How did the two of you meet, and how did you come to be collaborators on your book Does My Body Offend You?
We met at the Georgia Romance Writers’ Moonlight and Magnolias conference in 2012 and instantly connected. We became critique partners and for years exchanged our writing every week and gave each other feedback and encouragement. In 2018, we decided to collaborate on a co-authored young adult novel. While brainstorming ideas, we came across multiple stories of teens fighting against their school’s oppressive dress codes. These are dress codes that not only hinder the education of girls, but perpetuate sexism, victimization, rape culture, and racism. We recognized a timely story needing to be told.
Our collaboration has been enormously fruitful, and we are now beginning our third co-authored novel!
Do either of you collaborate with other writers?
Not yet! Collaborating on a book requires a great deal of trust and understanding, and we’ve built these over a long time. We’ve learned so much from our years of working together—about putting good systems in place to make the process smooth and (relatively) easy. We are really excited to share our tips and tricks, processes and even spreadsheets with other authors interested in co-authoring a project. Strong shared values, basic rules of engagement, and a good solid process can result in a collaboration with great outcomes, even if you don’t have a decade of friendship as a foundation.
Can you share some other aspects of collaboration in your life?
Both of us are deeply committed to building community, in every part of our lives. Collaboration on projects is a natural result of strong community, and it also can be a great foundation for building community. We have worked with other YA and MG authors in Atlanta to create a wonderful support system. We regularly get together for retreats, workshops, and social gatherings. One of the best things about our author community is that we include people at every stage of the journey—from pre-agented to NYT bestsellers.
In 2020, Mayra also co-founded the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival as a way to connect Latinx authors and illustrators with schools, educators and students. This project was born from a collaboration with members of Las Musas Books.
What do you think are the most positive aspects of collaboration? Are there any negative parts?
Before we became co-authors, we had been critique partners for six years. We exchanged our writing every week and gave each other feedback and encouragement. Very early on we developed a relationship based on trust, kindness and mutual respect, which laid the foundation to collaborate successfully on a book.
When we are brainstorming/writing/editing in the same space, we feed off each other’s creative energy. We engage with an appreciation for our individual insights, experience, backgrounds and talent. We also know when to push and when to give each other space. The work is stronger because of what each of us brings to the table.
As an added bonus: we hold each other accountable and help each other out on the more mundane aspects of writing, like sticking to deadlines if one of us is overwhelmed, the other can pick up the slack, and vice versa. And there’s no better motivation to finish those pages than a waiting co-author who has set aside precious Saturday morning hours to write, picking up where you left off!
Creating art together can be challenging, particularly since it’s such a vulnerable practice. This process can’t work without a lot of trust and respect. It requires a mindset of grace, openness and flexibility. We have established a process of listening to each other’s ideas without shutting anything down, while remaining open to possibilities and also knowing when to change course if that idea is not working.
Also, this isn’t “positive” or “negative” but a simple fact: authors who choose to collaborate must be willing to develop strong practices of organization as part of the writing practice. Of course, outlines change and there’s still plenty of room for creativity, but it’s essential to have a solid structure in place, when two authors will be working simultaneously on a project.
Many writers are cautious about writing stories that reflect cultures other than their own. Is collaboration a way for writers to reach across these divides, authentically?
Absolutely. As we drafted Does My Body Offend You?, we were very aware that many young adult novels tackling feminist themes had been written through a white gaze. We decided to write a dress-code protest story from two points of view, so that we could explore themes of feminism, allyship and intersectionality in a very nuanced and authentic way. And because of our friendship and collaboration, we were able to bring in the compassion and connection across differences that is sometimes missing in social justice narratives.
One of the things that our books encourage young people to do is to think broadly about the ways we collaborate in everyday life, and especially in our advocacy work: when is it time to step back and listen, and when is it time to step forward and take action? When we take action too quickly we often overlook the most important voices. If you are a leader, build coalitions. Learn to listen with compassion, and always work alongside others to open space for marginalized voices to be amplified.
We are all living in different spaces and we experience the same events in very different ways, depending on the color of our skin, social class, sexual orientation, education, even our citizenship status. We need to realize how the choices we make are shaped and constrained by the unequal conditions in which we live, and we should find ways to challenge that status quo that encourage dialogue, collaboration, and building friendship—even across very real differences. When we do, not only can we make great art together, but we can make progress toward concrete social change.