Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

Posts tagged ‘Milagros Girl From Away’

Milagros and Middle Grade: Bookends on my career so far

Meg’s first book signing 2008, Narnia Bookstore, RVA

I found a picture of myself at my first-ever book launch. Back in 2008, my first middle grade novel, Milagros: Girl from Away, was published by Henry Holt. To celebrate, Narnia Bookstore (which would later become bbgb books in Carytown) hosted my friends and family in the shop. “If I die tomorrow,” I told my husband, “know that I was happy, and that I did what I always dreamed I would.”

Well, I’m not dead and I’m glad  because there are still things left to do and books left to write. And while that sentiment still holds true, I look back and realize it was euphoria talking. But that’s the beauty of a first book, I suppose. I wrote Milagros in the beautiful bubble called The First Novel – that wonderful space where no one was waiting for a manuscript, where there were no expectations, no real notion of what reviews meant, and where the process of writing a manuscript all the way to the end was my crowning accomplishment. It was all wonder and hope.

The other thing I know is that I mostly wrote with no idea of what I was doing, which is maybe exactly the wild abandon we need, especially early in our careers. If we get bound up in our heads and in the business landscape of publishing, I think we risk losing the book that is coming from our heart. In my case, I had taught creative writing, but I hadn’t ever written a children’s book. I drew from the first stories I ever heard at my grandmother’s knee, and from the style of stories I loved to read as a girl – magical adventures. To my surprise, what emerged was a story about stingrays, pirates, healers and mothers  –and the sad truth of what it means to endure a migration.

cover illustration by Joe Cepeda

I’ve been thinking a lot about Milagros these days. For one thing, I’m at work once again on a middle grade novel, this time for Candlewick. And nine years later, I know a lot more about what to worry about in birthing a book. Not that it makes things easier. Actually it’s the opposite. On the plus side, I’m probably better at craft. I can ask myself harder questions than I once did about the characters and how relatable they are to a young reader in 2017. I know enough to give long and compassionate thought to presenting a thorny and sad issue to someone who is ten years old. I worry the details about whether I’ve written with sensitivity to all the people represented. I think about vocabulary and spaces for humor and what role to give adults in this novel so that they are not saviors but not absentees, either. I read and reread with an eye to the page turn and tension.

But it’s what I’ve learned on the publishing side that can give me the real angst, mostly because I can’t really control any of it and because it’s rooted in vanity. My late night questions swirl. How will this compare to my other books? Will anyone review it? Will they give it a star or simply a polite nod? Will copies even sell? Will this win an award, get on such-and-such list? Or will it die a quiet death?  None of those worries ever occurred to me when I wrote Milagros. I tell you, it was bliss.

With all that said, though, it’s also true that I’m not only thinking about Milagros with nostalgia. What’s also drawing me is that so much of our news has been truly disturbing lately, particularly as it relates to the idea of who “belongs,” which is, of course, one of the big threads of that story.  Travel bans, threats of deportations, desecration of cemeteries, attacks and murders on people who are told to “go back to where they belong.”  I can’t keep it at arm’s length or read about it coolly in the newspaper as if it doesn’t affect me. Because it does. In my daily life, dear friends and acquaintances confess their fears, their contingency plans, their sense of not knowing where to turn or whom to trust, and worst of all, their worries about their children.

Writing a book sometimes feels like the biggest thing you can achieve. But it can also feel like a small thing in the face of so much misunderstanding and hate. That’s especially true of a first book where, unsure, you once cut your teeth.  That’s how it has been for me with Milagros, anyway.

All these years later, and at a time of so much division and suspicion, I find myself struggling to hold on to the wonder that marked the book’s first steps into the world. Stubbornly, I’m still hoping that stories – the act of remembering, the act of sharing, the act of connecting – help us find a way to love each other despite it all.

Milagros: Girl from Away .99 on Kindle, March 2017

Also about migration, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. (Young Adult)

 

 

 

¡Feliz Navidad! Now, which social media platform gets axed?

Wordy mom

Wordy mom

We have a holiday tradition at our place. Our Noche Buena table is set with a holiday ornament at each place setting. Each of us has to find the ornament that represents us that year. It’s a fun hunt for the perfect symbol and an interesting way to find your seat. But what I like most is that the ornaments eventually become part of our tree. When we pull out the dusty boxes, the memories are all there.

The year Javier dared to build a new bathroom

The year Javier dared to build a new bathroom

Well, maybe not all. Needless to say, I don’t seek out ornaments to commemorate the uglier side of family life: angry disagreements, deaths, budget headaches, overbearing relatives. (It IS tempting to imagine what symbols I’d put up, though.)

When Tia Isa Wants a Car was published

When Tia Isa Wants a Car was published

It’s not that we don’t acknowledge the sadder days of life. It’s just that there are plenty of reminders of that mess all the time. Instead, I choose to end the year with expressions of how each of us found a way to shine despite it all.

The year Sandra fell in love with running

The year Sandra fell in love with running

The same is true, I suppose, for the author life. Authors use social media to make relationship with readers and to create an identity that’s recognizable to the people who follow our work. It’s not the whole story of us. What we toss-up is a curated version of what it takes to make a living through words. How we curate and where we do so is always a dicey decision. What do we say? What tone do we use? Where do we say it? Are we saying anything useful or just babbling?

God. When Miley Cyrus was Hannah Montana - and Cristina loved her

God. When Miley Cyrus was Hannah Montana – and Cristina loved her

Some of us are more honest about the uglier moments than others.  For me, the photos and events I report are the things that center on my passions: Latino identity, kid lit, feminism, and community. That’s the piece I feel comfortable sharing. The events I catalog have taught me something – good or bad about those things. Sometimes they’re invitations for you to come to an event or simply an invitation to consider an idea that’s rattling around inside my head.

Alex's snare drum days

Alex’s snare drum days

But undeniably most of what I offer up are the happier moments of writing life. Why? Because (1) being able to do this for a living is a rare privilege and (2) I’ll need these memories to sustain me during the weeks when my manuscript isn’t working at all, when I’ve gotten a crappy review, when nobody comes to a signing, when sales are stagnant or when I can’t think of a single clever thing to write about next. Days like that are so predictable in most writers’ lives, but they always feel like a sucker punch to me. That was true very early in my career, and it’s true now.

Anyway, it’s the end of the year, so I’m taking stock this week of all of my social media platforms and will soon make decisions about which to keep and which to ax. It helps to take a pulse once in a while, and this time around my friend Steve Peterson is helping me take inventory and apply some analytics. The decision will boil down to time and benefit. This means finding the sweet spot where personal comfort meets analytics. Going in, I can tell you that at risk right now are my Facebook author page (as opposed to my profile) and my GoodReads account, the latter of which lays so dormant that I am positively ashamed. Steve and I have started talks about how to reach Latino readers while still pushing to remove the sense of “other” from Latino-inspired work. Which formats can I engage with reliably? Which ones duplicate effort? (Oh Lord, all the calendars everywhere!) Which offer no real  gain for me or my readers?

When we adopted Noche

When we adopted Noche

Thinking, thinking, thinking, but I will update you as things unfold.

Meanwhile, I’ll be finishing up the year with three events this week that not only offer me a chance to reflect on old work and new, but also provide me with the joy of throwing back a beer with friends. So here is my curated update (minus my trips to the grocery, doctor’s appointment, argument with Tia Isa over her appetite…)

Our shared addiction to cafe

Our shared addiction to cafe

Thursday, Dec 10: I’m off to Busboys & Poets on NW 5th and K Street in DC, where I’ll be the December luncheon speaker for the Children’s Book Guild of Washington DC, an organization that has been around since 1945. My talk is going to focus on what I’ve learned about the slippery slope of writing culture, dodging soft censorship, and what it’s really going to take to pull Latino kid lit into the mainstream.

Friday, Dec 11: I’ll be at an all-day school visit to Mullen Elementary School in Manassas, VA. It’s always a treat to touch base with my younger readers. My very first job out of college was as a third grade teacher in New York, so I always have a soft spot for elementary school. It’s fun to hang out with kids who’ve lost their front teeth and are prone to random questions. Besides, I’ll get to talk with the fourth and fifth graders about my first (and only ) middle grade novel, Milagros Girl from Away.  

Sunday, Dec 13:  Dozens of Richmond-based authors will be at the free and fabulous Brew Ho-Ho, sponsored by Chop Suey Books and the folks at the Hardywood micro brewery. Come enjoy some jazz and sample concoctions like gingerbread stout. Hope to see you there!

Cariños de,

Meg

 

 

When Old Becomes e-New: MILAGROS as e-book

MilagrosREV2ghosted_(3)When one of your books goes out of print, it’s a little bit like a death. I know that sounds dramatic, but that’s how it felt for me when my first middle grade novel, MILAGROS: THE GIRL FROM AWAY went out of print a couple of years ago.

MILAGROS was my first book, and as any author will tell you, a first book has a special place in  your heart. It is your dream come true in so many ways. It represents every hope and every ounce of courage you ever had as a writer. To see it end, is a sad, sad thing.

MILAGROS came out to strong reviews in 2008, but thanks in part to my total lack of chops in promotion back then (“Facebook? What’s that? A Blog? You’re kidding!”), it faded quietly into the background.

 

Milagros_jacket_finish5 copyBut today, thanks to my agent, Jen Rofé, at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, MILAGROS: THE GIRL FROM AWAY gets a second chance in the Kindle edition.

The jury is still out, of course, on whether middle grade readers will flock to e-books. And I am well aware of the teeth gnashing we do about Amazon. Still, I feel at peace that there is a version available of all of my work.

Joe Cepeda

Joe Cepeda

Best of all, though, I want to let you know that the beautiful new cover was designed by my friend and colleague Joe Cepeda. You know Joe’s work, such as Nappy Hair, Esperanza Rising and many other iconic books. esperanza_rising images-5

To have his work paired with mine is a huge honor and I feel so grateful for the experience of learning how he created a visual concept for Milagros’s lonely journey. When he showed me his initial sketches, I actually felt a little teary. He understood completely what MILAGROS was facing as she struck out into the world alone.

So thank you, Joe, mi buen amigo, for this beautiful cover. And thank you, Jen, for all the hard work you put into trying this new venture.

***********************

Catch an interview with Joe on April 27, 2014 as part of El Dia Blog Hop for Latino authors this month. He’ll be on Justice Jonesie.

Download MILAGROS today for $.2.99  

 

A Day at Marie Reed Elementary School

Last Thursday, I trekked up to DC to spend a day at Marie Reed Elementary School in Adams Morgan.

View from my seat on Amtrak

Four years into my life as a published author and I’ve realized that I’d rather do a thousand school visits than a book signing, which for me are often skimpy on attendance. There’s something about being around little people with no teeth that is much more satisfying.

Marie Reed is a lovely school, if a little oddly appointed. (Partitions offer a reminder of the open education experiment of the 1960s.) Truly, if Christine Reuss, my host, hadn’t been with me, I would never have found my way around. There’s a surprise around every corner. They have a garden that Michelle Obama planted to help them attract butterflies, and they have murals of the late salsa goddess Celia Cruz (¡azucar!) and Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor. The auditorium is an amphitheater.

What I loved most about this little gem of a school, though, is that it offers both an English only and a dual language curriculum. This seems so much more sensible to me than trying to teach a language in middle school, when we all know that their tongues go thick and their courage, thin. To see an Asian kindergarten student rattling off “Asi Baila Juanito” like a native is about the loveliest thing I can imagine.

I read to the students, told them about how I wrote Tia Isa Wants a Car and Milagros.Then I listened to their songs and dances, and got treated to a writing project where students wrote – in Spanish or English – something they wanted to work hard to achieve – just the way Tia Isa had worked hard to get her car. Counting to big numbers. Reading for a long time. The list was impressive.

But maybe what I will remember most is the part of our day when I asked the kindergarten and first graders where they would go if they could have a car. Chuckie Cheese was a popular choice. Also, the beach. But one little girl came down the steps to where I was standing with my microphone.

“¿Donde quizieras ir en tu carro? Where would you want to go in your car?

“I would go to El Salvador to see my family,” she said. “I miss them.”

I thought of her the whole train ride home.

Meg’s next appearances:  SCBWI Midatlantic Conference, Arlington, VA, Oct.22 

Holladay Elementary School, Henrico, VA, Monday, Oct. 24

Girls of Summer

It’s nearly 100 degrees in Richmond, and my air conditioner is broken. It’s going to take a lot to make me happy this week, folks.

So, thank God for a project I’ve been working on with my friend and fellow Candlewick author, Gigi Amateau.  It’s called Girls of Summer, and it’s our own answer to those official summer reading lists that used to suck the joy out of reading for both of us. How we kept reading, we’ll never know.

If you’re not familiar with our stuff, you should know that Gigi and I both write about strong girls. Hers are southern, mine Latina – but we write about tough cookies, and it turns out, those are the same the world over. This summer, as our own beautiful daughters are graduating from high school, we’ve decided to celebrate girl power through the thing we love most: writing.

Here’s a little taste of what we have in mind via a Mac-made trailer. (Thank you Chris Cheng at SCBWI for teaching me how!) But you’ll have to be patient. We’re still putting the finishing touches on things. In the next few weeks, we’ll roll out the blog with our selections and why we like them. We hope you’ll comment, read interviews with the authors and enjoy hearing snippets of work. Then on July 28, 2011 we’ll feature the list as part of James River Writers’ July Writing Show in Richmond, VA.  You’ll be able to hang out with librarians, teachers, kids, and writers — and you’ll meet Steve Watkins and Valerie Patterson, two Girls of Summer authors who will talk about writing YA with strong girls as the focus. Another reason to attend?  Thanks to extremely generous and enthusiastic publicists at more than a dozen publishers, there’s a drawing to win an entire set of the reading list.

So, stay tuned and stay COOL.

Win my book on Latin Baby Book Club

I took my son, the baby of our family, to see colleges this weekend — a road trip that featured a lot of sweet memories, perhaps fueled by eating too much ice cream made on an on-campus creamery.  Yum.

But that wasn’t the only delicious thing that happened. I was also featured on Latin Baby Book Club.(Check it out;  you can win a free copy of TIA ISA WANTS A CAR). How I wish I’d had a blog like that 15 years ago when I was raising my own “latin babies” and teaching them to love books – and their roots. 

We live in Richmond, Virginia, a southern city with a growing Latino population, but it’s not like other places we’ve lived, like South Florida, where Latino culture has so significantly shaped communities. Nobody here was whipping out an empanada from their lunch sack. Cinco de Mayo  and Three Kings Day was about all anybody knew.

My three kids are all American in so many ways. In fact, they speak Spanish so poorly that their abuelas can barely forgive me. Back then, they read Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse and the Magic Treehouse series and Harry Potter. Still, something like Latin Baby Book Club might have helped me do the important work of making my kids proud of where they come from.

Sure, you can’t  keep Latino kids from being as American as anybody else in their class. (Ask my mother; she’ll tell you.) It’s inevitable; you belong to the place you grow up.  It’s just that we all search for the reflection of our experience in the pages of a book. Kids need to see people who look and sound like them going on daring and unforgettable adventures. That’s part of the reason I write: to give all Latino kids (including my own) a sense of the value of our story. Muchisimas gracias a Latin Baby Book Club for sharing my work. ¡Cariños a todos!