Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • 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 6/26/2024

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! I've got a fun interview and book giveaway to share with you today. But first I have my IWSG post.

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of the month is officially Insecure Writer's Support Group Day.

The co-hosts this month are:  Mary Aalgaard, Bish Denham, Jennifer Hawes, Diane Burton, and Gwen Gardner!

Optional Question: How do you celebrate when you achieve a writing goal/finish a story?

Unfortunately I've only finished one manuscript that I put in the drawer. So I haven't really had finished projects to celebrate. Right now, I'm grateful that I got any writing done with all the other craziness of life. I am writing some, which is an improvement.

I just can't seem to get a break in life to devote more time to myself and writing. I just finished producing the play I was working on with my boyfriend--Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar--and now I need to start working on my mom's move to independent living where I live from Florida. She needs me to take care of her, so that's what I have to do.

So I'm going to celebrate the small things--getting a new chapter done, getting a good critique from my critique group, etc. I'm just trying to enjoy the process, and to not make myself stressed over results. Maybe sometime when I retire from working I can make more concrete goals.

What about you? How do you celebrate your writing accomplishments?

Today I’m excited to have follower and debut author Jen Petro-Roy here to share about her MG contemporary P.S. I MISS YOU. It sounds like a really moving story about Evie’s love for her sister and her own personal challenges. It’s gotten rave reviews, and I’m excited to read it.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

n this epistolary middle-grade debut novel, a girl who's questioning her sexual orientation writes letters to her sister, who was sent away from their strict Catholic home after becoming pregnant.

Eleven-year-old Evie is heartbroken when her strict Catholic parents send her pregnant sister away to stay with a distant great-aunt. All Evie wants is for her older sister to come back. But when her parents forbid her to even speak to Cilla, she starts sending letters. Evie writes letters about her family, torn apart and hurting. She writes about her life, empty without Cilla. And she writes about the new girl in school, June, who becomes her friend, and then maybe more than a friend.

As she becomes better friends with June, Evie begins to question her sexual orientation. She can only imagine what might happen if her parents found out who she really is. She could really use some advice from Cilla. But Cilla isn't writing back.

Hi Jen! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

I was one of those kids who was always reading. I went over to my parents’ house the other day and as I looked through a collection of old pictures, I was struck by how a decent percentage of them had me holding a book! (Sweet Valley Twins, Baby-Sitters Club, Nancy Drew, and Anne of Green Gables were my favorites.) I started writing early, too, although not “seriously.” In third grade, I wrote a play about a group of kids who had to save their friend from an evil witch and my class actually performed it! I wrote silly poetry for a while and short stories, but once high school and all of its accompanying homework and essays came along, I lost the creative writing bug for a while. It was only after I had my first daughter six years ago and left my librarian job to be a stay-at-home mom that I started writing seriously, with the goal of getting published. Writing was still part of me, and it was something that was so important during those early days of spit-up and crying, to have those moments during naptime where I could live inside my head and do something that made me feel proud and truly myself.

2. I've always read all the time too. Where did you get the idea for your story?

The broad inspiration came about indirectly, at my local library's used book sale. It's one of my favorite events of the year (and so dangerous for my wallet) and a few years ago, I picked up an old copy of Dear Mr. Henshaw, which I hadn't read since I was a kid. I loved how Beverly Cleary had written the book in letters and gave myself a challenge of doing the same. At that point, I was dealing with some of the same questions Evie has about religion and God, and as I started writing about that, Evie's sexual orientation gradually revealed itself to me.

3. Letter writing is a big part of your story. Share why you decided to use this format in telling Evie’s story and tips for others who may want to use it in their manuscripts.

I think that letters and journal entries are such an interesting format to use, but their impact can take two different forms. On one hand, you’re given direct access into the character’s mind. Their thoughts travel directly onto paper from their brain, and with no narrator there to give you distance from those intense feelings, you feel everything so much more strongly and honestly. On the other hand, these forms can also give rise to an unreliable narrator, because there really is no way to know whether the writer is lying! So for me, it was important to establish Evie’s genuiness early on. The most important thing in Evie’s life is her bond with her older sister Cilla, and you have to believe in that to believe in the rest of her words. One big tip I’d give for those writing in either letters or journal entries is to work dialogue in in a way that feels natural. Readers are so used to dialogue, but most letters don’t incorporate a day to day accounting of “he said” and “she said.” You have to balance observations and feelings with dialogue in a way that feels organic to the letters themselves.

4. That's a great tip about writing dialogue as part of the letters. You tackle many hard and sensitive issues in P.S. I MISS YOU, such as teenage pregnancy and sexual identity in a strictly Catholic family. And from reviews, it sounds like you did it in a compelling and sensitive way. Share how you approached these topics and weaved them into your story. Are there any pitfalls that you recommend avoiding when trying to include issues like those you raise?

One of the biggest tips I would have is employing sensitivity readers. When it comes to Evie’s sexuality, this isn’t an Own Voices book, so I made sure to talk to LGBTQ friends before I wrote P.S. I MISS YOU. I asked readers of my early drafts to comment on whether I was true to feelings they may have had as they realized their sexual orientation and came out. Obviously, every single person is not going to have the same experience, but I wanted that “truth” to be there. For other sensitive topics, it’s so important to make sure that your characters aren’t caricatures. People can be strict and Catholic and believe things that you may not. But they are still human. They still have reasons for why they act a certain way. I think that it’s so important to investigate those reasons and provide that back story.

5. What was a challenge you had at any point in your journey to publication and how did you overcome it?

As is the case for many other authors, P.S. I MISS YOU isn’t my first book. It’s actually the fifth
book I wrote, and my current agent is my second agent. After I parted ways with my first agent, I queried another book and didn’t get any bites. I was discouraged. I had started working on another middle grade book, but the plot had absolutely stalled. At that point, I honestly considered giving up. My previous agent had put two of my earlier books on submission and neither had sold. As a last resort, I decided to enter the beginning of my work-in-progress into a contest sponsored by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, where the prize was free tuition to the Whispering Pines Writing Retreat. The phone call from Lynda that I won was a relief, a kick in the butt, and an encouraging hug at the same time. Soon after, I decided to start seriously revising P.S. I MISS YOU for querying and the rest is history (to use the dreaded cliché.)

6. That is so awesome how Lynda's contest helped motivate you to keep writing. Your agent is Brianne Johnson. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

I love Brianne. After doing tons of research, she was one of my top picks and I queried her in my first round for P.S. I MISS YOU. I’d heard nothing but good things about her energy and work ethic, and everyone was so right. Bri got back to me within days of reading my query and asked for a partial, then a full. When she asked if we could do a phone call, I was giddy. I knew what this meant! An offer, right? Actually….Bri loved it, but she thought it could use some revision, and wanted to me work on it some more before she’d consider representation. So I did. I got right to work and after sending in the revisions, Bri read them (while she was on vacation!) and offered to be my agent. I accepted, and after a few more rounds of edits, we went on submission. I’m still blown away by the submission process, especially after my experience with my first few books. We had interest in P.S. I MISS YOU the next morning, and it eventually went to a three-house auction. I am so, so pleased with my home at Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends. My editors Jean Feiwel and Christine Barcellona are brilliant, sensitive, and incisive, and everyone there has done so much to make this book into what it is now.

7. That's great your book went to auction. It looks like you use Twitter to build a following. Share how you use it to connect with other writers, authors, and readers. What tips do you have for the rest of us who need to use it better like me?

I love Twitter, even though my attention span does not. I used Twitter a lot in my previous career as a teen librarian to connect with other librarians, authors, and book people to get ideas for programs and to help with collection development, and as an author it’s just as useful. It’s a great way to connect with school librarians, booksellers, and teachers, and also to talk with other writers about their challenges and successes. As a writer and a stay-at-home mom, life can be isolating, and it’s nice to have people beside me on my computer. For me (and for most people, I’m guessing), Twitter works the best when you treat your online connections like real relationships. Don’t just promote your books or ask people to focus on you. Instead, ask and respond to questions. Share information about your life outside of writing. Share silly memes and live-tweet silly television shows, if that’s your thing. Twitter is great as a mixture of relationships and business.

8. You have also worked as a librarian. How is this helping you spread the word about your book? I’d also really like to know how you think non-librarian authors can connect with libraries outside of the area where they live.

I used to work in the library in my town, which is great since I still have a lot of connections both there and at other libraries in my area, which will hopefully come in handy in both spreading the word about my books and in strengthening those relationships. I think that as a former librarian, I’m able to take things a lot less personally, too. I know that librarians have specific considerations when they purchase books, and just because they don’t buy yours, it doesn’t mean it’s not a good book—it just might not be the right fit for their population. I think that when it comes to connecting to librarians and libraries, if you can go to where they are, that’s fabulous. That way, you can put your face and personality to your book cover. If you can’t, email or call. Mention what your book is about and how it could relate to their patrons or their town. Send bookmarks they can display and talk about how bringing you in to talk can help them and their goals, too.

9. What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on edits for two books scheduled for release in early 2019, both also to be released from Macmillan/Feiwel &Friends. GOOD ENOUGH is my second middle grade novel, about Riley, a twelve-year-old who is hospitalized for anorexia and trying to gain the motivation to recover amidst dealing with an overbearing mother, a gymnastics star sister, and a fellow patient intent on sabotaging her progress. YOU ARE ENOUGH is a nonfiction guide to self-esteem, body image, and eating disorder recovery, based partially on my own journey to recovery, and incorporates coping skills, how to deal with difficult situations that may arise for teens and tweens, and how to rebuild relationships and deal with our body-focused society. I’m also starting to draft my third middle grade novel!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Jen. You can find Jen at her website (jenpetroroy.com), on Twitter (@jpetroroy), on Instagram (@jpetroroy) and on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/JenPetroRoy/)

Jen has generously offered a hardback of P.S. I MISS YOU 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 24th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the 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. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is U.S.

Here's what's coming up:

Monday, March 12th I have a guest post by debut author Jamie Questell and her agent Patricia Nelson with an ARC giveaway of Jamie's YA fantasy BY A CHARM AND A CURSE and a query critique giveaway by Patricia

Wednesday, March 14th I have an agent spotlight interview and query critique giveaway with Claire Anderson-Wheeler

Thursday, March 15th I'm participating in the Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop

Monday, March 19th I have a guest post by author Sally Pla and a giveaway of her MG contemporary STANLEY WILL PROBABLY BE FINE

Wednesday, March 21st I have an agent spotlight interview and query critique giveaway with Hilary Harwell

Wednesday, April 4th I have a guest post by author Corrina Austin and a giveaway of her MG historical CORNERS

Hope to see you on Monday!


Sarah Foster said...

I don't know if I celebrate my writing accomplishments. Maybe because lately just finishing a chapter edit is an accomplishment, and I usually just want to move on to the next one!
P.S. I Miss You sounds great! I'll have to check it out.

Cathrina Constantine said...

Wonderful Interview. P.S. I Miss You sounds amazing.

I don't do anything after I finish my first draft, perhaps breathe a sigh of relief and smile. Congrats on producing a play. I'm also in the process of taking care of my mother, life does come first, and everything else, like writing gets pushed back. Have a great day.

Jennifer Hawes said...

Life happens and there is not much you can do about it! Keep strong. Prayers for you and your mom. Even writing a chapter at at time can add up.

Jennifer Lane said...

Your plate sounds full with caring for family and other creative projects, but if you keep trucking I know you can finish projects.

Jen seems to tackle heavy topics--congratulations to her on her debut!

Donna K. Weaver said...

Real life does that to us, doesn't it? And it can be surprising too how little it takes to derail our writing.

Bish Denham said...

I know it must be hard having to move your mom, but at least she'll be close to you. In the mean time, celebrating each small writing achievement is a good thing!

Tamara Narayan said...

I loved reading books that dealt with difficult issues like P.S. I Miss You as a kid and I still do now. Eating disorders are also a fascinating and important topic these days. I remember one of my daughters crowing, “I’m so glad I’m thin!” Even at five years of age, she knew society valued thin over heavy. It made me sad.


Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Bless you, Natalie. You do have your hands full. Taking care of your mother will keep you busy. Wish I still had mine. Snap up each spare moment and write even a little. It will add up in time.
Congratulations to Jen on what sounds like a touching story.

Juneta key said...

Great interview. Happy IWSG Day. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Letter writing is a unique way to tell a story.
Just keep celebrating those small steps, Natalie. They do add up over time.

cleemckenzie said...

First, congratulations on that play! How exciting. And second, thanks for hosting Jen today and introducing her book that tackles a very challenging topic for young people. Beautiful.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Natalie, glad you celebrate the small things like getting a chapter done, getting a good critique from your critique group. Keep taking those small steps and soon you will have an entire manuscript ready.

P.S. I MISS YOU sounds wonderful. Good luck to Jen.

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Jen is wonderful! Love this book. I met and had dinner with her a few years back at NESCBWI. She's really sweet.

Chrys Fey said...

We need to celebrate the little things more often. It’s those little thing that lead to the bigger accomplishments.

Suzanne Furness said...

I think celebrating the small achievements is a great idea. All those small milestones add up and progress is progress. Enjoying the process is the best way to look at it too.

Christine Rains said...

Definitely take time to celebrate the small things. They'll keep you going. We recently moved my mother-in-law to an assisted living facility in our town. It has taken a lot of stress off my husband having her closer now. Wonderful interview! Congrats to Jen. :)

Raimey Gallant said...

Natalie, I am so impressed with all the creative endeavors you undertake. Just because it isn't writing doesn't mean you aren't doing something wonderful. I hope everything goes well with your mom. :) And Jen's book sounds great!

Cherie Reich said...

We should celebrate the small things too. Glad to hear you're finding a bit of time to write, Natalie.

Congrats, Jen!

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Natalie,

Boy can I relate about life getting in the way of writing! I hope to start a new project soon. I am really working on getting it together.

I really enjoyed the interview with Jen today. What a very interesting premise and I really like the use of letter writing. These stories need to be published because there are SO MANY kids who have these feelings and need to know they are not alone in their feelings and having stories like these can really help them as they discover who they are. Nicely done Jen!

Thanks for featuring her today, Natalie. Hope all is well!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Natalie - I think celebrating the small things is the way to go. I understand life getting in the way - that was 2017 for me, in many ways.
I think producing a play is awesome and definitely should be celebrated, too. :)

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Celebrating those little things makes a world of difference. No matter what life hands you.

Love the cover of Jen's book!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Sorry to hear about your personal business. It's a tough time of life taking care of elderly parents. Congrats to Jen.

Olga Godim said...

Jen's book sounds fascinating. I love the cover: very charming.
Celebrating small things is definitely a way to go. There is even a weekly meme going around with the same name. We should join it. :)

Anonymous said...

We do need to celebrate the small things and enjoy the journey. When it comes to family, you are so right. I have had to unexpectedly set aside some writing time to take care of my husband and frankly, that is the most important thing in my life right now.

Pat Hatt said...

Letter writing sure is a neat way, keeping it organic sure is the way indeed.

Just celebrating the small tasks step by step is how it should be.

Rebecca M. Douglass said...

First off, I think celebrating the small steps is a good idea. We all do what we can, and life can make it a long time between big goals.

Second, Jen's book sounds fantastic, and her story of how it got there is both inspiring and intimidating! I'll keep an eye out for it, and if I win and like it, I'll recommend it for my library :) The themes seem very apropos to our community.

Cathy Keaton said...

I'm just happy when I get the thing done. That's celebration enough for me! Like you, I also wish I could get more time to write and less doing a million other things. I want to get my stuff done.

Rosi said...

I celebrate every word I cut these days as I'm revising a too-long manuscript. This is a terrific interview. I've heard about this book and really want to read it one of these days soon. Thanks for the post.

Danielle H. said...

This book sounds like an important read with the issues addressed. I can't wait to read your book. I shared on tumblr: http://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/171666900602/jen-petro-roy-interview-and-ps-i-miss-you

Brenda said...

Wishing you all the best with moving your mom closer to you. I've seen wonderful reviews of P.S. I Miss You, so glad it's getting some much needed attention. Congrats to Jen Petro-Roy on its release.

Nas said...

Yes, celebrating every step gives us a sense of purpose to move forward.

Empty Nest Insider said...

Good luck with the play and your mom's move. It's nice that Jen went out of her way to appeal to readers' sensitivities.


Chemist Ken said...

Getting a good critique back from your crit group is definitely a cause for celebration. I usually just drive home and grab a cookie. The big reward is that I'm psyched to write again the next day.

Loni Townsend said...

Yes, the small things are definitely worth celebrating!

suetwiggsbooks said...

Your story is about nsrng because You ddn’t give up. Congratulations on your success and all the work that went into it.

Gwen Gardner said...

Universal acceptance is a subject matter that needs to be told. Well done for putting it out there, Jen.

Natalie, I always feel good when I finish a chapter. I don't celebrate, really, but a virtual pat on the back and a "well done" helps too. So well done, Natalie!

dolorah said...

Lately I even celebrate an all day writing session. Any competed writing is something to be proud of :) And so is accomplishing a completed project; including reviews, critiques and blog posts.

Angie Quantrell said...

Congratulations! Great interview and enticing book - ready to read!

DMS said...

It sounds like you are busy. Good luck with your mom! I think you have a great outlook about your writing and life- so that is something to celebrate. :)

PS I Miss You has a beautiful cover and it sounds like a book that will really reach kids. I loved hearing about Jen's path to publication and the writing retreat win that got her over the writing hump. Thanks for the chance to win a copy. :) Wishing Jen the best of luck.