Monday, September 9, 2013

GUEST BLOGGER POST: The Secret Side of Empty by Maria Andreu

Note from Susan: Generally, guests posting to this blog meet two criteria: They have a novel out, and they're a friend of mine. Well, I've never met Maria Andreu, and in fact, I've had no contact with her at all.  (The arrangements for this blog post were accomplished with the help of a third party.) Nor does she have a book out--yet. The Secret Side of Empty is coming in March 2014, so it's still six months away. The reason I agreed to invite Ms. Andrea to post here is that she has an amazing story, and I think she's got some interesting things to say. I'll look forward to eventually reading her fictionalized account of the life she led as an undocumented teen in America.

Now here's Maria...

My book wanted to be a YA novel. I was not happy with its decision at all. The story of an undocumented girl and what her life is like on the precipice, knowing that “real” life will begin for all her friends but not for her, was so intimately mine that I very much wanted to tell it as my story. But the book had other ideas.

I was born in Spain two months before my parents decided to bring me with them on their grand adventure of making it in America. They were Argentinian by upbringing, Spanish by citizenship. Although they projected both those things on me, what I really became was an American kid. I learned my English on Sesame Street. I loved my Baby Crissy doll with her magical, growing red hair. I wore bad 1970s bellbottoms and envied Marcia Brady along with all the other girls my age.

When I was six, my grandfather died in Argentina. Off my mother and I went to the funeral for what we thought would be a two-week stay. My father stayed behind in the U.S. to send us money. Two weeks turned into two years. Finally, out of ideas on how to reunite with his family, my father paid some coyotes to smuggle us across the Mexican border. In many ways I count that as the start of my story, looking across a border you couldn’t see, wondering why I wasn’t good enough to cross it except against the rules. I was 8 years old. It shaped my personality and world view like few other things have.

As I grew into a teenager I understood the real meaning of being undocumented. No social security number. No college. No job. No “normal” life like the one I saw my friends planning so happily. I looked into the future and saw a blank. And then, in a twist almost too cinematic to work in a book, an amnesty law was passed. Three months after I turned 18, I was put on a path to citizenship and my entire future changed.

I spent decades trying to forget all that, trying to “pass.” Finally, it was an angry pundit on the radio ranting about how we should kick out all the “illegals” that got me thinking. I was proof that people just want dignity and a chance at a good life, that we didn’t want to ruin America, but participate in it. Once I’d gotten a chance at that, I turned my back on the people who were struggling the way I had struggled. I still remember the exact spot of road on which I was driving when I understood that I needed to end my silence.

So I began to speak and write about my experiences. I wrote an essay that appeared in Newsweek, another in The Washington Post. I found my voice. I began writing my story as a memoir.

I shopped that version of the story for 4 years. I got rejected by more than 70 agencies. I fought off well-meaning friends who said, “Just self publish.” There is nothing wrong with self-publishing, but I knew that as someone who had felt so marginalized I needed to sell at least her first book the “traditional” way. I was doggedly, unreasonably determined. So I kept at it. I went to workshops. I got critiques. I rewrote. I got such lovely rejections filled with praise for my prose and my voice. Each one broke my heart and echoed with just how much I didn’t belong.

Finally, it was an impossibly young-looking agent at a pitch conference who told me, “The problem with your pitch is that all the action happens when the protagonist is a teenager. Your book wants to be a YA novel.” I thanked her and rolled my eyes internally. Didn’t she get I wanted to be a Real Writer? There was so much I didn’t understand about Real Writing and about the wonderful literature now finding its way out into the world as YA. It would be months before I’d be ready to understand that she was right.

Everything flowed almost as if by magic when I finally let it sink in. I opened up the big YA titles of the time and saw one agency name over and over again: Writers House. I sent a pitch to their slush pile. Within days I had a response from someone. I Googled her name and my heart started pounding when I learned that she was the same person who had pulled Twilight from the slush pile too. I had queried too soon – I only had 3 chapters, and here they were, asking for the whole manuscript. I pounded it out in 10 days. Of course I’d told many versions of this story, so it was ready to be told quickly. I kicked myself at probably blowing my chance… until they accepted me as a client. So, yes, technically I got the first agent I pitched. Their “we’d love for you to be our client” email still sits framed in my living room. They sold my book in a multiple-offers situation in the first round.

So I feel a certain peace with the story coming to the world as a YA novel. I am a big believer in “flow” and things happening as they should. I don’t know if I fully understand the mystery of why this book wanted to happen this way, but I can’t deny the unmistakable ease with which it did. If I were hard-pressed to come up with a theory it would be this: we all love stories. People may resist something that feels pedantic or is trying to push a certain worldview, as a memoir might have. As a novel, The Secret Side of Empty does none of that. It will appeal to anyone who has ever felt left out or who has ever faced a problem that has felt too big to figure out. The Secret Side of Empty lets you get a glimpse into a life you otherwise would probably never see. It has a love story, characters I hope people will like and, at its core, this very complicated problem of the restricted choices faced by undocumented people in general and kids in particular. But it doesn’t tell you what to think. It just lets you inside. Hopefully, that will spark conversations.

ABOUT The Secret Side of Empty

It's the story of a teen girl that is American in every way except for in one very important way: on paper. She was brought to the U.S. as a baby without proper documentation, so she's "illegal." As the end of the safe haven of her high school days draw near, she faces an uncertain future. Full of humor and frustration and love, The Secret Side of Empty speaks to the part in all of us that has felt excluded or has had a secret too scary to share. What M.T., the main character, finally discovers is the strength of the human spirit and the power that's unleashed when you finally live the truth.

Giveaway Info:

Maria is giving away two separate prizes on her tour, a $250 Amazon Gift Card AND a Kindle Fire.

1) For a chance to win the $250 Amazon gift card, OR the Kindle Fire leave a comment on her blog post for that day. Winners will be randomly selected on September 30th.

Maria Andreu’s Bio:

Maria’s writing has appeared in Newsweek, The Washington Post and the Star Ledger. Her debut novel, The Secret Side of Empty, is the story of an “illegal” high school senior. It was inspired by Maria’s own experiences as an undocumented teen. Since becoming a citizen, Maria has run her own business and has become a soccer mom. She lives with her 13-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son in northern New Jersey.

Links Maria Andreu’s website-
Maria Andreu on Twitter:
Maria Andreu on Facebook:
Preorder The Secret Side of Empty


  1. What an amazing story indeed! I look forward to hearing lots more once "The Secret Side of Empty" is off press.

  2. Fascinating! I would be interested to read her book.

  3. Thanks, Maria, for sharing your story. I, too, am looking forward to reading your debut!

  4. I often read YA novels and I'll be happy to read Maria's when it comes out next year. Thanks for sharing your story, Maria.

  5. Sounds like a story to check out!

  6. This sounds like a great book that needs to be in high schools for kids to read!

    books4me67 at ymail dot com

  7. What an interesting idea for a story! Added to goodreads tbr! Thank you! kamclauc AT gmail DOT com

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