Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

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Happy Monday Everyone! Today I'm excited to have debut author Rajani LaRocca here with her agent Brent Taylor to share about her new MG MIDSUMMER'S MAYHEM. It sounds like a great story with a great main character, a baking contest, a little magic,, and Shakespeare.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

Eleven-year-old Mimi dreams of winning a baking competition judged by her celebrity chef idol. But she loses her best helper when her food writer father returns from a business trip mysteriously unable to distinguish between delicious and disgusting. Mimi follows strangely familiar music into the woods behind her house, meets a golden-eyed boy, and bakes with him using ingredients they've found in the forest. Then everyone around her suddenly starts acting loopy.

Squabbling sisters, rhyming waitresses, and culinary saboteurs mix up a recipe for mayhem in this Indian-American mashup of A Midsummer Night's Dream and competitive baking.
Now here's Rajani and Brent!

Rajani LaRocca to Brent Taylor (Brent’s answers in purple):

1.     At the end of the 2017 Pitch Wars agent showcase, I sent you the full manuscript of Midsummer's Mayhem at 5 PM, and my email record indicates that you responded at 8:27 asking for a phone call to discuss representation. I think you set a record! What made you read and offer so quickly? 

The concept. I read A Midsummer Night's Dream in middle school, and it's one of the few Shakespeare plays I've really connected with and loved. I was so intrigued by your pitch of taking A Midsummer Night's Dream and making it intersect with baking (I have a major sweet tooth) and family (like Mimi, I come from a large and rowdy family). So those are the reasons that I began reading the manuscript as soon as you submitted it to me. I remember that right away I fell in love with the writing, and your pitch-perfect middle grade voice. I loved that this was a joyful and fun read, but that I also felt heavily invested in the plot and stakes—I was rooting for Mimi, terrified for her, and cheering her every decision. When I finished reading, I didn't need to take a second to think about it—I knew kid readers would love Mimi's story, and I knew you had a phenomenal publishing career ahead that I very much wanted to be a part of it.   

2.     You are unbelievably fast with everything – email responses, revision notes, submission lists, contract negotiations, deal announcements…everything! How do you keep on top of everything all the time? And how do you remain so positive and kind? 

I really love the challenge of juggling multiple projects all at once. It keeps me on my toes, and I never feel bored. I feel more motivated to do my best work when I'm not buried under a huge to-do list, so I try to stay ahead of the game as much as possible. It's easy to do because I love my job so much. Optimism is who I am. As much as I can get caught up in the anxieties of our world, I have an optimistic heart, and I try to never lose the faith that things are going to work out exactly how they're supposed to. Working with authors like you, Rajani, who are such incredible people and have the real interests of kid readers at heart, are what make this job an absolute dream for you. Your energy and motivation inspire me to put my best into the world. So that's how I'm able to do it—because I have such admiration and respect for my clients, and we have an unbelievable amount of fun working together on books that make a difference in the lives of kids. 

3.     What’s your favorite part of being a literary agent? What’s the hardest part? 

I love celebrating the successes and seeing books make a difference in the world. It was very exciting when you and I started selling our first projects together, but I've been just as excited with how, recently, we've been celebrating things beyond the sale—like Midsummer's Mayhem getting a starred Kirkus review, or selling to Spain. I can't wait for you to start getting fan-mail from kids, because that's when we'll really see what readers are taking from Mimi's story and how it's impacting them. My #1 goal is making books that kids have fun reading and that impart them with joy, love, and optimism. So those are the parts of being a literary agent that I love. The hardest parts are when you're working really hard at something but not seeing the results you want right away. When you and I were shopping Midsummer's Mayhem, we hit some devastating roadblocks. But we never let our faith waver, and we persisted, and here we are now! 

4.     Middle grade seems to be your sweet spot. What kind of middle grade projects appeal the most
to you? What are you looking for in YA and picture books? 

Yes, middle grade makes up the bulk of my list, though I love picture books and YA too. I'm looking for middle grade that exudes warmth—I want to smile and squeeze the book to my chest when I've finished reading a middle grade novel. The Best Man by Richard Peck is one of my favorite novels ever, and it's the happiest, most love- and light-filled piece of fiction I've ever read. I love that family as at its core, and that Peck has captured the most beautiful pieces of life and memorialized them forever in this beautiful novel. I am looking for picture books that are fun and fresh, preferably author-illustrated but not necessarily. In YA, I'd love to find a novel as smart and ambitious as Dig by A. S. King, which I just finished reading and absolutely loved.   

5.     When writers query you, how important is the query vs. the pages? Do you always read one first, or do you skip around? 

Both are pretty important. The query should showcase that the author has a sense of their plot and stakes. I do skim through it before diving into the pages. 

6.     What’s your favorite dessert? 

It changes, but right now I'm always craving ice-cream cakes.

Brent to Rajani (Rajani’s answers in black): 
1. Before you entered Pitch Wars and then signed with me, what did your journey to writing and publishing look like?

I’ve loved books since I was tiny. I’m an only child, so books were some of my best friends growing up. I read pretty much everything—nonfiction, comics, folk tales, cereal boxes, and of course, novels. I wrote a lot through high school and college, but then I went to medical school, and then residency, and then became a mom, and I was occupied with medicine and motherhood, and didn’t write for a long time. A few years ago, when I’d become more established in my medical practice and my kids were in school, I started to think about nourishing my creative life again. I took writing classes, met fellow writers and formed critique groups, and, after a couple of years, started pursuing publication seriously. I spent 2014-2016 focusing on craft, writing multiple manuscripts and making Midsummer’s Mayhem and my picture book projects as good as I could. I started querying in 2017. I got many positive responses and had several full manuscripts out with agents, but then didn’t hear back for 4-5 months. So when Pitch Wars came along, I decided to enter, and to my surprise, I was selected. After an intense period of revision with my mentor, I ended up with a sparkling manuscript…and the rest, as they say, is history!

2. We have sold quite a few projects already—both picture books and middle grade. Every book I've read from you has been completely unique and unlike the last. Do you know if there is a common thread between your projects? What are some of the cornerstones? 

My family is my heart, so it’s not surprising that family is the heart of what I write about. In Midsummer’s Mayhem, the main character Mimi is the youngest of four siblings in a boisterous Indian-American family. Although they don’t always get along perfectly, the family members have a deep love and understanding that is an important thread in the book. Some of my picture books are immigration stories that explore what it’s like to spend years away from of those you love and depict familial connections that endure across distance and time.

I love science, math, puzzles, and music. In my nonfiction picture books, I channel my wonder and delight about how beautifully math and science work. In my fiction, I often write about smart kids solving intellectual mysteries. And inspired by my musical family, music plays a role in many of my projects.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a huge foodie. I think that every single project I have involves food in some way. Food is one of the most basic elements of culture and connects us in so many ways. And it’s so much fun to write about!

Midsummer’s Mayhem combines all those elements—music, puzzles, delectable food, and family.

3. What have been the most surprising parts of selling and publishing books? What about this process has been rewarding, and what parts have been challenging? 

The biggest surprise has been the kindness and generosity of the kidlit community. My critique
partners have read every draft of every book and taught me so much. Established authors have been happy to help someone new to the industry. Teachers and librarians work hard to get kids excited about a wonderful variety of books, and it’s been fun connecting with them.

The most rewarding aspects of publishing? I’ve been lucky enough to work with several wonderful editors on my various projects. Great editors are magical people who can see the heart of the story you’ve written and help you improve it through a combination of fascinating questions and gentle suggestions. And what a joy it is to work with you, Brent! Your honesty, positivity, and energy buoy me and make me want to write even more.

Rejection is challenging, and publishing is full of it. But having you as my advisor, advocate, and friend helps me get through it relatively unscathed.

4. What are the privileges and responsibilities authors carry when writing and publishing for an audience of young readers? 

I still can’t believe I get to write books for kids! I hope my books will entertain and move kids and get them interested in and excited about all kinds of things. I hope my books give them insight into someone else’s life and help develop empathy. Even when we write fiction, those of us who write for young people must tell emotional truths, and we always need to respect young readers as the astute and sensitive people they are.

5. If you were asked to give someone a novel (not written by you) that best captures the spirit of who you are, what book would it be and why? (I'm arrogant and want to answer this question too—The Best Man by Richard Peck, because the lens through which that story is told is honestly, truly, the exact lens through which I view the world.)

It would be The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. It contains so many themes that are dear to me: family, and how you fit into it; puzzles and adventure with a smart girl in the lead; a diverse (for the time) and interesting cast of characters; and a narrative full of humor and heart that never talks down to young readers.

6. Your debut novel is about to be released. You have countless picture books under contract, and you're hard at work on other novel projects. Looking to the future, what are you most excited about? 

I’m going to cheat here because I can’t limit myself to one thing. There is nothing like your first anything, and not only is Midsummer’s Mayhem my debut novel, it’s my debut book, and some truly lovely accolades have already come its way. I am trying my best to savor every moment leading up to its release!

I’m also absolutely thrilled about our picture books publishing in 2020-2022! We are getting some preliminary art for my first picture book, Seven Golden Rings, which will be published by Lee & Low Books in 2020. The illustrator, Archana Sreenivasan, brings so much creativity to the story, and it is mind-blowing to see my words translated into art!

I am also really loving my current middle grade projects (both of them!) and look forward to polishing them up.

But what I’m most excited about is connecting with young readers who have read Midsummer’s Mayhem and, someday, my other books. It will be the culmination of my writer dreams!

Brent's links:
TriadaUS website: http://www.triadaus.com/
Twitter: @btaylorbooks

Rajani's links:
Twitter: @rajanilarocca
IG: @rajanilarocca

Rajani has generously offered a hardback of MIDSUMMER'S MAYHEM and Brent is offering a query critique 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 June 1st. If you do not want to be included in the 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 or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. The book giveaway is U.S. and the query critique giveaway is International.

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, June 5th I have an interview with debut author Shannon Shuren and a giveaway of her contemporary YA THE VIRTUE OF SIN and my IWSG post

Monday, June 10 I have an interview with author Lamar Giles and a giveaway of his MG fantasy/adventure THE LAST LAST-DAY-OF-SUMMER

Wednesday, June 12 I have an agent spotlight interview with Kerstin Wolf and a query critique giveaway

Monday, June 17 I have an interview with author Brenda Rufener and a giveaway of her YA contemporary SINCE WE LAST SPOKE

Hope to see you on Wednesday, June 5th!


Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf said...

This is a great interview! Also, Midsummer's Mayhem sounds like an absolutely fabulous book! (Side note: I also love the cover!) I'll pass on the giveaways, but thank you so much for the interview!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sounds like they are both optimistic and energetic - a perfect author-agent match.

Chrys Fey said...

This sounds like a cute and fun story. The cover is adorable, too.

Great interview! I enjoyed reading their answers.

Greg Pattridge said...

I'm so glad these two connected. The book sounds great, especially the characters. Looking forward to reviewing this one in the future.

Jemi Fraser said...

Great interview - love the sound of a Midsummer's Night Dream mixed with baking and MG! Good luck with the book!!

Danielle H. said...

I have this book on my must-read list as it comes highly recommended. I agree about the food being a huge part of our lives--every time we meet as a family, we always share a meal and all the yummy desserts too. Please do not enter me in the query critique, but I'd love to win a copy of this exciting book. I shared on tumblr: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/185016459222/rajani-larocca-and-brent-taylor-guest-post-and

Ms. Yingling said...

I don't need to be entered in the giveaways (my cross country novel will never be finished!), but thanks for the fun interviews.

Rosi said...

This is really a fun interview but rich at the same time. Thanks for that. For what it's worth, I think The Best Man is one of the best books I've ever read.

Snuffalupagus said...

This looks like such an original story. Can't wait to read!

CatMallette said...

Rajani & Brent gave a great presentation at NESCBWI a few weeks ago. I hope I'm picked for query critique! Posted on Twitter https://twitter.com/CatMallette and Facebook.

Melissa Miles said...

These two are the best! I loved the interview. Thanks for sharing your insights on publishing. :)

Teresa Robeson said...

Ah, Rajani, my sweet! Always so fun learning more about you! I wasn’t an only child and neither are my husband and kids but we are all cereal boxes (and everything with words on it) readers. 😄 Oddly enough, Brent has the exact hairstyle as my younger son!

Veronica Jorge said...

Great interview questions. Love Brent's enthusiasm. Please enter me in the critique giveaway.

Sam S. said...

Love this: "Even when we write fiction, those of us who write for young people must tell emotional truths, and we always need to respect young readers as the astute and sensitive people they are." Thanks for sharing such great insights!

L.Robinson said...

Awesome interview!

Angie Quantrell said...

Congratulations on such fun books! A fairy tale story. :) Great interview! angelecolline at yahoo dot com

Joana Pastro said...

Great interview! Congratulations to both for all those awesome books and hoping many more will follow!

Carl Scott said...

Thanks very much for the interview. I'd love to win a copy of Midsummer's Mayhem, the critique would be lost on me however.
I've tweeted a link to this post: https://twitter.com/carlrscott/status/1130912318726950913, and pinned an image on Pinterest with a link as well: https://www.pinterest.com.mx/pin/336573772150734472/.
Thanks again, have a great day everyone!! crs(at)codedivasites(dot)com

Laura K Zimmermann said...

A wonderful interview. I have posted the link on Twitter.

Unknown said...

Rajani was in my Pitch-Wars Mentee Class of 2017. So proud of her and happy for her! Excited for what lies ahead for this team!

Tonja Drecker said...

Fun interview and it sounds like a great relationship. Good luck to both of you!

MeganC said...

Congrats, Rajani, on all of your well-deserved success. Thanks for a great interview!

jean602 said...

Great interview Congratulations on your books.

jean602 said...


Fundy Blue said...

Thanks for sharing a wonderful two-sided interview, Natalie. It's sun to read the journeys that Rajani and Brent shared. I hope that Rajani's book is a great success!

Sherry Ellis said...

Two for the price of one today! Sounds like they are both organized and energetic.

Patsy said...

Interesting interviews.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Congratulations to Ranjani! I loved the back-and-forth interviews here. It was interesting and inspiring to read about the process of finding the right agent/author and getting books out there in the world.
I would be interested in a critique.
My e-mail is tyreantigger@gmail.com

Amanda C said...

I am so glad I just found this website. Interesting interviews! I can't wait to go and read previous ones too. I am interested in the critique.

Amanda C said...

My email is achernek@gmail.com

Susan Johnston Taylor said...

Congrats, Rajani! This sounds like a great book.

T. M. Becker said...

What a great interview! I'd love to be a part of both giveaways, especially the critique. I am following you on Twitter, Natalie. :) My email is arabella080@gmail.com
Thanks for these opportunities!

TerryMac said...

The book sounds like a great read, and the author/agent story is equally entertaining! Thanks for the interview. terrymac3@icloud.com

DMS said...

This sounds like a fun book. I liked A Midsummer Night's Dream the best out of all the Shakespeare I read in high school.

The time between sending the query and the email back must have set a record. WOW! Great interview. :)

Nas said...

Congratulations to Rajani. Her books sound fantastic!

Thanks for this great interview.

Erika Beebe said...

I am right there with you, I love fantasy. I love YA so much. Your energy in this post makes me smile. Thanks for being such a huge support for writers.

Elephant's Child said...

LOVE your generosity and support of writers. And through them readers.