When I saw the premise for Jenny Torres Sanchez’ latest novel, Because of the Sun, I knew I had to read it. The novel features a complicated protagonist, captivating language and, best of all, a bear attack that takes place in Orlando. When I visited ALA over the summer and Jenny informed me that the novel was at the Random House booth, I stalked her editor and publicist and was fortunate enough (mainly thanks to Jenny) to score an advanced copy. Because of the Sun is one of those rare books that somehow sinks into your skin, you absorb every word, and then it becomes a part of you forever.
Racquel Henry: Because of the Sun deals with some pretty heavy topics. A young girl struggles with the aftermath of her mother’s death, a mother with whom she had a strained relationship. What made you want to write about this difficult, yet important subject matter?
Jenny Torres Sanchez: I guess I’m sort of fascinated by things not being the way they’re “supposed to be.” Parents are supposed to love their kids, right? And kids are supposed to love their parents. But all relationships are complicated. And I think parent/child relationships can be especially complicated. We want them to be cut and dry. We want them to be ideal. But a lot of things can play into those relationships being some of the most difficult in our lives. When I think about young adults, I’m always struck with how “stuck” we can feel in our teenage years, particularly when we are under our parents’ control. If that relationship is especially strained, if a parent doesn’t act like we expect parents to act, that’s a hard life for a teenager. It might feel like forever to get through before you can “escape.” I guess I just really feel for kids and teens who feel stuck like that, who have to endure those years in relationships and situations like that. And I think there are a lot of children and teens out there dealing with exactly that.
RH: There is a deep psychological exploration of Dani, the protagonist. So much so that it would be difficult for any reader not to immediately connect to her. When you begin a novel, do you start with a character?
JTS: Yes, the character always seems to come to me first. They just sort of show up, and then I hang out with them in my head for a while, trying to figure them out. I spend a lot of time wondering, okay, what’s your story? Where’d you come from and why are you here? What are you trying to tell me? The more I hang out with them and get to know them, the more I understand who they are and am able to write their story.
RH: The book begins in your current city, Orlando, Florida and then moves to New Mexico. What inspired you to want to write about New Mexico? Did you visit the city to get the details right, or did you use imagination and research?
JTS: I’m really familiar with the setting of this book because my in-laws live right where it’s set, the border of Columbus, New Mexico and Palomas, Mexico. The first time I visited there, I was really struck with how isolated it seemed. And also how beautiful it is. I don’t think it’s the kind of place most people would consider beautiful, but it really is. There’s something about the dust and the sun and the isolation, the way everything seems like it’s been there forever and seen so many things, that is really striking. I’ve always thought it was a great place to set a book, and then when Dani showed up and I figured out her story, I thought it was a good match.
RH: Because of the Sun is your third novel. Both your other novels, The Downside of Being Charlie and Death, Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia also deal with darker topics and themes. What fascinates you about writing darker fiction?
JTS: You’re right, my writing does tend to deal with dark topics. I guess the main reason is because I hope if someone is out there struggling and going through a really difficult time, I want there to be a book that might help that person know he/she is not alone. Maybe reading a story might make somebody feel more connected to others in some way, less alone. Maybe it will help them know that the human condition is one made up of so many things: love, pain, elation, tragedy. And no matter what your situation, there are others out there who probably understand, or empathize, with what someone is going through.
I write YA because I think young adults deserve to see themselves in story.
RH: There has been a stigma about YA books. Many folks think it’s “dumbed-down” literature and make assumptions about authors who write in the category or adults who read the genre. Because of the Sun features beautiful prose, heavy topics and complex characters and relationships. It’s far from “dumbed-down.” What do you say to people who challenge the literary value of YA Books and what are some of the reasons you write YA?
JTS: I don’t have too much to say to them. Let them challenge it. It’s my opinion that people who challenge or question the literary value and importance of YA simply don’t want to see or understand that there is one. It says more about them than the readers or writers of YA literature. I write YA because I think young adults deserve to see themselves in story. I don’t think their intellect or problems should be trivialized just because they want or like seeing themselves and their experiences in books. Also, the coming of age experience is just so damn rich with good story. We all know how awkward and difficult those years can be. How can a writer or reader resist?
RH: You are a full-time mom, which is no easy feat. How do you balance being a mom and the writing life?
JTS: Writing is my job. My family understands and respects that, while my hours and office are not exactly conventional, I work. That’s pretty much it. My kids and husband are smart and awesome.
RH: Word on the street is that you got a new book deal. Can you tell us a little about your next book?
JTS: Yes! It’s called CROWS CRY EMILIA and it’s “an un-coming-of-age story that charts the devolution of 16-year-old Emilia DeJesus when she learns that the police arrested the wrong man for attacking her seven years prior, that the real perpetrator is still out there, and that beauty can be found in all lost things. Publication is scheduled for spring 2018.” (from Publisher’s Weekly). This book has been really interesting to write because while the main character is Emilia, the reader will definitely get to know her whole family and see how this attack and revelation has affected all of them. It’s been interesting to delve deeply into an ensemble of characters. I’m really excited about this book.
RH: What’s your best piece of advice to aspiring writers, especially those afraid to send their work out?
JTS: If you write, you’re a writer. The only time you can’t call yourself a writer is if you don’t write. So be a writer and write your ass off. Make time for it. Make sure you do it. Don’t talk about it a whole lot. Don’t spend more time at conferences than alone, writing. Just write.
If you want to be published, make sure you do the above and then actively work toward getting published (keep writing, keep researching and querying agents). Don’t talk about it a whole lot. Don’t spend more time at conferences than alone, researching agents, querying agents, and making it happen. And don’t let the idea of rejection cripple you. Freaking embrace rejection until it gets tired of you. Rejection should be your blankie, your wallpaper, your freaking best friend. Because it’s the only way you’re going to get closer to publication.