Guest Post by Author Diana Rodriguez Wallach: How I Broke Out of My Latina YA Box

 

By Diana Rodriguez Wallach

The main character of my new young adult spy thriller series, Anastasia Phoenix, is not Latina. Given how few books feature Latinx characters, you might not find this very surprising. But when your maiden name is Rodriguez and you’ve previously written a YA Latina trilogy, this fact is a little shocking to the publishing world.

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The first book in the series, Proof of Lies, went through a lot of rejections before it made it into print. At first, I stumbled into the wrong market—I was pitching a spy thriller when YA imprints were buying vampires, then werewolves, then dystopian. Eventually the publishing pendulum swung back toward contemporary, but I encountered a different issue. “I’m surprised the main character isn’t Latina,” was a common comment from editors who passed on the manuscript.

At one point, a prior agent who represented the novel suggested I consider the switch. Just make Anastasia Puerto Rican, Dominican, Mexican, anything. But that wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. While this book went through many, many significant edits during the years it took to find the right publishing house, Anastasia’s ethnicity remained the same. Frankly put, I couldn’t see her parents as Puerto Rican spies. Proof of Lies is set in Italy; the second book, Lies that Bind (March 2018), is set in England, France, and Brazil. The entire concept was to set each book in a different country, primarily European. I was aiming for a James Bond or Jason Bourne feel, only with a female in the lead.

I didn’t realize I was breaking a cardinal rule of marketing.

In 2008, I published my first YA trilogy, Amor and Summer Secrets. It’s a YA Latina romance, and it was the third novel my agent tried to sell on my behalf. My first two manuscripts, which are still unpublished, featured white teenagers in coming-of-age tales. After those failed attempts, my agent suggested I write a multicultural story, so I did. Mariana Ruiz is a non-Spanish-speaking half-Puerto Rican teen growing up in the Philly suburbs who feels disconnected to her Latina heritage, until she’s forced to spend the summer on the island. The book sold in two days.

Unbeknownst to me, that book put me in a box. Like any other author, my publisher’s sales and marketing team had to determine where to place my book and exactly which reader I should reach. For me, I wasn’t simply put in the YA Box, but the YA Latina Box. So when I followed up that series, which placed in the International Latino Book Awards, with a novel featuring a white girl with a double-black belt in karate and no mention of ethnic identity other than “American teenager,” I unwittingly broke their marketing rules.

I’m not the first author to face this; it’s why many writers choose pen names when switching genres (whether it be a YA author writing adult romance, or a thriller writer penning a literary tome). Like them, my prior agent asked if I’d consider a pseudonym, but I refused. It wasn’t for any political statement, but for the most honest reason of all—I worked really hard on this book for years, and I was going to see my name on it when it published. Even if that name was Rodriguez. Even if that name gave readers the wrong impression of what was inside.

Because ultimately, my last name doesn’t comprise the entirety of who I am. Yes, my father was born and raised in Puerto Rico, but my mother is Polish and she grew up in a Polish-speaking household, and went to a Polish-speaking church and Catholic school. I attended Christmas mass in Polish every year growing up, and my mom cooked pierogi and kielbasa right alongside Spanish rice and plantains on Christmas Eve. I’m positive a lot of teens have similar experiences, whether they be Latinx and Irish, Indian and African American, or Filipino and Jewish.

So Anastasia Phoenix is not my big fat Latina book. While there is some Spanish dialog in it—because her love interest, Marcus, is from Madrid—I stuck to my vision and kept the mystery at the center of the plot rather than her ethnicity. That’s not to say I won’t write another Latina novel. In fact, I’m working on a contemporary YA right now that will feature a multicultural character. But I hope to follow it up with another YA thriller about a female ghost hunter whose ethnic background may never be mentioned. If I’m lucky, I will publish them all under my real name, and I hope my readers will follow along. Whatever ethnicity they may be.

AuthorHeadshot_2015ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): Diana Rodriguez Wallach is the author of the Anastasia Phoenix Series, three young adult spy thrillers (Entangled Publishing). The first book in the trilogy, Proof of Lies, was named by Paste Magazine as one of the “Top 10 Best Young Adult Books for March 2017.” Bustle also listed her as one of the “Top Nine Latinx Authors to Read for Women’s History Month 2017.” Additionally, she is the author of three award-winning young adult novels: Amor and Summer Secrets, Amigas and School Scandals, and Adios to All The Drama (Kensington Books); as well as a YA short-story collection based on the Narcissus myth, entitled Mirror, Mirror (Buzz Books, 2013).

In 2011, she published a highly regarded essay in Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories (HarperCollins). It was the only essay chosen from the anthology by Scholastic to be used in its classroom materials. Diana is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses (Twilight Times Books, 2015), and she is currently on staff as a featured blogger for Quirk Books.

In 2010, Diana was named one of the Top Ten New Latino Authors to Watch by LatinoStories.com, and she placed second in the International Latino Book Awards. She is an advisory board member for the Philly Spells Writing Center, and is a Creative Writing instructor for Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth. She holds a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University, and currently lives in Philadelphia. For more about Diana, check out The Whole Story.

Down the Rabbit Hole: a Brazilian-Brit in the USA

 

By Juliana Spink Mills

When I was eight, my English father and Brazilian mother boxed up our lives and moved our family from London, UK, to São Paulo, Brazil. There were many reasons behind the move – jobs, lifestyle, extended family – and it was definitely one of the biggest milestones of my young life. I’ll never forget the sensation of heat and damp when we stepped off the airplane, or arriving at my grandparents’ house to lush gardens and a kidney-shaped pool glowing like a jewel in the grass.

As a travel gift, I was given the full set of Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. After arriving in a country where I didn’t understand the language or customs, those books were my lifeline. I bonded with Lewis’ characters over the strangeness of arriving in a world where everything was new and amazing, and also a little bit scary. And although my parents had read The Hobbit to me when I was small, this was probably where my love of fantasy novels comes from: that absolute identification with Lucy Pevensie and all the others who traveled through wardrobes and down rabbit holes, having to adapt and to reassess everything they knew.

I lived in Brazil for most of my life. I absorbed the language and the culture. I learned to embrace my duality: a dual citizen not just on paper, but in manner and speech, too. And I learned what it’s like to be the eternal gringa – not quite entirely English, nor wholly Brazilian.

My love of the fantastic in fiction grew throughout my life. I was the hobbit in Lord of the Rings, trying to navigate and understand a vaster world than the one I’d started out in. I was Leia in Star Wars: princess, politician, warrior, strategist – a bit of everything and at the same time still searching for meaning and a place to belong. Science fiction and fantasy gave me a space where I wasn’t the only one a little lost, a little strange, and a little bit of a stranger, too.

Four years ago, my husband and I – in a curious mirroring of my own parents’ decision all those years ago – packed up our house and kids and moved to Connecticut, USA. I was the gringa again, the one with the weird sort-of-British-but-not-quite accent that I get asked about over and over. I was back down Alice’s rabbit hole, and once again finding solace in speculative fiction. But this time, I was the one putting words to paper, and creating my own imagined realms.

My YA series, the Blade Hunt Chronicles (Woodbridge Press), is urban fantasy, a genre where fantastic and supernatural elements rub shoulders with modernity. My demons use cell phones, and my angels drive around in SUVs. I like the idea that the guy next to you in the grocery store might have an entire “secret identity”; in my stories, he might be a werewolf, or a pixie. I’ve always loved tales that bring us worlds within worlds – perhaps because I grew up feeling that I belonged to different universes at the same time. And writing fantasy lets me play around with this as much as I want.

My novels also gave me a chance to put little bits of my own identity into my work. I have an English vampire knight, and an entire clan of Brazilian-American witches who get plenty of page space in book 2, Night Blade. I have mentions of books, TV shows, and sports teams that are tributes to loved ones. Scattering personal Easter eggs into my writing helps make sense of these wardrobes I keep tumbling through and, together with the books I read, serves to anchor me and let me find my place in my own real life story.

 

       

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Juliana Spink Mills was born in England, but grew up in Brazil. Now she lives in Connecticut, and writes science fiction and fantasy. She is the author of Heart Blade and Night Blade, the first two books in the young adult Blade Hunt Chronicles urban fantasy series. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies and online publications. Besides writing, Juliana works as a Portuguese/English translator, and as a teen library assistant.

COVER REVEAL! The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos

 

Today, we’re excited to host the cover reveal for The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary, a debut young adult novel by NoNieqa Ramos that has already gotten a starred review from Booklist and a glowing response from Kirkus.

What’s it about? Here’s the official description:

Macy’s school officially classifies her as “disturbed,” but Macy isn’t interested in how others define her. She’s got more pressing problems: her mom can’t move off the couch, her dad’s in prison, her brother’s been kidnapped by Child Protective Services, and now her best friend isn’t speaking to her. Writing in a dictionary format, Macy explains the world in her own terms complete with gritty characters and outrageous endeavors. With an honesty that’s both hilarious and fearsome, slowly Macy reveals why she acts out, why she can’t tell her incarcerated father that her mom’s cheating on him, and why her best friend needs protection . . . the kind of protection that involves Macy’s machete.

How could anyone resist a description that involves both dictionaries and machetes? What?!

Before we get to the cover, the author tells us how she responded to getting her Advance Reader Copies and viewing the cover for the first time.

I have to admit I didn’t open up my ARCs for two weeks. I hugged them. I #bookstagrammed them. I clutched them while flashbacking to all the work that led up to this moment. But what did opening the book mean? I had nightmares that opening my ARC would be like opening Pandora’s box. Because writing a book is like standing outside naked and not expecting anyone to comment on the fact that you have no space between your thighs. But then my soul mate made a comment. Apparently on the inside of the book, lay the real cover, the cover my protagonista Macy Cashmere made for her dictionary, and I thought, that sounds amazing. SOUNDS amazing. Time to crack it open. I peered inside the cover like you’d stare through a keyhole. I could almost feel Macy’s reaction as I did the unthinkable. Read the dictionary “By Macy Cashmere… FOR Macy Cashmere” without her permission.

The cover design by Lindsay Owens and Danielle Carnito is PSYCHEdelic; disturbing and hypnotic just like my Macy. A conduit for Macy’s rage, the imagery surges from page to page until the harrowing end. Thank you Carolrhoda Lab. Thank you, Lindsay and Danielle. Macy would approve.

Now for the cover reveal!

 

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The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary releases February 1, 2018 (Carolrhoda Lab). You can pre-order it at Indiebound, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, among other places. You also have a chance to win a copy by entering this GoodReads Giveaway!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: NoNieqa Ramos spent her childhood in the Bronx, where she started her own publishing company and sold books for twenty-five cents until the nuns shut her down. With the support of her single father and her tias, she earned dual master’s degrees in creative writing and education at the University of Notre Dame. As a teacher, she has dedicated herself to bringing gifted-and-talented education to minority students and expanding access to literature, music, and theater for all children. A frequent foster parent, NoNieqa lives in Ashburn, Virginia, with her family. She can be found on Twitter at @NoNiLRamos.