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  • 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

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  • 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: 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!



nashvillecats2 said...

A great interview and giveaways , have a great week.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Must've been difficult to cut so many words but I bet the story is stronger for it.

Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf said...

Rea and the Blood of the Nectar sounds like a fantastic story! It was interesting to hear about the worldbuilding and how it makes use of all the senses. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to cut 20,000 words, but I can imagine it was a great thing to do for the book! I'll pass on the giveaway, but thanks for the great interview!

Computer Tutor said...

Every time I read one of your posts, Natalie, it reminds me how stunningly organized you are. How do you keep all of these balls in the air! Another good and informative interview.

Danielle H. said...

I enjoyed the advice about making your novel a page-turner. I'm going to save it and reference it often. I read Starfish as an ARC last December and finally saw myself in a book and it was the most amazing feeling ever. I can't wait to read this book too. I follow Natalie on Twitter.

Jenni said...

This book sounds amazing! The world-building sounds fantastic--and I love Rea's ideas about that. It was fascinating to hear about her journey to publication and what it's like going with a smaller publisher.

Liz A. said...

Sounds like a great book. Cutting words... Perhaps there's a side book or short story in those cut words for fans of the book.

Jemi Fraser said...

Love hearing about new books featuring brave and adventurous kids! Especially those from underrepresented groups. This sounds awesome!
Congrats to Payal, Rebecca & Patsy - good luck to all!

Patricia T. said...

What a gorgeous cover. Loved your interview with Payal as I learned some interesting things about her plotting. I am a sucker for stories told about India, because I adopted a son from there many years ago. I love the setting in NE India as it sounds like a perfect place for world-building. Haven't read a dystopian story set in India -- look forward to reading Payal's book. Thank you for sharing. Good luck Payal!

Greg Pattridge said...

Such an exciting story. I've put this one high on my list to read this year. Having to cut so many words must have been painful! Thanks for the interview and for featuring this post on MMGM.

ken ohl said...

This Book Sounds Intriguing

Joanne Roberts said...

I enjoyed my time in India more than I can say and am eager to read characters so firmly and authentically part of that beautiful culture. Congratulations!

tetewa said...

Sounds like something my niece and I would both enjoy, also really like the cover!

Alex said...

Thanks for spotlighting this book. It sounds like a fun and exciting read and I may even have a copy of it already.

Patsy said...

Thank you so much for mentioning my book, Natalie!

Unknown said...

Congratulations, Payal, on bringing your wonderful book to publication! Rea is the kind of curious, proactive heroine I want my kids to read about and love.

Unknown said...

Comment left by Dayle on May 18, 2021. bluebugdream2@gmail.com

Angie Quantrell said...

I love Chronicles of Narnia, so I bet I will love this book! The premise sounds lush and captivating! Can't wait to read it and meet Rea. Congratulations, Payal!

I tweeted this, Natalie. :)
angelecolline at yahoo dot com

SC Seaman said...

Thanks for another great interview Natalie. I would love to enter & I'm tweeting this contest opportunity!

Allison said...

I can't wait to read this book- it sounds like it could be a COMP for the book I'm currently writing. I follow you on Twitter and subscribe to your newsletter. allison.prueitt@gmail.com. Thanks, Natalie, and congrats to Payal.

Rosi said...

Thanks for another wonderful interview. What a great story. I will pass on the giveaway. I have too many books right now. Thanks for the post.

Debra Branigan said...

I enjoyed the wonderful interview. The book sounds like a great MG read. I shared on twitter and follow you (@BraniganDebra).

Rebecca M. Douglass said...

Thanks for the shout-out! Can I just log a correction on the spelling of my name--Douglass with 2 esses :)

Kasey @ The Story Sanctuary said...

This book is really high on my TBR list! I'm super excited about reading it. Great interview! I'll have to check back for your interview with the author of Everywhere Blue, since that one is on my list, too. :)

Charlotte said...

thanks for the interview and giveaway! I'm looking forward to meeting Rea!

Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction said...

Thanks so much for featuring this interview! 23k words is a lot to cut---I feel Payal's pain!

Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction