Julia Durango is the author of picture books, adventure novels, and poetry for kids of all ages. Her middle-grade adventure novel, Sea of the Dead, was a Junior Library Guild selection, a Parents’ Choice silver medalist, and the winner of the 2010 Golden Kite fiction award for best children’s book of the year. I was lucky enough to be sitting in the audience that day when Julia accepted the award at the SCBWI summer conference. Today I’m fortunate to have the Illinois author on my blog to share about her writing process and to talk about her new books. Please welcome, Julia Durango.
With the recent release of Under the Mambo Moon, illustrated by Fabricio VandenBroeck (Charlesbridge, 2011) can you share the inspiration behind the book?
I first fell in love with Latin American music when I was a teen travelling in Brazil. Later, during college, I spent time in Colombia, Costa Rica, and other Latin American countries. In each place, I encountered amazing music, from tango to salsa to mambo, which told stories about people transcending adversity and celebrating life. I wrote Under the Mambo Moon as a tribute to an art form that has brought me so much joy throughout the years.
How long did it take you to write Under the Mambo Moon? Did the plot or characters come first? Any challenges along the way? Did you think about school curriculum tie-ins when you were writing it?
I wrote the first poems for this book back in 2001, perhaps even earlier (it’s been so long I’ve forgotten!). I didn’t start with plot or characters, but rather the different types of music I wanted to explore. Over the years, the collection slowly grew and evolved as I added more poems. Marisol, the narrator of the collection, didn’t appear until much later, when I realized the poems needed a storyteller to hold them together. As for school curriculum tie-ins, I must admit that I didn’t give them any thought at all! I trust that good teachers will always find creative ways to incorporate books and poetry into their lessons.
You’ve also recently released the picture book Dream Away, written with Katie Belle Trupiano, illustrated by Robert Goldstom (Simon & Schuster, 2011). Is it exciting having two books out at the same time? Did you know that both books would be released around the same time? Although, each book targets a different audience, is it challenging marketing both books? Any tips?
Yes, it has been very exciting to have two books out at the same time, especially since both involve music. WhiIe I didn’t know until later in the game that both books would be published in July 2011, I was quite pleased by the coincidence. As you mentioned, the books target different audiences, so they’re not competing works. As for promoting them, I’ve had a fun time emphasizing their musical nature as a “bonus” to readers. You can read more about my collaboration with songwriter Katie Belle Trupiano and listen to her sing Dream Away click HERE
You’ve come up with an innovative school visit program “Out of the Box” can you tell us about it? And how it came to be?
Since I am a school librarian, I am not able to schedule many traditional school visits as other authors do. I love to connect with my readers, though, and wanted to figure out a way to “visit” schools that wouldn’t involve travel. My “Out of the Box” program literally begins with a box – students send me a package containing a letter with questions and a stuffed animal or school mascot to go on “field trip” to my house. I make a personalized DVD in return, which includes answers to their questions as well as photos of me and their stuffed animal or mascot. I piloted the program with my sister Sherry’s second grade class in Missouri, and we all had a blast! At $200, the program is also very affordable to schools where funds are scarce.
I was at the 2010 LA SCBWI National Conference when Sea of the Dead (Simon & Schuster, 2009) won the Golden Kite Award. Congratulations!! In your moving acceptance speech you talked about having special messages to your sons in your books. Is there a special message to anyone in Under the Mambo Moon? Or Dream Away?
Thank you, Carmen, I’m glad you enjoyed the speech. The Golden Kite Award was a huge honor and definitely the highlight of my career so far. Yes, there are hidden messages in the new books. Under the Mambo Moon is my love letter to Latin America; in fact, many of the characters in the book were named after Latin American friends, teachers, and others I admire. For example, Rubén is named for the great musician Rubén Blades from Panama, who has long been a hero of mine. In Dream Away, the message is for the kids in my life and is quite simple: Dream. Explore. Play. And holler if you need me.
What are your thoughts on when a writer should seek representation with an agent? Can you share your experience when you signed with Barry Goldblatt Literary? Were you published yet?
I sought representation after I’d made some magazine sales and a book sale to a small publisher. I had also collected a stack of rejections – form letters at first, which gradually evolved into personal notes and a few close calls. A trusted author friend and mentor suggested I submit to Barry, who had recently opened his agency, and I happily became his tenth client. That was ten years ago and his agency has grown quite a bit since then! As for when writers should seek representation, I think it all depends on their career goals and the quality of their writing. This is where SCBWI membership can be so invaluable; the numerous conferences and events they organize can be great opportunities for networking and professional feedback.
What are you working on now?
A middle grade fantasy novel set in the Andean highlands with my writing partner, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. Tracie has been my critique partner for the past ten years; in fact, she helped me enormously with Under the Mambo Moon.
What do you do when you’re not on deadline? For fun?
I spend time with my family, my dog, my friends. I go for walks, read books (love my Kindle!), daydream about trips I want to go on, and read recipes I will probably never try.
Tell us 3 things you can’t live without.
My guys. Libraries. Gel pens.
Tell us 3 things you wish were never invented.
Diets. Multi-tasking. Jersey Shore.
You’re welcome, Carmen.