Diverse Book Corner: Interview with Latinx Debut Author Claribel Ortega

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Ever since I saw the announcement that Claribel Ortega wrote a novel about two best friends, a fluffy cat named Chunk, and a witchy Abuela on a ghostly adventure around St. Augustine, I knew that this was the book that my preteen soul always needed. This middle-grade read brought me back to being a kid reading Goosebumps under the covers. My giggling was nonstop with the adorable friendship between Lucely and Syd, the quirky ghosts wandering St. Augustine, and my favorite fictional cat, Chunk, who is solely motivated to ghost-hunt if it involves cheese. This Latinx book will teach you the importance of family, friends, and how the people you have lost are always with you no matter what. Ghost Squad has the nostalgia of Hocus Pocus, the thrilling adventure of Stranger Things, and every childhood Halloween fantasy come true.  

What was your inspiration behind Ghost Squad?

Ghost Squad was inspired by Dominican folklore that says fireflies are the souls of our lost loved ones watching over and protecting us, as well as my love for all things spooky and adventurous. 

Ghost Squad takes me back to the kind of middle-grade books I read in the nineties such as Goosebumps and The Baby-Sitters Club Mystery series! What was your favorite middle-grade spooky book as a kid? 

I was obsessed with Goosebumps! I also loved the Fear Street novels. 

I am obsessed with the elements of Dominican culture, the strong female relationships, and the family dynamics that you brought into this story! (Especially the chancla jokes!) Were the heartwarming elements of family and friendships inspired by your own life?

Absolutely. I grew up with a big family and there were lots of funny and heartwarming moments in my own life I was lucky enough to be able to pull from. I drew a lot of inspiration from my own upbringing and experiences and hope it helps people who share my heritage feel seen and validated and for those who don’t to learn something new and perhaps, if they need it, learn compassion for things outside their lived experience.  

After reading Ghost Squad and being in self-quarantine mode, I am now dying to get back to St. Augustine and go to all the spooky ghost tours! What spooky sight-seeing recommendations do you have for St. Augustine?

If you can find Babette’s Baubles, go there. But I highly doubt you can find it. Instead, I’d visit the St Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum where the big final battle of the book takes place! 

I am also an obsessive witchy fan like Syd and the character Babette is abuela witch goals! Name your favorite pop culture witches.

I love both Winnifred Sanderson from Hocus Pocus and Ursula the sea witch from The Little Mermaid, who I identify with very strongly. Also, I know she’s technically an enchantress but the woman at the beginning of Beauty and the Beast who curses Prince Adam/Beast simply because she set such a powerful story in motion. Love her for that. 

Chunk, the cat is now my favorite fluffy character and all I wanted to do was pull him out of the book to give him a belly rub! Will we see Chunk the cat in future stories of yours?

All depends! But I’d love to write more about her. A Chunk origin story featuring Babette would be delightful. 

Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with our Frolic readers about?  

All my current works are in progress and not ready for public consumption, but I do have a graphic novel  Frizzy coming from First Second in 2022 with the incredible illustrator Rose Bousamra!

About the Author:

Claribel A. Ortega is a former reporter who writes YA & MG fantasy inspired by her Dominican heritage. When she’s not busy turning her obsession with eighties pop culture, magic and video games into books, she’s filming videos for her YouTube channel or making GIFS for her small graphic design business, GIFGRRL.

Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega, out now!

For Lucely Luna, ghosts are more than just the family business.

Shortly before Halloween, Lucely and her best friend, Syd, cast a spell that accidentally awakens malicious spirits, wreaking havoc throughout St. Augustine. Together, they must join forces with Syd’s witch grandmother, Babette, and her tubby tabby, Chunk, to fight the haunting head-on and reverse the curse to save the town and Lucely’s firefly spirits before it’s too late.

With the family dynamics of Coco and action-packed adventure of Ghostbusters, Claribel A. Ortega delivers both a thrillingly spooky and delightfully sweet debut novel.

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