If you’re having YALLWest withdrawals, don’t worry because we’ve got you covered. Despite the crazy and fun weekend, Melissa de la Cruz (author of The Isle of the Lost and Return to the Isle of the Lost) took the time to chat with us about her current projects, her thoughts on diversity in young adult literature, and more.
So I read that you grew up in Manila and moved to San Francisco. As an ethnic woman, did you find any challenges breaking into the publishing industry?
Not really specifically toward my ethnicity. I think it’s hard to break into publishing, period. But early in my career, I wanted to write a book about my Asian, post-college life. I was more into adult books then. It was called Stuck-up Trendy Asian Bitch. It had a satirical title. The response was funny. [They] were saying it was too much for us. It wasn’t like [they] were scared but it was ahead of its time. If I came out with it now, it would be so welcomed. So it’s nice to see publishing change so much in twenty years. From where they didn’t know what to do with that book to now being open to that. But breaking in [the publishing industry], I think publishing is open to new voices and new writers so I don’t think it will keep you back. And there wasn’t much interest before in minority characters.
Speaking of minorities, do you see a breakthrough in publishing now?
Oh my god, yeah! There are so much more Asian fantasy writers and authors with different backgrounds and even the books themselves. The characters resemble that diversity as well.
Do you have any favorite books?
You know I really like a number of authors who highlight diversity in their stories. A few authors come to mind. I like Matt de la Pena’s books and Jason Reynolds’ books. [Diversity in books] is definitely coming around.
I know we have touched a little bit about your book and I’m a huge Disney fan myself. What inspired you to write about the Disney universe and did you grow up with Disney?
I was a big Disney fan. I was asked to do the Descendants and asked to do the background for them. I took the gig and was so excited because I knew that world. And I knew that I would have a lot of knowledge of the Disney universe. It was a dream job.
Since The Isle of the Lost series revolves around a handful of Disney villains, what Disney villain would you want to be a part of the storyline that didn’t make it to the book?
The Disney company gives me a lot of leeway as to who could be a part of the book but the focus is on the children of villains. So in the third book that is set to come out some time next year, we’ll find out about Ursula’s daughter.
If you could play any Disney villain, who would it be and why?
Maleficent, of course! She’s the scariest. She’s the mistress of hell.
Return to the Isle of the Lost released on May 24th, what can fans expect from the sequel?
It’s a fun book and is a sequel to the first book. So we take into consideration the things that happened in the movie but it’s its own story.
As you write the books, besides growing up with Disney, do you conduct research or visit the Disney parks often for inspiration?
We have the Disney annual pass and visit the parks often. My child is nine years old and she loves Disney. I also re watch a lot of the movies for research.
When it comes to your writing style, does character come before plot or vice verse?
For me it’s always plot first. I’m a plot person. Then I figure out which characters will tell the story.
Did Disney publishing come to you and pitch Descendants? How did the process go?
They [Disney publishing] came to me. They had a big plan for Descendants and had an idea for the book series. Disney publishing then came to me.
How has YA changed since you’ve began writing?
The scope of how big it is has changed. When I started, Young Adult held one shelf in Barnes & Noble and was such a small genre. Books stayed on the shelf must longer and you had more time to have your book find an audience. Now YA is half of publishing: we take up half the book store. It’s now much like adult publishing where you have six weeks to prove your worth. In a way, it’s great. We have expanded and have so many more stories. On the other hand, children’s publishing is now much more competitive. Books need to stay on the shelves longer to find viewers.
How do you get into the mindset writing for and about young adults? And how did you know you wanted to write for this particular segment?
You know it’s funny. I started off as an adult writer and that was where I wanted to be and that’s what I wrote. Then Simon & Schuster asked me if I would write for young adults and I started writing The Au Pairs. That’s when I knew I wanted to write for young adults. I love writing for teens and it was so easy and I never looked back.
Now with your other projects, would you consider writing stories that have a Filipino or Filipino American protagonist?
I have a book called Fresh off the Boat and it came out in 2005. It was one of the first books in the young adult genre with a Filipino protagonist. I also have a book called Something in Between that comes out on September 27th, 2016 that’s about a Filipino girl who discovers she’s an illegal immigrant when she wins a national scholarship and her parents inform her that they’re not American. I was really excited to write these two books. Something in Between is not my own story or my family’s but there is a lot of heart in it that is definitely mine. It’s a celebration of family and brings a new light into the Filipino culture that the young adult audience hasn’t seen before.
As for YALLWest, who are some of the authors you’re excited to see?
Rainbow Rowell is one of my favorite authors. We were so excited when she said yes to be one of our keynote speakers. Holly Black, who moderated the discussion with Rainbow Rowell, is one of my favorite writers as well. Most of these people here are some of my close friends. Half of these people are my personal friends and the other half are new friends so it’s really fun and exciting to meet new people.
What was it like planning YALLWest?
It’s pretty hectic. We invite a lot of our personal friends who can bring in tons of readers because we like our book festivals to be packed. We like to showcase a lot of talent and bring in a lot of new, up and coming authors. We hold a lot of trust in our festival chairs, and our sponsors also pitch to us authors, so between all that and our own personal network, we get all these people.
This was actually my first time checking out YALLWest and it’s so much fun. What would you tell readers and ones who haven’t gone to YALLWest yet?
You know, it’s a different kind of festival. We’re a bit whackier and it’s a bit looser. We have a lot of extras, like cupcakes and the Hamilton festival. Half of the festival is planned by the teen board so it’s made for teenagers by teenagers.
Lastly for people who are trying to break into the young adult industry, what would your advice be?
My first advice would be to read a lot of young adult books. And if you want to break into the industry, you need to know what’s been done and what others are writing about. What new thing can you bring to the table?
Thank you to Melissa de la Cruz for taking the time to chat with us during the busy YALLWest weekend and to the rest of the YALLWest board for putting together a fun festival.
Until next time, happy reading!
About the Author
Melissa de la Cruz is the #1 New York Times, #1 Publisher’s Weekly, and #1 Indie Bound bestselling author of many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for readers of all ages. Her books have also topped the USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times bestseller lists, and have been published in over twenty countries.
The Isle of the Lost, the prequel to the Disney Channel Original Movie The Descendants, has spent thirty-seven weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, fifteen at #1, and has over a million copies in print. The Descendants starring Kristen Chenoweth and Dove Cameron is the #1 cable TV movie of 2015, and #5 of all time, and its soundtrack is the #1 best selling album on iTunes.
[Author Bio Credit: Melissa De La Cruz website]