The Latina Book Club welcomes author Karen Valentin. She writes for Daily Guideposts and is the author of the spiritual memoir THE FLAVOR OF OUR HISPANIC FAITH (Doubleday and Judson Press) and the children's books WHAT DID ABUELA SAY and BLOCK PARTY (Just Us Books). Happy Reading.
Leaving the stability of a salary job for the instability of being a writer is terrifying. But it’s the only way I can really live a life that is worth living!—Karen Valentin
Q: Your first book was THE FLAVOR OF OUR FAITH: REFLECTIONS ON HISPANIC LIFE AND CHRISTIAN FAITH and you also write Daily Guideposts, which are spirit-lifting devotions. Do you think Faith is a big trait of all Hispanics?
A: Yes. In my experience as a Latina, Faith is huge part of our culture. Daily life is seasoned with prayers, blessings, and encouragement with biblical verses. Hispanic culture can also become a trait of faith in many instances. For example, during the early years of the Spanish Church I attended, wearing pants on Sunday was discouraged. That truly came from the stigma of women wearing pants in their country of origin.
Q: Do you prefer the term Hispanic or Latino? Do they mean the same?
A: I use both terms, Hispanic and Latino interchangeably. Growing up, the word Hispanic was the term we always used. Although I find the debate about this word extremely interesting, it doesn't hold a negative connotation for me. I also enjoy the word Latino. It has a wonderful sound.
Q: You wrote a four-book children series and a Young Adult novel. What attracts you to such young characters? Is it the endless possibilities ahead of them?
A: Writing about young people comes very natural for me. I have always worked with children and understand that world where everything is magical, silly and fun. That part of my spirit will never age!
Q: In your YA novel, THE SUMMER SHE CHANGED HER NAME, you have a heroine playing down her Latinidad to fit in with the “in” crowd until she finally embraces her true self. This happens in real life. We read about it in newspapers and see it on television. Do you think this is just a product of cultural assimilation or is it a way to prevent racial discrimination in schools?
A: Blending into the American culture can be a result of both natural assimilation and fear of discrimination. For the most part, I believe it leans more toward assimilation. It happens so naturally that at times I feel my life isn't Hispanic enough! I have to make an effort with speaking the language, making Spanish food and surrounding myself with other Latinos. On the other side, my parents dealt with various forms of discrimination in their past which led to certain choices, such as giving their children very American names. However, I don’t recall us ever making an effort to hide our Latino identity, even in a predominately white neighborhood.
Q: We understand you are writing another YA novel. Will it be a sequel to your first? Will your heroine be Latina? Tell us about your new book.
A: My next YA novel I'm working on is A NEWYORICAN IN PARIS. I spent a year in France with a community of Americans who were not Hispanic. The feelings and situations that came up within this trio of cultures was hilarious, unnerving, thought provoking and just life changing in terms of my own identity. I can't wait to finish this book!
Q: Do you think it is important to write more Latina heroines?
A: Absolutely! There are not enough Latina heroines. We are not represented enough!
Q: Who are your favorite Latina heroines?
A: My heroines are the Latina women in my life! The very real women represented in my book THE FLAVOR OF OUR HISPANIC FAITH. Not many others stand out in my mind, which reinforces the need for more representation of Latina heroines! If I had to think of one Latina outside of my own life it would be author Esmeralda Santiago. I adore her work and have read her books over and over again. The way she expresses herself and her use of language inspires me.
Q: Who are your favorite authors – Latino or non-Latino?
A: My favorite authors are Esmeralda Santiago, as I mentioned. Richard Wright, Khaled Hosseni, Laura Esquivel, Amy Tan, Gabriel García Márquez and the poetry of Pablo Neruda.
Q: Tell us more about Karen Valentin. When did you know you were a writer? How does your family feel about your writing? And, how does it feel to be able to quit your day job and dedicate yourself full-time to writing?
A: I’ve always had an overactive imagination and daydreamed all the time. This got me into a lot of trouble at school! When I could finally get those ideas onto paper instead of them constantly dancing around in my head, it was life changing! My family has always been proud of my writing endeavors and love that our family history is going to be preserved through my work.
Before I left my job I was working long hours, I was picking up my boys from afterschool at almost 7pm, and had little time to be the artist or the mom I wanted to be. Leaving the stability of a salary job for the instability of being a writer is terrifying. But it’s the only way I can really live a life that is worth living! I love picking up my kids from school and spending real quality time with them! Its exciting to spend my mornings dreaming up stories and working on my career as an artist. As much as this is scary, its even more of an adventure!
Q: Share with us an affirmation, a Daily Guidepost.
A: I’ll share a prayer…
I have lots of responsibilities in my life. At times these burdens are heavy and I treat them as a curse. I need to readjust my thinking. Thank you, Lord for my piles of laundry; my kids and I have plenty of clothes to wear. Thank you for my sink full of dirty dishes. It means I was able to feed my family to their hearts’ content. Thank you for a home that is mine to clean. Thank you for my bills. You’ve allowed me the provisions to pay them, and each one represents a service I was blessed to receive. And most of all, thank you for my children. The love and the joy they give me will forever outweigh the challenges of being their mom. Without them, I would be well rested, but I wouldn’t have such an important reason to work so hard.
Q: How can your fans reach you?
A: My website is Karenvalentin.com.
On Facebook: www.facebook.com/authorkarenvalentin
Thank you, Karen!