Gaby Triana on Gaby Triana: “Gaby Triana is the critically-acclaimed author of several books for teens, including Backstage Pass (HarperCollins, 2004)(IRA Teen Choice, Nominated for ALA Popular Paperback 2009), Cubanita (HarperCollins, 2005)(ALA Popular Paperback 2008, Latino Literacy Runner-up), The Temptress Four (HarperCollins, 2008), and next year’s Riding the Universe.
“As a teacher, mother of three, professional cake decorator, novelist, and now Assistant RA for SCBWI Florida, Gaby is a busy woman. She is currently working on a supernatural thriller for YA, titled Wake the Hollow. Visit her at www.gabytriana.com or www.myspace.com/gabytriana.com.”
What were you like as a young reader?
Like today, I had very eclectic tastes. I might have gone to the school library and checked out Huckleberry Finn, a history on vampires, and a How To Play Poker all in one shot. I never did well with books that teachers assigned to me. I much preferred to read only what I found interesting.
Why do you write for teenagers today?
I still don’t know. I think it’s because I started writing stories for my fourth graders, but the voice always sounded older. And sarcastic. And cynical. And miserable.
Everyone said I should write for teens or adults. But then, after sounding sarcastic, cynical, and miserable for a while, my characters eventually found beauty, fun, and truth right under their noses and sometimes even sounded like fourth graders again, so it was pretty clear that they were neither kids nor adults. Plus, I think most people secretly wish they were still teens—budding adults before they became boring.
What about young fictional heroes appeals to you as a writer?
The very fact that they can be heroes. I love how many teens are the real role models, how they have their heads on tighter than many adults, and how sometimes, they’re the ones teaching us the lessons. They’re willing to experiment with making mistakes, but they usually find their way back to home base faster than we do, whereas many adults stay lost out there.
I also love that my teen characters accept that they don’t know everything, not because they’re teens, but because nobody does, not even adults. And that’s when they really start to grow and make the transition away from childhood, when they realize that the difference between adults and teens is not about power and authority, but about who’s been around longer, has more life experience, and has applied their mistakes toward growing as a person.
Could you tell us about your path to publication? Any sprints or stumbles along the way?
I like telling people that my path to publication was a freeway with no traffic on it. We all know that getting published is part talent, part networking, and part luck. Well, all three came together for me rather easily. I had written a middle grade novel called “Freddie and the Biltmore Ghost,” which got rejected for about two years before I started writing anything else.
Like many authors, I had my heart set on this one story. And I still love it, because ghost stories has always been my thing. But luckily, I’ve always been able to recognize when it’s time to move on, and I had plenty more stories to tell.
So then I wrote Backstage Pass (HarperCollins, 2004), a story about a rock star’s daughter devising a plan to gain herself the stability she’s always yearned for, and a month after I finished it, I signed with my agent (Steven Chudney (agent interview)), and a month after that, I had a two-book deal with HarperCollins.
So, in retrospect, those two years trying to sell Freddie were really just a springboard, years that prepped me for the industry I was about to enter, which I knew nothing about. Okay, still know nothing about.
Looking back on your apprenticeship as a writer, is there anything you wish you’d done differently? If so, what and why?
Hmm, sometimes I wish, when it came time to write my second YA, that I’d chosen something more mainstream than Cubanita (HarperCollins, 2005), something that would’ve sold more widely, because I so easily could have. But instead, I went with my heart, as I usually do, and though Cubanita didn’t sell as much as Backstage Pass did, because I guess too many people felt it was about being Hispanic, which it really wasn’t…it was about identity and independence.
I don’t regret it for a second. I still cry at the end whenever I read it, and I’m so proud of how it came out. It was an important story for me, not only because of my Cuban-American heritage, but because I wrote it for anyone who’s afraid of making the transition from a comfortable life to a frightening new situation. Same as The Temptress Four (HarperCollins, 2008). So no, no regrets.
On the flip side, what was most helpful to you in terms of developing your craft?
Without a doubt, joining a critique group. If you don’t share your writing with anyone else, you’re living in a vacuum. You need something to compare your work to, people who will be hard on you. If you can’t get past a group of 10 people, how will you get past a group of editors, and reach your target audience?
Congratulations on the publication of The Temptress Four (HarperCollins, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about the story?
Thanks! The Temptress Four is about Fiona DeArmas and her three best friends, Killian, Yoli, and Alma, who have all just graduated from high school. They’re about to set sail on a Caribbean cruise to celebrate their eight-year friendship as well as bond one last time before they separate to different colleges in the fall.
The night before their trip, they go to the senior fair and visit a fortune teller on a whim, a woman who reads their tarot cards and predicts storms and strife ahead, along with the chilling prediction that one of them won’t come home.
It’s not a story told in four points of view, like some people believe. It’s one girl’s story about figuring out what she wants to do with her life after she thought she had it all figured out, and how her friends influence that decision.
I’m really, really proud of this book for many reasons, especially because after having twins, I thought I’d never write again. But also because it’s a fun story about love, friendship, courage to leave the past behind, with a little self-fulfilling prophecy and mystery thrown in as well.
What was your initial inspiration for writing these books?
Backstage Pass began when I saw a photo of U2‘s frontman, Bono, with his family getting off a plane somewhere. He looked thrilled to smile for the camera, and his 13-year-old daughter (at the time) looked bored out of her mind, so I just wondered what could be so boring about traveling the world, meeting famous people all the time, and being richer than the Queen. A lot, it just so happened.
Cubanita began with a title. I wrote it and thought, that’s it. That’s my next story. Now all I had to do was fill 256 pages of blank screen. My experience growing up in a Cuban-American household helped to do that.
The Temptress Four began with an idea. I wanted to write a story about four girls having the time of their lives with no parents around. They could get into plenty of trouble, which was perfect. Then I started thinking back to my last summer after high school, and I was flooded with bittersweet memories that made their way into the book.
What was the timeline between spark and each publication, and what were the major events along the way?
Backstage Pass was “sparked” in June 2002, finished in August 2002, bought in October 2002, and published in June 2004. While I was waiting for it to come out, I had a little life change known as “divorce,” which turned my world upside down, but I threw myself into Cubanita and another unpublished story called “Haunting Armando,” another ghost story, to get through it.
Cubanita was “sparked” in September 2002, finished in January 2003, and published in June 2005.
The Temptress Four began in February 2005 and was sold that summer (although I had written the first chapter while deciding whether to start that one or Cubanita). It was originally scheduled for publication in Spring 2007, but my editor left HarperCollins, and other in-house changes moved it to Spring 2008.
That was tough for me, to have three years between books, and some people think it’s because of my twin pregnancy, but I was writing all throughout the pregnancy, so it wasn’t that.
Nothing ever really stopped me from writing. Even when the babies were four months old, I started Motor Girl (renamed Riding the Universe, HarperCollins, 2009). It took a lot longer to finish, because I was writing in little spurts, as opposed to my former finish-a-chapter-each-time-you-sit practice, but it still got done.
What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing each of these books to life?
Having young children, a huge challenge has been scheduling writing time around three kids, two of them toddlers, and then having to go back and make my writing seem fluent, as though I did it all at once, not in five-minute spurts over the course of the year. I credit my husband, mom, in-laws, and daycare provider with this, as without their help, I’d still be outlining The Temptress Four.
I’ve done little to moderate amounts of research for each book. I research only to the point I need to create a credible background, because after that, it’s all about the characters, not their settings, and people are people regardless of where they come from.
I think this is why my readers all feel they can relate to my characters, because I tap into universal themes and emotions. The book that has posed the most challenges has been the one I am writing now, because there are historical and literary aspects involved, plus it’s my first book outside of South Florida (Sleepy Hollow), so I visited the area so I could have a good idea of the setting.
As for psychological challenges, writing during the divorce and transitional years to follow posed significant challenges for me, because I had to keep my writing from sounding too cynical and adult. But then I found ways of relating these feelings to how a teen might perceive them, and it worked out great.
If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?
Promote, promote, promote. Being a newbie, I guess I thought that wasn’t my job, only to write. But in today’s saturated market, I realize I have to do huge amounts of self-promotion.
Sometimes, I get on my pity pot and feel it’s unfair, but then it confirms what I’ve believed my whole life anyway—if you want something done right, do it yourself. So it’s all good. Still, I wish I had more time to write.
In today’s crowded market, it’s essential for authors to promote their work. How have you taken on each of these challenges?
See? I’m psychic and started answering this before you even asked…
My books are so wonderful, they speak for themselves…ha…kidding. Seriously, I’ve had to promote on MySpace, Facebook, and blog on LiveJournal, but these were places I would have hung out anyway. I’m a huge computer geek. But I’ve also hired a great publicist (Rebecca Grose), something I never thought I had to do, but I’m glad I did. You need every edge you can get to be noticed in the crowded market.
I would imagine that having huge amounts of money helps too, but that’s where I’m hoping my incredibly talented writing will speak for itself.
Someone asked me the other day, “Wow, so you’re an author? So, how rich are you?”
I answered her with a lot of blinking.
How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author?
You’re assuming I’ve achieved this. Yeah. See, I’m still figuring that out. I have exactly four hours in the morning before I have to either go pick someone up from school or go to my kick-boxing class (yes, I have to throw exercise into the mix, or…well, I shudder at the consequences). I’ve been trying to spend only the first hour of my day responding to emails, obsessively Googling, and promoting, leaving the other three hours for writing, but it’s more like one hour writing, and by the time I’m really getting into a scene, I have to go.
Make no mistake…this sucks. Add in school visits, getting ready for conferences, and trying to keep my house in working order, and it’s no wonder I have any writing time at all.
My life is so fragmented. I feel like one of those cupcake cakes that pull apart into 25 pieces, only the serving size gets bigger with every passing year. Oh, will I ever be whole again?
As a reader, so far what are your favorite books of 2008?
You’re assuming I’ve had time to read. I would love to rattle off a list of books, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read all that much this year. It’s like this: spare time = time to write. Although I did read Crank (Simon & Schuster, 2004), Burned (Simon & Schuster, 2006), and Impulse (Simon & Schuster, 2008) by Ellen Hopkins, and not just because I spent huge amounts of time consuming frozen drinks by the pool with her at our last conference, but because I was intrigued by how she could make someone as poetry-challenged as myself somehow devour books entirely written in verse. I still don’t know how she did that because poetry to me is usually blah, blah, blah.
I also enjoyed Beastly by Alex Flinn (HarperCollins, 2007)(author interview), Braless in Wonderland by Debbie Reed Fisher (Dutton, 2008), Prom Kings and Drama Queens by Dorian Cirrone (HarperCollins, 2008)(author interview), and Fancy White Trash by Marjetta Geerling (Viking, 2008).
What do you do outside the world of books?
Entirely too much. I was making specialty cakes for weddings, showers, birthdays, etc., but I made the important decision to quit this year, so I could devote more time to writing. Still, it was fun making cakes that look like things and running the business (www.theloveofcake.com).
I also help plan SCBWI conferences, take weekend trips to Disney World, and basically spend lots of time taking care of my family.
What can your fans look forward to next?
Riding the Universe (HarperCollins, 2009) will be out in the spring next year. It’s about 17-year-old Chloé Rodriguez, who inherits the motorcycle she and her uncle built together when he dies, and spends the next year of her life trying to keep from failing chemistry, finding her birth mother, and figuring out which of the two guys she loves might be her soul mate.
I’m also working on a supernatural thriller called Wake the Hollow, a modern-day version of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow [by Washington Irving], not a straight retelling, but a completely new plot filled with twists and characters that hint of the originals. It’s different from anything I’ve published to date, and given my love of ghost stories, it’s probably what I should have written first. But hindsight is 20/20, and I’ve always been a late bloomer. So, it’s totally fine. And totally waiting behind this screen, so I gotta go and write.