“It’s called the ‘Want Monsters’ and it’s about this boy who has a very big want monster,” Romero said. “It’s an imaginary friend that follows him around. And when the kid wants something, his want monster makes him want it even more. So, he has a cupcake, and Oscar—that’s the name of the want monster, makes him have five more and he gets sick. So throughout the story he learns how to tame him and by the end he becomes a tiny want monster—his name’s Oscarcito by then—and he carries him around in his pocket. It’s really autobiographical I would say. I think we all have want monsters, but it was mostly to understand myself.”
Marcelo Romero, a third semester illustration major attending Pasadena City College describes his first children’s book that was picked up by Shambhala Publications just before the fall semester began.
Romero didn’t just write the book for children however. He pointed out that everyone has a “want monster” and if they don’t learn to tame it before adulthood, things could get very bad.
“I honestly wrote it more for adults than for kids,” Romero said. “I feel like adults want monsters are more dangerous. So there was a little bit of urgency in writing this. Because of want, we all sink.”
Romero moved to Los Angeles from El Salvador to pursue a career in acting. He realized, however, that film and stage, or at least the in-front-of-the-camera part of it, wasn’t really his calling.
He currently lives in a house owned by a Buddhist temple by the L.A. River where in exchange for the cheap rent, he helps out with some of their classes. In turn, this gave him the idea for his first children’s novel. He learned of the availability from his old counselor who was moving out and thought it would be a good fit for him.
“I don’t live in the temple, but the house I live in is owned by the Buddhists,” he said. “It’s very cheap rent, but in exchange I need to volunteer, which I love. What I do is, I help the meditation class for kids. We call it Dharma for Kids. I wanted to put down everything that I’ve learned. It’s for them, but it’s also for myself too. It helps me so much. I wrote it [because I was] inspired by that class.”
Romero may be an illustration major, but when he went to work on the story, the concept came first and the illustrations came later.
“The illustrations, because I’ve been doing that my whole life, they come really easy to me,” Romero said. “Maybe not more easy, but I’m more familiar and experienced with art than with story writing.”
Although he never saw himself as a children’s author, Romero was unable to fight the calling.
“I never thought I was going to write children’s books,” Romero said. “It just came to me. The idea came first, and then the idea kind of demanded to be a children’s book. It couldn’t have been anything else.”
While working as a production assistant on a documentary about Chinese-American illustrator Tyrus Wong, who created “Bambi” and greatly inspired and influenced Romero’s work, he started working on the book.
Romero also pulled a lot of inspiration from all of the Shel Silverstein that he read and loved how complex his stories were, as well as atmospheric art.
Getting published is no small feat, and getting published in the young adult category while only in your third semester of school isn’t something to overlook either. It can be a lot to handle but Romero is doing all right.
“I get very easily overwhelmed when it comes to doing your art and then getting it out there,” Romero said. “There’s a lot of conferences and signing up for workshops and class. I did a complete unsolicited submission to five agents and publishers that I knew would be interested because of the theme. Three or four of them were like ‘Oh, we really like the art, good luck, we’ll pass’.
Then, weeks after submitting it, he heard from Shambhala Publications. They were starting a children’s book department and his work really resonated with their themes.
Although English is his second language, Romero writes only in English because all of the stories he loves were written in English. He loves to write, despite the difficulty with some of the grammar of the English language that he comes across. He feels like he’s found his little corner of the world though.
“It combines everything I like: art, story and kids,” he said. “It’s very commercial at the same time. This is definitely my thing. I’m going to do children’s books forever. And on the side is where the play writing comes in, the short story writing and fine art. But this is it.”
He may write mostly in English, but every now and then, hints of his Latin heritage pop up in his writing.
“They definitely come like little surprises,” Romero said. “It’s not something that I’m necessarily doing intentionally, but when they’re there I embrace them because I feel that makes me, me.”
Even though he may have some difficulties breaking the barriers of the convoluted English language, English Professor Kathy Kottaras says his work is vivid and unique.
“He has a sophisticated outlook on the world that is fully evident in his writing,” Kottaras said. “Whether he’s writing political satire or a story for children, his gentle humor combined with serious attention to his characters make for nuanced worlds that are a pleasure to visit.”
Romero points out that this new career is a healthy one for his soul as well.
“I definitely want to write on the side,” Romero said. “Plays, I love plays, screenplays, short stories, poems, everything. But I don’t know, I feel like this feels solid to me. I know no matter how much I fail in all that, which I will, there’s always this, which I’m really good at. So it’s good for my self-esteem.”
Romero loves the simplicity in illustration and how someone can look at a piece of art and be reminded of something they love or how they’ll just “get it.” He loves that illustration and writing go so well together.
“Bringing that innocence out of people is what makes it worth it for me,” he said.
Romero is taking three writing classes and one conceptual art class to help him with furthering his children’s book authoring goals. He is here on a visa and hopes that he can get a recommendation to get a talent visa to stay here and to continue writing.
It may seem like Romero had a stroke of luck and became an overnight success, but that isn’t really the case.
“He dedicates time to his art, and I think he’s an inspiration for other students to see that he committed his heart and soul to his goal, and then he also committed time and effort; he worked on the skills required to achieve his goal,” Kottaras said.
Discovering his path in life wasn’t easy for Romero, but now that he’s found his true calling, he won’t let go.
“I wish I could just sleep and wake up in my thirties where everything is settled,” he said. “But until then, it’s a lot of hustling and trying things out and failing. So just keep at it.”