A native of San Diego, California, Jennifer Cervantes is the author of the soon-to-be-released middle grade novel, Tortilla Sun. Although Jennifer has a Spanish and Mexican heritage, she's also a blend of German, English, French and Irish. That's quite an interesting mix!
The author is here today to talk about her novel, the publishing process and the advantages and disadvantages of critique groups, among other things.
Thanks for this interview, Jennifer! Tell us, what was your inspiration for Tortilla Sun?
So many people, places, and experiences served as inspiration. But perhaps the biggest inspiration for getting started was my youngest daughter Jules who asked me to write her a short story about her favorite bear (who still sleeps in her bed). So I started writing this silly story about a selfless bear. As I wrote, I became addicted. More ideas sprouted and I needed a place to put them all. I began to think about the kinds of books I would love for my daughters to read, ones where they were reflected in the pages. Before I knew it, I started writing Tortilla Sun. The first draft went rather quickly, but oh those revisions were often painful.
I understand Tortilla Sun is your first book. Tell us a little about the publishing process. How was it for you?
I love reading the answers to these questions because we all have such different stories to tell. For me, it was a sequential process. When I began writing Tortilla Sun, I thought, “If I can write an entire book, that will be enough.” Then I finished the manuscript and stuck it in a drawer. A few weeks later I thought, “If someone read it and liked it, that would be enough.” So I found the courage to share my work with a critique group. They encouraged me to find an agent, so I began that quest always thinking in the back of my mind. “OK, if an industry professional likes it and I get an agent, that will be enough.” I submitted my work to Laurie McLean and was so fortunate to get an offer within a few days.
You can imagine my next thought: “If she sells it and I publish a book, that will be enough.” It took over a year for that to happen and it was worth the wait because I got to work with Julie Romeis of Chronicle; she taught me so much and I will always be grateful. I now realize that as artists we are always growing and evolving and that we should strive to continue to do so regardless of how we define that growth. For me, it’s not about “being enough” anymore, as much as it‘s about contributing to the body of children’s literature in some way that touches the lives of my readers, if even for one moment.
Did you plot the chapters before you sat down to write the story?
Nope. I just let the characters and story take me where they will. Sometimes it’s hard to trust that process, but so far it has worked. Although, I often times will have an idea of where I want to go.
How was your writing schedule like during the creation of this book?
I was a bit obsessed. Even when I wasn’t writing, I was thinking. I really don’t like to keep a “Schedule” because if I don’t feel like writing one day, then I don’t feel unaccomplished. Some days I wrote for seven to eight hours and other days I wrote for thirty minutes. It really depended on what my daughters were up to that day or if I was feeling creative or not.
Izzy, your protagonist, comes across as a very genuine character? Was it hard getting inside the mind of a 12-year old?
Not really. I have vivid memories of what it felt like to be that age and younger. Plus, having my daughters and their friends around always helps, too.
Did you do character sketches?
I did not and still don’t. I really don’t do that kind of planning because it makes me feel boxed in. But sometimes, I will spend months living with a character in my head before committing him or her to paper.
Are you a member of a critique group?
I did work with a critique group during the process of Tortilla Sun and was so grateful to work with such creative people. But then I found I needed more frequent feedback than a group can often give, so I sought out critique partners who can look at a chapter or even three on any given day.
Do you think critique groups are important for writers?
Let me premise this answer with saying that a “good” critique group is critical whereas a “poor fitting” group can be disastrous. Whether a writer uses a group or a partner, getting a reader response is so important to the process because we are so close to the work. There is no way I could polish a manuscript before submitting it to my agent without the valuable feedback of generous readers.
What are you planning for the book’s release this summer?
I am going to have a few book meet and greets in my hometown. I’m also participating in a blog tour which is going to be fun. Plus, I will be presenting (fellow authors Christina Gonzalez and Guadalupe Garcia-McCall) at NCTE, SCBWI, and ALAN all this year. I’m really looking forward to meeting readers, teachers, librarians, and authors at these conferences.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell my readers?Thank you for your interest in Tortilla Sun. It really has been a labor of love and I feel so grateful to share it with you. And for the writers reading this, surround yourself with positive people who will lift your spirits when the road gets tough. For those of you who are readers, I hope you enjoy the magic between the pages. Please write me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and tell me what you think of the book. I always write back!