Fire Starter Tehlor Kay Mejia Talks Tarot, Revolution and Transformation in Her Debut.
I’m so excited to share the newest Las Musas debut, Tehlor Kay Mejia’s We Set The Dark on Fire. Tehlor and I met on social media as querying writers. We both live in Oregon and have become great friends. For this post, we decided to do a version of what we do most days—chat about books and life and politics and writing. As a starting point, I pulled a tarot card, concentrating on Tehlor’s amazing journey with this amazing book.
TEHLOR: Hi. I’m so excited
MICHELLE: Me too!!! I'm thinking about your book and I can't believe it's really out in the world.
TEHLOR: I honestly can't believe it either, it's so surreal.
MICHELLE: So I drew a card for you and it's the Queen of Wands! Which is kind of on the nose but really amazing!
TEHLOR: Right?? Very on the nose but also I'm so glad. It feels pretty optimistic…
MICHELLE: YES! She’s one of my favorite cards. So, the wands to me are about instinct and will. How does that resonate with you when you think about your journey with We Set The Dark on Fire?
TEHLOR: I feel like this journey has been almost PURE instinct and will for me, which is why I'm laughing about this card. There was kind of no indication in my life leading up to writing this book that what's happening now was possible, so a lot of it was based on trusting my instincts and having faith in myself and my work and being willing to push forward despite overwhelming odds and obstacles.
MICHELLE: If you look back, can you find the seed of that in your life before you became a writer? Where does that come from in you?
TEHLOR: I think I've always been a really determined person. I don't think it comes from a place of confidence necessarily, because that's something I've always struggled with, so it's probably more akin to stubbornness. The more the world seems set up to block me from doing something, the more determined I become to do it. In that sense, I guess this is the perfect business for me.
MICHELLE: That makes sense! Another aspect of the Queen is that she's an icon of personal power and sexuality, which is so perfect for We Set The Dark of Fire. What was it like to write a character like Dani, who is so reserved?
TEHLOR: I think a lot of writing Dani was based on my experience as a teen. I was really insecure about how I looked, but I got a lot of positive validation from the people around me for being smart and focused, so I traded one thing for the other. I thought if I could be smart enough and driven enough and perform well enough, I could somehow make up for needing to be validated in those other ways, and society was all-too eager to reinforce that by putting me in the "smart girl" box where you're kind of weirdly desexualized. Obviously, Dani's categorization is much more external because of the way Medio's society is set up, but I think there's the same sense of leaning into one set of expectations to try to shut down your desire to be seen as a sexual being. That can't last forever though, as Dani and I both eventually found out.
MICHELLE: I love how that binary shows up in the Primera/Segunda roles of the wife pairs in We Set the Dark on Fire. Externalizing that dichotomy into two wives who ultimately fall in love was a beautiful example of both how fractured we are by the patriarchy and how we can begin to move past it. Did you know right away that this book was going to be a love story as well as a speculative novel about patriarchy and class?
TEHLOR: Thank you! I did always know it was going to be a romance, but the players changed a little from the first conception of the story to the way it is now. I knew that a sexual and romantic awakening was going to be a big part of Dani's journey, but initially (I'll blame it on heteronormative socialization) I thought it would be her and her husband who fell in love. It took almost no time at all once I started developing Carmen as a character for me to realize she and Dani were the real love story, which left me free to explore toxic masculinity with Mateo without having to find a way to redeem him. I do love that you picked up on Dani and Carmen as two fractured parts of the feminine whole destroyed by the patriarchy, though. I hope their love story shows that even if you don't have a lover to show you the other side, we can bring those disparate parts of ourselves together and heal what a patriarchal society has broken in us.
MICHELLE: I love that! That’s totally the way I see it, too—as a story about finding wholeness. So finally, circling back to the Queen of Wands, when this card shows up in a reading, I'm excited because it shows someone really coming into their power. I've been thinking about the idea of personal sovereignty a lot lately and this regal image in connection with both the story of We Set The Dark on Fire and your journey as a writer feels perfect to me. During the time I've known you, you've had an explosion of personal growth and professional accomplishment. Was there something specifically empowering about becoming an author and writing this book? And what do you hope readers will take away?
TEHLOR: I think I've spent a lot of my life feeling small, as a result of other people diminishing me, and as a result of diminishing myself to fit into dynamics and relationships that didn't allow me the space to be fully myself. There was something about the process of writing this particular book, and the life stuff that was happening to me at the time -- divorce, moving, family stuff -- that made it sort of impossible to stay small anymore. I resisted it at first, as I think a lot of people do. It felt scary to step into it all and embrace it. But I do think exploring this story on the page and bringing these girls through their own transformations was really personal for me in a way I'm just now starting to understand.
As far as what I hope readers will take away, I hope people see that young women are too nuanced and fierce and complex to be reduced to the stereotypes they're so commonly associated with. I hope they see the power in being a girl when you really embrace all that it means to be one. But honestly, I really just hope every young woman who reads and enjoys this book finds one little thing she needs. Something that makes her feel braver or stronger or more seen. That's the best outcome I could possibly hope for.
MICHELLE: Thank you for doing this, Tehlor! I’m so excited for the world to meet Dani and Carmen and can’t wait to see what other adventures are ahead for you. Congratulations on your debut!
You can buy your copy of WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE at your local bookstore or online!
Gather round, gente! There is Las Musas magic brewing over Anna Meriano's just released novel, A Sprinkle of Spirits - the sequel to her debut, Love Sugar Magic! Las Musas sat down with Anna to ask how she brought her newest book to life.
*Read to the end to find out how you can enter to win a GIVEAWAY of this magical book!
In A Sprinkle of Spirits, Leonora Logroño is finally learning her family's bakery bruja magic, but trouble bubbles up again when her dead grandmother appears in her room! It turns out that spirits are popping back to life all over town, and Leo will need help to solve the mystery of what caused the chaos--and how to stop it! The Logroños return in a new story featuring a heaping helping of amor, azúcar, and magia.
What were your personal experiences that motivated you to write the Love Sugar Magic series?
The seed for this series came from Cake Literary, but I loved how the story felt personal. So much of Leo and her tight-knit family comes from my life, and I love that I get to write about language, family, community, Texas, and food in a way that feels true to me. One of the main goals of the series is to celebrate the joy of Leo’s family traditions, and even though her family has some differences from mine (unfortunately, we are not magical bakers), that joy is coming from my own experience.
What is your personal relationship with magic, in, like, your real daily life?
I love this question so much! I feel like it’s hard to organize my answer because I have so many different thoughts about this. I’ve always believed in magic in a nonspecific way, fascinated by everything from catholic saints to fairies to psychic powers. We light Guadalupe candles in my house when we’re hoping for something or going through a hard time, and I heard stories about how my grandma used to fast on days that my dad had important tests in school. When I’m in a rational mood, I think that being a human is full of uncertainty and confusion, and different mystical and spiritual beliefs help us process and overcome our fear in a healthy way; or I think that “magic” is actually scientific research that hasn’t been recognized by certain cultural systems. Other times I find it totally unbelievable to think that there is no magic in the world, especially when human knowledge and understanding falls so far short of explaining existence. These days I’m very interested in the magic power held by words and communication--the power to change minds and recreate the world.
You do a great job of portraying the complex relationships among sisters; what information did you draw upon since you yourself don’t have any sisters?
I don’t have sisters, but my mom is one of six sisters (and nine siblings total), so I hear a lot of their stories about growing up. I’m also very close with my cousins on both sides of my family, so I’m no stranger to being surrounded by a lot of relatives. Finally, I’m the middle child between my two brothers, so I feel like I can relate to sibling dynamics from both sides. Thanks Michael and Gabriel!
Describe your favorite place to create writing magic?
I’m a total coffee shop person. Working from home is convenient, but so much less efficient for me. I especially love places where there are lots of other folks working around me, because the peer pressure and background noise helps keep me focused. I used to worry about spending money on drinks, but one of my visual artist friend told me how much he spends to rent studio space and I calculated my monthly coffee shop bill and realized that I’m getting a bargain!
What is your “must have” to get into the writing zone?
I’ve become a time-thief of a writer lately, sneaking writing time into the odd half hours between work, so I’m a bit more flexible about getting into the zone now than I used to be, but I definitely do my best work when I have snacks readily available (another reason I love coffee shops)!
As a sophomore writer, what did you learn from your second novel, Love Sugar Magic-A Sprinkle of Spirits?
I learned how hard (but rewarding) it is to let your characters grow! We went back and forth a bit with the outline for book two because I didn’t want Leo to make the same mistakes she made before, but I still needed a plot to happen. I’m running into a similar issue with book three as well--it’s so interesting and exciting to have to find ways to challenge Leo and push her into bad decisions without undercutting her growth at the end of each book.
What do you hope readers take away from your Love Sugar Magic series?
I hope that each and every reader comes away feeling excited about the magic of their own ability, whether that’s baking, reading, or something else entirely. I hope that Mexican American kids see themselves and their families on the page, and I hope that all kids feel welcome in Rose Hill.
Your books have the most colorful, magical covers! Can you tell us about the illustrator?
MIRELLE ORTEGA! Mirelle is my favorite person and artist, and I feel so so lucky that she was able to bring Leo to life on two gorgeous covers (so far). I’ve seen firsthand the magical way the covers catch people’s--especially kids’--interest. If you want to see more from Mirelle, she’s illustrating Vote for Effie as well as some picture books, and she has beautiful artwork up on her website and available at her store! (I especially recommend her Mexican fairy tale t-shirts!)
What's a sinfully sugary dessert you and your character Leonora love?
Haha, the short answer is anything and everything! We both love puerquitos and pan dulce of all kinds, of course! We’re both extremely fond of cinnamon rolls, and I feel like I should also mention red bean buns since I’m eating one as I type this! The biggest difference in our tastes is that Leo is a little bit more of a dessert snob than I am--I am totally here for store-bought cookies and cupcakes that come wrapped in plastic with neon chemical frosting, while Leo prefers things that are more fresh and homemade.
What are you working on next?
Lots of exciting things! Most definite and probably most exciting, there is a third Love Sugar Magic book coming along that will deal with the slight cliffhanger at the end of book two (sorry not sorry). I’m also working with my agent Patricia Nelson to polish up a YA contemporary that includes a very magical sport. I’ve got a couple other secret or early stage projects that I’m hoping I can share more about soon, plus working with my wonderful students around Houston and hopefully traveling a bit to meet more writers and readers.
Leave a comment below to enter a chance to WIN your own copy of A Sprinkle of Spirits!
Want more of Anna Meriano? Follow Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits Blog Tour!
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