Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • 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
  • Alex Brown Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 9/9/2024
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  • 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! Today I’m excited to have debut author Shannon Schuren here to talk about her debut YA contemporary THE VIRTUE OF SIN. It tackles the very hard issue of living in a religious cult. I haven’t read a book about this before and grew up in a town that had a mysterious defunct cult. So I'm excited to read this.

Before we get to Shannon’s interview, 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 is officially Insecure Writer's Support Group Day.

The co-hosts this month are:  Diane Burton, Kim Lajevardi, Sylvia Ney, Sarah Foster, Jennifer Hawes, and Madeline Mora-Summonte!

Optional Question: Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?. 

I only write fantasy although I might be interested in writing a mystery. I like fantasy because of the world building, strong characters and plot, magic, and ability to incorporate other genres into a fantasy, such as mystery, romance, etc. I also like to write MG and YA. Adult fantasies get to be too long and complicated for me to read or write.

What about you? Which genre is your favorite to write?

How I Can Help You

I also want to remind you how I can help you and am re-posting what I wrote about this last month:

I want to help my followers when your book releases. Because I only post once a week, I cannot participate in a few blog tours for you. However, there are other ways I can help you. For anyone who doesn't know or doesn't know, I'm glad to post about your book release in Follower News. Just e-mail me a two-sentence blurb with your book cover and a few links. This is open to picture book through adult as long as your book is not erotica. You just have to be a follower who regularly visits the blog (once a month is okay) and leaves a comment so I know that you have stopped by.

Also, I participate in a monthly book giveaway hop with other book review bloggers where I offer a variety of MG and YA new releases. I get about 70-100 comments and 1000 or more page views on these posts. I'm going to also open this up as a way to help my followers. I'm glad to offer your book as one of the choices when it releases. This is also open to picture book through adult as long as your book is not erotica. Same follower requirement as for Follower News. Just e-mail me your book cover!

Take advantage of these opportunities to let me help you promote your book!

Now onto my interview with Shannon. Here’s a blurb of THE VIRTUE OF SIN on Goodreads:

A novel about speaking out, standing up, and breaking free.

Miriam lives in New Jerusalem, a haven in the desert far away from the sins and depravity of the outside world. Within the gates of New Jerusalem, and under the eye of its founder and leader, Daniel, Miriam knows she is safe. Cared for. Even if she’s forced, as a girl, to quiet her tongue when she has thoughts she wants to share, Miriam knows that New Jerusalem is a far better life than any alternative. So when God calls for a Matrimony, she’s thrilled; she knows that Caleb, the boy she loves, will choose her to be his wife and they can finally start their life together. 

But when the ceremony goes wrong and Miriam winds up with someone else, she can no longer keep quiet. For the first time, Miriam begins to question not only the rules that Daniel has set in place, but also what it is she believes in, and where she truly belongs. 

Alongside unexpected allies, Miriam fights to learn–and challenge–the truth behind the only way of life she’s ever known, even if it means straying from the path of Righteousness.

Hi Shannon! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

Thanks for having me! I’m so happy to be here to talk books and writing. Like many writers, I started out as a reader first. I have no shortage of stories about being the awkward girl who took books to her slumber parties, or got caught reading behind her textbook in science class. I used to dream of being a writer—in fact, I still have a journal from middle school where everything in it is written like backflap copy for imaginary books. Like I said, AWKWARD! Somewhere along the line, I stopped believing writing could be a career, though writing a novel was always at the top of my bucket list. When I turned 30, I decided to go for it. I finished my first draft of my first novel the day I went into labor with my son—and he was 17 days overdue! It felt like a sign that I was supposed to finish that book. I was wrong; the book was NOT good. But by the time I figured it out, it was too late—I was already writing another and I was hooked.

2. I was a very awkward, shy girl who loved to read too. Where did you get the idea for THE VIRTUE OF SIN?

There were actually two inspirations: a vacation and a dream. My family visited Koreshan State Park in Estero, Florida, which is the site of an abandoned ‘Utopian Community.’ So, basically a cult. A lot of the old buildings are still standing and I wandered around and read all about their lives and beliefs and took a ton of notes for what I thought would be a novel about a cult that practices celibacy, and the fall-out when a woman becomes impregnated by the cult leader. But I abandoned that idea pretty shortly after returning home. A few months later, I had a very vivid dream about a boy and a girl who embrace and speak for the first time just before she is married off to someone else. I was intrigued by those dream characters and just started writing, wanting to explore the idea of what—if anything—would push them to break the rules to be together. It wasn’t until fairly late in the first draft that I realized both experiences were part of the same story.

3. I love how your travels inspired your story. I've had that happen too. Your book tackles living in a religious cult. I know from your website that you never lived in one. What research did you do so that you could create an accurate portrayal of what that is like?

A lot of reading and imagination! I read everything I could get my hands on from actual cult survivors—there are some really courageous and amazing stories out there! I also listened to a lot of podcasts about cults—my favorite is Oh No Ross and Carrie. When I initially started writing, I was excited about the idea of creating my very own religion, but that faded pretty quickly when I realized how hard it was going to be to manufacture all these rules! I wanted the Children of Daniel to be believable as a cult, but I also wanted it to be unique. It was a hard balance to achieve.

4. It sounds like Miriam must go through a huge emotional challenge and growth in the story. And it may be even more difficult because she’s been taught not to express herself as a girl. Share a bit about her growth as a character.

I’m going to try to do this without spoilers, so here goes! Miriam was so much fun to write, because
she is so curious. All of the adults in her life are worried that her curiosity—and her mouth—will be her downfall. But she has this voice inside her that, while she can’t identify it, she also can’t silence it. And that voice doesn’t always agree with what she’s been taught. Whether you call that a conscience or a moral compass or an angel on your shoulder, I think we all have some kind of inner guide that helps us distinguish between right and wrong. But we also have other influences—family, friends, society—that help us make those hard decisions. Miriam really doesn’t, at least not until she meets Aaron. Then she has to make up her own mind about what she believes in.   

5. What was a challenge that you had in writing THE VIRTUE OF SIN either before or after you signed your book deal. How did you overcome it?

The ending was always a challenge—both before and after the book deal. I can’t say too much without spoiling, but the last forty or so pages changed several times between signing with my agent and publication. I had help, thankfully, in the form of an amazing critique partner and a very gifted editor. I love the ending now; it feels absolutely right for the characters and their journey. But it was a long road to get there!

6. Glad you had the help. You’ve also had over 20 short stories published. Has writing short stories helped you in writing this book? If so, how?

I don’t have a writing degree, so short stories were really the bulk of my writing education. Twenty published means at least twice as many written, and I learned something from each one—how to write believable characters, how to craft a plot, how to survive rejection. It was much easier to practice on short works, especially when I had small children at home. I could hold a whole story in my head, while a novel was a messier thing. Though I have a few ‘practice novels’ under my belt as well.

7. Sounds like writing short stories is a great way to learn about the craft of writing. Your agent is Barbara Poelle. Share how she became your agent and what your road to publication was like.

It took me a few years and several drafts to find the heart of this story. I’d queried previous versions of the novel, but something wasn’t working. I’d actually gotten two R&R’s from two different agents, both of whom passed on the novel after the revisions, which at the time was heartbreaking. After the second rejection and a head-slap moment where I realized it was more a coming of age story than it was a romance, I finished another rewrite in January of 2017 and came up with a short list of possible agents. Luckily, Barbara was on that list, and she responded with a full request the same day I queried her, then called the next morning to offer representation. We did another round of revisions before going out on sub, and in July of that year I signed a two-book deal with Liza Kaplan at Philomel Books. I am incredibly lucky to be working with such strong, talented women who have really championed my work.  

8. Wow! You really worked on this. How do you plan to market your book? How are you balancing this with your writing schedule, job as a librarian, and family life?

In terms of marketing, I am fortunate to have a great team behind me at Penguin Random House. They’ve been fantastic at helping get the word out! I’m also (slowly) learning to use social media (I’m on Instagram now! Follow me there!) and I’ll be doing some reading and signing events, as well as presentations at some local book festivals. As far as balance, I’ve had to get strict about my writing time. I used to only write when I was alone and had a couple of hours free, and even that often get pushed aside for everything from laundry to doctor appointments to car-pooling. Now, pretty much everyone in my family now knows that if I’m in my writing shed, I’m unavailable! So far it hasn’t affected my work schedule at the library, but I’ve banked a few vacation days just in case I get into trouble with the deadline for the next book.

9. You are also a children’s librarian. How do we best find children’s librarians and connect with them when our books release? Do you have any suggestions on how to get our books on library shelves throughout the country?

I think social media is a great way to connect with almost anyone these days. There are a lot of librarians on twitter, and the great thing about librarians is we love books! We also love writers, so don’t be afraid to reach out to them with publication news or to ask them about hosting events. As far as getting books on shelves, I think most libraries use one of the bigger distributors for ordering—Baker & Taylor or Ingram. So a feature or ad in their publications might have a better chance of reaching a librarian audience, or at least getting your book on their radar.  

10. What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on another contemporary YA about a sixteen-year-old girl whose small-town life is thrown into turmoil when her star athlete boyfriend turns eighteen and their relationship becomes a source of controversy, gossip, and scandal. While it has some similar themes to THE VIRTUE OF SIN, it’s also been a very different experience writing about teens living in the ‘real world’ of high school, prom, SATs, and social media. After spending years immersed in New Jerusalem, it felt a bit like emerging from a cave. I think I can relate to Miriam even more now!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Shannon. You can find Shannon at INSERT YOUR LINKS

Twitter: @shannonschuren
Instagram: @schurenauthor

Shannon has generously offered an ARC of THE VIRTUE OF SIN 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 222nd. 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. The book giveaway is U.S. and Canada.

Here's what's coming up:

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

Friday, June 14 I am participating in the Splash Into Summer Giveaway Hop

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 Monday!


Donna K. Weaver said...

Sounds like an intriguing story. Congrats!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

An abandoned cult? That would be interesting to explore.
Natalie, how about a fantasy mystery?

Cathy Keaton said...

Yeah, this story does sound interesting, Shannon. There's a lot of that sort of thing happening in real life all over the country.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Congratulations, Shannon, on your book. I love the idea of it and hope to read it soon. Wonderful interview, Natalie. Hope to read some of your work, too.

Lynn La Vita said...

Thank you for posting Shannon's excellent interview. As an author, you asked great questions and as a reader we are introduced to a new author. Thank you.
Lynn La Vita @ Writers Supporting Writers

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Natalie, I too like you love to write fantasy. And what a co-incidence, I want to try my hand at writing a mystery too.

The Virtue of Sin sounds super. I'll add it to my TBR list!

Nicki Elson said...

I bet the world building is fun in fantasy writing - also challenging, I'm sure, but worth it if that's what you love to do. Fantasy and sci-fi that feels like fantasy is my favorite to read even though I haven't written the genre.

Congrats to Shannon!

Computer Tutor said...

All those reasons you say make you like writing fantasy are why I like reading it. Well-said, Natalie! And good interview. What a title. It sounds like an oxymoron!

Chrys Fey said...

Thank you for wanting to help with my mom's release later. :)

Fantasy is very versatile.

Jennifer Hawes said...

Wow! That book sounds amazing!! I think you could def write a mystery!

cleemckenzie said...

It was interesting to read how this author found the heart of her story on a trip. Miriam as a curious person sounds exactly right.

Thank you for always being so supportive of other authors and offering to help them when they come out with a book!

Sarah Foster said...

I've always been a fan of fantasy and I used to write a ton of it when I was younger. I think it's more than likely I'll return to writing it someday.

David Powers King said...

I also write fantasy for many of the reasons you stated, but also to work out my demons, in a sense. Good to meet you Shannon, and the best to your release! :)

Jennifer Lane said...

Hi, Natalie! Interesting comment about preferring MG and YA fantasy because adult fantasies get too long and complicated.

I agree with Shannon that cults are fascinating. I can't get enough of Leah Remini's series. Her new release and WIP sound great!

Gwen Gardner said...

Hi Shannon! Interesting premise for a book. I've read a bit about these cults in the headlines. Congrats on your new release!

Hi Natalie! I think you'd like writing mysteries. There are so many sub-genres that you can take your pick from thriller to cozy. And you know I'm partial to cozies ;)

C.D. Gallant-King said...

Congratulations, Shannon, and thank you Natalie for helping out fellow writers!

Diane Burton said...

I love world building--reading it and making up my own. Fantasy is a special genre that I don't read enough of. Thanks for introducing us (me) to Shannon and her story. Congrats, Shannon.

Loni Townsend said...

Woot! I love fantasy too! I spend so much time in my head, building worlds and creating characters. It brings a sense of peace. :)

emaginette said...

I love anything mixed with mystery. Harry Potter is a great example of a fantasy-mystery mix. :-)

Anna from elements of emaginette

Jemi Fraser said...

Love that cover!! It seems like a great match for a powerful story!!

I love so many genres, right now loving writing nonfiction & romance, but I love to dabble in so many more!

Suzanne Warr said...

I love this story of how Shannon shaped the book over time so it could evolve into its present shape! Kind of seems to match the butterflies theme on the cover. :)

I will pass on winning this one since I read very little YA just now, but I truly enjoyed the interview and will be watching for Miriam's story as it takes on the world!

Carol Kilgore said...

Sounds like a fantastic book. Congrats, Shannon. I mostly read and write in the broad mystery and romance genres, but sometimes I venture out :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

A great review in Library Journal also helps with getting books into libraries. Congrats, Shannon.

Natalie, can you write a historical MG fantasy?

diedre Knight said...

A terrific interview, Natalie! Shannon's book is sure to be an engrossing read, as well as original for the target age-group. Sounds like a winner to me!

I commend your kindness in offering your services the way you do. I'm sure it's much appreciated ;-)

Tyrean said...

Great interview! I loved reading about Shannon's writing journey. I love short stories for playing with characters, dialogue, description, pacing, and ideas. It gives me a freedom that's harder to explore in a longer work. And, it definitely fits around life with kids - I know that from experience. :)
Shannon's book sounds like a great read!

Pat Hatt said...

A fantasy mystery could be fun.

Yeah, I can imagine lots of rules with the cults.

Olga Godim said...

I also write fantasy, and for the same reasons as you, Natalie. It allows my imagination to roam unfettered.
Great interview, Shannon. A religious cult is such a hard topic to explore tactfully.

Brenda said...

Full hardly agree, a fantasy mystery would be fun to read. Can't say that I've read any books on the topic of a religious cult, but this does sound intriguing.

Rebecca M. Douglass said...

Sounds like an interesting read, Shannon! I’m not a huge YA fan, but you’ve tackled a challenging topic and I’m intrigued :)

I like to write fantasy, though so far my best efforts have been flash fiction. Mysteries are a fun challenge, and now you’ve raised the notion of a fantasy mystery!

Cathrina Constantine said...

I love writing fantasy too for all the same reasons you've posted!!! Take Care, Natalie.

Anonymous said...

I love reading all genres, but particularly fantasy and sci-fi for the reasons you lay out, worldbuilding, magic, etc. I love exploring the unusual. I'm writing mystery/paranormal/horror, because I loving doing those same things on the dark side of the street.

Also, I love that you (and so many other IWSGers) are so supportive of other authors and I've decided to follow your example by stepping up to start helping out with launches, reviews, etc., even though I'm not published yet. I hope this is a "pay it forward" that benefits all of us.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Yep, I read/write fantasy for the same reason.

THE VIRTUE OF SIN sounds interesting. I love the cover too.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

The Virtue of Sin sounds pretty good. I could never write a contemporary for teens. They're too complicated. LOL

Juneta key said...

Great interview. Happy IWSG!

Fundy Blue said...

Great post, Natalie! You always have such interesting ones! I love to read fantasy for the reasons you enjoy writing fantasy. Anytime I think about writing fantasy, I immediately see Tolkien and Martin, and I'm defeated before I start. LOL! I really like the idea behind Shannon Schuren's book. Very intriguing!

Tonja Drecker said...

A lovely interview!
I've been trying to write a MG mystery series, but without magical elements of some sort, it doesn't want to flow. So, I guess I need that lunch if fantasy too.

Tonja Drecker said...

Not lunch if...but pinch of....my spell corrector is being difficult 😉

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I enjoy reading mysteries, but I'm not sure I could write one. There does tend to be an element of mystery in the horror I write though.... :)

Tamara Narayan said...

Another fascinating author's-road-to-publication story! I imagine walking around the ruins of a cult would be a great place to pick up story ideas.

Angie Quantrell said...

I can't wait to read this book! I love the premise! I also enjoyed reading about your publishing journey and the steps you are taking now to claim your writing time. Congratulations! angelecolline at yahoo dot com I'm also sharing on Twitter.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Intriguing premise for the new book!

Natalie, my genres are historical fantasies. I seem to be stuck in the late 1940's with my last four! Best of fun writing.

sherry fundin said...

great post
sherry @ fundinmental

Danielle H. said...

I loved that your subconscious wouldn't let you forget about your book idea and presented you with such a vivid dream. I love the premise of this book and find cults fascinating as far as why people choose to live in or run from them. I shared on tumblr: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/185410076372/shannon-schuren-interview-and-the-virtue-of-sin

Rosi said...

This sounds like a terrific book. Thanks for another interesting interview. Please let someone else win. Buried in books as usual.

Michelle Wallace said...

The Virtue Of Sin sounds like a great story.
I can't write fantasy and tip my hat to all those who build these amazing worlds from scratch, especially the high fantasy authors. I think it takes a really highly creative mind to do so.

Victoria Marie Lees said...

I agree, The Virtue of Sin does sound like a great read. All the luck with this new release.

You know, Shannon, I kept journals as a young teen, too. I wish I was as comprehensive in my thoughts as I am now, though. Most of the stuff in those journals or diaries was about school classes or friends, not deep, internal Victoria thoughts.

Great interview, Natalie. And thanks for the offer of help when my book releases. If I ever finish my memoir about attending college as a mother of 5, I'll certainly contact you. All best to you.

Doreen McGettigan said...

Shannon's book sounds so good. Great interview!

Samantha Bryant said...

Love the work you do here, highlighting new and debut authors. I've learned about a lot of great new books from reading your blog! @mirymom1 from
Balancing Act

mshatch said...

Very intriguing premise! Congratulations to Shannon :)

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Dihiwi said...

I'm so glad that I discovered your blog. It's encouraging that you are working on YA fiction. I appreciate your book recommendations. Keep up the good work! dianeweidenbenner.com

Empty Nest Insider said...

Natalie, I’m constantly amazed by how much you’re able to accomplish! Shannon’s story about life in a cult sounds very compelling. Wishing her all the best!


Natasha said...

Great interview!
The Virtue of Sin sounds like a great read!!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Crystal @ Lost in Storyland said...

I love how this is a coming of age story in which Miriam needs to learn what she believes in. I enjoyed learning about the publication process behind The Virtue of Sin. It's especially interesting how much a book can change during rewrites and even after being accepted for publication!

Blog follower on bloglovin (crystalmusing) and twitter (lostinstoryland), and I tweeted about this giveaway!

Nancy P said...

Terrific interview. Thanks for the chance.

Elephant's Child said...

This greedy reader thanks you. And drats you. I need another book like a hole in the head. But will succumb.

Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight said...

I cannot WAIT to read this book, because I love cult-y books! Like so much. I find them incredibly fascinating, the whole psychology behind them, how some people manage to get out from underneath and some don't, etc. It sounds like Shannon put a TON of time and research into making this seem realistic, so now I am extra excited to dive in! Thanks for the awesome interview!