Interview with children's book author Debra Mares: It's This Monkey's Business

For Independent Author Debra Mares, violence against women is not only a topic in today's news, it's a topic in her crime novels, cases she handled as a county prosecutor, and now it will be the topic in her first children's book It's This Monkey's Business.  Debra is a veteran county prosecutor in Riverside currently specializing in community prosecution, juvenile delinquency and truancy.  Her office has one of the highest conviction rates in California and is the fifteenth largest in the country. You name it - she's prosecuted it - homicides, gang murders, domestic violence, sex cases, political corruption, major fraud and parole hearings for convicted murderers. She is a two-time recipient of the County Prosecutor of the Year Award and 2012 recipient of the Community Hero Award.

Debra is the granddaughter of a Mexican migrant farm worker and factory seamstress, was born and raised in Los Angeles, was the first to graduate college in my family, and grew up dancing Ballet Folklorico and Salsa. Her own family story includes struggles with immigration, domestic violence, mental health, substance abuse and teen pregnancy, which she addresses in her novels. She followed a calling at 11 years old to be an attorney and voice for women, and appreciates international travel and culture. Her life's mission is to break the cycle of victimization and domestic violence. 

Debra is also the co-founding Executive Director of Women Wonder Writers, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization implementing creative intervention and mentoring programs for at-risk youth.  In 2012, Debra self-published Volume 1 of her debut legal thriller series, The Mamacita Murders featuring Gaby Ruiz, a sex crimes prosecutor haunted by her mother's death at the hands of an abusive boyfriend. In 2013, Debra released her second crime novel, The Suburban Seduccion, featuring "The White Picket Fence" killer Lloyd Gil, who unleashes his neonatal domestic violence-related trauma on young women around his neighborhood. 

To bring to life "Cabana," Debra partnered with 16-year-old Creative Director Olivia Garcia and Los Angeles based professional illustrator Taylor Christensen

16-year-old Creative Director Olivia Garcia attends high school in Panorama City, California, is the Los Angeles youth delegate for the Anti-Defamation League's National Youth Leadership Mission in Washington D.C., an ASB member and AP student and enjoys reading, crafting and knitting.

Taylor Christensen is a Los Angeles-based illustrator holding a BFA from Otis College of Art & Design, focuses on fantastical creatures and surreal imagery, and produces artwork for illustration, character and concept design.
Her latest book is the children’s picture book, It’s This Monkey’s Business.

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About the Book:

"Cabana," a young spider monkey is brought to life to tell her story It's This Monkey's Business to help children who are affected by domestic violence and divorce. Cabana, who lives with her parents in a treehouse high up in a rainforest canopy, becomes startled one day from her Mama's scream, when she is waiting atop a tree branch for her Papa to teach her how to swing. After falling to the forest floor, Cabana frustrated from her parents' fighting, decides she will search for a new family to be part of. Her persistence is cut short when she braves the river to play with a pink dolphin, unaware she cannot swim. The tragedy brings her parents together to realize they can no longer live together. Cabana reconnects with her Papa, realizing he is the only one that can teach her how to swing.

It's This Monkey's Business is an approximately 756 word children's book targeting ages 4-8, which is set in a rainforest and featuring "Cabana," a young female Spider Monkey, her parents and rainforest animals. The book is approximately 30 pages long and features full spread color illustrations. 

For More Information

  • It’s This Monkey’s Business is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

Thank you for the opportunity to share a bit about It’s This Monkey’s Business. Domestic violence is an issue that swirls in my mind a lot, having seen it growing up and among many of the children I work with today. Around Christmastime in 2013, two months after my last book had been released The Suburban Seduccion, I woke up searching for inspiration to write; it had been a while for me and writer’s block was setting in. In a hope to spark writing, any writing, I began outlining and plotting this book. It came very easy. Some of the early ideas revolved around Zip, a stuffed monkey I had growing up, which always made me feel safe.  I developed a clear and easy mission for this book: to bring awareness to domestic violence and help families and children acknowledge it, talk about it, process it, and most importantly, know they are not alone.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

Of all my books, this was the most difficult to write, emotionally and professionally.  It was less than 700 words, but as Theodore Seuss Geisel aka Dr. Seuss said, the key to good writing is “meticulosity.”  And good writing was what was  accomplished by the guidance of editor Kate Buckley. I also partnered with Illustrator Taylor Christensen and 16-year-old creative director Olivia Garcia for to bring Cabana and her journey to life.  My advice for other writers is to simply collaborate and ask for help!  Good ideas become great ones with teamwork.  Ask for help! 

I would also reiterate Dr. Seuss’ emphasis on “meticulosity.”  Revise, revise, and revise!  Make every line count and keep revising until you get it write.  Also, consider early on your font selection and illustration size.  These decisions can be easy if you have a clear vision of who your readers are.  Are you attempting to help children learn to read, facilitate parents who are  reading to children, or to reengage high school graduates with important childhood lessons before they head to college?  If your goal is to reach multiple audiences, consider designing quality illustrations and utilizing fonts that cross-appeal to each of these audiences.  Don’t forget how wide your audience may actually turn out to be.  Afterall, high school graduates today still appreciate the lessons of Dr. Seuss’ children’s book, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” so make sure the font is universal to highschoolers and preschoolers. 

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?  

I self-published, which is how I released by 2 previous books The Mamacita Murders and The Suburban Seduccion.  Self-publishing helps me learn the process behind marketing, publishing, and distribution; I have a great respect for the work our agents and publishers to.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

There were a couple things that surprised me.  I didn’t realize how much work it took to publish a children’s book.  I thought a legal thriller amounting to 333 pages would be much more difficult to publish than a 32 page book.  The process of publishing a children’s book is quite different; you spend a significant amount of time with illustration direction, design and layout because the visual component is just as important as the story.

The printing and distribution process was a good kind of surprise for me. I went with Amazon Advantage, which you allows to ship your own book inventory to their warehouse for distribution, instead of a print-on-demand option like CreateSpace or Of course I needed to secure a printer, however with this type of children’s book bringing awareness to domestic violence, it made sense for me to have copies on-hand for sale when I’m speaking on the topic.  The advances for self-publishers that are available are constantly progressing, even from a year ago, and it’s exciting to be a part of things like KDP’s (Kindle) the pop-up book ability.  We are expecting an eBook release end of the year.

Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?

My next project is YOUR L!FE: Young Voices from The Write of Your L!fe™.  I am the publishing director for an anthology featuring youth poetry and writings from Women Wonder Writers, a life skills and mentorship nonprofit organization I co-founded, which serves at-risk youth and strives to break the cycle of abuse and victimization. The expected release date is Spring 2015. 

Q: What’s your favorite place to hang out online?

Some of my favorite sites address parenting tips, juvenile justice, crime prevention and healthy relationships.  A few of them are:

Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with your book?

I hope the story will support a strong message to children of domestic violence that they are not alone, it is not their fault, it’s okay to talk about it and abuse is not right.  I also hope to encourage parents to acknowledge a child’s feelings, allow them to express their fear, and talk about what has happened to them so they can move forward, heal and thrive, even when their family goes through this. 

For all kids who read the book, even those not affected by abuse, I hope the story supports a strong message of empathy.  Being able to put themselves in the shoes of another youngster who is experiencing violence at home can be powerful, so others can be supportive, tell someone if they suspect it’s going on, and be nice to the youngster instead of blaming them, gossiping about them or bullying them. I also hope the story helps to start a conversation early on in childhood about healthy relationships, open and honest communication where both people can grow, learn and develop into strong people and emotionally healthy people who help decide things together about the relationship. It’s important to start having these conversations early, especially when studies show 1 out of 3 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.

Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

Thank you for this interview and the opportunity to speak on this issue that effects so many children.  3 million children witness violence in their home annually in the U.S. and over 275 million children are estimated to be exposed to violence in their home around the world.  We are all part of the solution in breaking the cycle of violence and we can do so by talking about the issue, addressing it when it happens, striving to have healthy relationships and talking to our children early about healthy relationships.  Books like this It’s This Monkey’s Business help start the conversation and I’m happy to help facilitate it.  I want to thank my Illustrator Taylor Christensen, Creative Director Olivia Garcia and Editor Kate Buckley and all the others including Jennie Johnson, Terrie Barna, Kym Conover, Michael Levin, Christina Metzke, Kathy Ediss, and Dr. Tammy Cleary, who made this book and its release possible.

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