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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: Matt McMann and Escape From Grimstone Manor Giveaway and IWSG Post

Happy Wednesday Everyone! Today I’m super excited to have debut author Matt McMann here to share about his debut MG monster mystery books, Escape From Grimstone Manor and The Snatcher of Raven Hollow. I’ve never read a book that combined monsters and a mystery, and I’m really looking to start this series.

I’m also excited to have Matt here because his wife is Lisa McMann who has published 29 books, including the awesome Unwanted series and Map of Flames. Many are on the New York bestseller list. In addition, his daughter, Kennedy McMann, is the star of the Nancy Drew series on CW. I love this series and am so sad that this is the last season. I really recommend you watch it if you haven’t started it.

Here's a blurb of Escape From Grimstone Manor from Goodreads:

Here's the first book in a new series of terrifying tales that combine monsters + mysteries, perfect for fans of Goosebumps.

"Spine-chilling and creepy!" --Max Brallier, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Last Kids on Earth

In a mansion on a hill,
lived a man no one could kill.
Raised the dead with magic dark
to rule the world and make his mark.

Zari has always been fascinated by creepy stories about Hezekiah Crawly, the real-life inspiration behind her local amusement park's haunted house attraction, so she's thrilled when her friends Mateo and Taylor agree to go on the last ride of the day before the park closes.

But when the ride breaks down, the three get trapped inside the haunted house for the night! As if that weren't scary enough, the kids stumble onto a hidden staircase leading to a dark, cobwebbed crypt that doesn't seem like part of the ride--and by the looks of it, they aren't alone down there. Is it possible the stories about Hezekiah Crawly and his monstrous experiments are true? And if so, can Zari, Mateo and Taylor make it through the night in one piece?


Before I get to Matt’s interview 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: Joylene Nowell Butler, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Meka James, Diane Burton, Victoria Marie Lees, and M Louise Barbour!

 Optional Question: When you're working on a story, what inspires you? 

That's a tough question for me because I don't get super excited about my writing anymore like I used to when I first started. Revising as I write new chapters helps me keep going when I'm struggling to write new words, which is almost a slow process for me. I also feel good when I see myself growing as I rework chapters and see them improve. 

And I do get into a really good mindset when I'm working on a chapter. It can lift my spirits if I'm having a bad day.

Writer Tip

And here's a cool Writer Tip I shared on Monday in case you didn't see it. Hana Lee, a traditionally published author, has created When do I earn out?, a free web-based calculator. It will give you an estimate of how many hardbacks, paperbacks, ebooks, and audiobooks you have to sell to earn out your advance and also shows how much a publisher would earn in revenues. It’s an eye-opener and a very helpful resource.

 You can find out more about Hana and her books on her website or on Twitter or Instagram at  @K_Hana_Lee on Twitter.

 Interview With Matt McMann

Hi Matt! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

Thanks so much for having me! I grew up the youngest of three kids on a dirt road in rural Michigan, met my wonderful wife Lisa in college, and we have two awesome artistic kids—our son Kilian McMann is a freelance illustrator and graphic designer and our daughter Kennedy McMann is an actor.

I wanted to be an author since I won my 7th grade creative writing contest, but I caught the music bug in high school, got my degree in Vocal Performance, and was a professional musician for twenty-six years. When I burned out on music, my wife suggested I return to my childhood dream of writing. We went to a nearby hotel for the weekend, and she said we couldn’t go home until I wrote my first chapter! That started me on a long journey of honing my writing, studying the craft, and learning about the publishing industry. After years of rejection, I got my first book deal, which was a lifelong dream come true.

2. Where did you get the idea for Escape From Grimstone Manor and this series? 

My author wife Lisa McMann (The Unwanteds series, The Forgotten Five series) was reading an article aloud and mispronounced the word mysterious, saying monsterious instead. I said, “That would be a great middle grade book title,” and she replied, “No, it’s a whole series, and you should write it.” I loved the idea of writing books that combine monsters and mysteries, so I developed an anthology style series that can be read in any order, with each book as a stand-alone spooky adventure with a unique cast of kid characters who solve a mystery centered around monsters.

The idea for the first book, Escape from Grimstone Manor, came from a photo I saw of a gargoyle statue advertising a spooky ride in an amusement park. A haunted house theme park attraction sounded like a fun setting for a Monsterious book, so I imagined what would happen if three friends were trapped overnight in a spooky ride and discovered the monsters were real. That became the jumping off point for the story.

Your Writing Process

3. I love how a photo gave you the idea for your first book. Are you a plotter or panster or a combination of both? Share about your plotting process and tips for writing a series like yours.

I’m still figuring that out! I’ve written books both as a plotter and a panster, and consider myself a combination of both who leans toward plotter. For the Monsterious series, I outlined three of the four books I’ve written so far and pants the fourth.

My typical process begins with finding a catalyst idea for the story. For example, Monsterious book two The Snatcher of Raven Hollow came from seeing an empty stroller alongside the highway. My wife said, “What if there was a baby in there?” That sparked the story of two friends who find an empty stroller and discover a monster is behind the infant kidnappings in their small town—but no one believes them.

Once I have the big idea, I brainstorm possible scenes, plot points, jokes, bits of dialogue, action sequences, anything I can think of related to the story. Then I write a one-paragraph story pitch to show my agent and editor. Once they sign off on a concept, I begin to build an outline. For the Monsterious books, I use a method I learned from R. L. Stine’s writing course on MasterClass.com, and write one summary paragraph per chapter. With the outline in place, I start the first draft, writing at least 1000 words a day, six days a week. I start each day’s writing session by editing what I wrote the day before, which gets me back in the flow of the story, and by the time I’m done, I’ve already completed my first edit.

Once the first draft is finished, I do multiple self-edits passes to work on pacing, plot holes, underdeveloped character or theme arcs, overall tightness and punchiness, etc. When I’ve gotten it as clean as I can, I give it to my wife Lisa to read. Once I make all her edits, I send it to my editor at Penguin Random House. Before my book deal, my agent would also read and provide edit notes to help me get the manuscript in shape for submission.

As for tips on writing this type of series, a few things that early readers have enjoyed about the Monsterious books are the quick pacing and short chapters, each ending with a mini cliff hanger. Along with a dash of humor, those elements really drive the story forward and keeps people turning pages.

4. I’m part pantser/plotter too. I’m going to try some of your plotting techniques with my next manuscript. I love mysteries and Escape From Grimstone Manor sounds like a creepy one. How do you tackle the mystery aspect of your story to plant clues but leave readers wondering till the end of the story?

That’s not easy! Since Monsterious books are a combination of action / adventure and mystery, my first consideration is getting that balance right, one that differs from book to book depending on the premise. For example, the single location setting and survival focus of Escape from Grimstone Manor (book 1) makes that story heavier on action than mystery. In The Snatcher of Raven Hollow (book 2), the focus is on discovering who is taking babies and why, which makes that story heavier on mystery than action.

What works best for me is starting with a clear picture of how I want to story to end. That enables me to write toward it and think of clues and revelations to plant organically throughout the book. That was a mistake I made in my first unpublished manuscript—I hid too much from the reader along the way and had a big info dump at the end, something my agent appropriately had me fix.

Once I’ve completed the first draft, I go back and look at the clues and revelations. Are they in the right places? Did I give not enough or too many? Is the solution to the mystery too obvious or too obscure? My goal is to have the reveal be a fun surprise for the reader yet one where they look back and think, “Oh, I see it now!”

5. I read in an interview that your wife is your writing coach. How awesome! How did working with her improve your first book in this series?

I can’t credit Lisa enough for the impact she’s had on my growth as a writer. It started with me being actively engaged with her career over the last fifteen years, reading all the edit letters she received, and having countless conversations with her about plot and character development in her books. I learned so much about the craft by osmosis. Then when I decided to start writing novels myself, she edited all my early manuscripts, patiently coaching me on voice, pacing, character depth, you name it.

The first book in my series, Escape from Grimstone Manor, was actually the fourth book I’d written. By then, most of Lisa’s lessons had sunk in which made that book much cleaner, sharper, and well developed than my previous attempts.

6. You have these two books being released on May 9th and Terror in Shadow Canyon being released on August 22nd. While your books are a little shorter than some middle grade books, it’s still a lot of hard work to get three books written and ready for publication in your debut year. How did you write your manuscripts so fast? What tips do you have for slow writers like me?

I learned from watching the best! Lisa is a really fast writer, having published 30 books in 15 years. Having her as a model helped me approach writing in a similar way, with the same expectation for myself.

In terms of practical tips for writing quickly, I think outlining really helps. It takes more time in the beginning, but then the drafting goes much quicker. Using a daily minimum word count gives me a clear goal and allows me to plan how long it will take to complete a draft. For example, the target length for Monsterious books is 25,000 words, so if I write at least 1000 words a day six days a week, I know I can complete the first draft in a month. Finally, dedication to a routine is crucial for me. Allocating the best part of my work day, the mornings, to my most important task, writing, keeps me on track with my rapid publication schedule.

Your Road to Publication

7. Michael Bourret, who is also your wife’s agent, is your agent. Share how he became your agent and what the process of going on submission was like for you.

While I was drafting my first book, Lisa and I were planning to meet Michael, already her long-time agent, for dinner during a trip we were taking to Los Angeles. Before we left, Lisa said, “Listen. We’re going to have dinner with Michael. At some point, he’s going to ask you what you’re doing these days. You’re going to tell him you’re working on a middle grade book, and you need to have a pitch ready.” Taking her advice, I worked hard on a tight 15 second story pitch and memorized it.

At dinner, everything played out just as Lisa predicted. Michael asked what the book was about and I gave my pitch. He said it sounded interesting and asked me to send it to him. After he read the manuscript, he called me and said it had potential but needed a lot of work. If I was willing to do the work, he was willing to read it again. He then very graciously took an hour explaining all the problems he saw. I took copious notes, made all the changes he suggested, and sent it back. After the second read, he signed me as a client.

My submission journey was a rocky one. Michael sent my first book to an editor as an exclusive, meaning she had the first shot at it. She liked it but had some issues, saying if I would work on it, she’d read it again. I made the changes she requested, and she felt good about her second read and took it to her team. I was thrilled. This was going to happen! And then it didn’t. Her team didn’t buy in, and she decided to pass. Michael then sent the book out on a first wave of submission to about a dozen editors. Then a second wave. Then a third. It was out for submission for a year and everyone passed.

During that painfully slow process, I wrote a second and third book. Michael stopped sending book one, sent out book two, and gave me extensive edit notes on book three. Book two got another long list of rejections. It was during all this that I came up with concept for the Monsterious series. Given my previous experience of rejections, I knew I wanted to pitch this idea differently, with a focus on the series as a whole vs. a single book, so I wrote one full manuscript, two more complete outlines, and five additional ideas for potential books in the series. Michael loved it, stopped sending out book two, and presented the whole Monsterious “pitch package” to Penguin Random House. They bought it immediately in a four book deal. After years of rejections, it was a dream come true!

8. Your experience is definitely a lesson on how perseverance pays off. I also read in an interview that you had to make significant edits to your manuscript before Michael became your agent. Was the process of making his recommended changes easy or hard for you? How did the revisions make your stories stronger?

I honestly thought my first manuscript would be a practice novel that I’d throw away, so when Michael thought it had potential, I was more than happy to do the hard work of extensive edits. It was a steep learning curve, but he has a strong editorial sense which gave me great clarity on what needed to be done. The specific changes included adding about 15,000 words as he felt it was too short for fantasy adventure, having the protagonists struggle longer to overcome the obstacles in their journey, and spreading the revelations throughout the story vs. cramming them all in at the end. Those revisions were what got the book in shape for submission.


9. How are you planning to market Escape From Grimstone Manor and The Snatcher of Raven Hollow? What advice do you have for other authors about marketing their debut book?

Marketing is a many-headed beast that can swallow you whole. It has felt very overwhelming at times. One of the hard truths to learn is that you can’t do everything. Find things that fit your schedule, interests, and budget, then work steadily at them over the long build up to your book launch. If you wait until a month or two before your release, you’ll be crushed under the weight of it all or simply unable to do much. Here are some of the things I’m doing:

BOOKSELLERS – I created a bookseller specific pitch for Monsterious and have given it in person to booksellers from over 100 bookstores in the last year, both during a book conference and on multiple trips to different parts of the country. I collected their contact info, put that in a database, then sent follow up emails reiterating my series pitch and asking if they’d consider carrying Monsterious.

REVIEWERS – Through connecting with teachers, librarians, and book review groups while sharing about my series on social media, I’ve been able to schedule interviews (like this one!) and podcasts. I sent advance copies of my first book to Twitter-based review groups like #BookPosse and #BookAllies, who post and share their reviews of the book. You all have been wonderfully supportive, and I’m so grateful!

MODERATING – I’ve built a relationship with staff at my local indie bookstore Changing Hands and volunteered to moderate another author who was doing an event there. That led to opportunities to moderate and participate in author panels at Phoenix Fan Fusion (comic con), and moderate an event with Shannon Messenger, the hugely popular MG author of The Keeper of the Lost Cities series. Each event raised awareness of both me and the Monsterious series.

TOURING – Working from my database of contacts, in conjunction with my wonderful publicist at Penguin and a freelance publicist I’ve hired, I’m organizing school visits, bookstore events, and festival appearances, both in the weeks around my book launch and throughout the summer and next fall.

SWAG – I’m working with my son Kilian McMann, a professional illustrator and graphic designer at Great Raven Design Co, to create a Monsterious trading card game, similar to Pokemon or Magic the Gathering. I’ll promote these cards at my school visits and give them away to kids who come to my bookstore events.

10. Thanks for sharing your detailed marketing plan. It’s giving me a lot of ideas if I ever get published. What are you working on now?

I recently completed edits on The Beast of Skull Rock, the fourth Monsterious book and the last one currently under contract, which publishes in January 2024. I have a lot of ideas for the series, so if Monsterious finds an audience, there will be more books to come! In the meantime, I’m focusing on marketing Monsterious and brainstorming ideas for new books.

11. Can you tell us when we can see your daughter in a new television show or movie and the details of where to find the last season of Nancy Drew?

The fourth and final season of Nancy Drew, starring my daughter Kennedy McMann as Nancy Drew, airs on May 31 on the CW network and streaming on HBO Max. That show has completed filming, and Kennedy has landed the lead in a proposed spinoff of the medical drama The Good Doctor called The Good Lawyer on ABC! It’s about a brilliant young lawyer whose struggles with OCD impact her personal and professional life. The pilot for that show aired on March 13 as an episode of The Good Doctor, which streams on Hulu. We’re waiting now with fingers crossed to hear if ABC will order The Good Lawyer for its own series!

Fingers crossed for your daughter. Thanks for sharing all your advice, Matt. You can find Matt at MattMcMann.com, @matt_mcmann on Instagram and Twitter, and @matt.mcmann.1 on Facebook.

Giveaway Details

Matt’s publisher is generously offering a paperback of Escape From Grimstone Manor for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by May 13th. If your email 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 Matt on his 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. This book giveaway is U.S.

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

Upcoming Interviews, Guest Posts, and Blog Hops

Tomorrow, May 4 I’m participating in the Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop

Monday, May 8 I have an agent spotlight interview with Ellen Goff and a query critique giveaway

Monday, May 15 I have an interview with debut author Jen St. Jude and a giveaway of her YA contemporary speculative If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come

Tuesday, May 16 I’m participating in the Mom’s Rock Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, May 17 I have an agent spotlight interview with Kristina Perez and a query critique giveaway

Monday, May 22 I have an agent spotlight interview with  Natasha Mihell and a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you tomorrow!








Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Sounds like a wonderfully spooky read! Congratulations. :)

Cathrina Constantine said...

Since I'm not on a deadline for my writing, I let it simmer for long periods of time. That's a plus for an indie author. But, like you, I'm not on fire about my writing either. I am a turtle writer too, and words don't come easy. I plonk along...and hope it magically turns into a decent story. LOL.

Congrats to Matt!

Jennifer Lane said...

Congratulations to Matt--what a talented, creative family!

I also don't feel the same excitement about writing as I once did, though I guess that would be tough to sustain for years. Good thought about the buzz you get from editing a chapter.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Matt's book sounds like creepy fun.
I also like editing and making it all come alive on the page.

Jean Davis said...

Seeing your own writing growth on the page is so rewarding! And we can't see that new growth without continuing to put new words on the page. Its an endless cycle. :)

Congrats to Matt on the new book!

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I'm afraid to have my eyes opened. LOL

Best of luck to Matt! Sounds like a great read.

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

Great writer tip!

Ronel visiting for IWSG day Joining the Creator Economy

Rachna Chhabria said...

I love spooky reads.

Hana Lee's web based calculator is super.

Sandra Cox said...

Wow. I love that husband and wife both write and that their daughter is on the Nancy Drew series. Definitely a gifted family.

Loni Townsend said...

I hope you find some excitement in your writing. But, if not excitement, I hope you find enjoyment!

Grats on the debut, Matt!

emaginette said...

I'm finding it tough to keep the momentum going. I've found a crit group, finally, and have started writing sprints through Zoom to keep my @$$ on track.

They both help me get to it. :-)

Computer Tutor said...

I know what you mean about writing a good chapter lifts the spirits. That really works well for me. Good interview, too!

Jemi Fraser said...

As a former MG-age teacher, Matt's books sound perfect for that age group!

It's nice to find those moments when we realize our writing is stronger!

cleemckenzie said...

Definitely up my alley! "Spine-chilling and creepy!" Thanks for interviewing Matt today. I enjoyed it a lot.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Monsterious! I love it. I'm good at that too - dramastric and greefy leans.

Victoria Marie Lees said...

Excellent book jacket description, Matt. The book sounds simply spooky. Thank you so much for the great book marketing ideas. Truly needed to hear these. All best with this new release. I hope I win the copy!

Diane Burton said...

Natalie, I know what you mean about not being as eager to write as I was when I started. Rereading what I've written helps me get back into the story.

Mark, best wishes on your latest release. I, too, grew up on a dirt road in rural Michigan. Well, it was rural then, now it's a Detroit suburb. Small world.

J.Q. Rose said...

I just re-read a sample of my book published in 2012. And I was pleasantly surprised it read well. I'm not boasting because I could see how I would have written it today, so I can growth in my writing. It is fun to look back once in a while.

Valinora Troy said...

Super interview, and the Monsterious series sounds great. I love the genesis for the idea! Great interview, and really interesting hearing of Matt's marketing plans (writing is hard work!!). Wishing him all the best of success with the books!

Liz A. said...

That's quite the schedule. It helps to be able to take on the edits recommended and work to make things better.

C.D. Gallant-King said...

That royalty calculator is neat. But I'm self-published, so I will never make back the money I invested into it anyway.

Sherry Ellis said...

What a fantastic interview! I love the title Monsterious! Thanks for sharing your writing process and all those great marketing tips. Very helpful!

Brenda said...

Love the title, synopsis and the covers. Creepy in just all the right ways. I'm a Twitter follower as well.

Terry Nichols said...

Great interview! Really appreciate the description of the marketing efforts.

Liza said...

Mark, this sounds like it's going to be a terrific series. I so appreciate all the hard work it took to get where you are now. Thanks for sharing all this terrific info.

Natalie, as always thanks for the interviews and all you do for fellow writers. Wishing you the best!

Olga Godim said...

I also like revising. Sometimes, it sparks new ideas.

Melissa said...

Matt's books sound great! Best of luck!

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Matt's covers are cute!

"I also feel good when I see myself growing as I rework chapters and see them improve."

Yes! Sometimes opening up an earlier project really shows us how much we've grown.

diedre Knight said...

Hi Natalie!
I absolutely have to read the Monsterious Series! Wonderful interview.
Being able to see and gauge your own creative growth is really something - good for you! Take your time. Enjoy the process ;-)

Carol Kilgore said...

Writing always makes me feel good. If I go for a short period of time without writing something, I get really crabby.

Rebecca M. Douglass said...

Writing--and revising--happen at the pace they happen. You can up that a bit with more time at the computer, but I think there's an upper limit! I do love the feeling I get when I'm really in the groove and feel like I'm writing good stuff, or hammering out the flaws to make for much better prose.

Meka James said...

I also revise as I go. I tried to stop doing that as it slowed down my already slow process, but I have to know where I've been (so to speak) to know where I'm going since I am a pantser.

gail fontana said...

What a great interview with Matt McMann. All kinds of tips and tidbits in there! Thank you for sharing.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Natalie - I'm glad you find joy in those chapters!
And Matt's book sounds like a great read!

T. Powell Coltrin said...

This is how I feel. Excitement like happiness are fleeting. Contentment is where I want to be with writing and life. I would like to feel excited about writing each time, but in reality I just want to continue to like writing, and I do.

The book looks so good.

Also, thanks for the tip. I will bookmark it.


Kate Larkindale said...

I'm sorry you don't get as excited about our writing as you used to. That must be kind of a bummer.

Greg Pattridge said...

Quite the bumpy ride to reach publication. I'm so glad Matt has the perseverance gene that made it happen. I'm looking forward to reading this series. Great interview!

Samantha Bryant said...

It can be hard to keep yourself moving, especially when an idea takes a long time to come to fruition. I hope you keep going!

Sue said...

The book sounds fun. And I enjoyed learning about his journey.

CJ Penko said...

Creepy MG reads are my first true love. I'm going to eat these up; I know it. Congratulations- they look and sound wonderful!

Jemima Pett said...

Sounds like the best new middle grade series I've seen for some time!
Keep up the good work :)
Thanks for this interesting IWSG combo today, Natalie :)

Kasey @ The Story Sanctuary said...

This is a great interview-- Lots of helpful info here. I love the idea of writing 1K a day and editing the previous day's work first to keep in the flow of the story. I'm not sure I could make that work with my current schedule, but I'm keeping it in my back pocket for the future! Thanks for sharing this. :)

tetewa said...

Congrats on the release, sounds like a good one!

Aziza Evans said...

looks good

Beth said...

Ditto about great interview. Your questions spark insightful answers, Natalie. Glad I went back to read your Wednesday post!

polly said...

Congratulations on what looks like a great book!

Judy Bryan said...

Great interview! I'm excited about this new creepy series - my favorite kind of read. Congratulations, Matt!!