Joy Interviews Lucas Rocha, author of WHERE WE GO FROM HERE

Article by Joy

One thing we all love here at Brazos Bookstore is discovering new authors! So of course when Scholastic approached us about doing an event with Brazilian debut author Lucas Rocha for his YA novel WHERE WE GO FROM HERE, which Scholastic has recently translated into English from Brazilian Portuguese, I was very excited, even more so when I dug into the book. Characters living with HIV, falling in love, finding their way - Rocha’s book is a superb read. His conversation with our own Cassie Schulz just happened on Instagram Live as I was putting the finishing touches on this interview and is still available to watch on our Instagram feed. 


JOY PREBLE: Your author’s note states that you were inspired to write WHERE WE GO FROM HERE (the title is so perfect, by the way) to shed light on the stigma placed on those diagnosed with HIV in Brazil. Can you talk about that for us?


LUCAS ROCHA: Yes, of course! First of all, thank you so much for having me and for giving me this space to talk about WHERE WE GO FROM HERE! So, I had the initial spark to write WHERE WE GO FROM HERE after I read a medical article that asked people their thoughts on HIV and HIV-positive people nowadays. At the time I worked as a librarian at the Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz), one of the main foundations in Brazil when it comes to HIV and AIDs research. In the interviews on this particular article, I saw a lot of misconceptions and prejudice against HIV positive people, things that I thought were behind us, but are still very much alive. So, I decided to tell a story about this subject that was both informative and entertaining, and I really wanted to tell a story about people who live with HIV or have relationships with HIV positive people in a way that was not stigmatized.


JP: I can say that you have certainly succeeded in all those goals with your characters. Bravo! Speaking of your characters, Ian, Victor, and Henrique all deal with their situation and living with HIV, but each has a different life narrative. Were any of these three harder to write than the others? Which character came to you first? Tell us a little about writing these young men and also about your writing process for the book in general.


LR: When I started to write this novel, I began as I begin all of my projects—without a plan. I really love to write the first chapters to find the voices that will tell the story. The only thing I knew, as I sat in front of a blank page on my computer, was that I wanted: the opening chapter to portray a boy finding out about his new HIV+ diagnosis. That’s when Ian came to the page. As I wrote him, I described a blue-haired guy sitting next to him, also waiting for his results, and then I thought "hm, that boy there’s also a story, so I should explore this character." That’s when Victor came along. And Victor has a relationship, so I thought "what about the boy in Victor’s life?". And then Henrique appeared. After I set all these three main characters, I stopped writing and started to plan the story.

When it comes to the characters, Victor was the most challenging one to write—he’s the youngest one, the most privileged and the one who has more to learn throughout the novel. He has his own journey to accept and understand what it means to be in a relationship with a HIV-positive person, and a lot of his prejudices and negative thoughts are very different than my own thoughts and feelings about the subject, but he also expresses a lot of what I used to think in my youth. So I had to slip into his shoes for a moment, always having in mind that his growth was part of the process, even if I did not agree with most of his attitudes.


JP: Interesting! That’s the trick with fiction - you have to figure out who these people are and their world view, even if it’s not your own! And what’s also interesting is that WHERE WE GO FROM HERE was originally published in Brazil and now has been translated into English and is published here from Scholastic. I’d love to hear about that process, about any input you had or didn’t have. I think translators are such special people - having to not only translate words but also make sure nuance and idioms come across correctly. Tell us everything! Do you think the book reads differently in English than in the original?


LR: Ok, that requires a very extensive answer, because all of it still feels like a bizarre ride.


After I finished the book, in 2017, my agent sold it to one of the major publishing houses in Brazil and, in 2018, I was able to debut at the Brazilian Book Fair—the Brazilian publishing process is very fast in comparison to the US—the major event in the Brazilian bookish scene. It so happens that 2018 was the same year that David Levithan was invited as an official guest, and his work is published by the same house that originally published WHERE WE GO FROM HERE in Brazil. So, when Levithan arrived at the publisher, one of the things that he asked my Brazilian publisher was about the new YA voices being published here, because one of the editors of his imprint, Orlando Dos Reis, was able to read in Portuguese and they were interested in bringing new voices to US young readers. That’s when my Brazilian editor gave David some books and, in the midst of all of them, my debut was there. A month later, I received an e-mail from Orlando telling me that he had enjoyed the book and was interested in publishing it in the US. At first, I honestly thought it was some sort of joke, prank, or mistake because that’s the kind of stuff that just doesn’t happen! I know that the US market is extremely competitive, and the rule is that the authors’ agent goes after the publishing houses, not the opposite. My novel had only been out for Brazilian readers for a month before PUSH’s offer! All of it was very unbelievable. But it turned out to be all true.


We had to make small changes to some of the references in the book for the US audience but, overall, it was an incredibly positive experience, because the essence of the book is still there. Working with Orlando was amazing because he is such a great editor and all of his suggestions were so on point that he made the story even better! In the end, it all comes to this word that he uses in his editor’s letter: serendipity. We don’t have a direct translation for that in Brazilian Portuguese, but I guess it summarizes all the hard work and luck that made it possible for WHERE WE GO FROM HERE to reach the US readers.


JP: Hard work and luck! That definitely defines publishing success! As does having a compelling story, which you very much do! To me, your wonderful, moving novel is not only about living with HIV, it is also about friendship and living life and finding joy in an always uncertain world. But that’s my read. What do you, Lucas, hope people come away with?

LR: I think that your read is absolutely right! When it comes to HIV narratives, there’s a lot of books and movies about the AIDs crisis and about the inevitability of death or a life soaked in sadness for the HIV+ character. And I know that these histories are important too—a lot of them are my favorites—but I didn’t want to write a story about people dying from HIV; I wanted to tell a story about people living despite the virus because I think that this should be the focus of the narratives, if we are talking about contemporary stories that reflect reality: HIV does not equals death anymore.


But, even with all the information, there’s still prejudice for HIV+ people, so I hope this book can shed a little light on all the wrong things that we, as a society, presume about being a HIV+ person or having a sexual relationship with a person who has the virus.


JP: Let’s hope this story helps shed that light and helps get rid of any remaining stigmas! What’s coming next for Lucas Rocha?


LR: I wish I knew! Hahaha! I’m trying to use this social distancing time to write as much as my mental and physical health allows, but there’s nothing much that I can say about those stories, only that they definitely are set in my beautiful country of Brazil. And I really hope that people can continue to read my books and continue to discover other voices inside and outside the US, because there’s incredible stories being told all around the world!


JP: Whatever it is, I will be thrilled to read it. Thanks for such a great interview, Lucas! 


You can follow Lucas Rocha on Twitter @lucasdlrocha

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Where We Go From Here Cover Image
By Lucas Rocha, Larissa Helena (Translated by)
ISBN: 9781338556247
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: PUSH - June 2nd, 2020

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