This interview was part of my book’s blog tour and was featured in Yeah, It Takes a Village.
What inspired you to write your first book?
My nephew’s wish was my inspiration to write the book. He was about 6 years old when he threw a coin in a fountain and made a wish. When I asked him what his wish was, he said that he had wished to be a dragon, a big one. I thought it was cute, and then it occurred to me that I could write him a story about a boy who sees his wish to become a dragon true. At a deeper level, writing my first book was also a dare that I made to myself. For some reason or other, I was not really using my writing, and I was feeling dissatisfied with myself. Birthdays have a way to make you stop and ponder about life. One birthday, I found myself at a crossroads, thinking about what have been accomplished and what was being left undone. I asked myself what I would regret the most if I were not to live to celebrate another birthday. The answer came easily: I would regret not having dared to fulfill my potential as a writer. My nephew’s wish, in a way, gave focus to the dare to becoming a practicing writer. With his wish, I have an idea for a story and the motivation to see it through because I wanted to surprise my little boy with a book.
How did you come up with the title?
I’m going to confess to you that there was a time when I thought that coming up with the title was harder than writing the story. My working title was “Dragonboy.” When the time came to apply for copyright, I realized that there were already several books with the word Dragonboy in their titles. So I came up with “The World Beyond: The Awakening” and “On the Footsteps of the Serpent-Dragon.” Neither one got me really excited though. Then I thought of “The Night of the Amaru,” but I wanted to avoid using the word “amaru,” which means snake, because it was a foreign term that I was sure nobody knew. I was afraid that people would dismiss the book simply because the word “amaru” has no meaning for them. At that point, I started re-reading one of the books that I used for my research. Lucky for me, I came across a reference the author made about how the Mochica people associated the amaru with the moon because both changed and were reborn (referring to the moon phases and the snake’s ability to shed its skin). And so, “The Night of the Amaru” turned into “The Night of the Moon Serpent.” To me, Moon Serpent sounded more exotic and yet the combination of two common words still felt familiar enough to evoke in potential readers their own images of a serpent-like creature.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
A challenging part of writing the book was deciding who was going to narrate the story. I knew that at some point, I was not going to be able to rely on David to carry on the narration because he was not going to be present, not conscious as a human being, so I knew that I could not possibly use the first-person point of view. When it became clear that I was going to need multiple narrators, I decided on using the limited narrator technique because it would enable me to move from one character’s point of view to another one’s. The hardest part now was to make the transitions among characters as smooth as possible. I think instincts took over here because I really had to play it by ear, so to speak. When people compliments me on how well the story or the writing flows, I feel that I did something right. It looks easy, but switching points of view in a way that the reader will notice and yet don’t feel bother by it is hard work. A lot of effort, thinking and false starts go behind it.
Did you learn anything from writing your from book and what it was?
Thanks to the research, I learned a lot about the shamanic tradition practiced in northern Peru. I really didn’t know a thing about Peruvian curanderos (healers) and brujos (sorcerers) when I started my book project. Aside from what I got from the research, the most important lesson I learned when it came to actually writing a book was to let go. By letting go, I mean to let the story take you wherever it wants to go. I’m not a planner to start with, but I still approach my work with some pre-conceived ideas of where I want the story to go or what a character should be. When you’re close to your story, there would be times when, I would say, inspiration strikes and it’s important to let yourself be carried away by it. It happened to me when I was writing the scene where Anna confronts Dr. Rojas about the ring. While I was typing away, I said to myself, “Dr. Rojas, I didn’t know you were infatuated with Anna.” Then when the scene was over, I thought, “Omygosh, I wrote my very first seduction scene!” (And right after that, “My brother and his wife are going to kill me if I let the boy read this!”).
Looking back, I think that it was a magical moment when the characters spoke to me and they surprised me. I believe that one of the best rewards of writing is to get caught in one of those special moments.
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological and logistical) in bringing it to life?
I have a library degree, so research doesn’t faze me. In fact, for me, learning to do research was the best part of going to library school. However, I think that had we been in the old days when there was no Internet and no personal computers, the research for my book would have been more difficult. There are but a few books about the Mochica civilization in the libraries, here in Hawaii, and zero material about Peruvian curanderos and brujos. I was lucky that the one scholarly publication I happened to buy when I visited my home country had an article about curanderismo (shamanic healing). That article’s bibliography put me onto the track of the two books I depended on for the descriptions of how healers perform their curing sessions.
My being bilingual has its rewards and its own set of challenges. As you know, English is not my first language so even though I have the education and lots of practice, I still can’t never be 100% sure that my writing will pass as one done by a native speaker. Dictionaries are still my best friends. To write the book and to bring to life the characters I had to psyche myself with lots of “I can, I can, I can.” And it helped to remember the potential my teachers saw in me back when I was in college. Their words of advice and encouragement are still with me.
I’m surprised and glad that I didn’t encounter any major obstacles. Perhaps it was because I approached writing my book as a fun project, with no obligations (except to myself), no word count limits, and no deadlines. I had a playful attitude toward it, in fact. It was a joy to see the story unfold before my eyes, and I hope that I will be able to face any future writing projects I take up in such an easygoing way.
Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to talk about my book and about the writing process. It was a pleasure to answer your questions, and share with your readers some of my experiences about this adventure we call “writing.”