Monday, June 6, 2022

Samantha San Miguel Interview - Spineless

Photo Content from Samantha San Miguel

Samantha San Miguel grew up barefoot in South Florida. Living in this wild, diverse, and exuberant state taught Samantha a lifelong respect for the natural world with both its dangers and delights. Working there as an adult taught her a love for the colorful personalities that crowd the state’s borders. And leaving it taught her that whether in Florida, Cuba, or anywhere else in the world, you can never be an exile if there’s sunshine in your heart.

Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
Actually, yes! I’d been writing down stories since I could write, but there was one night as a preteen that I was lying awake staring at the ceiling, and I thought, “I am going to write an epic trilogy about love and death and war and magic.” (Can you tell I had just read The Lord of the Rings?). And then I thought, “I’m 11, so I’d better get to work on my writing skills while I collect some life experience.” I That was the night my intention to become a writer changed from something I was going to do at some future date into something I was actively working toward. I spent the next decade practicing on short stories and writing exercises, wrote the first book of my planned epic trilogy in college, realized it was unoriginal, and threw it in the garbage can. But the decision to be a writer didn’t waver.

Greatest thing you learned in school.
I’m a homeschool graduate, and I know it’s cliché but the best thing I learned is that learning is fun. My siblings and I grew up reading books in trees, bursting waterpipes while digging frog ponds, and getting soaked by the sprinklers because we were sleeping on the lawn watching meteor showers or lunar eclipses. I didn’t think about it till you asked the question, but a good bit of that childhood attitude toward learning is soaked into SPINELESS!

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Getting a starred review from Kirkus is up there! However, reading SPINELESS aloud to my two kids after the manuscript had been lovingly edited and polished by my agent, editor, and proofreaders was really special. I hadn’t intended to do it, but the kids asked for the first chapter and it snowballed from there. My son was screaming, “READ MORE, MOMMY!” and my daughter was screaming “DON’T READ, IT’S TOO SCARY” and I’m not sure which was more flattering!

What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?
Keep a journal but structure it like you would a novel, with scene and summary, dialogue, character description, and setting. This works even better when you scaffold it around something in your life with a strong throughline, which could be as straightforward as training for your first marathon or as complex as falling in love. I’m aware that this is a fairly geeky exercise, and those who try it risk comparison with Gwendolyn Fairfax in The Importance of Being Earnest, who never travels without her diary so that she always has “something sensational to read on the train!” However, it forces you to pay attention and pick out significant details both large and small. At its foundation, I believe finding your writing voice springs from discovering what you personally find most important to focus on. You can’t figure that out without looking at your own life first.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
The WIP I’m finishing up is a middle grade Shakespearean riff with lots of subtropical fun! I also have something new and exciting I’m about to start work on, but no spoilers about that yet.

In your newest book; SPINELESS, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it.
Sure! SPINELESS is a middle grade adventure set in 1890s south Florida. The protagonist, Algie Emsworth, is an aspiring young naturalist whose mother hopes the warm climate will help relieve his asthma. While exploring the swamps surrounding their hotel, Algie and his friends make a discovery bigger than they bargained for!

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
While they’re reading it, I hope they can’t think anything except “What happens next??” Afterwards, I hope it encourages them to get outdoors in whatever way is accessible to them and have fun.

What part of Algie did you enjoy writing the most?
To answer this, I need to tell you the story of how the three main characters in SPINELESS were created. While I was in college, to make my own sister laugh, I wrote a few chapters of a Victorian-era story about two sisters that were caricatures of ourselves. One of the sources of conflict in that story was a young man with all the characteristics that my sister and I, at the time, had no patience for. He was wishy-washy, unathletic, and always sneezing with allergies. The sisters hated dragging him around on their adventures.

Much later, after graduating as a nurse and with some humbling years of acute care hospital work under my belt, I revisited those chapters. I was struck by the fact that the sisters wrote off their friend for no real reason other than that he was weak and inconvenient. By now my nursing experience had taught me that true strength has little to do with a person's muscles. I dropped the characters' ages and started rewriting the story, this time from the "weak" friend's POV.

To sum up, my favorite part of writing Algie was discovering the surprises inside a character I myself had overlooked!

What was your unforgettable moment while writing SPINELESS?
I developed the idea for SPINELESS during a writing course I took with the Children’s Book Academy. Publishing professionals evaluated the students’ pitches, and at the end of the class I had multiple industry requests for a book I hadn’t written yet! There was a four-month deadline for completed manuscripts. Getting that first request and realizing I’d need to pull a completed book out of my hat over the course of a summer was definitely an intimidating but thrilling, unforgettable moment!

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
My character Professor Ransom Champion is an homage to Arthur Conan Doyle’s belligerent Professor Challenger. I would love to put the two in a second-floor study together and watch them try to throw each other down the stairs.

What is the craziest thing you have ever done?
Wow, I could give a lot of answers to this! One that springs to mind concerns the first patient I cared for in my first ten minutes as a new nurse out of college. He was a younger man in full cardiac arrest, and I had steeled myself to the hilt for heartbreaking cases such as his. You can imagine my shock when we successfully resuscitated him! I remember looking at my hands which had just been doing CPR, then at his breathing, and being utterly unable to take in this new twist. I have no idea how his recovery went after that, but it taught me to never be so prepared for the worst that you forget the best is also a possibility.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Climb a tree, if that’s at all physically possible for you. Open water swimming is a good alternative.

What are you most passionate about today?
I’m passionate about creating characters that span the physical and mental health spectrum without their health becoming the main focus of the plot.

What is your happiest childhood memory?
Jumping in tidepools filled with bioluminescent plankton at midnight.

What's your most missed memory?
I miss sitting on the porch drinking tea and reading poetry to my kids when they were both tots. I’d have to jump up every five seconds to stop them from eating snails or kissing lizards, but we had so much fun. We still have fun (and tea and poetry), but I’ll always treasure the memory of those slow early days.

What were you doing at midnight last night?
Sleeeeeeeeeeping! I’m a stickler for sleep, except the one rule I always break is that I never sleep in total darkness. For me it leaves too much scope for imagination! My kids will come into my room after a nightmare and be like, “Mommy, what if there’s a bear in your closet?” and aloud I say “Haha, don’t be silly!” while in my head I’m thinking, “Dangit, now I can’t go to sleep until I check!!”

  • 1. If I could pick one animal ability, I’d choose a prehensile tail.
  • 2. If I could pick one superpower, I’d be the Human Bouncy Ball.
  • 3. One of my proudest accomplishments is once traversing a several-hundred foot wide forest without ever touching the ground.
  • 4. One of my proudest parenting moments was when my daughter ruined her first book by forgetting it in the backyard when it rained.
  • 5. I’m a double prosthetic leg user after a health crisis in my early 30s. I have separate pairs of legs for walking, running, biking, and dancing.
  • 6. I adore big snakes but sadly can never own one because I also adore mice and rats.
  • 7. I don’t use social media much because my brain needs a lot of whitespace.
  • 8. My husband and I train for and race triathlons together.
  • 9. My guilty pleasure is boybands.
  • 10. When we split the world into Team Brontë vs Team Austen, I’m Team Austen.
Journey to writing SPINELESS
One of the reasons I’m most proud of SPINELESS is that it was no burst of inspiration, but rather a painstaking, occasionally painful labor of deliberate practice. When I started the book, I’d already decided this was it: the year I’d attempt to sell a novel. Which of course meant I’d need a fun concept to stand out from the slushpile.

So, I found the most unforgiving audience I could dig up, which was my then-sixteen-year-old brother Johnny. If you’ve ever had a sixteen-year-old in your life, you know they’re a tough crowd! His idea of a well-paced plotline was the kaiju-vs-giant robots movie Pacific Rim. I’d read him my outline, “How’s this, Johnny, is it exciting enough?” and he’d be like, “I dunno, Sam, it’s still a little boring.” Back I would go to the drawing board!

Once I had a storyline that passed the Johnny test, I needed guidance. I’d never written a middle grade before and wanted to learn from those more experienced. However, due to work and family constraints, I couldn’t attend writing conferences which were all in-person at the time. I applied for and received a scholarship from the Children’s Book Academy to their online course called Middle Grade Mastery.

One of the course instructors was an acquiring editor for a respected publishing house. I never dreamed she would have any interest in my book, but I still tried to treat every interaction in that class like a job interview. As I mentioned before, publishing professionals could request a student’s work at the end of the class. I was stunned when that editor asked for the full manuscript of SPINELESS!

Now the only thing left was… well, writing it! I had a four-month deadline, a toddler who didn’t sleep, a nightshift job, a husband in school with two jobs of his own… but I’d spent the last ten years studying novel structure and somehow, I managed it! I signed with my agent two weeks after sending out the manuscript, and she sold SPINELESS to the very same editor I’d connected with in my writing class.

The path from sale to actual publication was unexpectedly bumpy for a number of different reasons. But SPINELESS is finally being released into the wild, and I couldn’t be happier about it! The challenges along the way have only added to the thrill. I had so much fun writing SPINELESS, and I hope others will have as much fun reading it!

This exciting middle-grade adventure is Hoot for the Gilded Age—with scientific discoveries, secret plots, and surprisingly enormous fauna.

When his asthma lands him at a health resort in the wilds of Gilded Age South Florida, twelve-year-old Algie Emsworth is over the moon. The scientific treasure trove of unexplored swamps may launch his dream career as a naturalist. But even Algie is startled when he happens upon a brand-new species and her brood in the karst springs surrounding the resort. Algie quickly realizes he must keep his discovery a secret: a famous collector of exotic animals is also staying at the hotel, and the new species is threatened by his very presence. An apparent curse has also descended upon the hotel, bringing with it a deadly red tide. But when the pool starts filling with ink and guests start getting mysterious, sucker-shaped wounds, Algie must pluck up his courage to find the truth about the goings-on at the Grand Hotel—and save the new species from destruction.

You can purchase Spineless at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you SAMANTHA SAN MIGUEL for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Spineless by Samantha San Miguel.