"What we do in this life, echoes in eternity."
Maximus, Gladiator
"Our creator would never have made such lovely days, and given us the deep hearts to enjoy them, above all thought, unless we were meant to be immortal."
Nathaniel Hawthorne

Friday, May 02, 2014

Entry for the Voice: A Chair of Every Color

A CHAIR OF EVERY COLOR Query:

A young ballerina crippled by anxiety finds healing in the world of competitive Irish dancing.  

Florencia del Lago’s immigrant parents raised her to be a go-getter, an over achiever. So of course everyone was thrilled when she landed the part of Clara in The Nutcracker. But on opening night, Florencia suffered an anxiety attack and couldn’t perform. Now, eight months later, Florencia’s anxiety rules her life. Her only consolation is that she still has her best friend in the whole world—Selena. 

For her twelfth birthday, Florencia agrees to a shopping trip to the mall with Selena and a group of girls. When Selena is caught shoplifting and blames Florencia for it, Florencia’s world comes crashing down. 

Betrayed, friendless, and heartbroken, Florencia sees an Irish dance competition. The music ignites a determination buried deep inside. She enrolls in lessons and finds she’s actually pretty good at this Irish dance thing—especially for a Latina with not a drop of Irish blood. She’s so good, she might even have a chance to make it to the Irish Dance World Cup.

Plagued by her anxiety, her jealous ex-best friend, and the memory of the fateful Nutcracker, Florencia sets out to conquer her self-doubt. With the help of an Instagram celebrity, a boy fighting for the Irish Dance World Championship, a rescued cat with a crooked neck, and a pen-pal who lives in a rest home, Florencia will fight to vanquish her fears, forgive her enemy, and, hopefully, believe in friendship again. 

A Chair of Every Color, a middle grade novel, is finished at 57,000 words. I’m a member of SCBWI and a contributor of the Utah Children’s Writers blog. My two daughters are Irish dancers and, like me, children of many cultures. 

Thanks for your time and consideration. 

Sincerely,

Yamile Saied Méndez



250 Words:

 I was once a star. A shooting star. Una estrella fugaz, like Mamá said in Spanish. I was bright and beautiful and high, high in the sky. 
Like all shooting stars, I fell down. To reality. When I landed, well, I was just a piece of rock. Tiny, bumpy, unimportant. 
Dark.
When I was practicing to be Clara in the Nutcracker, I loved the promise of the spotlight, the sound of clapping hands, the thrill of pushing myself just a little more to make a perfect arabesque or pirouette. 
The spotlight, the clapping, the pushing myself must have been a little too much. I didn't last three minutes on the stage that opening night eight months ago, that terrible December 20th.
I froze. Forgot my steps. Failed everyone. 
I fell so fast, no one had time to make a wish. Not even me. I didnt even dare dream that Id dance again, that Id ever step on a stage.  
These days I didn't wish for much. 
When Mamá asked me whatever I wanted for my twelfth birthday, I didnt think twice. 
All I wanted, all I thought I could handle, was a late-night with my best friend, Selena. Shed saved the night and the Nutcracker. She made a perfect Clara. 
My friend, a movie, pizza and ice-cream, and me. At home. 
Simple as that.
When she heard me, Mamá choked on her chamomile tea. She gasped as if I had asked for a pony and the moon.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

Five years ago this happened. Five years ago! I now realize that there are a lot of books in Spanish for children that are incredible difficult to find in the US. And not only books for children, books, in general. I ordered Cien Años de Soledad right before Gabriel Garcia Marquez died and I'm still waiting for it.

What I realized these last five years too is that there aren't a lot of books about kids whose lives stray even a little from the norm. Or if there are, these books are "niche, issue books." My kids read and write English because it's the language of the country where they were born. I also strive to introduce them to writers and artists that marked me as a child because that cultural legacy belongs to them too, in Spanish, the language of our family.

I write stories about dancers, and soccer players, girls fighting to win the middle school government election, all told from the point of view of characters who live between cultures. That's a subject close to my heart because I'm the granddaughter of immigrants, and immigrant myself, mother of children who look at me with doubt when a stranger asks where they're from.

The DIA school in Salt Lake invited me to present at their school because in Utah at the time, there wasn't a single Hispanic/Latina writer. I might be wrong, but I think it's still true to this day. I hope this will change soon, not only because of selfish reasons. After all, I am submitting to agents at the moment, trying to find representation for my middle grade novel about a Latina dancer crippled by anxiety, who finds healing in the world of competitive Irish dancing. I know there is a lot of talent in the Latin community, and also the Polynesian, and the African American, and the regular Utah who descends from the Pioneers.

I read once that books are the mirror of society, and so far, our shelves don't represent the beauty and diversity I see everywhere I go even in homogenous Utah. Our state lauds the Pioneers and their struggles to live in a land where they could worship and live in peace. That desire to live in peace and achieve one's potential is still very much burning in the hearts of hundreds of people, many of them children, whose skin color, accents, sexual orientation and beliefs vary from our own.

Let's give everyone a chance to see themselves in the media! Growing up one of my favorite shows
was Heidi, the girl of the Alps. I had no idea where Switzerland was or what it was like to be a shepherdess, but I had just lost my grandfather and I missed him more than I could express. I didn't express it and developed what I now know was anxiety. I loved that show because I saw myself reflected in it. When Heidi was taken away from her "abuelito" I cried my little heart out. And how I celebrated once they were united! Heidi's friend, Clara, was in a wheelchair. Poor Clara. But what a forward thinking show! Clara was smart and kind and she was the best influence Heidi could ever want.

I want every child to see themselves in a book, a movie, a musical. Not like the quirky sidekick, but the hero/ine. Because we are all the heroes of our own stories. I invite you to participate in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign on Facebook and Twitter. Why do you think we need them?