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Exclusive Interview With "Tanya Paris"

Tanya Paris is a native of the Hispaniola. She has been a classroom teacher for over two decades. She enjoys immersing herself in fantastical worlds whether of her own creation or imagined by others. She is happiest when riding upon dragons, scheming with fairies, or concocting potions of mischievous outcomes. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and their two teenagers. And yes, she loves to garden.

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Please tell our readers a little about yourself.

My name is Tanya Montás Paris and I am a native of Hispaniola. Ours is a culture of oral tradition and lively story telling. I grew up listening to my mother recite long poems, most of which carried a message of wisdom, a "moraleja”. I would always ask for "El de la vidriera" to be told as it was my favorite. It is a story about a young man who is being sentenced to death for breaking a store window to steal a loaf of bread for his sick mother. Even today, on our birthdays, my brothers, sisters, and I can come home to a find a recorded voice message from our mother amplifying a stanza of one of her favorite poems.

I am a mother. My children are my biggest headache, heartache and joy packed into a steaming blueberry muffin (I love blueberry muffins!)

I am a wife. In my late twenties I walked away from an abusive relationship. That continues to be the most courageous thing I have ever done. It was also the kindest thing I have done for myself. It was in the midst of healing and self-discovery that I met my husband, a Jewish man enchanted by the flare of Latin America. I befriended him with the intent of playing matchmaker between him and a good friend of mine. Well, that plan didn't work out.

I am an educator. I am an elementary school teacher. Although I have worked with second graders and fifth graders, the bulk of my teaching career has been working with kindergarteners. When I tell people I meet that I am a kindergarten teacher they often comment, "Oh, that's cute." And in fact, yes, it is cute. I love the innocence, love and wonder my kindergartners bring to my life each day. Here is a taste of that:

At the art center:

Me: B, get down from the table. Use a chair for sitting.

B: How does she know I was sitting on the table? She is not even looking.

A: She has eyes in back of her head

B: Oh! like in her neck

* * *

At the dramatic play area:

K: G, you are so lucky. You have two moms.

G: Yeah, I know.

K: I only have one mom.

G: You have one dad too.

K: Yeah, but he snores a lot.

I am a sibling. I am one of seven. It is the way I describe myself. A fact that frames my identity as much as the brown skin that wraps around my body or the tight curls growing stubbornly upward atop my head. And then when asked, "Where are you in the line up?" I answer like a credo, Smack in the middle, and that too is a key ingredient in the essence of who I am.

I am also The co-founder of Las Margaritas Foundation, a non-profit organization working to educate underserved children in the Dominican Republic.

Could you tell us a bit about your book and why it is a must-read?

FLOWERS ON THE WALL has the same twist on biomedical research as Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, the scented veil of love, devotion, and heartache of Chris Bohjalian’s Midwives, and the silky connection to flowers of Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers.

It is a story of love, devotion, and friendship translated at times by the beautiful language of flowers. It is a tale of two women separated by their own struggles yet united by a special bond. Through the sad memories of one, the reader gets to know the other, their past and future intertwined. One story unravels forward while the other must stitch its way through the past.

What inspired you to write your book?

The premise of FLOWERS ON THE WALL was sparked by two major experiences in my life. My sister, like the character Mariah, was diagnosed with a rare type of brain tumor. Additionally, I grew up on a farm in the Dominican Republic where I learned to grow and use medicinal herbs. I remember as a child being sent to a neighbor’s house to ask for a clump of gardenias to treat insomnia, grabbing a handful of pomegranate blossoms to treat an upset stomach, and picking wild roses by the road to dip in water to drive away bad luck. It was during those early years that I also learned the language of flowers, a major theme at the heart of this novel.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?

The most challenging part was the research. I spent over two years researching rare disease and the biology of mosquitoes. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know, so I became wrapped up in that magical world of genetics longer than planned. It turns out that inventing a new disease can be quite an undertaking.

Do you have any unique or quirky writing habits?

I am not as disciplined as I would like to be. I know of writers who get up early each day and write for a couple of hours. I am not a morning person. I like to sleep in! I hide behind the excuse that I have a full-time job. So, I tend to jot down small thoughts throughout the day. I use post-its. They are all around our house. Then on the weekends I seclude myself in my bedroom, snuggle in my cozy rocking chair and just write. Sometimes I write for a whole day, only stopping to grab a quick bite to eat.

What is different from this book and other books you have written? Do you follow the same writing process?

Every book is different. The ideas pop into my brain and I dive in head first never sure where we (the characters and I) will end up. Sometimes a story comes to my head and sits there for a while, for a few years even. When I tried to put those stories down, they refuse to come out and so I let them stay in my head. But there are other stories that are eager and excited to be shared.

In general those stories that want to be shared come to me in small fragments - little chunks of ideas. So I grab them and write them down as they appear. I have piles and piles of pieces of notepads, paper bags, backs of receipts stacked up in a basket in my closet. I also keep several notebooks in the night stand at the side of the bed, in my bags and backpacks and in the car.

FLOWERS ON THE WALL was an emotional rollercoaster to write. I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the character, especially those with whom I formed strong connections. I knew the ending right from the start….

How did you come up with the title for your book?

Finding the right title for a novel is TOUGH! There are so many paths one can take: Should it be plot driven? Should it be character driven? There isn’t a formula to follow because it comes down to what sounds right to you. But I did what I always do when I am stuck, I called a friend. I sent my friend Lauren a final list of titles I was considering and she helped me choose. “Flowers on the Wall” pops up at a very significant part in the story. So the title was already there, waiting to be grabbed.

Is there a message you want your readers to take away from your book?

We read books because we are curious. We want to partake in the magical experience of the story and experience everyday life’s joys and tribulations alongside the characters. I want the readers to walk away feeling that they have connected to characters and their personal stories. I also want readers to walk away with a sense of intrigue, feeling that the story had expanded their world, even if just a little bit.

What advice do you have for any aspiring authors who may be reading this interview?

Focus on authors you love and study their work paying close attention to voice, plot structure, character development, and general story-telling style.

-What’s next for you?

I am currently working on a couple of children's books. One of them is a poetry book that has been simmering in my mind for a while so it's time to set it free.

What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you?

@TanyadeParis (Twitter)


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