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Posts Tagged ‘author interviews

Photo taken by James H. Maglina. Used with permission.

Photo taken by James H. Maglina. Used with permission.

Cynthia Stuart was a professor of psychology, medical law and ethics, and has written many articles on the interaction of rats as therapy animals. She writes, “Human – animal bonds can be utilized in a therapeutic context in work that is geared towards developing positive relationships with fellow humans.” Her love of rats began in 2003 as an environmental educator for a mini-zoo that featured a family of rats abandoned on its doorstep. She’s the co-author of The Improbable Adventures of My Mischief. I appreciate her taking time to talk with me!

ALLISON: Did you come from a big or small family? A household of pets or none?

CYNTHIA: My family was small. Just mom, dad and me–and a variety of pets, of course. During the course of my childhood and adolescence, I shared my life with a cat, hamster, goldfish, and turtles. I’m sure I’m forgetting other pets! When I grew up, I indulged my special passion for rodents and have lived with rats, guinea pigs, gerbils, a degu, a variety of fish, and lizards. I’ll be surrounded by rodents for as long as I’m able to provide for their optimal care.

ALLISON: If you were to write a book about your childhood, how would you summarize it?

CYNTHIA: I was very much loved and protected by my parents, but because of a combination of shyness and being overweight at the time, I was bullied, which had an enormous negative impact on my life. My respite from that was a pack of close friends, my animals, and my escape via continuous reading.

ALLISON: Most people seem to have experienced a wonderful or terrible adolescence? How would you categorize yours? Why?

CYNTHIA:I’d say my adolescence was less than ideal, given the aforementioned shyness, weight issue and bullying.  I wouldn’t want to go back–I feel I’m at the best point in my life than I’ve ever been right now. I’m retired from full-time work and the bit of work I do to keep stimulated is from home as an online English teacher. The bulk of my days are spent doing pretty much as I please…. writing, reading, and spending quality time with my current mischief of rodents and my significant other.

ALLISON: What period of your life most changed you?

CYNTHIA: Starting college at the ripe old age of 30. My experiences led to the practically overnight shedding of my shyness and developing the ability to stand up and assert myself when necessary. I also developed a hunger for knowledge and became somewhat addicted to higher education, to the point that I wound up with a PhD in my late 50’s.

ALLISON: Who most influenced you growing up?

CYNTHIA: Definitely my parents. They set the tone for how to live a virtuous life and encouraged me to keep up my addiction to reading – which has led to my writing later in life. Both my parents were ardent animal lovers as well, who were all for my adoption of non-human family members.

ALLISON: What is involved with being an environmental educator?

CYNTHIA:The job primarily entailed giving talks to visiting school and camp groups about wildlife and caring for the environment. I also taught the Environmental Center’s pre-school classes, as well as hosted environmentally themed birthday parties. All of these activities involved integrating the animals that we had living on the premises in a mini-zoo into our talks. Nature walks were also included in the roster of activities and, if we were lucky, we’d spot wild birds and animals who were seemingly unafraid to make an appearance in the midst of usually loud, boisterous groups of children.

ALLISON: Tell me more about the family of rats that were abandoned at the mini-zoo where you worked.

CYNTHIA:Unfortunately, the environmental center at which I worked had been often used as a dumping ground for people with exotic pets who didn’t want them anymore. Staff would arrive in the morning to find a box or glass aquarium with some poor rejected pet(s). Presumably the former owners figured we’d give them a home in the mini-zoo.

One of these “drop offs” was a family of rats – mom, dad, and a litter. The center never had rats before, so they were given a place in the zoo.  However, they were still kept in tanks and not separated. Being a rodent lover, I fell in love with them and took them out of their tank whenever I could to work with them with visiting groups, as well as try to socialize them individually. I tried to advocate for vastly improved conditions for them, but my pleas fell on deaf ears.

Not surprisingly, mom and dad started to reproduce again. Then, the population started to disappear.  At first, I thought maybe they were being adopted out to visitors (which sometimes happened). Not so lucky… I found out they were being fed to the resident snakes. By the time I found out, there was just one little rat left, and I adopted her and named her Nibbles.

She was wonderful and I loved her so much. It was Nibbles that started me on the path to Rat Chickdom back in 2003, and I haven’t looked back since.  By the way, shortly after adoption, I quit the environmental center because of the snake incidents,  and the way the rest of the animals were being maintained with little regard to their welfare.

ALLISON: Why do rats make great pets?

CYNTHIA: Rats have a bottomless capacity to demonstrate total love and affection to their human parents.  Unconditional love is their calling card. It is very rare for rats to bite their people. If they do, there is a valid reason (past abuse, for example). It is typical for rats to react very excitedly when their people come into their room–begging to come out and play or, in the case of senior rats like my boys, to spend quality cuddle time with their humans. Their desire for socializing is definitely not limited to their own kind. They take you into their hearts forever and they make it quite obvious how special you are to them.

ALLISON: Describe a special bonding moment between you and a rat.

CYNTHIA: I’d have to say this occurred with my present rats, Simon and Niblet (brothers who are a year and a half old).  They were part of a huge ooooooops litter and they were the last two left after their siblings were adopted.

I’ve never encountered such fearless, bold babies in my entire rat-life. In order to bring them home, they rode with me on two commuter trains that were an hour’s ride each, had a long transit time in New York City’s frantic Grand Central Terminal, followed by a long subway ride, and then a cab. When I finally got them home and opened the carrier door into their new cage –they didn’t want to go in. What they wanted to do was climb on and play with me! So, that first night, the three of us sat in the living room play wrestling, cuddling, exploring, and watching the Academy Awards together.

I couldn’t believe that after a horrendous commute and being with a total stranger, they would do this. They actually took the initiative to bond with me–I was prepared to leave them alone for a couple of days to settle in and become more comfortable. They remain clingy Mama’s boys to this day.

ALLISON: How can rats be therapy animals?

CYNTHIA: I’ve written articles about this topic for the American Psychological Association’s Human-Animal Interaction group as well as “It’s a Rat’s World” magazine. To me, it’s extremely obvious how they can provide emotional support–especially to those persons challenged with depression and anxiety. To have animals who so forcefully display their adoration of an individual–regardless of how upset that person is–is not only comforting but healing.

Because rats are so forceful in their demands for love and attention, they help to integrate people with mood disorders into life outside of themselves. It’s very hard to ignore a rat or rats standing on their hind legs, nose and arms reaching through the cage bars, clamoring for love and a bit of play and cuddles! Like with all pets, they have needs that must be met on a regular schedule, thus providing a reason and obligation to get up out of bed and start one’s day in the morning.

Of course, there is the scientific evidence of the benefits of simply petting animals, and rats tend to be addicted to petting. While I go into greater detail in my articles, suffice it to summarize that since rats are so positively pushy about showing love, pet parents who may need some type of emotional support, unconditional acceptance, and love get that in abundance from their rats. I’ve definitely relied on their support during my own challenging moments!

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Laura Moss has been an outdoors lover and cat lady all her life. She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in journalism, and has written about pets professionally for more than five years. Laura is also the mother of a timid rescue dog and two mischievous rescue kitties whom she’s clicker trained and leash trained. Her latest venture is the Adventure Cats website and accompanying book.

When Moss couldn’t find an online resource for hitting the trail with her cat, she created one with the help of a group of fellow outdoorsy cat lovers. AdventureCats.org is also intended to challenge negative stereotypes about cats and the people who love them in order to increase shelter cat adoptions. As for the book, Adventure Cats, it’s a collection of photographs and stories of real-life cats, combined with and all the how-to information for taking owners and their cats into the great outdoors.

Below is an interview with Moss, and a review of her book will appear in a future post. Get in touch with her on Twitter, or email her if your message has more than 140 characters.

ALLISON: When and how did you become a cat lady?

LAURA: Growing up, there was always a cat in my home, so I guess I’ve sort of been a cat lady since the beginning. When I was 15, my mom finally let me adopt a cat of my own, and that was such a huge deal for me. I adopted a little orange tabby from a local shelter, and she moved with me for college and grad school, and she shared my apartment when I got my first job. She was a huge part of my life, and she inspired me to get involved with local shelters.

ALLISON: You’ve written professionally about pets for more than five years. How did you break into this field?

LAURA: I was an editor for Mother Nature Network for several years, and I became the go-to pet writer. I’ve always had a great love for animals, so it was a very natural fit for me. Through that job, I made a lot of connections with other people who work with animals and write about them, so that’s led to a lot of different pet-related opportunities for me.

ALLISON: There are eleven people on the Adventure Cats team. How did the group of you connect and what has enabled you to work well together?

LAURA: My husband and I do most of the day-to-day work. When we discovered this huge community of people who were enjoying the great outdoors with their pets, we created a website as a way to share their stories. Since then, the website and its social media outlets have gained a bit of a following, so we’ve had to reach out to people for assistance. One thing this venture has taught me is that there are so many people out there who are much smarter than I am, and it’s important to ask them for help when I need it.

ALLISON: What about your background (besides writing) have you used to promote Adventure Cats–the concept, the website, the book?

LAURA: My background in journalism certainly plays an important role. While I’ve learned a lot about cats and their behavior through my work, I’m not a cat expert—but what I am an expert at is gathering information, interviewing people smarter than I am, and telling stories.

ALLISON: For readers who don’t know anything about adventure cats, would you tell about the first adventure cat you met? The most recent?

LAURA: I guess the first adventure cat I ever met was an orange tabby cat at the shelter I was volunteering with in college. He took leashed strolls around the store, and it was the first time I ever realized that some cats can be leash trained and enjoy a walk. The most recent kitty I got to meet up with was Floyd The Lion, who is this very fluffy and friendly cat in Colorado. He’s adorable and will quite literally pull you down the sidewalk on his leash.

ALLISON: What type of adventures have you taken with your cats?

LAURA: My cats love going outside, but they’re definitely close-to-home adventure cats. They’re very comfortable exploring the wilds of the backyard, sticking their paws in the creek and lounging in sun puddles, but they’ve never expressed any interest in venturing much farther than this familiar area.

If you’re going to try taking your cat outside on a leash, I think it’s very important that you don’t force your cat outside his or her comfort zone. While there are definitely some cats who are comfortable in public parks or on trails, I think they’re the minority, and a lot of cats won’t feel safe in such an unpredictable environment.

One thing I always tell people is that just like when you’re indoors, your cat is the one who calls the shots, so if your cat doesn’t want to venture past the porch — or even outside at all — that’s the way it’s going to be. You have to accept that and focus on having indoor adventures instead!

ALLISON: For others who aspire to change stereotypes about cats, what advice would you give?

LAURA: One of the best things you can do is simply to share the positive experiences you’ve had with your own cats. I think often people can have one bad experience with a cat or make assumptions about what cats are like and let that prevent them from bringing a feline into their lives. Stories like the following are some of my favorites: This Adventure Kitty Turned Her Rescuer Into A Cat Person

“Happy pets, happy people.” That’s the aim with which Zazie Todd started Companion Animal Psychology. The site shares evidence-based information about how to care for our pets. While exploring a variety of topics in animal welfare , there are particular themes to which Zazie often returns: the importance of enrichment for our pets; the use of reward-based training for dogs (and cats); the need to make visits to the vet less stressful; and the psychology of the human-animal bond.

Todd has a PhD in Psychology (University of Nottingham) and an MFA Creative Writing (UBC). She also Zazie graduated with honors from Jean Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers, holds a supporting membership with the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants, and volunteers at the British Columbia SPCA. Todd  grew up in Leeds, in the north of England, and now lives in Canada, with her common law husband, one dog, and two cats.

In conjunction with Companion Animal Psychology, Todd started an animal book club on Facebook, of which I am a member. Below is an interview with Todd. Get in touch with her by email at companimalpsych at gmail dot com, or on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Companion Animal Psychology Book Club.

ALLISON: Tell me about your first pet.

ZAZIE: I wasn’t allowed a pet when I was growing up. I really wanted a cat. When I was in high school, a neighbour’s cat used to come in our garden a lot and I liked hanging out with her. But I didn’t get a cat until I was a grad student in Edinburgh. I went to a cat rescue and adopted a young ginger-and-white cat called Snap. I found out later that the lady who ran the rescue had no intention of adopting to us that day because she didn’t adopt to students, but she thought if she let us visit she could educate us about cats. But she had a cat with a wobble–with hindsight I’m guessing it was cerebellar hypoplasia–who apparently didn’t like anyone, but for whatever reason this cat did like me and my boyfriend. So I was allowed to adopt the cat that was climbing on my shoulders and hanging upside down from my arm. He was a lovely cat, very playful and very friendly.

ALLISON: Your background is in psychology and writing. When did you decide to start working with animals? Why?

Bodger

Bodger

ZAZIE: I’ve always been interested in animals but although I used to sometimes supervise student projects on pets, it wasn’t the main focus of my research. But when I left academia I was very lucky to be able to do an MFA Creative Writing at UBC, and finally the time was right to get a dog. Actually, we got two dogs, and this was the first time I really paid any attention to dog training advice. What I noticed was that it was very hard to find good advice on how to train a dog. I mean, it was out there, but there was also–and still is–a lot of advice that is just not true and even downright dangerous. And at the same time, there’s really been an explosion of interest in researching the human-animal bond and canine cognition, so there’s a lot of fascinating material to write about. I think it can make a huge difference, not only to the animals and their welfare, but also to the people who care for them. Happy pets, happy people, as it were!

When I decided I wanted to learn more about the training side of things, I was very lucky to get a scholarship to the Academy for Dog Trainers. I graduated with honors in February 2016. One of the things I really like about the Academy is that it teaches you to be very efficient in your training, which makes all the difference when you are working with shelter animals. Right now I’m half-way through International Cat Care’s Certificate of Feline Behavior and really enjoying it. Everything is evidence-based and designed to be helpful to you in practice. Because dog training and so on is not regulated, I think it’s important to have the qualifications to show you know what you’re talking about.

The nice thing is that a lot of people are very interested to learn more about animals. I’m especially thrilled that Greystone will publish my book Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy because it will help get that information to a new audience. So for me it’s been a gradual transition–the psychology and writing are still there–but animals got added in more and more!

ALLISON: How have you grown as a pet owner due to your research into and training with animals?

Harley-Sep2016

Harley-Sep2016

ZAZIE: What a great question! I’m sure if I went back in time I would do some things differently. I certainly know a lot more about how to care for animals. One thing is that I didn’t used to know about food puzzles for dogs and cats, and that’s a great thing to provide. I know a lot more about socialization of young animals and how important it is to give them lots of positive experiences. And I think vet care is another change…. I used to take treats to the vet with me anyway, and I had taught previous cats to like the carrier but it wasn’t a very organized plan. It’s one thing knowing the theory and another thing knowing how best to put it into practice! But husbandry training is something that was included in the Academy for Dog Trainers curriculum, and I’ve since become Fear Free certified too. I think being able to help an animal feel more comfortable at the vet makes such a big difference. I feel sad for the times I used to take animals to the vet and just expect them to put up with it!

ALLISON: I first discovered you through the Companion Animal Psychology blog. How have you gained attention for it?

ZAZIE: When I look back at the last five years I am surprised how much the blog has grown. So I think one thing is simply being persistent and keeping going. I decided quite early on to try and stick to a schedule and post every week on a Wednesday morning. I don’t always manage it–sometimes life gets in the way, of course–but most of the time I have. It means regular readers always know when they can look and find something new on my blog.

I try really hard to be accurate in what I write. Sometimes it’s a challenge, especially when writing about research, because I have to pick which bits of the story to include otherwise it would become too long or the main points would get lost. Sometimes I’m able to write about research that doesn’t get a lot of attention in the media, so I’m able to bring something new and I think that helps bring people to my blog. The other thing I think bloggers need to remember is that even when writing about a topic other people have covered, everyone brings something unique to it and so it’s still worth writing about. But it’s not just about imparting information, it’s also about showing people why it matters.

Of course, social media is a big part of it. On twitter and Facebook, I like to share a lot of content from other people too. Like I said before, there’s a lot of bad information about cats and dogs, so when I see something good I think it’s important to share. And whenever someone shares my posts–or buys one of my t-shirts that raise funds for my local shelter–it makes me happy to think there are so many people out there who care about animal welfare.

Melina-relaxing-July-2017

Melina-relaxing-July-2017

ALLISON: What is your favorite part about living in Canada?

ZAZIE: It’s hard to pick one thing as a favorite because there’s so much to love. But I would say nature, because Canada has so many beautiful places, including many I have yet to visit. I have lots of exploring to look forward to! There are so many forests and lakes and beaches that are just stunning. The wildlife is amazing–we have bobcat, cougar and black bears. And I love watching the hummingbirds! People here are very friendly too. I also like that Canada celebrates its diversity and this is a place where people from all over the world can feel at home.

ALLISON: There are particular animal welfare themes that are important to you. When did you develop those passions? Why?

ZAZIE: When I went to get my first cat, I went to a rescue, so even back then I wanted to help homeless animals. I should add that not all of my pets have come from shelters though. But because my background is in Psychology, and so much of that is relevant to the human-animal relationship, that’s somewhere where I thought I could make a difference. I’ve become really interested in the dog training side of things and I think it’s such a shame when people are given incorrect information. For example a lot of people still believe that you shouldn’t let your dog on the settee or on your bed, and they’ve heard this from TV or the internet. Of course I understand that some people don’t want to, but there are people who would like to cuddle on the couch with their dog but don’t because they have been told it would make the dog ‘dominant’. Or they do let their dog on the settee but then they feel guilty because they think they aren’t supposed to and it might be bad for the dog. That’s something that can stop you from getting the most out of your relationship with your dog, when really it’s up to you if you would like to or not.

One of the reasons I am so interested in enrichment is because of the different circumstances for cats here. When I lived in England, my cats could go outside during the daytime and they would spend a lot of time in the garden or nearby. Here that’s not possible because there are a lot of coyotes, so it just wouldn’t be safe. I think it can be a bit boring for a cat being indoors all the time. A lot of people have indoor cats here and so it’s even more important to make sure cats have what they need (in terms of scratching posts and cat trees etc.) and have food toys and playtime.

ALLISON: You volunteer at a shelter. What have you learned about increasing adoptions?

ZAZIE: As a volunteer I work directly with the animals, so I’m not personally involved in the adoption side of things. But one of the things I think is important is to have descriptions which are accurate, which means highlighting the positive things about the animal as well as any issues that potential adopters may have to deal with. It’s easy to say a dog jumps up and will need to learn some manners and then forget to mention that this is a very friendly dog–and that’s an important thing to know! Also the photos matter, because so many people are looking online to see which animals are available. I interviewed Dr. Christy Hoffman recently and asked her about her research on increasing adoptions, and she mentioned that for cats it can help to have a toy in the photo. But if you put a toy in every cat’s photo, then it’s no longer helping to differentiate that particular cat from the others. So you should include the toy in photos of the cats that you think need a bit of extra help getting adopted.

ALLISON: We have a shared passion of increasing awareness of the importance of enrich the lives of cats. Tell me of a time you have helped a cat owner.

ZAZIE: We do! And I always enjoy your blog posts. Recently, I have been spending time with some fearful cats. They are actually very friendly cats when they know you, but they are afraid of new people. So at first I completely ignored them except to put small treats in places where I thought they might feel safe coming to get them. Then they started to approach me, but I knew that if I reached out to them they would duck away from my hand or even run away because they were still nervous. I didn’t want them to have that experience so I just let them come to me on their own terms. Then I started putting my hand out and they could decide whether to come and rub on my hand or not. Now they are used to me and we are good friends and they like to be petted. But that’s only because I made sure they felt safe at each stage.

ALLISON: As part of Companion Animal Psychology blog, you also started a book club. What inspired you to create it?

ZAZIE: I have been in book clubs before that mostly read fiction and I really enjoyed it. Actually I also did some research on book clubs once. That was back in England and I ran several book clubs for a study I was doing. Anyway, I had been thinking for a while that it would be nice to have an animal book club, but the thing that made me actually set it up was reading The Trainable Cat by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis. I really liked it and wanted to be able to discuss it with other people. So I made that the first choice for the book club! But now the members get to choose the books, which is only fair. It’s a chance to read some really interesting books about animals and discuss them with like-minded people. I was a bit amazed at how many people wanted to join!

ALLISON: When not trying to change the lives of animals, how do you spend your time?

ZAZIE: I like going for walks, with or without my dog. I like to read fiction as well as non-fiction and right now A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki is at the top of my book pile. And I like spending time in my garden. I am always behind on the weeding so my garden is a bit overgrown but I enjoy being outside and all the birds and butterflies that we get. I don’t travel so much as I used to but, bearing in mind that this part of the world is somewhere I always used to like to come on vacation, I don’t think that matters!

Natasha Wing grew up in Connecticut, not far from New York City. After graduating from Arizona State University, she worked in advertising for a number of years. In 1991, she decided to write children’s books, and sold her first book within six months. Now she’s the author of many picture books, including the best-selling Night Before Series. Below is an interview with Natasha Wing, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers. Please return tomorrow for my review of her latest picture book, When Jackie Saved Grand Central, which I received as an Advanced Reader Copy.

Q. If you weren’t an author or illustrator what would you do for a living?

I’d flip houses. I love resurrecting neglected things and making them beautiful. Hey! That’s like polishing up old manuscripts!

Q. What is the first book you remember loving as a child?

The Cat in the Hat.

Q. What’s your favorite word?

pickle

Q. If you could have any super power what would it be?

Erasing fear.

Q. An ice cream sundae is not complete without _____

Warm chocolate sauce!

Q. The best thing about my job is______

The freedom to explore any topic.

Q. What’s the best snack to eat while reading a good book?

Cheese and crackers with a glass of wine. I eat potato chips when I’m editing since the crunch seems to address my frustration.

Q. Picture books are important because _____

They are portals into other worlds.

This photo of Jackie on the train helped the illustrator see what Jackie was wearing during her Landmark Express train ride to Washington, D.C.

What Natasha thinks is the most beautiful part of the terminal and one of the reasons why she’s glad this building was saved–the ceiling!

 

And here Natasha is at the renovated train station in Denver near where she lives in Colorado.

Reyna Grande is the author of The Distance Between Us, a novel about family. Born in Mexico, Reyna was two years old when her father left for the United States to find work.  Her mother followed her father two years later, leaving Reyna and her siblings behind in Mexico. When Reyna was ten, she and her siblings entered the U.S. with their father as undocumented immigrants. Reyna become the first person in her family to graduate from college and today she is well-known speaker and author. To find out more, check out my interview.

ALLISON: Tell readers something about yourself that they won’t learn from reading The Distance Between Us.

REYNA: I love gardening. I especially like creating butterfly gardens. My daughter and I raised monarch butterflies for a while and it was the most amazing experience. I think every child should have a chance to witness the transformation of a butterfly with their own eyes. It’s powerful. One of my favorite quotes, that I actually have framed and hanging on my wall, is: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” It inspires me.

ALLISON: You were born in Mexico. What is a favorite memory from Mexico?

REYNA: One of my favorite memories that I didn’t write about in the book is the time when I went on a pilgrimage with my grandmother, Abuelita Chinta. We went with the group from our local church. The procession walked to the churches in nine different towns. It was long and tiring to walk there, especially since I was only eight years old, but the people at every town would welcome us with a delicious meal cooked over an open fire. I can still taste those meals–pork in green chile sauce, rice, beans, and hot oatmeal drinks we call atole served with a piece of sweet bread. The pilgrimage was one of those times when we ate very well! I went there to pray for my mother’s return. I don’t think my prayers were answered, but at least I still have the memory of the food I ate.

ALLISON: When you returned to Mexico, you found yourself almost a stranger. Have you taken your children to Mexico? What has been their experience?

REYNA: I take my children almost every year because I want them to know the place where I came from, so that they can have at least a small connection to the place and the family I have there. I hope that by seeing the poverty I came from will help them appreciate what I’ve been able to give them in the U.S. They enjoy going to my hometown but they also complain about the lack of luxuries that they are used to here–like running water!  Over there, they have to boil their bath water on the stove, then put it in a bucket and throw the water on themselves with a small container. On the other hand, they very much love the food that my aunt cooks for them and they like the freedom that children have over there–such as being able to walk around the neighborhood, to go to the store by themselves, to play in the street with other children, things that here in the U.S. children don’t get to do because parents tend to be over-protective and their isn’t as much a sense of community as there is in Mexico.

ALLISON: You concluded in your memoir that despite the strain immigration put on your family, the hardship was worth it. What would you tell young people about overcoming challenges?

REYNA: I would tell them to do everything they can to overcome those challenges because otherwise, their lives would get worse instead of better. If you find yourself in a hole, try to climb out of it–you do that by making the right choices. Focus on school, on your dreams, on your future. If you make bad choices out of desperation, you only dig yourself deeper.  Remember, things don’t always have to be that way–they can get better, they can change. You just have to keep focused, stay strong, and above all, don’t lose hope.

ALLISON: You gave a special tribute to a teacher who changed your life. Have there been other mentors in your life? If so, what has been their influence?

REYNA: I had another teacher at UC, Santa Cruz who was very important to me. Her name is Marta Navarro, a Spanish and Chicano Literature teacher, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She–like my former teacher that I write about in the book–also encouraged me to keep writing. She introduced me to more Latino authors, and she was always available to talk whenever I needed someone to listen. I’m still in touch with her too, and she even came to my wedding!

ALLISON: The Distance Between Us is based on your adult memoir. What process was involved in rewriting it for young people?

REYNA: I didn’t want to water down the story for young readers so I did my best to stay true to the original. Mostly what I did was to put the book on a diet–meaning–I trimmed off all the extra stuff, details, backstory, inner thoughts, and only left what was essential. I cut out about 100 pages. I took out my  crazy uncle, and also some details about my love life that was inappropriate for young readers.

But by cutting 100 pages, it gave me some room to expand on things that young readers would find interesting, such as the border crossing. In the original, my border crossing is only one chapter long. In the young reader’s version, it is three chapters. I added more details so that young readers could really have a chance to experience that moment in my life that was very traumatic but also life-changing.

ALLISON: You’re open in your memoir about both the highs and lows of your family’s life. What has been the reaction of your family to your memoir?

REYNA: My siblings have been very supportive of my writing and they really loved the book. My mother didn’t read much of it because she said it was too painful. My father passed away before the book was published. My aunts from the Grande side got mad at me for writing about how mean my evil grandmother had been. But, that is how she was, and I wrote the truth of my experience living under her roof. I don’t feel guilty about what I wrote, and I understand that since she’s dead, my aunts would rather I had honored her memory by writing more positive things–but unfortunately, I had nothing positive to write about because all my memories of her are unpleasant and painful. Writing memoir is very tricky because you are writing about your family and they might never speak to you again if they don’t like what you wrote! Ultimately, if you write memoir, you have write your truth and no one else’s. You aren’t writing to please anyone. You are writing so that you can heal from the wounds of your experience.

ALLISON: You wrote The Distance Between Us to provide an awareness. What would like people who are not immigrants to understand? What books would you recommend a person starting out in their awareness of diversity to read?

REYNA: I would like for non-immigrants to remember where they came from. Everyone here–except for native Americans–came from somewhere. Perhaps it was a great-grandparent or grandparent who immigrated, who went through the trauma and heartbreak that new immigrants go through. If people honor the memories of those who came before them–their ancestors–I think it will make them more compassionate and understanding towards new immigrants. The U.S. has a history of discrimination against specific immigrant groups. Even those who managed to assimilate very well into American culture (like the Irish) at one point or another were heavily discriminated. I think it’s time that we accept that we are a multi-cultural society. We have people from all over the world who live here, and that is a beautiful thing!

Recommended Reading:

1) Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami

2) The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

3) Broken Paradise by Cecilia Samartin

4) Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

5) A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernandez

6) Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli


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Fall 2017: Focus on Cats!

All things cats ahead! I will post roundups of cat training books, cat Trap-Neuter-Release books, cat coloring books, and cat cozies. For all other animal lovers, I will also post roundups of dog cozies and zoo books.

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