Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Caroline Trussell Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 5/20/2024
  • Jenna Satterthwaite Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/10/2024
  • Bethany Weaver Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/26/2024

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.

On Plotting Out and Marketing a Paranormal Thriller: Interview With Stacy Stokes and The Darkness Rises Giveaway and IWSG Post

Happy Wednesday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have author Stacy Stokes to share about her new YA paranormal thriller The Darkness Rises. I love thrillers and fantasy/paranormal stories set in a contemporary world like Stacy’s new book, and I am looking forward to reading it.

Here’s a blurb of Darkness Rises from Goodreads:

A gripping speculative thriller perfect for fans of Lauren Oliver and Ginny Myers Sain, about one girl with the power to see death before it happens--and the terrible consequences she faces when saving someone goes wrong.


Whitney knows what death looks like. Since she was seven, she’s seen it hover over strangers’ heads in dark, rippling clouds. Sometimes she can save people from the darkness. Sometimes she can’t. But she’s never questioned if she should try. Until the unthinkable happens—and a person she saves becomes the perpetrator of a horrific school shooting.

Now Whitney will do anything to escape the memory of last year’s tragedy and the guilt that gnaws at her for her role in it. Even if that means quitting dance—the thing she loves most—and hiding her ability from her family and friends. But most importantly, no one can know what really happened last year.

Then Whitney finds an ominous message in her locker and realizes someone knows her secret. As the threats pile up, one thing becomes clear—someone wants payback for what she did. And if she’s going to survive the year, she must track down whoever is after her before it’s too late.

Before I get to Stacy’s interview 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: Victoria Marie Lees, Kim Lajevardi, Nancy Gideon, and Cathrina Constantine!

Optional Question: How do you deal with distractions when you’re writing? Do they derail you?

Before I answer the question, I want to share some news about my job. A miracle occurred a few weeks ago and I got a raise after 10 years. I write on contract for this web marketing firm, so I know contractors don’t get raises often or at all. I’m grateful that I got one because I can make a decent hourly rate writing now. And even though it isn’t as creative as writing stories, I’ve already made over $100,000 over the years at my job where I get to write almost all of the time. The raise has made me feel a lot better about my job.

Since I live alone and work at home, I don’t really have that many distractions unless I create them. I learned long ago as a busy lawyer not to get distracted when I’m working. So it’s not really a problem for me. Once I get going on writing an article for work or work on my manuscript, I can stay pretty focused. y bigger problem is volunteering too much with the community theatre group I'm on the board of and not leaving enought time for my writing and myself. 

Interview With Stacy Stokes

Hi Stacy! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

First, thank you so much for having me! I’ve been a longtime follower of your blog and am thrilled to be here. Your agent spotlights were such a tremendous help to me when I was querying—thank you.

As for me, I grew up in a house full of readers. My mom was never without a book (she used to carry paperbacks in her purse) and as a kid much of my summer was spent inside the library. I started writing stories when I was six, and when I was in sixth grade tried my hand at writing my first novel. It was terrible and I don’t think I made it past a few chapters, but it was the beginning of a lifelong quest to write and publish books.

My mom’s favorite author was Stephen King and I was waaaaaay to young the first time I poked my head inside the book IT after finding a dog-eared copy on the coffee table. It scared the crap out of me, but it also sparked an interest in thrillers and stories with paranormal bends. When I discovered the YA shelf at the bookstore it was like I’d come home—I read every single Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine book I could get my hands on, so it’s probably not a huge surprise that my preferred genre is speculative and paranormal thrillers.

After starting and stopping many an unfinished manuscript over the decades, in 2010 I finally completed one that I thought had publishing potential and made my first dive into the query trenches. It ultimately wasn’t the book that landed me my agent, but it was the book that taught me about revising and the importance of having good beta readers. From there, I joined a critique group and kept at it, and finally in the spring of 2021 my debut Remember Me Gone released with Penguin Random House. The Darkness Rises is my sophomore book with them.

2. I’m so glad to hear that Literary Rambles helped you in your agent search. Where did you get the idea for The Darkness Rises?

The initial idea for The Darkness Rises came when I was cleaning my apartment. Out of nowhere a line popped into my head: I was seven the first time I saw the darkness.

I knew immediately that I wanted to write a story about a girl who saw death before it happened in the form of a rippling black cloud, warning of danger. But beyond that initial nugget-of-an-idea, I had no idea how Whitney’s story would take shape.

Around the same time I was drafting the concept, news of another tragic school shooting broke. It was horrible, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It started to creep into my story and made me wonder about Whitney and her gift. What would have happened if she had been at that school the day of the shooting? Could she have saved her classmates? What if she knew the shooter? From there, the rest of the story started to fall into place.

Your Writing Process and How You Plot Out a Paranormal Thriller

3. It’s awesome that a random thought was the spark of inspiration for your story. I love that you’re combining two genres—thriller and paranormal. How did you decide on the paranormal elements to add to your story?

I usually start with the concept for a story first, and for my paranormal stories that always involves a vision for the primary magical element. I knew that Whitney’s power would involve seeing black clouds hovering over people’s heads, warning of danger, before I had anything else figured out. Once I had that initial idea, I started to think about interesting situations to put Whitney in that would test her ability and make her question her worldview.

4. How did you plot out Darkness Rises? Would you make any changes to your plotting process? If so, why?

I’ve historically been a panster, so there wasn’t much plotting in the first draft. I usually have a few key scenes that I know I’m writing towards, but beyond that I let the book find me versus spending time outlining.

That process has generally worked for me…until this book. It took me many, many, MANY drafts before I had a fully fleshed out story that worked. If I had to go back in time, I would have spent more time plotting the main beats before drafting. It would have saved me from a lot of floundering. I’m happy to share that with more recent projects I have become an outliner as a result.

5. I’m moving to being more of an outliner too. Thrillers have to be well-plot out, have surprising twists, and be a page-turner. I haven’t really found many resources on how to write one. Share some of your tips for writing a thriller and any helpful resources for learning how to write one.

My first piece of advice is to read as many thrillers as you can get your hands on as if they are textbooks—what works? What doesn’t? This will help you get a sense for pacing and the primary plot beats that work best for the genre.

Where a mystery focuses on a crime that’s already happened, a thriller spends most of the book focused on a crime or threat that hasn’t yet occurred. That means the primary ingredient for any thriller is a sense of impending doom. As the writer, you want the danger to feel ever present, or at least lurking just beyond the boundaries of the page.

A great way to do this is to add some form of a ticking clock. In The Darkness Rises, this happens when Whitney is told to confess by the anniversary of her school’s tragedy, which only gives her a week to figure out who’s threatening her before her secret gets outted to the world. From that point on, both Whitney and the reader feel the creeping sense of urgency as time passes without a clear resolution.

Another important element to thrillers is to have a red herring. I like to do this in two ways. First, I always have an annoyingly obvious red herring—someone who’s so obviously the primary suspect that the reader knows they can’t be the actual villain. Second, I try to make every character just a little bit suspicious.

Having an annoyingly obvious red herring does a few things. First, it gives the protagonist a place to focus their energy so they can start to piece together clues. Second, it can serve as a diversion tactic once the clues start to take shape. There’s always a point in the story when the reader starts to home in on other suspects, including the real villain. This is the moment when you want to point the reader’s attention back to the annoyingly obvious red herring. Drop a clue that puts them center stage as the primary suspect once again. It’s a fantastic “look over here, look over here!” misdirection tactic.

As for making everyone a suspect, it doesn’t take much—all you need is the slight hint of a motive and the readers will fill in the rest themselves. Perhaps the best friend is mad because the main character keeps blowing them off.  Maybe the parent keeps disappearing without explanation, or the beloved dad leaves his bank statement out revealing his money troubles. And why does that favorite teacher show up at the farmer’s market around the same time something sinister happens? Ask yourself: how can you create a moment where each character acts a little sus, thereby making them a potential suspect to the reader? The more suspects you have, the more readers will flip pages trying to piece together the clues before the big reveal.

6. These are great tips. Darkness Rises also deals with issues of gun violence and school shootings. How did you weave these issues into your story without becoming preachy?

I think the first-person narrative helped, because it put the story in Whitney’s voice and forced me to explore her experiences vs. my own opinions about gun violence.  Whitney, at her core, is a brave girl who suffered a terribly tragedy and now must face her worst fears. Except she doesn’t realize how brave she is. She doesn’t understand that she’s recovering from trauma, and that she doesn’t have to suffer alone. It takes her most of the book to finally understand these things, and to realize that she’s forcing herself to suffer by letting her past become a prison. Leaning into her journey is what I think helps the story avoid preachy territory.

I’m also fortunate to have had two amazing editors in Kelsey Murphy and Want Chyi. They saw what this book could be and pushed me to dig deeper and write a story that was both a page-turning speculative thriller and an emotional resonate narrative exploring the impact of gun violence on communities. I’m so proud of this book, and it’s all thanks to their tireless commitment to make it the best story it could possibly be.

Your Journey to Publication

7. Joanna MacKenzie is your agent. Share how she became your agent and your road to getting your first book, Remember Me Gone and The Darkness Rises, published.

I actually queried The Darkness Rises many years before Remember Me Gone. It was a much different book back then and was no where near ready for publication, let alone an agent, but of course I didn’t realize it until the rejections started to pile up. I decided to put that version of The Darkness Rises in a drawer for a while to focus on writing Remember Me Gone.

When Remember Me Gone was ready to query, the first thing I did was pull up the list of agents I had queried with The Darkness Rises since I planned to revise that dusty manuscript. Joanna was on that list, and I remembered that she had sent me a nice, personalized rejection. I also saw from her manuscript wish list that one of her favorite books was Bone Gap, which was a comp title for Remember Me Gone. I sent my first batch of queries to her and eight other agents. She got back to me with an offer two weeks later. After a round of revisions, we went on sub. My editor offered a two book preempt a few weeks after that.

The way it’s written makes it sounds like everything happened over night, but it’s worth noting that I have a pile of unfinished manuscripts, queried two other books and racked up heaps of rejections before signing with Joanna. This business takes hard work and patience—I don’t know any authors who haven’t gotten bumps and bruises in the trenches. For anyone reading this currently slogging through queries and submissions, hang in there. Keep writing. The only way to ensure your dream comes true is to keep going.

8. It’s not always easy to get a second publishing contract and grow your career after your debut book. What do you think helped you publish a second book? What advice do you have for debut authors on growing their career as an author?

I was fortunate that my debut deal included a second book. When my editor offered on my debut, Remember Me Gone, she asked to see a pitch and first pages for any other speculative fiction projects I had available. At the time, I was revising The Darkness Rises, so I polished up my pitch and first two chapters. Thankfully my editor loved the concept, and my debut book deal became a two-book offer with a pre-approved premise for the second book.

Every writer has probably heard the piece of advice that the best thing you can do when querying or on sub is to write the next book. That advice could not be truer, and it’s because I kept writing while in the query and submission trenches that I had a second book to put on the table. So as cliché as it is, I have to repeat the same advice—keep writing. It’s the only way you can set yourself up for a long-haul writing career.

Promoting Your Book

9. What did you do to promote your debut book? How have your marketing plans changed for The Darkness Rises? Why did you make those changes?

For my debut, I joined forces with some of my fellow 22debuts to do group promotion and outreach. By combining efforts we were able to pool our resources and have a broader reach. We also cobbled together a list of libraries, bookstores and book influencers from around the country and reached out to them collectively. We were able to generate early reviews and some good word of mouth that way.

For The Darkness Rises, I decided to partner with a PR team to help with outreach. In addition to writing, I have a toddler and a demanding day job, so I knew that it wouldn’t be possible to do the level of promotion I did with Remember Me Gone without getting some outside help.

10. You also have a career in marketing. How has that helped you develop your social media platform and promote your books?

In truth, my day job and book marketing are very different. That said, there is one universal truth—if people don’t know about your product, they can’t buy it.

With this in mind, I shameless use my personal social accounts to make sure friends and acquaintances are aware of my launches and lean on friends to help post and amplify my messages. I also invested significant time into my website and newsletter as a way to collect emails from interested parties that want to hear about future projects.

The outreach I did for my debut has also turned out to be an effective way to market The Darkness Rises—I’ve been able to follow up to folks who responded to my debut outreach with news of my upcoming release, which will (hopefully) result in some early interest and good word of mouth.

11. What are you working on now?

My current work in process is a middle grade horror book about a murderous shadow and the girl it wants as a playmate. As a kid, I loved scary stories and I’ve always wanted to try my hand at writing something that would have kept ten-year-old Stacy awake into the wee hours of the morning. I’m having a ton of fun trying something new!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Stacy. You can find Stacy at stacystokes.com and on IG @stacyastokes.

Giveaway Details

Stacy and her publisher are generously offering a hardback of Darkness Rises 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 11th. 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 Stacy 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

Today, May 1st I’m also participating in Come What May Giveaway Hop. My post will be live today at 9:00 am.  

Monday, May 6th I have an agent spotlight interview with Miriam Cortinovis and a query critique giveaway

Wednesday, May 8th I have an agent spotlight interview with Jenniea Carter and a query critique giveaway

Monday, May 13th I have a guest post by debut author Sandy Green and a giveaway of her MG novel in verse Ghost Writers: The Haunting of Lake Lucy

Wednesday, May 15th I have a guest post by Rose Atkinson-Carter, a freelance writer for Reedsy

Thursday, May 16th I'm participating in the Moms Rock Giveaway Hop 

Monday, May 20th I have an agent spotlight interview with Caroline Trussell and a query critique giveaway 

I hope to see you comment on my other post today and on next Monday!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Congratulations on the raise! I don't get easily distracted either as I've learned how to block things out.

Katherine said...

Darkness Rises looks great! khpinelake (at) gmail (dot) com

Jennifer Lane said...

Whoo hoo, congratulations on the raise--a nice validation of all of your hard work. I wish the best for Stacy.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Yeh on the raise! And good for you for being able to stay focused so much of the time. :)

Danielle H. said...

I can't wait to read this exciting book--the premise with the ticking clock is going to keep me reading way past my bedtime. The school shooter aspect puts this novel right into my mind, especially after all the tragedies recently. I'm making sure this book is on my Goodreads and wish list too. Congratulations on your publication success! I follow Natalie on Twitter and the author on Instagram. I shared this post on tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook.

emaginette said...

I find it way to easy to put myself on the back burner. Rarely do I put myself first. Now that I think about it, it might be time to change where I land in my day-to-day priorities, :-)

Anna from elements of emaginette

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Congratulations on the pay raise, Natalie. That must have been such a wonderful moment. Savour it. And thanks so much for co-hosting. I enjoyed Stacy's interview very much.

Jean Davis said...

I used to have that volunteering problem too. For many years in fact. I've cut way back these days. I figure I've banked enough karma points that I can skate by for a while so I can focus on my creative endeavors.

Congrats on the successful writing career! That's awesome!

Rebecca M. Douglass said...

Big congrats on the pay raise! I have to admit I've never learned to block stuff out (and parenting made that worse--a mom of small kids is hard-wired to keep part of the mind on what's going on around you). I'm good at procrastination, too. I keep meaning to write about that, but haven't gotten around to it.

Kate Larkindale said...

Woot woot for the pay rise! That will make a difference.

Nancy P said...

Sounds amazing! Following Twitter, gadget etc Bonne.Vivante, LifeSmartly, Positive.ideas.4youATgmail

Fundy Blue said...

Congratulations on that raise, Natalie! My post oil patch career was in elementary teaching, so I'm used to going from one thing to another never knowing what disruption could happen next. I find going back and forth between tasks in smaller amounts of time works for me. I have been watching the Trump trial, not because it's Trump so much, but because I've never had such insight into how a courtroom works, and it's fascinating. I'm always interested in what lawyers do. Congrats to Stacy on her release. Have a great May!

Samantha Bryant said...

Many congratulations on your raise. I'm glad they value your contributions enough to send a little monetary recognition your way! @samanthabwriter from
Balancing Act

cleemckenzie said...

Getting a raise in this inflationary time is huge. So happy for you. And I'm very happy for Stacy as well. Congratulations on your success.

Liz A. said...

Congrats on the raise. That always feels nice--more money in the paycheck.

The book sounds creepy. And timely. Great advice for writing a thriller.

Olga Godim said...

Congrats on your pay raise. You're lucky to get such a steady writing gig.

Sarah Foster said...

Congrats on the raise! That's great that you're able to stay focused when you're writing.

diedre Knight said...

Yay, you, Natalie! I'm sure the raise is well-deserved. And you're so right; it has everything to do with how you feel about yourself and your writing.

It sounds like discipline is the method to your writing magic, my dear ;-)

The Darkness Rises sounds excellent! I hope you know how inspirational your interviews are for all of us, Natalie. Thanks for sharing.

Gwen Gardner said...

Congratulations on a much-deserved raise!

For me, the distractions come from the internet. Lack of discipline, I suppose. But when I've set a daily/weekly word count, then I get things done!

Chris_Shestak_Author said...

MG horror seems to be where it's happening! Good luck!

Kim said...

Stacy’s book sounds amazing!

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Often we have to make the time to write. Not always easy.
I love the sound of Stacy's book!

Pat Garcia said...

Congratulations on your pay raise! That is just wonderful!
Have a lovely month.
Shalom shalom

Loni Townsend said...

Congrats on the raise! That's awesome! And I hear you about the community group. It seems other people like to provide lots of distractions for my life too.

Autumn said...

I too read IT way to young 😁 This thriller sounds like a great read!
akilley123@gmail.com follow twitter via @akilley

Michael Law said...

I followed your blog by email SidLaw0425@yahoo.com. I would like the Amazon Gift Card. I shared this on:

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Tonja Drecker said...

This sounds like such a good read, so I'm putting it on my list.
Congrats on your raise!

Katrina Dehart said...

Looks good! Definitely something I would read

tetewa said...

Would love to get a copy! tWarner419@aol.com

polly said...

The book sounds amazing. Congratulations! pkeintz@gmail.com

Megan said...

Enjoyed reading this interview :)