Alyssa Reynoso-Morris is a queer Afro-Latine/x Dominican and Puerto Rican storyteller. Her ability to weave compelling stories has opened many doors for her as an author, speaker, and resume writer. She is also a mother and community organizer. During the day she works with community members, non-profit organizations, and government officials to make the world a better place. Then she puts her writer’s hat on to craft heartfelt stories about home, family, food, and the fun places she has been. Alyssa was born and raised in The Bronx, New York, and currently lives in Philadelphia, PA with her partner and daughter. She is the author of Plátanos Are Love, The Bronx Is My Home, and Gloriana Presente: A First Day of School Book. She hopes you enjoy her stories.
I had the opportunity to interview Alyssa, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
¡Hola! Hello! Thank you for having me! My name is Alyssa Reynoso-Morris and I am a queer Afro-Latiné/x Dominican and Puerto Rican storyteller. My ability to weave compelling stories has opened many doors for me as an author, speaker, and resume writer. I am also a mother and community organizer. During the day I work with community members, non-profit organizations, and government officials to make the world a better place. Then I put my writer’s hat on to craft heartfelt stories about home, family, food, and the fun places I have been. I was born and raised in The Bronx, New York, and currently live in Philadelphia, PA with my partner and daughter. I am the author of Plátanos Are Love, The Bronx Is My Home, and Gloriana Presente: A First Day of School Book. I hope you enjoy my stories.
What can you tell us about your most recent book, Plátanos Are Love? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?
In Plátanos Are Love, a little girl learns about the ways plantains shape Latinx culture, community, and family from her abuela. The book begins in an open-air market with the following lines:
En el mercado, Abuela says, “plátanos are love.”
I thought they were food.
But Abuela says they feed us in more ways than one.
My love of my Abuela, her stories, and the food we made together inspired Plátanos Are Love. After the initial idea and inspiration, I did some research. Market research is important for writers because we need to write original and engaging content. My research revealed that there were dozens of picture books about potatoes, soup, and other foods, but zero books about plátanos. A book about plátanos and how our ancestors passed down their recipes, as a form of cultural preservation, did not exist so I knew I had something special. Fortunately, my agent Kaitlyn and my editor Alex agreed and then we got to work on bringing the book to life.
Do you yourself have any personal connection or story related to plátanos you would like to share?
I have been eating plátanos since I was a little girl so it is hard to pick just one memory or story… After much thought, my favorite plátano story is the first time my daughter ate a tostone. It was her first solid food and she was obsessed. It brought me so much joy to know tostones were her first solid food.
How did you find yourself getting into storytelling, particularly picture books? What drew you to the medium?
I wanted to be a writer since I was 7 years old because I grew up with my Abuela – the original storyteller. She had a second-grade education, but that didn’t stop her from telling the best stories that captivated EVERYONE’S attention. I remember looking up to her and wanting to be like her. I think she knew that because she would rope me into “helping” her tell her stories. I actually still have the first book I ever wrote when I was 7 years old with the help of my mom and share it with students during school visits.
I have done some cool things like building water purification systems in other countries, researching witness protection programs for the Tribunal of Rwanda, and organizing multilingual COVID-19 clinics at the height of the pandemic. But I love telling stories and never stopped reading and writing. I am glad I get to reinvent myself and that I am now able to focus more on my first love – writing.
I love writing picture books because as a mom and former teacher, I know firsthand how SMART and KIND kids are. It is an honor to write stories for kids, because they are the future. Writing stories rooted in LOVE and hope is my way of making the world a better and more empathetic place.
Can you give insight or advice into what goes into making a picture book?
Making a picture book takes a lot of time. Below are some steps involved.
- First, you need to come up with your idea.
- Second, you need to do your research to make sure your idea and approach are fresh and new.
- Third, write the book (keeping word count, voice, plot, character development, and literary elements) in mind.
- Fourth, edit the book. Share it with critique partners that can provide you with honest feedback.
- Fifth, edit some more. And then some more. And then some more.
- After all that repeat steps 1-5 with at least two more story ideas. WHY? Because to get a literary agent you need to have at least 3 polished picture book manuscripts.
- Sixth, write a clear and personalized query letter to get a literary agent. Keep writing while querying and mentally prepare for rejection. It is normal and NOT personal at all. There are hundreds of reasons why an agent might not offer representation. You got this. When you get an offer for agent representation. Make sure you do your homework and work with someone that will be able to advocate for you.
- Seventh, work on the manuscript with your agent to get ready for submission to editors at publishing houses. Keep writing while on submission. The rejection is not over yet. Keep writing and don’t get discouraged.
- Sell your book. Work with your agent to get you the best deal.
- Edit the manuscript with your editor.
- Let the illustrator work their magic.
- Learn as much as you can about marketing to get your book in as many hands as possible.
- Do it all over again 😀
As a creative, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?
Growing up, I enjoyed reading books by Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros, and Jacqueline Woodson. Their books helped me feel seen, heard, and validated.
Besides your work, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?
A few fun things I will share are that I love to sing and dance. You can often find me by putting on a song I love and I will either start singing it or dancing to it or both. I used to sing for my church when I was a kid and was in the musicals at my high school.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were (and the answer to that question)?
A question I have not been asked is, “If you could add more to your book Plátanos Are Love, what would that be?” Picture books are short with a total of 40 pages including the title page and dedication page. I could not include a few more ways I enjoy eating plátanos which include mofongo, pastelon, and yaroa.
What advice might you have to offer to aspiring creatives in general?
If it brings you joy, please carve out the time for it. You deserve to be happy. Advice for writers is: first, read a lot. Second, keep writing no matter what. Third, do your research.
Are there any projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?
I have two more books coming so I will be busy promoting those too. On October 24th, 2023 my second book The Bronx Is My Home comes out, and my third book Gloriana Presente: A First Day of School Book comes out in 2024.
The Bronx Is My Home is a picture book celebration of hometown pride including the history, landscape, cuisines, cultures, and activities unique to this vibrant community. Welcome to the Bronx, New York, where you can see bodegas and businesses bustling on every street, taste the most delicious empanadas in the world, smell the salty sea air of Pelham Bay, and pet horses at the Bronx Equestrian Center. From sunrise to sunset, Santiago and Mami have many treasures to enjoy in their neighborhood on a beautiful Saturday, including colorful birds on the Siwanoy Trail and fresh cannolis on Arthur Avenue. This energetic and joyful family story offers both a journey through and a love letter to this special borough. The Bronx Is My Home is a triumphant celebration of hometown pride, as well as a heartfelt invitation to all, for readers of My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Pena, and Saturday by Oge Mora.
My third book Gloriana Presente: A First Day Of School Book is a bilingual picture book that features a Dominican American girl overcoming anxiety and finding her voice in the classroom.
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/comics would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?