The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong by L. Tam Holland
I first saw this book at the California Library Association (CLA) conference last fall, and was immediately intrigued by its premise. It’s a unique story with an engaging voice sure to catch a diverse audience. Have a look:
When Vee Crawford-Wong’s history teacher assigns an essay on his family history, Vee knows he’s in trouble. His parents—Chinese-born dad and Texas-bred Mom—are mysteriously and stubbornly close-lipped about his ancestors. So, he makes it all up and turns in the assignment. And then everything falls apart.
After a fistfight, getting cut from the basketball team, offending his best friend, and watching his grades plummet, one thing becomes abundantly clear to Vee: No one understands him! If only he knew where he came from… So Vee does what anyone in his situation would do: He forges a letter from his grandparents in China, asking his father to bring their grandson to visit. Astonishingly, Vee’s father agrees. But in the land of his ancestors, Vee learns that the answers he seeks are closer to home then he could have ever imagined.
According to your website bio, you got an MFA from the University of San Francisco. What advice, if any, do you have for people interested in getting an MFA, and how did your MFA experience shape your writing?
For me, the MFA was a fantastic experience – it allowed me to immerse myself in a community of writers and “put my money where my mouth is,” so to speak. I gave myself permission, for the first time, to really call myself a writer. The USF program has night classes, which was convenient, and also focuses on close craft analysis as much as on page production. I am a total nerd and absolutely loved it. To the MFA-seeker, I would say, “Do your homework!” There are tons of programs out there (low residency, M.A. programs, ones that give you teaching opportunities, etc.). The MFA put me on the right track to make writing a permanent part of my life, and I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have written this first novel without that help.
You’ve definitely crafted a beautiful story! I love Vee’s voice in THE COUNTERFEIT TREE OF VEE CRAWFORD-WONG. What did you enjoy most about writing his journey?
I tend to be on the sarcastic side of sarcastic about most things, so it was fun to really let loose with that. I started the book with the idea that Vee would be incredibly average in all ways but quickly realized that he needed to be nerdy and sharp in order for it to be enjoyable to write – and in order to reach some of those insights I wanted him (and, by extension, the reader) to have. I do a lot of learning through my characters while I’m researching what they like. Vee is into archaeology and anthropology and Chinese culture, so I got to delve into all of that. And once, while watching a NOVA show on black holes and such, I turned to my husband and said, “Vee would absolutely love this!” He gave me a strange look, but hey, it was true! Being a fiction writer means I will never, ever be bored.
And your readers won’t be either. In what ways do teenagers continually inspire you?
I love how unfiltered and how passionate young adults can be about, well, anything. Adults sometimes fall into ruts about who they are and what they can do. Young adults haven’t carved out those deep neural pathways yet and are constantly reinventing themselves. I think our world would be a much better place if adults were able to do this better! Teenagers are also natural storytellers and I am consistently blown away by the quality and creativity of their writing. I am currently judging a creative writing contest for 6th-12th graders (feel free to check it out at www.Bluefire.org) and it fills me with optimism to read these sharp, lyrical, clever, sometimes heartbreaking stories. It also fills me with jealousy at times, but that’s a good thing too.
What a wonderful way to encourage creativity! What are some of your current projects?
I’m revising (okay, actually rewriting for the second time) a novel about a girl who is addicted to a video game. I’ve invented the game, which makes me feel a bit like a science fiction writer or maybe a mad scientist, but the heart of the novel is really about why she’s addicted – about the issues in her life that are driving her to want to escape and inhabit another persona. And because I don’t write in a bubble – because there’s so much going on in the world right now – it’s also morphing into an homage to the power of women and family and female friendships. Also, my seven-year-old and I are brainstorming ideas for a book we want to write together. But usually, we come up with an amazing idea and then find out that someone has already written it. But we persist. That’s what writers do!