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Tip Tuesday #137

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.

Today I have a tip from Deborah Blumenthal who you're likely to remember from my March interview featuring her latest YA novel, THE LIFEGUARD. Please check out the interview if you missed it, and visit Deborah at her website to learn more about her and her books. We've had a tip similar to this in the past, so it's clearly a good one!
I recently completed a new young adult novel and I sent it to my Kindle so that I could give it a last read while I was out of the house. I was amazed at the number of errors I picked up on the Kindle that I somehow missed when I was reading it on my lap top.

~Deborah Blumenthal


Hi everyone. Hope you're enjoying summer. I know for some of you, school will start in a few weeks. Here in Michigan, we don't start school till after Labor Day. Though swim practice starts twice a day every weekday for my daughter soon.

If you missed my interview last Monday with Natalie Dias Lorenzi and the giveaway of her awesome middle grade book, FLYING THE DRAGONS, I recommend you check it out. It's a multi-cultural story about Skye, a middle school girl coming to terms with her Japanese culture while wanting to be focused on her soccer, and her middle school age cousin, Hiroshi, who is dealing with coming to the United States knowing no English. Of course, there's conflict between them. I loved the story. The link to my giveaway contest is at the top of the blog.

So now onto some winners.


The winner of THE SELECTION is KATIE C!

and the winner of UNRAVELING is MOLLY FRENZEL!

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

Today I’m excited to interview Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, co-partners of The Bookshelf Muse blog and co-authors of THE EMOTION THESAURUS: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CHARACTER EXPRESSION, their debut book that was released in May, 2012. It’s a fantastic tool for showing the emotions of your characters through body language, thoughts, and visceral sensations. Besides loving the tips on seventy-five emotions, I really found helpful the introduction where they talk about the power of emotion and common problems like telling, emotional clichés, and being melodramatic, and how to avoid them.

Here's a description from Goodreads:

One of the biggest problem areas for writers is conveying a character's emotions to the reader in a unique, compelling way. This book comes to the rescue by highlighting 75 emotions and listing the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each.

Written in an easy-to-navigate list format, readers can draw inspiration from character cues that range in intensity to match any emotional moment. The Emotion Thesaurus also tackles common emotion-related writing problems and provides methods to overcome them.

This writing tool encourages authors to show, not tell emotion and is a creative brainstorming resource for any fiction project.

Hi Angela and Becca. Thanks so much for joining us.

1.   Tell us about yourselves, how you got into writing, and what you like to write.

ANGELA: I write Middle Grade and Young Adult, mostly with Mystery or Fantasy elements, and am represented by Jill Corcoran at The Herman Agency. I have always had a passion for writing and books, and as a kid, I loved nothing better than to get lost in a story because it helped me cope with some of the darker aspects of my childhood. Now as an adult writer, I want to offer the same sense of entertainment and companionship to others.

BECCA: I didn’t write books as a child, never envisioned myself becoming an author. But I was that kid who always had her nose in a book and enjoyed getting lost in other worlds. When I started writing as a thirty-something, it was with the desire to create those cozy, otherworldly reading experiences for today’s children and teens. YA fantasy and historical fiction are where I feel at home.

2.  Even though I've been following your blog for quite awhile, I didn't know how you both got into writing. It's fun to find out. And I'm like you Becca, I had no idea until I was an adult that I'd like to write.  

    I know you live in different countries yet developed a friendship and actually met each other. Share a bit about that and how you came up with the idea for your blog, The Bookshelf Muse.

BECCA: Well, our partnership was clearly meant to be. Angela and I both started writing about the same time, and we both joined Critique Circle within a month of each other in 2004. Despite the thousands of users who frequented that site at the time, we managed to hook up, join the same critique group, and fall in love with each others’ work.
Four years later, we decided to join forces and start our own blog. In discussing what kind of blog we'd like to have, we decided to offer resources to other writers in a format that would keep people coming back for more. Back in the day, we had cobbled together a list of bodily cues—a thesaurus, of sorts, consisting of physical indicators for different emotions (because our characters were constantly biting their lips, smiling, and shrugging). We figured, if we both were struggling with this area of descriptive writing, other writers probably were too, so we decided to share our list of emotional indicators at The Bookshelf Muse. This became The Emotion Thesaurus, the first of six descriptive writing resources at our blog.

3.   That's so cool that you were friends for so long before deciding to start a blog. What made you decide to go to the next step and publish THE EMOTION THESAURUS? Why did you decide to self-publish it?

BECCA: The response to that first thesaurus was truly overwhelming. We kept hearing from loyal followers about how much it was helping them, and how other writers were struggling with this specific problem. People started telling us what a great resource it would be in book format, so we decided to make it available.

Since we were each pursuing traditional publication for our fiction, we naturally started there. But after numerous FaceTime conversations, we realized that maybe it wasn’t the most logical solution for this book. First off, the blog already had a built-in audience of potential buyers. Building a fan base is one of the hardest parts of selling a book; with that already done, it made sense to try and publish it ourselves. Then there was the traditional publishing timeline. Since we didn’t feel comfortable negotiating a contract on our own, we’d first have to secure an agent, who would then have to sell it to a publisher, and then we’d have to wait for the actual book to be manufactured. We were looking at 2+ years to publication, which was a long time to wait. But the biggest factor in our decision involved the existing content of The Emotion Thesaurus that was up at our blog. We knew that any traditional publisher would require us to take it down once the book was available for purchase. It was very important to us to leave a portion of that Emotion Thesaurus up at the blog, so people who were unable or unwilling to buy the book would still have access to some of the content. That was kind of the deal breaker for us and was the deciding factor in our decision to self-publish. Looking back, it was totally the right choice. We have absolutely no regrets about that.

4.  Your book and your blog are such a great resources. They help so much to avoid those cliches. And you two really thought out your publishing decision, which sounds like a good fit for your book.

I’m always amazed when authors co-write a book and make it sound like it’s been written by one person. Angela, tell us how you collaborated on this and any challenges you faced.

ANGELA: I think it really helps that Becca and I have collaborated on blog entries and studied the same writing books, because it means that we use similar terminology and our views on writing strong emotion are the same. We’ve also been critique partners for about a billion years, so we know one another’s writing quite well. :)

Our only challenge was defining what was an emotion and what was only a synonym. That took some time and discussion. For the book’s ‘how to’ component, we broke it up, each writing half. Then we swapped sections and critiqued the other’s work to strengthen. After rewrites, we them both went through the book content and made sure we didn’t overlap ideas or cover the same ground. It took a few passes to achieve a strong flow so I’m happy to hear you say the writing appears uniform!

5.  You definitely did a great job with that. Just like with this interview. I love hearing from you both. 

How’s your book different from your blog posts? Share how you think it will help writers.

ANGELA: The blog posts are pure emotional brainstorming, a jumble of what occurred to us as we thought about each emotion we profiled--visceral reactions, thoughts & gestures. These are helpful, but not organized or complete. What you see on the blog now is only the smallest sample of what the book contains. 

However, The Emotion Thesaurus book is a complete guide to writing emotion. We discuss what emotion is and how it builds an empathy link between readers and characters. We also look at the biggest problems writers face when writing emotion (clichés, telling, etc.), and offer solutions to avoid them. The Thesaurus component itself consists of seventy five unique emotions (many more than we ever featured on the blog) and we explore them in depth. The lists are organized by Physical Signals (cues, gestures, actions), Mental Responses (thoughts & feelings) and Internal Sensations (visceral body responses). We explore the entire range of each emotion to ensure a writer can find descriptions that match each character’s specific experience. After all, someone who is in a state of worry for days is going to show the strain much more than someone worrying for only a few minutes. As well, we offer body language options for when a character is trying to hide how they feel.  

There are also suggestions on how each emotion might escalate, leading to conflicting or more complicated feelings. This can help writers plan the emotional path in a scene. Then to top it off, we offer a Writing Tip with each entry (75 tips!) focused on description, dialogue and emotion.

The Emotion Thesaurus is a essentially a brainstorming tool for Emotion. If a writer finds themselves describing the same smiles, shrugs, frowns and racing heartbeat to show their character’s feelings, this is their type of resource!

6.  I so agree! I love the Writers Tips at the end of each entry. 

Share how you’re marketing your book. What advice on marketing do you have for aspiring authors?

ANGELA: Our marketing strategy is focused almost entirely on discoverability and word of mouth. We have not placed ads, subscribed to any service for promotion or marketing or anything like that. We are also not hardcore, ‘buy, buy, buy!’ people. As writers, we know describing emotion is hard, and we know this book fills a great need. So, our efforts go into making our resource discoverable: writing posts on emotion that writers can apply to their own writing, guest posting on blogs about topics pertinent to writers, running giveaways, etc. We focus on bringing our audience (writers) what they need and want. This is our job--to help! 

Our experience so far has been that once a writer finds the ET, they get excited and often tweet/blog/share it on their own, because they see how unique this resource is and want others to discover it too. Becca and I are incredibly grateful to everyone who spreads the word, and we are thrilled so many writers are being helped by something we created. 

I recently wrote a post on marketing tips, which people can find HERE!

I loved how you celebrated your book's release with The Random Acts of Kindess blitz. It was so awesome. And guys, Angela's post is great. You should check it out.

Thanks Angela and Becca for sharing all your advice. You can find Angela and Becca at their blog, which I highly recommend you follow. To find out more about the Emotion Thesaurus, go HERE and to see how this book is helping other writers, check out the reviews on Amazon & Goodreads

Angela and Becca are generously donating an e-copy of THE EMOTION THESAURUS for a giveaway. Don't have an e-reader? Not a problem. I have Kindle on my computer and love reading their book and others that way.  To enter the contest, 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 August 18th. I’ll announce the winner on August 20th. 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:

On Wednesday, I'm interviewing Rachel McClellan and giving away a copy of FRACTURED LIGHT, a paranormal story dealing with Auras, Vykens, and Guardians. I'm amazed at how well she spread the word through blogs consistently over time about her book and am looking forward to sharing her advice with you.

On Friday, I'm excited to participate in Alyssa Sheinmel's blog tour for her book THE STONE GIRL, a story about a teenage girl with eating disorders. She'll be sharing a guest post and giving away an ARC. I'm really looking forward to sharing this book with you because it's sadly a timely issue for our teenage girls. One of my cousins who is my daughter's age almost died from this last year and I know another teenage girl who borders on having this problem. You may know someone with this problem too.

Next Monday, I'm interviewing C.J. Redwine and giving away an ARC of her debut book, DEFIANCE, a fantasy/dystopian novel I loved! 

And don't forget our Tuesday Tips and Casey's Thursday Agent Spotlights.

Hope to see you on Monday!

Interview with Laura Lascarso and Giveaway of COUNTING BACKWARDS

First off, the winner of Shannon Wiersbitzky's The Summer of Hammers and Angels is...Linda A! Linda, I can't find your e-mail address, so please e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com. If I don't hear from you within a week, I'll need to draw another winner.

Now, I'm very excited to kick off Laura Lascarso's blog tour for her debut YA Counting Backwards due out August 14th. Laura first contacted me back in 2010 when Tip Tuesday was still in double digits and CB's release date felt forever far away. Two years later, I'm happy to report her book is even more fantastic than her tips and the time is here (finally!) to talk about her debut!

From Goodreads:
When troubled Taylor Truwell is caught with a stolen car and lands in court for resisting arrest, her father convinces the judge of an alternative to punishment: treatment in a juvenile psychiatric correctional facility. Sunny Meadows is anything but the easy way out, and Taylor has to fight hard just to hold on to her sanity as she battles her parents, her therapist, and vicious fellow patients. But even as Taylor struggles to hold on to her stubborn former self, she finds herself relenting as she lets in two unlikely friends-Margo, a former child star and arsonist, and AJ, a mysterious boy who doesn’t speak. In this striking debut, Laura Lascarso weaves together a powerful story of anger and self-destruction, hope and love.
Hi Laura. I'm so thrilled to finally feature you here on Literary Rambles. Why don't you start off by telling us a bit about you and your debut YA novel, Counting Backwards?

Thank you, Casey. It seems like a long time ago when we first met here on Tuesday Tips. I’m so excited to be here at last!

Briefly, Counting Backwards is a story about a girl who wants to escape—her situation, her family and even at times, herself.

Counting Backwards is set in a therapeutic boarding school called Sunny Meadows. Everything about the setting and treatments administered read realistic to me. How much and what kind of research did you have to do to set the story?

I interviewed several professionals who have worked or still work in juvenile facilities, both state-run and private. Among them were Tracey, a psychologist, and Geoff, a woodshop instructor. They later became my beta readers. Tracey gave me some great tips in the therapy department and Geoff pointed out things like, “they probably wouldn’t have pencils,” and “no light switches in the hallway.” In fact, he gave me the name “sharps” and laid out that scene in the classroom nearly play-by-play. Thank you Geoff and Tracey!

To get the Sunny Meadows terminology, I read a lot of therapeutic boarding school literature. “Safeties” is one of my favorite terms. I think it has a nice irony to it.

Just goes to show how important research can be in a novel. I love the terminology! 

In your review from Kirkus, the reviewer mentioned that "Taylor's character arc will surprise nobody" but was "satisfyingly believable." While one can guess how things will turn out, the path there isn't obvious. In fact, I was seriously impressed by the smoothness and realism of Taylor's transition. Do you have any tips for creating such a realistic character and arc?

Ha, you read that review! That’s awesome. Yeah, for me CB is more about the journey than the destination. In writing Taylor, I really wanted to get in her head, which actually, isn’t so different from my head. She had many of the feelings that I think most people would have going into an institution against their will—anger, defiance, distrust—coupled with the survival mode she’d been living in with her mother, who is an alcoholic. She wasn’t in a safe place coming in and the incidents that follow only heighten her flight response.

Tips for creating a realistic character and arc? Spend a lot of time with your character. Be true to them, what they want, what they need, what they’re afraid of, how past experiences and losses have shaped them and what they want most of all but are afraid to admit, even to themselves. Don’t be afraid to show their weaknesses or have them do something stupid. Mistakes are how we learn.

Real tips for real characters. Fantastic. 

One of the things I love about your novel is how multi-layered it is. Even after I finished reading I found new things to connect up. Like how Taylor's experience at Sunny Meadows is subtly reflected in the going and coming of two other characters. And how (true to the first person narrative and her denial) Taylor's issues read almost as a subplot until she's ready to face them. Were these story elements intentional or did they come out naturally in the telling?

I will tell you, Casey, it wasn’t easy. I think, in all, I did seven rewrites on CB. Like, back-to-the-drawing-board rewrites. But going over it so many times really allowed me to internalize the story. My editor, Namrata Tripathi asked great questions—“Why would she do that?” “What is she feeling?” I kept thinking, “isn’t it obvious?” But it’s not always obvious to the reader. That was probably my biggest struggle—giving the reader enough of Taylor to feel it with her while still allowing them room to experience their own thoughts and feelings. So, it’s very satisfying to me that you noticed that.

For the first part of the story, Taylor is so focused on escaping that she can’t see much else. It is her survival mode. Then, when she is forced to look inward, her struggle changes from an external to a more internal one, which I think is even harder.

Seven rewrites! Well, I'd say it was worth it. Just a superb story all around. 

After finishing the book, I reexamined the cover and really appreciated just how fantastic it is. Not only could the model possibly pass for Taylor but the image on the back is a direct depiction from the novel. I'm guessing these aren't stock photos! What was involved in the creation of your cover? And how did you feel when you first saw the complete jacket?

The Atheneum team was so awesome in asking me for my input before the photo shoot. They were choosing between two models and I ultimately got to pick who we went with for the cover. This model has such an expressive face that is both vulnerable and tough at the same time, and once I saw her contact sheet, I immediately recognized her as Taylor.

I actually stumbled across the photographer, Laura Hanifin, online. She did an amazing job of capturing just the right expression and the young lady who modeled for Taylor delivered just what I was hoping for.

The double image was a complete surprise, but a welcome one. I think it really speaks to Taylor’s denial and tendency to hide things in order to survive. Plus, let’s be honest, the cover is a little creepy. And so is Sunny Meadows!

Absolutely. I love the creativity of the double image, and that Antheneum let you have so much input. Go team!

I also love that Taylor is half Seminole Indian and how threads of her culture are lightly woven into the narrative. Why did you choose this heritage for her? And is there somewhere we might read the tales mentioned, like that of cunning Rabbit?

Yes! The tales of Rabbit, Panther, Thunder and Lightning and many more can all be found in Betty Mae Jumper’s Legends of the Seminole. I also recommend her autobiography A Seminole Legend: The Life of Betty Mae Tiger Jumper. She was such an amazing woman and a pioneer for both Native American and women’s rights.

I chose this heritage because I am fascinated by the Seminole Indian culture and have been ever since I was very young.

*Scribbling down book recs*

Writing and publishing journeys differ hugely. What was yours like, and how did you end up with your agent, Caryn Wiseman of ABLA?

I queried Caryn back in 2008. I remember looking at the Andrea Brown staff page and seeing Caryn’s picture and thinking, she’s the one. She has such a warm and welcoming smile, just like her personality. She liked the first 50 pages and wanted to see the rest. I sent it. She took me on. We revised. She submitted. We waited. Atheneum wanted it. (Yay!) We sold it the summer of 2009. Namrata and I revised. And here we are.

Caryn’s advice is invaluable. And she’s always available to chew on an idea of mine or offer her thoughts on a project. I can be a little “out there” at times. Caryn is a good grounding influence.

I also have to say here that I have an amazing critique group consisting of me and two other ladies who are both brilliant writers, amazing editors and dear friends. This sounds a little trite, but it’s true—I couldn’t have done it without them. Go Trinity! (Sorry, had to get that out.)

Caryn and your critique group sound just fabulous. It really is invaluable to have that kind of support team. 

Now that we know about your lovely agent and CPs, what was your experience working with your editor, Namrata Tripathi at Atheneum / Simon & Schuster? 

Namrata is great. She’s a very thoughtful editor who can see both big picture stuff as well as the finer details. She asks tough questions and because of it, CB is a much better book.

I also have to give a shout-out to Emma Ledbetter, editorial assistant extraordinaire, who has graciously answered every little question I’ve had throughout this process. I’d like to keep her on speed dial.

Namrata and Emma sound wonderful as well! I hope you're able to work with them more in the future. Speaking of, what's next for author Laura Lascarso? Can you divulge what you're working on now?

Well why not? Caryn is shopping around my second project with the working title I Am to You. It’s a story about love and obsession. I am taking a lot of risks in trying to get it published, but it is, I think, an important story. So, cross your fingers for me that an editor will bite.

Love and obsession? Two words and you've already got me interested! Sending positive vibes your way for a sale. 

Finally, where can readers stay up-to-date on you and your books?

I’m not very good about keeping up with Facebook, but please, check out my blog. I’ll be having a super showcase giveaway at the end of the blog tour where those who’ve commented on all my stops will be entered in to win some CB swag. Also, I love poetry, so feel free to drop me a poem or particularly beautiful line every now and again (it doesn’t have to rhyme!)

And, thanks so much, Casey, for hosting me on your blog. And thank you for everything you do for the writing community. Lit Rambles is like my favorite coffee shop—the people are cool and the coffee is kickin!

Thank YOU, Laura, for creating such a great read then letting me pick your brain about it. It's been a long time coming and I'm so happy CB will finally be available in three weeks.

Readers, if you'd like a chance to win a copy of COUNTING BACKWARDS just be a follower and leave a comment by August 7th. As usual, if your e-mail address is hard to find please leave it with your comment. This is open internationally, with thanks to Laura's fab publisher. 

Before you go, here is the shiny new book trailer:

And if you're interested in following Laura's blog tour for a chance to win the big giveaway mentioned above, here are all the stops!

Tip Tuesday #136

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.

Today's tip was sent in by Yolanda Ridge, author of two middle grade books, Trouble in the Trees and its sequel Road Block, from Orca Book Publishers. This is Yolanda's first tip. Please give her a warm welcome and visit her site when you're done reading her fantastic tip below.
When flipping through magazine, papers, advertisements, and even the internet, I watch for people with interesting expressions, poses, outfits, or physical features. I like to cut out the pictures (or print them off the computer) and keep them in a folder. As a visual person, it really helps to have a file I can look through when I'm trying to describe a character. Instead of defaulting to the usual shoulder shrug or dimple, I can provide a lot more detail and originality when I have a picture to reference. The added bonus is that when friends or family ask if one of my characters is based on them, I can honestly say no and use the picture as proof (even though there are probably bits of their personality in their somewhere - otherwise, why would they ask?)
~Yolanda Ridge


Hi everyone! Before I share my fantastic interview with you today, I want to mention a few things.

First, I may not be around blogs too much today. My daughter has her summer swim championship meet and I have to be a timer. So we have to stay to the end. So I'll be gone from early morning today until mid afternoon. It's not going to feel like much of a day off work. But I'm hoping she and the team does well and it'll be fun to be on deck. And that's what mom's do--help out--right?

Don't forget to enter my contest for Leigh Bardugo's SHADOW AND BONE if you missed the interview on Wednesday. It's a fantastic book I know you'll love. I'm giving away my copy. The link is at the top of the blog.

Next, if you haven't read author blogger Roni Loren's post where she shares about getting sued for using a picture on her blog, you want to read the post and beware. You can find the post here.

Finally all the books for last week's winners and this week's winner will be mailed out later this week or early next week. Sorry, but I'm trying to mail as much as possible each time I go to the post office so I go less often.


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

Today I’m excited to interview Natalie Dias Lorenzi about her debut book FLYING THE DRAGON that was released July 1, 2012. I loved this book. Natalie did such an excellent job portraying the POV’s of Skye, the Japanese American girl who wants to play in the soccer championship rather than learn Japanese and her cousin Hiroshi who comes here from Japan and struggles with American culture and must learn English. I loved all the characters, especially their grandfather. I got a real feel for Japanese culture and how it’s different here from Japan. Plus the conflicts and struggles were so what middle graders experiences. I can’t say enough good about this book.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

American-born Skye knows very little of her Japanese heritage. Her father taught her to speak the language, but when their estranged Japanese family, including Skye's grandfather, suddenly move to the United States, Skye must be prepared to give up her All-Star soccer dreams to take Japanese lessons and to help her cousin, Hiroshi adapt to a new school. Hiroshi, likewise, must give up his home and his hopes of winning the rokkaku kite-fighting championship with Grandfather. Faced with language barriers, culture clashes and cousin rivalry, Skye and Hiroshi have a rocky start. But a greater shared loss brings them together. They learn to communicate, not only through language, but through a common heritage and sense of family honor. At the rokkaku contest at the annual Washington Cherry Blossom Festival, Hiroshi and Skye must work as a team in order to compete with the best.

Hi Natalie. Thanks so much for joining us.

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

Growing up, my dad was in the Air Force so we moved around often. I went to five different elementary schools, which meant starting over as the new kid time each time. The characters in the books I read felt like friends, especially in the interim between leaving old friends behind and making new ones. I decided when I was nine that I wanted to become a teacher, which I did. I’d always dreamed about what it would be like to be an author, but I never really saw it as a viable career when I was a kid.

It wasn’t until after my second child was born that I decided to take a break from teaching and stay home. During those four years, I researched the children’s publishing business and started writing! I took an online class for children’s writers, connected with other writers on Verla Kay’s message boards and joined SCBWI. After that, I was hooked! I’ve been writing ever since.

2.  That's great that you were able to stay home for a few years and focus more on writing. And I agree that Verla Kay and SCBWI are great resources for writers. Are Hiroshi and Skye patterned after anyone you know? How did your experiences teaching in Japan and in a multicultural school in the United States influence your development of them as characters?

Hiroshi and Skye are based on my students, my family, and my own experiences living abroad. Like Hiroshi, many of my ESL students come to the US with very little English and are bewildered by American culture and slang. They tend to have that deer-in-the-headlights look for at least the first month or so of school, and my heart always goes out to them. Once they adjust to life in America and learn English, they often struggle with speaking their home languages, which makes it difficult to communicate with relatives who still live in their home countries.

In my own family, my husband is Italian and we lived in Italy from 2003-2008. Our oldest daughter went to Italian schools through 3rd grade, so her language skills in Italian are still fairly solid. Our second child, however, only went to Italian school through Kindergarten. At the time, she refused to speak English even though she understood that English that I spoke with her. Within a few months of moving back to the US, however, she had regained her spoken English, but her spoken Italian really suffered. We go back to Italy each summer, but even so, we saw that she would struggle to keep up on the phone with her Italian relatives, so we enrolled her in Saturday Italian school this year. Like Skye in Flying the Dragon who has to attend Japanese Saturday school, the other students in my daughter’s class were much more proficient with the language, and my daughter often felt embarrassed to speak Italian in class. Her spoken Italian has greatly improved thanks to those classes, though, so even she can see that her hard work has paid off.

Finally, parts of me, both as a kid and an adult, have woven their way into Hiroshi and Skye. Living in Japan, I was at a total loss when it came to looking up words that I would see on signs out on the town, since everything was written as a Japanese character (in Kanji, Hiragana, or Katakana). Several times I would misread things about the culture that caused confusion. For example, I had no idea that it’s considered rude to shake your head when saying no—they tap their hands in an “x” to communicate “no.” So when I would ask for something in a store using my careful Japanese, I interpreted their smiles as, “Yes! Of course we have that!” when actually they didn’t.

3.  You really did have a lot of personal experiences--teaching, your own travels, and your daughter's experiences to draw on. Maybe that's why you really got Skye and Hiroshi's POV so accurately. Even though you’ve lived in Japan, I’m guessing you had to do some research to portray the cultural aspects of your story accurately. Tell us about your research process.

Yes, research was a huge part of bringing this story to life. I wanted it to feel authentic to readers who were familiar with the Japanese culture and/or kite fighting, and for those who aren’t, I wanted to portray an accurate picture of the Japanese language and culture as well as the sport of kite fighting. Even though I lived in Japan for two years, I had no idea what Japanese home life was like on a day-to-day basis. In the school system where I teach, there are two elementary schools with Japanese language immersion programs. I contacted the principals there and asked if any Japanese teachers at their schools would be willing to look over my manuscript to check for linguistic and cultural accuracy. Two teachers offered to help, both of whom were born and raised in Japan. I’m so thankful for their careful and thorough work on the manuscript.

I also knew I needed an expert to look over the kite-making and kite-fighting scenes in the book. When I’d read Linda Sue’s historical middle grade novel The Kite Fighters, I saw that she’d thanked a man named David Gomberg who had helped with the kite-fighting scenes in her book, so I sent him an email. He was extremely gracious and helpful, and the kite scenes in my book would not have been the same without his guidance.

4.  I've been to China and India, so I know what you mean about feeling it's hard to really portray such different cultures accurately. That's a great idea to reach out to someone like David Gomberg if you find him/her in someone's acknowledgements. I wouldn't have thought of that.

Getting the voice right in a middle grade book is so important. I know from your bio that you teach, so I’m guessing it’s easier for you to nail middle school kids’ voices. Share your tips on this and any challenges you faced in developing Hiroshi’s voice since he came here from Japan and his voice must be very different that Skye’s.

In the early drafts of this book, Hiroshi was the only main character; Skye was just a girl in his class named Susan. My experience with teaching ESL children did help in honing Hiroshi’s more formal voice. The challenge with Hiroshi was making his voice relatable to American readers while staying true to his culture. For example, in the scene where Hiroshi is upset with Grandfather, he doesn’t yell or lash out like an American child might. Hopefully I showed Hiroshi’s anger in a way that American readers will understand, yet readers familiar with the Japanese culture will also recognize.

5.  I think you did a really, really good job with that. And I'm so glad that Skye didn't stay as Susan. Tell us how Erin Murphy became your agent and your road to publication.

When I first discovered Erin, she was closed to queries except through client referral or attendance at a conference at which she was presenting. As I didn’t know any of her clients and I was living in Italy at the time, I thought that my chances for getting to query her were nil. Then SCBWI announced an online chat with Erin, and I jumped at the chance to sign up. The live chat was from 1:00-2:00 in the morning Italian time, but it was worth it! I sent her my query, which led to a request for the first few chapters, then a request for the full manuscript, and then an offer of representation!

6.  You're the second person who I've interviewed who went through hurdles to connect with Erin. Lynda Mullaly Hunt, who wrote ONE FOR THE MURPHYS, drove 5 1/2 hours to meet her. I know you have a lot on your plate. You teach, are working on becoming a librarian, write and now must market your book. And you mentioned to me that you’ll be in Italy this summer. How do you juggle it all and how are you planning to market your book?

My biggest strategy for marketing is to do things in small chunks. Months ago, I spent some time researching blogs that had reviewed other middle grade books, including multicultural ones. I reached out to them (including Literary Rambles :-) ) and people like you have been kind enough to feature my book on their blogs.

I also presented at the Gaithersburg Book Festival last month  and will be doing the same at other local festivals in the fall. And although I teach full-time, I’ll be using my three days of personal leave to do three school visits in the coming school year.

Some of my agent-mates are throwing a virtual book launch on the Emus Debuts blog  from June 25-29, where they’ll post interviews of my agent, editor, cover jacket illustrator Kelly Murphy, another author/ESL teacher Melanie Crowder, and David Gomberg, the kite expert I interviewed while I was writing the manuscript.

My in-person book launch party will be at a Barnes and Noble near the school where I teach, so I’m looking forward to celebrating with family, friends, students and colleagues. If any of your blog readers are in the northern Virginia area on Sunday, July 1, I hope they can drop in! 

7.  That's great advice to do the marketing in small pieces. Makes it feel less overwhelming. What are you working on now?

I’m always tinkering with something, but I’m hoping to spend much of my summer writing time revising a YA novel and tweaking some picture book manuscripts.

Thank you so much for hosting me on Literary Rambles! :-)

Thanks for sharing your book and advice with us, Natalie. You can find Natalie at her website and blog

Natalie's publisher generously provided a copy of FLYING THE DRAGON 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 August 4th. I’ll announce the winner on August 6th. 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.

Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays was started by ShannonWhitney Messenger to spotlight middle grade authors. Check out the other Middle Grade group:

Here's what's coming up:

On Wednesday, Casey has a post with Laura Lascarso with a giveaway of her book COUNTING BACKWARDS. It's about a teenage girl who gets in trouble and is forced to go to a psychiatric correctional facility. Doesn't it sound good?

Next Monday I'll be interviewing Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi and giving away a copy of THE EMOTION THESAURAS. It's a great resource for writers. I love it just for the introduction.

On Wednesday that week I'll be interviewing Rachel McClellan and giving away a copy of FRACTURED LIGHT, a paranormal story dealing with Auras, Vykens, and Guardians. 

 On Friday that week, I'm excited to participate in Alyssa Sheinmel's blog tour for her book THE STONE GIRL, a story about a teenage girl with eating disorders. She'll be sharing a guest post and giving away an ARC. I'm really looking forward to sharing this book with you because it's sadly a timely issue for our teenage girls. One of my cousins who is my daughter's age almost died from this last year and I know another teenage girl who borders on having this problem. You may know someone with this problem too.

The following Monday, I'm interviewing C.J. Redwine and giving away an ARC of her debut book, DEFIANCE, a fantasy/dystopian novel I loved!

And don't forget our Tuesday Tips and Casey's Thursday Agent Spotlights.

Hope to see you on Monday!

Thurber House Children's Writer-In-Residence Program

Applications are now being accepted for the 2013 Thurber House Writer-In-Residence program. Here are some details I received to pass along. Good luck to any authors who apply!

My name is Meg Brown and I’m the Manager of Children’s Programming at Thurber house in Columbus, Ohio. Thurber House has a Children’s Writer in Residence program for middle-grade authors each year and we just released the guidelines and application form for the 2013 residency.

This unique residency has been in existence since 2001, offering  an opportunity for authors to have time to work on their writing in a fully furnished apartment, in the historic boyhood home of author and humorist, James Thurber.  The residency is available in the summer (any four weeks between June and August) so that the resident can also participate in the community by teaching at our Summer Writing Camp. Some of the recent winners are Lisa Yee (2007), Alan Silberberg (08), Hope Anita Smith (09), Keith McGowan (10), Alan Gratz (11), Donna Gephart (12).

The guidelines and application are available on our website. The deadline for submissions for the 2013 residency is Friday, November 2, 2012.

Agent Spotlight: John Cusick

This week's Agent Spotlight features John Cusick of Folio Jr.
Status: Open to submissions.
johnAbout:  John Cusick is the Vice President and agent at Folio Jr., a division of Folio Literary.
“I represent a diverse list award winners and New York Times bestsellers. My focus is middle grade and young adult novels, as well as genre fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, horror) in the YA-adult crossover space and adult sci-fi, fantasy, and horror.
"I graduated Wesleyan University in 2007 with a double major in English and Russian Literature—a degree one professor called “fun but useless.” After working as a freelance writer, bookseller, dog walker, cashier, and radio host, I became a literary agent’s assistant and quickly began building my own list. Around the same time I also became an author; my young adult novels, Girl Parts and Cherry Money Baby, were published by Candlewick Press. My middle-grade, Dimension Why, is coming from Harper Collins in 2020.
"As a writer myself, I bring both a creative and commercial sensibility to my agenting style. I’m an editorial agent who works closely with my clients, whether it’s developing a debut project or helping a seasoned author take that next step. My goal is to match writers with their dream editor, secure the best deals possible, facilitate the exploitation of dramatic (film and TV) rights in my clients’ work, and grow authors’ readership over long careers.
"I am passionate about helping clients achieve their full potential, and I’m looking for dedicated, original, fervent, visionary creators.” (From the agency website)
Update on 2/6/2023
John has had two MG novels come out: DIMENSION WHY (HarperCollins 2020) and DIMENSION WHY 2: REVENGE OF THE SEQUEL (HarperCollins 2021).
About the Agency:
A division of Folio Literary Management, Folio Jr. is wholly committed to offering our clients impeccable, individually tailored care. We strive not only to discover and cultivate the most compelling new voices and the most original and memorable styles of illustration, but also to indefatigably and strategically support our established writers and illustrators as they thrive and develop their careers in the publishing industry.” (From the agency website)
Web Presence:
Folio Jr. website.
John Cusick’s blog.  
Publisher’s Marketplace page.
Twitter @johnmcusick.
Update on 1/23/2023
What He’s Looking For:
Genres / Specialties:
"I’m seeking unique voices in middle-grade, young adult, and young adult/adult-crossover fiction. I want stories that move readers, moments that make me look up and say “Wow, yes. I’ve felt that.”
"I want compelling page-turners that create life-long readers, stories that will inspire fandoms, characters readers will cosplay as, obsess over, and never forget. I want #ownvoices stories of all styles and genres, and am particularly interested in sci-fi, fantasy, and genre fiction from under-represented voices. I love the strange, iconoclastic, and unusual. Send me the books kids will sneak / steal / borrow in secret. Those intimate, dangerous, life-saving stories.
"I love proactive protagonists, kids and teens chasing a dream or a hero who swings in with a song in her heart and a knife in her teeth. I am not seeking picture book authors or illustrators, or non-fiction, at this time." (From the agency website)
From an Interview (02/2014):
“I want contemporary realistic y.a. with a twist, something like SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY or OCD LOVE STORY. I’m dying for great middle-grade, either a coming of age like WHEN YOU REACH ME (which is also realistic with a twist), or a truly fresh fantasy like THE PECULIAR. I’m also keen for new author/illustrators.” (Link)
From an Interview (01/2013):
“I’d love to see a middle-grade series for boys set in a truly original fantasy or sci-fi world. I love page-turners, whether they’re adventure or contemporary romance; anything fast-paced is up my street. I like high sci-fi, but I’m especially interested in stories set in our contemporary world with a sci-fi or fantastical twist. Think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I love horror and suspense. I’d be interested to read a sprawling, romantic historical. Tolstoy for teens.” (Link)
What He Isn’t Looking For:
Picture books, illustrators, and nonfiction (From Publishers Marketplace)
Editorial Agent?
“I’m a very editorial agent. I like working creatively with my clients, from the idea stage to line-level tweaks. I’m also very communicative. I like chatting with my folks by phone, email, text, whatever. I also hope to pair authors with the perfect editor. When an editor and a client totally hit it off, creatively and personally, I know I’ve done my job. Finally, when I say I want career-clients, that’s another way of saying I like to manage and develop the trajectory of an author’s career, to help build their audience and hone their craft from book to book.” (Link)
See the Folio Jr. website to see some of his clients.
Query Methods:
E-mail: Yes (only).
Snail-Mail: No.  
Online-Form: No.
Submission Guidelines (always verify):
“Please send your query along with the first 2500 words of your manuscript to [see website]. Please include the word QUERY in the subject line.”
See the Folio Jr. website for complete, up-to-date submission guidelines.
Query Tips:
See this interview at I Write for Apples for a lot of great info and tips.
Response Times:
“I try to respond to all queries, however if you do not hear from me within thirty days, please consider it a pass.” (Link
What's the Buzz?
John Cusick is an established and well-respected literary agent with a strong list of clients and sales. He recently joined Folio Jr. where he will continue to represent authors of children’s and young adult literature.
I recommend following John on Twitter @johnmcusick and subscribing to his blog.
Worth Your Time:
Agent Interviews and Podcasts:
Podcast Interiew at Owltail (08/2022)
Podcast Interview at LitTea (08/2022)
Podcast Interview at A Bookshelf Binge (05/2022)
Podcast Interview at Good Story (10/2020)
How to Write a Query Letter Podcast at Middle Grade Ninja (07/2019)
How Fast Do You Read Podcast at Middle Grade Ninja (07/2019)
What I'm Looking for Podcast at Middle Grade Ninja (07/2019)
Podcast Interview at The Manscript Academeny (Approximately 2018)
Interview with Literary Agent John Cusick at Justin Colón Books (04/2018)
Interview at Writers Digest (08/2015)
Agent John Cusick of Greenhouse Literary Talks Picture Books at Frolicking Through Cyberspace (07/2014).
Query.Sign.Submit. with John Cusick at I Write for Apples (02/2014).
Interview with John Cusick at Guide to Literary Agents (10/2013).
John Cusick Agent/Author Interview at Kathy Temean’s site (09/2013).
7 Questions For: Literary Agent John Cusick at Middle Grade Ninja (01/2013).
*For a complete list of Mr. Cusick’s agent & author interviews, see this page on his blog.
Selected Blog Posts & Guest Posts:
A Pretty Much Foolproof, Never-Fail, Silver-Bullet Query Opening (07/2015).
Announcement: I’m Joining Folio Literary! (06/2015).
Please see the Folio Jr. website for contact and query information.
Profile Details:
Last updated: 1/22/2023
Agent contacted for review? Yes
Last Reviewed By Agent? 2/6/2023
Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updated? 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/YA fiction. They are not interviews. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying. The information found herein is subject to change.


First, in case you don't know this, WriteOnCon has scheduled their free, online conference for August 14th and 15th. There will be new agents at this conference. It sounds awesome. You can get the details here.

Today I’m excited to interview Leigh Bardugo about her debut book SHADOW AND BONE that was released June 5, 2012. When I read the description of her book on her agent’s blog, I immediately contacted Leigh about an interview. I loved Leigh's world building, which she'll share more about, and her main character Alina, who is a normal girl who suddenly discovers her magical powers. I love fantasies and this is one of my favorites this year.

Here’s a description of SHADOW AND BONE from Goodreads

Photo by Kevin Rolly
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.

Hi Leigh. Thanks for joining us.

Thanks for having me back! Literary Rambles was a big part of my agent search, and I'm glad to be here.

1. From your bio I read that you were born in Jerusalem and raised in Los Angeles. You’re also a makeup artist. I’d love to know a little about that, especially the makeup artist part, and how you became a writer.

Honestly, when my dad died, I went a little crazy. I'd been working as a copywriter and the days alone in front of the computer were just too much. I'd always loved makeup and costuming, so I took a leap and switched careers. That turned out to be a very good thing for me and for my writing. I met new people pretty much every day, I was thrown out of my comfort zone, and I found that when I came home, even after long hours on set, I had a new determination and focus when I sat down to write.  

2. So sorry about your dad's death. But it's great that you took the leap to do what you want with your career. It's certainly worked well with your writing. SHADOW AND BONE is a fantasy. World building is so important in fantasies. Tell us a bit about your world building process and how your book is different from other fantasies.

Many high fantasy worlds resemble medieval Europe, but Shadow and Bone takes its cultural inspiration from Tsarist Russia of the early 1800s, so the world has a different feel. I think another difference is that the bulk of the story is written from Alina's point of view. She's pragmatic, prickly, and has a modern sensibility that I hope will make it easier for readers who might not ordinarily pick up fantasy to enter the world. 

In terms of process, I don't really think that world building for fantasy is much different from world building for anything else. Whether you're writing a political thriller set in DC or a smalltown murder mystery, or a swords and sorcery epic, the reader needs a clear sense of order (how power functions in the world) and place (the texture of a world). When I wrote the first draft of Shadow and Bone, I really only had the key elements of order in place: the Darkling's power, Alina's power, the Shadow Fold, the basics of how the Grisha (the Kingdom's magical elite) operated. I didn't want to slow my momentum, so I didn't worry about the naming of things or what my characters were eating or wearing until I got into the second draft. When I did delve into those elements of world building, I was surprised at the way they impacted the plot and some of my fundamental ideas about the characters. 

3. That's great advice to leave some of the details until the second draft. I know those kind of details can slow me down when writing the first draft. Alina is an interesting character who doesn’t start out doing things right. What were some of the challenges in developing her as a character?

I think there's often a temptation to create heroines who are infallible­— tough, wise, brave. But in real life, those traits are hard won. Alina has spent most of her life without much power or say in her fate. She has to learn how to be strong and how to use the gifts she's been given. Her hunger to belong guides a lot of her decision making, and that level of vulnerability wasn't always comfortable to write. 

4. I confess I made that mistake in the first draft of my first book. I learned that it's important to show that heroes and heroines are not perfect. Because no one is. Tell us about the magical powers in SHADOW AND BONE and why you chose them. Any tips on creating the magical powers in a fantasy and setting limits for them. 

For me, the impossible seems a lot more possible when it's constrained by rules. The Grisha practice what is known as the Small Science, the manipulation of matter at its most fundamental levels. It's essentially a magical version of molecular chemistry and bound by many of the same rules. So a Fabrikator doesn't mutter spells over a piece of metal to create Grisha steel, he's actually forging the metal and honing the blade at a molecular level. 

I think my best advice when it comes to creating a magical system would be to let the larger questions of the work guide you. In Shadow and Bone, I wanted modern warfare to be a real threat to this kingdom and to the Grisha. But a repeating rifle isn't very scary if you can just magic up some big ass dragons or an Uzi. That led me to a constrained magical system and I found that inspiring. When you create limits, you can begin to ask how people might work around them, what innovations might have resulted from those constraints, and also what the consequences might be to breaking the rules. 

5. I’d normally ask you to tell us about how you got your agent Joanna Volpe and your publishing post here. But you shared it all in an awesome guest post on how you got an agent and a book deal in 37 days in January 2011. (Guys you can read Leigh’s post here. You want to read it because it’s full of tips on querying.) So instead I’ll ask you to share how you’re marketing your book and any advice you have for debut authors.

My best piece of advice is to join a debut group like the Apocalypsies. The support of other authors is invaluable. 

Also, don't panic. Early on, I felt totally baffled and overwhelmed by the options out there. Should I make bookmarks? A trailer? Did I need a web site or would a blog do? How much did I need to be tweeting? Which conferences should I attend? Just remember that you don't have to do everything. Try to find a strategy that fits with your interests and plays to your strengths. I hired a great designer to build my web site (Denise Biondo) and focused on creating content there. My friend Gamynne and I designed buttons inspired by the book. My friend Aaron and I wrote a song. If you can have fun with it, promotion doesn't feel quite so burdensome. 

6. The thought of marketing fills me with panic. Thanks for making it seem manageable. What are you working on now?

The second book in the Grisha Trilogy, Siege and Storm, will be released next year so I'm currently finishing up those revisions. After that, it's on to Book 3, Ruin and Rising!

Can't wait to read them! Thanks Leigh for all your great advice. You can find Leigh on twitter and her website. You can also check out some of the inspiration for the Grisha Trilogy on Leigh's pinterest boards

I'm giving away my copy of SHADOW AND BONE (with a few tears because I like it so much).  To enter, 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 August 4th. I’ll announce the winner on August 6th. If your e-mail is not on Blogger, please list it in your comment. International entries are welcome.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. 

Here's what's coming up:

On Friday, Casey is sharing about a writer in residence opportunity that sounds really interesting.

On Monday, I'm interview Natalie Lorenzi about her middle grade book FLYING DRAGON. It's a multi-cultural story about a Japenese-American girl who has to give up her soccer dreams to study Japanese and help her cousin, who just came here from Japan, with his English. I was memorized from the first page. I know a lot of you will really like this.

Next Wednesday, Casey has a post with Laura Lascarso with a giveaway of her book COUNTING BACKWARDS.

The following Monday I'll be interviewing Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi and giving away a copy of THE EMOTION THESAURAS. It's a great resource for writers. I love it just for the introduction.

And don't forget our Tuesday Tips and Casey's Thursday Agent Spotlights.

Hope to see you on Monday!