If these names aren’t familiar to you, then Nina Moreno is the author of Don’t Date Rosa Santos – a book I was screaming about for months on Twitter – and Alexis Castellanos the artist responsible for the amazing art pieces for the pre-order campaign!
Don’t Date Rosa Santos
Rosa Santos is cursed by the sea-at least, that’s what they say. Dating her is bad news, especially if you’re a boy with a boat.
But Rosa feels more caught than cursed. Caught between cultures and choices. Between her abuela, a beloved healer and pillar of their community, and her mother, an artist who crashes in and out of her life like a hurricane. Between Port Coral, the quirky South Florida town they call home, and Cuba, the island her abuela refuses to talk about.
As her college decision looms, Rosa collides – literally – with Alex Aquino, the mysterious boy with tattoos of the ocean whose family owns the marina. With her heart, her family, and her future on the line, can Rosa break a curse and find her place beyond the horizon?
If you weren’t aware, if you pre-ordered Don’t Date Rosa Santos you’d be sent this adorable post card plus bookplate from Nina and featuring the art of Alexis. So if you saw me yelling about Don’t Date Rosa Santos you’d know that I adore the family, the setting, and the Rosa’s struggles feeling Latina enough. And I’m also a huge fan of Alexis as these gorgeous drawings feature books like Spin the Dawn and The Tiger at Midnight (which are just the ones I have – not to mention the gorgeousness for The Candle and the Flame!).
Interview with Nina
A theme I really enjoyed was that Rosa is so incredibly dedicated and ambitious, but she’s been focused on the next thing, and hasn’t made time to savor in the moment. Can you talk about Rosa’s relationship with her future?
Rosa has been racing through high school, driven by the very real fear that because of politics she’ll lose out on her opportunity to go to Cuba. It’s not as simple as visiting for the child of exiles. When that fear is made real, and opportunities are lost, she’s forced to stop and be present and it’s in that moment that she has to figure out what she wants and why.
A big struggle for Rosa is her feelings of not being enough, not being enough for her mother, not being Latina enough, can you talk about the inspiration behind these themes? And how they evolve within the book and/or your process writing the book?
I find that so many of the questions children of diaspora share is how to carry on the pieces of our culture we know and love while constantly being questioned—internally and externally—whether we belong to a land miles or lifetimes away from us. We struggle with it in different ways and it informs so much of our art and how it is interpreted. And it’s that struggle that inspired me to write this cute seaside town as a hometown where diaspora kids would always be welcomed.
What made you want to become a writer and how has the debut process been for you?
I’ve always loved all kinds of stories—romance, teen dramas, video games, fan-fiction—but it took me a long time to realize that I could be a writer. And that I could write the sort of stories I loved. My debut year has been filled with exciting, impossible moments, and also a lot of personal heartbreak. It’s a gift to share my story with readers. One that I’ve worked really hard to achieve and hope I get to continue to write more.
How did the characters come for you? Did you always have a clear sense of who Rosa, her grandmother, and her mother were – and their stories?
Rosa came to me pretty fully-formed. I saw a girl in the early morning hours sitting on a bench with her bakery bag and cafecito as she contemplated the sea before her and pretended it was somewhere else. Her mother and abuela evolved quite a bit with the story, but the three of them were always three generations of Latinas dealing with the past, present, and future—and family curse very differently.
What was it like to see Alexis’ art for Don’t Date Rosa Santos?
Alexis and I found each other on Twitter after my book announcement. We were both Cuban-American girls from Florida in publishing and her excitement was so real and supportive. She drew her piece SAINT ROSA OF THE SEA (the original title of my book!) after I sent her an early copy of the manuscript and it absolutely blew me away. Her interpretation of the characters was so powerful. She included so many small, important touches and it beautifully captured the spirit of a story about three Cuban women and their complicated relationship to the sea and each other.
How did you decide on what format the art was going to be for the pre-order campaign? Did you have the idea before you contacted Alexis or did an idea form after you saw the artwork?
When you’re writing a story about home and diaspora, setting is a huge deal, and Alexis connected deeply with Port Coral. After she shared SAINT ROSA with me she mentioned the idea for a postcard, and I knew I wanted my pre-order campaign to feel like an invitation that welcomed readers. I commissioned her and she ran with it. Alex being Alex she dug deep and included important details (Ana-Maria in the background! Rosa’s lemon dress!) all while exploring the aesthetic of vintage postcards of Havana. She used that nostalgic, dreamy eye to paint Port Coral. And it’s perfect! I’m so lucky to count her as a friend, and Rosa is super lucky to have Alex hanging out in Port Coral with her art supplies.
Southern bruja and sleepy gemini, Nina Moreno was born and raised in Miami until a hurricane sent her family toward the pines of Georgia where she picked up an accent. She’s a proud University of Florida Gator who once had her dream job of shelving books at the library. Inspired by the folklore and stories passed down to her from her Cuban and Colombian family, she now writes about Latinas chasing their dreams, falling in love, and navigating life in the hyphen. She lives by a swamp outside of Orlando where she enjoys listening to carefully curated playlists, hunting through thrift stores, drinking too much Cuban coffee, and walking into the sea every chance she gets. DON’T DATE ROSA SANTOS is her first novel. She is represented by Laura Crockett of TriadaUs.
Interview with Alexis
What is your process for creating art based on the book? Do you always have access to the entire book first? Do you make inspiration boards?
When it comes to my personal fan art, I’ve usually read the book. Sometimes, like when Nina’s book was announced, the brief pitch that’s released is enough to inspire me. And I loved Nina’s book from the moment I read that announcement. I showered Nina with sketches after seeing it and a few months later I got to read the book and it blew me away. For commissions it can go either way. Sometimes the author will send me an ARC but usually I get a Pinterest board and some passages from the book. When I haven’t read the book I’ll often ask for particular themes, motifs, or symbols that I can weave into the illustration. I love adding Easter eggs into my pieces!
How do you handle the line between your own artistic imaginings and the ideas or visions an author might have?
I’ve been very lucky with all of my clients! Thankfully they’re fans of my artwork and they’re coming to me for my particular style and not asking me to do anything outside of my wheelhouse. I actually work best when I have a framework to build off of, so I love when an author comes to me with a clear vision for what they want the piece to look like. I have a background in theater design so I’ve had a lot of experience designing around a source material but staying true to it’s core.
How long have you been creating bookish art and what inspired your first pieces?
About two and a half years now! I stopped working in theater three years ago and I suddenly felt like I had all this free time and energy to spend. I’ve always loved drawing and painting and I decided to give it a go as a hobby and it’s grown from there. My first few pieces of fan art that I posted were for Susan Dennard’s Witchlands series. I love drawing anything that allows me to flex my architecture and fashion history knowledge and fantasy books are often a great opportunity for that. I’m a little too meticulous about it at times, I’ve actually pulled up old lecture notes from certain time periods to get period appropriate research!
What medium do you use for your art and has this changed since you began?
I lived in NYC up until last year so I didn’t really have the space to store materials. It was easier and more budget friendly for me to work digitally and I got to dust off the old Wacom tablet I’ve had since college. I have shifted from using my Wacom and Photoshop to my iPad Pro and Procreate. I like being able to work from my couch and take my work on the go
Alexis Castellanos is a Seattle-based graphic designer and illustrator. Originally from Florida, she made her way to New York City to work in theater and publishing. Now you can find her clear across the country enjoying the grey days and evergreen trees. Some of her clients include Macmillan Children’s Books, Flatiron Books, and New York Times bestselling authors Susan Dennard and Dhonielle Clayton.