Chari-Dee - Was the American Idol show the inspiration behind Adios?
Caridad Ferrer - Only in the most peripheral of manners, really. It was more a case of “What if?” You know, “What if a bunch of Latinos had a show that was sort of like American Idol, but Latino-specific?” It’s how most of my ideas come to life, actually— playing that “What if?” game. The absolutely hysterical thing is that back in October, I found out about a show, literally called “Latin American Idol” that had a format that was very similar to the one I’d created for Oye Mi Canto, and they were getting ready to have their finals. It was absolutely mind-boggling how similar it was and I’d had no idea about it until that moment.
CD - Do you think that Ali's ethnicity impacted the way publishers looked at Adios?
CF - We submitted Adiós to only one publisher who had been specifically looking for Latina YA, so I think the simple answer to your question is yes, Ali’s/my ethnicity definitely had an impact on what the editor was looking for. It’s one reason that I’m using my middle name as a pen name— the publisher wanted something that was immediately recognizable as Latina and that worked well for me, since I wanted something to differentiate my YA work from my adult work.
CD - What about readers? Do you think they take that into consideration when deciding whether or not to read Adios?
CF - I think that there’s a certain audience...who are going to take the ethnic background of the characters or the uniqueness of the setting into consideration when making a decision on this book. I also think there are plenty of people who are non-Latino who also take it into consideration from the standpoint of wanting to see something that’s so very different from their own experience. I’ve had a lot of reader emails/comments that state some variation of, “Wow, I didn’t know anything about Cuban-American culture and what you wrote makes me want to explore more,” which is a very gratifying response to receive. And of course, there are going to be the people who pick it up for the reality show or music aspects or just because it’s about a young woman who’s taking strides to become an adult in a very confusing setting. I’m very proud of how many different facets of this story appeal to readers.
CD - I have a young teenage neighbor who can't wait to get her hands on my copy of Adios because she feels that there simply aren't any books out there that she can identify with. So when she heard I had a book that was about a young woman very close in ethnicity to her own, she was thrilled. Was this a thought foremost in your mind when writing Adios? Giving young Latinos characters they could relate to? I guess I'm just curious, since you are a first-generation Cuban-American, if it was feeling this same way about books as a child that was a catalyst to writing in the YA genre.
CF - I read all across the board when I was a teenager and actually, at that age, identified more strongly as simply an American teenager with little regard to my ethnic background. Frankly, growing up in Miami, it didn’t seem that out of the ordinary, so reading stories about people who WEREN’T like me, was far more interesting. I think that’s what I kept in mind even more strongly— achieving that balance. That it would strike an immediate chord of recognition with Latino readers, yet at the same time, not be so completely culture-specific it might alienate non-Latino readers. It’s a fine line and one that can be challenging to walk, but it’s really what I keep in mind. I don’t want anyone to feel as if they can’t relate to my books because of the cultural background I’m choosing to write about. (For the contest judge who claimed they knew a lot of teenagers and none of them used the kind of slang I tossed around— well, can’t do anything about THAT!
CD - And now for the music. Are you a musician? Your knowledge of instruments and music was apparent in the book so it makes me very curious.
CF - Heh. Yeah— I’m a musician. I’ve played piano since I was five (although I’m horribly rusty at the moment) and I’ve been singing almost as long. I had visions of being on Broadway, but audition anxiety kind of put a kibosh on that, unfortunately. However, by junior high, I had also picked up French horn and trumpet and by high school, I was my marching band’s drum major as well as spending my summers performing and competing with a drum and bugle corps. In college, I continued with piano and marching in band (Go MARCHING CHIEFS!) and was a music major until the day I blew up at the professor who stood in front of the marching band techniques class and declared that women couldn’t be good band directors. I called him a dinosaur with antiquated ideas who had outlived his usefulness. All of which was true, but he was a dinosaur who had taught most of the band directors in the tri-state area and could pretty much guarantee I’d never get a job. So I changed my major to Elementary Education. :-)
I tell that story because it provided me with a very important lesson— maybe music wasn’t going to be my career in the manner I had been envisioning for longer than I could remember, but I would always, always have music in my life. In some ways, it’s even more important to me now, than it was then, since it provides such incredible inspiration when I’m writing. It’s also a great lesson for writing, as well— like music, writing is something I’ve done my entire life. Like music, it’s something I have to have in my life, regardless of what form it takes.
CD - Also, Ali's musical tastes were quite varied as well, and I loved how she fused them together. Is this a trait of yours as well?
CF - Absolutely. There is very little I won’t listen to, at least once, and I love so many different styles of music, you’d be hard-pressed to get me to admit I prefer one over another. As far as fusing styles together, I think where you can see that reflected in my collection is in how many different versions/covers of a song I might have. I love listening to different artists’ interpretations of a song. Or even when one artist reinterprets one of their own songs in a variety of styles. (Sting is a master at this and yes, I adore him every bit as much as Ali does!)
CD - The romance in Adios was amazing. I loved how you captured what it's like at that age to finally meet someone who just clicks into your life and feels right. I loved how Ali was nervous and I the how believable it all felt.
CF - Thanks! Let’s face it, I’m a romance writer at heart— I adored giving Ali her first love.
CD - And what a first love it was! The almost sex-scene in there, on the beach, was a very powerful scene. I think most girls will be able to relate to this and can learn from it. With this being a YA novel though, did you get some resistance when writing it?
CF - Not really—I’m very fortunate in that MTV Books as a whole, seems to be more “teen” oriented and as such, is open to exploring those kinds of relationships. I think it allows the writers a little more freedom. And of course, I wrote with fairly old characters, age-wise, with respect to YA. Ali and Sosi were the two youngest characters in the book, if you think about it. But with that scene, specifically, in its original iteration, I had actually left it a little more vague and not had them going quite so far, but while revisiting it during the revisions stage, I really felt as if it wasn’t really being true to who these characters were and the situation they were in. Ali was in such a difficult place and feeling so many emotions and really feeling the power of having conflicting emotions manifest in a physical way for the first time. It seemed natural as if she’d explore the sensations and feelings more fully.
CD - From reading over on the The Cherry Forums it's clear that readers would have loved to see more POV's (Point of View) in Adios, was word restriction a factor in making Ali's the only POV?
CF - Adiós was simply Ali’s story. While it would’ve been fun to see other character’s POVs, I think ultimately, this had to be Ali’s story, told through her eyes. However, I will say that the one suggestion that really intrigued me was the idea of having had alternating viewpoints between Ali and her father. The idea of having a parent narrate one half of the story and the child the other has intrigued me. Maybe, someday soon...
CD - So, will we be getting more of Ali in the future? Or perhaps even Sosi?
CF - I had considered writing a story for Sosi as my second book, but then Caroline (the heroine of IT’S NOT ABOUT THE ACCENT) made an appearance and I realized she had quite the story to tell and who am I to argue with the Girls in the Basement? We all know it’s a futile endeavor! As far as Ali, I’d love to revisit her and have some ideas, but what form they take... we’ll I’m not completely certain yet.
CD - My last question on Adios - Even though it is dubbed a YA novel, it has appeal for all ages, what do you feel attributes to this?
CF - I think because we’ve all been there, in some form or another. And I very deliberately did not attempt to write “down” to my readers. It was a great piece of advice when I first took this project on and was scared absolutely spitless over my ability to be able to pull this off. I was coming to the project from the standpoint of being a romance/women’s fiction writer. I’d never really considered writing YA before and while I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity, it was also quite a challenge. But I had some very wonderful friends and fellow writers who basically said, “make yourself seventeen again, then write.” So I did. I was a lot like Ali, in that because I was so immersed in the music world, I was somewhat out of step with my peers— a very odd combination of girl and woman. I tried to put that into Ali and as I wrote her, I realized that so many of us, regardless of whatever age we are, still maintain a bit of that girl/woman dichotomy. There are so many things—a song, a smell, an encounter, a book—that can immediately transport us back into the mindset of that awkward seventeen-year-old again. That’s what I tried to capture and why I think this story appeals across so many age groups.
CD - You also write adult fiction under the name Barbara Ferrer. The alternating POV I found quite interesting because I've never actually seen it done this way. And I have to admit, I really liked that. Seeing his thoughts, and her thoughts. Kind of the He Said/She Said of a relationship. And the chapters felt more like conversations this way. How hard is it for you to switch writing styles from YA to adult?
CF - It was actually the other way around. I consider myself a romance/women’s fiction writer first—or at least, I always did. The hardest thing about switching styles for me is the voicing and it’s something I’m continually working on developing and revising. Since I write in First, I have to have distinctive, unique voices for each character, not just for the dialogue, but for the narrative as well. It’s a challenge, but one I really enjoy— I liken it to an actor preparing for a part. Like Kate Winslet, whom I adore, or Meryl Streep. They lose themselves completely in their parts— I have to do the same thing when writing individual characters. One of the best tools for this, at least for me, is music. (Here we go again.) I create individual playlists of songs that I feel illustrate each character (or a scene) and when I need to get in that character’s head, that’s what I’ll play. Like with THIRTEEN, Josh listened to hard rock to unwind. He begins the story as this tense, driven, very controlled individual who used hard-driving music to unwind. So his playlist has a lot of U2 and Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers and listening to it helps get me in his head.
CD - Caridad is your YA name and we've discussed the reasoning behind that, but why not go with that for the adult as well? Is this so the YA readers won't pick up a definitely more mature book?
CF - Yeah, I think that was my primary reasoning. While I do write at the upper end of the YA spectrum, in terms of character age, it’s a pretty common fact that teens like to “read up.” As a parent myself, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable knowing that my thirteen year old was picking up one of my adult books. That might change, however. Since Caridad is my given middle name, I may incorporate it into my full name and have a bit of connection there. There are a lot of ways in which to consider it.
CD - And lastly, can you give us a heads up on what's next?
CF - ACCENT (as I’ve nicknamed it) is the story of Caroline, a sixth generation born-and-bred small town Ohio girl. She imagines that she has the most boring life possible and makes the decision, when she goes off to college, to do what most of us have done at some point, and reinvent herself as someone new. She’s going to attempt to pass herself off as a Cuban-American girl. There are reasons (and of course Caroline thinks they’re good reasons) for her to pick something so drastic, but the end result is far different than anything she might have ever envisioned— both good and bad. I’m extremely proud of how this story came out and can’t wait for it to be out, but unfortunately, it’s going to be late August before that happens.
I want to give a great big THANK YOU to Caridad for being my first ever FAB pick, you really made it so much fun!