A Conversation with Alma Flor Ada

For our final post of this amazing year, we’re pleased to introduce you to a new series here on Latinas for Latino Lit. Each month we’ll be featuring a different Latino author and/or illustrator and talking about some of the issues that affect our community. We’re so happy to kick off this great series with the award-winning author, Alma Flor Ada.

Alma Flor may be the most recognized Latina author of children’s literature here in the United States. Together with her dear friend, F. Isabel Campoy, she has written everything from poetry to folklore and shared stories from throughout the Spanish-speaking world. Her beautifully written bilingual books are coveted by educators and parents across the country.

A marvelous and much sought-after speaker, Alma Flor is a Pro­fes­sor Emerita at the Uni­ver­sity of San Fran­cisco who has devoted her life to advo­cacy for peace by pro­mot­ing a ped­a­gogy ori­ented to per­sonal real­iza­tion and social jus­tice. She is also a for­mer Rad­cliffe Scholar at Har­vard Univer­sity and Ful­bright Research Scholar.

Alma Flor was kind enough to accept a few questions from L4LL, and we hope you enjoy reading her answers as much as we did…

L4LL: You are such a prolific writer, having published countless books in English and Spanish for children. Where do you go to find inspiration for your stories?

AFA: Inspiration seems to be all around us and inside us, if we only stop to rest and open the door to imagination. In my case many of my books have been born from my own childhood memories, not only the ones that are specifically memoirs like Under the Royal Palms and Where the Flame Trees Bloom but others like the recent Love, Amalia, which draws a great deal from my own relationship with my grandmother.

Both my grandparents were journalists, so it is not strange I would be moved to write Extra! Extra! and letters were a great part of my growing up experiences since we had family in various places. And I thoroughly enjoyed writing letters, thus Dear Peter Rabbit; Yours Truly, Goldilocks and With Love, Little Red Hen.

My children’s childhood was also a fountain of inspiration. It Wasn’t Me/No fui yo, I Don’t Want to Melt/No quiero derretirme, The Kite/El papalote and A Rose With Wings/Rosa alada relate directly to moments when they were growing up.

Some stories have been motivated by a word or phrase. I wrote The Malachite Palace because I love the sound of the phrase “un kiosco de malaquita” in Rubén Darío’s A Margarita and La hamaca de la vaca o Un amigo más was born directly from having thought the phrase “hamaca de la vaca.” I just couldn’t let go of it and had to create a story around it!

L4LL: You and Isabel Campoy have repeatedly written books that pull from different Hispanic cultures and traditions. Why have you chosen to do this? Is diversity so important?

AFA: Our culture is very rich. It co-exists in 20 countries with numerous indigenous populations of various origins. Our language is the fourth most spoken in the World, after Chinese, Hindi and English, but it is after English the most universally spread. Such territorial expansion can only result in great diversity. Our children should be aware that this diversity is a richness we can enjoy, celebrating our regional uniqueness and the strength of our unity.

L4LL: Why do you think it is important for Latino children and their families to read these books?

AFA: The more we know about our culture the more of value we will find in it. No culture is perfect and ours, like all other, is composed of positive and negative trends. Unfortunately, the mass media tends to highlight the negative –crime, drugs, scandal.

We need our children to grow up knowing they need not replicate anyone’s mistakes, not be seduced by false promises, but that they can embrace the positive aspects of our culture –love of family, friendship, creativity, hard work, and endurance.

They should find strength in our roots and inspiration in those who have contributed with their determination and effort.

L4LL: How can we help Latino children escape the discouraging statistics and become proficient readers by 4th grade?

AFA: Reading at home should be an essential aspect of childrearing. Parents and children who devote a few minutes every day to reading will not only strengthen the children’s reading abilities but will find topics to talk about.

Strong literacy is linked to strong vocabulary. And parents and caretakers should know that it is their responsibility to enrich the children’s vocabulary.

Talk to your children, as much as possible: tell them stories of when you were growing up, point out the differences, share with them experiences of your parents and grandparents, explain to them what you do each day, the decisions you have to make, the things that you observe and interest you.

And ask them to tell you what they do during the day, what they learn in class, who they play with at recess.

You will be building trust and bonding which will be very useful in the future to guide and protect your children. You will also be giving them the gift of words.

When reading the child needs to imagine the reality.

In the past children acquired vocabulary through conversation and through listening to the radio. The vocabulary present in film and TV is restricted, because the images substitute the words.

The reading proficiency children need require daily conversation and daily reading.

Make visits to the library a weekly treat. Establish a library at home with books you borrow from the public library and books you give as gifts.

L4LL: Why do you think large publishing companies and booksellers fail to invest and develop their sections devoted to Latino children’s literature?

AFA: We need to look at this in context. A large section of society still looks at Latinos as second class citizens. The prejudice that has been experienced by all immigrants in the past is confounded in this case with a certain amount of guilt arising from historical wrongs. The publishing industry and booksellers are no exception.

Publishers of children’s literature have a greater awareness of the messages sent by books, being constantly reminded by librarians and teachers of their social responsibility. Yet, it is difficult to make substantive changes, unless there is a clear determination to do so.

There are very few Latinos in the publishing industry. It is essential that publishers advertise and offer opportunities for some of our qualified youth to become editors. It would be very beneficial if some of our young people would be encouraged to get an education as writers.

Publishers could make an effort to foster Latino authors through specific awards, manuscripts requests, and sponsoring their participation in workshops or courses to hone their abilities as potential authors.

L4LL: Some argue that Latino literature should not be separated and put in their own section, but that books by Latino authors about Latinos should be mixed in with the mainstream books. What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages? Yay or nay?

AFA: For me this is a case of both. Yes, Latino literature should become part of the mainstream literature, and our authors recognized and read along with all others. Yet, probably most would get lost on the mass. When we identify a Latino literature, offer special conferences and awards for Latino authors and place their books is special sections of book stores and book sellers catalogues, we bring a heightened awareness of their presence.

Teachers and Latino parents become more aware of the existence of books by Latino authors when they are highlighted.

L4LL: What are your favorite children’s books for the holidays?

AFA: Personally Isabel Campoy and I have written Merry Navidad to present the traditional Christmas story though villancicos, organized in sections to go from the journey to Bethlehem to the visit of the Three Kings. The English version that retains the poetic nature of the original were created by my daughter Rosa Zubizarreta. Vivi Escrivá created beautiful renditions of the different moments. It brings us much joy because it was a coordinated effort whose final result was all we had dreamt.

Years ago I wrote La jaula dorada / The Golden Cage a story inspired in my son’s Miguel love for birds and for his grandmother and No quiero derretirme / I Don’t Want to Melt which is a winter story inspired in an anecdote of my son Gabriel. He was very young when we left Detroit to visit my mother in Florida and he asked the snowman he and his siblings had built, “Please, do not melt.” His innocence moved me so much I felt the need to write a book, which is really about the meaning of life.

Recently Isabel Campoy and I wrote three books for the series Cuentos para celebrar/Stories to Celebrate: one dedicated to Christmas and the Three Kings Day, one dedicated to Hanukkah and one to Kwanzaa. As in all books in that series there is a story related to the festivity and a non-fiction section with photographs explaining the meaning and history of the celebration.

Because Christmas has been a very important moment in my life there are many references to it in many of my books.

But essentially a good book is a perfect gift and I hope parents will consider books as important gifts to give their children not only during the holidays but along the year. And the greatest beauty is that they need not buy them: the public library is full of them!

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Thank you so much to Alma Flor Ada for talking with us and ending our year on such a meaningful note. Be sure to visit her website, AlmaFlorAda.com, to learn more about her many wonderful publications and find additional resources.

Wishing you all a very happy holiday season and a bright and shining new year!

Google Hangout with Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, author of the just released memoir Still Dreaming

By: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

Join us today, as we hang out with Congressman Luis Gutiérrez–the Illinois Democrat who publishes this October his memoir Still Dreaming. Both critics and supporters call Congressman Gutiérrez a “maverick”–for bucking both Republicans and President Obama as he fights for issues, especially comprehensive immigration reform. Learn about his childhood in Chicago and Puerto Rico and his experiences working his way up through the Chicago city council to Congress–each a political minefield in its own right. In the telling of his story framed by the politics of the last 30 years, the Congressman shares a quintessential American story of (im)migration, hard work, and determination.

Click here to access this hangout today, Wednesday, October 9 from 12 noon to 12:30 PM EST.

ANOTHER GIVEAWAY:

The Congressman has donated copies of Still Dreaming to giveaway to two L4LL readers.

To enter, simply use the Rafflecopter below. ¡Suerte!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

VIDEO: Hangout with Author Manuel Roig-Franzia


Google+ Hangout with Manuel Roig-Franzia, author of The Rise of Marco Rubio for L4LL Hispanic Heritage Month: Festival of Books

By: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

Amigos, we are happy to announce the L4LL Hispanic Heritage Month: Festival of Books Google+ Hangout with Manuel Roig-Franzia, author of The Rise of Marco Rubio. Click here to view the Google+ event page where you will find a link to the hangout on Wednesday, 9/25/2013 from 12 noon to 12:30P EST.

Click below to watch the video:

The Giveaway:

Manuel is also generously offering 2 autographed copies of his book — one in English and the other in Spanish to two L4LL readers.

To enter, simply leave a comment below telling us if you’d prefer a copy in English or Spanish (and make sure to leave a way for us to contact you!).

This giveaway ends at midnight on Tuesday, October 15th, 2013.

By entering this giveaway, you agree to the Official Sweepstakes Rules. No purchase required. Void where prohibited.

L4LL Hispanic Heritage Month: Festival of Books: Google+ Hangout with Manuel Roig-Franzia, author of The Rise of Marco Rubio

by Viviana Hurtado

I met Washington Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia at a book party for The Rise of Marco Rubio. It was very fancy schmancy DC–a lotta business cards being exchanged and air kisses of government and media big wigs. This is Hollywood for Ugly People.

But then the V.I.P.s left and afterwards, Manuel joined a couple of stragglers (to not say groupies) and went for a late dinner and drinks.

Super down to earth, our group chatted late into the night, and I learned how observant to every last detail Manuel is–knowing for example that his favorite vintage of Pinot Grigio which is not on the menu is located in a secret compartment unknown to staff. Manuel’s curiosity, attention to detail, and old-fashioned, burn-shoe-leather-and-leave-no-stone-unturned-reporting prepared him well to write a critically-acclaimed and definitive biography of Marco Rubio.

This is important because Senator Rubio’s presidential ambitions are no secret. But in this media and political culture where the message is clearly controlled and defined by campaigns, publicists, parties, who really is the man who could become the first President of Latino ancestry? This is important because the interest of handlers may not necessarily be that of a whole country.

Delving deep into a past to illuminate the present and future, bringing out dimension, breadth, and depth is the job of a journalist, something increasingly rare in a culture that values blow-dried looks, quoting scanner traffic, and tweeting as reporting.

Latinas for Latino Lit (L4LL) is proud to announce our first Hispanic Heritage Month: Festival of Books Google Hangout with Manuel who kicks off our Wednesday hangouts during this event from 12 noon to 12:30 PM EST. If you miss the hangout, check the L4LL YouTube channel where the interview will be archived.

UPDATE: This Google Hangout has been rescheduled. We’ll post the new time here when it is available. Thank you!

Welcome to L4LL’s Hispanic Heritage Month: Festival of Books

Dear friends, we are simply so excited to kick off our latest project, the Hispanic Heritage Month: Festival of Books! We have so many great things planned this month that you should check in here every day this week (and month!) for updates about new products, printables, and opportunities.

Unlike our Latino Children’s Summer Reading Program, the HHM: Festival of Books is geared for adults, too, with special content to be posted throughout the month, as well as a reading list of some of our favorite biographies for adults about some famous – and some not so well known – Hispanic Americans.

We will also feature weekly Google hangouts with authors of the hottest and critically-acclaimed biographies about some of the most fascinating Hispanic Americans who have contributed, or are contributing, to our country.

First up this Wednesday, September 18 from 12 noon to 12:30pm EST is award-winning Washington Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia and author of The Rise of Marco Rubio. Publisher’s Weekly writes:

“Readers in search of an in-depth and unbiased look at the young, dynamic Republican senator from Florida will be rewarded by this well-researched biography… the writing here is crisp and the research thorough.”

L4LL’s Viviana Hurtado interviews Roig-Franzia whose reporting gives insight into a person who is positioning himself to become our country’s first President of Latino descent.

Click on our Google+ page each Wednesday of Hispanic Heritage Month to access our Google hangout link and on the L4LL YouTube channel where it will be archived.

We hope you’ll join us!

An Interview With Author Carmen Amato

by Viviana Hurtado

It’s Friday which means for weeks on L4LL, it’s Carmen Amato day, when this author publishes fresh, relevant, and entertaining posts on how to get and keep your Read On. Today the tables have slightly turned on Carmen as we interview her about her just-published novel Hat Dance. Part of the Emilia Cruz international mystery novel series, Carmen dishes about the household name Latinas who inspired her main character and how books can build bridges between people. For all the aspiring writers out there, Carmen gives you a must-read primer on how to get published and the pros and cons of traditional and self-publishing.

As if that wasn’t enough of a gift for L4LL readers, Carmen is also offering Hat Dance for free on Kindle again today, Friday August 30!

Viviana Hurtado (L4LL): Congratulations, Carmen for just publishing Hat Dance! This mystery/psychological thriller is set in Acapulco, Mexico. Tell us the plot and main characters.

Carmen Amato: First, thanks so much for this interview and the opportunity to work with L4LL over the past few months. For an author, anything that helps to promote literacy is a true labor of love!

HAT DANCE is the second novel in the Emilia Cruz mystery series. It follows CLIFF DIVER, which when I last looked was #12 on amazon’s list of Top Rated International Mystery and Crime novels and the #27 best selling book in the Hispanic Fiction category. My books haven’t knocked Ian Rankin or Junot Díaz off the best seller lists but they are in contention!

The series pits Emilia Cruz, Acapulco’s first and only female police detective, against both Mexico’s drug war and culture of machismo. The plight of those missing in Mexico will be a continuing theme. In HAT DANCE, Emilia tracks cold cases of missing women and is asked to find a girl from her own neighborhood while also hunting for an elusive arsonist. As Acapulco burns and Emilia ends up on the wrong side of a dirty Vice cop, she’ll start making deals for information and access. But the deal she makes with the devil could be her last . . .

Here are some of the characters readers will meet:

  • Emilia Cruz Encinos: An Acapulco native forced to grow up too fast, she’s been a cop for nearly 12 years and a detective for two; a strong woman in a squadroom that didn’t want her and is still trying to break her. Emilia is a good liar, a fast thinker, a determined investigator and a mean kickboxer.
  • Franco Silvio: A former heavyweight champ, Silvio is the senior detective and the most vocal opponent of women detectives.
  • Victor Obregon Sosa: The head of the police union for the state of Guerrero is a dangerous and deceptive man. Sex with him is always on offer, he wields enormous power, and Emilia is rightfully wary of him.
  • Carlota Montoya Perez: Acapulco’s beautiful and ambitious mayor is willing to twist anything—even the truth—to accomplish her political goals.
  • Kurt Rucker: Manager of Acapulco’s most deluxe hotel, he’s a former U.S. Marine who knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to go after it.

The city of Acapulco looms as large as any character in the series. There’s the Acapulco that tourists know; luxury hi-rises, candlelit nights on the beach, the sweep of the most beautiful bay in the world, the majesty of the clear blue Pacific. There’s also the Acapulco that is a prize to be fought over by drug cartels–the city that is home to hookers and thieves, the streets where life is cheap and poverty is as pervasive as the wind off the ocean.

Both of these versions of Acapulco claw at the each other and force Emilia to survive between them. No investigation will be easy, no crime will be simple.

L4LL: The main character is a woman, Emilia Cruz. Tell us about her and why you were drawn to develop a strong female lead.

CA: Two of the biggest influences in my life have been my mother and grandmother, both strong women who made hard decisions in their lives. My best friends are strong women who live busy, multi-faceted lives. That’s how I define myself as well. A strong female character who copes with both personal and professional challenges and grows as a result is my comfort zone as a writer.

To create the Emilia character I took as inspiration 3 well-known Latinas: Justice Sonia Sotomayor, boxer Marlen Esparza, and actor America Ferrera. I wrote a blog post on my website earlier this year, explaining how they each inspired me.

L4LL: This is part of a political thriller series featuring Emilia Cruz. What is it about this character, genre, Mexico, and the current climate of drug violence that draws you to this place and characters?


CA: In the amazon.com description for CLIFF DIVER, I shared a story about encountering a junkie on Christmas during Mass at our church in Mexico City. He was the tip of an iceberg that included shootouts in major cities, multiple drug seizures, rising numbers of dead and missing, the murders of mayors, governors and journalists.

Major US news outlets didn’t carry much of this kind of reporting in deference to domestic politics, the Middle East, and Lindsay Lohan. News about Mexico was mostly immigration-related. The real story–the toll that the drug wars were taking on the people and culture of Mexico–wasn’t getting out.

I carried my memories of Mexico with me when we left. I poured them into a Cinderella story set against the backdrop of Mexican political corruption and cartel violence. The result was the 2012 political thriller The Hidden Light of Mexico City. The reviews made me sure that contemporary fiction could ignite popular interest in what was happening in Mexico better than the news.

I knew, however, that a standalone novel can only take an independent author so far. I needed to take it a step further.

The resulting formula? A mystery series (the most popular literary genre) + an iconic city that US readers will recognize + relationships with heat + action from today’s headlines = Emilia Cruz.

L4LL: You love to travel and “love”–marrying “the smartest man I could find” with whom you’ve moved to Mexico and Central America–provides inspiration for your writing. What is it about the region and the people that captured your imagination, making them settings, even characters in your books?

CA: I grew up in an Italian family where going to church every Sunday was an Event. My extended family all lived in the same city and came together for every holiday. My grandfather’s home movies were all of people eating. I loved all the associated rituals: helping my grandmother set the table with her good china, arranging pepperoni, olives, and roasted red peppers for the antipasto, cranking the handle of my grandparents’ pasta maker to turn out homemade capellini.

When I moved to Mexico so much was already familiar. Church, family, rituals of food, celebrations of the homemade. It was easy to make it all my own.

I was lucky to have ready-made bridges between one culture and another. I think more bridges need to be built and books can serve as building material.

L4LL: Can you tell us about your experience publishing, specifically with CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform?

CA: All 3 of my currently published books are exclusive to Amazon as ebooks for Kindle and paperbacks printed by Amazon’s Createspace service. The industry calls it being an “independent author.”

Createspace and the Kindle publishing platform give authors a lot of options and I love that I maintain all creative control. It is ultimately my decision how the final product looks, when it is released, and the retail cost. Most importantly, it is my decision how professional the books and their presentation will be. I had a publishing contract in 2011 but felt that the publishing company was offering a poor quality product to readers and I ultimately walked away.

In today’s digital world, print copies are a very small percentage of total book sales unless you are J.K. Rowling. Both royalties and sales volume is significantly higher for Kindle ebooks and I know many authors who do not sell print books at all. Moreover, bookstores generally will not stock print books by independent authors. Some book reviewers will not accept indie books for review, either.

L4LL: We are not editors, publishers, and literary agents yet are often approached for guidance on how to publish a book. Can you share some tips for budding authors?

CA: Getting a book in front of an audience and even racking up a few sales is no longer the hard part. Polishing your product, however, is. Many rush to publish because they can—there is no editorial filter—and they skip over quality control. Here is my best advice.

  1. Don’t fall in love with your first draft. Fall in love with your characters, in the setting, and in the plot twists. Keep editing and rewriting until your manuscript is as good as it can be. Learn to be a ruthless editor of your own work.
  2. Don’t change points of view within a single section. Just when a reader has identified with a certain character–whoops–suddenly they are inside another character’s head. This is my personal pet peeve. Read novels by Leon Uris and Ken Follett for great examples of keeping points of view separate and how to use different points of view to advance the plot.
  3. A writer’s group is a terrific way to get feedback on a draft and learn best practices from fellow writers. A side benefit is encouragement and the feeling that you’re not the only one with a writing obsession.
  4. Find a writing partner and share drafts for timely feedback and brainstorming.
  5. Finally, in this day of instant access to information, there is no excuse for bad punctuation. A random typo is one thing, consistent punctuation errors in a published work is another.

L4LL: Can you explain the pros and cons of self-publishing versus mainstream publisher?

It’s a tough business, one that is in decline, where it’s difficult for talented authors to make it past gatekeepers in the form of publishers, editors, and agents, and one that does not understand the urgency of tapping into new readers such as Latinos for its survival. How have the advances in technology helped you and other authors?

CA: As the traditional publishing industry shrinks, authors without close ties to that industry will be by and large locked out. Those writing content that isn’t the “flavor of the day” have even a slimmer chance of being discovered and offered a contract. Money is tight, and ironically, editors are now trolling Amazon’s best seller lists and independent authors are being offered traditional publishing contracts but only because they have a proven following and sales.

So frankly, I think publishing independently is the only way to go that doesn’t involve years of wasted time and postage costs mailing queries and manuscripts to people who didn’t ask for them.

The pros of independent publishing are:

  • Retain creative control.
  • Reach audiences immediately.
  • Royalties as high as 70% and paid monthly.
  • You are discoverable by publishers who comb Amazon lists to find breakout authors and subject matter experts.
  • Some book contests are exclusive for indie authors.

The cons are:

  • Your book still must be as professional in all aspects as those traditionally published. It is a lot of work to do cover, editing, formatting, etc and can be costly unless you acquire the skills to do it yourself.
  • You are responsible for your own marketing/cover/author platform.
  • Libraries and bookstores rarely agree to stock independent titles.
  • Important review opportunities can be limited.
  • The quality of independently published books varies widely; many people’s experience leads them to equate “independently published” with “poor quality.”
  • Ineligible for some big-name book contests.

In contrast

The pros of traditional publishing are:

  • Libraries and bookstores may stock you depending on your publisher’s distribution.
  • May receive an up front royalty.
  • Cachet of having a publisher’s name on the Amazon sales page and being able to answer the question of who is your publisher
  • Someone else does the cover, interior and ebook formatting, intellectual property rights protection, etc.
  • Eligible for most book contests.

The cons are:

  • The publisher may own the rights to your work, preventing you from setting a fair price, reprinting, moving to another publishing house, etc. In many cases authors have lost thousands in royalties because they signed away rights to content, characters, and more.
  • You find out you are responsible for your own marketing/cover/author platform!
  • Much lower royalty percentages, generally paid quarterly or even bi-annually.
  • Loss of creative control means you can end up with an unsuitable cover, inaccurate back cover info, etc.
  • Your chances of being offered a contract are very low.
  • You almost always need an agent, who takes a share of your income, to navigate the process.
  • A contract for one book does not automatically translate into a contract for the next.

This is just my experience, and other authors who have gone down a different path will no doubt have a different view. I’d never rule out a traditional publishing offer but will never again sacrifice creative control.

L4LL: What’s next for Emilia Cruz?

CA: Next up is publication in The Huffington Post of “The Beast,” the very first Emilia Cruz story, as part of Huffpost’s showcase of female writers over 50. A collection of short stories, entitled MADE IN ACAPULCO, will follow this fall. Two more Emilia Cruz novels are planned for 2014. Still others are in the outline stage.

A continuing subplot will be Emilia’s hunt for missing women. Will she ever close out all her cases? Will she marry Kurt? Will she survive partnership with Silvio?
L4LL: What’s next for Carmen Amato?

CA: I hope that the Emilia Cruz series becomes one of those cross-cultural bridges I talked about earlier. The mystery series is a literary genre that is hugely popular in the US and several series have brought a popular awareness to new places (Russia and Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko series; Sweden and the Dragon Tattoo books.) Maybe Emilia can do this for Mexico.

At the same time, I hope the cultural details and connection to current events appeal to Latinos. You have talked on the L4LL website about encouraging a love of reading—which leads to better education rates—in Latino youth. A mystery can be a more attractive choice than literary fiction for young adults still building an interest in reading. A series may encourage them to continue to read.

I also think the series, as well THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, would translate well to film. There would be some great roles for Latino actors. The most popular pages on my website are the dreamcasts. I’m sure Hollywood will be calling any day!

An L4LL Interview with Author Agustin D. Martinez

It is always a treat when one author gets to interview another. We know the work that goes into each book, love to hear about what inspires a fellow scribbler to turn thoughts and imagery into words, and can’t resist probing to find out what parts of another author’s background is revealed in a book’s pages.

This week I was lucky enough to chat virtually with Agustin D. “Gus” Martinez, the author of the Prize Americana-winning novel, The Mares of Lenin Park, and am delighted to share the experience with L4LL readers.

Carmen Amato: You write in many genres. Tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you to become such a diverse writer.
Guz Martinez: I grew up in Miami, Florida and taught English in Miami before moving to the Washington, DC area where I currently reside and still work in the field of education. In high school and college, I was involved in theatre, and therefore, I began my writing career writing plays. From there, I began writing short stories, and ultimately, my first novel, The Mares of Lenin Park.

When I write, there are certain topics or characters that I feel should be written in one of these forms, plays or fiction. Sometimes, it is necessary for me to tell a story using only dialogue and stage directions, while there are certain topics, such as Uli’s story in Mares, which I feel could only be told in the form of a novel, one reason being that the setting in the novel is as much a character as are the actual characters in the book.

CA: Your book, The Mares of Lenin Park, has an unusual title. Tell us what it means and how you chose it.
GM: Students of mine used to tell me about a park they visited as children, Lenin Park. I developed almost an extended metaphor of mares in the park, old and graying, with blinders on, yet they carried on not knowing what existed outside of their line of sight. In the novel, this image comes up a few times symbolizing how, unfortunately, we sometimes live within the confines of what we see or hear, not knowing of other worlds that exist outside our own. The image I painted in the book is almost the same as that in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

CA: The Mares of Lenin Park address many themes; Cuban life, the Russia-Cuba relationship, drug culture, and coming-of-age issues. How did you research all this and how much is drawn from your own background?
GM: Growing up in Miami, I constantly heard stories of what Cuba was like before and after the Revolution, what my parents and immediate family experienced and how they were divided on the political beliefs early on. In fact, some family still remains in Cuba. Aside from stories I heard growing up, students of mine in Miami told me numerous stories of what life in the early ‘90s was like in Cuba without the support of the Soviet Union. This period interested me, and I decided to set the novel during this “special” period, as Castro referred to it. I further interviewed family who visited from Cuba, and through the Internet, I was able to communicate with my aunts, uncle and cousins who still reside in Havana.

CA: Describe the ideal audience for The Mares of Lenin Park.
GM: Some people believe that since the book’s protagonist is a teenage boy that this is a young adult novel. It may be; however, I think it is a true crossover novel and many of my readers, who are mostly adults, seem to enjoy the novel just as much as some of the teenagers who have read the book. I believe that the themes are universal, not just themes that relate to the coming-of-age of Uli Aguilera.

CA: What author or book has influenced you the most?
GM: I was immediately hooked to the writings of Mark Twain as an adolescent. His stories, themes, and use of satire have influenced my writing greatly.

CA: Do you think that much Latino literature is widely read outside the Latino community? Why or why not?
GM: I’m really not sure about this. I know that I am always on the lookout for Latino literature. I think more and more, Latino writers such as Junot Diaz are making a big splash in the literary community.

CA: What should Latino authors be doing to promote literacy and the love of reading?
GM: As an educator, I believe that Latino authors must promote literacy by working with schools or colleges around the country. Whether it be doing readings, signings, or just letting those in education know that our books are out there is vital. For example, I have contacted various school districts around the nation to consider my book as one of the books taught in English classes. I was surprised at all the positive response I received!

CA: What are you currently reading?
GM: I’m currently reading and almost finished with Yoani Sanchez’ book, Havana Real, based on her blogs that she wrote as a Cuban dissident. It’s fascinating! I should’ve picked it up sooner.

CA: How can L4LL readers get in touch to find out more about your books, plays, and short stories?
GM: They can always visit my book’s Facebook page, or contact me directly at gusmartinez67@cox.net. I love hearing from readers!

Thank you, Gus Martinez, for such thoughtful answers. We wish you continued success with both The Mares of Lenin Park and your other writing. You can find The Mares of Lenin Park on amazon.com.

And remember to help both readers and writers like Gus by leaving reviews of great LatinoLit. Here is how to write a review in just a few easy steps!

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Carmen Amato is the author of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and CLIFF DIVER, the first book in her Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco which was praised by Kirkus Reviews as “consistently exciting.” The next book in that series, HAT DANCE, will be released next week!
In HAT DANCE, Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz will risk a dance with the devil in a desperate attempt to stop an arsonist and find a missing girl. But when the music stops, the consequences will be deadly.

Check out all Carmen’s books at http://amazon.com/author/carmenamato and connect with her on Twitter @CarmenConnects or Facebook. Her Pinterest boards illustrate her books and can be found at http://pinterest.com/CarmenConnects.