Monday, September 28, 2020

TBR: Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories by Donna Miscolta

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe.


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?


Against the backdrop of the Cold War and civil rights eras, Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories delivers the milestones of American girlhood—slumber parties, training bras, proms—through the eyes of “brown, skinny, and bespectacled” Angie, who learns early that pageant winners, cheerleaders, and the Juliets in school plays are always white, and that big vocabularies are useless in navigating cliques and clubs. Living Color traces Angie’s formation as a writer, from the diffident, earnest child who jots down new words in a notebook to the emboldened high school student publishing unpopular opinions in her new “loud-enough-to-be-heard” voice.


Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?


I loved creating Angie Rubio, endowing her with all of my insecurities but also giving her a sort of innocence – not a blamelessness or goodness – but an earnestness with which she pursues her goal of finding where she fits within her family, among her classmates, and in the larger world.


I had some trouble with Angie’s nemesis Judy Wiekamp. It was easy to paint her as Angie’s antithesis, but I had to remember that Judy had to have depth, had to be faceted, had to have humanity so that she wasn’t a caricature. I hope I succeeded. At any rate, I think the thorny relationship between Angie and Judy consists of complex, layered behaviors rather than breezy, one-note exchanges. While most of the revelatory moments belong to Angie, there are subtle insights into Judy as a full human being.


Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


The lows were what many of us experience – rejections or unanswered queries that make you question yourself and your work. You’re about to give up or at least take a break from querying and submitting when you hear back from the small press you thought would be a good fit for your book. Relief, gratitude, and delight ensue. Jaded Ibis Press’s mission to publish “socially engaged literature with an emphasis on the voices of people of color, people with disabilities, and other historically silenced and culturally marginalized voices” corresponds precisely to who my protagonist is and what my book is about. That is definitely a high.


 What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


I like to remind myself often of these words attributed to Cynthia Ozick: Play what feeble notes you can and keep practicing. It acknowledges the self-doubt we all feel but implies reward through persistence.


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?


Each story reflects a different year in Angie’s life, which means a slightly different way of looking at the world and Angie’s response to it. I was surprised at how comfortable it felt to write from Angie’s point of view as she progressed from year to year, grade to grade, each time confronting some new challenge or obstacle. What surprised me the most was that I wasn’t entirely aware that each story had at some level Angie’s inclinations as a writer, each story contributed to that not entirely visible aspect of Angie’s make-up. It wasn’t until the penultimate story that this was so plainly revealed.



What’s something about your book that you want readers to know?


Almost every story contains some little nugget from my life. It’s the most semi-autobiographical thing I’ve written. And yet, it was so easy to separate myself from Angie and to let her take on a life and personality of her own. At the same time, I could still identify with her awkwardness, her mortifications, and her deep desire to find herself and her way in life. Even if my readers don’t happen to have had the experience of growing up as a skinny, brown girl, my hope is that they will connect with her as she negotiates the obstacles of microaggressions and her own wobbly self-esteem to emerge determined to claim a path for herself.



Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book?


Unfortunately, school lunches and cafeteria fare are the foods primarily featured in the book – bologna sandwiches, little side bowls of steamed-to-death peas, dust-crumbly cookies, that sort of thing. Also, there are the menu choices at Bob’s Big Boy mentioned in one story. There is a bit of haute cuisine at the French restaurant Angie and her prom date go to where they eat “garlicky, squishy things.”








READ AN EXCERPT, “First Confession”:



DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.