But today's a great day because I have only one short appointment so I can get lots done. And I have a fantastic book and agent opportunity to share with you.
First, Steven Malk of Writers House is doing a Q&A with us tomorrow 3/4. His agent profile is HERE. Casey is in the process of updating it. So think up some great questions for Steven. Casey will compile the questions and do a post with Steven's answers in the next few weeks. Doesn't that sound fantastic?
I have two winners to announce.
The winner of ICE DOGS is Bish Denham!
And the winner of WHAT THE MOON SAID is Leslie Rose!
Congrats! E-mail me your address so your book can be sent to you. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.
Today I’m thrilled to have Natalie Lloyd here to share about her debut MG story A SNICKER OF MAGIC that released February 25, 2014. This is a magical realism story with a lot of contemporary in it that I loved. Felicity and her best friend Jonah and all the other characters in the story are so well developed and you can’t help loving them. And Midnight Gulge is a rich, vivid setting for the story. This is a story you and your middle grade kids will love. It's one of my favorite books this year.
Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:
Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.
But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck's about to change. A "word collector," Felicity sees words everywhere---shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog's floppy ears---but Midnight Gulch is the first place she's ever seen the word "home." And then there's Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity's never seen before, words that make Felicity's heart beat a little faster.
Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she'll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that's been cast over the town . . . and her mother's broken heart.
Hi Natalie. Thanks so much for joining us.
Thanks for inviting me, Natalie! I’m so grateful for the time you and Casey put into this site. It was a big help (and encouragement) when I started researching agents.
1. So glad you found it helpful. Most of the authors I interview have used the agent spotlights, which makes us feel good. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.
I’m a Tennessee girl, a dog-lover, and a chronic daydreamer. For as long as I’ve been able to daydream, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I fell in love with books as soon as I could read them, and I grew up surrounded by incredible storytellers. Like many booknerds I know, writing was a pretty seamless progression from my love for reading. Fiction has always been my first love, but I was too afraid to pursue publishing my fiction for way too long. I studied journalism in college and wrote freelance for several years. I’m grateful for those experiences, and enjoyed that work. But nothing makes my heart spin like fiction. A few years ago, I decided to get serious about finishing the novels I’d been trying to write. I knew actually pursuing publication would be heart-breaking at times. But I also believed that, long-term, I’d be much more heart-broken if I didn’t at least try.
2. That’s awesome how you fell in love with books when you could read. Me too. Where did you get the idea for your story?
One of the more pivotal events that inspired ASoM was a concert. I heard my favorite band, The Avett Brothers, play live a few years ago, and I was enchanted by the atmosphere of their show. People were dancing in the aisles and screaming out beautiful lyrics. I think I was most dazzled by the way their music connected people - people with different backgrounds, who believed different things. Music became this invisible thread that connected everybody, and gave us so much shared joy. It was more like a magic show than a concert. I think that concert (and their music, in general) helped me find my way to Midnight Gulch. But I didn’t start writing until several months later. During revisions, I realized I’d also written the book because I was homesick for people I love, and miss (my grandparents, in particular). Hearing the word “home” makes me think of my family, as much as any particular place. I think loving people, and being loved, is the best magic anybody can experience in a lifetime.
3. That’s a cool way to come up with an idea for your story. I love the characters in A SNICKER OF MAGIC. One of the reasons is that Felicity and Jonah (and the other characters) have such great voices. And voice is so important in middle grade stories. Share how you found the voices of Felicity and Jonah. Any tips for the rest of us?
Thank you! Voice is one of my most favorite elements of a story too. I loved writing from Felicity’s
4. Actually your advice to let the voice of the characters develop over the revision process is a good one. And it reassures me to know that I don’t have to get the voice perfect in my first draft. Midnight Gulch feels like a character too. It’s got such a unique, small town feel to it. Did you draw on a place you know or is it all fictional?
I grew up in a small town in east Tennessee, and I’m smitten with mountain towns in general. Midnight Gulch is based on lots of small, southern towns I know, and love. Franklin, Tennessee (a wonderfully funky town near Nashville) was one of my inspirations for Midnight Gulch. I think everybody has a few places that are magical in a way you can’t even describe. You don’t even understand it yourself. Maybe you’re just visiting a place you’ve never even been or didn’t even try to find, but suddenly you get this feeling like you’re home. Franklin is one of those places for me, even though I don’t live there and don’t get to visit often. I worked in Nashville one summer, and zoomed over to Franklin anytime I could, just because I loved it so much. Maybe because lots of musicians live there, or because of the proximity to Nashville, music always seemed to be tangled in the wind. People are so kind. The downtown is gorgeous. And Franklin has a sad, haunting connection to the Civil War. I liked that juxtaposition so much; being in a town that could be a little bit fanciful, but also steeped in history. I think that dynamic is part of what endears Midnight Gulch to Felicity, too. Felicity really wants to live in a town that values its history, a place where you can have roots that go way-down-deep.
5. I used to visit a small town in the mountains in Georgia and can relate to how you drew from small mountain town life in the South. What was the biggest challenge in writing A SNICKER OF MAGIC—plot, character development, voice, or setting—and how did you overcome it?
Balancing all of these aspects you mention is the hardest part for me. I’m working on a new novel now, and … it’s not any easier. But I’ve learned that a good story can spin up out of revisions. I heard Myra McEntire speak at an event a few years ago and she said, “I think of myself as a re-writer, not a writer.” That was such an encouragement for me, to know that even writers I admire so much, who write such engaging and lovely novels, have to revise. Getting the right feedback is crucial, too. My editor, Mallory Kass, is brilliant, and she helped me see more potential in the story than I realized it had. Somehow, she managed to do that without ever making me feel defeated. I think it was Richard Peck who said that a good editor holds a flashlight while you dig for buried treasure. That’s what working with Mallory feels like. I think revisions are tough even in the best of situations, but working with her is an incredible experience.
6. Ha! I love Myra’s quote because I’m definitely a re-writer, not a writer. I’ll remember that. Your agent is Suzie Townsend. Share how she became your agent and your road to publication.
I still can’t believe I get to work with Suzie. She’s wonderful! As far as how I began working with her; I sent a query letter and sample pages like she asks for in her guidelines. That’s probably not as interesting as many Agent/Author stories, but maybe it would encourage someone to know that it can happen that way.
A friend of mine, who is represented by Suzie, read an early draft of ASoM and encouraged me to query herBut I queried Suzie exactly the same way I would have without my friend’s thumbs-up. I’d used sites like Literary Rambles (*fist bump*), and QueryTracker, and the acknowledgement section of my favorite books to build a list of agents who might be interested in my work. I knew I wanted to work with someone editorial and who had great working relationship with a variety of childrens’ book editors. And I wanted to work with someone who could help me shape my career. Once I had a small list of agents, I researched how each one of them wanted a query.
(Suzie shared my query on her blog, if you’d like to see! Here’s the link: http://confessionsofawanderingheart.blogspot.com/2013/10/example-query-natalie-lloyd.html)
On the same day I queried Suzie, she asked for a full. When I got the next email from her, I could see that the note was short. Thus, I assumed she’d sent a polite rejection. I was surprised to open the email and see this sentence, which I have forever committed to memory: “I’ve been sitting at my desk reading this and I absolutely love it.”
On the day we talked on the phone, I was so nervous that I stress-ate my way through a giant bag of M&M’s. But within maybe two seconds of talking, I was just excited. Suzie is so kind and smart and easy to talk to. And she’s so professional; it’s obvious from the minute she starts talking that she knows what she’s doing. She answered questions I didn’t even think to ask, and her love for the book made my heart spin. I couldn’t believe she was talking to me about my characters. That was surreal.
Suzie suggested a few revisions, so we worked through those. Then she sent the story to a carefully curated list of editors she thought would be interested. I was in my hometown, at my aunt and uncle’s house, when she called to tell me we’d be working with Scholastic. I cried, of course. I remember hugging my arms tight around my chest because my heart was pounding so hard. I kept thinking - this is what it feels like when a dream comes true. It really feels like this! And it was an even better feeling than I ever imagined it would be. My editor, Mallory, called shortly after that to welcome me (and Felicity!) to Scholastic. I was so overwhelmed (and tearful … in a good way!) that I couldn’t answer. I let her call roll to voicemail. I think I’ve listened to that voicemail a billion times since then. Having a Scholastic tattoo on my book’s spine is a dream come true, and I’m so blessed to work with such incredible people.
I want to add this though: that’s a short(ish) version of a long story that includes LOTS of rejection, professional and personal. (I think the personal rejections factor in for writers, too; sometimes those can set you back even longer than a rejection letter.) I wrote a book a few years ago that I queried, and it never got a full request. I am so thankful now that it’s not my first book. Writing is wonderful. Publishing is hard, and often heart-breaking. In my less eloquent moments, I’ve described publishing as a dystopian version of the Oregon Trail game. You feel like you’re making strides and then BAM you get metaphorically snake-bit by rejection, or by self-doubt, or by circumstances beyond your control that crush your creative spirit … and you have to start all over again. So please accept my long distance hug (unless you don’t like hugs, then *high five*) and hear this: do not lose heart. And do NOT give up. If this story isn’t the one that gets published, there’s another story. There is always another story spinning up out of you. Write bravely. Query, when you’re ready. And then find the next story that makes your heart spin, and write that one. When the dream-come-true actually happens, it’s going to be even better than you’ve imagined.
7. It’s great knowing that old-fashioned researching agents and querying works. And I’ll remember to have a bag of candy on hand if I ever find out an agent wants to call me. I know you recently travelled to the Winter Institute in Seattle and ALA in Philadelphia. Share a bit about your experiences there. How did it work out for you to attend these events and how important is it for debut authors to try to attend big events like this?
Scholastic arranged those opportunities, and I’m so grateful! There’s no group I’d rather party with than librarians, teachers and booksellers. They’re an inspirational and fun bunch, and their passion for story is contagious. They have a packed schedule at those conferences, and had been in sessions all day, and yet they made time to chat with me about my book and encourage me. I’m so happy I got to meet so many kind people and thank them for what they do. If you’re able to attend events like that as a debut author, I think it’s an incredible experience. But sometimes, for a variety of reasons, it’s not possible. And it’s certainly not the only way to connect with other story-people. I think it definitely made me more conscious of connecting with librarians, booksellers and book-lovers in my area and thanking them for what they do.
8. That’s great that you got to connect with librarians, booksellers and book-lovers. It’s so important to do that. How are you planning to market A SNICKER OF MAGIC? Are you targeting any blogs that focus on middle grade books?
Scholastic has coordinated several fun opportunities, and I’m excited about them! I’ve been invited to several great blogs (like this one!) and a few events in the spring. I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to talk about Felicity.
9. It’s awesome how much Scholastic has helped you with promoting your book. What are you working on now?
I’m working on a new middle-grade novel. I can’t say much about it just yet, but I’m having fun getting to know a new set of characters. This is the most exciting phase of writing for me; early drafting. I know that’s nuts. So many writers I talk to prefer revisions, but I love the beginning when I can still get caught up in the spin of it all. When I can sort through ideas, memories, experiences, characters, and songs and just … write. In early drafting, writing always feels like a secret. Like a safe place, and an escape. That’s not to say I don’t get frustrated with it. I SO DO. But there’s so much I like about this part. So that’s where I am now; I’m picking up shiny pieces again, trying to see which ones catch the light. Or will catch the light, eventually, once I revise them a billion times. I’m back to trying to squash the self-doubt and write bravely. Again and again and again.
Thanks for sharing all your advice, Natalie. You can find Natalie at:
Natalie’s publisher, Scholastic, generously offered an ARC of A SNICKER OF MAGIC 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 through March 15th. I’ll announce the winner on March 17th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.
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 but the winner would get an e-book or $5.00 Amazon gift card.
Here’s what’s coming up:
On Wednesday I’m interviewing follower Kelly Polak and giving away ROCK 'N' ROLL PRINCESSES WEAR BLACK, her new MG contemporary story that sounds really good.
On Friday I’ll be participating in the Lucky is Reading Giveaway Hop. I’ll have lots of new YA releases to choose from.
Next Monday I’m interviewing debut author Christina Farley and giving away a copy of GILDED, her fantastic YA contemporary fantasy set in Korea. You really felt like you were there and I really loved this page-turner.
The Monday after that I’m interviewing debut author Kristi Helvig and giving away an ARC of BURN OUT, her YA sci-fi story. It’s a great story set on Earth about Tora, who may be the only person on Earth, who really needs to leave and has to decide if she can trust the people who come knocking on her door.
And don’t forget Casey’s Agent Spotlights.
Hope to see you on Wednesday!