MIA GARCIA: I’ve been a fan of Jenny Torres Sanchez’s writing since The Fall of Innocence tore my heart out two years ago. I’ve been a fan of Jenny since way before that, when I met her during the whirlwind that is NYC Teen Author Festival.
Since then Jenny has joined as a Madrina! She is a kind and incredibly thoughtful person both in life and in her writing; which is why I wanted to ask some fellow Musas to take a moment to gush about her heart wrenching new novel, We Are Not From Here.
Below, NoNieqa Ramos (The Truth Is), Yamile Saied Méndez (On These Magic Shores), Alexandra Villasante (The Grief Keeper), and I (Mia García, The Resolutions) discuss what makes We Are Not From Here a stunning novel, why we need it, and why you need to read it... but first a little bit about the novel:
Interview: Rocky Callen
We are thrilled to celebrate the book birthday of A Breath Too Late by Rocky Callen! A Breath Too Late has received some incredible reviews and blurbs. Here are just a few:
“Bittersweet and haunting.” ― Booklist
“A memorable, hopeful story of regret.” ― Kirkus Reviews
“A haunting story of suffering, punctuated with brilliant points of hope and light. This is an important story. A necessary story for so many countless people who need to know they are not alone in their pain. Callen’s writing radiates with passion, honesty and love.” ― An Na, National Book Award finalist and Printz award winning author
“Achingly poignant...a love letter and life raft to the broken-hearted.” ― Alison McGhee, NYT bestselling author
"An exquisitely played love song to life, in all of its hurts, wonders, memories, and loves. This book will remind you that you are needed, in this big and often messy world." ― Jeff Zentner, Morris Award winning author of The Serpent King and Goodbye Days
"Absolutely devastating and yet hauntingly beautiful, A Breath Too Late is a poignant and timely debut from an incredibly gifted author." ― Isabella Ogbolumani, Buffalo Street Books
And here is a little bit about the book:
For fans of Girl in Pieces, All the Bright Places, and Girl, Interrupted comes a haunting and breathtaking YA contemporary debut novel that packs a powerful message: hope can be found in the darkness.
Seventeen-year-old Ellie had no hope left. Yet the day after she dies by suicide, she finds herself in the midst of an out-of-body experience. She is a spectator, swaying between past and present, retracing the events that unfolded prior to her death.
But there are gaps in her memory, fractured pieces Ellie is desperate to re-assemble. There's her mother, a songbird who wanted to break free from her oppressive cage. The boy made of brushstrokes and goofy smiles who brought color into a gray world. Her brooding father, with his sad puppy eyes and clenched fists. Told in epistolary-like style, this deeply moving novel sensitively examines the beautiful and terrible moments that make up a life and the possibilities that live in even the darkest of places. Perfect for fans of the critically-acclaimed Speak, I’ll Give You the Sun, and If I Stay.
And now, the Las Musas interview with author Rocky Callen, arranged by NoNieqa Ramos:
From Mia: Can you talk about how you approach writing difficult and complex topics like depression in your novel?
My mission in writing A BREATH TOO LATE was to make sure to strip depression and suicide of the glamour that often media cloaks it with. I wanted to show the raw ache of both by being honest about the experience. The first draft of the novel was the most explicit and as time went on, I researched, leaned on professionals, and sensitivity readers to make sure the story and prose remained true to the experience while not being gratuitous in its portrayal. I wrote about the experience of writing and revising Breath and also gave ideas for others writing their own stories in the We Need Diverse Books blog with my post “Writing Responsibly About Mental Health and Suicide in Children’s Fiction.”
At the heart of it, I think we must be honest and sensitive and fiercely compassionate as we approach these with our stories (and ourselves) every step of the way.
From Raquel: I always LOVE to hear about how authors choose character names!
I love picking names! Ellie’s name means ‘light’ and I wanted her to be symbolic of being a light in her own life even when she doesn’t realize it. Regina means queen and I wanted to underscore how we can give our power away in toxic relationships AND reclaim it with our choices moving forward. Abel was a name that actually had a lot of significance originally to Ellie, but that thread in the story line was cut before submitting to editors. The idea that sometimes the good son can have Cain fists and the world wouldn’t even know it. August’s name chose itself. When he appeared on the page (I’m a panster), his name appeared and so did the next line: “I kind of like the fact that his name is a month of the year, a month of sunlight, humid air, lightning bugs, last parties, beach trips, and my birthday.” And since that very first draft, his name has never changed.
From Alexandra: I'm always intrigued at what inspired authors to write their stories. How did the idea for A BREATH TOO LATE start? What was the spark that brought it to life?
I wrote the first page as a flash fiction piece I posted on World Suicide Prevention Day. Someone asked me if it was going to be my novel and my first reaction was a hard, visceral NO. It felt too intimate, too raw for me to hold. But over time, the story kept tapping on my heart. The book started almost as a love letter to the girl I once was who almost made the same choice Ellie made and as a reminder of all that I could (or would lose) if I ever did. I faced my own depression that I had long locked behind closed doors with the mask of productivity and accomplishment, the childhood memories that we kept secret, and the grief of all those I have lost to suicide over the years. I wrote the first draft in just over a week, sobbing every step of the way. Over time, the story evolved and took on its own heart and wings, but at first it was a reclaiming of so much of what I had kept in the dark myself.
From Francesca: What were some challenges you encountered while writing in your unique frame (epistolary-style, a character having an out-of-body experience, etc)?
I actually found the POV and epistolary format for this novel to be very organic and natural to write. It is just what came out from the very first draft. Unlike other stories that have a “ghost”, Ellie has no influence or impact on her environment. She is simply there to bear witness to the life she lived and lost. The novel also jumps between past and present and I think that is where I had to really spend more time teasing out the bridges between those moments and also be more explicit about the significance of Ellie retracing her own memories on the page so the reader could follow in a meaningful way.
From Nikki: How does writing heavy material affect you? Do you have any tips on how to take care of yourself while writing? (I ask as someone who is trying to figure this out myself!)
It impacts me tremendously. The last few years have been full of heavy material projects that all have a level of intimacy to me that feels very raw and vulnerable. I am learning my own routines of self care, but tend to work best by going ALL IN and writing as much as quickly as possible so then I can completely step away for a time. I need substantial breaks and bright, luminous, playful things to anchor me along the way. Meditation and journaling (I do daily), music, unplugged time, fun reading, and family activities all help. I think the biggest thing for me as I write things that are heavy or painful or vulnerable is to acknowledge that I am here to tell this story and that is not something to take for granted. I am here and that matters. I am here and this story will unfold as not only it needs to, but as I need it to.
You can order A Breath Too Late at Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. Please add the book to Goodreads here!
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