Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Malin Alegria on NPR Morning Edition!

Author Malin Alegria Builds On 'Estrella's' Star Power

Malin Alegria lives in San Jose, Calif., where she teaches and writes.

Writer Malin Alegria's first novel, Estrella's Quinceanera, covers familiar territory for anyone who has ever been a 15-year-old girl battling with her mother — but the fact that the book's sassy protagonist, Estrella Alvarez, is Mexican-American makes her unique in the world of young adult fiction.

Alegria's book follows Estrella through that quintessential coming-of-age experience for many Latinos — the traditional party that happens when a girl turns 15. Seduced by her new friends' luxurious lifestyles, Estrella becomes embarrassed by her home, her family and, most of all, the quinceanera birthday party her aunt and mother insist on throwing her.

Estrella's Quinceanera came out in 2006, but it has found enduring success in the country's Latino communities. So much so, that Scholastic has commissioned her to write a four-book series for Latino teens, the first installment of which comes out in May 2012.

Making It To 'Walmart'

The original idea for Estrella's Quinceanera came when a publishing house commissioned Alegria to write a book that would reach Latino teens. But some of the archetypes dreamed up by Alegria's non-Latino editors sounded like they'd been dreamed up by, well, non-Latino editors. For instance, they described a character from New York's Upper West Side who sounded Dominican but whose family owned a Mexican restaurant. Alegria says that to a certain extent, she knew she had to work with the stereotypes the publisher gave her.

"There were some details that I accepted from them and others that I totally ignored," she says. "I thought that if I was going to write a quince story, I was going to just write the craziest story I could think of, with the girl having to wear a secondhand dress that was her cousin's that was made in Tijuana. ... Her family was forcing her to do this, but she really didn't want to."

For someone raised by radical Chicano parents in the '70s, Alegria is sanguine about the compromises she made in her collaboration with the publisher. She says she tried to be as subversive as possible, inserting references to Cesar Chavez and Aztec dance, while still making sure to write with mass audiences in mind.

Estrella's Quinceanera
"I had this cholo cousin in El Centro," she says, "and he called me and said, 'Ay, Malin, I saw your book at Walmart! You're right by the washing machines.' I'm like, 'Yes! Walmart!' "

It's one of the best placements an author can get, especially if he or she is trying to reach rural communities that don't have many brick-and-mortar booksellers — or e-book buyers.

Alegria's Rock-Star Status

Today, Alegria enjoys overwhelming grassroots support. Around the country, librarians and teachers raise money so their Latino students can experience literature — and authors — with a familiar story. They fly Alegria in to speak to auditoriums and libraries packed with students. She dresses up in a ruffled quinceanera dress, white gloves and a tiara, and acts out the book's characters for her readings.

In small Texas border towns like McAllen and Pharr, Alegria gets a rock star's welcome — an uncommon experience for any author who isn't J.K. Rowling. She's greeted by handmade posters and school marquees trumpeting her visit. The readings are organized by people like Nora Galvan, a library coordinator for the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District in South Texas, which is about 98 percent Latino.

Galvan says boys and girls pile into auditoriums and libraries for a chance to see Alegria read from her book.

"She actually talks to the kids about what inspired her to be an author, and what the process of writing is, which is one of our assessments here in the state of Texas," Galvan says. "Then she talks about her experiences and how they can put that into words, and how they can become authors if they so desire."

'The Way We Speak'

A recent Northwestern University study found that the print reading habits of young people of color are virtually the same as whites. But Galvan says many of her district's students are reading below their grade level — and most are bilingual. They're hungry for stories like Alegria's — stories that reflect their language proficiencies.

"Every other word is Spanish, English, Spanish, English: 'Mama, voy a mi house,' 'I wanted to go en mi carro,' " Galvan says. "The way [Alegria] writes is the way we speak in this area."

Some of Alegria's chapters open with a glossary that, with a wink, introduces words and phrases that are common to bilingual kids like 13-year-old fan Amanda Cevallos: "Like, chola; the definition was like, 'big hair and hoop earrings,' which is kind of true," Cevallos says. "I just never find that in a book, so it's pretty cool."

It's OK 'To Be Dark-Skinned And Still Love Yourself'

Cevallos is part Dominican and part Mexican. She has navigated diverse groups of friends in both public and private schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, so there aren't many mainstream representations of Latinos that resonate with her cross-cultural experiences — and that's not so different from how things were 10 years ago. Back then, Latino stereotypes prevailed in pop culture, with its womanizing machista fathers and its bad boy cholos.

Alegria's parents had tried to counteract those stereotypes by immersing their kids in indigenous culture, but she says that as a kid, she was ashamed to tell her parents that it was difficult for her to share their sense of pride.

"I was embarrassed of living in the Mission District ... growing up feeling too dark for the boys to like, or that my clothes were not new enough," she says. "All of these insecurities are what I use in my writing now ... to educate and also affirm for young kids that it's OK to shop at the flea market and have parents who are working-class and to be dark-skinned and still love yourself."

Such affirmations weren't available to Alegria back in the day — at least not on her bookshelf, where the alpha blonde characters of Sweet Valley High reigned supreme.

"I really believed that that is what American life is like: having blonde hair, having a twin sister, having a cute boyfriend with a red convertible," Alegria says. "And I needed to have this experience to be an American."

Now, Alegria has found a powerful vehicle to help her write the Latino-American experience. Her upcoming Scholastic series, Border Town, follows the lives of teenagers living in the fictional town of Dos Rios, Texas. It's going to be pretty similar to Sweet Valley High, she says, "but with brown kids."

Alegria didn't set out to be a writer. But she says when young fans tell her that they recognize themselves in her stories, it feels like she has arrived at her calling. This, she says, is why her grandmothers crossed the border.

Nishat Kurwa is a reporter for TurnstyleNews.com, an online news service from Youth Radio.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Monica Brown "10" celebration and tour

Award-winning picture book writer Monica Brown celebrates 10 picture books published this month with a week-long tour to the Washington DC area. Monica will feature her latest fall 2011 releases MARISOL MCDONALD DOESN'T MATCH, illustrated by Sara Palacios (Children's Book Press) and WAITING FOR THE BIBLIOBURRO, illustrated by John Parra (Random House) here:

October 11, 7:00 pm
presentation and book signing

October 12, 10:30 am
reading and book signing

Monica will also be visiting several schools in the area and squeezing in a taping for COLORIN COLORADO -- stay tuned for showtimes!

Monica is an amazing success story, at a time when picture books are getting more negative than positive media coverage. What better time to share a bit about how I met Monica than at this milestone? Shortly after co-founding Full Circle Literary around six years ago, I had the honor of meeting Monica at a SCWBI conference in Palm Springs. I was the "new agent"on faculty and Monica's first picture book, MY NAME IS CELIA, was about to launch from small press Rising Moon. I have to say, we felt a kindred spirit as newbies around so much published talent. (CELIA later went on to win the Americas Award for Children's Literature and Pura Belpre Honor for Illustration---what a debut!). Monica shared some sample pages, and we talked about her vision for writing picture book biographies and fiction stories for children. Monica's writing pulled from her professional experience as an academic and personal experience as a mother---I saw something special right away. Monica could uniquely tell the story of a historic figure in a way that excited and informed young children. Brilliance like this is hard to find and shortly after I offered her representation --- Monica become one of our first Full Circle picture book clients!

Last weekend I attended a conference sponsored by the same SCBWI chapter that hosted the conference where I met Monica. Needless to say, I was thrilled to share the success story with SCBWI regional chairperson Francesca Ruckas and many new writers. Monica celebrates 10 picture books published this fall---and counting! Her forthcoming titles include: CLARA AND THE CURANDERA (Pinata Books), a picture book biography about Tito Puente illustrated by Pura Belpre award-winning artist Rafael Lopez (HarperCollins), and a picture book biography about Picasso (Santillana USA).

Congratulations to Monica on her big "10"--- here is to all the young readers she has touched through the years and the many inspirations she has yet to share!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Steve Jobs, Craft Inc, and You

Yesterday the world lost Steve Jobs, a man who has been described with every compliment in the book. An innovator. A leader. An inspiration. A visionary. This week marked the release of the new edition of Craft Inc. by Meg Mateo Ilasco. So what does one have to do with the other?

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.” -- Steve Jobs, 2005, at Stanford

And this is what Craft Inc is all about. Do what you love, and do it well. Do it with smarts. The new edition of this book is a reminder that this is possible, and that with a bit of encouragement from the pros, your dream job isn’t so far away.

If you ask any literary agent, they will tell you that their book projects are like children- each has a different but equally important place in our hearts. Granted, on certain days one kid behaves (sells?!) better than the others. And to round out the analogy, on some days authors act like kids, but we usually weed those folks out before we even sign them ;)

Craft Inc has an extremely important place in my heart. It was one of the first craft books that we did at Full Circle, and it opened my eyes to the thirst for this knowledge, and to the passion and support of the craft community. Because it really is a community. Craft Inc, first published in 2007, sets the ground rules for establishing, running, and growing a craft business. I believe it also set the standard for how to write a book about all of the above!

The publication of the new edition of Craft Inc reminds me of the days when I first began reading Meg’s writing for the book. I was floored. I mean, in what universe is it fair for someone to be so talented with the visual arts AND with writing? I knew we had stumbled on to something great. She has a way of conveying information in a way that’s detailed and thorough, but always engaging. So I was thrilled to watch her series grow over the years to cover other business topics including Creative Inc (with Joy Cho), Mom Inc (with Cat Seto, forthcoming spring 2012), and Blog Inc (with Joy Cho, forthcoming fall 2012)

To me, Craft Inc embodies the best kind of nonfiction, the kind that offers detail without getting bogged down in it – and let me assure you (years of slush piles later), it’s a rare find! The book’s success alone speaks to how well Meg executed this mission, and how she made her enthusiasm and knowledge contagious through writing.

I’m so proud to have been involved with Craft Inc from way back when, and wish Meg -- and all the savvy creatives who follow in her footsteps -- all the luck in the world as they take that chance and do what they love, and do it oh so well.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A warm welcome to Taylor!

Happy October! We’re thrilled to announce our new agent at Full Circle, Taylor Martindale!

Taylor began agenting with the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, and prior to that, was the submissions coordinator at Bliss Literary Agency. She is a graduate of The College of William and Mary, where she studied English and Hispanic Studies.

Taylor is looking for young adult fiction across all sub-genres. She is interested in finding unique and unforgettable voices and characters that stay with you long after a story has finished. For contemporary YA, she would like to find both the uplifting/ romantic stories and gritty, harsh stories about the darker side of teen life. She loves working with multicultural projects that teach teens about other people’s lives – both at home and abroad. In paranormal/fantasy/urban fantasy, she is looking for new and intriguing concepts with characters who truly manage to make their worlds alive and engaging. She is also interested in select children’s picture books, light YA sci-fi and women’s fiction. More than anything, Taylor is looking for character-driven stories that bring the world vividly to life (whether it’s fantasy or not), and voices that refuse to be ignored.When not working, Taylor can be found traveling, cooking, spending time with loved ones, or (surprise!) lost in a good book.

We're thrilled to welcome Taylor and share this great news with writers – especially all of the young adult writers out there! As she is actively looking for new talent, you can read our FCL submission guidelines and reach out to Taylor at our FCL submissions email address noted in the guidelines. You’ll be hearing more from her on this blog. If you'd like to meet her personally, Taylor will be on faculty at the following conferences this fall:

Oct. 7-9, Pacific Coast Children's Writers Workshop -- Santa Cruz, CA

Oct. 15, Northwest Houston Romance Writers Conference -- Houston, TX

Oct. 29, Avondale Writers Conference -- Avondale, AZ

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