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


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