We are thrilled to introduce you to our second official Las Musas launch - ANA MARIA REYES DOES NOT LIVE IN A CASTLE by Hilda Burgos. Las Musas asked Hilda about her middle grade novel out this week (Tu Books) which received stars from Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal and has been called "A Latina Little Women with a modern Washington Heights flair" by Julia Alvarez.
First, you need to know that...
Her last name may mean kings, but Ana María Reyes REALLY does not live in a castle. Rather, she's stuck in a tiny apartment with two parents (way too lovey-dovey), three sisters (way too dramatic), everyone's friends (way too often), and a piano (which she never gets to practice). And when her parents announce a new baby is coming, that means they'll have even less time for Ana María.
Pobre Ana Maria!!
Then she hears about the Eleanor School, New York City's best private academy. If Ana María can win a scholarship, she'll be able to get out of her Washington Heights neighborhood school and achieve the education she's longed for. To stand out, she'll need to nail her piano piece at the upcoming city showcase, which means she has to practice through her sisters' hijinks, the neighbors' visits, a family trip to the Dominican Republic . . . right up until the baby's birth! But some new friends and honest conversations help her figure out what truly matters, and know that she can succeed no matter what. Ana María Reyes may not be royal, but she's certain to come out on top.
What inspired you to write a character like Ana Maria?
As a child, I loved school and I loved to read. While I enjoyed reading about kids who were different from me, I also longed to connect with some characters. Not once did I read about a kid like me: bilingual, living in a small apartment with a large family, with many extended family members in another country. So, I decided to create that character myself.
The many places in this book seem like they are almost characters in the book - the not castle, the prep school, the DR… Why were these different spaces important to write?
I think we’re shaped by a lot of things, including our experiences and the places where we have those experiences. Like Ana María, I grew up in an apartment in Washington Heights. When I was ten years old, I visited the Dominican Republic for the first time, and I was surprised by how different it was from everything I had known until that point. I attended a small private school for two years in middle school and, although the school was within walking distance from my home, it seemed like a different world. I wanted Ana María to also experience some of the places that I visited, and to learn and grow from them, as I believe that I did too.
How does NYC act as a character in the story?
NYC has many different neighborhoods with people whose lives are so different from one another. Ana María complains about living in a small apartment in Washington Heights while her best friend lives in a big house in the nearby and much wealthier neighborhood of Riverdale. She and her family ride public transportation everywhere; the NYC subway system is a character in itself! And then there’s the fact that Washington Heights is a home away from home for her parents, and a place where Ana María and her sisters are surrounded by Dominican culture and the Spanish language even though they have never been outside of the US. This book would not have been the same if it had been set in a different location.
If you could go back and change one part of the story, what would it be?
This is a pretty dangerous question, because every time I read the book I made more changes, until I just had to stop looking at it! Like most writers, I’ll probably never think anything I write is perfect. Nevertheless, at this point, I wouldn’t change anything about the storyline, but I might add more details to my Dominican Republic scenes. I recently read Pablo Cartaya’s Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish, and I really liked his vivid descriptions of Puerto Rico. As I read Cartaya’s descriptions, I thought that, if I were still editing my book, I would go back and see where I could paint a clearer picture of the DR.
What does a typical day of writing look like for you?
Since I have a full time job I write when I can, and I don’t really have a typical writing day. Mostly I write on weekends, and also some evenings. I think about what I’m going to write as I do other things, like walk my dog, do laundry, cook, load the dishwasher, etc. Then, when I have gathered up enough for a scene or a chapter, I sit down and put it on paper.
What message do you hope Ana María sends her readers?
That family and friendships are more important than material possessions, and that our choices can make a big difference in our lives and the lives of others.
Do you play an instrument like Ana María? What music do you love to play or listen to?
Although I haven’t played the piano in a while, I took lessons for many years as a child, and I played mostly classical music. As I got older, I also played ragtime and jazz, which was challenging and rhythmic, and so much fun to play. I enjoy listening to many styles of music, especially Latin music, not only for its wonderful beats but also because so many Spanish language songs have beautifully poetic lyrics.
Ana María feels threatened by the expected baby sibling. Do you have siblings, and are they older, younger or both?
I have two older sisters and one younger sister. This book actually started out as a short story where three sisters worried about the possibility of getting a brother now that their mother was pregnant again. It was inspired by my experiences when I was six years old and my youngest sister was born. Now my sister insists that she’s my musa!
Here is a photo of me and my sisters celebrating my First Communion:
Sometimes authors like to put a little of themselves in their characters - did you do that with Ana Maria or any of the other characters in the book?
Yes. Ana María’s specific experiences are fictional, but she and I have a lot in common. She is the daughter of Dominican immigrants, has three sisters, is growing up in Washington Heights, and loves school. She also has a stay-at-home mom and a highly educated father. I put a little of myself in the character of Ana María’s dad, too. He is a legal services lawyer (while my dad is a scientist) and I worked for legal services as my first job out of law school.
What was the most difficult scene to write?
The opening scene. The first sentence in the book is the same first sentence I wrote in my very first draft, but just about everything else changed from that first chapter. I struggled with the opening because I wanted my first scene to be interesting and engaging so that readers would not want to put the book down. I hope I managed to do that successfully.
What scene came the easiest?
Most of the scenes that include a lot of dialogue. Once I had my characters’ personalities clear in my mind, the conversations between them seemed to flow naturally through my fingers.
Can you talk about what you’re working on next?
It’s still in a very early stage, so I can’t say too much. It is another MG book, completely unrelated to this book. My main character is also the daughter of Dominican immigrants … and, that’s all I’ll say for now.
Go out and get your copy of ANA MARIA DOES NOT LIVE IN A CASTLE today!