Interview: Mia García On Descriptive Setting, Writing About Your Culture, & Diversity In Publishing

Welcome back to the Millennial Writer Series, in which I interview writers every month who have published work. We discuss the writer’s work, their creative process, and what it is to be a Millennial in publishing. Want to know more? Check out all the interviews.

Mia García‘s YA Contemporary novel Even If The Sky Falls is both the ultimate lush summer read, taking us through an immersive, all-encompassing night in New Orleans, and a sweet romance between two teens who just want to spend Mid-Summer Mardi Gras getting away from their troubles. Even If The Sky Falls was named one of Barnes & Noble’s Most Anticipated 2016 Contemporary YAs. Mia herself is a talented writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School and experience working in publishing with Penguin. Mia has great advice for writers, plus what it means to write descriptive setting for your novel.

Tell us about your YA novel Even If The Sky Falls. How did you plot your novel and what inspired you to write this story?

even if the sky fallsEven If the Sky Falls is about Julie, who escapes to New Orleans because a serious family situation has become more than she can handle at the moment. There she meets Miles, who is dealing with his own issues, and they decide to spend the next 24-hours together – not thinking about all their shit (can I swear??) – and just enjoying NOLA and each other. It’s a novel about letting go, attraction-at-first-sight, romance, and beignets.

The story was a collaboration between myself, and my editor, Maria, who wanted to set a romance in NOLA for a long time. She’d read a chapter from a WIP and we started chatting about the idea for the novel. I was very lucky because I’d just come back from a trip to New Orleans and the city was fresh in my mind! We talked plots, characters, emotion, race — you name it — and the story took shape. Before this I had queried, oh gosh, three separate novels, which had not worked out, so it was a lesson in keeping an open mind and not missing out on ways to make connections.

EItSF also coincided with some health issues in my family, and the story helped me work through a lot of feelings of confusion and fear.

New Orleans is like its own character in your novel and your language is rich with description about the city. Did this come through naturally as you wrote or did you plan that aspect of the novel early on?

This came naturally as I wrote, and remembered my time in NOLA. The French Quarter has a similar feel to Old San Juan back home, so my usually faulty memory was able to remember a lot of details from my visit. It was like bringing in a member of the family bit by bit into the story. And also my fabulous editor who never missed a chance to say: “What’s going on around you at the moment?” and pushed me to describe things more.

On the technique side, my first drafts are very sparse compared to my final drafts, I’m more of a writer that fleshes things out rather than parses things down. So a sentence would go from just them walking down the street to a description of the temperature, or the rain falling as they walked, did their hands touch for a moment? Was the light playing with the puddles gathering in the corners? What did it smell like when I walked by Café Du Monde?  What music was playing…and so on. In a way New Orleans was the perfect city for this story, because it’s the type of place that makes you remember that it is speaking even when you hear nothing.

Throughout Even If The Sky Falls, poems interject themselves between the stages of Julie’s journey as she progresses through her night in New Orleans. How did poems and songwriting inspire the storyline of the novel?

The poems in the middle are actually songs, they are a peek into Miles’s head during the journey. The novel is from Julie’s POV, so the songs give us Miles’s thoughts as each section of the story ends. They might have been one of the scariest things to write, because I’m not a musician, and I don’t write poetry, so I was very afraid they might come off as too cheesy! (Hope they didn’t – gulp – and if they did DO NOT TELL ME)

How do you think the cities we live in, that idea that we live in a global village, define the Millennial writer? Or possibly define your writing?

That’s interesting, I think it defines many of us in a way that is almost second nature.

And though I do think technology has made it incredibly easy to interact with other communities, that connection has a limit doesn’t it? You can watch hundreds of videos about Puerto Rico and the debt crisis, and feel sorry about it, but there’s a limit to that experience. You can turn it off at the end of the day.

That being said, I do think technology opens up relationships and avenues that were previously much narrower. Information, though it can often be biased, is at most of our fingertips. You don’t have to go to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa anymore, heck, you’ll probably a get a better view of it from your computer than behind the hundreds of people with their iPhones trying to take a picture of it.

You worked in publishing in New York. What trends and issues are emerging in some of the YA contemporary novels that you’ve seen?

Mia Garcia

Mia Garcia

I recently took a break from working in publishing after 6 years, so my trends might be a bit off. But I always found that by the time someone notices a trend it’s on its way down, and often enough they aren’t really trends, just one or two books doing really well and everyone else making that connection to that book.

For example, there was a big trend of contemporary novels after The Fault in Our Stars came out, but really, the novels were already on their way, they were simply being connected to TFIOS because of its popularity. There will always be contemporaries coming out, SF/F will continue to be published, and so on. I’m not a huge believer in trends, and you shouldn’t see them as big indicators of what’s going to be published.

What I do want to see more of is diversity, and diversity within diversity. But that’s a primary change and not a trend.

How does your upbringing in Puerto Rico inspire your work?

The same way your hometown works its way into the things you do without noticing it. I am Puerto Rican and that will always weave its way into what I do and how I think in some way or another. Whether people will recognize it is another thing. I’m getting more and more confident in how I bring in my culture into my writing, and I think as I continue there will be less of a hesitation of: Will this make it too niche? Should I not make them Latinx?

Diversity is a big issue in YA. While things seem to be improving, there’s still more to be done to make literature more inclusive. How do you see your novel as part of that? Do you believe diversity in publishing is improving? How can diversity become a bigger conversation?

Diversity is an issue across books in general, but perhaps we are simply louder about it in YA, particularly with the We Need Diverse Books movement. As far as my novel, I think it’s nice to have a sweet summer romance that just happens to be about a Puerto Rican girl and an African American boy. It goes back to that diversity within diversity, you know? Which means, yes to the heavy books about coming of age and dealing with racism and history, but also yes to the fun romances, and the cool SF/F novels, mysteries, and comedies.

I think I’d have to see charts to know if it’s actually improving! I think we talk about it more, and I actively seek it out, but I don’t think the conversation will or should cease or diminish for several years to come.

On the ‘bigger conversation’ I’m actually not sure, perhaps it’s when we no longer have to remind people it’s not an attack on a certain community, but a need for representation? Or simply that it doesn’t need to get bigger but simply continue.

What do you think makes the character of a Millennial writer a powerful new force? Do you see significant differences between older and younger Millennials? What do you see as a unique concern of Millennial Writers?

Dude, I have no idea! I could say it’s our search for the new, but every writer is different, whether they are Millennials or not. I think we all have the comparison issue, where we compare our accomplishments to other writers/creatives who are younger/older/amazing on a daily basis. To that I would say: Stop it. You have better things to do.

I could speak to my own worries, which other Millenials might share. I often have to remind myself that I don’t have to achieve everything in one day. That the careers of those people I admire weren’t achieved overnight and that my own career will take years and years to build.

Which writers inspire your craft?

I always forget people in these questions! Lets see…(I’m going to include screen writers and comic book writers in this) my fellow writers whom I’ve met throughout the years – they are many and they are amazing…in terms of fancy writers: Jorge Luis Borges, Neil Gaiman, Guillermo del Toro, Diana Wynne Jones, Robin McKinley, Wes Craven, Pedro Almodóvar, Hayao Miyazaki, Mel Brooks, Chris Claremont, Rosario Ferré, Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, Tim Burton, old folktales… I know I’ve forgotten so many!

What advice do you have to other Millennial writers and creatives trying to get their work published?

Do your research. There are a lot of new and fantastic ways to get published outside of traditional publishing if that is your thing, and there are a lot of new and fantastic ways to get swindled.

Self Care should be important. A couple of years ago I read this article about how Millennial women are burning out at a much quicker rate than previous generations, and I remember clearly going: “HA, too late.” So, take care of yourself.

Thanks, Mia!



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