Monday, March 2, 2015

When You Don't Look Like Your Dead People

My maternal grandparents, Jose Junius Ramos and Elsie Marie Sorenson, are two of my heroes. They met in 1950 at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he was stationed as a special agent with the Counter Intelligence Corps and she worked as a secretary. They eloped a year later (to Nevada, no less--woo!).


In many ways, they were polar opposites. He was the oldest of nine children; she was an only child. He was raised in a staunch Catholic home; she was brought up in an inactive Mormon one. He was born in the Philippines and traveled around the world during the war; she was born in Utah and, as far as I know, never left it until after they were married. But they had a strong marriage and spent many happy years together until she died in 1980.


I know they must have faced more than a little prejudice, but I, for one, am grateful for their courage and sacrifice. Their example has taught me so many things--in fact, I owe one of the subplots in THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING to their story--and I've always been proud of the racial and cultural heritage I inherited from both of them.

As I kid, I loved filling in the bubbles for the demographic section on standardized tests. They let you fill in as many as you wanted, so I'd happily mark "White," "Asian," and "Pacific Islander." My adoptive grandfather was Filipino (and my birth father was part Filipino and part Hawaiian), so I didn't think twice about calling myself all three.

But as I got older, I gradually stopped marking "Asian" and "Pacific Islander." It wasn't that I was ashamed--that couldn't have been further from the truth. It was that I didn't feel like I could claim those pieces of myself because I didn't LOOK Asian or Pacific Islander. Sure, I had brown hair and brown eyes, and my skin tone was somewhere between white and olive, but many of my classmates could have said the same thing. Though I was technically Asian and Pacific Islander, I didn't feel Asian and Pacific Islander enough.

The truth is, I still don't. I was filling out an author questionnaire for Putnam the other day, and like those old standardized tests, it asked if I was of African American, Hispanic, or Asian heritage. At first, I just answered "No." But as I was reading back over my answers, I changed it to "Sort of. My biological father was part Filipino, and my adoptive mother's father was full Filipino." Then I realized how ridiculous that sounded and changed my "Sort of" to "Yes."

If there's one thing I've learned from my grandparents, it's to be true to yourself.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Worst

It probably won't surprise you that I was a high-strung student. School was something I was very good at, and I took it VERY seriously.

That said, my grades weren't perfect. The first term of my freshman year, the last assignment in biology was to turn in our binders. We were supposed to organize our papers, create dividers and a table of contents, and, last but not least, "decorate." I had no problem with the organizing--I'd been doing that all term--and though I thought it was silly, I added swirls and designs to fulfill the last requirement.

When I got my grading sheet back, I was shocked to discover that this binder was worth two hundred points--and that I'd only gotten, like, a hundred and fifty. (A quarter of our grade had been allotted to the decorations.) My grade dropped five percentage points on the last day of the term. I went from a solid A to a barely-there A-minus.

I talked to my biology teacher, but he refused to budge (though he never required us to decorate our binders again). It was the first term of my freshman year, and my GPA was already ruined.

For fourteen-year-old Krista, it was kind of devastating, but there was an unexpected side effect: while my friends spent the next four years living in mortal fear of A-minuses, I couldn't have cared less. (Okay, maybe I still cared a little.) The worst had already happened; I'd never have to get my first A-minus again.

By now, you're probably wondering why I'm telling you this story. Well, THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING got its first industry review, and it was straight-up abysmal. (I'm not going to link to it, but I'm sure Google can find it without too much trouble.) It really stung for a few hours, but then I realized I could stop holding my breath. The worst has already happened; I'll never have to get my first bad review again.

That's one milestone I'm glad to get out of the way.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Want to Win an ARC of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING?

I'm thrilled to give away an ARC of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING (affectionately known as Steve). This is one of those posts you imagine yourself writing, so it doesn't quite feel real.

To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment below. THIS CONTEST IS OPEN INTERNATIONALLY--I will ship one of the ARCs currently sitting on my dresser anywhere in this wide world--and closes in three weeks, on Wednesday, March 4, at 11:59 p.m. EST. I'll announce the winner the next day, exactly two months before the official release (but in the meantime, you can add the book on Goodreads if you feel so inclined).

Last but certainly not least, I just wanted to say thank you for reading my blog, for following my journey, and for cheering me on. I've been grateful for the company on this long and winding road.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Who Won RED BUTTERFLY?

Keturah Lamb, that's who!

Congratulations, Keturah! Please e-mail me at kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com with your mailing address, and I'll get your RED BUTTERFLY ordered.

In related news, though I don't generally do back-to-back giveaways on the blog, I think it's about time to get rid of an ARC of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING, so don't wander too far off...

Friday, February 6, 2015

Agent-Author Chat: Renee Nyen and Laurie Litwin

As THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING's release draws nearer, I've decided to pull back on the blog's agent-related content, but I haven't been able to give up "Agent-Author Chat," which has always been my favorite of my interview series. I love hearing what an agent loves about an author's work and how they came to work together, so it's especially fitting that this latest installment features Renee Nyen of kt literary and her newest client, Laurie Litwin, who connected through last August's round of "An Agent's Inbox."

Check out Ms. Litwin's entry, then hop back over here to find out how the story ends! (As always, Ms. Litwin's answers will appear in orange, Ms. Nyen's in blue.)

KV: Ms. Litwin, how did you first come up with the idea for BEE STADIUM?

LL: I had this idea that I wanted to write about baseball and the spelling bee. But it took me a little time to figure out how to make the two ideas work together. What I came up with is a story about a real kid with real-life struggles--in this case the balancing of school and sports. My main character, Jake, is adopted and a different ethnicity than the rest of his family. Because of this, he struggles with who he is, with trying to fit in, and with self-confidence. Jake is the superstar pitcher on his little league baseball team, but struggles horribly with school, which he attributes largely to his differences. I wanted to write a story about a kid who can learn to overcome these differences, develop a sense of self-confidence and succeed in both school and sports.

KV: Tell us a little bit about your query-writing process. Did you work on it here and there as you were writing the manuscript, or before, or after? How many times did you revise it? And how did you decide what order to put things in?

LL: Oh, goodness. Queries are the devil. Seriously. I didn’t write the query for this story until after the manuscript was done and revised. I wrote and rewrote it a million times. Literally. Then, I got feedback from friends and critique partners and revised it again. And again.

Lucky for me (or maybe not so lucky), I had written queries for two manuscripts before this one, so I had a pretty good handle on the “proper” way to format a query. For first timers, I would recommend reading all the query advice from agents you can get your hands on and then slowly crafting and revising the query for your story. After that, expect to revise and revise and revise again until you figure out what works best for the story you’re trying to tell.

KV: How did Ms. Nyen come to request your manuscript?

LL: I entered "An Agent’s Inbox" earlier this year. I enter a lot of online contests, as they are a great way to get advice from real life agents. It’s a great way to get a peek into their heads. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much, because the little feedback I’d received so far was that my main character’s voice was a little too young or that it wasn’t a good idea to start my story with my main character struggling in the classroom.

But I entered anyway. And, much to my delight, Renee picked my entry as one of the five winners of the contest! I about fell over out of shock. And then I tweeted about it. So, I sent the partial she requested immediately and crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.


KV: Ms. Nyen, when you saw Ms. Litwin's entry in "An Agent's Inbox," what caught your attention?

RN: For me, it was the main character's voice. Jake is an engaging kid struggling with real world issues. And personally, I grew up playing sports, so the baseball angle was immediately accessible to me. Little league is a big deal when you're twelve! At that age I would have braved anything--even a spelling bee--for my spot on the soccer team!

KV: Obviously, the manuscript met--or exceeded--your expectations. What did you love about BEE STADIUM?

RN: It exceeded my expectations, absolutely! I read the partial twice before asking for the full manuscript. Not because I was unsure, but because I liked it so much! 

Laurie tackles some really interesting topics in this book. Throughout the story Jake explores the idea of family and what it means to be born into one, versus choosing to be a part of one. He also learns not to define himself by his weaknesses (specifically, his schoolwork) and leans into his strengths (baseball). He's so easy to cheer for!

These are really sophisticated ideas to explore and through Jake's narrative Laurie does so, effortlessly. Concepts like family, identity, and self-worth are the stuff of a really solid middle grade book. I can't wait to share this book with the world!

KV: How quickly did you read Ms. Litwin's manuscript? Is that pretty typical of your response times on requested material, or do those vary?

RN: Can I skip this question? It's really embarrassing! It sat with me all fall. Usually, I don't sit on something I like that long. But I got lucky in that no one else had snatched BEE STADIUM up yet and for some reason, Laurie forgave my abhorrent timeline.

KV: Hey, it just goes to show that good news sometimes take time. I’m sure querying writers will actually find that reassuring:)

Ms. Litwin, now that you’ve reached the querying finish line, what do you wish you had known when you were back at the start gate?

LL: I queried my first manuscript a couple of years back. Like most newbies, I thought everything would happen--and happen perfectly--right out of the gate. Spoiler alert--it didn’t. The one thing I wish I had known then is how much patience and perseverance I’d have to have to find the best agent for me. That everyone is going to have a different journey and no two writers will have the same journey.

I wrote three manuscripts, signed with my first agent, waited day after day after day for things to happen in between, and tried to keep my sanity through it all. Renee is my second agent. It took me three years to find her. But she is totally amazing. And it was worth every day (and every grey hair on my head) of the three years it took me to find her. And I’m okay with that because this is my journey and I know now this is how it’s supposed to be.

KV: Ms. Nyen, what querying tips do you have?

RN: Like Laurie said, queries are the devil. Authors pour themselves into their book and agents like me decide if we like it after reading so little. It's hard on authors to field that kind of rejection. Okay, maybe hard isn't the right word. It's excruciating. I'm well aware of that every time I open my query inbox.

My tip is this: be persistent. If you receive a lot of rejection on your first few rounds of querying, give your query letter a complete overhaul. If it is still rejected, regroup, write a new book and go out with that one. (Side note: I do recommend not querying the same book to the same agent multiple times. I tend to remember if I see a query for the same book come through more than once.)

Just because you don't sign with an agent on your first query doesn't mean you won't in the future. 

KV: Any last words of advice or encouragement you’d like to share with us?

RN: I know it's hard to remember if you're in the query trenches, but the best Children's Lit is a labor of love. Don't forget to write because you love it! When you're querying, the goal is to sign with an agent. But once you have one, you and the agent need to hook up with the right editor at the right publishing house, and that can be a whole different level of frustration. If you're frustrated with the process of publishing, step out of it for a little while and let yourself fall in love with writing again.

LL: Learn everything you can. Talk to people. Find good critique partners. And stick with it. It’s a rough road, but the most fulfilling one there is.

Well said, ladies. Thank you for sharing these words of wisdom with us. And congratulations on your partnership! May you write and sell many books together.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Happy Release Day, RED BUTTERFLY!

The title of this post pretty much says it all. RED BUTTERFLY's birthday is here, so it's time for a celebration! I fell in love with an early draft of Amy's book from the very first poem, and now I can't wait to hold the real, live book in my hands (and to see Amy June Bates's accompanying illustrations!).

A brief summary from Goodreads:

Kara never met her birth mother. Abandoned as an infant, she was taken in by an American woman living in China. Now eleven, Kara spends most of her time in their apartment, wondering why she and Mama cannot leave the city of Tianjin and go live with Daddy in Montana. Mama tells Kara to be content with what she has…but what if Kara secretly wants more?

Told in lyrical, moving verse, Kara’s story is one of a girl learning to trust her own voice, discovering that love and family are limitless, and finding the wings she needs to reach new heights.


I've already pre-ordered my copy, but I want to buy your copy, too! (To be more precise, I want to buy one of you a copy. I wish I could buy all of you a copy, but I'm afraid I'm not J.K. Rowling.) To enter, just leave a comment below. I haven't bought it yet, so this contest is open internationally (provided that your country is on The Book Depository's list). It closes in one week, on Monday, February 9, at 11:59 p.m. EST. I'll announce the winner the next day!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Book Recommendations: THE BURNING SKY and THE PERILOUS SEA by Sherry Thomas

I'd seen these books around, but it wasn't until I stumbled on Michelle's excellent reviews that I finally sat up and took note. When she mentioned that the second was even better than the first, I decided to give them a try--and thank goodness I did!

Thanks to his mother's visions, Prince Titus, whose kingdom has been all but taken over by Atlantis, knows that someday he'll discover an elemental mage who will have the power to overthrow the Bane, Atlantis's mysterious dictator. When he witnesses a lightning bolt called down from a cloudless sky, he figures he's found his brother in arms. But what he didn't count on was that brother being a sister. Now Iolanthe will have to pose as Archer Fairfax at one of England's premiere prep schools if she doesn't want to blow the cover that Titus has spent years building for her. But with Atlantean agents closing in--and doubts about her so-called destiny--she might not last at Eton College long enough.

And that's just the first book.

These books have it all--fantasy, adventure, romance--but what endeared them to me was the dialogue. Both Titus and Iolanthe are too clever for their own good, so their arguments are as colorful as a Shakespearean insult contest. I also appreciated how Ms. Thomas was willing to turn the story--not to mention the structure--on its head in THE PERILOUS SEA. Told in alternating timelines, THE BURNING SKY's sequel features not one but two climaxes--and within the first few chapters, Titus realizes he got his mother's visions wrong.

If you like wyverns, witty banter, or magical books you can get sucked into (literally), definitely check out this series. The last installment, THE IMMORTAL HEIGHTS, is set to come out in October, but trust me, you don't want to wait. If you get your hands on these two now, you'll be able to read them several times between now and October.