Category Archives: Author Q&A

Meet Xavier Garza, author of “Maximilian & the Bingo Rematch: A Lucha Libre Sequel”

Xavier GarzaXavier Garza has turned the Mexican folklore he grew up listening to from his childhood into award-winning children’s books. His newest book, Maximilian & the Bingo Rematch: A Lucha Libre Sequel (Max’s Lucha Libre Adventures), out Oct. 22, is the sequel to Maximilian and the Mystery of the Guardian Angel: A Bilingual Lucha Libre Thriller, which was named a 2012 Pura Belpre Honor Book. His other works include collections of spooky stories — Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys, Kid Cyclone Fights the Devil and Other Stories and Juan and the Chupacabras/ Juan y el Chupacabras —and the Christmas-themed Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid.

Maximilian&theBingoRematchQ: Tell me about your newest book, Maximilian & the Bingo Rematch: A Lucha Libre Sequel (Max’s Lucha Libre Adventures). 

Maximilian & the Bingo Rematch is the sequel to my first book in the series — Maximilian & the Mystery of the Guardian Angel. The book revolves around Max who is starting middle school. From having multiple teachers, tons of homework, no recess and dealing with eighth graders, Max quickly learns that being a sixth grader isn’t easy. Plus he has his first date ever when he takes Cecilia to the Halloween dance. Plus he has a blast from the past when, much to his dismay, his past actions from the first book come back to haunt him. To top it off he gets caught in between his tías who argue and fight like luchadores, and are vying for the queen bingo trophy at their local church. His uncle, The Guardian Angel, returns too, and he and tio Lalo are wrestling for the world tag team titles.

Q: Your books make great use of Mexican folklore — Lucha Libre, La Llorona and Chupacabras. What inspired you to write these books?

I write for the most part about things I have experienced in my life. I grew up with cucuy stories as a kid, namely books like Stories that Must Not Die and such. I grew up with lucha libre too, El Santo and Mil Mascaras.

Q: What do you hope your young readers get out of your books? 

More than anything else, I hope readers see themselves in the characters in my books. I grew up in the Valley, and such the vast majority of my stories take place in places like McAllen, Edinburg and Rio Grande City. I do this because I want kids to have a sense of familiarity in the stories that they read. Whenever I visit schools I always tell kids that each and every single one of them can write a book — that we all have cuentos, that we need to write these stories down. When they ask me what I think they should write about I tell them write about what you know. Write about what its like to be you. Write about what its like growing up in places like Donna, Mercedes and La Joya.

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Meet novelist Marta Acosta, author of “The She-Hulk Diaries”

Marta Acosta Marta Acosta brings otherworldly creatures to reality.

The California native is the author of the recently released The She-Hulk Diaries, about the cousin of the Incredible Hulk. Her young adult gothic novel Dark Companion, a homage to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre with a multiracial narrator, is now out in paperback. She also is the author of the Casa Dracula series of books featuring a female vampire.

she-hulk-diariesQ: Tell me about your latest book, The She-Hulk Diaries. How did you become involved in the project?

Hi, Jessica, thanks for having me at The Hispanic Reader! My agent heard about the project for a contemporary romantic comedy featuring Jennifer Walters, a top attorney, and her superhuman alter-ego, She-Hulk, and pitched me to Hyperion, which partnered with Marvel. She knew that I love writing first-person romantic comedy with supernatural elements. I was thrilled to be able to write this character from a woman’s perspective.

Q: Your books, including the Casa Dracula books and the novel Dark Companion, feature plots in which the characters deal with otherworldly characters or themes. What appealed to you about that type of genre?

I wrote Happy Hour at Casa Dracula on impulse, because I’d been watching some science fiction movie and I was ranting, “Why don’t we ever see Latinos in outer space? Why don’t we see Latinos in speculative fiction?” I spoofed the genre stereotypes and used vampires as a metaphor for “other” in society, and my protagonist, the bright irrepressible Milagro De Los Santos, is “other.” She describes herself as a square peg in a round world. When she’s infected with “vampirism,” she must hide out with a pack of high-achieving vampires at their country estate. They think she’s a tacky gold-digger; she thinks they’re terrible snobs. I used the humorous situation to address issues of class, race/ethnicity and gender.

My editor asked me for a series. I added in the supernatural element to Dark Companion, a homage to Jane Eyre and classic gothics, because the supernatural is a gothic trope. I’ve always enjoyed placing characters in a situation where the ordinary rules don’t apply.

Q. What inspired you to become a writer? What Latino/a authors influenced your work?

I just wrote as soon as I learned how. I wrote compulsively and to entertain myself. As a native English speaker, I was influenced by British and American writers, including humorists like Mark Twain, Jane Austen, Evelyn Waugh, Kurt Vonnegut. I love the absurdist comedy in Mario Vargas Llosa’s brilliant Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a book I’ve bought at least a dozen times because I’m always giving it away to friends. While I’ve only published silly poetry in my novels, I’ve written more serious poetry, inspired by Pablo Neruda’s beautiful poetry.

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Meet novelist Cecilia Velástegui, author of “Missing in Machu Picchu”

Cecilia VelasteguiNovelist Cecilia Velástegui’s newest book combines Andean mythology and the lives of contemporary women.

Missing in Machu Picchu follows four women as they hike — and face danger — on the Inca Trail. Her previous books, Traces of Bliss and Gathering the Indigo Maidens, also combine modern and historical themes.

Her books have won honors from the International Latino Book Awards two years in a row. She won first place in 2012 in the Popular Fiction category for Traces of Bliss and she won Honorable Mention in the Popular Fiction category and first place in the Best Novel — Adventure or Drama category in 2013 for Machu Picchu.

Velástegui grew up in Quito, Ecuador, France and California, where she currently resides.

Missing in Macchu PicchuQ: Tell me about your book, Missing in Machu Picchu. 

High in the Andes Mountains on the legendary Inca Trail, four Ivy League educated, professional women embark on an adventure to help them confront their online dating woes — only to find themselves victims to a predator’s ruse, and in a fight for their lives. But, unbeknownst to the hikers, they have been under the vigilant presence of Taki and Koyam, two elderly indigenous women who understand the danger the women are facing. By following the wisdom of their mummified Andean ancestor, Taki and Koyam work to save the women and act with spine-tingling resolve against the sinister forces of Rodrigo and his minions.

Q: What kind of research did you do for your book? Did you go to Machu Picchu and what was it like?

Missing in Machu Picchu was a result of a confluence of events: my fond memories of my indigenous nannies from the Andes, our family’s unusual practice of believing in the present-day proximity of our long-dead great-grandmother, my understanding of the clash between the Inca and the Spanish cultures in early colonial Peru and its aftermath, and my experience hiking the Inca Trail.

I recall foggy memories of the citadel of Machu Picchu when I visited it as a youngster. Then, in 2011, I returned for the festivities surrounding the centennial anniversary of Hiram Bingham’s expedition to Machu Picchu. It was a bittersweet time of appreciating how the travel industry and the popularity of Machu Picchu have greatly improved the local economy — and of reminiscing about all that was lost of the Inca culture.

My lifelong interest and research on Andean mythology and its pantheon made its way to the forefront of Missing in Machu Pichhu. By mixing factual and real historical details, such as including the methodical steps of an Andean shaman’s blessing, I wanted to bring the reader into the Andean world of yesterday and today. For many years, I’ve studied the 16th and 17th century Spanish Colonial chronicles of Cieza de Léon, Juan de Betanzos and Garcilaso de la Vega. Their observations of the ancient Andean practices were both alarming and informative. In Missing in Machu Picchu, I included the 17th century drawings of chronicler Guamán Poma de Ayala. I knew of the existence of many of his drawings, but the drawing of the procession of the mallqui, the mummy central to my novel, had me digging in my collection and in libraries for quite some time.

Q: What made you want to become a writer? Were there any Latino writers who influenced you?

I’ve always considered myself a writer, but up until 2011 I was an unpublished writer.

In college I received accolades for my writing, both fiction and non-fiction, but I decided to pursue a graduate degree in psychology rather than an MFA. Throughout the subsequent years, I attended numerous writing workshops, I became a marriage and family therapist, I raised two sons, I’ve had a long and joyful married life, and I’ve travel and lived abroad. The more disparate experiences I gathered in life, the fuller my basket of stories became, so much so that I was compelled to publish my first novel, Gathering the Indigo Maidens, in 2011.

Throughout my life I’ve been a voracious reader of fiction and non-fiction in several languages, and I’m certain that all the authors have influenced me in one way or another.

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Meet children’s author Margarita Engle, author of “The Lightning Dreamer”

Margarita_Engle.2Margarita Engle has tapped into her Cuban-American heritage to create award-winning children’s books about the history of the island.

Her latest book, The Lightning Dreamer, Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist, is out March 19. The story depicts the life of poet and abolitionist Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda in free verse.

In 2009, Engle was the first Latino/a to win the Newbery Honor Award for The Surrender Tree, about a nurse who helps those while war rages in Cuba in 1896. That book also won the Pura Belpré Prize, which honors children’s books that depict the Latino experience.

She also won the Pura Belpré Prize in 2008 for The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano

She also has won three Américas Awards (for the 2012 Hurricane Dancers, The Surrender Tree and The Poet Slave of Cuba) and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award (for The Surrender Tree).

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian was selected as a Kirkus Best Children’s Book.

Her other novels include The Firefly Letters, Tropical Secrets and The Wild Book.

The California-based Engle also has written two books – When You Wander and Mountain Dog – inspired by her work with search and rescue dogs.

LightningDreamerQ: Tell me about your book, The Lightning Dreamer.  What inspired you to write about Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda?

A: My interest in Avellaneda is two-fold. First, as one of Latin America’s earliest and boldest abolitionist writers, she was far ahead of her time. Her interracial romance novel, Sab, was published eleven years before Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Not only did Sab make an impassioned appeal for emancipation, it surpassed that narrow goal by showing the need for complete equality, with interracial marriage portrayed as a normal aspect of Cuba’s culturally mixed society. In addition, Avellaneda was one of the most celebrated feminist writers of the nineteenth century. Her poetry, prose, and plays were devoted to a lifelong struggle against the archaic custom of arranged marriage, which she regarded as the marketing of teenage girls. In fact, Sab is thought to be inspired by real people Avellaneda met at the age of 15, when she was sent away to a country estate “to rest,” after rejecting an arranged marriage that would have been profitable for her family.

TulaLike so many other early abolitionists and feminists, Avellaneda (right) has been forgotten by history. She is no longer well known outside of her native country of Cuba, and Spain, where she lived much of her adult life. I wanted to help bring her back from obscurity. In particular, I felt excited about depicting her life in accessible free verse, hoping that young readers might be inspired by her independent way of thinking. She believed in the Golden Rule. She used stories and poetry as a way to make an emotional plea for complete equality, and completely voluntary marriage. She was brave enough to do this a time when most writers restricted interracial love stories to lurid tales of wealthy men with forbidden mistresses.

Personally, for me, the most impressive aspect of Avellaneda’s life is the way she overcame obstacles while she was still very young. Her mother regarded reading and writing as inappropriate for girls, so she had to write in secret, then burn her stories and poems.

Q: Many of your children’s books are about Cuban history. Why did you choose that particular subject to write about?  How do you research the subjects?

A: My mother is Cuban and my father is American. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, but during long childhood visits to the island, I developed a deep bond with the extended family, and with tropical nature, as well as an interest in Cuba’s complex history. I loved listening to stories my grandmother and great-grandmother told about their own childhoods. Listening made me wonder, and wondering makes me want to write. The research process is slow and painstaking. I read everything I can find about a subject, both in English and Spanish. I utilize bibliographies, working my way farther and farther back in time, hoping to discover diaries or other first person accounts. Since many of those primary sources are not yet digitized, I rely on interlibrary loan as a way of obtaining antique volumes. Once the research is complete, I begin selecting those aspects that seem most important to me. Since most of my books are novels in free verse, I have to omit many facts and figures. All the names and dates of history won’t fit into a poem. My goal is to offer young readers a friendly, welcoming page filled with thoughts and feelings that have some universal resonance, in any time, and every place.

Q: What made you want to become a writer? Were there any Latino writers who influenced you?

A: As a child, I was such an avid reader that writing just seemed natural.  While I was very young, I wrote poetry, and even when I drew a picture, there were always a few mysterious words scribbled in crayon, like the start of a story.

When I was little, my mother recited José Martí’s Versos Sencillos, and later, on my own, I discovered that I loved reading poets as diverse as Rubén Darío, Antonio Machado and Jorge Luis Borges. I found it strange that so few women were represented in Latino literature. Emily Dickinson had to fill the gap where Latina poets were missing from library shelves in the U.S.  Eventually, I discovered Gabriela Mistral, and Dulce María Loynáz.

As a graduate student at U.C. Riverside, I had the privilege of taking a creative writing seminar from Tomás Rivera. He was a great Mexican-American poet and novelist, the first Latino Chancellor of a U.C. campus, and a wonderful educator. He taught me to write from the heart, without worrying about publication. So that’s what I do. I choose subjects that inspire me, instead of ones that are popular. He also taught me that writing takes practice, so that’s what I continue to do. I write at my own speed, as if time does not exist.

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Meet novelist Sabrina Vourvoulias, author of “Ink”

Sabrina Vourvoulias has taken on the immigration issue with an intriguing twist.

Her newly released novel, Ink, explores the topic under the science fiction genre. Vourvoulias knows the issue firsthand. She grew up in Guatemala and moved to the United States as a teenager. Vourvoulias has worked mostly in newspapers and serves as managing editor of Al Día News Media, the Spanish-language newspaper in Philadelphia. She writes speculative fiction and poetry and also runs the blog, Following the Lede.

Q. Tell me about your book, Ink.
A. Ink is a novel that combines dystopia, literary fiction and magic realism. As the novel opens, a biometric tattoo has been instituted for temporary workers, immigrants with permanent resident status, and citizens with too-recent immigration history. (Because it is a tattoo those who are marked by it come to be called “inks.”) Restrictions, including “English-only” ones, are imposed and escalate until life becomes a series of “bad” and “worse” choices for the protagonists.

The story is narrated by four alternating voices: a journalist whose “beat” is reporting on inks; a citizen ink who works in the city’s population control office; an artist who is drawn (pun intended) into the inks’ struggles through friendship and temperament; and a teenager whose mother runs an “inkatorium” (a sanitarium-internment center opened in response to public health concerns).

All of the characters grapple with issues of exclusion, identity, and a shifting sense of community. But there is another layer of the world the characters are touched by — a layer peopled by mythic beings, and coursed by spirit and magic. A layer of the world where justice and reconciliation is measured in memories, and by the heart.

Q. Why did you choose the science fiction genre for a novel about immigration?
A. Speculative fiction that incorporates elements of science fiction and fantasy is born with a “what if?” and grows from there. In my case, I was already hearing and reporting about undocumented immigrants in my journalistic work, and tracking how the discourse was becoming less and less about authorization, and more about a generalized fear and loathing. I created characters I cared about — with a diversity of life experiences and expectations — and subjected them to a daily existence that is an exaggerated version of what I have already observed or heard about. I wove through this what I love best about Sci Fi/Fantasy/Magic Realism: the poetic imaginings, and the “what ifs” that aren’t restricted to our material, physical world.

Q. How has your Guatemalan/Latino heritage inspired your work? Who are your favorite Latino writers, and why?
A. I grew up in a Guatemala torn by an undeclared, internal war. Those years were spent living our everyday lives under the rule of a repressive government that didn’t hesitate to get rid of those it deemed undesirable. Those experiences undergird the very U.S. dystopia I created for Ink, and much of what I subject the fictional city of Hastings to (martial law, curfews, roadblocks and civil patrols, states of emergency) is lived experience.

At the same time, I am formed by the folklore and legends of Guatemala, which all live barely under the skin of those of us connected by blood and heart to that country. It is hard to imagine a nation more rich with pre and post colonial mythology and folklore. That living cultural legacy, and the particularly strong ties of family, faith and community I’ve experienced in the U.S., are all part of what inspires not only this work, but all my work.

As for favorites, I’m very fond of both Latin American Boom classics and the works of U.S. Latino authors, and probably for the same reasons: they tend to be character-driven and very socially aware, while imbued with a kind of casual or innate magic. Or, if not actual magic, a sense of the mythic. So, Miguel Angel Asturias, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Juan Rulfo and Jorge Luis Borges on the Latin American side, and Sandra Cisneros, Denise Chavez, Ana Castillo, Julia Alvarez, Cristina Garcia, Francisco Goldman and emerging writers like Gina Ruiz and Melinda Palacio on the U.S. side. I also read a lot of poetry including the works of Francisco Alarcon, Lorna Dee CervantesAlma Luz Villanueva, Elena Diaz Bjorkquist and Martin Espada.

Leer es poder, they say, and it’s true. There is power in words, and the need for Latino voices — read, wrtitten and spoken — has never been clearer.

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Meet novelist Caridad Piñeiro, author of “Kissed by a Vampire”

Caridad Piñeiro has given Latino literature a supernatural edge.

Her latest novel is Kissed by a Vampire, featuring a paranormal romance. She’s written nearly three dozen books, including the Chicas romance series and the The Calling/Reborn series. She’s received numerous awards from romance writers associations.

Piñeiro was born in Havana, Cuba, and worked as an attorney. This post is part of a blog tour for Kissed by a Vampire.

Q: Tell us about your latest book, Kissed by a Vampire

Kissed by a Vampire is the story of a 2000-year-old vampire, Stacia, who has grown tired of her eternal life and has also grown lonely. She doesn’t believe it’s possible for her to find love or have any kind of lasting relationship, but then she meets DEA Agent Alex Garcia. Or should I say is reunited with him. She had saved his life many years earlier when Alex was shot during a raid that went wrong. Stacia had taken pity on Alex when she saw the love in his eyes for another agent who had been shot during the same raid. When Stacia runs into Alex again, she is unprepared for her attraction to him and for the emotions he rouses. Kissed by a Vampire is sexy and emotional. It’s also action-packed as Stacia decides to help Alex find a missing young woman and shut down a white slavery ring.

Q: Most of your novels deal with paranormal romance. What drew you to this genre? Why has it become so popular? 

I was in a dark mood and wanted to vent that in my writing. I also thought that stories with paranormal elements would let me play with different ideas that I could not include in more traditional romances. I think the ability to have such different stories, especially the edgier kinds of stories possible with paranormals, is what has made the genre so popular.

Q: How has your Cuban/Latino heritage inspired your work? Who are your favorite Latino authors? 

I try to include aspects of my culture and/or other Latino culture in as many works as I can.  For example, one of the main characters in The Calling/Reborn series is Cuban-American FBI Agent Diana Reyes. In her stories, I’ve brought in her family’s values and foods. In Kissed by a Vampire, the story is set in South Beach and I’ve tried to work in the flavor that Cuban-Americans have given to that area. As for my favorite Latino authors, there quite a few. Julia Amante, Sylvia Mendoza, Berta Platas, Tracey Montoya, Reyna Grande, Julia Alvarez and Aimee Thurlo just to name a few.

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Meet Victoria Griffith, author of “The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont”

National Aviation Day takes place Aug. 19 in honor of Orville Wright who, along with his brother Wilbur, launched the first man-powered flight. But Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont also had a role in the beginnings of aviation and he is the subject of Victoria Griffith’s children’s book, The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont.

Griffith is a former journalist who has worked for the Financial Times.

Q: Tell me about your book and the story of Alberto Santos-Dumont. 

Brazilians say Alberto was the TRUE inventor of the airplane, not the Wright Brothers. Leaving that controversy aside for a moment, Alberto certainly deserves recognition for his role in aviation history. He was the only person ever to have run daily errands in a flying machine – a dirigible, or controllable balloon, of his own invention that he would use to hop around Paris. He would tether it to lampposts and ask the waiters in nearby cafes to bring up him some coffee. At the turn of the last century, Alberto was one of the most famous people in the world. Bakers in Paris would make pastries in the shape of his dirigible.

Alberto grew up on a coffee plantation in Brazil. When his father became partially paralyzed after falling off a horse, the family moved to Paris in search of a cure. There, Alberto took his first balloon ride. He was immediately hooked. All his life, he dreamed of making flight available to every one in the world. He complained to his friend, Louis Cartier, that he had a hard time checking the time on his pocket watch when he was up in the air. Cartier invented the wristwatch for Alberto! The Santos-Dumont model, in fact, is still available at Cartier stores.

But Alberto wanted to go farther and faster than his dirigible would take him. In 1906, Alberto was ready to give his airplane a try. No in Paris had heard of the Wright Brothers’ flights, because of their secretive nature. The Wrights were terrified that some one would steal their patents. As a result, there were only a handful of witnesses when they flew in Kitty Hawk a few years earlier. And their plane needed high winds and a catapult system to get off the ground. Alberto’s airplane took off of its own volition, which is why some historians still recognize him as the Father of Flight.

Q: How did you find out about his story? Why hasn’t his story received as much attention as the Wright Brothers?

One day, my daughter Sophia came home from school and said she had learned that the Wright Brothers had invented the airplane. My Brazilian husband was horrified. “Everyone knows that the inventor of the airplane was Alberto Santos-Dumont!” he said. I was intrigued. I had lived in Brazil and heard of Alberto, but I knew little of the details of his work. I was fascinated to discover that there was still so much controversy surrounding the invention of the airplane.

Nationalistic sentiments influence our view of history. So it makes sense that the Wrights would be recognized as the inventors here in the United States and other parts of the world, while Alberto would be seen as the Father of Flight in Brazil. But I do think Americans should make a space for Alberto in the history books.

Q: You lived in Brazil, and your husband is Brazilian. Were there any Brazilian writers that you admired?  What is the literary scene like in Brazil?

Magical realism authors like Jorge Amado enjoyed international fame some decades ago, but in general I think Brazilian writers’ use of the Portuguese language is too sophisticated and specific to translate well to other languages. Take “The Girl from Ipanema” poem by Vinicius de Moraes, used in the lyrics of a very popular Bossa Nova song by the same name. In the English version, the words are pretty banal, a song about a pretty girl walking by. In the Portuguese version, the poet wonders about a beauty that belongs not just to one person but to the world around. It’s so much more profound.

Similarly, one of my favorite children’s books in Brazil is by the songwriter Chico Buarque. It’s called Chapeuzinho Amarelo, and it’s about a girl who’s afraid of everything, but especially the wolf, or lobo. One day, she hears the wolf calling his name over and over. When he stops, the lobo has become a bolo, or cake. Of course, no one can be afraid of a cake, and Chapeuzinho is transformed into a girl who is not afraid of anything. This kind of sophisticated wordplay is difficult to access unless you speak the language.

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