Today, please welcome young author, Sandra Lopez, as she offers advice to fellow young writers on the process of writing a novel, the work of revision and the perseverance of landing an agent and a book deal (all while attending college!)
Sandra C. López was born and raised in Hawaiian Gardens, California. She learned to read at two and strived to achieve the best grades in school. Her free time was spent reading, writing, and drawing. Sandra managed to be the first in her family to graduate from high school and enter college. Her first novel, Esperanza: A Latina story, was published in March 2008 while she was still in college. Now, this young writer is a graduate of Cal State University Fullerton with a BFA in Animation and Illustration, and she is anticipating a promising career as a writer and an artist. Beyond The Gardens is the follow up sequel to “Esperanza.”
At the age of 18, Esperanza Ignacio begins her college years at an upscale Los Angeles art school, where she studies to fulfill her long-term dream in Animation. But she soon learns the truth to the old folktale: “you can take the girl out of the barrio, but you can’t take the barrio out of the girl.” Even though she’s getting financial aid, Esperanza works a part-time job during her break from classes just to make ends meet. Her roommate, Anna, is what she calls a “chicana from Beverly Hills” because of the rich daddy and the new car she got for her quinceañera.
Things get a little confusing for Esperanza when an old friend comes looking for her, hoping to start a meaningful relationship. But is Carlos the right guy for her? She never even considered him to be anything more than a friend since high school. Then comes Jake, a gorgeous mechanic, who shares her passion for books and loves her for who she is.
What’s a girl to do?
Interview by Mary Jo Campbell
Tell us about your writing background: when did you realize you wanted to be a writer? Who is your biggest influence?
SL: For me, being a writer was not part of the plan. I’ve always had a deep admiration for writers since I was two, and I always thought you had to have been born with a natural talent for it. I never thought that I could be a writer. It was just impossible and unthinkable. So I kept on reading instead. I didn’t discover the works of Latino writing until I read Sandra Cisnero’s The House on Mango Street (one of my favorite books, BTW) in college. Then I went to on to the works of Luis Rodriguez and Gary Soto and many others. It was at that time that I realized I was only reading about Latinos that were either assimilating to American life as an illegal immigrant or trying to survive in a Los Angeles gang. What about the young Latina that just wants to go to school? That’s how I came to writing Esperanza. Of course, my intention was not to get it published. I was just going to leave it on the shelf and let it collect dust forever. But I thought: Why not? Send out some letters and see what happens. After about 30 rejection letters, I was about to give up on the whole thing; then I got a call from the editor at Floricanto Press. “Send us your manuscript,” they said. So I did. Then four months later, I was offered a contract. Two and half years later, Esperanza: A Latina Story was a published paperback. And all this happened WHILE I was still in college.
I guess my biggest influence was…..ME. Other writers may have floated my dormant aspiration to the surface; but I was ultimately the one that made that flying leap over the water and allowed my bursting creativity to breathe.
Let’s talk about your writing process. Beyond the Gardens is the sequel to Esperanza, a Latina Story. Did you know there would be a sequel when writing your first book? When working on the first draft, do you pre-write or outline or just freewrite without a plan? Do you revise as you go, or get the whole rough draft completed, and then go back for revisions?
SL: I realized Esperanza’s story would continue right after the publication of my first book. Esperanza is a precocious and intelligent young kid, who is blind to her own potential. However, she is very ambitious in her studies. All she wants to do is go to school and learn everything she can. Her dream is to be an animator and “work for Bugs Bunny,” as she describes. But she figures that because she is a Latina coming from a poor Mexican barrio, her destiny lies in the fast-food industry. To her own surprise, she gets accepted to the Atkins Art Institute in Los Angeles. And that’s pretty much where Beyond the Gardens begins.
When I first started planning it, I began with an outline to organize my thoughts on the story (something that progressed and changed as time went on.) Then I used what a fellow writer calls, “throwing up on a page.” I just allowed myself to write freely without worrying about spelling, grammar, or any of that. The ironic is that the free writing stage sometimes deviated from the outline as I suspected it would; but it still worked for me because writing is like starting a painting—you almost always begin with a light sketch in pencil before covering the canvas with brush strokes.
When you get to the revision stage, you begin the real but fun work. For me, revising is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I added a piece here, took out a piece there, chiseled this one to make it fit here, and so on. I worked from middle, beginning, and end (I say it like this because I didn’t revise from A to Z; I worked in sections, tweaking the parts I like and wanted to keep.
Having a novel published at a young age gives hope to other young writers out there. How long did the whole process take, from idea to publication for your novel, Beyond the Gardens?
SL: At first, I started writing the novel right after the publication of Esperanza. I worked on it for about a year, then I stopped to go back to my studies. Then, as graduation approached, I came back to the manuscript, referring to my old college notes as frequently as I could; and then I worked on revisions for another year and half. Publication took about another year.
What steps did you take in finding an agent for your first novel and how do you work with your agent to promote your books?
SL: I published my two books without the help of an agent. I’ve actually received more support from my fellow writers and devoted readers than I have from my editor. I have been the only sales person for my books. I am my own agent and marketing specialist; I book the events and handle author fees; I organize the panels and help new writers get some exposure; I do it all.
What advice could you offer a struggling young writer?
SL: Don’t give up and don’t get discouraged. Finding an agent or editor is like finding a job—you will have plenty of rejections before finally convincing someone to hire you. Also, don’t write what you think will sell. A lot of editors and agents will turn down a good manuscript because they feel there is not a market out there for it. Don’t worry about the market. Writer the stories that you want to read. Write want interests you not an agent or editor. Another thing I tell aspiring writers is to write because they love it. If it makes you feel good, then do it. Life is too short not to do what you want. Don’t wait ‘til retirement, you might not live that long. Do it now!
From your viewpoint as a student, what tips can you offer teachers trying to share the love of creative writing with their class?
SL: I’d say encourage your students read books outside the class syllabus and allow them to express themselves through creative writing and share it with everyone.
For more information, please visit the official website of Sandra C. Lopez
You can order Sandra’s books here:
Published: Outskirts Press
OR, take a shot at winning a copy!
One copy of Beyond the Gardens will be given away at the end of the tour to the blog reader who visits the most blogs hosting Sandra Lopez throughout her tour and leaves a question or comment for Sandra at each blog.
Virtual Book Tour for Beyond the Gardens by Sandra Lopez:
Monday April 26 Bonnie S. Mata http://authoroffaith.blogspot.com/
Tuesday April 27 Mayra Calvani http://www.examiner.com/x-6309-Latino-Books-Examiner
Wednesday April 28 Christina Rodriguez http://www.christinarodriguez.com/
Thursday April 29 Lori Calabrese http://loricalabrese.com/blog/
Friday April 30 Mary Jo https://writerinspired.wordpress.com/
Monday May 3 Erin O’Riordan http://www.erinoriordan.blogspot.com/
Tuesday May 4 Joylene Nowell Butler http://cluculzwriter.blogspot.com/
Wednesday May 5 Terri Lee-Johnson http://www.browngirlspeaks.com/book-speak.html
Thursday May 6 Romina Tybitt http://www.mamaxxi.blogspot.com/
Friday May 7 Leslie Toledo http://thatchickthatreads.blogspot.com/
“Readers can’t help but cheer Esperanza on as she
finds out what life is like Beyond the Gardens. Funny, smart,
and heartfelt—all that you want in an inspiring story.”
—Margo Candela – Author of Underneath it all and
More than this
“An emerging Latina voice, Sandra Lopez continues
to inspire with her latest work, Beyond the Gardens. Her
words are soulful and her images resonate with passion
—Ray Michael Baca – Author of Brotherhood of the