One Book One Unionville: The Queen of Water!

The Queen of Water inspired art by student Terner Thompson

Hey, guys!

Just got back from an author visit to Unionville, Pennsylvania for their One Book, One Unionville program.  I was honored that they chose The Queen of Water for their first year!  The program was initiated by teachers at the high school, and they did a great job of getting the entire school and community excited about the book. 

I gave two assembly presentations for students, giving a behind-the-scenes look at the book, and then did a third presentation in the evening for community members.  I loved everyone's enthusiasm and insightful comments and questions... such a treat for me!

The goal of the program was to "promote student success by instituting a new academic tradition, creating a sense of belonging through shared experiences, providing opportunities for school and community interactions, and encouraging students to further reflect on citizenship and engagement."

The high school students and faculty read the book over the summer, and then had discussions and projects related to the book.  I also did two Skype visits with community members at the local public library.  The program was well-publicized through the town's newspaper, and a number of book clubs chose to read and discuss the book. My visit was the culmination of months of reading and discussing the book.

I was thrilled and a little nervous that Queen would be the first book of the new program-- I really wanted it to be successful so that the community would continue with this program for years to come.  Thankfully, the feedback was really positive about the book selection and my presentations... I'm excited to see what book they choose for next year!

One of the coolest parts for me was to talk with readers and see how they connected with the book.  

Student Terner Thompson did this amazing illustration, inspired by the end of the book. He wants to be an animator.  I think he'd make an incredible one, judging by this masterpiece. 

In the school library with wonderful administrators and the talented Terner

with the delightful librarian Diane (who styled her hair and chose her pretty water-themed blouse just for my visit!) She presented me with this gorgeous book on Longwoods Gardens.

Awesome student projects were hung around the library... I always love seeing interesting activities that teachers come up with and the creative ways students approach them.

Zoom in on the above pic, and you'll see this great scene with Cheetah the goat fending off angry dogs! Love this!

And another close-up-- such a beautiful drawing. My interpretation is that it's young Virginia curled up on the sheepskin rug that she imagines is Cheetah. That's the night when she first comes to the Doctorita's house and is feeling lonely and scared.

I have to admit, I get a little thrill when I see the words "The Queen of Water: The Movie."  This student cast Salma Hayek as the Doctorita-- she's a great actress, so I think she'd be able to pull it off.  Ah, maybe one day....

Here's a close-up of part of a project-- I thought it was so cute-- Virginia on the forbidden red sofa watching the forbidden MacGyver, hahaha!

This newspaper activity looked fun... there's an article about the winner of the Queen competition, as well as a review of the Hotel Otavalo, MacGyver gossip, and new classes at the Republica de Ecuador school.  

Thank you, Unionville, for your warm welcome!  I was so impressed with your great energy, and wish you lots of luck with future One Book One Unionville programs!


P.S. I wasn't sure who to credit for the above student projects and artwork, but if you see yours, let me know, and I'll credit you in the caption!  ;-)

New Pics of Maria Virginia's Family, Good News, and Events!

Hello dear readers!

I've been meaning to share these photos with you for a while now... Maria Virginia (my co-author of The Queen of Water)  sent them to me back in January. She just finished up her ninth out of ten semesters for her degree in clinical psychology-- so proud of her!

Love this pic of Leslie  (Maria Virginia's baby) in traditional indigena garb!  So sweet...

Here's Maria's mom in the very house where Maria spent her early childhood in a village outside of Otavalo, Ecuador.  This is the cooking area of her parents' home (which was a setting in Queen.)

Below is baby Leslie is with her paternal grandmother-- it looks like they're in her house, in another village on the outskirts of Otavalo.

Here's Maria's dad holding Leslie in another area of the house where Maria spent her early years.

Here's Maria with more close relatives.

Maria, husband Tino, and baby Leslie at their home in Otavalo.


Maria's wonderful 9-year-old son, Yanni, with his little sis.


 Baby Leslie with her dad, Tino and brother, Yanni, in their living room...

So great to see them together and happy!

OK, a couple quick news items:

Thai rights for The Queen of Water were sold to Sanskrit Books!  So, so  excited about this! I absolutely cannot wait to see our book in this beautiful language!  

My essay "Barren in the Andes" won second place in the Solas travel writing awards!   This is an essay I'd been wanting to write for years, but due to the Notebooks deadlines, I didn't have time to do it till last fall. It felt really good to finally write it, after all that simmering inside me. Note that this is meant for adults, not the usual teen/kid audience, so be warned... you can read it here if you're curious.

If you're in Fort Collins, check out my article in the latest issue (Spring 2013) of Fort Collins Magazine.  It's called "The Wonder-filled Soul of Les Sunde," and it's a profile of the man whose ideas on creativity and alive-ness have had a huge impact on me these past few years. You can pick up the free mag in any of the magazine boxes in Old Town. Here's the link to the full article (p. 51).  So happy about this piece!


*This Saturday,* March 30, at 2 pm, I'll be doing an event at Old Firehouse Books in Old Town, Ft Collins with Jeannie Mobley, fabulous author of Katerina's Wish! We'll talk about our books and writing for teens and older kids, and field any questions you have.  Chatting and signing will ensue.

My NCW workshop on Creating Vivid Worlds was rescheduled to April 7, from 1-4 pm.  Register here.

Saturday, April 6 -- Chicago. Litworks: A Teen Lit Festival. 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. This begins at Eisenhower Public Library and moves to Ridgewood High School at noon. Other authors there will be Matt de la Pena, Alex Flinn, Mark Crilley, Jennifer Bradbury, and Brent Crawford. Details here. Free for teens, $5 for adults. 

April 19-20-- Pikes Peak Writers Conference, Colorado. Presenting two sessions, and possible panel. Details TBD. Registration required.


I think that's it for now!  Happy spring!


Q & A for Queen (part 1)

Hi guys!

This’ll be the first in a series of q&a posts about The Queen of Water.  These are questions I didn’t get a chance to answer on the live chat I did last week as part of Primary Source’s Global Reads online book club. (Thank you SO much to everyone who participated, and sorry I didn’t get to everyone’s questions during the session!)

First, here’s a comment  from a high school student, Karen...

“I loved your book!!!! I am originally from Peru and I connected so much with the story because my grandmother story was like Maria's (actually my grandmother's name is Maria too!!!) she was from a remote part in Peru and she arrived to the capital, Lima when she was 12 to work as a maid for a family.... I imagine my grandmother perhaps going for a situation similar to Maria... it  was very emotional to me.....!!!!! I wonder if the book is gonna be published in Spanish so I can give it to my grandmother to read... again I LOVED YOUR BOOK!!!!”

Thank you, Karen!  I’m really honored that our book helped you connect with your grandmother.  It's very moving to hear how much the book means to you. I *wish* it were available in Spanish, but our agent wasn’t able to sell Spanish translation rights. Maria Virginia and I are trying to make it happen through other avenues, though. Please give your abuelita an abrazo from us...

Kevan -- Any thoughts about a movie?

We wish!  Our agent didn’t sell any movie options, unfortunately.  I think it would make an inspiring movie, though, and would make her story available to a much bigger audience.

From Linda: Laura, what is your next book?

My book The Jade Notebook (set in coastal Oaxaca, Mexico) just came out this year. It’s third in an international travel-adventure-mystery-romance trilogy. (The Indigo Notebook, set in Ecuador, is the first in the series.  The Ruby Notebook, set in France, is the second.)

From Linda:  Do you provide any royalties to Maria for her story?

Maria Virginia and I decided to split our advance and all royalties down the middle, 50%-50%.   Our agent directly deposits Maria's money in her account.  Individually, I also donate a percentage of my royalties (at least 5% per year) to non-profits that support indigenous rights in Latin America.

In the book, many Spanish words are used. How did/do you decide which ones to translate rather than have in English?

All my books contain some words in phrases in languages other than English (Spanish, French, Mixteco, Quichua).  I make the decisions pretty intuitively— honestly, it just comes out that way when I write.  I think the foreign language terms I incorporate are usually words or phrases that don’t have a great English equivalent, or terms that have special cultural /social significance attached.

Anonymous: Did Maria Virginia ever meet the actor who played MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson)?

I have tried really, really, REALLY hard to get in touch with Richard Dean Anderson! I’ve done detective work online, and had some leads, but I've been met with dead-ends every time.  The agency that I *think* represents him hasn’t returned any of my phone calls.  Argh! Maria and I have a signed copy of the book that we want to give him… and we think he’d like it if we could just get it into his hands!

When you listen to her stories and or those of similar background and history, do you ever feel guilty about our often over-privileged lives and how do you face/deal with that?

I do feel that compared to most people in the world, my life is very privileged (as far as having education, necessities and luxuries, safety, social freedoms, etc.)  I’m very aware of this fact, every day.  (Living for two years in an impoverished region of Oaxaca, Mexico, really brought this home for me.)  I believe that since I had the random luck of being born into this life, it’s my responsibility to do what I can to help people in tougher circumstances become empowered to change their lives.  Writing is one way I do this.  (I’d say that if you feel guilty about our over-privileged lives, turn that guilt into fuel for taking action to promote global social justice!)

Okay, my freshly baked apple tart awaits me now... Thanks for reading!  I'll be posting another batch of questions and answers soon, so stay tuned!

***Also, on a different note, if anyone's interested in a personalized, signed copy of any of my books (for yourself or for a gift), you can order it from Old Firehouse Books, my wonderful local indie bookstore.  Here's their website-- in the comments section of the order form, you can write who you'd like me to personalize the book for.  Or, you can just email or call Old Firehouse and tell them you'd like me to personalize your book. I live close to this book shop, and can easily swing by to sign books... just make sure that you order the book at least a couple weeks in advance if you want it to arrive in time for the holidays. ***


Oprah and California Pics!

Hey, guys!

Just got back from a delightful week-long vacation to northern California. On my arrival home, I heard the happy news that The Queen of Water is an Oprah book pick for ages 12-14!  The book's in great company-- some of my all-time faves are also on the list, like Feed by MT Anderson. Very big honor!  The list was compiled by the ALA Children's Book Council and the Association for Library Service to Children (but I like to think that Oprah herself might feel inspired to read it, too.... :-)

Lil Dude

So, my vacation.  It was fun! We've had a hot and fiery and smoky summer here in Fort Collins, so a trip to the coast was just what my family needed.  The weather was deliciously foggy and cool-- I got to wear sweaters and scarves and jeans!  Bliss. I still managed to get sunburnt, though... on my bottom lip of all places! (Bright side: some people pay big bucks for this beestung look.)


Ian and Lil Dude and I met up with our dear old friend (from middle and high school) and her family, and explored beaches just south of San Francisco.  We spotted seals, sea otters, anemones, dolphins (or porpoises?), and all kinds of sea birds.  Oh, and this funny creature that kept popping up and disappearing, and reminded me of that game whack-a-mole (but no whacking occurred).

I love looking at and touching small things that make patterns, like these blue pebbles on a beach at Punto Lobos...

 And these succulents on the hills by the beach at Bean Hollow...


And these pretty, tiny treasures I gathered...

Ian enjoyed swinging giant ropes of kelp around, lasso-style...

Lil Dude spent hours playing catch with the waves.... he'd run back and forth with an exuberant smile, shouting "Oh, dear! Oh, dear!  Oh, dear!"  He can't pronounce his r's, which made it extra-amusing to witness.


Relaxing on the rock crags...

We swung by the Santa Cruz boardwalk so Lil Dude could go on some rides... brought back memories of my own childhood summer vacations in Ocean City, Maryland.  Rides, mini-golf, funnel cake, softserv vanilla cake cones with rainbow sprinkles, fresh-squeezed lemonade.

The drive along Route 1 is so breathtaking... we went a couple hours south of San Francisco-- down to Carmel-by-the-Sea, stopping lots along the way (including sweet Half Moon Bay, where I've done author visits). I'd love to drive farther south sometime, to Big Sur and beyond.

Lil Dude is such an enthusiastic traveler-- really bold and adventurous-- although his favorite parts of any trip are usually the hotel breakfast and pool. Here he is giving me a kiss on top of a  stone "castle" we found on the beach, where he declared me a queen and him a knight. He's precious... and believe it or not, he'll be starting kindergarten next week. Gulp.


I didn't bring my laptop on the trip, which was really nice... I just read and scribbled a bit in my notebook and thought and dreamt of my book-in-progress-- just what I needed.  Now I'm feeling like I have a better perspective on it, and more confidence that my brain can handle the intricacies of this story (I was starting to have doubts before...) I think the waves and wind and salt and sand did my brain some good.

Thanks for reading!  Oh, and if you're in the Maryland area, please come chat with me at the "Baltimore Bred" panel discussion (5:30, Saturday, Children's Stage) at the Baltimore Book Festival at the end of September!!!


Using my Anthropology Background in Writing Queen

Maria Virginia's parents, 2005

Hi guys,

One question I'm often asked is how my anthropology background informs my writing.  I talked a bit about this a year or so ago in an interview with the wonderful blogger Charlotte (You can read the interview here.)

outside of Maria's parents' house

I thought it might be interesting to talk more about my anthropology background in terms of Maria's and my process of creating The Queen of Water-- the book in which I most consciously used my anthropological training.  In the initial stages, I approached this project the way I did my Master's thesis-- listening to Maria recount the story of her life (tape-recorded), asking her lots of questions along the way, and looking at her story (including the language she used) through an anthropological lens-- searching for layers of meaning-- emotional, social, cultural, etc.  (And of course, I also spent time in Maria's native village with her family and read academic books on socio-cultural issues in the Andes.)  The difference with Queen is that I could take it a step farther than my Master's thesis because Maria was an active participant throughout the entire process.  We went over every scene many times and explored these layers of meaning.  Maria is so intelligent, self-aware, and perceptive that we were able to have fascinating on-going discussions about her experiences in terms of class, gender, and ethnicity.

Maria's parents' house (used to be clay, now cement block)

Here's an example: She often described people in terms of their weight and skin color-- features that we talked about extensively; together, we broke down the emotional, social, economic, and cultural meanings of her descriptions.  In the impoverished indigenous community where she was born in the 1970's, it was considered beautiful to be plump, which isn't surprising considering the food scarcity. (Her village was one of the poorest in all of Ecuador.) When young Maria refers to her older sister (who left at a young age to be a maid) as plump, this is considered a good thing because it means she has more than enough food. In contrast, during Maria's early childhood, she was thin because of malnourishment and poverty.  Young Maria also describes her sister as being fair-skinned, which again, she considers a good thing, as it indicates that her sister is now part of a higher social class that doesn't have to work in the fields to earn a living.

Maria's parents' cow

Young Maria notes, with the fascination of a little girl, that the Doctorita (a mestiza) has more body fat than the women in her village.  This sets the Doctorita apart as having money and belonging to a higher social class.  But after Maria has lived with the Doctorita and started to internalize middle-class mestizo values of beauty (as seen on TV, in the exercise book, and expressed by people in town) she becomes critical of the Doctorita's weight. She sees it as a weakness, as undesirable.  As a teen, Maria's bout with anorexia is tied up with these class-related notions of weight and skin color.  She wants to become thin and pale, since that's what she perceives as culturally desirable in her new social milieu. 

Maria's parents' house

I think that as an anthropologist and a writer, it's essential not to impose your own cultural assumptions on other societies.  And it's essential to understand that within each unique society you're dealing with, there are complex, multi-faceted, and layered meanings behind descriptions of characteristics like weight and skin color.  I was glad to have developed this perspective in my anthropology coursework and research-- I think it helped me to not take any elements of Maria's story at face value, but thoroughly explore these cultural meanings together with her... which is one reason the book took six years to write. ;)

view from Maria Virginia's parents' yard

I have lots more about the process of writing Queen on my website... You can read an interview with Maria and learn which elements of her story were slightly fictionalized here.

Okay, Lil Dude keeps bursting in the room to ask if I'm ready to go to the river.... must go now!  Thanks for reading!