This interview is part of the Latinx Author Interview series. Danette Vigilante grew up in the Red Hook Houses in Brooklyn, New York, where she lives with her family and sweet pup, Luna. She is the author of The Trouble with Half a Moon, a 2012-2013 Sunshine State Young Readers award nominee, Saving Baby Doe, a 2014 pick for the New York Public Library 100 titles for Reading and Sharing list, and Tia Lugo Speaks No Evil, recently published by North Star Editions (August, 2021).
Dovalpage: Tia Lugo Speaks No Evil kept me up all night because I wouldn’t go to sleep before finding out how Tia was going to solve all her problemas (witnessing a murder during the night is indeed a big scary problema for a thirteen-year-old, or anybody else). The characters are well-developed and the plot, believable and full of suspense. What was your inspiration for Tia Lugo Speaks No Evil?
Vigilante: This is something I’ve just started saying out loud. It isn’t easy, but terrible things happen. Our experiences bury inside of us and they should be talked about. When I was about 13 years old, I witnessed a murder. I was outside later than I should’ve been when it happened. In a small way, writing this story helped me right a wrong.
Dovalpage: That must have been so scary. And that’s probably why Tia’s fears feel so true to the reader. In that sense, writing can be cathartic too. Speaking of well-portrayed feelings, Tia’s asthma attacks are very well described and feel totally real. Why did you decide to include these symptoms and Julius’ stuttering?
Vigilante: Writing fiction means including many truths. People have issues, medical or otherwise, and as an author you need to have your reader feel every scene. To accomplish this, it means your characters should also have issues. Like Tia, my mom and I both suffer from asthma, so I was able to pass on (I’m sorry, Tia!) my breathing struggles to this character.
Dovalpage: You did it in an amazing way. Now, what’s one thing you’d like young readers to take away after reading Tia Lugo Speaks No Evil?
Vigilante: I’ve got two. I always strive to get across to my readers that no matter how old they are or their circumstances they can make a positive difference in the world. Big or small, their actions take on a life of their own and can reach far beyond what they’d expect. It’s also important to me that every child sees themselves inside a book. Tia’s family is Puerto Rican, as am I. When I was a child, I never saw myself anywhere. That can turn into, “Am I good enough?” feelings. Life is tough enough without having to deal with that.
Dovalpage: I loved that about the book. I am Cuban and there are so many similarities between our cultures, like going to a botánica for help. The phrase “Home Depot of spirituality” is just priceless. The ceramic monkey figurine plays an important role in the story. I remember having one in my house when growing up. Did you have one too? Is there a story behind it?
Vigilante: No, I didn’t have one growing up. The only story behind the monkey figurine is that I needed a “find” for Tia’s dad to want to add to his collection. It just so happened that it fit in perfectly! Sometimes an author just gets lucky, and an idea floats out of thin air. Those moments? Ah, chef’s kiss!
I can’t convey strongly enough to those who want to become an author the importance of reading.Danette Vigilante
Dovalpage: ¡Sí, el beso del chef! There is a mention, at the end, of the Lugo family installing a Little Free Library outside of their house. You also have one on your front lawn. Could you tell me more about it?
Vigilante: All children should have access to books. The best way for me to achieve that in my small part of the world is to start with the children in my neighborhood. I believe it only takes one book to turn a non-reader into a reader. I’m tickled when I see a child walking away with a book! I even decorate my little library. Have you ever seen a Halloween skeleton reading a book? Well, one visits me every year! You won’t regret installing a Little Free Library on your lawn or wherever. To find out more visit: littlefreelibrary.org.
Dovalpage: That sounds like a great idea. Niños y libros! What project(s) are you working on now?
Vigilante: On the back burner is a picture book, The Sand Between My Toes. This story just won’t leave me alone! On the front burner is another middle grade called Things We Wish For. An assumed terrorist attack, a found diary, and bad spelling bring together twelve-year-old Frances and a newly made enemy.
Dovalpage: I want to read that already! What can you share about your writing journey? Any tips for Latinx authors who have a manuscript and are not sure where to go with it?
Vigilante: For my first book, The Trouble with Half a Moon, I received over 40 rejections! Latinx stories need to be told, so never stop trying. I can’t convey strongly enough to those who want to become an author the importance of reading. Read the types of stories you want to write—it somehow gets into your blood! After you’ve written your story, print it out, and, when you’re ready, read it out loud. If you can find someone willing to listen, read to them. Or your computer might have a read feature. Doing this will help to see what your brain might’ve automatically filled in while you were writing. It will also help with flow. Does it sound choppy? Clarify anything your listener doesn’t understand. Once your story is ready, research agents you’d like to work with. A good place to start is QueryTracker.net. Or, if you prefer to do it on your own, research publishing houses. In both cases, find out what types of stories they’re looking for. An agent’s job is to sell your book, so they get paid when you get paid, never before. Although the attention of one of the big publishing houses is nice, don’t forget the smaller ones. There are some gems out there, shout-out to Jolly Fish Press.
To learn more about Danette Vigilante, check out https://www.danettevigilante.com/.