Author Caridad Ferrer's third YA novel When the Stars Go Blue comes out Nov 23. I am really looking forward to it, even more so after reading this sneak peek.
The author was kind enough to answer three question. In case you missed it More Latino authors Please/necesitamos mas authores Latinos
1. What did you think of Mayra Lazara Dole's article?
I think that her opening statement, which respect to how diverse and rich the Latino diaspora is, was especially powerful. Breaking it down into the multiple choice question further illuminated how easy it is for non-Latinos to believe that we all are the same. Which is why the fact that there are traditions and events that many of us do share in common, i.e., like quinceañeras, tends to further muddy the waters and leads to so many misconceptions.
An issue that proved to be major problem with the publication of my first novel, Adiós to My Old Life. In the story, I highlighted several different Latino cultures and I was very careful when writing, to make sure I made the dialects distinctive, even if it was in small slang phrases--mind you, it's not as if I was obvious about it, saying, "Oh, he said in his Argentine slang..." It was more a matter of I knew the distinction was there and anyone from that particular culture who happened to read the book would see the distinctions. I was extremely proud of that work.
So imagine my surprise when I received my final author copies and discovered that the vast majority of my painstakingly applied terminology and slang had been replaced by high school textbook Spanish phrases by an overeager proofreader at the final stage before printing. This was a proofreader whose primary task was to find little mistakes—punctuation, perhaps a dropped word or missing letter. And most importantly, if they had any questions to which they didn't know the answer, they were supposed to convey them to the editor who would then pass them on to me.
In other words, the manuscript the proofreader received was the *final* version as far as I—as author—was concerned. I knew I wouldn't be seeing it again until it was in finished form. Typically, if a proofreader sees so many issues that it would constitute a major change, it's definitely supposed to be put back in front of the editor and author. They're not supposed to make such large, sweeping wholesale changes without approval and trust me, I didn't approve them.
While it stung, yes, that all my carefully used Spanish was what was affected, the situation as a whole falls under the auspices of something that should never have happened, regardless of what language the changes were in.
Going back to Mayra's article, I think for me, what's important to take away from it, is the idea that we must continue to highlight how we're both individuals with respect to our distinct cultures, yet if we're writing from an American point of view (which I often do, as a first generation Cuban-American), where our culture is but an accent, that publishing professionals not assume that cultural references are going to thoroughly permeate the whole.
2. Congratulations you are one of the chosen few. This year you were one of 16 Latino authors to write a MG/YA book. Why do you think this number is still so small?
Publishing is inherently an extremely conservative business. They want the sure thing. I think with the difficulties publishing is currently experiencing any book published has to be good, going in. And I think if you're publishing from outside the current mainstream (meaning what's popular within the market), you must be that much better. Meaning that it's likely that you're going to be able to draw Hispanic/Latino kids to read books about vampires or fallen angels or whatever the current trend is, but it's going to be a harder sell to draw a non-Hispanic/Latino to read a book with multicultural characters unless you show them how it relates to their lives.
That has always been the greatest compliment I've received on my writing—when I have readers send me letters that say, "I never thought I would have anything in common with a Cuban-American teenager, but she was just like me!" We have to make an effort to reach out not only to our obvious audience, but to the unexpected audience. We have to show them they really want us, even if they don't yet know it.
3. I've always thought about the lack of Latino voices in children's literature but not the void in culture distinctions. Why are there so many quinceanera novels? I loved Mayra Lazara Dole's YA novel Down to the Bone. Thankfully the only coming out story featuring a Latina teen is a great one.
What will it take for the book industry to embrace more stories by Latino authors?
I think there are so many quinceañera novels because it's one of the few traditions our cultures tend to have in common. One of the few things that the outside world can look at and declare as distinctly Hispanic/Latina (never mind that there are probably as many variations on how it's celebrated as there are cultures that celebrate it). I think publishers want what they see as "exotic" but they want it packaged in something neat and tidy and that they can relate to.
To start breaking it down into the subtleties of individual customs and language variations is making things more complicated than most publishers believe the average reader tends to want. I liken it to the Jewish culture. For most people, Jewish=lox, cream cheese, bagels, knishes, and Yiddish phrases. Yet all of these things are actually distinct to the Ashkenazic Jewish traditions which originated in Eastern Europe. Most people don't realize that there's a a whole world of variation within the Jewish culture, starting with the Sephardic traditions which are Mediterranean/North African in origins-- (that there are even Cuban Jews, for example). That while Hebrew is a universal language for holy services, there are variations in pronunciation based on which traditions you follow and what country you're from. That the foods of the Sephardim include a lot of olive oil and oranges and figs and foods that are more commonly found in that part of the world. In other words, a major similarity, but many, many differences. I think that can be said for any culture, really. Look at the U.S. as a whole. I just find it frustrating that everyone presumes that Hispanic/Latina can only mean one thing and that's what I work the hardest to change.
As far as what it's going to take for the book industry to embrace more stories? I think for us to continue writing them, with all their distinctions and quirks and unique qualities. To not let ourselves be sucked into the idea of writing a Hispanic/Latino book, per se, but write the books that speak to us, that we must write. Passion and excellence on the page wins out. At least, that's what I have to believe.