Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
We’re chatting with Gail D. Villanueva, the author of
When superstitious Sab sees a giant black butterfly, an omen of death, she knows that she’s doomed! According to legend, she has one week before her fate catches up with her — on her 11th birthday. With her time running out, all she wants is to celebrate her birthday with her entire family. But her sister, Ate Nadine, stopped speaking to their father one year ago, and Sab doesn’t even know why.
If Sab’s going to get Ate Nadine and their father to reconcile, she’ll have to overcome her fears — of her sister’s anger, of leaving the bubble of her sheltered community, of her upcoming doom — and figure out the cause of their rift.
So Sab and her best friend Pepper start spying on Nadine and digging into their family’s past to determine why, exactly, Nadine won’t speak to their father. But Sab’s adventures across Manila reveal truths about her family more difficult — and dangerous — than she ever anticipated.
Was the Butterfly right? Perhaps Sab is doomed after all!
Let’s talk to this awesome author about her excellent book!
This is Gail. Everyone say, “Hi, Gail!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Gail! Tell us about yourself!
Hi! I’m Gail D. Villanueva. I’m a Filipino author born and based in the Philippines. I’ve been a web designer since forever but in the recent years, I decided to fulfill a dream I had when I was a kid: become a published writer. I still can’t believe it, but my dream is actually going to come true when My Fate According to the Butterfly comes out from Scholastic Press on July 30, 2019. It’s so surreal!
Where did the idea for MY FATE ACCORDING TO THE BUTTERFLY come from?
I first heard of the black butterfly superstition from my grandmother. It was a common Filipino belief that the appearance of a black butterfly means someone close to you has died. Ironically, my grandmother didn’t believe in it herself, and yet I did. I believe I even saw the butterfly when she passed away.
Maybe it was a way for me to cope, to believe there’s life after death and that my loved ones aren’t totally gone. Or maybe it was a way to explain the unexplainable. Either way, I know a lot of Filipinos who could attest to this superstition—that the black butterfly is real.
But what if there really is no question about the existence of the black butterfly? What if it was truly an omen or a message from the other side? From there, I expanded on this idea and thought about my younger sister, who would have panicked at the sight of it had it been real. And since I’ve always wanted to write a story that focuses on sisters, the premise of My Fate According to the Butterfly was born.
The earlier drafts of the story were so much darker than the one published, which is understandable, since I wrote that version during hard times. But with editor’s help and guidance, My Fate According to the Butterfly found its place between magic, reality, and hope.
What were you doing when you found out there was an offer on your book?
I live in the Philippines, so we’re twelve hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. My agent and publisher are both in New York, so when my agent forwarded the offer email to me, it was already Friday night here.
My husband and I were eating pizza and watching a TV movie when my phone dinged. I saw the email subject and screamed—it was an offer for Butterfly! I squeezed my husband tight (while screaming in the middle of the night), then ran to the kitchen to wake up my sleeping duck, Sundae, and danced around with him (I’m weird, I know. Haha). I also woke up my dogs, cats, chicken, turtles, and other ducks. They will never know I got an offer that night, but I’m sure the animals felt my happiness and excitement.
Ah! I love that it was a celebration with the whole family! 😀
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on MY FATE ACCORDING TO THE BUTTERFLY?
- Life in the Philippines, though in some ways universal, can still be surprising to folks who have never been here. For example, I had to make it very clear that “summer” in the Philippines begins in March, not July. We only have two seasons here—wet and dry seasons—so we technically don’t have summer. Our dry season tend to be very hot, quite like your summers, and it’s also when kids are on “summer break.” So, while we also do summer-y things here (no school, going on vacations, etc.), it’s still very different since it happens on different months.
- Unlearning ableist language is an ongoing process. As much as I tried my best to make sure I don’t perpetuate ableism by using “lame,” “crazy,” or “dumb” in a negative sense, I still slipped. It was only one time, and it’s lucky my editor and the production team caught it, but I still felt ashamed. It just goes to show that I still have a lot to learn.
- A lot of things in My Fate According to the Butterfly are based on real life but were fictionalized to fit a story that mixes reality, magic, and everything in between. Researching for Butterfly gave me a deeper understanding of addiction and its effects on families, as well as the importance of rehabilitation.
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
I think I’d want Sab and her ate (pronounced as “ahh-teh”), her big sister, Nadine, to visit the world of Remy Lai’s Pie in the Sky. It’s set in Australia, and Sab and her Ate Nadine have never been to Australia. Ate Nadine will have a hell of a time babysitting Sab, Jingwen, and Yangho, but I think these kids are going to have so much fun hanging out together! (Remy is my friend but we’ve never met in person yet. But when we do, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a blast so it’s only natural for characters to get along too!)
Yes! What a fun choice! I would definitely read that cross-over!
Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?
I’ve always loved reading middle grade. Like, 85% of my mini library at home are middle grade books. So, it’s only natural that I’d be drawn to writing middle grade too. On a more personal note, my middle grade years are some of the best ones of my life.
Any hints about your next book project?
The new book I’m working on is another MG that also has a Filipino protagonist. But this time, the story takes readers to a fictional island in present-day Philippines. It explores Filipino magic a bit more, discusses the consequences of our actions, and shows love in its various forms. At the same time, it also talks about the importance of respecting consent and boundaries. And oh, this book has a very loyal and adorable doggo 🙂
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
Every day, it still surprises me that there are people who want to read my story. Even more surprising is that there are folks who actually like it! I guess writing has been just a hobby for so long, it’s hard for me to get used to the idea that Scholastic will publish my book and there are people outside my family who will buy and read it.
And we can’t wait to read more!
Speaking of reading: what are you reading right now?
I received an ARC of Elsie Chapman’s All the Ways Home and I’ve just re-read it again (for the third time now). It’s just wonderful! You’re so going to want that book on your shelves (the story is as beautiful as its cover). Also, my copy of Lisa Moore Ramee’s A Good Kind of Trouble just arrived. I can’t wait to read it!
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep learning. The moment we stop learning, we stop improving.
So totally true! Thanks very much for chatting with us, Gail!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out MY FATE ACCORDING TO THE BUTTERFLY! It hits shelves on July 30th!
Add MY FATE ACCORDING TO THE BUTTERFLY on Goodreads!
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more fun interviews!