Given the title of her book, it seems quite appropriate that Yamile Saied Mendez and I met in Vermont when the weather hovered around 14 degrees. Despite the chill, Yamile radiated warmth. She was so positive and upbeat and supportive of her fellow students in the Vermont College MFA program; I felt confident good things awaited her. I was so pleased to learn of her first publication, and even more pleased that she agreed to take time out in this busy season to share a bit of her writing journey story with us.
Although Blizzard Besties (Scholastic) is my debut novel, it’s not the first book I wrote, or even the first one I sold! Timing is different in the publishing industry; it’s elastic, circular, slow as molasses, lightning fast. After more than a decade in my writing apprenticeship (that included countless hours of writing in the wee hours of the night when my five kids were babies, a wonderful writing community, and even an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts!), I’m grateful that I finally get to share my stories with readers. Connecting with readers has always been my ultimate dream.
As a child growing up in Rosario, Argentina, I was a voracious reader, but I didn’t have access to books in my home. Fortunately, besides being the cradle of soccer, or as I prefer to call it, fútbol, my country is also the birthplace of kidlit luminaires Alma Maritano, Laura Devetach, Maria Elena Walsh, and others. I met them and their stories at school, usually because of a teacher who read aloud to the classroom.
I grew up with stories about children like me, having adventures with their friends, siblings, and sometimes their enemies! These adventures took place in the real world, the one I saw every day and where nothing seemed extraordinary, but where everything was more than it appeared to be. There was always a touch of magic, and a whole lot of heart.
It’s not a surprise then that when I had the opportunity to write about a group of kids having an adventure in a winter resort, the characters popped to life as if they’d been waiting for decades for the opportunity to shine. They have been waiting decades inside of me. In Blizzard Besties, we meet Vanesa with one “s,” who’s determined to not ruin this family vacation, the first one her family goes to that has nothing to do with visiting extending family. She finally has a phone, so she can stay in touch with the Sunshine Darlings, who might let her be a permanent part of their group. More than anything, she can’t wait to ski like her favorite Olympic athletes. But things don’t go as planned, of course. Her brother gets lost, and in looking for him, she has to learn how to work with a girl who hates Vanesa at first sight, and also with twins Eric and Emma, who are having a crisis over their upcoming birthday. And let’s not even get started on the giant dog, Rocky, and the inept ski instructor! Because life is full of magic and mystery, there’s also the rumors of a ghost that haunts the same cabin where the kids are waiting out a snowstorm.
In short, my debut novel is a homage to my favorite things in life: family, friends, and those stories that nurtured my imagination and heart as a child. I hope my readers will connect with Vanesa and like her, learn how to trust themselves, ask for help when needed, and look for the magic all around us.
Yamile (sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez was born and raised in Rosario, Argentina, but has lived most of her life in a lovely valley surrounded by mountains with her husband, five kids, two dogs, and one majestic cat. She loves meteor showers, deer, and spooky stories on stormy nights. Although she’s a self-proclaimed summer creature, she thinks snow is pretty magical. A Walter Dean Myers inaugural grant recipient, she’s also a VONA Workshop (Voices of our Nations) alumna and a graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts. You can also visit her online.