Today we're excited to chat with Ismee Wiliams, author of Water in May. Read on for more about Ismee and her book, plus a giveaway!
Meet Ismee Williams!
Fifteen-year-old Mari Pujols believes that the baby she’s carrying will finally mean she’ll have a family member who will love her deeply and won’t ever leave her—not like her mama, who took off when she was eight; or her papi, who’s in jail; or her abuela, who wants as little to do with her as possible. But when doctors discover a potentially fatal heart defect in the fetus, Mari faces choices she never could have imagined.
Surrounded by her loyal girl crew, her off-and-on boyfriend, and a dedicated doctor, Mari navigates a decision that could emotionally cripple the bravest of women. But both Mari and the broken-hearted baby inside her are fighters; and it doesn’t take long to discover that this sick baby has the strength to heal an entire family.
Inspired by true events, this gorgeous debut has been called “heartfelt, heartbreaking and—yes!—even a little heart-healing, too” by bestselling YA novelist Carolyn Mackler.
1. What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
That’s an easy one. My patients! My main character isn’t based on a single person. She is an amalgam of over a dozen young women still in high school I cared for while working at Columbia Medical Center in Washington Heights. These women, by and large, were Latina (mostly Dominican-American), and were thrilled to be having a baby. It didn’t matter that their baby had a heart problem and might die. They were going to do what they thought was right. These strong young mothers studied their baby’s heart problems, memorized medication lists, and ferried their children back and forth to the hospital for multiple doctor visits. I was in awe of them, these young warriors who would do whatever it took to help the babies they fiercely loved. I wanted to tell their story.
2. Who is your favorite character in the book?
Mari, my main character, is my favorite. She is such a pistol. She’s had hardship in her life. She feels unloved. She’s distrustful because she’s been burned in the past. But she is loyal and fierce. If you are one of the few accepted into her tribe, she will fight for you ‘til the end.
3. Which came first, the title or the novel?
The title came long after the story was written. My original title was Broken Angel. But we decided that ‘broken’ was too sad, and ‘angel’ might sound too religious. We batted around titles with the word ‘heart’ in them but then realized readers might believe the novel was a romance! I wanted something unique (meaning that if I Googled it, no other books or movies would pop up!). So I started playing around with Spanish phrases that mean ‘to be lucky’. There are a lot of crazy ones that did not translate well into English – like being born with bread in your mouth! Who would read that novel? My mother, who is Cuban but whose grandmother came from Spain, suggested como agua de mayo – Water in May – meaning something comes just when you need it most, like rain for the spring flowers. It was perfect. Unique and somewhat lyrical.
4. What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
I love the scenes where Mari and Bertie, the baby’s father, talk after finding out about the heart problem. There are two of them: one when Mari tells him there’s a problem, and another when Bertie comes to her apartment to check on her and try to get her to eat something. Bertie was a complete product of my imagination. I rarely met the fathers of the babies born to these young women. Some would come to appointments, but I never chatted with them or got to know them as I did the mothers. As I was writing, I realized how the experience would affect the young fathers. How they had hopes and dreams for their babies too that had to change after finding out their baby might die. They would have been scared, too. But it wasn’t always acceptable for them to show it. I tried to capture that in those scenes.
5. Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
Wow! I’ve learned so much. I knew nothing when I started. You know people always joke that doctors can’t even sign their names legibly, right? I learned, for instance, that it is not good practice to repeat the exact same word four times in a single paragraph. I’m kidding (sort of, not really–I didn’t know that at first). But besides all the rules of creative writing mechanics (that I am still learning as you can tell from my run-on sentences), one of the most important things I learned is to put yourself out there. Go to writing conferences. Join a critique group. Find others who write what you want to write and learn from them. The community of writers is more welcoming and supportive than I could have imagined. Don’t be afraid and think that you aren’t published so no one wants anything to do with you (that was me–I used to hide in the back at conferences, afraid if I opened my mouth I would be outed as a poser). Every author at one point was pre- published. Many struggled for years before getting a book deal. You don’t have to struggle alone!
6. What do you like most about the cover of the book?
I love, love, LOVE the cover. The colors are gorgeous. The varying blues remind me of the motion of ocean waters and contrast beautifully with the reds of the heart. The sweep of the letters is perfect. Very evocative. Siobhán Gallagher did an amazing job. And did you notice we both have accents in our first names? #accentsrule
7. What new release book are you looking most forward to in 2017?
Hmmm, I’m wondering how many I can list without seeming like that lady at the buffet that heaps her plate with everything in sight and everyone thinks she’s a pig and that there is no way she can finish it all (spoiler: I can finish it all). Many of my most favorite authors have books coming out this year. I’m a huge fan of Sarah J. Maas, so Tower of Dawn is on the list. Ditto with Maggie Steifvater. All the Crooked Saints is up there. Laini Taylor’s Night of Cake and Puppets is another one–I devoured her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy and Strange, The Dreamer. John Greene’s Turtles All the Way Down, E. Lockhart’s Genuine Fraud, Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End, Mitali Perkin’s You Bring the Distant Near, and Jason Reynold’s A Long Way Down, and Erika L. Sánchez’s I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and Samantha Mabry’s All the Wind in the World are others I’m excited to read.
8. Which was the most difficult or emotional scene to narrate?
I will only tell you it was a scene at the end of the book, starting around
9. Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
I love drafting. I love the creation of characters and scenes and that sense that anything is possible. I love not knowing how the day will end. You might have pages of garbage that will be cut or rewritten. Or you might surprise yourself and sit back in disbelief wondering if someone snuck to your computer while you were going to the bathroom because there is no way you could have written that!
10. What would you say is your superpower?
I’m really good at petting my dog. All I have to do is look at him and he flops onto his side, rolls over and shows me his belly, begging for a tummy rub. I’m also really good at braiding hair. As long as it’s not my own.
11. Is there an organization or cause that is close to your heart?
There are so many wonderful organizations dedicated to helping children born with heart disease. The Pediatric Congenital Heart Association, Sisters by Heart, Colin’s Kids, and Matthew’s Heart of Hope are a few of my many favorites. There’s another group that I love called Operation Exodus. It has nothing to do with heart disease but rather is dedicated to helping at-risk Latino kids in Washington Heights through mentoring, educational enrichment and art. Each year, Operation Exodus takes plays written by the kids and asks actors to donate their time and produce them. It is pretty special to watch these kids see their written work take life on the stage. That’s just one example of how Operation Exodus cultivates the confidence, skills, and perseverance necessary for these kids to stay in school, graduate, attend college and pursue the career of their dreams. www.Operationexodus.org
Water in May
By: Ismee Williams
Release Date: September 12, 2017