Author Spotlight: Michelle Ruiz Keil talks All of Us With Wings
I'm excited to spotlight Michelle Ruiz Keil on today's blog! Michelle is a Latinx author and playwright with an eye for the enchanted and a way with animals. She has been a fellow at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and Lit Camp and studied at Hedgebrook with author Ruth Ozeki. Her short fiction can be found in Cosmonauts Avenue and the forthcoming anthology Color Outside The Lines. All of Us With Wings is her first novel.
Check out the synopsis below!
Michelle Ruiz Keil’s YA fantasy debut about love, found family, and healing is an ode to post-punk San Francisco through the eyes of a Mexican-American girl.
Seventeen-year-old Xochi is alone in San Francisco, running from her painful past: the mother who abandoned her, the man who betrayed her. Then one day, she meets Pallas, a precocious twelve-year-old who lives with her rockstar family in one of the city’s storybook Victorians. Xochi accepts a position as Pallas’s live-in governess and quickly finds her place in the girl’s tight-knit household, which operates on a free-love philosophy and easy warmth despite the band’s growing fame.
But on the night of the Vernal Equinox, as a concert afterparty rages in the house below, Xochi and Pallas perform a riot-grrrl ritual in good fun, accidentally summoning a pair of ancient beings bound to avenge the wrongs of Xochi’s past. She would do anything to preserve her new life, but with the creatures determined to exact vengeance on those who’ve hurt her, no one is safe—not the family Xochi’s chosen, nor the one she left behind.
And now, here's my chat with Michelle!
Hi, Michelle! Welcome and congrats on the release of All of Us With Wings. Can you share a little about the story and what inspired it?
Hi Megan! Thanks so much for having me! All of Us With Wings began as dare from the teen students at my daughters’ Free School. They wanted to try NaNoWriMo and roped me in to help facilitate. We all brought in four possible plots and I vowed to write whichever one they chose. That NaNo project became All of Us With Wings.
Did the age gap between your two main characters (with Xochi being 17, and Pallas, 12) make the POV switches easier, or more challenging?
Wow, that’s a great question, but a hard one to answer. I don’t think their age difference helped or hindered, really. Multiple POVs feels very natural to me, probably because of my experience as an actor and a playwright. My family says I “breathe funny” when I’m writing. I think it’s because I’m unconsciously breathing with the characters. It probably comes out of my acting training. The other thing I do is read everything I write aloud and with feeling. I have to do the voices to get it to sound right. That’s really the most challenging thing--reading it over and over till the characters sound like themselves to me.
What does your writing process look like? Are you a plotter, panster, or something in between?
I’m a partial pantser. First, I just pants it until I get a certain amount of story down. Then I research. I follow rabbit holes, read odd things that feel connected to the story, try to ferret out the themes in what I’ve written through fairy tales, music and old movies. Those things show me the connections I’m trying to make and help me figure out how to shape the story and finally finish it. At that point, I use mythic structure as a guide. My very favorite is from the book The Virgin’s Promise, which offers an alternative story structure to The Hero’s Journey. It’s meant for screenwriting but it’s brilliant for any kind of storytelling.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing All of Us With Wings teach you?
It taught me to be kinder to myself. Like me MC Xochi, I had a rough transition to adulthood. I was hard on myself about that—disappointed I hadn’t finished high school with my peers and gone to my ideal ivy-covered college. All of Us With Wings taught me to honor the rights of passage I made for myself and love and accept the girl I was at seventeen as well as the woman I am today.
What are you reading, watching, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
I’m blown away what an amazing time it is for Latinx writers in YA right now. I’ve read so many gorgeous books this year—We Set The Dark on Fire, Dealing in Dreams, Don’t Date Rosa Santos, The Grief Keeper, The Tenth Girl. I could go on! I’m also loving seeing POC in stories where we haven’t seen them before, like in the Netflix time travel movie See You Yesterday. I’m also freaking out about plant sentience after reading The Hidden Lives of Trees.
And finally, what’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned (so far) in your publishing career?
Find your kindred spirits! This is an intense business and you need your allies. For me, author friends and groups like Las Musas (a collective of debut and sophomore Latinx kidlit authors) have made all the difference.
Many thanks go out to Michelle for taking the time to tell us more about All of Us With Wings. Be to sure to add this fantastical YA to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy (WRITE) NOW from retail sites like Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, or request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!
And, as always,