Arnée Flores is the author of “The Firebird Song,” a fantasy novel published by Bloomsbury. She writes “empowering books for kids and imaginative grownups.” We caught up with Arnee to discuss her work and career, the creative process, overcoming rejection as a writer, and more!
When did you decide to become a writer?
It happened unexpectedly. When I was studying English in college, I had the opportunity to participate in a literary symposium. My professor (who I thank at the end of FIREBIRD) encouraged me to speak about something that I enjoyed—something relaxing and non-stressful. I ended up talking about classic children’s literature. That was the spark. After that, I couldn’t think about anything else. My studies lost all their charm. I knew without a doubt that all I really wanted to do was write. I quit university that week.
What’s the biggest challenge you faced along the way to publish your book?
It was so hard not to get discouraged while I was querying. I was offered an exclusive R&R (revise and resubmit) from my dream agent. For eight months, I worked, hoping she would offer, but every time I sent her my manuscript, she told me that the story wasn’t quite there. I had so many moments of self-doubt. It was an excruciatingly slow year and I felt like my dream was at a stand-still. But—it all worked out! My agent, Sara, is incredible and she sold that book in a second! It made submission a breeze.
Are there themes from your own life present in “The Firebird Song?”
Absolutely. The Firebird Song has many themes, but most of all, it focuses on hope and how we find it when things seem utterly hopeless. The Kingdom of Lyrica is without warmth, tormented by monsters of fire and ash. Those monsters came directly from a moment when I walked into my ruined family home after a fire had completely destroyed it. That moment would force me to look at where hope comes from when the tangible things in our lives are taken from us.
I just write. There is no shortcut. I choose and I go for it. The sooner I figure out the wrong way, the sooner I can write it the correct way.
How can children’s books help us create an empowering and compassionate society? What role do you see for yourself as an author in that process?
Books give kids a way to look at real world problems in a safe, fun way. They give them an opportunity to process their own emotions by reading about those of characters on a page. Children can follow along, empathizing as all sorts of different characters make both good and bad choices. This gives them an opportunity to learn to be compassionate toward people they might not necessarily meet in their day to day lives, and to understand what the consequences of various choices might be without the stakes of actually having to make those choices themselves.
As an author, I feel a great sense of responsibility to recognize the fears that children face, to understand their daily stresses, their monsters-in-the-closet and beasts-under-the bed. It is my job to catch their troubles up in a net and pull them down onto the page in a manageable form, in a way where children can look at them safely, look at them, name them, and find ways to vanquish them—even if getting rid of them sometimes just means accepting or loving them and realizing that they aren’t that scary after all.
One thing I always admire about fiction is the craft and creativity it takes. You literally created an entire world full of characters. How do you get inspired?
There is a fabulous book by Twila Tharpe called THE CREATIVE HABIT. It really helped me develop rituals that ignite inspiration. For example, if I’m really trying to get inspired, I’ll take a media fast. We have so much information being thrown at us all the time, and it can be very tiring for our brains. It’s like a person who eats and eats until food loses its joy and taste. By taking a step away, by silencing the content constantly needling us from every side, we can allow ourselves space to get truly hungry again. At last we can see the inspiration that has been trying to get our attention all along.
If you’re unsure which direction the story should take, what helps you decide?
I just write. There is no shortcut. I choose and I go for it. The sooner I figure out the wrong way, the sooner I can write it the correct way. Ha! I wish I had a better answer. If you find out some magical formula, please share it with me!
How do you deal with rejection, and what advice would you give to other writers or artists trying to get their work out there?
Rejection is awful, but it’s also something that every single successful creative person EVER has dealt with. That means that it’s a part of the path, and that is a hopeful thing.
I would encourage you not to wait to FEEL successful. If you are feeling discouraged, do not let yourself sink into that feeling. Instead, imagine yourself getting a yes. Feel it really and truly. Let that feeling energize you; let it excite you. The same amount of time will pass whether you spend it moping and feeling dejected or if use it jumping up and down, saying Thank you, Thank you, and believing that your yes is on its way. Don’t give up hope. Just keep writing and working on something new. People are getting yeses every day. Why not you?
What books or pieces of art inspire you?
I can get inspiration from absolutely anything! I read widely—in all genres—and I pay attention to a nudge of interest. I recently read a book called SPINDLEFISH AND STARS by Christiane M. Andrews. It is so beautiful and perfect and eerie. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. It led me back to Brueghel’s Fall of Icarus, which I’ve always loved.
Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
They can follow me on Twitter or Instagram @arneedflores, or they can go to my website arneeflores.com.
Thank you so much for letting me chat with you! I hope you enjoy THE FIREBIRD SONG!