Half Outlaw: A Conversation with Alex Temblador
Hello dear readers!
Today I'd like to share a conversation I recently had with one of my favorite authors, Alex Temblador. Her latest novel, Half Outlaw, releases today, July 12.
Ericka McIntyre: Tell us about your latest novel, Half Outlaw. What inspired it? How long did it take you to write? Why is this story so important to you to tell?
Alex Temblador: I always knew that I wanted to tell a story about a Mixed woman. As a half-Mexican, half white woman, I’ve long noticed a lack of diverse stories about Mixed people written by Mixed authors. We are one of the fastest growing populations, which means so many families, have Mixed people in them.
When my uncle called me a ‘half outlaw’ in 2014, I was instantly struck by the phrase. It reminded me of how people are always asking me, “What are you?” or “What’s your race?” and how I would reply, “half Mexican, half white.” I sat down the week after and wrote one chapter, which is now the second chapter of the book. My uncle was the inspiration for the initial ideas of the novel like how Raqi, who is also half Mexican, half white is sent to live with a white uncle who raises her. Because my uncle rode motorcycles, I was inspired to include an outlaw motorcycle club in the book. The story took on a life of its own from there.
I must admit that I left that single chapter of Half Outlaw on my computer for three more years. It wasn’t until 2017 – after I sold Secrets of the Casa Rosada – that I was ready to complete Half Outlaw. I used to say that I wrote the first draft in anger which is why it only took me a month and a half to complete it. But after a year of therapy, I know that I wrote it in pain.
After the 2016 election, I was having a hard time with the fact that many of my white family members voted for Trump. I know a lot of people dealt with this too, but because I’m Mixed, there was a racial component to the situation that I experienced that most people did not. I recently saw an IG post that read, “Don’t tell someone you love them and then vote for someone who will hurt them.” It accurately sums up the mindset I was in when writing the book.
I think this story was important to tell because it highlights some of the experiences that Mixed people have among monoracial family members. I wanted Mixed people’s experiences to be validated through my story, but also, I hope that people with Mixed family members take note of how their actions, words, or beliefs can impact their loved ones. Maybe Half Outlaw will help some families heal, maybe it will make Mixed readers feel seen, or maybe it will bring to light some complexities of love, identity, and trauma. Either way, I hope you enjoy it.
EM: I adored your first novel, Secrets of the Casa Rosada. This novel is YA, whereas Half Outlaw is for adults–what are the differences between writing YA and adult fiction? Why did you choose one over the other?
AT: What’s funny is that I didn’t set out to write Secrets of the Casa Rosada as a young adult novel. In the first draft, I had alternating chapters with half of them featuring Martha at 16 years old and the other half with Martha in her 70s. It was only after defending Secrets as my MFA in Creative Writing thesis that I took out the chapters that featured Martha in her 70s, upon astute advice from professors.
When you read Half Outlaw, you’ll notice that I attempted this kind of structure again with more success. The chapters alternate between Raqi’s childhood and the present setting of 1990 when she’s in her early 30s.
I always wanted to be an adult fiction writer because it’s the genre that I read most often, but I can say with confidence that Secrets was better told as a young adult novel. Looking back, I’m very happy that it was marketed in that genre. The YA community is so supportive with vast opportunities like conferences and school visits. I learned so much about the business of being an author and I don’t know I would have had that opportunity if Secrets had been an adult fiction novel.
With Half Outlaw, I was able to tap into the YA writing voice in the chapters that feature Raqi’s childhood. The themes and subjects of Half Outlaw are far heavier than those in Secrets but in choosing to tell the story across different moments of Raqi’s life, I think I found a way to crossover well from YA to adult.
EM: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
AT: After my first book was published, my aunt found a letter I’d written when I was eight years old to an author that was visiting her library (she was a librarian). In the letter, I told the author I wanted to be a writer like her one day. This surprised me because I can’t remember wanting to be a writer at that early of an age. Although I started writing novels in ninth grade, I saw writing as kind of a side-gig, not something that I could do full-time or should even seriously pursue. It wasn’t until I took a short story writing class my second year of college that I said aloud, “I want to be a writer.” After that I got my MFA in Creative Writing, became a full-time freelance travel, arts, and culture writer after graduation, and then went on to become an author a handful of years after that.
EM: If you work with an agent, how did you find them? If not, how did you find your publisher(s)?
AT: My agent is Mary C. Moore of Kimberly Cameron & Associates. We’ve been working together since 2017. I don’t exactly recall where I found Mary, but I believe I came across her information on MS Wishlist and saw that she was seeking stories by and about Latinas. I had sent her a manuscript of Secrets of the Casa Rosada and she was in the process of reading it when I got offered a publishing deal by Arte Publico Press.
Prior to this, I had sent the manuscript out to nearly 100 different agents and although I got some interest and even praise for my storytelling, no one wanted to represent my novel. On the advice of one of my previous MFA Creative Writing instructors, I submitted Secrets to two small publishers that didn’t require literary agent representation. Arte Publico Press contacted me three weeks later.
I could have done the deal with Arte Publico Press without a literary agent, but I really wanted representation because I knew it would benefit me in the long run. And also – what did I know of book contracts? I reached out to Mary and told her about the offer. After a phone call and talking to one of her clients, we decided to move forward with her as my literary agent.
Of course, this isn’t the most traditional way of acquiring a literary agent or a publisher, but I’m glad it happened as it did. Mary and I have had a great working relationship for five years. We have similar personalities, and I can always trust that she’s got my best interest at heart.
EM: What advice do you have for someone trying to publish their first novel?
AT: One of the best pieces of advice that I can give is to say that you don’t have to publish in the ‘traditional way.’ By this, I’m not meaning self-publishing (but if that’s the route for you, go for it). I’m saying that if you have a hard time finding a literary agent or a publisher, look for alternative ways to go about obtaining those goals. For instance, I didn’t know that I could directly submit to certain publishers until someone told me. I thought I had to have a literary agent who then submitted to publishers for me. After my first book was published, I talked to a lot of different authors I met at conferences and learned that many writers take non-conventional paths to publication. Some have been discovered through their short stories in literary magazines or articles they wrote for websites. One author even got a literary agent by hiring NYC literary agents to edit her query letter through Craigslist – which is genius! EM: What is your favorite part of the writing life? What is your least favorite?
AT: My favorite part of being a writer is connecting with readers over the stories I’ve written. It’s so nice to hear how your work affected the reader or the themes and storylines they enjoyed the most. Although you’ve worked with the story for so long, it really takes on a life of its own in the hands of readers and I’m always interested in hearing what spoke to them.
On the other hand, I hate how long it takes for a book to be published. I’m such an impatient person and it can be frustrating to go out on submission for upwards of a year. Then when your book is acquired by a publisher, it often takes two years for it to be published. I understand why this is the case -- publishers need to spread out the publication of novels and you need time to edit the book, create the cover design, print the book, and conduct marketing surrounding the launch. But again – I’m naturally impatient. And by the time my next book comes out, I’ve already written another one and can barely remember the details of the story that is being published. Which reminds me… I better go re-read Half Outlaw.
EM: Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
AT: I’d love to invite writers and readers to join me and my literary agent for a discussion on July 12, the official pub day of Half Outlaw. WritingWorkshops.com, a company that offers creative writing classes and seminars, will be hosting the discussion in connection with Interabang Books. My literary agent, Mary C. Moore, and I will be talking about our author and agent relationship and the entire writing and publishing process of Half Outlaw from start to finish. If you pre-order a copy of Half Outlaw on the Interabang event page, you will receive a signed copy AND have a chance to win a Half Outlaw swag bag, which includes a free one-hour writing/author consultation with me.
If you live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, please join me for two in-person events in celebration of Half Outlaw. On July 13, Whose Books will be hosting my launch party at Oak Cliff Brewing Company at 7:00 pm, and on August 10 at 7:30 p.m., I’ll be the featured writer of the Inner Moonlight event at The Wild Detectives.
Follow me on my website (AlexTemblador.com) or social media (@Alex_Temblador) to stay up to date on events, writing classes I offer, and new books.