Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

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

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

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


Happy New Year Everyone! Hope you had a fantastic holiday season. We had a fun time visiting with Rudy's family. We got to meet our new 5 year old niece and 7 year old nephew who are also adopted and my nephew's baby. Having the kids there made our first holiday without Rudy so much easier and so much fun. And we got an extra special present right before the holidays. Anna Li got into University of Michigan! She's really excited (me too!!!) and has already accepted.

I've got a great year planned for you here. I'll be having more agent/debut author guest posts and some of them will include query critiques by the agent to help you polish yours. The winners will be picked by random.org so you all have an equal shot at winning one. I'm hoping some of you will find these helpful. The few I did last year were very popular.


C. Lee McKenzie's new middle grade novel SUDDEN SECRETS recently was released. Here's a blurb:

Something’s strange about the abandoned house across the street—flashes of light late at night and small flickers of movement that only someone looking for them would see. Everyone says the house is deserted, but Cleo is sure it isn’t, and she’s sure whoever is inside is watching her. And a few links:

CreateSpacePrint Link: https://www.createspace.com/5201691
And I have a few winners to announce.

The winner of CREED is Gwen Gardner!

The winner of VITAMINS AND DEATH is Mary Preston!

And the winner of The Midwinter's Eve Giveaway Hop is Medeia Shariff who chose OF METAL AND WISHES!

Congrats! 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 thrilled to start 2015 by having debut author Lee Kelly here to talk about her YA futuristic thriller CITY OF SAVAGES that releases February 3, 2015. It sounds like a fantastic but scary portrayal of what could happen to Manhattan. I'm hoping to read it soon.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

It’s been nearly two decades since the Red Allies first attacked New York, and Manhattan is now a prisoner-of-war camp, ruled by Warden Rolladin and her brutal, impulsive warlords. For 17-year-old Skyler Miller, Manhattan is a cage that keeps her from the world beyond the city’s borders. But for Sky’s 16-year-old sister, Phee, the P.O.W. camp is a dangerous playground of possibility, and the only home she’d ever want.

When Sky and Phee discover their mom’s hidden journal from the outbreak of the war, they both realize there’s more to Manhattan—and their mother—than either of them had ever imagined. And after a group of strangers arrives at the annual P.O.W. census, the girls begin to uncover the island’s long-kept secrets. The strangers hail from England, a country supposedly destroyed by the Red Allies, and Rolladin’s lies about Manhattan’s captivity begin to unravel.

Hungry for the truth, the sisters set a series of events in motion that ends in the death of one of Rolladin’s guards. Now they’re outlaws, forced to join the strange Englishmen on an escape mission through Manhattan. Their flight takes them into subways haunted by cannibals, into the arms of a sadistic cult in the city’s Meatpacking District, and, through the pages of their mom’s old journal, into the island’s dark and shocking past. Sky and Phee are dependent on each other, and their ragged posse, for survival, but as their feelings grow toward the handsome English boy Ryder, love and jealousy threaten to break them apart.

While primarily a thriller, City of Savages is also a story about the many meanings of sisterhood, told across two generations of New York women—those who survived a terrible tragedy, and those who were raised to live in its aftermath.

Hi Lee! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

Thanks so much for having me!

Honestly, I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember, but I was one of those “Chapter One” addicts all through high school, college, and for years afterwards (i.e., the kind of writer that falls in love with a new shiny idea, writes a few pages with a burst of creativity, and then realizes that they don’t have enough love to keep going. So cue NEW shiny idea…). It wasn’t until after I went to law school that I had the creative and intellectual stamina (not to mention the patience!) to sit down and flesh out an idea into an outline, start writing, and push through those initial road blocks that tempt you into spinning your wheels forever with new ideas.

I completed my first manuscript a couple of years after graduating law school, just by applying what I learned in school to writing (put in the time, work every day, work even when you don’t feel like working), and while I was thrilled that I had actually completed something, I knew it was awful. So I put that manuscript in a drawer, and started CITY OF SAVAGES after that.
[By the way, I am absolutely not suggesting law school for aspiring writers haha – but I do believe it taught me self-discipline, and showed me just how much work is required to get the results you want – in law, writing or in any other field!]

2. Ha! Ha! Being a lawyer I wouldn't suggest going to law school to become a writer either. But I totally agree that it and working as a lawyer helps teach the discipline needed to keep writing. Where did you get the idea for CITY OF SAVAGES?

I always say that the idea for the novel was birthed out of a very stressful time in my life. I was in New York, working a job that demanded long hours, had tight deadlines, lots of pressure -- and I had the distinct sensation of being trapped somewhere that I couldn't get out of. That sort of hopeless, uncomfortable feeling eventually released itself through day-dreaming, and I started thinking about midtown Manhattan as a type of prison, subway rides that were life-and-death, a version of the city that actually was cutthroat and savage (instead of just sometimes feeling that way :)

Many of the characters -- Sky, Phee, their mother Sarah, and their warden Rolladin -- showed up in my head pretty well formed after that. I plotted the first half of the novel pretty intensely, and then I put my outline aside for the last half, and let the story unfold on its own.

3. I started writing as a release from the stress of being an attorney so can totally relate to how that worked for you. What made you decide to pick Manhattan as the setting for your story and did you have to do any research in creating a futurist Manhattan?

New York, in some ways, was the first character of CITY OF SAVAGES: as I mentioned above, just given
where I was in my life, I’d say I built the story around the setting to some extent. But I think New York serves as inspiration for many writers and artists and professionals who live and work there. It’s a city that’s loved, a city that’s hated – but any way you slice it, it’s a place that’s hard to ignore.

And the city really is, in many ways, a character in this novel. The Manhattan in CITY OF SAVAGES is the ruins of the Manhattan we know now – so current places and well-known locations feature prominently. Landmarks like Belvedere Castle and Sheep Meadow in Central Park are major settings, as are apartments on Wall Street and the Meatpacking District. Even certain hotels like The Carlyle and The Standard are, let’s just say, “re-purposed.”

4. So awesome how you really used current Manhattan places as almost a character in developing your story. CITY OF SAVAGES is the story of two sisters, Sky and Phee. I’ve read that character development plays a big part of your writing. What’s your character development process like and who was the harder character to come to you? Why?

Oh man, this is a tough question, I think because it’s so different with every project, but there’s always a seed that I start from: whether it’s someone I’m “stealing” from real life, or a scene or a phrase of dialogue that I can see or hear in my head from the character, or something I know fundamentally about this character that isn’t up for debate. Then I will spend a lot of time trying to grow that seed into a three-dimensional person: what are their hobbies? What are their likes/dislikes/dreams? What would they never be caught dead doing? What are their fears? Lots of times (especially when there aren’t the pressures of deadlines) I also try and do writing exercises in their voice – pieces of work that aren’t going to find their way into the novel but that help me really get inside the skin of the character and understand what motivates them just by “journaling” as that character.

For Sky and Phee, the “seeds” of these characters were my real-life sisters, with a dash of me I guess in each of them, and so the seeds came easily – but as the story grew and changed, Sky and Phee became their own people with their own voices. Neither sister was necessarily harder to write than the other, but certain types of scenes I found more challenging to write as a certain sister, if that makes sense. For example, it was easy to write as Phee (the brasher and self-proclaimed braver one) for action scenes, but reflective scenes were much more challenging. For Sky, the reflective scenes came naturally, but the faster paced ones were more of a struggle. In short, it was hard to write both characters out of their comfort zones

5. Glad I got you thinking. And that does make sense that Sky's and Phee's weaknesses as characters were hardest to develop.  What advice do you have for other authors thinking of writing a futurist story?

I guess my advice is to focus on your hook: what differentiates your story from the mass of dystopia stories already out there. As I’m sure most near-future writers have heard before, agents and editors are extremely wary of “near-future” and “futurist” and “dystopia” right now (in fact, when I started shopping my novel, one agent at a SCBWI conference heard the word “near-future,” stopped my pitch, and told me to put it in a drawer and write something else haha). I know that trends affect editorial preferences and sales, but I still believe that a good story with real and relatable characters can be told across any genre, at any time -- so find the heart of your story, why your story needs to be told in a near-future setting or a dystopia, and what about the tale differentiates it from the pack.

6. Smart thinking not to give up when you heard that from the agent. Because I still really like futurist and dystopian stories and would hate to see them go away entirely. And so happy you found our agent spotlights so helpful. Your agent is Adriann Ranta. Share how she became your agent and your road to publication.

Yes! Adriann is a dream agent – and I actually found her through your amazing site, Literary Rambles! I recommend your site to everyone. I love how you provide details and information on so many YA and MG agents, and how it’s all available in one place. Your site basically did my homework for me – I was able to target agents that I knew were looking for dark, grittier YA stories, set in the real world but with a twist.

7. You’re also an attorney practicing entertainment law. Did that help you at all in obtaining representation and a publishing contract? What advice do you have for aspiring authors for what to look for in their publishing contract?

I know this might sound counter-intuitive, but my legal background helped me avoid sweating the small stuff. Both my agency and publishing contracts had a ton of boilerplate language in them, and some of the provisions were beyond intimidating… but I’ve read so many form contracts that I know that every Indemnity provision reads like you’re signing your life away in the event there’s a lawsuit related to the deal, so I wasn’t as fazed as I could have been. I also know how hard a representative like a lawyer or agent works on your behalf, and so I trusted Adriann to get the best deal she could, and I stepped in and reviewed the contract at the end, instead of trying to insert myself into every step in the process.
My advice for aspiring authors with new contracts? Have a lawyer-friend or family member or an agent friend of a friend read your contract as a gut-check.

8. I can so relate to what you're saying after reading so many contracts too. There's always those scary boilerplate clauses that you have to accept you can't change. How are you marketing your book? Anything you wish you’d done differently?

Not yet, haha! But I’m sure there will be some things I regret or wish I had done differently along the way. CITY OF SAVAGES is the first book in Simon & Schuster’s new speculative fiction imprint, Saga Press, so the book has gotten some great press just by being part of the new venture (like I was able to go to Comic Con this year, and we did the launch book covers reveal on io9.com). I’ve also teamed up with several debut groups that have been as cathartic and fun as they have been advantageous in terms of cross-promotion and marketing. I’m a member of the Freshman Fifteens (www.freshmanfifteens.com), a group that primarily focuses on reaching out to teen writers and readers, the Class of 2K15 (www.classof2k15.com), a group that targets libraries, booksellers and teachers, and the Fearless Fifteeners (https://fearlessfifteeners.wordpress.com/), a community of 2015 YA and MG debuts committed to supporting and helping each other through this debut process.

9. So cool how you connected with so many debut 2015 groups. It really seems so helpful to do that for your debut year so you can learn from each other and support each other like you're doing. What are you working on now?

I actually JUST finished up revisions on my second novel with Saga Press, currently entitled CRIMINAL MAGIC, a magical realism YA/crossover novel that follows two sorcerers through an alternative Prohibition-era America, where magic has been prohibited.

I’m also in the midst of putting together a proposal for another YA/crossover book – and on the backburner for a while has been a middle grade story called MYTHIC that is very near and dear to my heart (I hope I get to finish it soon)!

Ooh, your next book sounds really good too. Thanks for sharing all your advice, Lee. You can find Lee at her website www.newwritecity.com, on twitter @leeykelly and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/lee.y.kelly.

Lee has generously offered an ARC of CITY OF SAVAGES 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 January 17th. I’ll announce the winner on January 19th. 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.This is for US and Canada.

Here's what's coming up:

On Wednesday I have a guest post by debut author Maggie Hall and a giveaway of THE CONSPIRACY OF US, her YA thriller.

Next Monday I have a guest post by debut author Susan Adrian and her agent  Kate Schafer Testerman and a giveaway of TUNNEL VISION, her YA thriller. And there's going to be a query critique by Kate too!

Next Wednesday I have a guest post by Robert Kent and a giveaway of his new middle grade book, BANNIKER BONES.

The following Monday I have a fantastic guest post by Dianne Salerni on writing a trilogy and an ARC giveaway of INQUISITOR'S MARK, the second book in her middle grade fantasy.

Hope to see you on Wednesday!


cleemckenzie said...

Enjoyed reading the interview, especially the comment from the agent who didn't let her finish her pitch. Very subjective business, isn't it? Good for her to pursue her ms.

Thanks for giving me a spot on your fabulous blog. I always appreciate your help.

Kristin Lenz said...

Congrats to Lee on her debut and Anna Li on U of M! Go Blue!

Andrea Mack said...

This was a really interesting interview -- it shows how much you need to believe in yourself and not give up!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Focusing so much on the character's strengths and weakness is probably what made the story strongest.

Dow said...

Thank you for sharing this inspirational story! Congratulations, Lee!

Christine Rains said...

Congratulations to Lee! I love it when settings are like characters themselves.

And congrats to Anna Li for her acceptance! Happy new year. Here's to a great 2015! :)

Bish Denham said...

How exciting for Lee that her book is the first "book in Simon & Schuster’s new speculative fiction imprint, Saga Press." I think I'd be doing the happy dance for weeks and weeks!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Cover reveal on IO9? Wow, now that is impressive!

Karen Lange said...

It's so nice to meet Lee. Enjoyed hearing how law school played into her writing. It's always interesting to see what life's experiences bring to our writing journey.

I'll pass on the giveaway as the current TBR pile has me swamped. Wishing Lee all the best! Happy New Year!

Donna K. Weaver said...

Whoa. Sounds intriguing. I love the idea of the city being a character. Congrats to Lee.

Jenni said...

I'm so glad to hear that you had a good Christmas, Natalie! And congrats to your daughter on getting into University of Michigan!
Congrats to Lee! I loved her advice about not giving up, even when an agent tells you to shelve a manuscript.

Jessie Humphries said...

Lots of good stuff here. Congrats to you and your daughter, Natalie. And you know how much I love attorney/authors! I'll be reading this one for sure as soon as I can get my hands on it! Cheers to you both in 2015.

Angela Brown said...

Interesing that lessons learned in one angle of life was able to be applied to your writing endeavor, Lee, providing you with the intangibles you needed to successfully write, query and get your novel published. Wishing you the best with it.

Congrats on Anna Li's college acceptance, Natalie :-)

Joanne R. Fritz said...

Congrats to Anna Li! And I'm so glad to hear your first holiday without Rudy was easier because of all the loving family members you got to spend time with.

This book sounds intriguing. I love it when the setting is a character.

Natalie (Never Trust a Duck) said...

Brilliant interview. An interesting concept that a lawyer learns the discipline it takes to be a write.

Thank you for the giveaway!!!

Eileen said...

This sounds really good! Going to add it to my TBR :D

S.P. Bowers said...

Congrats to Anna Li on her university acceptance! That's wonderful news.

I'm glad I don't live in Manhattan. The law school at my university used to recomend that undergrads looking to do law major in Comparative Literature. There's definitely a connection between the focus and discipline needed for law and for reading/writing.

Greg Pattridge said...

Loved the interview. Life is what often inspires us to write. I'm going to find time to read her interesting story during the coming year.

Elana Johnson said...

Very cool interview -- and the cover is GORGEOUS! Congrats to Lee!

PS. And congrats to Anna Li!

Maisha said...

Amazing interview! It's so cool that attorney! The book sounds amazing. Thanks so much for the giveaway! :D

Nicole said...

Great interview! The premise for City of Savages sounds fantastic.

Stephen Tremp said...

It's great to meet Lee! Manhattan is a great setting for a POW camp. Writing is a release and I can relate as I outlined my books when I had a stressful full time job. Best wishes to you Lee moving forward.

J Lenni Dorner said...

Fantastic post. I loved reading it.
I'm looking forward to 2015!

Britt said...

What a great interview I have a good friend who is RAVING about this book so she has me wanting it badly as well!! Thank you for this giveaway and hope you ladies had a lovely holiday!
previous email follower - Brittersweet83@aol.com
here is my tweet:

Scribbles From Jenn said...

Congratulations to C. Lee and Lee Kelly. Great interview. Encouraging story of success. Definitely worth a tweet.



Robyn Campbell said...

Wonderful interview (I've come to expect those from you). Congrads to Lee. The book sounds exciting. I have to buy it now. Manhattan as a sort of character sounds super intriguing. Better run.

Tammy Sparks said...

Lee, your book sounds amazing! I am a sucker for stories set in New York and this one sounds like a lot of fun. Congrats on your book, and thanks for the giveaway!

Johnell said...

The cover is fantastic. The story sounds brilliant as well.

Mirka Breen said...

Always fun to read the posts on your blog. Agent/publisher stories remind us that a NO does not mean you should internalize it. Keep plugging.

Vivien said...

Congrats on the debut!!! I'm hooked on the synopsis and cover :D

GFC: Vivien

kellis_amberlee at yahoo dot com

Danielle H. said...

Wow! This book sounds exciting. Such depth to the plot too. I know I'm going to love this one. Thanks for the giveaway and congrats! I shared on Facebook:

Anonymous said...

Sounds good to me! =D

Candace said...

City of Savages sounds terrific! I love NYC as a setting, though it can be pretty scary in some books.
I loved getting to know the author a bit as well. Fantastic interview, as always!

Jemi Fraser said...

Congrats to Anna Li - that's awesome news!
Love Lee's cover :)
Such an interesting premise for City of Savages - lots of layers in this one!

Rosi said...

Thanks for a terrific interview. Please let someone else win though. I have a huge pile of books demanding my attention right now.

Valerie Bodden said...

Congratulations--sounds like a great premise! Thanks for a great interview and giveaway.

Krysten Lindsay Hager said...

Great interview. Always enjoy reading about a writer's path.

iLuvReadingTooMuch said...

This one sounds really great! Looking forward to it :D Thanks for the awesome giveaway!!

GFC: iLuvReadingTooMuch

iliveforreading AT hotmail DOT com

Anonymous said...

I love NYC as a setting, whether it's in the past, present, or future.

I enjoyed reading about the author's journey.

DMS said...

How cool that Lee found her agent on your blog. That is just awesome! I have been hearing great things about this book, so I was excited to see the interview with Lee. What an interesting path to writing a book! Wishing Lee the best of luck.

Thanks for the chance to win a copy. :)

E.G. Moore said...

City of Savages sounds awesome! Thanks for a fun interview. Please throw my name in the hat for the ARC. emilygmoorewriter@yahoo.com

Natasha said...

Sounds like an amazing read!!
Great interview!
Thanks for the chance to win!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

KatieC said...

Sounds amazing! katieclarkbooks @ charter . net

Unknown said...

This book was phenomenal. Utter perfection. 2015 MUST READ. Add it to the shelves people.
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Marlene Detierro said...

Wonderfully well written, vivid characters, well paced plot. Can't believe this is Kelly's first work, writes like an established author. Excited for her next book already.

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