The Latina Book Club welcomes author Greta Benavides-Adame. Her new YA novel is an exciting adventure set amid the beauty of Texas and majesty of Mexico. Join us as we chat with Greta and learn about her family, her writing, and what she thought about the Mayan cruse that never was. Also, take a close look at her book cover; Her daughter designed it. Talent must run in the family.
Q: Tell about your background. Where did you grow up? family?
A: Either as a way of compensating a complicated premature debut on this planet (weighing 4 lbs.), or because my guardian angel turned out to be influential, my childhood was happy and privileged, without any mayor bumps or traumas. My father was the director of the library of a private university in Monterrey, Mexico, and later the director of the state archives in the Mexican state of Nuevo León, wrote six books (historical novels) and a monthly article for a newspaper in Madrid, Spain. My mother was an English high school teacher who, when she saw me for the first time in the incubator, and not knowing whether I’d survive, whispered, "Fight, baby. Never quit". I did and still do.
I was born in the northeastern Mexican city of Monterrey, a 4-million people industrious cosmopolitan city. I attended a bilingual private school (in Monterrey) and majored in English literature with a minor in Comparative Linguistics, Translation and Pedagogy. I studied my master degree in Education at Trinity College (Burlington, Vermont) in 1999.
I met Plutarco Adame in 1977. He was exactly everything that I wasn’t; we became best friends and fell irremediably in love. We got married in '84 (I was 21) and have been blessed with four wonderful kids that make it all worthwhile, and four grandkids that have made our lives even more amazing. My writing career would not exist if it weren’t for his support and encouragement.
We love to travel. We’ve climbed the pyramids of Tenochtitlan in Mexico City and in Palenque in Chiapas, swam in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean, eaten almost everything from ant eggs (escamoles) to iguana to elk to grasshoppers (chapulines); ridden sharks, elephants, camels, and horses and owned pets that range from ball pythons to macaws to toucans and ferrets and hedgehogs.
Our current four-legged family members are Tyson and Blitz (12 and 2 – year old Rottweilers), Chief (a Schnauzer) and Jack (a Persian cat).
Having been blessed with a child with ADHD, I wrote the book The Child with ADHD: A Guide for Parents (in Spanish, El Niño con Déficit de Atención e Hiperactividad, Guíapara Padres), published by Trillas Editing House in 2001 (ISBN-10: 9682465842), as an answer to the thousands of parents in Mexico who could not find any information in Spanish about ADHD.
I have been a speaker at national and international conferences on ADHD in Washington, DC, Chicago (ILL), San Juan (Puerto Rico), Managua (Nicaragua) and in Mexico City and the Mexican states of Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas and Veracruz.
We came to Giddings, Texas, in 2005, where I have been a bilingual teacher. I love cooking and scrapbooking; spending time with my family and pets and reading. My all-time favorite thing to do: read and write (in both English and Spanish).
Q: Your novel, Zyanya Always and Forever, is set in Texas and Mexico. What parallels did you find in those two "countries" that inspired your story? Give us a summary of your story.
A: I was completely enthralled by the images of Xilitla (Las Pozas, San Luis Potosi, Mexico) that a friend sent to my daughter Greta and she shared with me. I just knew I had to write about that place. Having lived in northern, central and southern Mexico, I know firsthand of the rich Mexican traditions, culture and folklore. Through my experience as a bilingual teacher here in Texas, I had become very aware of how little my students knew about Mexico (both Hispanic and native English speakers) and its traditions, so I thought mixing all these elements was a great opportunity and an original idea. I wanted native English speakers to be able to relate to my book and my characters (Hispanics could already do it through their knowledge of their heritage), so I thought making some of my characters native Speakers (and Texans) would provide the portal my readers could cross to get to and experience Zyanya. I consider my novel to belong to the genre of magic realism (realismomágico), where magic elements appear in a realistic setting, and Texas is a place I know and can describe.
Book Summary: Zyanya is the name of a prosperous coffee plantation in central Mexico founded by the Alba family. Formerly a shaman, the late Severo Alba’s heirs are chosen to bear and raise a child who will one day become the Great Shaman, thereby fulfilling a 550-year-old prophecy. Alba’s son and grandson reject their heritage, but the ancient prophecy’s time has come, and a powerful Shaman is needed to rise up against evil. The savior is Jairo, Alba’s great-grandson. Raised in Texas, 17-year-old Jairo is completely unaware of his legacy. Tabatha is a 16-year-old from Dallas, who is unhappily moving with her parents to the tiny village where Zyanya is located. She is angry to leave the big city and has a recurring dream about a boy. These two young people find themselves far from everything they understand, only to be thrust into dangers they cannot comprehend facing terrifying danger, sorcery, magic and romance.
Q: As a bilingual teacher, was the writing of the novel easy for you? Did you write a young adult novel because you teach young adults?
A: I think the creative act of writing is a personal quest, particular to each author. Sometimes it is hard, sometimes it is easy. Like Picasso said, “inspiration does exist, but it has to find you working.” While I do not think being a bilingual teacher made writing it necessarily easier as far as creativity, style and writing are concerned, it did provide me with experiences, anecdotes and particular linguistic and sociocultural details that proved to be useful.
I chose young adults as my primary audience (though I think/hope adults will find it equally entertaining) because I wanted to provide them with a wider concept of Mexico and other cultures in general. (Once a teacher, always a teacher.) I love reading and I wanted to do a very humble effort to increase their reading options. Also, in a very subtle way, I wanted to promote knowledge of people that are different from us, and how we can all get along with each other. If we take the time to stop and get to know each other (other places, other cultures, other ways of living), we will find out we are not so different. Our world would benefit from more tolerance and acceptance.
Q: Did you read parts of your book to your students? If so, how did they respond?
A: No, not really. I did tell them about it, and I did ask them particular questions so I could take their answers and point of view as reference when I was developing my characters. Once the novel was out, I did show it to them and we saw the videotrailer. They were surprised and a little proud that I had written a book.
Q: What drew you to the magical realm? Did you believe in the Mayan Calendar curse?
A: If you Google images of the place that inspired me (Las Pozas, Xilitla, San Luis Potosi) you will understand. This place cannot be anything but magical. And I believe Mexico is magical. If I only had three words to describe Mexico they would be: magic, color and music.
I believe we live in a magical world – we only have to have the time and patience to see it. I think we can find magic in everything around us. We all like to believe in magic – in knowing nothing is really impossible, that the possibilities are endless, that there are no boundaries, no limits, no frontiers… We just have to let go of normal to embrace the extraordinary….
As I wrote the story, magic just crept in… silently… unperceivably… almost uninvited…. and then it colored everything!
No – I did not believe in the Mayan Calendar curse… I believe that as long as babies are being born, there’s got to be a world for them to discover….
Q: What writers influence you? What Spanish/Latino authors influenced you? Favorite authors -- Latino and otherwise?
A: Wow – this is going to be a hard one… Due to my majoring in Literature, and pretty much due to have been my parents’ child, I have been surrounded by great authors all my life… I used to recite Federico Garcia Lorca’s poems “Romance Sonambulo” and “El LagartoestáLlorando”and Antonio Machado’s poem “Extracto de Proverbios y cantares (XXIX)” by the time I was eight years old. I read Cervantes’s Don Quijote de la Mancha when I was ten. But the book that made me discover that my life passion was writing is Alice Through the Looking Glass”/”Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
All-time favoriters would have to be: Gabriel GarcíaMárquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz, Juan Rulfo, James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, Mark Twain and Lewis Carroll.
I believe that every book you read, every author you invite into your life makes an impression on you. Your life is forever changed. It becomes a part of you.
Q: Your book is about danger, sorcery, magic and romance. That's TWILIGHT and BEAUTIFUL CREATURES. Did they inspire you in any way? Does their popularity encourage you? what actors do you want to play your characters in the movie?
A: I read Twilight a little over year before I started writing ZYANYA – and Beautiful Creatures is still in my long-overdue to-read list… I believe every book you read influences you at some point and level. When I write, I am lead by my characters… I do not work by any outline or pre-meditated start-middle-finish idea. I do not know how long it is going to be or how each character is going to develop. As a matter of fact, I scribbled down ideas for ZYANAYA, but the villain I had chosen decided not to be one, another one popped out of nowhere, my main character decided to share her podium with two more and at one point the story just took off on its own, devilishly smiling at all my notes. When I was thinking about what to write, I did ask my students what interested them, what they would like to read about, and danger, magic and romance were themes that kept coming up.
Actors for the movie? Wow – let’s see…
Jairo: a Jeremy Sumpter, Cameron Bright type –18- year old dark brown hair, green eyes
Tabatha: a Jennifer Connelly type – 17-year old dark brown hair, green eyes
Yaxkin: an Aaron Diaz, Gabriel Garcia Bernal type -- 22-year old, latino, black hair, black eyes
Severo Alba: Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery type – 300 lbs, 6’ tall, between 70 and 80
Wow – that was fun!
Q: Are there any books on Mexican culture and legends that you would recommend to readers?
A: Authors who have portrayed different faces of Mexico through literature are B. Traven (Canasta de Cuentos Mexicanos), Roberto Bolaño (2666), Graham Greene (The Power and the Glory), Malcolm Lowry (Under the Volcano), D. H. Lawrence (The Plumed Serpent).
Q: Are you working on a new novel? Tell us about it.
A: Characters Jairo,Tabatha and Yaxkin still have some unresolved issues to address. I am currently working on my second of the three books that will make up the ZYANYA trilogy.
Q: Where can your fans learn more about you? Give us the links to your website, blog, facebook and twitter.
A: Website: http://sbpra.com/GretaBenavidesAdame/
Twitter: Greta BenavidesAdame, @gretamariadame