Claudia Guadalupe Martinez joins us today to talk about her 2015 book Pig Park. This contemporary story of ordinary people coming together against extraordinary odds is packed with humor and heart.
In Pig Park, fifteen-year-old Masi Burciaga’s neighborhood is becoming more and more of a ghost town since the lard company moved away. Her school closed down. Her family’s bakery and the other surviving businesses may soon follow. As a last resort, the neighborhood grown-ups enlist all the remaining able-bodied boys and girls to haul bricks to help build a giant pyramid in the park in hopes of luring visitors. Maybe their neighbors will come back too. But something’s not right about the entrepreneur behind it all. Then there’s the new boy who came to help, the one with the softest of lips.
Pig Park is available now.
Pig Park combines a serious issue (the economic displacement of workers) with a rather whimsical plot (the creation of a pyramid to spur tourism). What inspired this story and how did you balance humor with heartbreak in writing it?
Writing humor is a lot less natural for me because I am drawn to serious stories. However, I did know that I didn’t want to weigh down the reader. The issues of the book are serious, and I wanted to keep some optimism. When I worked with NAFTA displaced workers many years ago on the Texas border, they were definitely optimistic. They were fighting for job training and better futures and I wanted to capture that.
How does it feel to look back on a book you wrote years ago? Has your perspective on the book evolved with time?
Yeah, it’s always bittersweet to look at something you wrote years ago. On the one hand you’re proud that you published something. On the other hand, I’m a reviser so I always wonder if I could’ve done something differently. I think that in today’s political climate, the way politicians talk about companies leaving and job loss is definitely not telling a complete story. I am very proud that one of the things Pig Park does show is that when companies leave there is devastation for sure, but some people also take that as an opportunity to do something better. The families in Pig Park are able to forge ahead.
How have readers responded to Pig Park? Does the response of readers impact you as a writer?
The book got a few awards like the Texas Institute of Letters and the NAACS Foco Best Young Adult when it came out, so I think people in Texas liked it. That was encouraging. That said some of the reader response was also like “What is this?”, but the book has somehow become more relevant now that our country is seeing all kinds of changes.
According to your bio, you have “long been distressed about how the global economy is displacing workers and families.” You have also written, “One of the central points [of Pig Park]is the commodification of culture in the age of globalization.” How do your personal experiences shape the stories you choose to tell and the characters who populate them?
I already touched a little on the first part of that by telling you about the NAFTA workers I worked with. When it comes to the global economy and loss of domestic jobs when companies relocate, I think the recent political conversation has been rather short-sighted. It’s something that affects big cities, as well as small ones. It affects white communities, as well as communities of color. And, from my experience at least, people also use it as a catalyst for better things and to learn new skills and to develop strengths they didn’t know they had. That experience not only informed my characters and stories, but also how I told those stories. I think I also wanted to challenge that idea of a “one story.” I think that while there is more cultural diversity in books now, publishing still gravitates towards “one story” for mass consumption because they think that’s how to sell diversity…but that’s just not how diversity works.
Has your approach to writing changed since this book? If so, in what ways? If not, what has stayed the same?
I’m still drawn to serious topics and political stories, but I am writing for a younger market now. I have 2 kids under 5 and one on the way, so picture books really interest me now.
What have you worked on since Pig Park? Can you share any details about your current project(s)?
My next book is Not a Bean (Charlesbridge, 2018). It’s a picture book about the lifecycle of the Jumping Bean. It’s a culturally diverse STEM book of sorts. I’m also working on a couple of YA’s set in Texas.
Do you have any advice for new writers on the twists and turns that a career in publishing can take?
I always tell young writers that the biggest difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer is that one didn’t give up. You just have to keep at it. Just because one person doesn’t like your book doesn’t mean another person isn’t out there waiting to love it if you’re willing to do the work.
Who do you hope will find this book?
I hope all teens find this book. I mean, as writers we all want to reach as many people as possible. Also, it would be great if a Hollywood filmmaker found it. Just saying…
What else would you like readers to know about Pig Park?
I want readers to know that while Pig Park is a fictional neighborhood set in Chicago, it could really be anywhere. For me it was kind of a love letter—about learning to love and improve the place you live, wherever that is.