Friday, July 28, 2017

Q&A with Lilliam Rivera

Lilliam Rivera, photo by Julian Sambrano Jr.
Lilliam Rivera is the author of the new young adult novel The Education of Margot Sanchez. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Tin House and Tahoma Literary Review, and she lives in Los Angeles.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Education of Margot Sanchez, and for your main character, Margot?

A: The idea for the novel came to me somewhat from my own experience. My first job at 14 years old was working with my father. My father worked as a nursing aide in a private hospital in Manhattan.

At that time, I really looked up to my father. He could do no wrong. Although we never really worked in the same department, I did get to see him. It was the first time that I saw him doing humbling work. He took care of mentally handicapped children.

I got to see him in quite a different light. He became human, if that makes any sense. I tried to capture that moment in a teenager’s life when you see your parents for the first time, flaws and all.

Q: How was the novel’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: I actually did not come up with the title. The title was done by the great editorial assistant Mikesha Tayler over at Simon & Schuster. The original title I had was "My Shelf Life" but I love this one. It brings to mind the classic Lauryn Hill album "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill."

And the title says it all: Margot Sanchez is definitely going to be schooled over the course of a summer.

Q: Gentrification in the Bronx is one of the themes of the book—why did you choose to focus on that?

A: I chose to focus on gentrification because it is a real thing that is happening right now. I live in Los Angeles but visit my family in the Bronx at least three times a year. I get to see the change and it is extreme. The Bronx is the last frontier. Working-class families will be unable to afford to live there and where will they go?

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the novel?

A: I hope they get to experience a bit of the Bronx and its beauty. Summers in the Bronx were always intense, hot, crowded, and magical. That is what I hoped to capture in my novel.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have a second young adult novel set in the near-future South Bronx. Dealing in Dreams is set in a world where girl gangs rule the streets.

If you liked The Outsiders and the movie Mad Max: Fury Road, I think you will like this novel. It’s action-packed and it really touches upon the desperation of wanting to find a home and how we create our own families.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: If I’m not working on novels, I’m always submitting short stories. I have a couple of them online. I feel if you are a writer, there is always something to write about. If the novel isn’t working for me, I try my luck with a short story. There are so many stories I want to write so I can never really truly get bored. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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