Alexandra Diaz is a MG and YA author who lives in New Mexico.
Alexandra Diaz is the award-winning children’s book author of THE ONLY ROAD, its sequel, THE CROSSROADS, and the companion novel, SANTIAGO’S ROAD HOME. THE ONLY ROAD is the recipient of multiple awards, including the Pura Belpré Honor and Américas Award, among others, as well as being on multiple state-wide reading lists. THE CROSSROADS received the Parents’ Choice Silver Award, 1st place in the International Latino Book Awards, and the Southwest Book Award. Her other books include OF ALL THE STUPID THINGS, (an ALA Rainbow List book and New Mexico-Arizona Book Award finalist), for young adults.
An overactive imagination had her making up stories at an early age and led to getting an MA in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University. The daughter of Cuban refugees, she is a native Spanish speaker and translates her books into Spanish. She currently lives in Santa Fe, NM.
When and how did you start writing?
I was always making up stories and fantasies in my head as a young child, usually with the pretense of 'I wish this would happen to me'. I was about nine when I started writing my first 'book' — a remake of THE PARENT TRAP but with triplets instead. It was at age nine that I had my first publication in a small nature magazine. I continued writing short stories/novellas into my teens, always knowing that being a writer was the only job I really wanted.
Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?
Our first grade teacher read us CHARLOTTE'S WEB by E.B. White and I was really excited when my mom bought me a copy, though it was a few years before I read it on my own. One of the first books I remember reading over and over again was PANKY AND WILLIAM by Nancy Saxon. As my reading ability improved, A LITTLE PRINCESS by Frances Hodgson Burnett became my favorite.
Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?
I wrote my novel as part of the MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. It started from the statement, 'Brent Staple is such a banjo.’ The original idea was to have a 'school' where the three girls would teach boys how to become good boyfriends. That was quickly dropped as the girls took control of their own story. That’s when it turned from a good idea to a real idea.
Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?
I did try several agents; a few didn’t bother replying, a couple said thanks but no thanks, and others sent a form letter addressed to 'Dear Contributor' or 'Submitter' which made me wonder if they had even read it. I asked people in the writing/publishing business for recommendations or suggestions. I came across an agent who liked the book, but didn’t think she could sell it. Fortunately, she suggested I try sending it to Sarah at Greenhouse. Very pleased I did.
Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?
I write whenever I can, which isn’t always as often as I’d like. In addition to writing, I have a regular job and an occasional job, both which have varied hours. Life in general tends to get in the way so I don’t bother with a set timeframe but manage to fit writing in where I can. I definitely do the classic scribbling on scrap paper when I should be doing something else, though I prefer a computer for serious writing.
For inspiration, I watch people, listen to what goes on, pay attention to circumstances, or merely think 'what if'. If there’s something interesting, I’ll make note of it and develop the idea from there.
Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?
Getting published is very much like applying for a job: you see the ideal post in the paper, have all the credentials, put a lot of time in getting your CV ready, send it in…and you don’t even get an interview. Often you have to apply for many jobs before something comes up. Trying to get published is the same thing. Without becoming too obsessive, you have to keep at it and not be afraid to put the time into your writing that it deserves.
Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?
Workshopping is crucial. Things always make sense in my mind, but don’t always translate on to the page. It’s very helpful to have fresh pairs of eyes making me aware of things I can’t see, pointing out what works, and bouncing off suggestions to improve the things that don’t work.
If I don’t have anyone to workshop, or just need to sort out a problem on my own, I find writing out my thoughts/concerns helps me resolve it. I can go over and over things in my head and not get anywhere, but if I actually start writing 'I don’t know what to do about this character. She’s funny but not necessary. Maybe if I…' I can usually figure out what needs to be done.
In a way it’s like thinking out loud, and that’s why it’s so useful to read my work out loud. I usually think I don’t have time or don’t feel like it, but if I actually read my work out loud to myself, I can hear the conflicts better.
Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?
I would love to have Judy Blume, Jaclyn Moriarty, Mildred D. Taylor, Maurice Sendak and, if they were alive, Wilo Davis Roberts and Roald Dahl. They would be welcome to bring along any of their characters, but I would also like Luna Lovegood from HARRY POTTER and Emily of New Moon from the novels by Lucy Maud Montgomery, just for some extra variety.