Originally Posted On NBCLatino.com
By Alisa Valdes (NY Times Best Selling Author, The Dirty Girls Social Club)
Memo from The Publishing Industry to all You Awesome Aspiring US Latino Authors Out There:
So, you want to be a best-selling author in the United States – our country – but you have a Spanish surname? No problem!
Well, okay. We lied just now. It’s a little bit of a problem.
But not anything an unusually smart and motivated Latino such as yourself can’t overcome. Hey, you did something amazing just by thinking you could be, you know, a writer! You are a credit to your race – the swarthy majority of whom, as we know, don’t write by nature. Much less read. So, chin up, Latino escritoria! (Did we say that right?)
We bet you are making your people so proud.
What you might not be able to make is a living, at least not as a writer. Not unless you follow our rules. But that’s what we’re here for, to help you succeed! We know what’s best for you, and for the marketplace, and we know what everyone wants, Latinos included. Latinos want takis! We read that in a recent article, so we tried some. Holy cow, were they hot! And salty. And just, neat! You are a literary Taki, and we are so excited to represent you.
So here’s what you have to do to make it. Are you listening? Do you need us to get you a translator? Are we speaking too quickly for you? By the way, we are very impressed with your English. It must have been very hard for you to learn it. Kudos to you for wanting to write in it, especially since we all know you people are born speaking Spanish, no matter how many generations your family has been here and whether your parents speak Spanish or not. Oh, I’m sorry. You want what? The rules?
Okay. So here are the rules. Pay attention! We want you to succeed! No, really! It’s fun for us to screw up your names when we announce you at our conferences. We like to try to affect a thick Spanish accent when we do it, rolling our Rs with wild abandon and gesturing like matadors at the podium, even though we never think to do something like that for, say, the name of California, even though that, too, is a Spanish word. That’s because we know California is American, and we don’t realize it was named by the Spaniards. Blonde people surf there, for crying out loud! We are also mostly unaware that there are blonde people in Spanish. But, we digress.
Listen. It’s you we don’t think ought to be American. Please don’t be offended by that! We say this because we think you’re just so gosh darn special. You’re different, and that’s what diversity is all about! Differences! Differences between us, the default Americans, and…well, you people. And embracing these differences, even when they’re not actually there, well, that makes us feel super good about ourselves. When we make an effort to understand something as different from us as you, why, it just makes us feel really generous and smart. And adventurous. We are all about discovering stuff. Like you. We’d love to discover you. Here’s how to make that happen.
Make sure you play by the rules. That way, you’ll be just fine. There are only two rules, so they should be easy to understand. Even for a Latino such as yourself. We are pleased you’ve taken an interest in our industry.
RULE NO. 1: BE EXOTIC, OR BE INVISIBLE
We love Junot Diaz. He is a great writer, a genius. We think this because he curses and uses street slang while providing footnotes about a foreign country we can’t find on a map, and that shows us how completely different he is from us, who have been here forever and ever by divine destiny.
You should know that the furthest north we go on that line is 96th street, and we have always wondered what happens further north than that, where people scream in Spanish out of tenement windows. Now we know! Thanks, Junot Diaz! You’re in America, but you’re not quite American. We like that. A lot. Guys like Yunior talk trash, and impress us because they are smart, too, and know about Star Wars, and Dungeons and Dragons! It’s cur-ay-zay! Who knew? Whoknew people like you even went to our movies or knew about medieval times? Wow! That’s so not like you! Surprise us. We love it when you surprise us like that.
Junot Diaz has what we call pizazz. If you want to be a bestselling Latino author in the US, we suggest you have that kind of pizazz, too. Be streetwise and have one foot in a US barrio that we’d be afraid to visit, and the other foot in a foreign country with dictators. Sandra Cisneros does this, too. Julia Alvarez – so magical and butterfluttery. Christina Garcia. All so different from us! We love it! It helps when your stuff is beautifully written and also cleaves just a bit to our stereotypes. We just die for that kind of stuff. It’s so real. So raw. So amazing. So fresh off the boat. So Maria from West Side Story.
If you write like this, in this idiom, we will consider you to be a serious author. That is the only way we will consider you to be serious. Your story should transport us to a fascinating and colorful land full of people who would scandalize our parents if we ever brought them home with us for the holidays.
What we don’t want to see is you pretending to be a normal, boring American. That’s ours. We own that. We don’t like it when you think you can, like, just move into the neighborhood. What’s the point of having Latinos if you’re going to live the same way we do? That’s just stupid.
RULE NO. 2: WRITE ABOUT NORMAL EVERYDAY PEOPLE, BUT NEVER EVER EVER GIVE THEM SPANISH NAMES BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE INSANE AND NO ONE WILL RELATE
We get it that, okay, maybe your family has been in what’s now Arizona or Nevada for, like, six generations, and none of you speak Spanish. Fine. Please stop yelling at us. It’s possible. Okay? We grant you that. Maybe.
What you have to consider is the public. The public doesn’t know this, and they don’t care, and that’s who you’re selling books to. The public. So, fine. Go ahead and write your non-ethnic book. Your non-exotic book. Whatever floats your boat. But if you want to sell it, make sure your characters have good, all-American names. Not Spanish names. Even though Colorado is a Spanish name. People don’t know that about Colorado. They just think it’s, you know, Colorado! We don’t care if you feel the same way about your characters. No one in the public will think of your Sanchez or Gomez the way they think of Colorado. That’s ridiculous.
Look at Marisa de los Santos. That’s a big old mouthful of an exotic name! But she writes about people with sensible names, like Cornelia Brown and Piper Truitt. These people live in the suburbs, and that makes sense to the public. You will never capture the public imagination by having a character like Cornelia possess a Spanish name. Cornelia likes old movies, and her son is a genius. She doesn’t speak street slang. She isn’t an immigrant. Therefore, she cannot, must not, be Latino.
Same goes for Gabriel Allon, the detective hero in Daniel Silva’s books. Allon is a Celtic name. Silva never says he’s Hispanic. Ever. Because he isn’t. If pressed, he will admit to a Portuguese heritage, but mostly he likes to emphasize Michigan and California. We were freaked out by that at first, but as long as he’s not writing about people with names like Silva, it’s okay. We don’t like to think of names like Silva being from Michigan. That confuses the public. A lot.
Linda Castillo writes about the Amish. We love that. There are no Latino Amish, and we think that’s a good thing. Melissa de la Cruz writes about rich New York preppy vampires with normal, sensible, relatable names like Schuyler Van Alen and Jack Force. Who can’t relate to that? Blue Bloods, indeed!
We hope this has helped, and that you understand, quite clearly, that you are welcome to become a Latino writer in the United States, provided you do not write about people like you, who were born here, are not exotic, and consider themselves Americans with Spanish surnames. No one wants to read about that, because it’s just too far-fetched for fiction.
Thanks for listening, and have an awesome day! Adios.
Alisa Valdes is a novelist of mixed Cuban, Mexican and Spanish descent. Her first book, “The Dirty Girls Social Club,” earned critical acclaim and became a New York Times bestseller. Her fourteenth book, “The Temptation of Demetrio Vigil,” was released last month and is available for free e-book download until the end of September. She resides in New Mexico.
Categories: NGL News