Dámaso Avilés Discovers
The Yanira Island
By Carin Chea
Dámaso is an extraordinary man. While still residing in his native Puerto Rico (and speaking primarily Spanish at the time) Avilés interviewed for a position with Clayton County to be an educator in Georgia.
He was given a task that would be deemed nearly impossible for most: He'd be given a position but first he had to learn English. In two weeks.
Avilés did it, and years later, he continues to inspire his students as a stellar educator.
The author of the fantasy novel The Yanira Island has already established this storyline to be a trilogy. Always cognizant of the literary needs of his students, Avilés has even altered his maiden novel to cater to various age groups.
This is certainly one author who is sure to make not only an impression, but a change, on his readers.
You're originally from Puerto Rico. Tell us about your transition to the United States.
Three years ago, Clayton County Public Schools [in Georgia] went to Puerto Rico to hire teachers. I did an interview and they told me that if I was able to learn English in 2 weeks they'd hire me.
I'm a Spanish teacher, so they gave me a couple of weeks to learn English.
It was hard, but I did it. I basically ate and studied.
You're an educator by trade and training. When did you realize you were also a writer?
As a child I was wrote poems and little scripts for my teachers. When teachers saw me writing in elementary school, they spoke to the next-level teachers every year.
When I was a teacher in Puerto Rico, I worked for the Oratory League. I worked first as a judge for 2 years, then I thought about being a mentor and moderator in the league.
That required a 2-year wait. In the end, I became a moderator. At that point, I prepared my students for the debates.
Tell us about The Yanira Island. Where did you draw inspiration from for your novel?
The Yanira Island is something I started three years ago in Puerto Rico. I was looking at waterfalls one day and saw something in my mind that didn't exist in nature.
I thought, "Why don't I create that? I can make a fantasy world." So, I created this fictional island that produced all the water for the entire planet.
The waterfall and the island work together to create the water. I reveal to the readers how all this is possible in the third book of this series.
Oh, this is a trilogy? How wonderful! Are you working on them as we speak?
The second book is finished and I'm now working on the third. The Yanira Island is for all ages, but I'm thinking the second book will be geared toward those ages 17 and up since the vocabulary is a little too complicated for young children.
When I write (as a Spanish speaker) I use a lot of complex vocabulary. For The Yanira Island, I worked hard to reduce the complexity of the vocabulary, which was difficult. It's for ages 11 and up, but it took a lot of the emotion and feeling away from the story.
I've taught all ages from Pre-K to high school, so I know what vocabulary is appropriate for which age groups. I knew what my students wanted to read and how difficult it was for them sometimes due to the vocabulary.
I saw it in Puerto Rico; I also see it here in the United States. The students don't want to look the definitions of all the words, so they just don't read. I wanted to reach more students with The Yanira Island by simplifying it.
I understand The Yanira Island is actually your second book.
I had a book for Puerto Ricans. I made a question with that book to seek an answer. The title is actually a question.
The Racket Society is the rough translation. I was asking Puerto Ricans, "Is this the kind of society that we have?"
"Racket" means cheating or fraud. People thought I was making a statement, rather than asking a question. That was the purpose of it, though.
People initially reacted badly; they didn't get it at first. I knew (since I'm a teacher) that people weren't going to take it as a question. Ironically, that's the message: People don't care much about grammar or punctuation.
But, now working here in the United States, it's the same. Something is happening - maybe it's the way teachers are working, or parents aren't paying enough attention. In Spanish, a comma can make a very big difference. Or, an accent placed on a different part of the word can turn a word very offensive.
In general, what inspires you as a writer and creator?
Nature is the most powerful thing that inspires me. I lived in Puerto Rico by rivers, mountains, waterfalls, and beaches.
I used to live nine minutes from the beach. All my life, I was living by nature. Here in Georgia, it's the same: We live in a jungle with extremely good roads. There are trees and rivers and lakes everywhere.
What is the underlying theme or message you'd like to convey in The Yanira Island?
One of them is the importance of water conservation. I have many strong themes in the book, one of which is inclusion.
The characters are from many different ethnicities. They're from different parts of the world and even from different time periods. There are a lot of loose ends in the first book. It gives you the chance to think.
The answers the readers seek are in parts two and three of the trilogy. In those parts, the readers will discover how it's possible that someone who existed in 3000 B.C. could exist at the same time as someone alive in, say, the year 300 A.D.
If you were to cast a live-action film of The Yanira Island, who would you cast as the leads?
Chris Hemsworth. Also, someone like Leono from Thunder Cats.
I have elements in the books that appeal for all ages. Thunder Cats was 30 years ago, and the people who remember them will identify with this character. Readers of all ages will find something familiar in the book.
To follow Mr. Avilés' works and upcoming projects, please visit DamasoAviles.com.
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