Newbery award winner and New York Times bestselling author

Posts tagged ‘Latino fiction’

January Bargain at E-Volt: The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind

tumblr_static_evolt-tag5-smltrwhskThis month E-volt – where you can get books for $2.99 or less – is offering  The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind on sale for $1.99.

You might not remember the novel – quiet as it was – but it’s the book that has made the biggest impact on me as an author.

The synopsis is here, but I describe the novel as a mix of magical realism and telenovela mostly because it’s one of those sweeping stories with large casts and a few spirits. It’s about secrets, traitors, and love stricken heroes, all hopefully drawn with some depth.

But at its core, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind is actually realistic fiction, too. That’s because it’s a tale of migration and why young people take unimaginable risks to move toward better circumstances. It names that terrible brew of longing and violence the powerless often see in this life.

 I’ve heard said that each novel you write teaches you how to be a better writer. If that’s true, this one was a strict SOB of a teacher. I rewrote The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind more times than I care to count, trying to preserve a stylized storytelling while getting at a contemporary issue with honesty. What a struggle! I reworked the manuscript top to bottom, axing plot lines and characters. Several times I thought I would abandon the project altogether. I couldn’t find my way somehow. I couldn’t settle on what I really wanted to say about Sonia and the people in her world. It’s bigger than I am. I don’t know what I’m doing. Who am I to tell this story? Why am I even doing this?  The dialogue in my head was paralyzing, and it led to countless missteps. In fact, Kate Fletcher, my editor at Candlewick, worked with me for close to a year before she felt it was strong enough to even make a contract offer on it. Day after day, this novel left me feeling like a failure.

Today, I’m grateful for the nearly crushing experience. I did find my way, and the novel went on to be a finalist for the Latino Book Awards. True, it has never enjoyed the splash of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass or, even, Tia Isa Wants a Car. Maybe it’s not as good; I don’t honestly know. Readers will have to judge that for themselves. But I do know that the book changed me profoundly.

First of all, it taught me (painfully) that writing books is a messy and gut-wrenching process. I learned to value perseverance in the face of repeated failure.

But more important, the novel forced me to ask myself hard questions about why I was writing and why it mattered. It forced me to zero in harsh realities of the characters’  lives and, ultimately, to find a purpose for myself as an author that was larger than just creating an enjoyable read. Turns out, that purpose is to make the stories emerging from the Latino experience part of respected literature for all kids.

Has the book made a difference to anyone but me?  I’m not sure. But here’s what I do know. I began drafting this book in 2010 or so, and it was published in 2012. All these years later, not much has changed except that the debate surrounding immigrants has grown uglier. Maybe now is a good time to discover the story if you haven’t already.

Buy the e-book here:  (Note: Offer expires Jan 31, 2016)


Five Secret Things About The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind

My favorite characters: Pancho because he’s so chivalrous, and Dahlia because she has to be heartless to be good.

Worst challenge: Deciding whether Rafael should live or die. I rewrote his fate multiple times.

What it looks like in other countries:

 

2

The UK

 

Romania

Romania

Biggest edit: keeping the whole novel in Tres Montes and the capital, instead of having the second half happen in North America

Best thing that happened as a result of the book:

I zeroed in on a purpose. That, and The Hope Tree Project.

a sample from Henrico High School

a sample from Henrico High School

 

 

 

 

 

Banned On the Run…

It’s a double whammy! Banned Books week and Hispanic Heritage month, so I’ve been on the road with no sign of rest in the near future.

Fellow REFORMISTA Loida Garcia Febo just shared this link to Latino books that have been challenged and banned, including the book that turned me to writing in the first place: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.  Que cosa mas grande...

imagesGracias, Loida. Lists like this inspire me to write more books that might cause alarm and discomfort – and hey, even thought. And they make me feel especially fired up about my first teaching gig at Las Comadres Writers Conference in Brooklyn this weekend. Las Comadres is more than a conference. It’s a movement based on the core principle of mentorship and culture. On Saturday, established Latina authors and publishing pros will come together at Medgar Evers College to help yet-to-be published authors learn the ropes. What’s in it for me?  Mostly getting more Latino voices at the literary table, especially those writing for kids since this year, for the first time,  our public schools will be a majority minority. Besides, I’ll be helping to create more amazing books that will end up on banned book lists.

So, hermanas, if you have a story, if you’ve been too shy to admit that you want to be a writer, if you just don’t know where to begin, register for Las Comadres.

Finally, here are a few pictures from my recent travels to the DC area.  I’m exhausted, but so grateful to Candlewick Press for helping to make some of these visits possible. And as always, I am so grateful for the lovely people I meet everywhere along the way. (I’m waving at you, Osbourn Park High School…even if you DID schedule a fire drill.)

Meg’s next appearances:  

Las Comadres Writers Conference, Medger Evers College, Brooklyn, New York, September 27, 2014

The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Richmond, VA, September 30, 2014 (by invitation only)

Las Américas Awards Teaching Workshops, Exploring Immigration and Identity in the K-12 Classroom, with Duncan Tonatiuth at Busboys and Poets, Washington, DC. October 3, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBoosk founder Ellen Oh surrounded by adoring fans from Iguana Books at North Atlantic Booksellers Association

#WeNeedDiverseBoosk founder Ellen Oh surrounded by adoring fans from Iguana Books

The beautiful Library of Congress. Stay tuned for details about an exciting YA event on April 30, 2015

The beautiful Library of Congress. Stay tuned for details about an exciting YA event on April 30, 2015

Thank you letter from my appearance at the Library of Congress with bilingual students last year.

Thank you letter from my appearance at the Library of Congress with bilingual students last year.

Or maybe I was having a bad hair day?

Or maybe I was having a bad hair day?

Some of the great students I met at Osbourn Park HS

Some of the beautiful students I met at Osbourn Park HS

 

 

 

 

 

A Kid Lit Conference Con Sabor

Dr. Jamie Naidoo, Teresa Mlawer, Margarita Engle, Adriana Dominguez, Lila Quintero Weaver (front), Laura Lacámara, me, and Irania Patterson

Dr. Jamie Naidoo, Teresa Mlawer, Margarita Engle, Adriana Dominguez, Lila Quintero Weaver (front), Laura Lacámara, me, and Irania Patterson

Snow outside – AGAIN. Thank goodness for the leftover cozy feelings from the  National Latino Children’s Literature Conference this past weekend. On a scale of 1 – 10 in warmth and  camaraderie, it ranks about a 50.

Lifting Me Home by Laura Lacámara

Lifting Me Home by Laura Lacámara

One reason was the  faculty, a solid collection of Latinas in publishing. It included the fabulous former editor and literary agent Adriana Dominguez; color goddess illustrator Laura Lacámara; multiple-award winning poet and prose author Margarita EngleLila Quintero Weaver (who we’ve talked about here); bilingual library pro and storyteller Irania Patterson (how can anyone imitate every accent in the Spanish-speaking world?); longtime publishing icon Teresa Mlawer (“sounds like flour, with an m”); and me.

For three days we worked side by side with teachers and librarians from all over the country who wanted to know how to use multicultural books to serve all kids. Inevitably, we all drew close as we asked ourselves hard questions and generated new ideas. “I’m so glad you guys aren’t divas,” one of them told me as we all sat together.

Some of my personal highlights and favorite ideas:

Margarita Engle. Poet, feminist, botanist, historian. If you want your students to experience history’s most unknown and shocking corners, seek out her books. Who else can tell you about pirates in the 1400s, search-and-rescue mountain dogs, Cuba’s first feminist, and how the Panama Canal was dug by hand… in a single presentation? It was astounding.

purabelpremedal2Make a simple move with a big implication. Print out the list of Pura Belpré winners and have those books available in your collection, right alongside your Newbery, Printz, and Caldecott winners. (In fact, go hog wild. Put out as many winners/honors of the ALA awards as you can.

americasAdd the books from the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature to your list. Are you familiar with that award? It was founded in 1993 to recognize quality children’s and young adult books that portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States. CLASP (which organizes the award) also has a mission to provide teachers with recommendations for classroom use.  Go here to familiarize yourself more.  You can see the titles that have won or received honorable mentions over the years. Click around for descriptions and activity ideas. Here they are on Facebook, too. 

Continue to lean on your book fair organizers, bookstores, and publishers to carry and promote diverse books. We’re talking about friendly and persistent reminders. To reach a range of students, you need to access a range of “voices” in your library. Ask for their help. And if you need additional backup, point them to this article by Walter Dean Myers in yesterday’s NY Times.

Join REFORMA (and other librarian groups with a mission around serving diverse populations.) It’s inexpensive ($25 as a community supporter if you can’t think of a category for yourself) and the funding helps librarians get the books and materials into children’s hands.

Unknown-1Support your champions: One of the quiet heroes of the Latino lit movement is Dr. Jamie Naidoo Campbell, a Kentucky-born guy who doesn’t speak una palabra de español, but still leads the charge. He organizes this conference at the University of Alabama to help his library students and others learn how to make informed and sensitive choices for their collections. If you can support the conference, make a donation or plan to attend in 2016. (Right now the conference happens every other year.) If you’re of like minds, consider reaching out soon to partner or in some way help the effort. Proceeds from the purchase of this handy book go to support the conference, too.

Believe in the power of inspired teachers and librarians. The energy and good-will in the room was so high. It makes me smile to think of the changes – large and small – that will come as the result of our three-day celebration. To Klem-Mari, to Erica, to Margaret, to Marianne, to all those happy teachers and librarians from Arkansas, to Demi, to the first grade teacher from Chicago, to all of you fabulous people who took the trip to Tuscaloosa and stepped outside your comfort zone to learn, mil gracias  and best wishes as you experiment at your schools and libraries. Be sure to let us know of your successes!

James River Writers Conference Spotlight: Elizabeth Huergo

4-300x90About this time of year, I start to perk up with bookish anticipation. The autumn brings us the Virginia Literary Festival (Oct 16 – 20, 2013), anchored in part by the James River Writers Conference. Now in its eleventh year, the JRW Conference is a special treat for the writing community since it gathers nationally-recognized and bestselling authors in our city for three days of fun and learning.

DSC_0193-Huergo-First-ChoiceThis year, I’m especially happy to find debut novelist (and fellow Latina author) Elizabeth Huergo on the impressive roster. Elizabeth is a scholar of literature (receiving her M.A. in 19th-century American Literature and her Ph.D. in British Romanticism from Brown University), and she has taught at a number of colleges and universities, including Rhode Island College, American University, and George Mason University. Her novel, The Death of Fidel Perez (Unbridled Books, 2013), is set in modern day Cuba against the eternal question, What if Fidel fell?

Here Elizabeth and I talk about our shared cultural roots and the challenges of conveying the pain and complexities of political history in writing.

You left Cuba as a girl during the years immediately following the Cuban revolution. What had your life been like until then? Where did your family settle in the United States?

Elizabeth and her mother in 1961, weeks before they would leave Cuba

Elizabeth and her mother in 1961, weeks before they would leave Cuba

I was born in May of 1959. My mother and I left Cuba when I was about three years old. My father had to leave about a year before us for political reasons. He lived alone in New York for a year, working, saving, trying to have a place ready for us when we arrived. We arrived in the US with the clothes on our backs, literally; and to a solitude that we were not used to at all. I had lived for those few short years within a nexus of grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. And then, they simply weren’t there. The family I had known became voices on a telephone line popping with static or birthday wishes typed out on strips of telegraph paper.

The loss of family, language and culture affected my parents deeply. They had been dropped into a completely alien world, and they had to learn very quickly how to navigate that world. They were apprehensive, lonely, frightened. They tried to shelter me from those feelings, but children are very perceptive about the emotions of the adults around them. It was all quite traumatic, and yet the luxury of being able to stop in order to work through the pain was simply not available. So they set their minds to the task of survival.

Elizabeth's debut novel

Elizabeth’s debut novel

Your debut novel, The Fall of Fidel Perez, follows four main characters over the course of a day during which a rumor of Fidel Castro’s fall from power sweeps Havana. It’s a dark joke, of course, since it’s really a drunk man named Fidel Perez who has actually “fallen.” The novel is certainly not a comedy, and yet you start with this very dark joke that deepens over the course of the book. Can you talk a little bit about that choice?

How do you convey revolution  or exile to an audience that has never felt the blunt force of history’s dislocations? I would define exile not only as a literal dislocation, but as a deeply internalized dislocation, a cataclysmic shift in the very ground of a person’s being. Fidel descends from the Sierra Maestra, symbol and agent of a counter-revolution that itself springs from a nexus of social injustice and foreign colonization. Like so many other people, I lost my homeland, the trajectory of my life, and the lives of my family, inflected permanently.

The tragedy springs from an interminable chain of causes and effects that lie far out of any one individual’s grasp or reach.  And once I was able to see that, the loss of control became funny, darkly funny. Tears became laughter. And the beauty of laughter is that it both acknowledges and transforms the pain, helping us take the next step. Every great dramatic tragedy I can think of has a comic subplot, which suggests that laughter is an integral part of sorrow.

Growing up, as you did, as a girl in a Cuban home, I remember the feeling of longing and regret that seemed to infuse every adult conversation, especially political ones. As I followed Saturnina, Pedro, Justicio, and Camilio, I felt that same sense of nagging regret, regardless of how each character had experienced his/her share of the revolution. How did you go about building each of these characters? Did you begin from their political position, from their personal trauma or somewhere else?  Which was your favorite character to build? Which one, if any, gave you trouble?

I work out from each character’s core and toward plot and theme. Yes, the characters are tormented by regret, which is often what can happen when we look back at our lives. Each character is trying to resolve that sense of regret in some way. Pedro Valle longs for forgiveness; Saturnina longs for her son’s return; Camilo longs to act, to step out of his complacency. Saturnina was my favorite character because her name derives from a story my mother tells about a woman in Remedios who decided one day to put on every piece of clothing she owned and live in the streets.

06043rI travelled to Cuba years ago, and one day, during my visit, as I was walking through l’Habana vieja (Old Havana), I peered into a building covered by very beautiful blue and white mosaic tiles. I didn’t realize, though, that on the other side of the tiled façade most of the building was in ruin.  I peered inside expecting a grand foyer, one more example of the island’s rich architectural history that I could photograph.  Instead I saw the top of a barely intact stairwell, and an old woman sitting in a rocking chair, the morning sky behind her.

I let go of the camera hanging around my neck.  I wanted to apologize, but there was nothing for me to say.  This fragile old woman, a bundle of rags and bone, sat there like an ancient Madonna in a grotto. She nodded at me as if she were giving me permission or forgiving me for the intrusion. I had this deeply mystical experience as I peered up and across that threshold. I named her Saturnina, and she haunted me until I told the story of the history she had lived through, of the wounds history had inflicted on her.

Cuba_Panorama_de_L'HabanaThe entire novel spans a few hours, but it also manages to cover a few hundred years. How do you handle pacing in a novel that has to be exciting both moment-to- moment and as it covers backstory events that occur over centuries?

Carefully! I plotted the transit of the two major characters across the City of Havana very carefully. I had in mind Bloom’s transit across Dublin in Joyce’s Ulysses. I also knew that Pedro Valle would be looking back in search of absolution and Saturnina looking forward in search of love and reunification. So I knew their narratives would be working in counter-point to one another. Then I had to think carefully about scenes, and how the end of one scene might propel the next one.

The research in your novel is extensive. What were the big surprises for you, if any? What proved most difficult?

I read a lot of Latin American history. I also got very interested in historical methodology. Then that got me interested again in the psychology of how we perceive, which got me to comparative mythology and the ways in which different cultures tell basically the same story in different ways. So the most difficult thing to do was to stop reading!

Saturnina and Pedro Valle are telling the same history, and yet they are telling it differently. Both of them are right. The big surprise for me? I had been operating all my adult life on the assumption that there is such a thing as historical progress. The more I read, the more I realized that, yes, there are real technological and scientific advancements, but rarely is there a shift in consciousness, the sort of shift in consciousness that would allow us, the human race, to stop repeating the same acts of violence over and over again.

In my view, there’s no more volatile conversation among Cuban Americans  than politics. Did you feel any pressure as you wrote about Cuban politics and US policies? Were there things you felt cautious to say? For example, you refer to American-based Cubans as thinking of old Cuba as a “utopian diorama.” I can practically hear the protests. What has been the response so far?

You are right, of course; political discussions can be volatile, but that’s true about any group of people that has lived through difficult, life-changing events. Besides, I was not writing my personal political views. I was writing the views of characters who had lived through various phases of Cuban history. There are characters in the novel who are well to the left of center; there are other characters who are well to the right of center. Mostly, though, there are characters trying to understand the meaning of their lives in relation to colonization and revolution.

fidelfingerYou don’t include characters in current day Havana that mourn the supposed fall of Fidel? Why did you make that choice? 

On this point I have to disagree with you. There are voices throughout the novel that express sorrow at the passing of Fidel Castro. There are jubilant voices. There are voices that express terror and confusion. There is one especially sardonic voice at the very beginning that laughs at the death of a “little dictator.”

 What is your hope for Cuba in the coming years?

The idea that there are people who need to be dominated, divided against one another, (either for what is paternalistically referred to as their own good or in the name of economic self-interests), still has the upper hand, even in this new century, and after the bloodiest century in recorded human history.

My hope is that the US will realize that Cuba is a sovereign nation and not a Caribbean outpost, part of its “backyard.” Shutting down Guantánamo and returning that land to its rightful owner, Cuba, would be an important symbol and movement toward that realization.  My hope, too, is for a peaceful revolution, one that leads to greater autonomy and real democracy.

What are you working on now?

I’m almost done with my second novel, Between Ana and Ella, which is a contemporary rethinking of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath from a Latina perspective. The story is set in DC.

 

Elizabeth Huergo will appear at the James River Writers Conference on Saturday, Oct. 19 and Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013. She will discuss her novel and her thoughts on setting and voice.

Visit www.jamesriverwriters.org  for more information.

Win a copy of the galleys for THE DEATH OF FIDEL PEREZ by leaving a comment on this blog. Winners will be announced after Labor Day.

 

VLF

Q & A with Christina Díaz Gonzalez

Christina Diaz Gonzalez

It’s a pleasure to introduce you to Christina Diaz Gonzalez as we head into the final week of Hispanic Heritage Month. You may remember her from her debut novel, The Red Umbrella. Her follow-up, A Thunderous Whisper, is also historical fiction, this time set in Europe during the Spanish Civil War. Told through the eyes of 13-year-old Ani, the novel shines a light on yet another corner of World War II.

Before we jump into your new novel, I’d like to know a little bit about you. I understand that you were an attorney at one time. Now, you live in Florida and write lovely books that celebrate Hispanic history. How did you go from one career to the other? 

I was a practicing attorney when my kids learned to read.  Watching their love for books grow rekindled my secret, childhood dream of being a writer.  Soon there was no stopping me and I became passionate about writing.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

One of the things I most admire about A Thunderous Whisper is that it brings world history to life for American kids.  You take us to a very specific corner of history (specifically to the Spanish Civil War as it connected to Franco’s relationship with Hitler during WWII. You also introduce young American readers to the Basques. Why did this particular episode in history attract you? 

A series of seemingly unrelated events (spread out over the course of several months) led me to write A Thunderous Whisper.  There was a brief discussion with a friend about Pablo Picasso’s famous painting called Guernica, a renewed interest in my family’s Basque roots, a random photo of a sardinera and my discovery of the events surrounding the Basque children during the Spanish Civil War.


This isn’t your first successful foray into historical fiction.
(The Red Umbrella) was set against the backdrop of the Cuban Revolution.) How did you do your research for this new novel?

I read several primary sources and first-hand accounts by the Basque children who survived the bombing of Guernica.  I was also lucky enough to travel to the beautiful cities of Guernica and Bilbao where I was able to meet the director of Guernica’s Museum of Peace and the president of the Historical Society of Guernica.  Being in Spain and meeting such knowledgeable people gave me an invaluable glimpse into life during the Spanish Civil War.

War is a horror of the adult world, and it’s driven by the clash of ambitions and ideals. Yet this story is told from the perspective of twelve-year-old Ani, who is brought into a spy ring. Were there challenges of representing war through a young person’s eyes? And, since we are talking about Ani, how did you decide that she – a lonely sardine girl, would be your protagonist?

I believe young people are active participants in the world that surrounds them.  Ani, having a parent fighting in the war and facing the imminent danger of attacks, would have a strong sense of the war, but would still be limited in her understanding of the reasons behind it.  As for creating the character of Ani, she actually popped into my brain fully formed and so I credit my writing muse for delivering such a wonderful character to me.

For me, the novel’s poignancy was found in the terrible price that children pay during war. The depressive state of their parents, separations, death. Ani faces all of them yet we never doubt that she will survive. What, in your opinion, was the source of her resilience?

Ani’s resiliency stems from an inner strength and belief that, despite what she’s been told, even a whisper of a girl can make a difference.

Mathias, a young Jewish boy, befriends Ani. They grow very close in the novel, but there is a real shift in their relationship immediately following the bombing. And then, of course, he leaves to do what Ani finds unimaginable. Can you tell us a little bit about how you made decisions about Mathias’s story? (And, for the writers out there, how you kept his story from overshadowing Ani’s? He could have had his own novel!)

I wish I could say that I had crafted Mathias’ story because it fulfilled a great literary plan of mine for his character’s arc, but, truth be told, my characters make their own choices and I just write what they do.  Perhaps it’s because I feel like these characters are real people and so I give them permission to do things that I had not originally planned.  One way to keep some of these strong characters in check (not letting them overshadow my main character) is to maintain the focus on the main character’s perspective and always show how the main character reacts to the actions of others.

Your work is part of a growing body of literature by Latino children’s book authors at a time when the national rhetoric surrounding Latino issues is running high.  What are your thoughts on the role, if any, that Latino literature can make in building bridges of understanding?

First of all, there needs to be more literature that has Latino protagonists.  These books should transcend race/culture and be, at their core, good stories.  We live in a diverse society and children’s literature should reflect that! By having more books with Latino characters we can erase some misunderstandings, give insight to problems/situations and bring people together through the power of stories.

How are you celebrating the publication of the novel these days?

I am celebrating by having a mega-launch party in Miami (if anyone is in town on October 13, please come by Books & Books in Coral Gables at 5 pm – I’d love to see you) and I am participating on a blog tour in October and November. I am so excited to have everyone finally be able to read this book!

Finally, are there new projects in the works?

There are always new projects in the works, but it’s still too early to talk about them. Don’t want to jinx them!

In stores October 9, 2012

A THUNDEROUS WHISPER, ALFRED A. KNOPF, OCTOBER 2012,

978-0-375-86929-7

To learn more about Christina and her work visit her on the web

The Badass Galleys are Here

Note: Cover still being finalized

Candlewick sent me the galleys for my YA novel that releases in March 2013. I guess it’s time to tell my mother about the title. !Ave Maria purísima!

When Characters Muscle In

Thank you, Hannah Love, for this photo

The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind releases through Walker Books in the UK as a gorgeous paperback next month — and review copies are going out with their own milagro. Nice!  Here’s a post I did for Under Cover Books about the unexpected pleasures of surrendering to your characters. In life and in fiction, I’ve found that it’s always the quiet ones that surprise you. At least, that’s how it happened in this book.

P.S. Love the cover? Me gusta tambien. Check out Olaf Hajek’s other beautiful work.  Here’s a teaser.

I vote for more illustration in YA book jackets.

Wow! UK cover 4 The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind

From Walker Books, June 2012

Amazing to see two different cover takes on the same novel. Here is how my novel will look in the UK when it pubs in June!