Happy Friday Everyone!
I’m so excited about this week’s interview because the author I get to interview shares something in common with me: a literary agent! When I read the blurb of his upcoming book, I knew it was going to be powerful and I wanted to know more about the man behind the story. Please welcome: Daniel Aleman!
Hiya, Dan! Thanks for your time! I always like to start by asking where you are in your writing journey at this moment, and how did you get there?
Thank you so much for having me, Ayana! I recently turned in copyedits for my debut novel, INDIVISIBLE, which is coming from Disney-Hyperion in Fall 2020! In the past few weeks, I’ve been slowly but surely shifting my focus toward my second project, which will also be a contemporary young adult novel.
Like most authors, I had a long journey before I got to this point—I started writing short stories when I was around six or seven years old, and I never stopped. For years, I mostly wrote for myself (and I have many shelved manuscripts that I hope will never, ever see the light of day), but I started querying in 2013. It took four different projects and several years before I connected with my agent, Pete Knapp of Park & Fine Literary and Media, through #DVpit. This was in October of 2018, and everything just started happening super quickly after that. Only a couple of months later, we went on submission to publishers, and we received a pre-emptive offer from Disney within a week, which was the craziest and most exciting moment of my publishing journey so far.
Hey! Another thing we have in common--I connected with Pete via #DVpit in 2019! I'm so impressed that you went through 4 projects before you found "the one," and of course I'm super curious about its premise. Can you pitch it, or anything else you're currently working on?
INDIVISIBLE is a contemporary young adult novel set in New York City. It revolves around Mateo, a sixteen-year-old teenager who dreams of making it on Broadway. His entire life is thrown into chaos when his parents, undocumented Mexican immigrants, are detained by ICE, which leaves him to care for his seven-year-old sister. While Mateo tries to piece his life back together, he will have to confront questions about his own identity as an American and figure out a way to bring his family back together.
As for Book 2, which is what I’m currently working on, I can’t say much yet, except that I’ll be exploring somewhat similar themes. This is a story that has been on my mind for a very long time, so to say that I’m excited to get it down on the page would be an understatement!
Ooh, I can't wait to find out more when it's ready. Okay, Daniel, I'd love to know how you describe your writing style in a word or two?
I’d say my writing is personal. I tend to write from a very intimate place, which is both good and bad. Writing has always helped me understand myself and the world around me, which is a wonderful thing, but at times I feel like I’m handing out pages from my diary to readers, which is terrifying.
It's terrifying to put your heart into your words, but I truly believe it adds such beautiful truth and authenticity to stories! What is your favorite/least favorite part of the writing process?
My favorite part of the writing process is drafting. I absolutely love exploring a story for the first time! I tend to write first drafts by hand, which some people find surprising. As much as I love my laptop, I find that notebooks are way easier to carry around, which means I get to write in all sorts of places: parks, the beach, on the subway—you name it! It’s also true that typing out what I’ve written into a Word document helps me catch so many things that I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed about the writing and the story. It’s almost like an effortless first round of edits!
Wow! I don't know many people who hand write their drafts, but I think that the idea of catching things when you transcribe it is fascinating. I want to talk more about your process. When you’re thinking of a story, what comes first and what’s most important to you — setting, characters, plot? Something else?
It varies from project to project, but most often, I’d say character comes to me first. For INDIVISIBLE, I had a very clear vision of who Mateo was. Right from the start, I understood the challenges he would face as the son of Mexican immigrants, had a good idea of what his life in New York City was like, and knew how his family dynamics would play out. Everything else flourished from that starting point.
It's incredible how just an inkling (pun intended) of an idea for a character can blossom into a full narrative. As your writing, how do you manage life and other responsibilities alongside your writing?
Oh, this can be so, so difficult to do. I wrote INDIVISIBLE while working a full-time job, which meant that I would come home in the evening, eat dinner, and then write until I couldn’t stay awake any longer.
BOSS. As a full time working writer, I know it is HARD.
What helped me stay motivated was a promise to myself that I would write every single day—even if it meant getting only a single sentence on the page. I found this to be a great way to keep myself accountable, while avoiding the pressure of having to meet overwhelming word counts.
That being said, I truly believe that there isn’t a single right way to do it, and different things work for different people. What matters is figuring out what works specifically for you. I think that setting achievable goals is a huge part of finding the right balance.
I agree about writing every day--every step, no matter how small or slow, is still a step further. Of course, sometimes steps are harder to take. How do you combat writer’s block and/or tough critiques of your writing?
Writing every day definitely helps me combat writer’s block. If I push myself to get at least some words on the page day after day, I will inevitably make progress—even when writing the toughest of scenes.
What a great attitude!
In terms of critiques, I think it’s helpful to remind yourself that it is impossible to please everyone. There may be people who won’t be able to connect with your work for whatever reason, and that is okay, because there will also be readers who will fall madly in love with your characters and your story. As my agent once said to me, “You need to understand who your readers are, and you have to write for them.”
Another piece of advice I received was to look up reviews for some of my all-time favorite novels. It’s interesting to see the tough criticism that some people have about books you love, many of which have been wildly successful. It serves as a reminder of how subjective this business is, and of the fact that a single book can be perceived in a million different ways.
OMG I do this too and it is the most gratifying feeling! I highly recommend this! Daniel, you've hinted at this a little, but as a writer from a marginalized background, the journey has been understandably tough at times. What advice do you have for aspiring writers, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds?
Don’t give up.
It’s so easy to get discouraged, especially when you’re getting rejection after rejection, but don’t forget that most published authors tried and failed MANY times before they got to where they are. Be humble, listen to feedback from people you trust, and focus on improving your craft. As long as you keep writing and keep learning, you’ll be getting closer to that one “Yes.”
This journey is especially difficult if you come from an underrepresented background, but I think it’s important to remind yourself of the power of your words. There is someone out there who needs to hear what you have to say, and whose life will change as a result of seeing themselves in your story.
You say it so, so well. Now I have a fun question for you: what’s your “anthem,” the song that would play if your life was a music video?
Hmmm I’d have to say anything by Lana Del Rey. I love how deeply personal most of her music is, and my writing playlist is mostly made up of her music. If I had to pick a single song, it would probably be “Radio.” As writers, we know the struggle is all too real, but this song used to remind me that there would come a point when I would look around and realize my dreams were coming true, which kept me motivated during the early phases of this journey.
I love Lana! And, now a bonus question! If you could have a tree in your backyard that grew anything forever and ever, what would you want on that tree?
Tacos! But they would have to be authentic Mexican tacos. They are surprisingly difficult to find outside of Mexico!
This answer is so beautiful and now I'm hungry. Please tell me if you find anything credible around Florida.
Thanks again so much, Daniel! I can’t wait to read INDIVISIBLE and all future works you create!