Today, I had the honor and privilege of sharing Deficient at a book event at Sparta Books. Thank you to the bookshop’s owner, Jennifer Carlson, and the spectacular Sparta Books team for making this a reality and supporting a first-time local author like me.
The discussion and signing event was only two hours long, but the time flew by. Since I grew up about thirty minutes from Sparta, I was afraid no one would show up, but I was surprised to see that a few people were waiting for me well before the start time. Several more trickled in – new faces as well as familiar ones I haven’t seen in years. And they came ready with an assortment of questions! I’m sharing a few of them, as well as my summarized responses:
Question: Did your experiences living abroad influence the book?
Answer: Totally! I wrote the book while living in Honduras. The main character is influenced by my background as well as the young people I met and worked with through the Organization for Youth Empowerment (OYE). The character of Yalamba is straight from Sierra Leone and was inspired by a real-life person who was critical to our humanitarian work and getting things done. I think living and working across Latin America, Asia, and Africa has helped make my work more sensitive to diverse perspectives, particularly when many of the books, movies, and shows I grew up with weren’t so diverse.
Question: I always like to look at author’s dedications. Who is Tara, and why did you dedicate the book to her?
Answer: A few of the moments in the book were inspired by my childhood friendship with Tara, who was a strong-minded girl I met in second grade and who overcame extraordinary challenges to become an inspiring teacher and mom. (I wrote a separate post on her here if you would like to read more.) For me, the dedication was a no brainer!
Question: Is science fiction your favorite genre to write in?
Answer: I write sci-fi, fantasy, and creative non-fiction. My sci-fi is light in the sense that the focus isn’t really on robots, aliens, or galactic battles, but rather the relationships between and among the characters. Yes, there are superpowers, but the book is more about the human struggles many of us face, especially in our adolescence. Maybe I will write about aliens and cyborgs one day but don’t know it yet!
Question: Is this the first book you wrote, or is it your first published book?
Short answer: This is the first book I have published. I’ve written several other books (including a modern-day fantasy series and a work of creative non-fiction/memoir that I will revisit). I learned a great deal about the writing process and standards with those books and applied that learning as I drafted and edited Deficient.
Question: Is this a standalone book? Are you writing a sequel?
Answer: The book works perfectly well as a standalone, since it has a clear beginning, middle, and end. However, everyone keeps asking for more, and because it’s about about young people with superpowers in a school setting, there is great potential for the story to keep on going. I’m working on the sequel right now! 😀
Question: Is the story from Alejandro’s perspective only?
Answer: Yep! The story is told from Alejandro’s perspective, as he is the “Deficient” of the tale – the only one in his school without a superpower. I like the idea of multiple points of view too, and this could happen in the future as the story progresses, but for now the first book is told through Alé’s eyes.
Question: Is it hard to receive critical feedback on your book during the editing process? How do you handle that?
Answer: I have always tried to be as open as possible to constructive criticism. Tara, to whom I dedicated the book, was the first person to tell me that the dodgeball scene was way too long and needed to be reduced by several pages. I agreed with her, so I fixed it! If I receive feedback, I close my eyes and let it sink in and try to ignore any kneejerk ego responses. If the suggestion feels right, I work with it. I save my old manuscript, of course, but I also save a new file and work on the changes. If I feel like the changes have contributed to a better book, I keep them. If the book hasn’t improved, I can always go back to the original file.
The question-and-answer portion concluded organically as people approached the table and wanted to get their books. One of the people in the audience was my ninth grade English teacher, Barb Hayes.
Few things are more special than reconnecting with a former teacher who had such a positive influence on my life, let alone twenty years later! I took Barb’s English class back when I was fifteen – the age of the protagonist in my book. Barb was the first teacher who taught me how to write a high school-level essay based on solid research. She helped expand my vocabulary and said she was happy to see vocabulary words from our lists scattered throughout Deficient (yay, vocab!). And most importantly, she helped me recognize an internal spark I had for writing. Her teaching style made me want to write more and improve each time I submitted something new. Though I didn’t have access to creative writing classes until college, Barb helped me realize that I had what it took to become a writer. And as I wasn’t the most confident kid in all the world, that affirmation went a long way.
Barb and I sat and spoke about the students and teachers I kept in touch with. I struggled not to refer to the former teachers by their titles. Calling Barb by her first name rather than Mrs. Hayes was enough of a challenge, and I’m well into my thirties! Each time I asked about the teachers, Barb said, “Grab another book and sign it – make it out to her” or “Grab another one – and make it out to her and her husband.” It brought back a flood of memories of the exceptional teachers who gave it their all at my New Jersey public school. I am grateful for having learned from each one of them during those formative years.
Nearly everyone who bought a book had me sign it for someone else – often young people who are grappling with the challenges of life and adolescence. I channeled my inner Barb, letting them to know that they’ve got their own superpowers and that I hope they can share them with the world.
I feel extremely lucky to be able to post happy memories like this and to have shared a book that touches on topics like belonging and overcoming adversity. I do not take any of this for granted. I am infinitely grateful to Sparta Book for making this day so magical and for welcoming my book (and me) with open arms.