On September 22, 2019, Isabel Cuellar '21 published her first novel, Cities of Sand: The Artist and the Crown. Learn more about Isabel and her journey to becoming an author in this student spotlight Q&A.
Q: When did you become interested in writing and what sparked that interest?
A: I first became interested in fifth grade. My best friend had just read Percy Jackson and was inspired to write stories based on the series. We started writing stories together based on the series. I continued writing on my own up until ninth grade when I went to a creative writing program at Columbia University. I’d been experiencing writer’s block for a couple of months prior and I was very nervous about being all alone in the city, but all it took for me to feel alright was answering the very first writing prompt, and that’s when I knew that writing was going to be a very important part of my life.
Q: What was the inspiration for your book?
A: I can’t say that there was a single moment in which the idea struck me. The story came to me in bits and pieces over the course of several years. I kept a small notebook, and every time I thought of a character or a setting that I wanted to incorporate I’d scribble it down there. The setting for the story is inspired by Dubai. I’ve always found the desert to be surreal and magnificent.
Q: What was the most challenging part of getting this book published?
A: I’d have to say the actual formatting. Typos, proper indents for every single line, making sure the chapter started on the right side instead of the left. It wasn’t fun, and it required close attention to detail, and after all of the work I had put into the actual book, I was ready to be done with it. I learned that the last 10% of a project requires the same amount of time and energy as the other 90%.
Q: Who are your mentors at Gulliver, and outside of Gulliver?
A: Oh, I have way too many! For the novel, it was really Mr. Sandaal who helped me see it through. He believed in me, he counseled me, and he guided me through this very unfamiliar process. Other mentors at Gulliver include Mrs. Feldman, who retired last year, Mrs. Artzt, Mr. Schachner, and Mrs. Landsom. They’ve all given me incredible advice and support in the last two years, and without them, I doubt I’d have come even close to publishing, much less finishing, my first novel. Outside of Gulliver, I would have to say Brian Wiora and Clara Mendoza. Brian was my writing instructor at Columbia last summer, and he definitely shaped who I am as a writer. Clara, one of my best friends, did the program with me. Even though she lives in New Jersey, I send her almost everything I write before I show it to anyone else.
Q: What are your future aspirations when it comes to writing?
A: I’m looking at schools that have either a writing major or concentration because this is something I want to not only do but learn to do better. I also want to be able to surround myself with people who share this love. I’ve already started working on my next novel, which will be historical fiction and a much larger project. This book is going to be written over the course of two years since it requires a lot more research. I’ve also just finished my first play, which I’m submitting to Florida Thespians for the District level competition.
About Isabel: Isabel is involved in the business program at Gulliver and is a member of the Knowledge Wharton High School Investment Competition team. She is an editor for the National English Honor Society and serves as Editor in Chief of Gulliver Writes, an annual showcase of student work. Isabel has a passion for giving back, as she teaches creative writing as an elective for Breakthrough Miami on Saturdays, and is a part of the Health Information Project (HIP) team at Gulliver. She is also a member of the National French Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, and the National Honor Society.