Christina Diaz Gonzalez is a Tenner, the author of the highly anticipated and definitely amazing MG/YA novel The Red Umbrella (my review here). I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this book at NCTE in November, and I finished it that week. It's a beautifully written, bittersweet tale that needed to be told. I was lucky enough to snag Christina and have her answer a few of my questions. Welcome, Christina, to Steph Su Reads!
This story is loosely based on my own family’s history, but it’s also an important part of American history and yet there wasn’t much written about it, especially from the point of view of the children who experienced it. I wanted to change that. The book showcases how the U.S. has always been a haven for those seeking refuge from injustice and oppression and how average Americans have stepped up to help those in need, even if they were foreigners in our country. I also wanted to show the pride immigrants (in this case Cubans) have for their homeland, but how, in the end, family is what matters most.
2. Tell us a little about your writing process. How long did it take for you to write The Red Umbrella? How did the querying process go for you?
The book was originally a picture book for older children, but I kept getting feedback saying that the story was more appropriate as a novel. I decided to take this advice and with the first fifteen pages written, I had a critique at an SCBWI conference with an editor. She loved those pages and asked how quickly I could finish the book. I told her I’d be done by the end of the summer and, six weeks later, voila! I sent her my manuscript. Within a month I had a contract!
3. I can definitely see The Red Umbrella as a picture book, but I'm glad it ended up being a YA novel instead. :) You mention on your website that you did family research in order to write this novel. How much does Lucia resemble you, and how much does she resemble other members of your family?
Lucia resembles me in the sense that I drew upon my experiences of growing up in a small town. Before writing the story, I think I based Lucia on an image of my mother at fourteen, but after a while Lucia took on a life of her own.
4. Can you tell us about The Call?
Ah, The Call. I was at my mom’s house and, for some reason (AT&T I’m looking at you) I can’t get cell phone reception there, so THE CALL went directly to voice-mail. When I checked my messages, I heard my editor’s voice saying how much she’d loved the book and how I should call her to discuss an offer. I called right away while standing in the middle of the street (the best place to get reception). I ended up negotiating my own contract because I’d been rejected by one agent and hadn’t looked into getting another one.
5. Without revealing any spoilers, what is your favorite scene in The Red Umbrella?
For me, it’s the airport scene. It’s so emotional and personal because it’s based on what really happened to my mother.
Well, many of the Cuban children were sent to foster homes in Nebraska, Oregon and Iowa (including my mother-in-law who was sent to Des Moines) and I loved the fact that there is such a sharp contrast between Grand Island, Nebraska ( a land-locked state) and the island nation of Cuba. It seemed to be the perfect fit.
I see Selena Gomez as Lucia and my cousin’s son as Frankie (he’s the one in the book trailer).
8. Fun fact! What's your favorite season, and why?
I love summer because we usually travel somewhere and also go to the beach to spend time with my extended family (I’m talking like fifty people because it always includes aunts, uncles, cousins etc.).
9. What are some of your favorite YA books?
I have lots, but my recent favorites are The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Shiver, and I Am The Messenger.
I would love to see more books that include poc (people of color) where their race/culture doesn’t define them, but is only a backdrop. Something that reflects teens who are “as American as apple pie”, but who still carry other cultures with them.
11. I completely and totally agree about wanting more POC in YA lit! And finally, how are you going to celebrate May 11, your official release day?
Well my BIG launch party will be on May 8th (if you’re anywhere near the Miami area come over to Books & Books that evening and say hi), so on May 11th I’ll be watching the series finale of LOST and co-hosting an online launch party with the fabulous Chelsea Campbell whose book The Rise of Renegade X releases on the same day!
May sounds like it's going to be a blast! Thank you so much, Christina, for answering my questions and providing a look inside the creation of The Red Umbrella and yourself. Keep this lovely book on your book radar for the next few months; it's a great read!