UNA NIÑA FILLED WITH MAGICAL STORIES
Even as a child I made up fantastical stories in my mind. Simple interactions with friends or teachers where I’d been silent or awkward, I’d imagine instead I had responded with a booming, brave voice or with some clever speech. Or I’d envision a simple playground dust devil was actually a desert fairy only I could see. She was coming to take me away to some lush forest where I could fly and eat magical berries larger than my head. Sometimes I would write my imagined tales down, but not always.
A BIOCHEMIST WHO DREAMED WITH DROSOPHILAS BEING FAIRY BABIES.
When I graduated high school, I decided I wanted to be a writer or designer. But my parents pushed me to go into the sciences. So, I majored in Biochemistry. But I still did a lot of daydreaming in class where Drosophila were actually fairy babies who’d been trapped in a genetics lab and needed to escape and spread their vestigial wings!
SUCCESS – HER FIRST NOVEL WON FIRST PLACE. (WOW!!!)
I first started studying with online creative writing courses through a local college in 2010. I started writing my first novel in 2011. When I finished it, I didn’t have a critique group and didn’t know how to get feedback, so I sent it in to the Pacific Northwest Writers Association where you could submit it for professional critiques as part of a writing contest. My first novel was a finalist in the Young Adult category. Then it won first place. (WOW!!!)
A BUMP IN THE ROAD – NOT SET FOR LIFE AS EXPECTED
So, that first novel I ever wrote that won first place, I thought, “This means I’ve made it!!!”
That was far from the truth. I’d barely taken one step down a long trail. I’d done none of the real work. I hadn’t studied enough. I hadn’t read enough. I hadn’t written enough. I didn’t even have a critique group. Writing is hard. And there’s no quick path. My first step should have been to find a good critique group. (Which I’ve now had for eight years. Hey Papercuts!) They are a very honest, hardworking group of writers. We love each other, but we hold each other accountable. Our goal is to give (the sometimes) brutal feedback we need to hear to make each other better writers.
Now, I am always studying, reading, writing, critiquing…
THE FIRST AGENT – NOT A GOOD FIT
I first queried in 2013 and got my first agent in the same year.
Years passed, and I realized I simply had the wrong agent for me. I started over in 2017. (That was scary).
I signed with my new agent in 2018 and things took off. If I can add one thing I learned that I wish writers knew about agents, is that having the wrong agent for your work and style of communication is worse than having no agent at all.
It’s not about any agent being bad or good. It’s about making sure that the agent you end up with is the right one for you. I take full responsibility for why my first agent didn’t work out. I didn’t ask the right questions to make sure they were the right one for me.
RECOVERING FROM REJECTIONS
I haven’t yet. (joking) But when you put so much effort into your work, then into your query of an agent, it feels extremely vulnerable. So, when the rejections come, and they always do, it’s a horrible feeling.
What I’ve learned… agents feel horrible too. They don’t want to reject writers. They want to find the writer of their dreams just like we want the agent of our dreams. But again, just like dating, you want to end up with the right partner who will hopefully be “the one” for the rest of your writing career.
So, while I wouldn’t say I “recovered quickly”, I kept putting myself out there with the hope “the one” would come along. And she did! Hey, Allison!
GETTING THE RIGHT AGENT –
I am now with Allison Remcheck of Stimola Literary Studio. Go Team Stimola! Much like finding the right partner in life, I was introduced by a fellow writer. I had done an intensive writing weekend years ago with a phenomenal writer/teacher, Lewis Buzbee. He told me long ago about his agency. I reached out to Lewis and he recommended I query Stimola Literary Studio. So, I did and Allison answered, but she did not sign me right away. She asked me to do an R and R (revise and resubmit). Her feedback was gold, and while it was daunting, it was the right revision to make. So, I did.
Allison was the only agent who expressed the work she’d still like to see me do on the manuscript and why. She couldn’t know I was looking EXACTLY for this. Someone who was editorial and would give me honest feedback. Allison is soft-spoken, and so kind-hearted, but also a strong proponent for diversity and a stickler for getting it right.
My phenomenal editor at Levine Querido, Nick Thomas, introduced to the author he’d worked with on The Moon Within, by Aida Salazar. She was one of the founding members of Las Musas (and now one of my favorite people.) At the time, I didn’t really know many other Latinx writers. Aida and Las Musas, a group of women and non-binary Latinx writers who work as a collective welcomed me like family.
JOINING LAS MUSAS
Our goals are to support each other and our work. We encourage one another behind the scenes, and support each other’s work online through social media, and of course in person when we meet. I have a new family who have a unique and personal understanding of my work.
Las Musas is a diverse group who have cultural ties to Latin America.
Our stories are as varied as our backgrounds. Many of us bicultural and biracial as myself.
My debut novel, Lupe Wong Wont’ Dance, will be released by Levine Querido September 8, 2020. I also have my debut picture book, El Cucuy is Scared, Too, which will be released by Abrams Kids Spring of 2021. And I am working on another middle grade sci-fi novel, Petra Peña and the P.E.A., and hopefully I’ll have an announcement about it soon.
JUGGLING WRITING, WORK AND FAMILIA
I think like most writers, balancing a writing schedule with a day job is a challenge. I am in the medical field, so my brain works an entirely different side during the day. When I get home at night, I just want to spend time with my husband, kids and pets. But I am also mentally tired from my day job. So, I write early in the morning after I get kids off to school but before I leave for work. It’s not much time, but I write bit by bit until I have a finished project.
I also have a unique situation where my husband is also a middle grade writer. (Mark Maciejewski, the I Am Fartacus series.) We can bounce ideas off one another and because we both understand writing, it’s like having a built-in writing buddy.
HER SUPERPOWER – NAPKIN ART!!
Oh, my husband is going to roll his eyes so hard! I think my superpower is napkin art! Every morning, while making lunches for my kids, I draw on a napkin, a mini-story of sorts, to go in their lunch. And yep, my 6 am delirious mind comes up with some bizarre ideas, but even into high school, I think my kids secretly look forward to their mom’s daily humor. But I have done my napkin art for 15 years, and have come up with a different napkin every morning. I’d call those mini-stories a superpower. Wait, is this considered “writing professionally”? I guess I have been writing a lot longer than I thought!
BEST BLOG FOR WRITERS
Because I write books for children, I’ve found nearly all my reference material has come in some way from SCBWI.org
I read so much that I can’t write down all my “favorite” books. One book I will say that taught me the most recently was Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Wow. Education not only on voice but on how to write responsibly. Like so many others, I loved Merci Suárez Changes Gears as well as Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina.
CHECK ABOUT HER NEW BOOK AND PRE-ORDER IT HERE
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4 thoughts on “Donna Barba Higuera – A Magical Musa”
AH! Two of my favorite writers! I loved getting to you know you better, Donna, thank you so much for sharing, Ana, and I agree that it’s hard to find the right agent, Donna, but I don’t think you should blame yourself. You didn’t know the questions to ask, and even if so, I really think it’s like a job, they interview you and think you’ll fit, but how would you even know until you’re there, right? The trial and error is not fun, but I am sure glad you didn’t give up. You’re such a rockstar
Wow, Kaitlyn, you’re fast. We all miss you in our amazing group – Las Chicas Latinas. Feel free to ask for help whenever you need it. I already pre-ordered Donna’s book. I can’t wait to read it. She’s a rockstar and so are you.
Great post! I loved getting to know more about you, Donna. I’d love to see a sample of your napkin art, too! 😘
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So excited for you! Nice that you have a writing partner in crime with your husband. Do you ever disagree on the best style of writing, I wonder?!
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