In Conversation With: Latinx Contemporary Author Janelle Milanes

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1) What was your inspiration behind Analee, in Real Life and Victoria in My Head?

The Victoria in My Head was something that I had been thinking about for a long time. I would take the subway to work (usually about an hour and a half each way) and zone out during the commute by listening to music. Somehow, this idea began to take form. I imagined a girl coming alive on stage in a way that no one who knew her would expect. I think high school me was living vicariously through this idea, because I would have loved to sing in a band. Like Victoria, I was incredibly shy (ultimately, I sang in the chorus which is decidedly less cool but was still a fantastic outlet.) I started thinking about what it would look like for an introverted girl with stage fright to completely let everything go and live out her rock star fantasies. 

Analee began as a writing exercise for a class I was taking. We had to write from the perspective of a high school stereotype, and I wrote as a wallflower. Years prior, I had also gone through an intense but short-lived World of Warcraft phase. The thought of trying on a whole other persona online was so intriguing to me. I thought it would be an interesting outlet for someone like Analee who felt so stifled in reality and could only live her truth in a virtual world. 

2) Which character do you relate the most to Analee or Victoria?

Both characters have pieces of me in them. Victoria is a lot like my teenage self–sheltered, imaginative, yearning for something more than the mundane day-to-day routine. Her parents are very similar to my own as well. Analee possesses a heightened version of my insecurities. She is my anxiety times one thousand and has gone through much more in life than I have.

3) I really loved and related to the part of Victoria’s love of making very specific playlists. Do you find yourself making your own playlists in your writing process and what kind of music do you gravitate to when your writing?

Music is something that really inspires my writing. I do find myself coming up with story ideas after listening to certain songs. When I’m actually hunkering down to write, though, I have to be careful that what I listen to won’t distract me from the writing process! I will make playlists of songs that I can imagine fitting certain scenes in my story. The music tends to be all over the place but there is a fair amount of indie pop/rock in there. While I’m writing, I like the music to be very mellow.

4) Victoria was caught in a love triangle of sorts in Victoria in My Head. If you had to pick Strand the carefree bad boy or Levi the nerdy hipster who would you pick?

Strand! Strand, Strand, Strand. I’m a sucker for a “bad boy” with a heart of gold when it comes to fiction. 

5) How have your experiences of growing up as a Cuban-American influenced your characters Analee and Victoria? 

It’s so hard to view objectively how my Cuban-American heritage has influenced my writing, because it’s all I’ve ever known. I’m not even sure I’m conscious of how it seeps into my characters. It’s in the way they speak, think, in their relationships with family and friends. It’s something that’s very difficult to define because it’s so much a part of me! 

6) What diverse Latinx authors do you recommend us to read for the year of 2019?

Don’t Date Rosa Santos is a an adorable read by Nina Moreno, about a Cuban-American girl who dreams of visiting Cuba but is cursed by the sea. Lilliam Rivera has a new book out as well that I’m excited to check out. It’s called Dealing in Dreams, and it’s a futuristic, dystopian Latinx novel. 

7) One of my favorite things about Analee, in Real Life and Victoria in My Head, is that you describe characters that are not your caricature Cuban characters. They identify with their culture but they don’t fit in with their Cuban-American heritage and the stereotypical behaviors they are expected to have. Have you ever identified with these feelings of not fitting in growing up in a Cuban-American family? 

I think there is a wealth of diversity within the Cuban-American culture. There is no universal experience, and I try to reflect that in my characters. For me, when growing up and even now, I struggle with feeling as though I’m not “Latina” enough. I have to remind myself that there is no right or wrong way to be a Cuban-American. I am a proud Latina who speaks terrible Spanish, who has never been to the island from which my family originates, and who married an Irish-Italian guy from New York. I am who I am. My family still gives me flack about certain things, especially my Spanish, but they accept me regardless. It’s still a process learning to accept myself and letting go of the feeling that I have something to prove. 

About Janelle Milanes:

Janelle Milanes is originally from Miami, FL and received her BA in English Literature from Davidson College. A lifelong YA addict, she moved to New York for her first job as a children’s literature associate at Simon & Schuster.

For the past five years, Janelle has worked as a teacher and librarian throughout the New York City area. Her first novel reflects many of her own experiences growing up as a second-generation Latina in America.Janelle currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband, their daughter, and their two cats. Her favorite Disney princess is Belle, since she was also a big book nerd. Find her here: http://janellemilanes.com/

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