Today we welcome fellow debut novelist Angela Cervantes, whose middle grade novel, Gaby, Lost and Found, came out in August from Scholastic Press. It’s the story of a young girl whose mom is deported, but who finds strength and self-confidence volunteering at a local animal shelter even as her family life unravels.
Born and raised in Kansas, Angela spent time living in Brownsville, Texas, and Guadalajara, Mexico, before returning to Kansas City, where she co-founded Las Poetas, a Chicana poetry group, published two chapbooks with the group, and began working at an international children’s organization. Later, Angela was convinced to let guys join Las Poetas and it became the Latino Writers Collective.
In 2007 Angela won third place for Creative Nonfiction in the Missouri Review’s audio competition for her story “House of Women” and Kansas City Voices’ Best of Prose Award (Whispering Prairie Press). In 2008, she was recognized as one of Kansas City’s Emerging Writers by the Kansas City Star Magazine.
Angela agreed to take the Deb interview and is offering to give away a copy of Gaby, Lost and Found to one lucky commenter. Details at the end of this post!
Gaby, Lost and Found is my first attempt at a novel. I had no idea about the different writing routines and processes for writing a novel. All I had was that spark of inspiration of a little girl and her cat. I went with that and finished the first draft in nine months. A couple of years of revisions followed and that’s where all the real work and miracles happened. It was during revisions that Gaby’s story fully blossomed. Looking back, I think it would have been easier had I been more strategic and followed a proper process, but it was my first time and I learned a lot.
In your novel, Gaby has to deal with her mother’s deportation to Honduras. It’s a difficult topic for even adults to deal with in our current landscape. How did you approach it for a middle grade audience?
This is going to sound crazy, but I managed this by listening to Gaby, my main protagonist of the novel. Gaby is a smart and funny eleven-year-old girl. When I focused on her, covering this topic became easier to write. I think it’s one of those issues that adults see as difficult due to our years of experience and building filters and rules around us; we complicate things. At school visits, I don’t typically bring up immigration or deportation because the teachers prefer I don’t; they’re afraid things might get political, but the kids always bring it up and ask questions. They want to talk about it. When that happens, I always go back to Gaby and her story to answer their questions and keep my opinion out of it. They don’t want my opinion, they just want to know why and how this happened to Gaby. It’s precious.
Tell us a secret about the main character in your novel — something that’s not even in your book.
Gaby will go to Honduras to visit her mom.
The road to publication is twisty at best–tell us about some of your twists.
The biggest twist was coming up with the title for the novel. The publishers didn’t like the original title I had proposed (I don’t blame them!). I’m not good at titles. Later, I had to submit a list of possible titles and none of them worked. I was a bit freaked out. I thought for sure the publishing folks in New York were rolling their eyes at the amateur novelist who couldn’t come up with a title for her own book. Instead, my editor and agent were super encouraging and helpful. Together we came up with Gaby, Lost and Found. I love it.
Gaby, Lost and Found is published by Scholastic Press. It must be exciting to see it at Scholastic Book Fairs around schools! Did you have the Scholastic Book Fair come to your school as a kid, and if so, what book do you most remember discovering there?
We didn’t have the Book Fairs at our school, but we did get the Scholastic catalogs. My mom was a waitress and a secretary and didn’t make a lot of money, but she always made sure her four kids could buy at least one book from the catalog. I’ll never forget that warm excited feeling I’d get when the books we ordered arrived to our classroom. It was the best feeling knowing that one of those books was mine to take home. My editor at Scholastic is very supportive and when my book came out in the catalog, she sent me a couple of copies. I cried when I saw it. I’m such a big baby, but it was all happy tears.
If there’s anything you’d like to mention that I haven’t asked, feel free to add it here.
There were many times I doubted I could finish this novel. One of the motivations to keep going was that my husband promised me that we could get a dog if it got published and lo and behold it happened! Now, we’re just waiting for the spring to pick out a dog from a local shelter. I can’t wait!
GIVEAWAY! Comment on this post by noon EST on Friday, January 3rd, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Gaby, Lost and Found. Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries—just mention that you did so in your comments. We’ll choose and contact the winner on Friday. Good luck!
Angela Cervantes is a poet, storyteller and animal-lover. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in various publications. She is one of the featured authors in Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul, a Latino-themed anthology that follows the successful Chicken Soup for the Souls series. When Angela is not writing, she enjoys hanging out with her husband in Shawnee, Kansas, and searching for the best fish tacos in town. Gaby, Lost and Found (Scholastic, 2013) is her first middle grade novel. She is currently at work on her second book.
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