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
The offensive tradition? Teaching every 7th grader to square dance. Sounds innocent enough you say? Au contraire. While promenading and do-si-do-ing is fun to the grown-ups around her (in fact, Lupe’s mom remembers the moves and busts them out at the most embarrassing times), Lupe disagrees. Number one, square dancing isn’t cool. Number two, it’s not as athletic as climbing ropes or playing a sport. And what about the weird songs and lyrics? Lupe Wong is about to investigate!
Las Musas Books is thrilled to announce the first ever all-virtual Latinx KidLit Book Festival to be held on Friday, December 4th and Saturday, December 5th, 2020.
“It will be a celebration of Latinx books, authors and illustrators and the stories we hold dear,” said festival co-chair, author Mayra Cuevas. “We hope this event will bring joy to readers and educators everywhere.”
The festival’s program will include keynote events, live panels and Q&A sessions with Latinx authors and illustrators of picture books, middle grade and young adult novels, graphic novels and poetry.
“We want this festival to celebrate the vast spectrum of diverse experiences within the Latinx community,” said festival co-chair, author Alexandra Villsante. “Not only the stories of grief and loss, but also stories of love and joy, and everything in between.”
The festival is free and will be streamed live via Facebook and YouTube. Events will be available even after the festival has ended. Teaching guides and classroom resources will be available for educators on the festival’s website.
“Students, teachers and parents across the country have suffered great academic, economic and socio-emotional stress as a result of the pandemic,” said festival co-chair, author and pediatric doctor Ismee Williams. “Black and Hispanic communities have been the hardest hit. We want this festival to bring a little happiness to readers and ease the burden of educators and caregivers.”
“As authors and illustrators this is a way we can give back to our community,” said Cuevas. “Our talent as storytellers is our gift to share.”
A preliminary festival author lineup can be found on our website: LatinxKidLitBookFestival.com. The festival programming committee is now looking for panel submissions.
Details can also be found on the festival website.
The festival logo was designed by Latinx artist and illustrator Zara Gonzalez Hoang.
We are so excited to bring you an interview with Reina Luz Alegre, author of THE DREAM WEAVER!
First, here is a little bit about the book:
Twelve-year-old Zoey navigates the tricky waters of friendship while looking for a way to save her grandfather’s struggling business in this heartwarming, coming-of-age debut novel perfect for fans of Kristi Wientge, Donna Gephart, and Meg Medina.
Zoey comes from a family of dreamers. From start-up companies to selling motorcycles, her dad is constantly chasing jobs that never seem to work out. As for Zoey, she’s willing to go along with whatever grand plans her dad dreams up—even if it means never staying in one place long enough to make real friends. Her family being together is all that matters to her.
So Zoey’s world is turned upside down when Dad announces that he’s heading to a new job in New York City without her. Instead, Zoey and her older brother, José, will stay with their Poppy at the Jersey Shore. At first, Zoey feels as lost and alone as she did after her mami died. But soon she’s distracted by an even bigger problem: the bowling alley that Poppy has owned for decades is in danger of closing!
After befriending a group of kids practicing for a summer bowling tournament, Zoey hatches a grand plan of her own to save the bowling alley. It seems like she’s found the perfect way to weave everyone’s dreams together...until unexpected events turn Zoey’s plan into one giant nightmare. Now, with her new friends counting on her and her family’s happiness hanging in the balance, Zoey will have to decide what her dream is—and how hard she’s willing to fight for it.
Raquel Vasquez Gilliland: How did the concept of The Dream Weaver come to you?
Reina Luz Alegre: My focus while drafting The Dream Weaver (and almost everything I write!) was on the relationships. Main character Zoey's relationships with her relatives and her friends, and ultimately with herself. I love writing about relationships--the highs, the lows, the nuances, the evolutions.
How does the title tie into the story?
At twelve years old, with her brother going off to college soon, Zoey is starting to think seriously for the first time about how she may want her own life to unfold. She looks to her loved ones for examples, and finds her brother single-mindedly following his dream of becoming an engineer, while her irresponsible dad changes dreams almost as often as he changes socks, and her grandfather is on the verge of losing his life's work, his bowling alley business. But Zoey remembers her late mom and late abuela's determination, how hard they worked to weave their dreams into reality, and tries to channel their resourcefulness.
As a multiracial person, I really related to Zoey's feelings of being stuck between cultural identities, and not quite belonging to one or the other completely. I believe so many young adults and children will relate to this as well. How did you construct this part of Zoey's character and arc?
My mom and grandparents were born in Cuba, and I drew a lot on my own Cuban heritage in writing Zoey's. All the Spanish sayings in the book are drawn from my childhood, as well as little details peppered throughout--from the manzanilla tea Poppy drinks before bed to how hard he has always worked.
In The Dream Weaver, Zoey is second-generation Cuban and hasn't seen her grandpa very often since her mom passed away years before the book starts. She has felt disconnected for a long time from her Cuban heritage, which she associates with her mom's memory. She wants to connect more with her Cuban side through her maternal grandfather when she goes to live with him for the summer.
The awkwardness and wonderful-ness of making new friends as an adolescent were so on point! Did anyone in particular inspire Zoey's relationship with her new friend group-- Isa, Lacey, Patrick, and Tyler?
No one person specifically inspired any of the friends' characters, but I drew from various sources of inspiration to draft each one. For example, Patrick takes bowling so seriously, and I was inspired by the focused intensity of the kids in the youth bowling championships I watched for research when I was writing Patrick's character. With Lacey, I've personally had the experience so many times over where my first impression of a person's character is wrong or incomplete for some reason, and I wanted Zoey's first impression of Lacey to prove wrong too. I love it when clashing personalities form an unlikely friendship.
Zoey spends a large part of the book trying to save her abuelo's bowling alley. The alley setting was so vivid, I swear I could hear the squeaks of bowling shoes and the pins falling! What inspired this setting? Were you ever in a bowling league?
Thank you! I enjoyed bowling for fun with friends as a student, and was inspired by those bowling alleys and arcades and their retro charm. I was never in a bowling league, but I did watch a ton of professional and youth bowling tournaments for research and tried hard to incorporate as many multi-sensory details as possible so the reader would feel they were right there at Gonzo's bowling with Zoey and her pals!
I think it's so important to show menstruation on-page in Middle Grade novels. What inspired you to include this part of Zoey's journey to adulthood?
Menstruation is such a big part of many middle schoolers' experience. My favorite part of writing about Zoey's first period was when she asked Isa if she looked like she was wearing a diaper, because I'd definitely feared that when I put on my first pad for my first period! I was convinced everyone could see and would know and it would be awful (though like Zoey, thankfully they couldn't and didn't and it wasn't.) I think it's important for kids to find those kinds of insecurities and concerns reflected in books and know it's okay, you're not the only one worrying about that particular thing, whatever it is.
How did you choose the names of the characters? Do you look up meanings and histories of names, or do names just come to you?
I worked with my editor on most of the characters' names in The Dream Weaver. In general, my approach to naming characters varies. Sometimes I simply love a particular name. Sometimes the character just pops into my head already named, like "Hi, I'm Kevin!" Sometimes I use baby naming websites to look up name meanings, and often I'll look through what names were popular in the year I imagine a character would have been born.
Zoey moves around a lot, and so has never really felt at home anywhere in particular. Where do you feel most at home?
With my family in Florida and a gigantic cup of coffee.
How was the drafting and editing process of The Dream Weaver?
It was fun--I really enjoyed getting to know these characters and developing them further with each draft.
What is next for Reina Luz Alegre?
I have a few middle grade ideas, but right now I'm working on a YA romcom and trying not to let myself get distracted by other ideas until I'm done!
THE DREAM WEAVER is available from Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. THE DREAM WEAVER can also be added to Goodreads here!
Today, Las Musas celebrates the book birthday of Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon! This YA contemporary has received some amazing reviews and blurbs. Here are just a few:
“A thought-provoking tale about navigating race and immigration issues.” – Kirkus Reviews
“A funny, perceptive, and much-needed book telling a much-needed story.” —Celeste Ng, author of the New York Times bestseller Little Fires Everywhere
“Written with humor and grace, with intimacy and empathy, Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is the perfect coming of age novel for our time.” —Matt Mendez, author of Barely Missing Everything and Twitching Heart
First generation American LatinX Liliana Cruz does what it takes to fit in at her new nearly all-white school. But when family secrets come out and racism at school hits a fever pitch, she must decide what she believes in and take a stand.
Fifteen-year-old Liliana is fine, thank you very much. It’s fine that her best friend, Jade, is all caught up in her new boyfriend lately. It’s fine that her inner-city high school is disorganized and underfunded. It’s fine that her father took off again—okay, maybe that isn’t fine, but what is Liliana supposed to do? She’s fifteen! Being left with her increasingly crazy mom? Fine. Her heathen little brothers? Fine, fine, fine. But it turns out Dad did leave one thing behind besides her crazy family. Before he left, he signed Liliana up for a school desegregation program called METCO. And she’s been accepted.
Being accepted into METCO, however, isn’t the same as being accepted at her new school. In her old school, Liliana—half-Guatemalan and half-El Salvadorian—was part of the majority where almost everyone was a person of color. But now at Westburg, where almost everyone is white, the struggles of being a minority are unavoidable. It becomes clear that the only way to survive is to lighten up--whiten up. And if Dad signed her up for this program, he wouldn’t have just wanted Liliana to survive, he would have wanted her to thrive. So what if Liliana is now going by Lili? So what if she’s acting like she thinks she’s better than her old friends? It’s not a big deal. It’s fine.
But then she discovers the gutting truth about her father: He’s not on one of his side trips. And it isn’t that he doesn’t want to come home…he can’t. He’s undocumented and he’s being deported back to Guatemala. Soon, nothing is fine, and Lili has to make a choice: She’s done trying to make her white classmates and teachers feel more comfortable. Done changing who she is, denying her culture and where she came from. They want to know where she’s from, what she’s about? Liliana is ready to tell them.
And now, the Las Musas interview with author Jennifer De Leon, arranged by Nikki Barthelmess:
Raquel: How did you choose the characters' names?
What a unique question! Sometimes the names just come to me—like, she’s definitely Jade. Yup. She’s Jade. But other times I Google Latinx baby names from different years. And other times I go through a list of family members and that may spark some ideas.
Mia: There are so many walls that Liliana goes up against. As a writer how did you decide on which struggles would shape your character and their ecosystem? How do you build up the stress in order to move through it?
I knew that the main character, Liliana, would face many challenges as she tries to fit in at her new predominantly white high school in Westburg. There are the physical and practical challenges of getting to the school (an hour outside the city) and then the invisible or unspoken challenges. So there was a lot there in terms of potential conflict, but at the same time, I didn’t want to have every scene become one about “the struggle.” I also wanted to show her making friends and finding parts about Westburg and METCO that she actually likes, too. I guess I was aiming to show the complexity of this experience, the ecosystem as you say. And having micro-aggressions and “smaller” incidents eventually built up to the climax of the story in a way that (I hope!) was organic to the overall narrative.
Romina: Did you incorporate Spanish &/or Spanglish into Liliana’s story? What was your approach like & how did you strike a balance between staying true to how your characters would organically speak & also remaining accessible to non-Spanish speakers?
I did! It was important to me to show Liliana’s true world, and that definitely included speaking Spanish and Spanglish at different times, especially with her mother. A question I kept asking myself was—how would she really say this in real life? And that often helped me make choices on the page. That said, as you point out, I also wanted to remain accessible to non-Spanish speakers, so sometimes I would use an appositive or I would find a way to incorporate the meaning (not always a direct translation, but the meaning, the attitude, the energy, of a word or phrase) via an action or something similar in the next sentence or two.
Mia: What role does code-switching play in your novel?
Code-switching is a huge part of Liliana’s overall experience in the novel. She’s never really had to do that before the ‘now’ of the book, when she begins attending a new school in Westburg as part of the METCO program—a desegregation program that buses students from Boston to wealthier suburban schools on a daily basis. At first, she is overwhelmed by the mere notion of it. But as she grows and her character develops, she begins to understand the power in being able to speak more than one language, and the ways she can use language and her voice and yes, even code-switching, to her advantage. It’s a tricky balance because ultimately we must ask why there is a need to code-switch at all, but it is a reality and I wanted to depict that on the page.
Raquel: Does Liliana face internalized racism in her story arc? And if so, how did you approach this?
She does. Other characters in the book constantly make assumptions about her, her family, etc. Teachers, even well meaning ones, ask her if she needs a laptop. Her new friend’s mother asks her about her mother and mentions that her mother must be an excellent cook. Kids at school ask questions about gangs in Boston and things like that, so, yes, lots of micro-aggressions that result from internalized racism.
Mia: What was the hardest to write, but made you most proud in the end?
Great question. It was hard to write a scene where Liliana shares some backstory about her best friend in Boston named Jade. Jade’s father was physically and verbally abusive and in this particular scene he hits Jade and she accidentally falls onto a glass coffee table and it shatters. The girls are little at this point, and they were playing with Barbies, and the clothes and little plastic shoes fly everywhere. It was hard to write in the sense that it was emotionally draining. But I guess I am proud of having written it as a creative essay/prompt that Liliana writes in her English class at school. In this way, Liliana was clearly processing part of the past, in the present.
Raquel: How was the editing process of DON'T ASK ME WHERE I'M FROM?
Like running a marathon, then another, and another! No, really, it was a blessing to work with my editor, Caitlyn Dlouhy. She is a genius. A GENIUS. I learned so much about the craft of writing and the writing process throughout the many months we worked on revisions. It felt never-ending at times, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that much time when you think about it. The book will live on the shelf for a long time (I hope, forever!) and so it’s something you want to work hard on, to get it to be the best it can be.
Nikki: You have a background in publishing, as the editor of Wise Latinas (University of Nebraska Press), as well as contributing to literary journals. What has surprised you most about the publication process of DON’T ASK ME WHERE I’M FROM?
Because this is my YA debut, I really haven’t had any experience in the world of YA prior to the publication of this novel. I was a public school teacher for ten years and taught English Language Arts to teens, so I had experience in that way, and I taught Creative Writing to teens in various programs at the GrubStreet Creative Writing center in Boston over the years, but as far as the marketing and publicity and the specific conferences and social media channels for YA—wow. It was a crash course in learning about all things YA. But I began attending conferences and following authors and of course, reading a ton-ton-ton, and so in general I would say that what has surprised me is that YA can really cover anything and everything and it is really a space where conversations can continue to push topics and questions that are sometimes silenced in other arenas. In terms of my own specific publication process? I’ve been surprised—and so grateful—at the enthusiasm and support in the YA world, but of course specifically with my publisher.
Nikki: What question did we not ask that you wish we had? Do you have anything else you’d like readers to know?
This is the book I wish I could hand to my younger self.
And thank you for these amazing questions and the opportunity to be a part of Las Musas community!
You can order Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. Please add the book to Goodreads here!
We are SO THRILLED to celebrate the much-anticipated release of: Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland. It has received so many wonderful reviews and praise:
“Luminous, genre-bending, and out of this world.”-starred review, Kirkus
“…a genre-defying read that is certain to keep readers engaged.” -starred review, Publishers Weekly
“Her language exhibits a stunning fluidity, depicting time and space and even mortality as a sort of continuum.” -New York Times
“… a story that blends science fiction with Mexican folklore, all within a contemporary young adult novel that explores grief, friendship, immigration, consent, and the powerful bond between mother and daughter.” -School Library Journal
Here’s a little bit about the book:
Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe meets Roswell by way of Laurie Halse Anderson in this astonishing, genre-bending novel about a Mexican American teen who discovers profound connections between immigration, folklore, and alien life.
It’s been three years since ICE raids and phone calls from Mexico and an ill-fated walk across the Sonoran. Three years since Sia Martinez’s mom disappeared. Sia wants to move on, but it’s hard in her tiny Arizona town where people refer to her mom’s deportation as “an unfortunate incident.”
Sia knows that her mom must be dead, but every new moon Sia drives into the desert and lights San Anthony and la Guadalupe candles to guide her mom home.
Then one night, under a million stars, Sia’s life and the world as we know it cracks wide open. Because a blue-lit spacecraft crashes in front of Sia’s car…and it’s carrying her mom, who’s very much alive.
As Sia races to save her mom from armed-quite-possibly-alien soldiers, she uncovers secrets as profound as they are dangerous in this stunning and inventive exploration of first love, family, immigration, and our vast, limitless universe.
Las Musas is excited to celebrate the book birthday of Anika Fajardo’s What if a Fish!
About What if a Fish
A whimsical and unflinchingly honest generational story of family and identity where hats turn into leeches, ghosts blow kisses from lemon trees, and the things you find at the end of your fishing line might not be a fish at all.
"Poetic and believable. Multilayered and convincing, the book will have readers rooting for its sweet and smart protagonist." -- Kirkus
"Fajardo’s honest, heartfelt text evokes sorrow and grief but also understanding, navigating the many complexities of identity, friendship, family, loss, and death." -- Booklist
Half-Colombian Eddie Aguado has never really felt Colombian. Especially after Papa died. And since Mama keeps her memories of Papa locked up where Eddie can’t get to them, he only has Papa’s third-place fishing tournament medal to remember him by. He’ll have to figure out how to be more Colombian on his own.
As if by magic, the perfect opportunity arises. Eddie—who’s never left Minnesota—is invited to spend the summer in Colombia with his older half-brother. But as his adventure unfolds, he feels more and more like a fish out of water.
Figuring out how to be a true colombiano might be more difficult than he thought.
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