By Sandie Angulo Chen
Today we’re pleased to welcome Raquel Vasquez Gilliland to the WNDB blog to discuss How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe.
What inspired you to write How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe?
Moon Fuentez began as a cyborg tale set in historic Mexico! I had the basic elements of the story in place: Moon, of course, and Santiago. But after two false starts, I was stuck. I went on a walk and saw two young women taking photos of each other in front of a brick wall. They reminded me of me and my sister growing up, and I thought about how different it would have been, to come of age with social media. Suddenly, the idea for setting the book in a contemporary world, on a road trip, began to take place. And suddenly Moon had a sister, too.
Authors usually say their second book is harder to write than their first; how did you find the difference between writing Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything and How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe?
I would say that Sia Martinez was more difficult to write, mainly because it went through so many revisions. Revising is one of the harder parts of writing for me. I know some authors love it and I want to know their secrets because I always feel like I’m failing and flailing. Moon Fuentez came out nearly whole from the start. I don’t know if I’ll ever have that with a novel again, but there’s something truly magical about writing a thing and realizing in its first draft that all its parts are somehow (mostly) right.
I loved how the story is about a social media tour and about influencers; did you have to do any research about how celebrity influencers operate? What drew you to that subculture of teens/young adults?
The idea of the book came to me while imagining coming of age with social media. We didn’t really have that when I was in school. Back then, you could only join Facebook with an .edu email address, and I didn’t hear of Myspace (lol) until I was nineteen. Thinking about how different my teen years would have been really drawn me in, especially considering how teens (and adults!) sometimes allow social media to build up—or down—their self-esteem. I especially considered how my sister and I would have been perceived compared to our white-passing primas. That’s what inspired Moon and Star’s relationship. I didn’t do too much research, to be honest, maybe because I’m on social media and can see examples of what I was thinking about writing fairly regularly.
Tell us more about tarot and why it’s such a pivotal part of Moon’s life. Do you have experience with it as well?
I was introduced to tarot in my first year of college, by my college best friend. She’d been taught by her mother, and her mother had been taught by her mother, and I think it’s so cool that I am, in a small way, a part of that lineage. I bought my first deck of cards and even read professionally for a very short time. As a visual artist who loves dream imagery, tarot appealed to me. It still does.
I would’ve loved a book with a size 16 protagonist when I was a teen, so thank you for that. Why do you think there are still so few fat protagonists in pop culture?
I’m so glad to hear that—and I would’ve loved it, too. You know, I haven’t done as much research on the history of fatphobia as I have on the history of purity culture, so I can only guess as to why there are still so few fat protagonists in pop culture. We live in a culture that is obsessed with productivity and demeans the fallow cycle of production and creativity (often calling it lazy!). For some reason, fat has become a symbol for laziness—and even though it’s absolutely false, and even though we have amazing body positivity movements challenging it, people still believe this. I think there’s also a misogynistic element to it, to the idea of women taking up space. That’s my best guess. I’m so glad to see more and more fat protagonists starring in their own tales, especially in romance!
Food is beautifully (and deliciously) described in the book. What are your favorite meals to prepare for those you love? Did you come up with recipes for Santiago’s various dishes?
When I was a teen and when I was in my twenties, one of my hobbies was making beautiful, elaborate meals, with appetizers and desserts, and then inviting all my friends over for dinner parties. I think I wrote Santiago with this passion as a nod to my younger self. I know it’s such a cliché to say, but now I’m a mom, working from home, and often am too exhausted to cook, much less anything elaborate. Also, because of chronic pain, I can’t eat so much food I used to love, which has been pretty heart-breaking. One of my favorite meals to make for my loved ones is fried chicken. It’s one meal I can make easily despite my dietary restrictions, and it reminds me of my mom’s recipe. The secret is soaking the chicken in pickle juice or buttermilk before frying—it makes all the difference! Honestly, for most of Santiago’s dishes, I searched Pinterest until I found something that looked so good, I wanted to eat it right then and there.
Moon and Star are twins but have completely different complexions. What has your experience been like with the issue of colorism/white-passing in the Latinx community? Why did you choose to explore that in the story?
I have a couple of layers of experience that helped me write this theme of the story. One is, my sister and I have darker complexions compared with the pale skin and light hair of our closest primas, or cousins, growing up. I actually called my sister when planning the novel to help me remember the differences in the way people treated us. It made me angry to remember some things I repressed. People are so messed up about traditional Western ideals of beauty—some of them act like young women who don’t fit them don’t actually exist.
And the other layer of experience is that between me and my sister, I have lighter skin, and so even within the micro-aggressions we were constantly fielding together, people were adding to it over our differences as well.
This was important for me to explore in Moon Fuentez because the way people treated us versus my cousins really, really made us feel like we weren’t as worthy. I would’ve given just about anything to read a story that challenged that.
I was so impressed with how the book explored so many heavy issues but also included a lot of levity, laughter, and banter. What scenes were the most fun to write, and which ones took more out of you/required more time?
I think the most fun scene to write was when Moon accidentally sent that selfie to Santiago. I just had so much fun with it, with her freaking out, and with him, clearly, thinking it was the luckiest day of his life, but pretending that it was no big deal. The ones that took a little more time dealt with developing Star. With the first draft, I kept thinking, ‘Why does Star hate Belle? What happened?’ By the end of that draft, I was like, ‘Ohhh, okay. That makes sense.’ (I’ll keep it vague to avoid spoilers!).
What other books or authors do you consider kindred spirits to you/your books? I thought of Anna-Marie McLemore’s titles.
Anna-Marie McLemore is amazing, and I especially love Wild Beauty, for the way they write about flowers! I think Loriel Ryon is a kindred spirit author—her debut Into the Tall, Tall Grass has beautiful, lyrical writing with nature-based magical realism.
If you could go on a road trip with anyone, who would it be and who would do the cooking?
I’d love to do a coastal road trip with a few writer friends. I might cook a meal or two, but like I said, not cooking is a treat these days—I’d be excited to eat at new restaurants, especially wild-caught fish (grilled, fried, blackened—I love fish).
What YA books are you currently obsessed with, and why should we read them?
A couple of books I have read lately that are amazing include Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado, and Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant. They are both gorgeously written love stories featuring teens who are also writers! I love reading about writers—it’s so inspiring. And I love it when books validate the romance genre. It’s my favorite genre if you haven’t guessed, and it’s so, so magical.
Raquel Vasquez Gilliland is a Mexican American poet, novelist, and painter. She received an MFA in poetry from the University of Alaska, Anchorage in 2017. She’s most inspired by fog and seeds and the lineages of all things. When not writing, Raquel tells stories to her plants and they tell her stories back. She lives in Tennessee with her beloved family and mountains. Raquel has published two books of poetry. She’s the author of Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything and How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe.
Sandie Angulo Chen is a film critic, entertainment reporter, and book reviewer. She’s written professionally about movies, books, and pop culture for more than 20 years, contributing to outlets such as Common Sense Media, where she’s the senior reviewer, The Washington Post, Kirkus Reviews, EW.com, Moviefone, and Variety. She’s a proud member of the Washington Area Film Critics Association, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, and the nonprofit advocacy group We Need Diverse Books. Sandie lives in Silver Spring, MD, with her husband and three children.