Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Caroline Trussell Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 5/20/2024
  • Jenna Satterthwaite Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/10/2024
  • Bethany Weaver Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/26/2024

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.

Debut Author Interview: Chrystal D. Giles and Take Back the Block Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have Chrystal D. Giles here to share about her MG contemporary Take Back the Block. Wes, the main character, sounds like someone I want to know, and I love what he’s trying to do. 

 Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:


Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That--and hanging out with his crew (his best friends since little-kid days) and playing video games--is what he wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to.

But when a real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes has lived his whole life, everything changes. The grownups are suppposed to have all the answers, but all they're doing is arguing. Even Wes's best friends are fighting. And some of them may be moving. Wes isn't about to give up the only home he's ever known. Wes has always been good at puzzles, and he knows there has to be a missing piece that will solve this puzzle and save the Oaks. But can he find it . . . before it's too late?

Exploring community, gentrification, justice, and friendship, Take Back the Block introduces an irresistible 6th grader and asks what it means to belong--to a place and a movement--and to fight for what you believe in.

 Hi Chrystal! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

 Hi, and thanks for having me! I’m an author of books for young people. I was born, raised, and reside in Charlotte, NC. My journey to being a writer is a little unconventional. My formal education is in accounting and I’ve worked in various areas of finance throughout my adult life. 

 I did have a deep love of books as a young child that I got to revisit when I was preparing for the birth of my son in 2015. Soon after my son was born, I became very passionate about finding books that represented him and Black families like ours. I was sad to realize that there just weren’t very many books that reflected us, so I (very naively and ambitiously) set out to write stories with Black children at the center.

 2. That’s great you did. I’m an adoptive mom of a daughter who is Chinese. There weren’t enough books for her as a child either. Where did you get the idea for Take Back the Block?

 This story was directly inspired by my hometown. My city, like many cities across the nation, is experiencing gentrification and the displacement of marginalized people. Years ago, I started to notice whole communities being wiped away, I really became troubled by the thought of what happens to the children and families when these neighborhoods are transformed.

I couldn’t get that worry out of my mind so I decided to write a story that centered on the up-close view of a community fighting to remain whole.

3. What was your writing process like for this book? How long did it take to complete it?

I pantsed my way through the first draft in about five weeks. It was a pitiful, skeleton draft but the plot and characters were there and I had a really good feeling about it.

 4. I’m so jealous that you could write a first draft in five weeks. I am SO much slower. Wes sounds like someone I’d really like. Share how you developed him as a character and something that you especially like about him.

 I have a feeling you’ll love him!

I knew right away I needed a light-hearted character for a story that focused on such a serious topic. Wes’s personality came to me in small bits. I knew I wanted him to be a reluctant activist, a little funny, but mostly just a regular kid with regular kids concerns.

 What I love most about Wes is, how cool he is. He’s stylish, approachable, flawed, and honestly the perfect vehicle to introduce this story to the world.

5. I can’t wait to meet him. I just reserved your book at the library. Your book is about 240 pages long and has short chapters, which makes it appealing to kids who don’t want to read longer books. What made you decide to make your story shorter than some middle grade books? What are your tips for achieving this?

 I'd love to say I had a master plan, but I didn't. I like to read shorter middle-grade novels so I naturally

wrote a shorter novel. My earlier drafts were even shorter than the version that will be published; it was beefed up a bit during each edit.

 My first piece of advice would be to read shorter middle-grade books. Utilize those mentor texts! Some of my favorites are by Jason Reynolds and Torrey Maldonado. After reading, make note of what’s on the page and what’s not on the page. Then look at your own work. Can you make your descriptions tighter? Are you over-explaining? Is that scene pushing the story forward?

 6. You are both a We Need Diverse Books and Pitch Wars Mentee. How did these experiences help you strengthen your story and move forward on your path to publication? What advice do you have for other writers thinking of trying to become a mentee with one of these groups?

 These are both powerful forces I am fortunate to be affiliated with!

 My mentorship with WNDB was a huge confidence booster. Before I applied for the mentorship, I was randomly querying agents and racking up a long list of rejections—which was starting to impact my confidence. Getting accepted into the program gave me the reassurance that my stories really did matter.

 PitchWars was a complete game-changer for how I approach revision. During PW, mentees are on a fast-paced revision schedule that lasts for about three months. I changed Take Back the Block from third-person to first-person during that time plus lots of character development.

 My advice for those applying for mentorships: 1. Do it! You can’t win a race that you never enter. 2. Take it seriously and submit your absolute best work. 3. Go all in. Don’t be afraid of hard work—it’ll pay off!

 7. That’s great advice on PitchWars. Your agent is Elizabeth Bewley. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

 Elizabeth and I were introduced during the agent showcase round of PitchWars. After the showcase was over, I had two offers of representation and I chose Elizabeth because of her enthusiasm, vision, and professionalism. 

 I was on submission a few weeks after signing with Elizabeth, and was at auction two weeks after that. I ultimately signed with Shana Corey at Random House, an editor who had first liked my pitch during DVPit, a Twitter pitch contest.

 8. What a great road to publication story. How are you promoting your book during the pandemic and finding out about online conferences and interview opportunities to pursue?

Promotion during the pandemic has been a challenge for sure! My number one source for information comes from my debut class of MG and YA authors, #the21ders. We share opportunities and advice with each other and promote each other’s books.

My publisher, Random House Children’s Books, has also really adapted to this changing environment. They’ve provided many opportunities for me participate in events virtually and introduced me to lots of teachers and librarians in virtual spaces.

AND social media! I routinely use Twitter and Instagram to find my people!

9. That’s reassuring how Random House and the #the21ders helped you. What are you working on now? Is it different writing your manuscript now that you must meet a publishing deadline?

I am editing a stand-alone middle-grade contemporary novel set in rural North Carolina. It’ll be published with Random House in 2022. Thankfully, I drafted this story during pre-pandemic times.

I am also drafting another middle-grade novel and let’s just say it’s coming along very slowly.

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

Twitter: @creativelychrys; Instagram: @chrystaldgiles; website: www.chrystaldgiles.com

Giveaway Details

Chrysal has generously offered a hardback of Take Back the Block 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 February 6th. 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

Wednesday, January 27th I have an interview with author Gita Trelease and a giveaway of Everything That Burns as part of her blog tour

Monday, February 1st I’m participating in the February of 2021 Book Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, February 3rd I have an interview with debut author Jennifer Gruenke and a giveaway of her YA fantasy Of Silver and Shadow and my IWSG post

Monday, February 8th I have an interview with debut author Kristy Boyce and a giveaway of her YA contemporary Hot British Boyfriend

Wednesday, February 10th I have an agent spotlight interview with Abigail Frank and a query critique giveaway

Monday, February 15th I have an interview with debut author Emily Victoria and a giveaway of her YA fantasy This Golden Flame

Tuesday, February 16th I’m participating in the Wish Big Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, February 17th I have an agent spotlight interview with Pam Gruber and a query critique giveaway

Monday, February 22th I have a guest post by debut author Sam Taylor and her agent Allison Hellegers and a giveaway of Sam’s YA fantasy We Are the Fire and a query critique giveaway by Allison

Hope to see you on Wednesday!


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Sounds like a great story from a fellow Charlotte writer! I like writing shorter novels, too.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

A fellow Carolinian! That's cool Pitch Wars helped her so much.

Susan Johnston Taylor said...

Congrats on your book, Chrystal! Looking forward to reading this.

Greg Pattridge said...

The main character is one that young readers should enjoy. Great plot and I love short chapters. Thanks for the interview and for featuring this new book on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

Test said...

I will definitely be purchasing this one for my library, but it would be even better to win one. Wouldn't want you to have to search for my e mail if I won! msyingling (at)yahoo.com. ;)

Danielle H. said...

I have wanted to read this book since I first read the premise--so powerful and inspirational for readers. This author's passion for children's books and path to writing for them sounds very much like my own. I follow Natalie on Twitter and I shared on tumblr: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/641308740668325888/debut-author-interview-chrystal-d-giles-and-take
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/danielle.hammelef/posts/10221139750537173
and Twitter: https://twitter.com/dhammelef/status/1353773914825109508

Tyrean Martinson said...

Chrystal, I love your advice about reading mentor books. Congratulations on your novel!

nashvillecats2 said...

Sounds like a great read Natalie, thanks for the review.
Take care.

Computer Tutor said...

Sounds like a great book and timely. I see those attitudes all around me!

Patricia T. said...

I love stories about kids who use their voices to make a difference. Look forward to reading this sounds like a gem. I especially enjoyed the interview with Crystal! It's being release just before Multicultural Children's Book Day (Jan 27) and Black History Month. Great timing! Congrats to Chrystal on her book's release tomorrow!

June McCrary Jacobs said...

Congratulations, Chrystal, on your book release for 'Take Back the Block'. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this interview. Thanks for sharing this feature for MMGM, Natalie.

Liz A. said...

Sounds like a great book.

Jenni said...

This sounds like a great book. I love that Chrystal was inspired to start writing to create books for her son! Wes also sounds like a great character.

Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf said...

I've seen a ton of praise for this book already, and reading this interview only made it sound more appealing! I love the pairing of a more lighthearted protagonist with a deeper topic. I'll pass on the giveaway, but thanks for the great interview!

Maria Antonia said...

Looks like a good book. Congrats on the book release :)

jcamp2020 said...

Happy Book Birthday! This books sounds like lots of fun. I've been seeing a number of stories where the kids are stepping up and getting involved in their neighborhood. And that's a good thing. Keep fighting the good fight.

Joanne R. Fritz said...

What a wonderful interview! Yay, Chrystal! Yay #the21ders! I've had the privilege and honor of reading this in ARC form and I've already pre-ordered my own copy from Bookshop, so please let someone else win this, Natalie. Thanks!

Beth said...

Great questions Natalie and Chrystal' s answers are inspiring to me as a pre-published author of a boys' book. Would love to win a copy. Thanks.

Rosi said...

Another wonderful interview. Very inspiring. Thanks for the post. I will pass on the giveaway. Too many books, not enough time.

Angela Brown said...

I always find your interviews refreshing and informative, Natalie. Really enjoyed learning about Chrystal's journey and about Wes. Sounds like I need to get Take Back the Block up the list on my TBR.
Congratulations, Chrystal!

Leela said...

It looks like a good read.

Amanda said...

Great interview!

Beth Camp said...

Hello, Natalie. What a fascinating interview! I appreciate Chrystal's straightforward explanations of her writing and publishing. Truly inspirational, and her book, Take Back the Block, is almost just right for my granddaughter (3rd grade, but a reader). Thank you for visiting my IWSG post. As always, your posts are so helpful and interesting! bluebethley2@gmail.com