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.


Happy Monday Everyone!

First, I'm participating in this MEME Blog Hop hosted by Christine Rains, C. Lee McKenzie, Tara Tyler
to encourage, inspire, and amuse you all. I accidentally posted my post a week early. Oops! So I'm posting it again in case you missed it. As many of you know, I've been going through so many changes over the last few years and I hate change. I thought I'd share part of an article on attitude from the newspaper that I taped on my fridge to help me through it. I'm not sure who the author is. Hope it inspires you too!

The longer I liver, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. 
                                       . . .
We cannot change our past . . . we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable.
The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and this is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.

Today I'm excited to have debut author Melanie Conklin here with her agent Peter Knapp to share about Melanie's new MG contemporary COUNTING THYME and creating memorable characters.

Here's a blurb of COUNTING THYME from Goodreads:

When eleven-year-old Thyme Owens’ little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush, and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours, and days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

Now here's Melanie and Peter!


One of the things Pete and I have in common is a deep love of having our hearts crushed by great characters. We regularly commiserate over books that left us flat on the floor (hello, ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES!). We both love stories with characters that come to life, the kind of people who jump right off the page and demand to be heard. That’s not the easiest thing to write, so as an author it’s something that I study closely. How do you craft a character that readers can relate to? What makes that feeling tip over into love? For me, it’s honesty. Your character must bare their soul to connect.

Yes, and I think pulling off honesty is tricky because real honesty is complicated, sometimes ugly and often contradictory. Something that immediately grabbed my attention about Counting Thyme is that our narrator, Thyme, is both hopeful and guilt-ridden; she wants desperately to move back home to San Diego, but it makes her feel terrible since returning home implies that her younger brother's clinical drug trial has somehow failed. The result is a sense of shame, which is a feeling that I think underlies a lot of the middle school experience. I think part of growing up is coming to terms with the fact that our emotions are in constant conflict with each other.

I wonder if maybe I haven’t finished growing up yet? Seriously, that middle school shame still hangs over
me to this day. When I talk to someone, I’m definitely thinking, “Do they like me? Do they think I’m weird?” I think the only difference now is that I’m much more okay with people thinking I’m strange, but middle grade characters are still obsessing over those feelings. In Ali Benjamin’s THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH, the main character, Suzy, struggles painfully with her awkwardness, and how she doesn’t fit in with her peers, who are admittedly harsh to Suzy’s nerdy ways. It can be hard to write those kind of scenes, but being honest about the pressures in school allows readers to connect to characters in a real, human way. Sometimes, it takes me many passes to drill down to the truth of the secondary characters, but their actions are just as important to the story as the main character’s. There should be surprises, secrets, and layers to every character in a story. A novel is like a chemical reaction—you add the characters, stir, and watch what happens!

Yes! I love a story that unearths the hidden lives of its characters. This process of discovery is such an important part of Thyme’s journey because by finding out other characters’ secrets, she is forced to confront the gulf between what she knows about herself and what others know about her. Early on in the novel, Thyme tries to control this by compartmentalizing her life a little: she keeps her brother Val’s illness a secret from her classmates as a way of claiming some identity apart from the heartache of having a sick family member. On the one hand, I don’t think she’s entirely wrong to do so, and I think there is great value in this; on the other hand, that’s just now how identity works, at least in my experience. The different parts of our lives don’t fit neatly into separate boxes. It’s more like a plate of spaghetti.

As you can see, Pete likes conflicted characters as much as I do. I love it when I read a passage that stuns me with its honesty, especially if the character’s admissions aren't the “right thing” to say. The truth is, we all arrive at our choices by experiencing the full range of emotions. To make your characters real, they need to exhibit the full range of emotions—even the ones that are shameful or embarrassing. One of my favorite authors who is an absolute pro when it comes to characters with depth is Lynda Mullaly Hunt. Carley from ONE FOR THE MURPHYS is in a tough spot, having been placed with a foster family after domestic violence in her home. Some of the thoughts Carley has about what she deserves in life are absolutely heart-wrenching. But they ring with truth. I still wonder about Carley now—how she’s doing, where she lives. The more flawed you allow your character to be, the more I love them.

Like Melanie, I love when a book's ending leaves me wondering about what happens next. There's closure, and the novel feels so specific and wonderful, but the end has to be a little ambiguous, too; it has to leave room for the characters to continue to grow and make choices and mess up from time to time. The ending in middle grade is so important because it has to resolve some of those central thematic questions while introducing the new ones that point the way forward for the hero. In some ways, I think a lot of middle grade is about coming to terms with all of the uncertainty life throws our way.

I feel like all of life is about coming to terms with uncertainty! Or maybe that’s just my life. Either way, that’s why I love writing through the middle grade lens. It’s a time when the wonders of the world are just opening up to our characters, and they are busy trying to find how they fit into that picture. Maybe that’s why middle grade is so accessible. The best books give us characters that we love getting to know at any age.

Melanie’s Links:
Website: http://www.melanieconklin.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MLConklin
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8041873.Melanie_Conklin
Tumblr: http://mlconklin.tumblr.com/
Contributor: www.kidliterati.com

Pete’s Links:

Melanie has generously offered an ARC of COUNTING THYME for a giveaway and Peter is offering a  query critique. 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 12th. If you do not want to be included in the query critique giveaway, please let me know in the comments. 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. The book giveaway is for U.S. and the query critique giveaway is international.

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

Here's what's coming up:

On Friday I'm participating in the Lucky Is Reading Book Giveaway Hop.

Next Monday I have an interview with debut author Janet Summer Johnson and a giveaway of her MG contemporary THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY.

On Wednesday next week I have an Agent Spotlight Interview with agent Patricia Nelson and a query critique giveaway.

The following Monday I have a guest post by debut author Andrew Brumbach and his agent Danielle Chiotti with a query critique giveaway by Danielle and an ARC giveaway of Andrew's MG historical adventure THE EYE OF MIDNIGHT.

Hope to see you on Friday!


mshatch said...

Counting Thyme sounds like a fun story. I'll pass on the query critique for now. Thanks!

Christine Rains said...

Excellent quotes about attitude! I totally agree with them. :) Congrats to Melanie. I really liked reading about characters with her and Peter. A full range of emotions is essential to great characterization. And sometimes I still feel that middle school embarrassment too!

Greg Pattridge said...

I enjoyed the exchange between Peter and Melanie. Characters are what make stories memorable and emotion is what fuels the memory. Thanks for the great contest. Counting Thyme was one of my five must reads this year.

Bish Denham said...

I remember your inspirational article from last week! So needed.

Counting Thyme sounds like a heart-warming story. I like it when siblings care about each other.

Tamara Narayan said...

I think I've heard that quote somewhere as well--attitude is (almost) everything.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Counting Thyme sounds like a heart-tugging story. I like the tips Melanie and Peter have shared with us.

S said...

I really like what you said about honest characters being truthful characters. Seems obvious, but not really something I'd given much thought to before :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

There are so many emotions we don't want to admit we feel, but the best characters really feel them and let us know.

Juneta key said...

I know if I love a character I came back again to any story with that character. I believe a lot of it is the character expressing emotion we can identify with, good post.
Juneta @ Writer's Gambit

Dorine White said...

I love your post on attitude. I've found that how I react makes all the difference. A big thanks for the opportunity for a query critique!

cleemckenzie said...

Thanks for hopping into the meme hop. Early. Late. Who cares? It's the attitude that counts!

Loved reading about this book and the characters. Very interesting.

Joanne R. Fritz said...

I really want to read this book! I agree with Melanie that sometimes it feels as if all of life is about coming to terms with uncertainty.

S.P. Bowers said...

Sounds like the kind of book my MG self would have loved. Can't wait to read it for her. :) I still love a book about coming to terms with uncertainty.

Brenda said...

Lovely quote Natalie! Thyme sounds like just the kind of character that one would instantly love, complicated, honest and uncertain. The perfect kind of middle grade read that you can keep coming back to and sticks with you after you've finished reading it. No need to enter me in the query, but would love an opportunity to read Counting Thyme. Have a great week.

Faith E. Hough said...

Thanks for sharing this conversation! I smiled so many times--middle grade is just the best. :)
I'd be thrilled to win either the ARC or the critique!

Yvonne Ventresca said...

Hi -- stopping by for the meme blog hop, so no need to enter me into the contest. Liked your quote.


Jemi Fraser said...

LOVE the quote on attitude - and totally agree!
Also love the premise of the book! Sounds like a great addition to my class!

Rebecca E. Bailey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rebecca E. Bailey said...

Thanks for entering me in the query critique giveaway. I read all the books my four kids bring home, and my three middle-schoolers would love COUNTING THYME. It's on my list! By the way, I removed the previous comment because I wanted to add that I also tweeted this @rebeccabailey11. Thanks!

Angela Brown said...

I really enjoyed the tag-team sharing and the quote on attitude is spot on.

J Lenni Dorner said...

Excellent post! I'll be sharing on Twitter and Facebook.
I love the quote you selected for the meme hop. It applies to my current situation.
The book sounds really interesting. I love the premise.
Best of luck to everyone.

Tara Tyler said...

so right! attitude is everything - we can only control how we react and deal with things that happen.

and i enjoyed melanie and peter's convo as well - MG is awesome!
thanks for participating!

Stacey said...

I love the back and forth about characters. So true and I think that so many of us still have that Jr High insecurity inside us!

Really hoping to win the arc! Whoo!! Thanks for the chance.


Kimberly Gabriel said...

Great post! I love characters that resonate. I'd be up for the arc or the query critique. Sounds like a wonderful story!

And I love the quote, Natalie.

Rosi said...

Wow. I just can't wait to read this book now. And what a rich post for writers! Thanks so much. I would love to be in the drawing for the book, but not for the query critique right now. Thanks!

Marilyn said...

COUNTING THYME sounds like a great book. I'm looking forward to reading it. Just as Melanie said, the best books are ones in which the reader wonders about the characters for years!

Danielle H. said...

I love authors who can create characters that I care about and take me on emotional rides. would love to be entered to win the book, but not the critique at this time. Thanks for the great post! I shared on tumblr: http://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/140280877692/literary-rambles-agent-peter-knapp-and-author

New Release Books said...

Thanks for this great post. Attitude is the be all.

Cynthia said...

Congratulations, Melanie on your new book.

Natalie, I absolutely agree with the idea that "we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way." And it's so true that how we react to certain things determine where our journey will take us.

Unknown said...


Counting Thyme sounds moving. I look forward to reading it.

My fingers are crossed! I hope to win the query critique. Here is my email: isabelle3@gmail.com.

Thank you for this fantastic opportunity.

Unknown said...

Sounds like a great book, can't wait to read it!

Hanna Loren said...

What an awesome premise, will add it to my 'to be read' pile. Hope to win the critique with Peter too!

Ann Finkelstein said...

Another fascinating interview. Thanks for alerting me to Counting Thyme.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Love the attitude quote. So very true. And characters can make or break a story for me. If I don't connect, I don't keep reading.

Crystal Collier said...

Awesome and I completely agree about attitude. My kidlets will often complain about things and it's a battle to help them see the world from a different angle. I sometimes wonder how often I'm defeated merely by my own mental cage.

Anyhow...contemporary fiction, eh? I've tried it and tried it and tried it. It's rare I love it.

Sherry Ellis said...

Counting Thyme is such a creative title. Sounds like a good book!

Unknown said...

Counting Thyme sounds like an awesome middle grade book. We definitely need to deal with uncertainty in life and fiction is a great lens into how to do that.

And, I completely agree about attitude!

Stephen Tremp said...

Good luck to Melanie and Counting Thyme! I just Retweeted for the book.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Attitude has a huge impact on our lives.
Congrats, Melanie (and I love the cover).

Melissa Roske said...

I read the ARC and LOVED every inch of this wonderful, heart-tugging story. Thyme is a wonderful character, and Melanie has done an excellent job bringing her to life. A fabulous novel! Thanks to Melanie and Pete Knapp for dishing on Literary Rambles!

Unknown said...

I enjoyed the interview and think the title is such a cute play on words! Wishing Melanie much success! (No giveaway for me.)

Jenni said...

Love the sound of this book. I'd love to win a copy of the book, but count me out of the query contest.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to be counted for the ARC, but not the query critique. Congrats to Melanie. Attitude is everything.

Mark Holtzen said...

Great post and well-timed for where I am on my current project. Will digest as I head off to write. Love to be considered for either. I did tweet this link, too. Thanks. (If query is for a complete ms, mine is not there yet. But I do have a rough query that will need work as I go.)

Unknown said...

COUNTING THYME sounds great! Really interesting post.

Roberta Klarreich said...

Thanks for a very enjoyable discussion!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

P.S. I can be reached at klarreic@nasw.org.

Heather M. Gardner said...

Great quotes! Really good choices!

Terry said...

Great post! Look forward to reading Counting Thyme and would love receiving Peter's query advice.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks so much for the fantastic post, Melanie and Peter!

Mary Jane said...

What a fun conversation and looking forward to Counting Thyme!

Julie Walters said...

Middle School was a tough time for me which is why I wrote my first manuscript. I would love to help others going through this rough time of life as you are, Melanie, so that adolescents struggling to fit in understand that they are not alone. (julie.k.walters@gmail.com)

LS said...

Reading this discussion makes me want to read the book. Thanks! Lori Sawicki

Unknown said...

A query critique would be so amazing.
Thank you for the chance.

Eileen M. Washburn said...

This sounds great, can't wait to read it! Thanks

Bette Anne Rieth said...

Loved this discussion on creating conflicted characters. Great insight!

Penny said...

Great post! I would love to win a copy of Counting Thyme. Count me out for the query giveaway, though, and award it to a writer. I'm just a big reader. Thanks!

Bryna said...

Sounds like a great read! Thanks for entering me into the contest. bpodwois@yahoo.com