An Interview with Anjanette Delgado, by Andy Ross

by Anjanette Delgado


 

 

Anjanette Delgado

Novelist, Journalist, Teacher

About me

I wrote my first “novel” when I was eleven years old. It was titled California Girl and spoke of the things that make people want to write: heartbreak, fear, and the joys of discovering a better life. Of crime in my native Puerto Rico, and of the domestic violence and divorce that caused the female members of my family to escape to New York City, where I was lucky to learn English before returning home. My little novel gave me a lot of joy, but it didn’t win the contest when  my sixth grade teacher submitted it on my behalf.  

I became a journalist, receiving my B.S. in Mass Communications from The University of Puerto Rico in 1991. My first job consisted of translating ABC feeds at the largest television station in the country. Soon, I was promoted to producer and excelled at telling long-form, detailed stories. I was always drawn to the theme of women. Women overcoming, women changing, women dying, women loving.

In 1993, in an effort to escape the relentless crime wave that made me look under beds and inside cupboards before locking my door, I moved to Atlanta with my two baby daughters. I did not have a job offer. Just the promise of an unpaid internship at CNN that (thankfully) turned into a writing job and then a producer’s job.  Subsequently I moved to Miami as a producer for NBC. Later, as a senior producer for Univision, I won my first Emmy Award for a human-interest series called Madres en la Lejanía about Hispanic women who had made the choice of  leaving their own children behind to come work as nannies in the United States. I am so proud of that story. It had joy and heartbreak and felt like  the kind of  novel you just can't get out of your head.

I knew then that I wanted to keep crafting stories about women and that the daily news cycle was not the place.  I continued writing for magazines such as Urban Latino, Vogue Latam, and Siempre Mujer. I also produced television stories for MGM, CNN, Telemundo, Univision, and NBC, and wrote a screenplay titled Great in Bed,  and later developed a series based on this  script for HBO Latam. That series is currently in development.

Since then, I’ve held many positions in broadcast media: reporter, writer, senior and executive producer, director of program development, and my current position as lead digital creative for NBC’s Telemundo Station Group. Over the years, I’ve developed close working relations with major media figures who would love to support my new book as they did my first. Friends in  print, online, and TV national media such as: Vogue, CNN, NBC, MSNBC NPR, Univision, Telemundo, Meredith,  Ladies Home Journal, and Siempre Mujer ( where  I was an arts editor),  to name only a few. Many of these colleagues are bestselling authors and high profile media personalities and would be happy to promote and/or blurb my book.

In the late 1990s, I, obtained a degree in Training & Instructional Design from Florida International University’s  School of Business.   I began teaching for the United Nations program which helps journalists working in difficult ethical environments across the globe. I also  have lectured to  and conducted  classes for telenovela writers for Telemundo and   aspiring novelists for the Florida Literary Arts Center.  I have developed a close relationship with the staff of Mitch Kaplan's, Books and Books, who’ve taught me how to market by partnering with independent bookstores.

In 2008,  I wrote my first novel, The Heartbreak Pill. I composed it in my native language, Spanish,  and translated it into English. It was published in English and Spanish in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico by Atria Books. A Mexican  edition was acquired and published  in 2012 by Ediciones B. An audiobook that I narrated was published in 2011 by Recorded Books, and a project for a  television movie or series was optioned by Rainforest Films (Lifetime Television, Disney) this year.

The novel won the   International Latino Book Award for  Best Romance Novel  first prize for the  English language edition in  2009  and for the  Spanish edition  in  2010. I also received  the organization’s “Books into Movies” first prize for Romance Comedy in 2011. I had the great honor of presenting both editions of my novel at the Miami Book Fair, and have been invited to present its Mexican edition at the Guadalajara Book Fair, the largest in the world.  I also spoke to 400 women at the National Hispanic Women’s Conference and to over 200 at last year’s Hispana Leadership Institute.

I have also worked as an acquisitions editor for Santillana USA, the country’s top Spanish-language publisher. This experience taught me  about book promotion and the importance of platform.  

While writing The Clairvoyant of Calle Ocho, I received my MFA in Creative Writing from Florida International University. I wrote Clairvoyant originally in English and I hope to  translate it into Spanish.

I continue writing and publishing essays, stories, and poems. My work has appeared in Vogue, and Pure Francis Literary Journal, as well as on NPR.  While my media relationships, education, and writing experience are valuable, I feel that what I have learned about the digital world and the many promotional and community-building tools available to authors is just as valuable in creating a growing readership as I move  forward in  what I hope will be my new career as a writer  of  popular women's fiction.

Interview with Anjanette Delgado

Andy: Anja, could you tell us a little bit about The Clairvoyant of Calle Ocho?

Anja: Sure thing.  It's  a novel about overcoming regret. It tells the story of Mariela Valdes, who discovered she was clairvoyant in her teens, but renounced her gift when she failed to foresee her mother’s fatal illness. When her lover is found dead mere yards from her front door, she embarks on a quest to solve the mystery of his death, regain her gift for knowing, and free herself of the fear that has kept her from “seeing” her way to happiness.

Though the novel contains a murder, it is not primarily a murder mystery. Instead, crime is just the catalyst for the unraveling of the motivations, secrets, and true characters of a small community. As Mariela conquers her fear of seeing, she discovers the importance of sisterhood among women and comes to a new definition of marriage, infidelity, and forgiveness. But I don't want to give the wrong impression. This really is a commercial novel. Mariela's voice is very accessible and should appeal to a wide range of women readers.

Andy: What are some of the themes in the novel that inspired you when you were writing it?

Anja: So many… The choices we make in life and how they lead to heartbreak or happiness.  I also wanted to make a case for the sisterhood among women, and not the easy kind that shows itself in friendship, but the more difficult one that arises in spite of problematic situations such as infidelity. Finally, I wanted to set the story in the world of the new bohemia that is not so much conditioned by class or money, but  is more about independence and the growing access to culture and art that the digital era has given us.  As Mariela’s mom used to say “like Greenwich Village before it knew it was cool.”

Andy: It's pretty clear to me that in spite of the complex themes you spoke of above, the genre is right in the sweet spot between commercial and literary women's fiction. But it seems to skirt other genres as well. There are elements of paranormal and  crime, for instance.     I'm sure your work in the media has made you aware of these genres. How did this play into your development of the story?

Anja: I love the novels of Dame Muriel Spark, Michael Chabon, and Daphne DuMaurier. I love that even though they may have elements of this or that, they couldn’t really be pigeonholed into any one clear-cut genre. Their novels are unique, with the delicious mix of themes that transcend the writer’s agenda and make the stories they tell feel true to life.

I definitely strive for that effect in my novels. With Clairvoyant, it was tricky because there is a murder. It’s hard to trump murder.

Andy: Your previous novel, The Heartbreak Pill, was the winner of the International Latino Book Award for Best Romance Novel for both the Spanish language and the English language editions. What was it about that novel that so impressed the judges?

Anja: One of the judges told me that what she loved most was that even though there was what she considered an implausible premise at the center of the story, by the time she finished reading, the characters, details, and rules of the world in the novel made her feel that a heartbreak pill was not only possible, but that one should be created immediately. I thought that was pretty cool. Other judges commented on the originality of the novel’s take on heartbreak, and all agreed on the clear, engaging, likeable voice of the protagonist. I agree on this last one. I felt Erika was the smart, amazing friend I wanted to have, the better woman I wished I was.

Andy: I feel that Clairvoyant is a much better book. It has the serious themes that you spoke of above, the narrator is more engaging, your portrayal of place is superb,  and the story is more convincing and realistic to me even with the paranormal elements. That's just my opinion.  How do you feel this book compares with your first?

Anja: Clairvoyant was a much more deliberate attempt to create a story about something I knew nothing about. With this novel, I focused on craft, treating each sentence as a unit, and trying to convey the doubt, horror, and insecurity of not knowing, not seeing, not connecting. Some might conclude that Mariela’s problems are all in her mind, but she does not feel that way and, as the chapters progress, you begin feeling her desperation and her fear, but also her resourcefulness and strength of heart.

Andy: I was really astonished to learn that this is the first novel that you wrote originally in English. You wrote  Heartbreak in Spanish and only later translated it into English. What struck me when I first read Clairvoyant was the pitch perfect and extremely engaging  voice of a native English speaking Latina narrator. Tell us about how writing a novel is different in English than in Spanish and what were the challenges in writing Clairvoyant in your second language?

Anja: In my case, it’s not so much about writing it in English or Spanish, but about writing while knowing that I’ll be translating that novel and having to figure out how to be true to the story in both languages. This makes it difficult because the part of my brain that functions in the other language tries to act as a premature editor, always threatening the process and trying to figure out if the thing not yet fully created will work in that other language. This is what happened with Clairvoyant. While Hector was haunting Mariela. I was dealing with my own annoying ghost, begging it to shut up and allow me the peace to figure out how Hector died and which of the women in his life had ultimately done him in.

Andy:  what were the challenges in writing Clairvoyant in your second language?

Anja: This novel kicked my butt at first. Here’s an example, when I hear the F word in English, I know it’s not exactly the Queen’s English, but it doesn’t make me cringe. However certain words in Spanish, like those used to vulgarly describe genitalia, will make me contract inside myself. I can’t help it. I feel those words. I know exactly how hard they land, and I can make decisions as to where to use them and for what. I can be as precise as I want to.  In English there’s a layer of removal between a word’s deepest meaning and my ability to feel something about it.  , I found  it much harder to use words to their fullest potential. So, I had to work extra hard… I had to say the words out loud as Mariela… and then as Hector… and then as Olivia, and try to hear them as they heard them, they beingcharacters, but also as my imaginary reader would hear them. I drove myself crazy. (Is this word hurtful enough? Can this sentence make her cry?)In a word, it was very difficult.  I guess only the reader can decide if I succeeded.