As with most of Pam Muñoz Ryan’s books, writing her final mid-level novel, Solimar: The Sword of Monarchs (out now), was a kind of journey.
Ryan started thinking about the book eight years ago. At the time, Samantha McFerrin of Disney Publishing Worldwide was interested in teaming up with Ryan on a book about a Latina heroine with a unique vision. And, over the next few years, Ryan and McFerrin brainstormed various storylines for the novel.
“I had a few false starts,” Ryan says, “but Samantha and I finally agreed on Solimar’s story.” But it’s only at the end of 2018, after finishing Mananaland (published in 2020), that Ryan was able to devote himself entirely to Solimar. Over the next two years, she would develop a character named Solimar Guadalupe – a soon-to-be 15-year-old Mexican royal on the verge of her quinceañera and official coronation.
The result is a book about Solimar, a tempestuous princess who discovers she can predict the near future and has been given an essential task: to protect weak young monarch butterflies until they can fly. If that wasn’t enough, the girl is also tasked with protecting her family and her resource-rich kingdom from a greedy and dangerous king.
Like his two previous novels—Mananaland and Echo (2015)—Solimar is a work of magical realism. Unsurprisingly, Ryan enjoys weaving fantasy and reality together.
“I love the idea that otherworldly forces are at work in the daily lives of my characters: enchantment, self-fulfilling prophecies, deep-rooted acceptance of legends and myths,” she says. “Magical realism pushes the imagination one step further, often giving the reader permission to suspend disbelief and escape wholeheartedly.”
In addition to magical realism, Ryan enjoys creating characters that, like Solimar, are self-contained. “It’s important to me that all of my characters have or develop inner strength,” she says. “At the start of Solimar, she’s caught up in an archaic monarchy that makes her feel powerless. But she’s curious and outspoken, and when she sees inequality, she speaks up and persists.
In the center of the Solimar scenario are monarch butterflies. In the Mexican village of Solimar, people believe that the ancestors of monarch butterflies inhabit the kingdom’s oyamel forest. Their inclusion in the novel was inspired by Ryan’s upbringing in Southern California.
“I’ve often visited the central coast, one of the wintering grounds for monarch butterflies,” says Ryan. “Monarch migration is remarkable, their transformation is fascinating, and as pollinators their importance to the natural world is profound. Beyond all that good stuff, there are the myths and legends about monarchs that many cultures hold dear. »
While Solimar is aimed at intermediate readers, Ryan hopes his novel tells stories that people of all ages can embrace. “I try to tap into a community of emotions that everyone experiences at one point or another,” she says. “I treat my characters, regardless of their age or the likely age of the reader, as complex human beings trying to navigate their unique circumstances.”
Ryan has written over 40 books – a mix of novels, picture books and first readers – and is a Newbery Honor winner. But despite the praise it garnered, the writing Solimar proved just as difficult as writing his first book.
“Writing doesn’t get any easier for me,” Ryan says. ” I do not know why. Maybe it’s the pressure I put on myself thinking that everything should be as good or better than before. Or the imaginary editors and reviewers looking over my shoulder no matter how I try to brush them off. Whether I succeed or not, I want the story to compel the reader to move on, and that’s a challenge and hard work. Writing continues to be, like many jobs, multi-faceted – sometimes challenging, often frustrating, and fraught with pitfalls and rewrites. It’s also satisfying and joyful. But not easier.
Although the author usually knows where her stories will begin and how they will end, she does not always know how she will get from the first sentence to the last sentence of a story.
“I tend to be a recursive writer,” Ryan says. “I start in the opening scene. The next time I sit down to work, I read what I’ve written, rewrite as I go, and then keep writing more to build the story. The next day, I start from the beginning, reading, rewriting and advancing the story little by little. Again and again. For me, writing is more of an evolution than a process.
By the time Ryan’s editors see a draft of her work, she has rewritten the novel more than a dozen times. After feedback from her editors, she begins to rewrite. “Then there are cold readers, sensitive readers, and copy editors that weigh in, and others that need to be addressed, addressed, and rewritten,” Ryan says. “For me, rewriting is a constant.”
A version of this article originally appeared in the 02/28/2022 issue of Weekly editors under the title: Always Writing: Spotlight on Pam Muñoz Ryan