When writing becomes a Sanctuary
In her books, Francesca Flores mixes her passion for Latin American history with fantasy elements
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Francesca Flores was born in Pittsburg to a Colombian father and a white American mother. “Growing up, it was often hard to meet other Latinos, since my neighborhood and school didn’t have many. But I always tried to connect with people and speak Spanish as much as possible,” she recalled in a recent interview with AL DÍA.
Flores is today a promising linguist and author of youth fantasy novels starring Latina teenagers, in a sort of homage to her Latin American roots, even though she was raised mostly by her mother.
“I never thought I’d become a published author. I didn’t realize it was an actual career I could have, since I knew nothing about how publishing worked or how to get involved in it,” she admitted.
As she explains in her blog, Flores lived in two worlds growing up. One world was the private school she attended on scholarship. The second one was her local community in Pittsburg, where most of his friends got more wrapped into poverty, gangs, drugs, “and many other problems they shouldn’t have to deal with as teenagers.”
“Writing anchored me in both worlds, and was something I could do on the bus between work and school, or at night once I finished homework,” she wrote.
After graduating, Flores moved across the country to San Francisco for undergrad, studying International Relations and Linguistics. There, she discovered the website Wattpad, “which gave me an avenue to connect with other writers, and some of them became very good friends. These friends started pursuing publishing more seriously, and it was like a lightbulb went off in my head,” she recalled.
Learning from experience
Her debut novel, 'Diamond City' (St. Martin’s Press, 2020), stars a Latina teenager, Aina Solís, who lost her parents, takes a job as an assassin to survive and finds a new family in those like her: the unwanted and forgotten.
“The message I wanted readers to take away was how to still be proud and feel brave after surviving difficult or humbling circumstances. I want readers who’ve grown up without much money to not feel shame in that fact, and to realize the strength they’ve learned from their experiences,” she explained. “I also wanted readers, especially young readers, to be able to recognize the signs of a manipulative relationship through reading Aina’s experience.”
Her latest book, 'The Witch and the Vampire' (Saint Martin’s Press, 2023), is a queer Rapunzel retelling where a witch and a vampire who trust no one but themselves must journey together through a cursed forest with danger at every turn.
“My characters are usually Latinas, but since I write fantasy worlds, I try to make them my own as much as possible. I enjoy coming up with new worlds, languages, and histories, but my personal experience and knowledge always influence my writing,” Flores explained. “I love learning Latin American history, and this usually comes through in my books, also with political and social dynamics, even if they are subtle. With my new book, I wanted to write a book full of things I loved. Vampires, forests and nature, elemental magic powers, and strong female friendship (that turns into romance, in this book).”
Flores’ decision to write for teenagers was accidental. “For a long time, I was just writing characters a few years younger than me, since I was close enough to their age to understand what they felt, yet distanced enough that I had more perspective. So, at first, I was simply defaulting to write for a young audience,” she admitted. But now she still chooses to write for teenagers and very young adults because of how tumultuous a time in life it can be. “It’s often hard to see your own experiences reflected in media, and I believe every author who writes for young people should write their own, authentic experiences, because there will be readers who find it and connect with it, and see themselves in media for the first time to know that they’re not alone.”
Having experienced poverty and homelessness during her youth, Flores admitted that writing somehow became her sanctuary. “When there was so little I could control in my life, writing was something I could control. I could control entire worlds on the page.”
“I love writing stories about young people who learn to come into their own power, rise above their circumstances, and grow from their experiences,” she said. “I hope that young readers who find my books can feel seen and draw not only strength, but also reassurance, from their experiences,” she concluded.