Natalie C. Parker – The Art of Critique and Madcap Retreats – Author Interview

I met Natalie while attending her Critique Camp a few years ago. She really helped me learn how to dig deeper with my critiquing skills. I am now able to be more specific with my suggestions, and tie them in to direct examples from the manuscript instead of making vague statements like, “the pacing is too slow” or “I can’t identify with this character”.

Natalie’s suggestions for my own manuscript pages were insightful and direct. She really knows her stuff. And such a delight to work with!

This year, she was one of our first guests for SCBWI OK’s monthly Twitter chat, #okscbwichat. Natalie talked about the art of critique. She so was fantastic. (You can read the Storify version of that chat here.)

Before we get to the interview, let’s learn about Natalie’s debut novel:

Beware the WildBEWARE THE WILD written by Natalie C. Parker

Published by: Harper Teen

Release Date: October 21, 2014

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal


Plot Summary:

It’s an oppressively hot and sticky morning in May when Sterling and her brother, Phin, have an argument that compels him to run into the town swamp — the one that strikes fear in all the residents of Sticks, Louisiana. Phin doesn’t return. Instead, a girl named Lenora May climbs out, and now Sterling is the only person in Sticks who remembers her brother ever existed.

Sterling needs to figure out what the swamp’s done with her beloved brother and how Lenora May is connected to his disappearance — and loner boy Heath Durham might be the only one who can help her. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

So fantastic! Natalie infuses her story with a thick layer of bayou atmosphere and local folklore that sets a fantastic stage for this eerie tale. It took me no time at all to care for Sterling, the main character, and I never got tired of the language. Such a fantastic read from beginning to end. I couldn’t put it down.

The Interview

NCP1hires_crop-195x300Valerie Lawson: You provide many fantastic services for your fellow writers – Critique Camp, Agented Author Hookups, and your latest project, Madcap Retreats – what inspired you to take on these projects? What can you tell us about them?

Natalie Parker: The writing community has been so supportive of my journey that anytime I find a way to give something back, I try to make it happen. That’s how each of the services you listed above came to be — I saw a need and decided I could do something about it.

We are told over and over again to find critique partners, but figuring out how to be a critique partner is a skill that can take years to develop. Critique Camp is a 2-week online course meant to help writers hone their analytical skills.

The Agented Author Hook-up is just that. I have a public application form for writers who are in that weird in-between space of having an agent and no sales. It’s a truly strange time in a writer’s life. When I have 10(ish) names, I connect a group and send them off to form a new, small, supportive community.

Ah, and Madcap Retreats. Well, frankly, I love writing retreats and my career would not have advanced quite as quickly without them. So much of the writing process is and needs to be solitary, but we also need places were we can come together and pool our wisdom about both the craft and the business. That’s what I’m doing with Madcap — creating space for writers to meet, network, and grow.

VL: I honestly wouldn’t have thought about an awkward growing stage. Who would, really, until you’re in it? We’re all so focused on getting to that agented level. So wonderful that you did. 

Putting together a writing retreat sounds like a monumental 

Actual location for upcoming Madcap Retreat event - workshop with authors Jennifer Mathieu and Julie Murphy.
Actual location for upcoming Madcap Retreat  – workshop with authors Jennifer Mathieu and Julie Murphy, “More Than a Beach Read”.

undertaking, where do you start?

NP: I start with the goal of the retreat. If it’s going to be loosely structure (mostly free writing time with a few group activities), then I go for a house with a beautiful view; if it’s going to be highly structure (mostly content-driven activities with a little free time), then I go for maximum comfort in the working spaces.

VL: That’s really smart. You’ll get the most productivity and enjoyment out of your environment either way.

Tell us about the road that led to your working with social scientists studying climate change. How do you balance this work with your writing? Has this career impacted your work as an author?

NP: That was sort of an accident…. I was restless in my job and cruising through openings at my same institution. The climate change job wasn’t advertised as such, but as a research administration position. When I interviewed for it and heard the kind of work they’d be doing, I knew I was in the right place.

Balancing that kind of career with a writing career has been difficult. The thing that’s been the hardest to learn is that one of them has to move more slowly and for all the usual reasons, that’s the writing for me. But I love all of my work and I want to love all of my work so slow is okay with me.

VL: Dealing with the slow pace of the publishing world is always challenging. It’s good that you’ve been able to accept that element.

Your first book, BEWARE THE WILD, was so delightfully creepy. I loved the spooky atmosphere the rural Louisiana setting provided, and the tale of vanishing and forgotten loved ones kept me up late reading to the end. What was the scariest thing that you ever experienced as a kid? Were you ever afraid of the dark, of anything under your bed or in your closet?

NP: I loved being afraid as a kid. But I think the scariest thing I every experienced was the movie Little Shop of Horrors. *shudders* It’s still deeply unsettling to me.

VL: That’s surprising. Some wouldn’t consider that a very scary movie. For me, I was traumatized by the movie version of Oliver! Some scene where he almost died? Really stuck with me when I was twelve. Guess it’s all about perspective.

Coming from a military family, you must have lived in many different places. Talk about the most interesting place you have ever lived. What did you like/hate most about it?

NP: We didn’t move as much as many military families. I was in Virginia for 12 years as a kid. Then, one day my mother made sushi and asked me how I’d feel about moving to Japan.

“Not great,” I answered, thinking surely she was just musing about the food.

“Well,” she said, and she said it very carefully. “Well, we are moving to Japan.”

So, the thing I hated most about it was moving there my freshman year of high school. But it’s where I met my best friend and partner, so I really can’t complain.

Also, once I got there, I loved EVERYTHING about it.


(Translation: I love Japan!)

VL: Ha! That would be quite a culture shock! So wonderful that you were able to embrace it.

Tell us a little about your teen years growing up. Like what was the worst job you ever had? Or what was the most embarrassing thing you experienced? Or what was the most memorable adventure you had with your friends?

NP: I should preface any stories I tell about my teen years with this: I am both a Sagittarius and a Gryffindor and I do not always make the safest choices.

But here is one.

Once, I was backpacking through Europe with my best friend and we were young college kids with no money. We were in Greece and we needed to get to Italy and to accomplish this feat required money. So we pooled our shrinking handful of coins and found a ship that would take us across the Adriatic Sea if we agreed to sleep on the deck out in the elements where the wind might sweep us overboard without anyone the wiser and we would be adopted by mermaids and never seen again…..

So, of course we did.

VL: OMG! I love that! Such great story fodder, and all because you just took a wild chance. 

What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

NP: I’m sort of ridiculous about Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie. It’s gorgeous, complicated, genderqueer science fiction and I cannot WAIT to read the other two.

VL: I absolutely loved your debut novel, BEWARE THE WILD. Tell us Behold the Bones coverabout your latest book, BEHOLD THE BONES, the second book in the series. How does it differ from your first book?

Ah! Well, BEHOLD is a companion and switches narrators from Sterling to her best friend Candy who has an incredibly low tolerance for anything that looks even remotely like hogwash, so when ghosts appear in Sticks and everyone can see them except for her, she’s both frustrated beyond belief and determined to get to the bottom of things. It’s very much in conversation with BEWARE, but with a bit more bite.

VL: Ooh! Skeptic gets mixed up in the supernatural. And more bite? Yes, please!

What can you tell us about what you are currently working on? 

NP: Mostly Madcap Retreats. And I’ve just sold an anthology called Triangles: The Points of Love which will include 15 new stories from YA authors all featuring some variation/ complication/ exploration of the love triangle trope. All the juicy details are at this link ;)

As for novels, I’m working on two young adult novels — one that deals with greek myth in the contemporary world, and one that’s set in my home stomping grounds of Gulfport, Mississippi.

VL: That all sounds exciting. I love a good anthology! And look at all of those great names! Should be interesting to see their different takes on the topic. 

Thanks so much for sharing with us, today. I look forward to your next book, and to spending some time at a Madcap Retreat in the future!

Learn more about Natalie C. Parker here.

Follow Natalie on Twitter here.

Follow Natalie on Tumblr here.

Learn more about Madcap Retreats here.

Guest Blog Post Where I Talk About…Cooking?

No, you haven’t landed in an alternate universe.

And for God’s sake, stop laughing. On second thought, I’m no tyrant, laugh if you must. It is rather funny.

I was asked to contribute a guest post by the lovely Brandi Barnett for her virtual potluck series about soups. “Sure!” I said. I may not be a domestic goddess by any stretch of the imagination, but soup I can handle. So hop on over to her blog of wonder and see what’s cooking. No doubt you will be surprised.