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