|SCBWI On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Winner Adria Quinones|
One of two winners of this award for 2014, I contacted Adria Quinones to find out more...
Lee: Congratulations, Adria! Tell us about finding out you'd won the On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award.
Adria: Thank you, Lee! I had actually completely forgotten when the announcement was due--I was so wrapped up in finishing "The Disappeared" that I mentally "left the building" when I was done (which was actually mid-December, there were a couple of things I cleaned up after submitting). Steven reached me at work, but I was in the middle of twelve things and his name didn't register. I heard "SCBWI," so I assumed it must be about my registration to the Midwinter conference, It took a moment for it to penetrate that this was about Emerging Voices; when it did, I was so moved that I started to cry. I work in an open office, so this caused a bit of a scene: people were looking at me and each other, thinking, "Death in the family;" when I started sobbing harder, the looks said, "Entire family wiped out." I finally went to a conference room, with alarmed people trailing behind and wrote on the wipe board, "I won an award for my book!!" so that they could all go back to what they were doing. At the end of the conversation I had to ask, "Who am I speaking to?" Poor Steven! It's not easy being head of SCBWI.
Lee: That's a great story! You won for your middle grade novel "The Disappeared." Tell us about that project.
Adria: This book started four years ago. I kept thinking over conversations my sisters and I had about how we could always tell when a teacher got to us when calling the role because there would be this long pause while they tried to figure out how to pronounce either our first or last name. I wanted to put that kind of experience into a story. But it was important to me that it be a Latino kid and that it take place in Washington Heights, a chiefly Latino neighborhood where I've lived for almost my entire adult life. I wrote the first chapter in January 2011 and it's remained essentially unchanged, although last spring I had some difficult conversations with myself about the fact that the first chapter was no longer representative of the book's direction, although I was equally sure that that was how it should start. It took me a few months to figure out how to integrate the themes of identity and memory while telling a story about a boy who's lost his father.
Lee: Can you share about your journey so far in children's literature?
Adria: I am an accidental author--literally. I became a technical writer after an accident meant I had to change jobs. It's been great to be able to make my living writing; it's taught me a lot about the craft of writing along the way, including how to be productive every day. That's not to say I don't have some better days, but at work I'm expected to show up and write well no matter how I feel about it, and that's been a very useful skill to learn. Writing children's novels was also accidental. I mean, I gave up creative writing in high school! But in Feb. 2010, I was reading "The New Yorker" in bed very early one Saturday morning when, inexplicably, an entire story took shape in my mind. I decided that it was a gift and that had to be honored, so I got up and started writing. I still remember my husband's puzzled, "Where are you going?" Now he's used to it. I wrote a couple of thousand words that weekend and finished the book in about three months, I was so excited.
The Disappeared was a very different experience. Completing the first draft took most of a year, and then came what turned out to be three years of re-writing. I never thought it would take as long as it did--I spent two years thinking that I was almost finished. I'm glad I was wrong; it's a much better book now. My first three books were for middle graders, but my next one will be YA. I'm making notes and plan to start writing seriously in a couple of months.
Lee: Part of your prize for winning the award is an all-expense paid trip to the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, where you'll have "several private meetings with editors and other industry professionals." What are your hopes/plans for the conference?
Adria: The same thing everyone hopes for--representation by a fantastic, well-connected agent who loves my work, takes me out for tea and pastry, and gets it published to rave reviews. Seriously, some good guidance--how to create a career, how to improve what I'm doing--all of that would be appreciated. I've heard great things about the LA conference, so I'm very excited!
Lee: What's the best piece of advice you've gotten about writing for young people that you'd like to share?
Adria: Don't give up? Actually, all the things you hear all the time have been really important: Show, don't tell, get rid of everything that isn't essential--words, scenes, characters. It's been interesting how many times I had to hear these before I could put them to use. Maybe that's the best piece of advice: keep listening to advice. All the tropes of writing fiction are tropes for a reason.
Thanks Adria! We wish you much success on the adventure ahead!
Established by SCBWI and funded by Martin and Sue Schmitt, the On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award is given to two writers or illustrators who are from ethnic and/or cultural backgrounds that are traditionally under-represented in children's literature in America and who have a ready-to-submit complete work for children.
You can find out more about the award here.
And you can learn more about Adria here.
Illustrate and Write On,