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A quick word from Bobbi Dumas, your host.
Hi everyone! Welcome to Read-A-Romance Month. You can find out more about this fun, month long event here. And check out all the great authors taking part this year on the calendar, here.
The theme this year is The Romance Of Reading, The Magic Of Books and we have an awesome assortment of writers – both romance and mainstream fiction authors – sharing about books, reading, romance & magic. I hope you’ll visit everyday.
(Also, be sure to check in to The Romance Of Reading FB page, where one of the RARM authors will be hosting the page each day in August.)
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Aya de León – The Magic Of Fiction & Problem Solving
My version of magic is that I write heist fiction. My protagonist’s superpower is that she steals things from powerful, corrupt men and doesn’t get caught. In this way, she takes very direct action about income inequality. The reality of addressing income inequality is much more complex. Current laws and practices favor the ultra-rich. In recent years, this has meant that many people are unable to afford health care, child care, college, food, housing, and other necessities. In the 2020 election, many candidates are attempting to address these problems. Other candidates don’t actually see them as problems. But I certainly do. While political leaders propose reforms or big structural changes to address income inequality, my characters just steal back money that was taken from their communities. The real magic, of course, isn’t in the stealing, it’s in the fact that they get away with it. Because while laws and practices favor the heads of wealthy corporations getting away with corrupt practices, they don’t favor urban women of color getting away with robbing those same guys. And yet in my books the women win.
Of course, heists aren’t really magic; they require a great deal of planning. Thieves need to have certain skills or to develop certain skills. So far, my heists have always included safecracking. I really enjoy writing the scenes where the characters learn how to crack a safe. Although I’ve never done it, it’s still fun to depict the very un-magical process of learning something new: trying, failing, and pushing through frustration to develop mastery.
Heists are also fun because it’s such a sleek operation, where the women work together, conning men to gain access, cracking safes, hacking technology, and wearing disguises. One of my favorites is a set of bodysuits they wear to look like men. Setting up the technical aspects of the caper is always really exciting. And that’s the real magic of writing: you get to come up with zany ideas that are vaguely plausible, and then create scenes where your characters manage to make it work. Of course, something always goes wrong. It’s part of the genre formula. If everything went too smoothly, it would be boring. Even the obstacles are fun to write. The apologetic boyfriend comes by with flowers as the girls are heading out for the carefully timed heist. Nobody knew there were guard dogs on the property. The mark’s unstable girlfriend appears with a knife. Writing the setbacks in the heist story is as fun as writing the problems in the central love story. Once the couple finally gets together, what will break them up? How will the two lovers get past that obstacle? In some ways, it’s the same with the heists: once they get the cash out of the safe, what problems will they encounter trying to get away? How will they solve them? Who will suspect them? How will they throw them off the track?
Because I am writing heist, I thought there would only be three books in my Justice Hustlers series. If I were writing about professional thieves, I could write limitless books about their next “job.” But my characters already have jobs. They run a health clinic for low-income women in Manhattan. After a certain point it starts to seem silly if time after time this group of women just happens to find themselves in a caper where safecracking was required. It just gets implausibly repetitive.
But then I got the idea to write a jailbreak heist. A jailbreak is structured the same as a cash heist, but it’s different enough that it would keep the plot fresh. My characters would need to develop new skills and have to solve a very different kind of problem. I was working on this jailbreak heist, the fourth book in the series, when Hurricane Maria hit. So I interrupted my series trajectory and wrote SIDE CHICK NATION about Puerto Rico. The majority of the suspense is created by the challenges of surviving the hurricane, but I figured out how to include two smaller heists, instead of one big one. I will definitely return to the jailbreak heist book in the future. It’s also like magic, as if the character turns herself to smoke, and drifts out through the bars. Except of course, she escapes because her crew of women have been working hard for most of the novel to get her out. And they magically get away with it.
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She also brings an Black/Latina urban feminist sensibility to all her work: street lit, YA, chick lit, crime fic. (also find her on Twitter )
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2019 RARM Questions:
Tell us about a time in your life that felt magical to you.
Book festivals and conferences feel magical to me. I love them. People are talking about books and writing all day long. I usually get a chance to talk about my work, and it’s in conversation with other writers. Then I get to listen to writers talking about their work. At any good festival or conference, the conversations are really fascinating. I hear ideas I’ve never heard before. And—unlike my own experiences of reading and writing—it’s not just me in my own head. It’s like this magical world that’s fueled by books and writers. I wish I could get to them more often.
Tell us about a book that was magical for you.
MAMA DAY by Gloria Naylor has always been a magical book for me. I read it in my 20s, and it’s a love story (not traditional) and about family, and it has these magical realism elements. It’s told from three different POVs, two of them are second person “you” between the lovers and third person omniscient. It takes a moment to get into it, then you’re hooked. It takes place on a fictional sea island in the US South, and the magic is African American and supernatural. I just love this book.
(This sounds amazing ‘m putting the link in – here or on the cover. – Bobbi)
Tell us about a “magical moment” in your writing or your career?
I was nine months pregnant, even a few days past my due date. My novel wasn’t finished. I kept talking to the baby. “Look honey, I really need to finish this book. Can you just wait til I get it done?” It was a Friday afternoon when I finally finished the draft and emailed it to the agent’s assistant, just before I went to the chiropractor. Shortly after I came home, my labor began. It was such a good sign, that my kid was a good team player with my writing from the beginning. Of course, the agent’s assistant never got back to me, and it would be years before I had an agent or a book deal, and I had a complete crisis of faith and went into a panic that I’d never get published, but that moment before birth was magic.
For writers who use magical aspects in their books, what attracts you to those elements? For those of you who don’t, are there specific themes or elements you’re attracted to and find yourself going back to? Why do these resonate with you?
A really good twist in a plot is like magic. It’s the rabbit pulled out of the hat, or the sawed-in-half-girl put back together. Because you look back and it was there all the time. The clues were in plain sight, but you just didn’t put them together. It’s also an interesting moment about how you can’t un-know something. Because once you have certain information, it changes how you see moments or characters in a book. Which is why it’s so satisfying to reread a book that has a twist, because the second time around, it’s a completely different story.
Creativity is a kind of magical experience. What inspires you, keeps you going, helps you when you lose focus, etc.?
Over a decade ago, I was really struggling to finish a novel. My partner and I were flying cross-country on a plane, and they had in-flight entertainment. They showed the video of Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten.” It uses writing as a metaphor for life. “I’m just beginning, the pen’s in my hand, ending unplanned.” I started crying right there on the plane. You know that moment, when you’re certain the person on the screen is speaking directly to you. Telling you exactly what you need to hear. So I was sobbing. My partner was mortified. But that song has become my anthem. “No one else, no one else/Can speak the words on your lips/Drench yourself in words unspoken.” When I feel stuck, I listen to it, have a good cry, and get back to work. “Today is the day your book begins/The rest is still unwritten.”
DRAWING – Aya was scheduled to hosting The Romance of Reading page, but due to technical difficulties, we’re postponing her visit to a later date. Her giveaways will take place there and then.
However, all comments will also be entered to win a bundle of books from the Week 2 participating authors. You may enter by commenting on this original blog post and/or on the Read-A-Romance Month Facebook page post, here.
Each first unique comment at each space offers an extra chance to win, so check in with each autor. Must comment by 8/21/19 11:59pm Eastern to enter.
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Aya de Leon teaches creative writing at UC Berkeley. Kensington Books published her feminist heist novels UPTOWN THIEF in 2016 (winner of the International Latino Book Awards), THE BOSS in 2017, and THE ACCIDENTAL MISTRESS in 2018 (all of which won first place Independent Publisher Awards). The Justice Hustlers series continues with SIDE CHICK NATION in 2019 about the hurricane in Puerto Rico, and in 2020 Kensington will publish Aya’s first spy novel about FBI infiltration of an eco-racial justice organization. Aya’s work has also appeared in Ebony, Guernica, Writers Digest, Bitch Magazine, Essence, VICE, The Root, Ploughshares, and on Def Poetry, and she’s an advice columnist for Mutha Magazine.
Aya is at work on a picture book to help talk to children about racism, as well as a black/Latina spy girl series for teens called GOING DARK. She is an alumna of Cave Canem and VONA.
Discover all of Aya’s books:
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