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 Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo here to share about her MG contemporary RUBY IN THE SKY. It sounds like it has a diverse cast of characters and deals with hard issues while staying positive. I can’t wait to read this! I even entered the Goodreads giveaway when writing out Jeanne’s questions, something I rarely do anymore.

Here’s a blurb:
When twelve-year-old Ruby Moon Hayes and her mother move to Vermont, Ruby’s goal is to stay as silent and invisible as a new moon in the frozen sky. She doesn’t want kids at school asking about her missing father or discovering that her mother has been arrested. But keeping to herself isn’t easy when Ahmad Saleem, a Syrian refugee in her class, decides he’s her new best friend. Or when she meets “the Bird Lady,” a recluse named Abigail who lives in a ramshackle shed near Ruby’s house. No one in town understands Abigail — people whisper about her, about her boarded-up house and the terrible secrets she must be hiding.

As Mom’s trial draws near and Abigail faces eviction, Ruby is forced to make a choice: break her silence or risk losing everyone she loves. Ruby’s story is about the walls we hide behind and the magic that can happen when we are brave enough to break free.
Ruby in the Sky has won the SCBWI Work-in-progress Award for Middle Grade Fiction (2016), the PEN-New England, Susan Bloom Discovery Award (2016), the Tassy Walden, New Voices in Children’s Literature Award (2015), and the Ruth Landers Glass Scholarship at the spring NE-SCBWI annual conference (2016). It will be published by Farrar Straus Giroux/Macmillan February 5, 2019.

Hi Jeanne! Thanks so much for joining us!

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

Hi! Thank you for having me! I don’t feel that I became a writer – as much as writing has always been a part of who I am. Growing up, I dealt with challenges by writing about them in journals (most of which I still have!). Writing gave me the perspective I needed to get through difficult times. But when I “grew up,” I didn’t know how to translate my love of writing into a career (or maybe I just didn’t have the confidence to try…) anyway, I ended up working in the United States Congress, and later as an attorney. In both settings, I experienced the power of the written word, firsthand. Ultimately, I returned to writing for my favorite audience – kids.

2. You're part of the trend of attorneys becoming writers! Where did you get the idea for RUBY IN THE SKY?

There are so many parts of Ruby that come from my life. The “spark” that ignited Ruby’s story emerged from a memory of an elderly neighbor who, every afternoon after school, would bring my brother and I to handfeed chickadees at an abandoned house in our rural town. It seemed so normal at the time (didn’t all kids do that?).  But now, amidst the noise of my present-day world, I think back to the quiet solitude of those visits – the neglected house in winter and the fact that this lonely man took time to make sure the birds were fed – and I realize how magical it all really was. That memory was the initial idea that outlined Ruby’s story, but so many more of my experiences have colored in the lines – especially the years I spent as a public defender.

3. That's great that you've drawn on your legal career. Your book tackles some hard issues—homelessness, a missing dad, and a mother who was arrested. Yet I’ve read that you kept a good balance of Ruby feeling sad and staying positive. How did you create this balance in your writing? What advice do you have about tackling hard topics like this in a middle grade novel?

I once heard an interview in which Natalie Babbitt was asked if she thought children should be exposed to difficult topics (such as death in Tuck Everlasting). She gave a marvelous answer about how children face tragedy all the time, and are much more resilient than given credit. I completely agree. As a public defender for many years, I met the children of my clients who came to criminal court with their parents. In my experience, these kids were incredibly brave and resilient. Beauty and strength can be found in some of the most difficult situations. I wanted to make sure Ruby realized that strength, too.
4. Ruby’s new friend is Ahmad, a Syrian refugee in her class. How did you learn about his culture enough to feel like you could accurately portray him in your story?

I love this question because I get to talk about the AMAZING refugees I have been so honored to
meet through the organization, Integrated Refugee & Immigration Services (IRISCT.org) in New Haven, CT. A group of young men and women refugees read Ruby as paid cultural consultants. Over several months, we met and discussed the story. I learned so much from these amazing young men and women and am still in awe of their stories, insight, intelligence and courage. I am so lucky that I’ve been able to continue to work with IRIS and continue to meet people who inspire me every day.

5. That's great how you connected with refugees. Your story is really about memorable characters that grow with the story, especially Ruby. What did you learn about character development from writing your story and what advice do you have for the rest of us?

I learned a lot about the value of time – especially taking the time to live with your characters. Over the course of writing Ruby, I took time to live with each character and get to know them. I don’t know how else to explain it, but it got so that I was so excited to get back to my manuscript just so I could re-enter their world and spend more time with each of them.

6. Your book has won the SCBWI Work-in-progress Award in the Middle Grade Category (2016), the PEN-New England, Susan Bloom Discovery Award (2016), the Tassy Walden, New Voices in Children’s Literature Award (2015), and the Ruth Landers Glass Scholarship at the spring NE-SCBWI conference (2016). Wow! Share about how this all came about and how this helped you improve your writing and story.

For me, submitting to contests was a way to critically improve my writing. But, it is important to know that with each of the aforementioned successes came many rejections. But I never gave up. With each submission, I revised, tightened and re-worked Ruby’s story, making it better and better. The Tassy Walden Award was Ruby’s first success and it changed everything for me. I am so honored that Ruby has been recognized by each of these organizations and am so grateful for each vote of confidence that kept me writing, revising, submitting, and ultimately led to publication.

7. Your agent is Stacey Glick. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?
8. I read on your website that you were part of Brenda Drake’s pitch wars community in 2016. What was that like and how did it help your writing?

The answer to both of these questions actually go together! PitchWars was an incredible experience. My mentors were the amazing authors Laura Shovan and Tricia Clasen. When I think of those months working with them on Ruby, I seriously tear-up with nostalgia because it was such an incredible experience. Ruby in the Sky had won a lot of awards, but the story still wasn’t working. Laura and Tricia really dug into my manuscript to help me find the heart of Ruby’s story. The entire PitchWars community was kind and nurturing and so amazingly supportive…and let’s not forget talented! It was a phenomenal experience that led me to my wonderful agent, Stacey Glick! Stacey requested my manuscript from the Agent Showcase at the culmination of PitchWars. I had seen Stacey speak at the Rutgers One-on-one conference and already admired her so much. So, when she offered representation, I was beyond thrilled.

9. That's a great story! How are you marketing your book when it releases? What made you decide to promote your book in this way?

I am a member of the #Novel19s and would highly recommend joining a debut group. Even though I haven’t had the opportunity to meet any of my fellow debut novelists in person (yet), I already feel like I know them. Everyone has been so supportive and encouraging – like a big kid-lit family. I’ve reached out to area schools, bookstores and libraries and have already begun setting up talks and even a graduation address! Additionally, I was a Girl Scout leader for many years and have reached out to scout organizations. My goal is to meet as many young readers as possible!

10. What are you working on now?

I am currently working on another middle grade novel titled A Galaxy of Sea Stars:
As Izzy Vitale (12) begins sixth grade at the new regional middle school, she wants nothing more than to keep her tight-knit group of friends – dubbed the Sea Star Posse since kindergarten – together. But when Sitara (12) and her family leave Afghanistan and move into the upstairs apartment at the marina where Izzy lives with her father and grandmother, Izzy begins to realize there exists a world much larger than her small, safe harbor in Seabury, Rhode Island. When someone starts leaving hateful notes in Sitara’s locker, Izzy is determined to find their source. But what she learns will force Izzy to make a decision:  remain silent and betray Sitara or speak up for what she knows is right and possibly lose the Sea Star Posse forever.  A Galaxy of Sea Stars is a story about family, loyalty, and the hard choices we face in the name of friendship.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Jeanne! You can find Jeanne at:

Jeanne has generously offered an ARC of RUBY IN THE SKY 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 9th. 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. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is U.S.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Here's what's coming up:

Wednesday, February 6th I have a guest post by debut author Addie Thorley with her agent Katelyn Detweiler with a giveaway of Addie's YA historical fantasy AN AFFAIR OF POISONS and a query critique giveaway by Katelyn

Monday, February 11th I have an interview with debut author Astrid Scholte and a giveaway of her YA fantasy FOUR DEAD QUEENS

Wednesday, February 13th I have an agent spotlight interview and query critique giveaway with Amy Stapp

Monday, February 18th I'm off for President's Day

Monday, February 25th I have a guest post by Mary Kole who has her own editorial service

Hope to see you on Wednesday, February 6th!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's a lot of awards - congratulations on your persistence with this book.
I also believe kids are tougher than we think.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Pitch Wars was a great experience for you. I wish every writer went the lengths to get help with manuscripts and pitches. I get so many queries from writers who don't even have critique partners!

Greg Pattridge said...

Thanks for the in-depth interview. It demonstrates there is always a way to make a story better. No need to add me in the drawing as I have read the wonderful RUBY IN THE SKY and will have a review next Monday, Feb. 4th.

Danielle H. said...

I agree that children should be exposed to difficult issues and when they can read about kids their age dealing with these issues, they may get a better understanding and open their minds to how others are feeling. Finding out about these issues in a safe place like a book is an excellent way too. I shared on my tumblr: http://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/182374763652/jeanne-zulick-ferruolo-interview-and-ruby-in-the

June McCrary Jacobs said...

I really enjoyed this interview. Thank you to both Natalie and Jeanne for sharing with us. This book is going on my TBR list.

Elephant's Child said...

Fascinating book and interview. Thank you and drat you. I need to live forever just to fulfil my reading plans.

Patricia T. said...

Ruby in the Sky, sounds engaging. I love realistic fiction. The Syrian refugee friend really intrigues me. I agree, I believe children are much more resilient than we realize. I really enjoyed the interview with Jeanne and the insight she gave into writing Ruby. I like that she is involved with a Syrian Refugee group and is doing important work.

nashvillecats2 said...

Just got round to reading today's post. Great post Natalie as always. The book and interview was excellent.


Pat Hatt said...

Wow, sure an award winner indeed. And yeah, kids sure can face a lot and keep getting back up.

Natasha said...

Great interview!
Ruby In the Sky sounds like a great read!!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Rosi said...

Another wonderful interview. Thanks for that. I've been hearing about this book and hope to get to read it soon.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Kids are dealing with harsh realities. Fiction is best when it comes from an honest place.

Kimberly Gabriel said...

I was lucky enough to read an ARC of this. It's so fantastic! Wonderful interview ladies! Those awards are so impressive!

Debra Branigan said...

This sounds like a wonderful book. We have lots of kids dealing with these issues today - more than we as a society think. Thank you for touching on these tough issues head-on. I am excited to read this and pass it on to my middle school

Mirka Breen said...

Books like Ruby in the Sky convince me that the best literature is now firmly inhabiting the MG shelve.

Tonja Drecker said...

Glad to hear pitchwars helped you. It's always an exciting event and even more so to learn of authors who succeeded through it.

Angie Quantrell said...

Ruby in the Sky sounds like a wonderful book! Can't wait to read it. Tons of time spent working and refining the story-but worth the effort! Congratulations! angelecolline at yahoo dot com

mshatch said...

This sounds like a book my niece and I would both enjoy! Congrats to Jeanne :)

Pam Vaughan said...

Jeanne!!!!! Coincidentally, I have a black panther named Zulick! Which is named after a fantabulous, famous author!

sherry fundin said...

Great story of the inspiration for Ruby.
sherry @ fundinmental

Gina Gao said...

This is such a great interview! Thanks for sharing!


Donna K. Weaver said...

What an intriguing story. Nice interview!

Nick Wilford said...

This sounds very inspiring for kids! I like that Jeanne covers topical issues such as refugees.

Jennifer Lane said...

Congratulations to Jeanne and that's great she's sharing her writing with the world.

Anonymous said...

This sounds lovely. Thank you for the giveaway!

Carol Kilgore said...

What a wonderful book. I can understand how much work went into the writing of it. Congratulations!

Hi, Natalie :)

Denise Covey said...

It's great when authors share their writing journey. I love the title.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

A story with secrets always fascinates me. Sounds very interesting.

Suzanne Warr said...

Bummed that I missed the giveaway on this, but it looks amazing so I'll be tracking down a copy anyway! Great interview Natalie, and good luck, Jeanne!

LAWonder said...

This sounds fantastic! The need for quality reading material for the Middle grade is in great need. Tis author sounds like a great "fit"!