First Draft: Sometimes the Void Talks Back
The idea for Cemetery Boys started, as most of my ideas do, with my talking into the void on Twitter.
Back in August 2018, I was talking about how I was saving my two favorite names—Yadriel and Julian—for special books that I would maybe never write because I love the names SO MUCH! This is right around when I was coming up with an idea for my option book for Swoon (That’s right! Cemetery Boys is actually my option book! Lost in the Never Woods was the first book I sold to Swoon Reads/Macmillan!). Emily Settle, one of the editors at Swoon, messaged me and said my next book should totally have a Yadriel and Julian as love interests, and their ship name could be #Yadrian! Shortly after, my editor, Holly West, emailed me and said, “I was talking to Emily and I LOVE this!”
At that point, I had two separate ideas I was toying with for my option book. A story about a boy who summons a ghost he can’t get rid of, and then a contemporary book about a transgender boy. Holly was the one who proposed:
And my response was:
At this point, I contacted Jennifer March Soloway for some guidance. This was BEFORE she was even my agent! I told her my idea—a story about a boy who happens to be trans who summons a ghost he can't get rid of—and how I was struggling to come up with a plot. At that point, I had just defaulted to a white main character. While I was talking to Jennifer, she stopped me and said, "You know, you could write a story about YOUR culture, you don't have to default to white." There was a long pause, then I said, "... I can?"
That idea just... completely blew my mind.
I thought there was no way I could ever sell a book with a trans MC, let alone one that was Latinx or gay on top of it. Once she said that, the idea just exploded. Suddenly, my main character, Yadriel came to life. He's trans, Cuban/Mexican, and gay. This secret community of brujos/brujas (I call them "brujx" in the novel) materialized and the plot fit perfectly with Día de Muertos.
When it was finally time to decide on a pitch for my option book to Holly, I sent five different story ideas. Cemetery Boys was the shortest pitch. It was just a paragraph that started with, "This is a very VAGUE idea with a trans main character." Most of the sentences ended in question marks because I really wasn't sure what the whole plot would be. I was genuinely shocked when this tiny blip of an idea was what Swoon wanted!
But then I needed an ACTUAL plot. I came up with the synopsis for Cemetery Boys while at my sister's house. My family was gathered together one Saturday, eating homemade tacos. I was lying on the living room floor, and it was my family that helped me formulate the plot, shouting ideas over each other as we drank tequila. I jotted notes on my phone. I wrote the full synopsis and the first 3 chapters of Cemetery Boys. My editor took it to the acquisitions meeting and Macmillan bought it on that proposal!
I was THRILLED! But that also meant I now needed to write it. We wanted to get the first draft done as quickly as possible, so I dove right in.
I wrote the first draft of Cemetery Boys in SIX. WEEKS.
THAT’S RIGHT! I hope to never do it again, but I DID it! Here’s what helped me get through:
● I outlined the HECK out of it!!! I had my main outline, AND I had outlines for each individual chapter that broke it down step by step. Since they were so detailed, when it came time to actually writing, I didn’t have to waste any time thinking of plots or interaction, I just wrote what my outline told me to write.
● I had a Critique Partner who read AS I wrote, so I had a personal cheerleader through the process.
● I wrote EVERY DAY! As much as I could, for as long as I could.
● PLAYLISTS! I had a whole playlist dedicated to the story, and when I plugged in to focus, I listened to it and it helped put me in the mood and FEEL of the book.
Actual footage of me turning in the first draft of Cemetery Boys:
It NEARLY KILLED ME, but I got it done!
Shortly after turning in the first draft, the team decided they actually wanted to make Cemetery Boys my debut! I was surprised, but also THRILLED. Again, I couldn’t believe I was getting so much love, support and encouragement about a TRANS, LATINX, GAY book!
My identity literally affects everything about the stories I write. Each story and main character has a piece of me, my identity and/or experiences. Cemetery Boys is steeped in my heritage. Latinx cultures, specifically, have such rich mythos and stories! I love writing fantasy, and I want to bring those stories to life! It takes a lot of research and work—thanks to colonization wiping out so much of our history—but I really want to make them accessible to young readers, ESPECIALLY Latinx ones. In our country where people are trying to convince them they are "less than," I want them to see where they come from, that magic runs through their veins.
I am so thankful for the opportunities I have gotten because of this little book, and I can’t wait to share Yadriel and Julian’s story with you all!