Marisa de los Santos continues saga of popular characters
New York Times best-selling author Marisa de los Santos of Wilmington has a new book out Tuesday that revisits a beloved character.
"I'll Be Your Blue Sky" (William Morrow) continues the tale of Clare Hobbs, who was only a little girl when readers first met her in "Love Walked In" and a little older when she appeared in "Belong to Me," one of de los Santos's three NYT best-sellers. The other is "Falling Together."
This year, Clare is a nervous young bride only hours away from a marriage that she's fretting over. She heeds the advice of an older woman, Edith, and cancels the wedding. Later, she's surprised to discover that Edith has died and left Clare a small beachfront guest house.
De los Santos will talk about the book March 18 at the Hockessin Book Shelf and then play a game of bingo with the guests based on the books that de los Santos reads. Her books will be available for signing, too.
The Wilmington writer said she loved bringing the fictional Delaware beach town setting to life — the salt marshes especially.
"This book has maybe the strongest sense of place of any I’ve ever written, with the possible exception of the chapters in 'Falling Together' that are set in the Philippines," said de los Santos, whose father is Filipino. "I love South Bethany and Rehoboth and Lewes, and there is a little bit of each in my setting. I hope I brought them to life for readers."
Readers have always asked her if she will write more about her characters, de los Santos wrote in a blog post for "Book Club Girl." Sometimes, they have specific requests, she joked.
While she's always loved her readers' devotion, she also has always felt like her characters were gifts to herself.
"By whom or what, I cannot say," she wrote. "So my answer to those kind readers was always the same, 'I would love that.' Over time, I added this: 'If I ever do write about those characters, I’ll probably focus on the ones that are kids in the first two books: Clare and Dev.'"
They're both back in "I'll Be Your Blue Sky," which is getting good reviews.
"De los Santos brings her signature style, wit, and charm while weaving in beloved characters from her previous novels," says a review in Booklist. "This tender, genuine, and joyful novel is one to savor."
Library Journal wrote, "De los Santos here revisits the next generation of her beloved characters, moving the family saga forward with this engrossing story of unshakable love, personal ethics, and a commitment to life's larger truths."
In addition to writing novels and award-winning poetry, de los Santos now works as a communications associate at Wilmington Friends School. She is the wife of writer David Teague, with whom she's written two young adult books. The couple will be two of the Delaware celebrities picking books in the first month of the new Market Street Book Club, which is one prong of a plan to save the beloved downtown bookstore.
Their son, Charles, is a college freshman, and daughter, Annabel, is a high school student.
De los Santos took a few minutes to answer some questions about the book and her life.
Q: Why do you prefer books that switch back and forth between characters?
A: It just seems to be my natural mode of storytelling. It interests me, seeing into the heads and the experiences of multiple characters. I think it adds layering and complexity to a story.
It’s also just fun for me as a writer, shifting point of view and trying to accomplish all the other shifts in voice and style that entails. In 'I'll Be Your Blue Sky,' the alternating perspectives involved the additional challenge of a time change: Edith’s chapters are set in the 1950s, Clare’s over 60 years later.
Q: Do you plan to follow Clare through her life?
A: No, but I’ve also never really “planned” my novels the way I think some people do. I tend to have one tiny seed of an idea — for a character or a plot or sometimes both — that sort of arrives mysteriously and that I live with for a long time, as it grows organically. I don’t seem to have much say in the matter.
Right now, I feel a sense of completion with that set of characters, but I don’t rule anything out. After I finished "Belong to Me," I had no idea whether or not those characters would revisit me. I hoped because I loved and missed them. But I didn’t know for sure, and then, years and books later, there was Clare, with more story for me to tell.
Q: Have you gone to work at Friends now? Did you work at a job outside the home before?
A: When I wrote "Love Walked In," I taught English and Women’s Studies at the University of Delaware, but after I got the contract for the second novel, I stopped teaching to write full time.
I felt lucky to be able to do that, but I’ve always known that when both my kids were in college, I’d want some kind of part-time job outside the home. I’m just not someone who is suited to writing from 8 in the morning until 10 at night, and I tend not to manage my time well when my days have no structure. I also just like to see people, especially people I like.
The Communications Associate job opened up at Friends early last spring, and even though it came along a few years earlier than I’d anticipated getting a job, it was just too perfect not to apply for.
That school is a community I love, full of people I like and the job involves writing, although a very different kind of writing from novel-writing. I work from 8 a.m. to noon, which leaves quite a lot of time to work on my books. I’m writing a new novel now about a mysterious school fire. It’s called "I'd Give Anything" and I plan to deliver it in the fall.
Q: I was fascinated by all the colored sticky notes you and David showed on Facebook of you working on a plot. Have you always done that, or is this something new? Do you recommend it?
A: Those are actually colored index cards that I pin to a bulletin board!
For my first three books, I didn’t really outline. I would need to have a strong sense of the main characters and a few plot points before I began, and I would just set off writing and figure out the rest along the way.
But then I wrote the first middle-grade novel with David, "Saving Lucas Biggs," and because we were working together, we really needed to figure out the plot beforehand. The plot was fairly complicated, especially because of the element of time travel, so we used colored notecards to indicate the different plot lines and then arranged and rearranged them to weave the story together.
After we had the cards arranged in an order that felt right, we composed a detailed outline in which we plotted every chapter. Even though we had to stay flexible, listen to our story and our characters, and had to make a lot of changes, some of them major, along the way, I found that I loved working with an outline.
It was reassuring. I liked sitting down each day with something in front of me to give me guidance, even if I didn’t stick to it. So I wrote "The Precious One" and "I'll Be Your Blue Sky" this same way, and I am doing it again with the work in progress. I can’t imagine ever going back to the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants method.
Q: What's your favorite thing in this new book?
A: I’m not sure I can name one thing, but I love my main characters, Clare and Edith. They are far from flawless. They make big mistakes and sometimes hurt people, but I respect their humanity, and I think they’re surprising and funny and sometimes brave.
Contact Betsy Price at (302) 324-2884 or email@example.com.
If you go
WHAT: "Bingo and a Book Celebration," honoring the publication of Marisa de los Santos' new book, "I'll Be Your Sky."
WHEN: 4:30 p.m. Sunday, March 18
WHERE: Hockessin Book Shelf, 7179 Lancaster Pike, Hockessin
DETAILS: 4:30 p.m., book discussion and question/answer session; 5 p.m., bingo based on what Marisa reads; 6 p.m., book signing. Light refreshments will be served.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: RSVP at (302) 235-7665 or firstname.lastname@example.org