Author Interview: Leila Cobo author of “The Second Time We Met”

Today we’re excited to be digitally sitting down with author Leila Cobo who is promoting her latest book “The Second Time We Met.”  Leila  is a renowned journalist, former concert pianist, and is a native of Cali, Colombia. The Executive Director of Latin Content & Programming for Billboard, she is a frequent contributor to NPR and has written liner notes for acts such as Ricky Martin, Shakira and Chayanne. She is also the host of the television show Estudio Billboard, which features in-depth interviews with top Latin acts. She writes a lot about her Latin American heritage so she’s a perfect fit for the Xico blog, check out her answers after the jump.

The characters in the book are very concerned with cultural heritage. Can you tell us a little about why that is such a big theme in your writing?

If I didn’t live abroad, my cultural heritage probably wouldn’t be as important to me. But the fact that I’m at such a different place from the country that saw me born and raised has made me embrace that heritage, as a way not to lose my identity, I suppose. Because I live between the two worlds—and I really do—I write about that. And I think this is not unique to me as a Latina or a Colombian. Most people who comes from somewhere else try to keep ties to their heritage in some fashion, and I do think we often feel pulled in two directions: The place that has taken us in and the place where we come from. It’s funny, but I’m not even Colombian per se. My grandparents are all from Lebanon, and growing up, we also preserved some of that heritage in our home, in the food for example.
Language is another big point in the book because the main character, Asher, doesn’t speak Spanish. What role has language played in your life?

I grew up in Colombia and Spanish is my first language. But I love English. I love how ductile and wonderful a language it is to narrate stories. I always did, even as a child. I went to a bilingual school in Colombia, and very early on, I leaned toward English as my language of choice in writing. I think it had to do with the fact that I love to read and that at the time there was more children’s and young adult literature available in English than Spanish. But Spanish is essential to who I am. If I weren’t fluent in Spanish, I don’t think I could have become a writer at all. Ironically, my knowledge of Spanish allowed me to get my first writing job in this country, and everything else stems from that. By the way, I have two children and I insist they speak Spanish. I’m an evil mother. I make them read in Spanish on the weekends:)
Can you tell us why soccer is such a central part of this story?

Because it’s the most universal of sports—the one children everywhere can relate to. Obviously, not all boys play soccer, but it is a sport as likely to be played in the U.S. as in any other country in the world. I wanted Asher in a way to represent any child. And of course, soccer is what ties him to his namesake. Any other sport would have become complicated; it would have required equipment, helmets and whatnot. All soccer requires is a ball and the will to play.
You write beautiful descriptions of Columbia. Were those done from memory or photographs?

I love this question, because it’s something I spend a lot of time with. And the answer is, both. There are things from Colombia that are forever embedded in my brain: The smells, the color of the sky, the texture of the air, the vegetation. But there were specific things I describe—like Rita’s home—that I actually looked up. Her house is like so many other houses but I wanted to describe THAT very house, and I scoured the Internet looking for just the right photograph. It’s very important for me to very vividly see in my mind what I describe.
Do you think you’ll write about these characters again?

On the one hand, I would love to, because I think readers want to know what happens between Asher and Joanna moving forward and also, what happens to each of them individually. But I think sequels never work quite as well as the originals. Perhaps I’ll revisit that at a later time, though.

Thanks Leila, for your answers, and everyone else: go buy the book here.