Beyond the Gardens, and I look forward to sharing our interview with readers today.
Anna: Writers are often advised to "write what you know", and after visiting your website, sandra-lopez.com, I found many similarities between you and your main character, Esperanza. What pieces of your life did you pass on to Esperanza Ignacio and why?
Sandra: When I first started to write “Esperanza” at 19-years old (full-time college student), I remember wanting to know about a character who was just like me with the quirks, the weirdness, and all the originality. I wanted to read about a shy, quiet, young girl with a traumatic childhood, an impoverished lifestyle, and a secret desire for something more; someone who lost herself in the world of literature and found herself through the beauty of art; someone who the world constantly beat down like torrential rain but, like a flower, still managed to bloom again. I didn’t read about someone like that in Sandra Cisnero’s “Caramelo” (also a great book, by the way), so I decided to do it myself.
I gave Esperanza a lot of my character traits: my tall height, my oversized wardrobe, my quiet and docile demeanor, my book smarts, my enthusiasm for school, the constant taunt of being a nerd, the undying hunger for books, and the never-ending hope of someday becoming an artist. To me, someone like Esperanza is a real “hero” because she is who she is. She makes you feel that you are just like her, but, at the same time, you know she is unique and original. I believe she makes you clutch to your dreams; she makes you want to get up and try again; she makes you believe in hope.
Anna: Why was Esperanza's story so important for you to tell? How long did it take you to write both Esperanza: A Latina Story and Beyond the Gardens?
Sandra: My goal in Esperanza was to write about a young girl’s strength and determination as she lived her life and achieved her goals. I wrote “Esperanza: A Latina Story” while I was in Jr. College with a full schedule of classes and no computer, so it wasn’t easy to find the time to write it. I’d say it took about two years. Then about 4 months later, I was offered a publishing contract by Floricanto Press. I started writing “Beyond the Gardens” after “Esperanza” was accepted for publication because all the details from the first story were still fresh in my head. Then I left it alone while I finished my undergrad courses and transferred to Cal State Fullerton. Then with like a year to go, I decided to re-tackle “Beyond the Gardens” and make modifications. I did a lot of cut and paste and did plenty of re-writes. I even worked on a chapter while I was at my job when the boss wasn’t looking. Obviously, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone write their novel when they’re supposed to be working, but, in my case, I just had no choice. It was like my hand was possessed, and I just couldn’t stop writing. By the time I was finished, it felt like my hand was about to fall off.
Anna: I believe that character naming for writers is as crucial and maybe as stressful as it is for parents picking a name for their unborn child. Why did you choose the name Esperanza for your main character? What about the names Jake, Carlos, Carla, and Anna?
Sandra: Well, as you may know, “Esperanza” is Spanish for hope, and hope was the concept behind my main character’s story.
The idea for Carlos and Carla came from two people—a brother and sister—I had a class with in Jr. College. When I found out later that they were twins, I remember finding that fascinating, so I decided to use that in my story. As far as the names go, I wanted them to be alike but inverted to reflect the twin concept but emphasize the boy-girl difference.
Jake is actually my favorite name in the whole universe. It came from a TV series called “California Dreams,” a show with a lead guitar player named Jake—the guy I have been in love with since I was ten. Since the guy has been on my desktop since then and to this very day, I figured no other guy could play the male lead than him.
Anna didn’t come from anything in particular. That’s just a name I picked at random.
Anna: What do you feel is lacking in the world of Latino/a literature? What do you feel you contribute to this world and to mainstream literature through your own writing?
Sandra: When I read a novel, I like to feel that the story is real, that it’s made with characters of flesh and bone, that this place is an actual location in the world, that this plot really happened in life. I like a story that is so real I become immersed in that universe alone. Some of the Latino books I’ve read have done a great job at that; however, others were lacking in the reality sense. Some books (too many, really) focus a lot on Latino stereotypes and clichés. Usually, if I have a book like that, I toss it or donate it. If I want to hear lame, boisterous jokes on Mexican barrio life, then I’ll watch Comedy Central. Okay?
What I feel I contribute with my writing is a unique voice and style. I give an endearing story full of true-to-life characters, whom you want to love, hate, and become involved with to the very end. For me, there are three main goals a story should fulfill:
1) They should be so real that you tune everything else out
2) They should teach you something
3) And, finally, they should entertain the hell out of you
Anna: Everyone faces their own obstacles in life, with that said, you have conquered some challenges in your life. What do you attribute your perseverance and success to? What advice do you have for young Latinos dreaming of their turn to break away beyond their own garden walls?
Sandra: I attribute my own perseverance to wanting to get an education and never giving up, even when I wanted to so badly.
My advice to others is to keep on dreaming and keep on working. Sooner or later, you will a dig a hole so far through underneath that wall that you’ll actually get to the other side.
Anna: What was the moment like for you when you held your first completed novel in your hands for the first time? Where were you?
Sandra: That day was actually one of those bang-your-head-against-the wall days.
I was getting off from work at 5pm on the dot. I went to my car, and I find that the damn thing wouldn’t start. After several failed attempts, I called AAA; they told me they would send a tow truck and that the wait was going to be an hour and a half. Oh, great, I thought.
I waited for about half an hour before my stomach started grumbling like crazy. I hadn’t eaten all day, and there was a Carl’s Jr. right across the street. I really should try to hold it in ‘til I get home, I thought. But I was starving! I figured I’d go in real quick and get a little something. Real quick, right? Well, I thought it was going to be real quick. When I got there, there was a long line of people. Great! While I was waiting in line for food, I got a call on my cell from AAA stating that they had arrived. “Oh, no. Listen, just wait right there, I’m right across the street at Carl’s Jr. I’ll be right over. Don’t leave!”
I struggled to get back as quickly as I could, but when I got there, the truck driver had already left. NNOOOO!
After my psychotic breakdown, I called again and got another truck. After a long wait and a towing that seemed endless, I finally got home. “Oh, what a sucky day! Man, life really does suck!”
It was then that I noticed something waiting for me by the door. It was a box from the publisher. I opened it up and inside was 30 copies of my first published novel, “Esperanza.” I was so EXCITED to see it—the first story I wrote in actual book format. It just turned my crappy day into a GREAT DAY (that I’ll never, ever forget).
Thank you for being here today, Sandra. I have enjoyed your visit on The Sol Within Anna. I wish you all the best with your writing.
Thank you to all the readers and visitors and especially the educators who stopped by today. I must post a disclaimer that in no way do I receive any compensation for my interviews, monetary or otherwise. I promote the creative work and passion of others because, as a writer, I understand how hard it is to expose your soul through the work you create. It is also a freeing feeling like no other in this world!
Please be sure to leave me a comment and if you have a question or comment for the author she will be around throughout the day to answer your questions. If you'd like to enter for a chance to win a copy of Beyond the Gardens from the author herself please answer this question and leave your info for her here: "What was your dream in high school or college?"