Interview with Margarita Engle

I’m happy to have today on the blog Margarita Engle! She’s such a great writer, and she was nominated Young People’s Poet Laureate. It’s an absolute honor to have her talking about her writing experience. You can find more about her books here.

And without further ado, let’s get right to the interview.

 

1) What is your favorite part of being a writer?

My favorite aspect of being a verse novelist is the actual process of writing. I love to immerse myself in the voice and flow of short poems that link to tell a longer story. When I’m alone in a river of words, time does not seem to exist, and the creative effort is its own reward. I don’t think about revisions, rejections, publication, reviews, or anything else, just that one poem, one page.

 

2) How has your cultural background influenced your writing? Do you write many Latinx characters?

I am Cuban-American, so most of my characters are either historical or fictional Cubans. Occasionally, I branch out to include other Latinos, or even historical figures from other countries. In those cases, I seek experts willing to serve as proofreaders, helping me avoid cultural errors.

 

3) As someone who comes from a diverse background, did you have any experience in publishing that put that in a negative light?

I have been blessed with many opportunities, but seeing my books in chain bookstores is not one of them.  The combination of poetry and Latino topics has typecast me as “limited to the school and library market.” That is discrimination by the stores’ buyers, not by the publishing industry.

 

4) How important do you think diversity is in publishing, especially regarding Latinx representation?

Latinos are such a large percentage of the population in California, where I live, that Latino themes and bilingual books will be increasingly essential. Even in other areas, I think kids from all backgrounds should be reading about each other, to promote mutual understanding and empathy, the first steps toward compassion and peacemaking.

 

5) As a young writer, what books influenced you? Did any come from your own background?

As a child, I loved poetry and adventure stories. José Martí was often quoted in my home, and Emily Dickinson was accessible in English, but I also had—and still have—a special affinity for short Japanese forms, especially haiku and tanka.  When it came to fiction, I loved animal stories such as The Black Stallion, but I wanted to learn about the whole world, and there were no multicultural books yet, so I looked for travel stories, including those written for adults.

 

6) Where do you get inspiration for your books?

I am inspired by reading, memories, and travel, as well as imagination.

 

7) Any good advice for Latinx and POC writers out there?

Write from the heart. Don’t worry about publication while you’re writing, just enjoy the process.  Don’t be in a hurry. Just as dancers and musicians need to rehearse, writers have to practice.  Manuscripts that never find a publisher are not failures, they’re rehearsals.

 

Thanks so much for this lovely interview, Margarita!

margaritaMargarita Engle is the national Young People’s Poet Laureate, and the first Latino to receive that honor. She is the Cuban-American author of many verse novels, including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner, and The Lightning Dreamer, a PEN USA Award winner. Her verse memoir, Enchanted Air, received the Pura Belpré Award, Golden Kite Award, Walter Dean Myers Honor, and Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, among others. Drum Dream Girl received the Charlotte Zolotow Award for best picture book text.

Her newest verse novel about the island is Forest World, and her newest picture books are All the Way to Havana, and Miguel’s Brave Knight, Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote.

Books forthcoming in 2018 include The Flying Girl, How Aída de Acosta learned to Soar, and Jazz Owls, a Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots.

Margarita was born in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during childhood summers with relatives. She was trained as an agronomist and botanist as well as a poet and novelist. She lives in central California with her husband.

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Interview with Lizz Huerta

It’s another Monday, and this time, we’re interviewing author Lizz Huerta!

Thanks for being such an awesome person, and thank you for the interview. Let’s get right to it!

1) What is your favorite part about being a writer?

I love the act of writing, of disappearing into a story, of the characters taking me over. I get completely invested in what I’m writing and am swallowed by it. I pace while figuring things out. I laugh, I cry. Writing infuses my being in a way that is impossible to find somewhere else. I’m thrilled when others relate to and enjoy my work but the real love is in the act of writing and creating itself.

2) How has your cultural background influenced your writing? Do you write many Latinx characters?

I had a good writing teacher once tell me that good fiction is good gossip. And stories in my family tend to spread like wildfire. I can mention something to my sister in the morning and that afternoon my grandma in Mexico will be gossiping about it to someone in her village and a cousin from the ranch will send me a message about it. My Mexi-Rican is made of storytellers, gossips, myth-keepers. When we get together (pretty often as we all live near each other) we try to out-story each other, layering tales, flaws, the stories grow with each telling. I learned how to write from my family, not because they’re writers but because they know how to engage with story, build tension, add humor. My cradle tales were filled with warnings about greed and flawed characters.. The bruja-ish magical realism I tend to write in is because that’s the world I experienced. Ghost stories, stories about cursed ancestors, the kidnapping of my grandmother. These were normal to me, I was taught to witness and experience the world in multiple layers.

Almost all of my characters are latinx. I write for myself and therefore for us, our community.. All of my writing is a love letter to my family, living and ancestral, sometimes tough love but always love.

3) As someone who comes from a diverse background, did you have any experience in publishing that put that in a negative light?

I’ve had a few annoying conversations with folks who have told me that it’ll be easy to publish because I’m brown. Ha. Ha ha. I publish mostly in small journals and anthologies and have had really good experiences. A couple of times parts of my stories or characters confused editors because they were unaware of the cultural context but it was cleared up easily. A lot of the places where I’ve submitted and published my work have had editors of color who are looking for writer of color, so that has helped a lot too. We’ll see what it looks like when I start trying to sell my short story collection and fantasy novel. But I have faith in my writing, the stories that choose me as their teller..

4) How important do you think diversity is in publishing, especially regarding Latinx representation?

It is vital, necessary, huge. I grew up as a voracious reader in the eighties and nineties and I never saw myself in the stories I loved. Whenever I imagined myself into these tales I had to change everything about myself, my skin color, my hair, my heritage. When you don’t see yourself, or only see negative portrayals of you/your community, it plants a seed that you don’t matter. Invisibility hurts. I remember in ninth grade when we read “the House on Mango Street’ By Sandra Cisneros I was pissed. I went to my English teacher, a Latina, and I threw the book on her desk and said “I didn’t know we were allowed to write about ourselves.” I had never seen anyone even close to me in the books I’d known. That beautiful English teacher, she hugged me and then took me a bookstore and bought me an armful books of Latin American lit; Garcia-Marquez, Isabel Allende. I forget who else. But that’s when I started thinking that my stories, the stories of my family mattered.

I’ve done a solid amount of work with a local literary non-profit, teaching creative writing workshops in local high schools and shelters. We’re in San Diego so there is a significant latinx student population. I love them, I see that they are SO much braver than I was at their age; they’re browner, queerer, more political. Then I look at their bookshelves and there is SUCH a lack of diversity. Where do they see themselves? How can they know the stories they are living are worthy, important and interesting if they aren’t reflected in the books on their shelves? We need our stories, to sustain us, to remind us of how incredible we are, in the struggles, the laughter, the wildness and contemplation. Our ancestors survived some shit, we are proof and our survival and thriving is the greatest gift we can give to those who came before us.

5) As a young writer, what books influenced you? Did any come from your own background?

I was a lonely, isolated kid because of the religion I grew up in. I wasn’t allowed to have friends outside our church so the characters in books became my friends. I was crazy about Laura Ingalls Wilder books, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the Babysitter’s Club series. I loved these books and the characters in them. I was obsessed with immigration books, covered wagon books, Ellis Island tales. I think a part of me was seeking out books that in small ways, showed me immigrants and pioneers. I was looking for fragments or reminders of my my own family story but I never really found them. My favorite-favorite books were the Emily of New Moon books by L.M. Montgomery. Emily was the character I related to most because she was a writer and an outsider and most of all, she had this bruja sense to her living, an imagination that saw beyond the world as it was. I’ve been writing since I was a young kid, in those early days the books I read inspired me, then my teen writing was angsty poetry based on Tori Amos lyrics, then I came back to fiction in my early twenties.

6) Where do you get inspiration for your books?

Inspiration shows up for me in the wildest of places. The scent of a pool hall, a song from my Tijuana party days, my dreams. I write down my dreams each morning and the seeds for a ton of my short stories have started in Dreaming, it’s my sacred place. I follow my curiosity. Sometimes it goes nowhere, sometimes I’m surprised at what comes out. I also mine my own history. I’m pretty non-traditional,  a community college dropout. I work in skilled labor, but still on construction sites. I spent a lot of my twenties traveling, living in Mexico, hustling my way into experiences that have shaped me. Saying yes to adventures that had the family elders praying for me. I screwed up a lot and I’m glad I did. It taught me to forgive myself and when I write I come to flawed characters with empathy and love.

7) Any good advice for Latinx and POC writers out there?

There isn’t one path or one way to be a writer. There are plenty of people out there telling how to do it. Listen to them and learn what you can, then do it your own way. Sometimes magic happens. Trust that is can happen to you. Read, write, observe, listen, daydream, ask. Follow your curiosity. Find a community of other Latinx/POC writers, online or IRL and BUILD your community. Support writers of color, buy their books, share their writing. Let yourself have bad days, because there will be PLENTY of bad days; days when you think you’re a terrible writer, days of jealousy, days of desperation, days of fear. Have your bad day(s) then keep going. Forgive yourself, forgive the mistakes and missteps you will make along the path and do better. Writing, storytelling is a sacred act. We are the keepers of Story, the creators and passers down of wisdom, warning, history, imagination, possibility,love. Take breaks for self-care. Learn that sometimes the dark places are necessary, but when you come back from them, you bring something with you.Surrender is just that, letting go and allowing. You’re better than you realize. Go offline. Journal. Acknowledge and honor the progress you make. At night, before you fall asleep remind yourself of the little daily accomplishments: Today I sent out a story, Today I edited a sentence to make it stronger, Today I changed a file name to make it easier to find. The little victories and satisfactions add up. This is a long game, take care of yourself and play well. Take what you want, if anything, from this advice then do it your own way.

  • Food: grandma’s shrimp tacos
  • Book: Someplace to be Flying by Charles de Lint
  • Place in the world: the hammock hanging from the Jacaranda tree at my childhood home
  • Superhero: my ancestors
  • Harry Potter house: Slytherin, I want to speak parseltongue
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Lizz Huerta is working class Mex-Rican writer living in San Diego. She writers bruja-mythic fiction. Her work has appeared in ZYZZYVA, The Portland Review, Lumina, Duende, The Miami Rail, Rabble Lit and other journals She is currently finishing up a short story collection and fantasy novel informed by pre-contact mesomerican mythology. You can follow her on twitter @lizzhuerta

Interview with Katrina Carrasco, author of CIPHER

It was interview Monday yesterday, and with the latest rush I forgot to post the interview. Yiikes!
This week the featured Latinx author is Katrina Carrasco, whose debut CIPHER will be out in 2018.

Here’s what we know about the book so far:

The debut novel centers on a detective named Alma who infiltrates a Washington Territory opium smuggling ring while disguised as a man.

Once she’s insinuated herself, Alma must create an ever-more-elaborate series of alibis while sending coded dispatches to the Pinkertons as well as managing her physical attraction to Delphine, the head of the smuggling ring, and Wheeler, the local boss.

The book is set to be published in summer 2018.

You can add it on Goodreads by clicking here.
Ready for some Latinx goodness? Below is the interview with the lovely Katrina.
1) What is your favorite part about being a writer?
What I love most about writing is being able to create the books and stories I want to see in the world. As a queer Latinx writer who grew up in the ’90s, I rarely — if ever — encountered characters like me in mainstream novels, not to mention the classics studied in school. And if there were queer characters, or Latinx characters, they were the outcasts, the sidekicks, the antagonists. I want to disrupt that status quo by centering the voices that speak to me. Creating an alternative to the default of “straight white male” narrator is a crucial part of my work.

2) How has your cultural background influenced your writing? Do you write many Latinx characters?
My mother is Ecuadorian-American and my father is white. So I have a special interest in stories about characters who feel suspended between cultures and identities, trying to understand who they are and where they came from. The idea of passing and being “Latinx enough” or “white enough” to enter certain spaces also interests me. My writing focuses on Latinx characters and exploring these concepts through their stories: the main character of my debut novel is Mexican-American, and I’m working on a new project with a lesbian Latinx couple as the main characters.

3) As someone who comes from a diverse background, did you have any experience in publishing that put that in a negative light?
I am extremely fortunate to work with an agent and an editor who understand and champion my work. They’re as as excited as I am to bring my characters to a larger audience, and I’m so grateful for their support!

4) How important do you think diversity is in publishing, especially regarding Latinx representation?
I think diversity is a crucial issue in the publishing world — we need diverse voices to reflect a diverse readership. It’s so important for young people especially to be excited about reading, and stories that reflect them will help engage them. Reading about characters that are unlike you can build empathy and broaden your worldview, but reading about characters who *are* like you can be so comforting and validating. With the success of writers like Gabby Rivera, Junot Díaz, and Benjamin Alire Sáenz, I hope the road is being paved for more Latinx writers to find success in mainstream publishing.

5) As a young writer, what books influenced you? Did any come from your own background?
As a young writer and reader, I loved science fiction and historical mysteries. Some early favorites were Connie Willis’s DOOMSDAY BOOK, Monica Hughes’s INVITATION TO THE GAME, and Philip Pullman’s THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE. Whenever I found a book with queer characters, or characters who spoke Spanish, it was a small miracle. I remember Sandra Cisneros’s THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET and WOMAN HOLLERING CREEK as the first books I encountered in high school that centered the Latinx experience, and I loved them. It wasn’t until I got older that I started to find more explicitly queer books, like Yukio Mishima’s CONFESSIONS OF A MASK and Sarah Waters’s TIPPING THE VELVET.

6) Where do you get inspiration for your books?
I usually start a new book with a character or setting that fascinates me, and that feels like it has the depth to grow into a novel-length project. I often read historical accounts and look for promising situations. My debut novel, CIPHER, was inspired by two elements: I wanted to write about a queer woman who played with gender presentation, and I found an old newspaper article about opium smuggling in the Pacific Northwest. Combining the two gave me my main character Alma Rosales, an ex-Pinkerton detective who switches between female and male disguises to investigate a drug ring.

7) Any good advice for Latinx and POC writers out there?
Keep working on your craft; submit short pieces to magazines/websites/journals for exposure and to practice presenting your work; and be stubborn in the face of rejection. Also, if you speak Spanish (or any other language), don’t be afraid to include it in your writing. I love the texture of multilingual texts. I love how they are specifically legible to certain people, and ask those who can’t understand to do the work to decipher them. (Gloria E. Anzaldúa’s BORDERLANDS/LA FRONTERA is an excellent example and examination of this.)

  • Food? My mom’s Sunday chicken dinner
  • Book? Too many! I recently read LaShonda Katrice Barnett’s JAM ON THE VINE and loved it
  • Movie? Almodóvar’s “La Mala Educación”
  • Place in the World? Wellington, New Zealand

 

 

Thanks so much for being here, Katrina! It was a pleasure to have you on the blog.

 

 

KatrinaCarrascoKatrina Carrasco is a queer Latinx writer, born and raised in Southern California and now living in Seattle. In her novels and short stories she explores the ideas of passing, performance, and belonging: what is gained and what is lost by conforming to societal expectations of gender, race, class and sexuality. Katrina’s debut novel, CIPHER, will be released in Fall 2018 by MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Interview with Zoraida Cordova

It’s Pitch América time, which means interview mondays are back!!!! How excited am I to be posting this again?

This week we’re interviewing Zoraida Cordova, the amazing author of LABYRINTH LOST. Labyrinth Lost was one of my favorite fantasy books last year, and the sequel CIRCLE UNBROKEN is just coming up.

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The only way to get her family back is to travel to a land in between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic.

At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she’s not sure she can trust, but who may be Alex’s only chance at saving her family.

Order the book: Amazon | Indiebound | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble

And now, to the interview!

1) What is your favorite part about being a writer?

Meeting readers and writers online and in person. 

2) How has your cultural background influenced your writing? Do you write many Latinx characters?

I’ve always tried to include Latinx characters in my books. Labyrinth Lost is noticeably my books where 90% of the characters are Latinx. 

3) As someone who comes from a diverse background, did you have any experience in publishing that put that in a negative light?

My very first submission did get some unfortunate responses. The one that sticks in my head was “We already have a Latino book for the season.” I’m still a little bitter about it, even though I’m incredibly lucky to have had seven books published despite that. What bothers me is that there are still people who think that way. Thankfully, you won’t catch people making blanketed statements like that as easily as before without being dragged on the internet. 

4) How important do you think diversity is in publishing, especially regarding Latinx representation?

Publishing should reflect the real world. Not a portion of it. 

5) As a young writer, what books influenced you? Did any come from your own background?

I read and watched all things paranormal and fantasy. All of it was very cis and white. 

6) Where do you get inspiration for your books?

I still never know what to say to this because it’s always different. Sometimes it was a name that bore a character. Sometimes it’s daydreaming up an entire world. Sometimes it’s in the middle of the night when I wake up and can’t let go of an idea. 

7) Any good advice for Latinx and POC writers out there?

I don’t know if I have *good* advice. But here goes: Storm the gates. 

  • Hogwarts house? Gryffindor
  • Favorite food? Tacos
  • Favorite movie? Casper (with Christina Ricci)
  • Favorite TV series? Buffy
  • Favorite soap opera? Jane the Virgin
  • Favorite place in the world? The beach. Puerto Rico. 
  • Favorite superhero? Captain America

Thanks so much for this interview, Zoraida!

zoraida_vlc_photo2

I write YA Urban Fantasy about things that go bump in the night. I also write about 20-something-year-old-girls searching for love and the meaning of life. I often wish my life were a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sex and the City. I’m a contributing writer to Latinos in Kid Lit, Bustle, and B&N Teen Blog. I’ve always loved stories about magic and impossible worlds. Other things I love: Moon Prism Power. Five by five. Orlando Bloom’s Face. Daughter of Poseidon. I love you/I know.