I first came to know Laura back in May, when her novel Red Glass was the featured title at readergirlz. Now Bildungsroman is a stop on Laura's blog tour.
Welcome, Laura! While writing your new YA novel, The Indigo Notebook, you drew from your personal experiences with adoption, travel, and family. How much of the story changed and evolved as you traveled, and what remained a constant from the first draft until the published version?
Actually, most of the basic plot, characters, and relationships stayed constant throughout all the drafts for this book. One thing that changed was the role of Wendell's parents (his adoptive ones) in the storyline of his search for his birth parents. In this final version, his adoptive parents play a bigger role than originally planned. I think I ended up doing this because as I wrote the story, I was in the process of adopting my son. As a result, I could more vividly imagine how Wendell's parents might feel about his journey to Ecuador. In the early stages of planning the novel, I honestly didn't think too much about them, since I was wrapped up in Wendell's and his birth family's point of view.
Along similar lines, the letters Wendell has written to his birth parents throughout his life, which Zeeta translates, were a later addition. As I wrote the story, I was going to adoption trainings and reading books on adoption. This gave me an understanding of the range of feelings kids and teens can have about their adoption, and how much these feelings can change from year to year, even day to day. My brother was adopted from Korea, so I already had some perspective on the topic, but the adoption research helped me see the bigger picture. I thought Wendell's letters would be a good way to capture these changing and often conflicting emotions.
How old is your son now?
My son is now 2 and a half, and he's beautiful, with big brown eyes and wild, curly locks. He's really musical, and loves jamming on his ukulele - he often belts out hardcore versions of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Jingle Bells, shaking his crazy curls around, and ending with an enthusiastic, "Mommy! Me rock star!" (except it sounds like "Mommy! Me wock taw!") I could go on and on about how amazing he is...
Does he already know of his adoption? If not, when will you tell him about it?
We do mention his adoption in our everyday conversations. We read books about Guatemala and talk about how he's from there, what he ate there, who he lived with there. We look at photos of him with his foster family in Guatemala (a big, wonderful, extended family of three generations of women who showered our son with affection for the first 8 months of his life). We're still in touch with these women, and I'm grateful for this link to his roots.
Oh, that's fantastic. Now let's talk about the women of in book: Zeeta, the keeper of the notebook, is a multilingual 15-year-old who has spent her entire life traveling the world with her free-spirited mother. I didn't even leave my home state until I was 17! Had you traveled very much by Zeeta's age?
By the time I was fifteen, I'd traveled a bit around the U.S. and spent a few weeks in Europe - nothing too wild. I managed to indulge my wanderlust in my neighborhood to some extent, by exploring the ruins of old farm houses in the woods and fields outside my Maryland subdivision. When I got my license the day I turned sixteen, and bought a tiny used Toyota with money I'd saved up, I drove to nearby places that I considered intriguing or off the beaten track—like the river flowing past a nearby historic mill town. I think that travel has more to do with an adventurous state of mind than actual distance covered.
I always remember a strange assignment given to me by a math teacher in high school, who was trying to explain the concept of paradigm shifts. (I guess she wanted us to understand that sometimes it takes a paradigm shift to solve a math problem.) She asked us to write an example of a paradigm shift on a piece of paper. I wrote that the paradigm of most of my classmates was that they'd graduate, go to college, get jobs, get married, and have kids, never leaving the tri-state area except for little vacations here and there. I remember feeling passionate when I described the different paradigm I wanted to have for my life. I wrote that after I graduated, I wanted to explore the world, live in different countries, and learn new languages. (Which is what I did.) From the reader mail I've gotten about my first two books, it seems that lots of kids and teens have this urge to travel and explore the world, too.
As an adult, have you ever returned to places you visited as a kid or teenager? Did you find they had changed, for better or worse? And how had you had changed?
For me, summer vacations to Ocean City, Maryland were *pure magic* -- the boardwalk, funnel cake, soft serve vanilla ice cream with rainbow sprinkles, fresh-squeezed lemonade… I remember waking up before dawn in my grandparents' mobile home (which, to me, was totally glamorous) because I was so excited for the day to start.
On a trip to Ocean City years later, as an adult, I felt more judgmental - noticing how tacky the T-shirt shops were, how un-natural the ocean experience was with the beach jam-packed with sunbathers, how funnel cake followed by soft serve ice cream is a recipe for a stomach ache...
That said, I usually try to approach places on my travels with a fresh mind, letting myself soak up the magic and adventure of a new place, being non-judgmental and open to the thrill of it (which isn't always easy, especially when things go awry...)
Zeeta's mother, Layla, is fond of quoting Rumi. What is one of your favorite Rumi ruminations?
You've revealed that there will be three books in the series: The Indigo Notebook, The Ruby Notebook, and The Jade Notebook. Will Zeeta be the protagonist in all three volumes? Where will the stories take place?
Yes, Zeeta is the protagonist in all three books. There's an overarching storyline, but each book will stand alone as well (at least, that's my intention!) Each book is set in a different country. The Ruby Notebook (fall 2010 release) is in southern France (where I spent my junior year of college living with a French family). The Jade Notebook (fall 2011 release) is set in a coastal town in Oaxaca, Mexico (one of my favorite vacation spots, which I discovered while living in the mountains of Oaxaca.) I'm in the midst of revising The Ruby Notebook now, and jotting down notes about The Jade Notebook...under tight deadlines. Wish me luck!
Good luck! Commonalities in your stories include travel, indigenous people, multiple languages, heritage, identity, and reconnecting with relatives. Such themes were introduced in your first book for young readers, What the Moon Saw. What do you have in common with the protagonist, Clara Luna?
I think there's a lot of restlessness inside me, like Clara. I'm always asking myself questions about who I am, what's truly meaningful, how to delve deep beneath the surface of things. Like Clara, I tend to get an interesting perspective on these questions when I travel. The times I've spent in indigenous Oaxacan villages have been especially fruitful for me… although I'm still far away from having it all figured out!
Your second novel, Red Glass, was your first published work for teens. When you first set pen to paper - or hands to keyboard - did you intend to write something for a slightly older audience, or did it just happen that way?
I didn't set out to write for an older audience in Red Glass, but it turned out that way. I think it had to do with the subject matter, which resonates more with older readers. The main storyline explores Sophie's journey from a fearful, lonely person to a courageous person who risks forging connections with those she loves. In the secondary characters' back stories, though, there are peripheral issues of genocide, torture, and political imprisonment. I think older readers have a better context for understanding these issues.
How do you feel your writing (style, habits, routines) changed between your first and your second novels?
Red Glass took me less time to write than What the Moon Saw (about three years as opposed to five years). Since What the Moon Saw was my first book, I made plenty of mistakes in early drafts, especially with voice, and I learned a lot through trial and error. I did dozens of revisions for that book. With Red Glass, I was able to trust my instincts and the voices I heard, which resulted in fewer revisions (although they still numbered in the double digits!)
I mostly write the actual manuscripts on my computer, but I do simultaneously fill spiral notebooks with notes and reflections about my books-in-progress.
Your next book for young readers, Star in the Forest, was inspired by a very special reader. How did you come to know her, and how much of her real life made it into the book? Have you two kept in touch, and will she get a chance to read it before it comes out in spring 2010?
This reader is the niece of a close friend of mine. She was twelve years old at the time I started the book, a year older than the main character, Zitlally. Like Zitlally, she's an undocumented immigrant whose parents brought her to Colorado from Mexico at a very young age. This reader's father had also recently been deported to Mexico, which affected the family dynamics with her mother and siblings and impacted her school and social life. The reader's family, like many immigrant families, and like the family in Star in the Forest, is comprised of a mix of documented and undocumented children. This reader lives in a nearby trailer park, where I worked several years ago doing home visits with Spanish-speaking families for Early Head Start.
This girl and I do keep in touch through her aunt, and they both come to some of my book events around town. If I can wrangle up some more advanced review copies, I'll pass them on to her and her aunt, who helped me a lot during the revision process, and who is a writer herself.
Speaking of real life, you assisted your friend Maria Virginia Farinango with her memoir, The Queen of Water, which is due out in spring 2011. Were you part mentor, part editor?
Telling Maria's story (of her indigenous girlhood in the Ecuadorian Andes) was a long and interesting process. Maria and I met frequently for over a year, starting in 2005, to do hundreds of hours of storytelling and interview sessions. It was emotional for both of us, and involved lots of laughing and crying and hugging. It was especially cathartic for her to talk about the more painful parts of her life - she felt as though a weight was being lifted as she told her story.
Maria is a talented storyteller, and gave me fabulous scenes complete with dialogue, humor, imagery, irony, themes, etc. After we discussed each episode in her life, I transcribed and translated it. (We almost always speak in Spanish together.) Then I fleshed out the scenes with more details, setting, character description, et cetera, while continually consulting her. We'd go over each scene again and again, in greater detail. It was TONS of work! It's lucky we get along so well - I'd never have been able to work so intensely for so long with someone I didn't adore as much as Maria. Writing this book together has made us very close friends.
After we had hundreds of pages of scenes, we had to decide on what the themes would be (the main one is her search for identity). We cut out the scenes that weren't relevant or didn't move the story along. We probably cut about 75% of the scenes - quite a heart-breaking task! Then I did revisions based on feedback from my writer buddies, frequently consulting with Maria on the details. Finally, in 2011-- six years after we began-- the book will be published. Maria and I are both over the moon about it! This is the realization of a life-long dream for Maria, and I feel honored to be part of it.
What are your ten favorite books?
I have hundreds of favorites, but here's a sampling!
Tuck Everlasting (Babbit)
The English Patient (Ondaatje)
A Wrinkle in Time (L'Engle)
The Joy Luck Club (Tan)
The Little Prince (St. Exupery)
The Wind-up Bird Chronicles (Murakami)
Tales of Burning Love (Erdrich)
Animal Dreams (Kingsolver)
Harriet the Spy (Fitzhugh)
Where the Wild Things Are (Sendak)
Thanks for these awesome interview questions, Little Willow! It's been a joy!
Thank you for speaking with me!
September 8th: Marjolein Book Blog
September 27th/28th: Through the Tollbooth
October 6th: Becky's Book Reviews
October 12th-16th: Random Buzzers
October 12th: Charlotte's Library
October 13th: Guest post at readergirlz
October 14th: Cover Stories post for Melissa Walker
October 15th and 16th: Athena's YA Book Review
October 19th: The Writing Bug
October 21st: YA Authors Café
October 28th: Interview with Little Willow at Bildungsroman
Month of November: The Ultimate YA Reading Group
Visit Laura's website and blog.