Thursday, February 26, 2009

Debunking an Urban Myth: Interview with Author Christina Diaz Gonzalez

There’s an urban myth about writing conferences and it goes like this, “My cousin’s wife’s best friend just started a novel and took a few pages to a writers conference and just happened to get paired with one of the top editors in the country and the editor loved the pitch and offered to acquire the book right then and there!” It’s the promise of this myth that keeps us paying a several hundred bucks a year to attend conferences. Because I always lean toward conspiracy theories, I'd suspected this urban myth was planted and spread by conference managers in order to keep their numbers up. Then along comes Christina Diaz Gonzalez. Guess what? She went to an SCBWI conference, pitched a novel based on a couple of chapters and then:

Nancy Siscoe at Knopf bought world rights to a debut novel by Christina Diaz Gonzalez titled The Red Umbrella, a coming-of-age tale about a 14-year-old Cuban girl sent to the U.S. in 1961 as part of the largest exodus of unaccompanied minors in the Western hemisphere. It is loosely based on the experience of the author's parents and that of the 14,000 children who were part of Operation Pedro Pan. Gonzalez, an attorney, negotiated her own deal, and Siscoe plans to publish in spring 2010.

As if being in the rarefied company of people who make deals at conferences were not enough, she also negotiated her own deal! Ouch, salt in the wound!

So let’s get to it: Can you please tell us how you got your deal with Knopf without an agent?
I met my wonderful editor at an SCBWI conference in Orlando last year. She critiqued the first ten pages of my novel and immediately told me that it was something she’d like to acquire. The rest of our critique time was spent discussing Knopf, the fabulous writers they have published and how well I would fit with them. (Yes, clearly my head was swirling after the word “acquire” was spoken and everything else seemed to be clouded in a beautiful haze). When I got up from the critique (a little dizzy), I realized that I needed to get home and finish writing the darn book so I could send it out!

I love the story about how you had interest from another editor through Facebook, can you share that here?
Well, after the interest expressed at the SCBWI conference, I went home and finished the book (revisions and all) in about six weeks. I only had the first few chapters written when I went to conference so I became a writing maniac. After sending the manuscript to the editor I’d met at the conference and with some down time on my hands, I joined Facebook. I friended people in the industry including a couple of editors I’d met at other past conferences. Then I got a message from an editor who wanted to commiserate about the heat in New York and the heat in Miami. She asked what I was up to and so I told her about the novel I’d just finished. She was instantly interested and asked me to e-mail it to her asap. I was surprised, but did it. By the end of that month, I had two editors from big publishing houses interested in the manuscript. I negotiated my contract and decided to go with Knopf.

Is negotiating your own deal as daunting as it seems to writers?
Yes and no. I’m a recovering attorney so contracts don’t intimidate me. However, this was my first book and I was so thrilled that it was still a bit overwhelming. I wasn’t opposed to the idea of having an agent, I just didn’t think that everything would happen so fast. I can see how having one would help.

How was it to see your editor and publishing team in NY last week? What was the highlight?
It was wonderful to see my editor again and be able to meet so many of the people who will be working on my book. I was thrilled to learn that others already knew of my book and were waiting for it to be in final form so they could start either doing the cover art or planning publicity or just be able to read it. They really made me feel like a rock star. A highlight was leaving the building knowing that I had definitely found the perfect place for my book.

Your book sold in 2008 and your pub date is Spring 2010, can you tell us where in the process you are now?
It’s actually summer 2010 (although May seems like a likely date). – Last month I sent in my first round of revisions and, after speaking with my editor, she seems very happy with them and only expects very minor tweaks. Yay! In the next few months, my cover should be designed and ready so it only gets more exciting from here.

I read you grew up in a small Southern town, how small was it?
Well, when my large extended family (think of the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding except everyone is Cuban) would come up from Miami to visit, they would double the town’s population. Okay, that’s not really true, but it did feel like it sometimes. The town was the county seat (you know it’s small when it’s referred to as the county seat) and we didn’t get a McDonald’s until I was about 10. But I loved it! It was a very idyllic setting to grow up in. I’m not sure if I could live there now (I’m a “big-city” girl now), but I would definitely go there for some R&R.

Do you have any other manuscripts in the works right now?
Yes. I’m writing a historical novel about a family that is torn apart because of outside influences and yet they never lose their connection to each other. It is a multi-generational story that begins in the Basque countryside of Spain in 1915 and ends in 1960’s New York. It’s a love story, adventure tale and coming-of-age novel all rolled into one!

What are your words of wisdom or nuggets of advice for writers?
Ackk! I am too new at this to have words of wisdom, but I will give some free advice (you get what you pay for). Get involved with critique groups and your writing community (local and internet based). It will help you network and make you a much better writer-- plus you’ll probably find some really great friends along the way!

Amazing story of publication, Christina! Thanks for the interview. Christina has a LiveJournal blog (check it out for details of her recent trip to NYC to meet the Knopf gang) and tweets on Twitter. And in a week or so she’ll have her website live, so check it out! She’s the real deal, the debunker of the urban myth!


Anonymous said...

I love Christina's story - it's so unique!

AC said...

This is THE place for fab author interviews. Christina's writing must be absoltuely fabulous :) Can't wait to read The Red Umbrella!

Corey Schwartz said...

Wow! What a story. I'm going to an SCBWI conference in March, but I don't dare dream of an acquisition on the spot!

Christy Raedeke said...

Dream, Corey, dream! It really can happen!

Anonymous said...

I love her already, and not just because we have the same initials! I'll bet The Red Umbrella will be a classic - one of those books that will become a high school requirement. Fascinating subject!


Anne Spollen said...

Ah, the tales that spur the masses...

Katie said...

Oh wow that's incredible! And I am off to a conference in ATlanta TOMORROW!! So now I am REALLY excited!

hee hee

Carrie Harris said...

I really should have studied law...

I'm completely in awe and can't wait to read this book! Thanks for another fabulous interview, Christy!

Rachel Hawkins said...

Great interview! I am SO excited to read The Red Umbrella. What a fascinating subject...

jberk said...

Great interview as always! Hi Christina!

Anonymous said...

To all conference attendees... Dare to dream! It can happen to you too!

Christy, thanks again for the chance to share my story.

Heidi R. Kling said...

What a great story within a story! I didn't realize Christina negotiated her own contract. Wow.
I would be up clueless alley without a flashlight if I attempted that move.

The Red Umbrella sounds stunning as does her WIP. Can't wait for both!

jberk said...

"up clueless alley without a flashlight" = nice metaphor, Heidi.

(yes, that is sarcasm)

yours truly,
dr. pain-in-the-berk

Christy Raedeke said...

Seems like Berk is looking for a fight. Anyone? Anyone? He's a librarian for god's sake, we could take him!

jberk said...


(wait! no! i was totally kidding! heidi & were joking about goofy metaphors on her blog. i described something as "awesome as cindy brady covered in room temperature butter." so umm .. yeah)


Suzanne Young said...

This really was a special interview. Christina is so honestly sweet, I just want to gobble her up!! I love to hear a great story like her's.

She deserves it!

Christy Raedeke said...

Yes Berk, It's On Like Donkey Kong! You and your buttery Brady fetish are going down!

Janet Sancho said...

Can't wait to read The Red Umbrella... We will need to get William to attend SCBWI! :)