What was the first story you ever wrote about?
When I was 9 years old I wrote and illustrated a little book calledPlanet Boom-Boom about an astronaut named Johnny and an inhabited planet he discovered. I still have the book, complete with its pink and white construction paper cover. That was my first and only foray into science fiction writing.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
At various times in my youth I wanted to be an orthodontist, a surgeon, a marine biologist, a teacher, a National Geographic photographer, and a writer. I managed to become a teacher and a writer, and I think my interests in the natural sciences and travel come through in my writing
Do you think writing is taught, that we know how to do it instinctively, or both?
I’m certain that with instruction a person’s writing can improve, so yes, aspects of writing can be taught. But I also believe that great writers have an instinct or an ability to think figuratively and artfully in a way others do not, and that they can convey this onto the page. The most talented writers don’t just write a good story with a gripping plot, though that is part of their greatness; the artfulness of their sentences, imagery, and figurative language, to me, elevates a story with an engaging plot to something beyond just a good story. Good writing illuminates connections that were previously invisible to their readers and has something to say about the human condition. I love when I’m reading and a sentence or passage stuns me with its beauty and poignancy, and I want to read it repeatedly and then underline it or dog-ear the page because I want to come back to it later. A magic exists there that cannot be whipped into existence from nothing.
What was your least favorite class at any point in your education?
I took U.S. History in 11th grade. U..S history certainly can be an incredibly engaging subject, but my teacher didn’t make one iota of an effort to be enthusiastic about the subject matter. He stood up front and read the text book aloud to us in a monotone voice, rarely looking up from the book, while he gently pulled on his mustache. Every day. Except on test days. It. Was. Boring.
Are you reading anything right now?
Yes, this week I finished The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I enjoyed it. Yesterday I began Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario. I avoided reading it for years because, when I was writing The Iguana Tree, people always said, “Oh, have you read Enrique’s Journey?” since the subject matter of our books was similar. I didn’t want Nazario’s writing to influence mine, so I put it aside until now.
Are you writing anything right now?
Oh, yes, I think I’ll always be writing something. I’m well into writing my second novel, continuing with the story I began in The Iguana Tree. I hope to have it completed this fall. The Iguana Tree is the story of a young Mexican family who crosses into the United States with a smuggler or coyote. The novel tells of their life-altering hardships but also the kindnesses they experience. The new novel picks up their tale a few years after the first novel ends, though readers won’t need to be familiar with the first book to understand the new one.