This week we are so excited to sit down with debut Musa Monica Gomez-Hira and discuss her debut novel. Before we get started, a little bit about Monica’s debut Once Upon a Quinceañera:
Eighteen-year-old Carmen Aguilar missed graduating from her Miami high school by that much--one credit short after she overreacted to a teacher destroying her dream of becoming a video editor. She's relieved when a summer internship gives her another chance at her diploma. But instead of pushing papers, Carmen, the queen of screw-ups, finds herself dressing up as a Disney princess for children's parties.
When her company is hired to perform at her spoiled cousin's extravagant quinceañera, everyone fears Carmen will sabotage it. Her cousin Ariana was the reason Carmen's own coming-of-age celebration was canceled three years earlier, and the families haven't spoken since. This quince is an olive branch, an attempt to bring the families back together. Making matters worse is Carmen's new dance partner: Mauro Reyes, her most regrettable ex. Absence may have made him hotter, but it didn't make her fonder.
Still, Carmen is determined to leave the past in the past, even if late-night chats with Mauro stir up old feelings. She's even getting along with Ariana. As the quinceañera approaches, along with the end of the summer, Carmen must break the spell of past resentments if she wants her own happily ever after.
Okay, Monica let’s get to it!
Mia Garcia: I’ve been listening to our amazing Las Musas podcast where you take us through your writer’s journey (Ed Note: you can listen to Monica in episode 1 Debut Diaries) and how you entered PitchWars, and I believe I heard that Once Upon a Quinceañera is not the first book you queried or...?
Monica Gomez-Hira: Actually, it WAS the first book I queried, the book of my heart that was the first that I really took seriously with editing and getting help from outside readers and a writing group. I’m so glad I did!
Mia: How did Once Upon a Quinceañera start? What was the first thing that came to you?
Monica: I’d been fascinated by quinceañeras in the US for a long time; they seemed like such a perfect marriage of aspects of Latinx pride and heritage, combined with American bling. I attended a few as a young adult, and I loved watching the behind the scenes machinations almost as much as I loved the official spectacle. They really ARE like a wedding, with all of the family drama and stress and larger than life emotions that those entail.
Once I had the idea of writing about a young woman facing her quinceañera and dealing with the history that those types of events had for her family, Carmen’s voice started coming to me and even though she wasn’t the girl who was having the party, her story was the one that compelled me the most.
Mia: Let’s talk about our feelings or more specifically feelings/emotions on the page. Carmen is dealing with a lot between her conflicting feelings for Mauro, her cousin Ariana, and well everything! How did you approach your emotional arcs on the page?
Monica: I knew where I wanted her to end up as a character, so as much as I could, I reverse engineered her arcs starting from the resolution and working backwards. That actually makes me sound like it was all carefully planned, which sadly isn’t me as a writer (yet!) I allowed myself to really be led by Carmen’s voice--trying to be as true to her individual reactions to things as I could. Sometimes she surprised me!
Mia: And speaking of writing, I always love to learn what was the easiest or hardest scene to write and why?
Monica: The scene that flowed the most naturally was the private quince scene, between Carmen and Mauro. I write my drafts in scene order and by the time I had gotten to that moment, I felt like I knew their relationship so well that it was almost like I was just taking dictation. And that’s just the best feeling! Now, as we all know, sometimes a scene can be easy or fun to write initially but still need a million drafts, but that quince scene was barely touched through MANY drafts of the book.
As far as the hardest scene in the book, it was a scene that came towards the end between Carmen and her mother, when her mother finally tells Carmen about her estranged father and their history. I knew instinctively while writing that scene that it was important and contained a key to unlocking Carmen’s change, but...I couldn’t exactly nail WHAT happened. So I wrote it and rewrote it until a beta reader mentioned what SHE thought it was about, and all the lightbulbs when off over my head!
Mia: Of course I’m going to ask if you had a quince and what your outfit was like, or if you didn’t what would’ve been your dream quince!
Monica: Alas, I did not have a quince, and I kind of regret it now! I think if I had had a quince, I would have liked something at an art gallery or a museum, and had that as my theme as well. Might as well dream big!
Mia: What authors, books, or media influenced or helped you finish Once Upon a Quinceañera?
Monica: So many! I grew up watching novelas, of course, so I really wanted to pay homage to that type of storytelling in my writing. The drama is VERY important!
As far as YA books, the Jenny Han trilogy for To All the Boys and Sarah Dessen’s This Lullaby were both touchstones throughout the drafting and writing process. And Julia Alvarez is one of my writing idols, so I don’t think I would have been brave enough to finish a book without having read Yo! or How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.
Mia: Let’s talk about how you’re taking care of yourself during debut! What’s one thing that’s helping you center or helping you take those moments to stop and breathe?
Monica: I’m in the middle of drafting on a really tight deadline so..not a lot sadly! I do try to go for a walk with my daughter every day, and watch YouTube videos together to relax and be silly (we are both currently obsessed with BTS!)
Mia: Where should we look for you next? Any virtual events we should look for?
Monica: I am working on Book 2 at the moment, so when I have more information about that, you all will be among the first to know! As far as virtual events, I was lucky enough to be invited to YALLWEST this year, so while that event just passed, the recording is up on YouTube.
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Monica Gomez-Hira is the daughter of Colombian immigrant parents, the wife of an Indian immigrant, the mother of a half Latina/half Indian daughter, and the quintessential Jersey girl who loves her salsa as much as her Springsteen. After getting her BA in English at Wellesley College, Monica spent most of her professional life surrounded by books, and the people who love them. She began her career working for literary agencies, moved to publicity and editorial at Simon & Schuster and Random House, and most recently was a Children's Lead at Barnes & Noble. She lives with her family in Minneapolis, MN. Once Upon a Quinceañera is her first novel.
M. García / Mia García (she/her) was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She moved to New York where she studied creative writing at The New School, worked in publishing, and lived under a pile of to-be-read books. She is the author of Even If the Sky Falls and The Resolutions from Katherine Tegen books (an imprint of HarperCollins) and a founding member of the Latinx children’s book artist collective Las Musas. You can find her at mgarciabooks.com.
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