Today I have a really squeal-worthy post for you guys! And that is…and author interview with Krista Van Dolzer, the author of The Sound of Life and Everything, which releases today. I am so incredibly excited to read this book because 1. It’s MG historical fiction 2. It’s compared to When You Reach Me 3. It screams uniqueness because it’s kind of a mix between historical fiction and a little bit of sci-fi. I’ll let the blurb and the beautiful cover speak for themselves.
A fascinating speculative historical fiction debut set in 1950s California—perfect for fans of When You Reach Me.
Twelve-year-old 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 her auntie Mildred starts spouting nonsense about a scientist who can bring her cousin back to life from blood on his dog tags, Ella Mae is skeptical—until he steps out of a bio-pod right before her eyes.
But the boy is not her cousin—he’s Japanese. And in California in the wake of World War II, the Japanese are still feared and despised. When her aunt refuses to take responsibility, Ella Mae and her Mama take him home instead. Determined to do what’s right by her new friend, Ella Mae teaches Takuma English and defends him from the reverend’s talk of H-E-double-toothpicks. But when his memories start to resurface, Ella Mae learns some shocking truths about her own family and more importantly, what it means to love.
Anyways, now that you’re back from buying The Sound of Life and Everything and/or marking it as to-read on Goodreads, I can keep on yapping. Krista Van Dolzer is such a nice author. I loved corresponding with her via email and I can already tell that she’ll treat her fans well. She is also the master of deadlines. Even though she was on a deadline for her writing, she still got her interview answers to me so quickly. Now, here they are:
When did you first get interested in writing historical fiction?
My interest in writing historical fiction really started with this book. A first line popped into my head, and I knew right away that the character who said it wouldn’t live in this time period. Hello, historical fiction!
How do you think historical fiction exploring the aftermath of World War II impacts readers?
World War II was arguably the most significant event of the twentieth century, which is probably why so many modern writers still go back to that time period. And even though we aren’t fighting the Axis anymore, we are fighting other foes, and it’s vital to learn how to separate a group with despicable objectives from goodhearted individuals who may have the same skin color, the same nationality, or the same religion. Sometimes it’s easier to confront our weaknesses when they’re presented to us from another perspective.
How did you craft your characters specifically so that even though they lived during a different time, modern readers can still relate to them?
We may wear different clothes and have different different gadgets in our pockets, but in the end, people are just people. In thousands of years of recorded history, human nature hasn’t really changed. I think modern readers will relate to Ella Mae’s feistiness, Mama’s open-mindedness, and even some of Auntie Mildred’s fear. Though I don’t agree with Auntie Mildred’s point-of-view, I can understand why she has that point-of-view at the beginning of the book. We could all stand to get outside our comfort zones a little and challenge our preconceived notions, if for no other reason than to make sure that we really believe what we claim to believe.
What does your research process look like for a historical fiction book? What places do you visit? Who do you talk to?
I like to do most of my research by reading related books. Over the course of my writing and revising, I read James D. Watson’s memoir on the discovery of the chemical structure of DNA, THE DOUBLE HELIX; Richard Wheeler’s eyewitness account of the Battle of Iwo Jima, THE BLOODY BATTLE FOR SURIBACHI; and Karal Ann Marling’s AS SEEN ON TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s.
I also read numerous articles on Japanese life and culture in the early twentieth century so I could give Takuma’s character more believability. And I’ve seen more episodes of I Love Lucy than I care to admit, so I drew on those memories for some of the smaller details in the book (like what a housewife in the 1950s might have worn).
As for places I visited and people I spoke to, I’ve been to Orange County, California, multiple times over the years, so I drew on my memories of the landscape and the relative positions of the cities. I also found a bunch of old photographs online so I could get a sense of what it might have looked like back then and had several conversations with my husband’s grandparents to get an idea of what it was like to live in the 1950s.
What does your writing process look like?
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:)
Voice is a very elusive thing for any writer, but especially young writers. What is your advice to young writers about finding their writing voice?
Voice is probably the one element of writing that can’t really be taught. It’s literally how you write, the way you put words and sentences together, so once you’ve got the basics of grammar and mechanics down, no one can really tell you how your writing should sound. That said, it is possible to develop your voice, so my advice to young writers would be to just write. Try a bunch of different genres and even categories. You never know what kinds of stories are going to work best for your voice. Up until I wrote THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING, I’d never tried to write anything historical, but I’m so glad I didn’t let that stop me!
And finally, what is your favorite writing beverage: hot chocolate, coffee or tea?
None of the above! I can’t eat or drink while writing. It makes my fingers greasy, and then I feel like I have to get up and wash my hands every two or three minutes.
Thanks for your time!
And if those thoughtful answers don’t get you excited for Krista Van Dolzer’s first published book, The Sound of Life and Everything, then I don’t know what will. If you’d like to learn more about Krista Van Dolzer, here’s her bio.
I’m a stay-at-home mom by day and a children’s author by bedtime. I live with my husband and three kids in Mesquite, Nevada, where I watch too much college football and look for my dead people online. I’m 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).
Oh, and don’t forget to check out her website, which also houses an incredibly useful blog for writers. Well, that’s that. I hope you enjoyed this interview, and please check back for another historical fiction author interview later this week.