YA Novelist Nina Moreno’s First Book Satiates ODAAT Fans

Nina Moreno’s debut novel Don’t Date Rosa Santosis set to be released May 14 but she’s already  working on her next Latina love story cause she’s “here to fill up that shelf.” The 33-year-old writer who was born and raised in Miami in a Cuban-Colombian home loves the sea, Cuban coffee, and rom-coms. A self-proclaimed Southern Bruja, she was inspired by the folklore passed down from her family and in her down time she enjoys tending to altars and reading tarot cards. Her protagonist, Rosa Santos, is, in a sense, an extension of  Moreno, spiritual and alternating between two cultures as a young Latina in America.

The novel tells the story of teenager named Rosa Santos who is allegedly cursed by the sea and has no luck when it comes to dating. She’s caught between her Cuban abuela who is a beloved healer and her mom, an artist who comes in and out of her life in their hometown of Port Coral in South Florida. On the cusp of deciding where to go to college she meets Alex Aquino, whose family owns the marina and he become a part of what sets her on a path to potentially breaking the curse.

Read on to learn about how her family and culture inspired the book, why she chose to tell a Latinx love story, and how the book portrays the inherited trauma of exile.

In your bio you state that you write “about Latinas chasing their dreams, falling in love, and navigating life in the hyphen,” can you tell me where you draw your inspiration from?

My goal as a writer is to tell stories that not only include us but star us. I love romantic comedies and coming-of-age stories, and I want Latinx readers to have whole shelves of those books featuring them front and center.

You’re a self-proclaimed Southern Bruja, in what ways do you identify as a bruja and does that influence your writings at all?

How I interact with my faith and spirituality shapes how I carry myself through life. The ways my father taught me to honor my ancestors and guides, is how I talk to him now that he’s gone. It’s about being present and listening and from that energy is how I tell stories.

Your book has been described as a mix of Gilmore Girls and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before how did romantic comedies or romantic literature influence the making of this book?

@ninamoreno / Instagram

I love romance and this book is a love letter to a lot of things, including romantic comedies. I wanted to explore the love and longing of the Latinx diaspora experience while hitting those rom-com beats.

How did your Cuban and Colombian roots influence you growing up? How does your Latinx background play out in the story and characters?

My cultures influenced everything at home. Even when we lived in a small town in Georgia we were that family roasting a whole pig outside while Celia Cruz blasted on the speakers. For this book, I wanted a community that knew, understood, and found comfort in that rhythm. American Latinx teens bring their cultures with them as they explore all these other aspects of their identity, so it was important for me to offer space for that.  

When did you start writing the book and what was the writing process like?

I started and stopped writing this story for over four years. I doubted myself every step of the way. Could a story about a Latina do this? Was it Latinx enough? Was it too much? I was terrified to tell a story about Cuba as a next-generation daughter and let all of my influences shape the story. Writing Rosa was about making peace with all the things that make me me.

You personally have a love for the sea and the protagonist in your book is cursed by it, can you talk about the reasoning behind that?

Rosa’s relationship to the sea is about the inherited trauma of exile and also the complicated relationships we have with family, home, and our legacies. Rosa is fascinated by the feeling she gets when she gets close to the sea, but she knows that it’s a mystery that holds so many of her family’s tragedies. And yet, like anyone, she wants to know and understand, because it’s part of her story.

How would you describe Rosa Santos and what inspired the character?

@ninamoreno / Instagram

Rosa is a Type A Latina just doing her best. She’s warm, thoughtful, loyal, and a bit anxious. Raised by her abuela, her tastes and style lean a bit retro. She was inspired a bit by my own abuela, and also different bookish rom-com characters I’ve loved.

How did you go about deciding how to portray a Latinx love story with magical elements and cultural influences?

I knew there was no other way for me to write a Latinx love story, and all those elements became stronger when I stopped questioning myself so much.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your first book?

Writing it! And then believing in myself and this book even while dealing with rejections. Especially while dealing with rejections.

What was the most rewarding aspect?

I wrote a book! I did the thing I’d always dreamed about and got to see it actually happen after a lot of hard work. I hope my ancestors are proud.

Who have been some of the YA Latina novelists that have influenced you?

I’m a huge fangirl of Zoraida Córdova and Lilliam Rivera who are both incredibly supportive to up-and-coming writers. That energy inspired a group of us to form Las Musas Books where it’s all about making space for each other and not letting publishing turn us into each other’s competition for that one seat at the table. We’re building more.

Do you have any advice for aspiring YA Latina writers?

Trust your voice, work on your craft, listen to your gut, and know you’re the only one who can tell that story, so tell it. It’s going to be hard, but your community is here, and we want your story, too.

How would you describe the book to someone unsure about YA novels?

First, I would give them a huge list of amazing YA novels, because honestly, this is such an incredible moment for the category. This particular one is about a young Latina dealing with college, the family curse, and a doomed crush on a really cute boy.

What would you like readers to take away from this book?

@ninamoreno / Instagram

I would love readers to see that a specific story can be universal, too. Rosa loves her culture and it shapes so much of her story, but she isn’t trying to teach you anything. And I hope readers swoon a little, try Cuban food if they haven’t, and maybe remember to call their grandmother.

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