I know we are all already looking at books in 2021 we are excited for next year! On my anticipated list has to be Like A Love Song by Gabriela Martins. How does a Brazilian pop star, sapphic side ships, bisexual love interest, and viral breakups sound? If you’re as excited as I am, make sure to check out Gabriela’s guest post!
You Can Expect Brazilians
I remember watching Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s talk on stories for the first time in college. Back then, I worked a 44 hours/week day job as an English teacher, and in the evenings I had 4 hour-long classes in college, every weekday. I was overworked and exhausted. I admit that I was barely paying attention to the TED talk… until she mentioned her experience writing stories through the white British lenses, mentioning food, beverage, climate, etc., that she didn’t even know firsthand.
I thought… now wait a second. You change her British references for American ones, and, yep, sure enough, that’s been my experience too.
Now let me tell you, first of all, that I have never had a pumpkin latte, but like any good southern Brazilian, I’m obsessed with chimarrão. I’ve never seen snow, and my Christmas were always spent on flip-flops, sometimes at the beach. I don’t know anything about Thanksgiving, but in the New Year’s Eve, you must skip seven waves at the beach (one for every wish you have), asking Iemanjá for her blessing for the new year to come. I also have never been to the beach without asking Iemanjá for permission to enter her waters first, or not done the sign cross when passing a Catholic church, and like most Brazilians I know, I have a complicated relationship with where my faith lies.
Before we sold my debut, LIKE A LOVE SONG, I had completed nine other manuscripts. They ranged from contemporary thrillers to dystopian fantasies, but my early works all had the same thing in common: they were about white straight Americans.
Weird, right? As a queer Latina… why was I writing about experiences that were so foreign to me? Because that kind of thing doesn’t stop at setting a story in the United States. My very first manuscript was a dystopian fantasy set in the US, but there was a political divide that I wanted to mark geographically, and I’d spend hours just trying to understand the borders of the country. Why not make a new country? Why not use Brazil as a template if I was going to recreate so much anyway?
Well, for the same reason that I didn’t write a Brazilian character into my stories until book 7.
Queer came first, by the way. Book 5 had a queer protagonist, book 7 was decidedly very queer. I think for me personally, it was easier to reconcile with queerness than it was with Latinidade, and in specific, with being Brazilian. Back then, un-agented, I’d see tons of agents asking for LGBTQIA+ stories. Some for Latinx stories, though typically only if they were Latinx themselves. But very rarely Brazilian, because there seems to be this invisible divide between us—Hispanic Latinxs, and… everyone else.
Maybe you’re like, hold on a second! I know this! Spain colonized most of Latin America, thus everyone speaks Spanish, right? Uh, yeah, Spain colonized most of the regions, but not all. Portuguese and French are also official languages of Latin America. Other languages, such as Quechua, Guaraní, Haitian Creole and Aymara (just to mention a few) are also spoken. But when the Internet talks about Latinidade (or as is in Spanish, Latinidad), Spanish is the default language, and if you don’t speak it, well, too bad. Guess you’re skipping this Latinx chat.
I didn’t feel Latina enough. Sometimes I still don’t. It’s a wild experience, knowing that technically you are part of something, but being constantly left out by your hermanxs. (By the way, where I live, there’s a huge Uruguayan, Paraguayan, and Argentinean population, especially in the summer. We call each other hermano/hermana/hermanx, and it always feels like a community, in our weird Portunhol mix of languages, getting by and understanding each other without erasing the experience of the other. Why can’t that happen as easily online as well?)
My next works featured Brazilians prominently, but I don’t think any focused on Brazilian culture and the feeling of not belonging to your own community as strongly as LIKE A LOVE SONG. When I started querying it, back then under a different title, I had mixed feelings. I knew it was a strong manuscript—perhaps my best work yet!—but I also knew maybe people wouldn’t be interested. Would they be? At the time I queried, the only YA mainstream book out by a Brazilian was Laura Pohl’s book, but that was a sci-fi and didn’t have a Brazilian main character. The question that kept haunting me wasn’t is this book good enough? but is this too Brazilian?
To my happy surprise, I had an offer. Three, actually. While one didn’t comment on that aspect of the book, the two other offering agents praised the cultural aspect of the book. They were interested in what made it so Brazilian. Sure it was a romcom, and sure it was swoony, but it was also just about this Brazilian girl finding herself.
Signing with my agent, I was still apprehensive. I was afraid she would want me to remove the dialogues in Portuguese, the struggles of broken English by non-Americans, mentions of canja, unpronounceable city names, and aspects of Brazilian culture that are very particular to this generation. Again, I was happily surprised. She only asked me to make my book even more me.
When we went on sub, I was scared again. My agent curated an amazing editor list, but… I was hesitant. Too many wins one right after the other, right? I’d gotten feedback before that, from other agents, from editors of anthologies in the past. Too Brazilian. Why is the character named like that? Readers can’t sympathize with characters whose names they can’t pronounce. Did you have to make that character Brazilian? What purpose does that serve the plot?
I’m lucky, and also my agent knows the best editors. My editor turned out to be not only super supportive of everything that was already in my book, she, again, wanted to amplify my voice even more. There were no big plot cuts, no change of the voice. It wasn’t too Brazilian, whatever that meant. She was on board. The full team was.
The full… team…. was. Do you know what that means? My book was going to get published. I mean, it is. My Brazilian book with casual queerness is going to get published.
Some days, I’m still afraid. There will always be gatekeepers. I’m afraid of the reviews, I’m afraid of what my colleagues will say. I’m afraid it’ll be “unrelatable”. I’m afraid someone will catch on how Brazilian it is, and alert everyone else, that nobody’s ever cared about Brazilians except for Brazilians before, so why start now?
I don’t know, man. So far, I’m going undetected. People seem to be excited about my book. And I think I might get away with it. Publish an unapologetic Brazilian book… and then keep doing it.
Because whatever happens going forward, this much I can promise you: from my writing, you can expect Brazilians.
About the Author
GABRIELA MARTINS is a Brazilian kidlit author and linguist. Her stories feature Brazilian characters finding themselves and love. She was a high school teacher and has also worked as a TED Ed-Club facilitator, where she helped teens develop their own talks in TED format to present. She edited and self-published a pro-bono LGBTQ+ anthology (KEEP FAITH) with all funds going to queer people in need. Gabriela also used to host monthly webinars with themes ranging from Linguistics in Fiction to Self-Care for Writers. She was recently selected as a Pitch Wars mentor for 2020. Her debut, LIKE A LOVE SONG (Underlined/PRH) comes out in summer 2021. Find her on Twitter at @gabhimartins, on Instagram at @gabhi, and visit her website at gabrielawrites.com.