Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Bad Mom

I'm not the best mom (or the best blogger, clearly, but that's another post). I yell sometimes. I don't always serve vegetables. I avoid combing Lady's hair because I'm tired of the screaming. On the good days, I shake my head and tell myself that I'll do better, and on the bad days, I dissolve into a puddle of self-loathing who has to convince herself that she's still worth something.

I'll be the first to admit that motherhood doesn't come naturally to me. Well, some things come naturally--I dare you to hold a screaming baby that just got pulled out of your stomach and not fall instantly in love--but before I-gots was born, I'd never changed a diaper, fawned over a newborn, or read a book to a toddler. And I'd never wanted to. I babysat as a teenager because that was what teenagers in my neighborhood did, but the one and only time I had to babysit a baby, my mom had to come over and bail me out halfway through.

Now that I have kids of my own, infants don't intimidate me--but I still won't volunteer to hold them. And even though I have kids of my own, I sometimes wonder what I was thinking. Why I prayed so hard for kids I'm so bad at taking care of. Mothers are gentle, patient creatures who always put their children's needs above their own. They're not chemically unbalanced women who occasionally wish that they could trade their children in.

And yet they are because I am.

Being a mom is the hardest thing I've ever done. Every time I turn around, someone's peeing/yelling/fighting. There are no sick days, no vacations. Even if I manage to sneak away for a few days, I spend the whole time worrying that my mom won't know how to wrestle them into the bathtub or make their sandwiches just right. But being a mom is also the most gratifying. There is no amount of money/freedom/peace and quiet that can ever compensate for two sticky hands squeezing your cheeks and a slobbery mouth whispering in your ear, "I love you, Mom."

I've never met a mom who thought she was a good mom, but then, I've never met a kid with a hard-working mom who thought she was a bad one.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Book Recommendation: WHEELZ by Steven C. Fotheringham

When I tell people I write books, a lot of them tell me that they have a book idea or that they'd like to do that someday. No one ever tells me that they're writing one--except for Steve Fotheringham. And when Steve told me that his book was about his crazy-on-a-wheelchair son, I knew I had to read it.

As the father of WCMX (or wheelchair motocross, for the uninitiated), Aaron Fotheringham has done some amazing things. He's successfully landed multiple backflips in competition, served as a wheelchair stuntman in movies and TV shows, and toured the world with Nitro Circus and a host of charitable organizations. But it's his attitude that's truly remarkable. When a well-meaning preacher once assured him that he'd be able to walk after he was resurrected, Aaron's immediate response was, "What makes you think I'll want to?" Other kids had to leave their bikes outside as soon as they got to school, but he got to ride his bike everywhere he went.

Few people have lived a life as interesting as Aaron's, but what makes WHEELZ even more special is that his amazing story is told by his dad. Steve's also uniquely qualified to give us the inside scoop on all of the colorful characters who contributed to Aaron's success. I especially loved learning about Joe Wichert, the visionary recreation leader who brought skate parks to Las Vegas, and John and Mike Box, the wheelchair designers who made Aaron's first custom wheelchair and continue to outfit him with new ones.

WHEELZ affords its readers a behind-the-scenes look at Aaron's life and the rise of this bone-crushing sport. It's a one-of-a-kind book about a one-of-a-kind kid who never thought much of the fact that his legs didn't really work, and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

And the Winner Is...

Ella Zegarra!

Congratulations, Ella! Please e-mail me at kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com to let me know where I can send your copy of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING. And thanks, everyone, for celebrating DON'T VOTE FOR ME's release day!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Happy Book Birthday, DON'T VOTE FOR ME!

The summer started with a bang with THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING's release, and now it's ending with another bang as DON'T VOTE FOR ME comes out. This book is a lot more lighthearted (though THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING does have its lighter moments, too), but it occurred to me not long ago that, deep down, they're both about finding friends in unexpected places. I guess I feel strongly about that:)


"It's class president election time, and no one is surprised when Veronica Pritchard-Pratt is the only name on the list. She's the most popular girl in school, a social giant who rules the campaign every single year. David, for one, is sick of the tyranny--which he says. Out loud. When Veronica hears about this, she issues a public challenge to David. With his pride on the line, David accepts his fate and enters the race.

"But as the campaign wages on, and David and Veronica are also paired up for a spring musical recital, David learns this Goliath is more than just a social giant--and maybe deserves to win more than he does..."

For a reader's-eye view of DON'T VOTE FOR ME, check out the reviews over at Rebecca J. Allen (includes a hardcover giveaway!), Sahar's Reviews, and the Deseret News. (I used to deliver papers for the Deseret News, so it's like my life has come full circle.) And here are a few one-liners from around the industry:

"A comic romp that's also an enlightening quest for increased awareness and self-understanding"

"Van Dolzer keeps the tone light between David's wry observations, amusing friends, 
and the goofy predicaments he falls into"
--Publishers Weekly

"Readers looking for realistic middle-grade fiction will find David a likable guide
in a balanced lesson about ceding the spotlight"
--School Library Journal

You can order DON'T VOTE FOR ME from all the usual suspects:

And since I promised you a giveaway when THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING came out but still haven't followed through, I'll sweeten the deal. Leave a comment below, and you'll be entered to win a hardcover of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING--and if you mention that you've already ordered DON'T VOTE FOR ME, I'll give you an extra entry! THIS CONTEST IS OPEN INTERNATIONALLY and closes in two weeks, on Monday, August 17, at 11:59 p.m. EDT (or 8:59 p.m. PDT). I'll announce the winner the next day!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Three Opportunities to Win DON'T VOTE FOR ME

Clearly, Honey Bear should have been an architect.

There are a handful of DON'T VOTE FOR ME giveaways floating around the Internet right now, so instead of tweeting about them one by one, I thought I'd put all the links in one blog post:


Rebecca J. Allen

Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile

You can enter the blog contests anytime in the next month, but the Goodreads giveaway ends next week, so don't delay!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review: GO SET A WATCHMAN by Harper Lee

It's no secret that I love TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. (Case in point: the street names in THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING are my idea of a tribute.) It's been one of my favorite classics since I read it in the ninth grade, and when I reread it several years ago, my affection only grew. The scene in which Scout stands on Boo's porch and sees their summer through his eyes is one of the finest moments in American literature, and upon rereading it, I was literally moved to tears. So when they announced the publication of GO SET A WATCHMAN, MOCKINGBIRD's long-lost sister story, I felt an odd mixture of excitement, curiosity, and fear. My actual reading of the book stirred up even more impressions, the most pressing of which I've summarized below.

Atticus Finch's Transformation

When the first reviews materialized, I was shocked to learn that the Atticus Finch these reviewers had become acquainted with was a pale shadow of the character that had blazed so brightly in MOCKINGBIRD. But the Atticus Finch I found in the pages themselves was not nearly as terrible as those reviews had led me to believe. Yes, he joined the KKK in his younger years (and may have even been a member when he defended Tom Robinson). Yes, he's on a city council whose members spew hate and vitriol. But his reasons, which I won't spoil here, are much less inflammatory than these reviews suggested, and he lets those members spew their vitriol for one simple reason: because the Constitution says they can.

In my mind, Atticus's comments on African-Americans, which multiple reviews reported, are the most troublesome, for they reveal his personal beliefs. Do I agree with them? Absolutely not. But do they contradict the Atticus we came to know and love in MOCKINGBIRD? Unfortunately, I have to say no again. We get a fuller picture of his character in this follow-up, and it seems like he enjoys playing the part of benevolent protector. It's not bad to be benevolent or even to protect underrepresented people, but when you think these qualities make you better than the poor, dear souls you've taken it upon yourself to shelter, you run into trouble.

Of course, I can't complain too loudly, since I suspect that revulsion is just what Ms. Lee wanted us to feel. To make the point she ultimately wanted to make, Atticus had to fall.

From Contemporary to Historical

The book never mentions the year or even the Supreme Court case that has everyone up in arms, but based on context clues, I suspect the case in question was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which was handed down in the spring of 1954. Since MOCKINGBIRD was published in the summer of 1960, it's safe to assume that WATCHMAN is set sometime in this six-year interval. In other words, if WATCHMAN had been published shortly after it was written, it would have been a contemporary, but like MOCKINGBIRD, it makes a lot more of an impact as a historical.

History, as we know, is fond of repeating itself, and it's easier to swallow medicine in the past than in the present. Integration has strong parallels to the charged political issues of today, including and especially the issue of same-sex marriage. One conversation in particular between Atticus and Jean Louise had just as much to say on same-sex marriage as it did on integration, and I thought Jean Louise made important points on both sides of the debate. It goes to show that issues are issues precisely because there are thoughtful arguments on both sides, and yet we get so caught up in fending off the other side's attacks that we often forget to listen to what they have to say. (Even Jean Louise admits that her initial response to the decision was one of disagreement and defensiveness.)

Sequel or First Draft?

This has been perhaps the most contentious issue surrounding the publication of the book. Is WATCHMAN a sequel to or a first draft of our beloved MOCKINGBIRD?

In my opinion, it's neither.

To be fair, my judgment may be a little clouded, since I happen to think MOCKINGBIRD is one of the finest standalones ever penned, but hear me out. Sequels are continuations of a character's ongoing story, but it's clear that Ms. Lee never came back to WATCHMAN after she finished MOCKINGBIRD. As other reviews have pointed out, there are inconsistencies between MOCKINGBIRD and WATCHMAN, including one glaring difference in the description of the trial (which would have had a major impact on the final sequences of MOCKINGBIRD). To be a true sequel, WATCHMAN would have had to have been revised or at least proofread to match the narrative fleshed out in MOCKINGBIRD.

That raises the question of whether WATCHMAN is a draft of the novel that became MOCKINGBIRD, and though I believe it was a necessary stepping stone, I don't see it as a strict first draft. The story arcs bear no resemblance to each other (though WATCHMAN does include quite a few flashbacks to Jean Louise's days as Scout), and they're also separated by nearly twenty years. (Some might argue, as this article  does, that Tay Hohoff, Ms. Lee's editor, helped her craft the story she meant to tell all along, but since I don't know what goes on in Ms. Lee's head (and since Ms. Hohoff died more than forty years ago), I think it's impossible to say what Ms. Lee did or didn't intend.) Furthermore, I don't know about you, but I don't attach the first drafts of my manuscripts to the final proofs and stick both in a safety deposit box, which, according to multiple sources, is where WATCHMAN was discovered. First drafts are for obliterating, not for putting under lock and key.

(I should add the WATCHMAN is a lot less polished than MOCKINGBIRD, which adds credence to the theory I rejected above. WATCHMAN was quite tell-y, and while it's clear that Ms. Lee can write, it's also clear that her grip on craft wasn't as strong when she wrote WATCHMAN. If Ms. Hohoff encouraged Ms. Lee to show all the things she told in WATCHMAN, MOCKINGBIRD easily could have been the result. WATCHMAN also owes its emotional punch to MOCKINGBIRD, as the former's climax would have fallen flat without the latter's character development.)

If you feel squicky about reading a book Ms. Lee might or might not have sanctioned, I can respect that decision. But if you're basing your judgment on other reviews (including this one), I highly recommend you let the book speak for itself. I liked it much more than I thought I would, and it clearly got me thinking. And isn't that exactly what a book is supposed to do?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

What I've Learned from My First Few Author Events

Jennifer got the last copy at my first book signing ever.
I've been a published author for a little less than two months now, so I've had a chance to do my first few author events. I've done book signings at my local Deseret Book and Barnes & Noble, had a launch party at a popular independent closer to my hometown, and participated in a panel discussion at a nearby high school. Several people have asked me how those went, so I thought I'd put together a short list of things I've learned.

1. Foot traffic is your friend. The launch party was a more structured event, with a formal reading and question-and-answer period, so I didn't have as much of an opportunity to reach out to individual patrons. Also, the store was kind of out of the way, so they didn't get as many people who were just passing through. Structured events have their strengths--I could see a more established author doing really well in that environment--but I've found that I prefer the less structured stuff. I like being able to greet people as they come in and talk books with random strangers.

2. Stand, don't sit. These are few things less approachable than a forlorn author sitting behind a stack of books. There's something awkward about it that people naturally shy away from, so don't be that forlorn author sitting behind a stack of books! Stand up, stand out, say hi. The least they'll do is smile back and continue on their way, but they just might stop to chat.

3. Bookmarks break the ice. I know, I know, I get it--hand-selling your own book is one of the most uncomfortable experiences on the planet (though slightly less uncomfortable than sitting behind a hulking stack of them). A great way to break the ice is to have something small and inexpensive to hand out to the store's patrons. Bookmarks are the perfect something, since most of the people who frequent bookstores are, you know, book lovers. Now, some people will decline, but most people will take one, and some of those people will stop to ask what your book is about.

4. Be a guide, not a drill sergeant. So let's recap: When someone walks by in a bookstore, you smile, say hi, and offer them a bookmark. If they don't take it, you're done. But if they do take it, your pause and keep smiling your friendliest smile. If they walk away, you're done. But if they don't walk away, you tell them about your book. If they wish you luck and walk away, you're done. But if they don't walk away, they're probably about to buy your book.

In other words, it's like one of those old choose-your-own-adventure stories, but you're just the page-turner (or, more precisely, the instructions at the bottom of the page). You don't have to be pushy or obnoxious; you just have to give people a chance to keep reading the story with you. And some of them will. Then you'll finally get to take a seat so you can sign their book:)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Team Maries Wins "The Writer's Voice"

#TheWVoice wrapped up earlier this week, and I'm pleased to announce that #TeamMaries won with 21 official votes! Here's how those votes broke down:

#1: AN ADAGIO DARK AND LOVELY Lauren MacLeod, Erin Harris, Caryn Wiseman, Carrie Pestritto, Andrea Somberg, Kathleen Rushall, Courtney Stevenson
#2: WHISPERMAGE Carrie Pestritto, Andrea Somberg
#3: THE DREADFUL GOOD Caitie Flum, Erin Harris, Carrie Pestritto, Andrea Somberg, Courtney Stevenson
#5: TRUE NORTH Courtney Stevenson
#7: THE SHAPE OF THE MANGO Mollie Glick, Carrie Pestritto, Andrea Somberg
#8: THE LAST PAPER DAHL Erin Harris, Kathleen Rushall 

And THE LAST PAPER DAHL also picked up a request from NinjaHulk. Congratulations, Kristin!

To those of you who didn't get a vote--or didn't get selected by a coach--I just want to say that subjectivity is a huge part of this business and that everyone's tastes are unique. I know you know that, but it bears repeating. Writing is such a solitary pursuit, and at first, it feels like the only person who believes in you is you. But if you keep at it, if you keep taking those punches and dragging yourself back to your feet, you'll slowly find like-minded people who believe in you and your writing. I just found eight new people to believe in, and whether they got no votes or seven, I look forward to seeing their names on books someday.

Last but certainly not least, thanks to Anna-Marie McLemore, my wonderful guest coach, for helping me put together a great team and offering thoughtful feedback on their entries. Thanks to my indefatigable fellow coaches, Brenda Drake, Mónica Bustamante Wagner, and Elizabeth Briggs, for their hard work and dedication over so many weeks (and years). And thanks to everyone who participated, especially my awesome teammates, for taking a risk and putting yourselves out there. It takes a lot of courage to face rejection and keep coming back for more, and I admire your fortitude. Truly, I do.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Agent Round Starts NOW

#TheWVoice is a multi-blog, multi-agent contest hosted by Brenda Drake, Mónica Bustamante Wagner, Elizabeth Briggs, and me. We based the contest on NBC’s singing reality show The Voice, so the four of us selected projects for our teams based on their queries and first pages and coached the talented writers who wrote them as they polished their entries.

And TODAY we get to post our team members’ finished entries on our blogs!

Twelve amazing agents are going to read these queries and first pages, then vote for their favorites on Tuesday, June 23. Each vote will count as a partial or full request depending on how many votes the entry receives. If an entry receives 1 or 2 votes, those votes will count as partial requests. If an entry receives 3 or more votes, those votes will count as full requests.

Voting will stay open until noon EDT on June 24, at which point we’ll determine which coach’s team received the most votes (and let at least one ninja agent take a crack at the entries). That coach will win bragging rights for time immemorial, and everyone who received requests will be able to submit their materials to all the agents who voted for them. These votes represent serious interest in your project, so PLEASE DON’T ACCEPT AN OFFER OF REPRESENTATION BEFORE GIVING “THE WRITER’S VOICE” AGENTS AN OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE A COMPETING OFFER.

Our twelve amazing agents:

Caitie Flum of Liza Dawson Associates
Mollie Glick of Foundry Literary + Media
Erin Harris of Folio Literary Management
Lauren MacLeod of The Strothman Agency
Sara Megibow and Renee Nyen of kt literary
Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency
Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency
Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger, Inc.
Courtney Stevenson of Pippin Properties
Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency

And my eight amazing teammates' entries:

#TeamMaries #1: AN ADAGIO DARK AND LOVELY (YA historical)
#TeamMaries #2: WHISPERMAGE (YA fantasy)
#TeamMaries #3: THE DREADFUL GOOD (YA mystery)
#TeamMaries #4: JETSTAR FIGHTER PILOT (YA science fiction)
#TeamMaries #5: TRUE NORTH (MG contemporary)
#TeamMaries #6: MONTANA GOLD (YA adventure)
#TeamMaries #7: THE SHAPE OF THE MANGO (Literary fiction)
#TeamMaries #8: THE LAST PAPER DAHL (MG fantasy)

To read the other teams' entries, please use the following links:

Lastly, cheerleading is allowed, but only until Monday! We want to leave the comments free for the agents to vote on Tuesday. (Also, we will only allow, well, cheerleading and/or positive feedback. Please don’t critique the entries before the agents vote. On the flip side, please don’t try to convince the agents that they want to vote for one of your favorites or, you know, threaten to douse the agents in silly string if they don’t vote for your critique partner. This is a silly-string-free site.)

Happy reading!


Genre: MG fantasy
Word count: 63,000


Not long ago, eleven-year-old Cecelia Dahl had a little brother who was alive, a mother and father who didn't blame her for his death, and a pleasant house in Hungrig, Norway. She had a soul that lived inside her body, not a miserable blue one that ran out through a door in her chest. Before Tuesdays turned evil, Cecelia was made of skin and bones and happiness, not the crackling paper and sorrow now ripping her life to shreds.

Cecelia’s mother has left for The Land of Yesterday to find her ghost brother. Her house, a dark and crooked thing called Widdendream, absorbs her father into its walls as punishment for making her mother leave. Just before it eats her as well, two mischievous gnomes whisk her away in their hot-air balloon. The gnomes, soul-catchers by trade, claim they know the way to Yesterday, and also how to capture her runaway soul. Its absence is why she’s turning into a paper girl, but finding it won’t be easy. Now Cecelia must survive the harrowing voyage in order to find Yesterday and bring her mother and ghost-brother home. If she doesn’t, Widdendream will never give her father back, and Cecelia’s transformation to a full paper Dahl will be irreversibly complete.

First page:

On Monday of last week, Cecelia Dahl understood the world. She resided in Hungrig, Norway, in a crooked house called Widdendream. Daisies that bloomed in both grass and snow circled the shimmering lake outside her window. Sharp mountains loomed over her town. Dogs barked. Cats meowed. Cecelia’s midnight blue hair grew long and fast and cantankerous. Her skin was dark and bronze and oddly freckled, just like her mother’s. Widdendream loved its residents, as all good houses should, and Cecelia’s family loved her unconditionally. Indeed, on Monday of last week, these were all hardboiled facts.

Then on Tuesday of last week, Cecelia did the bad thing, and the world narrowed down to this: Tuesday hated Cecelia and Cecelia hated it back. 

Now that Tuesday had arrived once more, Cecelia couldn’t help but look over both shoulders as she sank into her desk. It felt like something terrible had its eyes focused on her.

“Cecilia?” Miss Podsnappery pushed up her horn-rimmed glasses. “Whatever do you call that instrument in your hand?” 

Every eye in class turned on Cecelia. Expressionless gazes traced her charcoal sweater and the black-and-gray-striped dress beneath it, judging her frayed tights and scuffed boots too, no doubt. Her teacher, bewildered as always, cast looming shadows. Cecelia forced a smile. She must keep her answer as succinct as possible, forgoing any miscommunications. Teachers were simple creatures, after all, and easily confused.