When Julieta’s summer writing teacher encourages the class to publish their work online, the last thing she’s expecting is to get a notification that her rom-com has a mysterious new contributor, Happily Ever Drafter. As things start to heat up in her fiction, she can’t help but notice three boys in her real life: her best friend’s brother (aka her nemesis), the boy next door (well, to her abuela), and her oldest friend (who is suddenly looking . . . hot?). Could one of them be her mysterious collaborator? We had the honour of chatting with Maria E Andreu about her You’ve Got Mail-inspired YA novel, Julieta and the Romeos.
Julieta and the Romeos has a You’ve Got Mail vibe to it. When did you decide to do a story with this style?
I’ve always loved the idea of people falling for each other sight unseen, being intrigued by words and stories instead of that first physical spark. That’s what was fun about You’ve Got Mail… they got into each other because of what was at their core, even though their identities in life might have kept them apart. So I started playing with a modern-day version of that.
And actually, were you worried that readers might be too young to have watched the movie?
Not really. What’s cool about young readers today is that they’re much more sophisticated and well-rounded than when I was their age. With streaming and social media, they have a much broader sampling of references to pull from. Even people who haven’t seen the movie tend to know its basic premise.
Julieta got into a summer writing school and it’s very fun to learn with her. Have you ever joined a writing camp like this?
I’ve had a lot of great writing classes, but I didn’t get to do anything like what Julieta does in this camp when I was in high school. In my first book Love in English, I wrote the English Language Learners program I wish I’d had when I didn’t speak English. In Julieta, I invented the high school writing program I wish I’d had.
Any advice for those who seek comfort in writing but might not have the opportunity to attend such writing classes?
I started my writing career when classes were mostly in-person and, based on where I was in my life, I didn’t have a lot of extra cash to spend on expensive writing instruction. So I can really relate to this one. The good news is that the internet is the great equalizer when it comes to access to writing instruction today. Many of your favorite authors may have online writing classes so you can learn what they do. There are cheap or free classes online in various schools and organizations. And there’s nothing quite like finding buddies who are also developing their skills and trading pages with them. This goes for any endeavor in which you want to improve. You can find friends and colleagues online as you grow.
Throughout Julieta and the Romeos, we get to see Julieta and her mysterious writing partner’s writing. What was it like writing as them vs writing as yourself?
When you spend a lot of time with a character, you begin to think in their voice. At least I do. It takes some doing to create two or more distinct voices at one time. With the collaborator, I also had to do enough to give them a unique perspective but not give away too much about their identity. So it was a process to get there.
The bond between Julieta and her family is very lovely to read, esp the way you wrote about the effects of the pandemic. Why did you decide to address pandemic this way in Julieta and the Romeos?
Thank you for noticing this. It was something I took a lot of care with. I didn’t want to write a book that would come out right after the pandemic and pretend it never happened. When I knew Julieta’s family would own a restaurant, this was particularly important because I know how small businesses struggled during this time. But it’s a romance at its heart, so I also didn’t want to weigh it down. I wanted to include it as a shared reality without making it too focal. A lot of the references to the pandemic in the book are oblique, and most of the effects of the pandemic happen off the page. Still, I wanted to honor this shared experience we’ve all had without making it too central, since this isn’t a pandemic book at all. It was a balance I had to fine-tune over time.
And of course, thanks for making us hungry by including so much Argentinian cuisine. If you could pick one dish for all Americans/Brits to try, which would you pick?
This is a tough question! I love all of it, of course. If I absolutely had to pick one, it would be a pastry, likely an alfajor. It’s two crumbly cookies with dulce de leche in between. Yum!