(Para la versión en Español, haz clic aquí.)
I am very excited to finally be able to announce that my middle-grade (ages 8-12) fantasy novel The Other Forest will be published in the United States in September 2021 with Koehler Books, and in 2022 it will be published in Spanish in Chile via Montena, a children’s imprint of Penguin Random House!
Want to know what the book’s about? Here’s my quick elevator pitch:
Modern-day Alice in Wonderland with a South American twist, The Other Forest is a beautifully illustrated, magical journey through a real-life Patagonian forest, lake, and active volcano. Grieving the death of her father, twelve-year-old Olivia doesn’t realize how much pent-up anger she has until she falls into a strange forest where animals can talk and her emotions affect the world around her in spectacular yet terrifying ways. Animal lovers, Scouts, and science nerds will delight in this exciting nature-filled adventure.
Now, if you’re wondering “well how in the world did she get picked up by two publishers in two different countries?” you’ll have to keep reading to find out.
It definitely didn’t start with a dream as a little girl to grow up and write books. I know a lot of authors always just knew this was what they wanted to do, but that’s not my story.
So how in the world did I get here?
It started with these guys.
Newen, Ruda, and Tucu are animals living in Romahue wildlife rehabilitation center in Puerto Varas, Chile.
(Ok, ok, to be honest, that particular puma’s name is Lolo, I don’t know what that fox’s name is, and they found out that Tucu was actually a female and renamed her Tuca. But Newen and Ruda were another puma and fox that lived there who had more interesting names / back stories. Now getting back to it…)
Ahem. As I was saying, it started with these guys. I first “met” them when my parents came to visit my husband and I in Chile in 2014. I was determined to have my mother see a puma since it is her favorite animal.
(It was mine too when I was little until my mother meanly told me I had to choose my own favorite. Being the sweet, innocent, mother-pleasing child I was, I switched to a tiger. Until I moved to the land of the pumas. Maybe it’s her turn to change favorites now? …What was I saying again?)
When I found Romahue, I was ecstatic. The tour guides walked us through and explained how each animal had come to stay at the rehabilitation center. In case you didn’t catch it from the word rehabilitation, their main goal is to take in injured animals, rehabilitate them, and set them free. However, that’s not always possible.
Tucu the owl was injured badly enough that he couldn’t fare for himself in the wild. Ruda the fox had lost one of her front legs, which was also enough to keep her there. The three pumas at the center at that time, Lolo, Newen, and Ayun, had all lost their mothers when they were cubs and therefor would never learn the skills needed to survive as adults.
Though their stories were sad, there was also a lot that I loved about them. Tucu would entertain himself by perching on the tallest branch and following visitors around with his eyes. His gigantic yellow eyes would pierce you right through to your core. Ruda didn’t let her three-leggedness stop her from becoming alpha-female of the other foxes at the center. I fell in love with the little badass right when I learned that. And last, two of the pumas who had been brought there at the same time became bonded as brothers though they didn’t share a mother.
Though their stories captivated me, I didn’t immediately grab a pen to write a book about it. My creative expression has always been more focused on visual art, which goes back to my 90-year-old grandmother who continues to make art to this day, and my artist mother and father. So I grabbed some colored pencils and I drew their portraits from photographs my husband had taken. I kept drawing more wildlife after that, but these three were always my favorites. I framed them and hung them on the wall in my office.
That was when it really started. It was like they wouldn’t leave me alone. Every day as I worked, they sat there staring at me, asking me when I was going to tell their stories.
“I’m not a writer!” I responded, but this wasn’t enough for them. They carried on harassing me about it until I finally sat down and wrote a very short children’s story in which each of them had a special “gift” which they gave to a lost girl. It was partially inspired by the local Mapuche stories (epew) where animals often symbolize things like strength and cunning, etc.
I hit save and thought the writing part was complete. I would just slap some illustrations on it and call it done. Well, dear reader, that was almost three years ago. What happened after that was some luck and a lot of hard work.
The luck was joining an all-female, all-weirdo, English-language critique group (aptly named The Coven) who also happened to live in this same bottom-of-the-Earth town as I do. I just happened to mention to one of them that I was writing a children’s story and she invited me in, no questions asked. Looking back, that was probably the biggest thing that happened to get me to where I am now. Although if I had known then all of the grueling labor they were about to force me to do, I might have run for it. Who knew writing was actually hard?! Well, I do. Now.
So I worked on that short story, and pretty soon it wasn’t a short story anymore. It was on its way to becoming an actual book. It was critiqued and revised and critiqued some more and then beta read and then revised again and then I think I may have blacked out at some point and then I revised it for the millionth time just because that word can be improved and this sentence isn’t hitting just right.
At this point, I had something that I felt like was almost ready to make its way out in the world, but I was still obsessively editing it and wanted one last pair of eyes to look over it. I needed a professional, someone who had worked in publishing to read it and give me feedback.
That’s where the second bit of luck happened. My dad introduced me to a crazy cat lady an amazing Mexican editor named Wendolín, and we ended up doing a trueque (exchange) for some work we both needed. After giving me her feedback on my manuscript, she offered to send it to her contacts in Penguin Chile. Well, I wasn’t sure that the book was ready, but how could I not take her up on this offer? So I said yes, PLEASE!
She sent it to them, and after a few months, they got back to her and… they wanted to publish it in Spanish in their children’s catalog for 2022!
When that happened I decided it was important for the English version to be published at the same time or before the Spanish version, so I officially submitted the book via the Koehler Books website like every other author does (even though I may be related to the publisher). I didn’t even tell my dad when I did it; he was actually informed by his partner! They saw it wasn’t too shabby and soon we moved forward to signing an official contract!
In between all of this I worked on the illustrations.
I knew who the animals were because they were real. The human characters were much harder to nail down both visually and personality-wise.
Here are my character studies of Olivia, Diego, Max, Tata, and Abu:
chapter headings and full page illustrations
That’s all for now!
I’ll be sharing lots of updates here on my website and social media, but if you want to get the latest news on things like art contests (which I definitely plan on doing), sign up for my email list below. Oh, and you get free coloring pages too!
Free printable art activities!
Sign up to my email list to download coloring pages from my book The Other Forest, as well as step by step "how to draw animal" sheets, and printable animal masks.