Welcome to the #Latinx author interviews! It is the second day of Let’s Get Lit Book Fest that 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 Chantel Acevedo, Amparo Ortiz, Laura Pohl, and Ann Davila!
Q: Please introduce yourselves and briefly explain what your books are about!
Chantel: Hi everyone! I’ve written several books for adults, all of which are historical fiction featuring Cuban or Cuban-American characters. But MUSE SQUAD: THE CASSANDRA CURSE is for children! It’s the first in a middle grade duology about a Cuban-American girl who discovers she’s one of the nine muses of Greek myth. After accidentally turning her best friend into a pop star, Callie joins the Muse Squad–a group of kid muses tasked with inspiring others to find the heroes within.
Amparo: Hi, everyone! I’m the author of BLAZEWRATH GAMES, which is a young adult contemporary fantasy coming from Page Street Kids this fall! It centers around Lana Torres, a 17yo Puerto Rican girl who wants to represent her country in the Blazewrath World Cup–an international tournament where dragon riders and their steeds fight in a dangerous relay. When a former Blazewrath superstar and a cursed dragon supremacist demand the Cup’s cancellation, Lana’s forced to uncover a global conspiracy that could prove deadlier than her beloved sport.
Laura: I’m Laura, a Brazilian YA author. My first duology, THE LAST 8 and THE FIRST 7, is about a group of teens who survived the alien apocalypse, and need to find in themselves the strength to unite and fight back. The main character is Clover Martinez, a bisexual/aromantic girl who grew up wanting to be a pilot. It’s got a diverse cast, and centers on friendship. It’s also got a dog!
My next book, DOOMED, is about four girls who are reimagined fairytale princesses who must break a curse before they succumb to it. It’s set in a fancy boarding school, and it’s got plenty of magic, fairytale feels and sword fighting.
Ann: I’m a New Jersey born Gringa-Rican writer from Vermont. My book from last year, Five Midnights, and the one coming out June 2, Category Five, are based in Puerto Rico, about a group of friends who navigate the hard parts of life all while dealing with boogeymen, hurricanes, ghosts, and serial killers.
Q: What inspired you to become a writer?
Chantel: I always enjoyed writing, even as a little girl. I couldn’t do sports, and I wasn’t popular, but I could tell a funny story which made my friends laugh. But I didn’t know I could be a real writer until college and I started taking creative writing classes. Even then, it seemed more like a pipe dream than a thing real people did. I majored in English and taught high school for nearly a decade, writing during summer break. I remember when my first book came out, I didn’t quite believe it was real. I don’t think it felt real until I saw it in a bookstore window. Such a strange and wonderful moment!
Amparo: Movies, mostly. I only started reading books for fun when I was in high school, but storytelling had always been a part of my life thanks to film. I even wrote (terrible) short stories as a kid, but I didn’t equate it to me wanting to be a writer. I figured I was just creative. Fast forward to senior year: that’s when I truly allowed myself the chance to explore writing as a career. I had my very first idea for a book and I needed to share it with the world, so I researched query letters, literary agents, and the publishing industry as a whole. That first book didn’t go anywhere, but it was the beginning of everything.
Laura: I’ve always loved writing and telling stories, so I’m not sure when exactly it began. At fourteen, I started writing fanfiction (mostly for Naruto and Percy Jackson fandoms), and then later I started creating my own stories. I’ve never really stopped since then.
Ann: I’ve always been an avid reader, but I started writing to document my Puerto Rican mother’s stories. She died before my son Carlos was born, so I wanted to give him a sense of who she was. Then there was a question about whether her stories were true or not, and I realized that making things up was WAY more fun than trying to capture the “truth.”
Q: Who’s your favorite Latinx author?
Chantel: My favorite Cuban-American writer is Cristina Garcia. When I first started writing fiction in college, I didn’t tell stories about my culture at all. I hadn’t read much Latinx fiction at that point, and so what I knew of literature was very white. Then, one day, I saw Cristina Garcia’s novel Dreaming in Cuban in a bookstore. I remember picking it up in a daze. Who let her write this? Who gave her permission? I recall wondering these things. I bought it, of course, and was floored. Here was my culture in a book. Not just a book. A GORGEOUS work of art. That moment changed my life.
Amparo: Naming them all is a CHALLENGE. I’m obsessed with so many, but the ones I’m stanning the hardest right now are Anna-Marie McLemore, Mia García, Yamile Saied Méndez, Claribel Ortega, Elizabeth Acevedo, Zoraida Córdova, and Daniel José Older. The world would be a much darker place without their writing.
Laura: Hmm, that’s so hard to choose! I love Zoraida Córdova’s stories, and Mark Oshiro has such a strong and inspirational voice, I can’t wait to see what he writes next. One of my favorite books of last year was WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE, by Tehlor Kay Mejia, and it’s both magical and a pageturner. I couldn’t stop reading it.
Ann: Well, Julia Alvarez is my #writergoal. Actually, she’s such a kind and elegant human she’s just my goal all around. As for contemporary writers, lately I’ve been tearing through Gabino Iglesias’ novels. He writes what he calls “barrio noir” and it is gritty and disturbing and beautiful. Not for the faint of heart, however.
Q: What song (English or Spanish) would go best with your book? why?
Chantel: Oh, is it cheesy to say it’s Sara Bareilles’ “Brave?” I just love it, and I think Callie would, too. All through the book, she encourages herself and others. Like the song says, “Show me how big your brave is!” And Callie and the other members of the Muse Squad have very big braves;)
Amparo: My main character is a huge Monsta X fan (also known as a Monbebe)! I think their song “Fighter” is the best fit for BLAZEWRATH GAMES in general, but if I had to pick an English song, it would be Ruelle’s “Up In Flames.” I listened to it a lot while drafting!
Laura: I think the song I’ve most listened to when I was drafting THE LAST 8 was “The end of the world” by R.E.M., because it played on the soundtrack of Independence Day, my original inspiration for the book. I’d also say “Starman” by David Bowie is algo a good choice.
Ann: Oh! For Category Five it’s “El Huracán” by Urban Legend featuring brilliant Puerto Rican musicians La Bruja and Rico Pabon. It’s a driving hip hop song from 2009. It’s older and somewhat obscure, but it’s wonderful, and given that the novel takes place after Hurricane Maria it is just perfect. And I listened to Lin Manuel Miranda and Artists for Puerto Rico’s “Almost Like Praying” while I wrote and it will always make me cry (even in the middle of Zumba class).
Q: What are your favorite books?
Chantel: Well, I’ve already mentioned Dreaming in Cuban! I also adored Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X. It’s a gorgeous, honest and uplifting book. I read Anne of Green Gables as a kid, and it drove me straight to the writing page. I think of Anne’s life philosophy often–there is beauty everywhere, you just have to look for it.
Amparo: Again, naming them all is super hard, but here are *just a few* I’m obsessed with: Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK (my all-time fave), Karuna Riazi’s THE GAUNTLET & THE BATTLE, Yamile Saied Méndez’s WHERE ARE YOU FROM?, Nova Ren Suma’s IMAGINARY GIRLS, Camryn Garrett’s FULL DISCLOSURE, Mariko Tamaki’s LAURA DEAN KEEPS BREAKING UP WITH ME, S. Jae-Jones’s WINTERSONG, All of Courtney Summers’s books!
Laura: Hmm, this question is always so hard! I have such a diverse taste in books that my five favourite books never seem to make sense with each other. I’d say “Gone Girl”, by Gillian Flynn, “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt. “The Martian” by Andy Weir, and “A Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Marquez. I also reread “Pride and Prejudice” and “The Hunger Games” a copious amount of times.
Ann: This is always so hard for me. I love so, so, many. As far as inspiring me to write when I was younger, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende, and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. As far as young adult, Feed by MT Anderson, the Binti series by Nnedi Okorafor is about as good as sci fi gets in my opinion. And pretty much anything written by Neil Gaiman. But the book that was most influential in my life would have to be Charlotte’s Web. It got me through my father’s death when I was eight years old. My biggest hope is that my work can do that for a reader one day.
Q: What made you want to write in your current genre?
Chantel: My children! They asked when I would be writing a book for them, and I finally got an idea worthy of the task. Beyond that, I have never stopped reading kid-lit, and I’ve long admired the work that children’s authors do. I am honored to join them in it.
Amparo: I’ve always been a sucker for fantasy. My childhood is filled with re-watching The Wizard of Oz, The Dark Crystal, Legend, and The Neverending Story. My speculative tastes vary widely, but I’m partial to magic users and mythical beasts, both of which are present in BLAZEWRATH GAMES. When I first brainstormed the story, I knew I wanted dragons to coexist with humans. It just took me a while to figure out how (and to finally accept my dragons didn’t have to be either European or Eastern Asian). Once the idea felt more concrete, I had no desire to write anything else.
Laura: I’ve always loved stories set in space and which contained magic. Adventure was always my favorite type of movie, so for me it felt natural to write in a genre that I grew up watching and reading about.
Ann: I was raised on horror. Creature Feature was always on at my house from my three brothers and my mother was obsessed with gothic literature. Then I read horror comics from about age nine to fourteen in order to make my own hell seem less…hell-like. So, the genre has been a constant in my life, and by writing it for young adults, I hope to reach a teen like me: outsider, dark sense of humor, comforted by books and movies.
Q: If your main character had a Twitter account, what would be a tweet of theirs that would go viral?
Chantel: She would just post a selfie with her pop-star best friend. Easy-peasy. 😉
Amparo: Lana actually goes viral because she rescues a dragon under attack at a wand shop, so she’d Quote Tweet the first related headline on her timeline and add: ‘Come enjoy the VIP wand-making tour!’ they said. 🤦🏽♀️
Laura: That’s an excellent question. Clover isn’t much of a social media person, and since the world ended, pretty sure all social media became dead. Brooklyn is probably the only one who still composes tweets in her head to post later, even if twitter isn’t working anymore, haha.
Ann: “Some troll posted this photo of a human heart on the beach to my facebook page. WTF? Some people need to get a hobby. #creepyasHELL” – Lupe Dávila
Q: Do you feel like your book is the kind you wanted to read when you were younger?
Chantel: Oh, yes, yes, yes! I adored books with magical elements when I was a kid. But I never read one set in Miami! Or with a Cuban kid, like I was. I have to say, that my 13 year old daughter read an early version of MUSE SQUAD, and said, “This correlates with my life so much!” And my heart grew ten sizes, obviously:)
Amparo: BLAZEWRATH GAMES is the book of my dreams. I wrote it precisely because I wanted to read something like it. I think my younger self would’ve pterodactyl-screeched at the chance to see Puerto Rican dragons in print.
Laura: Definitely! I’ve always wanted to read books with adventures and that didn’t exactly focus on the romance. This was one of the things I wish I had more when I was younger, because the great majority of YA focuses on romance, and I wished we had different types of stories. Clover’s journey is more about learning to love her friends, so that was one of the best things of writing it for me.
Ann: Absolutely. When I was growing up YA wasn’t even a thing yet, and the books I did read didn’t have people who were straddling two cultures like I am. I never saw Puerto Rico in a novel written for teens, certainly not in English. Having a parent die when you’re young is a life-defining event, as is being raised by an addict. All things I would’ve found really comforting to see reflected in the books I read.
Q: What do you hope readers, especially from your community, take away from your book or your experiences as an author?
Chantel: I hope Miami kids see themselves in my book. I hope they are inspired by the character of Maya Rivero, who is determined to find a way to mitigate sea-level rise in this, our vulnerable city. And I hope that kids everywhere see themselves in Callie, who wishes her parents were still together, or that she were more popular, but who does the right thing when faced with hard choices. Finally, I hope my readers see that they can be their own muses, too.
Amparo: It’s okay for your dreams to change. Our paths might be exactly the way we planned them, or they can shape themselves into ones we never expected. Lana’s journey is filled with surprises. I hope readers can see themselves in her choices, her deepest fears, and her determination to always stay true to herself regardless of what life throws at her.
Laura: I hope that most of all, they get to have fun. THE LAST 8 may be about the end of the world, but I wanted to offer a hopeful journey for all of us, how surviving takes a toll but ultimately it’s the best thing we can do, as long as we have friends and the people we love with us. We’re living in difficult times right now, so I hope that’s the message that stays after the book is done.
Ann: I hope they learn a bit more about Puerto Rico and its tremendous and complex beauty. I’m an outsider, I’m half Puerto Rican so I’ve only lived there for a few months at a time, but I’m in love with the island and wanted to share that with readers. Also, I truly hope they think about everything the islanders have gone through during and after the hurricanes.
Q: Do you have any advice for any aspiring authors out there?
Chantel: Don’t give up! I’ve known some amazing writers with brilliant stories to tell who have simply… stopped. There can’t ever be any promises in publishing, and we know it’s a wild industry, but please keep writing, keep reading, keep honing your craft. A door will open. And there’s a reader out there who will read your words and their lives will change because of it. Don’t give up!
Amparo: Find your truth, put it on the page, and be kind to yourself through it all. This world will always need art. Don’t let it tell you otherwise.
Laura: Read, and keep writing! It’s a job that demands discipline. As long as you keep trying, you’ll continue to improve, and eventually, you’ll get there.
Ann: Don’t give up. It is a hard road to take, you will “fail” sooo many times, but in truth you will never fail when you write. You are building a foundation and you shouldn’t give up before the walls go up.
Stay tuned for the Featured Books Showcase 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!