Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Agent Cortney Radocaj/Author Claire Winn Guest Post + Query Critique & Book Giveaway on 12/1/2021
  • Gemma Cooper Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 12/13/2021
  • Stacey Kondla Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 12/15/2021

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • All Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated as of 7/15/2020, and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for them to be fully updated in 2023.

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
Paperback: 
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09KN4H1RZ
Hardcover: 
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09KNCWNCV


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!

 

25 comments:

  1. The covers for the series leap off the page! I love that you re-read some of the classics before tackling your series.

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  2. Great interview, Natalie and Terry! Terry did not mention her leadership in our SCBWI region. She encourages us all by sponsoring critique meetings. Terry is a treasure!

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  3. I love the covers and the premise of Dominguita books - good luck with them!
    Congrats to Terry, Lynda, and C Lee!!

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  4. I love the idea of this series! I can't wait to read all four books!
    owens@wsd3.org

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  5. Yay! Another plotter! There aren't enough of us. Nice to meet you, Terry, and hearty congrats to you as well as Lee and Lynda.

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  6. Great interview! I can't wait to read Terry's newest in her Dominguita series. Terry and I were roomies at one of the Chautauqua writer's conferences (Highlights) many years ago ... I've been rooting for her books ever since!

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  7. Thank you for sharing your book idea from generation to publication and how your daughter helped shape the main character. I think it's clever to give librarians the first book in your series because if they love it and so do their readers, they buy the rest. I shared on tumblr: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/667944064849690625/debut-author-interview-terry-catas%C3%BAs-jennings-and

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  8. So much to celebrate here today. Thanks for including my book in this post!

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  9. Looks like a cute series. As for having two solve problems, I am reminded of the Terry Pratchett quote (having to do with witches): You need three witches to make a coven. Two witches make an argument.

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  10. Wow! What a wonderful series! And, I'm so pleased that you didn't listen and are honoring your culture! We really need stories like yours for kids. And, you process of researching adult stories to overlay your kid-friendly plot, is fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed your interview with Natalie and look forward to checking out your books! Congratulations!

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  11. I love the story behind the creation of the Definitely Dominguita series. They sound like fun reads.

    And thanks, Natalie, for featuring my book in Follower News! Much appreciated.

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  12. Fun idea for a chapter books series having Sherlock Holmes as an influence. Loved the interview and in would take a prolific writer like Terry to complete four books in a year. Best of luck with these books.

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  13. Congratulations on all of these books! They sound fabulous. I enjoyed reading about your journey so far.

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  14. What great covers! I can't even imagine publishing 4 books in a year! Bravo! The books sound fun and I really enjoyed this interview.
    ~Jess

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  15. Thank you for doing the interview Terry! I agree - sometimes the best books come from stewing ;)

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  16. All kinds of good news this week. Congrats to Terry. Those covers are great.
    Take care, Natalie.

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  17. Fun interview..such lovely books! And I've got Shattered on my TBRlist already, too.

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  18. Great interview! This sounds like such a fun series. Thanks for sharing.

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  19. This book looks really wonderful and I enjoyed reading about the author's writing journey. Such a shame that she was put off writing from the careless remarks of a teacher---it's amazing how things like that can influence us.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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  20. I've heard a ton of praise for this series, and this interview was so excellent that it makes me quite intrigued for Jennings's other work! Especially the picture book—it's wonderful that such a lovely-sounding story grew out of the ashes of such a cruel comment by someone else. There's so much here I can't mention it all, but I pretty much couldn't look away from the interview! I'll pass on the giveaway, but thanks so much for the great interview, Natalie!

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  21. What a rich interview. Terry certainly has a LOT going on! And such wonderful success. I love the covers on her books and I love the story of her journey. Thanks for such a great post.

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  22. Dear Terry - thanks for your inspiring and uplifting interview. I look forward to getting a peek at your picture book - just goes to show that those infuriating encounters can lead to something wonderful. Having a home where there is kindness and friendship makes all the difference when making a transition to a new country. I love the sound of your chapter books too - certainly going to check those out. Best of luck with all your endeavours.

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  23. Sounds like a cute series! Enjoyed the interview as well and wish you much success in your writing! Follow this blog on bloglovin as micaela6955

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  24. Bloglovin Life Smartly Sounds like a great book. positive.ideas.4youATgmail.com

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