Marisa Montes was a spunky kid. She recalls riding her tricycle down the sidewalk in Puerto Rico, and being stopped by two big boys who said she couldn’t pass. Four-year old Montes wasn’t about to put up with bullies, so she rode home, yanked off her tennis shoes and put on her favorite red cowboy boots—she calls them her power boots! Montes rode her trike back down the sidewalk to the boys and smartly kicked them.
Montes has since lost her kick because of a particularly severe case of rheumatoid arthritis which she says “clobbered her at the age of 16,” but she hasn’t lost her spunk. Her newest character, Gabí (pronounced Ga-BEE) from Get Ready for Gabí: The Crazy Mixed-Up Spanglish Day (Scholastic, 2003), is a lot like Montes was as a child, red cowboy boots and all. Gabí’s father describes her as “bold and sassy”; her mother says she’s “un ají picante—a red hot chili pepper.” Combine Gabí’s feisty personality with red power boots and a school bully, and there’s bound to be trouble!
Montes says that ideas for her books come from “life as I live it.” When she’s writing a story, she pulls in things that happen to her, or things she reads about. She might be influenced by a movie or a conversation she overhears. Her books might be completely different if she wrote them a year earlier or a year later because different events would have influenced the story’s sequence.
Montes and her husband, David Plotkin, live in Walnut Creek, California. Before they purchased their current house, Montes remembers her realtor taking them to see a dark house with foreboding woods behind it. Perfect for a ghost story. At the same time, Montes was reading The Headless Cupid, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, which contained a character who had an imaginary friend. Montes began wondering what would happen to a character whose imaginary friend wasn’t imaginary, but a ghost. Montes combined the ghost with the creepy house she’d seen and wrote Something Wicked’s In Those Woods (Harcourt, 2000).
Circle of Time (Harcourt, 2002) is Montes’s first novel for young adults, which she describes as “a romance time travel ghost mystery.” She wrote the book for her husband with the underlying theme that love transcends death. Originally, each section of her story began with the words of famous dead poets, figuring she didn’t need permission if the authors were dead. Unfortunately, she assumed wrong and her publication deadline was fast approaching! Now, each section of the book begins with a stanza of a love poem written by Montes.
Growing up in Puerto Rico, France, and the United States, Montes was an “army brat” who learned to speak three languages. In high school she was a cheerleader and a competitive roller skater until her arthritis took hold. She describes herself as “a positive child. When I wanted something badly enough, I didn’t give up until I got it.” Her tenacity has served her well, both in her personal life and in her writing. Before embarking on her career as a children’s writer, Montes was a lawyer and worked for a legal publishing house writing law books. She also wrote technical books for computers. “I guess the technical writing was so boring, it pushed the creative right out of me.” She began studying the craft of writing by taking classes and attending conferences. According to Montes, “In my forties, I finally found what I was here on earth to do.”
Before Montes underwent surgery to replace both knees, she recalls dragging herself from her bedroom to her computer to work on her novels and picture books. “I was happier writing everyday in pain than at all my other jobs. Physically, I was in agony, but emotionally and mentally I was in Shangri-La!”