By Cindy L. Rodriguez
Today, we are thrilled to have a Q&A with author Angela Cervantes, who talks about her debut novel, Gaby, Lost and Found (Scholastic), her advice for pre-published writers, and a little about how she crafted a wonderful middle grade novel that’s both funny and heartbreaking. Angela is also super generous and is offering a signed book, a poster, and a T-shirt to one lucky winner. Click on the Rafflecopter link here or at the end of the post to enter!
CR: Since this is your debut novel, can you tell us about your publishing journey. Were there any things you did in particular that, in hindsight, you think were particularly helpful as you pursued an agent and book deal? What advice would you give to pre-published writers?
AC: My middle grade novel, Gaby, Lost and Found has been out almost 10 months now, and I’m still learning things about myself and the publishing journey. In the beginning, when I was a simple wanna-be-Kid Lit author with a manuscript, the idea of facing the publishing industry was scary.If you had met me then, I would have told you that I’d rather pick up a hitchhiker with face tattoos than have to face the world of slush piles and soul-less rejection letters.
Eventually, I realized that if I loved my book enough, I had to be willing to take on rejection. After all, the worst things they can do to you is ignore you completely or reject your work. Tough, but big deal. Every writer in the history of the written world has received a rejection or been passed up at some point, right? If they rejected my work, I was in good company.
I could go on and on with advice for pre-published writers. Never pick up hitchhikers with face tattoos! Really, I’ve learned so much. First, I would start with the very basic: If you’re going to go the traditional publishing route, like I did, then you must finish that manuscript. You have to show the agent something fast when they ask for a partial or full manuscript. My second advice is to take that completed manuscript to a writing critique group. Feedback is crucial. I belong to a critique group called the Firehouse Five (although we are six now) and we meet monthly to provide critique to each other’s work. It’s priceless. My final advice, take your writing-group-critiqued and completed manuscript to a local writers’ conference and sign up for a pitch or first pages sessions with an agent. I met my agent through a writer’s conference. She liked my pitch, but made it very clear there was plenty of work to be done on my manuscript before she’d offer representation. I did the work and I was signed. With her guidance, I made more revisions and it was sent off for submission. Soon, the first rejection arrived. It didn’t kill me. A week or so later, I received an offer for my first novel. Yay!
CR: I love how you mixed Gaby’s story with the animals’ stories, how they were both in new situations and looking for new homes. How did you get the idea to address the subject of immigration for a MG audience, using homeless animals as a link to Gaby’s situation?
Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I really didn’t start with the idea to address the subject of immigration. I’m character-driven in my writing so I started with just Gaby, a funny, smart, and brave girl who is also a serious animal lover like her mom. I think if I had started out subject-driven with the intention to write a book on the issue of immigration, it would have been a much different novel. It would have come across as more lecturing and I don’t like to lecture or be on the receiving end of a lecture. No thank you. And kids don’t want to be lectured to either. At school visits, kids always ask me about deportation, but more in the context of why or how this happened to Gaby. They always tell me that they want Gaby and her mom to be together. They’re invested in Gaby’s happiness. It’s precious.
CR: Even though Gaby is dealing with the serious issue of her mother being away, she is also a “typical” MG girl, laughing and doing silly things with her male and female friends. Was this a conscious decision on your part, to show a range of emotions and not have it be an “issue” book or overly depressing?
AC: It’s funny that you ask that because my original drafts were even more depressing! I pulled a lot out during the revision process because the story was going in all sorts of directions. What got me back on track was again focusing on Gaby and who she was and not what she was going through. Gaby is an eleven year old girl. She loves animals. She loves glitter. She can climb trees and beat the boys at a water balloon fight. Would Gaby be defeated by bullying at school, the loss of her mom, the neglect of her father, and poverty? Or would this young girl rise up, even if she responds with some missteps, and show us what she’s made of? For me that was the only conscious decision on my part in writing this novel. I had to be true to Gaby and not define her by what she was going through, but show where she was going.
CR: Are you an animal lover? Did you have to do any particular research about animal shelters or spend time at one to capture what happens there?
AC: Besides my many years of experience as an animal lover and pet owner, I did visit several local animal shelters for information and inspiration. At the animal shelters, I asked tons of questions, held a lot of cats, wrote a lot of notes and pet a lot of dogs for this book. Why can’t all research be that much fun?
CR: What are you working on now? Can you share what’s next for you?
AC: Sure! I’ve completed my second middle-grade novel and I am now in the throes of revision. Fun stuff! Wish me luck.
Angela Cervantes was born and raised in Kansas, with most of her childhood spent in Topeka in the Mexican-American community of Oakland. Angela has a degree in English and an MBA, and she is the co-founder of Las Poetas, a Chicana poetry group that has developed into the Latino Writers Collective. In 2005, her short story, “Pork Chop Sandwiches,” was published in Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul. In 2007, she won third place for Creative Nonfiction in the Missouri Review’s audio competition for her story “House of Women” and Kansas City Voices’ Best of Prose Award for her short story, “Ten Hail Marys.” In 2008, she was recognized as one of Kansas City’s Emerging Writers by the Kansas City Star Magazine.
Gaby, Lost and Found is her first novel.
Click HERE to enter the giveaway. One winner will receive a signed copy of Gaby, Lost and Found, a poster, and a T-shirt. You can enter for free once each day. A winner will be chosen on Saturday, 5/24/14. Good luck!!