Here are my current Giveaway Contests

These Feathered Flames through April 24th

Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews and Guest Posts w/ Debut Authors & Query Critique Giveaways

Agent Peter Knapp and Author Daniel Aleman Guest Post and Query Critique and Indivisible Giveaway on 5/5/2021

Tina Dubois Query Critique and How to Save a Queendom Giveaway on 5/10/2021

Joyce Sweeney Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 5/14/2021

Michelle Hauck Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 5/19/2021

Agent Maura Kye-Cassella and Author Sam Subity Guest Post and Query Critique and The Last Shadow Warrior Giveaway on 5/24/2021

Agent Janna Bonisowksi and Author Casie Bazey Guest Post and Query Critique and Not Our Summer Giveaway on 6/2/2021

Katherine Wessbecher Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/7/2021

Allison Hellegers Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 7/26/2021

Agent Chloe Seager and Author Brianna Bourne Guest Post with query critique and You and Me at the End of the World Giveaway on 9/20/21

Agent Spotlight Updates

All agent spotlights and interviews have been updated as of 7/15/2020, and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for them to be fully updated again in 2023.

Debut Author Interview: Laekan Kemp and Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Laekan Kemp here to share about her YA contemporary Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet. It sounds like a fantastic story about Pen, a Mexican-American teen trying to follow her dreams and her first love, Xander. And it has food! Being part of my late husband’s Mexican-American family, I am super excited to read it.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

I'm Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
 meets Emergency Contact in this stunning story of first love, familial expectations, the power of food, and finding where you belong.

As an aspiring pastry chef, Penelope Prado has always dreamed of opening her own pastelería next to her father's restaurant, Nacho's Tacos. But her mom and dad have different plans -- leaving Pen to choose between disappointing her traditional Mexican-American parents or following her own path. When she confesses a secret she's been keeping, her world is sent into a tailspin. But then she meets a cute new hire at Nacho's who sees through her hard exterior and asks the questions she's been too afraid to ask herself.

Xander Amaro has been searching for home since he was a little boy. For him, a job at Nacho's is an opportunity for just that -- a chance at a normal life, to settle in at his abuelo's, and to find the father who left him behind. But when both the restaurant and Xander's immigrant status are threatened, he will do whatever it takes to protect his new found family and himself.

Together, Pen and Xander must navigate first love and discovering where they belong -- both within their families and their fiercely loyal Chicanx community -- in order to save the place they all call home.

Follower News

Before I get to my interview with Laekan, I have Follower News to share. JQ Rose has a new MG nonfiction release, Girls Succeed! Stories Behind the Careers of Successful Women. Here’s a blurb and a few links: Discover the inspiring stories of sixteen contemporary women who had ambitious dreams when they were girls. Find out how they made those dreams come true! Girls Succeed: Stories Behind the Careers of Successful Women includes stories about 21st-century women who have discovered cures to stamp out disease, made people laugh, earned Olympic and Paralympic gold medals and crossed the country behind the wheel of an 18-wheel semi-truck. Meet the people who mentored these dreamers and helped them to negotiate the curves and bumps along the way.

Links: BUY LINK; Blog

Interview With Laekan Kemp

Hi Laekan! Thanks so much for joining us!

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

I’ve wanted to be a writer, probably since middle school. Though I didn’t really know how one might go about pursuing a career like that. I read all of the time but knew nothing about how books were made or even all of the other people involved in the process.

And even when I went to college and decided to major in Creative Writing, I don’t remember being given any information about publishing as a business or even how to get an agent. It was all focused on workshop and the only opportunities for publication that were really discussed were submitting to literary journals and anthologies and things like that.

Commercial fiction had zero presence. It was like it didn’t exist. So it took another, almost ten years after that, for me to learn on my own about the publishing industry and genre fiction and Kid lit specifically. But once I’d found the Kidlit community I was like, okay these are my people, and I knew that was where my work belonged.

2. Funny how you had to learn about publishing on your own. Where did you get the idea for Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet?

Honestly, there are so many pieces of me in this story. Pen's mental health struggles mirror the mental health journey I've been on since my late teens & the conflict with her parents comes from those same late teen / early college years when my father was sick, my mother & I weren't getting along & it felt like my entire world was falling apart.

The setting of the restaurant has more joyful origins & was inspired by my partner's hilarious stories of working in a restaurant in our hometown. I loved all of their quirky traditions & inside jokes & wanted to use that environment to explore this idea of found families & belonging. And there are actually some scenes in the book that happened in real life and some secondary characters too that are based on real people.

When it comes to Xander’s character, he was actually inspired by my former students. I was an ESL teacher and most of my students were immigrants from central and south America. And so I’ve gotten to see up close what it’s like for them and their families to navigate our ridiculous immigration system. And yet through it all they are so resilient and so hopeful. I wanted to capture that in Xander’s character.

3. That’s cool that you were able to draw on your own experiences so much. I read on your website that your mission in your writing is to make people love Mexican-American food. And readers can even download Pen’s recipe cards on your website. I love that! Why is the emphasis on food so important in your writing?

When the male protagonist, Xander, is walking up to the restaurant for his first day of work, he’s kind of going through the mythology of Nacho’s Tacos and talking about the reputation that it has within the community and how there are certain dishes on the menu that can help with certain ailments, whether that’s physical or emotional or spiritual.

So the food in the book carries a lot of meaning. First and foremost, I see it as a symbol for our cultural roots through which we derive so much strength. And especially for those of us who are Chicane and exist on the peripheries of our own culture, not born in our ancestral home, food is one of the ways that we stay connected to that power source.

But it’s also meant to show the ways in which we all have gifts to share with others. You can feed the people you love through all sorts of things. Your time. Your encouragement. Your creativity. I’d love for readers to see how Pen uses her skills in the kitchen to care for her community and to be inspired to use their own gifts the same way.

4. I also read that you like to write about identity, Mexican-American culture, and characters who are straddling two worlds. Share how this weaved this into the struggles that Pen and Xander face in your story.

So not only did I grow up in a mixed-race household but I’m also fourth generation so my personal experience is very different from someone who is first generation or recently immigrated, and I would say that when it comes to traditional Mexican family values and expectations, there’s a spectrum depending on where you fall within the diaspora, how long your family has been in the U.S., whether or not your family had a difficult time assimilating--I mean all sorts of things can play into that expectations a parent has for their child.

I think Pen’s experience with her parents is more similar to the experience my mom and her siblings had with my grandparents than the experience I had at Pen’s age. But that makes sense to me because for my mom and her siblings there was more at stake. My grandparents were not wealthy. They had a lot, but by societal standards, also had very little. And ever since my great-great grandparents arrived in Texas it has been the responsibility of every generation to make sure life would be better for the generation that would come after.

So that was the focus and sometimes it can be a very narrow one. But when the stakes are your family’s ability to not just live, but thrive, it means that distractions are dangerous. But that’s also a very stressful and difficult way to live because people from marginalized communities are not supposed to thrive.

So if that’s your goal you’re going to come up against absolutely everything that systemic oppression has to throw at you. And Pen’s parents know this fight well. They know the generations of sacrifices that have led to Pen having the privilege to be able to go to school. All of the sacrifices that have been made to mitigate risk. To give Pen a sense of security that her ancestors may not have had.

And here Pen is, wanting to make her own choices; to take her own risks. And her parents are absolutely terrified.

On the other hand, we have Xander, who is also fighting against expectations, though his are more societal. That risk-mitigating Pen’s ancestors have been practicing for generations, we’re watching Xander practice it in real time. He knows he has to move through the world a certain way because of his status, because of his accent, because of his skin color. And we see how exhausting and scary that is for him.

He knows that there are so many people out there who would discard him without a second thought and this toxic belief about himself, which is fed by the racism he encounters on a regular basis, in turn feeds his own fears about being rejected by his father who he is desperate to find.

And so all of these expectations that are imposed on these two characters and that are truly in opposition to their true selves, only help to perpetuate this cycle of oppression. And it isn’t until that oppressive force in the story, the antagonist, is temporarily removed, that Pen, Xander, and their families can put down their armor. Even if it’s just for a moment before they have to put it back it on. And before they have to go back to navigating a world that wasn’t made for them and would maybe prefer they not exist at all.

5. What are some of your tips on writing a contemporary story and making it a page turner like it sounds like you did in Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet?

I have always been drawn to writing dual-POV, especially in romance. I just think it’s so much fun to be inside both character’s heads as they’re falling in love. And I actually think it’s my secret weapon when it comes to getting the pacing just right. If things are slowing down plot-wise with one character, I can just jump to the next and keep things moving.

I’m never getting bogged down in a single narrative and that switching back and forth helps to keep things fresh. I think that translates to the reading experience too so that at the end of each chapter you can’t wait to return to that POV or to see how the events of the next section will be influenced by what came before.

6. I never thought how dual POV characters could keep the pacing tight, but you’re right. One focus of your story is the romance between Pen and Xander. Did the growth of their relationship come easy or hard to you? Why? What advice do you have on writing kissing scenes that some writers (like me) find hard to write?

If kissing scenes don’t come naturally to you, you shouldn’t feel like you have to include them. There are lots of different ways to build intimacy beyond just physical touch and I think it’s important to write from a POV you feel comfortable exploring and I try to keep this in mind when crafting every aspect of my romantic relationships--that I’m first and foremost being true to myself and the kinds of romances I like to read about.

Because of this, I feel like I also take a unique approach in that my couples don’t typically follow that formula of falling in love, breaking up, and then getting back together. First, I just think that’s so stressful, and second, it goes back to my own experience of finding comfort and solace in my own relationship and wanting to show that on the page.

I want my protagonists to have their own individual story threads and their own emotional journeys to go on and for the romantic relationship to be a source of comfort and strength that aids them on that journey. And that’s how I make room for the exploration of all of these other things. Because instead of the relationship being a source of conflict in the story, it’s a positive force. It’s a means of self-discovery, and for Pen and Xander specifically, a way to see themselves in a different light.

Xander shows Pen that she doesn’t need her father’s restaurant to feed and heal her community or to feed and heal herself. And Pen shows Xander that families are something you make just as much as they’re something you’re born into and that those bonds are just as worth fighting for.

And they’re able to illuminate these things for each other because they are different and they don’t see the world through the same lens. And to me, that’s the power of romance, and the power of authentic relationships in general. The best ones will always help us learn and grow and get closer to the person we’re supposed to be.

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

I wrote my first book when I was seventeen during my senior year of high school. Something had happened recently in my personal life and in hindsight writing that first book was just my way of processing that experience emotionally.

During undergrad I actually finished that novel and with the help of one of my professors I queried it and I got a mix of form rejections and personalized rejections, which was really encouraging. I also entered a short story contest at the same time and I ended up winning. I think the prize was just like $100 or something but you also had the opportunity to pitch something else like a novel. So I sent off the book and they sent back an offer but when I showed it to my professor he was like, “uh, no.” They were a small press and so they weren’t offering me an advance and my professor was like, no. If they can’t even offer you something in the five-figures for a full-length novel then they’re basically operating as a vanity press and those kinds of places tend to be very predatory so it’s best to just steer clear of them.

So I did. I stayed far, far away from them and moved on to another project.

After that, I graduated and my partner and I moved to Florida so he could finish school. While we were there many of my coworkers at this Data Analysis company I was working for were also artists. Some were writers. Some were graphic designers. Some were in bands. And none of them were going the traditional route for whatever it was they were making. It was all DIY and that is kind of how I got turned on to self-publishing.

I was learning more about the industry, particularly Kidlit, and I realized that me writing Latinx protagonists could have played a role in the rejections I had been receiving. Mind you, this was 2012, so it was a different time. It was before #WeNeedDiverseBooks and before DVPit and before this push for more diverse characters.

So I made the decision to self-publish that first novel and over the next four years I ended up self-publishing a total of seven books, including a paranormal romance series which actually gained me an audience, which was so unexpected and so exciting. By 2015 I was making more money from self-publishing than my two jobs (a full-time job and a part-time job) combined.

And you’d think that I would take that as a sign and maybe quit those jobs and start writing full time but I did not do that. Instead of going after this dream of being an author full force I went back to school to get a Master’s degree in Education and become a teacher.

I loved my students but I hated everything else. It’s a very difficult career that conditions you to take abuse day in and day out and after about three years of that I was an absolute wreck. My stress began to manifest physically and it was just awful.

So in December of 2018 I wrote this very emotional blog post about how I was going to finally chase after my dream of being a published author in earnest and I was so serious about it I even gave myself a timeline. I made this online declaration that I was giving myself 18 months to make the transition to writing full time. I didn’t have a book deal yet. I didn’t even have an agent. But I was so done with my current circumstances that I just went all in.

And I’ve blogged more specifically about the things I did during this time to get me closer to my goal so I won’t get into all of those details. But there were a few significant choices I made that I think made all the difference.

First, I paid for a 100-page manuscript critique with Eric Smith and I used his feedback to cut over 20,000 words and completely overhaul the story. Then I participated in DVPit that spring--this was now 2019--and I got my agent, Andrea Morrison, in May and my book deal in June.

But the absolute best part of this story is what happened this past summer, which is that I quit my teaching job due to the pandemic, and without even realizing it I met that 18-month deadline that I had set for myself back in December of 2018. So affirmations definitely work. Visualization works. All of it works.

8. That’s great that you met your deadline without even realizing you were doing it. You’ve already been a speaker at some book festivals and at ALA Midwinter and have other upcoming events listed on your website. How were you able to get these opportunities to share about your book?

A lot of these opportunities came about because my publisher and publicist chose to prioritize them and pitch me for these events. So I’m really lucky that they are trying to get me in front of as many people as possible to talk about my book because not every publisher who acquires a book makes that kind of effort in terms of marketing and publicity. But I’ve also come to realize that some opportunities can arise simply because you’ve been kind to the right people. People remember kindness so whenever you have a chance to meet someone new or be introduced to someone else in the industry, just remember to be kind. It really does go a long way.

9. How are you planning to market your book? What advice do you have for other writers who will have a debut book release in the future?

A few special things that I did on my own, without the publisher’s help, were sending personalized postcards to Latinx librarians and independent bookstores in cities with a large Latinx population. I also sent release day treats to certain indie bookstores using a website called goldbelly. And I also created two giveaway opportunities tied to my launch event--one for a curated gift basket full of goodies to pair with the reading of the book and a class set of the books for a local teacher.

Time will tell if these things actually made an impact but they were (mostly) a lot of fun and I think that’s really important to consider when planning your own promo. Don’t give yourself a bunch of homework you’ll dread doing, especially when you could be using that time to write. So make sure you choose things you actually enjoy doing so that you can consider it a success whether or not it actually leads to sales.

10. What are you working on now?

My sophomore novel is another Young Adult Contemporary Romance, also told on dual-POV. This time it focuses on two musicians who have terrible stage fright, which keeps ruining their plans of auditioning for the music school of their dreams.

They’ve also both experienced the death of a parent, which feeds into the fears they have about failure and rejection. So it’s a story about grief and about the healing power of art, especially music.

And it actually takes place in the same neighborhood as SBB&S so in addition to watching these two characters go through this painful but also hopeful journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance, we also get to see how the neighborhood as a whole is continuing to deal with gentrification and police brutality and other very BIPOC-specific experiences of trauma.

But even though it explores some dark topics, just like with SBB&S, this story is infused with a lot of hope, which is something I really try to emphasize. I never want to dump a bunch of really heavy stuff on readers, particularly young readers, with no light at the end of the tunnel.

So there’s a big climactic scene near the end of the book that feels very reminiscent of the block party scene in SBB&S, though it’s not quite a party. But, there are lots of similarities between the two books. I consider them more companion novels. So if people enjoyed SBB&S I definitely think they’ll enjoy my next book too.

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





Giveaway Details

Laekan has generously offered a hardback of Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet 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 May 1st. 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. The giveaway is U.S.

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Monday, April 26th I’m reviewing and giving away Rescue, a MG historical by Jennifer Nielsen, one of my favorite authors

Tuesday, May 4th I’m participating in the Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, May 5th I have an interview with debut author Daniel Aleman and a giveaway of his YA contemporary about immigration Indivisible and a query critique by his agent Peter Knapp and my IWSG post

Monday, May 10th I have a guest post by author Jessica Lawson with a giveaway of her MG fantasy How to Save a Queendom and a query critique by her agent Tina Dubois

Wednesday, May 12th I have an agent spotlight interview with Joyce Sweeney and a query critique giveaway

Sunday, May 16th I’m participating in the Moms Rock Giveaway Hop

Monday, May 17th I have an interview with debut author Payal Doshi and a giveaway of her MG fantasy set in India Rea and the Blood of the Nectar

Wednesday, May 18th I have an agent spotlight interview with Michelle Hauck and a query critique giveaway

Monday, May 26th I have a guest post with agent Maura Kye-Casella and debut author Sam Subity with a query critique giveaway by Maura and a giveaway of The Last Shadow Warrior, a MG fantasy by Sam

Hope to see you on Monday!

Rain Drops on Roses Giveaway Hop


Happy Friday Everyone! Today I'm excited to participate in the Rain Drops on Roses Giveaway Hop hosted by MamatheFox. I hope you all are feeling hopeful with spring here and that you are vaccinated or will be vaccinated soon. I can’t believe what a weight was lifted from me when I was recently vaccinated. It means having meals with my daughter and boyfriend for the first time since mid-November and visiting with my mom at her independent living facility for the first time in over a year.

I’ve got a lot of exciting newly releases MG and YA book choices this month to help you get through this month.

FYI I am participating in two book giveaway blog hops every month so that I can feature more books that you'll hopefully want to read. You can enter my other giveaway by clicking on the link in the Current Giveaways at the top of the blog. 


Here are the newly released MG and YA books I'm offering in this giveaway hop. You can also choose another book in the series by these authors. You can find descriptions of these books on Goodreads. Here are your choices:

If you haven't found a book you want, you can win a $10 Amazon Gift Card.

Giveaway Details

One lucky entrant selected by the entry form will receive a book of their choice listed above or a $10 Amazon Gift Card. Open to entrants internationally as long as Book Depository ships to you for free, 13 years and older. Open for entry from 4/16 – 4/30/2021 at 11:59 pm EST. NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. The selected winner will have 48 hours to respond to the notification email to claim this prize or a new winner will be selected.

Please note that you must be a blog follower and leave a blog comment to enter the contest. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Monday, April 19th I have an interview with debut author Laekan Kemp and a giveaway of her YA contemporary Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet

Monday, April 26th I’m reviewing and giving away Rescue, a MG historical by Jennifer Nielsen, one of my favorite authors

Tuesday, May 4th I’m participating in the Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, May 5th I have an interview with debut author Daniel Aleman and a giveaway of his YA contemporary about immigration Indivisible and a query critique by his agent Peter Knapp and my IWSG post

Monday, May 10th I have a guest post by author Jessica Lawson with a giveaway of her MG fantasy How to Save a Queendom and a query critique by her agent Tina Dubois

Hope to see you on Monday!

And here are all the other blogs participating in this blog hop:

MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

Debut Author Interview: Kaela Rivera and Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m thrilled to have debut author Kaela Rivera here to share about her MG adventure story Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls. I was fortunate to get an ARC from NetGalley and loved this story set in a Mexican village that is based on Mexican folklore. As some of you know, my late husband was Mexican-American, and I really enjoyed learning more about his heritage.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

Living in the remote town of Tierra del Sol is dangerous—especially in the criatura months, when powerful spirits break free from their home in Devil’s Alley to threaten humankind. But Cecelia Rios has always believed there was more to the criaturas who roamed the desert, much to her family’s disapproval. After all, it’s common knowledge that only brujas—humans who capture and control criaturas—consort with the spirits, and brujeria is a terrible crime.

When her older sister, Juana, is kidnapped by El Sombrerón, a powerful dark criatura, everyone in town believes she’s lost forever. But Cece is determined to bring Juana back. To get into Devil’s Alley, though, she’ll have to become a bruja herself—while hiding her quest from her parents, her town, and the other brujas. Thankfully, the legendary criatura Coyote has a soft spot for humans, and agrees to help her on her journey. With him at her side, Cece sets out to reunite her family—and maybe even change what it means to be a bruja along the way.

Hi Kaela! Thanks so much for joining us!

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

Hi everyone! Thanks for inviting me, Natalie; I’m so excited to be here.

When I first started learning how to write as a kid, I actually had a hard time with it. I struggled to string words together, and I found the process slow and frustrating. But my mom was wonderful and taught me to stick through hard things. Eventually, with her support and after working extra hard at it, I came out loving writing so much that I wrote a string of picture books from age seven all the way up until ten years old.

At ten, I sat down and wrote my first novel. It was terrible, and I loved it (still do!), but I knew I wanted to get better at doing this. So I kept writing novel after novel. It was at fourteen years old that I realized I wanted to get officially published, and I started researching and taking the writing and publishing process more seriously.

It took several more novels through high school and college before I really hit my stride as a writer. But it was when I finished what would become Cece Rios and the Desert Of Souls that I finally felt I’d reached the level that I’d been working towards—and eventually (with plenty of revisions, of course), it seemed my future agent and editor agreed.

2. That’s awesome that you started writing at such a young age. Where did you get the idea for Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls?

Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls was born out of pairing an idea I’d had for a long time—what would happen if there were creatures who had their souls on the outside?—with the relatively recent experience I’d had reconnecting to my Mexican heritage through my abuelo and his stories about growing up in northern Mexico.

As I started weaving those initial sparks together into an actual plot, I found the thematic heart of the story came from working through some personal, difficult experiences at the time. It became a way to voice my thoughts on how kindness is an enormous strength even if it’s often overlooked. 

3. Tell us about the Mexican folklore you drew on, like the criaturas, brujas, and curandero, in creating your story and how you used it to develop a story that was your own. How did you research this all?

The folklore background of Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls came together bit at a time, layered first with stories from my abuelo, next with Mexican-American legends I’d heard from friends, then lots of time spent in the Mexican Bestiary: Bestiario Mexicano (thank you, David Bowles!), and finally hunting down more ancient stories and practices from Mayan, Aztec, Toltec, and other tribes native to Mexico and Mesoamerica. I wanted to pay homage to the mixed background of Mexico, its people, and descendants. That’s why you’ll find the criaturas, particularly, come from a wide variety of backgrounds—anything from the more modern El Chupacabra to the ancient Tzitzimitl. I give some background on these legends in the glossary at the end of Cece—including a couple anecdotes about my abuelo’s encounters with brujas and curanderas.

I also did plenty of research on the history of Mexico—Cece’s fantasy world is modeled after the 1920s northern Mexico my abuelo would have grown up in, so I had to learn a lot about what technology would have been there at the time (even if my abuelo hadn’t had it) and what wouldn’t have. I’ve found some pretty interesting books and had to hunt through obscure geology (history of mining wasn’t something I’d expected to ever research) to get a fuller understanding of the world I wanted to create.

4. I was really glad that you included the glossary. It had so much helpful info. One thing I loved about your story was how you created the town of Tierra del Sol and the people who lived there. I felt like I was really there. What was your world building process like?

I’m so glad you enjoyed it! The scenery and description of Tierra del Sol came early in the process because I was basing it on the stories my abuelo told me about growing up in northern Mexico. I wanted it to capture the feeling of the land Abuelo described to me and the culture he grew up in and created in our familia in America as well. Having his example, experience, and history is what made Tierra del Sol come alive for me, too.

The more concrete aspects of Tierra del Sol, like the exact mapping of the area, the Ruins, and the particulars rule of the magic system all came later. The tone feels so alive because, I suppose, it’s taken from real life and breathed into a new world.

5. Cece is such a sympathetic character. She sees herself as weak but finds her strength when she goes on the secret mission to save her sister from a powerful and scary criatura. Share about how you developed her as a character and some of your favorite things about her.

At first, when I sat down to write Cece, I just wanted a simple character progression from crybaby to brave hero. I often felt scared growing up, so grappling with fear and summoning courage to overcome it was something I could speak to from personal experience. But as I wrote Cece’s journey, a lot of difficult things happened in my life—particularly the way people were mistreating my mother because they thought her empathy and ability to be vulnerable were signs of weakness. Cece’s journey took on new depth as I wrote through that experience. It became a way for me to defend my mother’s strength—and how her empathy and kindness weren’t pathetic like some people thought they were. These traits were mighty in their own right and could change the world.

I often say now that Cece is who I want to be when I grow up. I love that she is kind, loving, and protective—and how she learns to apply that strength to both herself and others. Cece isn’t perfect, but she’s constantly looking for ways to improve and grow. I want to be like Cece—fully embracing the good in myself and finding ways to help others without being so afraid of getting hurt that I become like those who inflict the damage.

6. That’s cool how you tied Cece’s character growth to what you saw your mom going through. Your story is a real page turner. How did you plot it out? What tips do you have for other writers on how to make a fast-paced story that readers don’t want to put down?

It’s so good to hear that because I don’t consider myself a strong plotter. In fact, plot has been my weakness for a long time, so I concentrated on it harder while writing CECE, to make sure it had the tight pace I imagined. I found I had to heavily simplify the story beats in my head in order to execute it well. The three-round structure of the Bruja Fights ended up helping me the most. I’m excited to try more complicated plots out in the future.

My number one piece of advice for a forward-moving adventure is to constantly change the status quo. That can mean with characters, or with the stakes, or with the socioeconomic setting, but each scene should do something to challenge, change, and advance one of those things toward the ultimate end. Just like in life, change is what keeps things interesting.

7. What great advice to change the status quo. You are also an editor at a marketing firm. Has your experience as an editor strengthened your writing? And how do you balance your day job and your writing so that you stay productive as a writer?

Oh, being an editor has absolutely strengthened my writing! Everything from looking up obscure word usage in the dictionary to learning the Chicago Manuel of Style better so I know at a glance what punctuation is needed helps in the long run. And learning how to help someone else revise their work gives me better context for revising my novels as well. All in all, becoming a better writer feeds my experience as an editor, and vice versa. I’m grateful to be in that situation.

As for balancing the day job and writing, I’m still learning how. It’s important to me to give my best to both roles, but they both require a lot of mental energy, so it can be draining to go directly from one to the other.

It helps a bit that I’m a binge-writer, so I don’t need to write every day. I can knock out 4,00012,000 words in a weekend, and the breaks between writing episodes gives me time to gather ideas for the next one. Sometimes, I don’t wait for the weekend, of course. I’ll let myself write on weekdays if I can feel the inspirations in my bones because I know I’ll be productive, even if I’m tired.

8. Your agent is Serene Hakim. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

It’s a fun story, actually! So, I actually sent Serene Hakim the manuscript I wrote right before CECE: a sci-fi tech thriller centered on a video game tournament (I have a thing for competitions, I guess). Serene read it and liked it, but she said it wasn’t ready and asked if I was willing to revise and resubmit. I read her feedback and ideas on how to improve it, and they resonated with me, so I accepted and started working on it.

I finished that R&R shortly before I finished CECE and sent the new manuscript back to her. She’d just started reading the new revision when I finished revising CECE and submitted it to a contest called #PitchAmerica, where it was put into an agent showcase. Serene was one of the participating agents and read the first chapter of CECE. I got offers from her and two other agents shortly thereafter (something I’m still immensely grateful for). All the agents were wonderful, but because of past experience, I knew Serene and I were on the same editing wavelength, and her agenting style matched my needs best. So we signed a contract at the end of 2017, Serene got to work giving me feedback on revision, I got to work on them, and we sent CECE on sub toward the middle of 2018.

Things moved pretty quickly after that. We heard HarperChildren’s were interested but wanted some revisions by fall of 2018 so CECE stood a better chance at acquisitions. I’m a pretty fast reviser, so I got to work and had it back to my wonderful editor a couple months before the end of the year. She took it to acquisitions, and after we mutually agreed to change the age group (It’s true! Cece was originally a YA novel, but it shines so much in MG), we had the deal ironed out and the contract signed by early 2019.

 9. How are you planning to market your book in light of the pandemic? Are you able to do more online events and if so, how are you finding these opportunities?

 Oof, yeah, that’s been hard, hasn’t it? The experience definitely hasn’t been what I’d pictured back in 2018 when HarperChildren’s offered to buy CECE, but I’ve at least had a year to adapt, which is more than I can say for the early 2020 debuts. 

That said, I’ve mostly relied on online events. The most helpful things have been 1. my knowledge of book events in my area and online that I already liked and knew I wanted to apply to and 2. opportunities passed on by the wonderful humans in my debut group, the 21ders.

I’ve also been immensely grateful for the people and outlets who approached me or my publisher themselves. It’s a validating experience, and I wouldn’t have known about some of the amazing things they do and offer readers without their initiative. The whole thing has definitely made my book world grow, and I love that.

10. Since your story is about Mexican folklore, are you planning to reach out to more Mexican-American kids who would love to learn more about their heritage? If so, how are you doing this?

Mostly, I’m interested in working with schools, libraries, and book festivals to reach and support their latinx students (all students, of course, since I believe in bringing my culture to other to foster multicultural appreciation, but supporting latinx kids is of particular interest to me) wherever they live—whether in a high latinx population area or a low population area. Perhaps even particularly in the low population areas, since I know what that’s like having grown up in rural Tennessee.

Consider that an invitation to contact me for virtual visits, teachers and librarians! Just head to my website (see below).

11. What are you working on now?

I work on multiple projects at a time, but my two major ones right now are 1. another entry into Cece’s world and 2. A YA fantasy about a girl who makes a blood-pact with flower magic to usurp her Aztec-inspired kingdom for her father.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Kaela. You can find Kaela at

Giveaway Details

Kaela has generously offered an ARC of Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls 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 April 24th. 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. The giveaway is U.S. and Canada.

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

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Wednesday, April 14th I have an agent spotlight interview with Emily Fortney and a query critique giveaway

Friday, April 16th I’m participating in the Rainbow on Roses Giveaway Hop

Monday, April 19th I have an interview with debut author Laekan Kemp and a giveaway of her YA contemporary Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet

Monday, April 26th I’m reviewing and giving away Rescue, a MG historical by Jennifer Nielsen, one of my favorite authors

Tuesday, May 4th I’m participating in the Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, May 5th I have an interview with debut author Daniel Aleman and a giveaway of his YA contemporary about immigration Indivisible and a query critique by his agent Peter Knapp and my IWSG post

Monday, May 10th I have a guest post by author Jessica Lawson with a giveaway of her MG fantasy How to Save a Queendom and a query critique by her agent Tina Dubois

Hope to see you on Wednesday!





Debut Author Interview: Alexandra Overy and These Feathered Flames Giveaway and IWSG Post

Happy Wednesday Everyone! I hope you are all doing well and are excited for spring. I just got my second vaccine last Saturday, and it was such a happy experience. So funny to say that about a shot, but it's true. My daughter is getting her second one next week. It just feels so good to start seeing her inside again and to share a meal together.  And next week, I'll be able to start seeing my mom twice a week like I used to before the pandemic. It's amazing!

Today I’m excited to have debut author Alexandra Overy here to share about her YA fantasy These Feathered Flames. It sounds like it has fantastic world building and a mystery to figure out. I’m excited to read it.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

A queer retelling of “The Firebird,” a Russian folktale

When twin heirs are born in Tourin, their fates are decided at a young age. While Izaveta remained at court to learn the skills she’d need as the future queen, Asya was taken away to train with her aunt, the mysterious Firebird, who ensured magic remained balanced in the realm.

But before Asya’s training is completed, the ancient power blooms inside her, which can mean only one thing: the queen is dead, and a new ruler must be crowned.

As the princesses come to understand everything their roles entail, they’ll discover who they can trust, who they can love—and who killed their mother. 




Before I get to my interview with Jennifer, I have my IWSG post.

Posting: The first Wednesday is officially Insecure Writer's Support Group Day.

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!

The awesome co-hosts for the March 3rd posting of the IWSG are PK Hrezo, Pat Garcia, SE White, Lisa Buie Collard, and Diane Burton!

Optional Question: Are you a risk-taker when writing? Do you try something radically different in style/POV/etc. or add controversial topics to your work?

I don’t add controversial topics and haven’t tried something as major as changing the POV. However, I have been more open to changes in my manuscript.

I’ve been way more open to my critique partners suggestions for improvements and to questions they want answered with my current manuscript. I’ve discovered through this process that my story has changed in good ways that I didn’t plan, and the whole story is much deeper and better because I was willing to change how I thought it would go.

Are you a risk taker in your writing?

Interview With Alexandra Overy

Hi Alexandra! Thanks so much for joining us.

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became an author.

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved reading and I think writing kind of naturally followed that. I was always creating my own worlds and stories (often to avoid the real world), and that continued as I got older. When I was in college I finally decided that if I had all these ideas I had to sit down and write one out completely. That was my first finished manuscript and the book that got me my first agent. It unfortunately didn’t sell, but that led me to my next book which was These Feathered Flames. There were a lot of rejections along the way, from both agents and editors, but I’m so happy I stuck through it and now I get to see my work as a real book!

2. That’s so awesome that your debut book is only your second completed manuscript. Where did you get the idea for These Feathered Flames?

After my first book didn’t sell, I was brainstorming new ideas with my agent. We talked about some stories I love, and touched on ballet stories as I used to dance. The Firebird is one of my favourite ballets, and I’d been wanting to write a story about a complex sister relationship for a while, so the idea grew from there.

3. I’ve read that readers loved your world building. Share what your world building process is like.

I studied history in college, so understanding people through societal norms, expectations, and cultures

has always been a process that I really enjoy and I think that’s reflected in my world building. I tend to start with the big picture things: what does the world look like, how is the power structured, do they have a religion, what’s important to them? All those things really inform a culture and how it’s shaped, so I like to have those early on. Then I go more into detail, especially things that matter specifically for my characters. For These Feathered Flames it was an interesting experience as the world is inspired by 16th century Russia, but not based on it. That means it’s a magical world that’s different from ours in a lot of ways, and has different belief systems and cultural touchstones, so it was challenging to decide where to draw inspiration from the real world and where to deviate. For example, in Russia a person’s last name changes according to their gender (eg. Morozov for male, Morozova for female), but that wasn’t something that made sense in the world of These Feathered Flames, as it’s queer normative and uses gender inclusive language so would have no reason to gender names. That’s what always makes world building so fun, really building a culture from the ground up and understanding when something would matter to them, and when you’re just bringing something in because that’s how it is in our world.

4. That’s great advice to start with the big picture when creating your world. This is a retelling of a Russian folktale. How did you decide what to include from the folktale and what to make different so that the story is your own?

Similar to the previous question, it was really interesting deciding what to keep and what to deviate from. Although this is marketed as a retelling, it’s probably more accurate again to say “inspired by”, as it’s certainly a loose interpretation. Ultimately, I had to look at what it was that drew me to the story and the central part of the folktale that really intrigued me was the idea of the Firebird as a personification of woman, and the way that men would see something beautiful and immediately want to either kill it or possess it. That’s where the idea of the Firebird as a mantle that’s passed down from mother to daughter came from, and from there the story began to fill itself in. I will say, if you know the folktale, you’ll also see some more aspects of it in the sequel!

5. Was it easier to share Izaveta’s or Asya’s story? Is either your favorite character? Why?

This is a tough question, because I feel like I had challenges with both of them. Although Izaveta falls under the more “unlikable” category, I think I found her voice easier than Asya’s, whereas her story was harder. Izaveta deals a lot with court intrigue and politics which took a lot of work to tie together, and meant I had to know what ten different people wanted and were planning at any given time which took a lot of notecards! Asya on the other hand had a harder voice because she’s so full of contradictions: she has this monstrous power but at the same time is awkward and just trying her best to do the right thing. Her story, however, was much easier to piece together as it follows slightly simpler plot beats and carries the main mystery. Writing the two together was definitely a good way to push my own writing! I shouldn’t say which is my favourite though….because Izaveta would probably kill me and I’ve been mean enough to Asya as it is.

6. That must have been hard to keep track of so many people wanted and were planning. I heard your vlog at WriteOnCon. Share why you outline and your approach to outlining.

I think the thing I like about outlining is it gives me a map to follow which always makes those first steps into a new draft much less daunting. I don’t always stick to it 100%, and it definitely changes as I go and get to know my characters more, but having it there gives me a bit of extra security. My approach tends to be quite detailed, though I don’t usually know the “how” of things in the outline. I know what happens but usually don’t know the exact machinations of how until I actually get to writing it—and that’s okay! Definitely don’t feel you need to have everything exact in the outline. Allowing yourself to be vague can actually really help, as it takes some of the pressure off. And that’s really why I outline: to take the pressure off myself a bit so I’m not just venturing into the unknown of a new draft.

7. Even though I don’t outline too much before I start writing, I like your idea of doing it to take some pressure off yourself when you’re drafting. What’s your writing schedule like? What advice do you have for other writers to stay productive and write faster?

I have a very eclectic writing schedule, which is a nice way of saying I don’t have a proper schedule haha. I write a lot when I’m on a deadline or feeling really inspired, often forgetting entirely about other things, and other times I find I can’t write for weeks at a time. My advice to other writers is to be kind to yourself, even if you aren’t able to stick to a schedule or word count goals. Ultimately, the thing that makes me least productive is when I’m either burned out from trying to stick to a schedule, or being hard on myself. The words will come, and forcing them (most of the time) doesn’t help.

8. That’s great to know that you can produce enough to be a published author if you don’t write on a regular schedule. Your agent is Patrice Caldwell. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

Patrice is my second agent, so my query process for that was a little different. I already had books under contract and needed to find an agent who’d be happy to work on things they hadn’t sold. I queried Patrice via the regular query method, and we hopped on the phone a few days later. I immediately knew it was a great fit and I’m happy to have such a strong advocate!

9. How are you planning to market These Feathered Flames in light of the pandemic? What advice do you have to other authors who will be debuting in the future?

It’s definitely been a different experience to the one I expected back when the book sold in 2019, but I’m lucky that we’ve had enough time now to get used to this and for people to come up with ideas for marketing without doing things in person. I’ve definitely pivoted more to online marketing and using things like Instagram Live more than I would have otherwise. I also really appreciate how hard the book community is working to help authors, especially debuts, promote their books in this strange time. My advice to other debut authors is advice I’m bad at following, but: let go of the things that are out of your control. So much of debuting is out of your control, and even now in the months leading up to publication I constantly feel like I should be doing more. But, in the end, you have to just trust your team around you and not overthink the things you can’t control.

10. That’s such great advice. You have a sequel coming in this series and The Gingerbread Witch, a MG retelling of Hansel and Gretel releasing in 2022. How are you managing working on multiple projects and working on marketing them?

Similarly to my writing schedule, my switching between projects is a little eclectic. I like having multiple things to work on at the same time in different genres or age groups, because when I’m feeling burnt out on one project, I can switch to the next and feel refreshed and excited to write again. I don’t have a strict schedule, so much as depending on my deadlines to try to balance writing them. Something I’ve found really helps when I have to switch quickly between projects with very different tones, is to have a playlist or some sort of media (film/book/etc) that really gets you in the right mood for the different project. It helps ease that transition a lot!

11. What are you working on now?

I’m working on a few things right now! I’m somewhat avoiding working on the draft of my sequel and spending some time this month working on The Gingerbread Witch, which has been a really nice break from the heavy emotions of my sequel. I’m also beginning to play around with my next YA idea, which I think is going to be a book I wrote a while ago, but I’m finally ready to get right.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Alexandra. You can find Alexandra at, @alexandraovery on twitter, @allywritesandstuff on Instagram.

Giveaway Details

Alexandra has generously offered a signed ARC of These Feathered Flaimes 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 April 24th. 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. The giveaway is U.S.

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Monday, April 12th I have an interview with debut author Kaela Rivera and a giveaway of her MG fantasy based on Mexican mythology Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls

Wednesday, April 14th I have an agent spotlight interview with Emily Fortney and a query critique giveaway

Friday, April 16th I’m participating in the Rainbow on Roses Giveaway Hop

Monday, April 19th I have an interview with debut author Laekan Kemp and a giveaway of her YA contemporary Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet

Monday, April 26th I’m reviewing and giving away Rescue, a MG historical by Jennifer Nielsen, one of my favorite authors

Tuesday, May 4th I’m participating in the Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, May 5th I have an interview with debut author Daniel Aleman and a giveaway of his YA contemporary about immigration Indivisible and a query critique by his agent Peter Knapp and my IWSG post

Monday, May 10th I have a guest post by author Jessica Lawson with a giveaway of her MG fantasy How to Save a Queendom and a query critique by her agent Tina Dubois

Hope to see you next Monday!