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Victoria Hyla Maldonado

Interview

Childhood

Q: What was your earliest memory of writing?

A: “I was probably always writing, but the first one that stuck with me was writing a “book” for my third-grade reading class. We were given little hardcover books that were blank inside, and we had to draft and edit then put the story and illustrations in the book. I did a little Oz fan fiction about a unicorn who finds her home among the residents of the magical land of L. Frank Baum. I still have it on my “books that I’ve written and edited” shelf.”

Q: Were there any stories that you remember writing?

A: “I remember writing snippets of little fantasy stories, but it seems like I always had great starts to ideas and rarely followed through with them.” 

Q: What kinds of books did you like to read?

A: “In elementary and middle school, I really liked fantasy stories with animals or magical creatures as the main characters. I had my vampire and witches phase, of course, and I really got into romance novels while in middle school, and that genre pretty much stuck for the most part in addition to enjoying what we were reading in school.”

 

Q: Did reading or writing have a certain meaning to you or did it carry any weight in your childhood?

A: “I loved reading, and I did it quite a bit because it was just something that we did. My parents were often reading, and my mom was a reading specialist and elementary teacher, so books were just a norm. Once I got into a series, I would obsess and read the whole thing. The Oz books come to mind as well as L. J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries and The Secret Circle (so much better than the shows although Ian Somerhalder is so perfectly Damon). I did a lot of other things though as well, including watching way too much TV and movies and playing the piano, so it wasn’t my entire focus.”

 

Teenage Years & Early Adulthood

Q: Did you do any writing in high school or college? If so, what kind of projects did you work on?

A: “I was always writing. By middle school, I was writing half-baked romance stories and lots and lots of poetry (some pretty dark). I remember writing one romance story starter about pirates and turned it into my eighth-grade language arts teacher. She accused me of plagiarism because “You couldn’t have written that. It’s too good.” Although harsh, that blow didn’t deter me. I kept writing. I got involved with the school’s literary magazine of which I later became the editor. I continued writing a lot of poetry as well as little romance stories when the mood struck me. I also wrote for our school newspaper and had a student column in the local Daily Herald newspaper. I also began writing my first novel in high school. Throughout early adulthood, I worked and reworked that first novel as I grew and changed and had more life experiences. Beyond that, I wrote lots and lots of essays for classes. One history TA in college loved my writing so much he recommended me for grad school.”

Q: Were there any classes that you took or teachers/professors that encouraged your writing?

A: “I took a creative writing course my junior or senior year of high school that was pretty good at stretching me to write new kinds of things, but before that I had so many inspiring teachers. Mrs. Taglieri in third grade got me started with that first little book. My freshman year English teacher, Mrs. Eiserman, really gave me a lot of confidence. We had to write a short story about a dream. Most kids wrote “I have a dream about being…” a basketball player, model, etc. I wrote about a girl’s daydream and finding a first love in that dream. She liked it so much, she asked if she could read it to the class as an example of great writing and then encouraged me to submit it to the literary magazine. Mrs. Pate my junior year got me involved with the school newspaper, and her helpful edits to my papers in class have stuck with me to this day. She also chose me to write the class poem, so I did and got to read that at our graduation ceremony.”

Q: What life experiences influenced your writing and reading preferences?

A: “I have just always had a flair for the dramatic, so I think that’s why I tend toward the romance genre although my writing has trended a bit darker of late. The heightened emotions involved in those kinds of books have always been thrilling to me. I also love theatre, again with the drama. Recently I was observed by someone as being an empath, but I’d never thought of myself as such; it’s possible he had a point, and it’s been making me think in those terms lately. Unless I really want to push myself, I tend to stick to reading romance, but I also read a lot of Christian nonfiction and historical fiction.”

 

Adulthood

Q: How has your relationship with literature changed over the years?

A: “I loved reading as a kid and didn’t think much of it other than that’s what people did. I know some people balk at “having” to read something for a class, but honestly those experiences were some of my favorite. It pushed me to read things I otherwise wouldn’t have picked up. Novels like Dostoyevsky’s Crime & Punishment or Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled and so many more, I never would have read otherwise. I’ve always read, but mostly it’s just for enjoyment, so I stick to fiction in general because that’s an escape. Lately, it’s become an obsession because every good writer is also an avid reader. Plus, now I write books that I want to read because who else is going to?” 

Q: How have your tastes changed?

A: “I’m still very much into the romance genre and the occasional fantasy book, but I have opened myself up to Christian nonfiction because of my relatively recent journey to faith. I still keep mostly to fiction, but every once in a while, I like a good motivational or self-exploratory piece. I went a good many years not really reading all that much, but now I just need to be reading something. That being said, I don’t really have all that much time to sit down with a book very often, so I must say I’m hooked on audiobooks. This way, I can still “read” while doing necessary mundane activities and chores around the house. My first two books currently are being produced for that, but the narrator had some life issues come up so they’re on a bit of a hold.”

Q: How has your writing style changed?

A: “My writing style definitely has matured over the years. I have always written pretty symbolically and have great integration of theme and motif and all that, but now it’s just more. Now I write less what I think people want to read and more what needs to be told. It’s not as important to try to please the masses as it is to write the authentic stories that only I can tell. If you know me, that bent is wholeheartedly reflected in my books, especially in my most recent, Awake in Elysian Fields. It is even more so in the trilogy I’m currently writing. In whatever I’m writing, I want to take readers with me on an emotional journey that isn’t always pretty, but it is ultimately satisfying.”

Q: What inspires you now?

A: Life inspires me now. Throughout my life, I feel like I’ve lived so many lives—some good, some not so much… kind of like a cat—that have provided me with many jumping-off points for ideas and stories. When I need inspiration, I just dig into those moments, reflect, and generally can pull something out that then flourishes of its own accord. For my kids’ books, my children have been a fount of inspiration as well as the animal world.”

Q: Is writing just a hobby for you, or has it become a career?

A: “It most definitely has become a career. I hope one day it’s lucrative, too. When I’m not writing and trying to promote my own things, I’m editing the work of others (both fiction and nonfiction). I’ve also recently joined up with a new publishing company as the chief editor. We are hoping to bring many amazing books to life very soon.”

Q: What have you published recently? 

A: “Most recently, I’ve published my second children’s book, Tears for the Butterfly, and my first, Bartleby the Brave. I’ve also recently published a short story, The Bridge, in a young adult romance anthology, and I have several more coming in similar anthologies. Awake in Elysian Fields was published in June 2020, so that’s recent as well. I also organized and published a poetry anthology for a friend of mine who passed from suicide in 2018. The Evidence I Have Lived: The Complete Works of Lisa F. Gullo is an epic, personal and unabridged journal of her troubled life told mostly through poetry. It’s a beautiful thing that I enjoy promoting.”

Q: Tell us what you’re working on right now. How does this work differ from your previous work?

A: “I’m working on a few new children’s books. One is being illustrated, and a few more are in my brain still. Also, I’m continuing to write short stories for some romance anthologies coming out this year and next. But my biggest project is a new romance novel trilogy called “Hotel Brisas.” Quite a bit different from my first trilogy, this one follows a group of five women from different walks of life at very diverse stages in their lives and life experiences (from American to Mexican, from 16 to mid-50s). They all come together through the renovation, opening, and running of a hotel in Cuernavaca in Morelos, Mexico. The inspiration for this story is so close to one point in my own life that it’s kind of intimidating, but also exciting. I’ll be admitting some really dark and real truths in one of the characters that might be hard for some to embrace, but ultimately, I do love a happy ending and expect the characters to come out on top. It’s set in Mexico where I studied abroad, but I’m stretching myself with research to put in a bit about the cartel, so it should be quite the adventure! Writing a trilogy intentionally from the beginning will be a new experience.”

Q: What do you want people that read this article to know about your books?

A: “I want people to know that the romance genre isn’t just fluffy warm emotional fuzzies and thrilling sex scenes. My novels really delve into the core of the human experience and emotion and trauma and where you can go from there. I write what moves me, and I just hope it resonates with others in some amazing way. For my children’s books, I want to foster reading and develop kids into good people. For the most part, I want to leave a lasting positive message that will both educate and entertain.” 

Q: Why did you choose to write Romance?

A: “Romance has always just been what I love to read most and what comes most easily. I don’t do spy books because I don’t know spy stuff… you get the picture. I’ve just always loved the raw emotions and vulnerability of characters, their self-doubt, their strength… everything. It’s inspiring and fun and enjoyable to me. Plus I’ve discovered that I’m actually really good at it.”

 

In Death We Part by Victoria Hyla Maldonado

Q: Why did you choose to write the story in the setting that it’s written in?

A: “Brianna begins in Chicago because that’s where I’m from (well, the suburbs), but I needed her to be from a city to underscore the contrast of her going somewhere so different. New Mexico was actually chosen by the guy who inspired Matt. That was a place that he knew and loved well from Scouts, but initially he wanted it set in Taos. I changed it to Santa Fe once I’d visited there because it’s still quite natural and rural compared to Chicago, but Santa Fe is an artists’ town and Brianna is an artist. It’s also nestled among reservations and beautiful nature, which served to provide amazing settings.”

Q: Tell us about the characters.

A: “Brianna Wylder is a few months away from 18 at the start of the story. She’s a talented artist just finishing high school with life opening at her feet when tragedy strikes and both her parents are killed in a car accident. This throws her world into chaos, and she has to struggle to find herself and her place in a new adult world. She is transplanted to New Mexico for the summer with her appointed guardians, and she has to navigate love and attraction with two very different men, Ben Davis and Matt Brennan. Ben Davis, 24, is a young Chicago police officer who delivers to Brianna the news of her parents’ deaths. He’s drawn to her with a protectiveness and attraction he can’t deny, but on his side of the law, he holds back while she heads off to New Mexico, but he’s not going to give up on her, especially once she turns 18. Matt Brennan, 21, is a ranch hand and bull rider living his dream life in New Mexico. He escaped a traumatic childhood in an urban environment and hates everything city and anyone from there. Still, he’s viscerally drawn to Brianna when he meets her, but fights against the attraction and her because city girls are nothing he wants in his life.” 

Q: Who was easy to write? Who gave you the biggest challenge?

A: “Everyone really was easy to write. I can’t think of anything that was really difficult. Characters just speak to me. The challenge is really limiting the number of characters in the book and making every interaction count.”

Q: Do you have a favorite/least favorite?

A: “Even the bad characters are the ones you love to hate, so I don’t like to play favorites. I do have urges to go back and write stories for some minor characters like Jamie and Denise and even Sidney as she grows up. Maybe someday I will.”

Q: What was your process?

A: “This process was utterly chaotic because it was my first book and it really grew and changed and developed as I lived my life and grew into an adult. I never try to write something from start to finish. Therein lays the impediment of writer’s block. It’s always best for me to write what needs to be written at a particular point in time. This one sat untouched for years at a time, and I actually lost a huge chunk of it once in college during a freak power surge. Those pages and sentences were just never meant to be, I guess.”  

Q: How different was your first draft from your final draft?

A: “The final only loosely resembles the first draft, which was a 50-page novelette called “A Summer of Promise.” Aside from the characters of Brianna and Matt being the same as well as the concept of Brianna going to New Mexico and meeting Matt, very little is similar. This story also grew up with me over more than a decade, so it grew as I grew and changed as a young adult. Characters and situations were added to reflect what I was going through. Plus, initially I had been describing New Mexico like northern Wisconsin because that was my frame of reference, but when I finally traveled there to see what it was actually like, I literally had to rewrite nearly a third of the descriptions in the book.”

Q: If it’s part of a series, how does this piece fit into the puzzle?

A: “This is the beginning piece of the epic journey of these women in the Hearts Drawn Wyld trilogy. It’s the point at which Brianna is broken down and built up and broken down again in so many ways. It’s the jumping-off point for her growing into adulthood and facing the realities and challenges of life that will come at her.

 

Running in the Mists by Victoria Hyla Maldonado

Q: Why did you choose to write the story in the setting that it’s written in?

A: “Chicago was a natural place to set it. Brianna is nursing some major wounds and trying to get on with her life. It only made sense to do it where she’s from in Chicago. Other settings in the book include Geneva, Illinois, which at the time I was frequenting often because of life and work and friends, and Spread Eagle, Wisconsin. That location has a special place in my heart because the lake house they go to is based on the cottage my grandparents owned and shared with us when we were growing up. I miss that wonderful place, and I got to immortalize it in this book.”

Q: Tell us about the characters.

A: “Brianna and Ben continue from In Death We Part, but they’re both still reeling from the tragic and uncomfortable turns of that story and very tentative with each other. Matt is very much still a significant presence in Brianna’s life even if it’s not a physical one. A new character (who was hinted at in the first book so subtly every reader misses it unless they go back and read it again) is introduced: Elyse. Elyse is connected to Matt, and becomes an integral focus and pivot point for Brianna and her story and the story to come in Awake in Elysian Fields.”

Q: Who was easy to write? Who gave you the biggest challenge?

A: “Again, no one is really that hard to write. Characters really just speak to me. Brianna and Ben just kind of do their own thing, and I follow their story and try to capture it. It was fun delving into Elyse’s origins and getting into those connections. And nasty characters are really fun to write, so I got to do that as well with Joe.”

Q: Do you have a favorite/least favorite?

A: “I think in this one my favorite is Tank. He’s based on someone I used to know well, and I just smile every time I read his scenes. Joe is of course an incredibly despicable character that everyone loves to hate, and that’s pretty satisfying. Although I despise him as a person, he serves a very essential function in the story.”

Q: What was your process?

A: “For this one, the story was pretty easy to write because it was continuing from In Death We Part. Of the three books, this was perhaps the one I wrote most linearly. I did have to research quite a bit once I got to some of the police and legal stuff with Elyse, but that’s always fun to learn. This one was also fun because I had to draw on existing past events that were now “set in stone” in In Death We Part. It both inspires and restricts in interesting ways.”

Q: How different was your first draft from your final draft?

A: “This one kind of wrote itself, actually, because of its function as a continuation. At the start, I clearly knew the beginning, and I clearly knew where I wanted it to end, so it was just a matter of fitting in the pieces. Creating the very significant character of Elyse was a stroke of luck that has ended up being the arc that connects all three books together very meaningfully.” 

Q: If it’s part of a series, how does this piece fit into the puzzle?

A: “This is the bridge between the first and second books. It’s the natural continuation for Brianna and develops and focuses her more into accepting the past and learning and embracing the person she is meant to become. She faces a bit more darkness, which is just a foreshadowing of what is to come in Awake in Elysian Fields. It also introduces us to Elyse and her place in the story because she provides the backbone for the third book.”

 

Awake in Elysian Fields by Victoria Hyla Maldonado

Q: Why did you choose to write the story in that setting?

A: “I love Paris, and I wanted to set a story there. Also, I had hinted at the origins of Elyse’s mother in Running in the Mists, so it was a natural place to set it. I’d been to Paris several times, so I knew places I wanted to mention (and some of more own personal experiences make appearances as well), but I still did a lot of research to get everything just right. The city offers so much depth and meaning for this story that it just made sense. As for Tavers in the Loire Valley, that was discovered through research of train lines and natural features that leant themselves to great points in the story. I’d really like to visit there someday.”

Q: Tell us about the characters.

A: “Ben and Brianna become secondary while Elyse Brennan Wylder, now 20, takes center stage. She’s studying to become a photographer; photography became an early hobby early that was fostered throughout the years. We get to learn about her life growing up with Ben and Brianna, and the trauma that still exists because of certain questions she still has about her mother (murdered when she was a child) and traumas from her abusive father (now in prison). She’s strong but guarded as well as innocent yet badly damaged in her own right. Jérôme Sauveterre, mid-20s, is a confident, talented artist from Paris. The moment he sees Elyse at the airport, he is drawn to her and makes a point of putting himself in her path. At first, he seems arrogant and a bit of a player, but we get to learn about his depths and his own childhood issues. His family also provides an important connection to what Elyse is searching for about her mother while in Paris. Other very important characters are Elyse’s deceased mother, Geneviève, and Michel. These lovers from the past provide a beautiful canvas and complicated on which this artful adventure rests and thrives.”

Q: Who was easy to write? Who gave you the biggest challenge?

A: “Again most of them are super easy to write and they just flow. Geneviève and Michel were so rich and interesting to develop as was Jérôme. It was challenging at first to write the harsh nastiness of Bijoux and LeComte, but it was also thrilling and very satisfying how awful they turned out to be and the trouble they caused.”

Q: Do you have a favorite/least favorite?

A: “I hate hate hate LeComte, but that was very intentional. He brings out the evilest of evils and serves as a stark, despicable contrast to what human beings can and should be. Bijoux ended up as a favorite despite her awful beginnings, and Felicia just makes me smile a big smile every time she talks.”

Q: What was your process?

A: “This process was a bit disjointed at first, but then really quick in the end. I wrote a few scenes (maybe 40 pages) pretty soon after finishing Running in the Mists, but then this sat and sat and sat for around six years. I was going through a pretty awful and difficult personal transition that turned into an amazing one, and although it was always in my head, nothing was being put on the page. It wasn’t until I left a regular job and needed a reset that I allowed myself to let the stories flow. I really think I needed to become a new and different person to write this one. Much of the challenging and darker scenes also helped me work through some of my own personal trauma.” 

Q: How different was your first draft from your final draft?

A: “Once I started really writing, it came pretty quickly, so the first draft wasn’t all that different from the final. One heated scene I’d been thinking about for years only marginally made the cut and is now has very little of the original, but that happens when the characters take over and decide they want a different path. There was also one particularly shocking scene that I’d sketched out many many years ago that I ended up cutting completely because it no longer made sense where the story had progressed. It was the right decision to make, I think.”

Q: If it’s part of a series, how does this piece fit into the puzzle?

A: “This is the endcap and pièce de resistance in a way. This goes the darkest and deepest into the history of all the characters, especially with Elyse’s mother. It ties up many loose ends and unexplained questions brought up particularly in Running in the Mists, but it also serves to resolve and tie up a piece of Brianna’s story as well even though in this one she is a secondary character. The book underscores the prevalent theme that even though life might take you to the depths of sadness and despair, there’s always a reason for it, and there’s always a bright door into the future if you just hold on.”

Q: What’s it like trying to architect a story that spans multiple books?

A: “This trilogy was a bit of a hodgepodge because initially I’d just thought to write one book. The second book flowed immediately after because it just needed to be told. Then I thought I was done, but as I neared the completion of that second book, my dad actually encouraged me to make it into a trilogy. Luckily, I can weave and dodge and figured out how to blend and connect the stories very intimately together, but there wasn’t much orchestration for the trilogy on the front end. For my next trilogy, I’m being more intentional with that overarching connection since I know I’ll write the three from the onset. It’s going to be a different ride, and that’s exciting.”

 

Children’s Literature

Q: Why did you decide to get into children’s literature?

A: “I had never thought to write children’s books, actually, but another writer friend of mine suggested I should try it. I decided to give it a go when I found an inspiring illustrator, and I have found that I absolutely adore it. I have 5.5-year-old twins, so I’m quite familiar with kids’ books and know what I like to read as a parent. I just keep that in mind as I write. It was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be. Waiting for the illustrations is the hard part!”

Q: What message do you hope to convey with your words?

A: I hope to convey the best attributes of humanity and the joy that expressing those things in our daily lives brings. I want parents to want to read with their kids and read books that make them smile or cry as well. I also like to write with a rhyming cadence, so in that sense, I hope to help kids build their vocabulary and hear how beautiful language can be.”

 

Bartleby the Brave by Victoria Hyla Maldonado

Q: What inspired the story?

A: “I have often wondered what possesses birds to fly really close to the windshields of cars that pass them by on highways and other roads. There is a natural explanation for it, but I wanted to take it in a more fantastical direction, and so it became an organized “Brave Bird Cup” in which birds compete with feats of bravery and daring doing just that. That then turned into a story of kindness and selfless bravery, but that happened organically as the story developed.” 

Q: What kind of responses have you gotten from readers?

A: “Readers are just in love with this story. I have gotten so many great responses and encouraging words as well as oohs and ahhhs. It’s been a great, encouraging experience that I didn’t quite expect. I knew the story was great, but others think so, too!”

Q: Who was the illustrator? Why did you choose to work with them?

A: “Ronald B. Botts Jr is the illustrator, and this was his first attempt at children’s book illustration, so we learned quite a lot together. I discovered his amazing art when I put a call out to artists on social media to supply art for a poetry anthology I was working on for a deceased friend. He contributed several pieces of art for that book, and I loved how he drew birds, so I suggested the idea to him. He had always wanted to do children’s book illustration, so he jumped on it enthusiastically and did an amazing job.”

Q: Did you have a say in what illustrations were used?

A: “Yes, I was very hands on with the concepts for each page, conveying necessary elements and character expressions that matched with the text. After that though, I let the artist soar and do what he does best. Sometimes that even resulted in cute yet amazing things I hadn’t thought about before.”

 

Tears for the Butterfly by Victoria Hyla Maldonado

Q: What inspired the story?

 

A: “I was looking for a new children’s book idea, so I searched “strange animal behaviors” online. Some were just too horrific and weird to consider, but then I happened upon the fact that butterflies and moths drink the tears of animals (specifically from birds, turtles, and crocodiles) to get supplemental nutrients. That was so interesting, and it blossomed into the most amazing story about physical, spiritual, and emotional symbiosis. The story is about loving others and how that ripple effect can change the world.”

Q: What kind of responses have you gotten from readers?

A: “It’s only gone to a handful of advanced-copy readers so far, but the response has been amazing. This one will make you smile and sigh then sob then smile again. The readers just love the beautiful illustrations, and the story resonates with beauty and touches on the very difficult concept of death in a really beautiful way, or so say the readers, and I agree.”

Q: Who was the illustrator? Why did you choose to work with them?

A: “Kyran Stagnito Wilson is the illustrator. She and I went to middle and high school together, but we only reconnected in 2020. I knew her stunning watercolor style was the look I wanted for this book, and I knew she was amazing at butterflies, so I reached out and asked if she would be interested. She fell in love with the story and was inspired, and here we are.”

Q: Did you have a say in what images were used?

A: “I laid out my versions of the pages for the artist with very basic sketches and “inspiration” photos of the different animals. I made sure I conveyed the necessary elements and character expressions that matched with the text, but then I let her go and do what she wanted with the backgrounds and colors and everything else. Her landscapes and color use are gorgeous, and my trust in her was completely warranted.”