It is my pleasure to have here today a very special Latino young writer. Her name is Reyna Grande and she is the author of the acclaimed novel, Across a Hundred Mountains, winner of the 2007 American Book Award. Her next book, titled Dancing With Butterflies, will be coming out later this year.
Thanks for being here today, Reyna.
Your novel, Across a Hundred Mountains, has won awards and garnered excellent reviews. Did you expect such acclaim when you first started writing the novel?
Honestly, I didn’t really know what to expect. It was my first book, and i didn’t know it would be published. I didn’t even know what Publisher’s Weekly was. Now I know all about book reviewers, and sometimes I wish I didn’t. It adds too much pressure.
Across a Hundred Mountains deals with the loss of a father, while your upcoming novel, Dancing With Butterflies, focuses on the unhappiness that comes from the loss of a mother. Is the theme of loss recurrent in your work? What other themes obssess you?
Loss is one of the themes I write about because I experienced the loss of a mother and father when my parents left me in Mexico when they came to work in the U.S. I don’t think I’m obsessed with anything. I just write about what is important to me or interests me. I like to write about things specific to my culture, as well.
What’s a typical writing day for you? How long does it take you to finish a book?
Every day is different for me, but in general this is how I write 1) when my one year old daughter takes a nap 2) late at night (like right now it’s 3 am and everyone is sleeping 3) sometimes if I really can’t get my characters out of my head I have to take the kids to the sitter for a couple of hours 4) in airports and airplanes and hotel rooms when I’m traveling (which is often) 5) when I’m driving around L.A. and I’m stuck in traffic I write in my head.
You do a lot of school visits and read your work to young adults. What is their usual reaction and what do you think appeals to them from your work?
The usual reaction I get from students is that they are just happy to meet a real flesh and blood author. The latino students are happy to meet someone who LOOKS like them, who has experienced something similar to what they are going through and who writes about things they can relate to. I grew up reading books like Sweet Valley High and when I first read The House on Mango Street I was 19 years old and it impacted me so much because it was one of the first books I read where I could SEE myself/experiences in those pages…I think this is how students feel when they read Across a Hundred Mountains.
What advice would you give aspiring Latino novelists who are looking for a publisher?
I think first of all they need to work really hard in making their work the best that it can be. There’s a lot of competition out there, and we need to work extra hard in order to stand out. Just like with any other job, where you need to be twice as good. I also encourage aspiring writers to attend writer’s conferences because you need to meet other writers, both professional and non-professional, and everyone in the book business. It’s good to make connections.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
I want aspiring writers to remember that there’s always room for a good story, and to not give up. We are latinos. We are fighters. We don’t give up.