"My wife mentioned to me I should write these conversations down for him in a book, and so I set to creating a book for him with lessons and examples of how to be brave, using his story to show him it was possible for him to conquer his fears when facing difficult times."
Lone Star Literary Life: Mr. Falcon, your picture book Be Brave, Be Brave, Be Brave (powerHouse Books), released May 7, 2019, is the true story of your son’s difficult birth in Corpus Christi, the landfall of Hurricane Harvey, and how new fatherhood moved you to explore identity and provide a richer legacy to your son. Please tell us about your book and why you decided to write.
F. Anthony Falcon: Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you and your readers about Be Brave, Be Brave, Be Brave. My picture book is a story which anyone of any age can relate to. We have all faced adversity and difficult decisions in our lives and learned how to overcome these situations through experience. Our parents try to teach us the best they can and show us how to be brave through advice or by example. This is what I was attempting to do with Lakota when he was less than six months old. I would talk to him about life’s challenges and how he would have to overcome and “be brave” when these problems arise. More importantly, I wanted him to grow up to be respectful, with compassion, and to be a protector of people. In short, I wanted Lakota to grow up to be a great human being.
Finally, after hearing these talks over and over, my wife mentioned to me I should write these conversations down for him in a book, and so I set to creating a book for him with lessons and examples of how to be brave, using his story to show him it was possible for him to conquer his fears when facing difficult times. I also wanted him to know he comes from a proud, respectful, and brave people in our country, Native Americans, who have been through much adversity and continue to fight to preserve their culture and way of life. As you grow you learn that life can be cruel and unfair, but it can also be beautiful and full of goodness and hope. I wanted my son to be prepared for life so he can continue to be brave, long after I am gone, and in turn he can pass Be Brave, the book, on to his children. As a student of history, my legacy has always been on my mind. What can I leave behind which will show I once was here? I can rest easy knowing my family will always have the lessons of little Lakota’s perilous arrival into this world and the bravery which surrounded him when he needed it the most, as long as books exist.
LSLL: Merriam Webster defines “brave” as “having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty.” In your opinion, is that definition complete? What does it mean to you to be brave? And as long as we’re talking about bravery, how is your wife?
FAF: I think that the definition is complete. Bravery is so diverse in its application in our lives, the definition needs to be broad. For children, being brave can be introducing yourself to your class on your first day at a new school. As you get older, playing organized sports or standing up to a bully in front of your classmates or alone. When you become an adult it could be helping your community during a natural disaster by putting yourself in harm’s way, or joining the military and putting your life on the line for someone else. Our responsibility as parents or role models is to teach our children, who look up to us, how to face adversity as it comes into their lives. My wife, Victoria, is truly the bravest woman I have ever known. The bravery I witnessed from her was so inspiring. Her recovery was so hard on her, but she is fully back to her old self; thank you for asking. When I remember all she went through, I truly did not know anyone could be so brave. I am truly blessed and happy to have such a wonderful and incredibly brave wife.
LSLL: You grew up in Corpus Christi. How do you growing up on the Gulf Coast of Texas shape you as an individual and as a writer? How do you hope your son benefits from your hometown?
FAF: Many people on the Gulf Coast were fishermen or worked in agriculture when I was little. These men and women made a living for their families with hard work, by the sweat of their brow. My Grandpa Falcon, a World War II veteran, was a fisherman and owned a couple of boats. I will never forget how he would sit in his garage and repair or make these huge fishing nets all day long. It was hard and tedious work, and he would do it day in and day out, and I never heard him complain. My father worked at the grain elevator in Corpus Christi, which was hard and dangerous work. He was there when it exploded in 1981 when I was one year old. On my mother’s side, my great-grandfather Gonzalo Liscano, who was a popular saxophone player, was a tower of a man. He built many houses for the family with his own hands, and would tend to the land at the family ranch. He would sit all of us down on the porch and play his saxophone for us, and we all loved to hear him play.
I am so passionate about my writing, and Be Brave is full of emotion. In my eyes, those traits came from my great-grandfather. These men in my life were examples of the work ethic and artistry of the people in Corpus Christi. It is also a small sample of the close-knit family unit, which is prevalent in Mexican families on the Gulf Coast of South Texas. This is where I also learned about respect, family and bravery. My hometown is also a beautiful place with palm trees swaying in the strong wind, and the salt smell of the water in the air. I have always felt I am great at descriptive writing, and I credit my mother with spending so much time with us outdoors and at the beach, taking in all the natural elements a “small big city” like Corpus Christi has to offer. Not to mention, writing with the emotion of Lakota’s story and being in touch with my feelings is what I learned from my mother.
I could not think of a better place to raise Lakota. All of the morals and values of a small town are very present here, and I believe how you are raised from a young age shapes you for life. Surrounded by the water, wind, family, and love is exactly what Lakota gets here in Corpus Christi.
LSLL: I’ve read that your love of history led you to research your Native American heritage. How was this heritage lost to you, what did you learn, and what do you want to pass on?
FAF: My great-great-grandmother on my mother’s side of the family, Victoria, is our connection to our Native American heritage. She was born in 1888 at a time when it was not a good thing to be Native American. I have spent many hours looking up records and documents, and I have had a difficult time finding her parents during my research. I also have not been able to locate which tribe her family belonged to, which is why I do not claim tribal affiliation. My aunt told me that when she was young she heard my great-great-grandmother say they were never to speak of being Native. There is a possibility she and her family chose to blend in with the Mexican population in South Texas for survival. I cannot say for sure if this is what happened. My uncle has always been proud of our heritage and spent time with other Native Americans through the years. He has learned traditions and immersed himself in the culture from the Native American friends he has made in his travels. I continue to do research in the hope we can finally find out which tribe we come from so I can learn the traditions particular to the tribe and pass them down to Lakota.
LSLL: Let’s talk about process a bit. How did you go about writing this book? What advice do you have for other writers trying to publish?
FAF: I knew I wanted the book to have a slogan or a phrase which repeated itself throughout the story. It had to be powerful so it would resonate with everyone who reads the book, not just children. Thinking back to the stories and advice I would give Lakota, the phrase “be brave” kept coming up. Then, with a little help from my editor, I decided to write the book as if I was telling Lakota the story of his birth when he is seven years old. I wrote the first line, “The day you born, your mother and I were so scared, but we had to be brave.” Then the second, “Your mother labored for many hours to bring you into the world, and she was so brave.” It became like a game, how many lines can I end in brave or be brave? A few hours later I had a four-hundred-word manuscript. Months and about 1,500 word later, we had Be Brave, Be Brave, Be Brave.
The best part of this journey is getting published, of course. It is what we all dream of happening with the stories we create. You can never give up on your dream. Keep writing and querying agents and publishers. All you need is that one “yes,” and it will all be worth it. If you want to self-publish, go for it. Use your resources and research the best fit for your story and you. Remember, nothing worth anything this big is not without sacrifice and hard work. Believe in yourself and be brave!
LSLL: Trisha Mason illustrated Be Brave. Her watercolors are soothing and subtropical, a counterpoint to the often difficult—sometimes scary—events. Please tell us about choosing an illustrator and how that collaboration worked.
FAF: I was very fortunate my publisher, POW! Kids Books, asked for my input on the illustrators they were considering. They wanted a female illustrator with a Native American background, which I thought was awesome, and asked me to look at five portfolios and provide feedback. Every portfolio was amazing, but when I saw Trisha’s I knew it was exactly the style for Be Brave. When I wrote my thoughts pertaining to Trisha’s art, I made it very obvious I loved her work. I did not have the final say, and I was truly ecstatic when I was told POW! wanted her as well.
After she was contracted for Be Brave, I couldn’t wait to speak with her, and I asked my editor when we could facilitate a call. She explained to me I would not be able to speak to Trisha directly during the process, and after she broke down the reason why, I totally understood. Trisha did a wonderful job with the illustrations and there was no need to change anything she came up with. She truly nailed every aspect from concept to full color on her first try. What a great team we were on this picture book!
LSLL: Please tell us what it’s like to go on book tour as a debut author. What was the best thing? What was the worst thing?
FAF: Being on book tour was the most fun I have ever had, especially since I had family with me for the whole tour. My wife and son were on the road with me at the events and meeting people interested in the book. It’s great to introduce them to the readers and Lakota is too cute! I love talking to people, so signing books and reading Be Brave to an audience is a dream come true.
The best part was meeting individuals who can connect with your story and sharing the emotions. Since this is a true story, there was a lot of emotion on the tour, especially when we went to Methodist Stone Oak Hospital where Lakota was transferred. It was just like seeing family again after twenty months, except this family took care of your child when he was very sick. The worst part of the book tour was when it ended. I could have kept going for months!
LSLL: Please give us some recommendations for other picture books by Texas authors.
FAF: The Lucia the Luchadora series by Cynthia Leonor Garza is wonderfully fun! She is a great person and I am happy to call her a friend. I also like Xavier Garza’s Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask. Watching wrestling was what we did growing up, and watching it on the Spanish stations was very entertaining. Who doesn’t like a like a good Lucha Libre story, especially if you grow up in South Texas?
LSLL: Can you tell us what you’re working on now and what’s next? Will there be another book?
FAF: Right now I have two completed picture-book manuscripts, which I am sitting on. One is a bully story, with a Native American child as the main character, who finds out through his heritage that he can rise above and be brave. The second is a story about a Native American child who learns life lessons from encounters with the people of his village. There are a few bold ideas I have for a few more picture books, but I am still fiddling with those stories.
Never one to leave my love for science fiction and fantasy writing for too long, I have a historical fiction story set during the Crusades with King Baldwin IV as the protagonist I am outlining right now. And a science fiction novel I wrote in 2012 called the Knight Chronicles, which was rejected by Harper Voyager, but loved by all of my friends who read it. The story follows a militarized force of space knights from Mars who defend a group of aliens in need on a distant planet who are harboring a big secret.
LSLL: What books are on your nightstand?
FAF: Charon’s Claw by R.A. Salvatore—Salvatore is my favorite living author and someone I look up to. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown; this book is full of so many emotions for me, sadness, anger, frustration, disbelief ,and pride, especially, being part Native American. I always keep extra copies to give to people. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien, as he is my favorite nonliving author. It is the hardest to read of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but it has so much Middle Earth history. The Art of War by Sun Tzu because I like to keep my mind sharp; the lessons can be applied in almost any setting. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. This book made me cry the first time I read it to my son. Even now, when I talk about it to people, I get teary-eyed.
F. Anthony Falcon found his love for books in the library at William B. Travis Elementary School in his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas. His love for history led him to research his own Native American heritage in the hope that he could one day instill that pride in his children. Anthony has a love for writing as well and a huge imagination which, when put together, makes for some very interesting reading. He currently resides in Corpus Christi with his wife and son.
Trisha Mason attended the Herron School of Art + Design (IUPUI) where she graduated with Honors and a BFA in Drawing and Illustration. She has illustrated for Riley Children’s Hospital, The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, and often participates in group art exhibitions. Trisha currently resides in Indianapolis, Indiana where she enjoys creating watercolor pet portraits, and frequently braves the nature trails with her dog, Gilly. You can view more of Trisha’s work on her website, www.trishamasonart.com.