Tag Archives: Latino/a Literature

When Reason Breaks Releases Today!!!

This post is also published on the Latin@s in Kid Lit site. Instead of writing something else for my own blog, I am cross-posting it here. Makes sense, right?

 

Reason Breaks Blended CollageToday is the official release day of When Reason Breaks, my debut young adult contemporary novel published by Bloomsbury! Yay! The novel is about two girls, both sophomores in high school, who struggle with depression in different ways. Here’s part of the official description:

A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl, with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.

To celebrate my journey, which started seven years ago, I’m sharing some pictures I took along the way.

 

IMG_3086This first picture represents the writing, revising, and editing phase done alone and then with critique partners. It took me three years to write the draft that I used to query agents. Yes, that’s a long time, but I was working a full-time job and a part-time job, while single-parenting. My writing place is on my bed, and without fail, my dogs–first Rusty (RIP) and now Ozzie–have kept me company. This has been very sweet, except for the times they pawed the keyboard. Notice the guilty look in his eyes.

 

 

 

IMG_1294I landed an agent, Laura Langlie, after a few months of querying. I revised based on her feedback, and then the manuscript went out on submission. It stayed out there for a long, long time. We received some valuable feedback after the first round, so I revised again and went back out on submission. Finding the right agent and editor is kind of like literary Match.com. You might go on lots of dates that don’t work, but that’s okay, because the goal is finding the perfect person. So, it took a long time, but the book landed with the perfect person, Mary Kate Castellani at Bloomsbury. This is a picture of the manuscript next to my contract. Receiving the contract is one of those “oh-my-goodness-this-is-happening” moments. At this point, the deal had already been announced online, but seeing the contract in black-and-white makes it real.

 

IMG_4414AHHHHH! ARCs. This was a big moment. I didn’t taken any pictures during revising and copy editing. They wouldn’t have been pretty. But, please know that a lot goes on between the previous picture and this one (major understatement). After revisions, the manuscript went to copy edits. That day was significant because it meant drafting, for the most part, was over. Changes could still be made, but the story moved from creation into production. I received a blurb from the amazing Margarita Engle, and the cover was revealed. Soon after, these beauties arrived at my house. And AHHHHH! ARCs! Even though I had seen all the pieces–manuscript, blurb, cover art–it was different seeing it all put together in book form.

 

IMG_3091

The ARCs went on tour to other authors debuting in 2015, friends, and family. I also gave a couple away on Goodreads. This was the copy that went to the first winner, Ali. I have signed thousands of things, but this was the first time I signed a copy of my novel. Around this time, the book was listed on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other places and became available for pre-order. Holy wow!

And people were actually reading the book, which, of course, was always the goal, but as ARCs went out and reviews popped up, I became aware that what had once belonged to me–what had only existed in my head and heart–was really out in the world. Here is photographic evidence of actual reading going on.

image_4

 

image_3Now that ARCs were out in the world, I considered ways to help market the novel. One thing I learned from other authors was that I had to do my part when it came to marketing. I didn’t go overboard with swag. I decided to create a book trailer and print book marks and postcards with a QR code linked to the book trailer.

The book trailer was a fun, family experience. My sister’s dining room table was the work station, with my image_2nephew–a high school freshman–doing all of the real tech work. He’s a genius with computers, so he handled putting it all together. The opening voice belongs is my niece, and I narrate the rest of it, although my voice was altered to be lower and much cooler, in my opinion. Bookmarks have been distributed to teachers, librarians, and bloggers. Postcards went to high schools, public libraries, and independent bookstores in Connecticut, in addition to some libraries and bookstores in other parts of the country. Writers always question “what works,” and I think the answer is different for each of us. Bookmarks worked for me because I’m a teacher and I have lots of teacher friends who asked for 50-100 at a time. I knew they’d get into the hands of teen readers. Also, I have received some positive feedback from the postcards. A few librarians emailed me saying they received the post card, viewed the trailer, and planned to order the book; some even invited me to participate in events. So, in my mind, these three things were worth it.

20140920_104602

While the ARCs were “out there,” the manuscript continued to be worked on through copy editing and then first pass pages, which should be called the 100th pass pages because everyone involved had read the manuscript so many times. First pass pages are cool because the manuscript is typeset, rather than being on regular paper in the standard 12-point Times Roman. After the first pass pages were returned to the publisher, the next time I saw my novel, it was in……..

 

 

 

HARDCOVER!!!

image

These came earlier than expected, so I was surprised when I found them on my doorstep. My daughter hugged me and said, “Wow, Mom, they’re beautiful. Congratulations.” I might have gotten a little teary eyed. That day, I donated a copy to my local library and then brought copies to my family. My mom cried when she saw it. My mom doesn’t cry easily. I might have gotten a little teary eyed then, too.

During this last month before publication, I’ve been excited and nervous and, most of all, grateful. Thank you to everyone who has been involved in this process. It takes a village to write and publish a book, and because of everyone who supported me along the way, I saw my novel on a shelf in Barnes & Noble for the first time this past weekend. Wow!

image (4)

Available at:

Indiebound Barnes & Noble | Amazon Powell’s Book Depository | Books-A-Million | Target

And please look for it at your local libraries.

Depression in YA Lit and the Latin@ Community

This post was originally published on the Latin@s in Kid Lit site, but I am reblogging it here on my personal site because it’s such an important issue to me and is the central subject of my debut young adult novel. Here it is:

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

You're Lying graphicWhen I was 23 years old, I left Connecticut for Boston for what should have been an amazing experience. I had been recently hired to be a researcher for the Boston Globe’s award-winning investigative team, a dream come true for a young journalist. Over the next two years, however, depression slowly ruined me, although many people close to me never knew. I wrote about it for the Courant years later, when my mind was clear enough to make sense of it. Here’s an excerpt from that article:

“It was a rainy February night in 1997 when it became apparent that the depression was no longer a temporary emotion, but a disease that had invaded every part of my life. I had gotten into my car after work and cried all the way home. I can’t remember why. But I remember feeling like I was choking, like every nerve in my body was numb, like someone was squeezing my heart and everything good inside of me had been twisted around. I remember feeling hopeless.

“I knew then that this thing eating away at me would not just go away. For a long time, I was convinced it would. I believed that the admirable traits I inherited from those before me, like frankness and humor, would overpower this flaw.

“But days and months had blurred into more than a year. Fatigue had seeped into my bones and smiling became an effort — a false statement. I was tired all day and couldn’t sleep at night. I called into work sick with a flu I didn’t have. I pried myself off the sheets to make it in other days. My memory was deteriorating. I could listen to someone talk at length and not absorb a single word. I have no detailed recollection of certain events.

“Still, I thought the depression was situational. I was having a rough time at work, feeling beat-up emotionally and unappreciated. With my career being such a significant part of my identity, I felt shaken and unsure of my talents and abilities. Still, something inside of me was fighting back. I thought I could pull myself out of it.

“That February night, it was my mom who convinced me that this was bigger. That it was something that didn’t just belong to me — that I had inherited it. That it belonged to her and my grandmother before her. This was out of my control. ‘You are definitely depressed,’ she said. ‘Promise me you will see someone.’

“Six days later, I sat in a psychiatrist’s office, unsure of what to do exactly. Isn’t this a luxury for wealthy people? Or a necessity for people with real problems, like battered women? It was hard to justify needing this, being an otherwise perfectly healthy and successful 25-year-old. Yet, when I opened my mouth, a load of hurt poured out and the hour flew by.”

WhenReasonBreaks_CompTen years later, I was planning and drafting what would become When Reason Breaks, my debut novel about depression, attempted suicide, and the life and work of Emily Dickinson that releases February 10. While writing, I knew some readers would wonder why either of the two main characters–Emily Delgado and Elizabeth Davis–would want to kill herself. Nothing tragic happened to either of them. To some readers, none of their problems will be seen as good enough reasons to attempt suicide. They’ll want a big reveal moment: “Oh, she was (fill in the blank with a horrible experience). No wonder she’s depressed and suicidal. That’s a legitimate reason.”

When I was depressed, I didn’t think I had a right to be because, like my characters, nothing tragic had happened to me. I wanted to have a significant event, something I could point to and say, “Ah-ha, that’s the reason. If I address this one, obvious, horrible thing that happened to me, then I’ll be okay.” But I didn’t have that thing. Many depressed people don’t. And with the absence of something obviously wrong in my life, I pushed through the days for far too long, thinking what some people might think about my characters: my problems weren’t significant enough.

This kind of thinking can lead to tragedy because the depression goes untreated, which I’ve discovered happens often in the Latin@ community.

National health organizations report that Latin@s are at higher risk for depression than other minorities. Women experience major depression more often than men, and of students in grades 9-12, significantly more Latinas attempted suicide than their non-Latina peers. Yet, most Latin@s with mental health problems go untreated. A lack of access to affordable services and the stigma attached to mental illnesses are cited as barriers to treatment. Untreated depression can lead to suicide, which is the third leading cause of death for all people aged 15-24.

These statistics got me thinking about depression in young adult fiction, and I realized that in the books I’ve read, white characters are more likely to land on a psychiatrist’s couch. Most of the Latin@ characters in novels I’ve read fight through mild to severe depression without medical help, or they are somehow detained, in a treatment facility or group home, and the therapy is required. In When Reason Breaks, one of the main characters visits a doctor and gets medication, but doesn’t take it. She finally accepts real help after her suicide attempt.

As the Latin@ population continues to grow, I hope barriers are removed so that more Latin@s seek treatment for mental illnesses. I also hope more YA writers tackle the variety of mental illnesses and show characters of color getting help at some point instead of suffering through their pain. Maybe more teens will see themselves in these books and understand that their problems are significant enough, that they don’t need a “real reason” to feel the way they do, because in reality, depression is the real reason.

 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

National Hopeline Network: 1-800-442-4673

Suggested by book lovers online, here are some titles with Latin@ characters who struggle with different levels of depression.

15798660 20702546 7661718 6234369 2815261 7990393 554037 6413788 12000020 722710 722711 16043528 19542841 364640 11534332

Celebrating Hispanic Authors: Spotlight on Jenny Torres Sanchez

In an effort to celebrate Hispanic authors beyond National Hispanic Heritage month, I plan to read and post about YA novels written by Latino/as. You may also want to check out Latina Book ClubVamos a Leer, and The Hispanic Reader.

And, today’s YA author in the spotlight is: Jenny Torres Sanchez. Enjoy!

AUTHOR: (information comes directly from the author’s website and her author page on Amazon.com.)

Before writing her debut novel, THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE, Jenny Torres Sanchez studied English at the University of Central Florida and taught high school for several years in the Orange County school system. Her students were some of the coolest, funniest, strangest, and most eclectic people she’s ever met. She’s grateful to have taught every single one of them and credits them for inspiring her to write YA. Jenny also writes short stories–many of which rooted in her Hispanic culture. She currently writes full-time and lives in Florida with her husband and children.

In addition to writing, she likes to paint, take pictures, and listen to music. Her taste ranges from The Smiths to Violent Femmes, to the Beastie Boys, to Lila Downs, to a band called Los Tigres del Norte.

YA NOVEL: THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Charlie is handed a crappy senior year. Despite losing thirty pounds over the summer, he still gets called “Chunks” Grisner. What’s worse, he has to share a locker with the biggest Lord of the Rings freak his school has ever seen. He also can’t figure out whether Charlotte VanderKleaton, the beautiful strawberry lip-glossed new girl, likes him the way he likes her. Oh, and then there’s his mom. She’s disappeared–again–and his dad won’t talk about it.

Somewhere between the madness, Charlie can at least find comfort in his one and only talent that just might get him out of this life-sucking place. But will he be able to  hold his head above water in the meantime?

MY TWO CENTS: Charlie is a high school senior who is returning to school after having shed thirty pounds but few of his social insecurities. He has a hip best friend, a crush on the hot new girl (who is not good enough for him, in my opinion), a mom who is mentally unstable,  a distant dad who is having an affair, and a caring photography teacher who helps Charlie develop his talent and find something good about himself. He also has an eating disorder. He binges and purges in an effort to feel better during highly emotional moments. There’s a lot going on in the novel, but Sanchez does a good job of blending the issues and capturing a struggling male teen’s voice. If anything, I wanted more of the bulimia issue. It’s rare to see a male MC in a YA novel with an eating disorder; it’s worth exploring even more.

TEACHING TIPS: English teachers could obviously pursue themes, characterization, and external and internal conflicts, but this novel also has great cross-curricular potential. An art teacher wouldn’t have to read the entire novel with a class, but could pull out and explore the chapters that deal with Charlie’s photography and how it helps him to address what’s going on in his life. Students could create a similar photography project. Also, health teachers could use parts of the novel to address eating disorders, bulimia in this case. Mixing non-fiction with fiction is a good way to engage students in such topics and fits right into the Common Core State Standards.

LEXILE: N/A

LINKS for more information: Find THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE on Amazon.comBarnes and Noble.comIndieBound.org,  and Goodreads.

Jenny Torres Sanchez also has a new novel being released soon, on May 28, 2013, called DEATH, DICKINSON, AND THE DEMENTED LIFE OF FRENCHIE GARCIA. I’ll be sure to check this one out!

Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia

More Diversity Needed in Children’s Literature

Last week, the New York Times published an article about the fact that Latino students don’t often see themselves in books. This sparked lots of discussion, with a few responses printed days later. Then, earlier today, NBC News reported that according to Census data white people will no longer be the majority in the U.S. by 2043.

Times they are a-changing. This is not “news” in the sense that these projections have been made before, but these facts about our country’s changing population have been getting more attention because of the large number of non-white voters who participated in the presidential election. Let’s focus on the reading issue…

When it comes to reading, there are some near-certainties. Children who are read to from birth to age 3 enter preschool with an advantage. Children who attend organized preschool have an advantage. By kindergarten, the literacy gap–even though students cannot yet read themselves–already exists. If a child is not reading on grade level by the third grade, he or she could lag in school forever. Yes, forever. I teach reading in high school, so obviously I believe it’s never too late to improve one’s reading skills. Still, while my students make gains, other students are–you guessed it–making gains, too.

With our changing population, parents, teachers, writers, and the publishing industry have a lot to consider. Parents need to read to their children every day. All subject teachers must see themselves as reading teachers and must make conscious choices in terms of reading material. And, ultimately, I hope more books by and about Latinos are published.

I believe that a child should read widely, not just about one’s own race or culture, but I also think it’s important that a child “see” himself (whether it’s because of race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or other personal experiences) in a book. Why? Because we live in a diverse society, and our diversity should be represented in the books we read.

Since the recent news was about Latinos, I’m going to focus on that piece. To read book after book with only white characters is simply unrealistic when, in 30 years, the majority of Americans will be non-white. With the growth of the Hispanic community, how strange would it be for children to grow up reading books that do not have Hispanic protagonists or supporting characters? How strange would it be to hardly ever read a novel written by a Latino/a? More books by and about Hispanics would be a great thing.

I also think people need to be more aware of and support current Hispanic writers. There are lots of great MG and YA books out there already! Check out this mega list. Other great places to check out are the Latina Book Club, the Hispanic Reader, and Vamos a Leer.

Anthologies often include stories from a few of the greats–Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros, and Gary Soto, to name a few. They are amazing writers, all among my favorites, but teachers and librarians need to venture beyond these go-to authors and give props to other Hispanic writers by using their books in class or offering them to students regularly as independent reading options. My school did this exact thing recently.

Matt de la Peña visits Hall High School in West Hartford, CT, on Dec. 7.

Matt de la Peña visits Hall High School in West Hartford, CT, on Dec. 7.

Matt de la Peña came to my high school on Dec. 7. He talked to all 9th graders (not just Latinos) in the auditorium and then ran smaller sessions that were mixed in terms of grade (9-12) and race. In preparation for his visit, the school library ordered multiple copies of his novels: BALL DON’T LIE, MEXICAN WHITEBOY, WE WERE HERE, and I WILL SAVE YOU. Our students’ comments during and after his visit proved that Matt appealed to ALL of our students.

Comments from my Latino students were interesting, though. More than one asked me if he was rich. I said he has two college degrees and four published YA novels, with a fifth on the way. One was made into a movie. Is he rich? I don’t know, but he is successful, in my opinion. Another boy, who sat through both of the small sessions and talked to Matt afterward lost the book that was signed for him. He thinks someone stole it. I found him one day roaming the halls after school looking for it. The next day he said, “It’s weird, but I kind of miss him. He was cool.”

I know my students well enough to know that they saw themselves in Matt: a young Mexican-American who was a reluctant reader and the first in his family to go to college. They saw themselves in his characters and then met the author and made a connection.

It was an experience they won’t soon forget, and one that proves it is important for Latinos to see themselves in the books they read and names like theirs on the spines.