Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • 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 Monday Everyone!


Elana Johnson has released new covers for her YA and NA futurist fantasy.


Here's a few links to reach Elana and where you can find out how to buy her awesome series:

And here's some news about the SCBWI Conference in Decatur, Georgia:

Meet editors and agents from industry-leading agencies and publishing houses—and the friendliest, most supportive colleagues one could ever hope to find—at Springmingle '15 Writers' and Illustrators' Conference March 13-15, 2015 in Decatur, GA. Visit their website for a complete listing of workshops: https://southern-breeze.scbwi.org/events/springmingle-15/. Presented by SCBWI/Southern Breeze Region.

And the winner of WOVEN is DONNA HOLE!

Congrats! E-mail me your address so I can have your book 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 debut author Laurie McKay here to share about her MG fantasy VILLAIN KEEPER that released February 3rd. I haven’t gotten a chance to read it yet but am hoping to before I have to give away my ARC. Having Prince Caden transported to Asheville, NC, sounds fascinating and I want to find out what happens.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

Unexpected magic, villainous teachers, and dragons in disguise await readers in the first book of a delightful new tween adventure series by debut author Laurie McKay.

All his life, Prince Caden has dreamed of being sent on a quest to slay a dragon. But before he has the chance, he is ripped from his home in the Winterlands of Razzon and finds himself in Asheville, North Carolina—a land with no magic and no dragons. But a prince must always complete his quest. And the longer Caden is in Asheville, the more he realizes there is magic in this strange land after all. More important, there may just be dragons here, too. But what if Caden’s destiny isn’t to slay a dragon, like he's always believed?

Fans of Soman Chainani’s The School for Good and Evil and Chris Colfer’s The Land of Stories will be transported by this first book in an epic new series for middle grade readers about a brave young prince’s quest to find answers, honor, friendship—and what it really means to be a hero.

Hi Laurie! Thanks so much for joining us.

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became an author.

I’ve written stories since I was a kid. Always, they’ve had some magic, or fantasy, or supernatural element. But writing was just a hobby. Then, about six years ago, my father died unexpectedly. It was a great shock to me and my family.

After that, writing became an outlet. Around that time, I also decided to go back to graduate school. I filled out applications, got accepted, and planned to get my doctorate in a few years. I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted to do, however. Then I realized all that time and effort I planned to spend on the doctoral program, I could just as easily spend on writing.

There was no reason writing couldn’t be more than a hobby, and it was what I really wanted to do. I committed to it. I read a bookshelf worth of books on craft. I attended conferences. (FYI – so did my sister.) And now we both are agented and I’m being published!

2. That's so awesome that your sister and you both write. Share how you got the idea for VILLAIN KEEPER.

In many portal fantasies, my favorite parts are when the characters are in the real world. So I wanted to write a story like those that took place in the real world. VILLAIN KEEPER is sort of a reverse portal fantasy. The fantasy prince and sorceress are stranded in modern-day Asheville, NC! Although, they find plenty of magic, too.

I was also inspired by fairy tales. Caden is loosely inspired by “Prince Charming”. He even has the gift of speech that allows him to speak any language and sometimes ‘charm’ people. Brynne, the sorceress, is loosely based on the evil sorceress Prince Charming fights only she’s not evil and she’s his closest ally.

3. I love those kind of reverse portal stories too. One thing that intrigues me is that Prince Caden is transported to our world and finds others from his world are also here. Why do you think it works so well to have him come here rather than keep the story in his world?

Transporting Caden to our world makes him a fish-out-of-water which I find highly amusing! And Caden
wants to do heroic things so being stranded in a world where he has to go to middle school makes that difficult for him. Also, it’s interesting to see our world from the point-of-view of someone new to it.

4. I noticed that you have a lot of characters in your story. How did you keep them unique and what is your character development process like? 

Most characters just pop into my mind. As I write, I try to make sure they all have their own agendas and goals. The other thing I often do is combine characters. After a draft, if character A and character B are flat, I mush them together, and get more dimension. Often, when I first start, I’ll imagine altered television characters for my stories. For instance, what would Star Trek’s TNG Captain Picard be like as a ten-year-old girl? It really helps me in the beginning. Then as I write, they take hold and better develop.

5. That's a great idea to mash two flat characters together. I've never thought of doing it before but I'll keep it in mind for sure. Middle grade voice is so important. What have you learned about it from writing VILLAIN KEEPER and what advice do you have for aspiring middle grade authors?

My advice – or at least what has worked for me – is not to focus on the age of the character. Instead, I think about the character’s goals and his or her personality and quirks. It’s important to treat younger characters as complex and motivated. But I do try to keep age in mind is when a character is interacting with others. An adult character would treat my twelve-year-old main character different than an eight-year-old would.

6. Those are all great tips. Share about your road to publication.

When I started to seriously pursue writing, I wrote a novel. No one much was interested. So I started another one which ended up being VILLAIN KEEPER. I had a good gut feeling about the book. My good gut feelings are right a surprising amount of the time.

I started querying in late January. Then I got rejection after rejection. While I was querying VILLAIN KEEPER, I worked on other projects. Then, in mid-March, I queried my agent. He signed me two weeks later, and about four weeks after that, he sold my book series to Harper! It happened so quickly. In mid-March – I didn’t even had an agent. By the end of April, I had a three-book deal. It didn’t sink in for another few weeks.

The road to publication has been wonderful but it’s been harder than I expected, and I didn’t expect it to be easy to begin with. Before the deal, my goal was getting published. After, there is so much more to worry about! Social media. Deadlines. Reviews. There were three rounds of revisions, copy editing, proofreading. (All of which made the book so much better!)

And it’s been challenging to come to terms with all the things out of my control. I can write the best book possible, but I can’t control people’s reaction to it, I can’t make people buy it. People will be reading my book, judging it, and judging me. It’s great when they love it but it physically hurts when they don’t. I’ve been trying to let that go.

After some thought, I decided that debut anxiety comes from the notion that if my novel doesn’t do well or isn’t well-received, I won’t be able to continue working as a writer. But I realized that wasn’t true. One, any book I write, the first or the fortieth, could not do well. Two, no matter what I can keep writing. And that’s why I wanted to be an author in the first place. To write. Being an author might have high highs and stressful lows, but it’s also exciting and amazing. When I get stressed, I try to remember that.

7. You have a good attitude toward dealing with the stresses that debut authors and authors in general have to deal with. How are you planning to market your book? Are you connecting with any other middle grade authors in promoting your book?

Marketing is intimidating. Being a new author, I’m doing the best I can. My publisher, Harper, has a marketing plan. I listen to their advice. Also, I try to support and connect with local booksellers. Finally, I plan to set up school visits. As a teacher, I like to working with students, and if I can do it while sharing my writing, all the better.

To connect with other authors, I joined a group for debut writers – the Fearless Fifteeners. Actually, I’ve seen several of them interviewed on Literary Rambles already! They’re supportive and are riding the same roller coaster. It’s good to hear about how others are experiencing similar highs, lows, and challenges.

8. Yes, I've found many of my debut authors through the Fearless Fifteeners. I love the debut author blogs to help me decide what books and authors to spotlight. What are you working on now?

I’m revising book two and outlining book three of THE LAST DRAGON CHARMER. It’s pretty exciting!
Thanks for sharing all your advice, Laurie.You can find Laurie at lauriemckay.net, Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, Pinterest

Laurie and her publisher Harper Collins generously offered an ARC of VILLAIN KEEPER 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 February 21st. I’ll announce the winner on February 23rd. 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 for US and Canada.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was started by Shannon Messenger. You can find all the other participating blogs on her blog.

Here's what's coming up:

On Monday I have an interview with debut author Rhiannon Thomas and a giveaway of her YA fairy tale retelling A WICKED THING.

The next Monday I have a guest post by debut author Karen Bao and a giveaway of her science fiction YA DOVE ARISING.

Wednesday that week I have a guest post by debut author Alison DeCamp on marketing middle grade novels and a giveaway of MY NEAR-DEATH ADVENTURES, her MG historical fiction similar to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. 

The Monday after that I have an interview with debut author Victoria Aveyard and a giveaway of RED QUEEN, her YA fantasy/dystopian.

Hope to see you on Monday!


Beth said...

That book sounds like such fun! Congratulations to Laurie! And it shows how quickly everything can come together when the writing is good.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Congrats to Laurie. Sounds like a fun story. I like portal fantasies too.

Love Elana's new covers!

Hart Johnson said...

Nice interview! I love the idea of the reverse portal bit, too. Makes for a fun setup and playing with character expectations. Best of luck to you! Also love Elana's covers.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Good interview and review. I like the "reverse portal" idea, too. Love the idea of a "Prince Charming" being a fish out of water. Villain Keeper sounds like a fun read.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Asheville, NC! They might find some magic mushrooms there.

Suzanne Warr said...

It's always delightful to read about other writers' journey to publication--so encouraging! A delightful book, from the sounds of it, too. I'll keep my fingers crossed!

Many thanks to Natalie and Laurie for a great interview!

DMS said...

I have seen this cover around, so it was wonderful to learn more about the book and the author. I especially enjoyed reading about her path to publication. What a whirlwind! I love the inspiring words about how a book is perceived once it is out there. I have my first book coming out in December- so those words are very comforting. :) Wishing Laurie the best of luck. Can't wait to read this one. Thanks for a chance to win.

Also- Elana's new covers are fabulous!

DMS said...

I also retweeted Laurie's link to the review and giveaway. :)

cleemckenzie said...

Thanks for introducing this one to us. Always good to find another middle grade that I'd like have.

Congrats to Elana on her beautiful series.

Stephen Tremp said...

Love Elana's covers. There is a sense of continuity but something different at the same time. Well done!

And good luck to Laura and Villain Keeper.

Jenni said...

I love portal fantasies that mostly take place in the real world--and the whole fish out of water premise sounds hilarious. I think this is a book that not only I, but my kids, who love The Land of Stories, would enjoy.
Congrats to Laura! And thanks, Natalie, for a wonderful interview!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Congratulations, Laurie, and high five from another Harper MG author! A 3-book deal is a dizzying experience and for a debut author -- Yikes! -- but I know the Harper team probably took very good care of you! They are awesome! Best of luck with this awesome-looking series!

And Elana -- beautiful covers!

Joanne R. Fritz said...

Love the premise of this novel. Anytime a fantasy character appears in the real world (especially if there's also a little magic in the real world setting), I know it's going to be fun, like the movie Enchanted. Laurie, thanks for the helpful writing advice. Terrific interview, Natalie, and thanks for the chance to win an arc.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

A three book deal with Harper - congratulations!

Bish Denham said...

Wow! Congratulations. I do like the premise of this story! Magic in the "real world."

Jemi Fraser said...

Love Elana's new covers!
Laurie's book sounds like lots of fun too - and great advice :)

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Elana's covers are great.
Loved the interview. There's something wonderful about those elements of fantasy/supernatural in stories.

Stina said...

I love Elana's new covers!

Great interview. I love it when a writer gets lots of rejections, then lands an agent and a few weeks later the book is sold.

Christine Rains said...

Elana's new covers are fabulous! And congrats to Laurie. Her book sounds fantastic! I like her advice on writing the MG voice.

J Lenni Dorner said...

I love those covers!

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

what a fabulous journey. This sounds like my kind of book! Susan at Pen and Ink

Unknown said...

Love the comment about focusing on the character's goals. That's the mark of a great author. I shared this on FB, too! Would love to be in the giveaway. tlcnine at gmail

Greg Pattridge said...

Great interview. I took note of her technique to combine two weaker characters into one. Her in the trenches comments on the difficulties of reviews and promotion were priceless. Can't wait to read this first volume in the series.

Eisen said...

I like the premise of the book - very cool! Thanks for the great interview and the giveaway :) I tweeted about this too:

Rosi said...

I don't usually read fantasy, but this sounds like one I would like. I love the idea of the reverse portal and Prince Charming being the odd man out is fun. Thanks for the interview and the chance to win.

Unknown said...

This sounds really interesting and thanks for the giveaway!!!

dolorah said...

I'm so excited to have won Woven. I can't wait to get it in the mail. I did email my address.

This was great interview, and the book sounds interesting.

Anonymous said...

Congrats to Laurie. Her book sounds fantastic. I also love Elana's new covers.

~Sia McKye~ said...

I really like Elana's covers. Makes you want to look even more.

Laurie highlites that the work of an author isn't just one book but the body of her work. This is a job, like any other, with good parts and not so good parts. With any career or job, if you take it seriously, you want to be good with it all and you work to hard to do so.

I also liked the points about characterization. Especially on not focusing on the age of the character, but who the character is and what their story is. Their goals motivations and conflicts and by doing so create a stronger character.

Sia McKye Over Coffee

Crystal Collier said...

I'm a total sucker for anything with dragons--especially if it's YA or MG. Yes, please!

I LOVE Elana's covers.

M Pax said...

The villain keeper sounds fun. Will have to mark that one. Love the covers!

Cherie Reich said...

Love Elana's covers!

Congrats, Laurie! That's so cool to write a reverse portal story. And that's a great tip about mashing two flat characters into one great character.

Valerie Bodden said...

Sounds like a fun story! I'd love to be entered in the giveaway!

Julie Musil said...

Oh, I love Elana's covers!

And wow, Laurie, a three book deal with the second novel? VERY impressive! Congratulations.

Unknown said...

Laurie's book sounds adorable! Any tween would love a book about a prince, even one accidentally in NC. Wishing she much success with her new book! :)

mshatch said...

Elan's covers are gorgeous. Great interview :)

Peaches Ledwidge said...

"There was no reason writing couldn’t be more than a hobby...."
I believe in those words.

Kayla Murray said...

Awesome interview. I love how she develops her characters, integrating them together and focusing on what drives them. Very interesting

Holly Letson said...

Love Elana's new covers!

And, *Villain Keeper* sounds good, too.

Danielle H. said...

Thanks for the interview and giveaway! I tweeted: https://twitter.com/dhammelef/status/567018388505907201

Character mashing sounds unique to me and something to try. Thanks for the idea!

Theresa Milstein said...

Great covers, Elana!

Laurie's book sounds like something I'd like to read. My daughter too!