Monday, July 26, 2021

Q&A with Victor Pineiro, MG Author of TIME VILLAINS

Absolutely thrilled to welcome author Victor Piñeiro, whose MG debut, TIME VILLAINS, came out earlier this month. Victor's wide-ranging career has taken lots of twists and turns, but I love how writing books was always Victor's number one. Read on for how all that turned out! 

KV: TIME VILLAINS sounds like a fun fantasy adventure. How did you first come up with the idea?

VP: Fifteen years ago my brother and I stumbled on a magical forest. We took a wrong turn while exploring Western France and ended up in Paimpont, Merlin’s enchanted woods. It was sunset, we raced around the ancient trees hoping we’d stumble on the legendary Fountain of Eternal Youth, and at some point realized we had to find our way back to our car before dark. The whole experience was so mystical and thrilling that it stayed with me. Over a decade later I had the seed to a story: a magical table that summons anyone from history or fiction to dinner, once you answered the question, “If you could invite any three people to dinner, who would they be?” But why would a table be magical in the first place? The idea tossed and turned in my head for ages before I remembered the enchanted forest. Then I got overwhelmingly excited to create a series around it, casting all of my favorite fictional and historical characters.

KV: Which three guests would YOU invite to a magical dinner party? Why?

VP: My list changes day to day but usually it’s two historical figures and one very out-there fictional character. I’m a huge poetry fiend so probably Walt Whitman, and maybe Julia de Burgos (Puerto Rico’s greatest poet). For the fictional character I’d probably go with Galadriel, Gandalf or Aslan--might as well bring in someone magical to really spice things up!

KV: Career-wise, you've been involved in everything from public school teaching to filmmaking and multimedia content development. How did you end up writing novels?

VP: It’s funny, being a published author has been the dream and goal since I was a kid, so it’s just taken me quite awhile to get there! In my teens and twenties I couldn’t silence my inner critic long enough to write novels, so I turned to poetry and screenplays, writing and producing documentaries for a spell. From there I became the voice of Skittles, YouTube, Google and other brands on social media, which really helped me hone my skills when it came to voice. I finally coaxed a book out in 2017 after writing daily on my (long) commute for three years. It was a very unconventional first book--the only kind I could coax out on my first try--so I shelved it and started working on TIME VILLAINS. It’s funny how circuitous the path to achieving our goals can be, and how that’s usually a blessing in disguise.

KV: How is publishing a novel similar to making a film, and how is it different?

VP: I think a story is a story is a story. Finding and developing a documentary’s story as it comes together isn’t all that different from doing the same with a novel. The process is surprisingly similar, and even more so with a screenplay. The real difference is in the rhythm of collaboration. With a film, even tiny indie productions, you’re all in constant contact and collaboration. The director is driving it, but they’re checking in with everyone all the time, or showing newly edited scenes daily, etc. With a novel (at least in my experience) you’re on your own for long stretches of time before you send drafts to your editor, agent or readers.

KV: We met through DiverseVoices, Inc.'s inaugural DVdebut program, which paired debut novelists from diverse backgrounds with mentor novelists from similar backgrounds. How has your Puerto Rican heritage influenced your art in general and TIME VILLAINS in particular?

VP: Just the other day I fell in love with the term nepantla, an Aztec word that means in-betweenness--the liminal space between worlds. It’s been adopted by Chicano culture to describe the discomfort they feel trying to walk the tightrope between the world of the colonizer and the colonized.

That’s the tension I love to explore with my characters. It’s my experience as a first generation, light-skinned Puerto Rican, who moved to the US as a child. It’s the experience so many of my friends and family had existing in two cultures laid awkwardly on top of each other.

Whether I’m writing a children’s book about a magical school or a YA book about enduring anxiety, the characters will always be negotiating a life in two worlds. The protagonists will often feel strange that the language they’re most fluent in isn’t their first, that a big chunk of their identity is hidden from even their closest friends, that they’re not deep enough in their native culture to understand the humor.

KV: What other writing projects do you have in the pipeline?

VP: I’m three drafts into my next book and it couldn’t be more different than Time Villains. It’s a YA novel that deals with mental health (mostly crippling social anxiety) and explores being Latinx in an American high school. There’s some light sci-fi/fantasy elements because I love using them to propel the story.

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

VP: Absolutely! There are a few misconceptions that would’ve had me writing novels decades ago, so I take any chance I can get to relay them to other aspiring/young writers.

The most important one (for me at least)--an hour a day can be enough. I always thought I needed to quit my job and write eight hours a day to finish a novel, which held me back for years. Then I read a Murakami interview where he said he completed his first novel by writing an hour a day after work. In that moment I felt like the universe gave me permission to write mine. And whether I got a half hour or an hour a day, I’ve written three novels at that pace and am working on the fourth.

Ah, what great advice, Victor. Writers are people who write, whether it's a little or a lot. No one ever has to wait to start putting their thoughts down.

Have a great Monday, everyone!

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Book Recommendation and ARC Giveaway on Twitter: YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED by Michelle I. Mason

Michelle and I have been writing friends for a long, long time, so when her manuscript landed an agent, then a book deal, within a matter of weeks, I couldn't have been more thrilled. The fact that her manuscript sold to my editor at Bloomsbury was just the icing on the cake and a fun coincidence--until it occurred to me that I could probably beg an ARC of YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED off our mutual editor.

Which, of course, was what I did:)

YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED has a hugely commercial premise: seventeen-year-old Jenny gets on a plane in New York City in 1995 and gets off again in St. Louis--in 2020. Her parents are now senior citizens, her formerly younger brother is now old enough to be her dad, and her best friend and boyfriend are now married. To each other. What's more, something's going on with the flight's investigation, and as a budding reporter, Jenny can't help but dive in.

I couldn't put this book down. Knowing what was coming, I could NOT leave Jenny hanging until she'd also figured out what the heck was going on, and then I wanted to keep reading because her life was so messed up and I felt supremely bad. Also, because her new best friend, the seventeen-year-old son of the aforementioned best friend and boyfriend, was supremely sweet, and though I could see it coming from 30,000 feet away, their awkward relationship was still fun to watch unfold.

I've already preordered my copy of YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED, so with Michelle's permission and a signed bookmark to boot, I'm super excited to pass my ARC along. The giveaway will be on Twitter, so head over there to enter. I wish you all kinds of luck!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

How I Found My Birth Mom

This is a Very Long Story, one I haven't blogged about because I genuinely thought it would make a better book. I still plan to write that book, but after trying--and failing--to get a single chapter down, I decided it might help to write a single blog post first.

Almost two years ago now, I convinced my little sister to audition for a genealogy-based reality TV show with me. Very long first half of this Very Long Story short, we didn't make the final cut, but we did spit in the tubes, so we ultimately gained access to the research they'd begun. They turned over that research almost a year ago exactly--and their research was spot-on. It identified my birth dad and a host of half siblings. But as I mentioned in this post, it couldn't pinpoint my birth mom, since she was adopted, too. At first, I was kind of bummed, but then I was kind of glad. The thought of solving this last mystery on my own made me happy.

My saliva HAD pinpointed the two probable families my birth mom descended from, the Monroes and the Carpentiers. That is, one of her birth parents was likely one of six siblings in this specific Monroe family while the other was likely one of four or five siblings in this clan of Carpentiers. Sadly, two of the Monroes and three of the Carpentiers had already passed away, but if I could reach the others, maybe they would have more clues.

I started scouring the internet for contact information for the still-living siblings. I found three or four phone numbers for each sibling on average, but as you might expect, very few of them still worked. When I was able to track down one of the Carpentier daughters, I literally did a jig. But her mind wasn't all there, so though she mentioned that her sister HAD placed a baby for adoption, I discounted what she'd said.

Fast forward a few months. After speaking to more siblings and poring over my matches, I was able to determine with a high degree of confidence that my birth mom's birth parents were Theodore William Monroe Jr. and Gayle Mae Carpentier. The problem was that both were dead, so they couldn't shed more light on exactly when or where my birth mom had been born. I could make educated guesses based, but without a date or place, I'd kind of reached a dead end.

I kept digging, though, kept fighting. I barked up some other trees. And somewhere along the way, I found out about Utah's voluntary adoption registry. Governed by the health department, the adoption registry matches adult adoptees with biological relatives if both parties come to them. But did you notice how I said that the adoption registry is governed by the health department? They were kind of swamped last year, so you could no longer walk in and fill out an application. You could mail one to their office IF it had been notarized.

This was back in the late spring. The formal lockdown had expired, but my county was under a blanket stay-at-home directive, and I just didn't feel good about violating that (even if I thought my reason was, you know, better than most). I let my application sit. And sit and sit and sit some more. Then, when October rolled around, a still, small voice whispered, "It's time." I strapped on my snuggest mask, went and found a notary, and sent off that application.

According to the website, it could take up to six weeks to hear your application's status. I thought I could handle that; I'm a writer, after all. Two weeks came and went, then six, and then two full months had passed. I decided to check in. A few days later, they informed me that they'd had to send away for the records on my case but that I should hear more soon. That Friday, I got an e-mail.

They'd managed to make a match.

I almost couldn't believe it. I also couldn't stop grinning. After running around and screaming for, like, an hour, I texted the number they'd sent.

It was my birth mom's. I'd found her.

Since that splenderific day, my birth mom and I have FaceTimed for three hours at a stretch on more than one occasion. We also got a chance to meet when she and her fiancé came for a previously scheduled ski trip.

This picture was taken safely. Please wear a mask in AT&T's stores.

The fact that my birth mom was also placed for adoption was, at least initially, one of my biggest stumbling blocks. Now that I've (finally!) found her, though, I've come to think of it instead as one of my biggest blessings. She knows exactly how I feel because she was adopted, too, and she knows how much I'll always love my adoptive family because she was adopted, too. But I hope she also knows how grateful I am for HER. I would NOT be where I am without her genes and her decisions. She gave me a fantastic start.

Friday, December 11, 2020

A New Query/A New Hope

I know, I know, long time, no blog. What can I say? It's 2020. But one of the many things I've been working on this year is an MG contemporary that I'm rather in love with and that I intend to query. ("Oh, no!" you're probably thinking if you've been around the blog for any length of time. "What happened with you and Brent?" Nothing really, and therein lay the problem. I think we both knew it was time to move on.) As such, I'd love to get your feedback on the first query I've written in almost five years. First draft below!

Dear [Insert Agent Here]:

Twelve-year-old Ingrid Adler really doesn’t like her aunt. She’s a know-it-all, she’s rude, and worst of all, she left the faith. Then Ingrid’s mom passes away, and her aunt nobly volunteers to help her dad take care of her. She’d much rather have her mom.

She avoids her helpful aunt by reading her mom’s diaries. They’re spontaneous and fun, everything her aunt is not. They also reveal a handful of her mom’s last wishes--to help Ingrid know her birth mom and to ride a roller coaster.

Ingrid dislikes roller coasters as much as she hates her aunt, but she also wants to be as courageous as her mom. When her aunt reads the diaries, she doesn’t give Ingrid a chance to weigh in on her crazy scheme, just organizes a massive cross-country road trip on the fly. With her grieving dad in tow, Ingrid grudgingly sets out to ride the baddest roller coasters between here and the Atlantic. But will this roller coaster road trip help her find her birth mom, too?

[TITLE] is an #ownvoices MG contemporary complete at 50,000 words. My previous agent and I parted on amicable terms several months ago, before I finished the first draft. Neither he nor any editors have read this manuscript, and it will be available to submit immediately.

Like Ingrid, I was placed for adoption as an infant and raised in a mixed-race home that was genuine and nurturing. I’ve also recently begun my search for my biological family. Though I’ve identified my birth dad, who was the younger son of a Filipino immigrant and a native Hawaiian, I still haven’t found my birth mom--but I haven’t given up.

I’m also the author of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING, a Junior Library Guild selection, and THE MULTIPLYING MYSTERIES OF MOUNT TEN, among other MG novels.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

A few other notes: I've included my previous books, including publishers and release dates, in my signature block, which is why I haven't put them in the paragraph above. I just thought this looked less cluttered, but feel free to disagree! Also, while I'm looking for feedback on anything and everything, I'm especially not sold on the last line of the summary. Lastly, if you have any ideas for the title, please, please, please lay them on me. My best two ideas so far are HOW NOT TO FIND YOUR BIRTH MOM and THE SECRETS ROLLER COASTERS KEEP, but I'm not sold on those, either.

All right, then, have at it!

Friday, June 19, 2020

An Open Letter to My Birth Mom

Dear Birth Mom,

You don't know me. We met exactly once, on the day that I was born, but by then, you'd been in labor for, like, forty-eight hours, so you must have been exhausted. (I'm so sorry about that.) I hope they let you hold me for at least a little while, but they probably didn't. I'm sorry about that, too.

I should probably back up. Last year, I spit into a tube as part of the audition process for a reality TV show. I didn't make the show because my sister and her husband decided to have a baby (which is a whole other blog post), but I DID get the results from that tube I spit into. And guess what?! They found my birth dad.

He died twenty years ago.

In a car accident, sadly. I learned this from his other kids. I know you knew that he had kids, but did you know that one was only six years younger than you were? I guess he lied about his age. Is that why you didn't get married? I used to think it was because he wasn't a member of your church, but as it turns out, he was. Now I'm not sure what to think. Maybe you broke up with him before you found out about me, or maybe he broke up with you BECAUSE he found out about me. (I really hope that isn't it.) Hopefully, I'll get to ask.

As you've probably surmised, my spit couldn't pinpoint you. I'm quite certain it's because you were placed for adoption, too. But here's the most amazing thing--since my spit is half your spit, it found YOUR birth mom and dad.
Unfortunately, they're dead, too.

Are you noticing a theme? My head keeps reminding me that our genes weren't built to last, but my heart keeps holding on. I really need to tell you thanks for letting me derail your life. For giving me life, period. And for giving me two parents who went to the moon and back to help me become who I am. But you were adopted, too, so maybe you already know. Still, I'd love to say the words and meet you face to face. Again.

Until then, I won't give up. I'll chase every lead I have. It might take a little longer thanks to this lovely pandemic, but I'm strong-willed. I'm persistent. And I'm going to find you (in the friendliest possible way). 

Your birth daughter,

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

EARTH TO DAD’s Cover Three Ways

EARTH TO DAD was my first book to sell in more than one territory, and what added to my delight was that each publisher developed their own unique cover. I thought it would be fun to take a look at these covers and and discuss what each one adds to EARTH TO DAD’s world.

The American cover was the first one to take shape, and I fell instantly in love with Jen Bricking’s interpretation of the two central characters and the overall world. Both Jameson and Astra look exactly as I pictured them, and their environment is harsh but, thanks to the rising sun, ultimately hopeful. (I realize this image could just as easily reflect a setting sun, but I’ve always envisioned it as a sunrise, not a sunset. Now I wonder which Ms. Bricking intended to represent...) I also love the star-swept sky, the saturated color palette, and the striking title treatment. They really make the book stand out.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first opened the file that contained the Chinese cover, as EARTH TO DAD was my first book to sell in another territory. Well, suffice it to say I was completely blown away. It was so completely different--and so completely unexpected--but I loved it just as much. The bright reds and oranges are exceptionally eye-catching and definitely create a sense of the red planet's importance. Jameson is super cute, but the focus on his dad also feels appropriate. Interesting side note: because the phrase "Earth to Dad" doesn't translate well into other languages, the Chinese publisher renamed the book MY DAD LIVES ON MARS.

The Korean rights sold on the heels of the simplified Chinese rights, but while the Chinese version was released last year, the South Korean version wasn't slated to come out until sometime this March. (Thanks to the coronavirus, I won't be at all surprised if it hasn't come out yet.) This is the long way of saying the South Korean cover was only finalized a few months ago, so I'm thrilled to share it here. While the American and Chinese covers relied on saturated colors, the South Korean version makes great use of pastels to convey a sense of the story's gentleness. Though the book is set in a post-apocalyptic world, the story is much more about Jameson and Astra's burgeoning friendship and how much they come to care for and look after each other. This cover also does a great job of portraying Base Ripley, where Jameson and Astra live, and you've got to love the South Korean title: HELLO, DAD! THIS IS EARTH.

Well, there you have it, EARTH TO DAD's cover three ways. Which one do you like best? And if you've read the book, which one do you think best represents the story?

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Please Join Me in a Worldwide Day of Fasting and Prayer

Update: President Nelson invited us to fast again this Friday, April 10. Christians around the world will be observing Good Friday, but people of all religious backgrounds--or no religious background at all--are invited to participate and ask God for relief from this global pandemic.


Tomorrow, I'll be participating in a worldwide day of fasting and prayer to bring needed relief from the effects of the novel coronavirus. Because I've experienced the blessings of fasting and prayer in my own life, I wanted to invite you to participate and experience those blessings, too.

How do I fast and pray?

To fast, you purposely refrain from eating and drinking for a set period of time. I plan to fast for approximately twenty-four hours, so after eating dinner tonight, I won't eat again until dinner tomorrow.

But fasting is so much more than just not eating. To have the best fasting experience, consider combining it with prayer. When I begin my fast, I'll ask God to please moderate the effects of this new coronavirus, to strengthen the immune systems of those who've been infected and those who are working tirelessly to help them, and to relieve the suffering of those whose lives have been upended by this pandemic. I'll renew this prayer several times throughout the day, and then, just before I eat, I'll close my fast by thanking God for this opportunity and by asking him one more time to bless those around the world who've been negatively impacted by the coronavirus.

I'll also donate the value of the meals I didn't eat--and probably even more--to a charity that's working to assist doctors, nurses, and hospitals and/or relieve the physical, mental, or economic suffering brought on by this pandemic.

So to sum up, here's what you do:

1. Stop eating and drinking for a set period of time, usually twenty-four hours.
2. Pray to whichever deity you revere for needed relief from this pandemic.
3. Donate the value of the meals you didn't eat--or even more, if you're able to--to a charity like the American Red Cross, No Kid Hungry, or your local food bank.

What if I can't fast for a medical reason?

There are several subsets of people who shouldn't fast for medical reasons. For instance, pregnant women and people with certain chronic illnesses shouldn't go without food or drink for any length of time. But everyone can participate in the spirit of a fast by praying and donating to a worthy cause.

What if I don't make it the full twenty-four hours?

That's totally okay! The first time I tried to fast, I turned into such a blubbering mess that I had to go home and eat lunch. Fasting isn't easy; things worth doing rarely are. So even if you don't make it the full twenty-four hours, you can still say you fasted. God will still honor your effort.

Is fasting painful?

Yes, especially if you've never done it before. You ARE going to feel hungry. Your stomach IS going to growl. But these sensations only serve to remind you that you're fasting, that you're sacrificing something to benefit your fellow humans and to plead for God's help.

I didn't see this blog post until after the fact--can I still fast?

Absolutely! You can fast and pray on any day for any reason. God never takes a break:)

Who came up with this idea?

I'm not completely sure, but I'm going to say God. In fact, fasting is an element of many of the world's religions. I especially love what Isaiah had to say about fasting in Isaiah 58:

"Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

"Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

"Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.

"Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;

"And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:

"And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.

"And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in."

Aren't those amazing blessings?!

If you choose not to fast, I completely understand. But if you do decide to try it, thank you, thank you, and good luck. I hope you have a unique and inspiring experience.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Presidential Primaries and Lucky--or Unlucky?--Losers

Confession: I like politics. I DON'T like politicians and their frightening inability to get anything done, but I like following the news and generally being informed. I have opinions on most issues and, of course, most candidates. I don't share these opinions often, but at this pivotal juncture of the 2020 election cycle, I thought it might be worth digging into some relevant data.

First, a bit of background: I was a registered Republican until President Trump became the leader of the party in 2016. Now I'm an unaffiliated voter who leans right or left of center depending on the issue. Since I will never, ever vote for our current president, whose character I think thoroughly disqualifies him, I've been following the Democratic nomination process with more than just a passing interest.

It occurred to me last night that voters have been nominating what I'm calling lucky losers. So what is a lucky loser? It's a candidate who finished second in a presidential primary, then went on to secure his or her party's nomination in a subsequent election cycle. There are multiple examples, including John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton, to name the most recent few. In fact, since 2004, the first presidential election in which I was eligible to vote, nearly half of the major parties' nominees have been lucky losers, as you can see below:
(i) = incumbent, (i*) = un-elected incumbent, ** = candidate who won most delegates but lost nomination
I've bolded the names of my so-called lucky losers so they're easier to spot. As you can see, Republicans have been much more likely to nominate lucky losers than their Democratic counterparts. In fact, Hillary Clinton was the first Democratic lucky loser in almost fifty years.

But what do John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton have in common? NONE OF THEM WERE PRESIDENT. Lucky losers haven't won a presidential election since George H. W. Bush in 1988, and the only other lucky loser who eventually won the presidency was Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Why am I bringing this up now? Because Bernie Sanders looks poised to become the second Democratic lucky loser in as many election cycles and, as history has taught us, lucky losers tend to lose. Now, in Bernie Sanders's case, this wouldn't make me feel too bad. As much as I admire him for sticking to his principles, I can't in good conscience endorse most of his policies. But I also can't imagine reelecting Donald Trump, which is exactly what I fear will happen if Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic nomination.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

In Pursuit of Patience

Three and a half years ago, in the fall of 2016, I got the impression it was time for Chris and me to try to have another baby. This was kind of monumental. From the time Monster was small--from the time he was born, really--I'd assumed we'd have another. I could almost hear her footsteps pattering around the house, and when I looked for my kids, I constantly looked for a fourth.

The timing had never been right. During most of 2013, spilling into 2014, I'd been majorly depressed. I felt like I SHOULD have a baby, but I didn't WANT another, which just made me MORE depressed. I'd been taught for years and years that children were a gift from God and that having and raising them were two of life's main purposes, so if I didn't want another, I was clearly horrible.

After going to a therapist once or twice a month for more than a year, I went back on medication. That put baby plans on hold, as I was under the impression that you couldn't have a baby while taking antidepressants. I was part relieved, part sad.

By sometime in 2015, I was feeling pretty good. I weaned myself off medication without talking to my doctor. (This was NOT a good idea.) Then 2016 struck. As I detailed in this post, Chris received a job transfer that really threw me for a loop. Still, I came to the conclusion I included in that post:

"I believe God was doing more with my life than I could do with it on my own. It's hard to let go, but I believe He loves and cares for us as a father loves and cares for his children. And because fathers are anxious to see their children succeed, He will help us steer our ships if we're willing to trust Him. In other words, when we let Him in, He won't ever let us down."

Three months after writing that, I was getting the impression it was time for Chris and me to try to have another baby. I was nervous but excited. As I detailed in THIS post, Chris and I had had to deal with infertility before. But this time, I was sure we were definitely doing what God wanted us to do. I was confident that meant the sailing would be fairly smooth.

I smile as I write that now. Hadn't I already learned that God carried out His plan, not what I thought His plan should be? I should have, but I hadn't. I was in for a crash course.

One month went by, then two. A sister-in-law announced that she was pregnant. I was mad despite myself. This sister-in-law had always gotten pregnant on the first or second try. Why had she never had to work? I shared some of these feelings with another sister-in-law, one who's miscarried several times. She completely understood.

Then, a month later, SHE announced that she was pregnant.

I cried a lot that winter, tried to get inside God's head. I hadn't really expected to get pregnant that first month, but what about the fifth or sixth? And why was God dispatching babies to every other family in our family? Was there something wrong with us? Were we less faithful, less deserving?

By the time March rolled around, I thought I was all cried out. Then a third sister-in-law, who'd put off having kids for years, announced that she was pregnant, too.

It was right around this time that I admitted to myself I was probably more depressed than I'd ever been before. I would go on crying jags that would, like, compress my chest and make it difficult to breathe, and my suicidal thoughts were slowly developing into suicidal plans. I spoke openly with Chris about the problems I was having, but they never went away. By April, I conceded to seeking medical help. We scheduled an appointment right away.

Chris went into this appointment thinking our window had closed. We'd tried. We'd failed. Time to move on. That said, I was less convinced. Why had I received that prompting if our family was complete? I know God sometimes allows us to take steps down the wrong path so we can pinpoint the right one, but that answer didn't sit. I was hopeful that the doctor would provide a better one.

Maybe you've already guessed what I learned at that appointment. As it turns out, I was wrong--there IS an antidepressant childbearing women can take from conception to delivery. Multiple studies have shown it has little to no impact on developing babies, and it's safe to take for days, weeks, months, even years.

This changed everything, of course. I walked away from that appointment feeling like I'd found the answer I'd been looking so hard for. And sure enough, a few months later, once this wondrous medication had had time to take effect and I was feeling good again, I got pregnant on the first try.

I could almost hear God's voice speaking softly to my heart: "THIS was the way for you to go. THIS was the path I chose for you. Wasn't it better than the path you would have chosen for yourself?"

What did I say after our house in Mesquite finally sold? "And because fathers are anxious to see their children succeed, He will help us steer our ships if we're willing to trust Him." You see, I ALREADY KNEW that God's way always works out. But when the next storm arose, I forgot and wrung my hands. What will we do, what will we do, what will we do, what will we DO? And yet I already knew: keep calm, carry on, and let Jesus take the wheel.

God allows us to pass through faith-promoting tests and trials just so they'll promote our faith. And if we let them work in us--in us, through us, and around us--then the next time we're confronted with a faith-promoting test, we'll be able to press forward and, if not rest fully easy, then at least rest easier.

Why am I sharing this now? Because I'm waiting to hear back on a non-writing endeavor that would mean the world to me. And because I've been on submission with one project or another for the past almost a year. I HATE being on submission. It's dumb and demoralizing. But as I hope I've FINALLY learned, I know how to handle it.

Have I had difficult days? Sure. Have I prayed for an end? Of course. But more often than not, I've prayed for strength to persevere, and that's made all the difference.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A Whitney Award Nominee!

I'm thrilled to announce that THE MULTIPLYING MYSTERIES OF MOUNT TEN is a 2019 Whitney Award nominee. Thank you to everyone who read it, everyone who voted for it, and everyone who loves math and books as much as I do. Readers make this world go 'round:)

Monday, September 30, 2019

Reading Roundup: August 2019

Well, I'm finally caught up on these monthly reading roundups! At least until tomorrow:)

1. SKYLARK AND WALLCREEPER by Anne O'Brien Carelli An informative MG historical set in a small French town during World War II. Certainly worth a read.

2. ALL THAT MAKES LIFE BRIGHT by Josi S. Kilpack A novelized account of the early years of Harriet Beecher Stowe's marriage to Calvin Stowe. This story was hard to read at times, as, in Calvin's mind, Harriet never seemed to measure up to his late wife's legacy, but I appreciated their keep-trying attitude. I also appreciated Harriet's preference for writing over cooking and cleaning:)

3. EVER THE HUNTED by Erin Summerill The first in Ms. Summerill's YA fantasy duology, EVER THE HUNTED follows the outcast daughter of the king's favored--and recently murdered--bounty hunter. When the king's adviser tells her that the crown's prime suspect is her father's longtime apprentice--and Britta's longtime crush--she sets off to hunt him down. This could have gotten bogged down in a flat journey motif, but Britta's main objective shifted relatively often, so it kept things interesting.

4. MISS WILTON'S WALTZ by Josi S. Kilpack The last in my most recent flurry of Josi S. Kilpack requests, this sweet historical romance was also the hardest to remember. I read it as quickly as the others, though, so I must have enjoyed it:)

5. THE LAND OF FORGOTTEN GIRLS by Erin Entrada Kelly Ms. Kelly is the queen of heartbreaking MG reads, and this one was no different. It might not be the right book for kids who've grappled with abandonment or verbal abuse, though.

6. BLOODLEAF by Crystal Smith I liked this one a lot more than I expected to. The first chapters reminded me of Mary E. Pearson's THE KISS OF DECEPTION, but even though the twists were easier to see coming, the plot diverged enough from THE KISS OF DECEPTION's that it very much held my interest. I'll have to keep an eye out for its sequel, GREYTHORNE, which comes out next year.

7. VOW OF THIEVES by Mary E. Pearson Speaking of Mary E. Pearson, her sequel to DANCE OF THIEVES came out this month, and it didn't disappoint! I very much enjoyed this duology.

Did I really only read seven books in the month of August? Clearly, I've been slacking!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Reading Roundup: July 2019

Here's the second installment in my reading roundup catch-up!

1. INSIGHTS FROM A PROPHET'S LIFE: RUSSELL M. NELSON by Sheri Dew Russell M. Nelson, the current president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been in the spotlight for as long as I've been in alive. Still, Ms. Dew managed to compile a pretty vast collection of lessons and anecdotes I'd never heard (or just forgotten). I liked learning more about his early career as a pioneering heart surgeon and the Christlike service he's performed in the United States and around the world. (Interesting side note: Ms. Dew is the president and CEO of the book's mainstream publisher. I wish I were the president and CEO of a mainstream publisher:) )

2. ONE DARK THRONE by Kendare Blake The cliffhanger ending--almost literally--of THREE DARK CROWNS sent me scrambling for this book, but I ended up liking it a little less than I liked the first. That might have been because my favorite of the triplets, Katharine, was wildly different in this sequel. (She had a very good reason to be different, and yet I, along with Pietyr, still missed the old Katharine.)

3. TWO DARK REIGNS by Kendare Blake Perhaps unsurprisingly, I liked this third book in the series a little less than I liked the second. Whereas the first book's plot felt tight and expertly crafted, I thought this one's plot meandered. It made me wonder if the books were victims of their own success (i.e., if the publisher asked Ms. Blake to stretch them out).

4. ARCHENEMIES by Marissa Meyer A fitting sequel to RENEGADES. These books are super long, but the world is detailed enough--and the characters and their relationships are conflicted enough--that their overall page counts just let you sink into them.

5. WE HUNT THE FLAME by Hafsah Faizal I'd been looking forward to this YA fantasy for months (at least in part because Ms. Faizal designed this website!), and the opening chapters were super promising. But once the book settled into its unfortunately generic journey motif, it had a harder time holding my interest.

6. HER GOOD NAME by Josi S. Kilpack A Christian romantic suspense that reminded me of the sorts of books I read as a young teenager. Hooray for nostalgic reads!

7. DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY by Brodi Ashton A YA contemporary that poses an intriguing question: what shenanigans do diplomats' children get away with in our nation's capital? Ace reporter Piper Baird, who just won a scholarship to one of DC's top prep schools, is determined to find out. I thoroughly enjoyed Piper's voice and read this one pretty fast.

8. THE LAST WORD by Samantha Hastings I got to hear Ms. Hastings and several of her fellow Novel Nineteens talk at my local B&N, and this book sounded so fun that I had to pick it up. It didn't disappoint!

9. UNDER LOCKER AND KEY by Allison K. Hymas This MG contemporary was a rollicking read about a self-described retrieval specialist and a job gone wrong. I thought it was reminiscent of DON'T VOTE FOR ME in both setting and tone, and I think David and Jeremy would be the best of friends:)

10. THE LADY OF THE LAKES by Josi S. Kilpack A novelized account of Sir Walter Scott's in-real-life romance(s) that I quite enjoyed. (Did you know Walter Scott was knighted after discovering a cache of long-lost Scottish jewels? Because I sure didn't!) The book included chapter notes that separated fact from fiction, but I returned the book without remembering to read them. Still, the general premise made for a compelling story.

Have you read any of these, and if so, what did you think?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Reading Roundup: June 2019

I've fallen woefully behind in these reading roundups, but I'm going to try to catch up over the next couple of weeks. Read on for June's reviews!

1. TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN by John Green If John Green wrote a mystery, it would sound just like this book. *pauses to listen to earpiece* Ladies and gentlemen, I've just been informed that John Green did write this book, so there you have it. I was right. I know Mr. Green is sometimes criticized for writing teenage characters who are far wittier and engaging than, say, actual teenagers, but I'd rather read a book with characters who say cool stuff than characters who, you know, don't.

2. STELLA BY STARLIGHT by Sharon M. Draper A delicate MG historical with a message that's still timely (since we can't seem to figure out how to treat one another with kindness and respect). Ms. Draper mentioned that this book was loosely based on her grandmother's childhood, which is super sweet, but the storytelling may have suffered because she was trying to be true to a factual account instead of a made-up one.

3. THREE DARK CROWNS by Kendare Blake I FLEW through this book. Though the premise seems far-fetched--three triplet princesses with competing supernatural powers must kill each other off if they want to take the throne--Ms. Blake totally sold it.

4. THE BEAUTY OF DARKNESS by Mary E. Pearson I LOVED Ms. Pearson's DANCE OF THIEVES, so imagine my delight when I learned she'd penned other books in the same well-thought-out world. The first half in particular completely sucked me in, and I must admit that I fell for Ms. Pearson's trickery hook, line, and sinker.

5. THE EMPEROR'S OSTRICH by Julie Berry No one does MG absurdity quite like Ms. Berry. Though I probably enjoyed THE SCANDALOUS SISTERHOOD OF PRICKWILLOW PLACE a little more, this was still a ton of fun.

6. THE KINGDOM by Jess Rothenberg One of my local librarians loves to talk books with me every time I check out, and this was one of her recent recommendations. I probably didn't love it quite as much as she did, but it was a diverting read.

7. FIELD NOTES ON LOVE by Jennifer E. Smith A contemporary romance with a ripped-from-the-headlines high-concept hook, this one's right up there with THE COMEBACK SEASON, THIS IS WHAT HAPPY LOOKS LIKE, and HELLO, GOODBYE, AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN on my list of Ms. Smith's favorites. (What can I say? I have a LOT of favorites...)

8. RENEGADES by Marissa Meyer This was a blind pickup at my local library, and it turned out to be a hit! Though the plot does move methodically, especially at first, I found both the characters and the world to be wonderfully developed. A much more nuanced look at a world controlled by superheroes than your average summer blockbuster.

What have you been reading lately?

Monday, June 17, 2019

Reading Roundup: April and May 2019

I'm a month behind again, but better late than never, right? Read on for my readlist (a term I'm totally trademarking)!


1. PAPER CHAINS by Elaine Vickers A thoughtful MG contemporary about family and friendship. I especially liked the hockey angle and the fact that Katie was adopted. As an adopted kid myself, I think we may be an underrepresented demographic in children's literature.

2. THE GLASS SPARE by Lauren DeStefano An adventurous YA fantasy with a super intriguing concept, this book stars Wil Heidle, a princess whose touch turns living things into gemstones. Sometimes I thought the plot took a backseat to Wil's relationship with an equally cursed prince, so if you don't like your fantasy with a healthy dose of romance, this might be one to skip.

3. FAME, FATE, AND THE FIRST KISS by Kasie West Ms. West always gets an automatic read from me, and this book might just be my new favorite of hers. I loved spending time on the set of a campy book-to-film adaptation of a best-selling vampire romance, and I also loved that Lacey's love interest turned out NOT to be her costar.

4. INTERNMENT by Samira Ahmed This near-future YA contemporary imagines a world in which our government has rounded up Muslim Americans for no other reason than that they're Muslim American and incarcerated them in so-called relocation camps. I'd really, really like to think we as Americans learned our lesson when we did this very thing to Japanese Americans in the 1940s, but if anti-Semitism is on the rise in Germany, I guess anything's possible.

5. KING OF SCARS by Leigh Bardugo I read SHADOW AND BONE years ago and never made it past that book. Then I picked up SIX OF CROWS and was completely blown away. KING OF SCARS, in my opinion, was somewhere between the two--not as intricately plotted as SIX OF CROWS and its sequel, though the writing was pretty great. I got the impression as I was reading KING OF SCARS that the main characters were reprising roles from the Shadow and Bone trilogy, and when I looked it up after the fact, that appears to be the case. That said, I didn't have a problem following the action even though I never read SHADOW AND BONE's sequels.

6. THE LAST VOYAGE OF POE BLYTHE by Ally Condie The first chapter of this book really took me by surprise, and then the rest of the book also kept me on my toes. I never knew where it was headed, which definitely kept me turning pages. The setting, a mining ship, was also super interesting.

7. THE GILDED WOLVES by Roshani Chokshi Set during the Roaring Twenties, this YA historical fantasy is definitely my new favorite of Ms. Chokshi's. The plot was multilayered, the characters leaped off the page, and the rich historical setting was a character unto itself.

8. THE CURSED SEA by Lauren DeStefano A fitting sequel to THE GLASS SPARE. I especially liked how Ms. DeStefano allowed the relationships between her characters to drive the story's conflict.


9. THE LIGHT OVER LONDON by Julia Kelly I'm a sucker for World War II epics, and I particularly enjoyed this one. Though they took some time to get to, my favorite scenes involved Louise and her anti-aircraft unit. The guns they set up around London to take down the Luftwaffe were manned in large part by women. They required a whole team to operate--spotters, calculators, and, like, coordinate inputers--and though, legally, only men could fire them, women often served in every other position. Who knew?

10. CONTAGION by Erin Bowman If you've been looking for a fast-paced sci-fi thriller, look no further than CONTAGION. The first couple of chapters were a little slow, but the rest of the book more than made up for it. I flew through this one.

11. THE LAST YEAR OF THE WAR by Susan Meissner Ms. Meissner is another of my go-to, must-read authors; the fact that this latest book was also a World War II epic was just the icing on the cake. I didn't enjoy this one as much as SECRETS OF A CHARMED LIFE, perhaps because I was already familiar with the plight of Japanese Americans during World War II, but it surprised me to learn a handful of German Americans also found themselves imprisoned in these relocation camps. My favorite part was the last third, in which one of the main characters was repatriated to Germany (despite being born in Iowa).

12. THE KISS OF DECEPTION by Mary E. Pearson I read Ms. Pearson's DANCE OF THIEVES a few months ago and absolutely adored it, so imagine my delight when I discovered that new series was a spin-off of The Remnant Chronicles, which started with this book. I enjoyed this one, too, though not as much as DANCE OF THIEVES. (Also, like THE GLASS SPARE, if you prefer the romantic subplots in your YA fantasies to remain subplots, this might not be the book for you.)

13. THE HEART OF BETRAYAL by Mary E. Pearson The sequel to THE KISS OF DECEPTION. I liked this one even better, as the plot was more detailed.

14. DRY by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman This YA thriller scared the living daylights out of me, as I can imagine a metropolis in the American Southwest running out of water someday. Well worth a read.

15. FUZZY MUD by Louis Sachar Not as memorable as HOLES or as wacky as SIDEWAYS STORIES, but this MG sci-fi could definitely hook reluctant readers, as it's a quick and easy read.

16. LOVELY WAR by Julie Berry This World War I epic has a most unusual frame: Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire, catches Aphrodite, his adulterous wife, red-handed and puts her and Ares, the Greek god of war, on trial in a Parisian hotel room. As a part of her defense, Aphrodite tells the stories of a pair of star-crossed couples who met during World War I. I was indifferent to the frame, but I thoroughly enjoyed the stories of our pair of star-crossed couples. In fact, I enjoyed them so much I went and bought this book after turning the library's back in.

17. CHARLIE HERNÁNDEZ AND THE LEAGUE OF SHADOWS by Ryan Calejo A fun MG adventure built around various elements of Hispanic mythology. The voice was also great. I think kid readers will really love this one.

18. MERCI SUÁREZ CHANGES GEARS by Meg Medina I really enjoyed this MG contemporary. I don't generally think of MG contemporaries as page-turners, but this one was for me. I guess that Newbery committee really does know what they're doing:)

Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think? If not, what are you reading? Anything I need to add to the stack on my nightstand?

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


If you're reading this, then I assume you do:) Head over to friend and critique partner Michelle Mason's blog for your chance to win (and there's an interview to boot)!

Thursday, April 11, 2019


Want some behind-the-scenes tidbits about THE MULTIPLYING MYSTERIES OF MOUNT TEN? Then check out the five fun facts I shared with YAYOMG! But some of them will make you work. For instance, can you figure out which two classic MG mysteries most inspired mine?

Tuesday, April 9, 2019


They say you should write the book that only you can write, and if that's true, then this is more my book than any of the others. I solved my first logic puzzle when I was, like, ten years old, so I guess you could say that I've been writing this book for a long, long, long, long, long time:)


"Twelve-year-old painter Esther can't wait to attend Camp Vermeer, the most prestigious art camp around. But when her stepdad accidentally drives up the wrong mountain, she lands at Camp Archimedes--a math camp!

"Determined to prove herself to the other campers, she tackles a brain-teaser that’s supposed to be impossible--and solves it in a single day. But not everyone is happy about it...someone wants her out of camp at any cost, and starts leaving cryptic, threatening notes all over the camp’s grounds. Esther doesn’t know who to trust--will she solve this riddle before it’s too late?

"Featuring tricky logic puzzles readers can solve along with the characters and starring a unique, smart, and crafty young heroine, this story has just the right mix of mystery, humor, and wit."

If you'd told ten-year-old me that I was going to major in either math or English, I would have guessed English all the way. And yet I think my math degree made me an even better writer, and if it gave me the confidence to write this story down, then I couldn't be gladder.

“The isolated setting provides the perfect backdrop for this fast-paced mystery
by Van Dolzer starring a quirky crew of well-drawn characters.”
--Publishers Weekly

“It's a lot of fun as readers participate in Esther's journey and solve puzzles alongside her... 
The ending successfully twists readers' expectations,
and those who like thought puzzles will enjoy this book.”
--Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

“Esther herself is solid and earnest, the math aspect is engaging,
and the exuberant energy of the story is contagious.”

"A good middle school mystery that includes, art, literature, logic, and multiple subplots.
...Compares well to CHASING VERMEER and THE WESTING GAME.”
--School Library Connection

I'll host a giveaway or two either here or on Twitter over the next couple of months, but in the meantime, you can order THE MULTIPLYING MYSTERIES OF MOUNT TEN from all the usual suspects:

So get out there and math it up!

Friday, April 5, 2019

Reading Roundup: March 2019

Time for another reading roundup! Here are the books I read last month, with a thought or two on each:

1. THE SOMEDAY BIRDS by Sally J. Pla Contemporary MG at its finest, this heart-breaking book has one of the sweetest MCs I've encountered in a while. A must-read for birders and MG lovers alike.

2. LOVE À LA MODE by Kate Stephanie Strohm If I were an agent, I would have pitched this book as ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS meets Top Chef. Of course, I would have had to pitch it AFTER reading it at once and e-mailing Ms. Strohm to offer her representation, but I would have done just that, because I loved it that much.

3. THE DARKDEEP by Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs I don't generally read horror, MG or otherwise, but when I do, I read the stuff written for ten- to twelve-year-olds:) This one held my interest, though I wished the kids had learned more about the Darkdeep's origins. Maybe they will in the sequel...

4. ARU SHAH AND THE END OF TIME by Roshani Chokshi This one reminded me of Sayantani DasGupta's THE SERPENT'S SECRET (though the characters in this one spent more time in the real world). Other readers have reported that the plotting in both books feels kind of random and haphazard, but I don't really know enough about Indian storytelling to make that kind of judgment call. Not that my reluctant reader cares. I passed the book to him as soon as I was done with it, and the first chapter reeled him in. He's been learning about Greek and Roman mythology in school, so this is a nice complement.

5. CHECK ME OUT by Becca Wilhite Though this book was billed as sweet romance, I might have liked it a lot more if they'd made the MC younger and just billed it as YA. Her voice read really young to me, and she came across as immature.

6. DANCE OF THIEVES by Mary E. Pearson I ADORED this book. Honestly, I could probably gush for several paragraphs (at least), but I'll say just this instead: the characters' goals were so well-drawn and so at odds with one another that, when one of the MCs was faced with a terrible choice, I had no idea how the scene was going to play out because I couldn't picture her NOT making either decision.

7. THE SECRET OF THE INDIA ORCHID by Nancy Campbell Allen Part historical romance, part Mission: Impossible-style thriller, this book was kind of a departure for the author and the publisher. Though I applaud Ms. Allen for thinking outside the box, I often found myself wishing we could focus on the romance OR the hunt for the NOC list stolen British documents. Because it wanted to be both, I think it ended up as neither.

And that's it from me! What have you been reading lately? Anything I need to add to the stack of books on my nightstand?

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Reading Roundup: January and February 2019

As you've probably noticed, I haven't been the best blogger in the last few months years (decades?). I LOVE interviewing writing folks and hosting blog contests, but those things take a lot of time, so I've had to cut back. Cut WAY back.

The one thing I haven't cut back on is reading. I LOVE reading maybe even more than I love writing, and staying up on market trends and what publishers are looking for can't be anything but helpful. What I'm trying to say is, I read quite a few books, and since we're all about books, I thought it might be nice to share.

I'm going to try to post a reading roundup once a month (and if we're REALLY lucky, I might be able to post something else in between, too). So without further ado, here are the books I've read since the beginning of the year, with a few thoughts on each:


1. BOY BITES BUG by Rebecca Petruck I loved, loved, LOVED Ms. Petruck's debut, STEERING TOWARD NORMAL--you can read my recommendation, if you feel so inclined--and like that book, BOY BITES BUG tackles a tough topic in an age-appropriate way. If you like MG contemporary that balances humor and heart, this one is worth checking out.

2. FULL TILT by Neal Shusterman Not the best of Mr. Shusterman's I've read, but he did write this book quite a while ago. (I found it at the library while I was browsing the YA section.) If you like gut-punching YA contemporary, try BRUISER or CHALLENGER DEEP; for amazing YA sci-fi--or amazing YA anything--definitely start with SCYTHE.

3. NOT IF I SAVE YOU FIRST by Ally Carter I don't know how I missed this one, as Ms. Carter is one of my go-to authors, but I'm so glad Michelle Mason put this one back on my radar! It was a fun mix of romance, adventure, and suspense.

4. THE CROWN'S FATE by Evelyn Skye I wasn't overwhelmed by THE CROWN'S GAME, this book's predecessor, but when I saw this one on the shelf at my handy-dandy library, I remembered it fondly enough to pick this one up. Happily, I enjoyed this one even more. Tsarist Russia lends itself so well to YA historical fantasy.

5. RESISTANCE by Jennifer A. Nielsen An insightful read about the work of Jewish couriers during the Nazis' occupation of Poland. Though I didn't connect as deeply with the fictional characters as I wanted to, I thought the story itself was extremely important.

6. REAL FRIENDS by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham I won this one in a giveaway and couldn't have been more excited, as I have a graphic novel fan who also happens to struggle with making the right friends. I got through this book in only a couple of sittings and immediately shared it with him.

7. FLAME IN THE MIST by Renee Ahdieh I enjoyed this book way more than I thought I would. Though the characters spent more time thinking than I would have liked, there was still plenty of plot, and their personalities really popped. (And in Ms. Ahdieh's defense, I HATE writing introspection, so my gripe probably says more about the quality of MY writing than it does about hers.)

8. SMOKE IN THE SUN by Renee Ahdieh The sequel to FLAME IN THE MIST, as you probably surmised:) I liked this one, too (though, since I read these back to back, I can't really separate them now).


9. DARE MIGHTY THINGS by Heather Kaczynski The concept here is great: several dozen young adults are vying for a single spot on a manned mission to...somewhere. Though the plot did develop slowly, it mostly held my attention (once I got over the fact that the characters are too old to be in a YA novel).

10. ONE GIANT LEAP by Heather Kaczynski The sequel to DARE MIGHTY THINGS, as you probably surmised again. This one was very different than DARE MIGHTY THINGS, as the climax of that book sends the concept spinning off in a whole new direction.

11. THE VANISHING STAIR by Maureen Johnson My mother-in-law took me to B&N for my birthday (hooray for mothers-in-law!), and this one was the book I picked. After tearing through TRULY DEVIOUS a few months ago, I knew I wanted THE VANISHING STAIR as soon as I saw it. (Thank goodness I didn't discover TRULY DEVIOUS until its sequel was about to come out!) I tore through this one, too:)

12. PROMISES AND PRIMROSES by Josi S. Kilpack A sweet historical romance that delivered on its promise (no pun intended). If you like this genre as much as I do, this one is worth a read.

13. WISHTREE by Katherine Applegate A quick read with an underlying message that's sorely needed right now. I even liked the tree-as-narrator motif.

14. IF THIS WERE A STORY by Beth Turley This MG contemporary was a little hard to read, as I could guess what was going on and my heart went out to the MC. Ms. Turley's repeated uses of the title phrase did get a little old, but on the whole, this one kept me turning pages.

15. CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE by Tomi Adeyemi I thought this YA fantasy was kind of disappointing. That said, if the plot and characters had been as unique as the world-building, it would have been an awesome read.

16. A HINT OF HYDRA by Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski This sequel to A DASH OF DRAGON was just as fast-paced and action-packed as its predecessor. In fact, I think I liked this one even more than the last.

17. LIES JANE AUSTEN TOLD ME by Julie Wright This contemporary romance reminded me of Shannon Hale's AUSTENLAND. It wasn't as good as that one, but I still enjoyed it.

Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think? If not, what have you been reading lately?

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Agent-Author Chat: Elizabeth Bewley and Michelle Mason

It's been far too long since I've done an interview, and I can think of no better subjects than my longtime writing friend and critique partner Michelle Mason and her new agent, Elizabeth Bewley of Sterling Lord Literistic. Ms. Bewley was an editor, most recently at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, up until she joined Sterling Lord Literistic last year, so when I heard that she was interested in Ms. Mason's most recent manuscript, I was over the moon.

Ms. Mason's query and answers will appear in orange, Ms. Bewley's in blue. Enjoy!

Ms. Mason's Query You read two of my other manuscripts earlier this year, and I hope you’ll be intrigued by my latest project, particularly as a couple of my readers said it reminded them of a John Hughes movie.

LOST meets Robin Palmer’s ONCE UPON A KISS in YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED, an 87,000-word young adult time travel novel.

When seventeen-year-old Jenny Waters boards Flight 237 on August 2, 1995, in New York, she has two main goals: convince her parents to let her apply to the journalism program at Columbia University, and woman up and kiss her boyfriend of two months. 

But when Jenny and the other passengers disembark in St. Louis, the airport manager informs them their plane disappeared--twenty-five years ago. Like the universe hit pause on their flight while the rest of the world kept moving. In 2020, newspaper reporter isn’t exactly a top career choice, and her boyfriend is old enough to be her dad. 

As if adjusting to a new century isn’t hard enough, a conspiracy group called the Time Protection League sets out to prove Flight 237 is a big hoax. (News flash, crazies: Time would be better served protecting a rain forest.) When Jenny’s not dealing with rumors she’s a clone, she’s fighting her attraction to Dylan, who introduces her to everything that’s headline-worthy about her new present, like Harry Potter and late-night texting.

Too bad Dylan happens to be her former boyfriend’s son. Yeah, that’s not awkward.

A member of SCBWI and a 2017 PitchWars mentee (for a different manuscript), my professional background is in public relations.

Thanks for considering!

KV: Ms. Mason, how did you first come up with the idea for YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED?

MM: I expect people will continue to ask me this question and so I should come up with a more concrete answer, but I honestly don’t remember what sparked it. But generally, my story ideas start with a random “what if” thought. In this case, my thought was: what if a girl got on a plane and it landed decades later, and time had passed for everyone else but not the people on the plane? When I have a thought like this, I type it into the notes app on my phone to save for when I’m ready to start writing something new. I actually jotted down quite a lot for this idea, so when I was ready to start outlining, I had a pretty well formed plot.

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?

MM: I really enjoy queries actually! Which is good because I queried seven manuscripts over seven years. In the past, it took me a while to get the query right, but this one came pretty naturally. Right after I finished my first draft, the query just spilled out of me one evening when I was getting ready for bed, so I wrote it on my phone as well. I sent it to a couple of my CPs for a check, and they said it sounded great. After they actually read the manuscript, they did suggest holding back one piece of information, so I tweaked that before querying. I also ran the query by a Facebook group I’m involved with thanks to being a 2017 PitchWars mentee. As for deciding the order to put things in, this particular query is pretty linear to the story itself. 

KV: How did you first make a connection regarding YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED?

EB: Michelle and I had connected earlier in the year via a query critique contest that she had won; though that particular novel wasn’t right for me, I remember really liking Michelle’s writing and thinking that she seemed like a nice and smart person. So, when she emailed me some months later about YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED, I was excited to dive into the manuscript.

MM: Yes! Elizabeth asked me to keep her in mind for future projects, and I’m so glad I did. I think sometimes writers think agents are just being kind when they ask for future projects, but they don’t say that to everyone. 

KV: So. True. Over time, I think we condition ourselves to see the bad in our writing, so when someone sees the good, we tend to downplay their positivity and assume it's a stock response.

Ms. Bewley, when you read Ms. Mason's query, what caught your attention?

EB: Besides recognizing Michelle’s name on the query, I absolutely loved the book’s title! I also thought that Michelle was able to succinctly sum up her premise and plot, which is always a good sign in a query. 

KV: Obviously, the manuscript met--or exceeded--your expectations. What did you love about YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED?

EB: My imagination was completely captured by the thought of a group of people who were trapped in time while the rest of the world had moved on…and on, by twenty five years! It’s the kind of high concept that I really enjoy. 

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

EB: I had to look back at my emails to figure this out! I read Michelle’s manuscript within a week or two. Unfortunately, I’m not always that fast. It depends on what else is happening during a particular week or even day. 

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

MM: Well, as I mentioned in the earlier question, my starting gate was seven years ago. I have learned so much during those years. I started out writing middle grade and discovered my voice was a better fit for young adult, but I wouldn’t trade those years of trying out MG because it introduced me to the world of MG and even if I’m not writing it, I still love reading it. As far as the querying process, each new manuscript has taught me something. I actually wrote a post on my blog each year about the lessons I learned querying. So, to answer your question, I don’t suppose there’s anything in particular I’d tell baby querier Michelle except to hang in there.

KV: Ms. Mason's "What I've Learned" posts are treasure troves of information and determination for querying writers. If you've never checked them out, you should do so posthaste!

Ms. Bewley, what querying tips do you have, and are you looking for anything specific at the moment?

EB: I’m awed by everyone who writes a novel and takes the brave step to send it out for review. So, first off, bravo to all the writers out there. Secondly, I’d encourage writers to put their best foot forward by sending out short, well-written query letters that tell an agent or editor what your book is about, why it is unique, and how it fits into the current marketplace. I also always like to know a little bit about a writer’s background too. 

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

EB: Keep at it! If you have the passion and the talent, you’ll find receptive readers. 

MM: Persevere! If you truly love writing and stick with it, you will eventually find the right audience for your work, whatever that means to you. Also, writing friends are so important! Build a strong network of critique partners/readers you trust to give you honest feedback and encouragement when you start to doubt yourself. I wouldn’t have survived those years of querying without my support network.

And there you have it! Didn't I say it would be great?!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Book Recommendations: WOLF BY WOLF and BLOOD FOR BLOOD by Ryan Graudin

My library has a small what's-new-in-YA shelf tucked into one of its back corners, and it's a testament to how much I love YA that I'm willing to drag my six-month-old back there, chubby cheeks, car seat, and all. That was how, a month or two ago, I stumbled across Ms. Graudin's WOLF BY WOLF, and I loved it so much that I immediately reserved BLOOD FOR BLOOD.

Though my library must have just acquired it, WOLF BY WOLF actually came out back in 2015. It's an alternate-reality sci-fi in which the Axis powers actually won World War II. Now, more than a decade later, they sponsor an annual motorcycle race for young German and Japanese riders that spans Europe, Africa, and Asia. Yael, a Jewish girl who escaped a concentration camp after Nazi experiments turned her into a shapeshifter, has been training for this race for what feels like her whole life. As a member of the floundering resistance that tried--and failed--to topple Hitler during World War II, she has to win the race to come face to face with the Fuhrer, who only appears in public once a year, at the victor's ball. A live-streamed assassination, one the regime can't cover up, is the catalyst they need to turn their floundering resistance into a full-blown revolution. She has the skills to pull it off--if the secret ex-boyfriend and the overprotective twin brother of the girl whose skin she's borrowing don't throw her off her game.

I'm a huge fan of historical sci-fis, so I probably would have liked this book even if Ms. Graudin hadn't executed it as well as she did. Despite the pages of backstory the plot had to fill us in on, the story never got bogged down, and the characters were both interesting and well-developed, with crisscrossing objectives and personalities that clashed as often as they got along. I was particularly drawn to Yael. I like my YA characters on the maturer side, and she turned out to be as mature and focused as they come.

Have you read WOLF BY WOLF and BLOOD FOR BLOOD? If so, what did you think? And if you've read any of Ms. Graudin's other books, which one should I try next?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

An Interview + A Giveaway = A Must-read Post

Many thanks to Michelle Mason, critique partner extraordinaire, for interviewing me about EARTH TO DAD! Michelle always has great insights on the books she reviews, and the questions she asks are just as thought-provoking. Definitely check out the interview, and don't miss the signed hardcover giveaway at the bottom of the post!