YA author Crystal Maldonado is making her mark on Latinx readers across the world. Crystal’s stories center fat, beautiful, brown girls chasing the love they’ve always deserved but haven’t received–until now. Her new sophomore novel No Filter and Other Lies follows Kat, an aspiring photographer, as she grapples with her multifaceted identity, catfishing as one of her friends on social media, and being her truest self both online and in real life.
Sofía Aguilar and Crystal Maldonado hopped on Zoom to discuss No Filter and Other Lies, Maldonado’s commitment to diverse and intersectional representation, and what she’s learned from her writing journey so far.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: How would you describe yourself as a writer?
CRYSTAL MALDONADO: I’m a young adult author of contemporary stories trying to write fat, brown girls living their best lives! I’m committed to trying to improve representation for those of us who are plus-sized, who are Latina, who don’t see ourselves as much as we deserve to see ourselves in books and movies and TV shows. That’s why I wanted to get into young adult because that’s where I’m gonna have the strongest connection with readers. Where I’ll be able to make an influence during a time in young readers’ lives where they need the affirmation that they matter, that their identity is important, and that they can be the main character.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: In both of your novels, we see characters of different genders, races, skin tones, sizes, etc. How do you approach writing experiences that are different from your own?
CRYSTAL MALDONADO: It’s a question I grapple with a lot. Thankfully, I only have two main characters so far, so I’ve been able to apply my experience-ish. I know that immigration stories are really big within Latinx media but I never immigrated and my parents didn’t either. So I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing a first-person story in that sense because I can really only speak for my experience but that might be something that a secondary character goes through. You need to do a lot of research, talking to people, reading a lot, watching documentaries, trying to approach every identity from a thoughtful place, and making sure that you’re doing more good than anything.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Why do you think feel-good love stories like yours are so few and far between in the Latinx community?
CRYSTAL MALDONADO: It’s an issue within publishing! For the longest time, we were just given these sad, tragic stories but sometimes, we just want to read a feel-good story about someone who shares our identity. There’s nothing wrong with books that have trauma and in fact, they’re incredibly important. But alongside those stories, we also need stories that feel like you’re living everyday life. That’s why I lean into the romance aspect because we don’t get enough love and I want that for us.
For the longest time, we were just given these sad, tragic stories but sometimes, we just want to read a feel-good story about someone who shares our identity.Crystal Mandonado
SOFÍA AGUILAR: At what point were you inspired to write your debut novel Fat Chance, Charlie Vega?
CRYSTAL MALDONADO: Around the 2016 election, things were real bad. I was in a low place and felt like a kid again because I had a lot of identities that I was embarrassed by. And I thought, “What’s one way to rebel against this narrative?” And I figured, “I’m gonna make this Charlie Vega character and she’s gonna have all these identities be celebrated. She’s gonna be the girl that’s desired.” That was my way of embracing all those things that I wish society had embraced about me.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Let’s turn to your sophomore novel, No Filter and Other Lies. Given that your debut was such a success, was it daunting at all to think about a follow-up project?
CRYSTAL MALDONADO: I didn’t realize it until after I finished the first draft of No Filter but in the author community, second books are considered the devil. I have been so touched and humbled by the wonderful, warm reception and for that reason, my anxiety brain has been like, “Well, they’re gonna hate the next one.” You’re thinking about all these things like, “Was the first one just a fluke? What if the second book isn’t as good?” I know one thing that I was worried about was how I could create a whole new character that feels different enough from Charlie when they both share core identities. But it was nice to challenge myself.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Kat makes a lot of mistakes throughout the story, many of them huge and catastrophic and consequential. What do you love about her, despite her flaws?
CRYSTAL MALDONADO: She has so much heart and she really just wants someone to accept her the way that she is. She doesn’t want to disappoint someone else. Her intentions are never malicious so I get every decision that she makes, even though they’re decisions I wouldn’t make. She’s trying her best, she doesn’t have everything figured out, and she has to learn that she is great just as she is.
The way we tackle this lack of inclusion is to get more voices and authors out there so we can have more books on the shelf.Crystal Maldonado
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What do you hope readers take away from Kat’s story?
CRYSTAL MALDONADO: Being honest with yourself and the people you care about is super important. Even if it’s scary, it’s still worth it to live your truth. If readers finish this book and can root for Kat, then they can root for themselves too and know they don’t have to be perfect. They can make mistakes and still deserve good things.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What has surprised you about the writing and publishing process?
CRYSTAL MALDONADO: So much! One of the things that surprised me the most was how warm and inviting the community can be once you get that deal. I felt like I had all these amazing hands reaching out to me, which was especially prominent with other Latinx authors. Like Zoraida Córdova was so supportive from the beginning, retweeting stuff from me and offering advice. Things that I never expected became such an important part of the community and reaffirmed that I belong here. Now I want to do the same and extend a hand to someone else and invite them in. The way we tackle this lack of inclusion is to get more voices and authors out there so we can have more books on the shelf.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What advice would you give to those hoping to pursue writing?
CRYSTAL MALDONADO: It’s all about sitting down and writing your story, which can be the biggest hurdle. Especially when you’re a marginalized author asking, “Is there room for my story? Or is my idea just like this other book?” Don’t worry about that. Tell your story, tell it well, sit down and actually do the writing, and then the rest will come.