Ten Questions with Maria Atlan

October 27th, 2020
We spoke with debut author Maria Atlan about her exciting life and the influences her travel and loved ones have had on her new book, The Adventures of Harley and Lucy: The Marshland Rescue, illustrated by Adriana Santos. 

1. When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

When I was a young girl my father would read to me at bedtime.  The places and characters in these stories would allow me to travel to far off lands and have fantastic adventures with new friends.  It was during this time spent with him that both my imagination and love for books was nourished and grew.  I began writing short stories and poems for family and friends as soon as l learned to write, and by 10, I began to submit these writing to our local newspaper.  I found the concept of taking the ideas running wild in my imagination and giving them life on paper incredibly exciting.  You might say, I’ve been hooked ever since.

2. What was your favourite childhood book and why?

I’ve always been drawn to authors who weren’t afraid to break the mold.  Writers who present different and interesting points of view, whether it be through their characters and or writing styles.  Two authors that, in my mind and heart, perfected the interesting and beautifully different, are Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic blew my younger mind, in the most positive of ways.  These books opened a door in my imagination, that I hope will always remain open.  They sit in my library today and I still count them among most loved reads.  Oh and Dr. Seuss, what a mind and imagination.  I love all the books; however one in particular captured me from the moment I first read it: Oh, I the Places You’ll Go!.  This book came out about the time I had just began submitting my stories to our local newspaper.  I found the message in this book so incredibly honest, important and impactful that even to this day when I am feeling down, or things are not going quite right I read it.  It reminds me to stay positive and never give up, an especially important message in the craziness of our current times.  

3. If you could tell your younger self any advice, what would it be?

Write about what you are and what is near and dear to your heart.  Your viewpoints and ideas matter.

4. How did you come up with the idea of your book; what or who were your inspirations? 

I have had the amazing good fortune of being able to travel our beautiful planet since I was a child, the result was that I fell in love with the world.  The people and places I’ve had the opportunity to meet and visit made me want to find ways to protect her.  Environmental conservation, protecting wildlife and community outreach is my passion and what motivates and inspires me.

5. How has your background shaped your work?

I served for several years as a military officer, which I relied upon to develop Harley’s character and personality.  Once I got out and began to work in the private sector, I got the opportunity to work on an ocean conservation project in the remote western Caribbean.  It was this work that inspired the marshland rescue theme in the book.  As far as people go, I have a group of amazing girlfriends whom I love like family.  We met while doing yoga teacher training in the little, but enchanting, Panamanian town of Boquete.  I bonded with these women, who are all beautiful inside and out, over our mutual love of animal rescue.  The book is specially dedicated to one of those women, Mamie, who we lost way too soon.  Having Mamie as my main character, along with Greg her husband, was my way of keeping her alive, even if it’s just in my literary world.

6. Are there any people who you think have helped you to improve as a writer?

My father, who has always been my biggest fan and editor.

7. What is your writing process?

8. If you didn’t write, what would you do instead? 

I could never imagine a world in which I didn’t write, I need it as much as I need air to breathe.  However, when I am not writing I can usually be found at the beach diving, surfing, paddle boarding; basically any sport that involves water - I am there. 

9. What’s been your favorite feedback?

I read The Adventures of Harley and Lucy to the children of one of my close friends, their comments and feedback meant the world to me. Especially when her 9-year-old daughter told me how proud she was of Lucy being so brave.

10. Tell us an interesting fact about yourself that people may not know!

I can smell ants; I know it’s weird and I pinky promise it’s the truth. When I was two years old, we lived a very rural part of Panama where the jungle meets the Caribbean.  While out playing in the garden I was stung repeatedly by Fire Ants, it was so severe I had to be rushed to the Emergency Room.  I’ve had the ability to smell ants ever since!

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