By Aaron H. Aceves
Today we’re pleased to welcome Lucas Rocha to the WNDB blog to discuss his young adult novel Where We Go From Here, out June 2, 2020!
Ian has just been diagnosed with HIV.
Victor, to his great relief, has tested negative.
Henrique has been living with HIV for the past three years.
When Victor finds himself getting tested for HIV for the first time, he can’t help but question his entire relationship with Henrique, the guy he has—had—been dating. See, Henrique didn’t disclose his positive HIV status to Victor until after they had sex, and even though Henrique insisted on using every possible precaution, Victor is livid.
That’s when Victor meets Ian, a guy who’s also getting tested for HIV. But Ian’s test comes back positive, and his world is about to change forever. Though Victor is loath to think about Henrique, he offers to put the two of them in touch, hoping that perhaps Henrique can help Ian navigate his new life. In the process, the lives of Ian, Victor, and Henrique will become intertwined in a story of friendship, love, and self-acceptance.
Set in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this utterly engrossing debut by Brazilian author Lucas Rocha calls back to Alex Sanchez’s Rainbow Boys series, bringing attention to how far we’ve come with HIV, while shining a harsh light on just how far we have yet to go.
Hey, Lucas! How are you faring in these uncertain times? Are you in Brazil right now?
Hello, Aaron! First of all, thank you so much for the invitation to talk. And boy, oh boy, about quarantine: yes, I’m in Brazil right now, more specifically in São Paulo, trying to keep myself and my loved ones safe, despite the federal government’s position to encourage people to go outside because of all of the ‘the economy can’t stop’ discourse (very similar to the U.S. government, I guess).
What does quarantine look like over there?
COVID-19 cases and deaths have had a huge increase around here recently, which is sad because there are a lot of people who insist on not following the World Health Organization directives despite the numbers. I’m doing my part and staying home for most of the time. I only go outside once a week, to my day-time job, and I’m trying, as much as possible, to keep a routine at home: job obligations, writing, cooking, exercising, resting, bingeing TV shows, and sunbathing on my balcony once a day.
Was it difficult utilizing three points of view in Where We Go From Here? That’s three main characters, three different ways of thinking, three families.
While it was a challenge, I guess it was also very rewarding once the book was complete. When I was outlining the novel, one of the things that I realized was that the three point-of-views option was the most effective way to tell this story. I wanted to talk about HIV with nuance and having the voices of Ian, Victor, and Henrique helped me navigate through different aspects of living with HIV or relating to it in some sort. That dynamic was fundamental to discuss different relations between people, the loneliness of a HIV+ person, the first fears and the new knowledge that a recently diagnosed person acquires, and all the things that we, as a society, assume about the virus and the people living with it. Once the voices of the three of them were set in my mind, creating the world around them was very organic.
Can you detail the process that took your book from an idea in your head to being published in the U.S.?
Okay, that requires an extensive answer because all of it still feels like a bizarre ride.
I had the initial spark to write Where We Go From Here after I read a medical article that asked people about their thoughts on HIV and HIV positive people in the twenty-first century. In these interviews, I saw a lot of misconceptions and prejudice against HIV positive people, things that I thought were behind us but are still very much alive. I then began searching for YA novels that portrayed discussions about HIV in a way that could be hopeful for the future, but I did not find many of them to feel like there were enough stories like this in the world.
I wanted to tell a story about people who live with HIV or have relationships with HIV positive people in a way that was not stigmatized. I wanted to tell stories about people, complex people with hopes, dreams, and desires, and write about the virus not as a monster that turns your life into misery, but as a chronic condition that can be treated. I wanted to show people the possibility of life after a positive diagnosis as a fulfilling one, full of beauty and color. After I finished the book, in 2017, my agent sold it to one of the major publishing houses in Brazil and, in 2018, I was able to debut at the Brazilian Book Fair (the Brazilian publishing process is very fast in comparison to the U.S.). 2018 was the same year that this Book Fair invited David Levithan as an official guest, and Levithan’s work is published by the same house that published Where We Go From Here in Brazil. So when David Levithan arrived at the publisher, he asked my editor about the new YA voices that were being published here, because one his editors, Orlando Dos Reis, was able to read in Portuguese and they were interested in bringing over other voices for young readers. Then my editor gave him some books. A month later, I received an email from Orlando telling me that he had enjoyed the book and was interested in publishing it in the U.S.
At first, I honestly thought it was some sort of mistake or prank because that kind of thing doesn’t happen very often! I know that the U.S. market is very competitive, and the rule is that the authors’ agents go after the publishing houses, not the opposite. My novel had only been out for Brazilian readers for a month before PUSH’s offer, and all of it was very unbelievable.
What was it like having your novel translated into English? Were you at all worried about the process and the final product? Did you expect your novel to travel the world?
We had to make small changes to some of the references in the book for the U.S. audience but, overall, it was an incredibly positive experience because the essence of the book is still there. Working with Orlando was amazing because he is such a great editor and all of his suggestions were so on point that he made the story even better! In the end, it all comes to this word that he uses in his editor’s letter: serendipity. We don’t have a direct translation for that word in Brazilian Portuguese, but I guess it summarizes all the hard work and luck aspects that made it possible for this novel to reach the U.S. readers.
From what I’ve heard from people in real life and from what I read in Where We Go From Here, it seems like being HIV+ becomes an identity of sorts. What is important for queer people of color living with HIV to know?
I think that it is important for them to know that, first, they are not alone, and second, they can have beautiful and fulfilling lives. One of my main motivations to write this book, as I said before, was to tell a story not about survival, but about thriving and living life at its fullest. We have to be very aware of the impact of HIV in our community, but we also must have in mind that the HIV narrative, right now, is not the same as the one from the 1980s and 1990s. We should be able to talk about what it’s like to live with the virus right now. These stories should be hopeful instead of sad, always aiming to destroy the prejudices and negative thinking that still remains for some of us, because, at the end of the day, HIV should not define one’s life.
How important is community with fellow QPOC to you? What does that look like in Brazil?
Community was and still is what saves me every day. To have people with whom I can identify and share pieces of myself, that I cannot always share with my blood relatives, is what makes me understand the importance of the word ‘community.’ On a bad day, I can always rely on my friends, as they can rely on me, and they understand my problems with a different depth than people outside our community. In Brazil, we still have a lot to fight for—especially during these times of right-wing conservative governments who put our existence in jeopardy with their hate speech, racism, homophobia and transphobia—not just outside, but also inside our own communities. But we try as best as we can to hold onto ourselves, to educate people, and to answer the hate with love. And I guess that, although sometimes it’s very hard, that’s the most beautiful answer we can give.
What is your favorite astrological sign and why?
I’m a Taurus, so this might sound a little biased, but Taurus people are the best! We love food, we care too much about people and we are definitely never (and I mean never) wrong. Even when we are. But that’s never the case.
Your least favorite? Why?
I have a deep disconnection with Leos. One of my best friends is a Leo, and I love him so much.
Name three books you absolutely love.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara, and Blindness by José Saramago.
What’s the last movie you watched?
Alice Wu’s “The Half of It” on Netflix. I absolutely loved it.
Besides “O Tempo Não Para,” what are some other songs that represent Where We Go From Here?
“It’s Only Life” by The Shins, “La Vie Boheme” by The Cast of Rent, and “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor.
Lucas Rocha is a librarian living in São Paulo, Brazil. He received his MS in information science from Fluminense Federal University in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Where We Go From Here is his first novel.
Aaron H. Aceves is a Mexican-American writer born and raised in East L.A. He graduated in 2015 from Harvard, where he received the Le Baron Russell Briggs Award after being nominated by Jamaica Kincaid. His work has appeared in Germ Magazine, Raspa Magazine, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and New Pop Lit. He currently lives in New York, where he is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia University, and is the author of This Is Why They Hate Us (coming 2022 from Simon & Schuster).