Luisana Duarte Armendáriz is a children’s book author that hails from Ciudad Juárez, México, the most fabulous and beautiful border city in the world (Juan Gabriel’s words, not hers).
Luisana has had a love affair with literature since she was a little girl. She loved going to the libraries in El Paso, TX, even though her library card read ‘Lupsana’ (her mom claims the typo was through no fault of her own). Her childhood, filled by Leo Lionni, Amelia Bedelia, and Hogwarts, inspired her to create books for children so that they may also fall in love with stories.
She holds a dual master’s degree in Children’s Literature and Writing for Children from Simmons College, but while she is currently back home in El Paso, she’ll be moving to Connecticut in the fall to start a doctoral program in English at UConn. She loves engaging with students in school and library visits and has also done Girl Scouts visits and even helped a troop achieve their scribe badge. Meet Luisana.
You are an author, but is it your day job? My day job is a bit of freelancing and a bit of being a student. I was working as a dean of discipline at a boarding school in Michigan when the pandemic hit. I had to come home and I went back to school to get a certificate in Professional Bilingual Writing, which is basically about how to perform translation and interpreting work in different disciplines. Going back to school also allowed me to take a Metals class, which I think I’m crushing. It’s a medium that I seem to understand and recently created a brooch that paid tribute to Julieta and my life as a reader.
Did you always want to be an author? Not consciously, but I’ve always been a writer. I’ve always read a lot which is a big part of being an author. But I say that I’ve always been a writer because I used to write, edit, and distribute a small family paper. This was back in the day, when email wasn’t that popular, so printing and mailing out the copies became a bit expensive. I did my undergrad in multimedia journalism, but it wasn’t until my junior year when I added creative writing as a minor. After that, there was no turning back. But it wasn’t until my last year when I started writing children’s lit.
What is your most recent book and what inspired you to write it? Julieta and the Diamond Enigma. It’s my debut middle-grade mystery novel about a young girl who gets to travel to France with her dad, who is an art handler for the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston. The duo ends up witnessing the theft of a—perhaps cursed—diamond. It’s full of art, mythology, and behind-the-scenes visits to museums. I was inspired by Julieta and her character. She popped one day into my head and she wouldn’t leave until I told her story. I guess she was the manifestation of all the characters I loved reading about, so I had to give her a world to inhabit and explore.
How do you hope your book uplifts those who read it? Julieta has a deep love for learning and sharing what she enjoys with others. I hope that seeing her unbridled joy for everything around her might inspire others to go out and find their passions.
What are you most excited about with this book? Although I had a lot of fun writing the whole thing—even though I wanted to give up at times—two of my favorite parts in the book that I’m absolutely proud of are the front and back matter. My editor, Elise McMullen-Ciotti, suggested we have small entries for the cultural elements, art pieces, and mythology tidbits that were interspersed in the book. This gave me a chance to engage further with the readers. If something interests them, for example, the true story behind the Regent Diamond, then they can read about it more. In addition, I was glad to incorporate an Author’s Note about the world of art and the sometimes-dubious origins of art in museums. I’m also excited about the world that I opened up, I’m sure Julieta has many more adventures to come.
How did writing a book help your career take off? I’m very critical of my own work and one of the things that I struggle the most is initially letting go of my writing. Sharing it for the first time is terrifying. Not because I’m worried about them liking it or not, but because I’m truly appreciative of feedback, which helps me develop my writing. Since being published, there’s a certain freedom in not receiving immediate feedback, like I would with a beta reader. In a way, having let go of my first baby gives me some freedom to just focus on the writing.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to succeed in your professional industry?
Be patient. Publishing takes a long time, so it’s good to have a few projects to focus on while querying, editing, revising, and waiting for publishing. Also, read the genre that you write. I’m amazed by those who have written masterful and beautiful stories before me. And I’m a little jealous, too. But I can read those stories, enjoy them and learn from them.
How do you handle setbacks and criticism? Thankfully, Julieta was very well received by the world. However, I’ve had no shortage of setbacks in other aspects of my life. I do let myself wallow in my failure. But only for a little while. Then it’s time to dust off myself and move on to the next thing. Feeling sad and going through the grieving stages in the loss of opportunity is important, but you can’t completely let go in a way that you get stuck. Regarding criticism, I’m someone who always tries to learn from any situation. So, if someone provides me with criticism about my work, I try to analyze it and distill anything that I can transform and use to build on and improve my writing. I’ve discovered that sometimes, mean criticism is just a failed attempt at communicating. In those cases, I look at what I can learn. If someone is just being mean, then I do my best attempt to ignore them.
Being an author today is like running a business. How do you manage all your publicity, social media and keep your engagement up with readers? It’s a tricky balance, especially since I don’t have an agent yet. I’ve set goals for myself, trying to post frequently. But I’m also a consumer of social media, so I sometimes struggle to manage my time. I also debuted during the pandemic, so it’s been a bit of an uphill battle because we were in the thick of it when my book came out, so no school visits, bookstore events, or conferences. I’m going easy on myself on this one.
How do you hold yourself accountable and achieve the goals that you set forth? I’ll let you know when I figure this out for myself. I struggle with accountability in my own writing but having an accountability buddy has helped me a bit. I let someone know what my goal is for the week and ask them to hold me accountable. It’s harder to tell someone that you failed than just push it under the rug when no one knows about it. This might not work for everyone, but this system works for me, because I’m more productive under pressure.
How do you structure your day and make time for writing? I’m desperately hopeful that one day I’ll become part of the #5amclub. Until then, I’ll take any tips I can get on this front, because it’s something I struggle with, since I’m not a full-time writer.
What do you find most fulfilling in the career that you’ve chosen? I really enjoy the research aspect of writing a book. I honestly surprised myself with this one, but, while writing Julieta, I loved going down on rabbit holes and exploring all the different art pieces and their history. The internet is a wonderful thing and I’m grateful to be around when so much information is readily available for those who seek it.
I’ve also enjoyed the author visits that I’ve been a part of. It’s wonderful to see what readers have found interesting about the book or the questions that they have about the characters or the process. In a way, it helps me discover more about my writing.
What book uplifts you? I can’t think of THE BOOK. Honestly, there are so many books that I’m floored by. Recently, I read White Rose by Kip Wilson. Absolutely enthralling. It made me want to write a verse novel, but for the sake of the world, I stopped myself. Maybe in the future. Picture books are also my jam. The ¡Vamos! Series by Raúl the Third is great. I’m always trying to see any border town easter eggs he might have sneaked in. Ryan T. Higgins, Oliver Jeffers, and Jon Klassen crack me up all the time. If I want to be inspired about the intricacies of research and a beautiful execution of it, then I turn to Julie Berry, Passion of Dolssa and Lovely Way are both amazing. I also loved Allergic, a graphic novel by Megan Wagner Lloyd about a girl who desperately wants a pet but is allergic to almost all animals. Strange Birds by Celia C. Pérez and Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina are both amazing and utterly enjoyable books. There, there’s a little bit for everyone. At least in the YA and Children’s Lit categories.
Anything else you’d like to share with your readers? Visit your local independent bookstore. Usually, the people that work there are treasure troves of knowledge on whatever they sell. I’m always up for talking books with people.
Luisana’s handle is @nanerias on Twitter and Instagram or you can leave a note on her website .
Images Courtesy of Luisana Duarte Armendáriz