Author Interview: Jonny Garza Villa

We had an absolute blast chatting with Jonny Garza Villa, and you will surely find them delightful, too! Their debut YA novel, Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun, comes out on 8th June, just in time for Pride! What a gay icon, am I right…

So read on to find out what inspired the novel, and generally become a fan of Jonny already. And don’t forget the pre-order the book! You should also follow them on twitter.

inbtwn

First of all, thanks for agreeing to chat with us! We’re super excited.

Of course! Thanks for thinking of me!

Oh, you were a pretty obvious choice, to be honest. Let’s start at the beginning, then. How did you first get into writing?

Getting into writing was honestly a pretty recent life decision. what sparked that initial “lemme try this out” notion was reading Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and then, a few weeks later, watched Love, Simon. this was, like, late summer 2018? I went to see the movie with a group of friends, all Latinx and queer in some way, and afterwards we got into a discussion on how, when it comes to rly any medium, queer stories aren’t told unless they’re white, and how we’d love to see that change. so, being the kind of person who makes quick decisions without rly thinking about the amount of effort and stress that would follow, I said “I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna write that story.” I spent the next few weeks trying out my first manuscript idea, didn’t work, and then a first draft Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun followed shortly after. so, I suppose, how? bc I have an obsessive personality that wouldn’t let me stop thinking about this until I rly went and tried. but, why? pettiness.

You’re joking, you’ve only been here for two years? What on earth, that seems almost unreal. Pettiness is such a good reason to do anything at all, really. I totally support that.

yeah, TRULY. this entire experience has honestly been going at a hundred miles an hour since the beginning. oh, honestly, most of my writing ideas spark bc of pettiness, so I fully embrace it.

This makes everything so much more exciting, given you have a whole ass book being published NEXT PRIDE.

HONESTLY THO. like, when I first started attempting to write, I was doing it on a whim, only to prove to myself that I could write a story about a queer brown boy. what I was gonna do after that I had no idea of, no plan of action, no knowledge of what comes next, any of that. which is truly a great way to go about life, imo.

It is! Just jump into the deep waters and worry later.

Precisely!

Okay. Okay. What are your favourite genres to read and write, and are there any genres or tropes you wouldn’t write?

contemporary has always had my heart. and contemporary speculative, like what Adam Silvera and Alex Villasante write. that sort of, “everything’s the same except for this huge ass plot point.” LOVE. but I’m also a huge fan of dystopian, and would love to see another YA dystopian boom, like, yesterday. and some of my most recent favorites have been fantasy. I don’t think any genre is off limits for me. I used to think I wasn’t the type to write fantasy bc I’m so into the contemporary voice, but I do have an i d e a in the back of my head that I might have to figure out one day. and I don’t see myself writing the fake dating trope. it’s great to read and watch, but I don’t think I’m personally the one to add to that greatness.

As long as you agree fake dating is a great trope, haha.

jjjjsks oh, definitely! it is SO GOOD.

Oh and that kind of contemporary that blurs the line between reality and fantasy or sci-fi is the Best, absolutely.

it’s definitely a goal of mine to come up with something within that speculative contemporary genre one day. I am obsessed with it.

Fingers crossed! We established that you’re inspired by pettiness, but is that the case for all your stories, or do you have other sources of inspiration too? And actually what’s your writing process? At what point do you let other people read your drafts and who are they?

So, with inspiration, I definitely draw from a variety of sources. lots from my own life, which is shown heavily in Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun, and will probably continue to be A Thing. I also like inserting aspects politics and culture and society that I think are important. some might term that sort of thing “issue books,” which I’m fine with, but being given a platform where I can speak on things that I think need to be spoken about is smth I consider a real honor. and other mediums. when I was first getting into writing I picked up any contemporary YA I could find and used them as almost research material. Simon vs. became a comp for my book. other shows and books have sparked ideas and inspo as well.

with writing process, I am v much a pantser. both of the books I’ve managed to write so far have been just starting and seeing where it goes. I am trying to insert some practices of plotting into my next stories, though. it’s more impatience that gets me convinced thinking of what I’m going to write is a waste of time when I could actually be writing. which is silly and I understand that, yet, here we are. my understanding of what a manuscript that’s “other eyes” ready has definitely changed in a lot of ways. I know what simple things to look out for that I can fix myself. but I think the general thought that has remained is, let me work on it until it’s as good as I can make it, and then work with others who have different perspectives on writing and what books look like to help me.

Personally I’m the absolute opposite, I love plotting and thinking up stuff, but the actual writing is where I’m all out of patience and energy.

ugh, I WISH. like, the way I am able to tell myself plotting is such a waste of time sjjsjskdk

Honestly, who needs a plot anyway when there are Emotions.

exactly! like, I’m just gonna write about chaotic queer teens and see what comes of it. not worried.

I like the idea of having other people look at your work to give you other perspectives, and actually incorporating their ideas/experiences into the book.

oh, v that! I knew from the beginning that I have little knowledge of actually writing a book, of writing YA specifically, of all the things that are common and should be at least thought about when constructing a whole ass book

That’s extremely valid, yeah. Knowing what you don’t know is a good starting point, I wish more writers would realise that, to be honest.

oh, I will forever admit to not knowing v much. I mean, again, I haven’t been here that long. there’s so much I am doing without the knowledge that so many others have attained from their, sometimes, years of work into writing and publishing. and I think that creates a more open mindset and a mentality that isn’t scared to ask questions, which should always be encouraged.

You already mentioned some, but which three authors would you say influenced your writing the most?

so, specifically I would say Adib Khorram, Kacen Callender, and Benjamin Alire Sáenz. the first two books I read after finishing the initial draft of Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun were Darius the Great Is Not Okay and This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story. being able to read two incredible contemporary YA novels that both centered on QTBIPOC characters was a real source of inspiration for me to continue trying. also, with Darius specifically, I remember after reading it and then immediately following Adib Khorram on Twitter, he talked about his refusal to italicize the Farsi in his book and how that only others language that isn’t English. the next day, the first thing I did was unitalicize all the Spanish in my book.

I absolutely adore Callender’s writing and This is Kind of an Epic Love Story was the first book by them I’ve read. It’s so incredible. Also love that you unitalicized the Spanish, definitely agree with Khorram on that!

ABSOLUTELY, on both points.

Especially when people only put a single word of dialogue in a different language, in italic? Like, I’m sorry, so your character only knows this one word in their mother tongue or were they speaking it all along but you only know this one word?

like, it’s so weird? and makes even reading it in my head just awkward? idk. not a vibe I’m into at all.

It’s already bad enough when native speakers feel they shouldn’t include their own language in their own book, but when a book isn’t even ownvoices? Oh boy.

especially when you have bilingual or semi-bilingual characters, like, make those languages equal. it’s not as if my characters have to go find a Mexican flag before speaking any Spanish words, which is kind of that unnecessary emphasis italics puts on them, imo

Exactly! And don’t even get me started on monolingual people writing bilingual characters…

we have not the time, Anna

Sadly. Okay. Moving on. And this is something that is also very important to us & what we put a lot of emphasis on when blogging. What does ownvoices LGBT representation mean to you?

it, especially as it relates to YA, pushes a normalization of what it is to be anywhere on any of the queer spectrums. and not just as the sassy gay character or the helpful lesbian that befriends the jock, but in every sort of way we can be imagined because we are ALL of them. and OV representation pushes that in the most truthful way. it says that whoever you are is beautiful and powerful, even if you aren’t hearing it from your environment. it’s necessary. I think that, even more so, thinking of it with an intersectional mindset, like, getting those QTBIPOC stories is just so, so necessary. getting stories that are about joy are necessary and so are stories about trauma. bc we have to realize that both exist. that, just because Jennifer Garner told Simon he can breathe now doesn’t mean everyone gets that. Becky Albertalli didn’t end homophobia nor is she the beginning and end of stories like that.

You phrased it so well. And like you said, especially for teens, those kind of stories are simply vital.

truly. I think that teens being able to find stories like Darius and Juliet Takes a Breath and Aristotle and Dante could make such an important impact on young people’s lives. taking those hardships but also giving a lot of joy and growth, like, I can’t say enough about what a difference I know they’re making.

And especially the fact that those books aren’t just all happy or all sad, but that there’s balance in them! It shows teens who are reading them that yeah, we do suffer, but we also manage to triumph in the end and so might you. That balance was one of the things I loved most about Callender’s newest, Felix Ever After.

v much yes on that mixture of sad and happy. I remember Gabby Rivera speaking on the importance of both in storytelling, and, I think especially when it comes to queer storytelling, it’s part of who we are. and OMG I NEED TO FINISH FELIX

YOU DO.

but just from what I’ve read so far, hard agree.

It’s absolutely amazing, I’m in love with that book.

I’ve only heard the best things about it, and so far it’s exceeding expectation.

I wonder what comes first, frankly, the general improvement in how the society is thinking of us or books that portray us. Because in the US the LGBT rights aren’t great, but they’re not the worst they can be. And there are SO MANY books, dozens of them YA books. And comparing that to my own country, where we have one (1) good LGBT series, and where currently the discourse is that LGBT is an ideology, not a people… I wonder how would it be if we had more books, more ownvoices books. Or if we just won’t be able to get them until the society decides we maybe do have some rights.

you know, thinking on it, like, I feel this range of recent queer lit didn’t rly come to be until around the same time marriage equality started becoming a mainstream idea. I could be v wrong on that, but, if there is some statistical significance in that, it’s an interesting thought like, fully realizing marriage was just the beginning of our fight for general equality in society in this country.

At least with YA books, it’s definitely the last few years that they are booming, maybe from 2017 or something? So that could definitely correspond with marriage equality.

and, I think it’s also an interesting conversation in considering a country that is, assumingly, v white, vs parts of this country that can be not that and where those differences and similarities are in LGBTQ+ understanding.

Oh yeah, we’re like almost all white & also about 96% catholics. Okay, my last hard question: what’s one piece of advice you would like to give your younger self?

I would tell them “you’re doing fine.” looking back on it, there wasn’t a lot of authentic happiness. I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to embrace who I am as a Latinx person nor consider any of my queer identities. sometimes we’re just trying to fit into an ideal that is acceptable for our environment. and it sucked. it was tiring. but that’s my story. and the way I have been allowed and, most importantly, allowed myself to grow and love who I am, I think would make who I was ten, eleven, twelve years ago feel, at least, certain that things will get better. and that there’s no shame in just trying to survive. it doesn’t make me any less of anything that I am. which, maybe isn’t advice? more just general words of affirmation? skjsjsksk

Sometimes affirmation can be an advice too.

this is true I’m sticking with it

I was actually thinking about Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese” since yesterday, which is pretty in tune with what you said. “You do not have to be good. / You do not have to walk on your knees / for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. / You only have to let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. / Meanwhile the world goes on.”

okay but I love that? like, so much

One of my favourite poems of all time. Mary Oliver was a genius.

truly an artist of words

Now the fun part!

CLAPS WITH VIGOR

Summarise your upcoming book in up to 5 words and a meme.

oh shit. summary: drunk choices yield surprising results

OH MY GOD. That’s somehow so on brand.

and I’ll go with this meme nsjjsksj honestly, the brand is strong

So when are those arcs coming in again…?

proofs will be done by end of October, so I should know smth by November? if not sooner?

Please remember we’re friends, once you do.

OF COURSE

If (when!) your books were to be made into movies, who would you like to direct them?

anyone who was part of Vida or Gentefied. my DREAM is for Tanya Saracho, who was the showrunner for Vida, to be the one in charge of an adaptation. I’m honestly such a little shit about adaptations and I know if that conversation ever comes up, I’m gonna be the biggest hassle, but I would have no problem giving my book to her.

Inspired choice, I have to admit.

literally making my daily manifestations about it.

If you could have dinner with one member of the LGBT community, dead or alive, who would it be?

and omgggggg mm, this is a hard one. Sylvia Rivera would be so inspiring, I think. or literally any of the women from Pose, especially Indya Moore or MJ Rodriguez

Which of your characters would you most want to fight a zombie apocalypse with?

OOH. probably Rolie. he’s not afraid to post up, the quietest of Jules’ friend group, which is arguably important in that situation, and knows how to grill, so if we’re without power, we still got food.

Is there a famous franchise or simply a movie/TV show you’d like to be able to write for?

definitely Coco. a teenage Miguel? that would be INCREDIBLE.

Do you have any secret non canon ships in your books you wish people would write fics for?

a Jules and Jordan or Jules and Piña ship is probably the most obvious. but I’m up for any and all ships, tbh. there aren’t many that are out of the realm of possibility. his whole friend groups is all pretty fucking queer.

As it should be.

trulyyyyy

Okay, last question: rec us some great LGBT books you’ve read recently!

Crier’s War, especially now that the sequel is almost here! but, tbh, getting myself in a reading headspace has been difficult recently, so, I’ll include some books on my shelf I’m excited about getting to: We Unleash the Merciless Storm, The Black Flamingo, (finishing) Felix Ever After, You Should See Me In A Crown, Darius the Great Deserves Better, and Where We Go From Here.

I’m literally reading Iron Heart as we speak kjdfhskfjh Oh, I see what you’ve done there, reccing only ownvoices books…

OH MY GOD MY ACTUAL JEALOUSY I mean, at this point OV is all I read, Anna

VALID. Okay. Thank you so, so much for your time! I’ve had an absolute blast and I hope you had fun too.

yesssss this was so much fun! thank you again for the invite! maybe we’ll have to plan for a follow up once you’ve read my book or smth idk I’m just saying

inbtwn

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonny (not pronoun particular) is a product of the Great State of Texas, born and raised near and along the Gulf Coast and currently living on unceded Jumanos and Tonkawa land. They are a Sagittarius sun, Capricorn moon, and Aquarius rising; an Earth Bender (but will also accept Fire Bender only if they can be a Sun Warrior); and a proud chaotic neutral.

They are an author of young adult literature, mostly within the contemporary genre and usually #OwnVoices, inspired by their own Tejanx & Chicanx and queer identities. Whether they’re writing about coming out in a Mexican American household, immigration, mariachi, or being in a brand new place for the first time, Jonny ultimately hopes Latinx young people feel seen in their writing.

When not writing, Jonny enjoys reading, playing Dungeons and Dragons, bar hopping, listening to Selena, and spending hours on airline websites, considering all the places they might disappear to for a month if they weren’t so poor.

Follow on Goodreads | Preorder Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun 

inbtwn

3 Replies to “Author Interview: Jonny Garza Villa”

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