While perusing Matt de la Peña‘s bio (I investigate all my interviewees to learn their weak spots), I discovered that he went to college on a full basketball scholarship. Well, whoopty-doo! Allow me to phrase this in a way that Mr. de la Peña will understand. He may think he’s burst off the baseline of publishing with a quadruple-double of acclaimed books leading up to his latest buzzer beater from the paint: the YA thriller The Living. But this ball hog will be a benchwarmer after my pack-line defense hits him with a blindside screen so bad he suffers a 24-second violation at halfcourt and okay I have no clue what in the hell I’m saying anymore.
Point is: Game on!
Just who do you think you are?
See, here’s where it gets interesting. I’m a half Mexican, love-advice-giving, two-finger typer. It’s sad that I don’t know my “HOME ROW” keys—actually, who am I kidding. I’m quite graceful with two fingers. And fast. I should make a video and post it on YouTube. I’ve typed up five YA novels that way. But enough about the novels. Are you having relationship problems? ‘Cause I’m kind of your guy.
Where do you get off?
Brooklyn, NY. At the Brooklyn Writers Space, to be exact. I pay a hundred bucks a month for the right to sit in a cube with a couple dozen other writers (most writers are busters, by the way, avoid them if you can – no, really) and type up my books. With two fingers. I have a brand new baby girl in my life. Luna. And she doesn’t like it when I type at home. She prefers to wail in my ear while I hold her. So I have to take my show on the road. I’ve been writing books at the BWS for six years now. Man, time flies. I’ve only spoken to one other person in all that time. It wasn’t pleasant.
What’s the big idea?
It has been my dream since day one for my tiny little stories about mixed-race kids, growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks,” to end up in the hands of mixed-race kids growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks.” It’s a powerful thing to see yourself in a book. Empowering, I think. But over the past couple years I’ve expanded my dream a bit. Pushy, I know. I now want my tiny little stories about mixed-race kids to end up in the hands of middle-class suburban white kids, too. It’s equally powerful to see yourself in a book being read by the “haves.” It’s a silent revolution I’m secretly trying to nudge along. Books with diverse characters in the hands of everyone.
It’s my teeth, if you really wanna know. I chipped one of my bottom incisors in a skateboarding accident at age eleven. Got it capped a week later. Then I went and got in a fight on a basketball court in high school and some dude we called “Hagler” (as in Marvelous Marvin) (as in not the guy you wanna fight) punched me in the mouth (I highly recommend not getting punched in the mouth). The cap popped right off. A month later I got a new one. When I moved to NY (post grad school) I took an elbow playing pick-up hoops and watched my precious cap skip across the hardwood. Thing is, I didn’t have health insurance during that stretch so I said screw it and left my grill looking sort of mangled. Haven’t got around to fixing it since. Also, I wrote a book called The Living which I really hope people read. It involves a massive earthquake. And a sunken cruise ship.
Haven’t you done enough?
Not yet. But sometimes I feel like I’m getting closer to starting. Yesterday, at a rough junior high in Newark, NJ, I signed about 100 books for students. One girl (frizzy braids, soiled jeans, messed up teeth like mine) took her copy and looked at it and then looked at me and said: “Ain’t you gonna ask for MY autograph, mister?”
Her girls laughed and laughed and said: “Now why he gonna want your autograph, dum-dum? You ain’t famous!”
Normally I would have laughed it off, too, but I saw her face.
Instead I handed this girl my Sharpie and held out the inside of my forearm and told her: “Hell yeah I want your autograph, sister. I don’t have a piece of paper so why don’t you just write it here, on my skin.”
‘Cause maybe that’s what it takes to be someone when you come from nothing.