Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland Interview - Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything

Photo Content from Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland is a Mexican American poet, novelist, and painter. She received an MFA in poetry from the University of Alaska, Anchorage in 2017. She’s most inspired by fog and seeds and the lineages of all things. When not writing, Raquel tells stories to her plants and they tell her stories back. She lives in Tennessee with her beloved family and mountains. Raquel has published two books of poetry. Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything is her first novel.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
This was one of the main topics of my thesis for my MFA in creative writing, so I truly could go on and on about the significance of storytelling! But my short answer is this: everything we do, and encounter, and move through, is created and supported and affirmed by stories. Stories make up this whole, wild world, and because of this, I believe they can heal the world, too.

Tell us your latest news.
I have a few items of news, some of which I can’t reveal yet! But next year, Simon Pulse is publishing my second work of fiction, a YA road trip romantic comedy that has my whole heart. I’ve also drafted two books in the last few months—an adult romance, and a YA sci-fi featuring robots. The sci-fi, in particular, is a book I’ve been trying to write since 2012 so I’m thrilled to finally get it on the page. 

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
When I was little, my biggest influence was The Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin. I emulated the books as I wrote my own stories. And then for school, we were assigned The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. It’s hard to explain the feeling of seeing representation that looks like you, your family, your neighborhood, for the first time. Mango Street inspired me to keep going. 

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
One of the most rewarding experiences—because there are so many!—is connecting to people who are serious champions of my work, especially my agent, Elizabeth Bewley, and my editor, Jennifer Ung. Speaking with them as we worked on Sia Martinez, especially, was such a gift. Hearing people who love this story as much as I do speak as if the characters were real, the ones I created as my son nursed and napped? Amazing.

What is your happiest childhood memory?
I grew up in south Florida, and we had an orange and grapefruit tree in our backyard. I was especially enamored with the orange tree—how delicious it smelled when it bloomed, how the bees buzzed around it, and how every winter, it would grow heavy with the sweetest oranges anyone had ever tasted. I spend a lot of time playing under it, and I’d eat orange after orange until my lips grew raw. My happiest childhood memories are often connected to the “more-than-human world,” to use a beautiful and useful phrase by scientist and essayist Robin Wall Kimmerer. 

What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
One of the greatest things I learned wasn’t necessarily at school, but through an assignment. (It wasn’t ‘great,’ either, but it remains one of the most powerful learning moments of my life). We were to do reports on a state of our choosing. This came up a lot in elementary school, because I remember choosing Maine multiple times, but this time I had chosen Oklahoma. It was, for the first time, where I read about the Trail of Tears. It was also for the first time where I read about an atrocity committed purposefully and maliciously by the U.S. government, a particular study many schools neglect. 

In your new book; SIA MARTINEZ AND THE MOONLIT BEGINNING OF EVERYTHING, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it 
Sure! Sia Martinez is a story about a 16-year-old, Sia, whose mother is deported to Mexico. Her mom decides to come back to the States by walking the Sonoran, a desert that connects Mexico and parts of Arizona. Sia’s mom goes missing during the journey, and is presumed dead—until one day, a UFO crashes in front of Sia, and inside? Is her mom. 

What part of Sia did you enjoy writing the most?
Actually, the scene I just described was the most fun. Sia, standing in the desert, watching a UFO crash right before her eyes. I think because I started with this scene as the idea for the whole book, it was incredibly satisfying to finally write it out.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I think I’d introduce Sia to Alex from Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. Alex is hilarious and clever, and it would be amazing to hear their banter with one another. Also I think they could have serious, thoughtful discussions about what it’s like to be Latinx in this country, and the microaggressions that often come with that experience. 

  • 1. This quote is the first line of Sia Martinez: “It’s been six hundred and nineteen days since I found out Mom died. And only one until I get my revenge.”
  • 2. “When I’m eighteen, I want to find my mother’s skeleton. I want to string it together and sing her alive, just like my grandmother said the first curanderas did, their skin still wet from the fog of God’s breath.”
  • 3. “My mother said her mother told her this story, and her mother told her, and on and on back until the first woman, whom the moon told directly.”
  • 4. “Rose was right. He’s a giant. His legs barely fit under the desk. Wide jaw. Freckles. But she got one thing wrong—his eyes. They’re not green.”
  • 5. “So where’d the universe come from, Sia?”
  • 6. “You’re my favorite, I want to say. Kissing you is my favorite. We should definitely kiss again.”
  • 7. “All of a sudden, things feel a lot worse than empty.”
  • 8. “I told Rose the women in our family have always been able to speak to the dead. It’s very simple.”
  • 9. “The shadows of the saguaros are long, like they’re trying to pin their spines on us.”
  • 10. “I gasp when it’s finished. There’s only two words pulsing in front of me. They’re coming.”
What’s the most ridiculous fact you know?
Ants will often eat the wings off aphids, to ‘farm’ them for a sweet substance they secret called honeydew. It’s kind of amazing and gross in equal parts. I love learning everything about the wild world—how dung beetles navigate using the stars, or trees communicate to one another using microscopic fungi. 

What did you do for your last birthday? 
I honestly don’t remember! I want to say I bought myself perfume and books, and maybe went out to dinner. But my birthday is just around the corner right now, and I purchased a lot of fruiting plants for my garden, and I plan on making a vanilla cake with chocolate frosting.

What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a kid?
I have never been a wistful kind of person for any particular decade—I only have just started reading historical fiction regularly! It’s hard for me to envision going back and society being any better—the misogyny and racism was, in a lot of ways, more outward and accepted than it is now. But all that aside, I think I would choose the 40s—I’ve always had a soft spot for the fashion of the time.

What is your greatest adventure?
This probably sounds boring and cliché, but motherhood is my greatest adventure. It’s transformed me in the most beautiful and brutal of ways. Also I’m not sure I would still be writing if it weren’t for my becoming a mother. 

What is the craziest thing you have ever done? 
The first things that comes to mind are the walks I would take while I first went to college—in the middle of Kansas City, in the middle of the night, eighteen years old and alone. I would put on a huge sweatshirt and thought that would be enough to protect me from predators. I cringe now at how naïve I was! But I miss that freedom—I miss finding unexpected treasures in a city I’d just met, in the magic hours of night. It was crazy and beautiful for sure.

What event in your life would make a good movie?
I feel as though a compelling movie featuring my life would include a multi-generational set-up. My grandmother’s father, coming home in Mexico and finding nearly his whole family had been murdered—so he made the choice to immigrate. My great-grandmother, sitting on her porch with a shotgun, scaring off would-be suitors for my grandmother. My grandparents, then eloping. My father, telling his friends upon meeting my mom, “I’m going to marry that girl.” My mother, responding, “You’re drunk!”

You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your young readers. What would it be?
If you plan on going to college, go to community college first, if you’re able. I didn’t do this (at first) because I wanted to move far away, to have an authentic college experience—which was great—but at that age, it’s so hard to think about the financial burden of student loans. Nearly everyone I know is heavily weighed down by them, and any way you can make life easier for yourself now—financially or otherwise— is well worth it. 

Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe meets Roswell by way of Laurie Halse Anderson in this astonishing, genre-bending novel about a Mexican American teen who discovers profound connections between immigration, folklore, and alien life.

It’s been three years since ICE raids and phone calls from Mexico and an ill-fated walk across the Sonoran. Three years since Sia Martinez’s mom disappeared. Sia wants to move on, but it’s hard in her tiny Arizona town where people refer to her mom’s deportation as “an unfortunate incident.”

Sia knows that her mom must be dead, but every new moon Sia drives into the desert and lights San Anthony and la Guadalupe candles to guide her mom home.

Then one night, under a million stars, Sia’s life and the world as we know it cracks wide open. Because a blue-lit spacecraft crashes in front of Sia’s car…and it’s carrying her mom, who’s very much alive.

As Sia races to save her mom from armed-quite-possibly-alien soldiers, she uncovers secrets as profound as they are dangerous in this stunning and inventive exploration of first love, family, immigration, and our vast, limitless universe.

You can purchase Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you RAQUEL VASQUEZ GILLILAND for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning 
of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland.


  1. "What would be the most amazing adventure to go on?" A trip to Paris!

  2. I always find amazing adventures with my family..wherever we go.

  3. I think going to the Galapaggos and Easter Island would be very cool.

  4. I would love to be able to just travel all around Europe. Anywhere I could possibly go!

  5. I have always wanted to go to Israel. That would be an amazing adventure for me!