Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • 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.

Agent Spotlight: Veronica Park Interview and Query Critique Giveaway

 Today I’m thrilled to have agent Veronica Park here. She is a literary agent at Fuse Literary.

 Hi Veronica! Thanks so much for joining us.

 About Veronica:

 1. Tell us how you became an agent, how long you’ve been one, and what you’ve been doing as an agent.

Like most agents, my road has been a weird one. I started my first internship for a NYC literary agency when I was living on an island in the Caribbean, back in 2012...ish. After that, I moved around a bit through various editorial and marketing jobs in the publishing industry, to get a better idea of how the system worked from multiple angles. I went back to work at the first agency as a platform and branding consultant, then I started working as an agent, and built up my client list for 3-4 years before moving to Fuse Literary in January 2019.

Most literary agents I know start out working in publishing in some other capacity, coming in from the editorial side, the writing side, the production side, or in my case a mashup of a bunch of different related industries (like journalism, TV/Film production, marketing, travel & tourism, piracy, etc.) before figuring out their “brand” as an agent. Mine has taken a few years to solidify, but I specialize in working with nonfiction and fiction authors who have strong voices, unique perspectives, marginalized experiences, and a plan to change the world in a very specific and personal way. My latest sales have all been for projects that tackle real world issues in a unique and hopeful way, taking the big picture struggles and giving them names and faces.

I particularly enjoy working with authors who (like me) are able to tackle these #struggles with humor, humility, and a willingness to make mistakes and learn to be better as we grow.

About the Agency:

2. Share a bit about your agency and what it offers to its authors.

Fuse manages a wide variety of clients, from bestsellers to debut authors, working with fiction and non-fiction for children and adults worldwide. We combine technical efficiency with outside-the-covers creative thinking so that each individual client’s career is fine-tuned for them. A boutique, collaborative agency, Fuse provides each client with the expertise and forward vision of the group.

We blend the tried-and-true methods of traditional publishing with the brash new opportunities engendered by digital publishing, emerging technologies, and an evolving author-agent relationship. We recognize that our ongoing success directly results from that of our clients, so we remain at their side to cultivate and strategize throughout the many lives of each book, both before and after the initial sale.

We pride ourselves on our flexibility and passion for progression in an ever-changing publishing environment.

What She’s Looking For:

3. What age groups do you represent—picture books, MG, and/or YA? What genres do you represent and what are you looking for in submissions for these genres?

I represent nonfiction and fiction from MG to Adult. However, I generally tend to focus on contemporary settings and themes and am extremely selective when it comes to kidlit. For nonfiction, I prioritise activism over notoriety; writers who are fully engaged in their subject matter, and not merely name brands. For fiction, I am a big believer in #ownvoices for issues, but also I love to see stories about marginalized experiences of happiness and joy. For example: I work with a lot of projects that have LGBTQIA+ elements, but I rarely find myself as compelled by fraught coming out stories or narratives about characters who are condemned for their identity as those illuminating worlds where everyone can live and love equally. I am currently most actively seeking stories featuring strong voices, with themes of empathy, honesty, humanity, horror, romance, and rebellion from YA to adult. Also, please note: Black lives matter, trans women are women, and love is love. If you don’t believe these to be true and worth fighting for, I’m not the right agent for you.

4.  Is there anything you would be especially excited to seeing in the genres you are interested in?

I’m pretty much always looking for #ownvoices BIPOC and/or LGBTQIA+ contemporary romance, commercial women’s fiction, and feminist horror. This is an oddly specific ask, but I’d also love to work with a poet laureate from one of the (many) places I’ve lived, but particularly Alaska, Oregon, New York, and Puerto Rico.

What She Isn’t Looking For:

5. What types of submissions are you not interested in?

Please miss me with any and all romance concepts that deal with someone who is oppressed falling in love with their oppressor. This includes many contemporary and historical political romances, law enforcement romances, and billionaire romances for the most part, unfortunately. Though I am known to RT a tarot meme, I’m also probably not the best fit for NF centered solely around religion, spirituality, or other mindfulness pursuits; unless the concept is also coupled with another theme that’s more universal (like love, empathy, equality, humanity, etc.) For MG-YA, please keep in mind that projects need to appeal to pub industry adults; but ultimately, the goal is to write stories that center and do no harm to the target readership: the youths.

Agent Philosophy:

6. What is your philosophy as an agent both in terms of the authors you want to work with and the books you want to represent?

That’s a complicated question. I guess, particularly lately, my approach is centered around the idea that we can’t control as much as we’d like--in the world, or in publishing. So I use a kinesthetic approach to collaborate with my authors on setting ambitious but achievable goals, with the idea that there will always be room for improvement. The authors who tend to do well with this system are those who have a clear identity, a brand in progress, and at least some idea of what they want to accomplish. But they’re also ready and willing to work together to figure out the best way to get there.

Editorial Agent:

7. Are you an editorial agent? If so, what is your process like when you’re working with your authors before submitting to editors?

As a former journalist with many years of editorial experience, I can advise on polishing a project, but these days I spend most of my time on big picture (developmental) edits, because I trust my clients to take the tools they’re given and master mechanics as we go. Depending on the author, depending on the project, sometimes we collaborate on a concept from the ground up, or create a proposal based on a particular publisher’s requirements. My veteran authors may turn in manuscripts that are 99% ready to go, and only need some slight tweaks to be pitched effectively. Others need several rounds of editorial. My style when it comes to revising is very “teach a person to fish.” That way, every round of revision strengthens their skills and increases their confidence for the next project. The goal is for revisions to become less painful over time.

Query Methods and Submission Guidelines: (Always verify before submitting)

8. How should authors query you and what do you want to see with the query letter?

I currently only accept queries through Query Manager. Information is available on my Fuse page. I also frequently tweet MSWL requests and have a MSWL page that I update pretty regularly. Because there is SO much free information available online for how to query effectively, I won’t go through all my tips here. Overall, please be professional, and briefly tell me why you think I’m a good fit to represent you, your project, and help you reach your goals.

9.  Do you have any specific dislikes in query letters or the first pages submitted to you?

I don’t like to focus on the negative. Definitely do lots of research into your target genre, to ensure you’re not pitching the project as something that it actually isn’t (for example: a “romance” that doesn’t end in an HEA or HFN) and that you’re either following or knowingly bending the “rules” (reader expectations and industry guidelines) of your given genre. I’ve seen lots of projects that go against the grain and do it well, but rarely are they from authors who don’t have experience or at least significant research in the genre they’ve chosen to break into.

Response Time:

10. What’s your response time to queries and requests for more pages of a manuscript?

Unfortunately, thanks to 2020, not as consistent as I would like. I’ve requested pages and read them in less than a week, and I’ve gotten so busy that I didn’t get a chance to dip into my submissions for months at a time. (And in those cases, I will never fault an author for moving on if they don’t want to wait; in those cases, it’s very probably my loss.) But we do what we can, and my goal is to respond to all queries with some idea of my reasoning (unless they’re for a type of project that I have said I do not represent and/or won’t consider, or the query is not personalized--you’d be surprised how many people just kind of blast a bunch of agents with a “Dear Agent” or a “Dear Sir” when I’m not a sir.)

That said, mistakes happen, and we’re all human. I’ve never rejected a query based solely on a typo. I cannot stress enough that most of the time, my #1 reason for passing is that I just didn’t see enough evidence that I’m the best fit to represent and sell your work. The agent/author relationship is a partnership (or it should be) and please, trust me when I say this: you DO NOT want to work with an agent who isn’t really all that passionate about you or your work. That’s how you end up sitting around, agented, wondering what’s going on with your career and whether your agent is pitching your book(s) to the best of their ability. It’s not a situation I’d wish on anyone.

My rule of thumb for query timelines: no news = no news. Don’t automatically assume that a delayed response means your writing isn’t good, or that you did something wrong. The world is an imperfect place. Screws fall out all the time, etc.

Self-Published and Small Press Authors:

11.  Are you open to representing authors who have self-published or been published by smaller presses? What advice do you have for them if they want to try to find an agent to represent them?

Yes, on a case-by-case basis, but please always be honest about a project’s history. And yours.

12. With all the changes in publishing—self-publishing, hybrid authors, more small publishers—do you see the role of agents changing at all? Why?

Always. As the only publishing professionals whose sole purpose is to be the author’s advocate and representative, IMO we should all be constantly examining our behaviors, beliefs, and standard operating procedures; particularly those that may have been taught or handed down by the “old guard” publishing pros who have been instrumental in encouraging, upholding, and/or excusing prejudice and inequality since the inception of the industry. Sorry to get political for a sec, but if you’re a white person in publishing at any level, it’s up to you--to us--to use our privilege and our position to boost and protect those who have been traditionally, consistently, and systematically marginalized in our industry. There’s no more room to sit on the sidelines.

I realize that your question was more about process, but this is why my answer still makes sense. At every level of publishing, from self-publishing, to hybrid publishing, to publishers of any size, there are those who are allowed into the room with no questions asked (even if, in some cases, they are guilty of bigoted and/or predatory behaviors) and those who have to work many times as hard to even get into the building. Whether we’re talking about #MeToo, #PublishingSoWhite, or #PublishingPaidMe, there is no separating those issues from the process. Inequality is not a bug in the system, it is a feature. But here’s what I believe: a rising tide lifts all boats. The more we work to make our industry more inclusive, transparent, and fair overall, the more writers of all identities will be able to navigate the system in a way that makes the most sense for their goals.

Also, it’d be kind of great if all the most hard-working writers, editors, and agents could all make a living wage from doing what they love. Don’t you think?


13. Who are some of the authors you represent?

My current client list can be found here.

Interviews and Guest Posts:

14. Please share the links to any interviews and guest posts you think would be helpful to writers interested in querying you.




Links and Contact Info:

PM: https://www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/veronicapark/

MSWL: https://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/mswl-post/veronica-park/

Fuse Page: https://www.fuseliterary.com/veronica-park/

Twitter (please don’t pitch me your book on Twitter): https://twitter.com/veronikaboom

15. Please share how writers should contact you to submit a query and your links on the Web.

QM: https://QueryManager.com/QueryVeronica

Additional Advice:

16. Is there any other advice you’d like to share with aspiring authors that we haven’t covered?

Never give up. Never surrender.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Veronica.

Giveaway Details

Veronica is generously offering a query critique to one lucky winner. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment through September 5th.  If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. If you do not want to enter the contest, that's okay. Just let me know in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is an international giveaway.

Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at natalieiaguirre7@gmail.com

Note: These agent profiles and interviews presently focus on agents who accept children's fiction. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found here is subject to change.


Debut Author Interview: KayLynn Flanders and Shielded Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Kaylynn Flanders here to share about her YA fantasy Shielded. It sounds like a real pager, and Jenna sounds like a great heroine that readers start loving right away. I’m excited to read it.

Follower News

Before I get to KayLynn's interview, I have Follower News to share. Jacqui Murray recently released

Against All Odds. Here's a blurb: Xhosa’s extraordinary prehistoric saga concludes, filled with hardship, courage, survival, and family.

And here's some helpful links: 

Available digitally (print soon) at: Kindle US   Kindle UK   Kindle CA   Kindle AU 
Blog: https://worddreams.wordpress.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/worddreams
Website: https://jacquimur ray.net

KayLynn's Interview

Here’s a blurb of Shielded from Goodreads

For fans of Sorcery of Thorns and Furyborn comes a thrilling new fantasy about a kingdom ravaged by war, and the princess who might be the key to saving not only those closest to her, but the kingdom itself, if she reveals the very secret that could destroy her.

The kingdom of Hálendi is in trouble. It's losing the war at its borders, and rumors of a new, deadlier threat on the horizon have surfaced. Princess Jennesara knows her skills on the battlefield would make her an asset and wants to help, but her father has other plans.

As the second-born heir to the throne, Jenna lacks the firstborn's--her brother's--magical abilities, so the king promises her hand in marriage to the prince of neighboring Turia in exchange for resources Hálendi needs. Jenna must leave behind everything she has ever known if she is to give her people a chance at peace.

Only, on the journey to reach her betrothed and new home, the royal caravan is ambushed, and Jenna realizes the rumors were wrong--the new threat is worse than anyone imagined. Now Jenna must decide if revealing a dangerous secret is worth the cost before it's too late--for her and for her entire kingdom.

Hi KayLynn! Thanks so much for joining us!

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

Thank you for having me! I’m a wife/mother/reader/athlete/editor who recently discovered a love for writing. Growing up, I always loved reading. But anytime I tried to write my own stories, I’d quite five pages in because writing a whole story is hard. However, I always believed in the power that stories have, and decided to study editing in college. Just before I turned thirty, I got the idea for Shielded and attended my first writing conference with a friend who wanted to write a book, and I decided to give writing a book another try. It took five years and over twenty huge revisions to get Shielded where it is today, but I discovered something about myself along the way: I am a writer at heart. I love everything about creating a story and crafting an experience for the reader. I love the possibility found within a blank page, and the euphoria that comes as each draft gets better. Writing is a lot of work, but it’s is a part of me I’m so glad I discovered.

2. How cool that you studied edited and were willing to edit your manuscript so many times. Where did you get the idea for Shielded?

The very first idea I had for Shielded started in a dream. I won’t share spoilers, but there were people in trouble, and I woke up before they were safe. My heart was pounding so hard at the cliffhanger, and I needed to find a way for them to be safe so I could go back to sleep. The only solution I could think of was magic. I eventually went back to sleep, but the characters stayed with me. I let that idea grow over a few months, asking questions about who the characters were, why they were in danger, and how they got out of danger. The dream was wildly different than what my book ended up being (there were neon yellow tanks in the dream, for example), but the core emotion of that scene is one of the key parts of the book that hasn’t changed over the drafts.

 3. From some of the reviews, your book sounds like a real page turner that sucks readers in right away in the first chapter. What was your plotting process like? Did you change your process at all as you wrote your story?

I’ve been an editor for over ten years, so I’m all about making changes and finding better ways to do things. My plotting process started as asking questions about the characters and about their world, and piecing the information into a plot and reworking it as I received feedback. Over the twenty drafts Shielded went through, my plotting process definitely changed as I read books about writing craft and attended conferences. I’ve learned that there’s no One True Way to plot a book. I’m still revising my methods, bringing in things I think will help and integrating them into my process.

4. That's great advice on there being no One True Way. World building is so important in a fantasy. How did you develop your two kingdoms, which sound like they are very different cultures? How do keep the two different kingdoms and all their nuances straight in your head?

The two kingdoms sprouted from a need to have two kingdoms that needed to rely on each other for basic resources and supplies. So they developed as I thought about the resources needed to maintain a kingdom, and then sort of split them up so they could complement each other. Once I had a feel for what type of kingdom each was, I pulled from places I’d been and research I did to create more of a traditional culture behind the basic resources. And so, Kingdom 1 became Hálendi—influenced by Icelandic and Nordic cultures; and Kingdom 2 became Turia—based on Etruscan history with Italian influences.

 As for keeping the details separate, I kept a separate document with research and details for each kingdom. I also found that having a Pinterest board for each kingdom helped get me into the right mindset as I drafted and revised. My Pinterest boards aren’t elaborate (Pinterest can be a black hole), but they are enough to help me remember the feel of each kingdom.

5. The way you describe the two kingdoms makes so much sense planning-wise. Shielded is the first book in your duology. What made you decide on a duology rather than a trilogy? How did knowing the series would continue affect the story you told in Shielded?

When I very first started writing Shielded, I had thought to make it a trilogy. Trilogies were all the rage

at the time, and I had a vague idea of what each book would be about. But as I revised and as the market changed, I realized I didn’t want it to be three books. Leigh Bardugo had released her Six of Crows duology, and I loved that I didn’t have to wait three years to finish a series, and that the classic “book two slump” wasn’t an issue. So I decided to change from three books to two, partly because it would be a stronger series that way, and partly because my own attention span is about two books long. I won’t say there will never be a third book, though.

Changing from a trilogy to a duology didn’t actually affect Shielded very much. It did affect book two. But again, I think for this particular series, the overall story is stronger with two books instead of three.

6. I like your reasoning for making this a two-book series. It sounds like Jenna is a really strong leader and heroine. Was she an easy character to write and did you discover much new about her as you told her story?

Jenna’s voice was really strong from the beginning. Almost to the point where I could say, “What if this happened,” and she’d tell me how she’d react. That being said, writing is an act of discovery, so yes, I definitely discovered new things about her as I wrote and revised.

 7. Your agent is Laura Crockett. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

After I’d worked on Shielded for two years, getting a lot of feedback and attending writing conferences and revising it fourteen times, I decided I was ready to start querying. I’d written something I loved, and wanted to see how far I could take it. I queried agents for several months, getting a lot of rejections along with some interest. Laura requested the full manuscript, and then offered representation, and I’m so happy to work with her—she is fantastic! After I signed with her, we did another major revision, and then the manuscript was on submission with editors for about a year before Delacorte Press bought it. Shielded went through a few more rounds of revision with my fabulous editor, Monica Jean, and it was published July 21, 2020!

 8. One thing that I liked on your website is how you share links to reviews and interviews on book review blogs. When did you start connecting with blogs for interviews and reviews and how did you find them?

I started reaching out to a few bloggers I’d heard of a little over three months before my publication date. I didn’t feel comfortable reaching out and asking people I didn’t know to help me promote my book that wasn’t even out yet, and I said something on Twitter about how nervous it made me. A ton of bloggers responded to that tweet and emailed me, offering to help however they could! It was an amazing outpouring of support, and it’s something I’ve seen again and again in the book community. I wanted my readers to be able to find those reviews, so I decided to link them to my website, hoping I could push more traffic to the bloggers as well, since they’d come through for me and my book. I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep up with it now that the book is released and more reviews are popping up, but I’ll try as long as I can! Word of mouth really is the best way to market a book, and any success I’ve had is because people have read my book, loved it, and then told their friends about it.

 9. I've found some new bloggers by following your blog tour that was going on in August. How are you planning to celebrate the release of your book and promote it given COVID-19.

My book had a couple online launch events—a Facebook Live in conjunction with my local indie bookstore, and some Instagram Lives with Instagrammers. Promotion has all gone online, so the bloggers and Instagrammers posting about my book are the lifeblood of my marketing at the moment. Shielded is a fun escape into another world, filled with hope and magic and possibility, and that’s something a lot of people are looking for during these uncertain times.

 10. What are you working on now?

I’m working on the second book of the Shielded duology with my editor at the moment, and I’m really excited to take readers on another adventure within the Shielded world. There will be new point-of-view characters, and we’ll get to dive deep into the magic of the Plateau. I’m also working on a standalone fantasy that’s got loyalty and betrayal, forests of oaks with huge, twisty branches, and a knifer who must choose whether to trust the boy who’s always been her enemy, or her friends, who have started crossing lines she’s not willing to cross.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, KayLynn. You can find KayLynn at kaylynnflanders.com or on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Giveaway Details

KayLynn has generously offered a hardback of Shielded for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by August 29th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is U.S.

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Here's what's coming up:

Monday,  August 24th I have an agent spotlight interview with Veronica Park and a query critique giveaway

Tuesday, September 1st I'm participating in the September to Remember Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, September 2nd I have an interview with debut author Andrea Contos and a giveaway of her YA thriller Throwaway Girls

Monday, September 7th I have an agent spotlight interview with Carlisle Weber and a query critique giveaway

Monday, September 14th I have an interview with debut author Rebecca Coffindaffer and a giveaway of her YA space opera Crownchasers

Wednesday, September 16th I have an agent spotlight interview with Erin Casey and a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you on Monday!

Debut Author Interview: Chris Negron and Dan Unmasked Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Chris Negron here to share about his MG contemporary Dan Unmasked. It’s gotten great reviews and sounds so interesting with a focus on friendship, superheroes and baseball. I’m not a fan of baseball but I’m looking forward to reading this one.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads

A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection and an ABA 2020 Summer / Fall Indies Introduce pick.

Whether they’re on the baseball field or in Nate’s basement, devouring the newest issue of their favorite comic book, Dan and Nate are always talking. Until they’re not.

After an accident at baseball practice—an accident that Dan is certain he caused—Nate’s stuck in a coma. Usually, Dan can rely on his and Nate’s superpower—the secret language that only they know, a language of raised eyebrows and subtle nose taps.

Now, if Dan ever wants to see Nate tap his nose again, he’s got to figure out a way to wake him up. But for all the time he’s spent reading about the adventures of Captain Nexus, Dan knows he’s no superhero. Heroes have powers—and without Nate, all Dan has is a closet stuffed with comics and a best-friend shaped hole in his heart. There’s no way a regular kid can save the day all on his own. Right?

Hi Chris! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was probably about Dan Summers’s age in Dan Unmasked – thirteen years old. In fact, I can even remember playing basketball in a friend’s driveway after a Dungeon & Dragons session, and stating unequivocally that I was going to turn our adventures into a book one day. At the time I was obsessed with fantasy – it was as much what I was reading as what I was doing hobby-wise with those marathon D&D sessions. I think that driveway declaration was me giving myself permission to have this long-term dream to become a writer.

Ah, but long term was indeed what it turned out to be. From that day until now, I traveled a winding path that included studying Computer Science at Yale University, followed by entering the business world as an Information Technology (IT) consultant. In fact, IT is still my day job. Eventually, though, I stepped back into the version of me from that driveway. The one with the dream to become a writer as well.

It wasn’t until I started writing certain short stories that I realized I had a natural voice for the middle grade genre. After that, I started seeing how so much of the media I enjoyed could be considered “middle grade” too. I get really excited by stories like Super Eight or E.T., where bands of kids team up to solve a problem. Dan Unmasked was my first manuscript for kids, though it too traveled a long, twisting road to become the book it is today.

2. Glad you were able to follow that dream you had as a child. Where did you get the idea for Dan Unmasked?

That same year when I was thirteen was a very special one in my memory - 1984. When I look back on it, it seems like so many of my favorite things come from then, whether they be music or movies or – maybe especially so – comics. That year was also when the San Diego Padres – always and forever my favorite baseball team – made their first World Series appearance.

With all those favorites coming from that one year, it struck me that to be thirteen was – at least for me – to be at an age where you’re open to all sorts of good stuff, new stuff that seems to have been made just for you and becomes your immediate and lifelong favorite. On the flip side, though, I think that age can also be a time for a particularly strong vulnerability to the bad stuff, too.

I had a friend who was injured at a baseball practice, and I remember having a desperate urge to fix it, even though I wasn’t involved in the incident. Still, I remembered that emotion really well. And of course when I started working on Dan Unmasked, one of the things you do as a writer is ask yourself a ton of those “What If?” questions that lead to transforming something personal into something that perhaps takes on a more story-sized shape.

What if my friend’s injury had been more severe? What if I had thought the accident that caused it was somehow my fault? How much more desperate would I have been to find a way to fix what I thought I had broken?

So that’s the story I gave to Dan Summers, and it’s a big part of the inspiration for Dan Unmasked. I think I wanted to write a book for kids that spoke to the healing power of friendships – both old ones and new ones, to depending on teams, to being careful about blaming yourself too hard when accidents happen, and the rest of the story arose from merging Dan’s emotions about his best friend’s accident with those underlying themes. I hope, in the end, that the book delivers a tale that is equal parts action-packed and heartfelt, and most importantly, that it finds readers who connect with it the way I do with my own memories and emotions.

3. I’ve read that you do a good job of making Dan’s hobbies—superheroes and baseball—an integral part of the plot rather than just sides hobbies of your main character. Share a bit about your plotting process.

I’ve learned a lot about plotting since I moved into the middle grade genre. Probably the most
important tool that I employ now more than I did before is to start first with the main character of my books, understand what he or she loves or doesn’t love so much, and what their goals are. Then of course you have that inciting incident that may or may not connect directly to that character. It’s actually okay if it doesn’t, but probably best if it does, because it sort of becomes their origin story if you build it right.

After that, as the character is launched into the story by that first incident and we learn more about who they are and what they want, I really work hard to connect the rest of the plot points directly to the main character. Unlike the inciting incident, which as I said can be an either-or, the remaining plot points, in my opinion anyway, must come directly from the character’s internal goals. The interiority, in other words, drives the external events, and vice versa.

What I find is, when I follow that approach, there’s almost always this sort of magical moment when you’re stuck, and thinking about who the character is and what they would do solves whatever plot problem you’re facing in this really astonishing way. After that, things start snapping into place and feeling very connected, and that’s what you want in a cohesive plot that doesn’t have holes. The events have this sort of inevitability and yet are still surprising. I think that’s when I know I have something that could be special – when it seems like nothing else could’ve happened but the reader is still shocked or thrilled by it when it does.

For me, I absolutely need to understand the underpinnings of a story before I start writing it. That includes what I’m writing about – call it theme if you want, but it’s really the question of the book in my mind, and I also need to know the ending I’m writing towards, as well as all those plot points that progress the story in that direction I mentioned earlier.

It doesn’t mean they can’t change as I’m drafting, and sometimes things do change significantly enough that I have to stop and go back into planning (more like re-planning) mode. I also wholeheartedly agree with the “writing is re-writing” concept. I can’t tell you how many revisions my books tend to go through.

However, while it’s true I’m not big on the dreaded word “outline” that gives so many other writers the shivers, I’m also not a big proponent of the “pantsing” method I see so many writers attacking book-length works with. I’m really an advocate of having as much of a plan as possible (I like to call them “blueprints”) – even if it has to change later. My opinion is that it’s critical to understand those underpinnings of your project before starting to put actual words on the page.

4. Dan sounds like a compelling character that will pull at readers’ hearts. I think that’s harder to capture when a boy is the story’s main character. Did you struggle with his character development at all or did he come to you fairly well developed?
Because I was one myself and I’m therefore able to be very authentic about it, writing a boy character of a certain age – notably middle school – comes really naturally to me. I think it’s where I finally found my voice, so I didn’t struggle much with Dan’s voice, character, or inner feelings at all. Quite the opposite, actually, this novel flowed very easily for me from a voice perspective, though I did have a lot of work in revisions for sure to get the plot points just right.

On a more technical level, I think any character can be “easy” (or, easier, anyway) to write if you understand what they’re obsessed with – that’s where the comics and baseball aspects really helped with Dan, for example. I knew who he was because I knew what he loved, and they were things I also love. Also characters become much easier as well if their goals are clear. If either of those elements are muddled at all in the writer’s brain, problems in both voice and plot can quickly arise.

From the “writing boys” perspective, and in particular a book that at times is a “sports” book, I’m really proud that people I trust – my editor and agent among them – have said that the heartfelt aspects of this book pulled them in and, for example, made them care about what happens in Dan’s tournament even though they aren’t necessarily baseball or sports people at all. I remember when my agent signed me, she said one of the things she loved about the book was that it was “sporty but emotional.” A fellow 2020 debut author even described Dan Unmasked as “the opposite of toxic masculinity in every way”, feedback I’m really proud of.

5. Those are great tips on plotting. I read that you also write short stories and had 10 published in 2015. Has writing short stories helped you in writing a longer middle grade story? How?

It all started when one of my critique partners – the wonderful Emily Carpenter, a gothic suspense novelist everyone should definitely check out – and I sort of challenged each other back then to writing a bunch of flash fiction, kind of an accountability thing.

Working on lots of stories that typically had to begin and end in less than a thousand words helped my writing a tremendous amount. It taught my normally long-winded self how to be more succinct and to the point, and it really gave me a lot of prose-level lessons in trimming and cutting, because you have to be sort of ruthless about that sometimes to meet the word count requirements of the flash fiction publications we were submitting to.

Not to mention one of those ten 2015 stories was about a group of young baseball players reminiscing about their friendship in the outfield during a practice, and when she read that one, Emily told me I had a voice for characters that age – particularly boys – and that was the seed I needed to start working on the middle grade novel that eventually became Dan Unmasked. So I guess you could say we’re here today talking about this book because of those short stories, and that one in particular.

6. Your agent is Alyssa Jennette. Share how she became your agent and what your road to publication was like.

Yes, and she’s fantastic! Alyssa really pushed me during the query process. I think she had me do three revise-and-resubmits before signing me as a client. That extra work she encouraged me to do on the story really brought this book home, and Dan Unmasked definitely wouldn’t exist without her guidance.

When we started to submit to publishers, I discovered an equally valuable side to Alyssa – a relentless tenacity. Long past the time when I might’ve gotten discouraged and started looking toward smaller publishers, Alyssa continued to be confident my book would find a match with some editor at the Big Five, and it ended up she was right. It didn’t happen immediately, though, and neither did my signing with an agent. I went through tons of rejections in both processes first.

For writers on the submission trail now, I would just advise you to really establish the proper distance with your work to be able to be receptive to the feedback you receive in these “almost” encounters with agents and editors, because you will have them, and what you do with the information hidden away in each of those responses goes a long way in determining if you will eventually find a match, in my opinion.

I can honestly say that I used a ton of the recommendations from agents and editors who ultimately said “No” to make this book what it became. I really think that’s a crucial part of the process.

7. I saw on your website that you have partnered with FoxTale Book Shoppe for an online virtual party. Tell us a little bit about what you have planned for it and how you set it up.

Sure, yes, Atlanta has so many fantastic local bookstores. FoxTale is one I’ve been visiting for years now, especially for various events they’ve held with other local author friends. Originally, I had planned on having an event at an arts center in my specific town, and Gary Parkes at FoxTale – a sweetheart of a guy – had agreed to come and man the door with books for sale on site. However, as COVID-19 advanced and it became clear that in-person events were going to be impossible, we switched to an online, virtual format. Of course I stuck with FoxTale as we already had arrangements and also because they’ve been doing a fantastic job with their virtual events throughout the quarantine period.

My sister Lisa McClendon is a fifth-grade teacher in Naples, Florida, and, along with Gary, she’s going to moderate/interview! The plan so far is for her to ask me a couple of questions straight out of the Common Core-aligned Curriculum Guide we have for Dan Unmasked (more details on that below) and then we’ll do some giveaways.

The tiny quizzes to win the giveaways will be comic- and baseball-related, so readers should arrive to the launch wearing those particular thinking caps. After the giveaways, I hope we’ll have plenty of time for a Q&A session, also.

8. That's a great idea to be interviewed at a virtual party celebrating your book release. How else are you planning to promote your book in light of COVID-19?

First and foremost, I’m doing a lot of virtual events beyond the book launch. I have a workshop for kids I’ve developed, the “Build-A-Superhero” workshop, which is a fun way to engage young people in filling out a questionnaire on creating their own superhero, while also sneakily teaching them a little about how to create characters in novels, too. At the end of each of these workshops, it’s always my hope kids will understand a little better how important especially the main character is, and how much the character you end up creating serves as a driving force for the kinds of stories you tell about them. Even before Dan Unmasked was released, I had already given this workshop at a number of schools and during a public event hosted by my local library. I’m planning to do more of these virtual events in the coming months.

I’ll be appearing at the first ever MiddleGround Book Fest on August 1st as well, talking villains on a panel stacked with other great middle grade authors at 4 pm EST.

I’ve worked with an expert in the field to have a Common Core-aligned Curriculum Guide developed for Dan Unmasked. Just like the other details for my workshops and school visits, it will be available on my website. The guide has a series of penetrating post-read questions that teachers can use to align a reading of Dan Unmasked with the CCSS ELA Literarcy guidelines for grades as low as third and as high as seventh, though fourth through sixth is probably the sweet spot for this particular book. The guide also has lots of fun activities that reference the book’s content as well.

Finally I have some folded cards that have pre-defined panels on the inside that can be used to draw your own comic. I send these cards out to groups whenever I can, for example to schools who tell me they’ll be reading the book. I even have some super powered sticker packs (POW! and ZAP!) I include when I mail these cards, to give the students a chance to add a little zing to their comics.

So while there have certainly been many challenges to everything being virtual, the lack of in-person school visits and bookstore events, most or all of the book festivals being canceled or very limited, I’ve still been having a lot of fun putting together these sort of “care packages” to connect Dan Unmasked with kids and other readers from afar.

9. What are you working on now?

My second book, tentatively scheduled for July 2021, is The Last Super Chef. It’s in copy edits now, so we’re nearly to the finish line! It’s about an eleven-year-old named Curtis who’s not only a mega fan of the most popular cooking show on TV, “The Super Chef”, but is quite an accomplished junior chef himself. He also has a secret: the Super Chef is his long-absent father. When an opportunity opens for kids to compete in the last televised contest the Super Chef will ever host, Curtis decides he must make the list. But when he gets to New York, Curtis learns the Super Chef has some secrets of his own. He also finds even stiffer competition to win than he expected. He’ll have to cook his heart out if he wants to go home with the big cash prize – and maybe even more importantly, the truth.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Chris. You can find Chris at:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/negron.ca/?hl=en

Giveaway Details

Chris has generously offered a hardback of Dan Unmasked for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog and leave a comment by August 22nd. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. 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.

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Here's what's coming up:

Monday, August 17th I have an interview with debut author KayLynn Flanders and a giveaway of her YA fantasy Shielded

Monday,  August 24th I have an agent spotlight interview with Veronica Park and a query critique giveaway

Tuesday, September 1st I'm participating in the September to Remember Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, September 2nd I have an interview with debut author Andrea Contos and a giveaway of her YA thriller Throwaway Girls

Monday, September 7th I have an agent spotlight interview with Carlisle Weber and a query critique giveaway

Monday, September 14th I have an interview with debut author Rebecca Coffindaffer and a giveaway of her YA space opera Crownchasers

Wednesday, September 16th I have an agent spotlight interview with Erin Casey and a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you on Monday!