I'm thrilled to have as my guest today multi-talented young author, Gwendolyn Zepeda. Gwendolyn writes in various genres, from children's picture books to short stories to full novels. I hope you'll enjoy the interview!
About the Author
Gwendolyn Zepeda was born in Houston, Texas in 1971 and attended the University of Texas at Austin. She began her writing career on the Web in 1997, with her long-running site gwendolynzepeda.com and as one of the founding writers of entertainment site Television Without Pity. Her first book was a short-story collection called To the Last Man I Slept with and All the Jerks Just Like Him (Arte Público Press, 2004).
Zepeda’s first children’s book, Growing Up with Tamales (Piñata Books) is a 2009 Charlotte Zolotow Award Highly Commended Title. Her first novel, Houston, We Have a Problema (Grand Central Publishing, 2009) won praise from Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist for its wit and upbeat story. Novelist Alisa Valdez Rodriguez calls Zepeda “a master wordsmith.”
A two-time Houston Arts Alliance literary fellowship winner and award-winning poet, Zepeda regularly lectures at universities throughout Texas.
Her latest books include another children’s book – Sunflowers (Piñata Books, 2009) – and a new novel from Grand Central Publishing called Lone Star Legend.
Thanks for this interview, Gwendolyn! Tell us, when did you start writing as a career?
Meaning, writing for money? I started getting writing jobs on the Web when I was around… 28, I guess? And then sold my first book when I was 30, and it was published when I was 32.
I wanted to start writing as a career when I was 19, but no one would accept my submissions. Even now, with 7 books sold, I don’t say that I’m writing as a career because I still work a day job.
I'm intrigued by the fact that you write in various genres--short fiction, young adult novels, and children's picture books. Which one do you enjoy most? Which of these genres comes easier for you?
I really like the freedom of short fiction and short prose, but it’s not easy to sell that stuff, so I’m working on applying that free feeling to the other genres.
You could say that the picture books are easiest because they take the least time to write, overall. But it’s still work, coming up with the ideas. And I still revise them as seriously as if they were novels. It takes less time, but it’s almost more difficult to strike the right tone and impart the desired message within so few words.
I secretly write poetry, too, as an occasional hobby. That’s probably the most fun, actually, because I’m not trying to sell it and don’t have to worry about other people’s opinions.
Tell us about your latest book and your inspiration for it?
In January, Grand Central Publishing is releasing my next novel, Lone Star Legend. It’s about a young journalist named Sandy Saavedra who wants to write serious stories on issues affecting Latinos. She’s doing that for an online news site, and then that site gets bought by a gossip blog conglomerate and our girl Sandy can only keep her job if she writes “snarky” stories about celebrities. So she accepts the job, against her better judgment. The book explores online fame versus traditional fame, basically, from the perspective of a the girl next door (as opposed to someone like Perez Hilton).
I used to write for Television Without Pity and other sites, and was always interested in the way celebrities get objectified and sort of dehumanized by their fans. It seemed to me that people who write about celebrities are in a weird limbo where they’re at risk of becoming dehumanized, themselves. So I wanted to put a character into that situation and see what would happen to her.
My next kids’ book will be I Kick the Ball, and it’s about a little boy obsessed with soccer. I don’t play any sports at all, but I’m pretty OCD in general and wanted to portray an obsessive kid with positive ambitions.
Are you a disciplined author?
Heh. No. When you say disciplined author, I think of all the writers I know who say, “I force myself to write 20 pages a day before I do anything else.” I’m definitely not one of those.
But I do manage to write a full book and one kids’ book per year, almost, so I guess you could say I’m more disciplined than the average bear (who doesn’t write books in addition to working her day job).
How was the publishing process like with your first book? What advice would you give aspiring authors?
It took a lot longer than I expected. The book was delayed for some reason, as books always are, and I remember being incredibly anxious about it the whole way through, like it was a life-or-death situation. In particular, I remember turning in the requested revisions that I’d sweated blood over, and then checking my email every fifteen minutes for days on end for a response, and then losing patience and writing to my editor to ask what would happen next. She wrote back and said, “We’re good for now. We’ll contact you again in six months.” And I was so shocked and upset, because I’d expected… I don’t know what. That they’d throw a parade for me every day until the publication date, maybe. Or that I’d immediately fly off to be interviewed by Oprah. (None of that happened, FYI.)
I would say “Don’t be so anxious” to aspiring authors, but I know there’s no use because it’s an anxious-making situation. So I’d advise them to do the best they can and to let the publishers and publicists do their jobs. And to be aware that publishing a book doesn’t change the author’s life like they might be imagining it does. And that there might be moments when trying to get published is more difficult/nerve-wracking/time-consuming than they expected, but if it pays off, they’ll be glad that they underwent the stress. It’s kind of like having a baby – you agonize over it and go through some trauma, and then you forget all about the trauma when you see the end result. Except that having a baby takes nine months and having a book published usually takes at least a year.
Did you consider having a pen name to separate your children's books from your other fiction? I'm also a multi-genre writer and sometimes wonder about this.
Yes! If it had been up to me, I would’ve used a pen name for my first novel, to separate it from my short-story collection. Shoot, I’d probably use a different name for every book I ever write. But I’m glad now that my editors don’t let me. A lot of times I’ll do children’s literature events – like librarians’ conference – and end up selling quite a few of my adult books at them. As one parent told me, “Here’s a book for baby, and here’s a book for mommy.” Readers understand that authors are just as multi-faceted as everyone else, I think.
What themes do you like to explore in your children's books?
I really like to show kids taking action or thinking about their futures. Self-actualizing, sort of. : )
Because I remember being a kid and feeling like I wasn’t allowed to do anything – like I had to passively wait for a grown-up to give me permission or instructions all the time. Then I’d see other kids taking initiative to do or create something new, and I’d think, “How did they know that they could do that?”
So I have Ana fantasizing about starting a tamale factory, Marisol taking it upon herself to plant sunflowers all over her neighborhood, and Tonito practicing soccer every day in the hopes of playing professionally. All kids growing up with limited resources but being resourceful, themselves.
Do you have a website and blog where readers may find out more about you and your works?
Yes. Thanks for asking. My official author site is www.gwendolynzepeda.com, and the blog that started it all for me, that I’ve been writing since 1997, is at www.gwenworld.com.