As we celebrate contemporary fantasy spooky books with our giveaway this week, I’m excited to interview one of our newer Spooky Middle Grade authors, Adrianna Cuevas. Adrianna’s debut novel is the fantastically fun and spooky THE TOTAL ECLIPSE OF NESTOR LOPEZ, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in July.
Adrianna Cuevas is a first-generation Cuban-American originally from Miami, Florida. A former Spanish and ESOL teacher, Adrianna currently resides in Austin, Texas with her husband and son. When not working with TOEFL students, wrangling multiple pets including an axolotl, and practicing fencing with her son, she is writing her next middle grade novel.
Hey, Adrianna! I’m so happy you’ve joined this group. Tell us about your book THE TOTAL ECLIPSE OF NESTOR LOPEZ…
The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez is about a boy from a military family who’s used to moving to a new town every few years. When he finally gets the chance to live with his grandmother in New Haven, Texas, his one goal is to make sure that no one finds out his biggest secret- he can talk to animals. But when a tule vieja, a witch that can transform into animals, starts threatening his new home, Nestor must decide whether to risk revealing his secret to save his friends.
How did you get the idea for the story?
There’s a slight chance (and by slight, I mean 100% true) that I was sitting in a high school faculty meeting four years ago, doodling in my notebook as I tried to pay attention. I thought about how my family had just moved to Texas and how my son had lived in five houses in six years. He’s always asking me hypothetical questions like “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” or “If you could be any animal, what would it be?” From those ideas, I came up with Nestor—a Cuban-American boy with a secret ability, looking for a home.
And I don’t think I missed any crucial information from that faculty meeting while I brainstormed.
Ha! We won’t tell. 😉 Can you tell us more about the real-life tule vieja legend?
The tule vieja is a legend from Panama and Costa Rica, two countries I lived in when I was younger. She’s a bit different from the tule vieja I present in my book since the traditional tule vieja has permanent animal features like bat wings and crow feet. She also walks around topless… perhaps not the best look for a middle grade story? She’s very similar to the legend of La Llorona, since she can be found snatching unruly, truant children off the streets. I thought it would be more fun to connect the tule vieja to Nestor’s animal communication ability by having her kidnap New Haven’s pets and livestock in a bid to increase her power.
She’s also fully clothed.
Are any of the characters in the book like you? Can you secretly talk to animals like Nestor?
I’d love to say that I’m brave like Nestor or that I can cook and sew like his abuela. But, alas, I fear I’m most like Cuervito, the snarky raven that pesters Nestor, and Val, the coyote with a penchant for making jokes in serious situations.
And most of the communication I have with animals tends to be one-sided arguments with my dog and cat about how I’ve already fed them.
I hear you! I have the same conversation with my dogs. They never believe me! What’s your favorite thing about writing spooky stories like this one?
I love the ability of spooky stories to be a vehicle for exploring deeper themes and issues. For someone like me with the attention span of a single-cell bacterium, action-packed, quick-paced scary stories are an accessible way to address themes of family, belonging, and identity. Also, showing young readers someone like them overcoming monsters, both imaginary and real, is something I treasure as an author.
Absolutely! Did you have a favorite spooky book, movie or character growing up?
I was obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe growing up. I had an illustrated anthology of his poems and short stories that I read constantly. The Pit and the Pendulum was my favorite short story of his because I was enthralled with how Poe’s gruesome descriptions put the reader directly in the scene. To prove I wasn’t a completely blood-thirsty child growing up, I also loved his poem Annabel Lee. That one definitely ushered in my strong emo phase as a teenager. My poor parents.
Oooh, I love Edgar Allen Poe! I have a pop-up version of his The Raven. It’s awesome. What’s your biggest fear?
You know in horror movies where a character sticks their hand in the garbage disposal because they think it’s broken, only to have it suddenly turn on? Yeah, that’s not my biggest fear. How about when you turn off all the lights in your bedroom so you have to race and jump on top of your bed before anything lurking below can grab you by the toes? That’s not it either.
My biggest fear has nothing to do with the supernatural or anything imaginary. There’s a scene in The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez where Nestor’s mom mistakes two high school ROTC students for an Army mortuary affairs detail coming to tell her something has happened to her husband. That was my fear every day for the years my husband was deployed as a military policeman. Writing Nestor was a healing way to process those emotions and use my fear to show young readers a way to confront separation and grief.
Wow. That’s a deep fear a lot of readers will experience. It’s wonderful that they can learn to deal with it through your book. You’ve got another book coming out next fall. Can you give us a sneak peek into what it’s about?
I’m so excited for my next book, Cuba in My Pocket! It tells the story of a young Cuban boy who immigrates to the United States by himself in the 1960s. I based it on my father’s experiences and I’m so thrilled to honor him with this story. It will also clearly show that my sarcasm and snark is genetic.
Fantastic! I can’t wait for CUBA IN MY POCKET, and I know all our readers can’t either.
If you haven’t read THE TOTAL ECLIPSE OF NESTOR LOPEZ yet, get it now! You won’t be disappointed.
Samantha M Clark is the author of THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster) and ARROW (coming June 22, 2021).