Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Hillary Fazzari Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 4/22/2024
  • Miriam Cortinovis Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 5/6/2024
  • Jenniea Carter Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 5/8/2024
  • Caroline Trussell Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 5/20/2024
  • Jenna Satterthwaite Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/10/2024
  • Bethany Weaver Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/24/2024

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.


Hi Everyone! I’m glad to be back from my vacation and blog break. We had a fantastic time visiting my husband’s family and going to my nephew’s wedding in Dallas. And it was good to take a blog and internet break. Even when we got back from our trip, I had a lot to do to get organized.

But I missed you and am glad to get back to visiting your blogs. I hope you’ll bear with me in July and August if I’m not around quite as frequently as I’d like. I’m driving my daughter around a lot—to swim practice, work, and an ACT prep course. I’m even taking a bit of vacation time off in July to pick her up from one swim practice and get her to the next one. And in August, she has two practices a day for the high school team. I just found a carpool partner for August so it won't be quite as bad. Yay! But my daughter's totally worth it and it’s a great way to spend time talking with her. I highly recommend it. But I hope you understand if I’m a bit more pressed for time.

I have some winners to announce first.

The winner of THE CAGED GRAVES is Susanna Pyatt!

The winner of STORY’S END is Crystal Collier!

The winner of WRITTEN IN STONE is Heather Villa!

The winner of POSSESSION is Linda Gray!

The winner of SURRENDER is Kiera Paul!

The winner of ABANDON is Steve MC!

Congrats to all the winners. Please e-mail me your address so I can send you your book. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I’ll have to pick another winner.

Today I’m excited to interview debut author Melanie Crowder about her new book, PARCHED, which was released on June 4, 2013. I really enjoyed reading about the apocalyptic world with very little water that Melanie created. And there’s a touch of magical realism to the story that I really enjoyed. This was a short book—only 144 pages—and I was impressed that Melanie could tell a satisfying, mature middle grade story in so few pages.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

A mesmerizing debut about a girl, a boy, and a dog struggling to survive in a parched and barren land.

Sarel is a girl with secrets. She knows which tree roots reach down deep to pools of precious water. But now she must learn how to keep herself and her dogs alive. Nandi is the leader of those dogs. She knows they can’t last long without water—and she knows, too, that a boy is coming; a boy with the water song inside him.

Musa is that boy. His talent for finding water got him kidnapped by brutal men, yet he's escaped, running away across the thirsty land that nearly claims his life. And so Sarel, Musa, and the dogs come together in what might be their last hope of survival.

Hi Melanie. Thanks so much for joining us.

Thank you, Natalie! It’s great to be here!

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

Well, I was never one of those kids who knew in her bones that she wanted to be a writer, who kept journals and wrote stories and named her pets after her favorite literary characters. I wish I had been that girl! Though I have always been a voracious reader, it took me a long time to find my way here. I have only been writing since 2005, when I hit a rough patch in my professional life, and I needed something outside of work to put my heart into. Eight years, several manuscripts and an MFA in Writing later, I finally have a book published. I am finally doing the thing I was meant to do!

2. I’m totally like you in that I never dreamed I wanted to write as a kid but read a ton. You’re giving me hope I can follow your path to publication. How did you come up with the idea for your story, especially the creation of a world where water is extremely hard to come by?

It was a combination of things: first, an image of my character had appeared in my mind, tempting me to find the story behind the image, and second, I was living through an unbearably hot and dry summer. I live in Colorado, where we are in a constant state of drought. It got me thinking about water politics and scarcity, and the play of power when critical resources become threatened. And, of course, the haunting truth of what children endure when their region erupts into conflict.

3. With all the fires going on in Colorado now, I can see how the idea would come to you living there. One of the amazing things about your story is that it’s an upper middle grade story told in 144 pages. I read that you kept the page limit short on purpose. Tell us a bit about why you decided to keep the story short and the challenges in writing a mature middle grade story in so few pages?

Really, the setting and characters decided that for me. If the prose style were gushing or flowery, it
would have directly contradicted the setting. My characters were suffering trauma in the form of grief and shock. Simple things like speaking and trusting people were incredibly difficult for them. So explaining their emotions and waxing eloquent about their thoughts would have been out of sync with their mental states. I had to be spare with my words. Each one had to carry weight; there could be no fluff, no extra.

But also, I like this style. It invites my reader to fully participate in the story. It invites her to use her own imagination, to think for herself, to fill in everything that I haven’t said.

4. I love the no fluff writing style in general. That’s amazing how you considered this writing technique in terms of what your story is about. I haven’t heard of doing this before. Who was the harder character to write from their POV—Sarel or Musa? Why?

Sarel was harder for me, I think because she is the character I connected with first. I knew her story and her emotional landscape before I wrote a single word. To me, her chapters were humming with emotion and tension. But my critique partners and my editor helped me see that what was obvious to me wasn’t evident to readers; I needed to show that emotion more clearly on the page. So the challenge (that took several drafts to get right) became letting the reader experience Sarel’s emotional journey without breaking with the prose style and saying too much.

5. What was something you learned about your writing from working with your editor?

… that I need to go back to high school English class and pay attention to grammar rules this time

Most importantly, I learned how powerful collaboration can be. In order for an editor to sign a project, she has to really, really love it. If you trust that your editor loves your story and characters as much as you do and if you know she has the experience and talent to bring out the best in you and your story, the result will be so much greater than you could achieve on your own.

6. That’s so funny about needing to go back to high school English. I know I need to as well. Your agent is Ammi-Joan Paquette. Share how she became your agent and your road to publication.

I was already connected with my editor and working on a first round of revisions when I began the search for an agent. (I used Literary Rambles as a resource to help find the right person, so thank you!) I was looking for someone who embraced literary work and who would support my desire to have a long and varied writing career. I didn’t want to get stuck writing the same book over and over again, and I never wanted to shy away from a challenge for market reasons.

Joan and EMLA turned out to be a great fit for me. Shortly after signing with her, she closed my debut deal with HMH. And a few weeks ago, she negotiated a two book YA deal with Philomel. Just what I wanted—a varied and (for the next few years at least) long writing career!

7. Joan sounds liked a fantastic agent. She’s at the top of my list to query. I saw on your website that you have a blog tour planned. Did you set it up yourself or did someone else do it for you? How were the blogs you have/will be visiting picked? Do you have any advice for the rest of us, especially middle grade authors, in setting up our blog tours and picking blogs to visit?

Yes! I set the blog tour up myself, mostly because I wanted to specifically target middle grade blogs (which are definitely less common than YA ones). I chose the blogs I visited largely because of the tone and readership of each blog; I wanted to find places that would be a good fit for my story. I didn’t seek out the blogs with the biggest stats or most readers—I think it’s the quality of the contacts made, not the quantity that matters. Also, the publicity team at HMH is awesome, and it helps that they were eager to boost the signal beyond my own reach.

My advice for those of you planning a blog tour is to try to vary what you’re doing each day. There are so many possibilities: interviews, photo blogs, video blogs, reviews, guest posts, character interviews, etc. Brainstorm the topics that connect to you and your book and try to spread your posts out over that range. For example, I wanted to talk not only about the craft of writing and the process of publishing, but also about trauma, and how it affects children, water issues around the world, and dogs , so I made sure that my blog stops gave me opportunities to discuss all of these relevant topics to my book.

8. Those are such great tips of what to think of in creating your blog tour. And I saved your list of blogs on your tour for future reference. What’s surprised you about your year leading up to the release of your book? Do you have any advice for authors going through the release of their first book?

How fast it goes! It’s amazing!

When you’re a year out from pub date, it seems like there will be time for everything—but I swear, time speeds up in the months approaching a book release! Make yourself a schedule that leaves the last month completely open. It will fill up with all the little things you didn’t anticipate, and if your schedule is open, you’ll have time to tackle all those last minute details.

9. I wouldn’t have thought to leave that last month open, but it sounds like it’d make it much less stressful to keep your schedule open then. What are you working on now?

My next project is a verse novel called AUDACITY, which will be published by Philomel in early 2015. It is historical fiction, so while the first draft is already written, the research never stops! For the next few weeks, as I wait for my editorial letter to arrive, I’ll be digging as deep as I can into the fascinating life of labor activist Clara Lemlich.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Melanie. You can find Melanie at facebook, twitter, Goodreads and at melaniecrowder.net.

Melanie and her publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt generously offered an ARC of PARCHED for a giveaway. 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 midnight on July 20th. I’ll announce the winner on July 22nd.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 or older to enter. International entries are welcome.

And don’t forget that you have until the end of tomorrow to enter my Freedom to Read Blog Hop Giveaway. I have a fantastic selection of books. The link is at the top of the blog.

Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays was started by Shannon Messenger. You can find the links to all the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday bloggers here

Here’s what’s coming up:

Next Monday I’m interviewing K.A. Barson and giving away an ARC of her debut contemporary story, 45 POUNDS. I loved reading about Ann’s struggles to lose 45 pounds before her aunt’s wedding. And K.A. did a fantastic job bringing her characters to life. I loved it!

The following Monday, I have an ASK THE EXPERT interview with Dianne Salerni’s daughter and an ARC giveaway of THE 5TH WAVE. This is an amazing dystopian/sci-fi story with never a dull moment. I can’t wait to share it with you.

And don't forget our Tuesday Tips and Casey's Thursday agent spotlights.

Hope to see you on Monday!


S.P. Bowers said...

Congrats to the winner.

I'm right there wishing I could go back and relearn grammar in school.

I do the same thing with my MC, I know them so well I don't explain everything, thinking it's obvious and my readers get confused.

Hong said...

Great interview!

Cheers for the advice about blog tours.

Linda Gray said...

I'm a big believer in not giving too much description of the protagonist. Every once in a while there'll be a reader who complains that she wants to know exactly how old, what the MC looks like, how she's dressed etc., but I just don't go for it. If you feel more comfortable writing without detailed physical MC description (as many great writers did from Jane Austen to Dorothy Sayers to Richard Russo etc.), stick with your instincts.

Jess said...

Hooray for Melanie! I was lucky enough to attend the book launch for PARCHED and already have a signed copy, so no need to enter me in the contest :) Thanks for the interview!

Kristin Lenz said...

Parched sounds like a great book for me and my daughter. Congrats to Melanie on her debut and two more in the works. The stories sound smart and literary and diverse.

Vivien said...

Parched sounds lovely! It really is about getting the MC right. Especially for younger novels. We can't age them too much!
GFC: Vivien

deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

Joanne R. Fritz said...

Congrats to all those winners.

Interesting interview, as always, Natalie. Melanie's book sounds great. I remember hearing about it from Akoss on MMGM. I'm always drawn to books that are spare and brief. And Ammi-Joan Paquette is one of my dream agents.

I'd love to read this book. Thanks for the chance to win.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Congratulations on your debut, Melanie, and this was a fascinating interview. I was especially interested in how the experience of the characters dictated the style in which you chose to write the book.

And as a personal note, regarding the things that are obvious to you but not so obvious to your reader -- I had a similar conversation with my editor just a couple weeks ago! :D

Rachna Chhabria said...

Congratulations to the winners. I loved the blurb of Parched. "So explaining their emotions and waxing eloquent about their thoughts would have been out of sync with their mental states. I had to be spare with my words. Each one had to carry weight; there could be no fluff, no extra." Very beautifully explained. I am eager to read the book.

cleemckenzie said...

So many winners! Yay for them.

Your summer is packed, so it's good that you were able to take a break. As to not visiting blogs too frequently, I agree that your daughter deserves your time. What a full schedule she has.

Thanks for the interview and the information about Parched.

Old Kitty said...

Welcome back!! Glad you had a fab break!!

And hello Melanie! It's brilliant that you have a like minded and fab editor! The book sounds utterly magical - a human and animal struggle to survive with the mysteries of nature! Brilliant! Take care

Gwen Gardner said...

WElcome back, Natalie! I hope you had a nice vacation?

So I guess there are three of us who never knew as children that they wanted to be writers. The book sounds great, Melanie! Congratulations :)

Angela Brown said...

Three cheers to the winners of those books. Great reading ahead for them :-)

And I loved this interview. It's wonderful to learn of the different ways authors get connected or tackle various aspects of the publication path.

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

Loved the interview. What a lot of good ideas. Thank you.

I just subscribed via email because I was using Google Reader.
I successfully transferred the blogs I follow as Susan to my Feedly. But nothing transferred for Pen and Ink and I lost my entire blog follow list. I'm bummed. And I've no idea how to fix it.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Hey Melanie!
My blog tour is varied all right.
I never envisioned begin an author either. Funny how these things work out, isn't it? And no fluff is definitely my style.

Brenda said...

Hi Natalie happy to hear you had a nice time at the wedding. Congratulations to all the winners and thanks for another great interview.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Enjoy the time with your daughter! It's worth it!

- and I love the idea of a varied blog tour - that's something I need to work on for next time. :)

No fluff is my favorite writing style too.

bfav said...

Great interview, this book sounds fascinating. I always love learning where characters and story ideas come from. Thanks.

Unknown said...

great post! impressive!! looking forwards to your update!

abstract painting

Anonymous said...

I've seen Parched around. I hope to read it.

Congrats to all those winners.

Robyn Campbell said...

YaY congrads to all the winners. I know they're smiling. ;-)

Such a great interview, Natalie. I cannot wait to read Parched. I've heard nothing but great stuff about it.

Unknown said...

Congrats to all the winners!!!!

Parched looks and sounds really cute! I love the cover almost as much as this interview! What fun!

nutschell said...

Lovely to meet Melanie! Congrats to all the winners!

Natasha said...

Sounds like a great read!!
Thanks for the chance to win!
I follow by GFC: Natasha D
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Parched sounds awesome! Thanks for giving us a chance to win it. :)

Welcome back from your holiday and congratulations to all the winners. :)

Peggy Eddleman said...

Fabulous interview, ladies! I especially loved the tips for a blog tour. And I love to hear about other people who didn't know they wanted to be an author until they were adults. :D

Andrea Mack said...

I've heard about this book and am excited to read it! Thanks for the great interview!

David P. King said...

I'm glad I stopped by today. Wonderful interview, and this book sounds fantastic. My TBR list just keeps growing! :)

Lisa Gail Green said...

Awesome interview! I've heard from other clients that Joan is amazing!! And in the small moments of interaction I've had with her I thought she was sweet and professional. Congrats on the deals! And Natalie - have a great summer and no worries!!

Kimberly Gabriel said...

This sounds like such a wonderful read! Great interview ladies. Glad to hear you enjoyed your vacation Natalie!

Jemi Fraser said...

Great tip about keeping that month open - I imagine there are a million things that pop up! I also love that no-fluff style so I'm off to check out the book! Great premise :)

Carina Olsen said...

Glad you had a good break :D Thank you for sharing this awesome interview. <3 And the giveaway :D Parched sounds like an awesome book! Love the cover. Would love to win it :)
Love, Carina

Unknown said...

Welcome back, Natalie!

I love the premise of Melanie's book. The dystopian setting and the way the characters have to work together to survive reminds me of McCammon's Swan Song -- one of my all-time favorite books. Wishing Melanie much success! :-)

PK HREZO said...

Thanks for the great tips!!

Glad you had a nice vacay Natalie! I know what you mean about being busy. Summer with the kids leaves no personal time at all---but it's a small price to pay to spend those precious moments with our precious babies.It goes by so fast.

Love the sound of 45 Pounds!!!

Stina said...

Thanks for another great interview, Natalie. And thanks for the advice, Melanie, about leaving the month before the book's release free.

Don't worry about the slow down with blogging. Everyone is that way right now. Enjoy the summer and the time with your daughter.

Emily R. King said...

Wonderful interview! I appreciate all the advice about marketing. And your agent, Joan, does sound like a dream.

Congrats to the winners!

Anonymous said...

Okay...I am still laughing out loud over the grammar issue. Boy howdy I hear you! And this:

"But also, I like this style. It invites my reader to fully participate in the story. It invites her to use her own imagination, to think for herself, to fill in everything that I haven’t said."

Makes me want to read this even more. Have heard such good things about this book from other readers of middle grade and many have told me I will love this one. Think I will too! Thanks for a chance to win a copy and the interview!