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.

Guest Post: Agent Maura Kye-Casella and Debut Author Sam Subity and The Last Shadow Warrior and Query Critique Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Sam Subity and his agent Maura Kye-Casella here to share about Sam’s MG fantasy The Last Shadow Warrior. It sounds like a fantastic adventure story for fans of Percy Jackson, so I’m definitely looking forward to reading it.

Before I get to my guest post, I want to let those of you who follow by email know that I switched my email subscription service to follow.it because Feedburner is no longer going to be supported by Google. This is my first major change on the blog since Casey left the blog. She used to handle all these things. So if you're getting two email notices of posts, please delete the Feedburner one. Hopefully, you won't be getting those emails anymore.

Here’s a blurb of The Last Shadow Warrior from Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Abby Beckett is proud to come from a long line of elite Viking warriors known as the Aesir. She's spent her entire life training to hunt the horrific creatures known as Grendels - the ancient foe of the Aesir - just like her mother did before she died. But there's just one, small problem: No one has seen a Grendel in centuries, and the Viking Council wants to disband the Aesir . . . forever.

When her father is injured in an attack that leaves him in a coma, Abby is forced to take refuge at Vale Hall, a mysterious school in Minnesota where nothing is quite as it seems. She soon discovers the tables have turned and a Grendel is hunting her, but when she tries to alert the Viking Council, they accuse her of making up stories for attention . . . just like her mother did.

Desperate to protect her father and clear her mother's name, Abby goes on a dangerous quest to discover the truth--a journey that brings her face-to-face with some unlikely foes, including a Ping-Pong-playing sea monster with a wicked backhand, and a dark Valkyrie with a fondness for bingo. Abby quickly realizes that someone at the school is trying to stop her progress and destroy the Aesir for good. And only she can unravel the sinister plot before it's too late.

Now here’s Sam and Maura!


Hi Maura, thanks so much for joining me on Literary Rambles today! It’s been fun working with you to get The Last Shadow Warrior out into the world!

1. I like how your bio on the Don Congdon Associates website says you traded your legal briefcase for a manuscript bag over a decade ago. What was it that drew you to becoming a literary agent?

Growing up I was a natural reader and always had a great love for books.  Some of my fondest memories as a child were when my mother would bring us to the library, as I was so excited to take out all the wonderful picture books.  I even loved the smell of books.  Reading and writing were always a special interest of mine, so I was drawn to the publishing industry and was lucky to land a short summer stint during college at the iconic Rolling Stone magazine.  After practicing law for a few years, I realized I yearned for more creativity in my life and was looking for a career that would incorporate my love of books, writing and contracts, and thankfully I came upon the amazing world of literary agenting.

2. What makes you pick up a manuscript and want to represent it? Are those the same things that drew you to The Last Shadow Warrior?

I love a good hook (for this work it was the modern day Beowulf retelling), compelling characters and wonderful writing.  The Last Shadow Warrior had all these elements, so I was excited to work on this fun-filled story with you.  Abby is a fantastically fierce female (extra points for kick-ass heroines) and has a lovely relationship with her dad.  The authenticity of that father- daughter relationship is also what drew me in.  Moreover, you created a vibrant Viking world in the middle of current day MN.  So, once I realized I could learn cool Viking lore, while being taken on a crazy adventure full of monsters from Norse mythology and friends with wings, I knew I wanted to go on this journey with you.

3. You represent a broad range of writers from non-fiction and women's fiction to YA and MG. Is there any difference in the way you approach these different areas?

With regards to fiction and non-fiction, it is a different approach for me.  The main difference on how I approach these types of works is that non-fiction is especially platform-driven.  If someone approaches me with a non-fiction work and the topic is of interest to me or timely, then I always have to consider the author’s platform.  Whereas with fiction, I don’t have to consider the logistics of an author’s platform as much, however, it is a bonus if the author has that built-in as well.  And then solely within the realm of fiction on the whole, I am drawn to both strong and flawed characters and I am always looking for authentic voices across all genres.  But due to the range of ages from MG, to YA to women’s fiction, I definitely approach these categories with a different hat, as character growth and experience is so vast between these areas and the difference of what’s at stake for each protagonist varies greatly as well.

4. Is there anything (story, genre, trope) you're particularly excited about finding in your inbox these days?

While I’m interested in all types of voices and storylines, I’m especially interested in fostering the stories of writers whose voices have been marginalized and historically underrepresented.  So I am always excited to see queries from writers with diverse voices.  Additionally, I am always looking for unique voices and stories that haven’t been told.  I’m happy to learn something new.  I also love magical realism and continue to seek works out that incorporate this in some way.  Oh, and I’m a big fan of stories about witches and/or ghosts, so I’m currently searching for stories that include these otherwordly characters, but it must be done in a way we haven’t seen before.  However, authors can always check out my agency website to see a more complete list of works I am looking to represent.

5. Where can readers find you online?

On social media, Twitter:  @AGENTMKC

Website: doncongdon.com


1. What is your book about?

The Last Shadow Warrior is Beowulf meets Percy Jackson, and is about a twelve-year-old Viking named Abby Beckett who has to save her school from creatures out of Norse mythology like a Ping-Pong playing sea monster and a dark Valkyrie with oven mitts of doom. She's spent her whole life training to hunt Grendels just like her mom did before she died, but finds out that the tables have turned and a Grendel is hunting her. It's full of adventure, twists, and humor, interwoven with real history like a Viking sport called knattleikr that Abby learns to play.

2. Tell me about "The Call."

I remember it was about a week before Christmas in 2018 when you emailed to say you'd just finished reading my manuscript and asked if we could talk live. By the time your number appeared on my phone’s screen, I was such a bundle of nervous energy that I couldn't sit still and ended up pacing circles around my Christmas tree the whole time. I hadn't had a lot of practice giving the elevator pitch for my book, but you were very gracious while I hemmed and hawed my way through it, and I must have been coherent enough because I ended up signing an agreement of representation with you a few days later and remember thinking it was definitely the best Christmas present ever!

3. What has your journey to publication since then looked like?

We spent a couple of months the following spring working on revisions to the manuscript and getting it ready to go on submission. You suggested opening the book with a training scene to immediately introduce readers to Abby as this fierce Viking warrior who's not the average twelve-year-old. I've had feedback from early readers that the first chapter really grabs them, so I think that suggestion worked! After finishing these new revisions, you sent out the manuscript to an initial list of publishers while I started tinkering around with other manuscripts, expecting the process to take many months or even years. But barely seven weeks later, you sent me an email with the subject line "OFFER(!)" and I could barely believe it. Then we had our first call with Scholastic not long after that, and I was on my way to signing my first publishing contract!

4. What was the hardest change you had to make to your original manuscript?

There were definitely some hard changes, including cutting almost 10,000 words to keep the story from becoming too long for younger readers. But I think maybe the hardest was changing the title. I'd heard from other authors not to get too attached to a title because it will probably change, but by the time I signed with Scholastic, I'd already been living with my story titled "Vale of Secrets" for a couple of years, and even had planned to call the next two books in the series Vale of Tears and Vale of Fire. Then late in the revision process, Scholastic asked, "Do kids know what a 'vale' is?" I turned to my own kids for help, thinking surely they would know. They didn't. Maybe we could have kept it anyway, but I had to trust that the folks at Scholastic know what they're doing way better than I do, and I agreed to come up with some alternate suggestions. I sent a list of my favorites to you (Maura) and Scholastic, and I think we all independently chose The Last Shadow Warrior as our favorite.

5. Where can readers find you and your book online?

On social media, I'm mostly on Twitter, but here are a few places you can find me:

Twitter and Instagram: @sjsubity

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SamSubityAuthor/

Website: samsubity.com

Thanks so much for having us both on Literary Rambles!

Giveaway Details

Sam has generously offered a hardback of The Shadow Warrior and Maura has offered a query critique 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 June 5th. If you do not want to be included in the critique giveaway, please let me know in the comments. 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 book giveaway is U.S. and Canada and the query critique giveaway is international.

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

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Wednesday, June 2nd I have a guest post with agent Janna Bonikowski and debut author Casie Bazey with a query critique giveaway by Janna and a giveaway of Not Our Summer, and YA contemporary by Casie and my IWSG post

Friday, June 4th I'm participating in the June 2021 of Books Giveaway Hop

Monday, June 7th I have an agent spotlight interview with Katherine Wessbecher and a query critique giveaway

Monday, June 14th I have an interview with debut author Joanne Rossmassler Fritz and a giveaway of her MG contemporary Everywhere Blue

Wednesday, June 16th I’m participating in the Dad-o-mite Giveaway Hop

Monday, June 21st I have an interview with debut author Mike Thayer and a giveaway of his MG fantasy The Double Life of Danny Day

Monday, June 28th I have an interview with Sacha Wunsch, founder of As You Wish Literary, with a 5 first pages plus query critique or 10 first pages critique giveaway

Hope to see you on Wednesday, June 2nd!


Agent Spotlight: Michelle Hauck Interview and Query Critique Giveaway

Today I’m thrilled to have agent Michelle Hauck here. She is an associate literary agent at Storm Literary Agency.

Status: Open to submissions

Hi­ Michelle! Thanks so much for joining us.

About Michelle:

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

I think it’s safe to blame my transition to agenting partly on the pandemic. It gave me the final push that I needed to get out of my comfort zone and go for a dream. I’ve been intrigued by the idea of being an agent for a long time. I did an internship at an agency several years ago and even applied for an open position. It didn’t work out, and I didn’t pursue it at the time. But then during the pandemic I saw Storm was looking for new interns, I knew Heather Cashman from Pitch Wars, and she agreed to take me on. I interned with her for the better part of a year—quitting my job in the process—and here I am: Ready to help writers achieve their dreams. I started taking queries at the end of January 2021.  

About the Agency:

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

Storm is a boutique agency that specializes in children’s literature, especially picture books, and has just recently branched out into the adult market. We are a small agency that is in the process of growing and expanding, with several new agents added recently. All the agents are close and we freely share information and queries, like a big family. So, though I’m pretty new to the business, I have a huge support system actively mentoring me.

Storm has a social media group for its clients and also offers private seminars by the agents on different writer topics. We want clients to have all the resources available to them to further their journey, because we are here to support their entire careers.  

What She’s Looking For:

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

I am actively looking for clients in the areas of MG and YA, all genres, along with the select adult genres of SFF and cozy mysteries. I’m building my list, so I do request about 10% of my queries at the moment.

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

So many things! I’d love to find a rich epic adult fantasy set outside of the United States and Europe. Epic/historical fantasy is my true book sweet spot. Also, I’m actually a big baseball fan and would love to see stories with that sport. Any story that features fun adventures or quirky characters. Characters who are vegans. I’d love something set in a chateau or old mansion being remodeled. I’m drawn to themes that explore the concepts of duty or honor. Most importantly I want to represent diverse voices. It’s always been easy to find books that feature characters like me. I want to make sure everyone can see themselves in a great book.

What She Isn’t Looking For:

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

I’m not looking for adult romance or really any story on the hotter end of the romance spectrum. I am drawn to romance but prefer it to be more of a subplot and on the sweeter side. I’m also not the best fit for YA contemporaries with heavy or dark social issues, or adult thrillers that don’t contain any SFF elements. I’m not looking for nonfiction or picture books.

I’ve learned from experience that you don’t want to rule any type of story out because everything depends on how it is presented. You just never know until you read it. I never expected to fall in love with some of the stories I chose for Pitch Wars until I saw them.

That said, everyone has their preferences and I’m not a huge fan of circus settings.   

Update on 2/14/2023

"Michelle Hauck is CLOSED to submissions at this time. She is reopening to queries on February 16, 2023! Please allow two months for a query response and four months for a response on a full request.

"Please note that for this query window, she will only be looking for select genres. Those are: Adult Fantasy (of all subgenres, but specifically second world fantasy and/or by marginalized voices), Adult Cozy Mystery (Contemporary time period and/or by marginalized voices), YA/MG Fantasy, MG Humor/Adventure, YA Thriller, YA Romance (specifically LGBTQ+), YA/MG Historical, low stakes YA/MG Contemporaries, YA/MG Mystery, and Graphic Novels.

"She is NOT seeking Science Fiction or Horror in this query window, Historical cozy mystery, or Issue-driven YA/MG Contemporary. She hopes to reopen to those genres some time in the future." (From the agency website)

Agent Philosophy:

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

I was a Pitchwars mentor for six years and like to take that approach to agenting. I hope to share my writing experience with clients and to learn from them as well. I’ve been published with the Big 5, and I know the ups and downs.

I’m really a hands-on type of agent, who wants to be there for a client’s whole career. I’ve also been on the wrong end of agents who struggled with communication, so communication with my clients is a priority. I really want to avoid getting so overloaded that I can’t respond in a timely manner to clients. The writers are the stars and I hope to be the one who creates a path for them to shine.

Editorial Agent:

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

I’m very editorial, but, on the other side, I wouldn’t say no to a manuscript that is submission ready from the start. Generally, clients will go through a couple rounds of edits. I might start them off with big picture revisions and then come in with line edits afterward. I like to do a read through on my Kindle to catch any small things after the line edits.

Also, I’m not the type to say my way or the highway on revisions. I tend to state the reason behind my suggestions, and keep an open mind if the client disagrees with a change.  

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

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

I use Query Manager and ask for a synopsis, query letter, and first five pages. You can find my Query Manager link and guidelines here.

For the query letter, do tell me about the story. Try to focus on unique aspects of your story. What makes it stand out from other stories? Comps are helpful and a short bio.

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

Not specific dislikes, no. I do prefer the query letter shares basic parts of the plot like what the main character wants, what obstacle is keeping them from achieving that goal, the stakes of the story, the choice the MC must make. You’d be surprised how many query letters tell me almost nothing about the story. So, I guess my dislike is a query letter that talks about audience or marketing plans and doesn’t give me a clue to the story.

Response Time:

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

So far, my query responses have been relatively fast. That’s likely to change as I add clients. I have been running about two weeks behind, but I expect that will stretch toward a month. My plan is to respond to every query within a month. As for requests, my plan there has been under three months and I’ve hit that goal so far. Fingers crossed. 😊

Self-Published and Small Press Authors:

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

I’m am totally open to authors who have self-published or gone the small press route. I published with a small press myself. To me, all avenues of publishing are legitimate paths. However, I wouldn’t query a story that was already self-published and would be wary of looking at material related to self-published stories—if the author used the same characters for example. It’s often best to query with something completely fresh and unrelated.

Nowadays most writers are going to be hybrids. Some stories are better suited to self-publishing and some to traditional publishing. Many writers are going to do both. Both require hard work.

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

There are always changes in this industry. Audio books have really taken off since I started writing and got my publishing contract. Agents have always adjusted. What won’t change is agents having their clients’ backs. We’re here to get you best deal possible, to support your career, and to help when you have a problem.

I do think there will be more remote agents and editors. That’s great as it can allow fresh people to be part of traditional publishing without having to live in NYC.   


13. Who are some of the authors you represent?

I keep a list of clients on my website. You can see them all here. As of answering this question I have two clients.

Interviews and Guest Posts:

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

This is actually my first interview. 😊

Links and Contact Info:

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

As I said above, I use Query Manager as it really keeps me organized and also keeps things simple for writers. My guidelines and link to submit a query are here. I respond to every query and try to provide feedback to every request. You can also follow me on twitter @Michelle4Laughs.

Update on 2/14/2023

Manuscript Wish List
MS Wish List
Michelle's website
Publisher's Marketplace

Additional Advice:

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

I feel like advice can sometimes be a two-edged sword. Even the best-intentioned advice doesn’t fit every person. Write everyday doesn’t work for everyone. Join a critique group, might not be the best for certain people. Just query—what have you got to lose—can be very hard to hear for some people. I think I would say find what works for you. Don’t feel pressured to be like every other writer if that advice will overwhelm you. Do you. And don’t be afraid to let an agent know your needs. We’re good, but we aren’t mind readers. We want to support you. Let us know how to do that.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Michelle.

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

Profile Details:
Last Updated: 2/14/2023.
Agent Contacted for Review? Yes
Last Reviewed By Agent? 4/20/2023.

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

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

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





Debut Author Interview: Payal Doshi and Rea and the Blood of the Nectar Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Payal Doshi here to share about her MG fantasy Rea and the Blood of the Nectar. I was fortunate to get an ARC from NetGalley and really enjoyed. It’s set in India, which I have a soft spot for since I met my late husband there, and the world building was fantastic.

 Here’s a blurb from Goodreads: 

Perfect for fans of the Aru Shah books and The Chronicles of Narnia.

A middle-grade fantasy about twelve-year-old Rea Chettri, who portals into an otherworldly realm to go on a secret quest to find her missing twin brother Rohan. The clock is ticking in this fast-paced, thrilling, and exciting adventure rife with evil creatures, a ruthless villain, and unforgettable friendships.

It all begins on the night Rea turns twelve. After a big fight with her twin brother Rohan on their birthday, Rea's life in the small village of Darjeeling, India, gets turned on its head. It’s four in the morning and Rohan is nowhere to be found.

It hasn’t even been a day and Amma acts like Rohan's gone forever. Her grandmother, too, is behaving strangely. Unwilling to give up on her brother, Rea and her friend Leela meet Mishti Daadi, a wrinkly old fortune-teller whose powers of divination set them off on a thrilling and secret quest. In the shade of night, they portal into an otherworldly realm and travel to Astranthia, a land full of magic and whimsy. There with the help of Xeranther, an Astranthian barrow boy, and Flula, a pari, Rea battles serpent-lilies and blood-sucking banshees, encounters a butterfly-faced woman and blue lizard-men, and learns that Rohan has been captured. Rea also discovers that she is a princess with magic. Only she has no idea how to use it.

Struggling with the truth her Amma has kept hidden from her, Rea must solve clues that lead to Rohan, find a way to rescue him and save Astranthia from a potentially deadly fate. But the clock is ticking. Can she rescue Rohan, save Astranthia, and live to see it all?

Rea and the Blood of the Nectar is Payal Doshi's stunning #ownvoices middle-grade fantasy debut about understanding complex family dynamics, fighting for what is right, discovering oneself, and learning to make friends.

Follower News

Before I get to my interview with Payal, I have Follower News to share. Rebecca Douglass just released a new mystery, Death by Donut. Here’s a blurb and some links:

Election day’s almost here, and the island’s new pool is on the line. JJ should be all in with the campaign, but when a prominent Island businessman drops dead at her feet in the Have-A-Bite Bakery, someone has a mystery to solve. JJ’s fiancé—police chief Ron Karlson—is out of town. Who else is there?


JJ is missing her sweetheart, tired of the winter rains, and distracted by everybody’s questions about when the wedding’s happening. Even more worrying, her foster-daughter’s father has failed to show up on schedule. No wonder JJ’s struggling to wrap this one up before someone else bites into the wrong donut. There’s no time to lose, because something truly essential is on the line: saving the bakery—and JJ’s favorite espresso brownies!

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaDouglassNinjaLibrarian

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Douglass_RM

Purchase Links  – Amazon –  Smashwords    B&N     iTunes     Kobo 

And Patsy Collins released Happy Families, a collection of short stories. Here’s a blurb and a few links:

Being a family is about far more than having a surname in common, but that one thing brought Lorna and Lucy Wainwright together. Their new friendship also helped them see their blood relatives in a more positive way. Daniel thought his son's poor performance in a school play might discredit his own good name in the acting business – until he heard the boy's lines. Charlotte Yonge felt like a failure compared with her famous namesake, but her brother kindly agreed she was an idiot.

Mattie 'Super' King has no intention of fighting now he's left the military. Then he learns that his grandson Jack plans to follow in his footsteps and into danger. Veronica is battling against the relentless cheerfulness of her colleague and her mother – at least that's what she tells herself. Carrie has tried to convince her friends and family that she doesn't want a houseful of stuff. She thinks they've finally got the message until they give her a mountain of gifts for her birthday and she feels she's never going to win.

Memories and shared stories can help hold a family together, even if sometimes the details do get exaggerated just a little. In the case of Gladys and Betty it's their varying recollections of the very recent past which threaten to spoil a trip down memory lane – unless they accept they're both wrong. Sara is reminded of her mother's reaction to her own childhood rebellion, which helps her deal with her daughter's bad mood and allows them to build a strong relationship and create a happy moment to look back on.

Families, whether we're born or married into them, or choose them for ourselves all have stories to tell. This collection contains 24 of them.



Interview With Payal Doshi

Hi Payal! Thanks so much for joining us!

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

Hi Natalie! Thank you so much for having me! I’m Payal Doshi and I’m from India. I was born and raised in the city of Mumbai where I lived until I was 27 years old before moving to the U.S. to pursue my MFA in Creative Writing from The New School, NY. I now live in Minneapolis, Minnesota with my husband and three-year-old daughter. Prior to my Masters, I had studied business management, worked in advertising, then magazine publishing. It was during my time as a Features Writer at a lifestyle magazine that I began toying with the idea of writing a novel. It had been a year into the job, and I was writing an article about the ‘50 Summer Must-Haves for Your Home!’ when I realized I loved to write but not necessarily on topics others had chosen for me. I wanted to write about things I was passionate about. And so, I did. I powered up my laptop and wrote a few paragraphs, the premise of which later evolved into the plot of Rea and the Blood of the Nectar.

2. I’m a contract writer, and you’re right that it’s different writing what you want. Where did you get the idea for your story?

Diverse representation, especially South Asian representation, is a mission close to my heart. I believe all kids should see themselves represented in books because each kid should know that they can be the heroes of their own stories. When I sat to write this book, I wondered if Lyra Belacqua, Harry Potter, and Nancy Drew can have incredible adventures, why can’t a girl from India have them too? As a kid, I loved to read but I never saw myself in books. A girl like me never got to be the hero, have magic, or save a realm. I wanted to change that. So, I decided to write a fantasy story rooted in Indian culture that had kids from India who went off on thrilling adventures and became heroes. It’s a story I would have loved to read as a kid and one in which I saw myself. I wanted South Asian kids to feel seen when they read my book, feel joy and pride for their culture, and know that their stories deserve to be celebrated. At the same time, I wanted to write a story that all kids would enjoy regardless of color, race, nationality, and culture. So, there’s a mystery that needs solving along with an exciting quest, a ticking clock, dark family secrets, unforgettable friendships, a fantastical world, and my favorite, magic!

3. Yes, it’s crucial that kids see themselves in books. It’s so good that this is more of a focus in publishing these days. One of the things I really enjoyed about Rea and the Blood of the Nectar was the world building, which was based on plant life and was fantastic. What was your world building process like?

Thank you! I love reading books in which the world feels like a character in itself. I wanted both settings of Darjeeling as well as the fantastical land of Astranthia to feel immersive, verdant, and magical. I find that descriptions of plants, leaves, trees, flowers, and animal life add greatly to the atmosphere of a place and make the reader feel like they are right there with the characters.

When I was thinking about where to set the ‘India’ part of the story, I knew right away that I wanted it to be Darjeeling. The city of Darjeeling is a stunning hill station in the northeast part of the country ensconced within hills, the view of the majestic Himalayas, and rolling tea plantations. There was just so much beauty to be inspired by in terms of its landscape and culture. Simultaneously, as I was inventing the realm of Astranthia, I wanted that same lushness, but I also wanted nature and the flora to be an integral part of the magic system. Nature in our world these days is being terribly exploited and I wanted to set a story in which the premise of the magic lay in our respect for nature, requiring that we nurture and protect it. Astranthia’s existence is steeped in the magic of the Som, a sacred and immortal flower, and only by protecting and nourishing this flower will the realm continue to thrive.

When it comes to world building (and this applies for a contemporary setting as well), I like to employ the use of all my senses, not just sight and sound. So, as I would describe a landscape or scene, I would ask myself what it smells like, how cold or warm it is, if there is a wind or a feeling of impending rain, what a plant or flower feels like to the touch. I also used the device of showing the world through the eyes of Rea who was seeing Astranthia for the first time. This allowed her to ask questions about the oddities she encountered like magical creatures or Astranthian homes that look like giant flower buds. The simple answer is I love nature and I really wanted to weave its beauty and importance into the descriptions of both settings!

4. That’s great advice to think about all the senses when creating a world. Your story is also tightly plotted and makes the reader want to turn the page. Were you a punster, plotter, or something in-between? What advice do you have for writers about making their stories a page turner?

I’m the type of writer who plans a story well before I begin writing. I’d say I’m 80% plotter and 20% punster! My advice for writers to make their stories a page turner would be to create an outline. The first thing l do before I begin my first draft is jot down a bulleted summary of the plot to see how the story unravels. Then I enter into research mode, which sends me down multiple rabbit holes, but I usually come out of them with twists and details that I couldn’t have concocted myself! By this time, I have a fairly good sense of the plot and the main checkpoints of the novel. It’s also where I’ll be able to spot places I need to add more tension or a plot twist. Another tool I use to keep the plot and character moving is to ensure that in every chapter we learn something more about the plot be it new information, new characters, or new obstacles while making sure that the main character has also learned something new by the end of the chapter that they did not know of before. I should also add that one of the best ways to know if you have a fast-paced story is to have beta readers read your work and point out places where they find the plot lagging or speeding too quickly. After that, trust your instincts and ‘rewrite, revise, and repeat!’ until you’re satisfied!

5. Share about your main character Rea. What are three things that you really like about her?

Rea is a twelve-year-old girl from the tea plantations of Darjeeling, India. She is spontaneous, can be selfish at times, and struggles to make friends. But she is trying her best. Three things I really like about Rea are:

- She loves solving puzzles be it an actual one or a mystery or quandary that no one can solve.

- She is very curious and will leave no stone unturned when searching for answers especially about the secrets she knows her mother and grandmother are keeping from her.

- She is brave and courageous (even though she doesn’t think so).

6. I especially liked how brave Rea is. Your publisher is Mango and Marigold Press. What was your road to publication like?

My road to publication was long and winding! I began querying in November 2018. At first, it was great. Most of my queries turned into full manuscript requests. But by mid-December, the rejections started to come in. One of the criticisms I kept hearing was that my book was too long for middle grade. Typically, the word count for middle grade novels is between 50,000-70,000 words while mine was 91,000. I was heartbroken. I had a choice to make: continue querying or pull my book out, edit it down by 20,000 words, and then give it another shot. If I chose to edit the book, I would have to significantly rewrite parts of it since I had to remove one of three POVs. Adding to the daunting prospect of a massive revision, I was pregnant!

As hard as it seemed, I knew it was the right thing to do. During the last two months of my pregnancy, I cut down 23,000 words and rewrote large sections of the book. Once my baby arrived, I sent the manuscript back to my beta readers to see if the new revisions maintained plot, pace, and character growth. After I emerged from that newborn haze of hormones, sleepless nights, and baby cuddles, I dove back into my beta readers’ feedback and by September 2019, I began querying again. Long story short, I signed with my publisher on January 2nd, 2020! My publishing journey ends with the ever-important lesson: No matter how hard it gets, don’t give up.

7. It’s hard to cut so many words. I had to do it for one of my manuscripts, and it took several revisions. What has your experience been working with a smaller publisher? What advice do you have for other writers considering signing a publishing contract with a smaller publisher?

My experience working with an independent publisher has been wonderful. From the start, they believed in my book and have championed it. What I love most is that they have been very collaborative through the entire process from the cover to the marketing campaigns. My editor, Amy Maranville, is simply incredible and she helped me add a layer of depth to the story that wasn’t there before. With a smaller press, the channels of communication are more open as compared to bigger publishers. So, it’s great to be able to take my queries straight to my editor or publisher. The challenge, of course, is that you have to hustle harder, promote yourself that much more to get noticed, but with social media (especially Twitter and Instagram), the debut group I’m a part of, and the children’s teacher, librarian, and blogger community, it has become a more level playing field.

My advice to writers who are thinking of signing with an indie publisher would be to do your due diligence on the press, research their past titles, and talk to the publisher and editor to make sure your vision for the book aligns. I would also advice on discussing the potential challenges and roadblocks the book can face and what the publisher intends to do about it. Most importantly, assess how excited they are about your book and if you feel a positive vibe when interacting with them. After that, go with your gut!

8. You are a member of the 21ders. How has this debut group helped you in your debut year? Have you connected with any other groups?

The21ders is a group of MG and YA authors who are debuting in 2021. I love being part of this group. They’ve become a second family to me. Writing can be such a solitary activity, but I’m so grateful that in preparing for my launch I found my people and my community. Their support and celebration for all our books has been priceless. My biggest advice for debut authors is to find their debut groups. I’m also part of the Middle Grade Books (active on Slack) which is a group of incredible middle grade writers, authors (previously published and debuts) as well as educators.

9. How are you planning to debut Rea and the Blood of the Nectar?

I’m planning for a launch event with a local bookstore in Minneapolis that I’m very excited about! Following that there will be a series of events with other authors spanning over the next 4-6 weeks. We’ll also be running a launch campaign with lots of free swag and a grand prize! I’m really excited about it!

10. What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on the sequel to Rea and the Blood of the Nectar which is planned for a Fall 2022 release while plot ideas for two completely different books are gleefully brewing in my mind!

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

Website: www.payaldoshiauthor.com

Instagram: @payaldoshiauthor

Twitter: @payaldwrites

Thank you for this wonderful opportunity, Natalie!

Giveaway Details

Payl has generously offered a hardback of Rhea and the Blood of the Nectar 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 29th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

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

Wednesday, June 2nd I have a guest post with agent Janna Bonikowski and debut author Casie Bazey with a query critique giveaway by Janna and a giveaway of Not Our Summer, and YA contemporary by Casie

Friday, June 4th I'm participating in the June 2021 of Books Giveaway Hop

Monday, June 7th I have an agent spotlight interview with Katherine Wessbecher and a query critique giveaway

Monday, June 14th I have an interview with debut author Joanne Rossmassler Fritz and a giveaway of her MG contemporary Everywhere Blue

Hope to see you on Wednesday!


Moms Rock Giveaway Hop


Happy Saturday Everyone! Today I'm excited to participate in the Moms Rock Giveaway Hop hosted by MamatheFox. I hope you all are enjoying spring here and looking forward to a more normal summer. I'm doing a few precious things that I haven't done in over a year, like visit with friends who are vaccinated inside.  

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 and see upcoming ones in my Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways. 


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. There are so many good ones that I've been adding new ones after I got this post ready. 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 5/15 – 5/31/2021 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, 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

Wednesday, June 2nd I have a guest post with agent Janna Bonikowski and debut author Casie Bazey with a query critique giveaway by Janna and a giveaway of Not Our Summer, and YA contemporary by Casie

Friday, June 4th I'm participating in the June 2021 of Books Giveaway Hop

Monday, June 7th I have an agent spotlight interview with Katherine Wessbecher and a query critique giveaway

Monday, June 14th I have an interview with debut author Joanne Rossmassler Fritz and a giveaway of her MG contemporary Everywhere Blue

Hope to see you on Monday!

And here's 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.