Join us in celebrating THE ENCHANTED LIFE OF VALENTINA MEJIA book birthday! We sat down with debut Musa Alexandra Alessandri to learn all about the inspiration behind this book.
But first, a little bit about The Enchanted Life of Valentina Mejía:
Twelve-year-old Valentina wants to focus on drawing the real world around her and hopefully get into art school in Bogotá one day, but Papi has spent his life studying Colombia’s legendary creatures and searching for proof of their existence. So when Papi hears that a patasola—a vampire woman with one leg—has been sighted in the Andes, Valentina and her younger brother Julián get dragged along on another magical creature hunt.While they’re in the Andes, a powerful earthquake hits. Valentina and Julián fall through the earth…and find an alternate Colombia where, to Valentina’s shock, all the legends are real.
To get home, Valentina and Julián must make a treacherous journey to reach this land’s ruler: the madremonte, mother and protector of the earth. She controls the only portal back to the human world—but she absolutely hates humans, and she’ll do anything to defend her land.
Where did you get the idea to write this story?
The idea for The Enchanted Life of Valentina Mejía came from a mashup of the stories from my childhood—filled with mano peludas, brujitas, patasolas, duendes, and other creatures—and my experiences of visiting my family’s farms in Colombia during our summer vacations, complete with hikes through jungles and diving off waterfalls or wading in lagoons. As I turned these details around, I couldn’t help noticing the increase in natural disasters happening around the world, like earthquakes and hurricanes, and the news surrounding the deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Then, my cousin gifted me a documentary called Colombia: Magia salvaje, about the beauty of Colombia’s flora and fauna and the dangers they face every day—and everything just clicked into place after that.
What was the most difficult scene to write in this story?
The most difficult scene to get right in this story was the opening. It went through so many revisions! At first, I envisioned the “real world” part of the story to be historical, a nod to the violence of the 80s and 90s Colombia that effectively put an end to my visits. But it wasn’t working, so I rewrote it as contemporary. Even then, though, I was having trouble creating an active opening that could capture the reader’s attention, foreshadow what was to come, and work within the realm of the novel as a whole. There was a prologue for a short period of time, but that got cut as well. Finally, I wrote the current version, and it was the perfect opening that kept eluding me.
What was your favorite part of the publication process with this story?
My favorite part of the whole publication process was the initial call I had with my editor at Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Sophia Jimenez! This story had gone through deep, existential growing pains, and there were times where I didn’t think I’d ever get it right or that it would ever get published. So when Sophia asked for a phone call, I couldn’t believe it! She was so excited about the story, too, and she completely got the characters, the world, and what I was trying to do. I will never forget her enthusiasm for Valentina’s story.
What comes next for you as an author?
I have three books releasing in 2024: My next middle grade with Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Grow Up, Luchy Zapata, the story of 11-year-old Luchy whose middle school dreams go up in a poof of glitter when her BFF returns from a summer in Colombia and ditches her for the cool kids, leaving Luchy to figure out who she is and where she belongs; a new picture book, Lupita’s Hurricane Palomitas, releasing from Beaming Books, about a girl who channels her worry about an impending hurricane into caring for a pair of abandoned baby pigeons; and a short story in the YA anthology in verse All the Love Under the Vast Sky, coming from Nancy Paulsen Books.
What 3 recommendations would you give writers who are starting out?
(1) Don’t be afraid of rejection and don’t let it keep you from pursuing your dreams.
(2) Read a lot and work on your craft. The more you read and write, the stronger your storytelling and writing becomes.
(3) If something’s not working, try taking a break and then coming back to it from a different angle. Sometimes it takes a ton of rewriting and writing multiple versions to find the right version of what you’re trying to convey.
Alexandra Alessandri is the award-winning author of several books for children, including Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!, Isabel and Her Colores go to School, The Enchanted Life of Valentina Mejía, and Lupita's Hurricane Palomitas. The daughter of Colombian immigrants, she is also an educator and a poet. Alexandra lives in Florida with her husband and son.
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