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.
We are thrilled to introduce you to our second official Las Musas launch - ANA MARIA REYES DOES NOT LIVE IN A CASTLE by Hilda Burgos. Las Musas asked Hilda about her middle grade novel out this week (Tu Books) which received stars from Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal and has been called "A Latina Little Women with a modern Washington Heights flair" by Julia Alvarez.
First, you need to know that...
Her last name may mean kings, but Ana María Reyes REALLY does not live in a castle. Rather, she's stuck in a tiny apartment with two parents (way too lovey-dovey), three sisters (way too dramatic), everyone's friends (way too often), and a piano (which she never gets to practice). And when her parents announce a new baby is coming, that means they'll have even less time for Ana María.
Pobre Ana Maria!!
Then she hears about the Eleanor School, New York City's best private academy. If Ana María can win a scholarship, she'll be able to get out of her Washington Heights neighborhood school and achieve the education she's longed for. To stand out, she'll need to nail her piano piece at the upcoming city showcase, which means she has to practice through her sisters' hijinks, the neighbors' visits, a family trip to the Dominican Republic . . . right up until the baby's birth! But some new friends and honest conversations help her figure out what truly matters, and know that she can succeed no matter what. Ana María Reyes may not be royal, but she's certain to come out on top.
What inspired you to write a character like Ana Maria?
As a child, I loved school and I loved to read. While I enjoyed reading about kids who were different from me, I also longed to connect with some characters. Not once did I read about a kid like me: bilingual, living in a small apartment with a large family, with many extended family members in another country. So, I decided to create that character myself.
The many places in this book seem like they are almost characters in the book - the not castle, the prep school, the DR… Why were these different spaces important to write?
I think we’re shaped by a lot of things, including our experiences and the places where we have those experiences. Like Ana María, I grew up in an apartment in Washington Heights. When I was ten years old, I visited the Dominican Republic for the first time, and I was surprised by how different it was from everything I had known until that point. I attended a small private school for two years in middle school and, although the school was within walking distance from my home, it seemed like a different world. I wanted Ana María to also experience some of the places that I visited, and to learn and grow from them, as I believe that I did too.
How does NYC act as a character in the story?
NYC has many different neighborhoods with people whose lives are so different from one another. Ana María complains about living in a small apartment in Washington Heights while her best friend lives in a big house in the nearby and much wealthier neighborhood of Riverdale. She and her family ride public transportation everywhere; the NYC subway system is a character in itself! And then there’s the fact that Washington Heights is a home away from home for her parents, and a place where Ana María and her sisters are surrounded by Dominican culture and the Spanish language even though they have never been outside of the US. This book would not have been the same if it had been set in a different location.
If you could go back and change one part of the story, what would it be?
This is a pretty dangerous question, because every time I read the book I made more changes, until I just had to stop looking at it! Like most writers, I’ll probably never think anything I write is perfect. Nevertheless, at this point, I wouldn’t change anything about the storyline, but I might add more details to my Dominican Republic scenes. I recently read Pablo Cartaya’s Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish, and I really liked his vivid descriptions of Puerto Rico. As I read Cartaya’s descriptions, I thought that, if I were still editing my book, I would go back and see where I could paint a clearer picture of the DR.
What does a typical day of writing look like for you?
Since I have a full time job I write when I can, and I don’t really have a typical writing day. Mostly I write on weekends, and also some evenings. I think about what I’m going to write as I do other things, like walk my dog, do laundry, cook, load the dishwasher, etc. Then, when I have gathered up enough for a scene or a chapter, I sit down and put it on paper.
What message do you hope Ana María sends her readers?
That family and friendships are more important than material possessions, and that our choices can make a big difference in our lives and the lives of others.
Do you play an instrument like Ana María? What music do you love to play or listen to?
Although I haven’t played the piano in a while, I took lessons for many years as a child, and I played mostly classical music. As I got older, I also played ragtime and jazz, which was challenging and rhythmic, and so much fun to play. I enjoy listening to many styles of music, especially Latin music, not only for its wonderful beats but also because so many Spanish language songs have beautifully poetic lyrics.
Ana María feels threatened by the expected baby sibling. Do you have siblings, and are they older, younger or both?
I have two older sisters and one younger sister. This book actually started out as a short story where three sisters worried about the possibility of getting a brother now that their mother was pregnant again. It was inspired by my experiences when I was six years old and my youngest sister was born. Now my sister insists that she’s my musa!
Here is a photo of me and my sisters celebrating my First Communion:
Sometimes authors like to put a little of themselves in their characters - did you do that with Ana Maria or any of the other characters in the book?
Yes. Ana María’s specific experiences are fictional, but she and I have a lot in common. She is the daughter of Dominican immigrants, has three sisters, is growing up in Washington Heights, and loves school. She also has a stay-at-home mom and a highly educated father. I put a little of myself in the character of Ana María’s dad, too. He is a legal services lawyer (while my dad is a scientist) and I worked for legal services as my first job out of law school.
What was the most difficult scene to write?
The opening scene. The first sentence in the book is the same first sentence I wrote in my very first draft, but just about everything else changed from that first chapter. I struggled with the opening because I wanted my first scene to be interesting and engaging so that readers would not want to put the book down. I hope I managed to do that successfully.
What scene came the easiest?
Most of the scenes that include a lot of dialogue. Once I had my characters’ personalities clear in my mind, the conversations between them seemed to flow naturally through my fingers.
Can you talk about what you’re working on next?
It’s still in a very early stage, so I can’t say too much. It is another MG book, completely unrelated to this book. My main character is also the daughter of Dominican immigrants … and, that’s all I’ll say for now.
Go out and get your copy of ANA MARIA DOES NOT LIVE IN A CASTLE today!
We are beyond excited for the very first Musa book to be out in the world. A contemporary adventure based in Maya mythology, THE STORM RUNNER centers on Zane Obispo, a young boy who is constantly made fun of for his limp and walking cane, but whose life is completely changed when a twin-engine plane crashes into a dormant volcano in his backyard and introduces a mysterious girl named Brooks. Brooks tells him that the volcano is actually a centuries-old prison for the Maya god of death, whose destiny is directly tied to Zane's.
Brooks opens his eyes to the truth: magic, monsters, and gods are real, and Zane is at the center of an ancient prophecy that could mean the destruction of the world!
Dun dun DUN!!
No work of art would be complete without its Musa: Jennifer (J.C.) Cervantes! Jen is a children’s author who has earned multiple awards and recognitions, including the New Mexico Book Award, Zia Book Award, and was named a New Voices Pick by the American Booksellers Association for her first book Tortilla Sun. A champion of the underdog and believer in magic, Jen is the perfect Musa to bring THE STORM RUNNER to life.
Without further ado here is Jen!
You are the first Latinx writer in the Rick Riordan Present’s (Disney Hyperion) series. Why is it important to you that the Meso-American pantheon be represented in this series?
The mythologies kids learn about these days are predominantly Greek and Roman and sometimes, Norse. We are a country of immense diversity with so many cultures’ mythologies that are rich and varied. I want kids with ties to Mesoamerica/Mexico to know they have a pantheon of Maya gods, Aztec gods, Toltec gods etc. with amazing tales and histories. And kids without those ties? I want them to share in the awe of these stories and myths, to experience a new world.
Which is your favorite god or goddess in this pantheon and why?
Not a fair question because there are so many to love, but I’d have to say Ixkakaw because she’s the goddess of chocolate and who doesn’t LOVE chocolate?
What was your inspiration to write a main character with a disability? What sort of research did you have to do?
When I was a girl I was diagnosed with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. It was common to be screened at school and I can so clearly remember walking out of the nurse’s office thinking that kids could see what I believed was a “deformity.” It was a powerful feeling, that sense of being different, of not belonging. A feeling I never forgot, which is why I dedicated this book to those who don’t feel like they belong. I also remember the stories my grandfather told me about his life with polio--how his legs were too skinny to be strong, how kids made fun of him, how he longed to play sports. It was important to me that Zane’s disability not define him, that I be mindful of the visibility and invisibility of his experiences and his feeling that he didn’t belong. So, I drew on personal experiences/accounts with people/children I know. I read a lot and I also worked closely with a special education scholar who has dedicated her life to teaching and working with kids with disabilities. She read the manuscript as well to ensure I remained mindful and aware of my character and his experience in an authentic way.
Is there a character that you didn’t like to write? If so, why?
I loved writing them all. Although, the demon runners with their slimy skin, foaming mouths, curved yellow claws, and hairy-patched bodies were at times spine-chilling.
Do you have any hidden messages in The Storm Runner that fans should look out for?
I have a few Easter eggs for sure
What is your biggest hope for The Storm Runner?
That it finds the hearts that need it most.
What is your favorite sentence in The Storm Runner?
Can I have two?
A booming voice came over a loudspeaker in the ceiling: “New soul on level three. Thinks he’s Shakespeare. Only speaks in iambic pentameter and I’m getting ready to smash in his face.
Destiny comes knocking, and if you don't open the door, she will come in through the window.
What was the scariest and best part about working with your own culture?
Scariest was wanting to get it “right” and worried I’d be judged for getting it “wrong.”
Best: I connected to some wonderful childhood memories of my grandmother and family.
If we wanted to try making delicious authentic hot chocolate at home what do you recommend?
You can follow a basic recipe but for me the real trick is the cayenne pepper and vanilla :)
Are you and Rick BFFs now?
Rick is way too cool for a BFF unless of course you’re Rosie (seen below) and then he’s all over it :)
Can you tell us a little about how you were able to land your deal?
My agent sent me a well-timed email as soon as Disney sent out the Rick Riordan Presents announcement. I happened to have a story in mind that had been lingering in the vault. So, I polished the first three chapters and wrote a synopsis. After my agent submitted I thought I’d be waiting on a response forever, but we got a call the next day!
What has it been like working with Rick Riordan and his imprint RRP?
Incredibly awesome! Everyone at DH/RRP has been so genuine, down to earth, and kind. I couldn’t ask for a better more supportive team. The first time I met Rick was in NYC right before we were going to go on stage at BEA. Intimidating? Pretty much, but he was so easy going and made the entire experience so chill which was good because I was a nervous wreck.
What advice would you give other Latinx aspiring fantasy writers?
Begin with what you know, what you grew up with. Tap into the magic that is so prevalent in our cultures and let that carry you through the story. Don’t let anyone tell you that your experience doesn’t matter or isn’t ______ enough (fill in the blank) or doesn’t align with the “norm.” Read loads of books, especially diverse titles, support diverse writers. Find a mentor, go to conferences as your budget allows, join fantasy writer groups, follow blogs. Have fun, throw away the rules on those early drafts, and write the story your heart longs to tell. Be authentic. And above all honor the kids you write for. They are smart and funny and so eager to see themselves and their lives reflected in the pages of books.
If you could turn one character into a real life human to go to dinner with, which would it be and why?
Ixtab: because she dresses like a boss, and is sassy, snarky and salty all at once. Pretty much everything I’m not. Ha!
What are you working on now? What’s next?
I just finished the sequel to The Storm Runner, The Fire Keeper which comes out Sept. 2019. And there’s some other exciting news that I hope I can share soon!
What does it mean to be part of Las Musas?
I am so thrilled to be a part of a cohesive supportive group with the mission to lift one another up and that “celebrates the diversity of voice, experience, and power in our communities.” Abrazos :)
Learn more about The Storm Runner and snag your copy here!