We are thrilled to celebrate the book birthday of QUIET NO MORE by Nikki Barthelmess!
But first, here is a little bit about the book:
QUIET NO MORE...
College freshman Victoria Parker is trying to move on with her life after surviving sexual assault by her father and six months in foster care. She's focusing on the positives--attending college, living on her own, repairing old relationships and making new ones, and getting involved with an abuse survivors activist group on campus. But everything's thrown into disarray when a strange woman shows up, claiming to be Victoria's aunt and asking Victoria to lie about what happened to her.
With her father's sentencing in a few months, she's nervous about having to share the truth of what happened with a judge. She's not even sure if she has the strength to go through with it. But when her fellow club members begin pressuring her to speak out, Victoria has to decide how to share her story while remaining true to herself.
Reina Luz Alegre: QUIET NO MORE is the sequel to THE QUIET YOU CARRY and picks up on Victoria Parker’s story, a sexual assault survivor. Can you tell us about the pressure Victoria feels both to keep quiet and to speak out about her assault?
Nikki Barthelmess: In THE QUIET YOU CARRY, initially Victoria stays silent for many reasons. At times, she’s in denial, feels ashamed, or wants to protect her father. Once Victoria realizes her stepsister Sarah has been hurt, too, she makes the painful decision to come forward about the abuse.
We pick up with Victoria’s story in QUIET NO MORE as she begins what she hopes is a new life for herself. She’s a college freshman focused on making new friends, and she joins a club that advocates for survivors of sexual harassment and assault. Despite Victoria’s efforts at prevention and advocacy, she struggles to write a victim impact statement that may affect her father’s sentencing. Although Victoria knows what her dad did to her was wrong, things get even more complicated after she learns he, too, was abused as a kid. Victoria wonders if she should downplay her father’s abuse so that he doesn’t suffer more in jail.
Survivors sometimes care deeply for those who hurt them. This is especially true if they were abused by a family member or a romantic partner. Victoria learned before that keeping quiet not only hurt herself, it also meant that her stepsister Sarah remained in a dangerous home. Although Victoria isn't to blame for her father's actions, she feels guilty for what happened to Sarah. In QUIET NO MORE, Victoria has to decide who she’s speaking up for (or not) and why.
Reina: How did the process of writing a college setting differ from writing a high school setting?
Nikki: Writing a high school setting is a lot of fun because there’s so much anxiety and conflict that seems to permeate that time of life. Everything is changing. Everything feels so important. Being a teenager is a lot, and all that tension gives structure to a story. Similarly, I can’t think of a time when things are more in flux than when someone first moves out on their own. When you move away for school, you have to learn so much outside of the classroom on how to live as an adult.
In QUIET NO MORE, as Victoria goes through a rough time, she reflects how before, under the strict rules of her foster mother, she wouldn’t be able to sit around and wallow. She’d have to clean the house or something. But now that she’s living on her own, she’s in charge of her own time and activities. Her friends live in different places—her best friend Christina moved to Washington, D.C. for college and her boyfriend Kale is still back home in high school. She’s making new friends and starting a new life for herself. So, basically everything is changing and Victoria doesn’t have her normal coping mechanisms, but she also has the freedom to make new ones. That is exciting but also daunting, so I tried to reflect that in the story.
Reina: Any tips for writers who aim to write about sensitive, serious or painful subjects?
Nikki: Whenever someone decides to write fiction that focuses on something sensitive, I think they should have a reason. Ask and answer an important question: Why am I the person who needs to tell this story? I’m not going to be the one to judge whether the reason is good, but I think writers should be careful about what stories we choose to tell, because there is the potential to do a lot of harm. When we share stories we have no business writing, we can hurt people who’ve lived the experiences we butcher. Additionally, we risk misinforming readers who don’t have an understanding of the subject matter.
I’m not saying you can only write about things that have happened to you, otherwise we’d all be memoir writers. My stories are fiction. I am inspired by some things from my life, and I create the rest. I also research and consult people who have experience with what I write about. My advice is to be open to feedback, even if it involves hearing something you might not want to hear. Taking that guidance will often make the story better.
So, my answer is to have a reason you should write the story, consult with others, and be open to correction.
Reina: What do you hope QUIET NO MORE will mean to readers?
Nikki: I don’t think people necessarily “get over” traumatic experiences, particularly being assaulted. I think our culture pushes people to move on in a way that encourages ignoring or trying to forget about pain. That retraumatizes people, in my opinion, and stunts healing. These kinds of experiences stay with survivors and shape who they become. That truth can be debilitating, but it can also be empowering.
I hope readers see that the path to healing can involve growth but also setbacks. It can involve helping others, but it doesn’t have to. I want readers to realize it takes courage to face pain but that it’s worth it. Most importantly, I want readers to believe there’s always hope.
Reina: Please tell us about any other writing project(s) or upcoming book(s)?
Nikki: My next book, EVERYTHING WITHIN AND IN BETWEEN, comes out in the fall of 2021 from HarperChildren’s. It follows biracial teen Ri Fernandez as she fights to reclaim her Mexican heritage and her connection with her absent mother from her strict immigrant grandmother, who has kept her from both. Like THE QUIET YOU CARRY, this book draws from some of my experiences. Like Ri, I’m biracial—part Mexican American and white. I experienced some of the insecurities and issues Ri has with her identity and am very close with my immigrant grandma. This story means so much to me, and I’m excited to share it with readers!
Thanks so much for your thoughtful questions, Reina!
QUIET NO MORE is available from Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon!
Nikki Barthelmess is an author of young adult books, including THE QUIET YOU CARRY (Flux, 2019), QUIET NO MORE (Flux, fall 2020), and EVERYTHING WITHIN AND IN BETWEEN (HarperChildrens, fall 2021). Nikki entered foster care in Nevada at twelve and spent the next six years living in six different towns. During this time, Nikki found solace in books, her journal, and the teachers who encouraged her as a writer. A graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno, Nikki lives in Los Angeles with her husband and her pride-and-joy Corgi pup.
Las Musas wishes Alexandra Alessandri, author of Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! the happiest of Book Birthdays! Read on for Zara González Hoang’s interview and learn all about the book, New Year’s traditions, and Alexandra’s writing process!
First, a bit about the book:
Ava Gabriela is visiting her extended family in Colombia for the holidays. She’s excited to take part in family traditions such as making bunuelos, but being around all her loud relatives in an unfamiliar place makes Ava shy and quiet. How will Ava find her voice before she misses out on all the New Year’s fun?
Kirkus awarded the book a starred review, saying “This gentle family story lets readers know that shyness is nothing to worry about.”
Now on to the interview!
I loved Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! It’s such a sweet story about tradition and family, and I could totally relate to Ava Gabriela’s feelings of shyness when meeting extended family she doesn’t often see!
Aw, thank you so much! I’m so glad you liked it!!
I have some questions from Las Musas and myself, so should we dive in?
Let’s do this! ☺
Why did you decide to tell this story? What was your inspiration? Was it based on personal experience or someone you know?
I have a lot of wonderful memories about my family and our New Year’s Eve celebrations. They were always so alegre and fun, and I loved the traditions I could count on every year, as well as the food, music, and dancing. I have a very musical family, so most of our gatherings involve guitars, cajones, güiros, and other instruments. During Storystorm 2018, I realized I really wanted to capture some of these details in a story. I wanted to show parts of Colombia that might not be generally known, and I absolutely wanted to counter a lot of the stereotypes I see about Colombia and Colombians.
At that point, I didn’t know who or what the story was about, though. The character and plot wouldn’t reveal themselves until New Year’s Eve that same year. We celebrated NYE with our friends and their shy young daughter, and she reminded me so much of myself as a kid. I was—and still am!—quite shy. But, as the fireworks swirled, our friends’ daughter burst out of her shell with so much joy that I remember turning to her and exclaiming, “You found your voice!” That’s when the pieces connected between the cultural thread and the emotional one.
What was your process? How did you go from idea to book? What did you feel was the hardest part? The easiest?
Usually, when I have an idea for a story, I do a lot of brainstorming on paper. I need to write the thoughts down as they come, without worrying whether or not they’ll make it into the draft. I’ll write a lot of “what if?” and “maybe” phrases as I try to get some semblance of plot. For Feliz New Year, I had already done some brainstorming about the cultural traditions, so after the New Year’s Eve scene above, I sat down with a title—Ava Finds Her Voice—and I started listing some of the character’s traits, like her shyness and her large family, as well as fun sayings in both English and Spanish about “voice” (i.e. still small voice, use your voice, hablar hasta por los codos, ¿Se te comieron la lengua los ratones?). In my brainstorming, I knew Ava would be searching for her voice so she could join in the NYE fun, though what that searching looked like changed a little throughout the writing and revision.
I think the hardest part was deciding which details to keep and which to let go. There were so many details I wanted to include about New Year’s Eve celebrations and about partaking in big family gatherings when you’re shy, but there was only so much I could keep!
The easiest part was the actual writing. This was one of my easiest stories to write, actually, perhaps because I’d already spent a lot of time letting it simmer that when I was ready, it poured out of me.
One of the other Musas, Raquel, always loves to know how people come up with their characters’ names, so, how did you? Are they named for someone in particular? Did you just find names that had the right sound or was it something completely different?
I tend to name characters after family and friends (though that’s not always the case). Ava is our friends’ daughter’s name, and I wanted to use a combination of a more “U.S. American” name mixed with a more “traditional” name, as often happens with second+ generation Latinx Americans. Tía Nena is my mom’s nickname in our family. Sarita and Pedro are relatives’ names.
Your book depicts such wonderful New Year’s traditions! There are a bunch of things Ava Gabriela’s family did that mine does as well, but also so many new things I had never heard of, like el Año Viejo! Did you grow up with these traditions? What is your favorite New Year’s tradition?
I did grow up with these traditions! The Año Viejo was one of my favorite as a kid, though back then, it was stuffed with newspapers or hay and the adults burned it at midnight. When I got older, the tradition evolved to make this more kid friendly. We started making them out of balloons so the kids could have a more active role in bringing in the new year. We also did the grapes, celebrated with music and dancing, and ate traditional foods! Most of all, New Year’s was a time for being with family. I loved those celebrations.
Aside from the Año Viejo, one tradition I loved that didn’t make it into the book was that of walking around the neighborhood at the stroke of midnight with luggage. The goal: To have a well-traveled year! I didn’t travel a lot as a kid because we didn’t have the means for it, so I always dreamed that making that trip around the neighborhood with my Hello Kitty luggage would bring a trip in the new year.
The other theme in your book is overcoming shyness, is this something that you dealt with as a child? Do you have any tips for children who feel shy at times?
Oh yes! I’m still shy, but as a kid, I was really shy, especially in new circumstances and among new people. I was also naturally curious so I guess the two balanced each other out. I think the biggest advice I have is what Ava’s Mamá tells her, “There’s nothing wrong with being shy. When you’re ready, your voice will come out and play.” For Ava, part of overcoming her shyness involves engaging one-on-one with her family doing things she loves. This is necessary for her to start feeling more comfortable in this new environment. And that’s okay.
Ok just a few final questions, first, a fun one! As an Illustrator, I always know what the illustrations will look like, but what is it like as an author to send your manuscript away and have it come back illustrated? What was your first reaction when you saw Addy’s beautiful art?
I was blown away by Addy’s art. I absolutely loved it!! All this time Ava and her family had lived in my head, and when I saw the first sketches and spreads, I wanted to cry with joy. Addy brought them life and captured the heart of the story and the setting in such a beautiful and colorful way. Ava is adorable (in fact, all the characters are!). The illustrations of the finca, too, are some of my favorite. She really captured the feel of a finca in the Colombian Andes, as well as the celebratory mood of the story.
And now for a slightly more serious question, what do you hope readers will take away from your book?
In many ways, Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! is an ode to my culture and to shy kids everywhere. I hope readers take away that it’s okay to be shy, it’s okay to let your voice come out and play on its own terms. I also want Colombian kids to see themselves on these pages—I know I still get so excited when I find my culture in books here in the U.S., so I want them to know they matter. And, to those who aren’t Colombian, I want them to see the beauty of Colombian culture that is separate from all the negative stereotypes out there.
And finally, what’s next? Are you working on anything now that you can share?
My second book, Isabel and Her Colores Go to School, is set to release fall 2021 from Sleeping Bear Press as a bilingual picture book, and it’s being illustrated by Courtney Dawson. It’s about a little girl who’s starting school but who doesn’t speak English and who has to find creative ways to bridge the language barrier. It’s also loosely based on my experiences of starting kindergarten in New York while speaking only Spanish.
Buy Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriel!
About Alexandra Alessandri:
Alexandra Peñaloza Alessandri is a Colombian-American poet, professor, and children's author. She received her BA and MA degrees in English from Florida International University and a Certificate of Fiction from UCLA Extension. Her poetry has appeared in The Acentos Review, Rio Grande Review, YARN, and Atlanta Review, while her picture books FELIZ NEW YEAR, AVA GABRIELA! (Albert Whitman) and ISABEL AND HER COLORES GO TO SCHOOL (Sleeping Bear Press) are forthcoming in 2020 and 2021, respectively. When not writing or teaching, Alexandra spends her time daydreaming, playing the piano, and planning the next great adventure with her family. She lives in Florida with her husband, son, and hairless pup, dreaming of Colombia.
We are so excited to celebrate the book birthday of BLAZEWRATH GAMES by Amparo Ortiz! But first, a little bit about the book:
Dragons and their riders compete in an international sports tournament in this alternate contemporary world fantasy
Lana Torres has always preferred dragons to people. In a few weeks, sixteen countries will compete in the Blazewrath World Cup, a tournament where dragons and their riders fight for glory in a dangerous relay. Lana longs to represent her native Puerto Rico in their first ever World Cup appearance, and when Puerto Rico’s Runner―the only player without a dragon steed―is kicked off the team, she’s given the chance.
But when she discovers that a former Blazewrath superstar has teamed up with the Sire―a legendary dragon who’s cursed into human form―the safety of the Cup is jeopardized. The pair are burning down dragon sanctuaries around the world and refuse to stop unless the Cup gets cancelled. All Lana wanted was to represent her country. Now, to do that, she’ll have to navigate an international conspiracy that’s deadlier than her beloved sport.
Chantel Acevedo: You've taken contemporary YA fantasy and given it such a unique spin in BLAZEWRATH GAMES. I think much of what makes this book so great is that even though it has so many magical elements, it's still very much rooted in a real and contemporary world. Can you tell us a little about how you arrived at this approach?
Amparo Ortiz: Thank you for your kind words! I always knew I wanted to write about our world with magic in it, that it wouldn't be a secret from non-magic users, and that dragons lived among us peacefully (for the most part, lol). It just took about two years to figure out how the magical community and dragons coexisted with us, and how this magical sport I kept brainstorming would finally make sense on the page. But after watching 2014's FIFA World Cup, it all clicked instantly. I knew how the sport would be played, and I understood the complexities of being a non-magic user in a world that idolizes wizards and dragons. After several drafts later, I'm thrilled to share the result with readers.
Chantel: The world you've built is rich and wide and thrilling! What was the world-building process like?
Amparo: Long, lol! I had to figure out why there were dragons playing sports, for starters. Then I had to tackle the dragons themselves--how would they differ from one another? That's where nationalities came into play. I wanted dragons to only Bond--or form a psychic and emotional connection--with humans from their countries of origin. Once I realized that, I researched the countries I wanted to feature in the Blazewrath World Cup, and kept an eye out for specific cultural markers that would make their dragon species unmistakably theirs.
Figuring out the wizarding lore was the easiest. I literally sat down to write a scene near the beginning, where my main character is visiting a wand shop, and she's getting on an elevator. I wrote down three different types of wands for magic users to purchase and wield--Copper, Silver, and Gold. I don't even remember thinking any of that through during the first draft. It was like my brain always knew what kind of magic system I wanted regarding wand usage and the limits within each magical status.
Lastly, I went deeper with the historical tidbits! Each chapter opens with an epigraph that relates to either specific dragon lore or the growth of Blazewrath as a phenomenon through the years. This was by far my favorite part to brainstorm!
Chantel: The book renders Lana's feelings about being part of the Puerto Rican diaspora in a way that felt really genuine. It's a topic you don't often see in fantasy literature, but I think the pairing is a strong one. Was it challenging to put these elements together?
Amparo: It was challenging because I'm not part of the diaspora, so I wrote from an outsider's perspective. However, in terms of personality and how much I treasure my country, Lana and I are the same. I anchored her voice in longing for a life that's been denied to her, and the unapologetic drive to chase after it. Everything that revolved around her reconnecting with her roots also felt like I was doing it, too, even though I still live in Puerto Rico. There's a lot that can be said about living in a colony that's heavily influenced by the U.S., and how you're constantly feeling like you're at home and in a stranger's house at the same time. Writing about otherness within one's marginalization was very important for me to represent through Lana's journey. It's by no means the one and only experience regarding this topic, but I hope it adds to the conversation.
Chantel: I enjoyed the snippets from "historical record" at the start of each chapter. What was the process of coming up with those? Do you have an enormous book bible secreted away somewhere with more material??
Amparo: I do have a secret epigraph bible!! There are actually a few more epigraphs that I had to either cut or replace, so they live in a Word document that only I have ever seen! Those were suggested by my editor, Ashley Hearn, long before I ever began my formal submission process to publishing houses. Ashley was like, "I love your world so much and I want to know MORE. How can you make this happen?", and so I toyed with the idea of adding those tidbits at the beginning of every chapter. The real challenge was choosing what and how much of that to add, but once I understood what the chapter was centered around, it was a pretty straightforward process.
Chantel: If you had a magic wand and could turn YOURSELF into a dragon, what kind of dragon would you be?
Amparo: I LOVE THIS QUESTION. Can I be a special edition Sol de Noche dragon with metallic pink horns??? And instead of just shooting flames like a normal dragon, I can also fire off glitterballs into my opponent's eyes!
You can purchase BLAZEWRATH GAMES from Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon!
Amparo Ortiz was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, but she currently lives on the country’s northeastern coast. She holds a B.A. in Psychology, an M.A. in English, and a Ph.D. in celebrity gossip. When she’s not teaching ESL to her college students, she’s teaching herself Korean, on the constant hunt for pizza and Twizzlers, and writing about Latinx characters in worlds both contemporary and fantastical. Her short story comic, “What Remains In The Dark,” appears in the Eisner-winning PUERTO RICO STRONG, a comics anthology contributing to post-Hurricane María relief efforts (Lion Forge, 2018). Her middle grade graphic novel, SAVING CHUPIE, is forthcoming from HarperCollins in 2022.
We are incredibly excited to announce our newest Hermanas!
Las Hermanas is a selection-based 6-month mentorship program for traditionally unpublished Latinx kidlit writers and illustrators which connects aspiring writer/illustrators with current Musas and Madrinas.
The below Hermanas are working in the fields of picture book, middle grade, and young adult with projects as varied and complex as the writers themselves.
Meet the Fall 2020 (Oct 1-March 1, 2020) Hermanas...
Andrea Beatriz Arango - Instagram
Judith Valdes Breidenstine - Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Website
Norma Cárdenas - Twitter | Instagram
Angela Peña Dahle - Twitter | Website
Nathalie Djurdjevic - Twitter | Instagram
Maria Dones - Twitter
Sara Andrea Fajardo - Twitter
Indiana Ferrera - Twitter | Instagram | Website
Andrea Floren - Instagram | Website
Mona Alvarado Frazier - Twitter
Irena Freitas - Twitter | Instagram | Website
Cat Galeano - Twitter | Instagram
Merce Garcés - Instagram | Website
Maria Ally Gil - Twitter | Instagram
Romy Natalia Goldberg - Twitter | Website
Rachel S. Hobbs Gunn - Twitter | Website
Luisa Leal - Instagram | Website
Yeneisy Piñeiro - Twitter | Instagram
Lemny Pérez, M.A.,Psy.D - Instagram
Vanessa Ramos - Twitter | Instagram | Website
Mabelle Reynoso - Twitter | Instagram
Elba Luz Rosado - Twitter
Paola Santos - Twitter | Facebook
Ellen Armendáriz Stumbo - Twitter | Facebook | Website
Katherine Trejo - Instagram
Silvia Rodriguez Vega -Twitter | Website
Las Musas Speak
Welcome to our blog!