Archive for June 7th, 2009

6My special guest today is talented Sandra Rodriguez Barron, author of the award-winning, The Heiress of Water. Sandra was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions. Welcome, Sandra!

Your novel, The Heiress of Water, won the 2007 Best First Book Award at The International Latino Book Awards and has been a top book club selection and a Publisher’s Weekly ‘Top Pick’. Did you foresee such success when you started writing the novel?

Yes and no. I had to make huge sacrifices to enable my writing and study of writing, and so I hoped, from the very beginning, that success would come quickly. On the other hand, I know that distinguishing yourself in anyway as a writer is difficult and highly unlikely. So when I got these awards I was amazed and grateful, but I also felt relieved and validated.

Tell us a little about what made you decide to write this story. What was your inspiration for it?

First, personal rebellion: I find that Latin American culture can be shallow and inflexible in its expectations of girls and women. There is the emphasis on physical beauty, social status, marriage and family, but rarely on intellect, creativity, individuality and legacy. The mother figure in my novel (Alma Borrero Winters) isn’t remotely interested in any of these standard feminine values that her family demands that she embrace. Her intelligence is unappreciated and her passion for the science is treated as rebellion. The tragedy of the story is rooted in the moment when this character compromises her values and marries someone who is socially acceptable to her parents, thus allowing herself to be trapped in life that is contrary to the path suggested by her instincts. The consequences are devastating to the entire family, especially her daughter, Monica. I wanted to point out that there is a danger in making women fit into a cultural mold that doesn’t embrace their natural talents and intelligence. Second, I wanted to present a balanced argument to the reader in regard to Latin America’s class struggles by using the example of El Salvador’s civil war. I worked very hard to “walk the line” and to leave it up to the reader.

When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

I announced that I would become a writer at age seven. It’s amazing to me how long it took me to return to that early self-knowledge. I believe that most of us identify our life’s passion pretty early on. What happens in between, how we get lost, how we ignore who we are, is another story.

How long did it take you to write the novel? Are you a disciplined writer who writes everyday?

The Heiress of Water took me about a year and a half, working 5 to 8 hours a day. That was before I was a mom, and so now it’s a lot harder to get more than 5 hours of uninterrupted time to write. Right now I’m deep into a novel, and yes, I write or revise every week day between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Still, my family life is ever-changing, and I teach writing sporadically. I am forced to be flexible.

Yours was a first-time author’s success story. Can you tell us how you searched for an agent/publisher and how long the editing and publishing process took?

Mine was a “textbook” scenario. I worked it four ways: One, I bought a copy of The Writer’s Market Guide to Agents. I read it cover to cover, placing sticky notes on the agents that seemed like they could be a match for my book. Two, I made a list of agents from the acknowledgement pages of novels that seemed to be aimed at a similar audience. Three, I asked former professors if I could use their names in my query letters. I began to send the letters out in alphabetical order. The rejections and“almost acceptance” letters began to dribble in. Then the fourth method was the winner: I discovered a web newsletter, “Latinidad”, aimed at Latino writers (published by the phenomenally helpful and wise Marcela Landres). There were several publishers and agents listed as “seeking Latino writers.” I wrote to one of them, and that became my agent, Julie Castiglia of Castiglia Literary Agency.

What are you working on now?

A novel due out in June of 2010. The working title is The Islanders but that could change. It’s about five siblings who were once abandoned as babies on a motor boat off the coast of post-hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico in 1979. Now thirty, one of them has an illness that is causing him to remember bits of their lost, pre-adoptive childhood. Despite fierce opposition from his siblings, he launches a search for his biological origins. For him, the search is a source of hope and healing; and a final chance to win back the love of the woman he once hurt. For his siblings, remembering is a far darker journey; one that will threaten their carefully-constructed sense of family and shatter what they believe about who they are and how they ended up on that boat.


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