Author Chat with Karia Arenas Valenti (Loteria), Plus Giveaway! ~ (US Only)
Today we are chatting with Karia Arenas Valenti, author of
Read on for more about Karia, her book, and giveaway!
Meet the Author Karia Arenas Valenti!
Karla Arenas Valentiwrites stories for and about kids, taking readers on journeys steeped in magical realism and philosophical questions. Her storytelling is heavily influenced by her Mexican heritage and layered with ideas she’s picked up in her many travels around the world. She currently resides in the Chicagoland area with her husband and three kids, two cats, and hundreds of books. Karla writes picture books (she is the creator of the My Super Science Heroes series). Lotería is her debut middle-grade novel. Visit her at karlavalenti.com, and follow her at @KV_writes.
Meet the Illustrator Dana Sanmar!
Dana Sanmaris a Colombian illustrator and graphic designer currently living in Atlanta. Her passion for illustration started from an early age due to her parents’ love for books. Her early exposure to arts and crafts by her mother nourished her joy in creating things by hand, while her dad showed her how to work with different materials and the importance of being resourceful. Following these influences, she got a BFA in graphic design in her home country. She recently earned an MFA in illustration from the Savannah College of Art and Design and works as a freelance illustrator.
The turn of a card could change your destiny... The Night Circus meets Coco meets The Phantom Tolbooth in this captivating magical realist adventure based on the Lotería card game.
A perilous game of chance.
A journey among myths and monsters.
A girl whose fate hangs in the balance...
It is the hottest hour of the hottest day in Oaxaca City when Life and Death walk into town, ready to begin a new game of la Lotería. But first, they need a pawn, a child whose fate will be determined by the winner of the game: a long and prosperous life or an untimely death. Fate finds this child in a robin-egg blue house, tucked beneath a massive jacaranda tree. And so, the game begins.
Every card reveals a new twist in Clara's fate: a tree, a scorpion, a fateful arrow, a mermaid, a deer, a treacherous rose. But Clara knows none of this. All she knows is that her cousin Esteban has vanished, and she'll do whatever it takes to save him, traveling to the mythical Kingdom of Las Pozas in her search. And although it seems her fate was sealed as soon as the cards were dealt, Clara just might have what it takes to shatter the game and choose a new path.
Author Karla Arenas Valenti weaves an adventure steeped in magic and mythology, exploring the notion of free will in a world where fate holds all the cards.
~ Author Chat ~
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
It began with a question: do we have control over our lives (is there free will), or is everything pre-determined? I wrote the book to find the answer.
For almost a decade, I had been teasing out a plot for this story—a brave protagonist goes on an adventure thinking her choices are her own, but she’s actually trapped in a game and she doesn’t know it. However, I was still missing a few key elements: the game being played, who was playing it, and how to convey the philosophical discourse`.
The first element was solved when my father came to visit one year, and he brought a game of Lotería to play with my kids (similar to Bingo but with images on the cards and placards instead of numbers).
As we set out the tablas and shuffled the cards, I knew I had found my game. Or rather, the game had found me, because this felt an awful lot like Fate.
As for who would be dealing the cards (and debating the question), Life and Death simply walked in to the story as soon as I figured out what game they would play. It was as if they had been waiting in the end papers for this very moment.
(Art by Dana Sanmar)
And so, after a decade, the pieces just came together into this: Life and Death are equal but opposing intellectual sparring partners. As the friends debate free will vs determinism, they play a game of Lotería. This is the playing board used by Death:
Every card they flip triggers an event in the life of 11 year-old Clara, a child chosen by Life and Death to be a pawn in their game. Each card shapes Clara’s life in some way (though she doesn’t know it), propelling her into a series of choices that take her through Oaxaca City and into a magical Kingdom where she ventures to find her kidnapped cousin.
But Clara turned out to be a bit of a surprise. For even though she was to be a “pawn” trapped in a game played by Life and Death, she ended up displaying quite a bit more free will than expected, leading to a somewhat surprising twist ending.
YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?
That’s not an easy question to answer, for we love our characters in different ways and for different reasons. Perhaps I can answer a slightly different question: who was my favorite character to write? That was the rose.
Her appearance in the story came about quite by chance.
You see, not only did the game “Lotería” serve as a device in the story itself, but I used it as a technique in writing the actual manuscript as well. Whenever I got stuck with the plot, and wasn’t sure how to proceed, I would flip a Lotería card and see what image came up. I would then use that image to write the next scene.
The rose was one such card.
What I enjoyed the most about writing this character is that, even though she was only in one scene, her involvement in shaping Clara’s story was significant. I liked the idea of something small and seemingly innocent being able to wreak havoc on someone’s life (it shows how events may seem small but can have massive consequences).
In this same vein, the rose is actually a somewhat complex character (not unlike the rose in the The Little Prince) and while her behavior may appear one way at the onset of the story, as things unfold in Clara’s life, the reader begins to question whether perhaps there was more to the rose’s actions than was initially presumed.
Was she a traitor or in fact, did she help Clara reach her objective in the only way possible?
YABC: Which came first, the title or the novel?
The title was actually a placeholder name when I first saved the file. I knew the story would be based on the game, and I figured I would come up with a title as the story took shape. I never did find a more apt title and Dana did an amazing job illustrating it.
YABC: What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
The climax of the story took me completely by surprise. As I approached Clara’s resolution, I had a vague idea of where things where heading (both in terms of her character arc, but also the discourse between Life and Death which unfolds in tandem with Clara’s story). However, when the two storylines converged in a dark and dismal cave, Clara ended up surprising us all. She made a choice I didn’t anticipate (nor did Life and Death, for that matter), and it changed everything—including, my own personal thoughts on free will vs determinism.
In a way, it feels a bit like cheating to say this is the scene I’m most proud of, because I hardly had any control over how it turned out. Perhaps what I should say instead is that I am proud of the fact that I was brave enough to let the story go, to relinquish control of my character and let her take me where she needed us to go.
YABC: Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
This was the most challenging question for me to answer. In part because the lessons we learn are so personal (and often have to do with how we think of ourselves throughout this process). But also because there are so many lessons, and each is like a brick upon which we build our own Story. I don’t necessarily know that one lesson is more important than another.
I guess if I had to choose one lesson that was most meaningful to me, it is the importance of having a valued community of authors or illustrators on whom you can rely (for honest feedback, but also to help remind you of why this work matters). It’s so easy to get discouraged as we travel on this path. Having friends who journey with you, who share in your successes and can buttress you through failures, is invaluable.
YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?
Everything! It’s not only gorgeously illustrated, but it captures all the philosophical themes and symbolism in the story.
I have been blown away by Dana’s artwork since I first learned about her, and I am incredibly grateful that she chose to illustrate this story.
YABC: What new release book are you looking most forward to in 2021?
There are a number of exciting novels coming out with my fellow Musas, including NEVERFORGOTTEN by Alejandra Algorta. I also can’t wait for MISSING OKALEE (9/7/21) by Laura Ojeda Melchor and BAREFOOT DREAMS OF PETRA LUNA (9/14/21) by Alda Dobbs. Next on my reading list is Alex Aster’s EMBLEM ISLAND series.
YABC: What was your favorite book in 2020?
In no particular order, I loved WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER (Tae Keller), ECHO MOUNTAIN (Lauren Wolk), WOLF FOR A SPELL (Karah Sutton), and MAÑANALAND (Pam Muñoz Ryan)
YABC: What’s up next for you?
I am currently writing a second MG novel with Knopf. It is not a sequel to LOTERIA but will have many of the similar qualities (set in Mexico, full of magical realism, and rich with Mexican mythology and culture). I also have a picture book coming out with Knopf in 2023 called ESPERANZA CARAMELO (illustrated by Elisa Chavarri, this is a tale of spun-sugar ornaments come to life and cake catastrophe averted on the eve of Nochebuena) and a second picture book that is currently under a veil of secrecy.
2023 will also bring publication of MARIA MARIPOSA, a picture book with Chronicle. Illustrated by Andrea Morrison, this is a lyrical, bilingual story about a young girl who receives a gift from her home in Mexico on her first day of school in the United States (and how she finds a way to share the magic of that gift with all those around her).
I have a number of additional picture books currently looking for homes, so hopefully I’ll have more good news to share soon.
YABC: Is there anything that you would like to add?
If you would like to learn more about me or my books, please visit my website (karlavalenti.com). I love hearing from readers and you can connect with me on my site or on Twitter @KV_Writes.
YABC: Which was the most difficult or emotional scene to narrate?
Closing out Clara’s story was challenging. I wanted to reward readers for staying with her through the end, but I also needed to honor Clara’s choices.
When the book went to auction, I discussed the ending with all the editors. A number wanted the resolution to be different, but that didn’t feel right to me. As it turned out, I’m glad I followed Clara where she wanted to go (and fortunately, my editor at Knopf agreed). We were able to find a perfect way to wrap up our heroine’s story!
YABC: Which character gave you the most trouble when writing your latest book?
Honestly, the characters all came together very easily. The trickiest part was staying out of their way (not trying to control them so much), but rather giving them free reign to move the story forward.
I suppose that in this way, my role was a bit like that of Life and Death, turning cards that shape the fate of those whose life hangs in the balance… and then being surprised by the choices the characters made freely.
YABC: Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
Drafting…when the story is flowing. When it’s not, Drafting is a slow and agonizing process of self-doubt and heart-wrenching despair.
YABC: What would you say is your superpower?
This is a tough question because to me “superpower” is a pretty polished skill or talent, and I think most of my skills and talents are in a constant state of “becoming better.” That said, I do make a pretty good German brown bread.
YABC: Is there an organization or cause that is close to your heart?
Libraries! I have relied so much on my local library to keep me sane this past year, and I know I’m not alone in this. Libraries have been (and are!) a tremendous support structure for many young readers. Yay libraries!
Author: Karia Arenas Valenti
Illustrator: Dana Sanmar
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: September 7th, 2021
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