Hi friends and happy Monday! I am lucky enough to have *another* amazing author interview on the blog today. Anna Meriano’s first book: A Dash of Trouble is so charming, sweet, and important. It is about a Mexican American girl named Leo who finds out her family of bakers are actually brujas who use there magic in their cooking. Leo is the youngest and tired of being left out, so she tries to learn the magic of her ancestry on her own! Anna also was the year above me in The New Schools MFA program and was so kind to me in my first month living in NYC (and beyond). Get ready to learn from her brilliance!
For people that don’t know, what is Cake Literary and what was it like working with them on this book?
Cake literary is a packaging company, which means that they develop ideas for books and then find writers to match with those projects. They have a specific focus on putting out books that are high concept and diverse. Working with Cake has been an amazing and rewarding collaboration, and I feel very lucky to be part of the (small but growing) Cake family.
As for the nitty gritty of working with them on the book, Cake founders Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra came to me with a synopsis, character descriptions, and a brief chapter outline for the project. In our first chat about the ideas, I felt very comfortable putting my own spin on the story, and Dhonielle and Sona were great about encouraging my suggestions. From there I started writing chapters, and occasionally things that were planned in the outline would drop out or things that weren’t included would pop up, and that was all accepted as part of the process. Dhonielle and Sona’s flexibility really helped me feel safe putting my heart into the book and following my instincts with the characters and story, and having a strong outline to follow made the process more straightforward and comfortable than it’s been when I write books as a pantser or semi-planner.
Has anything surprised you about the publishing process?
Almost everything has surprised me! I feel very lucky to have the business savvy of Cake behind me, because I’ve learned a lot from them about promotion and the industry that I didn’t know when I came in. I think what I was most surprised by was how slow publishing can be, and how much down time there is (until suddenly there isn’t and you’re on deadline again).
Do you think your middle school self would have been friends with Leo?
Yes, I think so. Like some of the friends she makes over the course of the book, I might have trouble connecting with her at first since we’re both on the shy side, but we can both get really outgoing once we feel comfortable, and we both love the idea of magic. In fact, I didn’t necessarily make this connection before now, but one of my best friends from elementary school was pretty similar to Leo, with an alliterative name and a mischievous streak and everything. Maybe I was subconsciously drawing on those experiences as I wrote?
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? How old were you and what was it about?
I don’t remember when I *first* started writing because it was before I could actually write or read, but luckily my mom saved one of the first coherent stories I wrote when I was four. It’s called A Girl at School, and what it lacks in plot (she goes to school and makes a friend named Max and they play), it makes up for in invented spelling (the opening line is “Oanch a pontam…”).
What are some of your favorite memories from getting your MFA from The New School?
Definitely spending time with my cohort. The New School was great about encouraging us to spend time attending book events or writing with each other instead of staying stuck in a classroom. Even though I had amazing professors who expanded my understanding of young adult and middle grade literature, my best memories mostly take place out in the city, meeting my classmates for coffee shop writing dates or to listen to authors speak at Books of Wonder. Just being able to meet with other people who had similar interests and career paths was such a huge help for me, and I’m extremely lucky that I got to get my MFA specifically in Writing for Children.
Are there any other genres you want to write in someday?
I do write YA, and I want to try out both contemporary and speculative fiction at that age level. I haven’t yet been drawn to writing adults, but maybe as I get older they’ll appeal to me more…? But also maybe not. I’ve been mostly reading middle grade this year and I love it so much.
What are some of the best books you’ve read lately?
I just finished Stella Díaz has Something to Say and loved it to death! I want to give it to every single one of my students. I’m now currently finishing up the Belles and The Unicorn Quest, both of which I’m absolutely adoring—so much so that I couldn’t wait to read them one at a time!
I sometimes get embarrassed or insecure about how slowly I read compared to some authors and book bloggers, but I’m trying to get more comfortable saying that I’m taking my time or that I haven’t gotten to every book I want to read yet. My TBR pile is wildly out of control and growing every day!
Thanks, Anna! Everyone should go buy her book today. You won’t be disappointed!