Pride Month Blogathon: Day 2 – Introduction to Pride Month Blogathon
My full name is Camila Rodriguez Laureano and I’m a 20 year old bookworm living in the tiny island in the Caribbean known as Puerto Rico. My favorite genres are fantasy (urban, high, you get the drift), New Adult, Adult Historical Fiction and the occasional Contemporary novel. Most people know me as Cam on social media and I’m an active diversity advocate in all of my platforms. I think that just about covers the need-to-know basics.
Cam: Hi Tehlor! I just wanted to say thanks again for asking me to host this interview (even if I’m a bit of a nervous mess) before we get started. I witnessed the day you announced your debut novel When We Set the Dark on Fire on twitter and there was plenty of celebration going around. What’s it like knowing your book will be out in the wild soon?
Tehlor: Hey Cam! Thank you for agreeing to host! You have excellent taste in books, so I’m honored!
Anyway, yes, my announcement day was bananas in the best possible way. There were tears involved, I’ll confess. Knowing that I’m going to have a book in the world still feels completely surreal, honestly. I’m working hard on revisions with Claudia Gabel, my editor at Katherine Tegen, and it’s been incredible so far, but I sometimes remember this is going to be a real book and it makes all those years of wondering whether it would ever happen worth it.
C: Tell us a little bit about your inspiration for your book! I know it’s set in the middle of a revolution which I admit is quite fitting considering the political climate. What drove you to write this story?
T: Yes, there’s a revolution brewing in Medio at the start of the book, which Dani eventually gets pulled into. I’d say I was definitely inspired what’s going on in our world right now. There are parallels in the book to our society’s treatment of people of color, and the harsh divide between people with privilege of various types and people without. In Dani’s world, these tensions have come to a head, and though she’s sitting in the complicated middle of the privilege spectrum, she has to really address her own privilege and the station she’s been allowed to reach despite her background. This forces her to make some really tough choices about who she wants to be as both sides start to dig in her heels, and she sees what the privileged world she belongs to is really capable of.
I was driven to dive into some of these concepts by my own activism, and have been so inspired by the real world teens I’ve seen out there fighting this fight. So many people say YA isn’t serious, or diminish what the teens who read it are interested and capable of accomplishing. I’ve seen something so different in my time with this community. I’ve seen that teen girls (especially teens of color, especially queer teens, especially teens all over the intersectional map) have the passion and drive and revolutionary spirit to take over the world. So this is a book for them, and for all the work I hope we’ll be doing together to create change.
C: What are some fun facts you can tell us about the protagonist Dani Vargas? What can we expect from this new heroine?
T: Dani has been such a fun character to write. She’s super ambitious and driven by nature, but so far she’s been forced to apply that ambition to meet the expectations of others – the maestras at her school, her parents, her new high-society family, etc. When she starts becoming aware of the politics of the world around her, though, she channels her drive into some pretty dangerous, challenging stuff – not the least of which is falling in love with a girl she definitely shouldn’t be.
Things Dani likes: Alphabetized books, storms, the view from a good rooftop, caterpillars (don’t ask, it’s Carmen’s fault), and winning at any and everything.
Things Dani does not like: Government checkpoints, clutter, the feeling of falling, being distracted by someone’s lips and/or hair while she’s trying to plot dangerous missions, too many questions.
C: I have to ask…why YA? What is it about this genre that spoke to you more than others in the market?
T: As I mentioned before, I’m endlessly inspired by the power of teen girls. There’s a determination and fierceness in the face of being constantly overlooked and underestimated that’s so incredible. It goes double for teens of color, queer teens, and queer teens of color, who still have so little accurate or respectful representation, even in a genre that’s supposed to be written for them. It’s no secret that a lot of people look down on YA, even within the literature community, calling it a “guilty pleasure” or just dismissing it outright. But I think a dismissal of YA is a pretty thinly veiled dismissal of the power of teens – especially teen girls – and I’m super proud and grateful to join the ranks of awesome authors helping change that narrative, as well as writing for the marginalized teens who absolutely deserve to see themselves in it.
C: I know you do Tarot readings! Will we be seeing some of that magia in When We Set the Dark on Fire?
T: Yes! Without giving too much away, there’s a secret communication system within a resistance group that uses one of my favorite tarot decks and its meanings to send secret messages. Tarot is such a big part of my spiritual practice, and a cultural thing that’s been such a joy to share with some of my Latina friends. I couldn’t imagine not including it.
C: I’ve been snooping around your Patreon page and I see that you also write poetry. Do you plan on someday publishing your poetry? Or is that more of a personal form of expression?
T: Poetry was my first writing love. Right now, I’m having a blast sharing bits and pieces with the people I’m lucky enough to have supporting my Patreon, but it’s totally a dream of mine to publish a book of poems someday. For now, I content myself with reading A LOT of it. Poetry is the language of the resistance, in my humble opinion. It’s always been this beautiful way for people outside the mainstream to speak in a secret language to one other, and it definitely feeds me creatively in a way nothing else does.
C: What are your expectations for this book? Are you afraid of how people will react to your story or are you more excited than anything that it’s finally gonna be out there?
T: I honestly try not to think about it too much, or I feel like I’ll freeze. I will say that there’s a troubling tendency to expect any book by a marginalized creator to reflect their entire community’s experience, and that is something that makes me a little nervous. Despite being a fantasy, this is a Latinx story. It’s a f/f love story. And those identities have very real connotations in our society. While it’s ownvoices in both aspects, neither Latinx folks nor queer folks are a monolith, and my truth on both counts will necessarily differ from someone else’s – even if they share my identity. I just hope people remember that these communities deserve all kinds of representation. From all corners of these identities. From across the spectrum of privilege and between every intersection. Mine is one of those stories, but to truly reflect the entire experience, we need hundreds of stories, thousands, an infinite number of them.
C: Well Tehlor, I wish you all of the success in the world. A lot of people admire you so much due to your activism online and I’m sure that’ll translate wonderfully in your book. I’ll make sure to preorder my copy as soon as I’m able!
T: Thank you SO much for your insightful questions, Cam, and for your support and enthusiasm. I can’t wait to hear what you think of the book!
Tehlor Kay Mejia is a YA author and poet at home in the wild woods and alpine meadows of Southern Oregon. When she’s not writing, you can find her plucking at her guitar, stealing rosemary sprigs from overgrown gardens, or trying to make the perfect vegan tamale. Her work will appear in the upcoming ALL OUT and TOIL & TROUBLE anthologies from Harlequin Teen, and her debut novel, WHEN WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE, is slated for Winter 2019 from Katherine Tegan / HarperCollins. Until then you can hang out with her on twitter (@tehlorkay) where she talks representation, Latinx issues, and generally uses too many exclamation points.