The bloggers here at Rich in Color have been reading Fat Chance, Charlie Vega over the past month in preparation for our book discussion that we’ll share tomorrow. We were so excited to also have an opportunity to hear directly from author Crystal Maldonado. It’s always a treat to be able to find out a little bit more about the writing journey of an author. Crystal, thanks so much for taking time to answer a few questions for us and our readers. Sharing a novel with others takes some bravery and often thick skin. What convinced you to actually send your book out into the world?
Becoming a published author had always been a dream of mine, but I wasn’t sure it would ever come to fruition. In 2018, I had just turned 30 and I was happily married, I was traveling, and I was really enjoying myself, yet the yearning to publish a book and use my voice for good was nagging at me. I just felt like I had all of these words and stories inside of me wanting to come out! At that time, I was sitting on the finished manuscript for “Fat Chance, Charlie Vega,” with no plans for next steps. I realized that I was giving up before I’d even tried for fear of failure. I asked myself what was worse: never trying and always wondering, or putting my story out there and possibly failing? At least in the latter situation, I would have given it my best effort. Giving myself permission to fail was the spark I needed to try to make this book real — and now I get to hold a story I wrote in my hands!
Charlie has more than a few moments of awkwardness throughout her story. As a reader I was feeling for her. How does it feel as an author when you are writing those types of scenes?
It feels awkward for me, too! I do my best to get back into the mindset of what it felt like when I was a teen by listening to music that I enjoyed when I was in high school. Doing that means I sometimes feel the same awkwardness my characters do. But it’s really nice to be able to experience those things again, and I hope it ultimately adds a feeling of authenticity to the stories I write.
What is it like to do that delicate dance between fiction and your own experiences as you plotted?
Putting your heart into any story can feel very vulnerable, but I think you need a little bit of that vulnerability on the page in order to make the book feel real. So, I like to use experiences from my life as inspiration or reference material, but then heavily fictionalize them and make them work in my character’s lives. While my experiences may start as the seed, getting imaginative and creating new characters, scenarios, and dialogue is really what makes the story bloom.
The cover of your book is lovely. What was it like to see her for the first time rendered by someone else?
Thank you! Seeing the cover for the first time was pure magic. I sat in stunned silence for a moment and I can remember the feeling of my heart pounding, just taking this gorgeous image in. I cried. It was powerful to see a fat, brown girl right there, on the cover, for the world to see. I imagined how meaningful this would’ve been for me as a teen, and I thought of every fat brown girl out there who doesn’t get to see herself enough, and it made my heart full. Ericka Lugo, the illustrator for this cover, truly captured everything about Charlie so perfectly in this image, and I loved that she also included some flowers behind her, as if Charlie herself was blossoming. I hope others love it, too!
What have been some of the surprising aspects of moving in the publishing world?
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how welcoming authors are! I was so nervous to get into publishing because I worried I’d always feel like an outsider looking in, but finding my debut group and then connecting with other incredible Latinx authors through Las Musas has been such a wonderful experience for me. I’m shy and introverted by nature, so much so that I didn’t tell anyone except for my husband that I was working on a book; it was a relief to get invited into these spaces with open arms and feel like I was able to easily connect with some truly inspirational authors. Now I consider many of the people I’ve met over the last year really great friends.
What books shaped you as a young person and are there any books out now that you would have appreciated then?
When I was really young, one of my favorite books was “Corduroy,” a sweet picture book about an overall-wearing teddy bear who is looking for a friend. I loved this story because it celebrated friendship and taught me early on that we should love ourselves exactly as we are! As a teen, I really loved “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros, which I feel is such a beautiful and poignant novel. But I didn’t get to see many fat and/or brown main characters until I was well into adulthood. I would’ve loved to have read books like “Dumplin’” by Julie Murphy, “Love is a Revolution” by Renee Watson, or “Juliet Takes a Breath” by Gabby Rivera when I was a teenager!
If you could write anywhere, where would it be?
If it was just a vacation, I’d pick Greece, as it’s a place I’ve always wished to travel. I imagine writing somewhere in Mykonos and overlooking the water and creating my own version of “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” It sounds so dreamy! For a long-term place to write, I’d love to go to Puerto Rico and explore my dad’s hometown and reconnect with my family there. I would really love a chance to spend some time there with my husband and daughter.
Thanks so much! I loved reading your book this past weekend. It brought me many smiles. I also wear glasses so am always excited to see a main character wearing them. The cover is also just beautiful overall. 🙂
Thank you so much for asking such great questions! I’m so happy you enjoyed the book!
Crystal Maldonado is a young adult author with a lot of feelings. Her debut novel, FAT CHANCE, CHARLIE VEGA (Holiday House), was released on Feb. 2, 2021. By day, she is a social media manager working in higher ed, and by night, a writer who loves Beyoncé, shopping, spending too much time on her phone, and being extra. She lives in western Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and dog. Follow her everywhere @crystalwrote or visit her website at crystalwrote.com.