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  • Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated through the letter "H" as of 5/11/2023 and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for more information as I find the time to update more agent spotlights.

Writing From Personal Fears to Create a Gripping Thriller by Agent/Author Tara Gonzalez and Keely Parrack and Don’t Let in the Cold and Query Critique Giveaway and IWSG Post

Happy Wednesday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Keely Parrack and her agent Tara Gonzalez here to share a fantastic post about writing a gripping thriller to celebrate the release of Keely’s YA thriller Don’t Let in the Cold. I love thrillers and am excited to read this one.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

The storm isn't the only thing they'll have to survive.

It was supposed to be just one night in the cabin: one night for Lottie and her brand new stepsister, Jade, to try to get along. When a solar flare causes a massive blackout―no power or cell signal―Lottie knows they've got a long night ahead of them.

Then, in the dark, someone else shows up at the cabin―a stranger named Alex, claiming to be lost and needing shelter from the coming snowstorm. But later that night, Lottie spies him in the driveway talking to two mysterious men in a pickup truck, and she's sure he's lying about why he's here.

Before Lottie can find out more, a fire forces her, Jade, and Alex out into the blizzard, where they must rely on one another to get to safety―wherever that is. In the remote, freezing Tahoe wilderness, they have to survive more than just the elements. Soon it becomes clear that Alex's accomplices are hunting for all three of them, in a scheme that's gone too far and taken a chilling, deadly turn.


Before I get to Keely’s and Tara’s guest post, I have my IWSG Post.

Posting: The first Wednesday is officially Insecure Writer's Support Group Day.

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

The awesome co-hosts this month are Kim Lajevardi, Cathrina Constantine,  Olga Godim, Michelle Wallace,  Louise - Fundy Blue and me!

Optional Question: What genre would be the worst one to tackle and why?

For me, it would be romance. I don’t feel up to tackling the increased intimacy and sex scenes I would need to right. And I think it would be hard for me to keep the pacing tight to keep readers turning the pages. I admire all my writer friends who write romances and get this all right.

Also, I want to let you know about the SCBWI-Michigan Critique Carousel opportunity this month. I’m one of the 2022 Critique Carousel Coordinators with Alicia Curley and WendyBooydeGraaff. I’m so excited to help organize it and participate in it. It’s my first time submitting anything to an agent or editor in over 15 years.

FYI the critique carousel will only be open to Michigan SCBWI members for the first week. In the event we have additional critique slots available, we may open to additional SCBWI regions/members. Keep your eye on our blog (https://scbwimithemitten.blogspot.com) and our site (https://michigan.scbwi.org)--Any information regarding the event will be posted there (and social channels). You can also find a FAQ I posted about it here.

Writing From Personal Fears to Create a Gripping Thriller by Keely Parrack and Tara Gonzalez

Thank you so much Natalie for inviting my brilliant agent, Tara Gonzalez, and me to chat about fear on this blog!

Writing DON’T LET IN THE COLD, had me shivering into my hoodie–there is so much snow! And I realized as someone who gets cold walking past supermarket freezers, I would not have survived this story! Then it hit me, I was actually writing from fear – not only my own fear of cold, but also from my own fearful experiences.

The initial idea from this story came from me staying at a friend’s Tahoe cabin with my then eight-year-old son. In the pitch-black night, the cabin became this huge dark place that grew extra rooms, we got freaked out by every noise and ended up sleeping on the couch rather than going to separate bedrooms in the labyrinth of downstairs!

That feeling of being watched and unsafe, made its way into the beginning of DON’T LET IN THE COLD. I think drawing from your own experiences, keeping that core emotional truth, can really help you as a writer give that same feeling of angst or fear to your readers. You don’t have to replicate the actual event, just the emotions and tension, or joy and calm – which ever emotional truth you want to resonate in your story!

Tara, I was so excited when you requested more pages from my query and I wonder what was it about this thriller YA that appealed to you most?

It was absolutely a combination of heart and intensity – I thought you did such a fabulous job of meshing the characters with a nonstop plot, and you managed to get me equally as invested with Lottie and her relationship with her stepsibling and the mysterious boy as I was on edge about the challenges they were facing physically. The perfect combination!

Another experience that made its way into DON’T LET IN THE COLD, was me stumbling along in the Blue Ridge Mountains and being so cold I cried. I was about nine. My Dad gave up on the walk and took us back to the car. I had been totally freaked out by cold, but as we drove off, I saw a black bear standing on its hind legs, right where we had been, and all my fear turned to awe!

In DON’T LET IN THE COLD this became the memory Lottie has of being so cold and crying and her dad ordering her back to the car and leaving her there. (Slight spoiler!) Also bears! In my childhood seeing the bear made me incredibly happy, in Lottie’s survival experience it was a little more alarming, but still kind of magical!

So Tara, you live in Florida, and I confess I am kind of terrified of Alligators, what are your biggest fears? And does seeing them appear in your slush pile make you more or less excited to read them?

Hah! My biggest rational fears and my biggest irrational fears are definitely on a different level – I think with my #1 rational fear (being afraid of elevators is TOTALLY rational), I’d be incredibly anxious reading it. But irrational fears? Bring it on, I’d be super excited to read it, in a fun scared way.

My other fears are fire and sharks! I guess that last fear along with alligators and crocodiles is really a fear of being eaten alive!

I live in California, so fear of fire and being ready to evacuate, has become a terrifying reality for me. And surprise! it’s found its way into my next thriller YA. I wonder if writing is my therapy!

I always want my characters to succeed and come out stronger – I put them in these terrifying situations but want them to win and overcome that fear, using their intelligence, will power, or being forced to team up with others to survive, found family style­ – one of my favorite troupes! I hope it leaves the readers feeling empowered too – and so I think in YA and kidslit in general it’s so important to have that sense of hope at the end. To go through that journey and come out stronger the other side.

So write what you know doesn’t necessary mean literally, but also means write using personal experiences that gives your work emotional truth. This makes it more meaningful and significant to the reader as it brings authenticity and emotion, and that makes for more a gripping thriller

Tara what are your favorite thriller tropes, and what elements do you look for in thrillers and mysteries? What would you love to see in your submissions pile?

I think in terms of mysteries, I love to be surprised, but not TOO surprised – I want however it unfolds to be something that was there all along, inbetween the lines, not something that was pulled out at the last minute. In thrillers, I look for true intensity – whether it’s high stakes, nonstop like DON’T LET IN THE COLD, or more of a psychological thriller, I want to feel like I’m on the edge of my seat.

I think that shows in thriller movies too – my favorite Last Train to Busan, (there I go with being eaten alive again) and Jaws – yes, I am terrified of sharks – but I also love them! Watch for a YA deep water thriller soon – this is a joke, probably! (do it!!!)

Lastly on the fear of writing itself! Sometimes, especially when I start a new story, I wonder if this idea is big enough. Can I do it justice? Am I a good enough writer to get all of what’s in my head onto the page? I do believe if your project scares you in some way while also making you excited – writing through that fear can create some of your best work, whatever genre you’re writing in. It’s when we are challenged, that we rise to the occasion! So go ahead, face that fear, write down your demons, and come out stronger on the other side!


Keely Parrack, YA and PB author

Website: http://keelyparrack.com

Insta: @keelyinkster

Twitter @keelyinkster

Tara Gonzalez, Agent at Erin Murphy Literary Agency


Tara Gonzalez agent: https://www.taragonzalez.com/

Erin Murphy Literary Agency: https://emliterary.com/

Insta: @ taratgonzalez

Twitter: @taratgonzalez

Giveaway Details

Keely has generously offered a signed paperback of Don’t let in the Cold and Tara has offered a query critique for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by September 24th. If you do not want to be included in the critique giveaway, please let me know in the comments. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter or Keely or Tara on their social media sites, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. The book giveaway is U.S. and Canada and the query critique giveaways is International. 

Upcoming Interviews and Guest Posts

Monday, September 12th, I have an agent spotlight interview with Sarah Fink and a query critique giveaway 

Tuesday, September 16th, I'm participating in the Falling Into Leaves Giveaway Hop 

Monday, September 19th, I have a guest post by debut author Stacy Knockowitz and a giveaway of her MG historical MG historical The Prince of Steel Pier

Wednesday, September 21st, I have an agent spotlight interview with Jazmia Young and a query critique giveaway

Monday, September 26th, I'm reviewing Alba Dobb's MG historical The Other Side of the River and doing an ARC giveaway

Hope to see you on Monday!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I couldn't do romance either.
Cool you are coordinating and submitting.
Thanks for co-hosting today!

Jennifer Lane said...

Maybe the genres we couldn't do are flip-flopped--I love writing romance but could never be creative enough for fantasy! Hey--I can suddenly comment on your blog!

nashvillecats2 said...

Didin't realise it was Insecure Writer's Group today,
I find I can write about what I'm doing or done .
lately it's been hard, hence my absence from the blogging scene.
But I have friends here which is a good thing for me.

Take care Natalie.

Nancy Gideon said...

Don't shut the door completely on romance, Natalie. I never thought I'd write it either . . . and 70 books later . . . It's not your mother's bodice rippers anymore! There are so many sub-genres, it's hard NOT to find somehthing you'd enjoy. Thanks for co-hosting!!

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I'm not sure I could write romance either. Although, there is such a range of romance novels out there, everything from "closed door" to "open door" and a lot of stories have romance in them so you never know. :)

Tonja Drecker said...

Natalie - Good luck with the critiquing!
And this book sounds amazing—I've seen it around and have it on my TBR wish list.

Brenda said...

Excited to see you'll be featuring Stacy and Alda's books. Have a lovely week. Thanks for stopping by and commenting too.

Michelle Wallace said...

I have no interest in writing sci-fi and fantasy. However, I have read a bit of both genres over the years. I’m amazed at the intricate worlds that some of these writers build.

~September IWSG co-host.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That's wonderful you are submitting again, Natalie.

Keely, cabins can be a little spooky.

Fundy Blue said...

Thanks for co-hosting today, Natalie! Keely's book sound so good, and I enjoyed Keely's and Tara's interview. I knew someone once who stepped into an elevator without looking when the door opened. It wasn't there, and he fell three stories and ended up a quadriplegic. I've always looked since then, but I'm not scared of elevators. I have an irrational fear of spiders! Have fun visiting around!

Computer Tutor said...

For the IWSG question: Romance is a great answer. I've changed my mind from my original choice!

John Winkelman said...

I don't think I could do a good job of writing a whole romance novel. Romantic scenes? Sure. Or maybe a genre fiction with romantic overtones. Like horror! Maybe, to bring in from the interview Keely's fear of sharks, we could create a mash-up a la Sharknado, except with love instead of tornadoes.

Karen Baldwin said...

Love your post today. I could do Romance, and my Humorous Women's Fiction W.I.P. has a big romance element (no humor in the romance department) but the bigger story is my protagonist's healing journey.
Enjoyed hearing Keely's story.

Pat Garcia said...

I wish you all the best with your submission and thank you for co-hosting.
Shalom aleichem,
Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

Cathrina Constantine said...

I like to write a bit of romance in my ya books, but it's never the plot. Good luck with the Critique Carousel, and submitting your work!!

Thanks for co-hosting!!

Donna K. Weaver said...

You don't have to write sex scenes for romance. That's one of the nice things of having such a wide range of heat levels in the genres.

Adrienne Reiter said...

I try to avoid euphemism when writing intimate scenes. They end up awkward and I hate to re-read them. I couldn't write romance either. Thank you for co-hosting!

Olga Godim said...

Writing romance is hard for me too. I tried once, and my romance novella is doing very well on wattpad. But I just can't force myself to do it again, even though I like reading romance. My characters tend to be self sufficient, solve all their problems on their own, and for a romance story to succeed, the protagonists must need each other.
Congrats to Keely on her book release.

Victoria Marie Lees said...

What an awesome book, Keely! Love the cover and the premise. All the luck with this new release. Gosh! I hope I win the hardback copy.

I write YA short story adventure. And yes, I use personal experience and fears to create the stories.

Great interview, Natalie! Thank you for this opportunity to receive a copy of the book or a critique of a query letter. All best to you!

C. D. Gallant-King said...

Keely's book looks amazing! If you can scare yourself with your stories, then you should do well spooking others.

And Nathalie - let yourself go and let the romance through! :-)

Chemist Ken said...

Ha! I didn't even think about having to write sex scenes when I picked romance.

Thanks for co-hosting IWSG this month!

Jemi Fraser said...

Good luck with the submitting and the organizing - awesome on both counts!
Fear is such a powerful emotion! Those visceral reactions translate to the page really well.
(I'll let someone else win the giveaways - good luck to all!)

PJ Colando said...

Thanks for co-hosting and supporting other writers always.

Good luck with your submission process - I hope you enjoy big success!

Keely said...

Just to clarify DON'T LET IN THE COLD is only out in paperback - but I'll add one of my hand-printed cards to sweeten the deal :)

Sandra Cox said...

Great interview and very intriguing release.
Best wishes to all.

Liza said...

This is my favorite piece of this interview, "...write using personal experiences that gives your work emotional truth." Love the title and the premise of this book! Congratulations Keeley. Thank you for the insight, Tara, and Natalie, thanks as always for the interview.

Juneta key said...

Wahoo, Congrats on submitting again after such a long time. Wishing you the best and lots of luck too. For me it is literary I would not write and probably horror but it is not a hard no on horror. Happy Writing and Submitting. Thanks for visiting my blog.

diedre Knight said...

Hi Natalie!

Congratulations on coordinating with SCBWI and very best wishes on your submission!
Don't Let in the Cold sounds like a fantastic read. Another impressive interview too ;-) You're amazing, Natalie. Thanks for co-hosting!

Carol Kilgore said...

Writing a full-on romance without a mystery or something fun to break it up would be difficult for me, too. So would science fiction and horror.

Liz A. said...

Romance seems to be the popular I-couldn't-write-that genre today.

The book sounds refreshing. It's been so hot here that a snow-bound story is just what I need.

Samantha Bryant said...

I feel like most of what I write has roots in the things that scare me . . .@samanthabwriter from
Balancing Act

Denise Covey said...

Hey Natalie, it's great to see a non-romance writer understand that writing romance is actually hard. It just seems simple. We can't be experts in every genre. That would take too much work. Great interview as always. Thank you.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

I love the sound of DON’T LET IN THE COLD.

Yep, I couldn't write romance either.

kimlajevardi.com said...

I said romance as well. Don't Let in the Cold sounds intriguing!

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Yes, I'll let others write the romance stories. :)

Keep on writing and submitting!


Tyrean Martinson said...

Natalie - Way to go with participating in and helping with that contest! Congratulations on the hard work of putting your work into the world!

And I loved the interview. I think emotional truth trumps experiential truth in books every time.

Ella said...

Thank you for the interesting interview! I follow both Tara Gonzalez and Keely Parrack on twitter and have retweeted this interview. I would love a query critiue!

email: ela.mishne@gmail.com

Sarah Meade said...

This book looks fantastic! I'm hooked by the premise already. Congratulations, Keely and Tara!

Danielle H. said...

I know this book is going to be one to read with all the lights on and my family at home. Thank you for the interview and chance to win a copy of this exciting book. Please do not put my name in for the critique giveaway. I follow Natalie on Twitter and shared on tumblr: https://www.tumblr.com/yesreaderwriterpoetmusician/694831197001580544/writing-from-personal-fears-to-create-a-gripping?source=share

emaginette said...

Writing romance does take a certain skill set and a lot of bravery. :-)

Anna from elements of emaginette

Jenna said...

Would love a query critique from Tara! (Jenna (at) silverpenproductions (dot) com)
Thanks for always providing such interesting profiles!

Sherry Ellis said...

Don't Let in the Cold sounds awesome!

I'm with you on the Romance genre. I think that's a tough one for a lot of writers. Pretty much for all the same reasons.

Thanks for the congratulations on my upcoming wedding!

Shanah Salter said...

another great post, thanks Natalie! I would love to be considered for a query critique from Tara. I've shared on twitter

Lauri Meyers said...

I literally had to get up and put on a sweatshirt reading this! This book must be exciting and I imagine makes you feel dropped right into the setting. Congrats!

Kate Larkindale said...

I don't write romance, but I do love writing romantic scenes. It always helps me to get unstuck when I'm stuck. Nothing like an unexpected kiss or roll in the hay to kick the story into gear!

Damyanti Biswas said...

Thank you for co-hosting Natalie. "DON’T LET IN THE COLD" is definitely a good one! I can do romance, to an extent, but there is definitely a fat line I refrain from crossing.

Rosi Hollinbeck said...

OMG, I have to get this book! It sounds so, so good. I will pass on the giveaway since I just won a book from you though. I'm putting this way high on my TBR list through. Thanks for another interesting post.

tetewa said...

Congrats on the release, would love to get a copy!

Laura Clement said...

Congrats! I'm not sure I could write romance either but loved this interview.

Leela said...

I'm an email subscriber.

Jennifer Hawes said...

Love that title!! Mystery and suspense is my favorite genre:)

Nicole Pyles said...

That book don't let in the cold sounds amazing! I'm way into the idea of a book based around a blackout, so I'm sold!

I'm with you on romance themes in writing. Plus, it'd feel so awkward to know anyone I knew was writing romantic and intimate scenes I've written. Kudos to writers who can get beyond that!

Christine Rains said...

Romance is tricky, but I like the intricacies of writing relationships. I love writing short stories to try out different genres and stretch my muse's muscles. The only thing I can't write is poetry.

Congrats to Keely! It was a great interview with her agent. I've been reading more mysteries and thrillers this year, and it's awesome to see one in the winter as not many happen in a blizzard.

Loni Townsend said...

Romance was my first say too!

Jay Linden said...

I love that you have developed the character relationships along with a tight plot and high stakes - weaving plot and character together is one of those fun challenges for us writers and always pays off for the reader. Great interview - thank you. I'd love to be considered for a query critique by Tara.

Elizabeth Mueller said...

Oh. Her book is spine-chilling. At first, I thought Alex was going to sell the girls into the black market--I think I'd rather be hunted down. But if I had a choice, it would be neither!

Great interview!

Anonymous said...

Such a great interview! Your book sounds really amazing! And I love what Tara said about writing through your fear -- such good advice!

email: dawnelizee@gmail.com

Jemima Pett said...

MM... that's made me think I may couldnt do psycholigical thriller, too much tension. Maybe I'll have a new career in romance. lol

Thanks for co-hosting this month - sorry I'm late - took a few days away :)

Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction said...

I agree with you that romance (at least a steamy romance) would be nearly impossible for me. Nope. Couldn't do it. LOL!

Shamaila J said...

Great interview! I would love to be part of the critique giveaway. My email is shamaila.siddique@gmail.com

Maria Altizer said...

This book sounds great. I look forward to reading it. I would love to be part of the critique giveaway.

Nancy P said...

Sounds fantastic. Book only. Following.

Nancy P said...