Third in this series of interviews with authors of young adult books is C.T. Markee. His novel for middle grade and young teens, Maria’s Beads, tells the gripping story of Maria, whose best friend Hannah is deathly ill. Maria must find her own inner strength, passed down to her through her ancestral Huichol culture, in order to save Hannah when no one else will.
The story in Maria’s Beads is similar to one that happened to your wife when she was a child. Does your wife also have Huichol roots? How did you learn about the culture?
The idea for the book came from my wife’s experience at age 11 when her best friend, who lived next door, contracted kidney disease. My wife is neither Huichol nor Hispanic. However, the Cortez family in the story is modeled after her family that worked in the fields around Salinas during the Great Depression, like so many other families that immigrated to California.
Serendipity played a major role for me. Researching Hispanic culture for the book, I interviewed friends, other writers, checked the Internet and read books, in particular the classic Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. Just as Anaya did, I used a curandera as Maria’s mentor and it became the perfect archetype for spiritualism in my story. When I searched for information on curanderas, I discovered Huichol Indians. Their location in northeast Mexico and their culture and bead art also fit into the story I wanted to write.
Maria is very frustrated with the adults in her life. Do you think this teetering between frustrations and loving trust is common to all young teens or specific to Maria and Hannah’s difficult situation?
It’s a common problem. The teen years are a time of breaking away typically implemented in anger. At the same time teens rely on their parent’s love and support. Maria’s quest to save her friend, Hannah, exacerbates this conflict. I tried to capture this conundrum, and then let Maria solve it.
Two things I love about your writing are your details about the setting and your ability to keep us turning the pages to see what happens to Maria’s friend. Do you have any tips for other writers about setting and about suspense?
I immersed myself in the setting. We drove up and down Alisal and neighboring Salinas streets taking photos as my wife drove. With permission from the Salinas school district, I visited and took photos inside the school. In that way Salinas became my virtual childhood neighborhood.
Once diagnosed as a type “A” personality, I now use that “time urgency” in my stories. As the author, I create time urgent obstacles for my character. The overall timing crisis for Maria is Hannah’s potentially fatal illness. Once setup, I turn the problem over to Maria and wait for a solution. She never fails me.
What are you writing now?
I’m about seven chapters into writing the third book of the Otherworld Tales Trilogy. These adventure-action stories target ages 10 – 13 and are set in three worlds in the three books of Celtic, Northern Californian and Kauai mythologies, respectively. Otherworld Tales 3 should be available in 2016.
Where can we find Maria’s Beads?
The paperback is available from Amazon at https://www.createspace.com/5044111 or from any bookstore in the U.S. with access to IngramSpark. Just give them the ISBN 9780982898734.
Maria’s Beads is also available for Kindle.
You can visit C.T. Markee at charlesmarkee.com.