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 Wednesday Everyone! Before I get to our post I want to give you the heads up that I will be on blog break until July 4th when I'm participating in the I Couldn't Put It Down Book Giveaway Hop. I will be visiting your blogs, but just not blogging until then and during other times this summer. The blog gets slow while people enjoy summer, and I need to use the time to plan the interview and guest post schedule for next year, which takes many hours to do. I'll let you know of other blog breaks as they get closer.

Today I'm thrilled to have follower and friend Jessica Lawson here to share with her awesome agent Tina Wexler from ICM Partners about getting the voice right in middle grade stories. And it's so exciting to have Jessica back to share about her new MG mystery NOOKS & CRANNIES, which sounds like a wonderful story full of twists that you won't see coming.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

Tabitha Crum is a girl with a big imagination and a love for mystery novels, though her parents think her only talent is being a nuisance. She doesn't have a friend in the world, except her pet mouse, Pemberley, with whom she shares her dingy attic bedroom.

Then, on the heels of a rather devastating announcement made by her mother and father, Tabitha receives a mysterious invitation to the country estate of the wealthy but reclusive Countess of Windermere, whose mansion is rumored to be haunted. There, she finds herself among five other children, none of them sure why they've been summoned. But soon, a very big secret will be revealed— a secret that will change their lives forever and put Tabitha’s investigative skills to the test.

Here's Tina and Jessica!

Hi Natalie—thank you so much for having us on Literary Rambles today!

“Voice” is one of those things that comes up often when literary agents describe what they’re looking for in a manuscript submission, but it’s also one of the most difficult pieces of the writing-craft puzzle to get concrete advice about. My brilliant literary agent, Tina Wexler, is an expert on middle grade fiction and she’s been kind enough to answer a few questions about the nature of voice in middle grade literature. Get out your notebooks, because she’s got some fabulous advice! 


1. What appealed to you about the voice of Nooks & Crannies?

All of it! Everything! Every word! There are the chapter openers---excerpts from a Sherlock Holmes-esque detective series---which are deliciously droll and good-naturedly authoritative and quite crafty in how they hint at the action to come. Then there is the story itself, narrated in a similar arch tone of voice with a detective’s eye for detail and mischief. The voice also holds a good deal of compassion for the medley of characters---not all of whom are strong of character or reputable in spirit---who get pulled into this wild mystery. And at the center is our dear protagonist: clever, kind, affection-starved Tabitha Crum, whose voice rings clear and true throughout the book, despite the troubles she must endure.

2. Can you tell within a page or two whether or not a manuscript submission is written well for a middle grade target audience?

Yes, that’s usually all it takes. Middle grade kids are undergoing major cognitive, physical, and emotional
changes: an expanding world view; a growing ability to express more complex opinions and ideas; a preoccupation with fairness; growth spurts and the incumbent coordination issues; an ever-increasing desire for independence and a shifting focus on peers over parents paired with an uneasiness about gaining that independence and concern for how they are perceived by their peers (to name a few developmental milestones). It is quite easy to tell whether or not an author is able to capture this tumultuous time period with a voice that speaks to these young readers with respect for what they are going through ---the laughs, the heartache, the accomplishments.

3. Middle grade characters will always vary in background and personality, and plots will vary widely as well, but what are two or three constants that you find in novels with great MG voice? 

A great middle grade voice, like all great voices, is distinct. Take NOOKS & CRANNIES and THE ACTUAL & TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER. These two middle grade novels have the same author (a very talented one, I might add), but I can read a page from one and know it is not from the other based on the voice alone. Distinct, consistent, and well-matched to the material: those are the three things I’m looking for in a great MG voice.

3. What are one or two red flags you’ve seen in middle grade submissions that indicate the writer may need to work to develop a stronger MG voice?

Much of the time, it’s a strong narrative voice that makes me turn pages; if the pages are turning slowly, the voice isn’t carrying me along. On the flip side, I may race through pages because there’s a great talky narrator leading me forward, but if the plot isn’t progressing, I’ll tire of the verbal gymnastics. It’s a delicate balance, and striking that balance is no easy task.

4. Do themes that may match up well with the middle grade years (finding a sense of “home,” finding out that adults aren’t always right, finding/embracing friendship) play into a manuscript’s voice?

I’ve never thought about it that way, but yes, I think they do. The voice has to be able to capture the highs and lows, the uncertainty and absurdity and splendor, of those years in a way that feels authentic. The voice shouldn’t be condescending or worse, nostalgic, otherwise the exploration of those themes won’t ring true.

5. What differences do you see in the voice of middle grade submissions that are 1st person narration vs. a more omniscient/3rd person narration style? Do certain genres of middle grade lend themselves to certain voice approaches?

The story dictates the best narrative approach, regardless of genre. I could try to come up with rules based on the contents of my bookshelves and query pile (“Third person is the purview of fantasy; all contemporary realism should be written in first”) but I can’t think of a single “rule” that I really believe in. Likewise, I don’t favor one point of view over another. Some people find third person too distancing; others think first person is a cheat. I don’t agree with either camp, and my reading life is richer for it.


Please name three novels that stand out to you in terms of having a “middle grade voice.” (your own clients) 

Only three? The agony! I’ll pick titles that are coming out this year, in hardcover or paperback, so this doesn’t take me forever to decide (or make anyone feel left out!) Obviously NOOKS & CRANNIES is top of the list, but that’s a given, right? I’ll say:

BRIDGET WILDER: Spy-In-Training by Jonathan Bernstein

TEDDY MARS: Almost a World Record Breaker by Molly Burnham

THE REAL BOY by Anne Ursu

Please name three novels that stand out to you in terms of having a “middle grade voice.” (non clients) 

I thought this question would be easier, since I wasn’t being asked to pick from my clients, but I’m having just as much trouble. I’ll choose from the titles I’ve read recently:


RAIN REIGN by Ann M. Martin

GONE CRAZY IN ALABAMA by Rita Williams-Garcia

Thank you so much for having me!

Tina Wexler is an agent at ICM Partners, focused on middle grade and young adult fiction and non-fiction. She is particularly interested in modern folklore, non-linear storytelling, magical realism, humor, weepies, and most anything with a feminist slant. Current titles include Teddy Mars, Almost a World Record Breaker by Molly Burnham, Nightbird by Alice Hoffman, The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman, and Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. She holds an MFA in poetry from Brooklyn College. Her Twitter handle is @Tina_Wexler. 

Jessica Lawson does not live in a fancy manor house, but she does deal with mysteries on a daily basis. Most of those mysteries involve missing socks and shadowy dessert disappearances. She is the author of The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher and Nooks & Crannies, and lives in Colorado with her husband and children.
Website: http://jessicalawsonbooks.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/JS_Lawson
Blog: http://fallingleaflets.blogspot.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jessica-Lawson-Childrens-Author/149125145284531

Thanks so much for your advice, Tina and Jessica!

Tina has generously offered a query critique and Jessica has generously offered a copy of NOOKS & CRANNIES for a giveaway. To enter, you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through July 4th. I may be on blog break, but I will notify the winners. If you are interested in the query critique, please let me know in the comments. You must let me know this to enter. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest.

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 an International giveaway.

Here's what's coming up:

I'll be on a blog break until Saturday, July 4th when I'm participating in the I Just Couldn't Put It Down Blog Hop. I'll have lots of great new YA books to choose from or an Amazon Giftcard if you prefer that.
On Monday, 7/13 I have a guest post by Julia Durango and a giveaway of THE LEVELLER, her new YA science fiction book.

Hope to see you on Monday!


Happy Monday Everyone! Hope you're having a great start to summer. Anna Li and I went through the orientation at University of Michigan. It made us even more excited she's going there. I'm glad that things are now going to get back to normal.

Follower News

M. Pax's new book PRACIPICE was recently release. Here's a blurb: The Backworlds hang by a Quantum string, a thread about to snap. Annihilation is coming if Craze can’t stop it. Salvation comes at a price.
And here are a few links: Amazon / B&N / iBook / Googleplay / Other

I have a winner to announce.

Today I'm thrilled to have debut author Carolyn Adams here to share about her writing process in the midst of the challenges in life we all face and her YA suspenseful thriller RUTHLESS. It sounds like a real page turner.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

A spine-tingling debut about the ultimate game of cat-and-mouse in reverse as a teen struggles to retain hope—and her sanity—while on the run from a cunning and determined killer.

Ruth Carver has always competed like her life depends on it. Ambitious. Tough. Maybe even mean. It’s no wonder people call her Ruthless.

When she wakes up with a concussion in the bed of a moving pickup trick, she realizes she has been entered into a contest she can’t afford to lose.

At a remote, rotting cabin deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Ruth’s blindfold comes off and she comes face-to-face with her captor. A man who believes his mission is to punish bad girls like Ruth. A man who has done this six times before.

The other girls were never heard from again, but Ruth won’t go down easy. She escapes into the wilderness, but her hunter is close at her heels. That’s when the real battle begins. That’s when Ruth must decides just how far she’ll go in order to survive.

Back home, they called her Ruthless. They had no idea just how right they were.

So here's Carolyn!

Here are some things that are awesome and some things that suck. Awesome thing – getting an agent like Mandy Hubbard, the Platonic Ideal of agents. Also awesome -selling a book to Simon & Schuster for six figures. Additionally awesome, spending my days writing and my nights as a stand-up comedian, performing all over the country. My life is almost entirely comprised of things that bring me joy.

Some things that suck – graduating from USC Film School with all the promise in the world and spending fourteen wandering in a manual labor wilderness. Watching my first novel fail to sell. Seeing my beloved second novel I’d spent a year writing (and rewriting) fail to connect with my agent. Experiencing a truly magnificent two-week period of suckage wherein my agent dumped me, my husband of ten years left me, my father’s cancer returned, and my grandmother-in-law developed pneumonia. I was her caretaker and the only one at her bedside as she received her Last Rites. I sat there, watching her 80 pound body struggle to stay alive, feeling profoundly alone and hopeless. I was 36 years old. I hadn’t had a job in two years. I had been, in all ways that mattered most to me, a failure. I had one thing going for me. A half-finished manuscript about a girl named Ruth. That night I went home, resurrected the manuscript, and began to write.

A month later, I’d finished the draft. A friend liked it, an editor friend gave me notes, I took a week to
apply those notes, and then a third friend said it was ready to go out. I went out to very few agents. Six weeks later, Mandy requested the full. Several weeks went by, but I didn’t worry. My dream agent had my book and we had so many things in common – we grew up in the same area, showed horses at the same venues, were both impacted by the presence of The Green River Killer in our neck of the woods. I believed the book would resonate with her, so I was patient. My patience paid off. Mandy had a handful of tiny notes. She suggested a new title – RUTHLESS – that I loved. Although I implemented her notes within a few hours, I reread the book many times over the next five days, looking for something to fix. It struck me as surreal that this draft, so very close to the original rough draft, would be good enough to sell. Mandy went out with it, five days later we had an offer, the following Monday we had a deal. My life, once dominated by a uniquely terrible two week period, now stood on the other side of a uniquely amazing two week period.

One could not have happened without the other.

I remember being so anxious as I worked on my first novel. I kept up with all the trends, as though my monitoring of such things would make an impact on the ultimate outcome. I was desperate for that book to sell. Not only for the obvious reasons, but because I thought somehow it could magically fix my marriage. Magically fix me. Selling novels does not magically fix anything, by the by, outside of magically fixing the launch of your writing career. By the time RUTHLESS came along, I’d let go of those sorts of anxieties. Just as importantly, I’d developed into a far better writer. I am so thankful I am debuting with RUTHLESS instead of my first novel.

What I learned is that I am an imperfect captain of this ship, that I don’t always know what is best. I came to believe that there are two ways to live life – you can paddle hard against the current, or you can let go and find out where you were meant to be all along. Life’s a lot easier when you work with your strengths, when you’re honest about where you are and what you’re feeling. Writing is a lot easier when you simply write from your gut and don’t worry about what’s on your neighbor’s page. Write what you’re passionate about. Follow your bliss. What brings you bliss will never steer you wrong.

All of that said, I certainly don’t have it all figured out. Over the winter, I didn’t write at all. Grief – and the death of a marriage is something to be grieved – comes in strange stops and starts. Success in writing comes in stops and starts. Everything is a process. Nothing is ever perfect. But if you find your current and keep moving toward that which brings you peace and joy, let go of the things that bring stress and anxiety, you’ll wind up writing the books you were meant to write. That’s what makes us writers. We have stories inside us that are unique to ourselves, stories we are meant to share. Write what only you can write and the rest will take care of itself.

Thanks for all the advice, Carolyn! You can find Carolyn at:

Carolyn Lee Adams on Facebook
@carolynleeadams on Twitter 

Carolyn has generously offered a copy of RUTHLESS for a giveaway. To enter,  you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through June 27th. I’ll announce the winner on June 29th. 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 an international giveaway.

Here's what's coming up:

On Wednesday I have a guest post with agent Tina Wexler and Jessica Lawson and a query critique giveaway by Tina Wexler and a giveaway of Jessica's new MG mystery NOOKS AND CRANNIES.

Then I'll be on a blog break until Saturday, July 4th when I'm participating in the I Just Couldn't Put It Down Blog Hop. I'll have lots of great new YA books to choose from or an Amazon Giftcard if you prefer that. FYI, while I'm on periodic blog breaks this summer, I will be visiting your blogs. I just won't be blogging as much while I work on my interview and guest post schedule for next year.

On Monday, 7/13 I have a guest post by Julia Durango and a giveaway of THE LEVELLER, her new YA science fiction book.

Hope to see you on Wednesday!


Happy Monday Everyone! I had a wonderful week seeing Anna Li graduate and celebrating with my family. So proud of her and I was so happy our family came to town to help us celebrate. Today I am at orientation at the University of Michigan, so it could be later in the day before I get to your blogs. Once orientation is done, things should slow down. Yay!

I have a few winners to announce.

The winner of Lauren MacLeod's query critique is Laura MP!

The winner of 5 TO 1 is Rachna Chhabria! And BTW, I'm reading this now. It's fantastic!

Congrats! E-mail me your address so I can get your book 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 Sarah McGuire here to share about her MG fairytale retelling VALIANT. It’s a different fairytale that I haven’t seen retold, so I’m really looking forward to reading this.

Here’s a blurb about VALIANT:

Reggen still sings about the champion, the brave tailor. This is the story that is true.

Saville despises the velvets and silks that her father prizes more than he’s ever loved her. Yet when he’s struck ill she’ll do anything to survive–even dressing as a boy and begging a commission to sew for the king.

But piecing together a fine coat is far simpler than unknotting court gossip about an army of giants, led by a man who cannot be defeated, marching toward Reggen to seize the throne. Saville knows giants are just stories, and no man is immortal.

Then she meets them, two scouts as tall as trees. After she tricks them into leaving, tales of the daring tailor’s triumph quickly spin into impossible feats of giant-slaying. And stories won’t deter the Duke and his larger-than-life army.

Now only a courageous and clever tailor girl can see beyond the rumors to save the kingdom again.

Hi Sarah! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

I’m a high school math and creative writing teacher who loves fairy tales. I drink more coffee than I should, cannot keep houseplants alive, and am a firm believer in afternoon naps.

My earliest memories aren’t of writing, but of staying up at night fixing stories that I read. (I still remember a storyline where I added a princess of Archenland to The Silver Chair. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I decided to write a short retelling of Cinderella for my little sister. I owned a cleaning business at the time, so I’d think about what would happen next as I cleaned the Barnes and Noble. It helped pass the time.

And when I went to college, I took what writing classes I could, but it wasn’t until 2006 that I decided I wanted to take it seriously. I joined SCBWI, found a crit group, and went for it.

2. I think we'd be friends. We're a lot alike. I love coffee and little naps too! This is a retelling of The Brave Little Tailor. Share how you got the idea for your story.

I’d finally put aside the Cinderella retelling I’d been working on (and learning from!) for years. To help me commit to a new story, I joined a whole novel workshop taught by Patti Gauch. Once I knew I was in, I decided I’d better pick out a story. So I flipped through Grimm’s, and The Brave Little Tailor was one of the first tales in the book.

I knew the story, but hadn’t much liked it. The tailor seemed to take advantage of the oh-so-stupid giants, the princess resented the tailor when she had to marry him, and … Yet I remembered how a girl I used to nanny loved the story because the tailor was so clever.

And then I realized I was thinking of the tailor as a girl. (Because for me, when I think about a fairy tale to retell, I wonder what aspect of it I can change. The tailor’s gender seemed a good place to start.) And then I realized I needed a reason for her to challenge giants. (Killing seven flies in one blow did NOT seem enough reason.) And then I realized the giants didn’t have to be stupid.

And then I realized that I had enough realizations to drive an entire novel. So that was the story I took to the workshop.

3. I’ve read that you used math in your world building, which I found interesting, especially since you’re a math teacher too. How did you use math in creating your world and what else goes into your world building process?

The math that helped with my world building was the relationship between one-dimensional size
and volume. Simply put, a giant might be six times as tall as a human but the giant’s volume might be six times six times six (216 times!) a human’s. Which means giants would need to eat a lot, which got me thinking about how giants would find food in the rocky Belmore Mountains.

That was the only instance of straight-up math, but I find it’s sometimes attention to the small details that makes a world seem real. I remember reading Shannon Hale talking (somewhere!) about researching Book of a Thousand Days. And she said that while the author knows so much about the world they’ve created, they only need to write those details unique to the world. Math helps me think of those details.

As far as world building, I suppose I just keep asking myself if what I’ve written makes sense. Sometimes we know a certain detail about our world, but we don’t dig enough to find out why it’s so significant. I think that’s

4. I've read that about world building too that there is so much that doesn't get into the actual story. I also read that your ending was the most challenging part of writing VALIANT. Tell us about that and how you overcame this challenge.

In the final showdown in Valiant, I have almost every major character, human and giant, in one place. I needed to juggle the action, the emotional arc, and do it in a way that let the reader know what was going on with the … ten plus characters. I needed to keep the characters distinct, the story moving, and the action tense. And I was doing a wretched job of it.

So, Patti suggested I find a book where someone does that juggling act well and dig to how they handled it. Who better than J.K. Rowling? So I went to the battle of Hogwarts in the Deathly Hallows and looked at how she did it. What stood out most to me was how she used very specific, but brief, action to help us place characters. MacGonnagal is driving stampeding desks through the halls, etc. I realized that I’d used very general and rather long description to mark everyone. So I tried to think of more specific, character-unique action to place each character, and for me, that helped.

I’m not saying I did an awesome job, by any means, but it did help me.

5. Harry Potter would be great to learn from. You were part of the Nevada SCBWI mentor program. How did that help you with your writing in general and in writing VALIANT?

Harold Underdown chose me as one of his mentees for the 2010-11 program, and it was wonderful to work with him. We actually worked on a novel that I ended up putting away. I’d played with the novel for years- it was the one that taught me to write. But it was rather disjointed, and Harold helped me specifically with its middle, a common trouble-area for authors. Even though I put that novel away, I used so much of what I learned with Harold as I wrote Valiant.

6. Tracey Adams is your agent. Share how she became your agent and your road to publication.

I’d met Tracey briefly at the initial conference for the Nevada SCBWI program and liked her very much. We were Facebook friends, and through that, I had a sense that she was someone I liked, period, as well as being a fabulous agent. Still, it didn’t occur to me to send it to her at first. However, Tracey represented a crit partner of mine, and that CP suggested I send it to Tracey. So I sent Valiant to Tracey and another wonderful agent who had read first pages of Valiant at a conference. Both she and Tracey ended up offering representation, and I ended up going with Tracey.

Tracey and I discussed revisions for Valiant and I dove into those right away. Within a few months, it was ready to go out. Valiant sold the first day of school. (I might have been a little distracted that day!)

7. Awesome how she became your agent. I'd love to have her husband or her as an agent. Your publisher, Egmont USA, closed. What has that been like for you as a debut author and how is affecting your promotion of your book, if at all?

t was a huge blow. Egmont USA’s closing was heartbreaking on so many levels. There were authors who had covers and ARCs and then ended up having to sell those books all over again. My wonderful editor, Alison Weiss, had less than two weeks to finish all her work before she had to leave. Plus, my release date was moved from June 9 to April 28.

I think as a debut author, you especially hope to rely on the expertise of the publishing team. You might be ready to jump in and help any number of ways, but you expect to be working within a preexisting framework. I lost that framework, even though Andrea Cascardi and Margaret Coffee did a fabulous job of supporting me and the other Egmont authors throughout our releases.

I think the fact that the remaining Egmont authors banded together to form Egmont’s Last List helped so much with promotion. The writing community is awesome and we only had to stay in one place long enough for them to help. Amie Kauffman and Kat Kennedy did so much to set up interviews and blog tours so that folks knew about those of us with books coming out.

8. So glad Amie and Kat helped organize your blog tours. I noticed that you already have been doing interviews on some blogs. How did you set that up and what other promotion plans do you have for your book?

Those blogs interviews were almost entirely because of Amie and Kat.
As far as other promotion, I’ll be at ALA in San Francisco in June. Lerner, who bought the remaining Egmont USA titles, has set up a signing for me there. I continue to do local promotion and events when I can— though that’s challenging since I work full time. I’m convinced, though, that the best way I can help Valiant is to write another story and get it out in the world.

9. What are you working on now?

I’m working on another fairy tale retelling based on Grimms’ Six Swans.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Sarah. You can find Sarah at:

Twitter: @fireplusalgebra

Sarah generously offered an ARC of VALIANT for a giveaway. To enter, you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through June 20th. I’ll announce the winner on June 22nd. 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 U.S. residents.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was started by Shannon Messenger. Find all the participating Middle Grade Monday bloggers on her blog.

Here's what's coming up:

Tomorrow Casey will be posting a request for your questions for agent Stephen Barbara.So get your questions ready and stop by tomorrow.

Next Monday I have a guest post with debut author Carolyn Lee Adams and a giveaway of her YA suspense/thriller RUTHLESS. 

Next Wednesday I have a guest post with agent Tina Wexler and Jessica Lawson and a query critique giveaway by Tina Wexler and a giveaway of Jessica's new MG mystery NOOKS AND CRANNIES.

The following Monday I have an interview with debut author Virginia Boecker and a giveaway of her YA historical fiction THE WITCH HUNTER.

Hope to see you next Monday!