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Author Interview: Isabel Quintero

Nikki Steele / February 17, 2015

Gabi, the protagonist in Isabel Quintero's debut novel Gabi: A Girl in Pieces, is the self-aware, smart, and hilarious person we all wished we were (or were friends with) in high school.

Quintero's award-winning novel is told through a series of diary entries Gabi keeps during her senior year of high school. Through these entries, we watch Gabi deal with loss, college applications, her father's meth habit, and cute boys. By the end, Gabi has begun to mature into the woman she'll become through her love of and expression through poetry.

Quintero recently took the time from her job as a writer and professor to answer a few questions for the Tucson Festival of Books audience.

What inspired you to write Gabi: A Girl in Pieces?

A lot of things. Being a fat girl myself, and having certain family situations, often made me feel alone as a teen. As I grew older, I realized that many women, for many reasons, had felt the same way. Gabi, I felt, needed to exist because she faces issues that so many teens face; issues that many adults feel are too “adult” for young adults. They’re not.

These issues—sex, drugs, rape, abortion, gender inequality—are very real on high school campuses and homes across the country, and often young adults feel isolated because no one wants to address them. Gabi addresses them and she says and does things that I really wanted to say and do when I was in high school but was too afraid to do, too afraid of stepping out of my expected behavior as a young woman; things that I don’t think young women should be afraid to say and do.

If people loved Gabi, what other books would you recommend they read that are similar?

Tough question. The thing is that overall, I think, Gabi,is about realizing who you are or what you want to be, and there are so many great books out there that really speak to that. Some of them are Erika Wurth’s Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend, Len Vlahos The Scar Boys,K.L. Going’s Fat Kid Rules the World,Michele Serros Chicana Falsa,and Juan Felipe Herrera’s crashboomlove.

These are all great books wrought with intense family dynamics, often dysfunctional, where the protagonists realize that we aren’t perfect and that neither are our families, but that ultimately, we have the power to change things. They are not feel-good books, which is what I really like, but books with more substance about difficult/painful choices that have to be made to be true to ourselves. All the protagonists in those books find some creative outlet, whether it be writing or music, that allows them to flourish and discover their voice, and once that happens there is such freedom, or at least an acknowledgement of the freedom, that comes from creating.

What does the day-to-day business of being a writer actually look like for you?

Ha! This is a funny question because I am also a part-time professor at two community colleges, which means I teach four composition classes. My day consists of getting up, downing coffee, making sure I have everything I need to teach, teaching, and then grading. I try to make time for writing in the evenings, though this semester I believe I will have more time in the mornings to write. I write whenever I have time, but I have to do it weekly because I am part of a writer’s group and we do critiques each week, and that keeps me on track.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Write, revise, and submit. Write, revise, and submit.

Join a writing group, because as solitary as the act of writing is, getting published and growing as a writer comes from community; having other writers read your work and you reading theirs. But don’t join a group that is just going to pat your back and tell you how good your poem/story is—that is no good for anyone and you’ll never grow. Find a group that is honest, whose critiques will make you cry—just kidding. Find a group that will look at your work for what it is and for what it’s not.

The big one is not to give up, and as cheesy as it sounds, it is the most important. I recently was talking to a colleague who was telling me about her friend, a friend who got to stay at home and write but was thinking of giving up because she hadn’t been published yet. I wanted to shake this person. Most writers would love to stay home (at least most of the time) to work on their craft, but we have to work to make a living. Rejection is part of the job. It’s not pleasant and some days it hurts more than others, but it is part of the job. The only ones who make it are those who keep at it, regardless of the amount of rejections accrued.

What are you working on right now?

I am working on a fantasy about a young woman on a quest to save a family heirloom that contains the souls of all the females in her family. At least, that’s what I think I am working on.

Where can we buy your book?

Bookstores all over, Barnes and Noble, online, or at the Tucson Festival of Books.

You can find Isabel Quintero at the following sessions at the Tucson Festival of Books:

  • "Why Diversity Matters in YA Literature" on Saturday at 2:30 PM
  • "The Distorted Mirror" on Sunday at 1 PM

Nikki Steele is a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ. She writes about books at Connect with Nikki on Twitter at @nnsteele.

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