Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • 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: Nancy McConnell and Into the Lion’s Mouth Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Nancy McConnell here to share about her historical MG fantasy Into the Lion’s Mouth. It sounds like a fast-paced story with compelling characters that make me really excited to read it. It’s gotten great reviews.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

In 1498, an orphan can’t expect much out of life. But the Renaissance is burgeoning, and Venice ripe with infinite possibilities. Nico is a child of the city, and his veins run with canal water.

He’s determined to use his wit and wile to become something more than another errand boy. But his hopes come crashing down when he witnesses a crime that puts a target on his back.

To escape the vengeance of the corrupt Lord Foscari, Nico travels half a world away to safety. But danger follows him to the streets of Constantinople where he discovers a peril looms over Venice. Now he’s forced to make a choice: stay safe in a foreign land and let his beloved birthplace fall or risk his life to save everything he loves.

 Hi Nancy! Thanks so much for joining us. 

Thank you for having me, Natalie. I am super excited to be here! Your blog played a big part in my journey to publication, so having an interview is another dream come true for me.

1. I'm so glad to hear that Literary Rambles was a help in your journey. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

Besides being a writer, I teach preschool, am an amateur photographer, and a passionate baker and cook.  I am mom to three adult children, an uber cute doggo and wife of 32 years to my amazing husband. I have always wanted to be a writer.  I think that’s because I have always been an avid reader. But it took me quite a long time to get there. I spent too much time not believing it was possible for me. When my children were small, I revisited my old book friends with them and remembered how much those books had filled my life as I child. I just knew I wanted to write books that would enhance other children’s lives too. So I took the plunge and I joined writer’s groups, made writer friends, attended conferences, took classes, wrote, edited, submitted and after fifteen years (yes fifteen!) I finally achieved the cherry on the top of my writer dream – a published book!

2. That’s great that you decided to take the plunge. Where did you get the idea for Into the Lion’s Mouth?

I got the idea on a family trip we took to Italy. Italy is an amazing country full of good food, beautiful scenery and so much history. We were taking a tour through the Doge’s Palace in Venice, and I was just overwhelmed by the history that must have taken place in between those walls. I could almost feel stories crowding around me begging to be told. But of course, I didn’t know any of those stories. When I got back home I spent some time reading the history of Venice and it was even more fascinating that I had imagined, I knew I could write an exciting story set there, but it had to be kid friendly. When I came across the details about the orphan hospitals I knew my story would start there.

3. How cool that your story idea came to you from a family trip. People who have reviewed your book have commented on how detailed you were in describing Venice and its historical places and that you made them want to visit Venice. What research did you do into the time period and Venice? How did you organize all that you learned to create such an interesting, vivid setting?

I spend a lot of time reading about the history of Venice and lucky for me it is truly fascinating. Last count I read over eleven different books about Venice and the time period I was interested in. I did a lot of Google searching which is hit or miss in terms of good research. Whenever I would come across a detail that I loved, or thought I could use, I would keep a note of it. And when it came to writing the book, I would skim my notes often to remind me what I wanted to include. I also relied on my own experience in Venice, because luckily the city has retained its flavor for the last thousand years. Art from the period was a great help when writing description of events or people. Wherever I have a real person or a real event in the book I would try to find art pieces relevant to who or what I was writing about. Descriptions of Doge Mocenigo and Queen Catarina come directly from portraits painted during their lifetime.

4. It sounds like Into the Lion’s Mouth is very fast-paced and a real page turner. What was your plotting process like and how did you keep the plot constantly moving forward? What tips do you have for other writers?

It’s good to hear that, because typically I am seat of my pants girl when it comes to plotting my novels. But for this book I really wanted to have a direction. I laid out all the big events I needed to include in the book and gave myself a timeline. I used sticky notes for this because it’s easy to move them around when you need to change the timing of events in the story. That really helped. There was one thing I did with this story that I had never done before and maybe that’s what contributed to the fast-paced page turner feeling of the book. Whenever I was writing I would stop writing before I was finished. What I mean is that I would end my writing day in the very middle of a chapter or event so when I picked it up the next day, I knew exactly what was going to happen and I hit the ground running when I sat down to work.  It made it much easier to keep going and to get over the difficult saggy middle sections that often trip me up. It also gave me more incentive to write because I wanted to finish what I had started. I write sparingly anyway, so my editing process often means adding rather than taking away text. I think that worked to my advantage with this type of action and adventure story.

5. That’s a great tip to wait until the next day to finish the chapter so you know where the chapter is headed. Nico sounds like a complex, loveable character. What are some things that you love most about him?

I love that Nico always ends up doing the right thing, even when he really doesn’t want to. I was inspired by the contrast in the character of Venice itself, a supposedly very mercenary city but also a very religious city. The citizens strove to be wealthy and powerful, but they provided free care for orphans and widows, and they insisted on non-hereditary succession to avoid any one family from becoming too powerful. I wanted to put that dichotomy into Nico. He wants to be rich and powerful, but he ultimately does things that will jeopardize his chances because he knows it’s the right thing to do.

6. Share about what your road to publication was like.

Like pretty much all writers my road was a long and winding one. I got a lot of rejections. I have three other novels and a graphic novel that I submitted to editors and agents over a ten-year period. I did secure an agent for another middle grade novel which ultimately was not picked up by any publishing companies. I just had a gut feeling that INTO THE LION’S MOUTH was going to be my debut, and I ended up parting ways with my agent because she didn’t share that vision. Historical fiction for middle grade was not trending at the time, but recently I believe there is a renewed interest in getting kids into history. After submitting it to quite a few agents and not progressing I happened to read a Literary Rambles blog with a debut author (Karen Biggs) who had published with Immortal Works Press. I did some research and thought my book sounded like a good fit for the company. I submitted and a few months later and I got an offer. I was elated! The timeline was faster than with a bigger company, so it was just over year from when I signed the contract until my book was available!

7. So happy to hear that my interview with Karen helped you so much. Your book released on 9/7/2021. What did you do to promote your book? In retrospect, was there anything you would have done differently?

I did a lot of social media and reaching out to reviewers. I requested my reviewers to post their reviews on publication day which really help get a boost in sales. My book even sat at number one in a category on Amazon for a day! That was fun! Because my book is set in Venice, I used that as well as other fun history facts to create excitement about what was in the book. Looking back, I found it hard to promote something that didn’t exist yet, in the future I would try harder to find materials related to my book to promote it pre-publication. The other thing I didn’t find out about until later was that there are groups for authors debuting each year that you can join and brainstorm together, I didn’t find out about this until my book was almost out and I probably missed some opportunities there. But the good news is that it is never too late to promote your book, and a slow and steady sales are even better for your book’s life!

8. What advice do you have for other writers about what they should do in the year leading up to their release to build a social network platform and connect with librarians, teachers, and other readers of their book?

I am not the best person to ask about promotion. As an introvert it is super hard to push myself forward. That said, I am very grateful to social media for offering many opportunities to promote my work that I am comfortable with. I found the Instagram community very helpful. There are people there excited about books and wanting to promote good ones just for the love of books. Finding a hashtag that relates to your book and then reaching out to followers of that is a great place to start. For example, I looked for people who used #mgbooks and #historicalficion as starting points to find people who might like to read and promote my book.  Honestly, I think the best thing I did was to reach out to get reviews for my book before it was published. Those reviews really help to get the word out.

Family and friends are great resources as well. We can all tap into a much wider audience than we ever could before. I have sold books because someone else posted it on their social media page. Having a street team who are willing to talk about your book to other people is such a benefit. I know an author who’s organized a whole campaign of friends, family and fellow authors to get the word out on the street about her book!

Promotion is an ongoing thing and it’s never too late to start or try something new!

9. That’s great advice that it’s never too late to market your book or try a new approach to it. What are you working on now?

I probably have too many irons in the fire right now! I have a contemporary middle grade about a girl who inherits a mysterious house I currently editing , I also have a complete graphic novel that is illustrated by my daughter which we are currently looking for an agent for, that’s called THINGS YOU NEVER KNEW EXISTED, and it’s a story about two sisters who discover a real rocket ship that sends one into outer space. And lastly, I have two other books that are still percolating mostly in my brain, and one involves a well-loved character from INTO THE LION’S MOUTH.

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

Website: Nancymcconnell.com

Instagram – nancyemcc66
FaceBook - @nancywritesforkids

Twitter - @nancyemcc

Giveaway Details

Nancy has generously offered a paperback of Into the Lion’s Mouth 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 December 11th. 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. and Canada.

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

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Wednesday, December 1st I’m participating in the December Is Coming Giveaway Hop. I also have a guest post by debut author Claire Winn and a giveaway of her YA fantasy City of Shattered Light and my IWSG post

Monday, December 6th I have a guest post by debut author Karen Pokras and a giveaway of her MG historical The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler

Monday, December 13th I have an agent spotlight interview with Jemma Cooper and a query critique giveaway

Wednesday, December 15th I have an agent spotlight interview with Stacey Kondla and a query critique giveaway

Thursday, December 16th I’m participating in the Dashing December Giveaway Hop

Hope to see you on Wednesday!



Agent Spotlight: Danielle Chiotti Interview and Query Critique Giveaway

Today I’m thrilled to have agent Danielle Chiotti here. She is a literary agent at Upstart Crow Literary.

Hi­ Danielle! Thanks so much for joining us.

Status: Closed to submissions until late spring 2023. Update on 11/9/2023: Danielle is currently closed to submissions. Please check the agency website to find out when she reopens to queries. 

About Danielle:

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

I became an agent in 2009. I had been working as an acquisitions editor doing both fiction and nonfiction since 2002, and I wanted to have more freedom and creativity in my work. Also: I had a baby, and I wanted flexibility in my working schedule that, at the time, publishers were not willing to extend to employees (and I’m glad to see how much that has changed in the past 10 years or so). So I sought out a career path that allowed me more balance, and to keep doing what I love—making books—while raising a family.

As an agent, I’ve been working across categories on books that I love, from middle grade to YA to adult upmarket fiction to cookbooks, memoir, and beyond. I tend toward fish out of water stories, and stories featuring characters with rich inner lives, who are trying to find their way in the world.

I love working with debut authors, and the bulk of my list is comprised of debut clients, either through referral or queries. 

About the Agency:

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

Upstart Crow is a boutique literary agency based in Brooklyn. We take a long view of our clients’ careers, working closely with them to shape their projects and build a writing life that is creative, fulfilling, and lucrative. We bring a variety of publishing experience together in one place. Many of us worked at publishers before becoming agents, so we’ve done the job from both sides of the desk, and we use that experience to guide our authors.  

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 represent projects across a spectrum of categories, from upmarket literary fiction to middle grade and YA, to narrative nonfiction.

I read for voice first, and everything else second. So what I’m looking for is a character (in fiction) or a writer (in nonfiction) with a voice that makes me sit up and take notice. I’m also looking for a strong character arc, in terms of emotional motivation. Basically, I love a story in which a character’s innermost fear messes up their life, and they have to figure out a way to put it to rights. 

When I read, I’m looking to be surprised and delighted, and I always love to take on projects in new categories or categories I haven’t tried before. Categories I seem to come back to again and again are: contemporary with a slightly magical twist, fish out of water stories, books that straddle the literary/commercial divide, novels-in-verse, novels with experimental use of form or prose, historical, adventure, comedy, spooky/horror…I’m sure I’m missing something here. 

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

I would love to find a YA book that has the sex-positive spirit and deep friendship bonds of the TV show Sex Education. I would also love to do a book of interconnected shorts that comes together like a novel. 

What She Isn’t Looking For:

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

I’m not one to rule anything out—after all, there is growth in being surprised by many different types of stories. I can say that I don’t tend toward high fantasy or sci-fi as much as I do fantasy-lite or sci-fi lite.

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?

My philosophy is that honesty, transparency, and collaboration lead to growth. In working with my clients, I am looking to help them write as authentically as possible, and to tease out the chewy, excellent human details that make a story great. I also subscribe to a sort of relentless optimism: onward and upward! Writing is a creative endeavor, publishing is a business. And I see my role as fostering a writer’s creativity while helping them navigate the business of being a writer.

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 am an editorial agent through and through. My publishing background is editorial and I love helping my clients dig deep in their stories. My process differs from client to client, based on their needs and the type of project. We may do several in-depth back-and-forths, or we maybe do a quick pass to add that extra sparkle. Each book is its own journey.

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 will be re-opening to queries in late spring or early summer of 2023. Authors should check in the submissions pages on the Upstart Crow website (https://www.upstartcrowliterary.com/submissions) for updates. When queries are open, writers should submit the first 20 pages of their project along with their query letter.

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

First pages should be real first pages—meaning beginning at Chapter One. Authors are often tempted to send later chapters, when the action picks up, but that prevents me from getting to know the protagonist and becoming immersed in their personal arc.

You could talk to 10 different agents and they’d all give slightly differing opinions on how they like their query letters. Personally, I love it when a writer names the category and word count right up front in the first paragraph. It allows me to center myself, in terms of what to expect. I also love it when query letters can tell me what a character’s greatest fear is, and how they will be called upon to face that fear in the story.

Response Time:

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

My response time is 8 week, and regretfully, I am only able to respond to queries that I am interested in. 

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?

Absolutely! My advice to authors who have self-published or who have been published by a small press is: be able to frame your work in terms of how you’d like to grow as an author, and how you’d like your career to progress. What’s next for you? How did your first book lay the groundwork for that? Use that experience to learn and grow, and look for an agent who can be a partner in helping you move forward.

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?

I see an agent’s role as one that safeguards a writer’s creative space while making sure they can write as widely and freely as they want, and to assure they are being compensated fairly for that. How an agent goes about that may shift and change as publishing shifts and changes, but agents are used to navigating change. And our first priority is always to act as an advocate for our clients. That role doesn’t shift, even if publishing does.


13. Who are some of the authors you represent?

On the adult side, I represent Deesha Philyaw, whose debut short story collection THE SECRET LIVES OF CHURCH LADIES (WVU PRESS) won the Pen/Faulkner Award, the Story Prize, and was a National Book Award Finalist. Brian Broome’s debut memoir, PUNCH ME UP TO THE GODS (HarperCollins/Mariner), won the Kirkus Prize for nonfiction, a 2022 LAMBDA award for Gay Memoir/Biography, a. Stonewall Honor, and was an NYT Editor’s Pick. I also represent Yona Harvey, poet and 2022 Guggenheim Fellow, and Todd Kliman, a James Beard Award-winning essayist and food writer, both of whom are at work on memoirs.

On the children’s side, my clients include NYT bestselling author Jacqueline West, who writes spooky middle grade and YA. Her most recent middle grade, LONG LOST (Greenwillow/HarperCollins) won the 2022 Minnesota Book Award and was named to the Texas Bluebonnet Master List. Nicole Collier writes warm and wonderful middle grade fiction, such as her debut JUST RIGHT JILLIAN (Clarion/HarperCollins, Feb 2022) and THE MANY FORTUNES OF MAYA (Clarion/Versify 2023), and is currently at work on a new middle grade project. E.A. Carrington’s debut middle grade graphic novel, THE KINDA SORTA NORMAL LIFE OF JOSHUA JONES (HarperAlley, 2024) is a fast-paced romp about a boy whose wish for endless snow days results in snow zombies attacking his town, and it’s an ode to boyhood, friendship, and growing up, and is illustrated by the fantastic Kitt Thomas. Christyne Morrell is the author of the middle grade sci-fi TREX (Delacorte, 2022) and forthcoming middle grade mystery, THE CURSE OF THE DEAD MAN’S DIAMOND (Delacorte, 2024).

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.





Update on 1/18/2023:

Publishers Marketplace

Links and Contact Info:

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

You can read about our agency and get our full submissions guidelines here: www.upstartcrowliterary.com.

You can find me (infrequently) on Twitter at @daniellechiotti and on Instagram @upstartcrowliterary. 

Additional Advice:

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

Remember that querying can feel like shouting into a void sometimes, but it’s important to keep putting your work out there—and to always have something new to work on. All it takes is one “yes”!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Danielle.

­Danielle 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 December 4th. 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.

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.

Profile Details:
Last Updated: 1/18/2023
Agent Contacted for Review? Yes
Last Reviewed By Agent? 2/8/2023

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.




In All Things Give Thanks Giveaway Hop

Happy Tuesday Everyone!
Today I'm excited to participate in the In All Things Give Thanks Giveaway Hop hosted by MamatheFox. I hope you're all looking forward to a better holiday season than last year. I'm excited for a much happier holiday season than last year's holidays, which were pretty lonely due to the pandemic. And I'm very grateful for all the good things in my life. For over a year now, I've been thinking of at least three things I'm grateful for when I wake up and go to bed every day. I've found that I'm much more content with life since I started this practice.

Book of Your Choice or Amazon Gift Card

I am offering a book of your choice that is $20 or less on Amazon or The Book Depository. I’m looking forward to seeing what books everyone is looking forward to reading. If you don’t have 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 for $20 or less at Amazon or The Book Depository or a $10 Amazon Gift Card. Open to entrants internationally as long The Book Depository ships to you for free, 13 years and older. Open for entry from 11/16 – 11/30/2021 at 11:59 pm EST. NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. The selected winner will have 48 hours to respond to the notification email to claim this prize or a new winner will be selected.

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Monday, November 15th I have an interview with debut author Terry Catasús Jennings and a giveaway of her chapter book Definitely Dominguita Sherlock Dom

Monday, November 22th I have an agent spotlight interview with Danielle Chiotti and a query critique giveaway

Monday, November 29nd I have an interview with debut author Nancy McConnell and a giveaway of her MG fantasy Into the Lion’s Mouth

Wednesday, December 1st I’m participating in the December Is Coming Giveaway Hop. I also have a guest post by debut author Claire Winn and a giveaway of her YA fantasy City of Shattered Light and my IWSG post

Monday, December 6th I have a guest post by debut author Karen Pokras and a giveaway of her MG historical The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler

Monday, December 13th I have an agent spotlight interview with Jemma Cooper and a query critique giveaway

Wednesday, December 15th I have an agent spotlight interview with Stacey Kondla and a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you on Monday!

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

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

Debut Author Interview: Terry Catasús Jennings and Definitely Dominguita Sherlock Dom

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Terry Catasús Jennings here to share about her fourth chapter book this year, Definitely Dominguita Sherlock Dom. It sounds like a fun mystery story for younger middle graders. I’m looking forward to reading the series.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

Judy Moody meets the Diary of a Future President remake in this fourth story in a chapter book series featuring a young Cuban American girl who tries to find adventure based on the classic stories she read with her beloved abuela.

Dom is excited to join her friend, Steph, for a mini vacation. They are going to visit Steph’s grandmother in Virginia, where Dom hopes they can continue to have a lot of fun adventures. As soon as they arrive, they find that Gran’s neighbors have lost their goat! There are some mysterious footprints near the goat pen that lead to the marsh. Dom decides to use the methods of her favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes—observing the basics, using all her senses, and talking it through with her trusty friend—to try and bring the little goat back home. 

Follower News

Before I get to my interview with Terry, I want to share Follower News. C. Lee McKenzie has released a new YA contemporary Shattered. Here’s a blurb: Courage put Libby Brown into the final selection for the Olympics, but betrayal crushed her spine and her chance at the Gold. Now she has two choices, use her courage to put her life back together, or remain shattered forever. And here are some links. FYI the giveaway contest ends today so hurry to enter for your chance to win. Links:

Buylink: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09JYYJG7V/ref=sr_1_1

Blog: https://cleemckenziebooks.com

Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/C.-Lee-McKenzie/e/B0042M1KYW%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

Giveaway: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/68593c7622/?

Lynda Young has a nonfiction release, Cling to God 365-Day Devotional. Here’s a blurb: This special devotional book is a year-long journey with daily inspirational messages and uplifting scripture to help you spend time with God. With 365 days of short Bible-based teachings, it is faith building and thought provoking. It will encourage and refresh with reassuring reminders of God’s love. And here are some links:

Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09HBMG3L8

Interview With Terry Catasús Jennings

Hi Terry! 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 at Literary Rambles. I was born in Cuba and I came to the United States when I was twelve years old. I didn’t know any English, so those first few months were a little rough, but at least my family was safe. My father had been put in jail in Cuba during the Bay of Pigs invasion so we were very lucky that he was freed and that we were able to come to the United States so it wouldn’t happen again. 

I have always wanted to write, and stories have always rolled around my head, but in high school, a creative writing teacher told me I couldn’t use the word “strident” in a story because, since I was Cuban, it couldn’t possibly be part of my vocabulary. Well, it just so happened that it was, in Spanish, and I got myself out of her class and never looked at writing again. Stupid, right? But it really hurt. In all honesty, I might not have become a writer anyway. Immigrants need good jobs. Secure jobs. So I majored in math. But those stories kept rolling around my head. I’d report (in my head) on things that happened to me, always making them come out a lot better and funnier than they had actually been. I always found the perfect come back. It wasn’t until I was fifty, that I finally was able to give writing a try. I joined a writer’s group in Reston, Virginia, my home town and it happened to be a writer’s group for children, but they took me in even though I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I wrote a story about teaching my daughter to drive and it was published in The Washington Post.

From that point on, for me, it was “Let’s see what else I can do.” I did some free-lancing to see if I could get published, and I could. And then I wrote for the Smithsonian, science stories for kids—I loved doing that. And then I started writing other science based narrative non-fiction. Four books from Arbordale Publishers. I did work for hire, all educational. The Definitely Dominguita series is the first book/series I have with a major publisher, Simon and Schuster. It released in March of this year. The last book that has been sold, Sherlock Dom, will come out tomorrow, November 16. I hope there will be more.

2. That’s awesome how you started writing. Where did you get the idea for the Definitely Dominguita series and your newest book, Sherlock Dom? Did you draw on your own life as a Cuban-American?

Oh, Natalie, the series pretty much birthed itself. My dad was a huge fan of Don Quijote and one day, a character showed up in my head while I was blowing leaves. He told me his name was Don Capote, and he was wearing a cape. That is totally uncharacteristic for me, but honestly, that happened. Of course, when I discussed the idea with my daughter she was scandalized. It could NOT be a boy. It had to be a girl. Thus Dominguita was born. In the first book she goes by Dom Capote. Her quest is to prove that a girl can be a worthy knight. Although Dom does not believe in rescuing damsels in distress like Don Quijote did, she does do some rescues and she even fights a windmill. All the adventures take place now, but some of the scenes are inspired by what happened in a particular classic.

I did draw on my life as a Cuban-American.  I was very friendly with the owner of the bodega I passed every day walking to school. I patterned the shopkeepers Dominguita befriends after that relationship. I can’t say that there is one person in particular, but I always remember adults treating me as an equal, and not talking down to me, and I appreciated that. My shopkeepers, my secondary characters, are very much like that.  Of course, there is a lot of Cuban food in Dominguita. I actually use food as a metaphor in the books—try it you’ll like it!  I invite kids to have that attitude not only toward Cuban food, but also toward Cuban-American kids—any hyphenated kids.

3. That’s great that your story came to you. How did you plot out your series? Did you do it before you wrote the first book or as you wrote each one? What advice do you have for other writers who want to write a chapter book or other middle grade series?

I hate to say it, but I am a plotter. I normally write the first chapter of a book, and then I know where I hope to end, and I write the outline of what happens in the middle.  For the Dominguita books, I had a little bit different approach, while still outlining. I read and re-read the classics. I chose the iconic scenes of the books that I wanted to include in my books. I told you the scenes I included in The Knight of the Cape. For Captain Dom, which is inspired by Treasure Island, I have a villain very much patterned after Long John Silver and Dom blabs just like the Squire blabbed in Treasure Island. It is a race to the loot between the good guys and the bad guys just like Treasure Island.  The Three Musketeers was a little trickier. There is a lot of love, lust, betrayal and even a beheading in that book. How can you bring that down to something suitable for third grade protagonists? In Sherlock Dom I took The Hound of the Baskervilles as my guide. Once I have the scenes from the classic book, I put them in order and then I decide what kid-like adventure I can hang on these scenes. Once the outline is written, it tends to be fairly straight forward to get to the first draft. Then I do a revision just to sharpen the humor. And then many more revisions before it’s ready to go.  

4. You’ve had four books in this series release this year. Yikes, that sounds like a lot of books to write and publish so quickly. Even though chapter books are shorter, yours are still all over 100 pages each. What is your writing process like and how long did it take you to write each book?

Yikes is right. It was intense. I was not only writing four books, but also while I was writing new books, I was editing the text and the artwork for the prior books. I figured it out recently, the four-book series is about 70,000 words, so that’s very respectable. The first book was written and polished with my agent before the series was submitted. Before I submitted to my agent, though I also wrote a first draft of book two to make sure that I could do it—that is carry the voice, have fresh adventures, fresh interactions. To make sure that book 2, Captain Dom’s Treasure, was still interesting enough. So as soon as the series sold, I began working and polishing Captain Dom.  While my editor, Aly Heller, had the manuscripts, I wrote the outline for All for One, I wanted to make sure I could still make it enough like The Three Musketeers even though I didn’t have love, lust, betrayals and beheadings. And it was a good thing. I had to write that one in three weeks. And there weren’t that many edits. I spent about six weeks writing Sherlock Dom. And then, of course, there is the re-writing. The only book that had significant developmental edits was Captain Dom. I was bound and determined to have the third grade equivalent of walking the plank and my editor was bound and determined that I had to be nice. Of course, she won. And the book is wonderful because of it.


5. Share a challenge you’ve had in writing Sherlock Dom and how did you overcome it?

You hit the nail on the head and we didn’t even talk about this. I did have a big challenge in writing Sherlock Dom. The primary characters are Dom and her two sidekicks—Pancho, a Cuban-American boy and Steph, a US-American girl. My thought was to have Sherlock Dom be a girl power book. Dom and Steph don’t need Pancho to solve the mystery. They can solve the mystery on their own. Great idea, right? The threesome in the book is very collaborative—they solve the problems together. Sometimes one person goes off the deep end with an idea and the others reel her or him back in. Other times someone obstinately clings to another idea and the other two have to show that person where the logic breaks down.  Going from a group of three where, as they are trying to brainstorm and make plans, they arrive at consensus based on the majority, to a group of just two where it’s my idea against your idea was disastrous. It sounded like to old women bickering. When the girls had the idea to bring Pancho in, not as an arbiter, but so he could share in the excitement, everything began to flow smoothly. With a third person it was easy to arrive at a consensus with humor and without hurt. So I gave Dom a pocket in her overalls where she could keep the phone with Pancho so he could participate and she could have her hands free. Although the girls carried the day, he even came up with an idea or two to help solve the mystery.

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

 I picked Natalie for my critique at an SCBWI conference in New Jersey because she represented both fiction and non-fiction, middle grade and picture books. She just seemed like the perfect fit for me from the description. Then I I scored being her facilitator for her workshop. I fell in love. She is so down to earth. Her workshop was dynamic and full of information. When it came time for my critique she said send me the full and let’s just talk. So we did. And I figured if she picked me I would be in heaven. And she did!!! I think it was a month after I sent her the full.  She was on vacation in Croatia and she sent me an e-mail and said she’d thought about waiting till she got back but then she decided Let’s do it!  She has been amazing.

 That particular story which Natalie and I loved so much, which was about my childhood in Cuba, didn’t do very well. We pulled it back after two rounds and actually I’m still working on that. It is now a novel in verse if you can imagine. Natalie’s really sweet though. When she told me that we had to pull back the Cuba book, she coupled it with the news that she was submitting a picture book, The Little House of Hope, which we both liked very much. So it was bad news with a little bit of hope at the end. Well, in a couple of hours she wrote to tell me Neal Porter was interested and in two weeks we had an offer. So that was stupendous. That one is coming out on May 16th. Raúl Colón is the illustrator and I couldn’t be happier with it. Can’t wait to share it because it’s been three years in the making. Not long after we sold The Little House, I floated the idea of a kid who pretends to be characters in the classics and Natalie was absolutely behind it. I wrote it, we polished it and the series sold very, very quickly.  We also sold Pauli Murray, the Pioneering Life of a Feminist and Civil Rights Activist and that is coming out on January 4, 2022. It was pulled up from November 2022 to January, 2022.

 7. Wow! What a great story of a road to publication. I noticed on your website that you offer workshops, assemblies, and Zoom visits. How have you reached out to schools and what has your experience been with doing school visits in person and on Zoom?

 I love school visits in person, but I have adapted to visits on Zoom. I attended a Zoom workshop that Kate Messner gave on doing Zoom visits and it was invaluable. To be honest, I haven’t reached out to schools too much. I have just been too busy writing and revising, but I have had visits just through my website.

8. How else have you been marketing your books? What things have you found worked and what didn’t this year as you promoted your four books?

For book one, I did a lot of Zoom events. I was very grateful that lots of bookstores agreed to host me. It was a lot of fun and I think it was very helpful. I reached out to lots and lots of reviewers and blogger friends—thank God for bloggers like you—and to arc review groups. I did give aways. One thing that I really think moved the needle was a giveaway of 20 or 25 books to librarians. One thing that I found out is that when you promote book one, you are really promoting the series. So the other books go on a hope and a prayer, so thank you so much for agreeing to host me for the release of Sherlock Dom. Since Dom wears a lot of costumes, my newest thing for bookstores which I hope to do when kids are vaccinated is a costume party where I’ll talk about how Dom came up with her get ups and dress several kids up in Dom paraphernalia. I’m hoping to do that to promote the boxed set which will come out in March.

9. That’s a great idea to give books away to librarians. Tell us a little bit about the picture book you have releasing in 2022 and what you’re working on now.

Oh, Natalie, that’s a story. That picture book was born out of discussion I had with a realtor. He told me he didn’t rent to Latinx folks because they lived four families to a house and tore up your property. So stay away from Latinx folks. AND HE KNEW I WAS CUBAN!!!!  I stewed and I stewed and I stewed and then I remembered that hey, when we came to the United States we lived with my uncle and his family and so did my aunt’s brother and his family. On weekends there were fourteen of us in the house—eight kids. And we didn’t tear up the house. And we all went on to become citizens and good responsible members of our new country, but none of that would have happened if we hadn’t had a place to live. If my uncle hadn’t shared his home with us, I don’t know what would have happened. My dad didn’t have a job. Neither did my mom, and she didn’t even speak English. We came to the United States after Castro jailed my father for three days and all we had to our name was $50 and one suitcase of clothes each.

That book wrote itself. It is very near and dear to my heart.

Remember that old Cuban book? I am working on making that into a novel in verse and I’m getting ready for the launch of the other two books in 2022. I have one more thing in the works which may or may not come to fruition, but there is always something in the works.

Natalie, thanks so much for hosting me. You are so sweet to do this. I sure have enjoyed it.

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

Website:  terrycjennings.com

Twitter:  @TerryCJennings

Insta:  @Terry.C.Jennings

Giveaway Details

Terry has generously offered a hardback of Definitely Dominguita Sherlock Dom 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 November 27th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

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

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

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Tuesday, November 16th I’m participating in the In All Things Give Thanks Giveaway Hop

Monday, November 22th I have an agent spotlight interview with Danielle Chiotti and a query critique giveaway

Monday, November 29nd I have an interview with debut author Nancy McConnell and a giveaway of her MG fantasy Into the Lion’s Mouth

Wednesday, December 1st I’m participating in the December Is Coming Giveaway Hop. I also have a guest post by debut author Claire Winn and a giveaway of her YA fantasy City of Shattered Light and my IWSG post

Monday, December 6th I have a guest post by debut author Karen Pokras and a giveaway of her MG historical The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler

Monday, December 13th I have an agent spotlight interview with Jemma Cooper and a query critique giveaway

Wednesday, December 15th I have an agent spotlight interview with Stacey Kondla and a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you tomorrow!