Hello lovely readers! Thanks for stopping by Kid Lit Village this week. It’s a special post for me because I get to feature one of my talented critique partners, Mariana Rios Ramirez. Yay!!! And it’s even more special since I had the privilege of giving feedback on Mariana’s early drafts. SANTIAGO’S DINOSAURIOS is Mariana’s debut picture book, illustrated by Udayana Lugo and published by Albert Whitman.
Mariana Ríos Ramírez is a Mexican picture book author living in South Carolina with her husband, two children and a rescue Chihuahua mix dog named Rogers. Mariana was a high school teacher and co-owned an online business before discovering her passion for writing. She’s a member of SCBWI, Las Musas, Storyteller Academy and Rate your Story. Santiago’s Dinosaurios is her debut picture book. Besides writing, Mariana enjoys photography, traveling, Chai Lattes and k-dramas.
Mariana, welcome to the Kid Lit Village blog! I’m so glad you’re here. What appeals to you about writing for children?
I love writing for children because I believe they are the future of the world. I’m convinced that as kidlit writers we can contribute to plant seeds of positive messages in their minds and souls, since we get to share our values through our books. We can make a difference in little readers so they can create a better world in which they’ll embrace others and themselves with more love, inclusion and respect.
Besides this, for me it’s also very important that all children see themselves in the books they read and love, and that they can relate to the problems, adventures, and situations the characters go through. As a latin writer, I love being able to share my cultural background and the Spanish language through the stories I write.
It’s such a privilege being able to write for children isn’t it? And we need diverse books so sharing your latin background and Spanish words is so important. I love the way you weave them into your stories.
What challenges you as a writer?
As a writer I’m learning and growing every day. I have a background in business, so being a writer is the result of venturing down a path that I hadn’t originally considered for myself and that I didn’t know much about (although I always loved writing). The fact that there’s always a lot to still discover, learn, and improve, makes this new career very interesting to me.
I’ve found that every book I write challenges me in a unique way. However, one of the most common struggles I’ve faced is related to the language. Being Mexican, English is not my first language, so there are times in which I feel frustrated by not being able to find the right words or verbs that show exactly what I mean and want to communicate. Using a thesaurus has helped and I can tell that I’ve been expanding my vocabulary as I write, but sometimes I still struggle.
Another challenge I’ve had is the picture book word count, which is quite limited. I have a tendency to use many words when I write, so it takes time and effort to reduce the number of words without affecting the story. Sometimes I find that I’m telling, not showing, or that I start being very descriptive (getting into the illustrator’s domain). Thankfully, with time and practice I’ve been getting better at identifying which words to eliminate; but it hasn’t come easy to me.
Finally, I have to add that being patient has also been a challenge for me. The publishing industry moves slowly and there are a lot of waiting moments during the journey to publication. So, I’ve had to come up with ways to fill those blank spaces and I’ve found that moving on to the next story is really the best and most productive thing to do.
Mariana, I have shared some of the same challenges. Being patient, choosing words carefully to leave room for illustration, and learning to write a story in a limited number of words have been challenging for me too! I agree with your advice to move on to the next story when waiting. It helps!
Mariana’s Path to Publication with Santiago’s Dinosaurios
I wrote the first draft of Santiago’s Dinosaurios in 2019. It was inspired by my son’s experience when we moved from Mexico to United States in 2016 due to my husband’s job in an international company. My son Patrizio (Pato) was five years old when he was faced with the challenge of starting the school year in a new country and without being able to communicate in the same language as his teachers and classmates. My son’s struggles back then made me realize there are many kids around the world who have a hard time finding their place in new environments, especially when different cultures and languages are involved.
My first versions of the manuscript were quite different to the one that’s getting published. For example, the title at first was The New Boy and it was written in first person point of view. As months passed, I worked on it and the story began to transform. I started querying it in March 2020 with no success. After some rejections, I understood I needed to add something unique to the story, since the theme of first day of school was common. During the summer of 2020, I rewrote the story and that’s when the dinosaurs got included. My son was a huge dino-fan during his childhood and I knew a lot of kids love them, so I thought it would be a fun hook to include to make the story more appealing and to promote more connection with the readers. That’s when the book’s title changed to Santiago’s Dinosaur-sized Problem. During this process I was lucky to have the support of my amazing critique partners. Critique giveaways I won and a session with my author friend Lynne Marie, were very helpful too.
On September 15th 2020, I participated in the Twitter event LatinxPitch, during which I received a “like” from editor Andrea Hall from Albert Whitman & Co. I was very excited to get a positive response, so I sent her my manuscript shortly after, even though I didn’t have an agent yet. In November, I received an email from Andrea asking if I’d be willing to revise and resubmit (R&R). Se was interested in including an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) teacher. I’m glad I had the freedom to decide how I would add the new character to the manuscript in a way that seemed realistic, but without solving the “problem” for my main character. The new version was definitely stronger and I ended up signing my debut book deal for Santiago’s Dinosaurios in March, 2021. A real dream come true!
During summer 2021, I worked on the edition of the manuscript with Andrea, and later with Nivair Gabriel. I feel so lucky to have had two amazing editors supporting me on making this story the best it could be. I learned a lot from the process and it was a positive and pleasant experience in many ways. Regarding the illustrations, I think they are amazing and I’m thankful that talented artist Udayana Lugo was part of our team. Her beautiful art contributed to make the Santiago’s story stronger by adding more heart to the pages and introducing layers of diversity that made the book even more special.
From the editors and illustrator, to the art and marketing teams in Albert Whitman & Co. I am forever grateful. I feel blessed to have such an amazing group of people behind Santiago’s Dinosaurios. I can’t wait for the moment this book gets to the hands of children!
It’s so interesting to hear how the story evolved. I do think writing a story in different ways, adding layers, and getting feedback from editors and critique partners can help it become the best work it can possibly be!
A few of Mariana’s resources for developing talents as a writer
Since I began walking this path in 2018, I’ve taken advantage of several resources available for writers, some of them are free while others aren’t. Please consider the answer to this question is based on my personal experience, as I’m sure I’m not including all the wonderful resources there are.
My first introduction to the world of kidlit, was joining a class on Creating Picture Book Dummies in Storyteller Academy. That’s when I learned the basics plus I met one of my critique partner groups. Another great resource for me, right in the beginning, was the book Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul. I love it and every now and then I go back to it.
Other valuable resources have been my critique groups/partners in which I have found not only picture book lovers, but very creative and talented friends who have helped me polish my stories and have shared this journey with me. I’m very grateful to have these amazing and supportive people in my life.
Finally, I’d say that reading many picture books is basic too. You get a lot of craft knowledge by studying the way other writers tell stories, how illustrations work with the texts, and how different authors come up with creative ideas. Besides, you also get a good idea of the market. I like attending Rate your Story’s Mentor texts whenever I can, and I also like reading aloud with my daughter.
Thank you Cynthia for the wonderful opportunity of sharing more about me and Santiago’s Dinosaurios in your blog. I appreciate your constant support and encouragement.
Mariana! What fun it has been to interview you and see your debut picture book introduced to the world. I’m so happy to have been part of your journey and I know my readers will love this book. As a preschool teacher myself, I cannot wait to get the book to my classroom and share it with the children. In my class this year, we have three children who need extra support with speech communication and I know they will see themselves in your story. Every child in my class ‘speaks dinosaur’ fluently! They will love your book. Click here to read my review of Santiago’s Dinosaurios.
Readers, thank you for stopping by Kid Lit Village this week!
Did you know, I’ve written a couple of books too?
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