Behind the Scenes with Kim Vasquez, author of Serenity in Ruins

A full transcript of the episode is below.

SPEAKERS

Teresa Douglas, Kim Vasquez

Teresa Douglas  00:10

Welcome listeners to this week’s behind-the-scenes episode of Latinx Lit mag. I’m your host Teresa Douglas. Today I’m speaking with Kim Vasquez, author of Serenity in Ruins. Kim grew up in Puerto Rico and moved to New York to study Dramatic Writing at Tisch School of the Arts, NYU. The lack of representation and diversity in children’s books, drove her to write a middle-grade Latinx mystery that she’s currently querying while working on another. She’s had various articles curated and published on Medium. Among them, Green Plantains and Memories of Mi Isla, and An Afternoon in La Plaza del Mercado. She also had a short story, The Lady in White, published by the Acentos Review. Welcome, Kim.

Kim Vasquez  00:58

Hi, Teresa, how are you?

Teresa Douglas  01:00

I’m doing good. I’m glad to have you on the show. And we’re gonna have a good time.

Kim Vasquez  01:08

Yeah, excellent.

Teresa Douglas  01:10

Before we start talking about your piece, I have a very, very important food-related question for you. Because it’s all about the food around here. If we were sitting together at my table, in literal, actual life, of course, I will want to feed you because it’s polite to give you something to eat. And I would love to know, what is your favorite comfort food?

Kim Vasquez  01:37

Well, I’m Puerto Rican and I’m vegan, which is strange. But Arroz y Habichuelas–rice and beans–with Tostones. Which are fried plantains. And it’s vegan, and it still honors my Puerto Rican roots. So that’s my comfort food.

Teresa Douglas  01:56

I’m a Mexican vegetarian, so I’m feeling you on that one.

Kim Vasquez  02:01

Nice.

Teresa Douglas  02:03

Yeah, our people use a lot of pork and many other products in everything. And, you know, I’m not saying it’s not delicious. I’m not gonna say that. But it would be nice if we had a lot of things that had fewer animals in them.

Kim Vasquez  02:23

Yeah.

Teresa Douglas  02:23

Although I have to say I was talking to another person on the show, who pointed me toward vegan Menudo, which I haven’t yet tried. But it gives me hope. That’s my favorite comfort food that I could actually eat again. So, yes, it’s so good. But I would love to feed your comfort food to you. I would probably make a hash of it. So we might have to have you cook it and then I will compliment you a lot.

Kim Vasquez  02:52

Absolutely. There you go. I would love that.

Teresa Douglas  02:57

You get to know people so much when you’re cooking and sharing food together. Well, now that we’ve covered that very, very important question, because food, food does give us a lot of information about each other. I would love to hear just a little more about you and share with the listeners when you begin writing.

Kim Vasquez  03:18

Well, it’s an interesting, funny story. I was in trouble in the 10th grade with my teacher. It was my English teacher and I grew up in Puerto Rico. And I thought I knew everything in English. And I just acted like a smartass. And she wanted–I don’t know if they still do this in school, but they gave you a grade for your conduct. And she wanted to fail me for conduct. And I had an A average. And this was very worrisome to me, because I had a crappy attitude, but I wanted to get good grades. And so she gave me the opportunity to write a short story. And she would use that grade as my grade for conduct. And I wrote her a story. I gave it to her, she loved it. She told me she laughed so hard. And she said to me, you should really think about writing as a profession. So I kept that in mind for years and years, moved to New York, wanted to study writing at the Tisch School of the Arts. I didn’t do so well because I didn’t have the money to pay for the school. And it’s very expensive. So I’m going to say I’ve been writing since the 10th grade on and off, but mostly off. And then when the pandemic hit, I wasn’t going out to work. So I sat down at my laptop and I started writing and it’s sort of stuck since then. So fingers crossed.

Teresa Douglas  05:03

It seems like it’s always kind of been with you since 10th grade, and honestly, kudos your teacher for letting you exchange a crappy attitude for a nice story.

Kim Vasquez  05:12

Yes, yes.

Teresa Douglas  05:13

Because, you know, teachers put up with so much. I’m not gonna say I was a stellar student all the time. And we’re teenagers, which really, that’s hard all by itself. But oh, thank you, teachers. I think I say this every episode. Thank you, teachers.

Kim Vasquez  05:32

Yeah, the utmost respect for teachers and what they go through. And, I mean, I was a smart ass but I was never half as disrespectful, as I see a lot of things that are happening now that teachers are going through now that are just reprehensible.

Teresa Douglas  05:51

So, so we love your teachers, thank you, thank you for continuing to teach and to teach our children and our children’s children and all the way down the line there. So you’ve been writing off and on and life gets in the way, right, but but you’ve been writing a book–

Kim Vasquez  06:07

Yes I wrote a middle grade Latinx mystery based on an old Puerto Rican legend. And I’m currently querying it, trying to find a literary agent to represent me to the publishing houses. So fingers crossed on that.

Teresa Douglas  06:27

So you’re writing, you’re writing a mystery. That’s fiction, you turned this lovely piece in Serenity in Ruins, which is creative nonfiction. So you write a lot of things. Can I ask, do you have a favorite? Do you love all your writing children equally? What’s the deal?

Kim Vasquez  06:43

I really love my middle grade, Latinx novels. I’m also working on a second one. But I also love writing short stories with strong female protagonists, and that are very culture and history centric. And they always have a little touch of spirituality. Because, you know, as Hispanics, as Latinx, it’s a huge part of our culture, our spirituality. So my stories always seem to have culture, history and spirituality and always female leads, strong female leads.

Teresa Douglas  07:25

So you’re writing the work that you would like to see in the world, basically?

Kim Vasquez  07:29

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. I feel that Hispanic women, and minority women in general, get the short stick always throughout history, and minority women, always are the ones that carry everybody, the family, the culture, the country, but they’re the ones that always get mistreated the most and have it the hardest. So I focus more on females and I’m a female. So there you go.

Teresa Douglas  08:04

There you go. And giving them some stories and yeah, representation is important.

Kim Vasquez  08:11

Yes, absolutely.

Teresa Douglas  08:13

So let’s talk a little bit about the short story you you submitted this time to Latinx Lit mag. It has a lot of those themes in it–creative nonfiction, but female protagonist–you–it has that little spirituality touch. Now as I was telling you earlier, before we were recording, that I love the the idea of either the city or the country having like this, this sort of spirit animal talisman, something that is other, that comes to you when you are in your moment of stress and need. And I would love to hear what was it that caused you to decide to write this down? Because obviously it happened in your life, so you didn’t have to come up with the idea. It happened. And talk about how you went about writing this story.

Kim Vasquez  09:09

So the part that’s not in the story is that I actually took a picture of that cat and those ruins and the picture when I was looking at it later on and I was going to submit it to a publication on medium and they want the picture that the author has taken and then a story related to the picture. And I wrote the story so that I could submit that picture because I love that picture so much. And the rest of it happened just that way–I was walking down the street, I woke up with a migraine. I was overwhelmed because we had just bought this place. And I looked into these ruins and I saw that cat and the way the cat just stood out from everything else. And the way the cat looked at me I could actually feel that a everything’s gonna be fine, like the universe was sending me this message, my ancestors, were sending me this message. However you want to look at it, but I was getting a message. If you want to say God was sending it, then you know what God was sending me this message. But I felt it, I knew it. And I want other people to be able to feel that and know, we have some bad times but we can get through, and we can absolutely survive a lot of the things that happened to us.

Teresa Douglas  10:39

And it’s such a symbolic thing because here are these ruins. Here’s something from history that’s decayed, but it’s there in the present. And yet, here’s this glimmer of hope, and feeling that things are going to be okay. And boy if we don’t need that now, I don’t know when we’re gonna need it.

Kim Vasquez  10:59

Mm hmm. Absolutely. And it’s just goes to show you that history repeats itself. And yeah, we can see that all around us. But we just have to keep an open ear to what’s happening and know that, it’s happened before. We’ve survived as a community. We’ve survived as, as un pueblo, and will continue doing so.

Teresa Douglas  11:25

So I think we’re sliding into that next question I was going to ask you, which is what’s the impression you want to leave with people about it? It sounds like, a feeling of hope.

Kim Vasquez  11:33

It’s a feeling of hope. It’s especially women, especially minorities, Hispanics, because I’m Hispanic. But it’s especially for anybody that might be feeling overwhelmed, might be feeling like, you know, I don’t know if I can continue. And one person’s reasons for feeling that way is completely different from another person’s. So maybe my reasons aren’t as serious as someone else’s. But the message is still the same. Hold on, things are gonna get better. Yeah.

Teresa Douglas  12:14

Well, thank you for that. I think we need more of that in the world.

Kim Vasquez  12:17

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

Teresa Douglas  12:20

So can we hear about your book? I’m intrigued about your Latinx middle grade mystery. Can we hear a little bit about that without any spoilers? Because I know we’re trying to entice the agents right now. And so we don’t want I know much out in the world. But for instance, what’s the what’s the fairy tale because that that’s something that’s out in the world generally.

Kim Vasquez  12:48

So I can give you the blurb or the pitch that I use to describe it.

Kim Vasquez  12:56

In Puerto Rico, 11 year old Maggie is having visions of Carabalí, a slave that disappeared over 300 years ago, to make the vision stop, she has to help him. But that means she will have to defy her Abuelo and put herself and her little brother in danger. Basically she’s 11 years old. Her name is Maggie Ojera. She goes to stay with her grandfather and his wife in the mountains in Puerto Rico. And in the first chapter, she sees the spirit of Carabalí, who escaped one night over 300 years ago. And he’s reliving that night over and over and over again. And he’s trying to find his sister, Isabel, who he was trying to save that night when he escaped. And so Maggie’s the only one that can actually see him. And she, in order for her to be able to stop those visions, she has to help him. Her little brother helps by convincing her, Hey, you got to solve this in order to try to figure out what’s going with Carabalí and why he’s still sticking around. And then maybe those visions will go away, if we can help him move on. And so between her and her little brother, that’s what they do. And they get into all sorts of trouble, but they do it. And it has a happy ending. So that possibly leads into a second book.

Teresa Douglas  12:57

Let’s do it.

Teresa Douglas  13:10

Woo, I have to say I’d read that, and any literary agents who are listening to this podcast, I can help you find Kim, if you need a little more of that, because it sounded pretty good to me.

Teresa Douglas  14:43

Thank you.

Teresa Douglas  14:49

Yeah. Well, hey, one of the things we need to do as a community is help each other, right?

Kim Vasquez  14:55

Absolutely.

Teresa Douglas  14:56

Agents, you should listen and read Kim’s book and then and get it published because there are really a lot of Latinx people who like reading, and we would read this book. So there you go.

Kim Vasquez  15:10

Yep. And especially young girls, young girls are always looking for heroes to emulate. And it would be nice if they reminded them of themselves.

Teresa Douglas  15:21

Yep. We need it. Well, this is wonderful and you write a lot of different things and you’re getting things published on Medium and you’re querying a book. Is there is there a place where a listener who wants to kind of keep track of your career or see other things you come out? Is there a place where they can do that on social media or website or even your medium link?

Kim Vasquez  15:45

I am on Twitter and on Twitter, at Kim V. Writer. I’m also on Instagram and there I’m Puerto Rican writer. At Puerto Rican writer, and on medium it’s just medium.com at Kim Vasque Vasquez been V as in Victor AZ Q.

Teresa Douglas  16:11

All right, well, there you go. Listeners I will put that in the show notes so that you can click on over if you don’t have a pen or paper available, you can just get that there. It’s been really nice having you on this episode and talking through your story, and hearing about just your take. Thanks for coming by.

Kim Vasquez  16:33

Thank you, Teresa, thank you for having me. Thank you so much, and I hope everybody enjoys it and everybody keeps tuning in

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