Meet Guest Author Emma Otheguy!
MARTI’S SONG FOR FREEDOM by Emma Otheguy, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal (Lee & Low Books, July 2017)



Hi! How are you guys doing? Can you believe it’s Day 5? Right around now is where the burnout and exhaustion happens! 😛 But look on the bright side – it’s the weekend! For 2017, we lucked out and Day 1 began on a Monday and Day 7 will end on a Sunday, so the final push of the last three days at least happens over the weekend, where hopefully many of you will have extra time to write!

Above is a picture of my teeny tiny writing office at home. We recently renovated this room with a new closet and hardwood floors. Our contractor suggested frosted glass sliding doors for the closet because he knows I’m a writer and thought it would work as a good dry-erase board for me! As a screenwriter, we tend to use index cards and white boards to write the main story beats of Acts 1, 2, 3 etc. of our TV shows and movies. So my contractor suggested I could use my actual closet doors as a “whiteboard”! Genius idea!

So part of my writing process is using dry-erase markers and figuring out the story beats and cliffhangers and emotional character journey points for Acts 1, 2 and 3 (i.e. the Beginning, Middle and End). So for Day 4, I got home early and was able to do some outlining of my Picture Book #4 on this “whiteboard.” (Beethoven the cat helped me. LOL!)

For Day 4, I had already done a TON of research last year on a new middle grade novel that is set in a small farming town in Central California. I’m very excited to start working on this. But because I have NAPIBOWRIWEE on my mind, I thought – “Wait… there’s a small slice of this story that could make for a great non-fiction picture book set in this area.” So because I already had done all my research last year, I just read through my notes and came up with a story idea and “beat” the plot points out on my “whiteboard” closet.

I then wrote another TERRIBLE VOMIT FIRST DRAFT. LOL. But now I have another possible candidate for a future picture book biography. Worst case scenario isn’t bad either – if this book doesn’t work out, at least I have some story plot points I can incorporate into the middle grade novel.

This is another lesson I learned in NAPIBOWRIWEE – Waste not, want not! In other words, even if you write a terrible rough draft of a picture book that will never, ever get published and will always remain a terrible rough draft… sometimes that draft can be used later for a different book. It is amazing what you can cut and paste from “failed” drafts stuck in the desk drawer in another book project.

In addition, while I was working on Book No. 4, I was doing some extra Googling about this area and just accidentally stumbled upon an article that had NOTHING to do with my picture book. But the article was so fascinating that I found myself going down a rabbit hole of googling more articles about that same topic. And then ANOTHER idea formed in my head.

So for Friday Day 5, I will continue researching this newly discovered idea and see if I can cobble together a SUPER ROUGH DRAFT. I’m kind of excited. I was NOT expecting to stumble on an extra idea today!

Once again, more evidence as to why this crazy event is worth doing every year – you NEVER know what might happen! 🙂

Well, now it’s time for us to meet today’s Guest Author, the Excellent Emma Otheguy! 🙂



BIO: Emma Otheguy is the author of the bilingual picture book Martí’s Song for Freedom (Lee & Low, 2017) about poet and Cuban national hero José Martí, as well as the forthcoming Pope Francis: Builder of Bridges (Bloomsbury, 2018). Her short story for children “Fairies in Town” was awarded Magazine Merit Honors by SCBWI, and her scholarly article “Sermonizing in New York: The Children’s Magazines of Mary Mapes Dodge and José Martí” appeared in Ethics in Children’s Literature (Ashgate, 2014). Emma is a Ph.D. candidate in History at New York University, focusing on Spain and colonial Latin America.

PUBLICATION INFO: Martí’s Song for Freedom will be published by Lee & Low Books in July 2017. This bilingual biography tells the story of José Martí and his dedication to the promotion of liberty, the abolition of slavery, political independence for Cuba, and intellectual freedom. This book is written in verse with excerpts from Martí’s seminal work, Versos sencillos. 

EXTRA INFO ABOUT EMMA’S BOOK – SPECIAL SOUVENIRS! – Emma is sending some great activity kits to those who pre-order her book! All you have to do is…

  1. Pre-order her book from ANY store
  2. Upload a copy of your receipt to this form link here (http://emmaotheguy.com/activity-kit-for-martis-song-for-freedom/)
  3. And then Emma will mail you activity sheets, stickers, and a signed bookplate!
  4. Here’s the full url for the form in case you need it separately: http://emmaotheguy.com/activity-kit-for-martis-song-for-freedom/


– Tell us about your first published book – what inspired the idea?

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about José Martí. My parents are Cuban, and so my childhood was filled with Martí: we read his children’s stories, such as Los zapaticos de rosa, and listened to Celiz Cruz singing “Guantanamera” with words from Martí’s Versos sencillos. My father grew white roses in our yard and taught my sister and I to recite “Cultivo una rosa blanca.”

I wanted to write this book from the moment I found out that Martí had visited the Catskill Mountains. I only discovered this detail as an adult, when I was working in upstate New York, in the Hudson Valley. Learning that Martí, too, had spent time in the region, and even been inspired to write his famous poems Versos sencillos in the Catskills, gave me a sense of belonging and helped me bridge the distance between my Latino family and the wider world.

– How long did it take to write (for artists – or illustrate & write)?

I started writing Martí’s Song for Freedom over five years before its publication date!

– Any fun or interesting details about the road to your first book’s publication?

I benefitted from the Comadres para las Americas community. I met my editor, Jessica Echeverria, at the National Latino Writers Conference, organized by the Comadres. Jessica and I didn’t start working together until much later, but our in-person critique helped me develop the manuscript before submitting it to Jessica.

– Where is the best place for you to write your books?

I prefer to write at the library where it’s quiet and there are few distractions, but  I end up writing everywhere: in my apartment, on the subway, in the park, or on planes.  I have a busy schedule with work, graduate school, and writing, so I have to be flexible with my writing routines.

– There’s been increasing pressure for writers to be active on social media. Are you on social media? If so, where can your readers reach you? Has social media helped your writing journey and career? Any advice for writers who might feel overwhelmed by the social media “burden”?

I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@EmmaOtheguy). It helps me to approach social media as an opportunity to build community and celebrate book culture. It’s wonderful to see how many book lovers are out there! (Emma’s website is here: http://emmaotheguy.com)


Thank you very much Emma for your awesome answers! And extra thanks for your gracious donation of a signed copy of your book for our contest! Winners will be announced May 8, 2017. (Note: To participate in the contest, all you have to do is post at least one comment on my blog and I’ll include you in the drawing!)

I hope everyone has a wonderful Day 5 of writing. Hang in there! We’re almost done. Just a few more books left to write! I know you can do it! Please remember to post your comments on your progress/experience here! I am LOVING everyone’s comments on the blogs, in Facebook and on Twitter. Again, because this event took place during a very busy week of work, I haven’t been able to respond individually enough. I hope to catch up over the weekend.

As for my Day 5 Question… since we are at the burnout exhaustion phase, I’m curious… do you prefer writing in the morning, afternoon, or night? I am NOT a morning person so I prefer writing at night. I’m definitely a night owl. Although I will admit that lately… my favorite time to write is in the afternoon. But it’s rare that I get to do that because of work, so most of my writing time is late at night. I envy morning people – I would love to be able to wake up early and write so I can then get on with the rest of my day! 🙂

And stay tuned for our Q&A with guest author Awesome ANDREA J. LONEY tomorrow May 6, 2017 (will post at 9 AM EST/6 AM PST)! Until then, HAPPY WRITING! WRITE LIKE YOU MEAN IT!



  1. I really appreciate Lee & Low and the books they publish! Emma, as I struggle w/yet another revision of a PB bio, I helps me to know it took you 5 years to create the perfect MARTI. Congratulations.
    Paula, I had been going full tilt on my draft a day, but I feel I am hitting a wall today and I have a volunteer gig all day. I do have a fairy tale mashup kicking around and some scribbles, so I’m going to use it when I get back from volunteering at my school library. Cheers to day 5!

  2. Thanks for this great post, Paula!

    Last year I participated in NaPiBoWriWee and came up with 5 new story ideas/drafts! This year I’m using each day of NaPiBoWriWee to build upon one of last year’s ideas and create a solid first draft! When I decided to write the draft for my story idea this year I thought “Wow, I’ve been sitting on this story for a long time.” But then I read Emma’s lovely interview and found reassurance in knowing she worked on Marti’s Song for Freedom for five years. I’ll just keep at it!

    Thanks again for your thoughtful words of encouragement!

  3. I am up with the sun and done writing by 8 AM! And I finished book 5 – based on an idea I had during Storystorm! I LOVE writers on line challenges and deadlines because I can find a 1M rabbit holes of interest and have to focus on writing.

    • I love early-morning writing…it doesn’t always happen for me, but sometimes it’s the only writing time. I love how much less pressured I feel throughout the day when I work in the morning!

  4. Thanks for the great post! I just added JOSÉ MARTI to my to-be-read list yesterday. What a coincidence!

    I vastly prefer to write in the mornings, before my two small kids and full time job sap my energy (and brain) for the day, but this week my husband has been traveling, so I’ve sneaking it in during the late afternoon or evening after the kids go to bed. I used to wait for the “right” time to write, but now realize I have to make it happen!

  5. It was so interesting Emma to hear about the intersection of your life with Marti. I am looking forward to reading the book.
    Paula, thanks for sharing how a larger project can inspire a pb. It’s a good reminder of staying open to the small moments. As for when I write, for this challenge, I try to commit to an idea first thing and play with it in my head until I can sit down to actually write which has been late afternoon or early evening. Normally I try to write in the morning after coffee but of late find that time has too many interruptions. I may stick with the early evening time slot after this week!

    • I am always impressed by people who can do ANYTHING in the evenings (I am such a mess after like 9pm) but I do think it’s important to be flexible, so maybe I should try evening work sometime…

  6. I write late morning and early afternoon. I can’t seem to dive in first thing or stay up late. Go figure! Day 5 draft is done!

  7. I love you wrote MARTI’S SONG FOR FREEDOM in verse. Studying the rhythm of poetry has added depth to my prose. I don’t have a best time to write. I get through routine Mom jobs by writing in my head. Then unload my thoughts on my laptop.

  8. I love those closet doors! And the idea to “cut and paste” from the “failed” drafts.

    It’s always inspiring to hear about other people working on stories where ever they are, like parks and planes. I find it’s often easier for me to write when I’m not at home. There are less distractions that way.

    And while I would love to be a morning person and be able to wake up and write early in the day, most of my inspiration, and much of my lucidity with story telling, comes very late in the evening. Or the middle of the night.

  9. Although you showed us the awesome whiteboard doors – I was drawn toward that beautiful, sculptural ceiling fan. Wowsa! So much prettier than the typical four blade clunkers in my house.

    I don’t write by clock, but by when my kids are in school or activities. So it varies a lot, but I find that the variety keeps my mind in a constant state of idea pondering and creation – a good thing!

    • I love how many people have talked about the pre-writing they do in their head and making writing work with their schedules. So much determination and passion in this community!

  10. Thank you for sharing and congratulations! I
    love the persistence and history of this special story.

    For times, I have to nibble usually between meetings and while traveling for the day job. Means on planes, trains & automobiles some weeks 😉

  11. Thanks for keeping us moving guys!
    About writing time: morning normally – but last night I took this homeopathic sleep remedy b/c the birds have been waking me up so early, so THIS morning was a grog-fest. Which was a shame b/c I needed to catch up on yesterday’s draft before getting to today’s (I’m a day behind you, Paula, with *my* TERRIBLE VOMIT FIRST DRAFT. But, like you, it did lead me to some rabbit-hole googling and a funny new idea. Cue the Twilight Zone music.)
    Oh, and the whiteboard doors: so. totally. jealous.

  12. Thank you for sharing your story, Emma. It’s always encouraging to hear of other people’s journeys.

    I am a definite morning person. I love to get up early, But I can’t write first thing. I need to get the pressing life stuff out of the way so I can relax. I do write in the middle of the day.

  13. Thanks for the much needed inspiration 🙂 I, too, envy morning people. I have had to quasi-become one since having my son – he loves to be up before the sun! But, my best and worst time for writing is night. Best because when my mind is resting the most awesome ideas and lines float through my head. Worst because I am often too tired to do more than write down those ideas and lines, so I end up with pieces and no drafts!

  14. I’m definitely a morning person, but often find myself writing at any time of the day … though not often at night as I get way too sleepy and fuzzy headed to make much sense. Day 5 draft done in double quick time as it was one I’d done ALOT of thinking about beforehand and had made lots of notes. I’d been saving this one for a day when I knew I wouldn’t have much time, and when I needed a little less pressure! I suspect Day 6 might be a struggle … bring it on!

  15. As long as I wake up, the morning is my best time. I’ll also forgo my lunch time workout to write. Evenings are a rare time for me to write.

  16. Just checking-in before I write today, as I said before my schedule this year is not conducive to writing. If I had a whole day to write with nothing else on my schedule I would probably do my best early morning.

  17. I really prefer to write in the morning and my entire morning feels off when I don’t start that way. That being said, once I start working on idea, I find myself thinking about it all the time and I definitely end up writing in the morning, five minutes at the end of a planning period, during lunch, in between tutoring sessions, or right before I go to bed. Still starting my morning allows me to be consistent with my writing even if I don’t have the motivation of finishing or perfecting a new idea. NAPIBOWRIWEE has really pushed a bunch of very rough first drafts into my revision part of my brain. It has been so interesting to push myself to move onto another idea and not stick with and revise something over and over. I think it has been great practice to help me look at a bunch of ideas I have a see which one is standing out as having the most potential. I am loving this week!

  18. I prefer writing in the mornings, but as a teacher, that only works for me during the summer. During the school year I write in the afternoons. It’s so much easier to be consistent in the mornings before the day gets started. The countdown to summer is on! Emma, I grew up in Miami and learned a lot about Jose Marti. What a great subject for a book!

  19. Thanks for sharing your journey Emma – so inspiring – and I can’t wait to read your book!

    As for my writing time … I’m definitely a night owl.. a very late one at that. I still have to start #5 but am feeling good.

  20. Day 5 … I didn’t have a plan for today’s draft and I couldn’t get inspired by any of my ideas in my personal “StoryStarters” notes, so I tried all day long to keep my ears and eyes open for a spark or character or event or title… I did write a day 5 draft, but… Enh? It’s sure nothing deep and meaningful!

    I’m likely to write in the evening due to my work schedule and commute leaving that time most open. But I 100% agree with Emma’s comment about feeling less pressured throughout the day when she knocks stuff out in the morning (writing or otherwise!)

  21. PAULA – I’m TOTALLY IN LOVE with your closet doors!!!
    As to when I write: I used to only write late at night, but later discovered that the wee small hours of the morning worked well. I think my mind is clearer at that point, with fewer distractions–except for my pillow continuously singing a siren song to me!

    EMMA – I look forward to reading your work, especially because I have been on a Cuban “kick” lately, doing research for a story. I have become CONSUMED by the Cuban culture and people! THANK YOU for adding even more inspiration out there!

  22. Hi! Congrats everyone for finishing Day 5 with a bang! I am impressed with all the early morning birds who write in the AM. It is so interesting to read about everyone’s writing process. Although I am a night owl, I like to change it up and do different things, so everyone who is an early bird – your comments inspired me to try and write early in the morning. Let’s see what happens! 🙂 Thank you for your kind comments re: Emma Otheguy’s interview and special thanks to Emma for being so kind to respond to everyone’s comments. I wrote a fun picture book today inspired by my friend’s kid (you will see the details in the May 6th blog) and am exhausted again and going to bed soon. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Blog 6 featuring our final Guest Author Andrea J. Loney! xo P.

  23. I wish I knew/remembered a bit more about my very mixed culture, I’m sure there’d be at least one story in it. Yes, I could research but the sad thing is that if I admit it to myself I’m not really interested, I was just too young and Australia really is my home.
    I too would like to write in the afternoon as it’s often when inspiration hits, but the reality is I’m also a very late night writer Paula, in fact I’ll be doing today’s draft after this. Time here now 10.20pm, early today as there was no work, being Saturday here.

  24. Thank you, Paula and Emma! My answer to when I write is whenever I have the time. I have such a crazy schedule, I squeeze it in when I can. But my first choice is the morning when my mind is the clearest. And if I have a long afternoon to myself, that is the best. Emma I am fascinated by the Catskills connection to Marti as I spent all my summers growing up in the Catskills. I look forward to reading about that. Paula, thank you for always reminding us not to feel bad about how awful that first draft is. You’ve got to get a lump of clay in hand before you mold it. Enjoying the napibowriwee week.

  25. Thanks, Emma and Paula! Emma, I really enjoyed reading about your journey, and that the book took 5 years. That is very encouraging, and I can’t wait to read Marti’s Song for Freedom! Paula, I usually write evenings–I’ve actually become much more of a morning person, but the idea of getting up before work to do serious writing is just something that will not happen! But on weekends, I write mornings (as well as other times, depending upon the day). Thanks for NaPiBoWriWee!!

  26. Thank you Emma and Paula. It’s so much fun to peek into your writing life, Paula. And Emma’s description of her Catskill moment is lovely – the spark that started the five-year fire.
    I’m a night owl (although, as I once read somewhere, more like a permanently exhausted pigeon) and very behind on my drafts this week, but there’s still the weekend!

  27. Your book sounds wonderful, Emma. I’m looking forward to reading it.

    I have been trying to become a morning writer but I’m finding the evenings to be more productive lately. I’m still figuring it out. Like Joy above, I feel like a permanently exhausted pigeon lately!

  28. I’m sorry for not posting this on time… I just found it in my StoryStorm folder.

    Great interview, Emma! Thank you for sharing your journey with us! I can’t wait to read “Martí’s Song for Freedom.”

    Paula my writing schedule is a bit weird, as I am an early, early morning person, and I’m talking 2:30 or 3:00 am… as a widow I eat and sleep whenever I feel like it… I love not having a set schedule except for my dr appointments that is, and even those I try to keep somewhat loose

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *