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Saturday, March 23, 2013

New Pics of Maria Virginia's Family, Good News, and Events!

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Hello dear readers!

I've been meaning to share these photos with you for a while now... Maria Virginia (my co-author of The Queen of Water)  sent them to me back in January. She just finished up her ninth out of ten semesters for her degree in clinical psychology-- so proud of her!

Love this pic of Leslie  (Maria Virginia's baby) in traditional indigena garb!  So sweet...

Here's Maria's mom in the very house where Maria spent her early childhood in a village outside of Otavalo, Ecuador.  This is the cooking area of her parents' home (which was a setting in Queen.)

Below is baby Leslie is with her paternal grandmother-- it looks like they're in her house, in another village on the outskirts of Otavalo.

Here's Maria's dad holding Leslie in another area of the house where Maria spent her early years.

Here's Maria with more close relatives.

Maria, husband Tino, and baby Leslie at their home in Otavalo.


Maria's wonderful 9-year-old son, Yanni, with his little sis.


 Baby Leslie with her dad, Tino and brother, Yanni, in their living room...

So great to see them together and happy!

OK, a couple quick news items:

Thai rights for The Queen of Water were sold to Sanskrit Books!  So, so  excited about this! I absolutely cannot wait to see our book in this beautiful language!  

My essay "Barren in the Andes" won second place in the Solas travel writing awards!   This is an essay I'd been wanting to write for years, but due to the Notebooks deadlines, I didn't have time to do it till last fall. It felt really good to finally write it, after all that simmering inside me. Note that this is meant for adults, not the usual teen/kid audience, so be warned... you can read it here if you're curious.

If you're in Fort Collins, check out my article in the latest issue (Spring 2013) of Fort Collins Magazine.  It's called "The Wonder-filled Soul of Les Sunde," and it's a profile of the man whose ideas on creativity and alive-ness have had a huge impact on me these past few years. You can pick up the free mag in any of the magazine boxes in Old Town. Here's the link to the full article (p. 51).  So happy about this piece!


*This Saturday,* March 30, at 2 pm, I'll be doing an event at Old Firehouse Books in Old Town, Ft Collins with Jeannie Mobley, fabulous author of Katerina's Wish! We'll talk about our books and writing for teens and older kids, and field any questions you have.  Chatting and signing will ensue.

My NCW workshop on Creating Vivid Worlds was rescheduled to April 7, from 1-4 pm.  Register here.

Saturday, April 6 -- Chicago. Litworks: A Teen Lit Festival. 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. This begins at Eisenhower Public Library and moves to Ridgewood High School at noon. Other authors there will be Matt de la Pena, Alex Flinn, Mark Crilley, Jennifer Bradbury, and Brent Crawford. Details here. Free for teens, $5 for adults. 

April 19-20-- Pikes Peak Writers Conference, Colorado. Presenting two sessions, and possible panel. Details TBD. Registration required.


I think that's it for now!  Happy spring!


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Moving Poem inspired by The Queen of Water!

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Hey guys! 

I had a great time last night doing a talk/workshop for the awesome members of our local SCBWI group!  A special guest was lovely high-schooler Bobbi Anderson, who I've corresponded with over the past year.  She's a fantastic writer and poetess who met Maria Virginia (my co-author of The Queen of Water) in Ecuador on a study abroad program.

Here's a stunning poem she wrote last spring about how Maria Virginia impacted her life at a critical time... I get shivers every time I read it.  I love the emotion and inspiration and bits of humor in the poem... and the form is very cool and bold.  Bobbi has heaps of talent to be able to say so much in so few words.  (I really admire this, since I tend to be on the verbose side.) I'm including her letter first, to give you context for her poem.  Et voila!

Hello Virginia,
     My name is Bobbi Anderson and I am studying with The Traveling School. I want you to know it was such an honor being able to meet you a few weeks ago. You are truly inspiring and I hope that you know you changed 16 teenage girls perspectives on going after what they want in life. 
     An unfortunate event happened to me while I was in Ecuador, a few days before I met you in Otavalo. I tripped on a hammock and fractured my jaw, and was sent home to the United States a few days after we met you. I want you to know that reading your book got me through having to come home from The Traveling School, but also having the positive attitude that is required in situations like mine and yours. 
     The day after I broke my jaw, I was finishing up Queen of Water, and I got to the passage that talks about how "Querer es Poder" always got you through your tough times, and drove you to go after what you wanted. The minute I read the passage in the book, I wrote it down in my journal, and I look at it every day. Having to come home from The Traveling School is something that was very difficult for me, and without having your optimism through your life fresh in my mind, I don't think I would of been as motivated to stay positive through my experience. 
     So in conclusion I want to thank you, thank you for being the woman you are today, thank you for your incredible stories, and most of all thank you for your book and your time with The Traveling School. I am back in Colorado for two more weeks, and I am living with my grandparents at the moment, I have only been here for a week and they both read your book in two days. You have an inspiring story Virginia, thank you for sharing. I will be back in Ecuador March 14th, with a smile on my face because of you, Querer es Poder! The poem below is an assignment I had for my Literature class, I hope you enjoy!
Love Always,
 Bobbi Anderson
P.S. I have attached a picture from the first time we met you in Otavalo. I am the girl to the right of you in the white shirt. It was an honor getting to meet you!

She got over there
Air, smelt of determination: No longer contamination
The WORLD knocked at her door
Brought her generosity.
Took LIFE with SPICE.. Stuck to her word like lice.
“Longa tonta, you fool” drove her to school.
“I hope I can forgive you” THEN, she INSPIRED us TOO.

Laura here again... isn't that wonderful? I love it!

Maria Virginia has really been enjoying meeting with groups of students studying abroad in Ecuador who've read the book as part of their trip preparation.  She's done this for several programs now, and from what I hear, it's been special for everyone involved.

I have to give my Lil Dude a bath now, but sometime in the next week or so, I'll post a batch of photos Maria Virginia sent me of her family, including some insanely cute photos of new baby Leslie! Stay tuned...

Bobbi, thank you for your vibrant presence and poem-- I'm sure it will move other readers as it did for me!


P.S. My Northern Colorado Writers workshop was rescheduled due to the snowstorm (which turned out to be a dud. :-(  The new date is Sunday, April 7 from 1-4 pm.  You can register on the NCW website.  Maybe I'll see you there... :-)

Also, friendly reminder: I'll be at Old Firehouse Books in Old Town, Fort Collins, talking about my books and writing for teens along with my good friend Jeannie Mobley (author of Katerina's Wish) on Saturday, March 30 at 2 pm. Free, and everyone welcome!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Finding the heart of a story...

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Hey guys,

It's been exciting to have Star in the Forest as a Scholastic Book Fair selection this winter! It's also been on a bunch of state reading lists. (Thank you, readers in Kansas, Oklahoma, Washington DC, Arizona, Vermont, Indiana, and Virginia!)  I'm so happy that more readers are getting the chance to connect with the book.  I've been doing more and more author visits about this book... and I've been thinking about it a lot lately as I go over the Spanish version with my good friend and talented writer Gloria Garcia Diaz, who is translating it!  (Yes! It will exist in Spanish form-- we haven't found a Spanish-language publisher for it yet, but we'll get it out there one way or another!)

I wrote this essay for Book Page a few years ago, when the book first came out, but I thought I'd post it here so you can get a glimpse into my process of writing a book... which, for me, usually lasts years and years. Enjoy!

Behind the Book: Crossing borders to find the heart of a story
by Laura Resau

I came across the bones of my book Star in the Forest on the outskirts of a small town in southern Mexico. One day, fifteen years ago, I was taking my daily walk down a dirt road lined with shacks made of corrugated metal and plastic tarp and salvaged wood scraps. I strolled past smoldering piles of trash and leaped over trickles of raw sewage, giving wide berth to occasional packs of scrawny dogs.  

You should know that I loved these walks. Each one was an adventure. Curious kids would approach me, and soon their mothers and aunts and grandmothers would meander over and offer me a glass of warm Coke or a tortilla and beans. . . and new friendships were born.  

On this particular day, I came across a family leading a burro by a frayed rope. They smiled at me, and in perfect American English, one of the children said, “Hey, what are you doing all the way out here?”  

Surprised, I explained that I’d been working here as an English teacher, then asked where they’d learned to speak English so well. They chattered about their previous home in Chicago, where they’d spent most of their lives until their recent move back to rural Oaxaca. It felt surreal to be talking to such thoroughly American kids at the side of a dirt road where chickens pecked at corn kernels hidden among old diapers and Sabrita wrappers.  

Over my next two years living in Oaxaca, as I met more young people who’d spent part of their childhoods in the U.S., I tried to understand how they might feel straddling two very different cultures. I jotted down thoughts and observations in my notebook, thinking they might come out in a story someday.  

A few years later, in Colorado, I worked with an organization that assisted Mexican immigrant families with young children. I made home visits in trailer parks where many of the families lived, and there I met children on this side of the border who were also negotiating lives that bridged two worlds. I came to understand that despite the relative luxuries of their American homes—indoor plumbing and solid walls—undocumented kids have lives brimming with uncertainty. Considered “illegal,” they lack a home that gives them a sense of safety and belonging.  

During my time working with these families, I wrote a short story about a girl in a Colorado trailer park who misses her indigenous community in Mexico, and finds comfort in her friendship with a neighbor girl and a stray dog. My notes and ideas from my time in Oaxaca helped me flesh out the girl’s flashbacks. I kept tinkering with the story over the next few years, but, sensing that it was missing something, I always tucked it away again.  

While writing my first novel, I worked as an English teacher for immigrants. Then, after the book’s publication, my author visits took me to schools with large Latino populations. During these years, I formed friendships with many undocumented parents and children who shared with me their fears, anxieties and personal stories. A number of immigrants I knew had close relatives who had been deported from the U.S., leaving the rest of their family behind. Others had been assaulted or kidnapped while attempting to cross the border. Often, after hearing about these experiences, I took out my trailer park story and wove in more layers, ideas and details. Yet the manuscript always ended up back in a drawer.  

On trips back to visit southern Mexico, I sometimes visited the families of my new immigrant friends. I spent a week with a family in a Nahuatl village called Xono and bonded with my friend’s adorable three-year-old boy. On the morning of my departure, he looked at me with huge, earnest eyes and begged in his small voice, “Laurita, por favor, no te vayas a Colorado.” Please don’t go to Colorado. As I gave him a teary hug goodbye, I realized that to him, Colorado was a black hole that swallowed his loved ones. Back home, I pulled out my story again, incorporating experiences from Xono, adding bits and pieces from both sides of the border. Still, the story didn’t feel complete.  

And then one day, I heard from a 12-year-old reader I’ll call Maria. She connected strongly with Clara, the narrator of my first novel, What the Moon Saw, who visits her grandparents in their Mixtec village in Oaxaca one summer. Like Clara, Maria lived in the U.S. and had relatives in an indigenous community in southern Mexico.  

But unlike Clara, Maria was undocumented. She’d come to live in her Colorado trailer park as a young child, after crossing the desert illegally. Her father had recently been deported to Mexico, and soon after, Maria began having problems at home and at school. After a particularly bad argument with her mom, she yelled, “I want to go to Mexico, like Clara did!”  

Her mother pointed out that Clara was born in the U.S., and could cross the border freely. Yet if Maria crossed the border, it would be too dangerous and costly to return. “I don’t care!” she shouted.  

Then her mother told her that if she moved back to their village, she could no longer go to school; instead, she’d have to wash clothes by hand all day to earn her living.Understandably, this made Maria even angrier... and frustrated and sad.  

Which made me angry, frustrated and sad. So I wrote about it in my notebook. And suddenly, everything I’d been trying to say in the trailer park story crystallized. I wrote about a girl in Maria’s situation, trying to find a sense of power and comfort in a desperate situation beyond her control. The novel that emerged had the framework of my original story, but now I felt there was something more, something that made the story pulse and breathe. After a decade and many journeys back and forth across the border, its heart had arrived.