Sunday Brunch: Writing Advice and More from Joelle Charbonneau and Amparo Ortiz

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[Note from Frolic: Our YA exoert Aurora got the opportunity to interview Joelle Charbonneau and Amparo Ortiz and ask them five(ish) questions each. Up first, Joelle Charbonneau!]

Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel? 

Joelle Charbonneau: My recent novel, DISCLOSE, is the conclusion of a duology.  The series (VERIFY and  DISCLOSE) was inspired by the questions I kept asking every time I saw people sharing things online that weren’t true and continuing to share them even when they learned that it was false information. I started wondering what our world would look like if people no longer knew how to verify facts.  In doing so, I found myself trying to figure out how to convince people who think they know the truth to look at facts and change their minds as to what they believe.

What character in this novel do you most relate to and why?  

Well, there is a character named Dewey that is a fact-checking, history buff that I identify with a great deal. But I most identify with my main character, Meri, whose father started drinking after tragedy struck their family. As a child of an alcoholic, I found myself putting many of my own feelings that shaped my teen years into the books. The experience of having a parent struggling with addiction is multifaceted and hard to understand for those who have only seen it portrayed in movies. Writing Meri was my way of showing that it is far more complex an issue than many believe and how challenging it is for a family to navigate.

Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?  

Fiction, with strong, well developed characters and plot lines that echo real life, is always entertaining.  But in this moment in history, fiction is a good tool for readers to use to explore the current world around them in a setting that allows them to let down their guards.  We live in time where passions about issues are bubbling at the surface of our lives. It is often hard to have conversations with those who don’t see things in exactly the same way. But by its very nature, fiction allows us to walk in someone else’s shoes, see life through their eyes and explore issues that might  otherwise make us defensive in a new way. Right now, I think that kind of experience is more appealing than it has been in years. 

Please describe the content of your latest read and what can readers expect from it. 

I recently read NOBODY KNOWS BUT YOU by Anica Mrose Rissi. It’s a story that is a murder mystery at the heart, told through a unique narrative  style. News reports, text messages and letters between our main characters pull the reader in and make them question what truths aren’t being spoken and what lies are being told. It also makes you wonder if the correct person is on trial for the murder and if friendship means keeping secrets no matter the cost!   I love books that have unusual narrative styles and this one pulled me in from the first page!

What’s next for you in the bookish world?  

What’s next? Good question! I am finishing revisions on a younger teen fantasy novel that I hope will become a series.  It has a slightly quirkier tone than my other young adult books, but there is a mystery about the world and a bit of a run for your life plot. I also have a young adult science fiction series that I started toying with years ago that I am going to revisit. It’s got a bit of time travel, a huge machine powered by a volcano and is about how sometimes it isn’t the large, noticeable events that shape our lives, but that often it is the smallest things that go unnoticed by almost everyone that change the world.

Who is your current favorite writer? Why?  

Who is my favorite writer??? That’s such a hard question because I love so many writers and find myself gravitating to certain writers depending on my mood. Stephen King became a favorite of mine the summer between 4th and 5th  grade and remains a favorite now.  The Dead Zone has been a recent reread and was more powerful now than it was when I first picked it up. I also love Alison Weir and her historical fiction.  For YA, I am always a fan of Victoria Schwab and can never wait for a new book of hers to hit shelves.  (Her adult books are wonderful, too!)

Any writing advice for aspiring writers?   

My best advice for aspiring writers is in two parts. First, finish what you start. So many writers I know start off writing a project with great enthusiasm. Then they hit the middle and that excitement disappears. Suddenly, they question what they are working on and start thinking it might be the wrong thing to write and it never fails that’s the moment when they come up with a brand new idea that seems so much better. That moment happens in every project. I call it the Black Hole Of Death that sucks you into self-doubt and makes you want to give up. Don’t do it! Keep pushing through and get to the end.  Even if the book is terrible (my first novel was beyond awful), that’s okay!  You can fix what is bad and you will have learned that you can keep writing despite the doubt.  Second, and this goes along with the Black Hole Of Death, give yourself permission to make mistakes.  In school, we are always trying to be perfect because that’s how you get a good grade. So the desire to be perfect is strong and that can be paralyzing. Give yourself permission to do things wrong so that you are able to finish. First drafts aren’t meant to be perfect. That’s what the second, third, fourth and sometimes twelfth draft is for.   

Up next, a chat with Amparo Ortiz!

Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?

Amparo Ortiz: The FIFA World Cup! I was watching the 2014 games and kept thinking about a dragon sport idea I’d had in 2013. That specific project hadn’t been fleshed out at all. When the Cup started, all I could think of was, “What if these dragons are from different countries and they’re competing in an international tournament?” I knew I wanted my main character to be Puerto Rican, so Lana’s journey into becoming a part of Team Puerto Rico is the focus of BLAZEWRATH GAMES.

What character in this novel do you most relate to and why?

I definitely relate to Lana the most! We’re both stubborn, outspoken, in our heads a lot, obsessed with dragons, and proud Monbebes (name of Monsta X’s fandom).

Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?

People want to see themselves reflected in stories, but they also enjoy aspirational narratives. Whether it’s wanting to experience what it’s like to have magical powers, or how it feels to speak out against issues that affect them or their communities, readers are on the lookout for voices that don’t necessarily follow the same rules applied in our world. Some just crave an escape, which is great, too! They’re choosing character journeys that will sweep them away from the familiar.

Please describe the content of your latest read and what can readers expect from it.

I’m currently reading INCENDIARY by the uber-talented Zoraida Córdova. Readers can expect a heroine who can steal memories, a high fantasy world that feels like you’re walking around Spain during the Inquisition, an ongoing war between the crown and people with magical abilities, and romance.

What’s next for you in the books world?

I have a middle grade graphic novel coming out in 2022! It’s titled SAVING CHUPIE. It’s the story of a girl who visits Puerto Rico to help her Abuela reopen her restaurant after Hurricane Maria, but when she discovers the local farm animals are being attacked by a starving, baby Chupacabra, she goes on a mission to protect Chupie from those hunting him down.

Who is your current favorite writer? Why?

I think Elizabeth Acevedo is a genius. She has a command of language that makes me feel every single word, and I love how she doesn’t shy away from some of the challenges we face within the Latinx community both as minorities in general and girls/women specifically.

Any writing advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t do it! No, I’m kidding. My main goal is to always be as truthful as possible when I’m writing, so my advice would be to find your truth and present it in ways that make others believe it to be true. You could write about unicorns in space, and while that’s super exciting, it’s the relationship between your characters and your heart that will create a narrative that lingers with readers long after they’ve finished your story. This is especially true of POC writers working on #ownvoices books. Find your truth and share it with the world. We need you.
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