By Michele Kirichanskaya
Today we’re pleased to welcome Aaron H. Aceves back to the WNDB blog to discuss YA novel This Is Why They Hate Us, out August 23, 2022!
Enrique “Quique” Luna has one goal this summer—get over his crush on Saleem Kanazi by pursuing his other romantic prospects. Never mind that he’s only out to his best friend, Fabiola. Never mind that he has absolutely zero game. And definitely forget the fact that good and kind and, not to mention, beautiful Saleem is leaving LA for the summer to meet a girl his parents are trying to set him up with.
Luckily, Quique’s prospects are each intriguing in their own ways. There’s stoner-jock Tyler Montana, who might be just as interested in Fabiola as he is in Quique; straitlaced senior class president, Ziggy Jackson; and Manny Zuniga, who keeps looking at Quique like he’s carne asada fresh off the grill. With all these choices, Quique is sure to forget about Saleem in no time.
But as the summer heats up and his deep-seated fears and anxieties boil over, Quique soon realizes that getting over one guy by getting under a bunch of others may not have been the best laid plan and living his truth can come at a high cost.
First of all, welcome to We Need Diverse Books! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi, thank you! WNDB has always been so supportive of me and my YA debut, This Is Why They Hate Us, so I’m so happy to be chatting with you.
My name is Aaron, and I was born and raised in East L.A. I’m bisexual and Chicano, a big cat lover, and live in Austin, TX currently.
How did you find yourself becoming a writer? What drew you to young adult fiction specifically?
Like most writers, I loved reading as a kid, and when I was nine years old, I decided to try and write my own book. I never finished it, but that was probably for the best. I’m sure it was horrible. Anyway, the next time I tried writing a novel, I was 18 and it was pretty autobiographical, so it just so happened to fall into the YA category. I also write for adults, but I find my penchant for using a lot of humor and dialogue in my prose makes me a natural fit for the YA space.
How would you describe your writing process?
Chaotic. I’m a binge writer, which means I’ll go days, weeks, sometimes months without writing (if I don’t have a deadline), but when I do write, it’s an all-day activity. I skip meals, I write on public transportation, I stay up late. It gets, yeah, chaotic.
Growing up, were there are any books or authors that touched or inspired you as a writer? When do you think you first saw yourself reflected in literature?
It’s funny, up until high school I only read books about animals (expect for the ones assigned in school.) It wasn’t until I read Rain of Gold by Victor Villaseñor in my junior year that I found human characters who made me think, This reminds me of the people in my life.
Reading Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe after college was the first time I read about queer, Mexican characters and also the first queer YA book I read at all. I can’t overstate how impactful that was.
What can you tell us about your upcoming book, This Is Why They Hate Us? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?
This Is Why They Hate Us follows my protagonist and narrator, Enrique, as he spends the summer after his junior year of high school trying to get over his crush on his best friend Saleem. I started and finished it when I was 24, miserable, working a job I hated. I came home one day and wrote 2,000 words about this kid alone in his room thinking about masturbating without actually doing it, and his voice was so clear I kept coming back every day for a month until it was finished. The first draft flowed out of me in 28 days. Probably because Quique and I have so much in common.
You and the main character of your book both identity both as bisexual and Mexican-American. What does it mean to you seeing that representation in books, both in the stories you write and the ones that others have written?
You know, despite trying my hardest to find one, I can’t think of a traditionally published YA novel about a bisexual Mexican-American boy written by a bisexual Mexican-American author. So any time I’m editing my manuscript I’m just like, I can’t believe I get to take tiny, unique moments from my bi little life and put them into a book that tens, if not dozens, of people are going to read.
It should be noted that you’ve previously written some articles for WNBD, including an essay entitled “YA vs MFA: How MFA Programs Can Discourage YA Writers.” As a young adult writer, what do you think is the significance of YA that other programs and writers have not recognized?
I’m going to be completely real here and say that as someone who is part of both the Literary fiction community and the YA community, that the Literary community is so incredibly condescending when it comes to authors who write YA. So many Literary authors sneer at any moment of earnestness in writing and believe that novels necessarily have to be depressing to be Art.
You also shared the official annotated playlist for This Is Why They Hate Us with WNDB for its cover reveal. Have there been any songs since its publication that you may have added to the list? Or any songs you have in mind for another potential book?
You know what? I’ve made a part 2 to that playlist that I’ve been waiting to reveal and I can’t think of a better place to do it than here. Once again, we have all queer artists except for those who sing songs that Enrique’s main love interest, Saleem, can’t help but mishear the lyrics of.
Also, I finished writing the first 50 pages or so of what I hope is my second YA novel at the beginning of December and “Defying Gravity” from Wicked plays a big role in it.
Aside from being a writer, what are some things you would want others to know about you?
I’m a queer Christian, and those two facets of my identity are in no way incompatible.
If you could go back and tell your early writer-self anything, what do you think you would say?
I think all I would say is, “Hi, I’m you from the future. It’s all going to work out. Not, everything, your life is a total mess right now. But the writing stuff works out. Stop worrying. About that. Again, your life is. A. Mess.”
What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?
Try to enjoy every step of your writing/publishing journey. If you don’t have an agent yet? Cool, you can write literally whatever you want. Don’t have a book deal yet? Cool, you can fantasize about an auction and a bidding war and not having to wait forever to announce and get paid. Editing process taking forever post-deal? Well at least no one’s DNF’ed your book yet. Etc.
Are there any other projects you are working on right now and at liberty to speak about?
Ha. I mentioned earlier what I hope is going to be my second YA novel. It’s about high school journalism, which was probably my most important extracurricular in high school. It also explores what it’s like having an abusive parent, which is much closer to my real-life experience than the family dynamic in This Is Why They Hate Us.
Finally, what diverse books would you recommend to the readers of WNDB?
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera, Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, Pet by Akwaeke Emezi, Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun by Jonny Garza Villa, Be Dazzled by Ryan La Sala, Blaine for the Win by Robbie Couch, and All That’s Left in the World by Erik J. Brown. I could keep going, but for your sake, I won’t.
Aaron H. Aceves is a bisexual, Mexican American writer born and raised in East Los Angeles. He graduated from Harvard College and received his MFA from Columbia University. His fiction has appeared in jmww, Epiphany, and them., among other places. He currently lives in Texas, where he serves as an Early Career Provost Fellow at UT Austin. He can be found at AaronHAceves.com or @AaronAceves on Instagram or @AaronHAceves on Twitter and TikTok.