On this new moon, we are delighted to share a conversation Las Musas had with Aida Salazar about her just released debut book, THE MOON WITHIN. But first, enjoy this slide show of Las Musas' love for the book. Read till the end and comment for your chance to receive a signed copy of The Moon Within!
This book deals with menstruation, which many adults are still reluctant to discuss openly. What is one menstruation myth you absolutely wanted to debunk in this novel?
I didn’t want to debunk a myth per se but more of a general attitude towards menstruation that is absent of respect, reverence and love toward a natural phenomenon that half of humanity experiences. Patriarchal and puritanical views of menstruation have created a culture of silence and shame that has hurt many and that needs to be dismantled. My intention was to show a world where respect, reverence and love for our cycles was the norm, the expectation, and a way to push back against the negative and hurtful attitudes we’ve endured.
One character in The Moon Within begins the process of transitioning during the novel as they explore their gender. Why is it important to discuss menstruation in the context of diverse gender identities?
This book was written for blooming menstruators of all genders. I wanted the blossoming of the main character (girlhood into womanhood) to mirror the blossoming of her best friend into his gender, a xochihuah. Each blossoming is a universe apart but similar in its impact and understanding of their own coming of age during a tender age.
Most of the people who menstruate are girls or women and sometimes menstruators are gender expansive. Though I don’t go into Marco’s specific experience with menstruation and only really hint at it because I didn’t think I could authentically tell that story as a cis gender woman, I wanted to include in the book the notion that bodies, regardless of gender, can and do bleed monthly so as to expand understanding for readers that menstruation is not only a woman’s experience. Also, I included La Chuyina, the trans feminine character to affirm that womanhood too, is not dependent on bleeding.
What I could speak to was how clumsy and wrong we can be when we aren’t good allies to our gender expansive friends. I sought to challenge readers, my community in particular, in our often-bigoted views. I used Mesoamerican philosophy to help us remember that our pre-colonial ideas of gender were more fluid than the binary that is dominant today. I saw an opportunity to show how one community used a different approach, one that was grounded in Mexica spirituality, to show compassion and respect for gender expansiveness.
Your first two published novels will both be MG verse novels. What do you find most compelling about this format? Do you always write poetry?
Poetry has been with me since my first writings as a teen. Though I also write prose, I always aim for my prose to be infused with poetry and lyricism. This is the kind of writing I like to read and find most intriguing -- writing that is rich in metaphor, and unusual phrasing, writing that enters the emotional essence of a character to show us a truth about humanity that we don’t often see. I love verse novels for these very same qualities. There is a tension at play between elements that poetry gives us (economy of words, metaphor, simile, form, white space, etc.) and the standard elements in crafting a story (conflict, plot, character arc, etc.) I love the hybridity of this space, I love this tension. With verse novels you can’t spend too much time waxing poetic because you do have a story to tell but you can bring the poetic point of view into every speech, action and plot point as you go. Verse novels are a wonderful space from which to tell a story that is unique, vulnerable and compelling at once.
Music plays such a big part of Celi’s journey. It wasn’t just a layer, but it connected to her journey of identity and history. Why was music so important? How did you work it into the text?
I’m a firm believer in the power of the arts (music, theater, dance, literature, visual art, etc.) to transform lives. Writing radically transformed mine. It gave me a connection to my history, developed my own spirituality, and gave me entry into many universes of understanding. I would argue that this is true for most practitioners of the arts. I wanted to show through Celi how dance and music are gateways to understanding, are cultural markers, identity builders, strength builders, and how ultimately, they are radical acts of love. I wanted to show readers that the arts, their own imaginations and expressions, are a wonderful place in which to find agency and strength.
What inspired you to write The Moon Within? And what do you hope readers will find in the story?
I was inspired to write The Moon Within as my eleven-year-old daughter began to ask questions about her changing body. As a Xicana feminist, I wanted to offer her a different way into the understanding of this important transformation than I had been given. I wanted her experience to be grounded in body-positive self-knowledge and self-love, in a connection to her ancestry, and the power that is inherent in all of that beauty. I’ve been a moon disciple for decades — marveling, exploring, and ritualizing our connection to her — through astrology, astronomy, spirituality, and the study of pre-colonial Mexican history. We held a ceremony to honor my daughter’s menstruation that was informed by this love of the moon. As a writer, I wanted to share our experience of this magical ritual through story with other children. While there are numerous nonfiction books about menstruation for middle grades, there is a gaping hole in fictional literature for this group. It is very likely (and I say this with a great amount of disbelief and grief) that The Moon Within is the first book in forty-seven years, since Judy Blume’s Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, to center menstruation in its narrative. It is the first (again, incredulously and sadly) to ever fictionally reflect menstruation from the Latinx perspective. I was very intentional about sharing ideas of the beauty and power of menstruation Mesoamerican traditions teach us that departed from the often-negative views of our current patriarchal and colonized society. I wanted to reframe the conversation around menstruation by showing what would happen if we, in fact, honored and revered these processes instead.
I was happy to see that Celi was a relatively early bloomer, and I think a lot of girls of color will relate to that. Did you ever consider a different age for Celi, and how did you settle on eleven?
Early bloomers walk on a tight rope of these two massively different worlds. It is difficult to be wholly a child and yet your body does these wild things. Breast buds, pubic hair, smelly pits, moon cylces – it is all the more confusing the younger you are. My daughter entered puberty early (much earlier than I did) and I found it necessary to try to demystify it age-appropriately so that she could understand it without fear. As I began to ask around, I discovered that many women I knew or in my family had started as early as nine! This further affirmed my resolve to keep Celi at eleven and to show that this tight rope can be walked successfully for someone that young.
Thank you so much for joining us in the conversation. To purchase THE MOON WITHIN, visit Booklandia (a Latina-owned online bookseller) or other independent bookstores as well as major retailers where books are sold.
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Happy new moon!