2021 Debut Author Interview: Jonny Garza Villa!

In 2019, we made it our goal is to work with as many debut authors as possible and to spread the word about their debut novels. It was such a success last year that we decided to continue the fun for years to come! Follow us this year as we pick the minds of the 2021 debuts and chat with them about their writing process and what it's like to be a new author. Also stay tuned for news of giveaways, Twitter chats, and more!

At the end of 2020, we Tweeted about wanting to discover more debut authors and their books. We ended up finding Jonny Garza Villa and their novel FIFTEEN HUNDRED MILES FROM THE SUN, and we have been interested in it ever since! We are so excited to have Jonny on the blog today to answer some of our questions! 

Jonny is a product of the Great State of Texas, born and raised near and along the Gulf Coast and currently living on unceded Jumanos and Tonkawa land. They are a Sagittarius sun, Capricorn moon, and Aquarius rising; an Earth Bender (but will also accept Fire Bender only if they can be a Sun Warrior); and a proud chaotic neutral. They are an author of young adult literature, mostly within the contemporary genre and usually #OwnVoices, inspired by their own Tejanx & Chicanx and queer identities. Whether they're writing about coming out in a Mexican American household, immigration, mariachi, or being in a brand new place for the first time, Jonny ultimately hopes Latinx young people feel seen in their writing. When not writing, Jonny enjoys reading, playing Dungeons and Dragons, bar hopping, listening to Selena, caring for their many cacti children, and spending hours on airline websites, considering all the places they might disappear to for a month if they weren't so poor.

Keep up with Jonny: Website / Twitter / Instagram / Goodreads

The Book Bratz: First of all, congratulations! How does it feel to be a debut author?

Jonny: Thank y’all so much! This entire experience is both so much fun and completely surreal. Like, this is my life? Where people are excited about words I wrote? About this Mexican American gay kid who used to only exist in my own mind? It’s wild, and I’m so incredibly honored to be able to say this is my life.

The Book Bratz: In your opinion, what's the best part of the writing process? What's the hardest?

Jonny: The best part of the writing process is being able to tell stories about the people and places and cultures I love. About places like Corpus Christi, Texas and Mexican and Tex-Mex food and Selena and queer kids and their friends getting into all sorts of pendejismo. When I get to write something that I’m not just passionate about but also really love, it’s just such a special experience. The hardest, specifically in writing Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun was getting over imposter syndrome. The thoughts that happened knowing I was writing a coming out story and all the voices saying that no one wants to read those anymore; that we’ve had Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and that book’s taken the one and only seat at the table for this specific story. The thoughts that on one side said we already have Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and that book’s taken the one seat publishing has for a story centering a gay Chicano, and on the other saying I wasn’t Chicano enough to write this story; that I was going to get clocked as this fake Mexican American. And that I couldn’t make this book too queer. That I, as a gay, non-binary, aro-spec person can include one of those identities, but no more because that would be too far. Allowing myself to write the story I wanted was a tough journey.

The Book Bratz: Where did you get the idea for FIFTEEN HUNDRED MILES FROM THE SUN?

Jonny: It was largely influenced by Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and mixed with my own traumas as a teenager. Sparked by the question of how Simon Spier’s journey might have been different if he was a gay Chicano living in South Texas, in a Catholic, conservative, machismo household. And a few scenes that would constantly play out in my head, begging to be paid attention to: of a huge party and of two boys on a beach and of a sun and a moon.

The Book Bratz: Who was your favorite character to write? Who was the most difficult?

Jonny: My favorite character to write was Lou. She’s one of Jules’ friends who’s so much. If you’re familiar with On My Block on Netflix, she’s very much influenced by Jasmine. She’s confident and assertive and supportive and bold and large and in charge and a Sagittarius queen. The most difficult character to write was probably Mat, Jules’ love interest. Because they’re relationship is long distance, I had to keep reminding myself of the things Mat wouldn’t know. That that separation would mean there’s a clear limitation on the knowledge of Jules’ life Mat would be unaware of simply because he’s states away, unless Jules specifically told him. So making sure that I didn’t write a scene where Mat suddenly knew something he shouldn’t was constantly on the mind.

The Book Bratz: What surprised you the most about the publishing process?

Jonny: That it can feel like it’s going negative twelve miles an hour until suddenly and without warning you’re now going a thousand miles an hour and the brake’s broken.

The Book Bratz: What do you hope that readers will take away from FIFTEEN HUNDRED MILES FROM THE SUN? 

Jonny: I hope that readers who might know what it is to be in Jules’ shoes, whose life experiences are in any way similar to his, will feel not so alone. I often talk about how I wrote this book because I thought that the kind of story that was lacking was one where we don’t get Jennifer Garner telling Simon he gets to breathe now. That this universal portrayal of coming out was looking so positive and, unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. But I hope that those readers might be able to breathe, even if it’s in the privacy of their bedroom and just between Jules and Mat and all his friends and those who love him, and that they feel that love too. That they realize they are enough. And for those who don’t know that experience, I hope that maybe they come away with some empathy for the Jules Lunas in their lives. That maybe they see themselves in one of his friends and can see just how much having that supportive circle can be on a person’s life.

The Book Bratz: Do you plan on returning to the world of FIFTEEN HUNDRED MILES FROM THE SUN in the future, or do you have any other projects in mind? Can you tell us anything about them?

Jonny: Referring to the part of the question addressing returning to the world of Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun and telling more of Jules and Mat’s story, I would say . . . stay tuned. And I do have a couple finished manuscripts (the word finished being used very broadly here to mean that at least a full first draft has been written) that I’m really excited about and are just so queer and so Mexican, and hopefully I’ll get to share more about at least one of those in the very near future, or maybe by the time this interview comes out I’ll have shared already. What I can tell you right now is that the first one is very much Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet meets Picture Us In the Light and the second one is my very first attempt at a rivals-to-lovers story that centers competitive high school mariachi.

Title: Fifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun
Author: Jonny Garza Villa
Publisher: Skyscape
Publication Date: June 8th, 2021

Summary: Juli├ín Luna has a plan for his life: Graduate. Get into UCLA. And have the chance to move away from Corpus Christi, Texas, and the suffocating expectations of others that have forced Jules into an inauthentic life. Then in one reckless moment, with one impulsive tweet, his plans for a low-key nine months are thrown—literally—out the closet. The downside: the whole world knows, and Jules has to prepare for rejection. The upside: Jules now has the opportunity to be his real self. Then Mat, a cute, empathetic Twitter crush from Los Angeles, slides into Jules’s DMs. Jules can tell him anything. Mat makes the world seem conquerable. But when Jules’s fears about coming out come true, the person he needs most is fifteen hundred miles away. Jules has to face them alone. Jules accidentally propelled himself into the life he’s always dreamed of. And now that he’s in control of it, what he does next is up to him.

Thank you so much to Jonny for stopping by and answering our questions! We are super excited about FIFTEEN HUNDRED MILES FROM THE SUN and can't wait for it to be out in the world on June 8th

Celebrate So Excited GIF by Hey Violet

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