Diana Lopez is the Latina author behind the book adaptation of the Academy Award-nominated film Coco which won the Oscars for best-animated feature and best song. This University of Houston-Victoria (UHV) Professor is winning the hearts of young and old audiences alike with her latest book, Coco, A Story About Music, Shoes, and Family.
This Latina pioneer has carved out a name for herself in the publishing world with six award-winning books already under her belt. “Disney invited me to write the novel adaptation of the screenplay by Adrian Molina,” shared Lopez. “I thought a really fun way to expand the story of Coco was to look at what’s happening to the ancestors, what adventures were they going through as they’re journeying around looking for Miguel, what was Coco like as a young woman.” She was able to create a vibrant life story for Coco and add or expand some of Miguel’s scenes. “It was so much fun to be given permission to take the story and add to it from a really strong screenplay. I had the chance to experience writing a type of world I have never done before.”
“I always loved books, loved reading and writing but I didn’t think it was something I could do,” shared Lopez. Hard to believe from this Corpus Christi, Texas native when she her book Confetti Girl won the William Allen White Award and was named Latinidad’s “Top Latino Book of the Year” in the Middle-Grade Category. Her book Choke was also made into a movie called The Choking Game for the Lifetime Movie Network.
Although being an author can be an exciting journey, it does come with obstacles to tackle on the road to getting published. In her early years, as a young girl in high school, Lopez remembers sharing with her counselor how she wanted to study English and being asked: “What are you going to do with that, you can’t do anything with that!” Lopez attended college at St. Mary’s in San Antonio, where she met her husband and for 23 years she called San Antonio home. In 2010 she landed a job with UHV in Victoria, Texas where she now teaches creative writing. “I published my first book in 2002 called Sofia’s Saints,” and then Lopez made the shift from writing adult novels to middle-grade novels. All her books are set in Texas, except for Coco, with Confetti Girl being her first published for middle-grade students in 2009. “I like to bring my little part of the world to my readers.”
Without many Latinas in the publishing world, it’s an uphill battle to get your work recognized. “You have to have thick skin if you’re going to be a writer, you have to understand rejection as part of the reality of being a writer,” shared Lopez. “One, you want to write a good story, and there are obstacles in writing that story and the techniques of how to make that story interesting and making it move. There are publishing obstacles as being a person of color adds to the obstacles. There’s a perception, unfortunately, that people of color are not buying books.” Lopez pointed out a recent study that shows how many books are being published by minorities – 4.9% featured Latino characters and only 1.9% are written by Latinos. “It’s a challenge, but there’s interest now and awareness, and plenty of advocacy,” shared Lopez. She is seeing a positive trend on the rise with the “We Need Diverse Books Movement” bringing awareness to the situation.
As for how she landed the coveted adaptation of the Coco book, the editor at Disney in charge of the project had read her book Confetti Girl in a children’s literature course in college, remembered Lopez and recommended her for the job. She was even able to attend the Hollywood premiere of Coco! “Disney deliberately hired Latinos to work on all aspects of the film as well as consultants. They put a lot of effort into making Coco culturally authentic.” To be part of Disney’s project on a movie about Mexicans was wonderful for Lopez. “Coco gave me the confidence that I can invent worlds that make sense on the page.”
The best advice Lopez shares with aspiring writers is to be quiet and look at the world around them because the stories are there ready to be shared. “It’s important to tell our stories. At the very root of it, we are all the same and that makes me feel connected to the world, adding, “You have to be willing to live in that world you’re writing about for an extended amount of time.”
What’s next for Lopez? Another literary hit with the soon to be released Lucky Luna paving the way for other Latina voices to share their ideas, and stories with the world.
For more about Diana Lopez and her work visit dianalopezbooks.com