The Debut Club: An interview with Krista Van Dolzer, author of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING

Sweet Sixteener Celeste Lim recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener Krista Van Dolzer about her MG historical science fiction debut, THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING (May 5, 2015 from G.P. Putnams’s Sons Books for Young Readers).

Krista squaredAbout the Author:

Krista Van Dolzer is a stay-at-home mom by day and a children’s author by bedtime. She lives with her husband and three kids in Mesquite, Nevada, where she watches too much college football and looks for her dead people online. She’s the author of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, May 2015) and DON’T VOTE FOR ME (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, August 2015).

Find Krista on her websiteTwitter, and Goodreads.

 

THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING final coverAbout THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING:

Ella Mae Higbee is a sensible girl. She eats her vegetables and wants to be just like Sergeant Friday, her favorite character on Dragnet. So when auntie Mildred starts spouting nonsense about a scientist who can bring back to life cousin Robby, who died defending the country in WWII, Ella Mae doesn’t believe her–until a boy steps out of the scientist’s pod and drips slime on the floor right before her eyes.
But the boy is not Robby–he’s Japanese. And when Auntie Mildred refuses to take responsibility, Ella Mae convinces her mama to take the boy home with them.

Determined to do what’s right by her new friend, Ella Mae teaches him English and defends him from the reverend’s talk of H-E-double-toothpicks. But when the boy’s painful memories resurface, Ella Mae learns some surprising truths about her own family and, more importantly, what it means to love.

Signed copies of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING are available for purchase at The King’s English Bookshop. Other buy links: Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, Indigo, and Indiebound.

Celeste: Where do you get your ideas? And what, specifically, inspired you to write this one?

Krista: I get ideas from all over the place, but my best ideas typically come in the form of interesting first chapters. This story started with one sentence: “Mama said it was plum foolishness to keep my cousin’s dog tags like that, with his blood still stuck between the ridges of his name.” It’s changed a little since then, but the sentiment remains. I wondered what kind of character would say that line–and what kind of story she would tell–and THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING was born.

Celeste: The novel was written in first person, how did you try to connect with Ella Mae (the protagonist) before you knew you had her character down just right?

Krista: I’ve never had to stretch to find Ella Mae’s voice; it was always just there. That said, I did have to go back in and add quite a bit of internal monologue, since I tend to focus on showing in first drafts.

Celeste: As a writer, do you tend to start off with a well thought out blueprint of a novel, or do you just go where your instinct takes you?

Krista: This book was kind of a departure for me–or maybe it was a homecoming. I’d been one of those writers who used the first draft to figure out my plot and characters, but then I decided to try my hand at outlining and stuck with that for a few years. Then I got the idea for THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING, and the words just started flowing. I’ve written several books since, and I’ve drafted all of them the same way–by the seat of my pants 🙂

Celeste: How did you find your agent/ editor?

Krista: I’m represented by Kate Schafer Testerman, and THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING (formerly titled THE REGENERATED MAN AND ME) was the third of my manuscripts that Kate had requested. The first two were young adult, but when I made the switch to middle grade, everything just clicked. She offered on the manuscript after several months, and though I ended up with another offer from a dynamite agent, I ended up going with Kate because she’d already shown me that my stories intrigued her.

As for how we found my editor, it was a long and winding road. Several of the agents who passed on the manuscript said they loved the writing but were concerned about the genre mashup, and we found that several editors felt the same way. But then Shauna Rossano got a hold of the manuscript, and after I worked with her on a non-contracted revision, she made an offer almost a year to the day after THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING first went on submission.

Lightning Round Questions:

As a reader, do you prefer literary or commercial books?

Both!

What were you reading when you were a middle-grader yourself?

Ooh, great question! The first book that popped into my head was Lloyd Alexander’s THE BOOK OF THREE. We read this one as a class in fifth or sixth grade, and I remember being mesmerized.

Tell us about your writing music playlist, if you have one.

I have a writing playlist. It’s called silence 🙂

What gets in the way of your writing?

My kids. But then, my writing gets in their way sometimes, too, so I guess that’s only fair.

Writing or reading pet-peeves?

None that I can think of.

Where would be your ideal place for a writing retreat?

A toasty cabin in Antarctica in the dead of winter. There wouldn’t be anything to do but write!

Signed copies of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING are available for purchase at The King’s English Bookshop. Other buy links: Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, Indigo, and Indiebound.


About the Interviewer:

Celeste LimGrowing up in Malaysia made Celeste Lim incredibly envious of the children she read about in English books. So, after completing her MFA in NYC, she wrote to inspire in young readers the awareness of many exciting worlds that exist beyond where we live. Celeste’s debut (Scholastic Press, 2016) is an MG historical fantasy, where in Medieval China, a girl is sold by her family to become a nursemaid and wife to a toddler. With the help of sentient creatures called jing, she discovers strength, and a destiny that is intertwined with her spirit guardian – a great, golden fox jing.

You can find Celeste on her website and Twitter.

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