Discover more from From the Mind of Karis
Q&A with Christine Hartman Derr, newly agented author on the rise!
We chat celebrating all the milestones, taking writing seriously, and some excellent book recs!
Welcome to the interview 🗣️
Hello, and welcome! We’re trying something new today, that hopefully I’ll be able to keep doing intermittently as the days carry on. As someone who was deeply enmeshed in the writing world & literary community for years before I signed with an agent, I always felt this sorrow that I was never going to be considered as a podcast guest or blog interview guest because I hadn’t “made it” yet. But I still had things to say!
So what we’re doing here is we’re going to chat with authors at all stages of the publishing journey: authors whose books are releasing, of course, but also newly-agented authors, authors in the querying trenches, authors on sub…and everything in between!
I’m delighted that my first such interview was with the fabulous Christine Hartman Derr. Christine and I met online during our very first VCFA residency last January, and she’s been one of my best friends ever since. In addition to being a kind, hilarious, and truly uplifting friend, Christine writes beautifully and is passionate about representing Native kids and language in her stories. I’m so excited for y’all to get to know her here!
Karis Rogerson: Can you give us a quick snapshot of where you are in your publishing journey?
Christine Hartman Derr: Yes, well I’m in my fourth semester in the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing For Children & Young Adults program. I’ve also been honored to be a participant at the We Need Diverse Books Native Chidlren & YA Intensive twice, and I am under contract for a short story in an anthology coming out in 2025, and I recently signed with a literary agent.
KR: How were you drawn to writing as a means of storytelling?
CHD: I was a bookworm as a kid, I read a lot. When I learned that writing was like a real thing that people could do, that was what I wanted to do. I’ve always been drawn to storytelling in its various forms…books, movies, TV, graphic novels, oral storytelling. I love all of it.
Growing up there wasn’t a lot of Native rep in kidlit written by Native people for Native people. And so the little representation we have is often misrepresentation. When I decided to start pursuing writing fiction as a career, focusing on Native kids as the heroes in their own stories and giving genuine representation was really important to me.
KR: And why do you write?
CHD: I chose writing as a form of storytelling because it felt right. I can’t not write is definitely part of it — I’ve been a writer since I was in elementary school. Before I could write, I was making ups tories and acting them out, storytelling has just always been really deeply rooted in my heart and it just kind of naturally grew into writing.
I had a wonderful teacher in elementary school who encouraged my writing and read my terrible terrible Titanic fan fiction. She was such a positive influence and validated me and believed in me to the point that it didn’t occur to me not to believe in myself.
KR: I just got chills. So can you share a little bit about the project that you signed with an agent with?
CHD: My project is an upper middle grade contemporary fabulism story that follows a 13-year-old girl and her aunt as they move off the reservation to a mountain town that seems to have some mysterious things going on there. She gets on the mean girl’s list the first day and things happen from there.
KR: What are some overarching themes?
CHD: I wanted to show a character who was resilient and who continued to connect with her culture despite being far away from her tribal homelands. And I wanted to show a variety of familial relationships. It was also important to me to weave in that…a lot of times people who behave in hurtful ways may also be going through something hurtful themselves.
That doesn’t excuse their behavior but it helps shift perspective and when someone needs help, they need help, whether they’re kind of a jerk or not. Doing the right thing and following your heart is important even when it’s annoying.
KR: What is one of the most important things for you to share in your stories?
CHD: I definitely tend to focus on themes of identity and belonging, particularly related to Native kids. Native people come in all shades and sizes and conection to community and I think it’s important to showt that. For so long we’ve only had misrepresentations and stories told from outside our perspective that reinforce those stereotypes.
KR: What actions do you take to allow yourself to take writing seriously, pre-publication?
CHD: I definitely make sure to carve out time for writing and I treat it as if I were geting paid to do it. I think so often when we aren’t monetizing something we enjoy doing…it takes more effort to sit down and do the work. Whether this book gets published or not, I’m getting better by sitting down and doing the work. It’s important to me to get better. I treat it like it’s a job and schedule it and sit down…even if I stare out the window for 30 mintues, it takes what it takes.
KR: Do you have any words of advice for people earlier in the process than you are?
If you have a story in your heart that you feel like you’re the person to tell, you should try and tell it. Showing up for yourself by making time to sit down and work on it is really important because you deserve that time. I faced a lot of rejection on this journey, and I think shifting perspective on what rejection means is important.
If you’re querying and you’re getting a lot of “no”s, don’t let that convince you that your work isn’t good, that’s just another person who isn’t the right fit for waht you’re doing. Don’t let someone else’s perception of your value affect how you’re doing what you’re doing.
KR: What milestones do you take time to celebrate on the writing journey?
CHD: I celebrate getting started on a new idea. If a new voice pops into my head, that is something that I give a little cheer over. Finishing a first draft, definitely. Those little epiphanies about character or plot that spark an aha moment.
KR: Can you recommend a few books that you’re read and loved lately?
CHD: Buckle in, buttercup!
I just finished Emily Bowen Cohen’s Two Tribes, which is a middle grade graphic novel that I absolutely love. I’m still obsessed with Christine Day’s We Still Belong. Honestly we could end that sentence with “with Christine Day” because I love all of her books, they’re so incredible. I still think about Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley and I finished it months ago, and the same goes for Harvest House by Cynthia Leitich Smith.
Do you want to be interviewed? 👀
That’s all for my interview with Christine! I hope you enjoyed this snapshot into our conversation and into what an amazing person and writer Christine is.
Hey, are you interested in being featured in a newsletter interview? I’m dying to interview you! You can email me back, find me on Insta, text me if we’re at that level, or just drop a comment here. I’d love to chat!
That’s all for this week, buttercups (Christine said it first, and I about died). Next week we’re back to our regularly scheduled from the heart, from the vault, and from the page. See ya around! And hey, if you have a friend who might like this newsletter? Why not share it with them!