A guest post by Selenia Paz
When I had my first school visit, I was terrified. At the time my first book, Life and Death, was out, and the second book, Gods and Demons, was going to be released. I had brought bookmarks and postcards and ten copies of the second book. As the students started to come into the library, I thought to myself, “Did they enjoy the book? What if they didn’t like it?” I couldn’t really wrap my head around the idea that someone had read my book and liked it. It seemed impossible.
As I started to talk about myself, my experience writing the books, and the inspiration for them, I found that the students had really loved spending time in the world I’d built. This was something that couldn’t have made me happier. The students in this group were bilingual in English and Spanish, and many of them grew up with the legends that I write about in the books. Many of them had heard of them before, some of them shared some of their favorite legends, and asked me which legends were going to be featured in future books. Some of them even recalled events in my book that I had trouble remembering myself.
One of the questions I was asked was how I chose the legends featured in the book. La Llorona was of course number one. When I was a little girl and we were staying in my grandparents’ house in Mexico, sometimes we had to go outside to go to the bathroom. I always brought someone with me to wait by the door, because I knew if I went out by myself La Llorona was going to get me. She usually only came if you were bad, but sometimes I fell asleep in church and sometimes my grandma caught us popping firecrackers in the backyard. So I always brought someone with me.
I had originally started writing the notes that would become the Leyendas series in 2012. I shared my idea with my good friend Lyssa and she loved it, and encouraged me to continue with the idea. It took me a long time to put the book together. Talking to the students, I realized that sometimes, no matter how much you practice a speech, it might not go as you planned. I suppose you could say the same thing about everything in life. I talked about the year before Life and Death was published, and how I had planned to publish the book that year but moved it to 2017.
One of the things that the Leyendas series focuses on is loss. My dad used to say that life is very hard. I used to think it was because there was not a lot of money, or because we weren’t born knowing how to speak or understand English. But then I began to experience loss. I lost my grandma and grandpa, and my beautiful dogs. And then I lost my dad, and I wish I didn’t understand what he meant.
I was at a library training shortly before the publication of Life and Death, and the trainer was saying that there are events in our lives that begin to define us. As you get older, she said, you will start to measure your life as Before this event, and After this event. With the Leyendas series, I wanted to not only share the heartbreak and the fear that comes with loss, but also the way hope can continue to help you to improve and to appreciate everything around you. When getting to the reason why I postponed the publication of Life and Death during the school visit, I had to stop talking for a moment, and I think the students noticed it because they grew quiet. Perhaps some of them were thinking of a loved one they lost. It was my hope that the way Miguel, Natalia, La Llorona, Death, and the other characters deal with loss would help readers as well, especially if it prevented someone from becoming consumed by it.
One of the things that surprised me was the choice of “favorite character” among the students. Conde, the loyal dog that belongs to Miguel’s grandfather, was the most favorite, followed closely by El Charro. Conde has no speaking parts and is a regular shaggy dog full of kindness. El Charro’s backstory is full of darkness, and throughout he works to try to change things about himself. If any students from that school visit are reading this, I’m so sorry for what happens in Gods and Demons, but I really hope you love Shadows and Light.
When the visit first started, I thought I’d run out of things to say before the hour was up. Soon we were only taking a few more questions, because time was running out. We decided to give away the copies of Gods and Demons to students who correctly answered a question.
I couldn’t believe when the students wanted me to sign them.
Through the Leyendas series, I wanted to share with readers the beautiful places that can be found in Mexico, full of rich history and culture. I also wanted to write these stories for the little girl I once was, the little girls my sisters were. For young readers to see themselves in the books, to see the legends that are very much a part of their culture.
One student asked me if there would be a Spanish translation. I’m working on it, now that Shadows and Light is finished. I couldn’t believe how excited these students were about this world I had built, and really, that was all I had wanted.
About the Author
Selenia Paz loves to write stories containing elements of mystery and of the supernatural. When not writing, she loves to read and run with her dogs. She received her Master of Library Science degree from Texas Woman’s University in 2010, and has been a librarian ever since. Her short story “Broken English” was the Honor winner of Lee & Low Publishing’s New Voices Award. Learn more about Selenia at her website.