Don’t Date Rosa Santos is an incredible debut from author, Nina Moreno about a Cuban-American young woman, Rosa lives with her Abuela in Port Coral, a small coastal town in Florida, where you can’t turn your head before one of the gossiping viejitos spreads the word. Rosa is your regular teen, well, except for the fact that she (along with the other women in her family) has been cursed by the sea and can’t fall in love with a man with a boat for fear he will meet his untimely demise.
But other than that, Rosa’s just enjoying her senior year of high school, trying her best to learn about/own her Cuban heritage despite the fact that her Abuela refuses to talk about their history, trying to decide where to go to college, and hanging with her bestie, Ana-Maria, at her parent’s bodega, El Mercado, which serves the best Cuban sandwiches, croquetas, and Cuban coffee around. Things are going just as they should until Rosa’s mom comes back into town after being gone for months and she is not the only unexpected visitor in Port Coral. Alex Aquino, a sexy guy with tattoos, a mysterious disposition, and a boat that catches Rosa’s attention from the docks.
Rosa tries her hardest to stay away from the sea, but it calls to her, and eventually, she has to respond, which leads to an adventure you don’t want to miss filled with gorgeous, lyrical prose, romance, a quest for self-discovery, and an ensemble cast of characters who jump off the page and right into your heart. So, what better way to get acquainted with the book than to chat with the cast themselves? Without further ado, let’s dig in!
Abuela, let’s start with you, why did you choose to settle in Port Coral after leaving Cuba? What do you love about it? What do you miss most about Cuba?
Pero, this is about Cuba? Nadie me dijo eso. The sea brought me here and this is where I stayed. Next question.
Can you talk to us about the spells/potions people request most often? Are there any you refuse to make?
Everyone wants better luck or easier memories, because they have pain and tired bones and don’t eat real food. Why is everything sandwiches now? So they come to me when they really need good food from home. But when they need more? I can do that too.
Lilliana, you grew up in Port Coral same as Rosa what drew you to painting? If you were to turn Port Coral into a mural, what would you paint?
Graffiti? Don’t look at me like that, Mami. I love painting because I love that it means making a mess while creating something beautiful at the same time. And Port Coral is basically already a mural, this place is almost too pretty.
Rosa, how would you describe Abuela and your mom’s parenting styles?
*laughs* Oh, wait, you’re serious? They’re night and day. And also more similar them either of them would like to admit. *ignores both of their looks*
Follow up question, Rosa, what’s the best bit of magic you’ve picked up from the Santos women?
To always be mindful of my intentions. That one can apply to a lot of things, but is especially important with magic. Also grow mint and rosemary, eat your grapes at midnight on new years, and only light candles in odd numbers.
Ana-Maria, what do you think you’ll do to keep yourself occupied if she goes to college outside of Port Coral?
Hey, I’ll be busy too. I’ve got my drums and plans and am applying to the community college...wait. My parents aren’t going to read this, right?
Ok, I’m starving, can we talk for a moment about El Mercado? Ana-Maria, what’s the best kept secret on the menu?
A croqueta sandwich. Don’t tell my dad I told you if you order it though. He’s not an off-menu kind of guy.
Rosa, Abuela, Lilliana, what are YOUR favorite El Mercado treats?
Rosa: the new pastelitos! They’re so flaky and sweet. I don’t know who’s baking them though.
Liliana: Chicharrones drenched in salt and lime.
Mimi: The lechon asado is very good.
Rosa, let’s keep it real, what was your first thought when you saw Alex?
Rosa: Oh, the new guy? I thought, “cool tattoos.”
Ana: Because you could only see his arms. You should have seen her face when he turned around.
Rosa: Um, well, yes. He has a very good face.
Alex, can you give us an in-depth description of your tattoo sleeve with some meaning behind the images?
It’s the blue waves of the sea. I’m happiest out in the water, and I like to be reminded of it when I look at my own skin.
Alright well, it’s been great to get to know all of you a bit more, one final question, if you can go around the table and answer: What does the sea mean to you?
Mimi: (Doesn’t answer but her gaze goes out the window.)
Liliana: An old dream.
Rosa: A mystery.
Ana: Beach day.
Buy a copy of Don't Date Rosa Santos wherever books are sold or borrow it from your local library!
Las Musas are thrilled to host the exclusive first look at the cover of THE TRUTH IS, the second book by our very own musa, the acclaimed writer of THE DISTURBED GIRL'S DICTIONARY, NONIEQA RAMOS. It hits shelves September 3, 2019 by Lerner/Carolrhoda Lab. Check out the synopsis below, and keep scrolling to read an excerpt from the novel!
Cover Design by: Lindsey Owens • GIF Design by: Jose Padron
Fifteen-year-old Verdad doesn't think she has time for love. She's still struggling to process the recent death of her best friend, Blanca; dealing with the high expectations of her hardworking Puerto Rican mother and the absence of her remarried father; and keeping everyone at a distance. But when she meets Danny, a new guy at school--who happens to be trans--all bets are off. Verdad suddenly has to deal with her mother's disapproval of her relationship with Danny as well as her own prejudices and questions about her identity, and Danny himself, who is comfortable in his skin but keeping plenty of other secrets.
Read the dynamite first chapter of THE TRUTH IS:
The Book of Love is blaring on my alarm radio app and I know
to turn that shit off before my moms hears it. Once upon a
time in a land ten years from divorce court, my parents danced
to it at their wedding. They had met during study hall when
they realized they were the only ones studying, and the rest is
history. Now it’s all math: who owes what to whom, an endless
game of long division. I’m still playing the song though,
because I don’t get it.
Because seriously, who wrote the Book of Love? Who gets
to decide whom, and why, and when? I’m fifteen and I’m supposed
to fall in love like any minute now. It’s biology. My moms
is a nurse, so she knows this better than anyone.
I don’t know what scares me more, falling in love with
someone or my mother finding out.
The way I see it, love is just like your period. One day you’re
bleeding out of nowhere and it hurts, and that mess goes on for
mostly the rest of your life.
My best friend, Blanca, didn’t see it that way though. Blanca
had been waiting to fall in love her whole life. If you can call
fourteen years of living “whole.”
She always thought we’d get married at the same time in
Central Park. Honeymoon together in San Juan.
My moms flicks the lights that are already on. “¡Despierta,
levántate y brilla! Thank God for a new day. Wakey-wakey,”
she sings, opening and shutting my bedroom door fast.
I hurl my chancla at the door. Mornings to me are like holy
water to the devil.
Standing up, I trip over the baseball bat that my mother
has always insisted I keep by my bed. What can a bat do against
A holographic Jesus screensaver watches over me from
across the room. I gasp. “Ma! What the hell?”
“You toss and turn so much,” my moms shouts from the
kitchen, where the rich aroma of coffee calls my name. “He’s
protecting you from bad dreams.”
I scowl. Hurl my sheet over the computer, making Jesus a
ghost. Fling open the door. “So let me get this straight. Like
the white dude in the dress with the giant thorny bleeding heart
glowing out of his skin is going to get rid of my bad dreams?”
I know Mami is signing the cross: “Forgive her smart-ass
mouth, Lord. She gets it from her father.”
Anything that’s right with me comes from my mother’s
side, anything wrong from my dad’s.
I lock myself in my bathroom and shed my favorite vintage
West Side Story T-shirt that I will wear until it disintegrates.
Ah—cough, gag—she’s been burning incense again. Patchouli.
To protect me from bad spirits. With all this protection, I’ll be
lucky if I don’t die of asphyxiation before I leave the house.
Modern Christian music blares on the kitchen radio. Dudes
are full of uber emotion singing about Jesus. I wish I could feel
all pumped up like that about religion. But like how long has it
been since Jesus has been here? Two thousand years. I remember
waiting for my dad on the porch for hours when he didn’t
show up for a visit. Two thousand years is a long time to wait on
a porch. Yeah, I’m bitter a little bit.
When the water is steaming hot, I step into the shower
stall full of lotions and creams Mami stocks in here so I will
smell like the botanical gardens. Because all girls are supposed
to want to smell like flowers. Be a flower. It’s true I got stems.
Like my moms, I got the mile-long legs. She had to wear flats
around my dad so she didn’t tower over him. But just like stems,
I’m hairy. I don’t like sharp, stabby, prickly legs. Blanca’s legs
always felt like a cheese grater if it got cold. Mami keeps threatening
to wax me, por que we girls can take natural too far,
I lather up with my loofah, covering up the scar above my
knee with bubbles. I rub and rub, imagining the scar—the hole
torn in my leg and my life—has disappeared.
I step out of the shower into the mist. I love looking in the
mirror and seeing me in the clouds, immaterial. They don’t got
homework in the clouds, do they?
I picture my moms and me sitting on clouds after we both
die. “Pero, like, if you take one more class, you could be an
Once my hair—which Blanca used to call The Entity, like
she was one to talk—is braided to my satisfaction, I head to the
kitchen, where my moms is waiting for me with cafe con leche.
She likes to have a convo with me before she’s off to work. She
always sits straight, rigid, like a beautiful statue that survived
the volcano but got left alone in the ruins.
“Good morning, Verdad.”
I pull out my chair—across from Mami’s and next to the
place that’s been set for Abuelo for the past three years—and
collapse in it. “Couldn’t God put morning later in the day?” I
prop my head on my right hand and stir my coffee with my left.
“Did you get any sleep, mija?”
“Couple of hours. Did you get any sleep?”
“Verdad! This isn’t healthy for a young girl. You’re not
going to grow properly. You’re going to get acne.”
This from the woman who hasn’t slept since 2000, who
works at three different hospitals and builds Habitat for
Humanity houses in her so-called spare time. “Mom, this isn’t
healthy for a grown-ass woman. You’re going to start shrinking.
You’re going to get wrinkles.”
My moms stirs her coffee into a whirlpool that would suck
in the Titanic. “Verdad! Listen.” She grabs my hand and holds
me prisoner with her eyes. “A lot has happened. That we can’t
control. But what we can control is ourselves.”
That’s bullshit. I break free from her gaze and look away.
There are certain things you want to be true. My moms
wants it to be true that if you work your ass off, you’re gonna
have this great life. You’ll have the house, the car, the vacations. I
mean, I know I have it good. Mami is a nurse, but everyone in the
family calls her doc and hits her up for advice when they so much
as have a sniffle. She bought us a house and made sure I had my
own room and bathroom. We’re the ones the family descends on
for barbecues because we’re the only ones with a yard. We got a
car that runs most of the time. We got a YMCA membership. But
like what’s the point of a house if you’re never in it? A bed if you
never freakin sleep in it? My moms works 24/7 to keep us in the
house we’re in. The only place the damn car takes her is to work.
Mami sighs. She squeezes my hand and releases me. “You
know you need to play a sport . . .” I lift my eyebrows. This is
like telling an ostrich he should dance the tango.
“No no no!” she clarifies, images of me attempting volleyball
flashing across her eyes. “I mean you should . . . run. With
those long legs. You know, your dad used to run—”
“Used to?” He left us for another life. Got himself a new
house, a new wife, a stepdaughter. But most of the time it feels
like he’s still fleeing the scene of his earlier crimes. My dad’s
present does not have room for his past. I haven’t seen him
“Verdad! I’m just saying. You run after school. Do your
homework. That’ll get you tired. Get you to sleep.”
What my mother fails to comprehend is that I’m tired all
the time. Of everything. Tired isn’t the problem.
I nod. So she’ll stop talking and also because I’m falling
“Okay!” She slams her hands on the table.
My eyes pop open. I droop from one side to the other like
a rag doll.
“So I got to get to work. Give me the highlights from
She got no time for details. I don’t have any details anyway.
I don’t have no problems. I have no friends. Anymore. I don’t
want any. I have nothing to do except school and nowhere to
be except home. That’s fine with me. The real problem is my
moms will lecture me for the above lack of problems.
I shrug. “Violin practice was fine.” I have a school recital
tomorrow—my first without Blanca. “And yes, I aced my history
“Music to my ears!” My moms slaps the table again, making
the coffee cups dance.
“But I almost wish I hadn’t.”
“Well, this girl Nelly who’s in my class calls it the history
of propaganda. Yesterday she went off about how all we ever
learn about is Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Rattled off
a bunch of names of African Americans I never heard of.”
My moms walks her coffee cup to the sink and rinses it.
“What does this have to do with your grade?”
“Nothing? It’s just. I mean think about it. What about
us? All we ever learn about is Cesar Chavez. And no offense,
but . . .”
“We ain’t Mexican.”
“Word. There’s over a million Puerto Ricans in New York
alone, but they ain’t one single one who did anything worth
writing about in any textbook?”
“What about that Sonia Sotomayor?”
“That’s one, Ma. White people get a thousand. We get one?”
She turns, leans against the counter, and folds her arms.
“Well, after you get your college education you could rewrite
all the textbooks if you like. And if you took another class, you
could get to college faster. Today could be the day you change
everything. Make a decision to move in the right direction.”
“Right.” Rewrite history. If only.
I stand up and push my chair in, careful not to scrape
against the wood. My moms is super proud of taking out the
nasty linoleum and installing the wood herself.
“All I’m saying,” my moms says, grabbing my hand, “is
have a good day. Okay?”
“Okay.” I wash our mugs and set them in the dishwasher,
our industrial-sized drying rack. I tie up the bread and reach up
onto the fridge. Hurling the bread into the microwave on top,
I expertly catch the bag of chips that falls out and toss it into
my backpack. Time to catch the bus. On my way out the door,
my moms sticks a piece of buttered toast in my mouth. And
I head to school wishing I could go back in time, to this day
a year ago, before what happened—happened. Back to when
everything made sense. I made sense.
Raised in the Boogie Down Bronx, NoNieqa Ramos is an educator, literary activist, and writer of “intense” literature. She wrote the THE DISTURBED GIRL’S DICTIONARY, a 2018 New York Public Library Best Book for Teens, a 2019 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection, and a 2019 In the Margins Award Top Ten pick. THE TRUTH IS will be released September 3rd, 2019 and more to be announced! She believes Halloween is a lifestyle not a holiday, books are wings, and like Whitney said, the children are our future. www.NonieqaRamos.com
Welcome to another thrilling installment of our blog featuring Musa Fabulosa, Laura Pohl and her debut novel THE LAST 8!
The Last 8 is a high-stakes survival story about eight teenagers who outlive an alien attack—perfect for fans of The 5th Wave. Clover Martinez has always been a survivor, which is the only reason she isn’t among the dead when aliens invade and destroy Earth as she knows it. When Clover hears an inexplicable radio message, she’s shocked to learn there are other survivors—and that they’re all at the former Area 51. When she arrives, she’s greeted by a band of misfits who call themselves The Last Teenagers on Earth. Only they aren’t the ragtag group of heroes Clover was expecting. The group seems more interested in hiding than fighting back, and Clover starts to wonder if she was better off alone. But then she finds a hidden spaceship, and she doesn’t know what to believe… or who to trust.
Foreword Reviews says of her debut, “The Last 8 is diverse and immersive science fiction...With its powerful world building and emotional twists ...The Last 8 is a beautifully fresh take on the idea of an alien apocalypse.” School Library Journal called it, “An extravaganza of nonstop action, with several surprising twists, this will have readers clamoring for more."
And without further ado, here is Laura!
I love hearing about the pop-culture movies that inspired THE LAST 8! Can you tell us which movies or shows influenced you while writing this action packed sci-fi bonanza?
I think one of my biggest inspirations was INDEPENDENCE DAY, which was one of my favorite movies as a kid. As I grew up, I always wanted to write an alien invasion story that had the same cool vibe, so that’s my go-to reference. After I watched ATTACK THE BLOCK, the idea solidified. You can write a sci-fi about a bunch of teens fighting off an alien invasion while still discussing real life issues.
How did you keep the tension throughout your novel? Was there anything you kept in mind as you wrote to make sure the reader kept passing the pages?
I’m one of those people who always tries to end chapters in cliffhangers. It’s always worked for me. Besides, alien invasion stories are tense — you never know who’s going to survive, and I wanted to keep that in mind while writing.
What books influenced you to write sci-fi?
I think movies influenced me more than books for writing sci-fi. I loved watching Steven Spielberg movies as a kid, as a teen I slowly started drifting toward sci-fi books. My parents are big fans of Asimov, so I always had his books lying around the house and that’s one of my earliest memories on reading sci-fi.
Was there a moment where your character--the last teenagers on earth--surprised you?
I think it surprised me how much they reacted differently to a single situation. Each of them has a different way of dealing with the end of the world, and it was very interesting that I got to explore those feelings of loss and heartbreak.
Clover is such an amazing Latinx character, what inspired you to make her Mexican-American?
I think it wasn’t as much as a single inspiration as it was the reality of thousands of Mexican-American kids growing up in the USA. I wanted to write a story that could also be about family, and Clover growing up with her abuelos has some traces of my own childhood when I spent holidays at the farm with my own grandparents.
How did the story change from what you envisioned to how it ended up?
The beginning changed a lot as I was writing it. First the alien invasion had already happened, then it happened on the page, then it changed again. Overall, I don’t think the tone of the story changed, though — it has always been a story about a girl dealing with how the world can take away so much, and how to power through difficult times.
It seems that creating eight main characters would be especially challenging: what, if any, hurdles did you have to overcome in order to pull this off successfully?
Oh, I sometimes forgot how many people were in the same scene, haha! I think that was one of the hardest parts, and balancing each character to make them relevant within the narrative. Each of them has a part to play in the story and I had to make sure to get it all right so they wouldn’t fade into the background.
Were there any characters that immediately clicked as you wrote them or did you write them knowing who would mesh and who wouldn’t?
I think my two favorites to write have always been Brooklyn and Violet. They’re easy to understand for me. Brooklyn talks a lot and deals with everything through joking, but she’s very sensitive at the same time. Violet is quieter but she’s someone who examines every single one of her decision and tends to be very rational in a time of crisis, which is always the way I dealt with things, even coming across as cold. Clover is much the same, so for me, it was interesting to explore that rational side of emotions and how you deal with them.
Without spoiling The Last 8 is there anything you can tell us about book 2?
Huuuh, the only thing I can say is that it has good Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy vibes, and I hope you all like it!
Give us a glimpse into a day in your life as a writer. What's that look like?
I wake up, get coffee, sit down to write. I prefer writing in the mornings, so I focus on getting stuff done before I get lunch. I do home office as well (I offer editing services and do copyediting), so I do my regular day job during the afternoons. I love having a routine, so I rarely stray from this format.
Who is your author crush and why?
I have so many authors who I deeply love! I think one of my biggest inspirations has been Susan Dennard — she has amazing writing advice that helped me get published, and I absolutely adore her Truthwitch series.
What is your wish for the future of Latinx in children's literature?
I hope we can get all types of stories out there. Not just stories about the experience of being Latinx, but latinx kids saving planets, the galaxies, dogs, being vampires, being whatever and whoever they want to be, without having to give up our unique identity to do that.
Why is representation is so important? What kinds of characters did you write that are underrepresented in YA lit?
I think representation allows us to reflect in our own existence and understand it through literature. It allows us a glimpse into ourselves and knowing we can tell stories, too, that we matter and that we’re important. While writing The Last 8, I wanted to write a character who was aromantic like me, who dealt with depression and anxiety, and who came from a similar background. It’s how Clover became my MC.
If a teacher is using your book in the classroom, what is an important point or lesson you'd want them to convey to students?
I think I’d love that the takeaway from The Last 8 would help more teens deal with their anxiety and depression. Clover survives through all of that, and it’s about moving one step at a time. I believe that mental health is something that we still need to discuss in society to break the stigmas around it, as well as provide help to all those who need it.
Buy a copy of The Last 8 wherever books are sold or borrow it from your local library!
Welcome back to the Musas blog! This week Musa Sara Faring (The Tenth Girl) sat down with K.K. Pérez to discuss inspiration, balancing multiple projects, and of course her sophomore novel: The Tesla Legacy.
THE TESLA LEGACY follows a precocious young scientist named Lucy Phelps whose fateful encounter in the Tesla Suite of the New Yorker Hotel unlocks her dormant electrical powers. As Lucy struggles to understand her new abilities through scientific experimentation, she is thrust into a centuries old battle between rival alchemical societies. One side wants her help and the other wants her dead, but both believe she is the next step in human evolution. Unfortunately, carriers of the genetic mutation―including Nikola Tesla―have a greatly reduced life expectancy. Even if Lucy can outrun her enemies, she can’t outrun herself.
How was The Tesla Legacy born—was there a special seed, planted long ago?
I’ve always been fascinated by the life of Nikola Tesla and David Bowie’s portrayal of him in The Prestige reignited my interest. Tesla’s life lends itself to steampunk fantasy because sometimes truth is stranger than fiction! In the back of my mind, I’ve always wanted to write kind of an homage to Penny from Inspector Gadget. Penny always saved the day (and her uncle, Gadget) and she had an awesome “computer book” that I drooled over as a kid. (Now I have an iPad!)
Did someone in your life inspire the super-sharp protagonist, Lucy?
I have several female scientist friends who Lucy is based on, but also I’ve always been drawn to geek girls or braniacs like Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Velma from Scooby Doo and Mac from Veronica Mars. I wanted to make the female brain the star rather than the sidekick.
You weave so much science and history into the book—what is your research process like?
I started with biographies and documentaries about Nikola Tesla himself. From there I began researching the key figures he worked with and had rivalries with such as his Current War with Thomas Edison, which led me to delve further into the history of science as a whole.
I also thought a lot about who my protagonist Lucy’s scientific idols would be and why, and started learning more about them. Once I discovered Newton’s interest in alchemy, I realized that I wanted to infuse my science fiction with a little bit of the mystical. I plunged myself into academic research surrounding the origins and history of alchemists and discovered that in the ancient world women were often alchemists and chemists.
As the alchemists say, Liber librum aperit: One book opens another.
You grew up in New York City—which parts of your experience seeped into the book?
The settings for Lucy’s adventures in Manhattan are a highlight reel of my favorite places in my hometown. There’s the High Line (although it was still disused when I was growing up), the murals at Grand Central Station, the Met, the Alice in Wonderland statue and Bow Bridge in Central Park. Like Lucy, I also hate the long crosstown blocks and think pigeons are judgmental rats with wings.
You are also in the midst of writing the final book in your gorgeous Sweet Black Waves trilogy (under the name Kristina Pérez). How do you make the mental transition from writing historical fantasy to sci-fi (with magic elements)?
The voice is quite different between the projects since SBW is epic fantasy and The Tesla Legacy is set in contemporary New York, but the research and planning for both is fairly similar. Without spoiling too much, for Tesla, I’ve decided which scientists throughout history would have joined which rival alchemist society and why. Even if that information doesn’t make it onto the page, I have it in my notes, and I approached the world building in the same way. For me, creating a convincing world is essential whether it’s high fantasy, historical fiction, or contemporary Manhattan. Each setting, society and culture is unique. In terms of switching between the voices, I have very different playlists for both projects that help me shift gears and I create mood boards on Pinterest.
Your work contains so many thrilling twists and turns—do you plan most of these in advance, or do they come to you as you write… as if by magic?
Totally a plotter. Sometimes a new idea will surprise me while I’m writing but I’m fairly dogmatic. I used to compete on my school chess team and I have a tendency to game things out pretty far in advance!
What’s next for you?
Wild Savage Stars, the sequel to Sweet Black Waves, releases on August 27th, 2019 and I’m hard at work on the conclusion to the trilogy.
Thank you so much Kristina and Sara!
You can buy a copy of The Tesla Legacy wherever books are sold or borrow it from your local library!
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.
Enter a comment below for your chance to win a signed copy of THE MOON WITHIN!
Happy new moon!
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!
Gather round, gente! There is Las Musas magic brewing over Anna Meriano's just released novel, A Sprinkle of Spirits - the sequel to her debut, Love Sugar Magic! Las Musas sat down with Anna to ask how she brought her newest book to life.
*Read to the end to find out how you can enter to win a GIVEAWAY of this magical book!
In A Sprinkle of Spirits, Leonora Logroño is finally learning her family's bakery bruja magic, but trouble bubbles up again when her dead grandmother appears in her room! It turns out that spirits are popping back to life all over town, and Leo will need help to solve the mystery of what caused the chaos--and how to stop it! The Logroños return in a new story featuring a heaping helping of amor, azúcar, and magia.
What were your personal experiences that motivated you to write the Love Sugar Magic series?
The seed for this series came from Cake Literary, but I loved how the story felt personal. So much of Leo and her tight-knit family comes from my life, and I love that I get to write about language, family, community, Texas, and food in a way that feels true to me. One of the main goals of the series is to celebrate the joy of Leo’s family traditions, and even though her family has some differences from mine (unfortunately, we are not magical bakers), that joy is coming from my own experience.
What is your personal relationship with magic, in, like, your real daily life?
I love this question so much! I feel like it’s hard to organize my answer because I have so many different thoughts about this. I’ve always believed in magic in a nonspecific way, fascinated by everything from catholic saints to fairies to psychic powers. We light Guadalupe candles in my house when we’re hoping for something or going through a hard time, and I heard stories about how my grandma used to fast on days that my dad had important tests in school. When I’m in a rational mood, I think that being a human is full of uncertainty and confusion, and different mystical and spiritual beliefs help us process and overcome our fear in a healthy way; or I think that “magic” is actually scientific research that hasn’t been recognized by certain cultural systems. Other times I find it totally unbelievable to think that there is no magic in the world, especially when human knowledge and understanding falls so far short of explaining existence. These days I’m very interested in the magic power held by words and communication--the power to change minds and recreate the world.
You do a great job of portraying the complex relationships among sisters; what information did you draw upon since you yourself don’t have any sisters?
I don’t have sisters, but my mom is one of six sisters (and nine siblings total), so I hear a lot of their stories about growing up. I’m also very close with my cousins on both sides of my family, so I’m no stranger to being surrounded by a lot of relatives. Finally, I’m the middle child between my two brothers, so I feel like I can relate to sibling dynamics from both sides. Thanks Michael and Gabriel!
Describe your favorite place to create writing magic?
I’m a total coffee shop person. Working from home is convenient, but so much less efficient for me. I especially love places where there are lots of other folks working around me, because the peer pressure and background noise helps keep me focused. I used to worry about spending money on drinks, but one of my visual artist friend told me how much he spends to rent studio space and I calculated my monthly coffee shop bill and realized that I’m getting a bargain!
What is your “must have” to get into the writing zone?
I’ve become a time-thief of a writer lately, sneaking writing time into the odd half hours between work, so I’m a bit more flexible about getting into the zone now than I used to be, but I definitely do my best work when I have snacks readily available (another reason I love coffee shops)!
As a sophomore writer, what did you learn from your second novel, Love Sugar Magic-A Sprinkle of Spirits?
I learned how hard (but rewarding) it is to let your characters grow! We went back and forth a bit with the outline for book two because I didn’t want Leo to make the same mistakes she made before, but I still needed a plot to happen. I’m running into a similar issue with book three as well--it’s so interesting and exciting to have to find ways to challenge Leo and push her into bad decisions without undercutting her growth at the end of each book.
What do you hope readers take away from your Love Sugar Magic series?
I hope that each and every reader comes away feeling excited about the magic of their own ability, whether that’s baking, reading, or something else entirely. I hope that Mexican American kids see themselves and their families on the page, and I hope that all kids feel welcome in Rose Hill.
Your books have the most colorful, magical covers! Can you tell us about the illustrator?
MIRELLE ORTEGA! Mirelle is my favorite person and artist, and I feel so so lucky that she was able to bring Leo to life on two gorgeous covers (so far). I’ve seen firsthand the magical way the covers catch people’s--especially kids’--interest. If you want to see more from Mirelle, she’s illustrating Vote for Effie as well as some picture books, and she has beautiful artwork up on her website and available at her store! (I especially recommend her Mexican fairy tale t-shirts!)
What's a sinfully sugary dessert you and your character Leonora love?
Haha, the short answer is anything and everything! We both love puerquitos and pan dulce of all kinds, of course! We’re both extremely fond of cinnamon rolls, and I feel like I should also mention red bean buns since I’m eating one as I type this! The biggest difference in our tastes is that Leo is a little bit more of a dessert snob than I am--I am totally here for store-bought cookies and cupcakes that come wrapped in plastic with neon chemical frosting, while Leo prefers things that are more fresh and homemade.
What are you working on next?
Lots of exciting things! Most definite and probably most exciting, there is a third Love Sugar Magic book coming along that will deal with the slight cliffhanger at the end of book two (sorry not sorry). I’m also working with my agent Patricia Nelson to polish up a YA contemporary that includes a very magical sport. I’ve got a couple other secret or early stage projects that I’m hoping I can share more about soon, plus working with my wonderful students around Houston and hopefully traveling a bit to meet more writers and readers.
Leave a comment below to enter a chance to WIN your own copy of A Sprinkle of Spirits!
Want more of Anna Meriano? Follow Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits Blog Tour!
February 5 Nerdy Book Club
February 7 Las Musas Reads
February 9 Charlotte's Library
February 10 A Library Mama
February 11 Boricua Reads
February 12 YAYOMG
February 13 Pragmaticmom
February 14 Latinos in Kidlit
February 14. 24hr.yabookblog
How can we complain about winter when it's already brought us such treasures such as middle-grade novel Blizzard Besties, from Argentine-American author Yamile (sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez? In addition to writing at break-neck speeds (she has five books coming out in the next two years!) Yamile is fútbol-obsessed, and loves meteor showers, summer, astrology, and pizza. She lives in Utah with her Puerto Rican husband and their five kids, two adorable dogs, and one majestic cat. An inaugural Walter Dean Myers Grant recipient, she’s also a graduate of Voices of Our Nations (VONA) and the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Writing for Children’s and Young Adult program. She’s a PB, MG, and YA author. She’s also the children’s lit guest editor at Hunger Mountain literary journal and a writing mentor.
Yamile’s Las Musas hermana Ann Dávila Cardinal interviewed her about this fabulous new release!
Tell us how Blizzard Bestiescame about. Give us some backstory on the story!
Blizzard Besties came from a need for adventure stories featuring kids of color in the current market. My main focus was to show kids having fun, getting in trouble, and navigating friendship and family dynamics.
Why a ski vacation novel? Do you ski?
My kids, Utah born and raised, love to ski and snowboard. Of course, in the 20+ years of living in Utah, I have been skiing a few times (that I can count with one hand), but I really don’t enjoy it. I’m a summer creature! We have cold winters in Argentina, where I’m from, and I’d detested being cold since I was a child. I’m even allergic to cold! (It’s a real condition. Look it up!). But honestly, snow is magical and beautiful. When I thought of the worst situation in which I could put my characters, trapped in a haunted house during blizzard was at the top of my list. Of course, I say this as an adult. For my kids and their friends, this scenario is the epitome of fun and adventure. Also, Utah’s slogan in “Best Snow on Earth,” and if you’re going to suffer in the snow, it might as well be in the best snow there is, right?
Dogs play a big role in this novel, are you a dog-person?
I’m an all-around animal person! I have two dogs I adore: Dandelion (Dandi) the Yorkie, and November (Nova) the Labradoodle. I also have a cat, Coraline (Cora). I love animals and my life wouldn’t be complete without them.
This is a novel about friendship. What is it you hope your readers will walk away with in terms of that important topic?
Friendship is such a vital element in life, not only as a child, but in every stage. I’m blessed with a multitude of friends whom I consider my family. I also wanted to show that friendships evolve, change, and sometimes die, and that’s okay. When there’s an unbalanced or unhealthy friendship, it’s okay to move on, and it’s okay to give people we’d never considered before a chance to become friends.
What advice might you have for newbie writers interested in writing for children?
My number one advice is to read. Read widely, read voraciously, read carefully, analyzing the books that resonate with you.
And my number two advice is to write. Write what interests and motivates you. Write voraciously and carefully. But most of all, write from the heart, even if it’s “only” an adventure story. It it’s not from the heart, you won’t connect to your readers. The main purpose of reading and writing is to connect with someone through time and space. Isn’t this a magical thing?
How did it feel to see Blizzard Bestieson the cover of the Scholastic flyer???
It was a dream come true! I didn’t grow up in the States, so I didn’t have the classic experience of attending the Scholastic Book Fair at school. But sometimes my mom ordered books from The Reader’s Circle catalog, and I used to pore over the brochures, reading the book summaries over and over although it was very rare when I got to order the books and much less read them. I had a flash of little Yamile seeing her book on the catalog, and my heart exploded in rainbows and shooting stars. As an adult, my favorite time of the year is when I see my kids super excited about the book fair coming to their school, and seeing my book in the catalog catapulted me to “cool mom” status among them.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on so many things! I have several books (both announced and unannounced) coming out through 2021. WHERE ARE YOU FROM?(PB, Harper, June 2019) and ON THESE MAGIC SHORES?(MG, Lee and Low/Tu Books 2020) are finished, and I can’t wait to share them with my readers! While I wait for them to be officially out, I’m revising a YA contemporary novel set in Argentina and featuring the #NiUnaMenos movement in Latin America, and another still secret MG for Scholastic that has a lot of the elements readers will love about BLIZZARD BESTIES.
So run out and get a copy of Blizzard Besties as a gift for someone you love!
Find the fabulous Yamile and follow her numerous upcoming releases at yamilesmendez.com and @YamileSMendez.
We are so excited to present our next Musa book, THE RESOLUTIONS, by Mia Garcia, which is a YA story about friendship and community, and which received a starred review from School Library Journal!
From hiking trips to four-person birthday parties to never-ending group texts, Jess, Lee, Ryan, and Nora have always been inseparable. But now, with senior year on the horizon, they’ve been growing apart. And so, as always, Jess makes a plan.
Reinstating their usual tradition of making resolutions together on New Year’s Eve, Jess adds a new twist: instead of making their own resolutions, the four friends assign them to one another—dares like kiss someone you know is wrong for you, find your calling outside your mom’s Puerto Rican restaurant, finally learn Spanish, and say yes to everything.
But as the year unfolds, Jess, Lee, Ryan, and Nora test the bonds that hold them together. And amid first loves, heartbreaks, and life-changing decisions, beginning again is never as simple as it seems.
In celebration of the release of her second book, Mia made her infamous quesitos and sat down to chat with fellow Musas Hilda Burgos, Nina Moreno, Aida Salazar, Natasha Diaz, Michelle Ruiz Keil, Yamile Said Mendez, Nonieqa Ramos, Claribel Ortega, Jen Cervantes, and Ann Davila Cardinal.
Hilda: Mia, tell us about these delicious quesitos. Can you share your recipe with us?
YES! I found this super easy recipe from The Kitchen Gidget and so far they’ve been great. I play a little bit with the vanilla and sugar until I like the flavor, but it’s a really good recipe. And of course don’t be afraid to add guava paste (best ingredient in the world and I always have a can squirreled away for baking).
Hilda: We are all so thrilled that your second book is out now! I’m wondering what insights you have as a sophomore writer that you did not have the first time around. Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known as you wrote your debut novel?
I wish I did have more insights- haha! You always hear writers say with each new project that they’ve forgotten how to write and it’s absolutely true. I’m writing my third book now and it feels like I’ve never completed a novel in my life! The tricks that work with one may not work with others. For me it’s more about reminders as opposed to insights. Reminder that I can do this, that I did this, and not to give up.
I do have some post-writing insight! With The Resolutions I understood that I had to become my own publicist and not rely on anyone else, including my publisher. Not to say they weren’t wonderful, but hundreds of books are published a year and they can’t all have marketing’s time and budget.
I set aside a budget for myself, a timeline, a list of bloggers to reach out to, festivals to research, and commissioned my own promo. I’m exhausted but really proud of what I’ve accomplished and what’s still to come.
Nina: What resolution would you give your teen self?
Care less. WAIT, that sounds horrible, but what I mean is that as a teen I stopped myself from liking a lot of the stuff I liked (comics, horror movies, etc) or hid it very well, because I was worried about what others thought of me. I wanted everyone to like me all the time. ALL THE TIME. I would tell my teen self to take deep breaths and love what I love.
Nina & Michelle: Which of the four friends did you relate to the most? Were any POV’s easier to write?
All four! I hid a little of myself in each one like a horcrux. Jess got my anxiety (I’M SORRY, JESS), Ryan got my worries about validation, Nora has my love of baking and family obligations, Lee has my attitude and stress about not being Latinx enough. They are all my babies and I will protect them, while also messing with theirs lives a bit...
I’m not sure if any specific POV was easier to write but I will say (and this is a trigger warning for the book) Jess’s two panic attacks in the book were the easiest to write and required the least editing. I pulled them from my own experience and there’s just something about those moments that you don’t forget; they were right there when I needed them.
Michelle: When was the first time you saw yourself represented in a book?
I’m not sure I have yet, but I haven’t been specifically looking (don’t ask me what that means psychologically), and it hasn’t stopped me from loving characters in books or connecting to one specific storyline. I’m not sure I will ever see myself 100% in a novel, but seeing the growing list of Latinx characters in books and media warms my cold heart.
Natasha: Why was it important for you to tell a biracial Latinx narrative for one of the characters? How did you prepare for that?
I’m beyond excited that this book has FOUR Latinx leads. The Latinx community is such a diverse one, it’s not tied to one specific race, and we rarely see many of the people represented in it.
Take for example the Asian-Latinx community. Did you know that there are large populations of Japanese in Brazil and Peru? Many communities in the Caribbean (including the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico) have Chinese ancestry, but we rarely hear about it.
Because not only is the Latinx community a minority in media overall, but we are rarely represented outside of the mixed/passing or white-latinx identities. What about Afro-Latinxs? What about Indigenous-Latinx and those relationships with colonization and violence? Where are those narratives?
We have to move away from this one type of Latinx image. In The Resolutions Ryan is Taiwanese-Puerto Rican and incredibly proud of his heritage. He doesn’t feel divided, he loves his family and his culture. It’s only one book, but I hope it adds to the growing diversity of voices that will eventually widen the breath of Latinx lit and representation.
Aida: This story depicts the journeys of such different characters and each in a prominent way. How did you organize and then so seamlessly fold their journey into a collective story?
Excellent question. Each character had their way to see the world. I made sure they each had a trait or an outlook that colored their narrative. As a painter Ryan often broke things down to paint colors and techniques, Jess’s stress means her sentences run a bit long and tumble into each other at time, and so on.
Once the voices were tuned (or maybe the instruments if we continue with this metaphor) their rhythms had to work together to make the song (the novel). Because of this I didn’t edit the stories separately (meaning I didn’t look at only Jess’s and only Ryan’s individually) but adjusted and edited as one went into the other.
Aida: The queerness of some of the characters was beautifully portrayed. It was easily integrated and unquestioned which was so refreshing. How did you come to make this choice?
Thank you so much for asking this question! As someone who is still questioning this part of my identity I think that in order to work towards seeing/accepting the spectrum of sexuality in a positive/normal light is to show it in that light.
To show the happiness and the possibilities and not just the pain and struggle, which I feel is a point often brought up in stories focusing on marginalized communities. There’s more than just pain (that’s there, yes) but we can’t disregard the influence/effect of seeing LGBTQ characters (both POC and non-POC) who are happy and thriving in their identities with support from loved ones. It should not be as radical as it is!
Aida! I feel like I have so much to say about this, but I’ll sound super cheesy, and lovely dovey.
NoNieqa: How can your book be used in the classroom to engage both Latinx and non-Latinx students? What questions would you like to see arise?
So far I’ve been floored at how much people connect to each character’s struggle with anxiety and cultural expectations. I hope it’s another step forward in exploring the diverse Latinx experience, but overall this is a book about friendship - strong friendships - and I think there’s something really important about identifying and working on the positive relationships in your life.
Yamile: How would you cast a The Resolutions movie?
I AM OLD AND KNOW NO TEEN ACTORS. Every actor I know is either in their 20s (*cough* CW network) or Doc Mcstuffins...I have 8-year-old nieces.
Apologies, I’ve been reminded that Doc is a cartoon, but still she does a lot of good work. Oh wait, now that I think about it, I think Isabella Gomez (One Day at a Time) would make a good Nora.
Claribel: What’s been the hardest and the most rewarding part of your journey to publication so far?
The most rewarding has been getting to meet and know new authors (like Las Musas!) and knowing I can push myself more than I think. Hardest is always reconciling expectations with reality.
Jen: What is your writing Kryptonite?
I’m deathly afraid of series - I can’t imagine keeping all that in my head! But I must say plotting is my weakness. It takes me several drafts before I find the thread that links them all together. Before that it’s just a bunch of people talking and eating good food.
Ann: If you could go back and whisper to the who you were at the very beginning of writing this book, what would you tell yourself?
Run. (I’m kidding.) I would say, you don’t think you need a more detailed outline BUT YOU DO, go back and do it again before you start.
Claribel: Can you tell us about any other projects you have in the works?
If I talk about it I have to finish it right? At the moment it’s a historical fantasy about love, loss, depression, isolation, and friendship. It’s demanding a lot from me so it’s going slow.
THE WIND CALLED MY NAME by Mary Louise Sanchez
Some days, ten-year-old Margarita Sandoval feels as if the wind might blow her away. The country has been gripped by the Great Depression, so times are hard everywhere. Then she has to leave her família in New Mexico -- especially her beloved Abuelita -- to move to Fort Steele, Wyoming, where her father has taken a job on the railroad.
When Margarita meets Caroline, she's excited to have a friend her own age in Wyoming. But it often seems like Caroline, like many other people in town, doesn't understand or appreciate the Sandovals' Hispanic heritage. At the same time, the Sandovals discover that Abuelita might lose her home unless they can pay off her tax bill. Can Margarita keep her friend, help her family in New Mexico, and find a place in Fort Steele for good?
What inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to give my mother her story about growing up in a small southern Wyoming town. She received the seven page version and I know she’d be excited to read this final version.
What message do you hope your book will send readers?
Honor diversity and let each person define how they see themselves.
What was the most difficult scene to write?
One scene where Margarita thinks Caroline is not a true friend tested me because I was writing from a personal memory and it was hard to define my emotions from the past.
What scene came the easiest?
Food scenes, especially involving New Mexican foods, are fairly easy because I still cook the foods and have strong memories of food and family that I like to return to in my writing.
What kind of research did you have to do for this book?
I read about the Great Depression and its effect on New Mexico and Colorado. I also read about the culture of the times in terms of music, famous people like Shirley Temple, and even politics. My brother explained the various jobs on the Union Pacific Railroad and the work conditions for section workers like my grandfather. My editor pressed for information about steam engines, so I researched them in order to describe my protagonist’s first impression of seeing one. We also took a trip to Fort Steele, Wyoming and this time I looked at the familiar town through my adult eyes and heard my aunt’s viewpoint growing up there during the Great Depression.
Did you draw on any personal or family stories for this novel?
My mother received a special gift at a school Christmas party when she was a child, and that became the impetus for the ending of my story. Growing up we always heard the various stories about ancestors, so some of that comes up in The Wind Called My Name, particularly when Margarita’s sister shares information in school about her great-grandfather serving in the Civil War in New Mexico.
Can you talk about what you’re working on next?
My picture book, again with New Mexican culture, got the “green light” that it’s ready to submit, according to a New York agent who heard it at our local Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference in September. After all the book launch hoopla dies down, I will submit the story. I’d also like to revisit my historical fiction middle grade story set during WWII in Wyoming.
If you could spend a day with any character in your book who would it be and why?
Of course I’ve love to see my mother again (she’s Margarita, the protagonist). We lost her to ovarian cancer sixteen years ago, but I’d also like to hear my great-grandmother Rufina (Maldonado) Maes’ stories of her ancestors. She’s Abuela Rufina in my story. I’ve been able to trace so many of her ancestors back to the 1500’s and 1600s’ and would love to hear her personal memories and stories.
The wind seems to be a prominent metaphoric theme in your story. Can you tell us how this came to be?
The wind stripped the land during the Great Depression and caused a great migration of New Mexican people, pushing them to seek jobs in Wyoming. In my story, people in Wyoming pushed back, like the ever present and familiar wind, against the new arrivals--especially if they were different.
This book’s storyline is reminiscent of Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry because it speaks about a family’s journey through financial and racial hardship during the Depression but of course, from a young Latina’s perspective. Was that book a source or an inspiration in any way? If not, from where did this story emerge?
I did reread the book because it was set during the Depression, so it had to have unconsciously influenced me to a degree. But the story emerged from my mother’s childhood memories of growing up in an old Civil War town that was originally built to protect the men who were building the railroad there.
When crafting the story, how did you decide to write from this point of view?
This story was always about Margarita’s point of view.
What drew you to write a piece of historical fiction?
I’m a big history and genealogy buff and I love delving into the past to learn people’s stories and/or imagining them.
Do you see yourself writing more historical fiction?
I absolutely see the potential for telling stories of those brave colonists, especially the women, who settled New Mexico when it was called Nueva Espana.