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.

Book Review: Extraction by Stephanie Diaz

By: Zoraida Córdova

DESCRIPTON FROM GOODREADSExtraction cover

“Welcome to Extraction testing.”

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—and that 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.

MY TWO CENTS: The world in Extraction is exactly what we (I) fear: pollution has rendered life on the surface practically inhabitable. Here, a shield keeps the lethal acid from the moon from penetrating the surface of the planet Kiel. (The acid is called Moonshine, which really tickled me, btw.) The layers of civilization are Surface, Crust, Mantel, Layer, and Core. While the poor and young live on the Surface and other layers, working till they’re dead or Extracted from this life, the rich have found a way to live in the Core of the earth. Extraction weeds out the intelligent and obedient (key word) hopefuls that could be of better use to Core society. I was instantly drawn into the idea of fearing the sky. Imagine living every day fearing that the heavens are going to rip open and the Moonshine is going to come pouring down on you? Add that with extreme levels of hunger, poverty, and strenuous physical labor, and you’ve got the same problems as Clementine, our narrator.

As Clementine faces Extraction, she also faces the difficult choice that comes with leaving the person you care about. Here, Diaz creates not just a romance, but a love that is rooted in hardship and loneliness. Logan isn’t the typical YA paramour. He’s not just there to rescue her. She does everything she can to save him, which is refreshing. While Clementine wants to stay on the surface with Logan, her options are limited. She could stay and be worked until she dies at 20 because of population control. She could become a breeder, which is part of the initiative to replenish the surface workers. There are so many ways that Clementine could die, but being Extracted means the chance to live.

18625184One of the most poignant passages was when Clementine was waiting to see if her name was selected. It had the feel of the reaping in Hunger Games, but while in the HG the selection is random, in the Extraction, each person is selected by this benevolent Core commander. I loved that Clementine did feel torn in a very human way. Going into the unknown, even if the unknown promises a better life, is extremely terrifying. There’s Logan, and then there’s a better life. There’s Logan, and then there’s the feeling that you don’t want to die. And as Clementine kept saying that she didn’t want to die, I appreciated that she allowed herself to be just a little bit selfish. It’s self-preservation.

And in a world where the odds are against you, you have to have a lot of that.

But, the Core utopia isn’t what it seems. Even though the novel is often pitched as dystopian, it should be recommended as straight up science fiction. Stephanie Diaz has woven a world that is nothing like ours. There are humans, and a deeply corrupt government, but they’re in space. There are lasers. There are ships. There is evolved medicine. There is cool slang. As in, Clementine is a vruxing cool heroine. As I watched her journey start from wanting to escape a terrible life, to wanting to do anything to get top marks in all her trials, to her realization that there is something galactically wrong going on in the Core, I found myself rooting for her despite all the obstacles stacked against her. I will add a trigger warning for the threat of sexual assault from a villain in the book. The girls in the Surface had to endure terrible threats, and in the Core, just because it’s clean and supposedly civilized, doesn’t mean that it’s actually safe. However, Clementine is never a victim. She makes it clear to her biggest foe that she is smarter and better. It’s that defiance that prevents someone like Clementine from bowing down blindly to Core society.

Utopia comes at the loss of individual freedom. At least it does in Kiel. In Extraction, Diaz creates a dynamic heroine, a fast-paced plot, and secrets that unravel with every page. Rebellion is out in store now, so you don’t have to wait to continue Clementine’s adventure as a rebel.

Stephanie Diaz author photoABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephanie first knew she wanted to be an author when she was in second grade, sitting in a book club drinking tea and reading books like The Egypt Game. She dreamed someday people might drink tea while devouring books she had written. She wrote her first book soon after, a 30-page fantasy story–complete with a hand-drawn map–stapled together and presented to her younger sister for a birthday present.Now twenty-two years old, she lives in San Diego with her family. She graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in film production and a publishing deal for a young adult sci-fi trilogy. She is the author of Extraction, Rebellion, and the forthcoming Evolution.

When she isn’t lost in other worlds, she can be found singing, marveling at the night sky, or fangirling over TV shows.Visit her at www.stephaniediazbooks.com and follow her on twitter.

Book Review: Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

By Zoraida Córdova

This month, we are taking a look at Latin@s in science fiction and fantasy. Today, we’re highlighting OTHERBOUND, a debut novel by Corinne Duyvis, which has received excellent reviews, including starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and The Bulletin of The Center for Children’s Books.

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKETAmara is never alone. Not when she’s protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they’re fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. Not when she’s punished, ordered around, or neglected.

She can’t be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes.

Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he’s yanked from his Arizona town into Amara’s mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible. He’s spent years as a powerless observer of Amara’s life. Amara has no idea . . . until he learns to control her, and they communicate for the first time. Amara is terrified. Then, she’s furious.

All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan’s breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they’ll have to work together to survive–and discover the truth about their connection.

MY TWO CENTS: Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis is an ambitious novel that breaks the norm of YA fantasy.

Nolan is a seventeen-year-old boy with a prosthetic leg who has seizures, at least, what the grownups think are seizures. In actuality, he has a vivid connection with a girl named Amara who lives in the Dunelands—definitely not Arizona where Nolan and his family live.

The dual perspective—even the dual reality of it all–is interesting. I thought it might get distracting to have breaks where Amara’s world cuts into Nolan’s perspective in bold. But if Nolan can handle the after effects that come with what is pretty much a psychic invasion and still try to have a life, then I can handle it as a reader.

From the very beginning, we’re set up to understand the following things: Nolan leads a pretty average life. As average as it gets for a low income Latino family in Arizona. He has parents who work three jobs to pay for his meds. He has a younger sister who is 15 and has an attitude. Their Latin-ness isn’t brought up except for mentions of Grandmother Perez’s food and how Nolan’s parents go back and forth between speaking Spanish. The Spanish is always typed out in English, but since I speak Spanish I translated it in my head as I read along. And even though this is a fantasy novel, Duyvis makes a note of Nolan’s father writing angry letters to his school about banned books. It’s Arizona, you have to! So props.

After experiencing Nolan’s day-to-day, we’re then thrown into a completely different world with its own rules to understand. Amara is a servant. By nature of her birth she can’t read, write, or speak (literally, servants have their tongues cut off and are branded by palace). I love how the author didn’t shy away from the brutal life that this young girl has to endure. At the end of the day, Amara is a girl who is kidnapped and held against her will. She’s a slave, whose sole purpose in life is to protect a cursed princess through Amara’s ability to heal herself. Should princess Cilla’s blood spill, the curse will be unleashed. The Dunelands come with their own royalty system, magic, political intrigue, and adventure, which keeps the pace moving.

Nolan and Amara live in separate dimensions/planets but are both faced with disabilities that impede them from an autonomy that others take for granted. Amara’s ability to speak has been stolen from her. Never the less, she tries to over come this by learning how to read, despite the terrible punishment that awaits her if caught. While she does fear and question the people around her, she isn’t exactly a wallflower. She’s brave, loving, and loyal, traits that a physical disability can’t change.

As for Nolan, he lost a leg at a young age from a freak accident (brought on by the vision-seizures). While he can still be active, swim, go to school, and move around on his own, when you add painful “seizures” to that, the results are not good. It’s not a mental disability in the way that we treat depression or being bipolar, but it is in his head. On his part, he tries not to feel like a burden in his household. He’s constantly trying to give people the “right” kind of smile, and often lies about how he feels to get the grown-ups off his back about whether or not he’s “okay.” I think there’s a big pressure put on kids to “be okay” and it’s more for the adults than for the kids. Still, as he realizes the sacrifices his parents make for him, he takes to even the smallest chores–dishes, laundry, helping his sister rehearse for a play–to show that he can be present in his world, that he can be helpful.

Then the unexpected happens—through some circumstance of their connection (and the new meds), Nolan’s role goes from simply watching to doing. He can make Amara move. He can run through her, and it’s great to watch Nolan find the ability to move through Amara’s magical world. The levels of magic are complicated, and when Nolan and Amara discover each other, they become reliant on one another for survival. I mean, I’d be pissed off if some guy who was watching me for years and years, suddenly shows up and can control my body. Amara’s first reaction is to be mad, but Nola isn’t a creeper. He’s been part of her life for years and he truly cares about what happens to her. True, Amara would like to kiss the person she likes without Nolan snooping, but without Nolan, Amara’s ability to heal would not manifest. She needs him there for her to pass as a “healing mage.”

As he gets more and more involved in the political schemes of Amara’s world, Nolan is determined to make sure Amara survives, even if it means he feels pain. The way I read it is that he would much rather feel that physical pain than deal with the pressures of his reality. With everything that goes on in his real life–the meds, school, pressure, parents who constantly hover–Nolan gets a taste of being a hero without the Earthly limitations. As for Amara, her payoff is that Nolan gave her the ability to heal. There were so many times when she was tortured because her captor knew she would heal soon enough. Without Nolan, she would have probably died sooner. I can’t spoil the end, but Nolan’s connection came super in handy at the end. Even though their connection had to end sometime, it was great to see a relationship between a boy and a girl that wasn’t sexual, but bonded through adversity.

When I say that I’ve never read anything like this, I mean it. While I do feel like I know more about the characters than the actual fantasy world, I think I’m okay with that. There’s a young Mexican-American boy with a prosthetic leg who can see into another dimension and inhabit the body of an alien servant girl. This servant girl is bisexual and used as a ploy to a political regime way beyond her control. Definitely not your average YA.

AUTHOR: Corinne Duyvis is a lifelong Amsterdammer and former portrait artist now in the business of writing about superpowered teenagers. In her free time, she finds creative ways of hurting people via brutal martial arts, gets her geek on whenever possible, and sleeps an inordinate amount. Visit her at www.corinneduyvis.com or say HI on Twitter!

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Otherbound, visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.orgindiebound.orggoodreads.comamazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.

Guest Post: Stephanie Diaz, YA Author of EXTRACTION , talks about diversity and her debut novel

This month, we are taking a look at Latin@s in science fiction and fantasy. Today, we have a guest post from Stephanie Diaz, debut author of Extraction, which releases July 22.

By Stephanie Diaz

Extraction coverThanks so much to Latin@s in Kid Lit for having me here on the blog today! I wanted to share a few of my thoughts on diversity in science fiction, stemming from my experiences as a half-Latina writer of YA.

My father’s side of my family is Latino, primarily of Mexican and Spanish descent. My mother’s ancestors were white Europeans, mostly French and German. I grew up in an English-speaking household, in a Southern California town a state away from my dad’s side of the family. As such, I’ve never been hugely in touch with the Latina side of my roots, except during Christmas vacation, and for a long time it had no great influence on my writing.

My first book, which I wrote in middle school, was a story about a family in the Civil War era. My second book was a fantasy with demons and magical swords. The book I wrote in college and sold to a publisher, Extraction, was my first try at writing science fiction. It wasn’t until I was well into revising the novel that conversations about diversity in fiction grew more widespread and caught my attention. For the first time, I took a long, hard look at my characters and realized I’d made some of the supporting characters different races, but the main characters of the cast were pretty much all white. And my book was supposed to be set on a planet in a completely different galaxy! Here I’d had so much potential to diversify my made-up world, and I’d wasted it.

I plan on doing a better job in the future. I’m still working on the second and third books in the Extraction trilogy, making sure I pay attention and don’t automatically whitewash every new character I introduce to the cast. I’m also working on an unrelated YA sci-fi with a multi-racial/multi-species cast. The beauty of stories set in the future or in distant worlds is that there are so many ways for a writer to imagine how cultures will grow and influence one another over time. Science fiction allows me to imagine all sorts of possibilities that don’t exist in real life, but real life has to be an influence to make the story believable.

My goal is to tell stories that show life the way it is and the way it could evolve—and life is diverse. In physical characteristics, but also in a wealth of traditions. I’m learning that understanding the differences in all the world’s cultures is key to creating new ones, whether they be human or a made-up species.

My hope is that my own books and other books in this genre will grow more and more diverse in the coming years, drawing on little-known cultures to expand the worldview of all readers. I hope to be able to pay homage to my Latina heritage, as well as the other cultures in my blood, in future novels I write. But more than that, I hope to tell many stories about different kinds of people, not just the people I know best. After all, how can I grow as a writer—or a person—if I never venture out of my comfort zone?


Stephanie Diaz author photoTwenty-one-year-old Stephanie Diaz wrote her debut novel, Extraction, when she should’ve been making short films and listening to class lectures at San Diego State University. When she isn’t lost in books, she can be found singing, marveling at the night sky, or fan-girling over TV shows. Visit her online at www.stephaniediazbooks.com.

Twitter​   *  Blogger  *  Facebook  *  Tumblr  *  Pinterest  * 

You can email her at: stephaniediazbooks@gmail.com

Extraction, published by St. Martin’s Press, releases July 22. Here is a description of Stephanie’s debut novel:

Clementine has spent her whole life preparing for her 16th birthday when she’ll be tested for Extraction, in the hopes of being sent from 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 at 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—and that 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’s leaders don’t want her running—they want her subdued.

YA Author Steven dos Santos Talks Sci-Fi, Diversity, and Overcoming Obstacles

12617286By Eileen Fontenot

This month, we are taking a look at Latin@s in science fiction and fantasy. Today, we have a Q&A with Steven dos Santos, author of The Culling and The Sowing.

Born in New York City and raised in South Florida, Steven dos Santos began writing at age 7. It was only after a couple different career paths as an adult that he decided to become a professional writer. His trilogy, entitled The Torch Keeper, is his first effort. Book One, The Culling, was published last year, and the second book, The Sowing, was published in 2014.

In addition to the mind-boggling twists and shocks and the intense descriptions of violence and the horror in which his characters live in their dystopian world, what makes this series special is its main character, Lucian “Lucky” Spark, who is gay. Also striking is that the world in which dos Santos’ characters inhabit have equal rights, such as marriage equality. It’s also a bit of a novelty to have the main character in this type of genre not be a straight female. (Looking at you, Katniss Everdeen.)

Steven was kind enough to answer a few questions for Latin@s in Kid Lit – among other things, about the rewards and struggles of his writing career and what’s in store for the future.

Eileen: Could you tell us a bit about what prompted you to write this series? What is it about this genre that is appealing to you?

Steven: I’ve always been a fan of sci-fi movies and books, particularly stories that deal with moral dilemmas. Ever since I was a kid I was always terrified by the idea of what would happen if I was in a situation where I could only save one person that I loved. Who would I choose? How would I choose in such an impossible situation? Writing The Culling gave me a chance to explore that no-win scenario and grapple with my own nightmares.

Eileen: What kind of research do you do to create your books’ themes/characters/setting?

Steven: For The Torch Keeper series, I found myself researching a lot of different things that probably raised a few eyebrows at the NSA! LOL. Everything from disarming explosive devices, the effects of hypothermia on the body, symptoms of terminal illnesses, the history and stats of the Statue of Liberty, humankind’s negative effects on the environment and potential harm it can create in the future, etc. Even though both The Culling and The Sowing have futuristic elements, I felt it was very important to ground them in reality in order to heighten the emotional effects. All the tech and post-apocalyptic devastation are based on things that could actually happen, which, in my opinion, not only raises the stakes, but definitely increases the tension.

17342414Eileen: Do you base your characters on people you know in real life? Would you say that Lucky is a reflection of yourself?

Steven: I try not to base my characters on specific people that I know. I may borrow traits from people I’ve encountered and then blend those together to create someone totally different. That being said, my protagonist, Lucian “Lucky” Spark is very sensitive, a dreamer, and a bit of a romantic. He also likes to read and he’s a gay male of Latin descent. You do the math! 😉

Eileen: What are your thoughts on diversity in YA scifi/fantasy works? Is this an important issue for you personally? If so, how?

Steven: This is an issue I’m very passionate about! While I think it’s great that there is definitely an increased awareness on the parts of readers and publishers alike regarding diversity in YA scifi/fantasy, I think we are only beginning to scratch the surface of this extremely important issue. Everyone deserves to see him or herself portrayed as the hero of a novel, the one to save the world. It’s also extremely important for young people to read about all types of people and realize just how much they have in common. Growing up, I wish there had been more books that included characters like me on their pages. This was definitely a big motivator in writing The Torch Keeper series.

Eileen: Who or what has influenced you in your writing career? Do you feel that being a gay Latino influences your work?

Steven: My mom was a definite inspiration in pursuing my writing dreams. I was brought up not only embracing my Hispanic heritage, but also to be proud of the country of my birth, America. I also definitely feel being part of a minority (or more than one in my case) has challenged me to strive for greater representation of diversity. But on those days when I’m feeling particularly frustrated, I read these messages I’ve received.

This one from a high school student:

Thanks for writing a great book and I hope it receives all of the attention it deserves. I know some people won’t pick up the book because it has gay characters. I try to plead with them because it is a great book. Love is love to me and everyone should be accepted for what they are and that’s the great thing about your book. Right now I’m struggling with my own sexuality, not really struggling because I know I am gay but my mother doesn’t accept them. You have inspired me though to try to come out. You have relieved some of the pressure. Thank you.

And this other one from another reader:

I just really want to say thank you for your books because it’s really really awesome to see a novel with an openly queer protagonist on the shelf at Barnes and Noble and then read it and find that the book isn’t about the “struggles of being a queer teen” and instead created actual conflicts rather than people just being appalled by two boys being together and after I read The Culling I sat down and just cried because it’s so nice to feel validated and accepted especially if you live in a place where being accepted as anything other than heterosexual is unheard of so yeah thank you so so much for your books they’re incredible and I really really hope they affect other people like they affected me.

And that is a magical reminder of why I do what I do. If I can reach just one person in such a powerful manner, I’ve accomplished something wonderful. That’s also why it meant so much to me when The Culling was recently named an American Library Association Rainbow List Top Ten Selection.

Eileen: Have you experienced any roadblocks getting published? Or has it been fairly smooth sailing?

Steven: I’ve definitely experienced obstacles on my road to publication. I actually had an agent put in writing that while she loved my book, she was going to have to pass because the market for YA books is heterosexual females and no one would want to read a book about a male protagonist, especially a gay male protagonist. To say I was crushed would be a grave understatement. This wasn’t a rejection of the quality of my writing, which I could improve if need be. This was far more insidious. It was a rejection of my being. Basically, the message was, no matter how good my writing was, no one was ever going to be interested if I wrote about a particular type of teen.

If I wrote about people like me.

Eileen: What are you working on now?

Steven: I’m actually working on finishing the concluding novel in The Torch Keeper series! My goal is to finish it by the end of summer. I’ve already written the ending, which I pretty much envisioned while writing The Culling. I can’t say too much about it, but rest assured like The Culling and The Sowing, the title of Book 3 will also end in ING. (Hint: It’s NOT “The Reaping!”) I’ve also started work on an entirely new novel that is more in the horror genre and will once again feature a diverse cast.

Steven dos Santos

Steven dos Santos

If readers would like to contact me, they can do so at:

www.stevendossantos.com

www.facebook.com/stevendossantosauthor

www.facebook.com/TheTorchKeeper

http://www.tumblr.com/blog/stevendossantos

www.twitter.com/stevendossantos

www.twitter.com/TheTorchKeeper

Join The Torch Keeper Fan Forums at:

http://chaosreads.com/forum/69-the-torch-keeper-series-steven-dos-santos/

And they can find my books at:

Goodreads: The Culling

Goodreads: The Sowing

Amazon: The Culling

Amazon: The Sowing

The Little Ecuadorian Mermaid

web_mermaid

Graffiti mermaid at the Lola Starr store in Coney Island

By Zoraida Córdova

Welcome as we kick off our LATIN@S IN SCI-FI & FANTASY MONTH!

After the release of my first book someone told me that mermaids were cool and all, but I should write about my own “experience.” I remember the words more than the guy who said them to me. Now, I believe that fantasy stories are a great metaphor for coming of age. I have a 16 year old dude who turns into a merman and the first thing he worries about is how his body changes (typical boys). In Blood and Chocolate, the very sexy werewolf is a metaphor for the changes girls go through when they menstruate. Hell, watch the first three seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for stories that are magic, but still mirror “normal” teenage coming of age.

mermaid laptop

My laptop

But when this guy told me all these years ago to write about my “experience,” he wasn’t talking about coming of age, he was talking about my immigrant experience. Some time ago, I put out a question to Twitter for links to Latin@s writing YA fantasy, and I got back “Have you read Isabelle Allende’s YA series?” (She is a BAMF in her own right, but still). While I love contemporary stories, and I think it’s important to read all kinds of narratives that show how different each Latino experience is in the U.S., the stories I want to write are about magic.

Mermaid_blog

from @Pocoquattro

I grew up listening to my grandmother sing to me. I grew up reading fables and getting scared of el Cuco and la Llorona. When I started writing The Vicious Deep trilogyI knew I was writing a book that had been brewing in my head for years. For a long time when people remarked “You speak English so well,” I would respond with “All I did as a kid was watch The Little Mermaid,” so that’s how I learned to speak English. It’s true, I watched it every day, rewinding the VHS as soon as Ariel got her happy ending. Whether or not it was my vehicle for the English language is debatable, but it’s become part of the story I tell.

I’ve always been drawn to magic and magical things. I want to believe in magic, and the way that I can show that is through creating magical worlds. When I was in high school my favorite books were about vampires and witches and dragons. It was book browsing at a B&N with a friend that pushed me to really write about mermaids. The conversation went something like this:

Me: I can’t find a mermaid story that I really love.

Him: So write one.

Me: Yeah…

THAT’S IT. I listened. I took a notebook with me to the beach (Coney Island, obvs) and this story LITERALLY poured out of my head. (Two points from Ravenclaw for improper use of “literally.”)

Mermaid on the ground in South Beach.

Mermaid on the ground in South Beach.

If you don’t see the story you want to read on the shelves, write it. Mermaids have always been magical to me, but it wasn’t until someone else pointed it out that I realized I could add my own mythology to my favorite magical creatures. Lately, we’ve been talking about diversity a lot, and I think the same thing applies to that. You don’t see yourself represented? Write your own story. If you want to write about magical ponies that travel through time, do it. If you want to write about the story of a girl who is looking for summer romance, do that, too.

I wonder if the reason there aren’t more Latin@s writing as much SF/F is because people (like that dude mentioned earlier) assume that the only story we have to tell is one of immigration or assimilation. And that’s just not so. If you check out this list from Cosmopolitan of 5 Latina YA authors to look out for, all of these stories fall in SF/F category. And if you go to Diversity in YA, they have an awesome list of just some Latin@s (authors and/or characters) in SF/F.

Tomorrow is the launch of the third book, The Vast & Brutal Sea.  I want to share some images of mermaids around town. I asked the lovely ladies of Latin@s in Kid Lit (and some from Twitter friends) to snap photos of mermaids if they happen upon them:

photo (11)

Original art by the super talented Lila Weaver

photo (9)

From Stephanie Guerra. Cafe Torino, downtown Seattle

Triton! South Beach

Triton! South Beach

The Sagamore Hotel in South Beach

The Sagamore Hotel in South Beach

mermaid_3

From @PoccoQuattro.

A friend sent this to me. Art by Paul Webb from St. Louis.

A friend sent this to me. Art by Paul Webb from St. Louis.


And now from my apartment, the Chateau Mer-mont: 

mermaid bottle opener

Her tail opens bottles. That’s talent.

mermaid and coney

My bookend…not holding up any books.

mermaid fancy

My fancy mermaid being fancy

 

I hope from now on you’ll start seeing mermaids everywhere. For now, follow my blog tour over at www.zoraidacordova.com I hope you enjoy the rest of our SF/F month!

 

Swim with the fishies like,

Zoraida