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Yesika Salgado Talks Poetry, Love And Heartbreak in Her Latest Book

Salvadoran Yesika Salgado is a self-proclaimed “Fat Fly Brown Poet” based in Los Angeles who just released her second collection. “Tesoro” which follows in the heels of the success of her 2017 debut “Corazón”.

Salgado was a member of Da Poetry Lounge in LA, which touts itself as the country’s largest weekly open mic, and she is a co-founder of Chingona Fire, a feminist poetry collective with best friend Angela Aguirre. Her journey to the top of Amazon’s bestsellers list for Hispanic Poetry started out on Instagram where she posted her work and has since then developed an organic following that’s now grown to more than 50K followers. Her poetry is sprinkled throughout her feed but followers will also find screenshots where she exposes the harassers she encounters on dating sites. This characteristic vulnerability and honesty about love is what she’s become known and loved for and a key part of both books. “Tesoro”, which translates to “treasure”, is broken up into five sections with poems that touch on nostalgia, food, family, and even phone sex.

In her latest interview with FIERCE, Salgado spoke about the making of “Tesoro” and what she hopes her fans will get out of it.

Q: What was the inspiration behind “Tesoro”?

A: The women in my family. The older I have gotten the more I have understood their impatience, their anger, their fierce fight. The men in my family, like in many families, take and take. I wanted to write about the women who survived all that taking.

Q: “Corazón” dealt with heartbreak, love and healing, what are the main themes in this collection?

A: Both books carry a lot of the same themes but from different lenses. “Corazón” poses the question “Am I worthy of love?” and “Tesoro” asks “How do we survive those we have loved”?

Q: What do you want readers to take away from Tesoro?

A: I have learned that my readers will take what they want and end up teaching me what the book really is about. I am excited to hear how each person interpreted [it] and to rediscover this story into womanhood through them.

Q: Your debut collection was such a success and really resonated with people, do you feel the pressure of achieving the same level of success with “Tesoro”?

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????❤️Happy Birthday Corazón❤️???? my sweet baby turns a year old today. this little book that could. this book that is my messy heart. this book changed my life. I meet so many people who have connected with its love story and in turn share with me their own. I have cried with other broken hearts while reading from Corazón in venues throughout the country. I have signed thousands of copies and slid my heart back to the person taking it home. This book saved me. I wrote it a month after being hospitalized for a severe infection that changed my body and right leg forever. When I released Corazón I didn’t know I was pregnant. I found out days later. I didn’t know what I was going to do. Then, a couple of weeks after that I miscarried. If I hadn’t had this book I don’t know how far the depression would have taken me. Thank goodness that’s a question I don’t have to answer. Corazón healed herself y’all. Thank you my mango babies for letting me live my dream. Please share with me what Corazón means to you. I want to hear about your hearts. (Thank you @notacult.media for taking on this beautiful journey with me. Part 2 begins in a couple of weeks!).

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A: Absolutely. When I finished writing “Tesoro”, [I] was very sad. I hoped that it wouldn’t be outshined by its sister. “Tesoro” is dense and difficult. It asks hard questions and doesn’t necessarily answer them the way “Corazón” answered its own questions. I had to be okay with that. I have to trust that “Tesoro” will have its own success for its own reasons.

Q: Can you explain the significance of the cover art?

A: The cover art to “Tesoro” is a lemon tree. My home has two trees in its front yard. Our lives revolve around those dusty branches. They have been the backdrop to all our family parties and carne asadas, When my parents refused to buy us a Christmas tree my sisters and I strung lights around them. Our father would send us outside to pick a lemon for his drink or dinner. “Corazón” forever tied the imagery of mangoes to my writing, I needed to add some lemon to the fruit. This way, both El Salvador and Los Angeles are represented. The artist Cassidy Trier didn’t know any of this for either book. She designed both covers after reading my manuscripts. Home always finds you, I guess.

Q: Do you have a poem in this collection that’s your favorite?

A: Today my favorite poem is “Las Locas”. It lists all the women in my family and how they have rebelled from what is considered good behavior for women. Everyone comes from a family of locas. I find that to be magical and beautiful.

Q: What was the most challenging part of writing this book? The most rewarding?

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from #TesoroTheBook

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A: Let me tell you, “Tesoro” was stubborn. I had all these poems and I had no idea what they were trying to do. I didn’t know what the story was. I kept trying to shape it and it just didn’t feel right. I had to surrender. I had to humble myself. Sure, I’ve written a book before. I hadn’t written THIS book. I think that was the most rewarding part of it too. There are still new parts of myself to discover and wrestle with. That is exciting.

Q: “Corazón” was released in October of last year, what made you want to release another book soon after your debut?

A: “Tesoro” began tugging at me a couple of months later. It wasn’t going to wait. I’ve actually begun working on my third book and hope to welcome it home in a year or so. I think after the third book, I am gonna take a break and go chill on a beach somewhere for a while.

Q: You have such a devoted following thanks in part to your raw honesty and vulnerability, how has that connection with readers helped you in your journey?

A: Oh, my sweet Mangoes! my readers are amazing. I don’t always understand how much folks connect with my work until we run into each other somewhere and I am holding a stranger while they weep in my arms. They make me feel understood. it’s like, I am in a house of mirrors and each reflection is crystal clear. We’re all trying to make sense of life and all its obstacles together. I spent a large part of my life feeling alone or too strange to be loved. I write about that and folks say “I feel the same way” and the world feels less dark. I am very grateful for that.

Read: Latina Reads: Meet Bronx-Based Boricua Poet Gretchen Gomez

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Latina Reads: Puerto Rican Author Lilliam Rivera Discusses Upcoming YA Latinx Feminist Novel

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Latina Reads: Puerto Rican Author Lilliam Rivera Discusses Upcoming YA Latinx Feminist Novel

Lilliam Rivera has written two novels featuring strong Latinx female characters including her latest Dealing in Dreams. The Puerto Rican YA author released The Education of Margot Sanchez in 2017, a romantic coming of age story set in South Bronx that explored family dysfunction and the importance of being true to yourself. Born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, Rivera penned the ode to her hometown after relocating to Los Angeles. The book was nominated for the 2017 Best Fiction for Young Adult Fiction by the Young Adult Library Services Association and Rivera has also been awarded fellowships from PEN Center USA, A Room Of Her Own Foundation, and received a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation and the Speculative Literature Foundation.

In Dealing in Dreams, Rivera takes readers on the kind of fantasy adventure she imagines her teenage self would’ve wanted to read. The feminist dystopic novel is clearly influenced by Latinx culture following the adventures of sixteen-year-old Nalah and her all-girl crew Las Mal Criadas and her dreams of escaping Mega City to the exclusive Mega Towers. Read on to learn about the strong Latinx women in the book, why she chose to portray toxic femininity, and how immigration came into play. The book will be out March 5 and she’ll be talking at bookstores throughout the U.S.

The story focuses on an all-girl crew, can you tell me more about Las Mal Criadas and how you developed these characters?

Nalah is the sixteen-year-old leader of Las Mal Criadas, an all-girl crew who patrol the streets of Mega City. They are notoriously fierce but Nalah is wary of the violent life. She believes the way off the streets is securing a home in the exclusive Mega Towers where her leader Déesse lives. She’ll do anything to reach that goal. I wrote a draft of Dealing In Dreams six years ago and Nalah came to me first. I had just given birth to my second daughter and there were people, mostly women, who remarked how my dream of being a published author would have to be placed on hold. Rage can be a great incentive for generating art. I refuse to be pigeonholed. I wrote this draft while taking care of a newborn and I put it away for six years, workshopping a chapter here and there, until a year ago when I returned to the manuscript and still felt its relevance.

Can you describe Mega City and the Mega Towers and their significance in the story?

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I based the concept of the Mega Towers on the housing projects I grew up in the South Bronx. The Twin Park West Housing Projects is a U-shaped structure connected by three buildings. With the Bronx slowly being gentrified I could just imagine how these buildings will soon be so desirable for those in power. In Dealing In Dreams, the towers are the only structure that survived the Big Shake, a man-made disaster caused by drilling. The Mega Towers is where the elite live and it’s where Nalah believes she can secure a home for her crew if she plays by this society’s rules. There are a couple of hints that Mega City is the Bronx but only a person from there would discover those Easter eggs.

The book is being described as a feminist Latinx dystopia and The Outsiders meets Mad Max so suffice it to say it’s a fierce book, how would you describe it to someone who is unfamiliar with the genre? 

I would describe Dealing In Dreams as a young adult book about a girl who grew up in a violent world and must decide if that path is truly her only salvation to a better life.

There is a very clear Latinx influence in the city and characters, why was that important to you?

@lilliamr / Instagram

I grew up reading so many science fiction and fantasy novels (Ray Bradbury, George Orwell…) and didn’t see any of my people in them. Where were the Puerto Rican girls from the Bronx crushing monsters? The same holds true of current films. I love Star Wars and have watched it hundreds of times but how amazing is it that my kids get to see Oscar Isaac being a part of the Star Wars canon? The future I envision in my novels is very brown and very black, just like my upbringing. I want to write Latinx characters that are flawed and heroic, who fall in love and discover their voice.

This is your second time writing a teenage Latinx protagonist, why is it important to you to tell these stories through the lens of a Latina?

These are the type of stories I craved for when I was young, desperately trying to connect with protagonists in novels. I think there’s more than enough room in bookstores and libraries for different Latina stories.

You take toxic masculinity and flip it to women instead, what was your intent in doing this?

There’s this great image of activist Angela Peoples taken during the Women’s March. Angela holds up a sign that reads “Don’t Forget: White Women Voted for Trump.” I thought of that image when I was rewriting the novel. I also kept thinking of how our own people will gladly throw us under the bus in order to secure a place beside someone in power. Sometimes our own family are quick to lead us to destruction. I wanted to explore those two realities in Dealing In Dreams.

What are some of the main concepts you wanted to tackle when you wrote this book and why?

I was thinking of books I’ve read that inspired me as a young person such as Anthony Burgess A Clockwork Orange and S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. I was drawn to their violence and also to the idea of formed families. I wanted to explore this idea of blood family versus the family you create but I wanted to come from the point of view of a Latina.

The idea of finding a better home is a concept that’s all too real for many Latinx in the US, was it a conscious decision to have Nalah’s journey mirror the immigrant experience in a sense?

@lilliamr / Instagram

The quest for home is so rooted in my family’s history. My parents left Puerto Rico to find a better home in New York. Each decision they made, however hard, was made with the intention of providing us with the tools to succeed. Almost everyone who wants to enter the United States come with that hope. There’s an amazing painting by the artist Judithe Hernández titled “La Muerte De Los Inocentes” and it is of a child who clutches a ribbon that states: “We come but to dream.” I feel that painting really captures Nalah’s journey and the journey of so many who come to the U.S. searching for a better life.

There’s a lot of action in this book, what was it like writing those scenes featuring all women?

I had the best time writing those scenes! I think it’s so rare to see young women owning their strength on the page and not being afraid to use it. I love that my characters are unapologetic about it. I also didn’t want to give the reader a chance to rest, to think of putting the book down, so I tried to inject as much action as I could.

What do you want readers to take away from Dealing in Dreams?

I want readers to be transported to a place that looks at times familiar and completely new. I want Nalah, Truck, Nena and the rest of Las Mal Criadas to leave an imprint on the readers long after they read the last page.

Read: YA Writer Tehlor Kay Mejia’s Debut Fantasy Book is a Feminist Story of Forbidden Love and Oppression

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YA Writer Tehlor Kay Mejia’s Debut Fantasy Book is a Feminist Story of Forbidden Love and Oppression

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YA Writer Tehlor Kay Mejia’s Debut Fantasy Book is a Feminist Story of Forbidden Love and Oppression

Tehlor Kay Mejia, 32, is lighting up the young literature scene with her dystopian feminist debut “We Set the Dark on Fire“. The book already has a 4.07 rating on Good Reads and Cosmopolitan hailed it as one of the best YA books of this year so the hype is strong for this Latinx read. Mejia, who is Mexican-American and was born and raised in Oregon where she still lives, feels passionate about the representation of Latinx in the media and the oppression the community faces. Using fantasy as a way to explore these topics, she developed the novel about Dani Vargas, a top-student at the Medio School for Girls where they train them to either run their husband’s household or raise his children. Vargas’ paperwork is a lie her parents worked to attain for her to be in such a position of privilege and now she’s faced with forbidden love and a chance to help the resistance. She’s torn between following her heart or disappointing her parents and the sacrifices they made for her.

Mejia is a self-proclaimed bruja who has altars set up in her home and works with stones, crystals and herbs also included a little bit of herself in the story through tarot cards, used as a form of communication among the resistance. Her grounding forces include the ancestors she feels connected to that she says guide her through the stress of work, as well as her six-year-old daughter. She’s a big fan of Twitter to connect with fellow Latinx writers and building a community within the Latinx diaspora as well as talk about the issues Latinx face today, especially in the current political climate.

Read on to learn about how she developed Dani’s character, her own battles with privilege, and how the story is a commentary on the oppression and marginalization Latinas and queer Latinx face. “We Set the Dark on Fire” is out February 26. 

Can you tell me a little  bit about your background and how you got into writing?

I remember being really into stories from a really young age, but while the kids around me were kind of passively enjoying them I was always picking them apart, looking for what made them work and forming all these funny little kid opinions about how they could be better. When I got older, high school age and into my twenties, I realized the books I loved (mostly speculative fiction – fantasy and science fiction) never had characters I could truly relate to. I was always having to stretch to imagine myself in their lives, having their adventures, but I didn’t really believe I could write stories about people like me until I read “Gabi, A Girl in Pieces” by Isabel Quintero. Suddenly I could imagine it, and then there was no stopping me.

You’ve had your work published in anthologies, can you tell me about those stories and what that was like for you?

When I was approached to do “All Out: The No-Longer Secret Stories of Queer Teens throughout the Ages”, I hadn’t yet sold my debut novel, so I was really nervous. I was by far the most inexperienced author on the project. My story for that collection, “Healing Rosa”, was one of the first short stories I’d ever written, and since it was a historical project it was really important to me to show that there has been joy in our cultures in other eras. That toil and struggle and oppression existed, as they do now, but that we’ve always been capable of finding joy within our circumstances. For the second project – “Toil & Trouble”, which is a Young Adult anthology with a witchcraft theme – I was more conscious of the theme, and the way most people would probably approach it as fantasy. Even though I’m a fantasy writer, so much of what ‘witchcraft’ means to me is pretty ordinary. It’s family altars and limpias and tarot as part of daily life. I really wanted to show as part of that group of stories that witchiness has been a daily expression of faith in our (and many other) cultures for generations, and that it’s not all flying brooms and magic wands. So that’s how “Starsong” – a story about a social media obsessed teen bruja living in southern California – came to be.

Why did you decide to go into YA fantasy lit?

Fantasy has always been what I loved to read, I’ve been fascinated for as long as I can remember by the ways authors use world-building as a metaphor and a window into the truth of our experiences. I didn’t settle on YA until later, when I realized how sorely our communities were lacking stories that we could relate to, and how much that had shaped me as a reader and a writer. There’s still this toxic stereotype in so much of this country that Latinx kids are less interested in reading than their white peers, and I really feel so much of that is due to the historical lack of representation in children’s literature – and of course a lot of it is also just plain old stereotyping and prejudice. There are so many amazing Latinx authors working so hard in kid-lit to correct these wrongs, and I’m really grateful to get to join in that fight this year.

 What inspired you to develop “We Set the Dark on Fire”?

I’ve always been interested in the roles women are reduced to in societies, currently, throughout history, and across various cultural and national divides. The one thing that seems to remain consistent is our obsession as a society with women as one of two things: Beautiful and soft and nurturing – which comes with a connotation of being weak, or driven and ambitious and powerful – which so often strips us of our femininity in the eyes of the world. I feel that the more intersectional, or the further from the default, we are as women, the more obsessed society comes with classifying or categorizing us. I wanted to explore, using a fantasy world as the backdrop, what it looks like when women are forced into those roles by law, what happens when they refuse to be confined by them, and the effect on patriarchal, oppressive societies when they reject those roles.

 What was the writing process like?

Long! I wrote the first draft of this book – which was very different – over three years ago. I’m a little non-traditional as I didn’t go to college for writing (or at all…), so a lot of what I’ve learned about the process has happened thanks to generous people in this industry (agents, other authors, editors, etc) being willing to give me feedback. There was a lot of writing, and rewriting, and learning, and growing, but I’m grateful to have found people along the way that believe in the story and were willing to help me get it there. My process has changed a lot for subsequent books, but it definitely continues to be inspired by my growing anger over the state of the world and the treatment of marginalized people in it.

 What were some of the challenges in writing your debut novel? What has been the greatest reward so far?

The challenges, for me, have been mostly internal. Do I have the skill to tell this story? Will anyone want to hear it when I do? I’m a third generation Latina, and a biracial woman, so a lot of it has been coming to terms with that privilege, being honest as I reflect it – and the process of learning how to use it for good – on the page. The greatest reward by far has been hearing from Latina readers who connected with the story and saw themselves in the main character and her family. Of course that’s the hope when you write who you are and what you love, but I couldn’t have possibly predicted how amazing it would feel when it actually happened.

Can you describe Dani Vargas? How did you develop her character?

Dani is incredibly ambitious, and she really applies herself to any task she’s given. She has a really strong sense of duty to her parents for the sacrifices they’ve made to give her the life she has, even while sometimes she wonders if it’s the right life for her. Innately, she’s a girl who has a strong sense of what’s right. For her whole life she’s been told one thing is right, and when that view is questioned she’s very mixed up. But she has that strong internal compass that eventually guides her to make the right choice even when it’s incredibly difficult and at odds with what she was raised to do.There’s a lot of me in Dani, definitely, but as the story grew I wanted to explore that sense of duty in so many Latinx families, the intense desire to do right by our parents and make them proud, but also the complications that can arise when what they want is outdated or old fashioned and we have to grow up and make our own choices about what’s right.

 What made you choose a Latina heroine?

I thought for a long time that if I was going to write in this industry I’d have to erase parts of myself. That people wouldn’t respond to the characters I’d always longed to see in a book. Choosing a Latina heroine – and a queer one, specifically – meant a lot of giving up expectations. Just choosing to be brave and hope that people responded to it.

 What do you hope readers get out of this book?         

It’s so complicated, because as an author there are so many things I hope people notice, or pick up on, or appreciate about the book. But at the end of the day, I hope it’s clear that I wrote it as a love letter to queer Latina girls who refuse to allow the world to box them in. I hope those girls find it, and love it, and find whatever they need to in it. That’s my dream for the book.

It’s described as a feminist novel about family and freedom, how did decide what values you’d promote in this book as a POC?

That definitely comes back to privilege again, for me. There were a lot of things I had to say about immigration, and homophobia, and the humanizing or dehumanizing of POC in this world. But, again, I have a lot of privilege as a white/passing Latina from a mixed background, and there are lots of people telling those stories from a more authentic place than I could.

What I felt like I wanted to explore was the idea of your family making sacrifices for you to have a better life, which is woven all throughout my personal history. I wanted to show how sometimes that “better life” and all the privileges associated with it can sometimes distance you from feeling like you belong in your own world, and what to do when you come to terms with the fact that those sacrifices gave you privilege. The duty you feel to the people who gave you that life, even while you’re not sure where you fit in it. Do you embrace it, and erase pieces of yourself to fit in? Or do you find ways to weaponize the privilege and use it to fight back against the people wielding it against your community?

Did you always envision it as a duology? What can we expect in book two?

Yes! It’s always been intended to be two parts. There’s not a lot I can say about the sequel without giving anything away about the first book, but I will say that while “We Set the Dark on Fire” has a pretty straightforward government vs. the resistance theme, the sequel take is to the outer island and deeper into the rebellion. It explores what a resistance really is, and how harmful power structures and patriarchal values can be found even in spaces that appear to be radical.

How would you describe the novel to someone who is skeptical about reading YA fantasy?

I’d say that YA fantasy is one of the most interesting, fierce, powerful things happening in literature right now, and they’re missing out on way more than just my book if they’re skeptical of it  But also that even though it’s a fantasy, there really are a lot of things about it that are inspired by this world, about the struggles that are mounting daily for immigrants and marginalized groups under this administration, and that if you’re political and interested and angry about those things there is probably something for you in this book.

 Did you draw inspiration from other novels for your debut? If so, which?

Yes, absolutely. I mentioned Isabel Quintero before, but her book “Gabi, A Girl in Pieces” showed me that there was room for mixed up kids that looked and felt like me in literature. This book wouldn’t exist without her. For prose, there’s hardly anyone better right now than Anna-Marie McLemore, who’s taking our stories and making them these dark, whimsical fairytales. Zoraida Córdova’s “Labyrinth Lost” was the first time I saw a fantasy with a Latina MC, which was really revolutionary and inspiring as I was writing this book.  Finally, Sabaa Tahir’s Ember Quartet is some of the most incredible, political, fast-paced revolutionary fantasy out there right now, and I’ve always been so inspired by her books and just her as a WoC kicking ass in this industry.

 How do you feel about being a POC in the literary world?

As I’ve said, I do operate with a lot of privilege in POC circles because of colorism and a whole bevy of other toxic structures that uplift whiteness and proximity to whiteness. Of course, there are struggles unique to being who I am and writing what I write, and there have been hard times, and frustrating times. But I try to mostly focus on using the toxic structures and the places they benefit me to call them out, and to know when to step back, and to hopefully remind publishing whenever possible that cherry-picking a few token POC that will be palatable to a white audience isn’t nearly radical enough.

 Lastly, what do you have in store for the future?

The sequel will be out next year, which is a busy one for me. I also have a new Middle Grade series starting with the Rick Riordan Presents imprint in May of next year. The book is called “Paola Santiago and the Drowned Palace” and it’s based on the myth of La Llorona featuring a STEM obsessed 12-year-old Latina.  And lastly, I have co-written a magical realism YA novel called “Meteor”, which I was lucky enough to work on with the supremely talented Anna-Marie McLemore, out in August of next year.


Read: 13 Latina Fantasy Books For the Sci-Fi Lover in Your Life

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