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!
We are beyond excited for the very first Musa book to be out in the world. A contemporary adventure based in Maya mythology, THE STORM RUNNER centers on Zane Obispo, a young boy who is constantly made fun of for his limp and walking cane, but whose life is completely changed when a twin-engine plane crashes into a dormant volcano in his backyard and introduces a mysterious girl named Brooks. Brooks tells him that the volcano is actually a centuries-old prison for the Maya god of death, whose destiny is directly tied to Zane's.
Brooks opens his eyes to the truth: magic, monsters, and gods are real, and Zane is at the center of an ancient prophecy that could mean the destruction of the world!
Dun dun DUN!!
No work of art would be complete without its Musa: Jennifer (J.C.) Cervantes! Jen is a children’s author who has earned multiple awards and recognitions, including the New Mexico Book Award, Zia Book Award, and was named a New Voices Pick by the American Booksellers Association for her first book Tortilla Sun. A champion of the underdog and believer in magic, Jen is the perfect Musa to bring THE STORM RUNNER to life.
Without further ado here is Jen!
You are the first Latinx writer in the Rick Riordan Present’s (Disney Hyperion) series. Why is it important to you that the Meso-American pantheon be represented in this series?
The mythologies kids learn about these days are predominantly Greek and Roman and sometimes, Norse. We are a country of immense diversity with so many cultures’ mythologies that are rich and varied. I want kids with ties to Mesoamerica/Mexico to know they have a pantheon of Maya gods, Aztec gods, Toltec gods etc. with amazing tales and histories. And kids without those ties? I want them to share in the awe of these stories and myths, to experience a new world.
Which is your favorite god or goddess in this pantheon and why?
Not a fair question because there are so many to love, but I’d have to say Ixkakaw because she’s the goddess of chocolate and who doesn’t LOVE chocolate?
What was your inspiration to write a main character with a disability? What sort of research did you have to do?
When I was a girl I was diagnosed with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. It was common to be screened at school and I can so clearly remember walking out of the nurse’s office thinking that kids could see what I believed was a “deformity.” It was a powerful feeling, that sense of being different, of not belonging. A feeling I never forgot, which is why I dedicated this book to those who don’t feel like they belong. I also remember the stories my grandfather told me about his life with polio--how his legs were too skinny to be strong, how kids made fun of him, how he longed to play sports. It was important to me that Zane’s disability not define him, that I be mindful of the visibility and invisibility of his experiences and his feeling that he didn’t belong. So, I drew on personal experiences/accounts with people/children I know. I read a lot and I also worked closely with a special education scholar who has dedicated her life to teaching and working with kids with disabilities. She read the manuscript as well to ensure I remained mindful and aware of my character and his experience in an authentic way.
Is there a character that you didn’t like to write? If so, why?
I loved writing them all. Although, the demon runners with their slimy skin, foaming mouths, curved yellow claws, and hairy-patched bodies were at times spine-chilling.
Do you have any hidden messages in The Storm Runner that fans should look out for?
I have a few Easter eggs for sure
What is your biggest hope for The Storm Runner?
That it finds the hearts that need it most.
What is your favorite sentence in The Storm Runner?
Can I have two?
A booming voice came over a loudspeaker in the ceiling: “New soul on level three. Thinks he’s Shakespeare. Only speaks in iambic pentameter and I’m getting ready to smash in his face.
Destiny comes knocking, and if you don't open the door, she will come in through the window.
What was the scariest and best part about working with your own culture?
Scariest was wanting to get it “right” and worried I’d be judged for getting it “wrong.”
Best: I connected to some wonderful childhood memories of my grandmother and family.
If we wanted to try making delicious authentic hot chocolate at home what do you recommend?
You can follow a basic recipe but for me the real trick is the cayenne pepper and vanilla :)
Are you and Rick BFFs now?
Rick is way too cool for a BFF unless of course you’re Rosie (seen below) and then he’s all over it :)
Can you tell us a little about how you were able to land your deal?
My agent sent me a well-timed email as soon as Disney sent out the Rick Riordan Presents announcement. I happened to have a story in mind that had been lingering in the vault. So, I polished the first three chapters and wrote a synopsis. After my agent submitted I thought I’d be waiting on a response forever, but we got a call the next day!
What has it been like working with Rick Riordan and his imprint RRP?
Incredibly awesome! Everyone at DH/RRP has been so genuine, down to earth, and kind. I couldn’t ask for a better more supportive team. The first time I met Rick was in NYC right before we were going to go on stage at BEA. Intimidating? Pretty much, but he was so easy going and made the entire experience so chill which was good because I was a nervous wreck.
What advice would you give other Latinx aspiring fantasy writers?
Begin with what you know, what you grew up with. Tap into the magic that is so prevalent in our cultures and let that carry you through the story. Don’t let anyone tell you that your experience doesn’t matter or isn’t ______ enough (fill in the blank) or doesn’t align with the “norm.” Read loads of books, especially diverse titles, support diverse writers. Find a mentor, go to conferences as your budget allows, join fantasy writer groups, follow blogs. Have fun, throw away the rules on those early drafts, and write the story your heart longs to tell. Be authentic. And above all honor the kids you write for. They are smart and funny and so eager to see themselves and their lives reflected in the pages of books.
If you could turn one character into a real life human to go to dinner with, which would it be and why?
Ixtab: because she dresses like a boss, and is sassy, snarky and salty all at once. Pretty much everything I’m not. Ha!
What are you working on now? What’s next?
I just finished the sequel to The Storm Runner, The Fire Keeper which comes out Sept. 2019. And there’s some other exciting news that I hope I can share soon!
What does it mean to be part of Las Musas?
I am so thrilled to be a part of a cohesive supportive group with the mission to lift one another up and that “celebrates the diversity of voice, experience, and power in our communities.” Abrazos :)
Learn more about The Storm Runner and snag your copy here!