Q&A with Authors Maika and Maritza Moulite “Dear Haiti, Love Alaine”
I had the absolute honor and pleasure of attending last Saturday in Brooklyn at Books are Magic, the author panel and reading for the YA novel ” Dear Haiti, Life Alaine” from debut authors Maika & Maritza Moulite. Hearing them enthusiastically speak about their Haitian-American upbringing in Miami and the process of writing a book together to bring their story to life for others to feel seen, was so powerful! The energy and vibe felt more like a celebration than a panel with fellow panelists Ben Philippe, Debbie Rigaud & Glory Edim. Check out the interview below about their book and try to catch their in-person author tour stops. Their infectious energy is unmatched!
To quote the late great Toni Morrison, “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” How did the idea to write this book come about - was it always going to be a YA novel or did the story idea and character evolve? How about the idea of writing together as a team?
Maritza Moulite: Growing up we loved books, and there were so many special books that we identified with and related to - we loved the Pippy Longstocking series, Alice McKinleys - but we wanted to see more representation with more people like us - Black people, Haitian-Americans, First-Generation Americans - and there weren’t a lot of those stories growing up. So even though we were always drawn to writing, we decided to make the decision to write the type of story that we would have wanted to read growing up in Miami. We love middle-grade, and young adult has a special place in our hearts because it’s stories about people who are learning about themselves and discovering the world and going out on their own for the first time, and that’s the type of story that we are really passionate about sharing.
For other young writers out there who may be inspired by you to get out and tell their stories, talk about the lengthy process of writing a book and having it picked up by an agent and then having it to print, etc. In the panel, you mentioned that you entered a contest initially.
Maika Moulite: For us, we had the book about three-quarters of the way completed before we entered the contest, and although we did enter the contest, we didn't get an agent from that process but we did get good feedback from agents who were interested in what we submitted,so it was through that feedback that we're able to go through, make final edits ,and then pitch the more traditional way, and then we were able to sign with an agency that we are at now. So (what) I would say to young writers who are interested in maybe having a career in writing, is to be open to feedback and to know that the first go-around might not be the thing that is going to get you a novel, but that is ok. You have to (be) open to critiques and you have to know when a critique you receive might not be what’s best for your story because we got some feedback that would say, “Oh maybe remove some of the magical realism.” While we would understand why someone may say that, we knew it wouldn’t be true to our story. I think for a writer who is interested in getting started, you should know what it is that you might be willing to compromise with and make some changes with, but to also know what it is that you want to remain steadfast in. Also, just getting started, that is the hardest part, everyone says that; right now we are working on our second book and we’ve started and we have the full outline; it’s just a matter of sitting down and getting it done, but that is the hardest part! Once you get started, you will be able to go through it. Also, to able to treat it as a job or something consistent because when you add a timeline or dedication and all of that, it helps you make sure you finish what you set out to do! So be diligent, just get started, know what you will get rid of and know what you never will get rid of, and that will help make your story come to life!
What did you learn about yourselves and about your sisterhood while going through the process of writing this book? What parts of discovery did you most enjoy from this process?
Maritza: I loved being able to talk through a character with Maika, and the fact that we had such similar ideas about what our main character in this story was going to be like, who Alaine is, it’s like we just shared a brain on that and we decided to create a world around this character. It’s not easy to write a book, so we’re very proud of ourselves for actually completing it! It’s something a lot of people want to do and it’s something that we have always wanted to do, and the fact that we actually sat down and decided to make it happen. When you are writing a book, you don't have, usually, the agent and the editor and all of those people there, you’re writing for yourself and hoping maybe that someone will see it, and the fact that we are able to write through for the sake of the art then have all of these people supporting us at the end of this tunnel, it’s not even the end because it’s a continuing journey, has been such an honor!
What are five things that you want people to know about Haiti & Haitian people and to take away going forward?
Maika: There’s a lot to take away from this, but mostly that there’s more to Haiti than the strife that happens there, and yes, there is no denying that it is, yes, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but there is so much more than that. I want people to focus on the joy, the hope of the people, the cuisine, the music, the culture - I feel like that’s five things right there (smiles). It’s really just understanding that people are nuanced and you don’t only have to focus on the negative, and I think being able to give a more holistic picture about that is really important, and also being able to celebrate people like us who are Haitian-American where you have a duality to you but yet you have a foot in your Haitian culture and a foot in your American culture, and there’s beauty in that because we all have a duality!
For more info on Maika & Maritza and their book check out their website