The Happy Writer with Marissa Meyer

A Queer YA Haunted House Mystery with Alex Crespo - Saint Juniper's Folly

May 29, 2023 Marissa Meyer Season 2023 Episode 158
The Happy Writer with Marissa Meyer
A Queer YA Haunted House Mystery with Alex Crespo - Saint Juniper's Folly
Show Notes Transcript

In this week’s episode, Marissa chats with Alex Crespo about his debut, SAINT JUNIPER’S FOLLY, a queer YA haunted house mystery. Also discussed: using familiar settings to create fictional ones, using online resources like Pinterest and Zillow to do research on homes, doing deep dives to ensure details—even tiny ones—are accurate, what it means to be an aggressive plotter, using astrology archetypes to help create characters, writing chunks of chapters by character and then having to cobble them together, and so much more!

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[00:10] Marissa: Hello, and welcome to the Happy Writer. This is a podcast that aims to bring readers more books to enjoy and help authors find more joy in their writing. I am your host, Marissa Meyer. Thank you so much for joining me. One thing making me unbelievable believably happy this week is that in just a few short days, I will be heading to Europe. I cannot wait. I am so excited. My publishers in France and Spain are bringing me out. I've got a five stop book tour in France, followed by the Madrid Book Festival in Spain. And the best part is my family gets to come with me this time. So this will be our first time traveling internationally with the girls. And so our schooling lately has been very focused on France and Spain, and they have learned all about the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower and the palace of Versailles and Pablo Picasso and running with the bulls and just, like so many fun things. It's been very enjoyable in our homeschooling these days, and they are super excited, and I just cannot wait. So by the time this episode is live, I will already be a few days into the tour. But if you happen to live in France, lucky you, I hope you will decide to come out and see me and say hello. You can find all the details on Instagram. And if you're in Spain, I hope to see you at the Madrid Book Festival. I am also so happy to be talking to today's guest. He is a queer, trans Mexican American author whose debut novel St juniper's Folly is coming out next week on June 6. Please welcome Alex Crespo.

[02:04] Alex: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.

[02:06] Marissa: Thank you so much for joining me. Here. We are a couple of weeks out to your debut book launch. How have things been going?

[02:15] Alex: Oh, gosh, it feels like a whirlwind. Honestly, it feels very exciting and very terrifying at the same time.

[02:24] Marissa: I need to start taking notes because when I ask that question to debut authors, I feel like those are the two words that come up exciting and terrifying every time.

[02:36] Alex: Absolutely.

[02:37] Marissa: Very legitimate reaction.

[02:39] Alex: Yeah. Both in equal parts. But I'm also feeling super grateful and I'm trying to hold that emotion very close in my heart.

[02:47] Marissa: Yeah, no, definitely. It is such an accomplishment and, of course, something that we dream about and work so hard for, for years and years, and I know I remember when it finally happened, it felt very surreal. I felt like I was constantly pinching myself. Honestly, I feel like I'm still constantly pinching myself, though. That doesn't totally go away.

[03:08] Alex: I was going to say, like, does it ever stop?

[03:11] Marissa: Not for me. Not for me. I mean, I certainly have met authors who kind of get jaded over the whole experience, but I feel like it's just a dream come true now that there aren't rocky parts and things that come up throughout your career that aren't always the best, but for the most part, we write books. How fun is this?

[03:34] Alex: That's the dream.

[03:35] Marissa: Yeah, totally. Well, congratulations on the book coming out. The first question that I always like to start with is I would love to hear your writing journey, your origin story. How did you get here?

[03:50] Alex: Yeah, so I, like a lot of other authors, have always been a really avid reader. I have always read a lot. I started reading really young and I think in high school I talked about wanting to write books, but there wasn't a lot of actual writing going on. It was more just like, I don't know, it felt like a pipe dream. And I'd never really considered being an author as like, a legitimate career path. Just felt way out of the realm of possibility. But something that would be so nice if that happened, it would be so cool. I ended up going to college for public relations, kind of went in a different direction and started my career. And it was only after I graduated college at my first job that I actually reconnected with the writing community and started talking to other people who were working full time jobs but also writing. And I got really inspired and I was like, I feel like I could actually kind of do this now. So it was in 2019 I started writing st Juniper's Folly. It was the first book that I ever tried to write and I managed and here we are today. But yeah, I feel like in general, my whole publishing experience has felt kind of like whirlwind because it wasn't like I tried to write a bunch of books before St junior First Folly. It was kind of like a thing that I started and it never quite stopped.

[05:14] Marissa: Yeah, no, you're definitely a bit of an outlier. Most people to that question are like, let me tell you about my 15 years of rejections.

[05:23] Alex: That's so much more common.

[05:25] Marissa: Yeah, no, but I love hearing stories from both ends of the spectrum. And I think for a lot of people, of course, we have a lot of aspiring writers who listen to this. And I think it's good to recognize that it's really, really common to have to put in those years and to kind of prepare and brace yourself for lots of rejection. And maybe you'll have multiple manuscripts that go nowhere, but also it can be really encouraging to hear that, but sometimes your first book gets published and that can also be a reality for some people.

[06:01] Alex: Yeah, definitely. I always tell people that my delusionality carried me through the entire querying process. I had one beta reader look at my manuscript before I started querying. I was just like, I'm going to do this and I'm going to see what happens, and I'm not going to stop until something happens. And like I said, here we are. So I guess it worked.

[06:24] Marissa: So take me through the timeline. So you started in 2019. About how long were you drafting Revising? How long did you query for?

[06:32] Alex: Yeah, so I had like, the initial draft of St. June Brisbali by the end of 2019. And then when the pandemic hit, my life kind of got drastically rearranged like a lot of people's.

[06:44] Marissa: What?

[06:45] Alex: Yeah, so my really tight schedule that I had given myself to edit the book and have a readable draft kind of fell by the wayside as everything fell apart. And it ended up being in, I want to say, September of 2020, that I finally felt like it was actually ready to put out there. And I had this whole plan for how I was going to cold query agents and stuff. And then I realized that there was a pitch event happening on Twitter. It was Latinx pitch that was happening in September. And I was just like, oh, I feel like I just finished making this readable. I don't know if it's, like, ready yet. And then, like I said, I became delusional. It took hold of me and I was like, no, I'm going to do this. Maybe something good will come out of it. And that's how I found my agent. I really lucked out that my pitch got a lot of attention during that pitch event. I didn't really do any cold querying after that, which was kind of nice, honestly.

[07:44] Marissa: Yeah, no, definitely. Cold querying is terrifying.

[07:47] Alex: Yeah. Just for the brief couple of weeks that I was in the query trenches, my anxiety levels about seeing a Gmail notification were through the roof. It was unreal.

[07:57] Marissa: I know. And you can't stop checking your emails constantly. It just takes over your entire brain.

[08:05] Alex: I know. I'm really grateful that I wasn't querying for a super long time. And like you said, it's way more common to hear people having to deal with that type of rejection and the fear and the hope of it all for a super long time. So, again, super local about that.

[08:18] Marissa: Yeah, no. And I am amazed how often I talk to authors who have kind of a similar path with the various pitch wars and these Twitter, I don't even know pitching is it really competition. I don't really know what to call it. But you're certainly not alone. I mean, clearly agents are paying attention to those and I think that's such a great way to go about it.

[08:43] Alex: Yeah. And I think that I also really lucked out having this event that was really catered to Latino authors. I felt a lot more confident sharing my manuscript, too, which St. Juniper Bruce Folly has. Two out of the three main characters are mixed Latino. And I really felt like I would be able to find people who connected with my story a lot better that way. And ultimately I was right, which is awesome.

[09:05] Marissa: Yeah. No, that is awesome and congratulations. And here we are. So what is that year and a half hold on, math. Two and a half. Two and a half years later and St. Juniper's Folly has actually it's not out yet. It is about to come out, about to be on shelves. Would you please tell listeners what is this book about?

[09:28] Alex: Yeah, absolutely. So St. June 1 Folly is a queer ya haunted house mystery. It follows Jamie, a Mexican American teen with a cryptic past who wanders into a haunted mansion in Vermont and finds that he cannot walk back out again. So he's stuck. Luckily, he's found by the local golden boy, and they kind of work to set him free along with a novice witch from the next town over. And they all work to kind of unravel the mystery of this house and how it intersects with their lives and their family's past.

[10:04] Marissa: All right, so the first thing I want to talk about is the setting, because it is a haunted house story, which I love. But it's also like the haunted house is in this creepy valley and you've got this juniper's Folly or sorry, St. Juniper, this quaint little idyllic town that seems a little stepford wivesy, and then you've got its, like, hipster brother town. What was it? Wolf something. Wolf's.

[10:40] Alex: Wolf.

[10:40] Marissa: Yeah. And all of the settings were so great, and it's to me, one of those books where the settings themselves almost come alive as their own characters.

[10:51] Alex: Yeah, I love that. That's exactly what I was going for, honestly.

[10:55] Marissa: So how what were you thinking about when you were creating the settings? Did you have real places in mind that you were trying to capture the vibe for? What was your strategy there?

[11:07] Alex: Yeah, so I feel like a lot of other debut authors, my debut pulls a lot from my own life. And St. Juniper's volley, the actual valley itself is based off of Cuyahaga Valley National Park, which is where I grew up. I spent a lot of time there growing up and being in that environment, especially when I was like a preteen, I felt like my imagination was growing really rapidly around this time that I was really immersed in nature. And I daydreamed a lot about running away as a kid, not in any kind of real way at all, but that definitely kind of played into this mystical ethos around St. June burst volley that I wanted to bring in. I was also thinking really critically about, like you said, these two towns that have different vibes, and St. Juniper, the town being kind of idyllic, but also kind of like creepy and a little bit like suffocating, and a place that seems like you might want to be there but you also might not. And I was kind of just like playing with this idea of the towns that I was around growing up and these small communities that I was a part of that felt very judgmental at times, but also really beautiful. And how I wanted to mix those things together really came out in this book, I think.

[12:27] Marissa: Yeah. And then what about the house, the mansion?

[12:33] Alex: Honestly, there's not direct inspiration for the house itself. The general idea for St. Juniper's volley just came out of a daydream that I had of what if he walked into a house and couldn't walk back out? Which I think kind of gave me a lot of room to play with the house in terms of the floor plan and what's going on inside of the house. They're kind of like little scenes where you kind of get glimpses of the decor and stuff like that. That was just hours and hours of me on Pinterest.

[13:03] Marissa: Honestly, I was going to ask research, how did you because I loved it. I mean, I love when you talk about the decor and the architectural details, and that's just because I'm a house nerd.

[13:14] Alex: Yeah. I'm passionate about Zillow and stalking other people's houses, so that also helped. I genuinely went on Zillow and would put in years that houses were built, and then I would just go through all of the property photos. It was super helpful for descriptions and stuff.

[13:29] Marissa: Oh, no kidding. No, that is a great idea. It's a good tip. Did you find one that had, like, a blueprint? Because I know sometimes Zillow will actually show the blueprints of houses.

[13:41] Alex: Yeah, that was super helpful. Honestly, the exterior of the house is based off of a couple of different, more famous Victorian houses. And then the interiors, it was kind of like a piecemeal of different places that I found on Zillow, places that I found on Pinterest, stuff like that. Because, honestly, for me, I have a hard time visualizing settings, so getting actual images and being able to translate that to words was super helpful.

[14:09] Marissa: Yeah, no, I'm the same way, and I love describing settings. That's part of the process that I really enjoy. But I am the same way. I need to have a visual, and I will spend hours combing through Pinterest and googling things, just trying to find something that's just right.

[14:25] Alex: Yeah, definitely.

[14:27] Marissa: Speaking of being a house nerd, I also loved that. Of course, we have to do a lot of research as writers. I loved that. A number of scenes. Some of your characters have to do research. They're trying to figure out the history of this house. And so you've got scenes where they're in the library okay. The historical records, all of this. And it kind of made me want to be like, I want to find an old house and go figure out its history. Are you a history nerd?

[15:01] Alex: I absolutely am. And I'm sure a lot of other writers can relate to this, that the amount of research that I did to just put tiny details on the page is absurd. I actually did go back through and find old maps of Vermont and old property listings that were handwritten and stuff like that from the Victorian era, because even though it was just going to be like one single line or like a throwaway mention, I was like, It has to be right. So I just ended up doing so many deep dives, especially into other historical details that I kind of sprinkle throughout the book about other things that were happening. I kind of mentioned an outbreak of illness that's historically accurate, too, and it ended up being like a really fun deep dive for me as I was writing the book. For sure.

[15:50] Marissa: Yeah, no, and that adds so much because it gives the setting this vibe of authenticity that it is a fictional realm, but one that feels very mired in reality.

[16:04] Alex: Yeah, I feel like I've had a lot of people ask me, like, oh, is this town real? And I'm like, no, it totally feels.

[16:10] Marissa: Like it could be real. Absolutely. I like the name, too. St. Juniper. Where did St. Juniper come from?

[16:16] Alex: I honestly have no idea. I wish I had a cool answer, but it was like the title of the book and the setting names and stuff like that were some of the first things that I ever came up with. It just spontaneously came to me, I guess.

[16:30] Marissa: Oh, that's cool. I love it when that happens. It doesn't happen for me very often. I feel like I'm constantly struggling to.

[16:36] Alex: Name things I know well. Now that I'm on second and third books and thinking of stuff, I feel like my process with everything is completely different and like, St. Juda Brisbali was an anomaly in that sense.

[16:47] Marissa: Yeah, no, it'll come and go. There are books that just here's the perfect name. Thank you. That's lovely. And then, oh, my gosh, there are books where I spend a year, multiple years. What does this thing want to be called? Speaking of process plotter or Panther?

[17:07] Alex: Oh, my gosh, plotter 100%. Like aggressively.

[17:10] Marissa: Okay, deep, deep dive. Tell me more. What does aggressively mean to you?

[17:16] Alex: I was actually listening to one of the episodes that you posted recently with Ft. Wilkins where they said that they plot down to dialogue, and I guessed because that's also me.

[17:29] Marissa: Okay.

[17:32] Alex: The way that I describe it is I feel like I cannot have the space to be creative unless I have structure first. So for me, it's like I always go back to the three act structure, plot beats, stuff like that, and build everything out in a super detailed outline. And it's only when I actually get to the drafting stage where I feel like I have wiggle room to be silly. And I think a lot of that comes out in dialogue and throwaway jokes and silly things that sneak into my manuscripts. But I have to know what's going on. I have to have a bird's eye view. Otherwise I can't even get started.

[18:11] Marissa: Yeah. So are you using a method like a save the cat or are there like, specific structural moments that you're trying to hit or are you just like, okay, let's see if we can figure out a complete story here?

[18:26] Alex: Yeah, I do lean on save the Cat quite a bit in the earliest parts of the process. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I have room to move things around a little bit. But in terms of making outlines, save the cat is super helpful. The one thing that I don't actually plot super carefully is the romance arcs. I feel like that's something where because I've always been a romance reader and a romance lover in general, it's something that I prefer to just feel out and happen organically. Usually as I'm drafting but I'll put placeholders of like this is the point where the characters go from being antagonistic towards each other to seeing something there beyond being nasty to each other. And then I'll mark off the place where characters will go from being friends to maybe wanting to be something more, but I won't actually write down what I want to happen and then I just let it flow out of me. That's where the creativity part comes in.

[19:21] Marissa: Yeah. No, I do something similar. I am also a plotter, although not down to dialogue in that initial outline, but a lot of times my outline will have comments like, something romantic happens here and there used to be a time when I would try to figure out what that romantic thing was in advance. But for me, those moments tend to be generated from who the characters are, what sort of romantic thing would they do? And if you don't yet know your characters super well, it can be really hard to figure those things out in advance.

[19:57] Alex: Yeah, I totally agree. And I think that's also one of my favorite parts of working on early drafts is like, when you get I feel like for me, it's like halfway through a first draft, I feel like I actually finally understand my characters and then they start talking to me instead of the other way around. And it's I'm like putting them in scenes and they just start talking and I'm just writing down what they're saying because I'm not a part of it at all. That's where the magic happens.

[20:24] Marissa: I think that is exactly where the magic happens. I love it when we get to that point. I'm always jealous because some writers are like, oh, this story originated when this character started speaking to me and I could just hear their voice so clearly and they started telling me their story and I'm like, oh, that sounds so nice.

[20:45] Alex: I would love for that to happen, but that is never the case with me.

[20:49] Marissa: Yeah. No, my characters usually don't feel fully fleshed out until at least a draft or two into it. But we always get there eventually.

[20:57] Alex: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I feel like for St. Juniper's Volley, taylor was a character that hid from me for a long time. I found it really difficult to write her in this story for some reason, and maybe it's because we have different personalities. I felt like every single time that I was putting her in positions of conflict, I had to get myself out of my head and be like, this is a different person, and really think about how she would be reacting based off of the things that she's been through and where her head is at. And it was really, really hard for me to write her for some reason.

[21:28] Marissa: Yeah, no. And that's I did want to talk about because we've got these three characters. The book is told from alternating point of views between these three characters. And I was going to ask, like, did you have a favorite to write? Was one easier to write? So clearly, Taylor was your difficult character. How about the other two?

[21:48] Alex: Yeah, I mean, I think Jamie was by far the easiest for me to write. I feel like people also always ask me, like, oh, which one is you? And I'm like, well, they're all me, technically. But Jamie was like, so me in high school. Like, the hard outer shell, but then the soft interior and the fact that he really wants to connect with people, but he's just, like, such a little I don't know, he's so frustrating on the page, especially at the beginning of the book. And I actually found that really easy to write. And I think Theo came really naturally as his sort of, like, foil and his opposite. So I don't know. But that also does not denote who is my favorite. I love all of my children equally, I promise.

[22:36] Marissa: Yeah, fair enough. So you mentioned that you write these very detailed outlines before you start. Are you also a detailed character creator? Do you do profiles? Do you freestyle write from their perspectives to figure out who they are? Or do you just kind of plop these people in the book and see what happens?

[23:01] Alex: Feel like usually I'm coming from a place where I know what kind of archetype I want them to embody, and especially writing St. Juniper's Folly, it's a book that is I would say it's like, equally split between the mystery aspect and the interpersonal drama that's happening. It was something where I felt like it was really clear early on that Jamie was going to be kind of acidic and that Theo was going to be sweet, but they were going to butt heads, and then Taylor would be kind of like the peacemaker who's also stubborn in her own ways. And honestly, the way that I organize everything was through astrology. I still am doing that now as I'm drafting new books, where as soon as I figure out, like, okay, I want this character like, for example, Taylor, I was like, this is someone who's, like, sweet and nurturing, and she's like, a good friend, but she's also kind of stubborn. And I was just like, she's a Taurus, she's a tourist 100%. And then when I knew that I would go to astrology profiles and read these specific character traits that these star signs are supposed to have, and it helped me categorize them. And obviously, real people are far more nuanced than that. But as far as drafting and figuring out how I wanted them to react in certain situations, it was really helpful to have those guidelines.

[24:16] Marissa: I love that. I think you were the first author I've had who has talked about using astrology to kind of develop those character archetypes. But it is so smart. That makes so much sense.

[24:28] Alex: Yeah. And I feel like if you don't believe in astrology, I feel like there are other ways that you can do that. There's, like, blood type personality things and MBTI tests and so many other ways of categorizing individuals that I think are really helpful tools for writers.

[24:44] Marissa: Yeah. No, I do. I always start trying to figure out what the archetype is or like, for me, it's what is one or two words that other people would use to describe their personality? Like, what is the outside viewer who knows this character? What do they say? Oh, she's bubbly and silly. Or he's really shy and introverted. Like, what are those main things that other people notice? And that at least gives me something to kind of go off of. And then from there, you can start to figure out, well, okay, but why is she that way? How did he get that way? Et cetera.

[25:29] Alex: Do you feel like usually when you're working on characters, it's something where you let their backstory inform their personality, or is it the other way around?

[25:36] Marissa: For me, I feel like I figure out their personality first and then ask myself what sort of backstory would create that.

[25:44] Alex: Oh, that's interesting.

[25:45] Marissa: How about you?

[25:46] Alex: I think the opposite, actually.

[25:48] Marissa: Yeah, because I was going to ask because each of these characters has really interesting and different backstories.

[25:54] Alex: Yeah. And I think maybe that's why I was in that mindset where I was like yeah. I think that it was something where looking at especially, like, Taylor's backstory and her relationship with her family, I felt like that was really going to inform the way that she navigated everything and also really inform her personality, too. So when they have such action packed backstories, I think that it does have an effect.

[26:20] Marissa: Yeah, no, definitely. And it can change, too, where you might have an idea of who the character is, but then as you're figuring out their backstory, you can be like, oh, well, I thought she was a bubbly character just because that's who she is, but, oh, no, it's actually a defense mechanism, or it's actually because of XYZ. It can change things both ways.

[26:45] Alex: Yeah, definitely.

[26:47] Marissa: What about writing voice specifically? Because I feel like this is an ongoing challenge and lots of Ya books have dual narrators. It was really fun having a trio to follow through the world. And one thing I love is that each of their unique voices still contribute really heavily to that sense of setting that we talked about earlier. Just this kind of overall oh, what's the word? Trapped, but I'm looking claustrophobic feeling where it's just kind of dark and kind of creepy and they feel stuck in different ways in different areas of their lives. I lost track of my question. Voice. How did you think about voice?

[27:36] Alex: Yeah, I mean, I joke that I kind of, like, set myself up with this book, especially being my first book that I ever wrote with having three alternating perspectives. That was very challenging for me. I think the main thing that I stuck with was that in my first draft, I actually wrote this book not in chronological order. I wrote it perspective by perspective. So I went through the book and I wrote all of Jamie's pieces, and then I wrote all of the O's and all of Taylor's.

[28:04] Marissa: Really?

[28:05] Alex: Again, that's also why I love plotting, is that when you know exactly what's going in each chapter, I feel like it gives me the room to jump around a little bit, even though to other people, I'm sure that sounds a little bit wild.

[28:17] Marissa: I think that is so interesting. And was that intentionally so that you could stay with one voice for a longer period of time?

[28:25] Alex: Yeah, I mean, it was just me adapting to, I think, my inexperience in writing that I was like, I'm having a really hard time focusing on Voice when I'm switching back and forth, and I was like, okay, I know what I want to happen. Plot wise, I'd rather just live in this character's head for the next couple of weeks. And I feel like ultimately it kind of worked for this book in particular. I'm not sure if I do the same thing again another time.

[28:49] Marissa: Okay, so take me through that. So you write Jamie's chapters and then you write Theo's, and then you write Taylor's or whatever order you did them in, and then you have to shuffle them all together and put them in order of the story. Did that go fairly seamlessly, or were there a lot of things that then you had to be like, oh, we said this in chapter twelve. I forgot to mention it in chapter 13. Do you feel like that added complications to the revision process, or did it just kind of work out?

[29:23] Alex: I think it went better than you might expect. There were quite a lot of continuity things that we had to work really hard to fix. Once St. Juniper's Folly got actually acquired and I was working with my editor. But I think. That was more because of the interwoven mystery aspect than me necessarily writing it in and out of order. But I think in general, because I had plotted it in advance and I knew what information needed to be conveyed in each chapter, ultimately, I feel like jumping around like that somehow worked for me.

[30:01] Marissa: Yeah, no, I mean, I can see pros and cons. I'm sure there was challenges involved with it, but I can also see how it would be really helpful for things like voice, like we talked about, but also character arc, because each of these characters has a beginning and middle and end with their character arc and they each finish the story in a different place than they started. And that's one of those things where if I'm writing a book with multiple character arcs, I can get really muddled in that and like, oh, where are we with this character? How is she feeling about this thing? Is she growing enough? Is she changing enough? Whatever it is. But if you're writing that character beginning to end, I just feel like that would really help and kind of solidify that.

[30:49] Alex: Yeah. And it was really helpful, too, because one of the main reasons I wanted to do alternating perspectives was that these characters view themselves in such drastically different ways from how other people view them. And I think staying in the character's heads, especially, I think that comes out the most in Theo's story. Like staying in his head and staying in this in this mindset where he just feels like he's not good enough and that and he's, like, so anxious and all of this stuff, it was really helpful for me to stay in that mindset. And then switching to Taylor, for example, who sees him as being this unbelievably sweet person who's trying so hard and conveying that emotion from different perspectives was really fun, and it was helpful for me to separate those threads.

[31:36] Marissa: Yeah. I am also curious because I felt like there's a really apparent theme in this book of feeling trapped. And I don't know if that's something that you relate to on a really personal level or if it just came about because we've got this character who is literally trapped in this haunted house. But I thought it was so interesting because you can see that theme really being carried through not just Jamie's story, but all three of these characters. Is that something that you kind of had at the forefront of your mind that you were wanting to focus on in all three arcs?

[32:16] Alex: Yeah, I'm really happy to hear that it came out the way that I wanted because that was definitely the thesis statement for the book. I think I really wanted to capture my authentic experience of being a teenager and also the experience of my friends in that I had friends who came from very drastically different backgrounds compared to me growing up. And despite that, and despite us having different backgrounds, different perspectives on life, and different plans for our futures, we all felt the exact same way about the town that we lived in and the community that we were a part of and feeling, like, super trapped. And we didn't have options or we all had our complaints, but that was our common ground. And I kind of wanted to capture that in the hopes, I guess, that a teenager would read this book and be like, oh, man, that's like a universal experience in a way.

[33:05] Marissa: Yeah, no, I absolutely think that it is for a lot of young people, and especially if you're in one of these kind of small towns, I think that that's a very common thing.

[33:18] Alex: Yeah, definitely. And it's definitely something that's touched on, too, coming from Jamie and Taylor's perspectives, being Latino in these primarily white towns in a relatively white state. It's something where they have really different perspectives on their situations because of their cultural backgrounds. And it's something that you might think, like, okay, theo who is a white boy, might not relate to them in the exact same way, but they still do find common ground because the emotions that they're feeling are really similar.

[33:49] Marissa: Yeah, no, absolutely. And that's what being human is all about, right?

[33:53] Alex: Absolutely.

[33:56] Marissa: I'm going to switch to a totally different topic really briefly before we go into our bonus round, because when I was stalking you this morning, trying to prepare for our chat today, I could not help but notice that you have a stunningly beautiful Instagram feed.

[34:16] Alex: Thank you so much.

[34:18] Marissa: So I'd love some tips. Social media, how do you make it so pretty?

[34:25] Alex: I think it helps that I don't actually have a lot of color in my life in general. I have a very monochromatic theme on Instagram, and that's just because I'm colorblind. So I don't have a lot of color in my house or in my wardrobe, so I think that kind of gives me a leg up in that sense.

[34:42] Marissa: Oh, that's so funny. What a good answer. My husband is colorblind to where? Let me think. Red and green are like, the same color to him. Is that the same for you?

[34:53] Alex: Yeah, I have red, green, and then blue. Yellow a little bit, but not too bad.

[34:58] Marissa: Okay. Yeah, it sounds really similar to what he has, which I don't know, being married to someone who's colorblind, we have a lot of fun conversations where he's like, you know, the red thing over there. What are you talking about? Nothing is red here.

[35:13] Alex: Oh, gosh. If there's one thing that a colorblind person is going to do, it's going to argue about colors with somebody even though they're wrong.

[35:20] Marissa: Yes. Ellen there's been times where he'll have, like, a favorite shirt that he has worn to death for like, a year and a half, and then one of our girls will mention the purple shirt and he's like, it's purple. No one told me it was purple.

[35:34] Alex: Oh, my God. I feel his pain. I have been there.

[35:37] Marissa: Yeah. And you're like, my solution is to just not wear color.

[35:41] Alex: Yeah, you got to eliminate the variables. Right?

[35:44] Marissa: That's hilarious. Okay, are you ready for our bonus round?

[35:48] Alex: I'm so ready.

[35:49] Marissa: What book makes you happy?

[35:52] Alex: Oh, wow. Okay. I'm a big rereader. I love visiting old books and old series that I read as a teenager because for some reason, it just brings me back to that headspace. So right now I'm rereading the Night Huntress series by Janine Frost. I think they were, like, the first paperback romance novels that I ever read, and I absolutely read them way too young but still love them. They make me so happy.

[36:18] Marissa: What are you working on next?

[36:21] Alex: I have a Ya contemporary rom.com coming out in summer of 2024 with Harper Collins, and then I'm also working on another kind of, like, spooky paranormal y romance that's coming out spring 2025 from Peach Cretine.

[36:40] Marissa: Awesome. Lastly, where can people find you?

[36:45] Alex: You can find me on every social media platform that matters at Alexpressbo. If you want to see me be normal, you can find me on Instagram and Twitter. And then if you want to see me be strange, you can visit me on TikTok.

[36:58] Marissa: Oh, awesome. Alex, thank you so much for joining me today.

[37:02] Alex: Thank you so much. This is so fun.

[37:04] Marissa: Readers. Definitely check out St. Juniper's Folly. It will be in bookstores next week, but you can go ahead and preorder it now. Of course, we encourage you to support your local indie bookstore. If you don't have a local indie, you can check out our affiliate store that is@bookshop.org shopmarissamyer. And please don't forget to check out our merchandise store that is on Spring and Tea Public. You can find the links in our Instagram profile. Next week, I will be talking with Hannah Alkoff and Margaret Owen about their murder mystery fantasy anthology a Grimoire of Grave Fates. If you're enjoying these conversations, please subscribe and follow us on Instagram at Marissa Meyer, author and at Happy Writer podcast. Until next time, stay healthy, stay cozy, and whatever life throws at you today, I do hope that now you're feeling a little bit happier.