Monday, June 13, 2011

Author Spotlight: Meg Medina

This week we're celebrating the release of Meg Medina's new book, Tia Isa Wants a Car. Today we have an interview with Meg, Wednesday we'll have a review of her book, and Friday's post will include fun activities to go along with the book. And . . .
We're giving away a signed copy 
of Meg's book!
More details about the giveaway at the end of this post. Without further delay, we welcome the fabulous Meg Medina to the Richmond Children's Writers blog!

Congratulations, Meg, on your latest book! In your blog, you mention that your writing is a celebration of your Cuban-American roots and that you draw heavily from the culture you know so well. Is this story based on an event from your life? 
The story is loosely based on real events. I have a real tía Isa, who was the first person to drive in our family. She arrived from Cuba with my grandparents in the late 1960s. Eventually, she learned to drive and bought the first family car, an ancient Buick Wildcat. The purchase of that car was so important to our family. It was a step into American culture and our first feeling of independence from bus routes and limitations.
One thing that is definitely different from real life is that tía Isa was a truly terrible driver. ¡Ave Maria purísima! She was possibly the worst I’ve ever seen.
Yikes! Good thing you left that part out of the book. Please share with us a little about the process of the book, from idea to first pages to the finished product. What was the biggest challenge in the process of writing this book?

I wrote this book by accident while I was between novels. It was actually a very restful process for me to play with phrases and just follow a simple story. That said, picture books are never truly easy. There are confines of the form: Thirty-two pages. The main character and her problem should be introduced inside the first page-and-a-half. There must be room for the illustrator to contribute visual story. It may seem easy to write a short picture book, but in fact, it’s harder than novels. It requires being very choosy about what gets in and what gets left out.   

How was writing Tia Isa Wants a Car, which is a picture book, different from writing your first book, Milagros, Girl from Away, a middle-grade novel?  Are there differences in research, in preparation, in storytelling?
Oh – they are completely different beasts. In picture books, I’m telling a big idea with very few words and events. It works almost like a poem in that it is exposes a larger truth by examining a small moment. Picture book writing also requires me to think of two readers:  the child reader and the adult who is reading the story, too.

For novels, on the other hand, I typically work with a big cast of characters as well as a main plot and sub-plots. At times, it’s unwieldy, but I have many more ways to move the storyline forward. I also assume only one reader, which is helpful. What is hard about a novel, though, is having the stamina to sustain the world you’ve created over 300 pages. Since I don’t work from outline, I always risk getting lost or writing my way into a scenario that doesn’t work.

Let's talk a little more about Milagros: Girl from Away.  Strong, competent girls and women, such as Tia Isa and Milagros and her mother, take the leading roles in this book. Is this a conscious decision, or do they simply grow out of your own early experiences?  How did these girls begin to speak to you as you wrote about them?

Oh, I love writing about strong girls. I’m intrigued in real life and in fiction by girls who refuse to be crushed by images of what they’re supposed to be or by any difficult circumstances. That was certainly true in the lives of the girls and women I knew growing up, and we still see them in every classroom, in every family. Girls facing down troubled parents or poverty, social horrors at school, bullying boyfriends, self-destructive habits. They’re everywhere and they survive. I could write about them forever.

Tell us about magical realism. Is it part of your style as a writer, or was it simply the best fit this story? Did you know from the beginning of writing this novel that it would include magical elements?

I can’t say what my style is as a writer, except that I write literary pieces. I like to experiment with all kinds of things, and for Milagros, I dabbled in magical realism. Using magical elements in everyday life has long been associated with Latin American literature, so I especially enjoy experimenting with it for a bicultural audience. It gives me a chance to introduce young readers to the traditions of our literature in an English format that is just as familiar to them. It definitely fit Milagros, and it will appear again in my new YA novel (due out next March) called The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. But I also enjoy working in a contemporary voice. Tia Isa is contemporary, and I just sold a manuscript for another YA novel called Finding Yaqui Delgado. That one is contemporary, too.

We’d love to hear about your next writing project.  What’s on the burner for now?

In the very immediate future, I’m very excited to be working on a curated reading list called Girls of Summer with my friend and fellow Candlewick author, Gigi Amateau. (Here’s the link to my website where I’ve posted the trailer: It’s our answer to dreary summer reading lists. You know the ones I mean. All the titles we have selected feature strong girls as protagonists. GOS will roll out in early July 2011. It will be in a blog format, and we’ll have author interviews, giveaways, reviews, etc. Several amazing writers are going to lend their thoughts and talents. We’re also going to do a live launch of the list at the JRW Writing Show on July 28, 2011. Authors Steve Watkins and Valerie Patterson, whose beautiful works are part of the list, will be joining us for a panel discussion. We’ll also be giving away one entire set of the Girls of Summer list. So, mark your calendars!
Tía Isa Wants a Car will come out en español next year, and so will The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind (Candlewick Press). In the meantime, I’m happily at work on Finding Yaqui Delgado.
Terrific! We'll look forward to more books from Meg. This week, we're giving away a free copy, signed by the author, of Tia Isa Wants a Car. Just leave a comment any time this week, include your email address in the comment (you must be an adult to enter) and we'll draw a name on Saturday. ¡Vamos! 

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