Marie Marquardt is the author of two YA novels. Her first, Dream Things True, is a gorgeous coming-of-age story that gives voice to the undocumented immigrant experience. On the jacket, author Jennifer Mathieu describes the story as one that will “forever change the way you view those who live their lives in the shadows” and I have to agree—Marie’s stories should be required reading for children and adults alike.
The Radius of Us is a love story about two teenagers who struggle to overcome their past and become survivors together. Gretchen was a victim of assault robbery who suffers debilitating panic attacks. When the story opens, she sees Phoenix chasing a dog through a neighborhood park. She mistakes him for her attacker and then feels incredibly guilty and embarrassed about it (as she should!).
Phoenix is an eighteen-year-old university student who took his little brother and fled a dangerous community in El Salvador, after gang members threatened to take their lives. He and his brother were separated at the U.S./ Mexico border, and he was sent to detention. Now he’s living in a posh Atlanta suburb with a kind couple (He calls them “sweet, churchy lesbians”). They found him a lawyer, got him out of detention, and took him in.
As Phoenix struggles to be reunited with his brother and get permission to stay in the United States, he and Gretchen develop a deepening connection. But the shared past experiences that improbably link them also have the potential to tear them apart.
One of the common threads in both Dream Things True and The Radius of Us is that they feature characters who seem to have nothing in common but end up developing deep and compelling relationships; why is this theme important to you?
I think this is the most important theme – not only for my books, but for life! When people with diverse backgrounds and identities seek the things we share in common, we develop real, complex relationships. It’s only inside these relationships that we can honestly explore our differences and the dynamics of power that shape them. With trust and understanding, we can begin to challenge those insidious systems that work to keep us apart.
Your stories are fiction, yet they ring undeniably “true”––is this a case of writing what you know?
Yes, it is. I have been working with immigrants from Latin America for a couple of decades now, as an academic researcher, friend and advocate. My second book, The Radius of Us, builds on my work with asylum-seekers in detention, through a non-profit that called El Refugio. We visit with men who are detained at the Stewart Detention Center in southwest Georgia. Since about 2013, the government has been sending young asylum seekers from Central America, who were detained at the U.S./ Mexico border, to Stewart while they await their asylum hearings. I have spent many hours talking on the phone through the glass with teenagers like Phoenix – mostly listening. I wrote this book because I wanted a way to honor their stories – and to thank them for trusting me enough to share them.
One of the things that I always find fascinating is each author’s path to publication; would you please share yours?
My path was rocky, winding, and steep. If I didn’t care so much about getting these stories out into the world, I would have quit years ago!
For me, the biggest challenge was finding an agent. That took about a dozen revisions on my first manuscript and many dozens of queries. Once I found my agent, things started to fall into place. I am incredibly fortunate to have a talented, committed agent (Erin Harris at Folio Literary Management) who is both my fierce advocate and my careful critic.
Your illustrator, Carlos Alfredo Morataya, has a special story of his own. Can you share a little of his journey with us?
I met Carlos through a mutual friend and I asked if he’d be interested in the project. The moment I saw Carlos’ first sketch, I knew I had found the perfect illustrator.
What I didn’t know was how may similarities there were between Carlos’ own journey and that of my book’s characters. Carlos was orphaned at age 8 and he came to the U.S. from Guatemala at age 18. He’s been through a great deal in his short life, and he’s a remarkable person. He now studies art education at University of North Georgia. I know he will accomplish great things!
And finally, a fun question to round out the interview. If you could cast the main characters in The Radius of Us to appear in a feature film, who would you choose?
I’d love for Phoenix to be played by a Salvadoran actor. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many in the U.S. to choose from who are the right age. Kevin Hernandez is great—still a little young, but by the time a movie goes into production, he might be ready!
Bonny Wright would make a great Gretchen —but I’m not sure anyone will ever see her as anything but Ginny Weasley, plus I wouldn’t want fans of Harry Potter to hate Phoenix for stealing his wife. Harry Potter fans tend to be intense.
Marie, thanks for your time!
Marie Marquardt is author of young adult novels, The Radius of Us and Dream Things True, as well as a college professor at Emory University, and an immigration advocate. She is also the co-chair of El Refugio, a Georgia non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families. She has been interviewed on National Public Radio, Public Radio International, and BBC America, among many other media outlets. Visit her website at www.mariemarquardt.com and follow her on Twitter: @MarieFMarquardt and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MarieMarquardtAuthor.
Posted by: Jessica Vitalis
A jack of all trades, JESSICA VITALIS worked for a private investigator, owned a modeling and talent agency, dabbled in television production and obtained her MBA at Columbia Business School before embracing her passion for middle grade literature. She now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where she divides her time between chasing children and wrangling words. She also volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and eats copious amounts of chocolate. She’s represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch and would love to connect on Twitter or at www.jessicavitalis.com.