I’m so excited to share the newest Las Musas debut, Tehlor Kay Mejia’s We Set The Dark on Fire. Tehlor and I met on social media as querying writers. We both live in Oregon and have become great friends. For this post, we decided to do a version of what we do most days—chat about books and life and politics and writing. As a starting point, I pulled a tarot card, concentrating on Tehlor’s amazing journey with this amazing book.
TEHLOR: Hi. I’m so excited
MICHELLE: Me too!!! I'm thinking about your book and I can't believe it's really out in the world.
TEHLOR: I honestly can't believe it either, it's so surreal.
MICHELLE: So I drew a card for you and it's the Queen of Wands! Which is kind of on the nose but really amazing!
TEHLOR: Right?? Very on the nose but also I'm so glad. It feels pretty optimistic…
MICHELLE: YES! She’s one of my favorite cards. So, the wands to me are about instinct and will. How does that resonate with you when you think about your journey with We Set The Dark on Fire?
TEHLOR: I feel like this journey has been almost PURE instinct and will for me, which is why I'm laughing about this card. There was kind of no indication in my life leading up to writing this book that what's happening now was possible, so a lot of it was based on trusting my instincts and having faith in myself and my work and being willing to push forward despite overwhelming odds and obstacles.
MICHELLE: If you look back, can you find the seed of that in your life before you became a writer? Where does that come from in you?
TEHLOR: I think I've always been a really determined person. I don't think it comes from a place of confidence necessarily, because that's something I've always struggled with, so it's probably more akin to stubbornness. The more the world seems set up to block me from doing something, the more determined I become to do it. In that sense, I guess this is the perfect business for me.
MICHELLE: That makes sense! Another aspect of the Queen is that she's an icon of personal power and sexuality, which is so perfect for We Set The Dark of Fire. What was it like to write a character like Dani, who is so reserved?
TEHLOR: I think a lot of writing Dani was based on my experience as a teen. I was really insecure about how I looked, but I got a lot of positive validation from the people around me for being smart and focused, so I traded one thing for the other. I thought if I could be smart enough and driven enough and perform well enough, I could somehow make up for needing to be validated in those other ways, and society was all-too eager to reinforce that by putting me in the "smart girl" box where you're kind of weirdly desexualized. Obviously, Dani's categorization is much more external because of the way Medio's society is set up, but I think there's the same sense of leaning into one set of expectations to try to shut down your desire to be seen as a sexual being. That can't last forever though, as Dani and I both eventually found out.
MICHELLE: I love how that binary shows up in the Primera/Segunda roles of the wife pairs in We Set the Dark on Fire. Externalizing that dichotomy into two wives who ultimately fall in love was a beautiful example of both how fractured we are by the patriarchy and how we can begin to move past it. Did you know right away that this book was going to be a love story as well as a speculative novel about patriarchy and class?
TEHLOR: Thank you! I did always know it was going to be a romance, but the players changed a little from the first conception of the story to the way it is now. I knew that a sexual and romantic awakening was going to be a big part of Dani's journey, but initially (I'll blame it on heteronormative socialization) I thought it would be her and her husband who fell in love. It took almost no time at all once I started developing Carmen as a character for me to realize she and Dani were the real love story, which left me free to explore toxic masculinity with Mateo without having to find a way to redeem him. I do love that you picked up on Dani and Carmen as two fractured parts of the feminine whole destroyed by the patriarchy, though. I hope their love story shows that even if you don't have a lover to show you the other side, we can bring those disparate parts of ourselves together and heal what a patriarchal society has broken in us.
MICHELLE: I love that! That’s totally the way I see it, too—as a story about finding wholeness. So finally, circling back to the Queen of Wands, when this card shows up in a reading, I'm excited because it shows someone really coming into their power. I've been thinking about the idea of personal sovereignty a lot lately and this regal image in connection with both the story of We Set The Dark on Fire and your journey as a writer feels perfect to me. During the time I've known you, you've had an explosion of personal growth and professional accomplishment. Was there something specifically empowering about becoming an author and writing this book? And what do you hope readers will take away?
TEHLOR: I think I've spent a lot of my life feeling small, as a result of other people diminishing me, and as a result of diminishing myself to fit into dynamics and relationships that didn't allow me the space to be fully myself. There was something about the process of writing this particular book, and the life stuff that was happening to me at the time -- divorce, moving, family stuff -- that made it sort of impossible to stay small anymore. I resisted it at first, as I think a lot of people do. It felt scary to step into it all and embrace it. But I do think exploring this story on the page and bringing these girls through their own transformations was really personal for me in a way I'm just now starting to understand.
As far as what I hope readers will take away, I hope people see that young women are too nuanced and fierce and complex to be reduced to the stereotypes they're so commonly associated with. I hope they see the power in being a girl when you really embrace all that it means to be one. But honestly, I really just hope every young woman who reads and enjoys this book finds one little thing she needs. Something that makes her feel braver or stronger or more seen. That's the best outcome I could possibly hope for.
MICHELLE: Thank you for doing this, Tehlor! I’m so excited for the world to meet Dani and Carmen and can’t wait to see what other adventures are ahead for you. Congratulations on your debut!
You can buy your copy of WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE at your local bookstore or online!
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