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 debut author Katie Zhao here to share about her MG fantasy THE DRAGON WARRIOR. It sounds like a fantastic story steeped in Chinese mythology but set in modern times. I'm super excited to read it!

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads

As a member of the Jade Society, twelve-year-old Faryn Liu dreams of honoring her family and the gods by becoming a warrior. But the Society has shunned Faryn and her brother Alex ever since their father disappeared years ago, forcing them to train in secret.

Then, during an errand into San Francisco, Faryn stumbles into a battle with a demon--and helps defeat it. She just might be the fabled Heaven Breaker, a powerful warrior meant to work for the all-mighty deity, the Jade Emperor, by commanding an army of dragons to defeat the demons. That is, if she can prove her worth and find the island of the immortals before the Lunar New Year.

With Alex and other unlikely allies at her side, Faryn sets off on a daring quest across Chinatowns. But becoming the Heaven Breaker will require more sacrifices than she first realized . . . What will Faryn be willing to give up to claim her destiny?

Inspired by Chinese mythology, this richly woven contemporary middle-grade fantasy, full of humor, magic, and heart, will appeal to readers who love Roshani Chokshi and Sayantani DasGupta.

Hi Katie! Thanks for joining us.

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

I was born and raised in Michigan. From a young age, I loved reading, and knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I came to write for children because I’m a child at heart who simply loves children’s books. I strongly believe that not only are kids’ books fun to read, but they also are powerful in that they can shape readers’ minds from a young age. This is especially important to me because I am passionate about Asian American representation in literature.

Growing up in Michigan, I had access to a limited Asian American population, but mostly felt removed from the community. I struggled a lot with my identity as a child, and I wish more than anything that I could have grown up with stories featuring heroes who looked like me. Now that I’m older and have been fortunate enough to receive the opportunity to write those stories, I’m committed to writing Asian American protagonists for the next generation of Asian American children to be able to look up to.

 2. My daughter is adopted from China, and we wished there were more characters that looked like her too. Where did you get the idea for THE DRAGON WARRIOR?

work of Grace Lin. Much of the story, specifically the elements of Chinese mythology and culture, was inspired by the stories I consumed as a child - most notably the beloved Chinese cartoon Journey to the West, an animated adaptation of the classic text by Wu Cheng’en.

I created a cast of Chinese American characters based off the family and friends I knew, who I’d rarely seen represented in books before. Even the food that the characters eat during their quest is the food that I ate as a child (Asian snacks like Pocky, shrimp crackers, etc). I did my best to write THE DRAGON WARRIOR in the fun, adventurous, accessible manner of PERCY JACKSON, fusing together the stories I grew up with from two cultures to create THE DRAGON WARRIOR. Finally, the Chinatown settings are inspired by the family trips from my childhood; my parents always sought out Chinatowns wherever possible in each new travel destination.

3. Yum! My daughter and I love Pocky! I love that you set the story in San Francisco but is based on Chinese mythology. Were there challenges in mixing them vs. using an older setting in China?

I deliberately set THE DRAGON WARRIOR in a US-based Chinatown but incorporated Chinese mythology because I wanted the story to ring true to a Chinese American readership. Growing up as Chinese American, I always felt removed from the rich stories and mythology of China, and yet felt removed from Western stories as well. The greatest challenge in blending American and Chinese elements was doing so in a respectable manner. As a Chinese American, I have long worried that I’m not “Chinese” enough to claim to be part of China’s rich culture and mythology. I knew that no matter how much research I did, I’d probably get some of the Chinese mythology “wrong” in THE DRAGON WARRIOR. The greatest challenge was accepting that I did my best to write the Chinese American contemporary fantasy story of my heart, and that I’m enough, and that this story is enough.

4. I can relate to those worries because I'm writing a story about a Mexican-American girl. I've been in my husband's family for 30+ years but worry I'm not "deep" enough into the culture. What research did you do into the Chinese mythology you used in your story?

As I mentioned earlier, much of the story is based off of Wu Cheng’en’s classic tale JOURNEY TO THE WEST; luckily, that means I already did this research when I was a kid, watching the cartoon adaptation. Outside of that, I did online research and read various texts to learn more about Chinese mythology, like CHINESE MYTHOLOGY FROM A TO Z by Jeremy Roberts.

5. It sounds like Faryn, Alex, and the other characters have great voices and are memorable characters. Share a bit about your character development process.

Thank you! I’d like to think that my characters have great voice and are memorable, because in school my teachers always seemed to agree that “voice and style” was my strong suit. While developing my characters, I knew I wanted the protagonist to be a Chinese American girl (like me), who had a younger sibling (also like me - I have two, in fact). As I wrote and rewrote the story, the characters’ personalities came to me, more defined with each draft. It was almost like Faryn, Alex, Moli, and co. told me who they were, and as their author, I simply did my best to accommodate their interesting stories and personalities!

6. You graduated from University of Michigan in 2017 with a B.A. in English and Political Science, and you’re now pursuing a master’s degree there in Accounting. What’s your secret for juggling the demands of college with your writing career?

Well, I have since graduated with my accounting degree, and I’ve actually been working full time for the past year (since September 2018). It’s not easy, but I make time for my writing. I write on almost every lunch break at work, and often in the evenings after work as well. When I’m really crunched for time, I also write on my commute to and from work, since I take the train and don’t have much else to do for that time anyway. I also write on the weekends, which means I often have to say no to social outings to meet a deadline, but it’s worth it to me to be able to work my dream career.

7. That's true dedication to your writing! What was your road to obtaining representation by your agent and signing a book deal like?

I’ve known that I’ve wanted to be a published author since late elementary school. I started writing novels in eighth grade. During my senior year of high school, I seriously began pursuing publication with my fourth completed novel, which was also my first #ownvoices novel featuring a plus-sized Chinese American protagonist. I queried a bunch of agents, but it didn’t go anywhere, so I gave up on writing for three years while college life kept me busy.

During my fourth year of college while studying accounting, I realized that I was heading down a path that would only lead me further from my life’s greatest dream. I wrote intensely, and queried three separate projects during 2017 and early 2018. The third project I queried for only two weeks before receiving an offer of representation from my current literary agent, Penny Moore. Penny took the project onto submission to editors in March 2018, and two weeks later the book went to auction and we accepted an offer with Bloomsbury. When the cards fell into the right place, everything happened quickly, but I would still say that my road from publishing desire to fruition was not short by any means.

8. That's a great road to publication story. How are you planning to market THE DRAGON WARRIOR? What made you decide on your plan?

I’m mostly using Twitter and Instagram to market my book. Thankfully, my publisher (Bloomsbury) has taken the lead on reaching out to conferences and festivals for me to attend to pitch my book, which has been the most successful in terms of making connections with industry professionals and getting the word out there.

9. What are you working on now?

I’m currently in-between projects as I wait for my editor to send the next round of notes for the sequel to THE DRAGON WARRIOR. I also have a YA social thriller scheduled for publication in winter 2021, titled HOW WE FALL APART. It’s ONE OF US IS LYING meets CRAZY RICH ASIANS, and chronicles the story of four high-achieving Asian American students attending an elite prep school, who suddenly become the prime suspects when their valedictorian best friend turns up dead.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Katie. You can find Katie at her website (www.katiezhao.com), Twitter (@ktzhaoauthor), and Instagram (@ktzhaoauthor).

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

Katie has generously offered an ARC of THE DRAGON WARRIOR 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 November 2nd. 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 ARC giveaway is U.S. and Canada.

Here's what's coming up:

Monday, October 28th, I've got an agent spotlight interview with Jessica Reino and a query critique giveaway

Wednesday, November 6th I have an interview with debut author Kimberly Gabriel and a giveaway of her YA mystery EVERY STOLEN BREATH and my IWSG post

Thursday, November 14th I'm participating in the Gratitude Giveaway Hop

Monday, November 18th I have an interview with author Annie Sullivan and a giveaway of her YA fantasy TIGER QUEEN

Hope to see you on Monday!


Computer Tutor said...

This sounds really good. I love that it starts with challenges that would stop most kids but not this gal. Excellent.

Brenda said...

Lovely interview. I'm so excited to hear that there will be a sequel to Dragon Warrior and defiantly need to keep an eye out for How We Fall Apart. It sounds amazing. Have a lovely week Natalie. And congratulations to Katie.

June McCrary Jacobs said...

Thanks for sharing this insightful interview with this debut author. The cover art on this book is awesome, and the story sounds exciting and interesting. I appreciate your sharing this gem for MMGM!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That looks like a fun book for kids. And she has an Alex in the book - double bonus!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

What a great cover! And the YA social thriller sounds like a great upcoming release, too!

Danielle H. said...

This book is high on my must read list as I love the premise. Thank you for the interview and chance to win an ARC. I shared on tumblr: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/188498866797/katie-zhao-interview-and-the-dragon-warrior

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I think it sounds like a great story. Funny how we worry. I have paused in the middle of writing and worried that I would get something wrong. I still worry. I've had a lot of people tell me to write a story set in the 80's. I grew up then, so I should know it, but still, I worry. My perceptions might not be the same as someone else's. But that doesn't make our experience less genuine, just different, right?

Jemi Fraser said...

This sounds great - sacrifice and excitement and adventure!

Pat Hatt said...

Wow, sure a lot on the go career wise. Making time to write sure can be worth it, even if one has to skip the occasional social outing. Sounds like a good one indeed.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

The Dragon Warrior sounds fabulous. I love Chinese mythology.

Greg Pattridge said...

Her degrees are impressive considering she kept her love of writing out there at the same time. Thanks for the great interview and the book sounds fantastic.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I"m so impressed with Katie's dedication and as so glad to see more diverse characters for children's books.

Patricia T. said...

What a fasscinating interview. I learned so much about Katie and how she approached her story. It's sounds rich in Asian mytholody. We definitely need more Asian stories -- which I enjoy reading. Just finished Michelle Isenhoff's Tears of the Mountain and really got lost in her beautiful story. Will definitely check out the Dragon Warrior!

Angie Quantrell said...

This sounds like a great story! Thanks for the interview. Congratulations! Sharing on Twitter. angelecolline at yahoo dot com

nashvillecats2 said...

A most wonderful interview, great to read although a day late.


Rosi said...

I always enjoy your interviews. They are rich. Thanks for that. I will pass on the giveaway.

Suzanne Warr said...

What a great interview, and Dragon Warrior sounds like a fun and exciting read, as well! I enjoy mythology of all kinds so it sounds right down my alley. Thanks for sharing, and happy belated MMGM!

Debra Branigan said...

I love it already. The interview was fabulous and the storyline sounds fantastic. I look forward to this one. Thank you for sharing and the chance.
dbranigan27 (at) gmail (dot) com.

lostinimaginaryworlds.blogspot.com said...

Another children’s author, can’t have enough of them, and the book sounds super!

Chrys Fey said...

I love the premise for this story and the character! We do need more Asian American characters in entertainment. Love, love, love!

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

What an interesting interview and the story sounds fascinating. Hope to read it soon. Thank you, ladies.

Angela Brown said...

Thank you Natalie and Katie for a great interview. Thank you, Katie, for sharing your desire to write rich stories with diverse representation for the next generation, helping to ensure there will be options :-)