Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

The Next Big Thing

It’s scary how long it’s been — almost a month. Ouch!

I must do better than that. Much better.

But here is my excuse. I have been working on The Next Big Thing!

(Well, hey, at least, it’s nice to think so). ;)

Okay, so here is the deal. My new writing friend and a fellow Vermont College of Fine Arts student, Jessica Cooper, tagged me several weeks ago in this sweet little blog game called The Next Big Thing, where I answer the following questions about my work in progress. I am actually working on two things right now — one a project in a first draft stage which I won’t mention by name here, not yet. :) The other is, of course, revision of the young adult novel under the contract with namelos.

And that is the book I have decided to blog about today. I have spent more than ten years on and off with this novel, and yet the work I am doing now is just as hard — maybe harder — than back when I first started. I must remind myself — I’ve already walked most of this way — the end is just around the bend, though it doesn’t always feel this way.

What is the working title of your book? “Castle of Concrete.”

Where did the idea for the book come from? Though my main character, Sonya Solovay, is decidedly not me, this book is in many ways the product of my own experiences growing up and coming of age in the Soviet Union. I will admit, Sonya and I have some things in common. But though there were many feelings and experiences that drove me to keep finishing (and finishing and re-finishing) this book through its many reincarnations, there was really one experience that drove me to start this book in the first place. I wrote about this in a piece on secrets for Hip Mama magazine three years ago, but I’ll repeat the gist of it again.

I was thirteen years old, that shy Jewish girl. I was having what I thought at the time was one of the most thrilling days of my lifetime: a boy I had a major crush on was giving me a ride on his bike, his arms wrapped around me from behind, as he steered us through muddy back roads. I dared not even shift, for fear of ruining the magical moment, when an old grumpy man passed us by. I don’t even remember what he said or did: did he curse us for riding around there? Did he splatter us with mud? I honestly can’t recall. What I remember well, though, was how my crush cursed back at him, calling the stranger “Jid,” an anti-Semitic curse word.

What I remember was the way I kept sitting still through the entire ride, afraid to breathe, ashamed and scared.

I never mentioned the incident to the boy again, even though we saw each other many times again, more than that, we dated. The boy knew my mother was Jewish, and I doubt he was an anti-Semite. I am sure he wasn’t trying to be mean that day, either. What affected me the most, I think, was that I was too much of a coward to say anything. I just couldn’t put that shame out of my head, not until I wrote “Castle.”

What genre does your book fall under?

Recent historical YA

What characters would you choose to play a movie rendition?

Credit: Wikipedia

Ha! I love this question, but at the same time I refuse to indulge in counting my chickens, and all that. I just feel so incredibly blessed to have even gotten this far (and will feel more so when I finish the revision to mine — and then my editor’s satisfaction). Besides, if this is ever a movie, I’m sure the casting director will do a wonderful job :) And you know what — I won’t even mind having an unknown playing Sonya, her love interest Ruslan and her friend Misha, either. I have such clear images of them and their personalities in my head. It’d be so fun to watch how other people see my characters, how their perceptions are the same, or different.

I will say one thing though: I have a perfect theme song in mind. Music plays an important role in my book, and it is uncanny how much a song by a German rock band, Scorpions, matches the story. The band was inspired to record this song after their 1989 visit to Moscow, and the song was released in 1990 and became a hit in 1991, in the very years when Castle takes place.

One- to two-sentence synopsis of the book:  In the last year of the collapsing Soviet Union, amidst political uncertainty, nationalist uprisings, food shortages and nationwide anger, 15-year-old Sonya reunites with her proud Jewish dissident mother. A half-Russian, half-Jew, the timid girl, whose entire childhood was defined by missing her mother, is now on a  search for a new, braver identity. Their relationship suffers when Sonya falls for a boy who causes her to question who she is.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The story is represented by Jessica Regel, who fell in love with it on the first read, when it was a giant, embarrassing mess — and had stuck around through all sorts of ups and downs. And of course, I am so fortunate that Stephen Roxburgh and Joy Neaves of namelos, felt the story deserved to be shown to the rest of the world (once I am done with the revision) :)

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Three months. Little did I know!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Hmm, well, I know my agent compared it to “What I Saw And How I Lied” by Judy Blundell in some of her submissions. One editor who wrote a rejection letter full of such high praise I didn’t know whether to be flattered or to pound my fist on my keyboard with frustration, actually compared it to Twilight. :) So maybe I’ll go with that — imagine a more literary version of Twilight set in the Soviet Union.

What else about this book might peak the readers’ interest?

The love triangle, as my heroine makes the choice between her new Jewish friend and a boy she suspects has strong anti-Semitic leanings. And, I don’t know, maybe the girl’s search for her own self: the questions of what makes us worthy, important, special? How much of our roots define who we are — and how much do those who hate us end up molding our own identities?

Your turn:

I would like to tag the following authors: my Namelos publishing mate Shannon Hitchcock, my dear author friend to whom I owe so much Joyce Moyer Hostetter, a teacher, author and faithful follower of this blog Medeia Sharif, and finally, Kathryn Craft, a writer whose blog I discovered recently through a Facebook community of writers, and who also just got a book deal!

Can’t wait to read what you guys are working on — if you’re brave enough to share.

October 8, 2012 - Posted by | Personal Mirror, The U.S.S.R., Writing Mirror | , ,


  1. Oh, I hadn’t heard the boy on the bike story. :( I am so eager to read the finished product!

    I will take the meme and run with it soon. Thanks for the tag.

    Comment by joycemoyerhostetter | October 8, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks for that, Joyce. I am eager for you to read it too — heck, at this point, I am kind of eager for ME to read it, lol!

      Comment by Katia Raina | October 8, 2012 | Reply

  2. Katia–this sounds absolutely amazing. I mean that genuinely! I can’t wait to read your book. The scene of the thirteen year old you on the bike–ugh–got me right in the gut. I believe many of us have had moments like that in one way or another which makes it a relatable story with such a unique setting. I’m really excited for you! And “Misha” is one of my most favorite names. :-)

    Comment by Jess | October 8, 2012 | Reply

    • Thank you so much, Jessica! (blush)

      Comment by Katia Raina | October 8, 2012 | Reply

  3. You tagged me — now what am I supposed to do? I can’t wait to read you book. I believe when we met each other all those years ago in Tom’s River that you brought a draft of this manuscript. Isn’t it almost unbelievable how things have worked out?!

    Comment by Shannon Hitchcock | October 8, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks Shannon, and yes, it was this very manuscript I brought to that magical Toms River workshop. I think a bunch of other people got contracts out of that, too. Unbelievable is right :) Now, I am hoping you’d do a post like this one on your own blog about whatever book you consider to be “in progress,” whether it’s a first draft, an about to be published work, or anything in between. That’s the way the game works!

      Comment by Katia Raina | October 8, 2012 | Reply

  4. Sounds fascinating! Did a double take on your heroine’s name – mine’s Jemma Solvay! (bk coming out April 2013 w/Delacorte.) Best of luck with it!

    Comment by Kit Grindstaff | October 8, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks, Kit — my heroine’s last name is Jewish, though it could also be mistaken for Russian. But yeah, sounds like both of the girls’ last names are from the same origin. Small world? :) Just checked the description of your book on your site — sounds creepy and intriguing, perfect for middle-graders, yes?

      Comment by Katia Raina | October 8, 2012 | Reply

      • That’s the idea :) though I hope a few YA readers and adults will like it too. My “Solvay” was a morphed version of Solveig, the name of a half Russian, half Norwegian friend of my mum’s aka Billie) who I adored and was a huge influence in my life, esp. in my teens. She said the name meant “way of the sun” (which figures!), so it was perfect for my heroine, plus a kind of dedication to Billie.

        Comment by Kit Grindstaff | October 8, 2012

  5. It was fantastic learning more about your upcoming novel. I can’t wait to read it. Thanks for tagging me. I’m booked for October. Maybe November?

    Comment by Medeia Sharif | October 9, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks Medeia — you’re one busy blogger, huh? :) November would be great! I’d love to learn more about what you’re writing!

      Comment by Katia Raina | October 9, 2012 | Reply

  6. Lovely synopsis, Katia. Good luck with your rewrite. I can’t wait to read your story.

    Comment by nan marino | October 16, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks, Nan! Can’t wait for you to read it! :)

      Comment by Katia Raina | October 16, 2012 | Reply

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