We are so happy to welcome our newest YA novel to Las Musas bookshelves! Salty, Bitter, Sweet by Mayra Cuevas is now available.
All about this delicious YA contemporary romance...
Aspiring chef Isa’s family life has fallen apart after the death of her Cuban abuela and the divorce of her parents. She moves in with her dad and her new stepmom, Margo, in Lyon, France, where Isa feels like an outsider in her father’s new life. Isa balances her time between avoiding the awkward, “why-did-you-cheat-on-Mom” conversation with figuring out how a perpetually single woman can at least be a perpetually single chef.
The upside of Isa’s world being turned upside-down? Her father’s house is located only 30 minutes away from the restaurant of world-famous Chef Pascal Grattard, who runs a prestigiously competitive international kitchen apprenticeship. The prize job at Chef Grattard’s renowned restaurant also represents a transformative opportunity for Isa who is desperate to get her life back in order—and desperate to prove she has what it takes to work in an haute kitchen. But Isa’s stress and repressed grief begin to unravel when the attractive, enigmatic Diego shows up unannounced with his albino dog.
How can Isa expect to hold it together when she’s at the bottom of her class at the apprenticeship, her new stepmom is pregnant, she misses her abuela dearly, and things with the mysterious Diego reach a boiling point?
Laura Taylor Namey interviewed Mayra about the novel...
Isabella is such a complex, driven character with a rich background. What was it like creating her? Was she inspired by anyone you know?
Isa was inspired by a girl I went to school with in Puerto Rico. Her dad was from the Island, but her mother was French. From the outside, it seemed like she was always straddling the line between these two worlds. As I plotted Isa’s journey, I also looked at my own life to inspire the relationship between her parents and the deep bond with her abuela. Like Isa, I was very driven in high school, college and later in my career. It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t have to measure myself by others’ definition of success. Instead, I needed to figure out what was important to me in order to find out what would make me happy.
The descriptions of France and Spain are absolutely gorgeous throughout this book. Have you been to these countries? Please share your process for making your setting come alive.
Thank you! Yes, I have. During a summer in college, I went backpacking through Europe for a month. I visited cities in Spain, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Czechia, Austria and Italy. It was so much fun and I quickly fell in love with the continent. I’ve gone back and revisited several cities over the years but I have never been to Lyon, France where the book is set. In order to write the scenes set in this city, I had to comb through dozens of travel photos and videos. I also read multiple travel blogs and had a “France expert” read the manuscript to make sure everything was accurate.
Reading parts of Salty, Bitter, Sweet make you feel like you’re right there inside a working restaurant kitchen. What was your research like for this aspect of your book? Would you call yourself a foodie?
I’m totally a foodie! That’s why this was my favorite thing to research when writing this book!
I got to spend time with the amazing Carla Tomasko, the pastry chef at Bacchanalia, one of Atlanta’s top restaurants. She served as my guide through the workings of a real high-end kitchen. Carla shared her story of working in a male-dominated environment as a woman and an immigrant from Ecuador. We also talked about the influence her Latin roots have had in her craft. I also read 32 Yolks: From My Mother's Table to Working the Line by Veronica Chambers and Eric Ripert and watched documentaries like Pressure Cooker and Three Stars.
Tell us about how Diego came alive for you. What makes him the perfect counterpart to Isa in your mind and heart?
The relationship between Diego and Isa was inspired by Josh and Cher in Clueless. I love that movie! When plotting Salty, Bitter, Sweet, I needed the love interest to completely upend Isa’s world — from the inside. As a result, Isa’s neurosis has nowhere to hide. Eventually, she is forced to confront the ugly parts of who she is becoming under the extreme pressures of the kitchen and the cooking competition. Diego brings balance to her world and helps her reconnect with her true self.
Can you share a bit about the personal family or cultural details you drew upon to create your story?
When I was a teenager, my parents went through a long and excruciating divorce. It was a time of deep confusion, anger and disappointment. While Salty, Bitter, Sweet is a work of fiction, the feelings that are part of Isa’s internal landscape are very much my own. I also used the relationship with my abuelos to create Isa’s relationship with Lala, since during my parents’ divorce, I relied on them for love and support. To this day, the love of my abuelos means the world to me.
What was the editorial process like for Salty, Bitter, Sweet?
I was very lucky that Salty, Bitter, Sweet got picked up by Blink/HarperCollins shortly after we went on submission, thanks to the work of my fairy madrina agent Saritza Hernandez. My amazing editor (now agent) Hannah VanVels worked with me on two rounds of edits. Then my copyedits bruja Jacque Alberta took over and did her magic to make the book print ready. This process took between 4-5 months — and six years in the making! As a debut author, everything is new, exciting but also terrifying. Most of the time I’m second guessing myself or battling “not good enough” syndrome — a real condition in the writing world. But the best part has been finding an amazing community of other writers like Las Musas and my local community of Atlanta writers.
Can you share what’s next for you, or a bit about what you’re working on now?
I am about to go on submission with another YA novel that I’ve co-written with my dear friend and author Marie Marquardt. It tackles themes of intersectional feminism, high school dress codes, and racism. Also, my short story Resilient will be published as part of the anthology FORESHADOW: The Magic of Reading & Writing YA (Algonquin Young Readers) in the fall.
About Mayra Cuevas...
Mayra Cuevas was born and raised in Puerto Rico and now lives in Norcross, GA. She works as a special projects producer for CNN and keeps her sanity by practicing Modern Buddhism and meditation, and serving on the Board of Directors of Kadampa Meditation Center Georgia. Her husband, also a CNN producer, and her two step-sons provide plenty of inspiration for her stories. Her claim to fame came as her family appeared in Buying and Selling with the Property Brothers. Mayra has a Bachelors in Communications from Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in San Juan, PR and a Masters in Investigative Reporting from Florida International University. Follow her journey on Twitter @MayraECuevas, on Instagram @Mayra.Cuevas and her website MayraCuevas.com.
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