Writers: You’re Invited to Our First Ever Pitch Fiesta!

We’re baaaaaaack from vacation and so excited to announce the details for our first ever Pitch Fiesta, an online pitch event that could lead to writer-agent-publisher matches and future books by/for/about Latin@s. This event is open to middle grade and young adult writers. We’re sorry, but no picture book manuscripts this time around. We might have a separate event in the future for picture book writers and illustrators.
Before we get to the application information, let’s introduce our participating agents and publisher:

ADominguezSMALLAdriana Dominguez, an agent at Full Circle Literary since 2009, has 15 years of experience in publishing, most recently as Executive Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, where she managed the children’s division of the Rayo imprint. She is a member of the Brooklyn Literary Council, which organizes the Brooklyn Book Festival, and one of the founders of the Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference in NYC. She is interested in middle grade novels and literary young adult novels. Adriana has a long trajectory of publishing underrepresented authors and illustrators, and welcomes submissions that offer diverse points of view.

 

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Adrienne Rosado is an agent at the Nancy Yost Literary Agency as well as the Foreign Rights Director. She is interested in literary and commercial fiction, especially YA, urban fantasy, multicultural fiction, women’s fiction, and new adult, all with strong voices and an authentic tone.  She’s especially drawn to dark humor, innovative takes on classic literary themes, and Southern gothics. Adrienne is also on the lookout for quirky and smart narrative nonfiction, memoirs, pop science, and business books with a creative approach. Please no picture books, chapter books, poetry, or westerns.

 

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Amy Boggs is an agent at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. She is looking for all things fantasy and science fiction, especially high fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk (and its variations), YA, MG, and alternate history. She is also looking for unique works of contemporary YA, historical fiction, Westerns, and works that challenge their genre are also welcome. She seeks and supports projects and authors diverse in any and all respects, such as (but not limited to) gender, race, ethnicity, disability, and sexuality. Please no: thrillers, women’s fiction, picture books, chapter books, poetry, screenplays, or any debut work under 30,000 words in length.

 

sara_sized_160x240Sara Megibow is an agent at the Nelson Literary Agency. Sara is looking for debut authors with a complete novel-length manuscript in any of these genres: middle grade, young adult, new adult, romance, erotica, science fiction or fantasy. Any sub-genre is accepted including paranormal, historical, contemporary, steampunk, fantasy, etc. In short – if you can write it, Sara will read it – as long as it’s 100% complete, novel-length, not previously published and in one of the above genres. Where does Diversity fit in? Sara is looking for manuscripts AND/OR authors representing diversity of religion, race, culture, socio-economic status, ability, age, gender and/or sexual orientation. Sara is on twitter @SaraMegibow and on Publishers Marketplace here:  http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/SaraMegibow/

 

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Kathleen Ortiz is the director of subsidiary rights and a literary agent for New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. She is an active member of AAR and SCBWI. She’s always on the hunt for outstanding stories with strong characters whose voice and journey stay with her long after she finishes reading the story. She loves YAs set within other cultures and experiences across all genres (though she’s a bit full up on sci-fi and dystopian at the moment).

 

 

Laura Dial

Laura Dail of the Laura Dail Literary Agency received her Master’s degree in Spanish Literature from Middlebury College (but would prefer to consider works in English). She’s most interested in realistic YA, and funny middle grade and chapter books. She represents fiction and nonfiction, but no picture books, poetry, or screenplays. See more here: http://ldlainc.com/kids-teen-ya/

 

 

AP long logo color verticalArte Público Press, affiliated with the University of Houston, specializes in publishing contemporary novels, short stories, poetry, and drama based on U.S. Hispanic cultural issues and themes. Arte Público also is interested in reference works and non-fiction studies, especially of Hispanic civil rights, women’s issues and history. Manuscripts, queries, synopses, outlines, proposals, introductory chapters, etc. are accepted in either English or Spanish, although the majority of our publications are in English.

Piñata Books is Arte Público Press’ imprint for children’s and young adult literature. It seeks to authentically and realistically portray themes, characters, and customs unique to U.S. Hispanic culture. Submissions and manuscript formalities are the same as for Arte Público Press.

Now, here are the guidelines:

1. Writers who are Latin@ or writers of any ethnicity who have included Latin@ characters, settings, etc. in their manuscripts are eligible to apply.

2. You must have a complete manuscript at the time of the Pitch Fiesta. If an agent or editor is interested, you must have a complete manuscript ready to send. So, writers–get writing! Finish that manuscript!

3. Please read and consider what the agents are looking for. Please do not send us a query and first pages in a genre that does not mesh with their lists.

4. We will accept applications from September 2 through October 3. To apply, please send your query and the first 5-10 pages of your middle grade or young adult novel to our email: latinosinkidlit@gmail.com. In the subject line, please write: PITCH FIESTA ENTRY. Please post both the query and the first pages directly into the email. No attachments.

5. One of the Latin@s in Kid Lit members will read and respond to your email. During the month of October, we will help selected writers revise and polish queries and first pages to prepare for the Pitch Fiesta. Even though we will help you with your queries and first pages, please send us your best work. We have the right to reject any applications.

Queries and first pages will be posted on November 12 and 13. If an agent or an editor from Arte Público is interested, you will be contacted.

Exciting, right?

We hope writers will take advantage of this opportunity to present your work to publishing professionals who are actively seeking, and thereby supporting, diversity in kid lit!

The Pitch Fiesta, New Bloggers, and Summer Vacation

We will be on vacation for the month of August, but we’re already planning for our return in September, a month that marks our one year Blogversary and National Hispanic Heritage Month. We’ll tweet past posts through the month for our new followers. Below are news items, plans for our second year, and special thanks to all who have worked with us so far.

What we’re doing with our time off:

Lila: August is catch-up time. My list is miles long and full of mundane things that I’ll relish checking off! Soon after our break, on September 27, I’ll be in Brooklyn at the Comadres y Compadres Writers Conference. If any Latin@s in Kid Lit readers make it there, please come by to say hello. I’d love to meet you! In fact, thanks to this Comadres event, I’ll finally get to exchange an abrazo with Cindy, the founder of this blog!

Sujei: August is also catch-up time! From my never-ending to-read/to-watch lists to starting my dissertation proposal focused in Latino librarianship. Offering occasional bilingual storytimes at my library will also bring joy to my summer break!

Zoraida: August will be my month for major outlining. I am working on my next YA, ENCANTRIX, about a family of Brujas. Also, outlining my next NA romance!

Cindy: I recently finished writing my second YA novel, AESOP’S CURSE (yay!), so I will be using the month of August to read and relax. A week before returning to school, my daughter and I will join friends for a week in Misquamicut, RI. Ahhh!

Blogger news:

stephanie guerra 2012AuthorPhoto500pixels About Me Pic PatrickFS1

The bad news is Stephanie Guerra has decided to leave the blog. She has lots of writing projects in the works, so we will be looking out for those and wishing her luck along the way. Thank you, Stephanie, for helping us to launch the blog!

The good news is Ashley Hope Pérez is returning. She took a break from blogging because of a move, a new job, and a dissertation she had to complete! Soon we will call her Dr. Pérez! She will return to the site in the fall.

The exciting news is that Sujei Lugo, our resident librarian and regular book reviewer, will be blogging about library issues as they relate to Latin@ kid lit. She is planning a regular Q&A feature with fellow librarians to discuss literacy, book challenges, and programming.

We have also secured Patrick Flores-Scott, author of Jumped In, as a regular contributor, so look for his perspective throughout the year.

Wanted:

While we have a great crew of bloggers and planned guest posts, we are always looking for new voices. We would love more regular contributors from anyone in the kid lit world who has the time and desire to write three or four posts a year on anything related to Latin@s in kid lit. If you are interested, please contact us through the form on the blog or by emailing: latinosinkidlit@gmail.com

We would also love to have teens contribute to our Libros Latin@s feature. If you are a parent, teacher, librarian, or someone who is otherwise in touch with teen readers, please let them know that we’d love for them to read books and talk them up on our site. Contact us here.

We are also looking for more agents and editors who want to participate in our first Pitch Fiesta….see next item for more details.

Pitch Fiesta!

Minolta DSCWe want more and more Latin@s in kid lit, so we’re hoping to match writers with agents and editors. Check out the line-up we have so far:

Amy Boggs: agent at the Donald Maass Literary Agency

Laura Dail of the Laura Dail  Literary Agency

Kathleen Ortiz: agent and subrights director at New Leaf Literary

Sara Megibow: agent at the Nelson Literary Agency

Adrienne Rosado: agent at the Nancy Yost Literary Agency

Arte Público Press

If you are an agent or editor looking for manuscripts with Latin@ characters, settings, etc., and you want to participate in our Pitch Fiesta, please contact us here or by emailing latinosinkidlit@gmail.com

Here are the details:

1. Writers who are Latin@ or writers or any ethnicity who have included Latin@ characters, settings, etc. in their manuscripts are eligible to apply.

2. You must have a complete manuscript at the time of the Pitch Fiesta. If an agent or editor is interested, you must have a complete manuscript ready to send. So, writers–get writing! Finish that manuscript! We will start accepting applications in September after we return from vacation.

3. We will post what the agents and editors are looking for in submissions. Please read and consider these before you apply.

4. When we open for applications, you (the writer) will send us your query letter and first pages of your middle grade or young adult novel (10 pages). One of the Latin@ in Kid Lit members will read your work and provide feedback. We will help you to revise and polish the query and/or first pages to prepare for the Pitch Fiesta. Even though we will help you with your pitch and first pages, please send us your best work. We have the right to reject any applications.

5. The actual online event will be in mid-November. Specific date to follow…

Thanks!!

We’d like to thank the following people for contributing to our site in our first year. We’ve had a great start and it wouldn’t have been possible if these authors, editors, illustrators, and librarians had not been willing to share their time, expertise, and opinions. ¡Muchas gracias!

Everyone who is participating in our 2014 Reading Challenge–A HUGE THANK YOU!!!

Sarah Fine

Stephanie Diaz

Steven dos Santos

Estela Bernal

Scholastic’s Club Leo

Joe Cepeda

Zetta Elliott

Margarita Engle

Maria Andreu

Angela Cervantes

Alidis Vincente

Eileen Fontenot

Hannah Gomez

William Hazelgrove

CAKE Literary

Danette Vigilante

Skila Brown

Diana López

René Collato Laínez

Adrienne Rosado

Andrew Karre

Juana Martinez-Neal

Chantel Acevedo

Meg Medina

Yadhira Gonzalez-Taylor

Patrick Flores-Scott

Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez

Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Jenny Torres Sanchez

Have a wonderful rest of the summer! See you in September!

Libros Latin@s: Summer of the Mariposas

By Lila Quintero Weaver

FINALmariposas_cover_loDESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: When Odilia and her four sisters find a dead body in the swimming hole, they embark on a hero’s journey to return the dead man to his family in Mexico. But returning to Texas turns into an odyssey that would rival Homer’s original tale.

With the supernatural help of ghostly La Llorona via a magical earring, Odilia and her little sisters travel a road of tribulation to their long lost grandmother’s house. Along the way, they must outsmart a witch and her Evil Trinity: a wily warlock, a coven of vicious half-human barn owls, and a bloodthirsty livestock-hunting chupacabras. Can these fantastic trials help Odilia and her sisters prepare for what happens when they face their final test, returning home to the real world, where goddesses and ghosts can no longer help them?

Summer of the Mariposas is not just a magical Mexican American retelling of The Odyssey, it is a celebration of sisterhood and maternal love.

MY TWO CENTSSummer of the Mariposas tells the story of a road trip full of apparitions and supernatural interventions. Several elements of this novel caught my attention, beginning with the fact that it’s patterned after The Odyssey, yet is steeped in Mexican culture and mythology, including Aztecan figures and language.

Although mythical beings show up on a regular basis, the plot is grounded in the everyday life of a middle-class Texas family. The main characters are a lovable collection of cinco hermanitas, the Garza sisters, ages ten to fifteen. The first-person narrator is Odilia, the oldest sister, who with lots of prodding from her siblings—not to mention whispers from La Llorona—gets behind the wheel of a rusty car, bound for El Sacrificio, Mexico. There’s a dead body propped up in the backseat, next to the thirteen-year-old twins. The girls found the dead man floating in the Rio Grande, near their home in Eagle Pass, Texas. His wallet provides an address. A plastic bag in his boot contains enough cash to fund the girls’ self-appointed errand to keep him from the impersonal burial afforded the undocumented. Meanwhile, the girls’ mother is at work, blissfully unaware of her daughters’ border-crossing adventure. They expect to return home before she notices they’re gone. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty. But lovers of fantasy fiction wouldn’t have it any other way.

Guadalupe weaves in an array of fascinating details. Each chapter highlights a Lotería card and the riddle that goes with it. The Garza family used to play this popular Mexican game while their father was still around.  Odilia recalls that during one game, he held up the mermaid card and announced that La Sirena was “‘la mujer who wants to take your Papá away.” Prophetic words? Or was Papá already feeling the lure of the siren song? He abandoned the family a year before the story begins, and no one knows where he is now. The father’s disappearance is the heartache that throbs beneath the fantastical turns of the story. Along their journey, the girls acquire down-to-earth perspective and fortitude. It takes a series of supernatural encounters to bring these lessons home, but don’t discount more pedantic challenges, such as grueling travel conditions and hard knocks brought about by impetuous choices.

Summer of the Mariposas is a traditional prose novel, but Guadalupe’s command of poetic conventions is in full evidence. Sometimes she soothes with lyrical passages. Sometimes she unleashes horror:

“[The lechuzas] soared over us, ranting and raving and angrily flapping their wings. They circled and circled, creating a whirlwind, a dirt devil of debris and dark moldy hay that swirled all the way up to the ceiling. The miniature storm swirled and stood before us like a charmed snake, flicking our hair into our faces, wrapping it around our necks, choking us—stealing our breaths.”

I highlighted that paragraph with a note to self: “Nice writing!”

TEACHING TIPS: The publisher, Lee & Low Books, provides teaching material for Summer of the Mariposas on its site. A mythological glossary, which outlines parallels to The Odyssey and includes background information on the Aztec figures, is a fascinating read. You can also find discussion questions, a link to an educator guide by the blog Vamos a Leer and a book talk by the author.

Has it been a while since you read Homer’s The Odyssey? For a fun synopsis, check this cartoon presentation.

Here is a helpful summary of Tonantzin, the Aztecan deity which figures in this novel, and her connection to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

By all means, check out our interview with Guadalupe, right here on Latin@s in Kid Lit!

IMG_2964 (2)AUTHORGuadalupe Garcia McCall is the author of Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low Books), a novel in verse. Under the Mesquite received the prestigious Pura Belpre Author Award, was a William C. Morris Finalist and received the Ellen Hopkins Promising Poet Award, the Tomas Rivera Children’s Book Award, and was included in Kirkus Reviews’ Best Teen Books of 2011 among many other honors and accoladesHer second novel, Summer of the Mariposas (Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books), won a Westchester Young Adult Fiction Award, was an Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Finalist, and was included in the 2013 Amelia Bloomer Project List, the Texas Lone Star Reading List, and the 2012 School Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year.

Her poems for adults have appeared in more than twenty literary journals across the country and abroad, and her poems for children are included in The Poetry Friday AnthologyThe Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, and The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science. Ms. Garcia McCall was born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was six years old and grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas (the setting of both her novels and most of her poems). She is currently a high school English teacher in the San Antonio area and lives in Somerset with her husband, Jim, 2 dogs (Baxter and Blanca), 1 cat (Luna), and her two (of three) college age sons, Steven and Jason.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Summer of the Mariposas, visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.org, indiebound.orggoodreads.comamazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.

Q&A with Pura Belpré Award Winning Author Guadalupe Garcia McCall

By Lila Quintero Weaver

otherUNDERTHEMESQUITEtentativefrontcover3-18-10We’re excited to host a conversation with acclaimed author Guadalupe Garcia McCall. Her first book, Under the Mesquite, won the 2012 Pura Belpré Award and was a finalist for the William C. Morris Debut Award. Her newest work is Summer of the Mariposas, a rich work of fantasy fiction doubly inspired by Homer’s The Odyssey and the mythology of Mexico.

Lila: Guadalupe, congratulations on your wonderful writing career! Welcome to Latin@s in Kid Lit! Let’s get started with a question you’ve probably heard before:

Under the Mesquite is a powerfully intimate coming of age story told in verse. It’s a quiet book. On the other hand, Summer of the Mariposas is a high-energy road trip full of other-worldly characters and action scenes. Describe the paths that led to these diverse creative choices.

Guadalupe: Interestingly enough, both books were born out of my classroom experiences. Under the Mesquite came about because I was teaching my students how to write poetry. I wrote for them, as a way of modeling how easy and accessible poetry is if they focus on using their memories to write poems full of life’s experiences. After many years of teaching poetry (and collecting my little poems in my poetry unit folder), I realized that I had a good size collection of poems about my childhood which I could submit for publication. With the help of Emily Hazel, my editor at Lee & Low Books, that collection eventually evolved into Under the Mesquite.

After Under the Mesquite, I was bouncing around ideas for my next book, not really committed to anything, when one of my female students made the comment that all the books we read in class (we were studying Homer’s Odyssey) were about men—men having adventures, men defeating monsters, and men becoming heroes. This really upset my female students, and on her way out of my classroom, that same young lady told her friend, “It’s not fair. We need our own Odyssey!”

And that was it. That was my “light bulb” moment. Actually, it was more like a giant, blinding spotlight cast over a dark, neglected corner of our classroom that I couldn’t ignore as I drove home that afternoon. My girls were right. They needed to see themselves in literature. They needed their own stories to show the world that they are strong, and courageous, and smart. So I took out the sticky notes and started plotting out a Girl-Power adventure story using the Hero’s Journey just for them, for my “muchachas.” But as I worked on it, something else came to mind. Why use the same old Greek gods and monsters? Why not use our own mythology? We have just as many great characters to choose from in Mexican lore. And so it began, the frenzied scribbling and joyous giggling that comes when you first start plotting out a story—the discovery, the freedom, the breakthroughs—it’s all very intoxicating! I have to admit, I had a lot of fun writing Summer of the Mariposas because I knew my girls were hungry to read something like it.

Lila: Along with its supernatural elements, Summer of the Mariposas carries an understated but clear message of feminine strength and resilience. You force your characters to confront family challenges and heartbreaks. What do you hope to give young readers through this story?

FINALmariposas_cover_loGuadalupe: When I started writing Summer of the Mariposas, I wanted to tell a fun female story. However, I also knew I wanted to showcase the strength and resilience that it takes for a young lady to come of age and embrace womanhood in our society. I wanted young girls to believe in themselves and trust that a female is just as equipped to take care of herself and her loved ones as her male counterpart. That they are lacking nothing—that all young ladies have the courage to take life by force and the wisdom to attain their goals.

Lila: I’m sure you’ve been attuned to the recent conversation on diversity in literature, especially in children’s and YA publishing, which has stirred up a lot of media attention. One article quoted Matt de la Peña as saying, “Where’s the African American Harry Potter or the Mexican Katniss?” As a Latina writer, you must have well-formed opinions on this topic. What are your concerns? And what are your dreams for diversity in kid lit?

Guadalupe: Matt and I must be on the same wavelength because I asked a similar question about a year and a half ago, and I posted it on Facebook in a conversation with my publisher about gaps in children’s literature. We were talking about genre-specific gaps, and I asked a question along the lines of “Where is the Mexican-American Johnny Tremain?” I think it is very important that we start answering these questions. Not with words, but through action.

Listen, this fence is about to crumble. It’s got so many holes in it. The change in the face of our nation (diversity in our classrooms) is not forthcoming. The Change is here. The Change is upon us. We “have” diverse classrooms—and our students are missing the sound of their voice in the narratives available to them. It’s too late to “think” about it or “research” it or “plan” for it. No. It’s time to take action. Publishers need to be addressing the fact that there are not enough diverse children’s and YA books to fill the huge gaps in children’s literature. They need to be actively seeking out new and existing talent and publishing the books that will fill those gaps.

Lila: In addition to authoring books with strong Latino themes, you’ve also taught middle school (and now high school) in Texas. What are your thoughts about turning young Latinos into readers and writers?

Guadalupe: There is this great attitude in South Texas, especially along the Rio Grande Valley, border area, and that is that books are amazing and that their creators, namely authors, are ROCK STARS! The teachers, administrators, district personnel, and especially the community have made it their mission to make books and their creators accessible to children. They seek out grants and special programs and make every concerted effort to continue to feature books and their authors in their schools. They see reading and writing as the greatest assets, the most important tools in their children’s toolbox. I really admire that. I wish that was the case with every teacher, every administrator, every district, and every community in the world. Life would be sweet if we were all about education. I know that I’m being very naive here (with all the other problems to be solved in the world), but I do truly believe in building life-long learners through reading and writing! Reading and writing make up the foundation of learning, and a good book can draw a child in as well as any electronic gadget if presented in the right light, with the right attitude, and with the same attention corporations give to marketing video games, apps, and cell phones. It would mean flipping a Goliath of a paradigm on its ear, and the willingness to take on the fight, but it can and should be done, for our children’s sake!

Lila: Let’s get practical. You work a full-time job and yet somehow manage to write complex novels. What are the habits that help you produce? Is there a piece of writing advice that a mentor gave you which still rings true? What have you discovered on your own that guides you in attacking a new project?

Guadalupe: My habits? Well, I sit down every day to tap at those keys. Sometimes I take a cup of coffee to the porch and write as the sun rises on the weekends. Sometimes, I write the minute I get home from work. And sometimes, I pull over on the side of the road and write in my vehicle on the way to the grocery store because I don’t want to lose that terrific line. Most often, though, I get up in the middle of the night and write in my jammies because that’s when my brain wants to create.

Whatever the case may be, it’s important for me to write every day, to “touch the work every single day!” I heard that somewhere, or maybe I read it. I’m not sure which, but it’s very true. I find that the longer I stay away from writing, the harder it is to get back in the groove of it. It’s like being an athlete. If you don’t keep working out, you lose muscle, and you won’t win any races or bring any trophies home if you don’t work out every day. So this is the advice I pass on to my students,” Work out those writing muscles every day. Read. Write. Read. Write. Read. Write. Oh, and don’t be afraid to catch the latest movie or keep up with your favorite TV show. It’s good research! “

Lila: Speaking of new projects, you must be working on something. What can you share about it?

Guadalupe: I am working on a YA historical set in Texas during the Mexican Revolution, after the discovery of the Plan de San Diego and all the strife and conflicts of that time period on this side of the border. It’s something that is very close to my heart because I think it’s an important time in “our history” that hasn’t been explored or talked about much in our classrooms. The maltreatment and persecution of Mexican Americans in South Texas during that time is either ignored or glossed over in our textbooks and there is literally little to nothing in YA fiction that touches on the struggles Hispanics experienced during that devastating time period in American history. I really can’t share too much of the plot except to say that it is my attempt at filling in a gap and answering the questions, “Where is the Mexican-American Johnny Tremain? Where is our historical perspective, our ancestral Mexican-American voice?”

 

IMG_2964 (2)Guadalupe Garcia McCall is the author of Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low Books), a novel in verse. Under the Mesquite received the prestigious Pura Belpre Author Award, was a William C. Morris Finalist and received the Ellen Hopkins Promising Poet Award, the Tomas Rivera Children’s Book Award, and was included in Kirkus Reviews’ Best Teen Books of 2011 among many other honors and accoladesHer second novel, Summer of the Mariposas (Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books), won a Westchester Young Adult Fiction Award, was an Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Finalist, and was included in the 2013 Amelia Bloomer Project List, the Texas Lone Star Reading List, and the 2012 School Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year.

Her poems for adults have appeared in more than twenty literary journals across the country and abroad, and her poems for children are included in The Poetry Friday AnthologyThe Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, and The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science. Ms. Garcia McCall was born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was six years old and grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas (the setting of both her novels and most of her poems). She is currently a high school English teacher in the San Antonio area and lives in Somerset with her husband, Jim, 2 dogs (Baxter and Blanca), 1 cat (Luna), and her two (of three) college age sons, Steven and Jason.

Libros Latin@s: Sanctum: Guards of the Shadowlands, Book One

13482750By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This month we are taking a look at Latin@s in science fiction and fantasy. On Monday, we had a Q&A with Sarah Fine, author of the Guards of the Shadowlands series. Today, we take a closer look at her debut novel, first of the series, Sanctum, which features a 17-year-old Latina protagonist.

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK“My plan: Get into the city. Get Nadia. Find a way out. Simple.”

A week ago, seventeen-year-old Lela Santos’s best friend, Nadia, killed herself. Today, thanks to a farewell ritual gone awry, Lela is standing in paradise, looking upon a vast gated city in the distance—hell. No one willingly walks through the Suicide Gates, into a place smothered in darkness and infested with depraved creatures. But Lela isn’t just anyone—she’s determined to save her best friend’s soul, even if it means sacrificing her eternal afterlife.

As Lela struggles to find Nadia, she’s captured by the Guards, enormous, not-quite-human creatures that patrol the dark city’s endless streets. Their all-too-human leader, Malachi, is unlike them in every way except one: his deadly efficiency. When he meets Lela, Malachi forms his own plan: get her out of the city, even if it means she must leave Nadia behind. Malachi knows something Lela doesn’t—the dark city isn’t the worst place Lela could end up, and he will stop at nothing to keep her from that fate.

MY TWO CENTS: Sanctum by Sarah Fine offers an engaging blend of fantasy, action, romance, and contemporary social issues, sure to appeal to a variety of readers. Protagonist Lela Santos has spent most of her life in foster homes and the sexual abuse she suffers at one causes her to attempt suicide. Her abuser interrupts the suicide, but Lela was gone long enough to glimpse hell. When her best friend Nadia kills herself and Lela dies accidentally soon after, she is determined to save her friend from the city that preys on souls’ worst fears, insecurities, and vices.

Problem is: Lela doesn’t belong there. The city won’t sustain her, which puts her at risk of dying–again.

Another problem: Creepy creatures called Mazikin claim broken souls and are preparing to bust out of the city. The fights are fierce between the Mazikin and the Guards, and Lela proves to be a badass even before any formal fight training.

Yet another problem: Lela is falling in love with Malachi, the leader of the Guards. And while the romantic tension between them is hotter than Hades itself, a love affair in this setting isn’t likely to last. Plus, Lela is still healing from traumas experienced in her mortal life, which means she doesn’t easily trust people even in the afterlife.

One of the things I liked most about Sanctum was the development of the characters’ emotional journeys through pain and into healing. They all suffered so severely in life they decided to commit suicide, and that decision landed them in a place that continues their torment. Still, as difficult as it is, in life and this afterlife, some are able to overcome the worst experiences and find purpose in life and even love. I won’t give away what happens when Lela finds Nadia, but I will say I wasn’t entirely surprised at Nadia’s response to the rescue effort. The point that we all heal at our own pace is an important one to remember (in real life) when trying to help people with mental health issues.

TEACHING TIPS: One thing the Common Core State Standards asks is for students to compare different treatments of the same subject or analyze how one work of literature has influenced another. One way Sanctum could be used in the classroom, even if only parts are used, is to compare Fine’s version of hell with other versions of hell and purgatory in literature. Discussions about the afterlife and the particular fate of those who commit suicide would be appropriate in higher level English classes that consider the Bible’s influence on literature and history/social studies courses that include a comparative study of religions.

AUTHOR: Sarah Fine is the author of the Guards of the Shadowlands, a YA urban fantasy series (Skyscape/Amazon Children’s Publishing), including Sanctum (October 2012) and Fractured (October 2013). The third and final book in this series comes out in October 2014. In May 2014, Putnam/Penguin published Scan, the first of two thrillers she co-authored with Walter Jury. Her gothic young adult novel Of Metal and Wishes will be published by McElderry/Simon & Schuster in August 2014. When she’s not writing, she’s psychologizing. Sometimes she does both at the same time. The results are unpredictable.

Author Sarah Fine Talks About Hell, Trauma, and Creating Diverse Characters

13482750By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This month, we are taking a look at Latin@s in science fiction and fantasy. Today, we have a Q&A with Sarah Fine, author of Sanctum and Fracture. (Book three is in the works.) Here is a partial description of Sanctum, which features Lela Santos, a Latina main character, a foster child from Rhode Island who has experienced abandonment, neglect, and sexual abuse:

A week ago, seventeen-year-old Lela Santos’s best friend, Nadia, killed herself. Today, thanks to a farewell ritual gone awry, Lela is standing in paradise, looking upon a vast gated city in the distance—hell. No one willingly walks through the Suicide Gates, into a place smothered in darkness and infested with depraved creatures. But Lela isn’t just anyone—she’s determined to save her best friend’s soul, even if it means sacrificing her eternal afterlife.

Cindy: First, let me say that I loved Sanctum. The only part that frustrated me was how long it took for Lela and Malachi to kiss :.)

Sarah: I’m so glad you enjoyed it, and I hope the kiss was worth the wait!

Cindy: The premise of Lela going into hell to retrieve Nadia is similar to the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice, but obviously this is not a retelling. How influenced were you by that myth or mythology in general?

Sarah: I actually didn’t think about that particular myth at all as I was generating the idea for this book. When I read that comparison in a review, I was like … you know, that’s actually quite apt! I was a little more influenced by Jewish and Mesopotamian mythology. The Mazikin are mentioned in the Talmud as evil spirits or demons, and the inhuman Guards are very loosely based off protective deities called the lamassu in Mesopotamian myths, where they’re described as half-man, half-bull.

Cindy: Your setting is an interesting kind of hell, with the buildings being alive and able to feed off its inhabitants. How did you create and develop this idea? What kind of research do you do for fantasy world creation?

Sarah: This idea was inspired by the way C.S. Lewis wrote about his version of hell/purgatory in The Great Divorce. The “grey town” is this massive, depressing city where it’s always raining, always twilight—and here’s the part that really got me: people could have whatever they wanted, but it was of low quality. That Grey Town at the very beginning of that book completely inspired the dark city in Sanctum. Obviously, I changed it a lot, including the idea that the city is really one living, breathing entity that grows off the depression of the people residing within, but I give Lewis the credit for the basic idea (and he was clearly influenced by Dante in that work, so he deserves credit as well.)

17667916Cindy: Do you continue to work as a child psychologist? Did your work experiences help you to portray the emotional recovery Lela and the others have to go through in order to heal from trauma?

Sarah: I do, but in a different capacity than I have in the past, when I did a lot of home-based evaluations and therapy. Now I direct programs and supervise clinicians who provide those services to children and adolescents who are at risk for out-of-home placement in psychiatric hospitals or residential treatment facilities. Our goal is to work with families to keep these kids at home and in their communities, where research clearly shows they do best.

My work definitely influences how I see the complexity of trauma and what it takes to heal. A huge percentage of our clients have experienced some type of trauma, and usually not what we think of as single event, “simple” trauma. Though that can be devastating, it’s actually easier to treat than the complex developmental trauma we often see, where the trauma is more chronic and ongoing. This is actually the type of trauma Lela’s experienced—multiple disruptions in attachments, several instances of abuse or neglect. As I show her fragile but growing relationship with Diane, her foster mom, that’s always on my mind. I definitely explore more of that in book three.

Cindy: In addition to the great action scenes, this story focused on the characters’ battles with their personal demons. Thinking about author choices here…because of the issues the characters face, this story could have been developed as a YA contemporary. What led you to decide to develop the story as fantasy instead?

Sarah: I guess it’s a preference thing. There are some brilliant, brilliant authors who have explored these issues with contemporary YA (Nina LaCour, for example), but I wanted to place these characters in an environment where the depression was a tangible, living thing. This fantasy world gave me the chance to explore a lot of philosophical issues, like what is heaven, really, and how could it possibly be the same for everyone? What if you’re not emotionally ready to be there and accept what it offers? To me, that’s not a religious question, but a more concrete way of exploring something very emotional–Can you have some version of that goodness in your life, no matter where you are? What would you have to understand and embrace to receive that?

Cindy: Again with author choices….Obviously you could have created characters of any race, ethnicity, etc. What made you decide to create a Latina MC?

Sarah Fine

Sarah Fine

Sarah: Lela Santos really just materialized to me in that form. However, I will tell you that the majority of the school children in the urban core of Rhode Island, where Lela’s from, are Latino/a. Also, in general, children of color are overrepresented in terms of involvement in the juvenile justice system in this country (with harsher sentences as well—we’ve had court workers outright say that they’re harder on these kids because of the racism they face within society, which is a totally twisted logic that over-penalizes those children and in my opinion perpetuates that racism). Once I considered those facts, it seemed wrong to consider making her anything other than what she was from the beginning.

Cindy: Your secondary characters have interesting back stories as well, which suggests to me that including diversity in your writing is important to you. Some authors shy away from including diverse characters for fear of “getting it wrong.” Did you have any concerns about creating diverse characters? What advice, if any, would you give to fantasy writers about diversity in the genre?

Sarah: This story takes place in the afterlife, and the idea that the only people residing there would be Anglo-American, or any kind of American, is pretty laughable. The world is a BIG place—and the afterlife would be the same, minus the country divisions. Everyone would be there together, right? The dark city where most of Sanctum takes place is where everyone in the world who committed suicide has gone (with some exceptions, I think, but that’s a different interview!). I felt very strongly that having Lela coincidentally meet up with people who were American would just be false and icky.

I did have concerns, of course, because I really wanted these characters to have an impact, and to feel like real people. I did quite a bit of research. I also focused on writing from the inside out, trying to focus on each of those characters as human beings who loved and hoped and despaired in their own ways. I don’t think I’m some kind of expert on this. I’m certain I’ve made mistakes. But I’m curious and always wanting to learn about people who are different from me. And I started from the premise that all those diverse characters—Lela, Malachi, Ana, Takeshi—were on their own profoundly personal journeys, armed only with their intelligence, resilience, perseverance, and the capacity to risk their lives and hearts for a chance at peace. The rest flowed from that.

Check out these other works by Sarah Fine:

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