen created a world more frightening than I could imagine.

Here’s a description from Goodreads:

New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., have been abandoned.

The Bill of Rights has been revoked, and replaced with the Moral Statutes.

There are no more police—instead, there are soldiers. There are no more fines for bad behavior—instead, there are arrests, trials, and maybe worse. People who get arrested usually don't come back.

Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller is old enough to remember that things weren’t always this way. Living with her rebellious single mother, it’s hard for her to forget that people weren’t always arrested for reading the wrong books or staying out after dark. It’s hard to forget that life in the United States used to be different.

Ember has perfected the art of keeping a low profile. She knows how to get the things she needs, like food stamps and hand-me-down clothes, and how to pass the random home inspections by the military. Her life is as close to peaceful as circumstances allow.

That is, until her mother is arrested for noncompliance with Article 5 of the Moral Statutes. And one of the arresting officers is none other than Chase Jennings…the only boy Ember has ever loved.

Hi Kristen. Thanks so much for joining us.

Thank YOU Natalie! I’m so excited to be here! I’ve been a fan of your blog for a long time. It was so helpful to me when I was looking for an agent!

1.      Tell us a little about yourself and how you became a writer.

I’m originally from the West Coast – I grew up in outside of Reno, Nevada. My dad is a cowboy, which meant that I spent a lot of time feeding horses and cattle, and my mom was once a math teacher, which meant I got to go to Math Camp when I couldn’t pass my times tables tests. I like good stories, big dogs that like to sleep on your lap, and most anything chocolate. I do not, however, like bees, bigots, and beer (allergic to all three). I began writing when I was a little kid when I learned stories on paper got you in less trouble than lying to grownups, and have been doing it ever since.

2.      I bet there’s a story behind the writing is better than lying lesson. You created a world where violation of the Moral Statutes results in immediate arrest and never coming back. You show this right away with Ember’s mom being arrested and then Ember being taken away. What made you decide to create your society the way you did?

In Article 5, the Moral Statutes are a very rigid set of rules, enforced by a very rigid organization. It seemed only right that the punishments for these rules be just as severe. The world in A5 has become so polarized in terms of wealth and politics, and the middle has become so thin that there is no room for shades of gray – unless you’re in the resistance, of course.

3.      You can say that again about the society being completely rigid. It made me appreciate that ours isn’t so black and white. Ember goes through a lot of internal doubts about herself and whether she can trust anyone, including Chase. Tell us how you developed her as a character and how your training in social work helped in creating her reactions in light of all the danger she was constantly in.

Ember has been through some traumatic things, and as a result, is dealing with some pretty hefty emotional consequences. Things that anyone might feel after experiencing what Chase and Ember have. But she’s resilient. Perhaps the most important thing I learned from a career in social work is how resilient we all are. How much we can take and still fight back. Witnessing someone recover after they’ve lost everything is awe-inspiring, and that is what I wanted to capture with Ember’s character. In the beginning of Article 5, she’s fairly naïve to the way the world outside her community works, but she learns quickly. Sure, she makes mistakes and tests her boundaries, but isn’t that how we all learn? By the end, she’ll either have to adapt or give up, and ultimately, that’s a choice many of us will have to face in our lives.

4.      That we’re resilient is an important lesson most of us have to learn at some point in life. And I agree that Ember was naïve at first. And occasionally I wished I could tell her not to make a decision she was making. But you’re right, that’s how she and the rest of us learn. I’ve read that ARTICLE 5 is part of a trilogy and that you’re already working on book 3. Did you have the whole trilogy figured out when you started ARTICLE 5 and do you have any tips on writing a trilogy?

Writing a trilogy is harder than I thought! Each book has to have its own arc (and each character their own arc within the story) while being part of a larger, complete arc. When I set out to write the trilogy, I knew how the overall picture would look, but was a bit fuzzy on the details of the second and third installments. I was never much of a plotter, and had to learn quickly! My advice to those writing trilogies is to plan ahead. Even if the finer points of the plot are unclear, try to figure out where your story and characters are going (in terms of motivation and change) in each book, and where the story and characters need to be by the end.

5.      That’s great advice to plan ahead. Because I think you have to plant threads in book 1 for book 2 and 3. But it’s a hard challenge for our first time around. Okay I’m dying to know the answer to this next question. Your agent is Joanna MacKenzie. I read that when you obtained representation the word count of your manuscript was 154,000 and through revisions with her that you cut that down to 96,000. How did you obtain representation with a word count that was so much higher than the range for YA books? Any tips on getting an agent?

I firmly believe that Joanna finding my query (naively boasting my word count of course) and still agreeing to do a read was some kind of divine intervention. What followed, however, was persistence and hard world. A5 in its original form was long (obviously), but it also had never been read or critiqued (at the time, I hadn’t heard of beta readers or critique groups). Joanna took a huge chance and agreed to do a full crit. If the manuscript was in better shape after revisions, she’d consider offering representation. It wasn’t. But she didn’t give up on me, and I didn’t stop trusting her. I liked her style – the way she offered support and criticism, her availability when I needed to work through something. She loved the characters, and believed in the story. We learned to work together. It seemed like a long time, but after three rounds of revisions, the manuscript was finally streamlined and ready, and she offered representation.

It took me 7 years to find Joanna, and a year to sign a contract once I did. My advice to those in the same boat is not to give up. This takes time, and a willingness to take some big risks. Doing revisions with an agent before a contract doesn’t always work out well for people, but it did for me.

6.      That’s amazing that you were able to get her to take you on. And that you submitted before having the manuscript critiqued. How did you cut your word count so much and what advice can you share for those of us who may be too wordy?

This was mostly done in the editing process with Joanna, but even after we signed a contract with Tor, my editor (very sweetly) asked me to cut 50 pages. Ouch. Here’s the thing about cutting: it sucks. I feel for you if you’re in that position. I still feel like some of my best writing was cut. But if I can’t answer in 10 seconds why a scene needs to be in the book (how does this relate to the story?), or if the answer is something like, “this scene HAS to stay because, well, it’s AWESOME,” then it’s got to go.

7.      Yes, cutting over 10,000 words is a lot. I know. Because my manuscript was about 20,000 words too long for a MG book. And it took a number of revisions to cut it down to the acceptable word count. And word count does matter in this competitive market. What are you doing to market your book, including marketing plans for down the road?

Ooh! Riding the marketing train in my newest adventure! I’m doing several guest posts and fun online interviews. I’m on a blog tour (with Teen Book Scene), and have several appearances in the Midwest lined up – all places featured in Article 5! (Louisville, Lexington, Cincy.) My launch party is 2/2/12 at 7PM at Inkwood Books in Tampa, FL (more information can be found at www.kristensimmonsbooks.com/events). Otherwise I blog at www.kristensimmonsbooks.com/blog, at YAFusion (http://yafusion.blogspot.com/), and at Brave New Words (http://www.bravenewwordsdebut.blogspot.com/), and am on Facebook (www.facebook.com/author.kristensimmons).

8.      That’s so awesome that you’re appearances are tied into the settings in your story. What a unique idea I hadn’t thought of using something like that in marketing. What are the plans for publication of book 2 in your trilogy? Are you working on other projects besides book 3?

Book 2 comes out in January of 2013, and yes! I’m in the midst of writing Book 3. Because this industry can be fairly slow, I did have time to write two other manuscripts, one between A5 and the sequel, and another before starting the third. My agent and I are currently in revisions with one of them. It deals with child labor issues. The other is still top secret!

Thank you for having me Natalie! Like I said, your blog and community of readers have been a great inspiration to me over the years!

Thanks Kristen for sharing all of your advice. You can find Kristen at the links above and at her website and on Goodreads.

Kristen generously offered an ARC for a giveaway. All you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on February 25. I’ll announce the winner on February 27th. If your e-mail is not on Blogger, please list it in your comment. International entries are welcome.

If you mention this contest on your blog, Twitter, or Facebook, please let me know in the comments and I’ll give you an extra entry.

Here’s what’s coming up in the next few weeks. Next Monday I’ll be interviewing a teenager who’s a debut published author for my ASK THE EXPERT series and giving away a copy of her book and a recently published YA book I know you’ll want. Then two weeks from now I’ll be interviewing Merrie Haskell and giving away a copy of her debut book THE PRINCESS CURSE.

Hope to see you next Monday!

Agent Spotlight: Kat Salazar

Kat has left the Larsen Pomada Agency. She is now a publicist with Red Wheel / Weiser Books.

Tip Tuesday #116

Tip Tuesday features writers' tips on craft, research, querying, blogging, marketing, inspiration, and more. If you'd like to send in a tip, please e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

Another week has flown by! I'm not quite sure I believe it. If you haven't had a chance to congratulate Natalie on her first year of blogging and enter her giveaway, stop by here. But make sure you open a tab for Ryann Kerekes as well. She blogs at Novel Addiction and is the author of this week's tip series called "Five Tips for Writing a Synopsis." Ryann was also the author of Tip Tuesday #101, which you can read here. Enjoy!

Writing the dreaded synopsis? Here are five simple tips to keep you sane.

1. Pretend you’re telling someone what the book is about in about 5 minutes or less. You're aiming to summarize the novel’s main characters and plot points in the order that they occur in the story in a simplified way.

2. It’s told in omniscient present tense point of view and you do give away the ending.

3. You want the flavor and emotion to come through in the writing, so it’s not a dry, boring re-telling, police report style of the stuff that happens.

4. Use adverbs and adjectives sparingly, every word counts. Don’t waste them describing the color of a dress your main character is wearing.

5. Use short phrases and descriptions whenever possible. It’s fine to say “Hopeless romantic, John.” Rather than, “John spent his nights scouring the Internet, signing up for sites like match.com and eharmony… “

~Ryann Kerekes