Janel will be awarding Winner's Choice of a $25 gift card to iTunes (music) or, Capezio (dance), or Utrecht (art supplies) to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour. If you'd like a chance to win, leave an e-mail address with your comment below. And to increase you chances of winning, visit other tour stops and leave additional comments.
Like her main character, Gina Santiago, Janel is a Nuyorican who attended a Manhattan high school of the arts as an art major.
Unlike Gina, she isn’t very good at guitar and doesn’t have a rock band to call her own.
Truth be told, she never dreamed of becoming a guitarist. Instead, from the time she was a tween, she dreamed of becoming a published author of a book series. And since you’re reading this, you can see that her dream has come true!
Her first hint of an idea for The Arts-Angels series began way back when she received a pendant of St. Michael the Archangel for her sixteenth birthday.
She lives with her twin sister, Jennifer (who got a pendant of St. Joan of Arc on that same birthday, but hasn’t written any books about it) in New York City.
Welcome, Janel. Please tell us about your current release.
When Gina Santiago, a thirteen-year-old “Nuyorican” with rock star dreams, is accepted into the prestigious New York Academy of Arts and Talents, she’s completely and totally bummed. Why? Gina got in for art—not music, like she really wanted. Plus, the school is on Manhattan’s Upper East Side (in other words, filled with rich kids) and Gina doesn’t think rice and beans mix too well with caviar!
It’s Gina’s mother who’s all excited. She’s an artist, too, and wants her daughter to follow in her footsteps instead of those of her father, Michael, who also had rock star dreams but died before ever achieving them.
But it’s the footsteps of her guitar hero, Angel “Wings” Dominguez, that Gina really wants to walk in. And wearing a medal of St. Michael the Archangel in honor of both her father and her idol, Gina decides to chase after that dream—even if it means battling her mother, rival guitarists, mean teachers, and snobby frenemies do it.
What inspired you to write this book?
I wrote the very first draft of this book when I was nineteen years old. I grew up loving to read (and as a tween became particularly obsessed with the Trixie Belden series) and I knew even from very early on that I wanted to be a writer of books for young people. I was always writing stories in blank books or in loose-leaf binders. Sometimes I wrote magical adventures, other times school-based stories, etc. I also kept trying to write a whole book, but usually didn’t make it past the first chapter. I became a rather prolific first-chapter writer.
What had been a constant goal, though, was to write the kind of book (and series) that I would have loved to have read and collected when I was a tween. I believe that The Arts-Angels would have fit in very well with the other titles in my personal library of kids’ books back then, and that it does so even today: I keep an extra copy of my book just to literally sit on my bookshelf next to the other paperback series currently out for tweens that I have collected for myself!
Here is an excerpt from Chapter 4:
When I stomped into the dance studio in my combat boots, every dance student’s head turned. As I looked at the sea of barely clad, pastel-colored bodies, I felt like a snowman at the beach.
The dance instructor, a dark African-American woman wearing a powder-blue leotard, placed her hands on her hips like a superhero as she watched the artists stream in. “Okay, class,” she announced. “Don’t let our visitors distract you from the work you have to do today…
“We are honored to have you as our visitors,” Madame Martin continued. “However, I ask you to please find a nice corner where you can have a good view of the action and yet not be in the way of any of my dancers. Thank you!”
I found a corner between two mirrored walls near the piano, and settled in. Soon, the pianist was playing, the teacher was counting off steps, the dancers were dancing, and I was drawing. There was a comfort in the mutual respect between the dancers and the artists as we each did our own thing.
After a little while, the teacher asked a student to demonstrate a particular dance sequence to the rest of the class.
“Sage Harket, please come forward.”
Sage—the ballet dancer who had been nice to me the day before! I sat up straighter. She turned out to be a pretty amazing dancer. As I continued to watch, I heard something to my right.
I turned to look in the direction of the sound.
A boy was bent over, looking at me through his legs. He looked Indian—the kind from India, not the Native American kind. His dark hair was almost touching the floor as he pointed off to the side and mouthed out two words.
I shook my head. “What?” I mouthed back.
He whispered. “Draaaaw herrrrrrr. Draaaaw herr—”
He meant Sage . . .
What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m editing the second book in The Arts-Angels series, which I plan to have out by April 22nd (which is Earth Day, but is also a specifically important date in the series). It is exciting because The Arts-Angels put out their first single and begin to promote themselves by using a clever marketing ploy. Willa’s back, of course, and she wants them to perform at her 14th birthday party. Much to Gina’s horror, all the other Arts-Angels want to do it! And on top of that, Uncouth Youth, their rival band, gets a lot of its own publicity because their lead guitarist, Julius Dubois (the son of a famous rock guitarist and Gina’s nemesis), gets his own reality show, so he has cameras following him all around school. And the book ends with a bang: a battle of the bands!
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I was in the fourth grade! I had written a short story about an obnoxious balloon for a school creative writing assignment and the teacher chose to read it aloud to the class. My fellow classmates laughed in all the right places and basically responded as though listening to her read a legitimately published work. After that I just knew writing was something I was going to continue doing because it was fun, it felt right, and other people enjoyed my work.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your workday like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I still have a day job to pay the rent. Maybe one day I’ll be able to support myself as a writer. In the meantime, I have an office job Monday through Friday, and my busy days are filled with paperwork, computer work, phone work, and customer service. There was a time in my life when I was a nanny and I miss those days, sometimes! I usually don’t get the time to write until late in the evening, when everything else in my life is taken care of—at least to a certain extent. I’m a night owl, anyway, so this works out for me.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t know that I have any interesting writing quirks. I do know I have the bad habit of using ellipses points all time . . .
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer. :-) As I said above, it was something I knew I wanted to be since I was in the fourth grade.
But I also remember one time when I was in the first grade and we had an assignment to draw ourselves in our future profession—and I drew myself as a firefighter! I remember I drew myself in profile, in uniform, putting out a fire with a hose. My first grade teacher flipped out and kept showing it to other teachers and adults who entered the classroom. I am an artist, and my ability to draw had already been noticed in kindergarten. But that wasn’t the whole reason why she kept showing it to people. It was because there were no female firefighters at the time. I guess I was a little first-grade feminist—and didn’t even know it!
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I invite them to come visit my website. The cover of Track 2 will be posted there soon. Also, if they like, my readers can submit artwork to add to the “gallery” there. Finally, I will be posting some interesting interviews with fellow authors on my blog later this month as well. Thank you!
You're welcome, Janel. Happy touring! Readers, don't forget to leave a comment for a chance at the gift card giveaway.