From Pan de Muerto to Cheesy Breakfast: Joy Talks Magical Bakeries and Family Tradition with Debut Author Anna Meriano

Article by Joy

I first met author Anna Meriano through author and friend of the store Caroline Leech, who couldn’t sing Anna’s praises loud enough. So I’ve been eagerly anticipating Anna’s debut middle grade fantasy, LOVE SUGAR MAGIC, which is out now and garnering lots of wonderful starred reviews! We are all doubly delighted to be able to host the LOVE SUGAR MAGIC Houston Launch Party on Friday 1/12 at 7 PM. It’s going to be a blast.

In prep for that, Anna and I chatted about the novel and its inspirations and all sorts of other yummy stuff, since LSM is set in a magical bakery! Here’s what Anna had to say. I know her responses are going to make you as excited as we are to read this book, which is perfect for ages eight and up!

Joy: So tell me how LOVE SUGAR MAGIC came to be. What were its inspirations? In particular I'm curious if you are a youngest sister!

Anna: LOVE SUGAR MAGIC was the brainchild of Cake Literary, a packaging company with the goal of telling fun, high-concept, diverse stories. When I met with founders Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra, they already had a rough outline of what they wanted the book to be—Practical Magic meets middle grade, set in a Texas panadería. What was fun for me was adding sinews to their skeleton plot, deciding how and why Leo got from one mishap to the next, and filling in the details of the relationships and magic system. I am a middle child, born between two brothers. I had my share of feeling left behind by my older brother, but I also drew on my mom’s six-sister family to create the loving but sometimes fraught dynamic between the Logroño girls. One part of the story that I changed from the original plan was the character of Leo’s best friend Caroline, who was white in the original plan. I decided to make her biracial and bilingual so that Leo would have a helping hand with her Spanish, but also so that I could include some of the complexities of Latinx identity. Leo and Caroline both have reasons to feel not Latina enough, which is such a common feeling for me and for so many of my friends growing up in Texas or around the country.

Joy: What about the role of tradition in the novel and the role it plays in protagonist Leo's magical and family journey? What were your concerns in getting Mexican American tradition clear on the page and balancing it against the story's other elements?

Anna: Tradition is a huge part of the magic system, and it also played a huge part of Leo’s life before she ever knew about her family’s magic. Some of the traditions in the book—like the importance of the quinceañera, baking pan de muerto to celebrate Día de los Muertos, or certain brujería practices—are common Mexican American and Latinx traditions. Others—like cheesy breakfasts or passing the family business down through generations of women—belong purely to Leo’s family. Because so much of Leo’s journey hinges on her fears of being left out or left behind, my goal was to create a rich and real family that both Leo and the reader would *want* to be a part of. My concern was (and still is) that handling any of these cultural elements clumsily would hurt readers, both those who looked to the book to see themselves and those who looked to the book to learn about others.

Joy: What do you love about writing middle grade fantasy?

Anna: Middle grade is such a cool age range. Kids at this age tend to question the world around them, wanting to understand how things work and find where they fit in. With fantasy, especially fantasy that starts in the real world and introduces a secret or hidden magic system, kids see their own questions and feelings magnified, and they get to follow the character as they find their way in a world that can be confusing but wonderful.

Joy: I love, love the idea of a magical bakery, and obviously, it's a trope that has been used before but you use it wisely and well and put your own very new spin on things. Are you a baker? (We had a bakery in our family for years and so I'm always drawn to stories about them!) And in an extension question: What are your favorite desserts?

Anna: I always feel bad answering this question because the answer is that I don’t bake AT ALL! I did a lot of research for this book, including interviewing my baker friends, watching the Great British Baking Show, and eating lots and lots of pan dulce. I’m fascinated by both the art and science elements of baking, and writing Leo has definitely given me strong cravings for baked goods. Luckily, I’ve found some great bakeries to visit near all my different jobs. My favorite dessert is tough to pick! At a panadería I’ll usually go for conchas and puerquitos/marranitos (pig-shaped cookies). I’m a big fan of cinnamon rolls. My cousin also makes a mean gluten-free pumpkin cheesecake.

Joy: What's coming next for these characters?

Anna: Hopefully a lot more adventure! Leo has some magical learning to do, of course, and there are bound to be some clashes between her close friendships and her close family bonds. Caroline still has her own issues to work through as well. And beyond that… we’ll have to wait and see!

Joy: What's coming next for Anna Meriano?

Anna: Good question! Right now she really wants a cookie as a reward for finishing these questions, and after that… There is at least one LSM sequel in the works, and I have some YA writing that I’m trying to get into shape with my agent. I’ll still be teaching and tutoring and playing with my dog, and the US Quidditch Cup is coming up this semester. So yeah, lots of fun things to keep working on!

Anna Meriano joins Brazos Bookstore for her Houston LOVE SUGAR MAGIC launch event on January 12, 2018. 

Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble By Anna Meriano, Mirelle Ortega (Illustrator) Cover Image
By Anna Meriano, Mirelle Ortega (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780062498465
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Walden Pond Press - January 2nd, 2018

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