Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Meet nonfiction writer, Lila Guzman

Katie: Joining me today is Lila Guzman, co-author of “George Lopez: Latino King of Comedy.” It is the eighth addition to Enslow Publisher’s Latino Biography Library series.

Lila, please give us a little bit of background information on you, and how you came to writing.

Lila: I was raised in Kentucky and went to Western Kentucky University where I majored in Spanish and French. After teaching 7th and 8th grade exploratories for three years, I went to grad school at the University of Kentucky. I got my Ph.D. in Spanish and joined the U.S. Navy. My first duty station was the Defense Language Institute where I met an army lieutenant. We were married two months after our first date (a blind one). Twenty-six years and three children later, we are still together. We have even survived co-authoring books.

I initially translated 19th century Spanish novels into English. Then one day, my husband convinced me to write my own original novels. He found the subject for our first novel and the Lorenzo series was born.

Katie: What led you to writing nonfiction, specifically “George Lopez: Latino King of Comedy?”

Lila: A friend of mine emailed me a few years ago and told me that Enslow Publishing was looking for experts in Spanish to write children’s books. I contacted the publisher and was told to query with a bibliography and first chapter of a book on Cesar Chavez. Enslow liked what I had written and offered a series of six books. Rick and I were to write them in English first and after the editor reviewed them, we were to translate them into Spanish.

Enslow gave us the topics: Cesar Chavez, Roberto Clemente, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Ellen Ochoa. The sixth person in the series bowed out and the publisher asked us who we wanted to write about. We had a list of fifteen or so possibilities. When Enslow saw George Lopez’s name, they jumped on it.

Katie: You co-authored this book with your husband, Rick. Have you ever collaborated with your husband in any other books? Why or why not, and do you plan on writing any other books together?

Lila: Rick and I have written the Lorenzo series together. There are currently three books in the series, with #4 coming out in April 2009. When we started co-authoring books, Rick worked as an attorney for the State of Texas. Now that he is in private practice, he doesn’t have the time to write—something he regrets. He’s working on a MG science fiction, but it is slow going because of his day job.

Katie: What research difficulties, if any, did you encounter when writing “George Lopez: Latino King of Comedy?”

The main problem was the bibliography. We had to make sure that web citations were still there six months later, after our editor had been through the book. It took us a full weekend to go through every footnote to make sure the website was still up. Once in a while, an article had disappeared and we had to go into the deep web to find it again.

Katie: Have you written any other nonfiction titles?

Lila: We have a biography of Dr. Hector P. Garcia that we are shopping around. We also have permission from Governor Bill Richardson to write a children’s book about him, but we’ve had to delay his because of his run for the presidency and the possibility that he would serve in the new administration.

Katie: Why have you chosen to write for the young adult group? Are you future projects also aimed this audience, or are you going to branch into other areas?

Lila: I doubt that I will ever write a picture book. That requires a very special talent that I don’t have. I like the young adult audience, so this is pretty much my niche.

Poor Lorenzo has about 5 or six more books in him. In the next one, Lorenzo’s Buried Treasure, he is captured by the British and put on the Jersey prison ship. He will eventually get to the Battle of Yorktown, but that is several books away.

I just “finished” an apocalyptic young adult novel called “Playing God.” It is the story of a young man in Hawaii, the only place not destroyed by a virus because of its isolation. It is 2019 and a repressive regime has taken over.

A friend of mine, an expert on the War of 1812, wants me to write about her time period, and at some point I will. Right now, I’m preoccupied with Lorenzo and a couple of sci/fi fantasy young adult novels.

Katie: “Lorenzo and the Pirate” is being released in April 2009. Please share with us about this book, and how you came to write it.

Lila: “Lorenzo and the Pirate” is the 4th novel in the Lorenzo series. These young adult novels focus on Spain’s role in the American Revolution. In Pirate, Lorenzo boards a pirate ship to render medical aid. He discovers that the captain has gangrene and amputates his leg. Lorenzo’s high seas adventure includes swimming with sharks and being shipwrecked with a amnesiac pirate.

I drew heavily on my naval background for this one. The shipboard routine and nautical terms are things that I picked up when I was in the United States Navy.

Katie: What advice would you give to other writers about writing nonfiction for the young adult group?

Lila: There are scads of nonfiction books that need to be written for young adults, so this is fertile territory. The ideal situation is to find a subject that has not been written about. (Our George Lopez biography, for example, is the first on the charitable comedian.)

It takes a special skill to explain adult concepts on a level understandable to young adults. The biography on Dr. Ellen Ochoa was difficult because we had to put physics, optics, lasers and other difficult scientific principals in easy-to-understand language.

Every word counts, so the writing for young adults must be very tight. Watch out for the passive voice and “was” and “were.” Children don’t want a dry recitation of facts. Always think “story, story, story.”

Think ahead to anniversaries of important events. Give yourself a 4-5 year window because it will take about 3 years for the book to come out after it is under contract. If you are writing in 2009, you need to find an event like the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Katie: Thanks, Lila, for being my guest today. For further information, you can reach Lila Guzman on her website or by email at lorenzo1776 @ yahoo.com.


Katie Hines said...

Lila, I don't know why our guests are posting comments, but checked my site meter and there have been 9 hits so far today.

We should get more as people get off work and are able to spend some time on their computers.

Anonymous said...

Interesting interview. I interviewed Lila on my blog. Everything in your interview you asked ad her answers were knew to me. Bravo on an interesting interview.

I forgot "Lorenzo & the Pirate had not been released yet. I'm one of the lucky few that have read it. In case anyone other than Katie & Lila are reading this comment "Lorenzo & the Pirate" is a great book!

The Differently-Abled Children's Author
J. Aday Kennedy

Deb Hockenberry said...

Hi Katie,
This was a very informative blog for me since I'm currently gathering information for a historical fiction for YA that took place during the War of 1812! I'm definitely visiting Lila's website!
Deb :-)

Anonymous said...

Great interview, Katie! Thanks for showcasing a Latina, to boot! Lorenzo and the Pirate sounds really good.