Welcome to another beautiful Sunday here at PickMyYA! Our special guest for today's #BeyondTheBio is the incredible Lilliam Rivera. She's a New York native who currently lives in Los Angeles, where she's won several awards and fellowships for her writing. It's an honor to have Lilliam join us today to talk about her first novel, The Education Of Margot Sanchez, which has been described as a modern-day Pretty In Pink set in the South Bronx. And, yes, it's every bit as amazing as it sounds! You should definitely order a copy after you finish today's interview.
James: Hi Lilliam! Thanks so much for joining us today! Your debut novel, The Education Of Margot Sanchez, just came out in February. Can you tell our readers a little bit about what it's like to be a debut author?
Lilliam: So far it’s been an amazing experience. I’ve had readers reach out to me and tell me how much they’ve enjoyed reading the novel. I can’t get enough of young people on twitter and Instagram posting images of the cover. I’m just starting to do school visits and I love meeting young people in person. The novel is no longer something I’ve written by myself but it’s totally out there in the world and that is so exciting.
James: Margot's one of the most complex characters I've read this year, and I loved every minute of it! How much of yourself do you see in Margot?
Lilliam: I’m so glad you loved it. I enjoyed writing this character because she is flawed, lovable, and makes questionable choices. I wanted to convey that there is no set formula in how to navigate the world when you are growing up. It’s messy. People are messy. But that’s okay. Real people are complex and that’s what makes a character interesting.
James: One of my other favorite characters is Moises, the drug-dealer-turned-community-activist. I love seeing young people, both in fiction and real life, getting involved in their communities. What message would you share with teens that want to get involved politically but don't know where to start?
Lilliam: The amazing thing about the period of time we are living in is that everything is accessible online. You can find groups on Facebook and Instagram. Whatever cause you want to take, you will find young people leading the way and can easily connect with them. Find out the next meeting and attend it. Even if you are shy, there are ways to be active without being vocal. And if you don’t find the cause, start your own group.
James: As an educator, I've noticed that teens rarely have safe places to talk about drugs and addiction. I really appreciated that your book dealt with addiction in such a real way. Why was this an important decision for you?
Lilliam: Alcohol and drug addiction is something that has affected my life on a very personal level. I am always exploring the struggle with addiction and the affects on family in my fiction. Addiction is sometimes viewed as a weak trait but I believe it is a disease and can be treated. I hope that is what readers can get from my writing, that there is hope when faced with addiction.
James: Especially in light of current events, it seems more important than ever to highlight the amazing work being done by Latinx authors, especially in the YA community. Are there any Latinx authors whose writing you just can't get enough of?
Lilliam: Oh, there are so many that I could name. Zoraida Córdova, Romina Russell, and Amy Tintera are working that speculative literature angle. Meg Medina and Veronica Chambers write contemporary novels. New voices to check out are Erika Sanchez, Gaby Rivera, and Isabel Quintero. Those are just some names off the top of my head.
James: What's next for you, Lilliam? Any future projects you can tell us about?
Lilliam: My next project is a young adult novel that’s tentatively titled Dealing in Dreams. This is set in a near-future Bronx where girl gangs rule the streets. The novel explores themes of violence, sisterhood, and finding a home. Dealing in Dreams is currently with my editor at Simon & Schuster. I hope readers will like it.
James: One last question, so let's make it a fun one. What's three things you love about being Puerto Rican?
Lilliam: I love this question!
1) Puerto Ricans have the best words: Wepa, pa’lante, bendito…
2) Puerto Ricans thrive in all things: the arts, innovation, and beauty.
3) You would think Puerto Rico is a huge country with the amount of pride Puerto Ricans, including myself, love to show everywhere we go.
That's it for today's interview with Lilliam. But don't forget to stop by our Twitter page and participate in today's giveaway, which features bookmarks and postcards from The Education Of Margot Sanchez signed by Lilliam herself! (Winner must be in the US.) If you have any questions for Lilliam or want to let her know how why you loved The Education Of Margot Sanchez, be sure to reach out to her on Twitter or visit her website. And, whatever you do, be sure to come back again next week, when we'll be talking to Becky Albertalli about her upcoming book, The Upside Of Unrequited!