Q. Tell us about your new book, PORRIDGE & CUCU: MY CHILDHOOD. What is it about?
PORRIDGE & CUCU is the story of a young girl growing up with her family—first in Panama, then in New York. The novel chronicles the life of Yamila as a child—during carnival, in a Catholic girls' school, playing with friends, navigating a bicultural and bilingual existence, eating "porridge and cucu" (foods she ate as a child). Also, a few ghost stories as told by her grandfather.
Q. Is this story autobiographical? Tell us about your background. Where is your family from? where did you grow up? siblings? children?
PORRIDGE & CUCU was actually first conceived as a 'memoir-novel, but then I read an article in Writers Digest magazine (my bible in those days) that said a hybrid work was more difficult to market. The book ought to be either a memoir or a novel. Not both. So I baptized all the characters with new names—a decision my mom strongly concurred with—and designated it a novel.
My family and I came from Panama. But I grew up in the US. I like to believe I'm quintessentially American. Two of my favorite foods are pizza and French fries. Panamanians don't think of me as Panamanian. (People are often surprised when they find out.) I grew up in the US, went to schools in the US.... so I'm regarded as American on both sides. And, truthfully, though I embrace my heritage intellectually, my mindset is completely American.
Q. In the story, Yamila's grandfather tells her lots of ghost stories. Do you believe in ghosts? do you have a personal ghost story?
I cannot say I've seen any ghosts, but I think ghosts are possible. I used to be more of a skeptic, but I've since mellowed. Now I do believe in paranormal phenomena. I'm also one of those people who avoid scary films. I remember when I was a teen, my Mom engaged us in a 'séance' of sorts with a Ouija board, but we got a little freaked out when it moved. My mother and grandmother used to consult all manner of psychics, warlocks, and fortune-tellers. They talked about spirits and ghosts with a nonchalant attitude. It was part of life, but not something discussed outside the home.
Q. In the book you mention that Panama is a "cultural bridge" for the whole world. Is Yamila herself a "cultural bridge" as she straddles two cultures?
Actually, at the book's website I use the phrase 'cultural bridge' to describe Panama. This tiny country has such an eclectic mix of people and cultures; it's hard not to see it as a 'cultural bridge'. Panama's geographic location further amplifies its role as 'cultural bridge'. I never thought of Yamila in that way, however.
Q. Why did you write a young adult book? what or who inspired Yamila and her journey? Where did the title, PORRIDGE & CUCU, come from?
Once again, I refer to Writers' Digest magazine. As I recall, an article stated it was easier/more marketable to get a genre novel or book published. But this assessment was made after I'd written the novel. I set out to write about my own childhood. Then I went to a writers' conference where publishers' reps advised that in order to get published it was best to start out with a genre book. I read the genre descriptions in WDM and settled on Young Adult (YA).
I spent a summer reading memoirs and novels by Tolstoy and other major writers. I discovered a literary tradition of novels about childhood. At first—and for a long time—the book's title was CHILDHOOD. Simple and to the point, I thought. But once I finished writing the novel, I felt the book needed a more descriptive title. I thought "porridge and cucu"—those foods Yamila ate as a child but strongly disliked—embodied her brief life experience. Here she was, a modern/contemporary American girl-at-heart, being forced to consume Old World foods. Peasant food. Food that makes me think of OLIVER TWIST. The scene in which Oliver walks up to the headmaster, holds his bowl up in the air and says, "Please, sir, can I have some more?"
Q. What do you want people to come away with after reading your book?
I'd like for PORRIDGE & CUCU to be widely read and enjoyed. If the reader empathizes with Yamila even a little bit—that would be a nice bonus. I hope readers of the book can see themselves in Yamila, and that she evokes fond memories of each reader's childhood.
"Women for Peace"
artist Claudia Olivo
THE HONEYEATER is a contemporary women's novel. Here's the synopsis:
THE HONEYEATER is the story of a woman, Eulalia, and her childhood sweetheart, Fabio. A young, handsome, and brilliant doctoral candidate, he has political ambitions. Soon after they wed, Fabio is unfaithful to Eulalia with the person she’d never expect—her sister. After she re-builds her life with a new love, she is re-united with Fabio. Will Eulalia realize that he belongs to her childhood, to the past? Or will she release her new life—alongside her new love—to return to the man who loved and betrayed her?
A story of love, heartbreak and renewal, THE HONEYEATER attests that a young woman can survive love, heartbreak, and betrayal. THE HONEYEATER is an enthralling generational story of two families and the inevitable love that arose between Eulalia and Fabio—who were not meant to fall in love—but did.
THE HONEYEATER's beautiful cover painting—"Women for Peace" ("Mujeres por la paz")—is by artist Claudia Olivos.
Q. What is your advice for new writers?
I'd say, Do not give up. Keep reading. Keep writing. Take writing classes or workshops, if you need to. Develop a style. Recognize you have amazing talent, but not everyone will like you. Don't take book rejection personally. I'll never forget, years ago, I got a beautiful hand-written note from a small press editor, saying they liked the book but they were booked for two or three years. I ought to have framed that note, because it gave me hope.
If the work is well-written and genuine, its audience will eventually show up. Also, I've read a couple of articles that recommend that writers research the trends and keywords even before they write a book. That, to me, makes for an inauthentic book. A book that's based on words from a search engine. I guess it depends on what kind of book you're writing.
I have seen, though, websites devoted to a book long before the book got published--or written. That seems OK to do. In fact, it seems smart.
Q. Where can your readers learn more about you? Give us the address for your website, blog.
My current and most recent blog is Y REID BOOKS? at www.yreidbooks.blogspot.com. It's a blog devoted to books, writers and authors. Below are more of my links:
Q. Give us your name on Facebook so we can friend you.
ATTENTION: The Latina Book Club has launched WRITER WEDNESDAYS—the first Wednesday of each month, we will feature an author—published or unpublished—talking about writing. Come back on Wednesday, April 3, to read Yolanda’s Writer Wednesdays post on “How I Wrote My Second Novel.”
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