Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Bethany Weaver Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/26/2024
  • Rebecca Williamson Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 7/8/2024
  • Sheila Fernley Agent Spotlight Interview, Critique Giveaway, and One-Hour Zoom Call on 7/29/2024
  • Erica McGrath Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 8/12/2024

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated through the letter "K" as of 3/28/2024 and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for more information as I find the time to update more agent spotlights.

Debut Author Interview: Jennifer Gruenke and Of Silver and Shadow Giveaway and IWSG Post

Happy Wednesday Everyone! Today I’m excited to debut author Jennifer here to share about her YA fantasy OF SILVER AND SHADOW. It sounds like a fast-paced fantasy with a unique magical system. It’s gotten great reviews, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Here’s a blurb of Jennifer’s book on Goodreads:

Ren Kolins is a silver wielder—a dangerous thing to be in the kingdom of Erdis, where magic has been outlawed for a century. Ren is just trying to survive, sticking to a life of petty thievery, card games, and pit fighting to get by. But when a wealthy rebel leader discovers her secret, he offers her a fortune to join his revolution. The caveat: she won’t see a single coin until they overthrow the King.

Behind the castle walls, a brutal group of warriors known as the King’s Children is engaged in a competition: the first to find the rebel leader will be made King’s Fang, the right hand of the King of Erdis. And Adley Farre is hunting down the rebels one by one, torturing her way to Ren and the rebel leader, and the coveted King’s Fang title.

But time is running out for all of them, including the youngest Prince of Erdis, who finds himself pulled into the rebellion. Political tensions have reached a boiling point, and Ren and the rebels must take the throne before war breaks out.

IWSG Post and In Loving Memory of Josephine “Jo” Wake Post

Before I get to my interview with Jennifer, I have my IWSG post and In Loving Memory of Josephine “Jo” Wake 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 December 2 posting of the IWSG are  Louise - Fundy Blue, Jennifer Lane, Mary Aalgaard, Patsy Collins at Womagwriter, and Nancy Gideon!

Optional Question: Blogging is often more than just sharing stories. It’s often the start of special friendships and relationships. Have you made any friends through the blogosphere?

Yes, one of the reasons I enjoy blogging is the friendships I have made over the years. Many of them are in this group. Although we live far from each other and cannot see each other in person, we are all so supportive of each other, which is the heart of friendship.

I have appreciated your support during my very hard times in my life, like when my husband suddenly died. I always try to be supportive too when I see someone going through a hard time. And I try to help shout out about everyone’s new book releases in my Follower News so that I can help as many of my friends as possible.

I’m also participating in the blog hop to remember Josephine “Jo” Wake. I did not know Jo, but like Nicole Wallace says every weekday on MSNBC news, it is important to "remember lives well lived". 

Here’s my simple recipe in honor of Jo.


Tostados was always a quick, healthy meal we ate when my husband was alive. To be honest, I only

recently started making them again recently.

 Preheat the oven to 450 degrees


Tostado shells (You can buy at a Mexican store or some supermarkets.)
Refried beans (Homemade or canned)
Shredded cheese
Chopped lettuce
Chopped tomatoes

Heat the refried beans. Spread a layer of bean on the tostado shell and sprinkle on shredded cheese to taste. Heat them in the oven for approximately 3 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Top with the lettuce, tomatoes, and salsa. You can add other toppings, like sliced avocado, if you like.

Interview With Jennifer Gruenke

Hi Jennifer! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

I’ve been writing “seriously” (as in, with the intent to become published) for about five years, but like a lot of authors, I started writing at a fairly young age. I was twelve when I first thought to myself, I’d like to write a book, and set out to do just that. I couldn’t tell you a thing about that story. I don’t remember the concept, the main character, or even the setting. I don’t think I made it more than a chapter or two before abandoning what was sure to be a noble but atrocious attempt at a first novel. A strange fantasy story about a girl with purple eyes came next, when I was about fifteen or sixteen. That was similarly set aside to collect dust and eventually wither away to nothing.

I attended college at UC Santa Barbara where I studied Communication and Professional Writing. During these four years I sidelined my attempts at creative writing, setting aside thoughts of becoming an author for shiny and distracting new things. It wasn’t until I’d graduated and moved back home to live with my parents that I returned to the idea of creative writing. This was in part thanks to a good friend who was working on her own novel. Her passion for her work inspired me to try my hand at telling stories once again. It’s also worth noting that I was living in a very small town where there was little in the way of a social scene; outside of my day job as a journalist, I had more free time than I knew what to do with. I started putting words on the page again, and everything fell into place. Nothing had ever made me feel so fulfilled. This time, storytelling stuck.

 2. That’s so cool that you have a good friend who was working on a novel too. Where did you get the idea for OF SILVER AND SHADOW?

OF SILVER AND SHADOW was born from my first completed book, a YA sci-fi story that will never see the light of day because it really was that bad, though the draft does still exist on my computer (don’t tell the hackers). Most writers will agree that there are no wasted words, that everything we put on the page teaches us something, and while I absolutely agree with this sentiment, I can’t help my full-body cringe when I think about the fact that at one point I truly believed it was good. But I digress.

 After a month or two of distance from that doomed novel, I came to realize it was never going to be published. So I asked myself what the concept would look like in a fantasy setting. That was the initial inkling, which I grabbed like a baton and took off sprinting. OF SILVER AND SHADOW has changed drastically since then, so much so that you’d never recognize my first novel in its pages. The bones of that story were whittled down to slivers before being extracted completely.

You may notice I haven’t revealed the concept behind that first novel. I assure you, this is intentional. I plan to go to the grave with my embarrassment.

 3. It’s good to know that there is hope for our doomed stories. I may have one too. One of the comments that reviewers made is that you have a unique magical system. What was your world building process like?

I’m always pleasantly surprised when a reader enjoys my world building, because it’s really not my

strong point. I like to do what I’m going to call micro-level world building (this might be an actual term, but I haven’t looked it up), where I build out the immediate world, focusing heavily on the senses. How is the city laid out? What does it smell like? What do people wear? Is there a lot of foot traffic? What about music? What do the buildings look like?

I’m an extremely visual person and I relish breathing life into settings. I hope readers can picture themselves walking along the cobbled streets on Denfell, breathing in salty air touched by a scent of cake floating from the open doors of Noble Finch. Macro-level world building (international relations, religions, rules to magic) doesn’t come quite so easily to me.

As a result, the magic in this world, called silver, is very visual. I originally pictured it as a magic based around illusion, but as I began to write the story it just wasn’t clicking. One day I went to see the Avengers. I was sitting in the theater watching the Scarlet Witch in all her badass glory, and I thought to myself, What if the magic in my story looked something like this? Silver was born in that moment. The rules of magic, limits and the things it could do, all came later. In the beginning, my main goal was very simple: I want this to look cool.

4. It also sounds like your book is a real page-turner. How did you plot it out?

This may or may not come as a surprise, but I am not a plotter. I find plotting to be a bit of a headache. It’s a necessary evil, especially when you’ve got four characters whose individual stories are eventually going to collide, and even more so when every single one of them is keeping vital information from the other, but I don’t plot unless forced. I write by discovery, following threads as they come and letting the characters lead me down roads I didn’t know existed. The tightening of the plot and pacing comes during revisions.

As for creating a page-turner, I’m drawn to books with crisp pacing, so I naturally try not to dawdle in my own writing. Each scene needs to accomplish something that carries the characters forward, the quicker the better. One of my goals is to end each chapter on a note of anticipation. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a cliffhanger, but I like to leave readers with the sense that something new waits around the corner and you’ll find out what if you keeping reading—just one more chapter. Mood and tone play a huge part.

5. I’m not a super plotter either and like to discover my story like you. Share a bit about your main character, Ren. Did anything surprise you about her as you wrote her story?

Ren started off as a very different person than who she ended up being. Writing the beginning of OF SILVER AND SHADOW was a bit like performing an excavation as a naive archeologist with a notebook full of misconceived notions about my dig site. During the first ten-thousand words I attempted to write a quiet Ren, a submissive Ren, a girl with an attitude to be sure, but an attitude she kept in check. It just felt wrong. As I wrote her initial interactions with her compatriots, this brash, mean, impulsive girl kept trying to come out. I repeatedly attempted to slap duct tape over her mouth, because the character she wanted to be didn’t fit with this idea I had in my head, but eventually Ren got her way, as she usually does.

Ren also started off on a much higher moral ground than where she stands in the published book. In the original beginning, the rebellion was able to appeal to her sense of compassion in order to convince her to join their cause. Ren became even more compelling to me when I realized she was considerably more interested in money than doing the right thing.

Once I scrapped the Ren I was trying to force into being and embraced the character she truly was, the story took off. Ren is far more selfish, sarcastic, and mean-spirited than I’d expected. I’d go as far as to call her downright cruel in her worst moments. Exploring the why of her character, her deep grief and sense of shame and the self-hatred that festered as a result, was one of my favorite parts of writing this story. In a way, I think Ren might have written herself more than I ever did. I just put the things she was telling me on page.

6. Your agent is Hilary Harwell. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

I connected with Hilary during PitMad, which is a Twitter pitch contest. When people say success in publishing is partially due to timing, they’re not kidding. I had started querying OF SILVER AND SHADOW not even a week before PitMad. I wasn’t entrenched in the publishing world at the time and I didn’t even know what PitMad was, but a friend texted me the morning of the event to tell me about it. I threw together three pitches in a panic, posted them on Twitter, and crossed my fingers. Hilary, who’d been an assistant at KT Literary for a couple of years, had just started taking on clients of her own and was specifically looking for a dark and gritty YA fantasy. She liked my pitch, I did my research (always do your research), thought she would make a great fit, and sent off a query.

Looking back, I know OF SILVER AND SHADOW wasn’t where it needed to be and I’ll always be grateful to Hilary for seeing its potential. She offered me an R&R (revise and resubmit) and gave me some notes. If I revised the parts of the book she didn’t think were working, she would take another look. Her notes resonated with me, I knew the book would be better for it, so I accepted. I revised over the course of about three months, sent the revised manuscript back to Hilary, and got The Call a couple months later. I officially had an agent. I was lucky in that it was a relatively painless process. Submission, not so much.

After three rounds of edits with Hilary, we took OF SILVER AND SHADOW out on submission, which is the process of pitching the book to editors in the hope someone will want to buy it. Submission is the land of dread, cautious hope, and incessant inbox refreshing. We went through three rounds of sub over the course of a year before the offer from Flux came in. I received rejections full of compliments about my writing, all concluding with some variation of “I loved this but not enough,” which was both lovely and awful at the same time.

And just when I started to give up hope, we sold to Flux. My editor, Kelsy Thompson, was an absolute dream to work with. She is brilliant and sharp. OF SILVER AND SHADOW is the book it is because of her and because of Hilary. I wouldn’t trade either of them for all the salted caramel brownies in the world.

7. What a cool road to publication story. Your publication date was changed due to the coronavirus. Share how that happened and how the virus has affected your book release celebration and marketing strategy.

I got an email from Flux on a late March morning stating that they were pushing OF SILVER AND SHADOW’s publication date from May 26, 2020 to February 16, 2021. The change would give the book its best chance at success. It was a tough blow for me, learning that I had to wait nearly a year for a book I thought I’d see on shelves in two months. But we all made the best of it, refocusing our marking efforts and getting into the swing of the “new normal.” We’ve been able to utilize that initial excitement by reaching out to early readers who loved the book to do a second round of promotion. I was worried that people who cared about the book a year ago wouldn’t still care today, but I haven’t found that to be true. Readers are a passionate, lovely, wildly supportive bunch, and I’ve been tagged in a number of posts reminding people to pick up OF SILVER AND SHADOW when it comes out.

The biggest positive about releasing a book in a space that has gone completely virtual is that events are way more accessible now. While I was looking forward to celebrating the release of my debut novel with friends at an in-person launch party, so many people who couldn’t have made it before can come now.

For those interested, Main Street Books Davidson (mainstreetbooksdavidson.com) is hosting the launch party and signed copies are available through them.

8. It must have been hard to have to wait so long, but it’s great that you have a team helping keep up the excitement for your book. What have you done to increase your social media platform since you signed your book contract? What advice do you have for other debut authors?

It’s a common myth that authors need to have a big social media platform in order to be successful. Not true at all. A social platform rarely correlates to success. I like being on social media in order to interact with readers. Instagram is also a creative outlet for me (fun fact: I was a bookstagrammer in a past life), but social media isn’t something I do because I feel I have to. I’m online because I genuinely enjoy being there.

As far as increasing your platform, giveaways are a good way to get yourself noticed while doing something nice to thank the community for their support. But the best thing you can do is embrace authenticity. Find the thing that brings you joy, whether that’s writing a newsletter or taking photos for Instagram, and lean into that. Don’t feel like you have to be everywhere at once. It’s better to put your effort into the one thing that works for you than to spread yourself thin. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, not only will others be able to tell, but it’ll bring unnecessary stress into your life. If you don’t like Twitter, you don’t have to be there.

9. What are you working on now?

I can’t tell you much because the book hasn’t sold yet—it’s not even finished—but it’s both the most challenging and most self-indulgent thing I’ve ever written. I’m incredibly excited at the prospect of seeing it in the world one day. It’s going to be years, but I think it’ll be worth the wait.

Here’s a tease: it might involve Death, a heist, and a starlit city. That’s all I’m going to say.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Jennifer. You can find Jennifer at jenngruenke.com, and @jenngruenke on Twitter and Instagram.

Giveaway Details

Jennifer has generously offered an ARC of Of Silver and Shadow 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 20th. 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

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 Monday!


nashvillecats2 said...

I thank you for being a friend Natalie, you have certainly helped me and it is much appreciated.
I enjoyed the interview with Jennifer.


Liza said...

You are a good friend to others Natalie, and I have the personal experience to prove it. Thank you, Jennifer for the interview. I agree that no matter how poor a project turns out, we always learn and improve. I am currently re-writing the first novel I ever tried to write. It was so bad I laugh. But after years of practice, I know how to make it better. It's fun to the see growth that has occurred.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Natalie, if not for Literary Rambles I would be completely lost where my agent search is concerned. Thank you for all the time and energy you invest in helping us writers in our publishing journey!

Bish Denham said...

So many wonderful friends and your work interview authors and agents is simply amazing!

Pat Garcia said...

Your recipe looks delicious. I will try it. Thank you also for offering to help me promote. I have sent you and email.

Shalom aleichem,
Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Tostados sound tasty!
You always help spread the word about new releases. Being a giver is the best.

Gwen Gardner said...

Hi Natalie, writing friendships are the best--we "get" each other.

Hi Jennifer, congratulations on your book--it was a long time coming. The premise is awesome and Ren's character sounds intriguing ;)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Natalie - you've lots of contacts in the publishing world ... and you obviously share with your blogging friends and other contacts. I agree if one is in a group like this ... we are amongst friends ...
Thanks for the nod to Jo and her love of food - your idea for tostados sounds ideal ... stay safe and all the best - Hilary

emaginette said...

I know you've been there for me. Thanks so much. :-)

Anna from elements of emaginette

Computer Tutor said...

Another post chock full of information--and an interesting interview with Jennifer. Thanks, Natalie!

Sherry Ellis said...

Sorry to hear about Jo!

Thanks for being supportive of so many authors, Natalie. You've been a wonderful presence in the blogosphere!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I love hearing about Twitter pitch parties being successful for an author.

I also love Mexican and your dish sounds wonderful.

Anonymous said...

IWSG is such a great on-line group. There really is strength in numbers when we have shared goals. Your continued generous support of writers has always inspired me. And I truly appreciate you reaching out to me personally. Thank you.

Tyrean Martinson said...

IWSG has been a great community of support and encouragement for me. I love all that you do, Natalie, and every time I read one of your posts, even if it is an interview, I think of your writing and hope it is going well.

Great interview today. I tried to be a plotter, and that stopped my writing. It was painful. I tried again last fall (because I thought my series needed a more detailed plot than just 5 major points) and it made my current work really awful. I am back to pantsing. Revision is harder for me with a plotted out novel that feels dull.

Al Diaz said...

Well, it is great to see a Mexican food recipe in honor to Jo. THank you so very much for joining the bloghop even though you didn't meet her, but those words are perfect. Hers was a life well lived. One could tell by the way she was and spoke and saw her life. Thanks again.

Samantha Bryant said...

I love participating in IWSG for the support and companionship. After all, I get to know some pretty cool people, like *you* for instance :-) @samanthabwriter from
Balancing Act

Olga Godim said...

Natalie, your constant promotional efforts for others surely build lots of good karma for you.
Jennifer, your book cover is amazing.

Liz A. said...

It's interesting how a story you think is great isn't so much once you've gained more writing experience. It's funny how no story leaves you entirely.

Loni Townsend said...

You have been one of the most uplifting acquaintances I've made through blogging. I'm glad we've gotten to meet. :)

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Your posts are always so full of helpful information and today even includes food. Love the interviews and the new books coming out. Thank you for all your work to keep us informed with the latest news.

Carol Kilgore said...

I didn't know Jo Wake, but I'm loving seeing all the recipes other bloggers have posted. Tostados! They are just about the easiest and quickest thing in the world to make. Tastiest, too. You can jazz them up all kinds of ways or just plain. Always good.

Megan said...

This book sounds amazing!!!
(Not entering the giveaway) :)

Jemi Fraser said...

That is a gorgeous cover!!! And the premise sounds terrific!
I've never had tostados - but now I want to try them. Thanks for the recipe!

Erika Beebe said...

The cover is gorgeous! Natalie, your recipe sounds amazing. I'm so touched at your words in honoring lives well lived. Thank you for your moving post today. Happy IWSG Day.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Natalie, you've been an amazing champion of YA and children's books. You've helped this community in soooo many ways. Thank you!

OF SILVER AND SHADOW sounds brilliant!

Jeff Hargett said...

It's a shame you didn't get to know Jo. She was a pleasure to know. Take care!

Pat Hatt said...

Sure a lot of friendships made and they are there in hard times indeed.

Being a visual writer sure can help things lift off the page.

Sandra Cox said...

SILVER sounds intriguing.
Good on you for honoring Jo and with such a yummy recipe.
Our blogger buds get us through, don't they?

Jenni said...

Natalie, I love your tostada recipe. I didn't know Jo either, but what a great way to remember her. We love tostadas at our house too, and I'm glad you're getting back to making them. I'm so thankful for this warm ISWG community too!
This sounds like an intriguing book! I especially love the beautiful cover, and I like how Jennifer is such a visual person. Getting those details right is so important.

Leigh Caron said...

Your posts are always filled with such wonderful goodies. Thanks. I appreciate the time and effort you you put into them. And the tostados look delish!

Mary Preston said...

A thought filled post.


Melissa Miles said...

Congrats on the book! The cover is gorgeous and it sounds great.

Beth said...

Great interview, Natalie! You and pantser Jennifer inspire me. Thanks for debut authors in your blogs. Some day we will be there!

Angie Quantrell said...

Great interview! Thanks for sharing. Congrats, Jennifer!

Danielle H. said...

I enjoyed this interview and will be adding this book to my TBR. It was informative to read about launching a debut book during the pandemic and how events are all virtual now and more and more authors and publishers are becoming experts at reaching readers this way. I follow you on Twitter, Natalie, and will be trying that easy and healthy recipe soon.

Lynn La Vita said...

Living in Mexico has introduced me to many Mexican dishes. Your Tostado recipe looks great. Almost every answer to this months IWSG question share a common theme: friendship and support. Given what's going on in the world, nice place to hang out.

Lynn La Vita blog: Writers Supporting Writers

Amanda said...

Sounds like a great book!

Rebecca M. Douglass said...

Natalie, you are truly an amazing person in the way you support other writers, and I always enjoy the interviews you post, even when the books aren't my sort :D

Tonja Drecker said...

This sounds like a great read, and it's going to my TBR list. Blogging is a blessing thanks to all of the people one meets (like you). It's always a treat to hear from someone or be able to peek in on their posts.

Fundy Blue said...

Hi, Natalie! I'm still making the IWSG rounds. You always inspire me, my friend, because you do so much to support others. I've visited a lot of blogs in the last 30 hours or so, and I came across a post/comment ~ might have been more than one ~ my brain is swirling right now ~ from someone about how you had helped her through losing her husband. You have such a big heart! And you do great interviews too! I enjoyed reading Jennifer's, and I wish her much success with "Of Silver and Shadow!"

tetewa said...

I'm always looking for new authors to read, sounds like my kind of read! Congrats on the release and thanks for the recipe!

Rosi said...

You always have such interesting interviews. It's nice to see success coming to other writers who aren't plotters. It gives me hope. I will pass on the giveaway. Too many books right now.

Christine Rains said...

Fantastic interview! Congratulations to Jennifer. The book sounds amazing. I'm not a plotter either, and I'm very visual as well. Hope you're safe and well. :)

Tamara Narayan said...

Those tostados look good. I'll have to give them a try.

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

Gorgeous book cover with an interesting premise. The recipe looks delicious -- I'm going to try it as soon as I can source the ingredients :-)

Ronel visiting for IWSG day The Great Pretender

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the giveaway!

Coach said...

I am new to your blog, but this looks like a lot of great info! And a lot of amazing giveaway opportunities!

Stephanie Owen said...

I am new to your blog, but this looks like a lot of great info! And a lot of amazing giveaway opportunities!

Debra Branigan said...

I enjoyed the interview with Jennifer Gruenke and how she explained the mighty trek she took to get this book to me, the reader! Best wishes on the novel; it sounds like a good read. I also shared on twitter