Interview with Tehlor Kinney

It’s Monday, which is our favorite day here at #PitchAmérica. Just kidding. Monday is terrible, but at least we have these AWESOME writer interviews.

This week, I’m interviewing Tehlor Kinney. Tehlor’s super active on twitter and you should definetly follow her for REALNESS. Also check out her website for updates. I haven’t had the pleasure of reading her book yet, but I’ve heard so many good things and knowing Taylor, I know it’s going to ROCK.

Hope you love her answers as much as I do. And now, to the interview!

1) What is your favorite part about being a writer?
Honestly, so far it’s still just the process of writing. Sitting down at my desk and feeling that world open up in front of me like a portal. Especially when a scene is really working and I feel like I’ve physically left the room I’m in and gone somewhere else. There’s absolutely nothing like that feeling for me.

2) How has your cultural background influenced your writing? Do you write many Latinx characters?

Well, I’m biracial, and I wasn’t raised in a way that I would have considered “typically” Latinx, so for a long time I felt like I didn’t have the right to claim that heritage. It wasn’t until I was older and more sure of myself that I started to explore that side of my identity, and to build a community that supported it. For me, it’s been a feeling of not knowing why you felt disconnected for a lifetime, and then suddenly discovering the reason and getting to go home.

It’s immensely comforting even while it’s a little disorienting at times.
So yes, I do write Latinx characters, but since my experience has been a bit of a tug-of-war with personal identity, I tend to write characters that share that struggle. Characters that are looking for a home between two worlds, and the struggle to find a balance that will get you there in one piece.

3) As someone who comes from a diverse background, did you have any experience in publishing that put that in a negative light?

I’m relatively new to the industry – I’ve been writing for my whole life, but I only signed with my agent a couple of months ago, so I’m still kind of getting my feet wet in that regard. I was really lucky to find an agent that’s enthusiastically committed to furthering diversity in publishing, and who really understands the intersectional nature of my book and the kind of advocate it’s going to need when it’s time to submit it to publishers.
That said, I’m very outspoken on social media about the lack of access under-represented voices have in this industry. People of color are still notably scarce in the gatekeeper positions you need approval from to succeed in publishing, which creates an extra barrier for authors of color in an already fiercely competitive industry. It’s been really heartening to see the response to the recent calls for diversity in the industry, and I’m really glad that the dialogue has been started, but we still have a long way to go.

4) How important do you think diversity is in publishing, especially regarding Latinx representation?
I think accurate and positive representation of underrepresented voices in the media can be a vital weapon in the fight against institutionalized racism. If our children and teens see themselves as lesser, if even the media that claims to portray them is stereotyping and erasing their cultures, how are they supposed to develop the confidence they need to demand the humanity and equality they deserve?
 On a personal note, I was an avid reader and very confused about my identity as a teen. If I’d been able to see characters like me in books – not just one, but MANY varying characters doing all kinds of awesome things – I think I could have felt comfortable claiming my identity at a much earlier age, and avoided decades of insecurity and confusion.
The default narrative for Latinxs, when we’re represented at all, is that of foreigner. Other. Someone who doesn’t speak English or comes from some distant and unknowable country, an “illegal” that lives in a trailer and barely stays out of jail. A maid. A “spicy” best friend that you need to watch your boyfriend around. But those aren’t our only stories, or even a fraction of them. Teens need to see Latinxs slaying dragons and becoming scientists and making human mistakes and achieving their dreams. They need to see that they deserve better than stereotypes, that they’re more than criminals and housekeepers.
Books can show them that. Our books. That’s why we have to keep writing them.

 

5) As a young writer, what books influenced you? Did any come from your own background?

Being biracial, I was lucky to be able to mostly find myself in books featuring “normal” protagonists. YA wasn’t nearly the force it is now when I was a teen, but I devoured anything that crossed my path. I loved the idea that I could transcend my reality, that I could go somewhere else. It was the first stirring of the feeling I now get when I write, that portal to infinite possibility. Some favorites were A Wrinkle in Time (which I read about a hundred times), Little Women, everything by Roald Dahl and Judy Blume. The Harry Potter series, which was life-changing for me even though I can recognize its problematic nature now. Probably a thousand more that I’ll never remember.
Then, in eighth grade, I was assigned The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. It was the first time I’d ever seen a Latina in a book. The world in her story was so different from mine, a city I’d never been to, a language I only remembered in early-childhood fragments all bound up with dolls and blocks and the tile of my grandma’s kitchen floor. But for reasons I wouldn’t even begin to unpack that year, the stories felt like home. The way she spun words into pictures, the rhythm and cadence of every line…It was the most connected I’d ever felt to a book. It took me years and years and many more books by Latinx authors to understand the reason for that connection, and to mourn the faces that were so glaringly missing from my childhood literature, but I’ll never forget the still-summer-warm fall I met Esperanza Cordero.

 

6) Where do you get inspiration for your books?
EVERYWHERE. My husband has gotten to know the spaced-out look I get when a new idea strikes me almost as well as my smile. It happens in the car, in the grocery store, in restaurants and on walks and in my daughter’s bedroom during storytime. I’ve always had an incredibly overactive imagination, so all it takes is a little spark to get the words flowing, the cities rising, the characters’ hearts beating.
Lately though, the ideas that stick are the ones about teens like I was. Teens that don’t know it’s okay to tell the world who you are. Teens that fight through what they’re taught and what’s expected of them to find the future they want. Those are the stories I want in the world, so those are the ones I try to tell.

 

7) Any good advice for Latinx and POC writers out there?
Find your people. This industry can be exhausting for people that don’t have extra obstacles, and for those of us that do it’s even more draining. Establishing a solid community of other writers that understand what you’re going through is the best way I’ve found to stay sane and keep from burning out.
Also, there can be an expectation for Latinx writers to assume responsibility for representing their entire culture. Since the “Latinx” label represents something like 17 countries, many languages and skin tones, and countless individual experiences, that’s obviously an unrealistic expectation. Don’t focus on being a mascot. Don’t focus on pleasing everyone. Focus telling the story only YOU can tell, and make sure you take care of yourself in the process. You don’t owe anyone your identity.

  • Hogwarts house? 100% Ravenclaw
  • Favorite food? TACOS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Favorite movie? Center Stage. Still. DID YOU KNOW THEY’RE MAKING A SEQUEL?
  • Favorite TV series? Probably The Office, honestly.
  • Favorite soap opera? Does Jane the Virgin count? I’m gonna say it does.
    Favorite place in the world? The woods. Not terribly picky about which ones.
  • Favorite superhero? Can I jump the gun and say Matt de la Peña’s Superman? I’m pretty confident.

IMG_8733Tehlor is a YA author, poet, and impassioned advocate living in the wilds of Southern Oregon. She is a proud biracial Latina that doesn’t know the meaning of the words ‘not enough.’ Tehlor loves poetry, trees, tacos, the smell of printed pages, and the magic that lingers in the creases of everyday life. She is represented by Jim McCarthy of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management

Interview with Stephanie Diaz

It’s Monday again, and to cheer us up for the rest of the week, here’s our interview with Stephanie Diaz, author of the EXTRACTION series.

Thanks so much for the interview, Stephanie, it was a pleasure to have you and your book is awesome (:

ac0516_2c9a5954bfd44773ba1e974f44773e91A fearless girl. A poisonous moon. A deadly secret.

Clementine has spent her whole life preparing for her sixteenth birthday, when she’ll be tested for Extraction in the hopes of being sent from the planet Kiel’s toxic Surface to the much safer Core, where people live without fear or starvation. When she proves promising enough to be “Extracted,” she must leave without Logan, the boy she loves. Torn apart from her only sense of family, Clem promises to come back and save him from brutal Surface life. 

What she finds initially in the Core is a utopia compared to the Surface—it’s free of hard labor, gun-wielding officials, and the moon’s lethal acid. But life is anything but safe, and Clementine learns that the planet’s leaders are planning to exterminate Surface dwellers, which means Logan, too. Trapped by the steel walls of the underground and the lies that keep her safe, Clementine must find a way to escape and rescue Logan and the rest of the planet. But the planet leaders don’t want her running—they want her subdued.

With intense action scenes and a cast of unforgettable characters, Extraction is a page-turning, gripping read, sure to entertain lovers of Hunger Games and Ender’s Game, and leave them breathless for more.

Buy it here: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Indiebound | Book Depository

1) What is your favorite part about being a writer?

Being able to make up worlds for a living is the absolute best! And getting to meet fans of my stories.

2) How has your cultural background influenced your writing? Do you write many Latinx characters?

My dad’s side of the family is Mexican-American, which makes me half-latina. As a kid growing up, I wasn’t really entrenched in that part of my cultural background except when we visited my grandparents, so I can’t say that it had a whole lot of influence in my writing. But as I’ve gotten older, I have definitely become more aware of that part of my heritage, and it did lead to me including some Latinx-inspired characters in the sci-fi world of the Extraction series. In the future I would like to include more!

3) As someone who comes from a diverse background, did you have any experience in publishing that put that in a negative light?

I’ve been very fortunate not to run into any negativity in publishing regarding my background.

4) How important do you think diversity is in publishing, especially regarding Latinx representation?

Diversity is incredibly important. There are a bazillion books out there with white main characters and only a handful with main characters of other races, which is so damaging for kids who want to see themselves represented in the books they’re reading. There are zero excuses at this point for not having a diverse cast, no matter the genre.

5) As a young writer, what books influenced you? Did any come from your own background?

I have always been drawn to fantasy and sci-fi books (which is why I write them!), so my first influences were series like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. I wasn’t aware of any fantasy books back then that included Latinx heroes/heroines.

6) Where do you get inspiration for your books?

My inspiration comes from all sorts of things, from the places I visit to the people I meet. Usually the ideas from a desire to write about a specific kind of conflict in a specific place I’ve pictured in my head—like a planet with a poisonous moon.

7) Any good advice for Latinx and POC writers out there?

Write the stories that matter to you, and write them well. Don’t listen to anyone who says they won’t sell—prove them wrong.

Hogwarts house? Gryffindor

Favorite food? Mac & cheese

Favorite movie? The Lord of the Rings

Favorite TV series? Parks & Recreation

Favorite soap opera? Not a fan of soaps. The closest thing to one I watch is Jane the Virgin.

Favorite place in the world? The forests and lakes of Montana

Favorite superhero? Captain America

ac0516_8af57298418542d39f1968060c17bfaeStephanie first decided she was going to be an author when she was in second grade, sitting in a book club drinking tea and devouring books like The Egypt Game. At the ripe age of twelve, she began querying her first novel. Seven years of rejection and re-writes later, as a nineteen-year-old college student she landed a literary agent and a three-book deal for her debut novel.

Now twenty-three years old, she lives in San Diego, CA and writes full-time, working as a freelance editor on the side. She graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in film production. She is the author of Extraction, Rebellion, and Evolution. When she isn’t lost in other worlds, she can be found singing, marveling at the night sky, or fangirling over TV shows.

Interview with Mia Garcia

I’m still a little silent due to the Orlando massacre, which hit too deep for so many of us. Our community was affected, and I can’t put it into words how devastated I feel that so many lights went out all of a sudden.

As tradition goes, we have a new interview here on the blog featuring another Latinx author. This week, I have invited Mia Garcia, author of Even if the Sky Falls to talk a little about her publishing journey.

Please consider buying her book after reading the interview. It’s the best way to support the authors we love! Here’s a little more about it, and then right after, our interview.

All she needs is one nigh24218983t to be anyone she wants.

Julie is desperate for a change. So she heads to New Orleans with her youth group to rebuild houses and
pretend her life isn’t a total mess. But between her super-clingy team leader and her way-too-chipper companions, Julie feels more trapped than ever.
In a moment of daring, she ditches her work clothes for DIY fairy wings and heads straight into the heart of Mid-Summer Mardi Gras, where she locks eyes with Miles, an utterly irresistible guy with a complicated story of his own. And for once, Julie isn’t looking back. She jumps at the chance to see the real New Orleans, and in one surreal night, they dance under the stars, share their most shameful secrets, and fall in love.

But their adventure takes an unexpected turn when an oncoming hurricane changes course. As the storm gains power and Julie is pulled back into chaos she finds pretending everything is fine is no longer an option.

Buy it here: Barnes and Nobles | Indiebound | Book Depository | Amazon

1) What is your favorite part about being a writer?

Being able to take all of these crazy ramblings up in my brain and mold them into something. I really love discovering new characters and figuring out what their story is.

2) How has your cultural background influenced your writing? Do you write many Latinx characters?

 It’s interesting because I don’t go into a story thinking “Oh, I’m going to make this character Latinx,” and I don’t always realize I’m weaving my own cultural background into a book until someone points it out. Thinking back to all the stories I’ve created and that I am still working on, I would say almost all of them are Latinx characters. Two are set in Puerto Rico, the rest in other locations, but the main characters still remain Latinx. So, I guess the short answer would be yes, and yes!

3) As someone who comes from a diverse background, did you have any experience in publishing that put that in a negative light?

If you are asking whether at any point being Latina was seen as a negative – no, I don’t think so. I worked in publishing for 6 years, and I don’t think the fact I was Latina was ever seen in a negative light at all. However, I do think publishing has a long way to go in working on its diversity problem, both in works being published, and the people being hired.

4) How important do you think diversity is in publishing, especially regarding Latinx representation?

VERY. Diversity in publishing is very important – as is the Latinx representation. The Latinx community is INCREDIBLY diverse. In PR for example our cultural history not only includes Taíno, African, and Spanish cultures but also Italian, Irish, Chinese, Scottish, Lebanese, Portuguese, and German. This is why I’m always confused when people say, “You don’t look Puerto Rican enough, are you sure you’re Puerto Rican?” WHAT EXACTLY DO WE LOOK LIKE? Do I need to prove I am what I am and give you a history lesson? NOPE. I know it’s annoying when you can’t easily identify some of us (WE COULD BE ANYWHERE. ANYWHERE!!!!).

Where was I? Oh yes, diversity within diversity. There is no one story of being Puerto Rican. My story will be incredibly different even from someone who grew up one block from me, or someone who grew up in the States. They are all valid stories of the Puerto Rican life, but aren’t always represented, and we need to work on that.

5) As a young writer, what books influenced you? Did any come from your own background?

I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and my family still lives there. I went to high school in PR so Latin American writers were simply part of the school curriculum. We also had an English Lit class, but for the life of me I simply could not connect to ANY of those books (sorry, My Antonia) – which is funny because people used to make fun of me because I spoke English without an accent (and many other reasons, but we’re short on time), so you’d think I’d connect to some books in English, but no. I do remember the first assigned book I really connected with (and freaked me out) was Relato de un Naufrago by Gabriel García Márquez. I also really loved anything with magical realism in it like Un senor muy viejo con una alas enormes (also by Márquez) and La Casa de los Espiritus by Isabel Allende. The only one that actually came from a fellow Puerto Rican was La Casa de la Laguna by Rosario Ferré…actually, now that I think of it, I don’t think that was required reading, though maybe it was. Spoiler: I have a horrible memory. Magical realism just speaks to the culture I grew up in and the way my family saw the world.  Although, to this day, I have a hard time explaining to people what magical realism is, even though I know it when I see it (for those wondering, I think Anna-Marie McLemore did a lovely interview on it here).

My grandfather would never contradict me when I thought there was something magical going on, or if there were monsters in his closet. Also, I have always been obsessed with folklore, traditions, and fairytales. I still am, so that’s been a huge influence in my life. To round all that out are comic books (I would sneak into my brothers room to read them all the time, because the dude at the comic book store thought girls shouldn’t be reading X-Men or Punisher so they’d be really rude to me when I went in…AGAIN WE ARE SHORT ON TIME), Disney, 80’s comedies, Jim Henson, and horror movies. And that’s just my childhood, I continue to be influenced by awesome artists like Neil Gaiman, Diana Wynne Jones, and Guillermo del Toro.

6) Where do you get inspiration for your books?

It usually starts with an image, and that image unfolds like a film. Sometimes there will just be flashes here and there, some dialogue popping up, and before I know it I have a character that simply won’t shut up.

7) Any good advice for Latinx and POC writers out there?

Your voice is important. Your voice is important. *Gets microphone* YOUR VOICE IS IMPORTANT.  Think of yourself years ago, picking up a book, and not seeing yourself on the cover or within the pages. Write your book for that kid. They deserve it. Unless it’s too adult for them…then they’ll have to wait a couple of years.

 

Hogwarts house? Ravenclaw. Although recently they tried to re-sort me into Gryffindor and that made me super angry. I’m clearly a Ravenclaw.

Favorite food? My mom’s rice. Then pizza.

Favorite movie? Oh, I can’t pick one, don’t make me!

Favorite TV series? Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Favorite soap opera? Oh! Guadalupe was very good, so was La Ursurpadora. I watched both with my mom.

Favorite place in the world? It always feels great to be with family and at home in PR.

Favorite superhero? Storm or Phoenix from X-Men.

downloadM. García was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She moved to New York where she studied creative writing at The New School, worked in publishing, and now lives under a pile of to-be-read books. Her debut novel, Even If the Sky Falls, from Katherine Tegen books (an imprint of Harper Collins) is out now!

Interview with Nina Moreno

Monday’s here again, which means we have a new interview up! It also means we’re one week closer to PitchAmérica. By this time, you guys could be finishing your drafts or starting to polish them up. Don’t forget how important revisions are, as well as Critique Partners.

In this week, I’m interviewing Nina Moreno, who has been one of the first Latinas I followed on twitter and who’s absolutely amazing. You can follow her on twitter and check out her website for updates. I can’t wait until her book comes out!

1) What is your favorite part about being a writer?

Climbing into a world of my own making and finding something I wasn’t expecting. Every song, conversation, or shared glance might be a thread to a new character or story idea. That’s some serious magic.

2) How has your cultural background influenced your writing? Do you write many Latinx characters?

I come from storytellers. My dad and his family left Cuba when he was eleven, and all they were able to keep of Cuba were stories. My siblings, cousins, and I, as next-generation Cuban-Americans, were sustained by those memories. The joys and tragedies were told at the same table, and it’s how we connected as a family and as descendants of a place we never thought we’d be able to see.

My mother’s family are from Colombia, and my Abuela had books everywhere. There were always stories at their table too. When you leave home and an ocean or too many miles and mountains separate you from everything you knew, the stories you bring and share in your new home are as vital as the bread you’re breaking together.

As far as Latinas, I’ve always written them. I looked for them in books, and when I couldn’t find them in the ones I was reading, or got tired of painting them into someone else’s story, I started writing them into whatever worlds they wanted to go.

3) As someone who comes from a diverse background, did you have any experience in publishing that put that in a negative light?

The conversations can be incredibly frustrating sometimes. Realizing how difficult it still is for others to see that your characters’ (or your own) identity are as essential and nuanced as their own. Our cultures are fundamental to our American lives. When it comes to writing these characters it’s about so much more than simply painting them darker or giving them a grandmother who can’t speak English. These characters are not props or tokens. They are not trends. They are not here to only exist in certain stories or to be shoved to the sidelines in others. They get to be weird, romantic, and heroic, too.

Better yet, they get to be the lead.

4) How important do you think diversity is in publishing, especially regarding Latinx representation?

It’s incredibly important for everyone. The Latinx kids picking up that book with hope in their hearts, but also their friends. That book might give them a character they’ll get to keep forever. A reassuring line or relatable story they can hold onto when they feel out of place or all wrong. And their friends will continue to see how incredibly diverse life is on and off the page and it won’t be the end of their world. And they can go home and remind their parents.

5) As a young writer, what books influenced you? Did any come from your own background?

I think I cried the first time I read Sandra Cisneros. Walls fell down around me. I realized I could exist in this world of words as a smart, awkward, bilingual, brown girl. I was an English major in college, and it was so hard to connect to the literature sometimes. I wanted to be so literary cool with my smart glasses and piles of dusty books, but I struggled with the assigned readings.

And then I took an American Lit class focused on different cultures and the immigrant experience, and it was Piri Thomas, Junot Díaz,  Nalo Hopkinson, Cristina Garcia and I was drunk on words. On stories and language. There were all these books that intimately knew the rhythm of home and what it meant to exist in-between worlds, languages and cultures. That class changed me as a reader, which fundamentally opened my world as a writer.

6) Where do you get inspiration for your books?

They’re the stories I wanted to read once upon a time. Cool Latinas doing stuff all the other girls get to do in contemporary YA. All those moments, struggles, terrible, awesome crushes while also balancing school, dreams, and the divine pressure of being seventeen and Latina. We are made of so many stories, and wanting to be a part of telling them inspires me.

7) Any good advice for Latinx and POC writers out there?

Raise each other up. Relish the richness of your cultures. Don’t apologize for your grandmother’s accent, because it was hard won. Never forget the lullabies, the rhythms, but if you do, go find them again. We come from the toughest of storytellers and survivors, and now we get to share their story as we write our own.

And always remember the words of the great Usnavi: “No pare. Sigue, sigue.”

 

Hogwarts house? Hufflepuff.

Favorite food? Croquetas.

Favorite movie? Jupiter Ascending (fight me)

Favorite TV series? The Office.

Favorite soap opera? I finally started Rebelde and can’t stop.

Favorite place in the world? The beach.

Favorite superhero? Commander Shepard. (N7 for life)

Thanks so much for the interview, Nina! I LOVED your answers and your advice, and I hope others do, too.

I_m_casually_growing_into_a_neighborhood_witch_look.Nina Moreno is a YA writer whose writing is somewhere between Southern fiction and a telenovela. She graduated from the University of Florida and is a proud Gator. She’s a big fan of sweet coffee, curated playlists, thrift stores, videos games, and listing her favorite snacks. She’s also a bit of a sea witch, but hasn’t stolen any voices yet. She lives near a swamp in Florida with her high school sweetheart turned husband, and their two kids. She is represented by Laura Crockett of TriadaUs.