What inspired you to write Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!
Much of my writing is an exploration of my identity. For this story, I wanted to highlight some of my most cherished Colombian holiday traditions, but I wasn’t sure who or what the story was about. Then, during one New Year’s Eve, our friends’ daughter kept hiding behind Mom, and she reminded me so much of me as a kid. When the fireworks started, though, she completely transformed—and suddenly, I knew what the plot of the story would be.
Did Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! go through a lot of revisions?
It went through several rounds, but fewer than previous stories. In fact, it came out fully formed in one sitting. Most of my revision involved trimming word count and details, and re-envisioning how Ava “searched for” her voice.
Since the pandemic authors haven’t been able to have normal launch parties. What did you do to celebrate the release of your book?
I didn’t have a more traditional virtual launch party, but I was able to read from the book on Book & Books’ Instagram Live Storytime. I was also able to visit the bookstore and sign copies of my book, which was unbelievably exciting. Aside from that, I celebrated with both my immediate family (in person) and extended family (virtually). Despite the limitations, it was a wonderful release!
What was your route to publication like?
Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! wasn’t the first picture book I wrote or sold, but it became my debut years after I’d started pursuing publication! I signed with my agent in 2013, and we went on submission with a young adult novel and picture book manuscript. Those didn’t sell. In fact, there was a lot of rejection in my path, and there were times when I wondered if I’d ever sell a book. I kept writing, though, and eventually, I sold not one but two picture books within a year of each other.
When is the Colombian New Year and how do you celebrate?
We celebrate the same day as the U.S., on December 31st! During my childhood, the aunt with the biggest space held the NYE celebration, and we’d gather until way past midnight with food, music, and dancing, along with other traditions like Ava’s family. These days, we’re not always able to get together for New Year’s Eve. Sometimes, I can’t even stay awake until midnight! Still, when it happens, we’ll spend the evening welcoming the new year as we did in my childhood.
How do you juggle writing and working full-time?
I’ve learned to offer myself grace and this has been critical when trying to juggle writing, teaching, health stuff, and family. During the semester, I’ll work on shorter projects. I don’t generally get to write every day, and I’ve learned to be okay with that. Once I’m out for the summer, though, I write a couple hours every weekday and work on longer projects. This, with prioritizing deadlines as they come—both teaching and writing related—has allowed me to juggle both.
What's the one piece of advice that has helped you as a writer?
“Avoid comparing yourself to other writers.” I’m still learning this.
What are you working on next?
My next picture book, Isabel and Her Colores Go to School, releases from Sleeping Bear Press next year. It’s also OwnVoices, inspired by my experience of starting school in New York, while only speaking Spanish. It’s also expected to be a bilingual book, which I’m really excited about!
Alexandra Alessandri is a Colombian American poet, children’s author, and Associate Professor of English at Broward College. Her poetry has appeared in The Acentos Review, Rio Grande Review, Atlanta Review, and YARN. Her debut Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! released October 1, 2020 from Albert Whitman & Company, followed by Isabel and Her Colores Go to School in 2021 from Sleeping Bear Press. Alexandra lives in Florida with her husband and son.
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