The Backstory: THE COT IN THE LIVING ROOM
Hilda Eunice Burgos joins The Backstory today to discuss her debut picture book, THE COT IN THE LIVING ROOM. Keep reading to learn how Hilda's childhood influenced this beautiful story and to learn how you could win a PB manuscript critique from Hilda.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind THE COT IN THE LIVING ROOM
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
Night after night, a young girl watches her mami set up a cot in the living room for guests in their Washington Heights apartment, like Raquel (who's boring) and Edgardo (who gets crumbs everywhere). She resents that they get the entire living room with a view of the George Washington Bridge, while all she gets is a tiny bedroom with a view of her sister (who snores). Until one night when no one comes, and it's finally her chance! But as it turns out, sleeping on the cot in the living room isn't all she thought it would be.
The Cot in the Living Room is a celebration of the ways a Dominican American community takes care of one another while showing young readers that sometimes the best way to be a better neighbor is by imagining how it feels to spend a night sleeping on someone else’s pillow.
This sounds just beautiful. It seems to perfectly capture a child's perspective while sending a positive message of community and gratefulness. Gaby D'Alessandro also did an incredible job with the illustrations.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
When I was a child, I had a stay-at-home mom who babysat a lot of neighborhood kids. Mostly the children came during the day, but a few had to stay overnight because of their parents’ work schedules. When I was very young, I resented them encroaching on my family’s space and time together. As I got a little older, I realized how lucky I was and how difficult it must be for these children to spend the night alone in a stranger’s home.
Wow! First, how wonderful of your mother to provide such a needed service to the community. And second, I love the way you translated this memory into THE COT IN THE LIVING ROOM. Through it you are able to tackle emotions that are difficult for children to express while widening their perspectives about the various challenges families face that may be different than their own.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now THE COT IN THE LIVING ROOM? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
Actually, I was walking my dog one day when—for some reason I don’t remember now—I started to think about one of the kids my mom used to babysit. Then I remembered the ones who would spend the night and my ambivalent feelings about them. When I got home, I wrote out a rough draft about a girl who shared my experiences and feelings about children whom her mother babysat. The story seemed incomplete, though, so I asked for feedback from some writer friends and I put the manuscript aside while I worked on other projects. When I pulled it out again, I saw it with fresh eyes and added details about the other characters and the plot. Even after I signed the contract with Kokila Books, there was more work to do to round out the characters and flesh out the story. So, in answer to your question, the initial seed of the idea came to me right away but it took a while for it to grow, layer by layer, into the story that is now in the book.
Distance and feedback can be useful assets to our manuscripts. Even with a great first draft, advice from critique parters and time away from the mansucript can lead to those additional layers that add depth to a story.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
Many of my ideas come from my childhood memories and experiences. Like the girl in The Cot in the Living Room, I grew up in Washington Heights in NYC and my parents were born in the Dominican Republic. In my first book, the middle grade novel Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle, eleven-year-old Ana María travels to her parents’ native Dominican Republic for the first time; I drew from the feelings I experienced during my first visit to the DR at the age of ten. I also look around me for inspiration and ideas. After all, my childhood happened a long time ago, so more current observations help me make my stories contemporary.
Mining our memories for ideas is such a rich source of inspiration and can help lay a solid foundation for new stories. It seems like that combined with your day-to-day observations are a winning combination!
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
This is a really tough one. There are so many wonderful books out there! I knew I wanted to be a writer from the time I learned how to read (I took a detour along the way and became a lawyer first), and I loved just about every book I read. I felt a connection with Little Women because it was about four sisters and I am one of four sisters. Of course, the characters were nothing like my sisters and me, and there weren’t many “mirror” books for me as a child. I remember reading one book called Eleven! Time to think of Marriage, Farhut, that showed a brown girl on the cover and was set outside of the United States. Farhut didn’t have anything in common with me, but I was intrigued by the fact that she was also very different from the characters I usually read about. This made me realize that there are many fabulous and varied stories out there to tell, and that there is room for my stories too.
We are so glad that you came to this conclusion! There are so many children who will read your books and feel seen and understood. That is a huge gift. And through that who knows how many children will be inspired and decide there is room for their stories too!
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
Unfortunately, I do not have a dedicated workspace for my writing. Mostly, I write on my kitchen table. I use my laptop, but I like to start off writing by hand. Notebooks are handy, as I can take them with me anywhere. I have worked on my stories at the dentist, on the train, and while waiting for my car to be serviced.
Knowing how many authors write on the go, I often wonder about the various and potentially silly locations some of my favorite books may have been penned.
Like you, I also have a notebook with me whereever I go. It keeps those unexpected sparks of inspiration from slipping away before I get home to my computer.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
One piece of advice I would give an aspiring author is to be patient. The publishing industry moves very slowly, so keep learning and keep writing, and don’t worry about the things you can’t control.
Yes! Every step of this process is slow. Patience is key. And so much of this journey is out of our hands. Strengthening our craft and creating new work are way more worthwhile than refreshing our email again and again. Gread advice!
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
On Saturday, June 5, at 11 am, Word Up Books will host a virtual launch event for The Cot in the Living Room, where I will be joined by the illustrator, Gaby D’Alessandro: https://www.wordupbooks.com/event/story-time-cot-living-room-hilda-eunice-burgos-gaby-dalessandro. Also, my second middle grade novel, Miosotis Flores Never Forgets, releases in October.
I am so happy for all of your success. The virtual launch is sure to be a blast and I hope many of our readers will be able to join you. Also congrats on your second MG.
Where can people connect more with you?
Readers don't forget to follow Hilda to stay up-to-date on all of her latest projects. And be sure to get your copy of Hilda's THE COT IN THE LIVING ROOM (Kokila, June 2021), illustrated by Gabby D'Alessandro.
Hilda, thank you so much for sharing the inspiration behind THE COT IN THE LIVING ROOM with us. It was a pleasure hearing how this story came to be and all about what inspires you.
Hilda is generously offering a non-rhyming picture book critique to one lucky winner.
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Like our FB page and comment on this week's post.
4. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT HILDA EUNICE BURGOS
Hilda Eunice Burgos is the author of the middle-grade novel Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle, which was recognized as an ALA Notable Children’s Book and received two starred reviews. Her debut picture book, The Cot in the Living Room, illustrated by Gaby D’Alessandro, releases on June 1, 2021, and her second middle grade novel, Miosotis Flores Never Forgets, will be published on October 5, 2021. The daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Hilda grew up in New York City as one of four sisters. She now lives near Philadelphia, where she and her husband raised their two grown children and where she works as a lawyer. Please visit her website at hildaeuniceburgos.com.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.
A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.
While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Flannery Literary.