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: Latine Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond between September 15 – October 15, where we invite Latine authors to celebrate being Latine and Latine books! Find the introduction post for Latine Heritage Month here.
Earlier this year, I read, what will certainly be, one of my favourite books of 2021. It broke my heart wide open but filled it with light and awe. That book is How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland; a gorgeous contemporary novel with elements of magical realism that also explores family, sex positivity, and self-love. How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe is the kind of book that fills you with so much wonder and magic of the universe, one that I love whole-heartedly. After I finished Moon Fuentez, though, I felt like I had so many questions that I wanted to ask Raquel – and so I’m immeasurably happy that she’s returned to the Pond.
Last year, Raquel visited us following the release of her stunning YA genre-bending debut, Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything, and she shared her experiences about Día de los Muertos, ghosts, and how it shaped Sia Martinez. Today, I am so privileged to have Raquel visiting us today for an author interview to talk about her stunning new book.
And in case you haven’t heard of Moon Fuentez, it is my pleasure to introduce it to you. I genuinely hope that this is a book that you add to your to-read lists, so you can marvel at its beauty and love it as much as I did.
How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
When her twin sister reaches social media stardom, Moon Fuentez accepts her fate as the ugly, unwanted sister hidden in the background, destined to be nothing more than her sister’s camerawoman. But this summer, Moon also takes a job as the “merch girl” on a tour bus full of beautiful influencers and her fate begins to shift in the best way possible.
Most notable is her bunkmate and new nemesis, Santiago Phillips, who is grumpy, combative, and also the hottest guy Moon has ever seen.
Moon is certain she hates Santiago and that he hates her back. But as chance and destiny (and maybe, probably, close proximity) bring the two of them in each other’s perpetual paths, Moon starts to wonder if that’s really true. She even starts to question her destiny as the unnoticed, unloved wallflower she always thought she was.
Could this summer change Moon’s life as she knows it?
Author Interview: Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
CW: Hello Raquel! A big and warm welcome back to The Quiet Pond – it’s so wonderful that you can visit us again. The last time you visited, your debut, Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything had just released and you shared a story about ghosts and what Día de los Muertos meant to you and your family. How has the journey been so far, in between Sia Martinez and now?
Raquel: Hello, CW! I’m so honored to return to The Quiet Pond. As you know I’ve been a fan of the blog for a while and it makes my heart so happy to be back.
It’s difficult to think of the last year in terms of publishing alone, since publishing, like just about everything else, was so inextricably connected to COVID. One of the difficult parts of debuting last year was the toll it took on my anxiety– luckily this year was so much better, maybe because I knew what to expect. It has also been amazing to meet readers of my work, whether virtually or in person.
CW: Congratulations on your stunning novel, How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe! I had the pleasure of reading it, and it may be one of my favourite books of 2021. Looking back on when you were writing Moon Fuentez, what is something that you are most proud of?
Raquel: I started drafting Moon about three years ago. I was a stay-at-home mom to my son, who was then a toddler, and I also planned and cooked every meal, did all the dishes, among all the million and one things a parent does while maintaining a household. The only time I had to write was when my son took a bath. And so that’s what I did, every day. I brought a stool next to the tub, along with a notebook and a pen, and I wrote on average 500 words each day. More days than not, I was convinced I was writing the worst thing ever, that the words were not coming out right, that I was wasting my time. But I showed up every day despite everything and that’s what I am most proud of.
CW: I love the way that Moon Fuentez explores this gorgeous yet complicated fabric of Moon’s life. The story explores religion and ideas of purity, sexism, body positivity, colourism, complicated family relationships – I’m in awe with how you balanced everything and how personal it all felt. What real life sources did you draw from when writing all of these aspects in Moon’s story?
Raquel: There were a lot of real life sources that inspired many themes in the book. I grew up in a slut-shaming, purity-culture obsessed environment and church, and so that definitely was the foundation for what Moon experiences with her mother and community. My sister and I were very close with our white-passing cousins growing up, and the differences in the way we were treated is infuriating, and this inspired some of the relationship between Moon and Star. I came of age in the 90s and early 2000s, when a young woman’s worth was defined by how thin she was. I don’t think I’ve ever been thin in my life, and this played a part in developing Moon’s arc with her own body image.
CW: Social media and the social power of ‘influencers’ is an important component of your story, particularly in how it shapes Moon’s relationship with her twin, Star, but also Moon’s relationship with herself. What drew you into exploring social media through Moon’s lens, particularly since she’s fat, Latine, brown-skinned and a girl?
Raquel: One of the moments that inspired this book was watching young women take photos of each other and thinking, Wow, they look like me and my sister. And then the following thought of, I wonder how different it would have been, having social media as a teen. Moon is not me, and I am not Moon; however, we have a lot in common, and just answering that question of what would it have been like– that’s what drew me toward Moon’s particular lens.
CW: I want to take a moment and gush about the gorgeous romance in Moon Fuentez. I adore Santiago and I loved the dynamic between him and Moon; I don’t remember the last time that I felt so invested in a romance! What draws you in about enemies-to-lovers romances? What was your ‘secret’ or the thing that inspired you when writing the romance between Santiago and Moon?
Raquel: Enemies-to-lovers romances are my favorites and I think it all comes down to the tension. In general, the “hate” masks a simmering, smoldering attraction, and it’s one of the most fun things in the world, to read a book and find little pieces of their attraction to one another hiding under all that hate. I think maybe my secret thing that inspired Moon is the work of Mariana Zapata, who is legendary for slow burns. I’d read something like four or five of her books before I realized my next book was going to be a slow-burn. And enemies-to-lovers is perfect for slow burns because they have to break down that hate and figure out they like each other first (which takes time!).
CW: I loved that Moon Fuentez depicts the joy of food and that food can sometimes be an expression of care and love. In your mind, was Santiago always a chef? And are any of the foods that Santiago cooks for Moon have personal meaning to you?
Raquel: Yes, Santiago has always been a chef. I don’t even remember where that idea came from, except that the scene in which Santiago is a huge jerk about her using his kitchen things was one I’d planned really, really early. I imagined him as a food snob from the start.
Some of the food Santiago makes has personal meaning to me– arroz con pollo is one I grew up eating, and huckleberry pie is something I’ve eaten in Montana on a road trip. For the most part, though, I looked at food on Pinterest and chose whatever I wanted to eat right then for their meal!
CW: You’ve mentioned that Moon Fuentez is a contemporary re-write of a robot book – and I’m so curious about the robot book! What inspired the robot idea? (Also, tell me more about your interest in robots… because I’d love to read a robot book by you!)
Raquel: I’ve wanted to write a robot book ever since the first idea for a robot story came to me in 2012. It didn’t work for Moon, but that hasn’t stopped me from writing another robot book (that is currently resting before I revise it!). My interest in robots comes down to how we, as humans, define and interpret cognition and intelligence in AI. As much as I love robot movies and books, most of what is out there are stories told from a patriarchal perspective, often with an emphasis on robots and their parallels to women and how both are viewed as objects (often, in my opinion, without enough self-awareness of this comparison). And I’d love to investigate questions of AI cognition and ethics from a much different angle. Of course, because it’s me, the robot book world is connected to a deeper, wild magic.
CW: Raquel, it was such a delight to have you visit us again! My last question is one that I ask all of our guests: What is a food that feels like home, wherever or whoever that may be?
Raquel: My mother’s enchiladas feel like home– you must cook corn tortillas in butter, fold cheese inside, and spoon beans and meat on top, under even more cheese. It’s a different recipe from what most people think of with enchiladas, but so good that we know of family friends who serve it every Christmas.
About the Author
Raquel Vasquez Gilliland is a Mexican American poet, novelist and painter. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Alaska, Anchorage in 2017. She’s most inspired by fog and seeds and the lineages of all things. When not writing, Raquel tells stories to her plants and they tell her stories back. She lives in Tennessee with her beloved family and mountains.