My guest today, author René Colato Laínez is the award winning author of WAITING FOR PAPA, PLAYING LOTERIA, and I AM RENE, THE BOY.
Colato Laínez is a graduate of the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. He has been a bilingual elementary teacher at Fernangeles Elementary School, where he is known by the students as "the teacher full of stories." His forthcoming books are RENE HAS TWO LAST NAMES (Piñata Books, Fall 2009) and THE TOOTH FAIRY MEETS EL RATON PEREZ (Tricycle Press, Spring 2010), and MY SHOES AND I (Boyds Mills Press, Spring 2010)
1. The cover of your book Rene Has Two Last Names is awesome; where did you find the illustrator Fabiola Graullera Ramirez? Bet she had stories to tell you about her two names.
Thanks, I worked with Fabiola on my first René’s book I Am René, the Boy. René Has Two Last Names is the second book of the series. My publisher Piñata Books, www.latinoteca.com, contacted Fabiola to illustrate the first book. She is a great artist and I am blessed to work with her. Fabiola lives in Mexico City and she uses her two last names everyday.
2. How important are the illustrations to your story?
Writers create images in their minds while they are writing their manuscripts. In is a wonderful experience to see how an illustrator had transferred your words into beautiful colorful illustrations. Illustrations are so important in picture books. Children need to see the story while they read it. For me it was awesome to see my two last names incorporated into the illustrations.
3. Lucky for you children aren't near as dense as most adults. What do you hope they'll come away with after reading your book? What about those ones with only one last name? Is there hope for them?
I want the reader to feel proud of both sides of his/her families. We have received many gifts, stories and traditions from them and we are who we are thanks the love and effort of our familia, family. Children in the USA and in other parts of the world may use only one last name at school and legal papers but in their hearts will always be the other half of the family, that one that does not appear in the school’s id or in the doctor’s file but it is always present at family reunions and holidays. To kids with one and two last names, I say, “love and enjoy your families.”
4. Rene, those of us who write adult fiction are terrified about writing for children. How is writing for young adults and children different than for adults?
In children’s literature, children are the heroes and heroines. They run the story. Everything is about them, a little problem like not having his/her favorite cookie or discovers the first pimple can be the end of the world. To write for children you need to think (and act) like children. The text in a children’s book is limited. Every word counts and needs to be essential for the story. Writing for adults is another arena that I will like to experience soon.
5. Do you follow the 3 Act Play format? Or do you prefer to write from start to finish, then worry about structure later?
I always write the first and last scene of my picture books. I am intrigued to see how my story will start and how it will end. Then I write from start to finish. My books are about the immigrant experience and living in two cultures. I preferred to follow my heart and then work in the structure.
6. I noticed you still use both your last names? By now, do you have a favorite? Or is that rather like asking Julian Lennon which Beatle he preferred?
Both of my last names are equally important. Here in the USA my official name is René Colato. I use my father’s last name more often. As an author I am René Colato Laínez because I want to honor both sides of my families. It is always a pleasure to listen people pronouncing my two last names everywhere I present.
I love both last names.
7. How did you get starting writing books?
I always loved books. My great granduncle Jorge B. Laínez was a famous writer and poet in El Salvador. His house was full with books. I was an excellent student in El Salvador and my mother always said, “You are very smart just like my uncle Jorge.” My aunt, uncles and grandmothers repeated the same sentence many times. At seventeen, I decided to write my first novel and for the seven following summers, I wrote seven novels. All these manuscripts are in their first drafts. I write them for fun. When I became a teacher, I discovered wonderful picture books in my classroom. I just felt in love with them and decided to write my own.
8. Do you have an agent, and if so, do you think an agent is essential to a writer's career?
I have an agent now, Stefanie Von Borstel from Full Circle Literary, www.fullcircleliterary.com. Stefanie is essential in my writer’s career. She helps me with ideas for future manuscripts. Then she edits my work until it is ready for submission. She works with my editors during production. Finally she is a great advocate in promoting my work. She is the best.
9. So many writers have horror stories about life in pursuit of a publisher. Was it a long haul for you?
I started to submit my work in March, 2000 and received my first contract in October 2002. I waited one year and half to hear the great news. Since I submitted my first manuscript, I was determined that I would be an author. Rejections letters came my way but I read and followed their positive feedback. I never gave up and always believed in my manuscripts. I sold my first three picture books by myself.
10. Thanks for the interview, Rene. What's life got in store for you next?
I have two new children’s books coming out next year. The Tooth Fairy Meets El Ratón Pérez (Tricycle Press) introduces the Latino tooth hero, El Ratón Pérez. How would the Tooth Fairy react? Read the book and find out. My other title is My Shoes and I (Boyds Mills Press). This is my true story crossing three countries to arrive to the United States.
Young René is from El Salvador, and he doesn't understand why his name has to be different in the United States. When he writes Colato, he sees his paternal grandparents, René and Amelia. When he writes Laínez, he sees his maternal grandparents, Angela and Julio. Without his second last name, René feels incomplete, "like a hamburger without the meat or a pizza without cheese or a hot dog without a wiener."
His new classmates giggle when René tells them his name. "That's a long dinosaur name," one says. "Your name is longer than an anaconda," another laughs. But René doesn't want to lose the part of him that comes from his mother's family. So when the students are given a project to create a family tree, René is determined to explain the importance of using both of his last names.
On the day of his presentation, René explains that he is as hard working as Abuelo René, who is a farmer, and as creative as his Abuela Amelia, who is a potter. He can tell stories like his Abuelo Julio and enjoys music like his Abuela Angela.
This charming bilingual picture book for children ages 4 - 8 combines the winning team of author René Colato Laínez and illustrator Fabiola Graullera Ramírez, and follows their award-winning collaboration, I Am René, the Boy / Soy René, el niño.
With whimsical illustrations and entertaining text, this sequel is sure to please fans and gain many new ones while explaining an important Hispanic cultural tradition.