Welcome to another thrilling installment of our blog featuring Musa Fabulosa, Laura Pohl and her debut novel THE LAST 8!
The Last 8 is a high-stakes survival story about eight teenagers who outlive an alien attack—perfect for fans of The 5th Wave. Clover Martinez has always been a survivor, which is the only reason she isn’t among the dead when aliens invade and destroy Earth as she knows it. When Clover hears an inexplicable radio message, she’s shocked to learn there are other survivors—and that they’re all at the former Area 51. When she arrives, she’s greeted by a band of misfits who call themselves The Last Teenagers on Earth. Only they aren’t the ragtag group of heroes Clover was expecting. The group seems more interested in hiding than fighting back, and Clover starts to wonder if she was better off alone. But then she finds a hidden spaceship, and she doesn’t know what to believe… or who to trust.
Foreword Reviews says of her debut, “The Last 8 is diverse and immersive science fiction...With its powerful world building and emotional twists ...The Last 8 is a beautifully fresh take on the idea of an alien apocalypse.” School Library Journal called it, “An extravaganza of nonstop action, with several surprising twists, this will have readers clamoring for more."
And without further ado, here is Laura!
I love hearing about the pop-culture movies that inspired THE LAST 8! Can you tell us which movies or shows influenced you while writing this action packed sci-fi bonanza?
I think one of my biggest inspirations was INDEPENDENCE DAY, which was one of my favorite movies as a kid. As I grew up, I always wanted to write an alien invasion story that had the same cool vibe, so that’s my go-to reference. After I watched ATTACK THE BLOCK, the idea solidified. You can write a sci-fi about a bunch of teens fighting off an alien invasion while still discussing real life issues.
How did you keep the tension throughout your novel? Was there anything you kept in mind as you wrote to make sure the reader kept passing the pages?
I’m one of those people who always tries to end chapters in cliffhangers. It’s always worked for me. Besides, alien invasion stories are tense — you never know who’s going to survive, and I wanted to keep that in mind while writing.
What books influenced you to write sci-fi?
I think movies influenced me more than books for writing sci-fi. I loved watching Steven Spielberg movies as a kid, as a teen I slowly started drifting toward sci-fi books. My parents are big fans of Asimov, so I always had his books lying around the house and that’s one of my earliest memories on reading sci-fi.
Was there a moment where your character--the last teenagers on earth--surprised you?
I think it surprised me how much they reacted differently to a single situation. Each of them has a different way of dealing with the end of the world, and it was very interesting that I got to explore those feelings of loss and heartbreak.
Clover is such an amazing Latinx character, what inspired you to make her Mexican-American?
I think it wasn’t as much as a single inspiration as it was the reality of thousands of Mexican-American kids growing up in the USA. I wanted to write a story that could also be about family, and Clover growing up with her abuelos has some traces of my own childhood when I spent holidays at the farm with my own grandparents.
How did the story change from what you envisioned to how it ended up?
The beginning changed a lot as I was writing it. First the alien invasion had already happened, then it happened on the page, then it changed again. Overall, I don’t think the tone of the story changed, though — it has always been a story about a girl dealing with how the world can take away so much, and how to power through difficult times.
It seems that creating eight main characters would be especially challenging: what, if any, hurdles did you have to overcome in order to pull this off successfully?
Oh, I sometimes forgot how many people were in the same scene, haha! I think that was one of the hardest parts, and balancing each character to make them relevant within the narrative. Each of them has a part to play in the story and I had to make sure to get it all right so they wouldn’t fade into the background.
Were there any characters that immediately clicked as you wrote them or did you write them knowing who would mesh and who wouldn’t?
I think my two favorites to write have always been Brooklyn and Violet. They’re easy to understand for me. Brooklyn talks a lot and deals with everything through joking, but she’s very sensitive at the same time. Violet is quieter but she’s someone who examines every single one of her decision and tends to be very rational in a time of crisis, which is always the way I dealt with things, even coming across as cold. Clover is much the same, so for me, it was interesting to explore that rational side of emotions and how you deal with them.
Without spoiling The Last 8 is there anything you can tell us about book 2?
Huuuh, the only thing I can say is that it has good Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy vibes, and I hope you all like it!
Give us a glimpse into a day in your life as a writer. What's that look like?
I wake up, get coffee, sit down to write. I prefer writing in the mornings, so I focus on getting stuff done before I get lunch. I do home office as well (I offer editing services and do copyediting), so I do my regular day job during the afternoons. I love having a routine, so I rarely stray from this format.
Who is your author crush and why?
I have so many authors who I deeply love! I think one of my biggest inspirations has been Susan Dennard — she has amazing writing advice that helped me get published, and I absolutely adore her Truthwitch series.
What is your wish for the future of Latinx in children's literature?
I hope we can get all types of stories out there. Not just stories about the experience of being Latinx, but latinx kids saving planets, the galaxies, dogs, being vampires, being whatever and whoever they want to be, without having to give up our unique identity to do that.
Why is representation is so important? What kinds of characters did you write that are underrepresented in YA lit?
I think representation allows us to reflect in our own existence and understand it through literature. It allows us a glimpse into ourselves and knowing we can tell stories, too, that we matter and that we’re important. While writing The Last 8, I wanted to write a character who was aromantic like me, who dealt with depression and anxiety, and who came from a similar background. It’s how Clover became my MC.
If a teacher is using your book in the classroom, what is an important point or lesson you'd want them to convey to students?
I think I’d love that the takeaway from The Last 8 would help more teens deal with their anxiety and depression. Clover survives through all of that, and it’s about moving one step at a time. I believe that mental health is something that we still need to discuss in society to break the stigmas around it, as well as provide help to all those who need it.
Buy a copy of The Last 8 wherever books are sold or borrow it from your local library!
Welcome back to the Musas blog! This week Musa Sara Faring (The Tenth Girl) sat down with K.K. Pérez to discuss inspiration, balancing multiple projects, and of course her sophomore novel: The Tesla Legacy.
THE TESLA LEGACY follows a precocious young scientist named Lucy Phelps whose fateful encounter in the Tesla Suite of the New Yorker Hotel unlocks her dormant electrical powers. As Lucy struggles to understand her new abilities through scientific experimentation, she is thrust into a centuries old battle between rival alchemical societies. One side wants her help and the other wants her dead, but both believe she is the next step in human evolution. Unfortunately, carriers of the genetic mutation―including Nikola Tesla―have a greatly reduced life expectancy. Even if Lucy can outrun her enemies, she can’t outrun herself.
How was The Tesla Legacy born—was there a special seed, planted long ago?
I’ve always been fascinated by the life of Nikola Tesla and David Bowie’s portrayal of him in The Prestige reignited my interest. Tesla’s life lends itself to steampunk fantasy because sometimes truth is stranger than fiction! In the back of my mind, I’ve always wanted to write kind of an homage to Penny from Inspector Gadget. Penny always saved the day (and her uncle, Gadget) and she had an awesome “computer book” that I drooled over as a kid. (Now I have an iPad!)
Did someone in your life inspire the super-sharp protagonist, Lucy?
I have several female scientist friends who Lucy is based on, but also I’ve always been drawn to geek girls or braniacs like Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Velma from Scooby Doo and Mac from Veronica Mars. I wanted to make the female brain the star rather than the sidekick.
You weave so much science and history into the book—what is your research process like?
I started with biographies and documentaries about Nikola Tesla himself. From there I began researching the key figures he worked with and had rivalries with such as his Current War with Thomas Edison, which led me to delve further into the history of science as a whole.
I also thought a lot about who my protagonist Lucy’s scientific idols would be and why, and started learning more about them. Once I discovered Newton’s interest in alchemy, I realized that I wanted to infuse my science fiction with a little bit of the mystical. I plunged myself into academic research surrounding the origins and history of alchemists and discovered that in the ancient world women were often alchemists and chemists.
As the alchemists say, Liber librum aperit: One book opens another.
You grew up in New York City—which parts of your experience seeped into the book?
The settings for Lucy’s adventures in Manhattan are a highlight reel of my favorite places in my hometown. There’s the High Line (although it was still disused when I was growing up), the murals at Grand Central Station, the Met, the Alice in Wonderland statue and Bow Bridge in Central Park. Like Lucy, I also hate the long crosstown blocks and think pigeons are judgmental rats with wings.
You are also in the midst of writing the final book in your gorgeous Sweet Black Waves trilogy (under the name Kristina Pérez). How do you make the mental transition from writing historical fantasy to sci-fi (with magic elements)?
The voice is quite different between the projects since SBW is epic fantasy and The Tesla Legacy is set in contemporary New York, but the research and planning for both is fairly similar. Without spoiling too much, for Tesla, I’ve decided which scientists throughout history would have joined which rival alchemist society and why. Even if that information doesn’t make it onto the page, I have it in my notes, and I approached the world building in the same way. For me, creating a convincing world is essential whether it’s high fantasy, historical fiction, or contemporary Manhattan. Each setting, society and culture is unique. In terms of switching between the voices, I have very different playlists for both projects that help me shift gears and I create mood boards on Pinterest.
Your work contains so many thrilling twists and turns—do you plan most of these in advance, or do they come to you as you write… as if by magic?
Totally a plotter. Sometimes a new idea will surprise me while I’m writing but I’m fairly dogmatic. I used to compete on my school chess team and I have a tendency to game things out pretty far in advance!
What’s next for you?
Wild Savage Stars, the sequel to Sweet Black Waves, releases on August 27th, 2019 and I’m hard at work on the conclusion to the trilogy.
Thank you so much Kristina and Sara!
You can buy a copy of The Tesla Legacy wherever books are sold or borrow it from your local library!
On this new moon, we are delighted to share a conversation Las Musas had with Aida Salazar about her just released debut book, THE MOON WITHIN. But first, enjoy this slide show of Las Musas' love for the book. Read till the end and comment for your chance to receive a signed copy of The Moon Within!
This book deals with menstruation, which many adults are still reluctant to discuss openly. What is one menstruation myth you absolutely wanted to debunk in this novel?
I didn’t want to debunk a myth per se but more of a general attitude towards menstruation that is absent of respect, reverence and love toward a natural phenomenon that half of humanity experiences. Patriarchal and puritanical views of menstruation have created a culture of silence and shame that has hurt many and that needs to be dismantled. My intention was to show a world where respect, reverence and love for our cycles was the norm, the expectation, and a way to push back against the negative and hurtful attitudes we’ve endured.
One character in The Moon Within begins the process of transitioning during the novel as they explore their gender. Why is it important to discuss menstruation in the context of diverse gender identities?
This book was written for blooming menstruators of all genders. I wanted the blossoming of the main character (girlhood into womanhood) to mirror the blossoming of her best friend into his gender, a xochihuah. Each blossoming is a universe apart but similar in its impact and understanding of their own coming of age during a tender age.
Most of the people who menstruate are girls or women and sometimes menstruators are gender expansive. Though I don’t go into Marco’s specific experience with menstruation and only really hint at it because I didn’t think I could authentically tell that story as a cis gender woman, I wanted to include in the book the notion that bodies, regardless of gender, can and do bleed monthly so as to expand understanding for readers that menstruation is not only a woman’s experience. Also, I included La Chuyina, the trans feminine character to affirm that womanhood too, is not dependent on bleeding.
What I could speak to was how clumsy and wrong we can be when we aren’t good allies to our gender expansive friends. I sought to challenge readers, my community in particular, in our often-bigoted views. I used Mesoamerican philosophy to help us remember that our pre-colonial ideas of gender were more fluid than the binary that is dominant today. I saw an opportunity to show how one community used a different approach, one that was grounded in Mexica spirituality, to show compassion and respect for gender expansiveness.
Your first two published novels will both be MG verse novels. What do you find most compelling about this format? Do you always write poetry?
Poetry has been with me since my first writings as a teen. Though I also write prose, I always aim for my prose to be infused with poetry and lyricism. This is the kind of writing I like to read and find most intriguing -- writing that is rich in metaphor, and unusual phrasing, writing that enters the emotional essence of a character to show us a truth about humanity that we don’t often see. I love verse novels for these very same qualities. There is a tension at play between elements that poetry gives us (economy of words, metaphor, simile, form, white space, etc.) and the standard elements in crafting a story (conflict, plot, character arc, etc.) I love the hybridity of this space, I love this tension. With verse novels you can’t spend too much time waxing poetic because you do have a story to tell but you can bring the poetic point of view into every speech, action and plot point as you go. Verse novels are a wonderful space from which to tell a story that is unique, vulnerable and compelling at once.
Music plays such a big part of Celi’s journey. It wasn’t just a layer, but it connected to her journey of identity and history. Why was music so important? How did you work it into the text?
I’m a firm believer in the power of the arts (music, theater, dance, literature, visual art, etc.) to transform lives. Writing radically transformed mine. It gave me a connection to my history, developed my own spirituality, and gave me entry into many universes of understanding. I would argue that this is true for most practitioners of the arts. I wanted to show through Celi how dance and music are gateways to understanding, are cultural markers, identity builders, strength builders, and how ultimately, they are radical acts of love. I wanted to show readers that the arts, their own imaginations and expressions, are a wonderful place in which to find agency and strength.
What inspired you to write The Moon Within? And what do you hope readers will find in the story?
I was inspired to write The Moon Within as my eleven-year-old daughter began to ask questions about her changing body. As a Xicana feminist, I wanted to offer her a different way into the understanding of this important transformation than I had been given. I wanted her experience to be grounded in body-positive self-knowledge and self-love, in a connection to her ancestry, and the power that is inherent in all of that beauty. I’ve been a moon disciple for decades — marveling, exploring, and ritualizing our connection to her — through astrology, astronomy, spirituality, and the study of pre-colonial Mexican history. We held a ceremony to honor my daughter’s menstruation that was informed by this love of the moon. As a writer, I wanted to share our experience of this magical ritual through story with other children. While there are numerous nonfiction books about menstruation for middle grades, there is a gaping hole in fictional literature for this group. It is very likely (and I say this with a great amount of disbelief and grief) that The Moon Within is the first book in forty-seven years, since Judy Blume’s Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, to center menstruation in its narrative. It is the first (again, incredulously and sadly) to ever fictionally reflect menstruation from the Latinx perspective. I was very intentional about sharing ideas of the beauty and power of menstruation Mesoamerican traditions teach us that departed from the often-negative views of our current patriarchal and colonized society. I wanted to reframe the conversation around menstruation by showing what would happen if we, in fact, honored and revered these processes instead.
I was happy to see that Celi was a relatively early bloomer, and I think a lot of girls of color will relate to that. Did you ever consider a different age for Celi, and how did you settle on eleven?
Early bloomers walk on a tight rope of these two massively different worlds. It is difficult to be wholly a child and yet your body does these wild things. Breast buds, pubic hair, smelly pits, moon cylces – it is all the more confusing the younger you are. My daughter entered puberty early (much earlier than I did) and I found it necessary to try to demystify it age-appropriately so that she could understand it without fear. As I began to ask around, I discovered that many women I knew or in my family had started as early as nine! This further affirmed my resolve to keep Celi at eleven and to show that this tight rope can be walked successfully for someone that young.
Thank you so much for joining us in the conversation. To purchase THE MOON WITHIN, visit Booklandia (a Latina-owned online bookseller) or other independent bookstores as well as major retailers where books are sold.
Enter a comment below for your chance to win a signed copy of THE MOON WITHIN!
Happy new moon!