By Michele Kirichanskaya
Today we’re pleased to welcome Crystal Maldonado to the WNDB blog to discuss YA novel No Filter and Other Lies, which came out February 8, 2022!
Twenty one-year-old Max Monroe has it all: beauty, friends, and a glittering life filled with adventure. With tons of followers on Instagram, her picture-perfect existence seems eminently enviable.
Except it’s all fake.
Max is actually 17-year-old Kat Sanchez, a quiet and sarcastic teenager living in drab Bakersfield, California. Nothing glamorous in her existence—just sprawl, bad house parties, a crap school year, and the awkwardness of dealing with her best friend Hari’s unrequited love.
But while Kat’s life is far from perfect, she thrives as Max: doling out advice, sharing beautiful photos, networking with famous influencers, even making a real friend in a follower named Elena. The closer Elena and “Max” get—texting, Snapping, and even calling—the more Kat feels she has to keep up the façade.
But when one of Max’s posts goes ultra-viral and gets back to the very person she’s been stealing photos from, her entire world – real and fake — comes crashing down around her. She has to figure out a way to get herself out of the huge web of lies she’s created without hurting the people she loves.
But it might already be too late.
First of all, welcome to We Need Diverse Books! Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hi, hi! Thank you so much for having me! I’m Crystal Maldonado, a YA author with an unimaginable amount of feelings. I’m a gemini obsessed with boy bands, Beyoncé, glitter, fat fashion, and TikTok, and I write stories about fat Latina girls as they figure out who they are, what they want to be, and learn to love themselves in a society that often tells them they’re not worth loving.
What can you tell us about your upcoming book, No Filter and Other Lies? Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
No Filter and Other Lies is the story of a 17-year-old fat, Puerto Rican girl named Kat Sanchez as she tries to figure out who she is and where she belongs. After a series of missteps and rejections, Kat decides she’s tired of being herself and creates a whole new (fake!) identity on Instagram. To her surprise, she thrives as this new person, which complicates just about everything in her real life.
This book was partly inspired by my love of social media. Although I’ve had mostly positive experiences, there is also a lot of pressure to be “perfect” and have everything figured out. It’s exhausting! I wanted to show how our experiences with social media are really shaped by how we interact with the platforms and it’s more about what we make of it than anything else. I also yearned to create a messy, fat, brown character. Right away, readers know that Kat is flawed and we have to watch as she figures out how to untangle this messy web of lies she’s created. Even though she does something terrible, I hope there is also a level of understanding and hope for her.
What are some things we can expect from the characters of your new book?
There’s a lot of banter between Kat and her friends Hari, Luis, and Marcus. They love to make fun of and try to one up each other, and I honestly really adore their antics and entire dynamic! There are some really sweet moments between Kat and her grandparents, as well as Kat and her little brother, Leo. No relationship in this book is perfect and everyone makes mistakes, but it’s clear that they all love and deeply care for one another.
What led to the conception of your first book, Fat Chance, Charlie Vega?
I absolutely adored love stories growing up (and I still do!), but in all of the movies I watched and books I read, I never saw anyone like me as the love interest. So, Fat Chance, Charlie Vega was essentially me saying: Why not me? I strove to create this romcom that was funny and heartfelt and full of delicious tropes with a main character who was fat, brown, wore glasses, and essentially embodied a lot of the characteristics I have that once made me insecure—only now they’d be celebrated. Through that story, I was also able to explore things like fatphobia, Latinx identity, and complex families, while also writing something fluffy and warm and romantic.
As a writer, where did you find your love for storytelling? And what drew you to the realm of young adult fiction?
My grandma and aunt often took us to the library, so my love of reading started really early. One of my favorite things to do as a kid was go with my grandma to the bookstore. We’d spend hours there. As I got older, I realized I could create stories of my own, and it was fun to put my imagination to use, as well as to make stories where I could insert characters who shared my identity.
My writing really took off when I discovered boy band fanfiction (seriously), so I feel like it was inevitable that I would end up writing YA. I love the young adult genre for so many reasons, including that everything at that age is so raw and the emotions are so big. I think teenagers have it so hard being on the cusp of so much, discovering their independence, yet still beholden to things like school and family rules, so I want to pay tribute to that experience. I also think young readers are eager for stories that truly reflect their actual experiences, that explore complex concepts and tackle hard topics, and that feel real, and I’m thankful I get to create for them!
How would you describe your writing process?
I’m a very sporadic writer in terms of actually getting words on the page. I work full-time, I’m a mom to a toddler, I have a delightful husband I love spending time with, a cute dog, I volunteer… So really, I have to actively fit in writing where I can. Sometimes that means I don’t write a word for months. But when I’m not writing, there’s a lot of daydreaming and listening to music, reading other books, watching movies, living life (as much as I can during a global pandemic) that contribute to my writing. I like to get to the place where I’m longing to write and then it all seems to come out at once. That’s not to say it’s easy. Sometimes I swear getting each word down is like pulling teeth, but I get there, eventually!
You’ve mentioned in other interviews how personal your writing was to you in terms of reflecting diversity, including Latinx, queer, and body diverse characters on the page. Would you mind speaking a little about that here?
There is something deeply and profoundly lonely about rarely, if ever, seeing a reflection of yourself in the media. For that reason, representation is so important to me and that’s principally what inspired me to become an author. I had never seen anyone that looked like me in the media, especially not portrayed as just a normal girl with wants, needs, and desires. I’m so heartened that we are slowly starting to see more marginalized stories told, but we still have a long way to go, and I’m hopeful that my stories are able to do a small part in helping to make Latinx, queer, and body diverse readers feel seen, validated, and worthy.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
Q: Though Kat is fat in this book, the story doesn’t necessarily “center” on her fatness the same way it did with Charlie’s story. What inspired you to make this choice?
With Charlie Vega, I very much wanted her fatness and her Latinidad to be at the forefront of her story. I had so much to say and so many things I wanted Charlie and her characters to experience on the page related to those intersecting identities. But I also think for every story that focuses on identity, there should be another story where those identities are simply part of the character. I remember coming across a reader who said something like, “I love stories that center fatness, but I also love stories that feature fat characters living their lives.” That stuck with me because I’ve felt that way, too. No Filter was my attempt at creating this world where Kat’s body size and brownness are certainly part of what fuels her decision to catfish, but they are not the only things that do.
Are there any other projects or ideas you’re sitting on and at liberty to speak about?
I’m so excited to say that I have another book forthcoming from Holiday House in Fall 2023! I can’t quite talk about it yet… but it’s coming, and I promise lots of feelings, romance, and delightful tropes.
What advice might you have to give to other aspiring writers?
Read a lot to discover the genres and types of books you love; find your author community and lean on them; and do your research. There are so many amazing resources out there that can help you feel informed as you prepare to query your book. Some of my favorites include the podcast Deadline City, manuscriptwishlist.com, and (of course) We Need Diverse Books! Really, though, the best advice I can give is this: no one can write your story like you can, so forget everything else and write. The rest will come.
Do you have any books to recommend for the readers of We Need Diverse Books?
I’ve read so many incredible books recently that it’s hard to pick just a few! But for YA, I highly recommend How Moon Fuentes Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland and Wild Beauty by Anna Marie Mclemore. I’m a huge fan of both of these incredible Latinx authors, who create beautifully diverse worlds, and their books are instant buys for me!
Crystal Maldonado is a young adult author with a lot of feelings. Her debut novel, Fat Chance, Charlie Vega, is a 2021 New England Book Award winner, a Cosmopolitan Best New Book, and a POPSUGAR Best New YA Novel. Her next novel, No Filter and Other Lies, explores teenage life in the social media age—and the lies we tell to ourselves and others. By day, Crystal works in higher ed marketing, and by night, a writer who loves Beyoncé, glitter, shopping, and spending too much time on her phone. Her work has been published in Latina, BuzzFeed, and the Hartford Courant. She lives in western Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and dog.
Michele Kirichanskaya (she/her) is a freelance journalist and writer from Brooklyn, New York. Currently studying at the New School, when she is not writing, she is reading, watching an absurd amount of cartoons to survive reality, and creating content for platforms like Hey Alma, Salon, The Mary Sue, GeeksOut, ComicsVerse, The Gay & Lesbian Review, and more. Her work can be found here and on Twitter @MicheleKiricha1.