Welcome to the #Latinx author interviews! There will be a total of 13 interviews and in this post, I bring you the first four! The Let’s Get Lit Book Fest will take place over the next 6 weeks and will support and highlight marginalized authors of different communities, you can check here who else will be featured by other bloggers soon! It has brought me great joy to have this opportunity to work with authors who I love and support, so let’s hear what they had to say about their favorite books, publishing and my favorite: If you had to pick a song to represent your book what would it be? 🙂
In today’s post, I will be interviewing Yaffa S. Santos, Loriel Ryon, Ernesto Cisneros, and Reina Luz Alegre!
Q: Please introduce yourselves and briefly explain what your books are about!
Yaffa: Hi! My name is Yaffa S. Santos and I write rom-coms with strong WOC protagonists. I love food and cooking, so those also play a role in my writing.
Loriel: I am an author of middle grade fiction. I was brought up in a mixed (Caucasian and Mexican American) military family that inspires much of my writing about that wonderfully complicated time between childhood and adulthood. I am also a nurse, have a degree in biology, and live in the magical New Mexico desert with my husband and two daughters.
This book has a little bit of everything in it from a magical family trait, STEM elements, magical realism, sister relationships, coming out, best-friend relationships, first crushes and adventure. It’s available now in hardcover (which is gorgeous), e-book, and audio narrated by Marisa Blake.
Ernesto: I am a parent, teacher, and author of Efrén Divided. I was born and raised in Santa Ana, California, where I continue to teach. As an author, I believe in providing today’s youth with an honest depiction of characters with whom they can identify.
My book is about a 12-year-old boy (Efrén Nava) whose life is turned upside down when his mother is deported, leaving him to fend for himself and his younger siblings while holding onto the hope that she may soon return.
Reina: Hi everyone! I’m Reina Luz Alegre, and THE DREAM WEAVER is my middle grade debut. It’s a contemporary tale about a twelve-year-old girl named Zoey who helps save her abuelo’s beachside bowling alley the summer everything changes for her family. She also deals with a whole bunch of friend issues and adolescent insecurities. Eventually Zoey finds her backbone and where she belongs. It was a fun story to write–I like books that are realistic, that don’t shy away from serious topics, that instead address them with humor and heart.
Q: What inspired you to become a writer?
Yaffa: I loved reading and writing since I was a child. As an adult, I had a longstanding goal of writing a novel, but until my son was born, I hadn’t done anything about it. As he grew, I thought about how when he was older, I wanted to be able to show him my books, not tell him I used to want to be a novelist. That gave me the push I needed to get started.
Loriel: Becoming a mother is what finally sort of pushed me into the mental headspace to give writing a try. I’d attempted writing on and off throughout my youth and young adulthood. English had never been my strongest subject in school, I’d never much liked the books we studied in class, and I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, but I often found myself looking for the sparknotes versions to get me by on the tests and papers. Don’t get me wrong, I gave every book a try, but for so many of them, I just couldn’t get into them.
But here’s the thing: I LOVED reading. I was a voracious reader; I just didn’t connect with so many of the classics. I never thought my writing was any good, and no teacher ever said so, so I focused on my strong subject…science.
But once I became a mother, things changed. My whole understanding of self, changed. I struggled to find my new identity in motherhood. It wasn’t until we moved back to New Mexico and I transitioned into the role of mostly-stay-at-home-mom that I started to have a lot of downtime in the afternoons. I was filled with anxiety. Do I watch TV? Do I clean up the house?
The trick now is that my kids are older, naptime is no longer, but I am trained to be an afternoon writer. So, it’s been a challenge, but I am finding a new normal.
Ernesto: In a strange way, I was always a writer. As far as I can remember, my imagination had a way of taking over just about everything I did. I was a true space cadet. But then as I got older, I started to write some of these thoughts down. It was a natural progression for me.
Reina: Needing to write has just always been a part of me. When I was in second grade, I remember we’d get assigned to make up a story, and time would stop. I’d disappear totally into the notebook in which I’d scribble whatever made-up people and shenanigans decided to prance out of my pencil. And all these years later, there’s nothing I love more than escaping into the story on my mind.
Q: Who’s your favorite Latinx author?
Yaffa: Josefina Baez. She is a Dominican-American author and performance artist. I connect with her Spanglish, the way she plays with words, and kind of floats between contradictory ideas without placing pressure to resolve them. Paradoxes are allowed to exist and coexist. I love anything by Beverly Jenkins. I also love Priscilla Oliveras and Mia Sosa’s work.
Loriel: My favorite Latinx author is Aida Salazar, author of THE MOON WITHIN and coming soon, THE LAND OF THE CRANES. THE MOON WITHIN was the book I needed when I was coming of age. It touches on the taboo topics of puberty and menstruation, celebrates womanhood and peoplehood, and it’s so wonderful and beautifully written. I cannot wait to read what she writes next.
Ernesto: That is a tough question to answer. I’d have to go with Paulo Coelho. His book, THE ALCHEMIST, was the first book to ever called out to me. It reminded me to listen to my heart and pursuit my dreams, no matter how unachievable they might feel.
Reina: I have a few! One major favorite Latinx author is Meg Medina. I’m also of Cuban descent, and her book, YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS, was the first time I read a book with a contemporary MC who grew up Cuban-American.
Q: What song (English or Spanish) would go best with your book? why?
Yaffa: The song “Rescue” by Yuna was one of my inspirations for Lumi, my main character. My song for the scenes of Lumi cooking in her kitchen was Compay Segundo’s La Negra Tomasa 🙂
Loriel: Cielito Lindo version by Marta Gomez. My grandmother and Walita sang that song to me all the time when we would visit them in south Texas, so it’s always had a special place in my heart. The version by Marta Gomez is slow and a bit sadder in tone than other renditions I’ve listened to, so I think it captures the mood the book perfectly.
Ernesto: It would have to be Hero, by Loma Vista. I played it on repeat for the majority of the time I worked on the book. To me, the lyrics are about a young person who doesn’t wish to be put in the situation of being a hero. Like my character, Efrén, he just wants to have a normal life, with his family intact.
Reina: ‘A Million Dreams’ sung by Pink was on the radio a lot as I was writing THE DREAM WEAVER. (I still listen to and love FM radio!) I love the hopefulness of this song, how it’s literally about wanting to make your dreams come true. In THE DREAM WEAVER, Zoey is super determined and resourceful as she figures out how to help her loved ones pursue their dreams while also trying to figure out her own dream, and hope is a constant theme.
Q: What are your favorite books?
Yaffa: Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. This was the first book that led me to realize a novel could have recipes. Levente No. Yolayorkdominicanyork by Josefina Baez. Brings back memories of living in Upper Manhattan. Indigo by Beverly Jenkins is just the most beautiful love story.
Loriel: *The Moon Within by Aida Salazar (an important and beautiful story told in verse about a girl coming of age, puberty, menstruation. A book I needed as an adolescent and I’m so happy it’s out in the world for me to share with my kids when they come of age)
*Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (I devoured this book in a morning and the realness with which Reynolds writes, cutting to the truth with the most perfect words…I cannot get enough of his writing.)
*Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (probably one of the only classics I ever loved in school)
*The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (the crafting of this book blew me away and the threading of the storylines. I get chills when I think about it.)
Ernesto: There are too many books to name, but the first one that inspired me to begin writing was K.L. Going’s FAT KID RULES THE WORLD. I really connected with the voice. It wasn’t overwritten… but authentic sounding (to me). Something I’d never seen in books before.
I also turn to Jerry Spinelli’s MANIAC MAGEE because of the way it deals with serious issues of race, running away, and mental health in a way accessible to young children. There’s also Operation Frog Effect by Sarah Scheerger. I love the way she captures the voices of so many diverse characters in such an entertaining fashion—while making it all appear so effortless.
Reina: SO MANY FAVORITES. Way too many to list them all here. But growing up, I adored everything by Judy Blume, loved that her books talked about everyday, middle school issues. Now as an adult I’m also a huge fan of recent MG books by Mae Respicio, Sofiya Pasternack, Anika Fajardo and so many others!
Q: What made you want to write in your current genre?
Yaffa: It’s the genre I have always enjoyed most. When I was younger, I wished to see more women of color in rom coms, finding love and getting happy endings.
Loriel: Reading was a huge part of my life during elementary and middle school. I enjoyed the escape into story and getting to experience so many things through different protagonist’s eyes. Adventures through history, escapes to summer camp, and so many life lessons learned from a safe distance. But I ended up switching from children’s books right into adult books, as upper middle grade and YA weren’t really a thing back then. Many of the books were pretty advanced, dealing with adult issues, but I still enjoyed them. The ages of 10-14 is so important with changes happening in physicality, emotionality, mentality, and relationships. Books targeted for this age group are vital. We need books that aren’t afraid to explore tough topics and people from all sorts of backgrounds and families and life experiences. All of this is important, and I feel so fortunate that I have the opportunity to write for this formative age
Ernesto: Writing middle grade came as a surprise to me. The story was born after three of my students experienced ICE raids at each of their homes. Each one of them had a family member taken away mid-school year. There was so much uncertainty in the community: I needed to do something. I created the character of Efrén (A friend) to help my kids, both at school and home, navigate through the confusion and uncertainty.
Reina: I love that middle grade is at the crossroads of the hopefulness we try to instill in younger kids and the maturity we expect from older teen audiences. And I’ve always been drawn to contemporary stories that help make sense of the world as we know it.
Q: If your main character had a Twitter account, what would be a tweet of theirs that would go viral?
Yaffa: Unpopular opinion: apples belong in ratatouille.
Loriel: Haha. Well, my main character, Yolanda is definitely smart and a bit snarky. So, she’d probably have a viral tweet that would be a “retweet with comment” calling out the scientific incorrectness of someone else’s tweet.
Ernesto: #INeedMyMomBack with a photo of the entire Nava family. Yep, I think that would do it.
Reina: Hahaha, I LOVE this question. If my twelve-year-old main character were allowed to be on Twitter, I imagine her tweeting something about fashion or makeup, as she discovers her sense of personal style. Maybe an observation about how wearing mascara for the first time can make you feel like your eyes suddenly have curtains. Or creative ways to redesign your favorite old jersey when you can’t afford to replace it with a new one.
Q: Do you feel like your book is the kind you wanted to read when you were younger?
Yaffa: Yes. As I mentioned, when I was younger I loved the genre but the small number of books with women protagonists of color made it a bittersweet love.
Loriel: Absolutely 100%. For a few reasons. I never saw a mixed kid in any of the books I read growing up. My siblings and I are still trying to figure out what to call ourselves and where we fit within our families and our identities. I had never seen mixed characters even mentioned in the books I read. I wanted to represent who me and my siblings are in a beautiful story that didn’t solely focus on that aspect.
The second reason I wrote this book, was that when I was growing up, losing my grandparents terrified me. I was so afraid of them dying and what that might look like and how that might be. I was fortunate enough to have both my grandfathers for a long time and am fortunate that both my grandmothers are still living. But I needed to find something in a book that said everything was going to be okay even after loss. So, this story is for that. To offer hope that even after loss and pain and grief, life becomes new again and we can move on.
Ernesto: Definitely. I never thought that Latino families were worthy of being written about. It would have blown my mind to think that a Latino (a fellow Santanero) could be a professional author. Growing up, I never thought that writing was something allotted for kids like me.
Reina: Yes! I don’t remember reading ANY contemporary characters with Cuban, or even Latinx, heritage when I was in elementary school or early middle school. I would have been so excited as a kid to read the familiar things I borrowed from my own childhood and peppered throughout Zoey’s story in THE DREAM WEAVER–from azabache charms to ropa vieja for dinner (it’s a shredded meat dish that means ‘old clothes’ in Spanish) to being spontaneously quizzed on your Spanish by older relatives.
Q: What do you hope readers, especially from your community, take away from your book or your experiences as an author?
Yaffa: Most of us from my community who want to write are also balancing families, jobs, and other responsibilities. It it possible, with time and perseverance. You have to love what you are writing about because that is what will give you the fuel to keep going.
Loriel: I would like for readers to take away hope from my story. I hope that they see that even after a terrible trying time, there is space for renewal and new beginnings. I hope they see in Yolanda a strong girl who lets her guard down in order to change for the better. I think we all can learn from that.
In terms of my experiences as an author, I hope readers see that you don’t have to have been told you are a good writer your whole life in order to be an author. You didn’t need to major in English or get an MFA (you definitely could have and that is a wonderful thing to have accomplished!). You can be interested in biology and nursing! But you do need to sit down and write. You need to put the time in and believe in yourself in order to accomplish your goals.
Ernesto: I want each and every one of my readers to understand that we are all part of the same human race. We are brothers and sisters. And for those Latinx children might be seeing themselves on the page for the first time, I want them to feel a sense of pride of who they are and where they come from… and to know that they belong center stage, not on the margins.
Reina: I hope all readers turn the last page of THE DREAM WEAVER and walk away with a sense of hopefulness, a bit of cheer. For Latinx readers especially, I hope that some of the things Zoey’s family say or do feel relatable–or interestingly different! Every Latinx family and experience is unique and there are so many aspects to Latinx culture and heritage to explore! 🙂
Q: Do you have any advice for any aspiring authors out there?
Yaffa: Keep writing and find a way to throw your hat in the ring, even if it looks different from what you originally imagined. Don’t give up! Like many other authors, I was rejected so many times before I connected with my agent. It only takes one yes, though 🙂
Loriel: Don’t be afraid to try. For a long time, I was so paralyzed by fear of failure that I didn’t even have the courage to try. Expect failure. Expect rejection. And then come up with a plan for how you are going to handle it when it happens. But put yourself out there and try. You won’t regret it.
Ernesto: Don’t write what you think others want you to. Whatever your style is, stick with it. It’s what makes your writing unique and marketable. It’s okay to seek the advice of other authors and try different things. However, at the end of the day, write for yourself. Write about the things that matter to you.
Shut your eyes, think about the memories that you hold special in your heart. Ignore everything else that might distract you like worries or problems—even that nasty voice of self-doubt. Now share those memories with the world and don’t hold back; the relationship between the writer and reader needs to be genuine and honest.
Reina: Be honest with yourself: Don’t give up too easily, but try not to obsess too much over any single project either (easier said than done!). Find balance in your life and in your writing both. There’s no one-size-fits-all advice. I think you just have to figure out what works for you–how much time you can afford to dedicate to writing, where writing realistically falls on your list of life’s priorities, what you want to write when you are able to write. At the end of the day, I hope you write what brings you joy or catharsis or makes you proud. 💙
Stay tuned for next round of Author Interviews tomorrow:)
What are some of your favorite Latinx Authors and books? Also don’t forget to participate in our #LGLfestprompts so we can get to know you a little bit more every day!