I collaborate in projects using art or technology to help children and adults that need an extra dose of strength. I do this through storytelling, painting robots with superpowers, teaching people how to create their books, and giving workshops and talks so adults can become confident and creative again. I have illustrated books for other authors, in addition to my own stories.
Best of all, I am the mom of three little musicians and voracious readers. We all love to create, paint, write, compose and travel the world together.
What is your earliest memory of books?
I have been an avid reader since I was little. Early on, my mom signed me up to the public library as we couldn’t afford to buy books at the speed I used to read them. During my whole childhood, I created copies of my favorite books or parts of them, both text and illustrations. I guess I wanted to keep a bit of them as I did not own them. I still keep some of those copies.
How did you come to be an author/illustrator as an adult?
I have always been one. I started creating books as early as I can remember. I have always loved reading, writing and painting, and I continued to combine these three passions as a child and as a teenager. But, when I started working in a big company, right after college, I prevented myself from creating for a few years in my life. But eventually, I reached a point where I needed to let my creativity flow again.
I reached a point when I was moved to different roles that were far from my career plan and further and further from my creativity. So I decided that I had to be the one to make the next move.
Then I came across Scott Dinsmore’s TED talk, and the Live your Legend community, a group of passionate people pursuing their dream jobs and working on projects they love and that have an impact. Scott’s advice was my biggest inspiration.
I stepped forward to be the local host of the Live Your Legend Madrid community. It is an incredible group of people pursuing amazing projects, and they have been a great support during the hard times, although we celebrate every success –and we do celebrate a lot!
If we were to stop by and watch you create, what would we see?
Once I have a good draft of the story and a storyboard, I create a dummy book and let the critics take a look at it (these are my kids and their friends). They always dislike the fact that the book has no colors at this point!
Then I work on more sketches, coloring, and finally, I transfer it to digital for the finishing touches.
Your first picture book, Los Piratas en Japón, was published in 2016. Tell us a little bit about it.
The Pirates in Japan is an amusing story. I think that El Pirata Garrapata, one of the books of my childhood, has always been in my mind. I wanted to have a hilarious pirate story of my own too.
I love traveling. We visited Japan a few years ago, and I fell in love with the country. On top of that, I love technology, and one of my goals is to introduce technology into picture books in a natural way. There are very few picture books where mobiles, laptops, tablets and other devices are shown naturally, as they are in our daily life.
So I had all the ingredients for a story.
The story and the rhyme came first. The pirates, who use an old compass, get lost and arrive in Japan, where they are astounded and mesmerized by the culture, food, tradition, clothes, language, religion, and technology!
Do you have any new projects in the works?
I have a few projects nearing completion, and I am on the lookout for a publisher for them. Most of them are picture books, although there are also a couple of early readers. I can tell you there is a story about a fierce but cute dragon, one about some traffic signs, and another about an orchestra.
The Pirates in Japan is due to be published in English by June 2017. In 2016, I also illustrated a book of short stories for adults written by my friend Mariano that will be released during 2017.
On top of that, I am always cooking up new stories, and I am writing my first YA book. And my readers are already asking for the second part of The Pirates in Japan, so I guess I should start working on that soon!
What is the best advice that anyone has given you during this process toward becoming published?
The two best pieces of advice I have received over these last few years of my changing life have been: You can’t fail unless you give up. The ones that try hard, they win, or they don’t, but they don’t lose. The ones that lose are the ones that don’t try.
The fastest way to do things you think can’t be done is to surround yourself with people already doing them.
Are there any personal instances you can share of you putting this advice to use for yourself? Have you ever wanted to give up? How do you surround yourself with “people already doing” the things you wanted to do?
My whole life is an example of that now. I am trying to earn my place in an extremely closed industry with limited opportunities for new names. But it is only impossible if you don’t try. I send off my manuscripts and projects to literary contests and publishers. I have won a few contests and published my first book. Some of the opportunities I did not win (or at least I have not won them yet). But I feel I only lost the ones I did not try.
I thought of giving up many times.
I was very tempted to accept an offer for another corporate job and go back to a life similar to the one I had before. But I chose to follow my heart instead. I am lucky because my closest family and friends have always been right by my side, encouraging me every step of the way. The Live Your Legend Madrid group’s monthly meetings were also a source of contagious energy.
Also, I joined SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators) and became a very active member. Now I have friends that have been publishing books for years, and I learn from them every day.
Still, no matter how many people you have supporting you, you need to find the strength in yourself. I wanted to show my kids that I tried. No matter the result, I tried, and I tried hard. That is what moves me forward and keeps me going.
Thank you Maria for taking the time to chat with us today about your work and your new book.
If you would like to see more of Maria's work, go to: http://mariajcuesta.com
**ALL IMAGES ARE THE PROPERTY OF MARIA J. CUESTA** **ALL RIGHTS RESERVED**