Please help me welcome Linda Covella, author of children’s and young adult stories, to the interview hot seat! Let’s look at her impressive bio and then get right to the good stuff.
Linda Covella’s varied background and education (an AA degree in art, an AS degree in mechanical drafting & design, a BS degree in Manufacturing Management, and a technical writing certificate) have led her down many paths and enriched her life experiences. But one thing she never strayed from is her love of writing.
Linda has published four award-winning novels for teens and a non-fiction picture book.She has been a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) since 2002. She lives in Santa Cruz with her husband, Charlie, and very spoiled dog, Ginger. No matter what new paths Linda may travel down, she sees her writing as a lifelong joy and commitment.
Betty: When did you become a writer?
Linda: Even as a kid, I loved to write. But I never thought of writing as a career. Instead, I ended up with a few degrees—art, business, mechanical drafting, manufacturing management—while I decided what I wanted to do with my life. When I started writing professionally as a freelancer, I wrote about food, business, finance, just about anything that came my way. But when I wrote and published articles in some children’s magazines, that’s when I realized children’s writing is the genre for me.
Betty: How long did you work on your writing skills before you became published?
Linda: I took elective creative writing classes in college. Around 2000, I became serious about professional writing and started doing freelance work while working my regular fulltime job. For the next several years, I took online writing classes and started working on my fiction writing. My freelance writing turned into some editing jobs. And I read, read, read: books on writing and novels in all genres, but particularly books for kids and teens since they were my target audience. It was a long road of learning, querying, and rejections, but I didn’t give up! I published my first novel in 2014.
Betty: What authors or stories do you feel influenced your writing style? What other authors inspired you (either directly or through their writing) to try your hand at writing?
Linda: That’s always a tough question to answer since I read a wide variety of genres and have read hundreds (thousands?) of books since I was young. Here’s a list of some of my all-time favorite books, a mixture of children’s and adult:
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
- Daughter of Venice by Donna Jo Napoli
- Bell Canto by Ann Patchett
- The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
- The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
- Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
- Coraline by Neil Gaiman
- The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Betty: What prompted you to start writing?
Linda: My mother was a big influence. She was a children’s librarian, an artist, and loved music and singing. She not only gave me my love of books and reading, but taught me to embrace all things creative. So I had that creative bug. I started out in college as an art major, but turned to other pursuits; I knew making a living as an artist would be difficult! I still had art as a hobby, and later turned my creativity toward writing, another creative outlet.
Betty: What type of writing did you start with?
Linda: I was writing stories even in 2nd grade J and into high school. I liked writing fantasies and fairytales, but am not interested in that genre now. Professionally, as a freelancer, I started with articles on a wide variety of topics. I always loved historical fiction, and that was the genre I chose for my first novel, Yakimali’s Gift. I followed those with my Ghost Whisperer books and my virtual reality adventure Cryptogram Chaos.
Betty: What do you most enjoy writing? Why?
Linda: As I mentioned above, I love being creative, and writing is one outlet for that. But, also, as a children’s author, I love sharing with kids and teens my love of books: the worlds they open, the things they teach, the feelings they express.
Betty: How did you learn to write? A mentor, classes, conferences, craft books, or something else?
Linda: My lifelong love of reading has definitely been a factor in my learning to write. I took creative writing classes in college, as well as online writing classes throughout my career.
I also read craft books. Some favorites are On Writing by Stephen King, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Take Joy by Jane Yolen, Story by Robert McKee, which is actually about screenwriting but can be applied to fiction writing.
The Emotion Thesaurus is an excellent resource on how to convey emotion without resorting to clichés. And of course the classic reference Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.
Betty: What do you wish you knew before you started writing/publishing?
Linda: How important a critique group is. For the longest time, I was reluctant to join one, nervous and shy about sharing my work. Finally, I and another writer I met in an online children’s writing class started a critique group with four other children’s writers. That was one of the best things I’ve ever done to improve my writing. I not only learned from their critiques of my work, but also learned by critiquing theirs. We were all newbies, so we also helped each other to learn the ropes of the business side of writing, querying, etc. As well as learning to not take criticism and rejection personally, but to learn from it.
Betty: What inspired you to write the book you’re sharing with us today?
Linda: Years ago, I wrote a children’s story where kids tell how their ancestors came to America throughout the history of the United States. When researching how and when different immigrants arrived in America, I discovered the Anza expedition. I was really surprised I’d never heard of it before or that it hadn’t been taught in school, especially since I grew up in California. I love and believe in our country’s diversity, and this was one of the historical events I wanted people to know about, and I wanted to focus on the children’s and women’s experience on the journey.
In 1775 Mexico, New Spain, 15-year-old Fernanda Marquina, of Spanish and Pima Indian ancestry, can’t seem to fit into the limited female roles of her culture. Fernanda grabs any opportunity to ride the horses she loves, dreaming of adventure in faraway lands. But when a tragic accident presents her with the adventure she longed for, it’s at a greater price than she could ever have imagined. With her family, Fernanda joins Juan Bautista de Anza’s historic colonization expedition to California.
On the four-month journey, Fernanda makes friends with Feliciana, the young widow Fernanda entrusts with her deepest thoughts; Gloria, who becomes the sister Fernanda always wished for; and Gloria’s seductive brother Miguel, gentle one moment, angry the next and, like Fernanda, a mestizo—half Indian and half Spanish. As Fernanda penetrates Miguel’s layers of hidden feelings, she’s torn between him and Nicolas, the handsome soldier pursuing her.
But propelling Fernanda along the journey is her search for Mama’s Pima Indian past, a past Mama refused to talk about, a past with secrets that Fernanda is determined to learn. The truths she discovers will change the way she sees her ancestry, her family, and herself.
Fernanda pressed her heels into the horse’s sides. “Faster, pretty one, faster. We want to feel the wind in our hair, no?”
The horse flicked its ears then galloped across the plain toward the river, kicking up stones from the hard ground. Fernanda leaned closer to the horse’s neck, her long braid slipping over her shoulder. The animal’s smell of grassy manure and sweat filled her with the thrill of riding. It had been too long.
Her body rocked forward and back with the rhythm of the pounding hooves. Water streaked from her eyes as she raced across the desert, dodging barrel cactuses and mesquite bushes. Her rebozo loosened and slipped to her shoulders; then the shawl untied completely and was gone. Fernanda glanced over her shoulder and saw it flutter to the ground. A laugh burst from her chest, and watching a hawk glide, dive, and then fly high into the sky, she thought, I feel as free as that bird!
The power of the horse flowed through her, charging her with the desire for adventure, her heart soaring beyond Tubac to worlds far away, worlds full of golden riches, handsome men, and green hills that rolled on forever. Worlds where she would ride, explore, and each day discover something new.
Before realizing how far she’d gone, she saw her family’s adobe hut. She tightened the reins, stopped the horse, and squinted toward the house. Her soaring heart dropped like the hawk diving to the ground. There, in front of the hut with her hands on her hips, stood her mother. Fernanda braced herself against the scowl she was sure to see on Mama’s face when she returned. The scolding words she was sure to hear.
What a fresh idea for a story, Linda! I think young readers will really identify with Fernanda as she faces her mother’s chiding. Thanks for sharing that excerpt and telling us about your inspiration for writing.
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