Allison's Book Bag

Interview with Angela Cervantes

Posted on: July 3, 2014

AngelaCervantesGaby Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes is one of those books which has stuck with me. Since reviewing it in February, I have submitted it for reprint with our local dog club. Although I had already been helping out at a nearby no-kill shelter, after reading Gaby Lost and Found, I ended up volunteering to write some dog bios and articles for one of our local animal rescue groups. It’s my great pleasure then to have the opportunity to interview Angela Cervantes.

The idea for Gaby Lost and Found started when Cervantes was driving and saw a little girl walking her black and white cat. She had never seen anyone walk a cat before and it got me thinking about her story and the cat’s story and how they found each other. Gaby, Lost and Found was also her first attempt at a novel. Cervantes had no idea about the different writing routines and processes for writing a novel. She just had that spark of inspiration. The first draft took nine months. Then there were a couple of years of revisions, where is where Gaby’s story fully blossomed. After a couple of submissions, Cervantes got the call every author wants, the one where she’s told there’s an offer on her book. 

ALLISON: Many authors describe a childhood filled with reading of books and writing of scribbles. How else did you fill your time as a child?

ANGELA: I definitely wrote and read a lot as a child. I also loved to play with paper dolls and play Charlie Angels with my girlfriends. I think that sort of acting out stories whether with paper dolls or playing a Charlie Angel helped me become a writer. It was all about coming up with a storyline, plot twists, and creating different characters.

ALLISON: Was your adolescence more of a happy or sad one? How so?

ANGELA: Super happy. My mom, a former school teacher, is a creative soul who plays the piano, writes, and paints. All of our childhood, she encouraged my three siblings and I to explore our creative, artistic sides. We also always lived in a lively Mexican-American neighborhood with tons of friends around us, which has provided me with tons of material for my novels. Gaby, Lost and Found is full of conversations and scenes inspired by my childhood.

ALLISON: You grew up in Kansas, but your roots are Mexican. What was it like for you the first time you got to visit Mexico?

ANGELA: The first time I visited Mexico was when I was a child. I think maybe I was eight or nine. My family was visiting family in El Paso and we went over the border to visit Juarez for a day. Border towns like Juarez certainly are not a good representation of the entire country of Mexico, but it was my first glimpse into Mexico and I loved it. I was a child, so I remember mostly things a child would naturally be drawn too: Maracas, piñatas, delicate Mexican blouses and skirts with embroidered flowers, tamarind candy with chili. Since then, I’ve always been drawn to Mexico and I’ve visited different parts of the country many times and lived in Guadalajara for two years. I try to get there once a year, but that doesn’t always happen.

ALLISON: You co-founded a Chicano poetry group, which later became a Latino Writers Collective. What interested you about starting this group? How easy or difficult was it?

ANGELA: I was working with youth that were considered “at risk” and many of the young Latina girls loved to write poetry as a way to express their dreams and talk back to a society that they felt devalued and stereotyped them. I gathered them to meet each other and we started having writing workshops that eventually led to readings at libraries and cultural festivals around the city. The first time we had a public reading, the girls were nervous and couldn’t decide who would read first. None of them wanted to read first. One of the girls, sort of angrily (under stress no doubt), said to me “why do we have to read? And you don’t?” I decided I had to read in order to show them they could do it too. Lead by example, right? Up till then I was their mentor and that evening I became a member alongside them. It was that way for many years. We changed our name from Las Poetas to Latino Writers Collective because guys wanted to join and we needed a more inclusive name. The most difficult part of the Latino Writers Collective for me was that my role was becoming more and more administrative. That work left me very little time for my own writing. Now, I focus on my writing.

ALLISON: The idea for Gaby Lost and Found came from seeing a little girl walking her black and white cat. How did you develop that idea into a middle-grade novel?

ANGELA: I didn’t know Gaby, Lost and Found would be a middle grade novel, I simply started with a voice of that girl I saw walking her cat. She looked about ten or eleven and I started with that voice. I’ve learned that once the voice asserts itself into the story, there’s nothing you can do about it. I had to let her tell her story and that’s what happened.

ALLISON: What kind of research went into the immigration aspect of Gaby Lost and Found? What about the animal shelter aspect?

ANGELA: For both aspects I Googled lots of articles about actual children who have been separated from their families and spoke to friends who had similar stories. For the animal shelter, I visited several animal shelters just to get inspiration for the different rescue dogs and cats featured in the novel and talked to staff about shelter volunteers and what they do. I pet a lot of cats and kissed a lot of dogs for this novel. It’s the sort of research I don’t mind.

ALLISON: Gaby Lost and Found is your first novel. What have you learned from writing about the revision process?

ANGELA: Revision is my fave part of the writing process. Again, it goes back to knowing that I have to cut and tighten sections. For me, the actual writing part is tougher because it’s full of self-doubt and uncertainty. With revision, beautiful magic happens that makes the book and its characters stronger. 🙂

ALLISON: You indicated in one interview that one of the motivations to keep going was that your husband promised you a dog if your book got published. How has life changed with having a dog around?

ANGELA: I don’t have my dog yet. I know, it’s such a bummer. I worked so hard on Gaby, Lost and Found to get my dog, but since my book came out last August (wow! It’s almost a year!), I’ve been traveling too much and that’s not good for a new dog. I don’t want my dog to be stuck away at a kennel all the time because I’m traveling. Also, my husband and I moved to a new home and I don’t have a fenced-in backyard yet. I want a fence first so that our dog can run around freely in its forever home. I cannot wait and have already obtained two fence quotes. Yay! I’ll keep you posted when it happens. I have a feeling all of my Facebook and twitter posts will be dominated by photos of our new furry family member. 🙂

ALLISON: The multicultural book review committee which I belong to feel concern about the lack of diverse books for young people. Beyond promoting multicultural books, is there anything that the committee can be doing to help bring about change?

ANGELA: I think awareness is good and from my own author’s perspective, the whole conversation about the need for diverse books is positive and exciting. Beyond promoting multicultural books, we need folks to buy our books or request them at libraries. Taking this action, sends a message to the publishing houses and booksellers that diverse books written by multicultural authors telling their stories are important. It’s crazy that it’s 2014 and we still have to make a case for this, but we do. 🙂

ALLISON: What’s next?

ANGELA: I’m super excited about my summer plans. Besides finishing up my second novel with Scholastic, I’ll be presenting a writing workshop at the Young Heroes camp at a local animal shelter, Great Plains SPCA, in Kansas for much of July and August. I’ll guide the campers in writing animal profiles for real dogs and cats that are at the SPCA shelter needing a forever home. It’s like Gaby, Lost and Found come to life. It’s going to be a blast. 🙂

ALLISON: Congratulations on your recently winning the International Latino Book Award for Best Youth Chapter Book!

2 Responses to "Interview with Angela Cervantes"

An interesting interview from beginning to end! I particularly appreciated Angela’s response to your question about the Chicano poetry group. Hopefully she’ll be able to get her dog soon.

I have enjoyed my correspondence with Angela. She’s a bubbly and positive person. I liked her page on Facebook and so hope to soon hear that she has a dog. 🙂

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