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Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Marie Miranda Cruz here to share about her MG contemporary EVERLASTING NORA. It sounds fantastic. It is set in the Philippines and deals with issues of homelessness.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads

An uplifting middle-grade debut about perseverance against all odds, Marie Miranda Cruz's debut Everlasting Nora follows the story of a young girl living in the real-life shanty town inside the Philippines' North Manila Cemetery.

After a family tragedy results in the loss of both father and home, 12-year-old Nora lives with her mother in Manila's North Cemetery, which is the largest shanty town of its kind in the Philippines today.

When her mother disappears mysteriously one day, Nora is left alone.

With help from her best friend Jojo and the support of his kindhearted grandmother, Nora embarks on a journey riddled with danger in order to find her mom. Along the way she also rediscovers the compassion of the human spirit, the resilience of her community, and everlasting hope in the most unexpected places.

Hi Marie! Thanks so much for joining us. 

I’m happy to be here!

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

I am not one of those authors who dreamed of being a writer as a child. I wanted to be an artist. I loved to draw and paint. But I loved writing in a journal which I began doing in the 6th grade. I was also an avid reader. Fast-forward thirty years—I didn’t become an artist. I majored in Biology and had a career in cytogenetics. I was in a bookstore one day shopping for books for my children and myself and after perusing the children’s section, I noticed books with stories about Chinese, Korean, and Japanese children and their families but no books about Filipinos or with Filipino characters. It suddenly occurred to me that I could write one. The idea consumed me! I knew I had a lot to learn and that it wouldn’t be easy but I had to give it a shot. So I began with picture book texts. My first picture book won an honorable mention at an SCBWI writing contest. After winning that award, I knew I wanted to keep writing. I wrote a few more picture book stories before turning my attention to writing my first novel. There was no turning back!

2. That wasn't my dream as a kid either. Where did you get the idea for EVERLASTING NORA?

I had a picture book story set in a cemetery in the Philippines, about a pair of brothers, a ball of wax,
and their strange encounter with a goblin on the night of All Saints Day. I wanted to expand this manuscript into a middle grade novel so I began researching cemeteries in the Philippines. I came across a blog post by an American missionary about an orphan named Grace who begged in the streets of Manila and slept in the cemetery at night. I was so touched by her story I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wondered how she became orphaned, how she survived, who her friends were, if she even had any. It was at that moment that Nora’s story began to form in my mind.

3. I know that you were born in the Philippines and spent a fair amount of time there when growing up. Did you draw on these experiences or did you need to do research for your story? What about for North Cemetery where Nora lives?

I used a combination of both! I spent part of my early childhood in the Philippines then moved to the U.S., where I finished elementary school. When my dad retired from the United States Navy, we moved back to the Philippines, where I went to high school and college. It was from this part of my life that I drew from. The sights and sounds of Manila and my hometown of Cavite City, the friends I’d made, the food I’d enjoyed, and the traditions that dictated the rhythm of day to day living, helped me create the landscape of Nora’s world. The Manila North Cemetery was a different matter. I used both my memories of cemeteries (mostly from my hometown) and research to give the setting of EVELASTING NORA its color and atmosphere. I read articles about the squatters living in Manila’s North Cemetery and spent hours looking through photography archives of the community living there. The visual immersion helped me imagine Nora’s world and my memories added all the sensory details necessary to make it come alive.

4. I bet the combination of your own experiences and the research really helped. Nora sounds like a compelling character that readers can really sympathize with both because of her situation and her as a person. Share what her character development was like for you.

I’m a visual person so I started with a picture. During my research, I came across a photo of a girl sitting with her back to a tomb, her hair a little messy, her eyes staring into the camera. She wasn’t smiling, as most children in the cemetery did when they posed for a picture. It seemed like the photographer caught her off guard, her expression was sad and a little angry. These were the two emotions I used as a starting point in developing Nora as a character. I didn’t grow up in a cemetery like this child so I decided Nora would be a new to the community. I felt I could portray this truthfully and explore how I would feel if I were Nora, encountering this level of poverty for the first time. This offered the opportunity to show her desire for home in a more concrete way since it comes from having had a home before. Placing myself in Nora’s shoes, examining my own experiences of living without electricity (our neighborhood experienced periodic power outage) and the daily lives of people I knew helped me bring out the strength of her desires and develop the courage that gets her through the difficult situations in the book.

5. What was a challenge that you had in writing or revising this and how did you overcome it?

The main challenge for me was adding lightness to the story. Nora’s life in the cemetery is dark and fraught with despair, especially when she first encounters it. When I drafted the novel, it was too dark. There needed to be some light moments in the story. During my research, I read about families who had lived there for generations, some of them had jobs and chose to stay in the cemetery where they could live rent-free. I recently heard from a friend in high school who told me about an experience he had in college. A classmate of his invited him home for a drink. My friend was astonished to find that his classmate lived in the cemetery, in an apartment built over a mausoleum. They had a couple of beers while looking out over an expanse of tombs. He said it was the strangest experience he’d ever had. It was moments like these, mixing the ordinary into cemetery life, adding descriptions of food, as well as including some of Nora’s happy memories that added lightness to the narrative.

6. Your agent is Paula Munier. Share how she became your agent and your road to publication.

I wrote EVERLASTING NORA over ten years ago and spent a couple of years revising before going into the query trenches. In the first year of querying, I received requests from agents who later passed on the book because they didn’t think they could sell it. I was disappointed and decided to set the manuscript aside and write another book. I drafted and revised a young adult novel about a Filipino American teen psychic living in San Francisco who becomes involved in the case of missing girl from her school. I sent a query letter to Paula Munier in May of 2012. She requested to read the full the same day. I sent it along and waited patiently (most of the time.) I heard back a few months later. She loved the book and offered representation! I was so happy and thrilled. After a couple of rounds of revision with Paula, I went on submission with my young adult novel. There was plenty of interest but in the end, many passes. I was disheartened. Then I remembered my middle grade novel and decided to send it to Paula. She loved it! We went on submission again.

In June of 2015, Paula pitched EVERLASTING NORA (at the time, the title was Cemetery City) to Diana Pho at Tom Doherty Associates, who requested to read it. In November of the same year, Paula had some hopeful news for me; Diana loved the book! The road to acquisition is long and intense, especially for a debut author.

Publishers acquire books through a committee process that involves sales, publicity, marketing, the editorial board, and the publisher. I had a strong advocate in Diana. When Paula called me to give me the news that Starscape, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, was to publish my middle grade novel, I was ecstatic. I think I walked around with a goofy smile on my face for a solid week. After years of struggle, of reaching for the dream, it finally happened. I was going to be an author.

7. Wow! That's a reminder to hold onto the manuscripts that you don't think you can sell. What was something that surprised you about being a debut author and the time leading up to your book’s release?

I’m an introvert and not much of a public speaker so when EVERLASTING NORA became one of five 2018 Book Expo Buzz Books for the middle grade category, I discovered that I would be participating on a panel at Book Expo! This surprise was both exciting and terrifying at the same time. I knew that authors did this but the surprise was that it was happening for my book, and me. I guess I imagined I would have a quiet author life, hoping for invitations to participate in local events—but being at Book Expo as a debut author was surreal. The other thing that surprised me was how much work it takes to promote yourself and your book. Being an introvert doesn’t help! I am so grateful to my agent, Paula, my editor Diana, and the staff at Tom Doherty Associates for their guidance. But I am most grateful to my debut group, the Electric Eighteens for their support, for the resources and the experiences they share because without them, I would be completely clueless!

8. I saw on your website that you are going on a book tour that includes Books of Wonder in New York City. How was that set up? What advice do you have to others who want to do the same?

Books of Wonder is a gorgeous bookstore! I had the chance to visit when I was in New York City for Book Expo last May. Having a book tour was another exciting surprise for me! I am super grateful to my publisher for sending me on this tour. My publicist was the one who chose the venues and made all the arrangements. All I had to do was make sure I secured the time off from my day job to do it! As to advice, all I can say is communicating with your agent and editor is the best way to learn about this process.

9. What else are you doing to promote your book and what’s your advice to someone who just signed a book contract on how to get ready for this?

I think the best thing I did to promote my book was engaging with teachers and librarians on social media, especially those who read, review, and share books. They form groups and use hashtags like #BookPosse and #CollaBookation. They are wonderful!

As far as advice, you can begin by making connections with your co-debut authors. You would probably spend that first year after signing your book contract revising your book and just learning how to navigate the industry so having the support of author friends and showing your support in turn is important. When it comes to promotion, seeing how other authors do it is very helpful in developing your own promotion strategy.

10. What are you working on now?

I’m working on my next middle grade novel! It’s about sisters who reunite on an island resort. It’s a story of friendship, sisterhood, and healing with a little Filipino mysticism mixed in.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Marie. You can find Marie at:

Marie's publisher has generously offering a hardback of EVERLASTING NORA for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through October 20th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is U.S.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Here's what's coming up:

Sunday, October 14th I'm participating in the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop

Monday, October 15th I have an interview with debut author Katya de Becerra and a giveaway of her  YA mystery/fantasy WHAT THE WOODS KEEP

Monday, October 22nd I have an interview with author Sherry Ellis and a giveaway of her MG BUBBA AND SQUIRT'S BIG DIG TO CHINA

Monday, October 29th I have an agent spotlight interview with Wendi Gu and a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you on Sunday!


nashvillecats2 said...

A great post and interview Natalie. Very enjoyable.


Patricia T. said...

First review I've read of this new novel. I've had my eye on it and now I see it is a real gem! Enjoyed the interview. Maria persisted and had a great support system to guide her. Congratulations on the release and your role at the Book Expo!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

2015? Wow, that was a long process. I didn't realize it took so long with an agent. Much shorter process with a publisher.

Greg Pattridge said...

The book is high on my list to read. Your compelling interview convinced me. The process of getting published is a long arduous one and Marie is a testament to that. Thanks for sharing.

Andrea Mack said...

I heard about this book recently, but now that I've read this fascinating interview, I'm more determined than ever to read it. Thanks for explaining the story behind the book!

Brenda said...

Lovely interview. Hope you have a wonderful week Natalie.

Unknown said...

Great interview! This book is on my TBR list.

Victoria Marie Lees said...

What an excellent interview, Natalie. And what an excellent book, Marie. All the luck with new release. The road to publication seems always to be littered with rejections--and in my case--tears. All the best, ladies!

June McCrary Jacobs said...

Thank you to you and the author for sharing this interesting interview with us, Natalie. This novel sounds likes a beautiful story, and I really like the cover art.

Danielle H. said...

Now I really want to read this book! Thank you for the interview. I shared on tumblr: http://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/178867976827/marie-miranda-cruz-interview-and-everasting-nora

Natasha said...

Great interview!
Everlasting Nora sounds like a great read!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

MLethbri said...

This story looks great! I would love to learn more about Filipino culture. It reminds me of a combination of Ada's Violin and the Graveyard Book. I retweeted contest entry link (@FLESLibrary). My email is mldavis.lms at gmail dot com.

Rosi said...

Adding lightness to a serious book is hard to do, but it is so important. This sounds like a wonderful book. Thanks for telling me aobut it.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

It sounds like a refreshing, unique read. I do love that!!

I'm not a fan of the acquisitions portion of the submission. I've had stories tied up there myself. Such a downer!! Glad to see you made it through.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I love seeing diversity in children's literature, and love the cool way the author lightened up the story!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

This sounds like a much needed book and one that is well-written and thought-provoking. It's important to get quality literature about different cultures and social issues into classrooms and libraries. (Speaking as a former classroom teacher.) I certainly would like to read this one.

Sherry Ellis said...

This sounds like a really interesting book. I'll have to put on my list of books to read. Good title, too!

Tamara Narayan said...

I love reading about the long and winding road to publication even though I know experiencing it firsthand is stressful.

Suzanne Warr said...

This sounds like it has all the feels, a book I'd love to read! I'm also encouraged by Marie's story of how her agent sold the second novel they went out with, since we all know success can take time!
I would love to win a copy and my email is spartan (_) writer (at) yahoo (dot) com. Fingers crossed!

Tonja Drecker said...

I can imagine that it was hard to keep the story light enough with the kind of plot and setting. Lovely interview!

Pat Hatt said...

Great interview. Adding lightness must have been tricky indeed. That would be world. Come home for a drink. Home's a cemetery. Whoops, forgot to mention that.

Cherie Reich said...

Congrats, Marie! I love how you came up with the idea for Everlasting Nora. Sometimes stories find us. :)

Angie Quantrell said...

Fascinating! Even in fiction, we learn so much. I didn't know people, families, children were living in cemeteries! Congratulations! Look forward to reading this one. Angelecolline at yahoo dot com