May and June 2018 Latinx Book Deals

 

Compiled by Cecilia Cackley

This is a bi-monthly series keeping track of the book deals announced by Latinx writers and illustrators. The purpose of this series is to celebrate book deals by authors and illustrators in our community and to advocate for more of them. If you are an agent and you have a Latinx client who just announced a deal, you can let me know on Twitter, @citymousedc. If you are a Latinx author or illustrator writing for children or young adults, and you just got a book deal, send me a message and we will celebrate with you! Here’s to many more wonderful books in the years to come.

May 1

Claudia Gabel at HarperCollins has bought Meteor by Anna-Marie McLemore (l.) and Tehlor Kay Mejia, in which two friends, one made of stardust and one fighting to save her family’s diner, take on their small town’s 50th annual pageant and talent competition in the hopes that they can change their town’s destiny, and their own. Publication is set for 2020. Author Agents: Taylor Martindale Kean at Full Circle Literary and Jim McCarthy at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret.

 

May 3

Amy Fitzgerald at Lerner/Carolrhoda has bought M.G. Velasco’s debut middle grade novel, Cardslinger. Set in 1881, the novel follows 13-year-old Jason “Shuffle” Jones on a quest to find his missing father, the creator of a popular card game that may offer clues to his whereabouts. Publication is slated for fall 2019. Author Agent: Dawn Frederick at Red Sofa Literary.

May 8

None.

May 10

None.

May 15

Karen Boersma and Karen Li at Owlkids have acquired world rights to Malaika’s Costume and Malaika’s Winter Carnival author Nadia L. Hohn‘s nonfiction picture book about Louise Bennett-Coverley, a Jamaican poet, performer, and champion of Jamaican Patois popularly known as Miss Lou. Publication is slated for fall 2019; the author represented herself.

Olivia Valcarce and Aimee Friedman at Scholastic have acquired Yamile Saied Méndez‘s Blizzard Besties, in which a 12-year-old girl teams up with new friends at a ski resort to rescue her brother who might be stranded in a blizzard. Publication is scheduled for December 26, 2018. Author Agent: Linda Camacho at Gallt and Zacker Literary Agency.

May 17

None

May 22

None.

May 24

Amara Hoshijo at Soho Teen has bought Latinx author Michelle Ruiz Keil‘s debut novel, All of Us with Wings, a YA fantasy imbued with elements of Aztec mythology. The book follows Xochi, a teenage governess living with her young ward Pallas’s glamorous rockstar family in San Francisco. When Xochi and Pallas perform a cathartic punk-rock ritual on the Equinox, they accidentally summon a pair of ancient creatures determined to avenge transgressions from Xochi’s troubled past. Publication is set for summer 2019. Author agent: Hannah Fergesen at KT Literary.

May 30

None.

June 5

Jessica MacLeish at HarperCollins has acquired, in a two-book deal, Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros. The #ownvoices middle grade debut novel follows middle schooler Efrén as he takes on increased home responsibilities, while also dealing with a contentious school election and a fight with his best friend, after his mother is deported to Mexico and his father takes on a second job to earn the money to bring her back to the U.S. Publication is slated for early 2020, with an untitled second novel to follow in 2021. Author agent: Deborah Warren at East West Literary Agency.

June 7

None.

June 12

Allison Cohen at Running Press Kids has acquired world rights to a picture book by Tracey Kyle (l.), tentatively titled Alpaca Pati, about an alpaca who loves to dress up and what happens when she learns her beautiful coat will be sheared. Yoss Sanchez will illustrate. Publication is scheduled for fall 2019. Illustrator agent: Aurora Meyer.

June 14

None.

June 26

Brian Geffen at Henry Holt has acquired world rights to Blackwater, a debut YA graphic novel by Jeannette Arroyo and Ren Graham. When Tony, a restless star athlete, and Eli, a quiet outsider, form an unlikely friendship in their small Maine town, they find themselves tracking down the source of a werewolf curse and heeding the warnings of ghosts, all while exploring their budding feelings for each other and dealing with typical high school drama. Publication is scheduled for 2020.

June 28

Johnny Temple at Akashic/Black Sheep has acquired world English rights to Party: A Mystery, the first picture book by Antiguan novelist Jamaica Kincaid, to be illustrated by Ricardo Cortés. Initially published in the New Yorker in 1980, the story tells of three children flitting about an extravagant anniversary party for the Nancy Drew novels, until they see something scary that can’t be unseen. Publication is set for spring 2019. Author agent: Jeffrey Posternak at Wylie Agency. Illustrator agent: Stephen Barbara at InkWell Management.

 

 

Cackley_headshotCecilia Cackley is a Mexican-American playwright and puppeteer based in Washington, DC. A longtime bookseller, she is currently the Children’s/YA buyer and event coordinator for East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill. Find out more about her art at www.ceciliacackley.com or follow her on Twitter @citymousedc

A Conversation with Dr. Frederick Aldama, Author and Scholar

Frederick Aldama’s Latino/a Children’s and Young Adult Writers on the Art of Storytelling is a compilation of creator interviews. Its table of contents includes many names familiar to readers of Latinxs in Kid Lit, such as Malín Alegria, Lulu Delacre, Margarita Engle, Maya Christina Gonzalez, Pat Mora, Daniel José Older and 27 others. The following post, an interview with Dr. Aldama, is a conversation about his conversations with writers and illustrators, illuminating the joys and challenges encountered by Latinx creators who work in young people’s literary arts. 

 

Cristina Raquel Rivera: First things first, this book is a major and undeniable milestone to larger communities that include not only the publishing and academic world, but also anyone who reads as and to children and young adults. Yet, through all the interviews a reoccurring topic came up suggesting a much-needed conversation regarding the lack of Latinx representation the publishing world. Can you speak to this theme? Did it play a role in the compilation of the book? How would you outline modes for changing the underrepresentation of Latinx in children’s and young adult literature after speaking with the authors in your book? Do you think that a greater Latinx representation in the children’s and young adult publishing community could change the political arena of today?

Frederick Luis Aldama: In many ways, you and the Latinxs in Kid Lit community are the ideal readers of my book. By this I mean, as Latinx parents, guardians, aunties and uncles, older siblings and so many others, we all think about and put into practice on a daily basis the use of Latinx children’s and young adult fiction and nonfiction. It’s the heart that beats in our chest. It’s a central part of the development of the many growing minds around us.

However, much work needs to be done not only to open eyes to many more and to show the world that this is a serious area of pedagogical practice and scholarly inquiry. And along with this, there needs to continue this conversation around issues of Latinx representation. By this I don’t mean that we become prescriptive, telling Latinx authors and artists what they should or shouldn’t do. In all Latinx art there should be total freedom. This said, from our local libraries all the way up to those pearly gates of the titans of the publishing world, there remain blinders to the resplendent ways that Latinx children’s literature and YA fiction can and does guide minds to wondrous new places. In this sense, they prove to be less an edifying device as a set of puentes or bridges that carry us into newly imagined storyworlds packed with characters who experience all sorts of emotions, thoughts, and feelings that make new our sense of self in the world.

With our Latinx community increasingly hunted and imprisoned, along with the ripping of children from families, there’s so much deep traumatic scarring happening today. We must fight not only to be sure that our fellow creators have the space and freedom to create literature for all ages, but also fight with our boots on the street to bandage this bleeding out of Latinx youth. This is not only happening in the most brutal way along the US/Mexico border with the US sanctioned concentration camps being set up that allow for the abuse of Latinx children. It’s happening in our schools where Latinx youth are disproportionately punished and suspended in ways that lead to a push-out then lock-out system. It’s happening all across the country with the underfunding of public schools that disallow teachers to have the adequate resources for growing Latinx minds to realize their full potentialities. It’s happening dramatically in Puerto Rico with a quarter of its schools permanently shuttered. It’s happening in higher education that’s becoming more and more expensive for Latinx and other working families in this country.

What I’m getting at is that our work as scholars is important. To put it bluntly, it’s a way to legitimize what you and I know to be a significant space of exploration of our past, present, and future. And, it’s important to keep in mind that historically we know that the only way to prevent further hemorrhaging of Latinx youth is to take a stand. One way or another, you’ll see this echoed by the Latinx creators I had the great fortune to interview for this book. It’s why my students choose not only to pursue PhDs, but to also work with LASER/Latinx Space for Enrichment Research. As a LASER Hub Co-coordinator, you meet weekly with Latinx students at Centennial High, working with them to ensure that they have as full an access as possible to knowledge and creativity—and the tools for further refining and shaping for a better tomorrow. You see clearly that it’s a two-pronged approach: your own scholarly work to further solidify and enrich Latinx children’s literature as an important area of study; and, to be working in the community in ways that materially and directly impact new generations of Latinx youth.

CRR: Throughout your interviews you touch on the narrative elements and devices that change when authors incorporate Latinidad in works for children and young adults. These conversations described narratives attempting to depict more than just youth culture but also what a Latinx childhood feels like. Looking back at these interviews, do you find that there are particular structures of narrative that are more useful or successful in the creation of works for the Latinx community? Do you find that these differ between literature for adult and children/YA? How do you see the narrative structures these authors spoke of addressing layers of experience? In other words, are these emerging experiences changing the publishing community or do you find them at any risk when being separated into its own category?

FLA: I’ve approached this question of narrative shaping device both as a scholar and creator. As a scholar, I dedicated my first theory books (a trilogy of sorts) to grappling with whether there are specific techniques used by Latinx authors—and not other authors. In my Postethnic Narrative Criticism (2003), Brown on Brown (2005), and A User’s Guide to Postcolonial and Borderland Fiction (2009), I sleuth out the narrative devices used by Latinx authors and poets to give shape to their respective images, characters, and storyworlds. (Later in my career I also consider the question of shaping device with regards to poetry in the book, Formal Matters in Latino Poetry.) And, like the children’s and YA fictions I discuss in this recent work of mine, I’m deeply interested in what these Latinx creators who have been historically pushed to the margins are interested in shaping for their audiences. At the same time, I’m careful not to collapse what I see as a shaping device or tool (whether a choice of meter in poetry or use of free indirect discourse in prose) with ideology. This doesn’t mean that Latinx children’s and YA fiction can’t transform. It does, and even radically. But it’s a transformation that takes place in its recalibration of our planetary periodic table of narrative fiction. Let me use the example of magical realism—something that I focus on in Postethnic Narrative Criticism. I distinguish between a Latinx author’s reconstruction of reality in magical realist fictional format and that of everyday material reality. I do so to remind myself and others that while narrative fiction is referential, there is a difference between it and everyday lived reality. So, while magical realism opens our eyes to new ways of perceiving, thinking, and feeling about the world, actual material transformation of our reality requires additional intellectual, interpretive, and material work that goes beyond the narrative fiction. Just as realism is an available shaping device for Latinx creators, so too is magical realism. We will leave it to the individual creator to decide how best they want to shape their story.

I have recently completed my first children’s book, With Papá. Together with artist Jason “Gonzo” Gonzalez (of La Mano del Destino fame) we worked together to slice into the building blocks of reality and reconstruct the synesthetic sensory education of a Latinx child with her papá. We worked long and hard to find then use specific storytelling devices that would convey the way children’s experience of the world is synesthetic and polymorphous: they smell tastes, touch sounds, visualize sounds. . . Choices of color and point of view proved important, too, as we wanted to create a story that celebrated Latinoness. And, I’m in the middle of a YA novel that gravitates around a set of Latinx teens living in Columbus, Ohio. I decided not to give shape to the story through the perspective of one character. Instead, I decided that each chapter would be told from the point of view of the respective character that makes up this storyworld. This allowed me to immerse readers in the subjectivity of all the different ways that Latinxs are in the world in terms of gender, sexuality, and class.

In my scholarship, discussions with Latinx children’s and YA authors, and my own creative work it’s clear to me that we are free to choose any and all shaping devices to tell reconstruct those building blocks of reality that make up our respective storyworlds.

CRR: Noticeably, breaking into the publishing industry has always held obstacles created by “gatekeepers.” Considering that most author’s in your book speak to the complicated nature of publishing in general, what are some ways of battling these gatekeepers to create greater representation of Latinx as consistently called for in your book? How do you see the work of these authors and the work you do in your book changing the academic field as a whole? How might Latinx studies in combination with children’s literature/young adult scholars improve the gap between “traditional” academic literature and children’s and young adult conversations? What challenges do you see the Latinx publishing community face in the current moment and upcoming future?

FLA: Unfortunately, Latinx authors continue to run up against road-blocks deliberately built by industry gatekeepers. We can and do create our fictions and nonfictions, but once we push these out into literary marketplace we face obstacles of all kinds.

The wonderful creators I interviewed for this book have all had a certain amount of struggle getting their work into the hands of readers—of all kinds. For this reason, we have been creating our own venues for getting Latinx children’s and YA literature into the world, from internet distribution to book series and grassroots grown publishing houses like Arte Publíco, Floricanto, Cinco Punto, Groundwood Books, Cedar Grove, and others. This fall I will launch a Latinx children’s and young adult tread-press series with University of Pittsburgh Press. And, internet venues like Latinx Kids Lit offer much needed forums for identifying all of our resplendent talent. This fall I will launch The Latinx Book Club through LASER, with an especial focus on children’s and young adult fiction. This will largely be an online forum moderated by myself and LASER Coordinator, Carlos Kelly. The Latinx Book Club will provide books to read and topics to consider as well as guide online discussions that will likely touch on all aspects concerning life for us Latinxs in the US.

CRR: Most the authors you interviewed in your book were college educated. Due to the lack of Latinx student who don’t even make it out of high school, do you find that publishing for Latinx youth a privileged position? Can you speak to how this level of education plays a role in publishing works about Latinx children/adolescents and childhood in general? Do you see the education level of the authors interviewed playing a viable role against the “gatekeepers” in the publishing world? Do you think this attribute may also deter aspiring Latinx authors who haven’t graduated high school? Or do you see the education level of so many Latinx authors influencing Latinx communities in a different way?

FLA: Education is becoming a scarce resource—no, commodity. So, growing a mind in a soil-rich learning environment where one can not only learn to read literature and undertake scientific discovery is becoming more and more for the Haves—and in this country, this remains steadfastly held by race (white) and gender (male) privilege. Until there’s a level playing field where all have access to the resplendent wonders of reading, writing, creating, making science and all else, this will be the case.

Latinx creators don’t have it easy by any means. Most of the Latinx authors interviewed in the book make huge sacrifices on a daily basis to be able to create their children’s and YA fictions. By this I mean, even the most, say, commercially successful authors work other jobs; the more fortunate find jobs attached to universities where they can teach (creative writing courses, for instance) that doesn’t intrude quite as much as jobs in completely unrelated areas.

CRR: Given that the literary academic community often belittles the study of children’s and young adult literature (or better put—doesn’t take it seriously), how do you think your book might change the way we talk about this issue? In other words, what role do you see Latinx children’s and young adult literature playing in the grand scheme of things?

FLA: Unfortunately, people confuse the seeming simplicity of children’s and YA fiction with simplemindedness. The scholarly work that you and I do along with our colleagues here at OSU like Michelle Abate and others across the country like Mary Pat Brady, Jamie Naidoo, and Philip Serrato, to name a few, not only reveals, say, the complexity of children’s and YA literature, in the long run and by accretion it legitimizes further, deeper study. Today you are writing a dissertation dedicated to Latinx children’s literature. This wasn’t possible when I was writing my dissertation—and not by a long shot.

CRR: What was your favorite part of publishing this collection of interviews? What other work are you considering pursuing on the topic of children’s and young adult Latinx themes?

FLA: As you can imagine, my favorite parts were: re-reading and reading anew all the fiction created by the many authors interviewed; and, learning deeply from the creators themselves. We know intuitively and even through our scholarly study a lot about how this literature works. However, it’s not until you speak with the creators that this knowledge comes alive—and is even radically revised.

As far as new work in this area, I’m singularly focused on creating a space for reading seriously (the LASER Latinx Book Club) and publishing (University of Pittsburgh Press trade-book series) Latinx children’s and YA fiction. As I mentioned already, I’ve just finished my children’s book, With Papá, and amcompleting a YA novel that’s filled with all variety of teen Latinxs.

CRR: Lastly, what advice would you give to anyone in the Latinx community who wants to pursue a career in the publishing world or artistic world—in and outside of academia?

FLA: My simple and brief advice: write and learn what you are passionate about and don’t take no for an answer.

For ordering information, visit University of Pittsburgh Press.

Author: Frederick Luis Aldama is Arts & Humanities Distinguished Professor and University Distinguished Scholar at The Ohio State University. In addition to Latino/a Children’s and Young Adult Writers on the Art of Storytelling, Dr. Aldama has published over 30 works of scholarship and fiction, including Your Brain on Latino Comics: From Gus Arriola to Los Bros Hernandez, and Long Stories Cut Short: Fictions from the Borderlands. He is creator of the first documentary on the history of Latinx comics and editor of numerous book series, including Latinographix—a trade-press series that publishes Latinx graphic fiction and nonfiction. Learn more at ProfessorLatinX.

Interviewer: Cristina Raquel Rivera is a Ph.D. candidate at The Ohio State University. She has published numerous articles on Latino/a children’s literature and animation, including recently “Branding ‘Latinohood,’ Juan Bobo, and the Commodification of Dora the Explorer” in The Routledge Companion to Latino/a Pop Culture. She works as a Hub Co-Cordinator for OSU’s LASER/Latinx Space for Enrichment Research to create higher education pipelines for Columbus’s Latinx youth.

November & December 2017 Latinx Book Deals

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is a monthly series keeping track of the book deals announced by Latinx writers and illustrators. The purpose of this series is to celebrate book deals by authors and illustrators in our community and to advocate for more of them. If you are an agent and you have a Latinx client who just announced a deal, you can let me know on Twitter, @citymousedc. If you are a Latinx author or illustrator writing for children or young adults, and you just got a book deal, send me a message and we will celebrate with you! Here’s to many more wonderful books in the years to come.

November 30:

None.

November 28:

None.

November 21:

None.

November 16:

Claribel Ortega’s debut, based on Dominican folklore, in which a 12-year-old girl must save the ghosts of her lost loved ones, living as fireflies, with the help of her best friend and her witch grandmother before evil spirits haunting St. Augustine destroy them and the only home she’s ever known to Jeffery West at Scholastic, for publication in 2019. Author agent: Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary and Media.

November 14:

None.

November 9:

None.

November 7:

None.

November 2:

Jill Santopolo and Beverly Horowitz at Penguin Random House’s Philomel and Delacorte imprints have acquired three books for young readers by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Philomel will publish the picture book autobiography Turning Pages: My Life Story, illustrated by Lulu Delacre, in which Justice Sotomayor follows the path of her life as it relates to the books she read along the way. Delacorte will publish The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor, a middle grade adaptation of her bestselling memoir, My Beloved World. Both books will be released in fall 2018; a second picture book about childhood differences will follow from Philomel in 2019, illustrated by Rafael López. Both Philomel and Delacorte editions will also be published in Spanish, with the picture books releasing simultaneously with the English editions, and the middle-grade title releasing in 2019. Agent: Amy Bernstein and Peter Bernstein of Bernstein Literary Agency. Illustrator agent Adriana Dominguez and Stefanie Von Borstel for Rafael López, Lulu Delacre unagented.

 

Beverly Horowitz at Delacorte has bought The Go-Between and Make It Messy co-author Veronica Chambers‘s new YA novel, in which she takes on issues of colorism. Living in a Latino–African-American community, a teenage girl follows a hard-fought path in search of self-awareness and self-acceptance. Publication is set for 2019. Author Agent: Kim Witherspoon at Inkwell Management.

 

December 19:

Tracy Mack at Scholastic Press has bought world rights to Charlotte Agell‘s (l.) picture book Maybe Tomorrow, about two friends who navigate friendship, loss, and healing. Pixar artist Ana Ramirez will illustrate; publication is planned for 2019.

December 14:

Namrata Tripathi at Dial has acquired North American rights, at auction, to William C. Morris Award-winning author Isabel Quintero‘s picture book, My Papi Has a Motorcycle, a father-daughter story of a father’s love portrayed through an evening motorcycle ride through the neighborhood. Zeke Peña will illustrate; publication is planned for late 2019. Agent: Peter Steinberg at Foundry Literary + Media.

December 12:

Nick Thomas at Scholastic/Levine has acquired Aida Salazar‘s debut novel, The Moon Within. The free verse middle grade novel tells the story of 11-year-old Cely, whose life swirls with questions about her changing body, her first attraction to a boy, her best friend’s exploration of what it means to be genderfluid, and her mother’s insistence she have a Chicana moon ceremony for her first menses. Publication is slated for spring 2019. Author agent: Marietta B. Zacker of the Gallt and Zacker Literary Agency.

December 7:

Clarissa Wong at HarperCollins has bought, at auction, world rights to Yamile Saied Méndez‘s (l.) Where Are You From?, illustrated by Jaime Kim, in which a girl who is asked where she’s really from turns to her abuelo for the answer. Publication is scheduled for summer 2019, with a second book to follow. Author agent:  Linda Camacho at Gallt and Zacker Literary . Illustrator agent: Claire Easton at Painted Words.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael López will be published in August 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books-Penguin. Agent: Adriana Domínguez and Stephanie von Borstel of Full Circle Literary represented Rafael López.

December 5:

None.

March 2017 Latinx Book Deals

 

 

Compiled by Cecilia Cackley

This is a monthly series keeping track of the book deals announced by Latinx writers and illustrators. The purpose of this series is to celebrate book deals by authors and illustrators in our community and to advocate for more of them. If you are an agent and you have a Latinx client who just announced a deal, you can let me know on Twitter, @citymousedc. If you are a Latinx author or illustrator writing for children or young adults, and you just got a book deal, send me a message and we will celebrate with you! Here’s to many more wonderful books in the years to come.

March was a great month for picture book deals, but there were almost no deals for middle grade and YA books. My fellow blogger Cindy L. Rodriguez recently highlighted 10 Latinx middle grade books in 2017, but unless publishing steps it up, 2018 is going to be sadly lacking by comparison. I am hoping for a better report in April!

March 30

None.

March 28

Ken Geist at Scholastic has acquired world rights to We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands, a picture book celebration of what connects us all, illustrated by Rafael Lopez with the text adapted from the original lyrics by Reverend F.W. McGee. Publication is planned for fall 2018. Illustrator agent: Adriana Domínguez and Stefanie Von Borstal from Full Circle Literary.

March 23

Nancy Paulsen at Penguin’s Nancy Paulsen Books has acquired world rights to Señorita Mariposa, a debut picture book celebrating butterfly migration as witnessed by American and Mexican children, written by Latin Grammy Award-winning children’s musician Mister G (Ben Gundersheimer) (l.), to be illustrated by Mexican artist Marcos Almada Rivero. Publication is slated for 2018. Author agent: Zoe Sandler at ICM.

Marissa Moss at Creston Books has bought world rights to Nancy Churnin‘s Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing, to be illustrated by James Rey Sanchez. The nonfiction picture book tells the story of the boy who grew up to become the prolific songwriter who wrote “God Bless America” and gave every penny the song earned to the children of the land that he loved. Publication is planned for spring 2018, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the year Berlin wrote the song.

March 21

Amy Novesky at Cameron Kids has bought world rights to Los Angeles, written by Elisa Parhad and illustrated by Alexander Vidal, a board book featuring the sights and delights of Los Angeles in simple rhyme. Publication is set for spring 2018.

March 16

None.

March 14

None.

March 9

Nancy Paulsen at Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books has acquired world rights to Moth & Butterfly by Dev Petty (l.), about two caterpillar friends who emerge post-metamorphosis with different results. Ana Aranda is set to illustrate; publication is set for spring 2019. Illustrator agent: Adriana Domínguez at Full Circle Literary.

March 7

Stacey Barney at Putnam has acquired at auction Alex Villasante‘s The Grief Keeper, about sisters Marisol and Gabriella Morales who make it across the Mexican border only to learn their request for asylum is being denied, unless Marisol participates in a human study for a cutting-edge PTSD treatment. It’s scheduled for spring 2019. Author agent: Barbara Poelle at Irene Goodman Agency.

Carter Hasegawa at Candlewick has bought world rights to Tami Charles‘s (l.) debut picture book, Freedom Soup, celebrating the history behind the Haitian tradition of ringing in the New Year by eating soup joumou. Jacqueline Alcántara, the inaugural winner of the We Need Diverse Books Illustration Mentorship Award, will illustrate. Publication is planned for fall 2019. Illustrator agent: Adriana Domínguez at Full Circle Literary.

March 2

None.

Latinxs and the MFA: A Chat with Emerging Writer Yamile Saied Méndez

ysmfamily

Writer Yamile Saied Méndez, surrounded by her family

Many aspiring writers look to MFA programs as the surest path to refining their writing skills. Yamile Saied Méndez, a native of Argentina who resides in Utah, is a recent graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing program (VCFA). We were delighted to chat with her about her experiences.

LKL: Let’s get some background. When and how did you catch the writing bug?

Yamile: I’ve always loved stories and books. It wasn’t until my grandfather died, when I was six years old, that I wanted to tell my own stories. True to my writing process (which I recognized much later in life), the story simmered in my mind for a couple of years. I finally put my experiences and feelings on paper when the story had taken total possession of me, and I couldn’t go one more day without telling it.

So I wrote about a princess named Joanna who went out to find a cure for her grandfather’s cancer.

From my beginnings, my writing has been a tool to explore what’s happening in my life and the world around me, although my stories aren’t technically autobiographical. I write about third-culture children, sports, my beloved city of Rosario, life in small-town Utah, spirituality, etc.

Writing has always been a part of my life, but I never thought I could one day be a writer. I left Argentina at age nineteen to attend Brigham Young University, where I majored in International Economy. But during those years, I learned Portuguese and eventually became a translator. I devoured books from the library. When my children were born, I savored the books I didn’t have in my childhood (like Where the Wild Things Are, Ferdinand, and Good Night Moon, among others).

When my own stories started taking full possession of me, and I couldn’t go another day without telling them, I started writing. After the birth of my fourth child, I decided that I wanted to share my writing with the world. I rolled up my literal sleeves and started my writing apprenticeship.

LKL: Before VCFA, what types of self-directed activities or writing classes did you utilize to develop your craft?

Yamile: NaNoWriMo was the catalyst that sent the proverbial writing stone rolling for me. I was very active in the blogging community, and on November 6th, 2007, I read a casual comment about a novel-writing challenge. I headed over to the NaNoWriMo website, signed up, and started writing a story that had been germinating in my mind for a while and I hadn’t even noticed. The euphoria of typing The End is addictive, and after the first time, I couldn’t stop.

I wrote every day and learned there was much more to writing than pouring words on the page. I found books on self-editing, story structure, character development, and eventually, the publishing industry. With the help of my critique group (the Sharks and Pebbles, whose name originated from this spoof), finished a manuscript and queried it without apparent success. Some agents who rejected my piece were very encouraging, and that was all I needed to stay motivated.

I attended my first writers conference, LDS Storymakers, which is the largest writing conference in Utah, and entered the first-chapter contest. My entry won the first place in the Young Adult category, which told me I was on the right track.

I also attended the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference and workshop, organized and directed by VCFA alumna and award-winning author Carol Lynch Williams, and my life changed forever. At WIFYR I workshopped with Ann Dee Ellis, Martine Leavitt, and Cynthia Leitich-Smith. After savoring this yearly feast on craft and art, I wanted more. I knew Martine and Cynthia taught at VCFA, and when my fifth child was one-year-old (and in my mind, capable of surviving without me during the ten-day residency periods), I applied to the program.

LKL: Please share about your experiences with your MFA, starting with the decision to apply. How did you choose VCFA? What are some of the factors you would recommend for other writers to consider?

Yamile: I had looked into VCFA for years, but my four children were very young, my husband had (and still has) a very demanding job, and I didn’t think I had the skills required for such an intensive program. I perused the website nightly, and when I turned to the Acknowledgements page of a favorite book and read the author’s dedication and/or gratitude to VCFA, and its faculty and student body, my desire to apply intensified.

One day I realized that time kept going, and that my children were growing up quickly. If I wanted to pursue advanced education, now was the time. Fortunately, my husband was very encouraging. After all, I had supported him when he pursued his MBA degree and as he advanced in his career. Armed with my family’s support, I applied. When the acceptance letter arrived, I was thrilled.

LKL: Take us into the world of an MFA student. What were some of the turning points or eureka moments for you as a writer?

Yamile: In my first semester, I learned to be a flexible writer. I’d already written two MG novels before VCFA, and I was determined to write YA during my two years as a student. With my first advisor, I wrote YA, but I also wrote poetry, picture books, early readers, and my favorite surprise: short stories. Exploring with the format allowed me to study plot and story structure. It taught me to make my words count. Two of my YA projects were born of short stories. The experience was illuminating in regards to my own writing process. Another thing I valued from the beginning was being open to critique, but also trusting my writerly instincts. In our graduation ceremony, VCFA Thomas Christopher Greene told us graduates that we had earned a Master’s degree over our own writing. To trust this authority. I remind myself of this lesson daily.

yamile-daughterLKL: During your enrollment, you were also busy with family life. Could you share some tips for getting the most from classwork while also meeting everyday demands?

Yamile: As I flew back home from my first residency, I considered the work load for each of the five packets ahead of me that semester (40 pages of creative writing, 2 critical essays, an annotated bibliography of ten to fifteen books, and a detailed letter to my advisor), and I was overwhelmed.

How in the world was I ever going to do it all?

I learned to prioritize. I put myself on a schedule that started much earlier than my children’s so I could have uninterrupted writing time. With my kids in school, I had almost three hours of sacred morning writing time (I still do most of my writing during the morning when the kids are at school). Still, my obligations didn’t fit into 24 hours.

I learned to say no. I didn’t volunteer at the kids’ schools as much (or at all during my third semester). I gave up TV.

I also had obligations to my agent, my freelance writing job, and my church. I reached a point in which I put my writing, my family, my obligations ahead of my health. I started learning (I’m still learning this) to maximize my time so I could sleep a full night. I learned simple recipes, and my children helped with household chores. When they saw my dedication to my school work, my family teamed up to help me meet my deadlines. We read my “homework” before bedtime. We listened to audiobooks in the car. The kids brought me books from their school libraries to help with essays or research. Again, I also learned how to be a flexible writer. I wrote or read during halftime at soccer matches or long dance competitions. I did “character studies” during carpool (15 year-old boys will say the funniest things when they believe the driver can’t hear them). I learned to let go of things I couldn’t control, like the sea of Legos in the playroom. These habits prepared me for the writing life after the MFA. Nowadays, although I don’t have an advisor waiting for my packet, I have an agent waiting for my revision. A VCFA friend and I became accountability partners. It helps to have someone cheering for me and celebrating accomplishments at the end of a busy week.

The MFA was a family affair, and I couldn’t have done it without the support of so many friends and family.

LKL: A few years ago, Junot Díaz wrote a stinging essay about the experiences of people of color at various MFA programs. On its website, VCFA makes a strong commitment to diversity. In your view, how well do they honor this promise?

fellowlatinas

Yamile with fellow Latinas at VCFA

Yamile: I’m embarrassed to confess I didn’t know Junot Díaz until my first semester advisor assigned me one of his short stories. The beauty, honesty, and clarity of Junot’s words stunned me. My perception of my world, my writing, my country, and myself changed dramatically. I measured all I learned against my new perception of what it means to be a POC in a graduate program.

At VCFA, the student body is still not diverse enough. The staggering price of tuition and room/board is a deterrent to many POC applicants. VCFA is trying to mitigate the financial burden by granting scholarships (The Angela Johnson Scholarship for New Students of Color or Ethnic Minority established by literary agent Barry Goldblatt).

As far as the faculty goes, VCFA boasts an incredible roll of award-winning stars with ties to diverse communities: Cynthia Leitich-Smith, Uma Krishnaswami, An Na, Will Alexander, Daniel José Older, Kekla Magoon, and Shelley Tanaka, among others.

The rest of the faculty is invested in diversity and the promotion of writers from marginalized communities. Workshops and lectures are sensitive to the importance of inclusion and supporting marginalized voices. Alumni POC are wonderful role models and mentors. In the admissions department, prospective, current, and past students have a super champion in Ann Cardinal, a self-declared Gringa-Rican.

To summarize my answer, yes, VCFA honors their commitment to diversity, and they continue to strive to better serve the interests of all students, especially writers of color.

LKL: What advice would you give to aspiring Latinx writers about considering a creative writing program or preparing to enroll in one?

Yamile: I’m a strong advocate for education. However, I’d advise people to consider the motivations for pursuing a MFA.

Is it to take a shortcut on publication or success?

Keep in mind that there aren’t any promises for either publication or success even for VCFA MFA holders.

Is it to teach?

An MFA will provide the writer with better opportunities to teach at a university level, since it’s a terminal degree.

Is it to improve their craft?

You could also acquire these tools on your own, or by attending conferences and workshops. But during a structured program, you will be committed to do your work every day, no matter what.

Is it for the community?

At VCFA, I made personal connections with fellow students, faculty, and alumni, some of whom graduated years before I even started. The VCFA family is a tight-knit group, and I’m honored to be part of it.

Also, consider your financial situation.

Lastly, look into your heart. I always wanted to be a writer, but I felt I needed to study something practical, and that’s how I ended up studying economics. My love for writing and reading never waned though, so when I had the chance, I chose VCFA. I wonder how my story would have been different if I’d gone with my heart years ago.

If a writing program is what you want to do, then go for it.

LKL: Now that you’re an MFA grad, what’s next? What are you working on?

Yamile: I finished VCFA with a portfolio of exciting material. I’m revising an MG story about a girl, the star of an all-boy fútbol team. When she gets her period and gets kicked off the team, she goes on to earn a spot in a girls’ team, and to fight for the National Championship. For my critical thesis, I wrote on the importance of portraying girls’ puberty in middle grade, and following on the heels of that, this story has been fun and empowering to write. Eleven-year-old me would have loved it.

I’m also working on a story I call it my gender-bender Hamilton meets Joan D’Arc–my love letter to refugees and immigrants everywhere.

Next spring, I’m teaching a diversity class at Storymakers, and I applied to Junot Díaz’s VONA workshop, because education never ends.

LKL: Finally, permit us to show off a little on your behalf. You had an amazing 2015: You were named a finalist in Lee and Low’s New Voices Award. You secured a literary agent. You enrolled at VCFA. At some point, We Need Diverse Books named you a recipient of its inaugural Walter Deans Myers Grant. Wow! What has the Walter Dean Myers grant meant to your writing career? Tell us how 2015 fits into the story of where you’ve come from—and where you see yourself going—as a writer.

Yamile: The validation I felt after winning the New Voices Honor, and being chosen as an inaugural Walter Dean Myers Grant recipient was the fuel I needed to keep me motivated and engaged in learning as much as I could at VCFA. To think that I taught myself how to read and write English with a bilingual dictionary! I’m inspired to keep working towards publication, to tell the stories that I wanted to read as a child and that also reflect the reality of a large portion of the population of our country. My dream is to visit schools to tell children like my own that their voices matter. I’m excited for the future generation and the stories they’ll produce.

Keep up with Yamile on her website, where she blogs about the writing life, or on Twitter: @yamilesmendez. 

 

 

January 2017 Latinx Book Deals

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is a new, monthly post I’ll be writing to keep track of the book deals announced by Latinx writers and illustrators. There are two reasons why I am beginning this series. The first is simply to celebrate the accomplishments of our community and to (hopefully) put these titles on people’s TBR and purchasing lists, even if the books won’t be out for a few years. The other reason is to document whether or not publishers are listening to us when we ask for more book about Latinx communities, written by Latinx writers. Publishers Weekly puts out a digital Rights Report each week, listing around 15 different book deals. How many of them are by Latinx authors? Not enough, in our opinion. Obviously, not all book deals are announced by Publishers Weekly. In addition, I am defining authors as Latinx based on names and the information the Internet gives me.

If I make a mistake or leave someone out, please let me know in the comments.

If you are an agent and you have a Latinx client who just announced a deal, you can let me know on Twitter, @citymousedc.

If you are a Latinx author or illustrator writing for children or young adults, and you just got a book deal, send me a message and we will celebrate with you! Here’s to many more wonderful books in the years to come.

January 31

None.

January 26

Brittany Rubiano at Disney Press has signed Newbery Medalist Matt de la Peña to write an original picture book entitled Miguel and the Grand Harmony, inspired by Disney*Pixar’s forthcoming film, Coco, to be illustrated by Pixar artist Ana Ramírez. A Spanish edition will also be available. Publication is scheduled for October 2017.

Erin Clarke at Knopf has bought world rights to Andrea J. Loney‘s Double Bass Blues, illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez, a picture book celebrating music and family in which a black boy shoulders his beloved double bass from his suburban school to his city neighborhood. Publication is slated for spring 2019.

January 19

T.S. Ferguson at Harlequin Teen has acquired two more novels from YA author Adi Alsaid. The first, Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak, follows a teen relationship columnist as she struggles with writers’ block in the wake of a devastating breakup, and her decision to chronicle the planned breakup of another couple in the summer after they graduate from high school. Publication is slated for summer 2018.

January 12

Claudia Gabel at HC’s Katherine Tegen Books has bought When We Set the Dark on Fire, a debut novel by Tehlor Kay Mejia set at the Medio School for Girls, where young women are trained to become one of two wives assigned to high society men. With revolution brewing in the streets, star student Dani Vargas fights to protect a destructive secret, sending her into the arms of the most dangerous person possible – the second wife of her husband-to-be. It’s slated for winter 2019.

January 10

Tamar Mays at HarperCollins has bought world rights to Bunny’s Book Club author Annie Silvestro‘s (l.) The Christmas Tree Who Loved Trains, the tale of a train-loving tree who, with the help of a little holiday magic, learns to love much more. Paola Zakimi (Secrets I Know) will illustrate; publication is set for fall 2018.

January 5

None.

 

Cackley_headshotCecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington, DC, where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.