Stories of fierce friendships and determination to create change – with a hint of magic – are powerful. Miss Meteor is a standalone that will make any reader root for Chicky and Lita and their goals to impact the Miss Meteor pageant and their hometown. From the romance to characters supporting each other, Miss Meteor is a book of hope and a more inclusive future. I was thrilled to be able to talk with Anna-Marie McLemore and Tehlor Kay Mejia about Miss Meteor, pageants, and writing with friends.
The Young Folks (TYF): In your own words, can you please explain what MISS METEOR is about?
Anna-Marie McLemore (A-M): Ex-best-friends Chicky Quintanilla and Lita Perez team up to engineer the biggest upset their local beauty pageant has ever seen in the hopes of changing their lives, the fate of a Selena-themed diner, and their hometown.
Tehlor Kay Mejia (TKM): What they said!
TYF: Where did the idea for this story come from? What was it influenced by?
A-M: The first “we have to write this book” moment came when Tehlor and I were talking about ideas we had but that we couldn’t figure out how to turn into whole books. And as we were just kind of throwing them out there, we realized that two of them fit together, that they were two halves of one story. I had wanted to write a fun pageant book about a girl from space who wants to qualify for the Miss Universe pageant, and Tehlor…
TKM: Mine was about extra terrestrials!! Specifically a girl who’s mad about being called an alien (meaning immigrant) and accidentally uses brujeria to summon aliens (meaning extra terrestrials). Oh, language. Anyway, we were on a retreat in the middle of the scary Oregon woods and somehow there was enough magic there to make us want to squish them together and see what happened! (And I’m so glad we did.)
TYF: Chicky and Lita’s friendship is so realistic. It’s great to see them team up to take on the Miss Meteor pageant. Why did y’all decide to focus on this relationship between the two of them?
A-M: The romances in this book make my heart so happy. But I also loved being part of writing a book where the central, transformative relationship is a friendship. Friendships can and will challenge you, but they can also open you and make you yourself in ways you never imagined. Chicky and Lita do that for each other.
TKM: For me in high school, relationships were sort of this hypothetical thing I liked fantasizing about, but they weren’t really real. What was real was my friendships. That’s where the highs and lows, the joys and heartbreaks really lived. My friendships with other girls as a teen were what really showed me what type of person I was and what type of love I wanted. I’ve always wanted to see more emphasis put on that in YA, and eventually I think A-M and I decided—why not do it ourselves?
TYF: Chicky’s sisters are so great. While they are each unique individuals, I love how they are so determined to help Lita succeed in the pageant as a team. What was it like for y’all to come up with these characters who come together for a common goal?
A-M: I’m gonna hand this over to my co-author because Tehlor crafted the Quintanilla sisters so brilliantly that by the first time I met them in a Chicky chapter, I already had an idea of what they might do and say in a Lita chapter. They’re one of my favorite parts of this book.
TKM: Honestly, the Quintanilla sisters were the big surprise of this book for me. I intended them to be sort of background, support characters along the way to winning the pageant, but they were SO determined to be more than that from the outset. It was definitely an exercise in letting the characters lead, for me, and I’m so glad I did because I can’t imagine the book without these fierce, catty, lovable girls.
TYF: There is awesome depth to this story about recognizing and identifying homophobia, transphobia, and racism – all while being centered around a beauty pageant. How and why did y’all decide to focus these themes around a small town pageant?
TKM: For me, it feels less important because it’s this type of story and more important that we be seen in any type of story. For so long we had the sense that a “diverse” book was a book about struggle, or about something that happened a long time ago, or was going to end tragically. I think modern stories about marginalized people (especially in settings that are fun!) are so important because we need marginalized kids to see themselves living lives full of joy and getting the happy ending. So many of us didn’t even know we were allowed to imagine those things for so long, because we never saw them happen to someone who looked or lived or loved like we did.
A-M: I kind of grew up wanting to be a beauty queen, just like Lita, but, like Lita, I mostly saw thin white women being crowned on TV. And it didn’t take me long to realize that that’s what most pageants, and often, the world, wanted. Being a queer kid who was still very much figuring out their gender identity just kind of made it worse, knowing how much I did not fit what these pageants told me was valuable. And in Miss Meteor, it’s not like Lita doesn’t realize the white pageant legacy she’s going up again. She’s very aware of it. But she believes she’s got a chance. I stopped believing that as a kid. So Lita’s kind of walking out on that stage for me and my primxs and anyone like us who had those kinds of dreams too.
TYF: The magical realism is such a fun and dreamy touch. Why did y’all decide to bring in these lovely details?
TKM: I’m going to hand this one over to A-M, because they’re really the driving force behind the magical realism elements! I did what I could to support, but A-M is so rightfully known for their contributions to this genre of literature that I was mostly just along for the ride in that regard!
A-M: Tehlor and I have joked that, with Miss Meteor, we ended up creating a multi-genre co-write, with the chapters Tehlor wrote from Chicky’s POV being primarily contemporary, and the chapters I wrote from Lita’s POV being pretty steeped in magic. And that’s part of what I love about this story. Chicky has her own down-to-earth (pun kind of intended) reality in the town of Meteor, while also taking on faith the magic in Lita’s. Lita’s perpetually looking toward the stars, while also marveling at everyone around her on Earth, including/especially Lita. These are two characters who have very different experiences of this planet, but who respect and embrace each other’s.
TYF: What was it like to work together? Do you have any advice for those who are interested in writing a book with a friend?
A-M: In a recent interview we did together, I think we both had the same word come to mind: whirlwind. We thought about this story for a long time before we wrote it, but when we wrote it, we wrote it fast. We just got pulled into this world we imagined together. And that process involved a lot of throwing around weird ideas, which brings me to the advice part: make sure you’re working with someone you can share your creative weirdness with. So many of my favorite moments in Miss Meteor came from “What if we did this? What if we tried this?” conversations. To throw ideas out there and figure it out together, that’s an act of creative trust, and creative magic.
TKM: I know it sounds basic, but I always describe it as fun! Writing can be such a solitary endeavor, and creating a world can be isolating in a way lots of writers have just come to accept as part of the process. There’s something so magical about collaboration though, especially with someone you can trust with your ideas and your characters. This book came together so quickly in a lot of ways, and for me that was 100% because I just couldn’t wait to work on it! To see what A-M had come up with and play that game of creative tennis again. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.
About the Authors
Anna-Marie McLemore was born in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, raised in the same town as the world’s largest wisteria vine, and taught by their family to hear la llorona in the Santa Ana winds. They are the author of The Weight of Feathers, When the Moon Was Ours, Wild Beauty, Blanca & Roja, and Dark and Deepest Red.
Tehlor Kay Mejia is an Oregon native and the author of the YA novels We Set the Dark on Fire and We Unleash the Merciless Storm and the middle grade novel Paola Santiago and the Drowned Palace. Her short fiction has appeared in the All Out and Toil & Trouble anthologies from Harlequin Teen. You can find her on Twitter @tehlorkay.