Crystal Maldonado is a young adult author with a lot of feelings. She is the author of romcoms for fat, brown girls, including The Fall of Whit Rivera, which will be released Oct. 10, 2023; Fat Chance, Charlie Vega, which was a New England Book Award winner, a Cosmopolitan Best New Book, and a Kirkus Best YA Fiction of 2021; and No Filter and Other Lies, which was named a POPSUGAR and Seventeen Best New YA.
By day, Crystal works in higher ed marketing, and by night, she’s a writer who loves Beyoncé, glitter, shopping, and spending too much time on her phone. Her work has been published in Latina, BuzzFeed, and the Hartford Courant. She lives in western Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and dog. Follow her everywhere @crystalwrote.
I had the opportunity to interview Crystal, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi, Geeks OUT! Thank you so much for having me. I’m a young adult author who writes inclusive stories for fat, brown girls that hopefully make you laugh and swoon at the same time. I’ve long been a huge fan of the YA genre, especially as a reader. Romcoms are the way to my heart! Outside of reading and writing, I love shopping (I’m obsessed with anything glitter and I collect quirky earrings), rewatching “Gilmore Girls,” playing Animal Crossing, boy bands, TikTok, and Beyoncé.
What can you tell us about your latest book, No Filter and Other Lies? What inspired the story?
“No Filter and Other Lies” follows 17-year-old Kat Sanchez, a fat, Puerto Rican photographer who’s obsessed with Instagram. While grappling with typical teenage insecurities and some difficult family dynamics, she becomes fixated on gaining clout on IG. When that doesn’t happen naturally, Kat takes matters into her own hands: she steals her friend and co-worker’s photos, makes a new identity on Instagram, and starts to catfish (or #katfish, in Kat’s case). Suddenly she gets that attention she’s always wanted, but it all comes crashing down when Kat meets a follower she develops feelings for and she has to decide whether to come clean or keep up the lie.
This story was my attempt at writing about a fat girl whose fatness wasn’t integral to the story, and who was, quite frankly, a little unlikeable. Kat’s decision to steal her friend’s photos is awful! But don’t we all sometimes do things we’re not proud of? I wanted to explore that imperfection through her story, and also shed some light on how immense the pressures of social media can sometimes feel, especially when you’re a teenager. I hope I accomplished that!
What drew you to writing, particularly young adult fiction? Were there any favorite writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?
Young adult fiction has always been my favorite, and I’ve been reading it for as long as I can remember. I was absolutely obsessed with the “Gossip Girl” (by Cecily von Ziegesar), “Making Waves” (by Katherine Applegate), and “California Diaries” (by Ann M. Martin) series when I was in high school. I also read a ton by Paula Danziger and Sarah Dessen. I would devour those types of books, finishing them in a day!
As a writer, I can’t help but be drawn to young adult fiction, especially contemporary romance. First, I’m such a sucker for those first feelings—the swooning, the loaded glances, the butterflies! I also think a lot of our teen experiences and the big, raw emotions that come with it are universal, and there is something very comforting reading about others who feel the same way you do. I also think YA allows you to explore important issues, like identity and sexuality, in meaningful and nuanced ways, which is important to me.
No Filter and Other Lies is said to feature queer and Latinx representation. What does it mean to you as an author writing this into your work?
When I was a young reader, I rarely saw these parts of myself in books I was reading. There were so few queer characters; many Latinx characters were stereotypes; fat characters were never the love interest; and forget about characters that had one or more of those identities. You just didn’t see that. So, even though I loved books, the lack of representation often made me wonder if books loved me back. I knew as an author I wanted to try to fix that by creating characters that I’d have appreciated when I was a teenager in hopes that readers might pick up my books and feel less alone.
How would you describe your writing process? What inspires you as a writer?
My writing process is definitely chaotic. I wish I could say I was one of those pragmatic authors who has a specific routine, who is great about creating outlines, who sits down and writes 1,000 words per day, but none of that is true. My writing is very much about feelings and daydreaming. I spend so much time imagining my characters, who they are, what scenarios they’ll find themselves in, and what might happen—all before I even write one word! Once I develop the characters, then I’m usually able to sit down and figure out a rough outline, but I very much change direction as I’m going.
Sometimes I’m inspired by other media I consume, like books, movies, music, or TV shows, but sometimes my inspiration comes from personal experience or even small things. The idea for my upcoming book, “The Fall of Whit Rivera,” came to me when I was sitting in a rainy parking lot waiting to get my daughter from daycare and drinking a pumpkin spice coffee. So, I never know when inspiration may strike, and I kind of love that!
What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What are some of the most challenging for you?
One of my favorite parts of writing is getting to know the characters. It sounds really silly to say since the characters aren’t real, but you get to a point where they feel real, you know? After a while, you start to know what your character would or wouldn’t do. I also love writing dialogue! For me, that’s how I build on the relationships between characters in an authentic way. But I’ll admit I find plotting and outlining to be challenging. I’m very much that person who sometimes thinks, “Can I forget the plot and just write on vibes and feelings?”
One of the hardest parts of writing a book is finishing one. Were there any techniques/ strategies/ advice that help you finish a first draft?
Don’t edit while you write! This used to be my biggest downfall. I would go back and re-read my book over and over and over and then get hung up on the editing, which would slow down the writing. Now I try to write a first draft as fast as I can and give myself permission for that draft to be messy. First drafts are supposed to be bad! It’s more important to get the story down on the page than it is to have a perfect first draft. Polishing your work comes in the editing. Just write!
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
“Have you ever been catfished?” And the answer is… YES. Back in the days of America Online, when I was around 11 or 12, I made friends in Backstreet Boys chatrooms. I was young and naïve then, and I was catfished by this random person who pretended to be Nick Carter. We would talk all the time and I was so infatuated. We’d email and he’d be like, “I’ll be thinking of you at my concert tonight,” and I was like, “Wow, I can’t believe THE Nick Carter and I are in love!” Obviously, that person very much turned out not to be Nick Carter. That person’s mom emailed me and my friend to say he had been just pretending to be Nick. It was totally devastating at the time, but it’s hilarious when I look back on it. And also super embarrassing. I can’t believe I willingly shared that.
Besides your work, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?
I’m deeply passionate about trying to do my part to make the world better, however possible. I think empathy is one of the most important traits anyone can have, and I’m trying to teach my daughter to bring kindness into every interaction she has. Also: I have a very adorable dog named Obi!
What advice might you give to other aspiring writers?
Write your heart out, get that first draft done, and then be open to edits. It’s through the editing that your book will really come alive. And never read reviews for your own books on Goodreads!
Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?
I briefly mentioned my next book, “The Fall of Whit Rivera,” which will come out mid-2023. It tells the story of Whit Rivera is a Type A, office supply-obsessed, pumpkin spice latte-sipping, fat Puerto Rican girl, whose story is an ode to second-chance loves, bodies, family, being Puerto Rican, living life with chronic illness, and New England autumns. I can’t wait for people to meet this new character!
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
There are SO many amazing LGBTQ+ books and authors out right now. I love anything by Anna Marie McLemore (“Wild Beauty” is one of my all-time favorites), Adib Khorram, and Jonny Garza Villa. I also adored “The Summer of Jordi Perez” by Amy Spalding, “The Grief Keeper” by Alex Villasante, and “Cemetery Boys” by Aiden Thomas. Lastly—and not a YA rec—“Honey Girl” by Morgan Rogers was phenomenal. Happy reading!