Best-selling author Priscilla Oliveras is dedicated to showcasing the best of the Latinx community through her powerful, heartwarming love stories. The latest in her impressive line-up of nine published novels–not to mention inclusion in several romance anthologies–is a love letter to her Puerto Rican-Mexican heritage. A mix of Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, and Priscilla’s own twists, West Side Love Story follows Mariana Capuleta and Angelo Montero, two mariachi musicians caught between their feuding families. With none of her inspiration’s tragedy and all of their humor, swoon-worthy romance, and beautiful depictions of sisterhood and mariachi, this is the perfect feel-good novel and positive representation that the Latinx community needs.
Sofía Aguilar and Priscilla Oliveras hopped on Zoom to discuss West Side Love Story, her writing advice, and why Latinx readers need more love stories.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: After writing and publishing nine books, what has been one important lesson that you’ve learned from your career?
PRISCILLA OLIVERAS: Being true to myself and my story and why I’m writing the stories that I want to write. It can be easy to compare yourself to others but I need to remember that we’re all on our own path and it’s all in our own time. At the end of the day, if I’m looking at either the work that I’ve done that day or looking at myself in the mirror, am I proud of what I’ve done? Am I remembering why I’m telling the story?
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What do you love about writing romance novels specifically?
PRISCILLA OLIVERAS: What draws me to romance really is the positivity, the message of hope. The message that love can conquer, even if that’s corny. I’m writing about regular people that could be my neighbor dealing with everyday things that happen in life. Learning how to become better people, be their best self, and surround themselves with people who are loving and supportive so that when life throws crap at you, you can get through it. That’s what romance brings to the table and what it shows its readers.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Why is it important to feature and center Latinx characters in your stories and for love to be at the core of those stories?
PRISCILLA OLIVERAS: I’m writing about my world, right? The world I live in is not all white. If we are the genre of hope, if we are celebrating love, then every person should be able to find themselves or someone like their loved ones on the cover and in between the pages of a romance novel.
I’m writing about my world, right? The world I live in is not all white.Priscilla Oliveras
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Why did you want to do a twist on Romeo and Juliet specifically?
PRISCILLA OLIVERAS: When I had the idea for West Side Love Story, my daughter was like, “Mom, how can you do Romeo and Juliet and have them not die? At least one person’s gonna die.” And I love West Side Story but I’ll be honest, when I’m watching it at home, I always rewind it to either “I Feel Pretty” or “Dear Officer Krupke” because I need to end on a positive note. There are enough stories out there being published and celebrated that are about the struggles of the Latinx community or that end, if not in death, in misery or depression. But news flash: there are a lot of us out here that are living and loving and working and achieving our dreams and finding love. That’s what I’ve tried to do with West Side Love Story. There are nods to Shakespeare’s version, to the musical West Side Story, and then the film. I just felt like some of those tropes and some of the conflicts in Romeo and Juliet lend themselves well to the Latinx community. But I hope that if I’ve done my job well, it’s a different story but with shades of those originals.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: A big theme in the novel is the idea of sisterhood and mariachi music. Why was it important for you to include those aspects?
PRISCILLA OLIVERAS: To me, it seemed right. Several years ago, my friend Sabrina sent me a link to a video online of a local news show interviewing an all-female mariachi group out in California. As soon as I saw it, I wanted to write about sisters in an all-female band coming up against machismo and the patriarchy. Because this is a male-dominated industry, the mariachi. Then I thought, “What if there’s another band? And what if they’re not just competing in a competition, but there’s history? What if it’s two families feeding?” And then it went from there.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What intrigues you about Mariana as a protagonist?
PRISCILLA OLIVERAS: I really admire her sense of responsibility. It can be a plus, but it can also be a minus. There’s a scene in the book where her mom even tells her, “You can’t control everything.” But because of her backstory, she is determined to protect her loved ones. All of the Capuleta sisters have come to Casa Capuleta through the foster care system, so it’s a beautiful found familia. She’s determined not to lose them, to protect them, but one of the things that she has to learn is life is complicated and there are uncertainties and there’s a lot beyond her control. But I love her determination to do the right thing to care for others.
There are enough stories out there being published and celebrated that are about the struggles of the Latinx community or that end, if not in death, in misery or depression. But news flash: there are a lot of us out here that are living and loving and working and achieving our dreams and finding love.Priscilla Oliveras
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Which is where her love interest Angelo comes in?
PRISCILLA OLIVERAS: Right! He’s so good about letting her know, like, “Let me be the one that you lean on. Everyone is leaning on you, but who bolsters you?” That’s what he wants to be for her if they can get past the feud. Especially as Latinas, we are taught from a young age that it’s what you do for others, whether you’re feeding them or you’re working. It’s beautiful but self-care is, too, and it’s okay to go after your dreams at the same time that you’re caring for your loved ones. And that’s a balance that she’s trying that Mariana’s struggling with.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What advice would you give to aspiring writers, especially Latinas?
PRISCILLA OLIVERAS: Just start writing, because you can’t change a blank page. So even if you think, “Oh, this isn’t that great,” that’s okay. Keep writing because you can go back and revise it. Get past chapter one, don’t keep revising that chapter one, keep working to get to the end. Hone your craft, learn about your craft, get how-to books. Connect with fellow writers on social media, join a writing group, and start building a network of fellow authors. They’re your source of support. Maybe you can connect with some people to start critiquing or brainstorming. All those things.