Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 23, 2019


Author Katia Raina debut YA novel titled, CASTLE OF CONCRETE is coming out on June 11th. Katia sent me a copy and I loved what I read. Here is the link to my Goodreads review. Katia has agreed to share a book with one lucky winner. All you have to do to get in the running is to leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you do to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter, reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. Thanks for helping Katia!


Set in the final year of Soviet Russia’s collapse, this stunning debut novel tells the story of Sonya, a timid Jewish girl who reunites with her once-dissident mother and falls in love with a mysterious muddy-eyed boy who may be an anti-Semite. All the while, Sonya’s mama is falling in love also⎯with shiny America, a land where differences seem to be celebrated. The place sounds amazing, but so far away. Will Sonya ever find her way there?


Most authors will tell you their journeys from story idea to published novel were filled with twists and turns and took a long time. My book journey is definitely up there with the toughest and the twistiest. I got the story idea for this novel before my youngest daughter was born. Now that the story is about to come out to the world between the covers she is 15 years old.

I have been writing or making up stories in my head all my life, but I only committed to becoming a writer in my 20s, when I decided to take a break from a demanding career of a journalist and stay home with my then-toddler son. I enrolled in the Institute of Children’s Literature Course and started off with picture books attempts and short stories. When it came time to try my hand at a novel, I reached into the memories of my childhood and adolescence, growing up in Russia. The most vivid ones came from an unfortunate first romance.

One particular memory became the seed of the story. I was on a date with this boy I was crazy about. He was giving me a ride on his bicycle when a passerby splashed us with some mud. My shiny knight cursed the passerby out, using an anti-Semitic slur. I didn’t confront him about. Didn’t ask him if he hated Jews or if it was just a word he’d heard somewhere that meant nothing to him yet made me feel so small and dirty. I didn’t ask him if he even knew that I was Jewish. I didn’t ask him anything. But the unasked questions burned deeply on the inside. Years later, when I searched for writing material, these questions came calling again, coalescing into the idea of a Jewish girl in Russia falling for a boy who may be an anti-Semite.

Once I had the story idea, I did all the usual things that writers do: I researched the writing process, created a rough outline and wrote the first chapter. My earliest mentor for this story, the Institute instructor Kristi Holl encouraged me to continue.

And so I did. I dug into my other memories: playing on construction sites. Confronting a teacher. Being a new girl in a new school. Living away from my brave, shiny mama and dreaming of her. Moving in to a new apartment with her near Moscow, the nation’s capital to start a New Life, capitalized. I let these real-life experiences intertwine with fiction, to the point where it was hard to tell where the real ended and the made-up began. I intensified my protagonist Sonya, gave her some qualities I had and others I’d only wished for. I twisted the people I knew into brand new fictional personas, I combined characters and moved around events as the story demanded.

It took me three months to write a rough draft – that was the easiest part. Afterwards I went to Russia to do some research. That too was so much fun. Notebook and pen in hand, I went to all the places featured in the rough draft of my novel and jotted down everything I saw, heard, smelled and felt. I described the roar of the train in the Moscow metro, the smell of soot at the train station, the broken beer bottles on the ground, the spaciousness of the first Russian McDonald’s in the center of Moscow. Castle of Concrete is set in the 1990s. I was coming back more than a decade later, and though there were many changes, I was amazed at how much remained the same.

After I returned from Moscow, the hard work of revisions began. Writers are very familiar with this part – re-envision, re-outline, research some more, rest, rinse, repeat. At a certain point, I felt my manuscript was ready to shop around. (Ha! What did I know?) I went to the Rutgers One-On-One conference and met an agent there, a wonderful one! She read the manuscript, which at that time was 600 pages, and asked for revisions, including cutting the manuscript in half. I signed with another agent who was ready to work with me right away. That agent and I didn’t work out. I signed with that first agent next, the one who’d loved my work – she was a real deal, and, after more revisions, shopped the manuscript to every publishing house she could think of, and then some. We even got a book contract with a small publisher that fell through after a year of more revisions. Of course, in the meantime I was working on other manuscripts. Honestly, I tried giving up on Castle so many times. It would have been a smart thing to do, really. But the book kept calling me. The other agent and I parted ways as well, super amicably. I enrolled in an MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, focusing on Writing for Children and Young Adults. I kept writing other stories, kept learning. And once in a while, I would still come back to Castle and revise again, applying the knowledge I’d gained from all my newly gained MFA wisdom.

Looking back I realize now, that was the journey, that was the process. It just took this long somehow, for my characters to mature into the most real versions of themselves and to tell their best truth on the page.

Back when I was in the midst of revisions with the publisher that didn’t work out, one of my old writing friends Barbara Krasner told me about New Europe Books, a promising new literary press that just started a young readers imprint. I tucked the information away for later.

My kids growing fast, I graduated from VCFA, realizing that it was time to establish a solid career. Somehow, journalism no longer fit, and so I joined Teach for America and became a teacher for urban youth, entering one of the most exhausting and exhilarating professions, one I hope I won’t leave for a long, long time. Somehow the break from full-time writing was good for me, and I found my way back to inspiration. About two years ago, I remembered the literary press Barbara had mentioned and submitted there, trying not to hold my breath. The preview process took a long time, but finally, last February, I got the email that I had to reread over and over, because I couldn’t quite believe it. Was this book of my life about to become real, after all? Could I dare celebrate?

This time, I kept it a secret from most people for as long as I possibly could. I think it was when the early review copies came in that I felt assured enough that yes, this time, it was actually happening.

And now the launch is just a few weeks away!

I am so grateful to my writer friends, who read so many versions of this story, to all the early mentors who encouraged me, to VCFA, for giving me the writing wisdom that I needed, and for my patient kids and husband, who watched me dream this story for so long, and who dreamed it with me.

Kathy, too, was a part of this journey. Thank you so much for helping to spread the joy!


When she was a child, Katia Raina played at construction sites and believed in magic mirrors. She emigrated from the former Soviet Union at the age of almost sixteen. A former journalist and currently a middle school English teacher in Washington, D.C., she has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives with her family just outside of D.C., and still believes in magic.

Katia, thank you for sharing your book and journey with us and thank you for sending me a copy to read. I loved it! Let us know when the awards start rolling in.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I just love hearing the story behind the story, even it was a sad seed. Thank you for sharing. But I think we need to share these things to change the future. (((HUGS))) Best of luck to you and your book.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds like an incredible story, one I would love to read. Thank you for the giveaway!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Stories that arise from a personal place like this have so much resonance. Thanks for sharing the book journey with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love hearing about Katia’s journey to publication on this book. Wow!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I just put this on my to-be-read list. Sounds fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow! What a beautiful and inspiring story! Your persistence is energizing. Thank you for sharing it!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am so glad you shared your publishing journey with us, Katia. It was brave and inspiring, just as I’m sure your book is, too. I am putting it on my reading list now!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I featured Katia and her book journey on my blog back in March. I’d love an opportunity to win a copy of this book. I am posting on FB, tweeting and reblogging this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Reblogged this on Darlene Beck-Jacobson and commented:
    I featured Katia Raina’s book on this blog back in March, but I am reblogging it again here for all of us who hope to win a copy of this historical fiction book.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Congrats, Katia! I definitely want to read this book since my daughter was born in Russia the year the Soviet Union broke apart, and I went to Moscow to adopt her in 1994 (I have a photo of that McDonalds).

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I shared on Pinterest, FB, and Twitter. I want to read this book! Congrats Katia!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Sounds wonderful! Yay! Congratulations!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thanks for telling me about this one. I have liked Katia Raina’s other books. I will check it out.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Katia…CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!!!! There’s just SO much to be said for perseverance 😀 SO happy for you!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Congratulations, Katia, your book sounds very intriguing. I’ve shared this giveaway on FB & Twitter. Thank you for your giveaway.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. What an amazing story. I just read the opening page and love your description. I too am Jewish, my family is from the Ukraine. Love to see the sights and sounds of that world. Good luck. FYI will post on Facebook.


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