It’s time to Kick Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Caris Avendaño Cruz, the author of
MARIKIT AND THE OCEAN OF STARS
Marikit is used to wearing recycled clothes. Her mother, the best seamstress in the barrio, has become an expert at making do ever since Marikit’s father and brother were lost at sea. But for her tenth birthday, all Marikit wants is something new. So when her mother gifts her a patchwork dress stitched together with leftover scraps from her workshop, Marikit vows to never wear it. That is, until the eve of her birthday, when shadow creatures creep into their home, attempt to take Marikit away, and upend the very life she knew.
When she’s swept away from the human world, Marikit discovers that her dress is a map, one lovingly crafted to lead her to safety in the magical lands of the Engkantos. She trudges through the enchanted lands of mythical creatures, making friends out of monsters and challenging gods. With the help of her friends, including an exuberant firefly and a cursed boy, Marikit journeys through the land of the Engkantos to find the key to saving her family, all without being eaten alive.
Let’s talk to this lovely author about her amazing book!
This is Caris. Everyone say, “Hi, Caris!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Caris! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!
So happy to be here! I am Caris and I’m from the ever sunny—and sometimes stormy—Philippines. I write for cool digital brands: travel magazines, design blogs, quirky inventions, and swanky furniture! Surprisingly, the world has so many things to write about, but my favorite projects are stories about young heroes with Filipino heritage and adventures that feature our traditions and lore.
What was the inspiration behind MARIKIT AND THE OCEAN OF STARS?
Marikit and the Ocean of Stars is inspired by my mother and grandmother. My grandmother—we call her Inang—has a vintage sewing machine where she’d make all sorts of things out of fabric: dresses, curtains, blouses, beddings, and so on! When she passed on, my mother followed in her footsteps. She inherited Inang’s sewing machine and the knack for remaking old clothes into new things. That’s where the idea for Marikit’s unique map dress came from.
One lovely thing about my mom and Inang is that they celebrate their birthday on the same day. Sometimes, I think there’s a magical bond between them—the kind of bond Marikit and her mother have, too!
Love the family history woven into your story!
We love hearing stories about ‘The Call’ here on Kick-butt Kidlit. What were you doing when you found out your book had sold?
My agent let me know about the auction. It was early morning in the Philippines, I had a cup of coffee in my hand, baiting my breath and waiting for her email. We went through calls, I panicked, and got teary-eyed when we finally chose a publisher. It was a wonderful moment when my editor welcomed me. That was when everything started to feel so real.
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on MARIKIT AND THE OCEAN OF STARS?
First, I discovered that I was a chaotic Pantser! I think it’s because Marikit was written in such a way that allowed me to not outline things first. Surprisingly, the second thing that I learned is that later on, not outlining would give me a big headache during revision! I’m so grateful to my editor who was so, so patient with me.
Third and most important of all, I learned a lot about our folklore. It feels so exciting to discover more of our pantheons, how they’re described differently per region, and the way our ancestors’ faith and imagination worked. It’s so fun to read Creation stories, the many ways humans originated—from being baked in a kiln, to emerging in a split-open bamboo pole!
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
Oh, I would skyrocket Marikit to Sanlagita. Marikit was comped to Lalani and the Distant Sea, and both stories draw a lot of inspiration from Filipino folklore and the bond between a mother and daughter. I’m sure Marikit will help Lalani get across the dangerous sea, fight the scary creatures along the way, and hopefully find a cure for Lalani’s mother.
That sounds like an epic crossover adventure. 😀
Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?
Children are amazing! They’re brave and honest, constantly curious, and always open to learning. Their intentions are pure, even when they get themselves in trouble! I find them inspiring, and I always wish I still have some of those traits—the shiny ones that keep our hearts in the right place.
The world is changing so quickly that I want to write books that will anchor tomorrow’s generation to our wonderful past. I want to give them a glimpse of our history, some fragments of our folklore, and leave them breadcrumbs so that they could go back and unearth what was almost forgotten. I want them to know that there is more to discover and that in seemingly mundane things, there is also an adventure.
Any hints about your next book project?
With similar tones to Marikit, I am writing another middle-grade book with hints of our myths. It stars young heroes of color, too, and I cannot wait for you to meet them!
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
It still feels unreal that I get to do this! As a person of color writing outside the U.S.—and all this happening during a pandemic— everything feels like a miracle. I know that getting published is like going through the eye of a needle—and I am grateful—but there are still so many stories by writers of color that need to be told, and I hope the industry widens the gap in their door for us.
What are you reading right now?
I am reading Riss M. Neilson’s Deep in Providence! It’s such a rich, magical book about three girls who lost their friend in an accident. Overcome with a desire to bring her back, they use old magic to conjure a spell, but things done in the dark will find a way to catch up, and the girls not only had to face this dread but the many secrets that start to unravel too.
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
That the world is moving and changing and growing, and so should we. I’m always stuck in my head, sometimes repeating things that I can no longer do something about—especially when I propose a new project or submit a revision! I think it’s okay to feel a bit of fear and regret, but there should be a moment when we take a deep breath and bravely step out with new hope. To open our hearts, and accept the lessons ahead, for as the characters in Marikit would say: we’ll learn more along the way.
Really, really love this advice. Words to take to heart!
Thank you so much for joining us, Caris!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out MARIKIT AND THE OCEAN OF STARS!
It’s on shelves now!
Click here to enter to win a copy of MARIKIT AND THE OCEAN OF STARS!
Contest closes Friday, November 18th at 11:59 pm EST
Thanks for reading!