Monday, September 22, 2014

Skila Brown Explores Guatemala's Wrenching Past in 'Caminar'

Debut author Skila Brown takes a hard look at politics and war with Caminar, a historical novel written in verse. The story is set in Guatemala in the 1980s. It's a coming-of-age story about a boy named Carols, who must decide what it means to be a man during a time of war. Exploring violence and loss through individual poems from Carlos's perspective, it shows the confusion of being caught in a conflict that takes its toll on both young and old. Kirkus Reviews called it "a moving introduction to a subject seldom covered in fiction for youth."

Question: What inspired you to write your book?

Skila Brown: I think I might write about things that greatly upset me. In the novel I’m revising now, people are dying from starvation. In Caminar, a boy suffers a devastating loss because of politics and war. Both stories began with my own interest in a subject. Caminar evolved from years of reading about Guatemala’s history and struggles and specifically about the internal conflict there that was especially violent during the 1980s.

I grappled with questions like, “How could I have been going to school and learning to read while kids like Carlos were dealing with something so much harder? How could my own government have contributed to this awfulness in the way that they did? How could this have gone on so close to where I live without me knowing anything about it?”

I think writing Carlos’s story was a way to help me sort out some of my angst and also hope that I’d be doing something about it — making sure this story was getting told.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

SB: The greatest achievement as a writer would be to know I’ve made someone think — think about the world in a different way, question the facts in front of them, empathize with a character in way that broadened the reader’s world. Even just to make one person think deeply would feel like a big accomplishment.

Q: What are you working on next?

SB: This week I’m working on revisions for my next novel in verse, due out in 2015. It’s about the perilous journey of the Donner Party in 1846. I also just saw the sketches for a picture book I have coming out in 2016. (They are amazing!) It’s a fun blend of poetry and non-fiction — all about sharks.

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