I’m so pleased to be part of the Hope And Fortune Book Tour with children’s author, Marissa Bañez.
Hope and Fortune is a modern-day fairytale, featuring multicultural, multiracial (e.g., Filipina, African-American, Latina, Asian, Muslim, etc.), multigenerational, and multigender (including a boy) fairies of different shapes and sizes who help a sad little child who has lost her way to find her path. Each fairy represents an ideal – Hope, Innocence and Wonder, Truth and Virtue, Generosity and Kindness, Strength and Courage, Respect and Dignity, Confidence, Imagination, Happiness, Beauty, Wisdom and Intelligence, and Love and Friendship. Although the protagonist is a little girl, the life advice given by the fairies is non-gender-specific and could resonate with anyone facing a difficult situation at any point in her/his/their life.
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Print copy pages: 46 pages
Purchase a copy of Hope and Fortune on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Bookshop.org. You can also add this to your GoodReads reading list.
MY INTERVIEW WITH MARISSA BAÑEZ
Hi! My name is Marissa Bañez (pronounced Mar-ee-sa Ban-yez). I came from the Philippines in 1969. I graduated from Princeton University and am a litigator with one of the largest law firms in the world, licensed to practice in New York, California, and New Jersey. At almost 65 and after 40 years of being a lawyer, I’m embarking on a new life venture in my “Third Act” as a children’s illustrated book author with my first book, Hope and Fortune published on February 2, 2023. My second book, entitled “Hues and Harmony (How the Rainbow Butterfly Got Her Colors)”, is scheduled to be published on July 20, 2023.
“Hope and Fortune” is your first published book for children. Who or what inspired you to start writing children’s stories?
My husband was 49 and I was 40 when we got married. As we were both no-longer-young, I did not expect to have a child. Yet, one night during our honeymoon, I had a wonderful, extremely vivid dream. I still remember every detail to this day. In the dream, I found myself in a beautiful, very colorful floral garden, feeling peaceful and happy. Suddenly, singing, laughing, and dancing angels and cherubim surrounded and enveloped me into their midst. Then, a dark-haired cherub kissed me on the lips. I immediately woke up and, still very much feeling the cherub’s kiss on my lips, told my husband that we were going to have a baby. Nine months later, my daughter Angelica was born.
I wrote a book about that. Whenever I read the story to my friends, everyone always got a bit teary-eyed in a good way . . . which led me to think that I might actually be able to write stories that positively affects people.
So, as my daughter grew up to be a little girl, I decided to write other original children’s stories for her and her friends and created puppet shows out of the stories. I made stage scenery and puppet characters using foam board, painted bedsheets, paper bags, popsicle sticks, and just about any available useable household item. The kids, their parents, and I always had great fun and, at the end of the day, what else should matter when you’re a kid?
Did you base the fairy tale characters on yourself and people you’ve met in your life? Which fairy did you enjoy writing about the most? Which fairy was the hardest to portray?
Basis for the characters:
• The protagonist, Esperanza, is based on my daughter (who is the muse for all my stories). In fact, my daughter’s middle name is Esperanza.
• The Fortune Fairy of Hope is my late Filipina mother. The illustration is based on her actual picture from when she was young. The fairy also represents the Philippines. Apart from her physical coloring of slightly darker skin and black hair, the top of her outfit was drawn to evoke the terno, with the distinctive bell sleeves of the Philippine national dress. Her skirt is meant to look like the typical red-and-black Igorot/Ifugao cloths worn by the indigenous peoples in and near Baguio City, where we lived in the Philippines. Like Ifugao women, the Fortune Fairy of Hope wears multiple brass bangles, called giniling.
• The Fortune Fairy of Wisdom and Intelligence is a tongue-in-cheek reference to me as a Princeton graduate.
I love all the Fortune Fairies equally. There isn’t one that I liked writing about more than the others because each one is different, special, and unique. That applies equally to the illustrations. There isn’t a particular fairy illustration that I liked illustrating more than any other. Because children’s illustrated books are usually limited to 1000-1500 words, I expressly curated my illustrations to supplement the text of Hope and Fortune and create a multi-layered story with deeper significance. In writing and illustrating Hope and Fortune, I learned that numbers, colors, and animals represent or symbolize certain ideals and principles that dovetail nicely with what I wanted to say in the book. I then incorporated a lot of that symbolism into each illustration to make the story as multifaceted as possible. Of course, a reader doesn’t have to know (or even care about) all about the symbolism to enjoy the story or the illustrations; they’re there for others who may want a more meaningful experience with the book.
Hardest fairy to portray:
The fairy that was hardest to portray was the Fortune Fairy of Beauty. I struggled for some time with how to represent the ideal of beauty with physical characteristics because beauty means different things to different people, cultures, genders, and races. The concept of beauty defies a universal representation. Then, I remembered a wonderful episode of Star Trek, about a race of aliens that were evolving from their corporeal states into beings of pure energy. That made me think of energy as our spiritual essence or life-force. To me, a beautiful spirit will always win over a gorgeous face with an ugly personality. Thus, the Fortune Fairy of Beauty as a heart radiating positive and bright energy was born. As she says: “Beauty is not what you see with your eyes but with your heart.”
Where did your story idea spring from – your legal background or family background or somewhere else?
For my daughter’s 7th birthday, I wanted to put on a show for her and her friends at her party. She wanted a story about cowgirls, fairies, and her little stuffed horse. She and I brainstormed a bit, and I came up with a story entitled, The Lost Foal. This was the party invitation:
In The Lost Foal, the stuffed horse was the one that got lost in the forest and encountered “cowgirl fairies” played by my daughter and her guests, each of whom wore fairy wings and pink cowboy hats and gave the horse life advice to get it back on the right track.
Fast forward 16 years later to the pandemic and lockdown in 2020. I felt bad for my daughter, her peers and those younger, all of whom faced unprecedented uncertainties in life. I then took The Lost Foal, modernized it with a diverse cast of characters, and created a message that I hope will resonate not only with the very young but also with those less so who may feel rudderless and lost (in however way you want to define and contextualize those terms) at some point in their lives.
Who wove their love of stories spell on you?
My formative years (until age 11) were spent in the Philippines. We were poor. I didn’t have the experience of having someone read stories to me at night. My parents’ primary concern was the feeding and clothing of my nine siblings and me and ensuring that we received formal education. The reading or telling of stories before bed was an unaffordable luxury. Plus, other than the books we used for study at the local public elementary school, we had no storybooks at home. To the extent that we were fortunate enough to get anything to read for pleasure, they were in the form of comic books passed down and well-thumb through by my aunts and 8 older siblings. Even after we came to the U.S., I don’t remember that I had any books just for pleasure reading at home that I would call mine. If I was exposed to such books, they were from the school or maybe the library, although I don’t recall that we went to the library very much at all.
Are you a bookworm? What is your favorite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual books?
A very good friend from way back to the 3rd grade likes to tell the story when we once had an assignment in elementary school to create a “bookworm”, consisting of round pieces of paper onto each of which we had to write the title of book we’d read and then stapled them onto each other to create a worm. At the end of assignment period, I had a much longer worm than anyone else in the class. (Again, I don’t specifically recall where I was able to get those books from except from the school or the library.) So, yes, even back in my youth I was a bookwormand I continue to be one to this day. My current favorite genre is historical fiction, preferably with hitherto unsung female protagonists, such as those written by Paula McClain, Marie Benedict, and the duo, Audrey Blake. However, I read all kinds of books – from frivolous “beach reads” to legal thrillers to non-fiction tomes – and don’t like to be pigeonholed. I like to think that barring anything that requires a deep knowledge of things like super-technical scientific or mathematical equations, I could be persuaded to read any type of novel or story. As between Kindle and actual books, it bears noting that space is a consideration when living in New York City. So, although I’m not adverse to physical books, necessity requires that I read only electronic versions these days.
Is Hope and Fortune available to purchase worldwide?
My publisher, Black Rose Writing, can ship Hope and Fortune pretty much anywhere in the world if ordered through its website:https://www.blackrosewriting.com/childrensmg/hopeandfortune?rq=Hope%20and%20Fortune
It is also available through the following online sites:
• Barnes & Noble
• Barong Warehouse
• Books a million
• Sandman Books
Growing up had you always wanted to be an author, or did you have other career aspirations?
If you define “career aspiration” as a fervent hope to be in a particular field for a particular reason, the honest answer is that I held no such ambition when I was young. To be even more honest, good things came my way and I simply took advantage of them, which fortunately led me to a pretty good path in life. I’ve been very lucky indeed.
Growing up in the rural part of the mountain provide of the Philippines and then in the poor section of downtown Los Angeles prior to college, the main goal was survival by being able to put one foot in front of the other from one day to the next. Sure, the idea that one should grow up to do something to make money to eat was a given but dreaming about or visualizing something as lofty as a “career” or “profession” seemed far-fetched. To be an author was not even on my radar at any time. That was just something so beyond what I perceived to be within the realm of possibilities – too fantastical and too idealistic – as to be nonexistent.
As for my legal career, I remember one of my sisters and I were watching a Miss Universe pageant sometime in the early 1970s and the contestant from Japan (if I remember correctly) said that she was or wanted to be a lawyer. An Asian woman at that time said she was going to be a lawyer? Mind blown! I recall my sister saying then that she too was going to be a lawyer. Lo and behold, not only did she become a lawyer, she went on to become an administrative judge for the State of California. I simply followed in her footsteps and went into law as well, mostly because I hadn’t considered anything else. Perhaps more accurately, I didn’t know any better to consider anything else. Medicine (either as a doctor or a nurse) was out of the question as I’m very bad at math and science. But, it had worked out better than okay for the last 40 years as I moved from one good position to a better one along the way so I’m not complaining.
Only after being a lawyer for 40 years did I consider being a published illustrated children’s book author. That opportunity came to me out of left field as well. By happenstance, I learned a former colleague with whom I worked in the 1980s had published a novel. Through the power of the internet, I contacted him to say congratulations. During our message exchanges, I expressed my glimmer of a dream to published one of the children’s stories I wrote for my daughter several years ago. Without knowing anything about my stories, he introduced me to his publisher. I took a fateful leap by re-working and modernizing The Lost Foal and then took advantage of the introduction by immediately submitting it for consideration.
When not writing/telling stories, what hobbies/passions do you indulge in?
I’m a bit of a dilettante. Among my hobbies/passions are traveling, reading, watching Korean dramas and Star Trek shows (not to the exclusion of other shows but those two types are my favorites), designing/sewing clothes, playing a little guitar (especially with my musically talented siblings – the Von Trapp family had nothing on us!), going out with friends to the theater, museums, restaurants, and the like, and just vegetating on the couch or in front of the computer. In short, anything but housework.
What outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
Ah – fashion! Now, you’re talking my true language so buckle up!!!
To me, fashion is a form of storytelling. It is putting on different personas to fit the occasion, place, or other circumstance. Depending on the circumstances, clothing can make you feel confident, powerful, beautiful, sexy, fun, slovenly, depressed, comfortable, etc. Clothing is a very powerful tool in telling the world about yourself or how you want the world to perceive you. So, for me, there is no such thing as what I’d “normally be found wearing.” When I go to court or a business meeting, I carefully consider how I present myself. As a small Asian woman representing big corporations, I need to be taken seriously and heard in a predominantly male and/or White environment where people actively compete to be heard the loudest and the longest. So, I tend to wear clothing that telegraphs competence, confidence, and a certain sense of gravitas like a suit (either a skirt-and-jacket or pantsuit) or a prim but nice dress … and likely with some “kick-ass” shoes (no hose). If it’s a more informal business setting, I’ll still dress appropriately but more casually, like slacks or skirts with tops or dresses in less somber colors or maybe even prints … and likely with some “kick-ass” shoes (no hose). I break out the fancy/shiny/glittery stuff when I go to a gala, ballet, philharmonic, opera, or a fancy theater for a live performance. I have them so why not? If I’m going to an event that others went to a lot of trouble putting together, I’d like to honor and respect that by dressing up. And the atmosphere at any event becomes so much more festive when people take the time to look a little spiffier. For going out with friends? I have some great casual outfits that need to be worn instead of just hanging forlornly in my closet. I tend to have a more enjoyable time when I dress up in something fun and stylish. It also tells my friends that they and our time together are special.
I put my idea that clothes tell a story into practice as it relates directly to Hope and Fortune during a book reading last December. I wanted to wear something evocative of the fanciful fairies in the book, preferably the Fortune Fairy of Hope to pay homage to my mom and to my country of origin. As luck would have it, I found though online shopping a green bolero with the traditional Filipino bell-shaped sleeves with white floral embroidery – not unlike the top of the Fortune Fairy of Hope’s outfit! (My initial thought was to wear a light green dress with it but it was a very cold day, so I switched to black pants, top and booties instead, highlighting the bolero.) Many moms and kids complimented the outfit. When some asked about it, I was able to launch into what the bolero represents and how it relates to the Fortune Fairy of Hope –which, of course, is exactly the type of curiosity that I want the book to generate.
I also think carefully about what outfits to bring on vacation, dictated by where I’m going, what I’ll be doing there, who I’m likely to see and, of course, luggage space. When I travel, I don’t like to just go to a beach. I like to do, see, and experience many different things from the adventurous to the cultural (but always fun), so I try to make sure to have the right clothes for everything.
At home with just my family? I tend to be a slob dresser and even jeans feel dressed up. Depending on the weather, I’m in sweats or shorts and a T-shirt that I likely got for free at some fundraiser or giveaway because I like being comfortable at home and . . . well, who cares?
Do you have any favorite shops or online sites?
I do not shop according to the offerings of a certain shop or online site. I’m also not label- or designer-conscious because I have seen many designer outfits that wouldn’t look good on me.
Instead, I tend to visualize the design and color of an outfit or footwear I want. I then try to find it in a physical shop or online, without any particular loyalty to any vendor, designer or label. Sometimes, I get lucky. If not, c’est la vie, but maybe in my search, I see something else that I didn’t know beforehand I desperately needed. . .
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
Right now, I have no desire for anything (and I certainly have no need for more clothes). If you’d asked me this about a month ago, I would’ve said I wanted something brocade or embroidered with intricate gold designs. Why? Because lately I’ve been watching Korean historical dramas in which the characters – females and males – wear beautiful and elaborate costumes inlaid with gold or silver designs. Of course, I wouldn’t want to walk around wearing those hanboks (actually, I kind of do), if only because it would be impractical. So, I searched around for something more modern but still reminiscent of those fabulous costumes. I came upon a ¾-sleeve brocade topper (i.e., a long jacket that hits a couple of inches above the knee) with an upturned collar in a black background and different shades of gold paisley/curlicue design. Bonus – it has pockets! Quite by accident, I also saw a pair of deep black pants with a gold embroidered paisley-type design on the outside part of the lower leg of the pants. I’m shortening them to about an inch above my ankle bone to balance out the long jacket in a chic way. Paired with some killer stilettos or fun mules and it’s a fabulous “dinner party-ready” look.
When time permits or inspiration hits, I also like making my own clothes from scratch or re-purposing old or barely worn clothes to fit my current “clothes wishes.” For example, a few weekends ago, I was looking through my closet and came upon a forgotten pair of cropped jeans that I’ve had for years but hardly ever worn. I then rummaged through my sewing box and found some fancy ribbon trim and iridescent oblong Czech glass buttons. Spent a couple of hours with a needle and thread . . . voilá – a new and cute pair of jeans! They even go well with my new black-and-gold topper, giving a more casual spin to my wish for a modern take on the beautiful costumes on the Korean historical dramas I’ve been watching .Tip: I like to remove and save beautiful buttons, lace, patches, ribbons and other decorative trims from old or outgrown clothes to sew on to other clothing for a personalized style.
Boots or shoes?
I have several pairs of both shoes and boots of different styles and colors, so my choice is dictated not so much by an inherent preference of one over the other (which I don’t have) but rather by what goes better with whatever outfit I decide to wear for the day. That said, I’m a little obsessed with mules with kitten or cute/interesting heels right now.
Links you’d like to share – e.g., website/facebook, etc.
Personal website: https://www.marissabanez.com/
BOOK TOUR DATES
Thanks to Marissa for inviting me onto her book tour. All photographs have been published with kind permission of Marissa Bañez.