Interview with Debra Mares, author of children's book 'It's This Monkey's Business'

For Independent Author Debra Mares, violence against women is not only a topic in today's news, it's a topic in her crime novels, cases she handled as a county prosecutor, and now it will be the topic in her first children's book It's This Monkey's Business.  Debra is a veteran county prosecutor in Riverside currently specializing in community prosecution, juvenile delinquency and truancy.  Her office has one of the highest conviction rates in California and is the fifteenth largest in the country. You name it - she's prosecuted it - homicides, gang murders, domestic violence, sex cases, political corruption, major fraud and parole hearings for convicted murderers. She is a two-time recipient of the County Prosecutor of the Year Award and 2012 recipient of the Community Hero Award.

Debra is the granddaughter of a Mexican migrant farm worker and factory seamstress, was born and raised in Los Angeles, was the first to graduate college in my family, and grew up dancing Ballet Folklorico and Salsa. Her own family story includes struggles with immigration, domestic violence, mental health, substance abuse and teen pregnancy, which she addresses in her novels. She followed a calling at 11 years old to be an attorney and voice for women, and appreciates international travel and culture. Her life's mission is to break the cycle of victimization and domestic violence. 

Debra is also the co-founding Executive Director of Women Wonder Writers, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization implementing creative intervention and mentoring programs for at-risk youth.  In 2012, Debra self-published Volume 1 of her debut legal thriller series, The Mamacita Murders featuring Gaby Ruiz, a sex crimes prosecutor haunted by her mother's death at the hands of an abusive boyfriend. In 2013, Debra released her second crime novel, The Suburban Seduccion, featuring "The White Picket Fence" killer Lloyd Gil, who unleashes his neonatal domestic violence-related trauma on young women around his neighborhood. 

To bring to life "Cabana," Debra partnered with 16-year-old Creative Director Olivia Garcia and Los Angeles based professional illustrator Taylor Christensen

16-year-old Creative Director Olivia Garcia attends high school in Panorama City, California, is the Los Angeles youth delegate for the Anti-Defamation League's National Youth Leadership Mission in Washington D.C., an ASB member and AP student and enjoys reading, crafting and knitting.

Taylor Christensen is a Los Angeles-based illustrator holding a BFA from Otis College of Art & Design, focuses on fantastical creatures and surreal imagery, and produces artwork for illustration, character and concept design.
Her latest book is the children’s picture book, It’s This Monkey’s Business.

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About the Book:

"Cabana," a young spider monkey is brought to life to tell her story It's This Monkey's Business to help children who are affected by domestic violence and divorce. Cabana, who lives with her parents in a treehouse high up in a rainforest canopy, becomes startled one day from her Mama's scream, when she is waiting atop a tree branch for her Papa to teach her how to swing. After falling to the forest floor, Cabana frustrated from her parents' fighting, decides she will search for a new family to be part of. Her persistence is cut short when she braves the river to play with a pink dolphin, unaware she cannot swim. The tragedy brings her parents together to realize they can no longer live together. Cabana reconnects with her Papa, realizing he is the only one that can teach her how to swing.

It's This Monkey's Business is an approximately 756 word children's book targeting ages 4-8, which is set in a rainforest and featuring "Cabana," a young female Spider Monkey, her parents and rainforest animals. The book is approximately 30 pages long and features full spread color illustrations. 

For More Information

  • It’s This Monkey’s Business is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

Can you tell us what your book is about?

Thanks for taking the time to interview me about It’s This Monkey’s Business, my first children’s book.  The main character Cabana is a juvenile spider monkey who is brought to life to talk about her exposure to domestic violence.  It’s written in narrative poetry with rhyming couplets to help deliver a story with a strong message to children in a friendly enough way.  The book is set in a rainforest and introduces other animals like Cabana’s monkey parents, a jaguar and toucan to name a few.

Why did you write your book?

I wrote my book to bring awareness to domestic violence and help all families and children acknowledge it, talk about it, process it, and most importantly, know they are not alone.

I hope the story will support a strong message to children of domestic violence that they are not alone, it is not their fault, it’s okay to talk about it and abuse is not right.  I also hope to encourage parents to acknowledge a child’s feelings, allow them to express their fear, and talk about what has happened to them so they can move forward, heal and thrive, even when their family goes through this. 

For all kids who read the book, even those not affected by abuse, I hope the story supports a strong message of empathy.  Being able to put themselves in the shoes of another youngster who is experiencing violence at home can be powerful, so others can be supportive, tell someone if they suspect it’s going on, and be nice to the youngster instead of blaming them, gossiping about them or bullying them. I also hope the story helps to start a conversation early on in childhood about healthy relationships, open and honest communication where both people can grow, learn and develop into strong people and emotionally healthy people who help decide things together about the relationship. It’s important to start having these conversations early, especially when studies show 1 out of 3 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.

Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

The rainforest setting does play a major part of the story because Cabana is forced to explore it during her journey in ways I don’t think she anticipated.  She’s used to riding on her mama’s back among the tallest trees in the canopy.  So the story develops in large part through the use of the rainforest setting.

Open the book to page 6.  What is happening?

At page 6, Cabana has fallen from a tree after becoming startled from her mama’s scream from the treehouse and lands upon the forest floor, a place she’s unfamiliar with.  She begins to formulate a plan to get away from her dysfunctional treehouse and sets out on her journey, which takes us through the rest of the book.

Have you suffered from writer’s block and what do you do to get back on track?

I’m glad you asked that, because It’s This Monkey’s Business was written in an effort to overcome my writer’s block.  Writing a children’s book was completely unconventional for me.  I had written two legal thrillers, The Mamacita Murders and The Suburban Seduccion, which I had released in October 2013.  Later that year around Christmastime, I started to develop It’s This Monkey’s Business.  I just went with it and started developing a children’s book idea, having no idea what I was doing.  It was more important for me at that point to create something...anything, because I had abandoned my daily writing ritual for a couple months.  I began plotting Cabana’s story and then turned my attention to researching children’s books. I think it all worked out for the best, but that remains to be seen!

Which holiday is your favorite and why?

My favorite holidays are Halloween and Thanksgiving.  I love the fall and how the seasons change.  For Halloween, costumes come out.  It’s fun to hide behind things, put on masks and dress up.  The weather starts to change and I love fantasy, pretend and supernatural.  A part of me growing up, always had to pretend to be something I wasn’t out of fear that someone would discover what was going on; that’s what happens to a lot of children affected by domestic violence.  They don’t talk about things because from an early age you learn things are a secret and not to leave the home.  Halloween feels like home for me; a chance to pretend that things aren’t as they really are.  I also really like Thanksgiving because it represents the things I value so much: giving, food and family. I just love cooking at home, with spices lingering and family relaxed, calm, and basking in the tryptophan.  It’s such a peaceful and safe site, something rare for me, growing up.

What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors?

The advice I’d like to give to fiction authors is to just keep writing and to explore writing in different genres.  I think it’s important for writers to challenge themselves regularly, because writers grow with every new challenge they take on.  To avoid writer’s block from setting in, it’s important to treat writing like a job, not a hobby.  Everyday, we go into work, and likewise, everyday we should write.  I believe most fiction stories need to be told, just like the nonfiction ones, because they are beautiful ones.  No matter where they originate, like other stories, they entertain us and deliver important messages, which need to be shared.

Thank you so much for the interview and the opportunity to talk about this important issue!