Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Our Friend is Here: Latinx Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where between September 15th and October 15th, Latinx authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being Latinx and Latinx books. Find the introduction post for Latinx Heritage Month at The Quiet Pond here.
Hello friends, and welcome back to Latinx Heritage Month at the Pond! Today’s guest is so very special; she’s an upcoming author and a well-loved bookish content creator in the community! I’m so thrilled to welcome Racquel Marie (also known as Rocky at Blonde with a Book!) to the blog today to talk about her forthcoming 2022 YA debut, Ophelia After All — a contemporary full of flowers and roses, Latine cultural heritage, and questioning queer girls blossoming into the people they want to be.
It is such an honor to have Racquel visiting us today, especially as a golden retriever with snazzy red combat boots and long lashes! Here she is in all her bright and fluffy glory.
Our conversation with Racquel today discusses topics like the initial spark behind Ophelia After All, Racquel’s own experience growing up in a mixed-cultural family and questioning her sexuality, as well as her faraway author dreams (that aren’t so faraway anymore)! It was so fascinating to peek behind the curtain a little at the writing process and inspiration behind Racquel’s writing, and I really hope that reading it gets you excited for Ophelia’s adventures too, because it sure did for me!
But before we jump straight to the interview, I’d also love to first introduce you to both Racquel’s booktube channel, and the blurb of her book!
Racquel’s Booktube Channel: Blonde with a Book
Racquel is such a force of positivity in the bookish community! Her booktube channel Blonde with a Book is positively filled with charming content, such as her anticipated books for the second half of 2020, and author interviews with icons such as Claribel A. Ortega and Brittany Cavallaro! On topic today, she also made a lovely video about her book and the journey it took to get it to where it is now:
And of course, this introduction wouldn’t be complete without the actual, bona fide book announcement, which we also covered in a previous issue of our book news post! But honestly it’s exciting enough that you should see it again:
Every time I read this premise, my heart skips a beat all over again. I’m so soft for books about queer girls, friends. 2022 is still (unfortunately) a while away, but as we patiently await the release date, you can add the book to Goodreads to keep track of it in your TBR shelf!
Now onwards to the lovely interview! I hope our conversation inspires you and makes you feel seen, friend, wherever you need it in your life today.
Author Interview: Racquel Marie
Sprout: Hello Racquel! Thank you so much for joining us today here at the Pond! For anyone just now discovering your work, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Racquel: Hi! I’m so happy to be here! I’m Racquel, also known by my nickname, Rocky. I’m a queer Latina—first generation Colombian and Cuban American—2022 debut YA author and BookTuber. Outside of writing and talking about books, I love makeup, singing, video games, badly playing the ukulele, and have recently been getting into digital art.
Sprout: Where did the spark that grew into Ophelia After All come from? What kept you coming back to the story again and again throughout the writing process?
Racquel: OPHELIA AFTER ALL started off as a 2017 NaNoWriMo project, with the original opening line: “I’m going to be honest, I sort of miss being straight.” At the time, I was nineteen and feeling precisely that—confusion and exhaustion over finally accepting a truth I’d been batting away for a few years at that point: I was definitely not straight. I didn’t have a plan for Ophelia’s story; I just knew I needed to get those feelings out of me somehow. I continued coming back to this book time and time again even though I felt genuinely sick with anxiety at times over writing something so vulnerable and personal, and feared there wouldn’t be market interest in a questioning/coming out story, because I needed a story like this when I was a teenager. I mean, I can’t say for sure, but I doubt I’d be as confident in and proud of my queerness as I am now if not for the years I spent working on OPHELIA. I lived vicariously through her experiences and, in a way, got to sit down with an alternate version of my teenage self, hold her hand, and say, “It’s going to be okay. Trust me.” I hope to extend that comfort to my future readers as well.
Sprout: You’ve mentioned that this book grew out of your own experience working through your sexuality and mental health as a teenager! How has your personal journey with your queer and Latinx identity shaped the characters in Ophelia?
Racquel: When I started writing OPHELIA, I was taking a lot of college classes dealing with race, ethnicity, and colonization that prompted me to open up more conversations about my Latine heritage with my family. Like I said earlier, I’d also finally begun recognizing that my attraction to people wasn’t limited to men and actually extended to anyone, regardless of gender. It was a period of my life that involved so much self-exploration that my ethnicity and sexuality became deeply intertwined concepts in my mind; with neither fitting neatly into a conventional binary.
I almost feel like Ophelia and I gave each other permission to touch parts of our identities that we sometimes feared weren’t ours to touch. Over the years, I was able to add more nuance and dimension to her journey with her sexuality as someone now living as a confidently queer young woman. And when I was Ophelia’s age, I struggled to connect with my heritages because I came from such a mixed cultural bag, with my dad being Irish and German American and my mom being Colombian and Cuban. Writing Ophelia with a similar ethnic background gave me an outlet to share pride over our Cuban heritage, frequent Spanglish, and love of papas rellenas, nudging me to stop self-gate-keeping on all fronts and focus on celebrating where my family comes from instead.
Sprout: Ultimately, what are you hoping young readers will take away from this story?
Racquel: I hope young readers ultimately learn that they don’t need permission to change or question who they are. When you’re on the precipice of adulthood, it feels like you’re expected to know exactly who and what you are and will be for the rest of your life. But that’s just not reality. No matter how old or young you are, you’re always going to be discovering new parts of yourself. Sometimes it’s as simple as finding a new hobby or interest, sometimes it’s as nuanced as realizing your sexuality or gender isn’t what you always thought it was. Regardless of what the change or answer is, you’re allowed to check in with yourself and make changes that’ll result in an ultimately happier life, even if they don’t fit the expectations or standards of others. Sometimes it’s not always safe or comfortable to make those changes outwardly, so even if you’re the only one who knows who you truly are, there is immense courage and beauty in that.
Sprout: I know publication is still some time away, but I’d love to peek behind the curtain a little on your publishing journey — how has your book grown and changed throughout this entire process so far?
Racquel: There were a few characters and side-plots that got cut from OPHELIA over the years (alongside my precious prologue that contained the original first line), but one of the biggest changes was how Ophelia grew to differ from me. She was always a Cuban and Irish American teenager who questioned her sexuality. But while the current version of her wears pastel floral print, sparkly makeup, and is obsessed with rose gardening, the original Ophelia had bleached her dark hair blonde, was decked out in piercings, and dressed like a slightly goth hipster. So she was essentially me.
She was always named after Ophelia from the famous Shakespearean play, Hamlet (which is an entire other story), but it wasn’t until I had the idea during an English class, months after finishing my first draft, to make her a gardener who loved all things floral that Ophelia blossomed into her own person. Giving her a passion for flowers not only gave her name more meaning, it gave her something that was entirely her own—and not at all mine. When I started seeing her as a watery reflection of myself rather than a perfect, clear mirrored image, I was able to push myself towards making productive changes to her character and life that better fit her story and made for an overall more interesting book.
Sprout: A lot of us here also know you as a booktuber as well! Can you tell us a little about how being in the community first as a reader/bookish content creator has shaped your writing journey?
Racquel: Honestly, it feels really cool that I’m so involved in the reader/content creator side of the book community as well as the author side now. I critically analyzed books for fun for years, so I became sharper at critiquing my own work during revisions by asking myself what the “Rocky/Blonde With A Book” side of me would have to say about the “Racquel Marie” side of me’s work when I felt myself getting lazy.
Even now, it’s surreal to think about all the authors who I idolized for years who’ve since congratulated me on OPHELIA’s publishing news or become people I consider friends. Going from being someone tweeting about looking forward to other peoples’ books to someone on the receiving end of those tweets is just mind-blowingly amazing, and I’m so grateful for the support I’ve received from all sides of the bookish community.
Sprout: Okay, looking forward to the future a little: what’s your wildest pie-in-the-sky writing dream?
Racquel: Oooo! Honestly, the past few years have been so laser focused on just getting an initial book deal, I haven’t let myself dream too wildly into the future. I’d just love the chance to have a lifelong career in writing, with the freedom to dip my toes in as many artistic pools as possible. I have a passion-project-New-Adult-paranormal-cult series I’d die to get to write and publish one day, and my dream IP would be writing for the Life Is Strange franchise. But for the most part I’m taking it one step at a time, starting to draft a new YA contemporary (think: Latina soccer gays) and working on a collaborative project I can hopefully talk more about soon!
Though I will say, I would probably implode on the spot if someone ever got a tattoo based off of one of my books. Or, better yet, a tattoo directly quoting my writing. My senior quote was something I wrote myself: “I hope to write something worth quoting someday,” so I think that would pretty much make my life.
Sprout: Before we close, do you have any advice for other aspiring writers out there in the trenches of their various WIPs?
Racquel: Don’t self-reject out of fear! I don’t think anyone but my parents know this, but I almost didn’t query my agent, the wonderful Thao Le, even after she liked my pitch during PitMad 2019. I looked at her client list, then at my book, and thought there is no way she’ll want me. I figured I’d save myself the heartbreak of rejection. But I knew I’d have to get used to disappointment in this industry, so I sent my query anyways. And look where we are now! It’s easy to get caught up in a game of comparing yourself/your work to others, but you have to be your own biggest fan and advocate first and foremost.
Oh and the advice that you have to write every day to be a writer is utter clownery. Art is not One-Size-Fits-All! Life is busy and chaotic and writing is work, even when it comes from a place of passion. Be kind to yourself and set realistic goals.
And bad first drafts are better than no first drafts! (still learning this one myself!)
About the Author
Racquel Marie grew up in Southern California where her passion for storytelling of all kinds was encouraged by her friends and big family. She received a B.A. in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing and a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies from the University of California, Irvine. Racquel primarily writes YA contemporaries starring queer Latine characters like herself. When not writing or reading, she loves practicing beauty and special effects makeup, watching and producing YouTube videos, and teaching herself to play ukulele in spite of her extremely long nails. You can learn more about her writing and love of books through her Twitter, @blondewithab00k and her YouTube, Blonde With A Book.