Category: #WeNeedDiverseBooks

A Dream Come True

On Wednesday, my super agent Linda sent me a quick text:

Your book will be announced sometime Thursday.

Needless to say, I couldn’t sleep all night. Every time I thought about the announcement going live, I got butterflies in my stomach. And then Thursday arrived, and my book wasn’t in the morning Publisher Marketplace new deals email. Soon, I got distracted with two sick children. One who’s been struggling with strep throat for three weeks, and another one whose tummy hurt. Before I knew it, the other kids were home from school, and we had tickets for A Christmas Carol, which we couldn’t miss. I loaded the car with the kids and two friends, and we headed to the theater just when the sun was setting and traffic was thickening into the rage inducing slime of rush hour at The Point of the Mountain. Just as I was merging into the freeway, I got an email notification from my editor, Clarissa Wong. She said the announcement was live. Soon after, Linda emailed me, and then texted me. I exclaimed, “”My book is announced!” and the whole car cheered, and Julian said, “Focus on driving, Mama.” Which of course I didn’t need to be reminded of. Still, I felt like the sun was bursting out of my heart and spilling out of my eyes and every pore in my body.

So far, the best part of a book deal has been sharing the news with my beloved family and friends. The flood of love and excitement has kept me on a high all these days later. During the play’s intermission, I checked on my notifications that were climbing by the second, and a voicemail from my dear agent. Linda had more amazing news that hopefully I’ll get to share six months from now :P. I’m overcome by emotion at all my blessings. In this industry, good news arrive in an avalanche, and then there is silence or rejection for weeks and months at a time. I’m relishing in the good news avalanche right now. I’m holding on to all the light to last me through the dark winter months ahead.

I’m thrilled that I’m working with Clarissa Wong from HarperCollins, and that Jaime Kim is illustrating my book. A few days before the announcement, Clarissa sent me two preliminary sketches of a spread, and when I saw the beauty of Jaime Kim’s interpretation of my story, I broke into tears of gratitude.

This book is the most unexpected surprise. As I said in my graduate reading at VCFA, I wrote it in between packets, and no advisor ever saw it, but I wanted to share it on my last day at beloved school because this poem wouldn’t ever have happened if not for the advise and guidance I found there. I’d written an earlier version of this poem a couple of years ago, but during the political struggle of 2015-2016, I re-wrote it as a love letter to my children. I hope that when they read the final product they’re proud of it.

This deal wouldn’t have happened if Martine Leavitt, Uma Krishnaswami, and Cynthia Leitich-Smith hadn’t urged me after my reading to send it to Linda. It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t actually send it to my dear agent, although I didn’t have any hopes that it would sell. It’s not quirky or commercial enough, I told myself. By then, I’d been out on submission with two other manuscripts that didn’t sell, and in the dead of winter post-graduation, I wasn’t feeling too hopeful about my writing career. I’m grateful I took the plunge because this book resonated with a lot of people. A couple of weeks later we had multiple offers for this manuscript, shattering all my expectations.

Although summer 2019 seems like a long time away, in publishing, two years is an amazingly short time for a picture book to be released. I can’t wait to share this story with my readers and friends and family who’ve been so supportive and have believed in me even when I didn’t believe anymore.

I’ve been holding on to these pictures from when I signed all the way back in August. Note my diamond pen (that Areli gave me after I helped her with Alpine Days), and my bracelet, She Believed She Could So She Did.

After so many years, my dream is coming true.

 

 

The Walter Dean Meyers Grant from We Need Diverse Books

Today I was supposed to write 3,500 words. I’m at the end of a very emotional middle grade that has consumed my life for the past months. I’m so grateful to work with my wonderful VCFA mentor, whose encouragement and guidance has meant the world for me to keep going. Today, I only wrote 500 words, but I have a good reason. The scene I had planned on writing was very emotional (did I already say that?), and as I usually do when I have to dig deeply into my heart, I went online to procrastinate. Just then, I received an email from the We Need Diverse Books team, announcing that I had been selected as one of the five recipients of the inaugural Walter Dean Meyers Grant. I couldn’t go back to the emotional scene after that 🙂

This was my reaction:


Here’s the official We Need Diverse Books announcement, and the Publishers’ Weekly press release.

After the adrenaline, I’ll go back to the keyboard and the word count, so this book can come alive!

Thank you to all my mentors, teachers, friends, and family because without their support, I would have never been able to keep going when the writing gets tough!

Scenes and Early Readers

My kids’ second Spring break is over and I’m in full production mode for Packet 4 and my free lance project in a non-fiction project. I’ve been toying with chapter books and early readers these past few days, and I’ve been trying to read as many chapter books as possible. I’m shocked (not really. Maybe a little) by the lack of diversity in early readers and chapter books. I only found KEENA FORD, by Melissa Thompson and RUBY AND THE BOOKER BOYS, by Derrick Barnes, and DYAMONDE DANIEL, by Nikki Grimes. I found SOFIA MARTINEZ, but I haven’t received it yet, and I’m anxiously waiting to read it with my daughter who’s in second grade and loves chapter books. More than ever, We Need Diverse Books in which every child may see herself.

I’ve also been studying on scene, and one of my VCFA friends recommended THE SCENE BOOK, by Sandra Scofield. It’s a treasure trove of advice that’s keeping me up at night thinking about my WIP. I’ve also been up reading Nation, by Terry Prachett and because of some wonderful news I can’t wait to share with everyone.

Books. Wonderful books. I love to see them, talk about them, touch them, arrange them in shelves and find them under my kids’ pillows every morning when I make their beds 🙂

What books are you reading?

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

Five years ago this happened. Five years ago! I now realize that there are a lot of books in Spanish for children that are incredible difficult to find in the US. And not only books for children, books, in general. I ordered Cien Años de Soledad right before Gabriel Garcia Marquez died and I’m still waiting for it.

What I realized these last five years too is that there aren’t a lot of books about kids whose lives stray even a little from the norm. Or if there are, these books are “niche, issue books.” My kids read and write English because it’s the language of the country where they were born. I also strive to introduce them to writers and artists that marked me as a child because that cultural legacy belongs to them too, in Spanish, the language of our family.

I write stories about dancers, and soccer players, girls fighting to win the middle school government election, all told from the point of view of characters who live between cultures. That’s a subject close to my heart because I’m the granddaughter of immigrants, and immigrant myself, mother of children who look at me with doubt when a stranger asks where they’re from.

The DIA school in Salt Lake invited me to present at their school because in Utah at the time, there wasn’t a single Hispanic/Latina writer. I might be wrong, but I think it’s still true to this day. I hope this will change soon, not only because of selfish reasons. After all, I am submitting to agents at the moment, trying to find representation for my middle grade novel about a Latina dancer crippled by anxiety, who finds healing in the world of competitive Irish dancing. I know there is a lot of talent in the Latin community, and also the Polynesian, and the African American, and the regular Utah who descends from the Pioneers.

I read once that books are the mirror of society, and so far, our shelves don’t represent the beauty and diversity I see everywhere I go even in homogenous Utah. Our state lauds the Pioneers and their struggles to live in a land where they could worship and live in peace. That desire to live in peace and achieve one’s potential is still very much burning in the hearts of hundreds of people, many of them children, whose skin color, accents, sexual orientation and beliefs vary from our own.

Let’s give everyone a chance to see themselves in the media! Growing up one of my favorite shows

was Heidi, the girl of the Alps. I had no idea where Switzerland was or what it was like to be a shepherdess, but I had just lost my grandfather and I missed him more than I could express. I didn’t express it and developed what I now know was anxiety. I loved that show because I saw myself reflected in it. When Heidi was taken away from her “abuelito” I cried my little heart out. And how I celebrated once they were united! Heidi’s friend, Clara, was in a wheelchair. Poor Clara. But what a forward thinking show! Clara was smart and kind and she was the best influence Heidi could ever want.

I want every child to see themselves in a book, a movie, a musical. Not like the quirky sidekick, but the hero/ine. Because we are all the heroes of our own stories. I invite you to participate in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign on Facebook and Twitter. Why do you think we need them?