Q&A: Priscilla Oliveras, author of “West Side Love Story”
We chat with USA Today bestselling author Priscilla Oliveras about her new novel West Side Love Storya moving romance of star-crossed love, conflicting families and bonds of brotherhood.
Hello, Priscilla! Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
Whoa everyone! As in my biography, I am an author of contemporary Puerto Rican-Mexican novels who is a huge fan of the genre and who also enjoys the beach, Zumba, sports, naps in a hammock and spending time with family and friends. .
If you follow me on social media, you’ll find me sharing photos and stories of my literary journeys and fun times with my loved ones: karaoke nights, family tennis matches, selfies of us cheering on our loved ones Gators (all sports) and Cubs (best baseball team out there, just ask my abuela-LOL), and more.
I enjoy writing about the themes of the familia – the triumphs and trials that many of us experience in our daily lives. My books are about people who could be your neighbors or mine. Proud people of their Latinx culture, working hard, living and loving and striving for a good life. A bit like you and me.
How was the first half of 2022 for you?
Ooh, my positive nature immediately leans towards highlighting the blessings 2022 has brought to my family and me so far. But truth be told, there were also sad moments. In May, a beloved tía from Puerto Rico passed away. My mami and I had just sent my tía a signed first copy of West Side Love Story. He did not arrive in time and learning of his death was a blow. And yet, as we deeply feel her loss, our faith comforts us knowing that she is at peace, enjoying her reunion with my abuela and all of their siblings and family members who have gone before her. I am also heartened to have visited the island and had the chance to see it in February.
That same faith makes me count my blessings, one of which is finally seeing West Side Love Story go out into the world. Sharing the secret and cursed romance of Mariana and Angelo with readers; introducing readers to my Grandpa’s hometown…it’s so exciting.
Another blessing is the ability to travel safely with vaccines and boosters. Quality time is my primary love language, so any quality time spent with family and friends… being able to host in-person author events and chat with readers again… HUGE blessings the first half of 2022 has been fulfilled.
When did you discover your love for writing?
I think my love of writing really started in high school when my English class was given a short story writing project in second or first grade. My English teacher was the first to talk to me seriously about writing careers and the idea of majoring in English…a conversation that planted the seed that slowly took root and eventually flourished. Several years later, as a young college student, military wife, and new mom, I sat down to try and write my first romance novel. Twenty-six years after I first tapped “Chapter One”… yeah, 26, so the focus on that part “slowly took hold and eventually flourished”… I signed my first publishing deal.
Quick Lightning Ride! Tell us about the first book you remember reading, the one that made you want to become an author and the one you can’t stop thinking about!
First book I remember reading: Charlotte’s Web; I cried, but I loved it!
The one that made me want to become an author: The stacks of Harlequin Romances and Presents that my grandpa kept at home when I was a teenager. Grandpa is the one who introduced me to the wonderful world of adult romance novels by sharing his books with me. J
Two (so hard to pick just one) recent releases I can’t stop thinking about: Adriana Herrera’s A Caribbean heiress in Paris & Sonali Dev’s The Emma Project…must read!
your new novel, West Side Love Story, is out now! If you could only describe it in five words, what would they be?
Emotional, culturally rich, family-themed romance
What can readers expect?
Yes, West Side Love Story is a reimagining of “Romeo and Juliet”, but it is also a tribute to San Antonio, the dynamic hometown of my Grandpa, and to my family who live there. It’s a rallying cry for strong women like the Capuleta sisters who form an all-female mariachi band and are determined to make a name for themselves in a male-dominated industry. It’s a book about music and its influence on us, about finding family and community ties, and about finding our place in a sometimes difficult world. And Love, Mariana and Angelo show us how love and healthy relationships can build bridges, provide comfort and create a sense of belonging.
my hope with West Side Love Story is that readers end up feeling like they’ve visited San Antonio and made new friends with the Capuletas and the Monteros after experiencing some of our beautiful Mexican culture and sighing with satisfaction at the heartfelt romance of Mariana and Angelo.
Aside from the incredible source material, what inspired you to write West Side Love Story?
Several years ago, a dear Amiga writer, Sabrina Sol (check out her books!), sent me a link to a news segment about an all-female mariachi band in California with a message saying that the article reminded me. J As I was watching this clip of about two minutes, something lit up inside me and I knew… knew… I had to write a book or a series about an all-female mariachi band. Only, if I was writing about mariachi, then of course I had to set it in San Antonio, the city that holds a special place in my heart because of my family ties to it. It was the spark that flashed, then caught fire and breathed life into the Capuleta sisters.
Can you tell us a bit about the challenges you faced while writing and how you managed to overcome them?
I’ll be honest, writing during the pandemic has been tough for me. It was a real struggle trying to shut out the uncertainty and worry of the real world so that I could get lost in my characters and their narrative world. The pep talks and encouragement from family and writer friends “you can do it, girl” really kept me going when deadlines approached.
For West Side Love Story in particular, another challenge was trying to weave the two subplot threads – one for the feud (the battle of the mariachi bands and the issue of gentrification) and one with Mariana and her sisters – through the main love story with Mariana and Angelo. The subplots are so much a part of who Mariana and Angelo are — their beliefs and their values — but they’re also what the two struggle against. Giving the subplots their due while not allowing them to overshadow the romance was tricky, but I got some super helpful feedback and suggestions from my beta readers, review partners, and my two amazing Montlake editors. I hope seeing how Mariana and Angelo overcome conflict makes their forever bliss sweeter for readers.
Are there any favorite moments or characters that you really enjoyed writing or exploring?
Writing about the Capuleta sisters’ bond with each other, as well as Nina Capuleta and Brenda Montero’s newfound friendship, was truly special. I felt such pride for each of them. Writing the performance scenes of Mariachi Las Nubes from Mariana’s perspective, watching the crowd – seeing the young girls cheering them on and Mamá and Papo smiling with joy – oh, it was incredibly moving. Mariana and her sisters are determined to carve out a place for themselves in an industry that has neglected mariachi women like them for too long. They understand that they represent more than themselves and their family when they are on stage. They represent all the strong and talented women who came before them, those who work hard in the industry alongside them today and the generations to come. It was powerful to write about the importance of competition and their representation for them, and for so many others.
What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever received?
Best: “Don’t compare your writing journey to that of others.” Whether the advice is specifically about your writing process, book sales, contracts, social media followers, or any other aspect of the author’s life… comparing yourself to others is the way to despair. You focus on what you are doing. Encourage your friends and fellow authors when good news is shared. Maybe use it as inspiration… I find good news from others helps keep me motivated here in my little writing cave in Romancelandia. I try to keep a “we’re all in this together” mentality.
Worst: Lots of tips that start with “I do (insert DIY tip) and you need to do this too.”
The point is… my process is working for me. The way I do certain things may work for you, or certain parts of my process may resonate with you. But then again, maybe not. We are all different, and that’s normal. Find what works for you, keeping in mind that your process may even change a bit from book to book. I think any hands-on workshop, presentation, or book should come with a caveat like, “I find this useful, you might want to try it. Or adapt it to your needs. Or skip it if you find that it bothers you.
What’s next for you?
I have just received the final copy of the clean document for Kiss me, Catalinabook 2 in the Mariachi Queens series.
Kiss me, Catalina is my reimagining of “Taming of the Shrew” with Catalina Capuleta, the second oldest sister who is also the musical director of Mariachi Las Nubes, and Patricio Galán, the international mariachi superstar you meet in West Side Love Story. Cat and Patricio’s novel is a road trip, adversaries of love romance featuring two highly talented and strong-willed entertainers, both dealing with family pressures and pains while battling an intense attraction for each other. These two were super fun to write, and I’m so glad you’re on the concert tour with them when Kiss me, Catalina comes out November 1st!
Finally, do you have any 2022 book recommendations for our readers?
Ooh, there are SO many great romance novels already out and coming in 2022! I shared two earlier, but here are some other must-read novels available now and some I’ve been lucky enough to read via early copy: The Marriage Breaker by Mia Sosa According to the rules by Jasmine Guillory Dating Dr Dil by Nisha Sharma (also a reimagining of Shakespeare), An offer they can’t refuse by Natalie Cana, The connection plan by Farrah Rochon Tie again by Kwana Jackson, After Hours on Milagro Street by Angelina M. Lopez, American royalty by Tracey Livesay, and Big chicas don’t cry by Annette Chávez Macias.