Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Bethany Weaver Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/26/2024
  • Rebecca Williamson Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 7/8/2024
  • Sheila Fernley Agent Spotlight Interview, Critique Giveaway, and One-Hour Zoom Call on 7/29/2024
  • Erica McGrath Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 8/12/2024

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated through the letter "K" as of 3/28/2024 and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for more information as I find the time to update more agent spotlights.

Debut Author Interview: Kellie M. Parker Interview and Thin Air Giveaway and IWSG Post

Happy Wednesday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have Kellie M. Parker here to share about her debut YA thriller Thin Air. I love YA thrillers and mysteries and can’t wait to read this one.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

Eight hours. Twelve contestants. A flight none of them might survive. A flight to Paris full of teenagers seeking opportunity turns deadly in this suspenseful, locked-door YA thriller. Perfect for fans of Diana Urban, Karen McManus, and Jessica Goodman.

Seventeen-year-old boarding school student Emily Walters is selected for an opportunity of a lifetime—she’ll compete abroad for a cash prize that will cover not only tuition to the college of her choice, but will lift her mother and her out of poverty.

But almost from the moment she and 11 other contestants board a private jet to Europe, Emily realizes somebody is willing to do anything to win. Between keeping an eye on her best friend’s flirty boyfriend and hiding her own dark secrets, she’s not sure how she’ll survive the contest, much less the flight. Especially when people start dying…

As loyalties shift and secrets are revealed, Emily must figure out who to trust, and who’s trying to kill them all, before she becomes the next victim.


Before I get to Victoria’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: Kim Lajevardi, Debs Carey, Gwen Gardner, Patricia Josephine, Rebecca Douglas and me!

Optional Question: The topic of AI writing has been heavily debated across the world. According to various sources, generative AI will assist writers, not replace them. What are your thoughts?

Before I answer the question, I want to let you know that my SCBWI webinar went really well. It was well-attended, and people said they found it helpful. I knew my script well enough that I didn’t need to print it out. And thankfully, I didn’t have a coughing attack while I was presenting. It was a good learning experience, and I feel much more confident about presenting at a conference or a webinar after doing this one.

I don’t think AI can or should be used to write manuscripts. However, I do think it could be useful in completing other writer duties, like finding comps, creating an outline, and drafting a pitch. There are probably other things it can help with and save time on that I’m not thinking of.

I already use AI in my job as a writer on contract where I write articles on areas of the law. I use it to draft my 325 to 1,300-word articles on general topics related to the practice areas my clients (lawyers) practice. I use it to create articles like: Steps to take after a car, How long do I have to file a lawsuit, How much is my claim worth, and What to do if you’re arrested for DUI.

I always do my own research and verify the content being written by AI is accurate, which is not always the case. I have to say that in general AI saves me time and work. As a writer on contract, I have no benefits and have not gotten a raise since I started working at my current job in 2015. So, this is a way to get a little raise and not work as hard. Like my job, I think AI has a place to help people save time and work less hard in their jobs. This would benefit writers too, who are very underpaid for their work.

Interview With Kellie Parker

Hi Kellie! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

Thanks for having me! I’m a part-time writer and full-time mom of four kids in west Michigan. I was an avid reader and writer as a child but never considered writing as a career option when I was in school. Instead, I studied biology in college and went on to earn a Master’s degree in nautical archaeology (the study of shipbuilding and shipwrecks, and yes, it’s fascinating but also very academic). After my first baby was born, I decided to stay home with him and ended up homeschooling my kids for several years. Writing became my “brain break,” and I fell in love with it all over again. After some false starts and early attempts, I buckled down and decided to see if I could get published. My agent signed me after a revise and resubmit on a YA fantasy. Neither that manuscript nor my second that went out on sub sold, but the third time was the charm for Thin Air.

2. Where did you get your idea for Thin Air?

While my second YA fantasy manuscript was floundering on submission, my savvy agent, Ali Herring, suggested I consider writing a thriller. I’d already successfully sold a couple of adult romantic suspense books to Harlequin under a pen name, so I knew a thing or two about suspense. She pitched me the idea of a group of students on a class trip trapped with a killer on a plane. I mulled it over, but I didn’t get excited about the concept until I pulled some ideas from one of my favorite books growing up, The Westing Game. That book got me thinking about creating a diverse cast of characters each with their own secrets, competing against each other for a prize. The rest of the story sort of fell into place from there.

Your Writing Process

3. That’s awesome that you’d already written suspense stories when Ali suggested it. What was your plotting process like when drafting Thin Air? What advice do you have for writers who want to write a thriller but aren’t sure how to plot it out?

Ha ha, I’m probably not the best person to ask, because my natural writing style is to “pants” my way through the story. As anyone who has written a thriller can tell you, that doesn’t work very well with mystery plots—unless you love rewriting multiple drafts while you try to get the story right. Back when I was unagented and working on my first fantasy manuscript, that’s exactly what I did. But I’m happy to report that I’ve reformed my ways and become more of a “plantser” now.

When I start brainstorming a new manuscript, I love using a notebook and pen. I’ll write a short pitch or blurb to nail down the heart of the story and make notes on the characters. Since Thin Air has a large cast, I created a Pinterest board and found pictures for each character. I also created a spreadsheet listing what school they attended, physical descriptions, and notes about their secrets and character arcs. My last step before I start writing is to create a simple one-page outline that lists the major plot points. This outline acts as a “skeleton” to give structure to the story as I write.

My biggest advice is to read mysteries and thrillers, or at least plot summaries of them, so you can learn what works and what doesn’t as you’re thinking through your own plot points and characters. Having a solid foundation will make revising so much easier.

4. I can imagine that being a pantser wouldn’t work well. Your new way of plotting would be a way I could outline a mystery because I can’t write a complete outline either. Writing a thriller and mystery sounds complicated to plot out. Share three or four tips on how to write them and any craft books you used that helped you write yours.

As I’ve mentioned above, I’ve read a lot of mysteries and thrillers—starting with Nancy Drew back in second grade—so I’ve learned some of the basics: open the chapter with a hook, end the chapter on a cliffhanger, create a believable red herring or two, drop in enough clues that readers have an “aha” moment when the killer is revealed but not so many that they guess right away. My subconscious mind handles a lot of these details for me as I’m drafting. Sometimes even I’m surprised! I love seeing how something I planted earlier in the story suddenly becomes crucial at just the right moment. I think a lot of that innate feeling that something just needs to happen or “feels right” for the story comes from extensive reading and from practice writing.

I didn’t use any craft books specific to writing mysteries, but I would highly recommend K.M. Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors website. She has an excellent series of blog posts that go through plot structure and the basic plot points. I pored over these in my early days of learning the craft and then applied my growing knowledge to identifying structure in books and movies. It helped so much with learning how to plot! Two other go-to books include Lisa Cron’s Story Genius (for understanding how characters drive stories) and Rayne Halls’ The Word-Loss Diet (for tightening your writing).

5. Thanks for the recommendations. Good mysteries and thrillers have complex, sympathetic protagonists. Share a bit about Emily and how she grew as a character as you wrote her story.

Emily is seventeen and heading into her senior year of high school. Like the other characters, she attends an elite boarding school, but unlike them, she’s on a full needs-based scholarship. Her mother, who is divorced, recently lost their house and is living in her car while she tries to find work. Emily will be living in the car with her during the summer while she’s not at school—a secret she’s keeping from everyone else.

I knew heading into the story that Emily would have some secrets, and as I was thinking about her motivations and how to develop her as a character, I knew I wanted to pull in this topic of family homelessness, both to make her more sympathetic and to bring attention to a social issue that maybe doesn’t get as much time in the public eye as it should. As I wrote the first draft, I was able to delve deeper into the key relationships in her life and how her decisions have affected them. She makes some important realizations during the story, and I loved seeing those moments fall into place. The book puts her through the wringer, but she comes out a stronger, better person for it.

Your Road to Publication

6. Ali Herring is your agent. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

I first queried Ali with a YA fantasy manuscript in 2018. She sent me back a very kind pass, with the offer to look at new work or even the same manuscript if I did some major revisions. Using some books she recommended (Story Genius and The Word-Loss Diet, mentioned above), I reworked the opening of the story and tightened the writing considerably. To test out my changes, I sent another round of queries to other agents and started to get significantly more requests than I had before.

In the meantime, I’d also written an adult inspirational romantic suspense and submitted it to Harlequin. When they made an offer, a friend of mine (who was one of Ali’s clients), mentioned me to her and suggested I query her again. Now that I’d revised my YA fantasy with apparent success, I queried her with it again in spring of 2019. She loved it and offered me representation only a few weeks later! After seeing her investment in her clients, and me as only a querying writer, I was delighted to sign with her.

After revisions, we sent the manuscript on sub that summer. There were a couple of close passes, but no offers. I had another YA fantasy nearly finished, so we took it out in the spring of 2020—unfortunately, the week before everything locked down. When it became clear the timing wasn’t right for that one either, Ali suggested I think about writing a YA thriller. I wrote Thin Air in the late summer/ fall of 2020, and we took it out in spring of 2021. Our first offer came in three days after we sent it out, and after going back and forth with editors, we accepted the offer from Razorbill two weeks later.

7. How did working with Ali on your manuscript before going on submission make your story stronger?

Ali has a great eye for finding things that need to be changed to make a story more sellable. She was super excited about Thin Air and the pitch I’d put together, but she helped me flesh out the ending more (it was a little too abrupt and less twisty in the first draft), tighten the pacing, and refine Emily’s character to make her more likable. With the secrets she’s keeping, Emily does walk the line toward being unlikable, and Ali’s suggestions really helped draw out her voice and make her more sympathetic.

Marketing Your Book

8. How are you planning to celebrate the release of your book and promote it after its release? What made you decide on your plan?

Okay, I have to admit, my launch day plans aren’t quite what I originally envisioned. Thin Air’s release date happens to fall in the middle of my kids’ Fall Break from school, so I will be spending that week celebrating on a mother-daughter cruise with my thirteen-year-old and some friends of ours. When you’re trying to coordinate travel plans, you only have so many available dates to work with. At least it will give me a chance to take some pictures of the book on an airplane!

I will have a traditional book launch when I get home, which I’m really looking forward to. I’ll be in conversation with bestselling YA author Erin A. Craig at Schuler Books, an independent bookstore close to my house. It’s a dream come true to have my book launch there! I’m also active on social media and my author newsletter on Substack, so I’ll be promoting the book online. My publicist is coordinating some virtual events and in-person school events as well. Thin Air is written more for teen readers than crossover adult readers, so I’m excited to be able to reach out to my target audience.

9. I live on the other side of the state. I wish I could come to your book launch. How have you been connecting with writers, readers and librarians? What advice do you have for writers on how to connect with them?

When I first joined Twitter (now “X”) in 2016, it had a wonderful, active writing community. I met several writers there, including some who’ve become critique partners and friends. It did take a lot of participation, though, in chats, pitch events, and just commenting and interacting with others in a genuine way. With how that platform is changing, writers might have more success now on Instagram or even in Facebook groups. I’ve also connected with local writers by joining a writing group in my area. Another great way to meet people in person is to attend conferences, whether big national ones or local ones.

For readers and librarians, I’ve had the most success meeting new people on Instagram. There’s a very active, welcoming “bookish” community on that platform. One of the perks of working with a bigger publisher is that they helped me out in this area by sending advance reader copies to interested book influencers. ARCs of the book were also made available on Edelweiss and Netgalley, allowing librarians to read early copies. And submitting the book for trade reviews can also help garner attention from librarians. 

So much of publishing is about networking, so I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get to know people. I know this is tough for a lot of writers, since we tend to be introverted, but you’ll be so thankful later in your journey when you have friends to cheer you on and encourage you, and readers who are excited to get their hands on your book.

10. That’s such great advice. What are you working on now?

I can’t share details at this time, but my current project is another YA thriller. Not locked-door this time, but set in a fascinating location with some survival and speculative elements.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Kellie. You can find Kellie at www.kelliemparker.com, on Substack at https://kelliemparker.substack.com/, on Twitter and Instagram at @kelliemparker, and Facebook at @kelliemichelleparker.

Giveaway Details

Kellie is generously offering a hardback of Thin Air 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 October 14th. 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 Kellie on her 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.

Upcoming Interviews, Guest Posts, and Blog Hops

Thursday, October 5 I’m participating in the Howl-O-Ween Giveaway Hop

Monday, October 9 I have an interview with debut author Sean O’Brien and a giveaway of his MG historical White House Clubhouse

Wednesday, October 11 I have an agent spotlight interview with Lane Clarke and a query critique giveaway

Monday, October 16 I have an agent spotlight interview with Jane Chun and a query critique giveaway and am participating in the Silly Pumpkin Giveaway Hop

Monday, October 23 I have an interview with debut author Elisa Stone Leahy and a giveaway of her MG contemporary Tethered to Other Stars

Hope to see you on Thursday!





Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

You're using AI much the same way I am: to assist me with tasks I find time-consuming.

Congrats to Kellie on the release!

Cathrina Constantine said...

Congrats on your presentation and for not having a coughing fit!

I don't know much about AI, but I'm glad it's helping you in your work.

Have a great month! And thank you for co-hosting!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Since you haven't received a raise in so long, that's nice you can use AI to help lighten your load.
Thanks for co-hosting today!

Liza said...

Glad your webinar went well, Natalie. Congratulations Kellie on your debut. Love the title and the premise.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Great interview with Kellie. Much luck to her on her debut YA thriller Thin Air.

AI is just another technology tool. It will be as good or bad as people make it.


Jemi Fraser said...

Locked door mysteries are so much fun. Thin Air sounds terrific!

I haven't tried AI yet. Maybe one day - but I'm glad it's helping you!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

AI can certainly give you a good starting point for articles but you do have to take time to make sure the sources are accurate.

Jemi Fraser said...

Also - YAY on the presentation - so glad it went well for you!!

Nancy Gideon said...

Great interview, Natalie! Good for you, Kellie, for going the distance. A good agent is also a blessing not to be under appreciated. I don't read a lot of YA but when you tack "thriller" onto it, I'm so there!!

Loni Townsend said...

Thanks for cohosting! I'm happy your conference went well. That's awesome!

Pat Garcia said...

I am so happy about your webinar going very well. I wondered how it went.
Take care, and have a lovely month of October.
Shalom shalom

Jean Davis said...

Glad your presentation went well! I'm not good at memorizing talks so I always have notes. Impressive that you can do it with out them.

Using AI for researching makes more sense than using it for fiction.

cleemckenzie said...

Great answer to this month’s question, Natalie. And I so glad your presentation went well.

Congratulations to Kellie on her book. It seems she’s been preparing to write a mystery for a very long time.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Congratulations to Kellie! Your book sounds like a fun read.

Natalie - I agree with AI being used as a tool. I don't think it will ever replace the creativity of humanity.
And congratulations on your SCBWI class!

Sonia Dogra said...

Hi Natalie. Thank you so much for these informative interviews on your blog. Every time I'm here, I take back useful lessons in writing. Congratulations to Kellie! I'm with you on the AI bit. No, it cannot be as creative as us humans.

Patricia JL said...

I've heard a few people say AI has been helpful with their job. My husband is one of them. For fiction, I feel like it's adding an extra step of work, so I'm not sure how useful I'd find it for the writing process. But editing or marketing, I've heard of uses that sound very helpful.

Computer Tutor said...

My mind is wide open about generative AI and writing. I don't see how it could effectively offer an outline, but maybe a pitch if you provided enough background. I'm eager to see where this goes. Glad your presentation went well!

Debs Carey said...

Thank you Natalie for sharing how you use it - that's really useful information. I've yet to dip my toe into AI, mostly because of an insufficiency of time, but should that change, it's reassuring to have your experience of it to take with me.

@DebsDespatches posting today from Fiction Can Be Fun

Lynn La Vita said...

As I read more and more about AI, it was interesting to learn how you use the app to lighten the load. I'm stunned you haven't been given a raise since 2015. Excellent interview.
Thanks for co-hosting our Wednesday blog hop.
Cheers @ Lynn La Vita

Rebecca M. Douglass said...

Nice interview. I had to smile at the comment about learning the hard way to plan and plot--I went through the same thing. And every time I short-cut the process (get all excited and just start writing) I end up with a mess. Eventually I'll learn.

I am intrigued by your list of things AI could help a writer do, as those marketing-aimed tasks (blurbs, comps, etc) are the ones I really struggle with.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Congrats on your presentation. I hope you had fun. I see the use of AI in nonfiction writing. I hope it never figures out how to do fiction in a way that competes with humans.

Sherry Ellis said...

I am so glad your SCBWI presentation went well! Yay for not coughing!

I agree that AI can be used to assist writers and give ideas, but it should never replace the book-writing process.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Glad to hear the webinar went so well! And excellent on the increased confidence. :)

Beth Camp said...

Your thoughtful comments on practical ways to use AI to support some writing tasks are helpful. And, I loved the interview with Kellie Parker, especially her discussion of how she writes. Looking forward to reading her Thin Air!

Olga Godim said...

Natalie, I think your estimation of AI future as a digital assistant to creative people is realistic and there is no need to panic (prematurely).

C.D. Gallant-King said...

Nice to hear some sober, positive thoughts about AI-assisted writing.

And congrats to Kellie. I LOVE the cover of her book!

emaginette said...

AIs do help us everyday whether we know it or not. Learning to use it as a tool is something I'd be interested in. Never writing a synopsis again would be reason enough to throw a party, IMO. hehehe

Anna from elements of emaginette

PJ Colando said...

It's great that your seminar went well and that AI has great purposefor your contract writing.

Further, your support of other writers is open and abundant - kudos to you!

Book Blurby said...

Love hearing about another pantser's writing process! Thanks for another thoughtful interview, Natalie. Kellie, so excited to read your debut!

J.Q. Rose said...

So happy to hear your conference went well and has given you the confidence to plunge into more!! Loved the interview with Kellie, a fellow West Michigander. She gave in-depth answers to your questions.

diedre Knight said...

Hi Natalie!
Wow, sounds like Kellie’s got a fantastic new read coming out! She’s had such a fascinating journey.
It's good to hear about your new project and how the webinar went. I knew you’d knock it out of the park ;-)
I appreciate your thoughts on this AI dilemma. While I don’t think it will ever replace human writers, you remind us that it’s not all bad.
Thank you for co-hosting!

Chelly Writes said...

Great interview. Thin Air sounds fantastic. I can't wait to read it!!!

Megan said...

This book looks awesome (not entering the giveaway) :)

Arlee Bird said...

All the best to Kellie and her writing endeavors.

I don't know much about AI used in writing, but my computer access has been so limited over the past year that this issue about AI hasn't been something I've given much thought to.
However, considering the demands for higher wages at restaurants, they might have to resort to more AI and less human help. AI is not going to complain and it will likely do a better more efficient job at doing food industry work. I think a lot of people are pricing themselves out of a job when they keep demanding more. It doesn't matter much how much people make at their jobs if most people can't afford what they are offering.


Jen said...

My husband uses AI in much the same way with a creative project he's involved with. Until he started using it, I was adamantly against it but now I see that it does have it's uses. I still haven't used it; I've always been a bit scared of technology!

Thanks for co-hosting today!

Sandra Cox said...

Yay! So glad the webinar went well.
Congrats to Kellie on her release.

Denise Covey said...

It sounds like you make AI work for you. Well done, And I'm glad your SCBWI webinar went well.

Carol Kilgore said...

I agree about non-creative uses for AI.

Carol Baldwin said...

This book sounds amazing. I also agree about non-creative uses of AI.

Miffie Seideman said...

I realy struggle with AI. I agree it shouldn;t be used for writing, but no matter how it is used right now, I feel like it is a slippery slope. It will become easier and easier to validate it's use in wider scope. I love Kellie's title and the book pitch. Introgued to read it myself!

Diane Burton said...

So glad your webinar went well and that it gave you confidence. Thanks for cohosting this month.

traveler said...

Congratulations on your presentation and Thin Air which sounds captivating. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

Samantha Bryant said...

Sounds like you've found some good uses of AI to support your work. I look forward to seeing how the ethics of the whole technology settle out. @samanthabwriter from
Balancing Act

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

I love that you use AI already in your job. But it's also that you verify the content written by AI. ;)

Thin Air sounds like a great read!

Melissa Miles said...

Great interview! This thriller sounds amazing and I'd love the chance to win a copy.
Ali seems like a great agent to work with. I'm on sub for the first time, and reading about your journey has been super helpful! Thank you.

Kimberly Yavorski said...

Thanks for a great interview and some useful new tips

John Winkelman said...

"...I always do my own research and verify the content being written by AI is accurate, which is not always the case."

Exactly! I am a programmer, and have played around with using ChatGPT to write some simple functions and algorithms. It produces some pretty good code, but never the exact same code twice. To parallel your comment about writing on legal topics. I can see where using ChatGPT to write e.g. a paragraph at a time, rather than a full document, could be a great time-saver. Get a paragraph, edit the paragraph, feed it back in and say "Based on this, write the next thing." That would keep the 'bot from wandering too far off-track.

Danielle H. said...

I love reading thrillers and mysteries and have this exciting book on my Goodreads TBR. I follow both Natalie and the author on Twitter and Instagram, and follow the author on Facebook and Pinterest. I shared this on Facebook, Twitter, and tumblr.

Valinora Troy said...

Great interview, and I'm sorry I'm not eligible for the giveaway! Best of luck to Kellie, Thin Air sounds a super read!

Kate Larkindale said...

I agree that using AI to help with work chores is a huge time saver. Boring, generic things like job descriptions and health and safety plans can be so time consuming to write, but super quick and easy to adapt to be fit for purpose once the AI has spat them out.

Kim Lajevardi said...

Congrats, Kellie!

tetewa said...

Congrats on the release, I enjoy this type of read! Would love to get a copy!

Autumn said...

I love that the author was inspired by The Westing Game, because that book is great!
Following, akilley123@gmail.com

J Lenni Dorner said...

Thin Air looks like a great book. Excellent post.

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” ― Sylvia Plath

J Lenni Dorner (he/him 👨🏽 or 🧑🏽 they/them) ~ Speculative Fiction & Reference Author and Co-host of the April Blogging #AtoZchallenge

polly said...

Looks like a great book! Best of luck with it!

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

I like the premise of the book.
I'm using AI to help with folklore research on topics that aren't mainstream -- especially to get through all the older books on Gutenberg, etc. It really helps with cutting down on time spent on that side of research :-)
Ronel visiting for IWSG day Keeping the Muse Alive

Leela said...

I'm an email subscriber.