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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: Lisa Stringfellow and A Comb of Wishes Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Lisa Stringfellow here to share about her MG fantasy A Comb of Wishes. I’m super excited to read it because of its Caribbean setting and the issues Kela is going through.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

Sure enough, the sea woman will come for what’s hers.

Ever since her mother’s death, Kela feels every bit as broken as the shards of glass, known as “mermaid’s tears,” that sparkle on the beaches of St. Rita. But when she discovers a different kind of treasure, she accidentally summons an actual mermaid—the wrathful Ophidia.

Ophidia makes Kela a bargain: her ancient comb, in exchange for a wish. And though Kela knows that what she wants most is her mother back, a wish that big will exact a dangerous price…

Follower News

Before I get to my interview with Lisa, I have Follower News to share.

Shannon Lawrence has a new nonfiction book, The Business of Short Stories, releasing. Here’s a blurb: The Business of Short Stories is an invaluable resource for short story writers. It features information on the dynamics of short story writing and editing, submission and publication tips, and marketing help for beginning and intermediate writers. Links: Website: www.thewarriormuse.com Purchase: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09PFSTJ2V

Brian Carmody has a YA contemporary fantasy, With the Moon Maidens, releasing. Here’s what a reviewer had to say: “My Magic Summer With the Moon Maidens is a beautifully written coming of age fantasy with characters that will stay with you long after you read the last page.” - Christy Cooper-Burnett, author of the award-winning Christine Stewart Time-Travel Series. Links: Website: http://brianzwriter.com/  Purchase: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0965XBJ7Y https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/my-magic-summer-brian-carmody/1139629159?ean=9781939844804

Mother-daughter duo Pamela Jouan-Goldman and Julia Goldman just published TURTLE, a middle grade sports fiction book about running in the Lowcountry in South Carolina. TURTLE is the first in a series called Run Like A Girl that follows Emma Jackson throughout her running career, starting in elementary school. Their motto is to inspire runners to read and readers to run.  Profits will also benefit organizations who, in turn, support female athletes. Links: Website: runlikeagirlbooks.com Purchase: amazon.com

 Interview With Lisa Stringfellow

Hi Lisa! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

I am a middle school English teacher and have taught 5th and 6th grade for almost 28 years. Although I’ve always loved to write, I started thinking seriously about publishing several years ago. I began work on my masters degree and took several classes on adolescent literature and writing. The courses got me thinking about writing for children. I joined professional writing organizations and a critique group, attended conferences, bought craft books, took classes and worked hard to learn about the publishing industry and how to write a book. It was all necessary work to help me gain the knowledge and skills to get where I am now.

2. It’s great that you were able to pursue your dream while teaching. Where did you get the idea for A Comb of Wishes?

My inspiration for this story came from thinking about two middle grade books I loved, The Tale of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler and Coraline by Neil Gaiman. I thought it would be interesting to write a mermaid story that was a little scary, and because of my West Indian heritage, I imagined a brown-skinned mermaid and a story set in the Caribbean. I knew the story would also touch on the topics of family, love, and forgiveness. 

3. Your story sounds like a real page turner. How did you plot it out and keep the plot moving so that readers would want to continue reading?

I had a rough idea of the story before I began, but I didn't have a written outline. I did have particular scenes in mind and sometimes I wrote out of order to write what I knew, then wrote the scenes that needed to come before and after.

I now use a little more structure when I write. I like to have a loose list of scenes, but I am flexible enough to add, remove, or move them around as I write. I guess I'm something between a planner and a panster.

When I started writing A Comb of Wishes, Ophidia’s character was clearest to me and the first scene I wrote was one in the middle of the book where she claws her way out of the ocean and onto land. I could visualize her monstrous appearance in the moment and how she channeled her anger into action. Later, as I continued to think and write, I came to know Kela and her motivations. The interactions between the two drove most of the plot in parallel stories that would sometimes intersect.

In the revision process, pacing was an important element to craft. There were scenes that needed to be shortened and others fleshed out more. Having critique partners or beta readers can be extremely helpful in identifying aspects that need attention.

4. That’s an interesting tip on writing out of order. Share how you tapped into your West Indian and Black Southern heritage in writing A Comb of Wishes? Did you have to do any research into the Caribbean setting or culture that you incorporate in your story?

As writers, we often draw on what we know. For the setting, I drew on my family’s culture. Kela lives in St. Rita, which is an island in the Caribbean that is inspired by Barbados where my father was born. I wanted the story to be rooted in the sounds, sights, smells, and tastes of the islands. I wanted the richness of the setting and culture to almost feel like a character in itself. Kela lives in a loving community that has its own history and traditions. I wanted to give readers a glimpse of that and also affirm and provide a needed mirror for kids who have Caribbean heritage.

I did research about many things in crafting the novel. Sea glass is an important element, but in my early drafts Kela collected seashells and made shell jewelry. I learned that shell collecting was not environmentally friendly and I realized I did not want to inadvertently advocate for it through Kela’s actions. Sea glass, on the other hand, is essentially “trash” that humans have added to the ecosystem, so removing it doesn’t harm the animals and marine environment. Researching further led to me discovering the folk tale about sea glass being “mermaid’s tears,” which fit so beautifully into my story.

I also researched storytellers and storytelling traditions in the Caribbean, which led me to the story frame “Crick, Crack,” (sometimes written as “Krik Krak”) which is common on islands like Haiti, Grenada, and others. In communities around the world, oral traditions keep histories alive and create shared experiences through the interplay between the teller, the tale, and the audience.

5. You are also a middle grade teacher and a parent. How do you schedule your writing so that you have enough time to write and now write under publishing contract deadlines? What advice do you have for the rest of us who are worried about writing under contract while working at another job?

I’ll admit it is very difficult sometimes to make consistent time to write. I do most of my writing on the weekends and my school breaks, especially in the summer. I know there are certain times of the school year that are especially busy, so I try to schedule around those times.

When I was drafting A Comb of Wishes, I had much more flexibility since I was not constrained by any deadlines. I’m now working on my second book, scheduled to be published in 2023, and it is a different process. I find that I need to work more frequently and in smaller chunks, but it is a challenge. What I’ve found most important is communication. My agent and editor know my constraints and when I’ve had difficulty working towards a deadline, we’ve had conversations about options. Everyone is understanding and supportive and wants me to do my best work, so our goals are aligned.

6. It’s good to know that we can discuss out concerns about deadlines with our agent and editor. Share three things you like most about Kela, your main character.

I love that Kela is brave, creative, and caring. She makes mistakes but can admit them and does her best to make amends. She is super talented with her jewelry making and uses it to share her love of the environment with visitors to St. Rita. She cares about her friends and family and even has compassion for the mermaid Ophidia.

7. Your agent is Lindsay Davis Auld. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

A Comb of Wishes is the first book I queried, but I had read enough agent interviews to know that the biggest mistake writers often make is to query too early. I heeded that advice and didn't query until I felt it was absolutely the best I could make it.

I had collected a list of agents interested in middle grade fantasy from following #MSWL on Twitter and searching ManuscriptWishlist.com. I also was helped by one of my mentors who sent me a list of agents she thought might be a good match. I looked up all of the agents on Publishers Marketplace to see their sales and who they represented, so I could get a sense of their experience and tastes. I tailored the opening of the query letters to each agent, and I explained why I thought they might be a good fit and, if I had met them in person or had another connection, I shared that too.

All of that effort paid off because I found my agent after six weeks in my first round of querying.

We talked on the phone during “The Call” and I loved Lindsay’s vision for my story and her sensibility as an “editorial” agent who could help me refine it even more. Lindsay and I continued in revision for another 18 months before we decided the novel was ready to go on submission. Once on sub, the novel quickly moved to a five-house auction and was acquired by Rosemary Brosnan at HarperCollins/Quill Tree Books in December of 2019. It will be published on February 8, 2022.

8. I saw on your website that you did a weekend webinar on social media strategies for authors. I wish I would have known about it before it happened. Please share a few tips on how you advise authors to manage their social media so that they can write more.

Thanks for asking! Along with teaching English, I’m also an educational technology coordinator. My webinar focused on building an author website and how to establish a presence online, even before you’re published. I’ve used social media for professional learning for a long time and I also talk about using it to connect with a writing community and readers. For kidlit writers, Twitter is active among teachers and librarians and a good place to start.

It’s easy to get sucked into social media though and it’s important to find balance. Several apps allow you to schedule content ahead of time and manage other aspects, for example Buffer and Hootsuite. Other apps can help you disconnect when you need a break. For example, Freedom can help you block distractions and give you focused work time.

Even though some marketing and promotion is necessary for authors, writing is our most important task and it’s ok to do what you need to so that you can prioritize it, even if it means limiting how much you engage online.

9. I like that the writing is the most important thing to focus on. How have you been promoting your book during the last year and what are your plans for promoting it once it releases? What advice do you have for the rest of us?

The pandemic has caused many of us with books releasing now to shift our expectations of what our debut will be like. The good thing about launching now is that publishers and bookstores have had plenty of time to become experts in virtual events.

In the past year, I’ve done several blog interviews, like this one, and guest posts. My cover reveal was in May 2021 on Mr. Schu’s Blog, Watch. Read. Connect. I’ve also talked to independent booksellers about A Comb of Wishes through several virtual events, including HarperCollins Shake Up the Shelves, the ABA Winter Institute, and the New England Independent Booksellers Association’s (NEIBA) Kidlit All About the Books events.

My book launch will take place virtually with Brookline Booksmith on my release date February, 8, 2022. I’m excited to be in conversation with Tui T. Sutherland, NYT Best-selling author of the Wings of Fire series and many other books. I have other virtual events scheduled later in February, such as an event at The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, and I hope to schedule other events. I’m also doing several podcast interviews in the next month and an Instagram Live with the subscription book box OwlCrate Jr.

Being a parent and a full-time teacher, I was concerned about how much promotion I could do. I am open with my publicist and others about my schedule and try to look for events that I can do after school or on the weekends. Staying organized is really important as it is easy to get overwhelmed with details. A tip I picked up in the Highlights Foundation Debut Author course is to create a timetable for your book release that starts 12-18 months before the release date. I use my timetable to remind me of people I need to reach out to, to order swag (like bookmarks), and also to track commitments I’ve made and deadlines.

10. You are involved in a number of writing communities, such as SCBWI, GrubStreet, Inked Voices, The Writers Loft, and the #22Debuts, which you helped organize. How has being involved with these groups helped your writing and your career as an author?

Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary act. One of the wonderful parts of becoming an author is connecting with others over the shared experience of writing. Seek out a community! When I first decided to write seriously, I joined professional writing organizations and a critique group, attended conferences, bought craft books, took classes and worked hard to learn about the publishing industry and how to write a book. It was all necessary work to help me gain the knowledge and skills to get where I am now.

The groups I joined have been especially important for my growth as a writer and mutual support and information sharing. I’m a member of a few different groups and each is composed of different types of creators and serves different purposes. The #22Debuts is a huge group of over 300 writers! It’s hard to build relationships with everyone, but smaller groups have formed over shared identities. For example, I’m a part of the middle grade group, BIPOC writers, and New England authors. Each supports me in different ways. Conversely, I’m also part of a co-marketing group called KidLit in Color, composed of eighteen traditionally published authors and illustrators of color. I’m one of the few middle grade writers in the group, most in the group write picture books or early readers, but as marginalized creators, we do a lot to support one another and boost the visibility of other creators of color in the publishing industry.

11. What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on my second book which will be another stand-alone fantasy novel. I like to call it my “princess in a tower” story, but it won’t be like other fairy tales readers might imagine.

My hope is that it will be an exciting book and one that empowers young readers to be brave and stand up for what is right.

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

Twitter and Instagram @EngageReaders

Website: http://lisastringfellow.com

Giveaway Details

Lisa has generously offered a hardback of A Comb of Wishes for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by February 19th. 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 International whereever Book Depository ships for free.

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

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Wednesday, February 9th I have an agent spotlight interview with Ginger Clark and a query critique giveaway

Monday, February 14th I have a guest post by Leigh Lewis and a giveaway of her MG nonfiction Pirate Queens: Dauntless Women Who Dared to Rule the High Seas

Wednesday, February 16th I’m participating in the Wish Big Giveaway Hop

Monday, February 21st I have an agent spotlight interview with Paige Terlip and a query critique giveaway

Wednesday, March 2nd I have an interview with debut author Humayan Khan and a giveaway of his contemporary Wrong Side of the Court

Monday, March 7th I have an agent spotlight interview with Chelsea Eberly and a query critique giveaway

Tuesday, March 8th I’m participating in the Let’s Get Lucky Giveaway Hop

Hope to see you on Wednesday!


Greg Pattridge said...

Fantastic, in-depth interview! I loved Lisa's book and also reviewed it today. She has done things right to get published and I can't wait to see her princess story in print. As for the giveaway: Let someone else win who hasn't read the book. Thanks for featuring your post on MMGM.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I love hearing about writers who've been wanting to publish for a while and then suddenly get motivated and do it! Congratulations to Lisa!

Valinora Troy said...

Great interview! I read Greg's review earlier and thought the book sounded great, so I would love to win a copy!

Test said...

Thanks for the interview. I think writers who have a background in teaching bring an interesting perspective to their books. glad that she managed to break into publishing. My review will be up later in the month. Have a great week.

Computer Tutor said...

This sounds enticing and clever. What a great debut book.

Danielle H. said...

Thank you for the interview and getting to know this debut author. I'm excited to read this book and shared on tumblr and follow Natalie on Twitter: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/675552213186347008/debut-author-interview-lisa-stringfellow-and-a

Patricia T. said...

I read Greg's review and was intrigued with the setting of your story. But after reading the interview about your process, your research and your publishing experiences, I look forward to reading your new book!

Samantha Bryant said...

Fantastic! I'm also a middle school teacher and writer, and that's no easy balance. Congrats!

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Congrats to all the new authors! That's quite a list of good reading!

Carol Baldwin said...

I shared to FB and Twitter. Carol Baldwin cbaldwin6@me.com This books look like a winner--Congratulations, Lisa!

Liz A. said...

Mermaids seem to be very popular right now. Sounds like a great book.

Mary Preston said...

This all sounds wonderful.


Melissa Miles said...

Congrats on the debut and thanks for the great interview and chance to win a copy!

Eileen said...

What a great interview - the best I've read here! Super helpful suggestions. Anyone entering into (or well into)the world of writing should read this. Your book sounds wonderful!

Angie Quantrell said...

Great interview, Lisa! Your new book sounds amazing! Congratulations and thanks for all you shared with us.

I follow by email and I tweeted this post, Natalie. :)
angelecolline at yahoo dot com

Jamie Donahoe said...

I attended the webinar Lisa gave for 12x12 about building an author website. It was terrific. I finally took all her fabulous advice to heart and created a website. I am so glad to see her book out - it sound fabulous!!

Diane Burton said...

Congrats on your debut book. It sounds great. Best wishes.

tetewa said...

Enjoyed the interview, congrats on the release!

Rosi said...

Very exciting to have one's debut novel. Thanks for a wonderful interview. The book sounds terrific. I'll be looking for it.

DMS said...

This sounds like such an exciting book. I love mermaids. It was interesting to learn about Lisa. Thanks for sharing this interview and for the chance to win a copy of A Comb of Wishes. :)

Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf said...

How fun that you and Greg Pattridge both discussed this one this week! This story sounds like such a compelling one (I love the Coraline inspiration!), and the details about sea glass were quite interesting too. And it's amazing that Lisa has done all this while also teaching! I'll pass on the giveaway, but thanks so much for the wonderful interview, Natalie!

Fundy Blue said...

What an interesting interview, Natalie! I enjoyed learning how Lisa worked in her cultural background. And I agree that the writing is the most important thing. Lord love a sixth grade teacher! They are very special people. I've hunted for sea glass whenever I was on beaches throughout my life. I would love to be entered into the drawing. Thanks, Lisa and Natalie!

Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction said...

I've heard a lot about this book, but I actually hadn't realized it was based on a story from islands like Haiti. My son is Haitian, so it would be great for him to read a book from that tradition.

Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

Nancy P said...

Fabulous cover Following Twitter, Bloglovin positive.ideas.4youATgmail.com