FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Terry Catasús Jennings

Thank you so much for joining me on Fast Forward Friday today, Terry. You have two books coming out on March 2nd with Aladdin, KNIGHT OF THE CAPE, and CAPTAIN DOM’S TREASURE. Can you tell us a little about this new series, please?

Kathie, I’m delighted to be with you. Thank you so much for inviting me to Fast Forward Friday. The Definitely Dominguita chapter book series is about a Cuban-American third grader who would rather read than do anything else. That may be because since her friend Miranda moved to Pascagoula in second grade, she hadn’t given a lot of time to finding a new friend–she found that she always had enough friends in her books. 

Dominguita lives in the mythical Mundytown, a suburb of a large city, with her mom, dad, older brother Rafi and, up to the point in which the series begins, her  Cuban grandmother–Abuela. But Abuela has become forgetful, and it’s no longer safe for her to stay alone during the day. So Abuela moved away to live with her sister. To fill the void that Abuela left, Dominguita decides to re-read the bedtime stories she and Abuela read together–the classics like Don Quixote and Treasure Island. 

On the first day after Abuela leaves, Dominguita is reading Don Quixote during recess, when Ernie Bublassi, the class bully, tells her that she only reads because she has no friends. Not so, says our heroine–she is reading because she’s planning to become a knight. But girls can’t be knights, says the bully. The rest of the story is Dominguita’s I’ll show you, including tilting at a windmill.

In the end, Dominguita finds two friends who love pretending as much as she does. They chose characters from other classics and always manage to have a contemporary adventure which is somehow related to the book at hand. 

I would use the word “spunky” to describe Dominguita. Can you give me three other adjectives you would use to tell us more about her, and from where did the inspiration for her character come?

Dominguita is inventive and impulsive, but she is also logical. Which may sound like a contradiction, but it isn’t, really. She is good at following the clues–if this, then that–but rather than thinking things all the way through, she acts first and thinks later. She comes up with the wildest plans which have to be brought down to reality by her sidekicks. Pancho and Steph are the moderating influences. At one point, Dominguita wouldn’t have accepted their help, always trying to rely on herself, but as the friendship develops, the threesome becomes a team. 

I think I can say that the inspiration for the first book came from my father. He loved Don Quixote and I’ve always felt that writing is a quixotic occupation–trying to follow a dream that may never come true. One day, the idea came to me to write a book about a youngster who pretends to be Don Quixote. Of course, to do that, the young character had to be steeped in the classics. Needing the classics made room for an Abuela with whom Dominguita could have a wonderful relationship based on their shared love of these books and their time together reading them. It also made room for the first book to turn into a series. At first the main character was a boy. But my daughter talked me out of that idea. It didn’t take much convincing. Of course the main character would have to be a girl. From there, proving that girls could be worthy knights was a no-brainer. Dom is very much like me as a child. I liked nothing better than reading, and I had a very fulfilling life in my own imagination. I, too, am very impulsive. And I’m always trying to prove myself. 

What does your writing process look like (do you have the book or series planned ahead of time, or do you see where the story takes you as you write?)

The Knight of the Cape was a little bit of putting something down on paper and seeing where that led me. There were elements of Don Quijote that I wanted to include like tilting at windmills and trying to rescue a victim from a bully without success. I also needed to find a squire for her. But that first book, getting to know her family and building the world of Mundytown with its friendly shopkeepers was very much an exploration rather than a planned and outlined process. When I thought that I had a possible series and I began to re-read the classics, I made quick outlines of any I thought would work.  Captain Dom’s Treasure was very much a planned and outlined work, but the plan didn’t work out. A second outline with some tweaking became the template for that one. I can say that in this series, since I try to include elements from the original books in the story, I have a really good idea of where the plot will go. I write the first few chapters to see if I can make it work, and then outline the plot. Sometimes it’s a chapter by chapter outline. Other times it’s a high level plan.  

Could you tell us about the illustrator, Fátima Anaya, and the process of working together to enhance the story visually? 

Fátima is from San Salvador. She says that she loves projects about diversity, family, and friendship as well as the magic of ordinary stories. What better match could I hope for? 

Fatima’s first cover made me cry. She made Dominguita as spunky and sassy as I thought she was. The town where she lives was exactly as I pictured it. When you look at the first inside sketch, Dominguita is sitting at recess, reading–alone, but not lonely. She doesn’t need anyone else. She has all the friends she needs in her books. Fátima gets Dominguita. She knows her like I know her. And her sense of humor shines through in her art.

We don’t work together, though. We always work through the Simon & Schuster editors. In one respect, I would love to work with her directly, In another, I love the idea that Fátima is totally free to bring her own intelligence and perspective to the series. You end up with a much richer work. The process for this series is that Fátima comes up with the cover or her interpretation of a scene and I weigh in on whether the sketch follows the text. After the sketch is approved, I wait until we get the color copy and that’s when the happy tears happen. For the cover of the fourth book, Fatima drew such a fun scene that I ditched some of what I had written and wrote a scene to match what she sketched. 

What is one thing you discovered about yourself during the process of publishing your books?

I found that I was able to write a chapter book and that I LOVED writing for that audience. The younger characters were so much fun to be with. It was truly a wonderful experience. It has made me think about some other manuscripts which are in my virtual drawers that may benefit from a younger perspective. The other thing that I found was that I really enjoyed world-building. Even though this is a contemporary story, the world of Mundytown is a place all its own and I loved meeting the shopkeepers and other characters in Dominguita’s world and making them my friends.

When can we expect the next book in the Definitely Dominguita series?

Terry: Two more books are coming out late summer/early fall; All for One, which is inspired by The Three Musketeers and Sherlock Dom, which is inspired by The Hound of the Baskervilles. In All for One, the dastardly Bublassi brothers threaten the quinceañera party of Leni Fuentes, the granddaughter of the junk shop owner who provides Dom’s crew with their costumes and tools. Sherlock Dom is the search for a lost goat (The Lost Goat of Tapperville) in which the crew uses Sherlock Holmes’s methods to find the lost goat and the criminals who took her. I hope there will be many more books in the series. There are many other classics waiting for Dominguita and her crew.

Can you tell us where to find out more about you and your writing, please?

My website is Terrycjennings.com. I am also a member of Las Musas, a collective of Latinx writers.

Thank you so much for joining me today, Terry, and I hope that Dominguita delights young readers, and gives them the inspiration to go on their own adventures.

It was wonderful being here with you, Kathie. I have the same hopes as you have for Dominguita. I hope Latinx readers see themselves in Dom and Pancho and I also hope the book brings all readers the tiniest bit of acceptance of diversity cloaked inside the fun. 

On September 11, 1961, Terry Catasús Jennings landed in the United States after a short flight from Cuba. On September 12th, she was enrolled in seventh grade in an American school. Her family, including her father who had been jailed during the Bay of Pigs invasion, was now in a free country. The only catch for twelve-year-old Terry was that she could count in English and recite the days of the week and the months of the year, but not much more. Often being the only Cuban in her school—even through college—Terry knows what it’s like to be the new kid on the block. She is delighted to have the opportunity, with Definitely Dominguita, to portray a typical child of immigrants—no different than her peers—other than she loves the classics (like Jennings did as a child) and thinks Cuban food rules. 

One thought on “FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Terry Catasús Jennings

  1. Wow! This reminds me so much of what my daughter has been going through since covid and online learning and not being able to hang out with friends as much as she used to before. She has found adventures through her books and CAN”T put them down 🙂 So excited for her to read Definitely Dominguita series! Another reason why I think she’ll love it is because it is a series and she can spend more time with a character she can relate to!

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