For our January issue, we talk with author Donna Barbra Higuera about her recent book, Lupe Wong Won’t Dance. In this interview, we learn about using personality types as a way to understand our characters.
This month, we’ll get to know what scares our characters…
Take something in your story that’s scary, whether it’s a villain or a different kind of antagonist, and figure out what that character is scared of. That will make that other thing even scarier, because even your villain is scared of it!
An Interview with Donna Barba Higuera
What inspired you to write Lupe Wong Won’t Dance?
I always thought I was a fantasy/sci-fi writer and that was it. I never thought I would write a contemporary book. And Lupe Wong Won’t Dance was just a book that I had to write. My daughter came home from middle school one day and was upset about having to square dance, and this character Lupe just popped into my mind. Sometimes your books start out with a character, maybe not an actual plot of the book. Maybe you know the character, maybe it’s the other way around. One thing that’s really important [for me] is character. I have a hard time starting a book until I know who the main character is and who their friends are and who their family is. And that’s really important. But sometimes we think we write in one specific genre, and sometimes we find out later–wow!–I think I want to write this as well.
You had many different personalities in your cast of middle school characters in this book. Did you use a technique in creating them? Or did they just come to you?
They came to me first. But once they did, I shifted them around a little bit. I specifically had to eliminate certain personality types because the scenes in the book fell flat–there wasn’t enough conflict in certain scenes. I did some personality typing with these characters, which is fun to do. There are all these personality tests you can look up, including one called the Enneagram. In the Enneagram, one personality type is a peacemaker, one a giver, one is an artist, one an achiever. You find the personalities that you can put together that would make an amazing scene or an amazing book.
How do you keep up your writing momentum?
I hear this all the time–and I think it can be really frustrating to writers–to just go put your behind in a seat and write. That’s not great advice. Writing is hard. And sometimes you don’t want to just go sit down and do it. If you’re sitting there and you can’t focus and you don’t know what to do, how are you supposed to write? Sometimes you have to take a detour and do a little weaving in and out to get going again and get your momentum going. And so for me, it’s with writing exercises. A lot of times people don’t like writing exercises because they think it’s more work, but when you start doing it, it’s so much more fun. And then, all of a sudden, the ideas start flowing again. For me, those writing exercises come in all different forms. You may do an exercise around the question, “what do my characters want?” And then in the process, you realize, “Oh, these two people want very different things.” Guess what I’m going to do? I’m going to put them together in a chapter and see what happens. Conflict is what drives books and new scenes and that’s where everything explodes and gets fun.
What would you tell your younger writing self?
Write more! I got distracted by things. I didn’t have the distractions of today, like computers and cell phones and video games. But I would find mundane things to occupy my time. My stories were in my mind… I wish I had spent more time with those stories in my mind. My biggest regret is not writing those down. Keep a notebook–it can be old and raggedy, but keep it with you at all times. If you don’t write it down, you’ll forget it. I also didn’t spend enough time just daydreaming and allowing myself to have that kind of fun.
Join us for summer camp!
Each of our Young Author’s Studio camps runs Monday-Thursday for 2 hours per session. We’re inviting passionate young writers to join us on Zoom for writerly learning experiences. Each camp will include lively skill-building activities, time for drafting, and collaboration with peers.
A special thanks to Donna Barba Higuera for sharing with us! You can find more of her books at www.dbhiguera.com.
Donna grew up in central California surrounded by agricultural and oil fields. As a child, rather than dealing with the regular dust devils, she preferred spending recess squirreled away in the janitor’s closet with a good book. Her favorite hobbies were calling dial-a-story over and over again, and sneaking into a restricted cemetery to weave her own spooky tales using the crumbling headstones as inspiration.
Donna’s Middle Grade and Picture Books are about kids who find themselves in odd or scary situations. From language to cultural differences in being biracial life can become…complicated. So like Donna, characters tackle more than just the bizarre things that happen to them in their lives.
Donna likes to write about all things funny, but also sad, and creepy, and magical. If you like those things, she hopes you will read her books!
Donna lives in Washington State with her family, three dogs and two frogs.