Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Q&A with Tortilla Sun author Jennifer Cervantes

Tortilla Sun, a middle grade novel by Jennifer Cervantes (Chronicle Books) is hitting the bookshelves today May 5, 2010! 

The School Library Journal called Tortilla Sun "...a middle grade novel with ambition."

From the author's website:

Tortilla Sun is a tender, magical story about 12 year old Izzy Roybal who is sent to spend the summer in her nana’s New Mexico village where she is soon caught up in the foreign world of her own culture, from patron saints and soulful food to the curious and magical blessings Nana gives her tortillas. In Nana’s village she meets Mateo, the adventurous, treasure seeking thirteen year old boy who lives on the other side of the bolted door in Izzy’s bedroom and six year old Maggie who is raising her cat, Frida, as a dog and sees marshmallow ghosts float out windows.
When the wind begins to whisper to Izzy, she is soon led on an adventure to learn about her father’s mysterious death, who she really is, and to connect the hidden pieces of her past.

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Jennifer, a native of San Diego, where I learned, among many other things, what a fun mom Jennifer is for her three daughters!  She even allowed them cameos on her website!

I'm so grateful to Jennifer Cervantes for taking the time out of this very busy moment in her young and burgeoning career as a writer to share some of her experiences with us.

Enjoy the Q&A! Afterwards, don't forget to buy a copy of Tortilla Sun for yourself and one to give away to a special child in your life!


What activities do you turn to in order to get your creativity flowing?

Sometimes, I like to grab a book off the shelf—one that will inspire me and one that reflects the mood I’m in. Music also gets the old creative juices flowing. I love classical, modern jazz—pretty much anything instrumental. For some reason, lyrics get in the way of my writing. Chips and salsa, or chocolate are pretty good muses too!

There's a quote in Tortilla Sun where Izzy says, "I was good at starting a story.  It was the finishing that was hard."  Did you experience the same difficulty or was there another part of the book that held your biggest hurdle?

I think all writers experience some level of challenge when it comes to certain parts of the story arc. For me, though, I struggled with the “dad” chapter. This is such an important chapter and I wanted it to be believable, beautiful, poignant, and subtle. My first attempt was a melodramatic jumble of words. But it was great when I finally hit the right note. Now it’s portably my favorite chapter in the book.

How closely did you follow word count suggestions? Was it something you had in mind while you worked, or did you just write the story and let the word count land wherever it did? OK, so I hope my agent or editor aren’t reading this, but I really let the story arc develop by pure instinct. I didn’t’ even know how to reach the “word count” since publishing doesn’t go by Word’s word count feature. 

Tortilla Sun is your first book.  What was your experience like shopping your manuscript, or seeking an agent? Did you learn any valuable lessons?

Oh, yes. I learn valuable lessons every day! But probably the one that sticks with me every single day is to have patience. It really is a hurry up and wait business.  I was fortunate enough to get an agent right away. I signed with the fabulous Laurie McLean. But it almost didn’t happen. She had asked for an exclusive, but the ms was already out with a couple of other agents, so I told her I couldn’t give her the exclusive, but attached the manuscript anyway. I went about the submission process and nearly forgot about it. Within a couple of days, she emailed me and said she’d done something she rarely does: she read it anyway.  Lucky for me!  And then the waiting began as she subbed it to publishers. It took over a year, but it was worth the wait because I got to work with the amazing Julie Romeis. 

What was your experience like with your editor?

I was so fortunate to work with Julie Romeis. Her generosity, patience, and skill really helped shape me as a writer. I went through two edits before the manuscript went to copy edits.

Did you use an editor before submitting the manuscript? 
No. But I did work with a wonderful critique group who helped me polish my work to get it submission ready.

Looking back, what words of wisdom do you wish someone had given you when you first started out?

I say this all the time and I will keep saying it. Surround yourself with positive people who will lift your spirits when times are tough. Also, remember to believe in yourself and your art.  I don’t think we ever “arrive.” It is all about the journey and what we learn along the way.

Who are some of your favorite Middle Grade authors today?

Wow! This is tough. I love so many authors, but those that first come to mind would include Pam Munoz Ryan, Shannon Hale, Sharon Creech, and  Deborah Wiles. There are also some debut authors who are richly talented and whom I am lucky to know and to share this journey with, like Christina Gonzalez, Irene Latham, and Lindsey Leavitt just to name a few.

What's next for you? What are some of your goals with your writing?

I just finished a new ms untitled as of this writing. It’s about a ten year old girl Named Nema Paz. She wonders where everyone gets their talents. They have to be something someone is born with, which means she should have found hers by now.  This story is close to my heart for a couple of reasons. First, I think so many kids, and even adults, aren’t quite sure what their “talents” are and we spend too much time comparing ourselves to other people. Second, I wanted to write a story filled with humor and laced with the human elements I try to bring to all of my writing. And of course, I love the characters: Nema, Oscar, and Chit Chat Malone--a cowboy ghost

I think my ultimate goal, is to contribute to the body of children’s literature in some way that touches the lives of my readers, if even for one moment.

Thank you so much, Jennifer! I wish you the best of luck!

Thank you so much for visiting with me, Nilki and allowing me to share my writing journey with your readers!

Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes
Chronicle Books
May 5, 2010
Ages 9-12
192 pages

ISBN 9780811870153
ISBN10 0811870154


  1. Thanks for a fun interview, Nilki! I'm so glad to have met you!

  2. Likewise, Jennifer! Thank you so much!

    For my readers: My daughter and I had so much fun looking through Jen's website and reading the little excerpt from her book--now my daughter absolutely can not wait to get the book-and I'm really looking forward to reading it with her and finding out what that missing word on the ball is...(!)


Musings Feed