Interview on Writing the Notebooks Series

Hey guys,

I've been getting such amazing reader mail lately (thank you!)-- some of it has been from people who read my books years ago, and they got in touch to let me know that the stories have stayed with them over time.  This makes me SO happy!

Jihane is one of these wonderful readers (and I just found out that her native language is French, so she has a special connection to The Ruby Notebook!)  She asked me some great interview questions about the Notebooks series as part of a school project.  I thought I'd post some of her questions and my responses here, in case you're curious, too.

1st in the series

Is there a message in your novels that you wanted readers to grasp?

I don’t usually set out to give a particular message in a novel—I basically start writing a story to explore some issues (or people or places or scenarios) that fascinate me.  Once I’m well into a rough draft, I start seeing some themes/ideas pop up in the story.  When I’m revising the story (usually at least 10 revisions), I try to bring these themes into relief and weave them throughout the story.  These are often things that I’ve struggled with in my own life at some point in time, and writing about them is a way to explore and resolve them to some extent.  It makes me happy when readers can relate to these struggles in some way too, and maybe glean some wisdom or useful message in the story. 

With the Notebooks series as a whole, I did hope that the books would inspire readers to travel, to want to learn more about other cultures and languages, to approach the world with an adventurous spirit and curiosity.  I also remember thinking that I wished I’d been introduced to Rumi as a teen, and I thought it was a kind of cool added bonus that I could introduce his poetry to readers via one of the characters, Layla.

The way I see it, in each of the three books, a different main theme/message emerged.  (But of course, every reader is going to have a different interpretation of the messages, and that’s exactly how it should be! I love that readers bring their own perspectives and experiences to my books—essentially, we’re co-creating the story.)

For The Indigo Notebook, it would be something along the lines of:  We don’t always want what we think we want—there may be something better and deeper and more meaningful in store for us!  Or we might learn to appreciate what we do have in a whole new way.

For The Ruby Notebook, I think the theme involves the complexities of love over time, and the idea that the hard moments are just part of the bigger journey.

For The Jade Notebook, something like: Life is beautiful, but messy, and that’s okay—embrace it all!

2nd in the series

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

Well, the research part is great!  It mostly involves me wandering around gorgeous settings with my antennae up for cool stories.  The Ecuadorian Andes and southern France and coastal Oaxaca are all bits of paradise, if you ask me.  That said, one challenge in writing the second two books was that we’d just adopted our 9-month-old baby (from Guatemala), which was a dream come true… but I was just plopped right in the middle of motherhood. All of a sudden, I had this very active, demanding, (and thoroughly adorable) little guy crawling (and soon toddling) around while I was wondering how on earth I’d meet my tight deadlines for books 2 and 3 of the series.

 Working on The Jade Notebook in its setting in Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about any aspects of the books? 

You know, I’ve learned more about the marketing aspects of the publishing industry over the years.  I think that since most readers are more familiar with (and enamored with!) France than Ecuador, I might have begun the series in southern France, so that a wider audience would’ve initially picked up the book.  And then, I could’ve set the second book in Ecuador, assuming that the readers would continue with the series once they’d gotten into the characters and their world. But of course, there are still hardcore adventurous readers like you, who for one reason or another, felt drawn to the Ecuadorian setting.  (Thank you!)

3rd and final in the series

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

I absolutely loved having books read to me (mostly by my mom) when I was a little kid.  And once I learned to read, I devoured books on my own (but my mom continued reading to me at  bedtime through middle school.)  As a young kid, I found that I loved writing my own little magical stories.  I’d write them on notebook paper and illustrate them and staple them together.  I got such a huge thrill from the act of creating stories and sharing them.  It made me feel so ALIVE!

Cabana where I stayed in Mazunte, where The Jade Notebook is set

How did you develop the notion of Zeeta's wandering life as part of her background? (Living in a different country every year, etc.)

I taught ESL (English as a Second Language) for two years in Oaxaca, Mexico, and did some traveling around Central America and Mexico at that time.  I had the chance to meet lots of fascinating people who had chosen to live a wandering, nomadic lifestyle, moving to a new country every year or so.  I felt very seduced by this idea—there’s something incredibly stimulating about being in a new culture, speaking a new language… everything feels sparkly and exciting.  Part of me wanted to head to South America next and teach ESL there.  But there was part of me that craved a long-term home and community… a garden, a house, furniture, etc. In the Notebooks series, Zeeta represented the homebody part of me, and Layla the part of me with wanderlust. (I let them duke it out!)

Street performers in Aix-en-Provence, France, who inspired characters in The Ruby Notebook

6. How much of the books you wrote came from your own experiences?

Quite a bit was inspired by real experiences that happened to me or stories people told me.  I love meeting interesting people on my travels and letting them spark new character ideas.  For example, during my research in Aix-en-Provence for The Ruby Notebook, there was an old man who loved pigeons and hung out with them by the fountain, an old woman who watched the activities in the main square from her second floor window, and a dazzling troupe of young musicians and dancers who performed in the streets.

To flesh out the settings, also I make good use of the little detailed observations that I record in my own notebooks as I travel. For example, while in Ecuador, my friend’s mom warned me that their shower would give me an electric shock if I didn’t use a washcloth to turn off the faucet—I stuck detail that into The Indigo Notebook.  There are hundreds of  examples of bits of real-life inspiration for my books—too many to list here! I like to combine real life with a touch of magic and my imagination to create something new.

 The Andes mountains of Ecuador, the setting for The Indigo Notebook

These books are filled with in-depth descriptions of Zeeta's surroundings such as the cafes in the streets of Paris and the beach of Punta Cometa, and really seems to give the reader in insight into the world she is currently experiencing. Were the descriptions based off what you were actually seeing when you visited these places? How did they affect the imagery and vibe you wanted to give off?

Yes! I take lots of photos to get the visuals right, but I also bring my spiral notebooks with me everywhere I travel, and I spend time recording the smells, tastes, sounds, and sensations I’m experiencing.  I really love weaving all the senses into descriptions, and playing with poetic imagery, too. I want to transport my readers to these incredible places, both as a form of blissful escape, and to inspire them to travel.

Would you say Zeeta's personality mirror yours at all?

I do have a lot in common with her, personality-wise.  Obviously, we both carry notebooks around everywhere!  We’re also both fascinated by the people we meet on our travels, and try to glean wisdom from their experiences.  We both find elderly people to be valuable sources of wisdom and stories, and tend to create meaningful bonds with them on our travels.

Aix-en-Provence, France, the setting of The Ruby Notebook

How long did it take you to write each book?

Probably on average, two years… but there was overlap. So, for example, I might have been revising Indigo while doing a rough draft of Ruby while brainstorming ideas for Jade.  (It’s all a blur to me now!)

Out of the three books, The Indigo Notebook, The Ruby Notebook, and the Jade Notebook...which is your favorite. Why?

That’s hard to say.  I think the main characters’ emotional dynamics and relationships were my favorite in Indigo.  I was getting ready to adopt my son as I wrote that book, so a lot of the psychological research I was doing on adoption issues for the book was also relevant to my personal life.  My favorite one in terms of magical elements was probably Ruby, since I was always enchanted by the fountains and springs and ancient history of Aix, even back when I was a college student there.  And as far as the setting where I’d most like to be right now (in the middle of winter), Jade wins on that count!  The Oaxacan coast is paradise to me.

Speaking of travel, I have some wildly exciting travel coming up soon... and I promise I'll tell you all about when I get back.  Hope you're having a happy winter so far...


Back from Michigan!

Hello everyone!

Just got back from author visits to Lansing and Ann Arbor, where I had a blast with students from Haslett High, Greenhills School, the International Book club at the East Lansing Library, and the folks at Ann Arbor Library... I loved meeting so many cool teachers and students and librarians and writers and readers... such a treat! 

I also went to my dad's retirement party in Grand Rapids... Lil Dude was with me, which made things extra wild and crazy (he has so much energy he literally bounces off walls).  He was great on the plane ride, but I still feel utterly exhausted at the moment... I'd like to sleep about 20 hours...

More good news has been coming in about Star in the Forest... the latest is that it's an Americas Award Commended Book!  I love the Americas Award... Red Glass was a winner a few years ago, and What the Moon Saw was an honor book.  You can read more about the award here.

I also found out that Star in the Forest is currently a finalist for the Colorado Book Award in the Juvenile category, and The Ruby Notebook is a finalist in the Young Adult Category... yay! Thank you, Colorado Humanities and Center for the Book! 

So excited to go to Aspen again with Lil Dude and Ian for the awards ceremony in June... and the best part is that I'll get to be with my talented, fun friends who are also finalists:

Amy Kathleen Ryan for Zen and Xander (YA, another Fort Collins author and good friend!)

Todd Mitchell for The Secret to Lying (YA--  yet another Fort Collins author and good friend!)
Nancy Bo Flood  for Warriors in the Crossfire (Juvenile, she's one of the brilliant authors behind The Pirate Tree blog!)

Congrats everyone!  I can't wait to cheer each other on in Aspen...

I also wanted to let you know that The Pirate Tree (mentioned above)-- a wonderful new blog about social justice and children's literature-- is featuring The Queen of Water this week. There's a thoughtful review/article on domestic slavery and The Queen of Water and an interview with me... And next week it will be featuring Star in the Forest!  A huge thank you to Lyn Miller-Lachmann and Nancy Bo Flood for their work on this incredible blog (and for their important books)!

Hmmm... I feel like there's more news, but my brain isn't cooperating now... I'll try to remember and write more soon!  Hope everyone's enjoying springtime!


Maria Virginia, Mannequin Belly Buttons, and Ruby Reviews...

Hello all!

Just got back from an outing to our very lame local mall (featured on with Lil Dude this rainy afternoon.  He's fascinated by mannequins, and was on a mission to look under each one's shirt to confirm that they each had a belly button.  (All of them did, although many were headless.)  He's into belly buttons.  The other day, out of the blue, he said in a very serious voice, "Mommy, all mammals have belly buttons.  If it has a belly button, it's a mammal."

So, other fun stuff... I had a gathering at my house a few days ago in honor of Maria Virginia Farinango, my co-author for The Queen of Water (March 2011).  She's in town now, but will return to Ecuador soon... we wanted to have a little shin dig to show off the gorgeous review copy of Queen and thank everyone who gave us revision help or general moral support!

Here's Maria V with Maria Luisa (Swiss woman who plays Andean music!) and Julie (writer, bilingual educator, and good friend).  Maria is posed with dirty dishes... it's kind of a running joke that she's not allowed to do any cleaning up at my house, but then she always sneaks in the kitchen and does it while I'm blabbing away and drinking wine... (I always wait till the next day (or day after that or after that) to do dishes.)

Maria and the very sweet Flora, who's from Bolivia-- another gorgeous Andean country...

Sarah, from my writing group, with new baby and cute new haircut! She helped with Queen revisions over the past five or so years!

To the left of Sarah is Michelle-- a fourth grade teacher at bilingual school in our neighborhood-- she helped with Queen revisions during our Spanish-speaking focus group.

To the left of Michelle is Margaret-- a friend of Maria's who does amazing international community development volunteer work (with Afghan women and rug-making)

Michelle with one of the adorable three year old boys in attendance (my lil dude was the other one!)  At one point during the party, noticing that his mom, Carrie's lap was occupied (with his baby sister), he made a general request to adults nearby.: "Can I sit in someone's lap please?"  Awww....

 And here's his mom, Carrie, who is in my writing group, and like Sarah, has seen many drafts of The Queen of Water.  (I think she's the one, who at one point during the process of choosing a title for this book, suggested "Maria and the Potatoes", since Maria talked a lot about potatoes in one draft of the book. Hehehe...)  To the right of Carrie is Holly, holding Sarah's baby (I know, babies galore!) Holly is an educator, fluent in Spanish, and was part of our Spanish focus group.

There's MaryLou in the middle... another amazing woman who does lots of international volunteer work. She's involved with the Xucaneb Fund to enable secondary education in a Guatemalan village, a non-profit where I donated 5% of my royalties last year.

Ian (hubbie, with new haircut) and Paul, another bilingual educator who helped us in the Spanish focus group for Queen. Great guy!

As usual, I'll refrain from posting a pic of Lil Dude, but trust me, with every passing day, his curly hair grows wilder and he grows cuter!

On a different note, here's a little blurb from School Library Journal's nice review of The Ruby Notebook (in their October issue):

"With a hint of mystery, a bit of romance, a touch of travel, and some coming-of-age, this book covers a lot of ground without ever feeling scattered or haphazard. Resau’s robust descriptions give readers a good picture of France and its people... Anyone who enjoys detailed settings and thoughtful narratives will be rewarded with this story." -- SLJ

The Fort Collins Coloradoan also had a lovely review of Ruby today:

"Curl up with this and you'll be sorry when it ends. Resau's easy, heartwarming literary style inserts the reader into the focal setting of the village plaza, making the characters Zeeta hangs out with such as the pigeon man and the elderly binocular lady genuine parts of the scene.  Zeeta juggles a mysterious admirer with her boyfriend and becomes involved in a search for legendary spring waters that offer a coming of age and give Zeeta life lessons on love in all its forms. Highly recommended." – Nancy Hansford 

Thanks for reading!



Thanks so much to everyone who came to my release party on Saturday!  I had heaps of fun celebrating with you!  All your enthusiasm made me excited to finish writing The Jade Notebook so you can find out what happens next...

 Accordion music filled the room thanks to the incredible Thomas Chen...

Here's Jean-Claude, owner of La Creperie (my favorite local restaurant) who was responsible for making the divine pastries.  Next to him is Jean-Christophe, who helped me with French slang and expressions  in the book. (And coincidentally, Thomas, Jean-Claude, and Jean-Christophe are all names of characters in The Ruby Notebook! C'est bizarre, n'est-ce pas?)

I love that people of all ages came out to celebrate... the three-year-old crowd is endlessly entertaining... they really got into dancing.  Against Ian's (hubbie's) advice, I held an accordion dance contest, which turned out to be tres amusant (thanks for being good sports, everyone!)

I read a few little sections of the book, and everyone graciously laughed when they were supposed to (I learned from my Lil Dude that you can't go wrong with potty humor... in this case, pigeon potty humor).  The teens there seemed excited about sharing their new French vocab word (me*de or mer*e, hehehe) with their French teacher at school.  They promptly book-marked that page...

I was so happy to see so many teen girl fans of The Indigo Notebook, who were eager to read Ruby.... They all looked supercute-- some dressed in tres chic French outfits.

There was signing with a ruby red pen...

This lovely fan drove with her mom and sister all the way from south Denver for the party!  I was honored!

You'll notice from the empty doilies that nearly all the pastries were all eaten by the time I started signing... but miraculously there was one heavenly pastry left for me... (merci, merci)

It's funny, but before the party I'd been worried I ordered too many pastries, and wondering what I'd do with all the leftovers... another party maybe?  Ridiculous... (here's the line for pastries, out the door...)

Nothing cuter than little hands oh-so-carefully carrying a little masterpiece...

So many writer friends showed up to celebrate... here I'm talking with fabulous picture book author Natasha Wing (who has a reading at Old Firehouse Books on Oct 16). 

Thank you Old Firehouse Books and everyone else for making this such a special night for me!


Getting ready for the Ruby party...

view from the French castle-prison Le Chateau d'If  -- a setting in The Ruby Notebook

Hey guys,

So, I've been re-(re-re-re-re)-reading The Ruby Notebook in preparation for the party on Saturday (which you are all invited to-- Old Firehouse Books, 232 Walnut St, Old Town Fort Collins, 7 pm, Oct 2).  Another reason I'm reading it is to make sure my Jade Notebook draft-in-progress is on track with voice and plot and relationships.

At school visits, I'm often asked how it feels to read a finished, bound book that I wrote myself... and I have to say that although it's exciting, it's also a little excruciating.  When an innocent reader reads one of my books, she can (hopefully) just get swept away by the story, but when I read it, I'm simultaneously remembering the angst, sweat, tears (and probably blood at some point) that went into every chapter, every scene, every paragraph, and in some torturous cases, into a sentence or even word.  I remember the many revisions that each section went through-- all the changes in character and plot and dialogue that I agonized over... And although part of me can kick back and enjoy the ride, part of me is re-living some of the more painful moments of the writing/revising process all over again.  So.... it's a mixed bag!

That said, when I reached the end of reading The Ruby Notebook yesterday, I felt happy and satisfied overall, and I hope that for you, dear reader, the story simply sweeps you away to southern France for a few delicious hours...

The next step in preparing for the release party (now that the 100 pastries are ordered from Jean-Claude and Thomas the accordionist is getting his playlist ready) is figuring out what I'm going to talk about between the sweets and music.  I usually read a few short scenes and give background as to what inspired them.  Here's a little sneak preview of a few things I'm thinking I might mention:

The quirky fountains that are central to one of the subplotos...

Entremont, the Celto-Liguric ruins that I love visiting, just outside of Aix, where a scene is set...

The islands near the old port of Marseille, where Zeeta and Wendell visit...

Le Chateau d'If -- The Castle of If-- the setting for part of  The Count of Monte Cristo and for part of my book...

The funny faces over doorways and windows....

This man who often plays guitar in the Place de la Mairie, who inspired a scary character who was cut during a later revision... (desolee, monsieur!)

the ancient, narrow roads through which my friend and I secretly followed the movie star Timothy Dalton one night (he'd most recently starred in a James Bond flick and was shooting a new movie in the area)...

the old, odd dried-up fountains hidden in courtyards....

the gypsy-esque street performers on the Place de la Mairie...

the pigeons, oh, the pigeons...

On a different note, let's not forget little Star in the Forest in the midst of The Ruby Notebook excitement...  here's a blurb from a lovely blog review posted by Peaceful Reader, a librarian at an elementary school:

This book is a perfect gem for elementary students.... I can't wait to introduce this to students at Highland as we have a large Hispanic population and many of our students live in a one of two close trailer parks.  I think reading Star in the Forest will give students an instant connection to Zitlally and her family, no matter their background or where they live, because she is a very real and loveable character.

Thank you, Peaceful Reader! I'm so excited that teachers and librarians want to share this book with their students... I'm in the process of setting up a few author visits to elementary schools whose fourth and fifth graders are reading the book. It'll be fun to branch out from the middle and high school levels that I've visited for my YA books...

Thanks for reading, and hope to see you at the Ruby Soiree this Saturday!


Ruby Notebook Review Roundup...

Hi everyone,

Just got back from a quick trip to Anaheim, California for a fun visit to Connelly School to talk about RED GLASS, which was their All School Reads book!  My hotel was on Disneyland Drive, but alas, no time to go to Disneyland or the ocean (so close yet so far...)  My Lil Dude was awaiting my return, and I was still missing him from the previous week's NYC trip.  I did go out the one night I was there... to a Greek restaurant where I ate feta cheese that had been set on fire (very dramatic!) with the lovely Lori Polydoros, an author from the area.

I've been noticing some nice blogger reviews of THE RUBY NOTEBOOK coming in, now that the book is officially released.  I thought I'd share some with you...

From Biblioholic :

"A romantic, optimistic story that reassures the reader that there is more to life than observing and spending time worrying about the “what-ifs” only serve to limit your potential.  It is an affirming novel aimed at pre-teen girls but offers reminders for us all."  (Read the entire review here.)

From Book Pleasures:

"Every page is filled with wonder and excitement in this fantastic tale of romance, mystery, and happiness.  I have to say I was completely immersed in this YA novel, and a line that this author put forth will stay with me a long, long time, ”…no matter what pain or agony, if we reach deep enough inside our souls, we can survive anything.”  A fantastic sentiment to concentrate on; I commend this author for her beautiful stories about life, and I recommend them highly to all readers." (Entire review here.)

From Sarah Laurence:

"My teenaged daughter and I agree: Laura Resau might very well be our favorite young adult author. Her lyrical prose, multi-aged characters and exotic settings would appeal to many adults as well as to teens. This globe-trotting author trained as an anthropologist, adding cultural depth to her stories."

From Sarah's teenaged daughter:

"The Ruby Notebook, the sequel, was spectacular as well! I thought it would be hard to live up to the first one, which I loved, but this one was amazing too! It had unexpected twists and turns, friendship, lovely characters, romance, and a very interesting plot." Entire mother and daughter reviews (of both THE INDIGO NOTEBOOK and THE RUBY NOTEBOOK) plus an interview here.

Thank you, wonderful and dedicated bloggers!

Okay, that's all for now!  While Lil  Dude's still napping, I'm going to read and critique some manuscripts-in-progress by my writer friends Dana and Gloria (the latter novel is in Spanish... I can only do a critique like this this when my brain is working at its best, which is a pretty narrow window of time these days.)  It's exciting-- a big perk of being a writer-- getting to see your friend's story gems while they're still in the process of being polished... 

Have a fabulous week!