Thursday, November 27, 2014

PUYB Virtual Book Club Chats with Debra Mares

For Independent Author Debra Mares, violence against women is not only a topic in today's news, it's a topic in her crime novels, cases she handled as a county prosecutor, and now it will be the topic in her first children's book It's This Monkey's Business.  Debra is a veteran county prosecutor in Riverside currently specializing in community prosecution, juvenile delinquency and truancy.  Her office has one of the highest conviction rates in California and is the fifteenth largest in the country. You name it - she's prosecuted it - homicides, gang murders, domestic violence, sex cases, political corruption, major fraud and parole hearings for convicted murderers. She is a two-time recipient of the County Prosecutor of the Year Award and 2012 recipient of the Community Hero Award.

Debra is the granddaughter of a Mexican migrant farm worker and factory seamstress, was born and raised in Los Angeles, was the first to graduate college in my family, and grew up dancing Ballet Folklorico and Salsa. Her own family story includes struggles with immigration, domestic violence, mental health, substance abuse and teen pregnancy, which she addresses in her novels. She followed a calling at 11 years old to be an attorney and voice for women, and appreciates international travel and culture. Her life's mission is to break the cycle of victimization and domestic violence. 

Debra is also the co-founding Executive Director of Women Wonder Writers, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization implementing creative intervention and mentoring programs for at-risk youth.  In 2012, Debra self-published Volume 1 of her debut legal thriller series, The Mamacita Murders featuring Gaby Ruiz, a sex crimes prosecutor haunted by her mother's death at the hands of an abusive boyfriend. In 2013, Debra released her second crime novel, The Suburban Seduccion, featuring "The White Picket Fence" killer Lloyd Gil, who unleashes his neonatal domestic violence-related trauma on young women around his neighborhood. 

To bring to life "Cabana," Debra partnered with 16-year-old Creative Director Olivia Garcia and Los Angeles based professional illustrator Taylor Christensen

16-year-old Creative Director Olivia Garcia attends high school in Panorama City, California, is the Los Angeles youth delegate for the Anti-Defamation League's National Youth Leadership Mission in Washington D.C., an ASB member and AP student and enjoys reading, crafting and knitting.

Taylor Christensen is a Los Angeles-based illustrator holding a BFA from Otis College of Art & Design, focuses on fantastical creatures and surreal imagery, and produces artwork for illustration, character and concept design.
Her latest book is the children’s picture book, It’s This Monkey’s Business.
For More Information
About the Book:

"Cabana," a young spider monkey is brought to life to tell her story It's This Monkey's Business to help children who are affected by domestic violence and divorce. Cabana, who lives with her parents in a treehouse high up in a rainforest canopy, becomes startled one day from her Mama's scream, when she is waiting atop a tree branch for her Papa to teach her how to swing. After falling to the forest floor, Cabana frustrated from her parents' fighting, decides she will search for a new family to be part of. Her persistence is cut short when she braves the river to play with a pink dolphin, unaware she cannot swim. The tragedy brings her parents together to realize they can no longer live together. Cabana reconnects with her Papa, realizing he is the only one that can teach her how to swing.

It's This Monkey's Business is an approximately 756 word children's book targeting ages 4-8, which is set in a rainforest and featuring "Cabana," a young female Spider Monkey, her parents and rainforest animals. The book is approximately 30 pages long and features full spread color illustrations. 

For More Information

  • It’s This Monkey’s Business is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
Welcome to the book club, Debra!  Can we begin by having you tell us how you started writing children’s books?

Debra: Initially, writing a children’s book seemed to come out of the blue. It was around Christmastime, a couple months after promoting the release of my last legal thriller, that I started to develop It’s This Monkey’s Business.  In an effort to move past what was starting to look like writer’s block, I just went with it and started development.  Not quite knowing where to start, I began plotting the story and then researching about children’s books.

It was the first book in this genre for me, but I believe the best way for a writer to grow professionally, is to explore and write in different genres. I heard legal thriller author Lawrence Block say that at a writer’s conference I attended; and it has always stuck with me.

Unsurprisingly, the writing progressed into a narrative  poetry style with rhyming couplets.  I had written poetry in the past couple years, mostly alongside troubled youth, to help express the ineffable and things that had happened to us or that we saw as children.  Writing It’s This Monkey’s Business was as therapeutic as it was difficult insofar it took me back to childhood where I witnessed domestic violence myself.  The storyline was fun to develop, but getting the narrative poetry sharpened up and perfected was professionally challenging.  I learned the meaningfulness of editing, reediting, and editing again with the help of my friend, award-winning poet and author Kate Buckley.

Children’s books rely heavily on finding just the right illustrator.  How did you find yours?

Debra:  Illustrator Taylor Christensen came recommended by my friend who works in the movie industry designing and printing movie posters.  My friend was watching my efforts to tackle the issue of domestic violence and knowing I’m an independent author, he offered to help with the book printing and recommended one of his favorite young illustrators to help.  Taylor is young, brilliant, and has a good reputation in the industry for working efficiently.  Meeting deadlines were important to me since we were on a strict timeline with a goal to publish in October, domestic violence awareness month.  Taylor’s previous experience primarily focused on illustrations for animation, but he was looking to expand his portfolio to include book illustrations. He already had a love for drawing animals, he felt making characters of them would be a real treat, and he was open-minded about working under the direction of my 16-year-old niece Olivia. Once he read the story, he was very enthusiastic about creating illustrations that would appeal to children and support a story with a strong message.  It was a perfect fit.

Tell us more about your book.  The message involves domestic violence and divorce, right?

Debra:  That is correct.  This book is not only for children ages 4-8 affected by domestic violence, but all kids.  It’s important for kids going through this to feel supported, know they’re not alone and can still thrive.  Part of breaking the cycle is also helping kids build empathy and understand how it feels for a child to go through this.  It’s important for children to also know that abuse is never okay and to tell someone if they think it’s going on.

Can you tell us more about your adorable character, Cabana?

Debra:  Cabana is a 2-year old juvenile spider monkey, which is equivalent to 5-7 years old in human years.  She lives high in the rainforest canopy, mostly in the tree tops, and rarely ever sees the forest floor. She lives on fruit and nuts.  Cabana resembles a human baby and is still at the age where she’s riding on her mama’s back.  Once she learns to swing like the older spider monkeys, Cabana will be able to swing through the rainforest canopy and hang suspended by her tail.  Cabana is purple in color, which is also the domestic violence awareness color, and has a vibrant pink flower tucked behind her right ear.

What do you want children to come away with after reading your book?

Debra:  For children of domestic violence, I’d like them to come away feeling as though they are not alone, knowing it is not their fault, knowing they can tell someone, empowered to talk about it, and understanding abuse is not right.  I’d also like their feelings of fear and lonliness to be acknowledged and know they can still thrive even if their family goes through this. 

For all kids who read the book, I’d like them to come away with empathy for a child or family going through this.  Being able to put themselves in the shoes of another youngster who is experiencing violence at home can be powerful, so others can be supportive, tell someone if they suspect it’s going on, and be nice to the youngster instead of blaming them, gossiping about them or bullying them.

What’s next for you?

Debra:  I’m working on publishing Your L!fe: Young Voices from The Write of Your L!fe, a youth poetry anthology containing writings from the students who have participated in Women Wonder Writers’ programs, the mentoring nonprofit I co-founded in 2011.  It’s due out Spring 2015.  After that, I expect to return to writing the sequel of The Mamacita Murders, a legal thriller series featuring latina prosecutor Gaby Ruiz.  Cabana will return shortly after that!  Then again, as I mentioned before, I usually go with what inspires me to write... so time will tell!  Thank you so much for the opportunity to chat about my book and I hope to talk again soon!

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