The tail end of winter is just about as perfect as any time to welcome the new YA fantasy Wintersong, available now! Today, we welcome author S. Jae-Jones (@sjaejones) to Rich in Color to talk about her debut book and more. Check out the interview below, and enter her giveaway for a copy of Wintersong!
The moment I read Wintersong’s synopsis, I was all about it: Sisters being there for each other, everything at stake, and otherworldy romance. What made you decide to write this specific story?
We like to mythologize origin stories—we like to think that there’s a flash of inspiration, or an entire story that comes to us in a dream. The honest truth is, Wintersong is an amalgamation of things that interest me: music, Mozart, Germanic fairy tales, the Erl-king myth, underworld stories, the movie Labyrinth, the poetry of Christina Rossetti, etc. At the same time, in many ways, the book came to me fully formed: Liesl just…showed up with two siblings, a mother, father, and irascible grandmother in tow. Writing the first draft of Wintersong was almost a journey of discovery—I was racing to finish in order to figure out what happens to Liesl, pulling all my influences in along the way.
Do you see anything of yourself in the heroine of Wintersong, Liesl, or any of the other characters? What were your main influences for the characters and story?
I’ve disclosed in my newsletter that there is a little bit of me in every character I write, but what I gave to Liesl were two things: my creative process, and my bipolar disorder. I think personality-wise, I’m the most like Käthe, Liesl’s sister. Like her, I’m shallow, frivolous, and vain, but also loyal. The character I love best is Thistle, a prickly goblin girl, who indulges in all the petty impulses I cannot.
According to your blog, Wintersong was your Nanowrimo project. Did you find it easy or hard to write Wintersong? Do you still do Nanowrimo?
I found it easy to write Wintersong, so easy that I find it incredibly suspicious. While I can write a decent number of words per day, I’m not a particularly fast writer, and the speed at which I wrote a first draft of Wintersong still astounds me. I wrote the first draft (100,000 words) in 59 days. Yet despite this, Wintersong was also hard to write in the same way all my other books are hard to write: I’m a pantser, which means I’m unable to see the big picture until I finish a draft. And because I’m a pantser, I’m never sure if I’m going to be able to finish a draft at all because I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going. I still do NaNoWriMo, but I am embarrassed to admit that the year I “won” for Wintersong remains the only year I’ve ever won.
If you had to name a theme song for Wintersong, what would it be?
Oh man, I have so many songs on several different playlists, but I suppose Coming Down by Halsey. It’s a little on the nose, perhaps, but appropriate.
Are you working on any new projects (new books, poetry, short stories)?
I am currently working on the sequel to Wintersong, which will be out in 2018. I am always writing something, but whether or not they’ll see the light of day remains to be seen.
Exciting! Finally, read any good books lately? And are there any upcoming new books that you’re excited about?
I read a collection of short stories by Ted Chiang over the holidays, which were amazing. His story “The Story of Your Life” was made into the film Arrival (which I also loved), and it’s thoughtful, beautiful, and heartbreaking. I’m not actually much for short stories at all, but I loved, loved, loved them all.
There are so many books I’m looking forward in 2017, it would be impossible to name them all! I’m super excited for Done Dirt Cheap by Sarah Lemon and A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, both of which I’ve read and think y’all will love.
Enter the giveaway below for a copy of Wintersong! The giveaway ends February 21st, and is open to USA mailing addresses. See terms and conditions for further details.
Everyone, please welcome Fonda Lee to Rich in Color! Fonda’s new sci-fi book, EXO, is out today, and we’re thrilled to be part of her book tour. (You can find all the other stops on the tour–including other interviews, reviews, excerpts, and a guest post–by checking out the tour schedule at the end of the post.) There’s also a U.S. only giveaway for the book, which you can enter through the widget at the end of the interview.
If you love science fiction, you should consider adding EXO to your reading list! Here’s the summary:
It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose alien rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience, determined to end alien control.
When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip. But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son. Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another intergalactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one . . .
Now on to the interview!
Tell us more about the aliens you created for EXO and your world-building process for a conquered Earth.
The aliens in Exo are called the zhree. I wanted them to be very different from humans in appearance yet enough like humans in character that it was eminently plausible that the two species could work together. So I decided they needed to be land dwelling, highly social creatures with vocal language and dexterous appendages. Everything else was left up to my imagination. The zhree (or “shrooms” as some humans call them) have dome-shaped torsos, six limbs, six eyes, fins, and super strong flexible armor over their bodies.
In creating the world of Exo, I thought a lot about how Earth might have changed in the aftermath of alien arrival and global war. In movies, aliens often arrive over New York or another big city, but why would new explorers set down somewhere already densely infested with natives? I set the alien cities in sparsely populated places: Mongolia, Patagonia, the Australian outback, and here in North America, smack on the prairie on the border of Wyoming and Nebraska. And then I imagined how, over the course of a hundred years, war refugees and those privileged enough to work with the new governors would all flock to those sites and the world would be drastically reshaped by alien presence.
What can you tell us about the main character (Donovan) and his exocel?
Donovan is a young man with a tough job, who genuinely wants to do the right thing—he just isn’t always sure what that is. And navigating the moral dilemmas of the world he lives in just gets harder and harder for him. Donovan’s been raised to have a strong sense of duty and responsibility, but he’s also aware of the fact that he’s part of a privileged class. At a young age, he was Hardened—he went through a dangerous procedure that endowed him with an exocel, an alien biotechnology that gives his body a flexible, invulnerable armor that makes him stronger and much longer-lived. His status as an exo and as the son of a powerful political figure mean that he’s very much invested in the alien-governed world, but he’s also forced to come to grips with the violence, inequity, and problems associated with it.
Donovan has a conflicted identity: the aliens see him as human, but other humans see him as alien. My editor pointed out that his situation is in many ways a metaphor for mixed-race or second generation kids. I had no idea I was doing that, but given my own identity as the child of immigrants, I realized that she was right: my own experience had seeped into my protagonist’s character.
Your bio says that you have black belts in karate and kung fu. There were several great fight scenes in your previous book, Zeroboxer–can we expect intense fight scenes in EXO, too?
I promise Exo is just as action-packed, but in a different way. Zeroboxer is full of hand-to-hand combat, so in writing it, I relied heavily on my own martial arts background and watched an awful lot of UFC. Exo has a much more military sensibility, with firearms and dangerous missions and explosions. I’m neither a soldier nor a firearms expert myself, so I read a lot of military memoir, went to gun demonstrations, and did research. I enjoy all sorts of fight scenes; writing them is always a pleasure for me.
What was the most difficult aspect of writing EXO? What has the most rewarding part been?
The most difficult aspect of writing Exo was setting it up as the first book in a potential series while still delivering a story that was entirely satisfying on its own. My first book, Zeroboxer, was a standalone, so I hadn’t faced this challenge before. At the time, I didn’t know if my publisher would want a sequel to Exo so I needed to lay the foundation and keep that door open without leaving readers hanging at the end. It took quite a bit of revision for me to nail that balance to my and my editor’s satisfaction.
The most rewarding part of writing Exo has been, honestly, confirming that I can do this writing thing as a career. It’s difficult to write and publish a book; it’s more difficult to sit down and do it again. And again. And again. If you can still love writing and be motivated after the debut process, I think that says something. The second book is hard; writing Exo gave me confidence I have lots more books in me.
Both EXO and Zeroboxer are science fiction. What draws you to tell science fiction stories? Are there other genres you’d like to explore soon?
I’ve loved science fiction ever since I was a kid. I can blame my dad—he told me that he used to hold me in his lap as a baby while watching Star Trek original series reruns. Science fiction can be a very fun, entertaining genre full of cool futuristic gadgets and rollicking adventure, but it’s also, I would argue, the absolute best genre for exploring ideas about our world and society. The potential to both thrill readers and make them think is what draws me so strongly to the genre over and over again.
That said, I’m a fantasy writer as well so you’ll see me cross between science fiction and fantasy, YA and adult. I have no desire to write in any other genre; I have too many sci-fi and fantasy ideas already!
Why is diversity in young adult fiction important to you?
It’s more realistic. I know that sounds like a particularly blunt and unsentimental reason, but it’s true. Our society is diverse and growing more so. Fiction reflects truth; fiction should reflect diversity. As a science fiction writer, it’s my job to look at the world as it is and make plausible extrapolations into the future. Imaginary worlds are mirrors into our own. So, to me, it’s especially important to champion diversity in genre fiction because all people need to be able to see themselves as protagonists.
What books by or about people of color or people from First/Native Nations are you looking forward to this year?
I’ve got my eyes on Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien, Want by Cindy Pon, Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, and Warcross by Marie Lu.
What’s ahead for you? Are you able to share anything you’re currently writing/revising?
I’m hard at work on Exo 2, which will be out in the summer of 2018!
3 winners will receive a finished copy of EXO, US Only.
Fonda Lee writes science fiction and fantasy for teens and adults. Her debut novel, Zeroboxer was an Andre Norton Award finalist, Jr. Library Guild Selection, ALA Top 10 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, Oregon Book Award finalist, and Oregon Spirit Book Award winner. Her second novel, Exo, releases from Scholastic in February 2017.
Fonda wrote her first novel, about a dragon on a quest for a magic pendant, in fifth grade during the long bus ride to and from school each day. Many years later, she cast her high school classmates as characters in her second novel, a pulpy superhero saga co-written with a friend by passing a graphing calculator back and forth during biology class. Fortunately, both of these experiments are lost to the world forever.
Fonda is a former corporate strategist who has worked for or advised a number of Fortune 500 companies. She holds black belts in karate and kung fu, goes mad for smart action movies (think The Matrix, Inception, and Minority Report) and is an Eggs Benedict enthusiast. Born and raised in Calgary, Canada, she currently resides in Portland, Oregon.
1/23/2017- Tales of the Ravenous Reader– Interview
1/24/2017- Bibliobibuli YA– Review
1/25/2017- Two Chicks on Books– Excerpt\
1/26/2017- The Forest of Words and Pages– Review
1/27/2017- Novel Novice– Excerpt
Today, we’re welcoming author Jenny Torres Sanchez to the blog! Her YA books include Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia, The Downside of Being Charlie, and (drumroll please) the newly released 2017 book Because of the Sun! Check out our interview with her below — and be sure to enter her giveaway for a copy of Because of the Sun!
A few years back, I read Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia — and I was blown away. I loved the way the issues of relationships and mortality were woven together with Emily Dickinson’s poetry. You’re including classic literature once again into your writing with Because of the Sun. What inspired you to take this path?
I wrote an author’s note in the book this, about how Meursault was such a compelling and memorable character to me when I first read The Stranger. But I also just really love classic literature. In my high school English classes, we read a lot of classic literature and it always resulted in my teachers saying think about this, ponder this, what do you think? And when you’re used to parents telling you what to do and what to think, having the chance to really think for yourself and talk about and discuss the world and your opinions and different issues, just seemed so cool to me. I love the way literature lends itself to that. It’s not just about the story; it’s about the human condition. The discussions we had about various works in my English classes impacted me in such a way that has stuck with me my whole life, that inspired me to major in literature in college, and eventually also go on to teach it. Now I find it often makes its way into my writing. I think if I had to really break it down, I owe this love of literature to my English teachers. I was very lucky to have smart, open-minded, intelligent, inspiring English teachers.
I just know that reading Because of the Sun will make me want to pick up The Stranger again for a reread. What would you say to a teen who’s having trouble relating to their classic literature reading for English class?
I’d say, don’t feel like you have to understand all of it at once. And don’t be afraid of it. Classic literature can be a little intimidating. You think if I don’t get this, maybe I’m not smart. I still feel that way. But it’s just because language and styles change and what we see in classic lit is the language and style of another time. It can be a little unfamiliar at first, but the core of who we are as a people, the human experience, is covered beautifully in classic lit and it’s worth the struggle you might feel at first. Keep picking it up, don’t be hard on yourself, get what you can from it and think about it. It might just be a sentence sometimes, but sometimes that sentence will stick with you for some reason.
Given the advice of “write what you know,” how much of your writing is about what you know? How much (or how little) of yourself did you put into your books?
Well, writing, it’s a very personal thing. And I do feel like there’s probably a lot of me in my books, even when I work hard for there not to be. I really try to get into my characters’ heads and see the world through their eyes with their past experiences. I try to let them be themselves, but then, ultimately I’m the one interpreting all of that with my own thoughts and experiences so, you know, I’m kind of always there. Sometimes when I’m writing a book, the stress my characters are going through kind of bleeds over into my real life and I find myself feeling stressed and I realize, oh…it’s because such and such character is going through this. Anyway, it’s kind of strange because yeah, it’s this made up story, but I do see some of myself in it. Sometimes just barely, and other times more so.
Going off of that… The setting feels incredibly crucial to Because of the Sun, as the heroine Dani moves from Florida to New Mexico. What are your experiences with these places?
The setting is very crucial, which is funny because when I first started writing this book, I didn’t know it would end up largely set in New Mexico. It starts off in Florida which is where I live. And the heat is unrelenting here pretty much all year round, but amazingly so in summer (which is when I started writing Because of the Sun). That summer heat can be a very hallucinatory kind of thing, with how blinding and scorching the sun is, and I find myself thinking about it a lot. Just how hot it is. It seems a silly thing to think about, but I do. So anyway, the sun was on my mind when I started writing this book (and bears because there were several encounters with bears in the headlines around that time) and it made sense to set it in Florida to start. But then when Dani’s mother dies and Dani is hollowed out, I just saw her somewhere else. Somewhere just as hot and feverish, but bare and isolated, like she felt. I was familiar with Columbus, New Mexico because my in-laws live there, and suddenly I saw Dani there. And I saw the connection with the sun and the heat from The Stranger because it’s an important element in Camus’ book. And it all just clicked.
What do you hope readers will take away from your newest book? What are you most excited for them to discover?
You know, life is unfair. It can be heartbreakingly cruel. There is no justifying the suffering some people go through simply because of circumstances beyond their control. And I am always astounded by a person’s will to survive. To endure and rise. I believe in that. I do. And I want others to take that away from reading this book. I’m excited for them to discover their own ability to survive.
At Rich in Color, we’re always on the lookout for great books. Have you read anything lately that you would recommend?
I just started Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson and I absolutely love it so far. It’s rich and beautiful and I was immediately pulled right into the story. And I recently finished My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. It’s impressive for so many reasons, but particularly for how much story she packs in such a slim book, how much she can conjure up in the reader’s mind with just a few details. Pretty amazing.
And there you have it! Enter the giveaway below for a copy of Because of the Sun! The giveaway ends January 31st, and is only open to USA mailing addresses. See terms and conditions for further details! Good luck!
We welcome debut author Sonia Patel to the blog. Rani Patel in Full Effect hit the shelves last month and we were able to review it here. Rani is a young woman trying to sort out who she is apart from the father who has been sexually abusing her for years. She feels strong and in control when she’s rapping, but when she’s with her new boyfriend (a much older man) or on her own, she falls into old destructive patterns. Sonia Patel has created a powerful and intense novel and she’s here to talk about it with us today.
Many readers wonder about the line between reality and fiction. In your author’s note and on your website, I noticed many of the experiences that shaped Rani may have carried traces of your past – starting with her heritage. Can you tell us a little about growing up as a first generation Indian American in Hawaii?
The first word that comes to mind with that question is isolative.
My Gujarati parents, like Rani’s parents, had a traditional Hindu arranged marriage in India. They immigrated to New York and that’s where I was born. My early years were spent there and in Connecticut. Both places had a large Gujarati immigrant community and we spent practically every weekend with other Gujarati immigrant family or friends. This was quite important for my mother who clung tightly to her Gujarati social network and culture. So it came as quite a shock to her when my father decided to move to Moloka’i. Like Rani’s family, we were the only Indian family on the island (compared to the other Hawaiian islands, Moloka’i is the island with the largest percentage of Native Hawaiians) at the time. It was very difficult for my mother to be cut off from her Gujarati connections, especially because my parent’s marriage was rocky. Once on Moloka’i, I basically lost all connection with my Gujarati culture because our family fell apart. Though from the outside, no one could tell. All I knew was that I was glad I was brown because at least I fit in with most of the kids at school, even though when I opened my mouth I couldn’t speak pidgin at first and sounded totally haole (foreign with my mainland accent). The only thing that reminded me that I was Gujarati was the food my mother cooked and the Bollywood films she would watch. Other than that, I felt basically culture-less. Unless you count my father as a culture.
Moving to a more difficult question about your life – what was it like to look back at your own family issues as you worked through Rani’s story?
It was—is—emotionally charged. I’d been writing rap as a way to cope with my issues, then later my experiences with treating patients. This kept things kind of at arm’s length. When I realized I had a story to tell that involved parts of me and parts of teen/women I’d treated and known, things became real. Fast. I couldn’t stop the story from flowing onto paper. The way different teens deal with the effects of family dysfunction and covert and overt familial sexual abuse is often similar. I never had a psychiatrist to discuss and work through my experiences when I was growing up, so I’d been putting the pieces of my life together haphazardly. When I started writing Rani, things came together and made more sense. When I read snippets from the book it still evokes feelings of sadness, hurt, anger, shame, and joy.
Sexual abuse may not be an easy topic to read about, but it’s a reality for a large number of young adults. As you’re sharing this novel, what kind of reactions have you been hearing from readers or potential readers?
Most adults and teens seem to get it. They appreciate that Rani’s father abused her and that the abuse wired Rani’s brain to think, feel, and act in negative ways that set her up for recreating the abuse with other men. They understand that Rani isn’t dumb and though they feel mad at her at times, they have empathy that it’s part of her process in being a trauma survivor. Rani doesn’t have the words to describe the covert and overt incest and family problems so she speaks through her negative thoughts, feelings and actions. Most people seem to get that it takes awhile for her to gain insight into this and so it’ll take time before she can begin to make positive changes in her life.
There are the few readers who think Rani is dumb and too naive. They can’t understand why she drinks, hangs out with an older man who sweet talks her, and basically, to them, seems to set herself up for being raped. They get mad at her and then seem to forget empathy for the trauma induced brain changes that cause her to repeat negative behaviors. A couple of them have said that she’s a tease. It was almost like they were blaming the victim. All I can say to that is perhaps those readers did not truly understand my author’s note at the end of the book. Those readers don’t seem to appreciate that a survivor of covert and overt incest has been a sexual object or in that role for years and that the way they think, feel, and act has been hardwired into their brains. They’ve learned that that is all they are good for. Those readers don’t seem to understand that survivors can’t just become empowered and feminist simply because being raped is wrong. Of course rape is wrong, but a survivor of chronic incest has been conditioned to expect nothing more for themselves and to repeat negative patterns. Until they gain insight, they will likely continue to engage in the same negative behavior. So healing starts with insight and insight can only begin when they find the words and support to describe their traumatic experiences.
Throughout the book, music empowers and brings healing to Rani. What is it about hip-hop specifically that can create such change?
For Rani, the power of hip hop was multifactorial. Rap was front and center. The powerful beats and poetry allowed her to express the misogyny she experienced in a way that wasn’t encouraged in her life otherwise. It resonated with her and gave her a sense of the self-worth she still didn’t have. Plus, she was exposed to hip hop during its golden age—when there was tremendous political,social, and musical innovation in rap. Rap was building its identity and this was symbolic of how Rani was also building her identity. Additionally there was hip hop fashion and dance that allowed Rani to create her own identity separate from her abusive father and distant mother.
Does hip-hop still play a significant role in your life?
YES! I can’t imagine my life without hip hop music, rap, fashion (especially my kicks), and dance. I still write rap. It’s still my primary form of self-therapy. I feel the most like myself when I’m writing rap or poetry. Also, when I’m sportin’ my latest fly hip hop outfit. And when I travel, I always look for hip hop clubs. Recently I was in Oakland and got to shake my thang at two such clubs with amazing hip hop music. Overseas, Seoul and Tokyo had a killer hip hop music and dance scene.
Hip-hop is sometimes included in discussions about poetry since there is such attention to the sound and impact of the words. Do you write a lot of poetry and do you have plans to publish a verse novel or volume of poetry? I would totally read either.
Awww! That is so sweet! Thank you. I actually love writing poetry, especially poetry that I can perform. Like rap, poetry helps me express issues that I feel passionate about or issues I’m struggling with. Recently, I performed one at a local slam called Stop Visually Assualting Me (&Yourself)! It’s based on the issues of how many of my teenage girl patients are being lured into a false sense of self-worth by posting revealing body shots on social media. Body reveal in social media seems to be turning into a horrible epidemic that’s hurting the youth I treat. Of course I discuss these issues with my teen patients, but it’s so troubling to me that I had to write about it in a poetic manner.
There are very few young adult novels that address Native sovereignty. What led you to include this in the narrative?
I was fortunate enough to have some amazing mentors in the fight to protect the water of Moloka’i from developers. Some of them were also active in sovereignty issues and actually most locals on the island are activists in one way or another. Whether it’s testifying at hearings. Or protesting. Or choosing to live off the land in ancient Hawaiian ways. My empathy and support has always been towards oppressed and subjugated cultures because I come from one—Indians at the hands of the British, being a colored kid on the mainland, etc. I am honored that I got to participate in much of the activism around the water issues on Moloka’i growing up. That was something my father was involved in, much like Rani’s father in the book.
I had to include those issues because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be depicting Moloka’i’s vibe accurately.
What’s up next for you as a writer?
I am currently working another YA novel. It’s a love story about a trans Gujarati boy from the city and a girl from rural Hau’ula and involves issues of sex trafficking, depression, alcoholism, bulimia, and complex family issues. The story is based on my work with my teen patients. It’s a tribute to my patients who struggle with so many things I wish they didn’t have to…
I wish you had asked me….
If in the past I’d shaved my head like Rani.
If in the past I’d dyed the stubble blond like Rani.
We’re always on the lookout for great books to read. Have you read anything lately that moved you to laughter or tears?
My kids are into graphic novels and I recently read the Barefoot Gen series again. My son actually introduced me to it. He devoured that series in a couple of weeks and was so moved he wrote to the author in Japan. The author passed away but his wife wrote a nice letter back. I also mentioned the series in Rani and so I decided to read it again. Laughter and tears fo’ shua!
Today we welcome Guadalupe Garcia McCall to share about her most recent book Shame the Stars. I really enjoyed reading this amazing historical romance and was excited to be able to find out more about the book.
Publisher’s summary: Eighteen-year-old Joaquín del Toro’s future looks bright. With his older brother in the priesthood, he’s set to inherit his family’s Texas ranch. He’s in love with Dulceña—and she’s in love with him. But it’s 1915, and trouble has been brewing along the US-Mexico border. On one side, the Mexican Revolution is taking hold; on the other, Texas Rangers fight Tejano insurgents, and ordinary citizens are caught in the middle.
As tensions grow, Joaquín is torn away from Dulceña, whose father’s critical reporting on the Rangers in the local newspaper has driven a wedge between their families. Joaquín’s own father insists that the Rangers are their friends, and refuses to take sides in the conflict. But when their family ranch becomes a target, Joaquín must decide how he will stand up for what’s right.
Shame the Stars is a rich reimagining of Romeo and Juliet set in Texas during the explosive years of Mexico’s revolution. Filled with period detail, captivating romance, and political intrigue, it brings Shakespeare’s classic to life in an entirely new way.
The Texas-Mexico border during the Mexican Revolution is an intriguing time and place for a novel. How did you come to the idea of that particular setting?
I really wasn’t looking for an idea. The story’s main character, Joaquín, came to me fully fledged, wanting to tell me his story in the middle of the night. I had gone to bed upset after reading about the lynching of Mexicanos in South Texas during the matanza, the rebellion of 1915, in Dr. Johnson’s book, Revolution in Texas. My son, James, had introduced me to the book that night, and I’d stayed up late pouring over the details, looking at the horrific picture of two Texas Rangers proudly sitting on their horses with the ropes still tied around the corpses of two so-called “rebels” laying in front of them. That picture became a postcard. People bought it and sent it to their loved ones. The sadness that overwhelmed me as I thought about all the people who suffered at the hands of the Rangers and their nefarious posses overwhelmed me, and I went to bed dejected that night.
At around 3 o’clock that morning, Joaquín’s voice awakened me. I could hear him talking to me, telling me his story. “Me llamo Joaquín del Toro, and I live at Rancho Las Moras,” he said, and after the third time I heard his voice, I got up, went to the bathroom, put down the toilet seat, and started writing on my notepad, because I thought it was just going to be a small thread, a small poem perhaps, something to get rid of the ghost of those horrible pictures I’d seen online of Mexicanos lynched in the chaparral. Well, it turned out to be much more than that, and five years later, the book is finally done and I’m glad I got up and listened to Joaquín. His story is important to me. His voice lives in my heart.
Do you see connections between conflicts of that time and situations/events in the present?
Oh, yes. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of prejudice against Hispanics in this country. The current political climate is riddled with anger and hate and intolerance. But there is a lot of support too. Thank God we have people who see us for who we really are, as hard-working, respectful citizens of this country. I became an American citizen because I love this country. I love it as much as I love my Mexico. American has shaped me as much as Mexico has shaped me, and for that reason alone I love living on the border. I am no different than most of the Mexican-Americans I know, good, honest people straddling two worlds, two languages, two loves.
How did writing Shame the Stars differ from writing your previous novels?
Shame the Stars didn’t take as long as Under the Mesquite took to write. I was working on that manuscript for about 10 years, but it did take longer than Summer of the Mariposas. The reason is that I didn’t have all the details when I started working on Shame the Stars. I had only read Dr. Johnson’s book once, and done some superficial digging around online. I was pretty foggy on the details, so I wrote the first draft, in verse (the original novel came to me in verse) before I lost the passion, while Joaquín’s voice was still fresh in my mind. When I was done with that first draft, over 100 pages of poetry, I did more research. As I researched, the storyline changed. The plot grew and grew, as more and more layers started revealing themselves. When I read through the archived newspapers in the Library of Congress, I found more and more of the storyline in the actual historical events surrounding the “rebellion of 1915.” I included some of those newspaper clippings in the novel, not just as evidence, but to foreshadow events in the novel and build suspense because they are so important to the storyline.
What was your research process like?
I read Dr. Johnson’s book, Revolution in Texas, many, many times, making notes on the sidebars, putting sticky notes everywhere, underlining, highlighting, making sure I really understood the conflict, the history of South Texas, what led up to the “rebellion” and the actual matanza. I also went through the archives in the Library of Congress, counting myself lucky that 100 years had gone by and I had access to those newspapers online. I also went to the central library, the orange building in downtown San Antonio, and read other books that dealt with the History of Mexican-Americans in the U.S. Most of my research was done online though, from home. Every time I found something relevant, I would print it out, highlight, and write all over it. When I wasn’t at my computer, I would read on my phone. I have so many screenshots and pictures on my Samsung dealing with the matanza, I might never get rid of that phone. Everything I read, screenshot, highlighted, and marked up served a purpose, and that was to inform my writing. Not everything went into the novel, but it helped me to see the big picture, to find my bearings as I wrote about a time and place I could only imagine.
How do you balance writing, presenting, teaching, and the other aspects of your life?
I’m a zombie. I don’t sleep. No, seriously. It just has to do with passion. I’m as passionate about teaching as I am about writing and speaking. I love my jobs. When I was a young mother, I was all about the mothering: the bottles, the little league, the trips to the theme parks. With a soccer-mom van and a book in my hand, I dedicated myself to the boys, James, Steven, and Jason. I loved being a mom. Now, these books are my children. They are, however, more than my life. They are the other means by which I inform students. I look at writing as an extension of my classroom. The way I will keep “teaching” long after I retire from the classroom, long after I’m gone. Teaching is the gift God gave me. Writing is the vehicle. It’s a great life, and I am humbled by the gift of it every day I get to live it.
How much do you share about your writing life with your students?
I try not to get too excited about my own success, especially in front of my students. They need me to be their teacher, not some self-important, stuck-up famous person. Most of them know I am a writer. They google me, so I can’t ignore it either. Mostly, I share my struggles with them as an example of how even published writers have to work hard at writing. When I am teaching them to revise, I share my revision notes from my editor on the LCD projector. I show them what good writing notes to your writing partner look like (Thank you, Stacy Whitman). I show them that a good editor is honest but kind, truthful but respectful. I also show them my revisions. My computer program tracks changes in different colors, so they get to see how the original text in black changed. How I layered in the blue text during revision 1, the purple text in revision 2, the red text in revision 3, and so on. It shocks them to see how much revision work and thoughtfulness goes into writing. So when I ask them to revise a one-page essay, they are less reluctant to do the work.
What’s ahead for you? Are you able to share anything you’re currently writing/revising?
I’m in the process of finishing up the sequel to Shame the Stars, tentatively titled, Estrella’s Long Journey Home. It is set in Monteseco, sixteen years after the rebellion, and follows the repatriation of the del Toros into Mexico in the winter of 1931.
Guadalupe Garcia McCall is the award winning author of Under the Mesquite, a novel in verse, and Summer of the Mariposas. Her poetry has also appeared in many publications. McCall was born in Mexico and immigrated with her family to the U.S. at age six. She grew up in Texas and is currently a high school English teacher in San Antonio.