While at the El Paso Times for a summer internship, I received a call from Stella Gutierrez, who said her daughter-in-law went to high school with Andi Teran, a budding author and who recently had her debut novel Ana of California, a modern adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, published in late June. Gutierrez suggested that I give Teran a call. After all, Teran is an El Paso native, so getting in touch with her and possibly writing a story about her debut novel and early success would be a good idea for a local newspaper to put out. Well, I did just that. I phone interviewed with Andi Teran on Wednesday August 5, 2015. Below is a transcript of the interview. The questions reflect the overall response, though some of them I did actually ask. Enjoy the read.
I also wrote a story on her debut for the El Paso Times.
Andi Teran- Ana of California- Interview- Aug. 5, 2015
Went to UT Austin- graduated with a theatre degree from the Department of Theatre and Dance in late 1990’s
“I went to Loretto High School. I went to Hanks High School my freshman year and then I transferred to Loretto. We moved from one side of town to the other and so I ended up graduating from Loretto.”
Wrote this Vanity Fair article that spurred the Neon Desert Music Festival in El Paso, Texas.
How was your visit to Austin?
I was there last week for a book signing and reading at Book People. Which was really great. I used to go there all the time when I was in school. But it was awesome. It was a really good turnout. Everyone was really nice. It was great being back in Texas.
When did you first get into writing?
I’ve always kind of been writing I guess since I was a kid. I loved to write in school and just on my own. I was always making up stories and telling them to my cats and my dogs and my stuffed animals. And then when I got to Loretto–when I transferred to Loretto, my sophomore year in high school, I had a really amazing English teacher named Mrs. Wilson. It was the first time I had a teacher who really inspired me not only to read a lot of amazing books but to write. And I think that’s when I started to take my writing a little bit more seriously. And I wrote all the time, I wrote plays, little stories, but I never showed it to anybody. I had really wanted to be an actor. So I went to drama school, and after drama school I moved to New York City and I was working at a hotel (Mercer Hotel) and there was a magazine (CITY Magazine) next door to the hotel and they asked me if I wanted to start writing for them. So that’s kind of where my career started, my professional career, and I wrote for several years for a bunch of different magazines in New York City. I wrote for Vanity Fair, I wrote for New York Magazine, a magazine called Monocle; I worked at MTV for a while. Just writing. And I did some work at Vogue too. And I wanted to move to California in order to be able to write full time. So that’s when we moved over here. That was two years ago. And that’s when I started writing the book.
What about Anne of Green Gables intrigued you as a child?
It was one of my favorite stories growing up as a kid. The lead character, Anne, is a very talkative and wildly imaginative child. And when I was a kid I really identified with that. I was also a very talkative child growing up. I was always talking and getting in trouble at school for talking too much. When I read that this character, I really loved that it felt like there was somebody else out in the world, even though she was fictional, that had a similar trait. And it was something that seemed positive rather than negative. So I really loved the story ever since I was a child. And when I moved to Los Angeles, I really was blown away by California, in general, and the city of LA. That it was a really big city with mountains and nature in the middle of it. So when I proposed to Penguin Books, the publishers of my book, about modernizing it, I knew that I wanted to set it in LA and have the main character, who is a complete modernization of the original Anne character, be a Latina, and from Los Angeles. And I am Mexican American myself, so it was really important that my character reflect my heritage in that way. And I also wanted to write a story for young women with a Latina heroine, because it’s not something that you see typically in fiction. So that’s how it came to be. And I’m a huge fan of Anne of Green Gables. In the original book the character is actually 11 and she ages until 16. And in my book she starts out at the age of 16, so she’s a little older.
Are there any characters in the book that resemble people you know?
Yeah, my grandma. Who is from El Paso. I’m from El Paso, I was born and raised in El Paso. My parents and grandparents are from the Lower Valley in south El Paso. And both my grandparents, they come from Mexico originally. And my grandma, I grew up spending a lot of time in her kitchen. And she was always cooking for us and making amazing meals and telling us stories. That’s where my love of stories really started too. She was always telling us stories about our family and our ancestors and our heritage. In my book, my main character Ana has an abuela, and she is very, very similar to my grandma. So when I was writing that character I really wanted to, um, my grandma has passed away so I really wanted to bring her back to life in this story as Ana’s grandma. And she is referred to in the book as “Abuela.” And my book is actually dedicated to my parents–I wrote it for my parents but I also dedicated it to my grandma. Because she was that important in creating that character. Everybody else, all the other characters, are pretty much from my imagination or they’re slightly similar to the original characters in the book of Anne of Green Gables. But there are traces of people that I know, probably here and there, in certain characters, but I wouldn’t say anybody specifically except for my grandma.
How did growing up in El Paso help shape your goals for the book?
Growing up in El Paso has been everything to me. I don’t think I would be writing today had I not grown up there. Aside from just loving the desert, I really learned a lot and got a lot out of my education at Loretto. Growing up on the east side, I spent a lot of times outdoors. We were always running around on the east side of town. We were always going out to Hueco Tanks to go hiking. It was really important to our family to get us out into nature and I think that has stayed with me even though I have lived in places like New York City and then in Austin and now in Los Angeles. I’m always thinking about the desert, and where I grew up. The mountains especially too. Aside from that, the people in El Paso and my family are really important to me and to my writing. I think whenever I sit down to write something fictional it’s hard not to think about your past and have parts and portions of yourself growing up kind of find their way into the fiction that you’re writing. So I would say that El Paso has meant everything to me. Not just as a person and as an adult, but as a writer. And my next book actually that I’m writing right now is set in El Paso, on the border. So that led me to writing a book set back there.
Looking at the challenges Ana faces in the book, how well would you have handled them?
Well, she’s an orphan, so I mean I didn’t grow up as an orphan but I did grow up as an only child. And I think most only children are afraid of lose their parents because they’ll be orphans and by themselves. And I’ve always been interested in orphan stories. Stories like James and the Giant Peach, which is about an orphan. And Anne of Green Gables of course is about an orphan. So I’ve always been interested in stories where kids have to find a way in the world by themselves. So thinking to Ana’s situation she has been an orphan for most of her life and living in the foster care system, which is really, really difficult. Especially as a teenager and as a child who has not been adopted by anybody else. I think that’s hard for anybody. And when I lived in El Paso, when I was going to high school, I volunteered at the El Paso Child crisis center and I really was affected and moved by a lot of the children I met there. And I would have to say that Ana in some way has come from that experience of what it likes to be a child alone in the world, trying to find their place. And that’s kind of why I wrote it, I really wanted to explore not only what that’s like, but to give a voice to children that have gone through something similar.
Is there anyone else who helped improve your writing?
I wouldn’t say there was any other particular person except for me trying to write and figure out how to do it. When I was in New York, I was able to work with a lot of amazing editors at magazines. My editors at City Magazine and Vanity Fair were both really instrumental in helping me get better as a writer. So I would say that when I was working as a journalist and nonfiction writer I was able to work with fantastic editors who helped me get better at writing and taught me a lot. But I think the best way is to continue working, and writing and writing. I’m still learning. I’m still figuring it out.
Is your new book going to be a follow up or a whole new world?
It’s a totally different book even though I’m really interested in writing a sequel to Ana. I’m working on something else that’s completely new. It’s very much influenced by my time growing up in El Paso.
How did you try to reach as many people as possible?
I’m still trying to reach as many people as possible. It’s really only been out for about a month. And as a new writer it’s hard. It’s really hard to reach a lot of people. I’m not well-known as a writer. You have to get out there and hustle and be your own cheerleader in a way to get the word out. So really at this point I’m hoping by word of mouth I can get the book out there. Because I really want… this book wasn’t written just for teens it was written for everybody. For adults and teens. And we’re not marketing it just as a YA book. It’s not just young adult fiction, it’s for adults too. And my adult characters are just as important as Ana. And when I wrote this book I wanted to write something that was optimistic and full of hope because that’s something that I feel we need more of in our current culture. So I’m trying to get the word out there. And one of the ways I really hope to do so is to reach out to my hometown in El Paso. And I feel that young people, especially in El Paso, young Latinas and Latinos, will hopefully be interested in reading this as well as adults. Even though this is set in California, so much of my history in El Paso and my time in El Paso influenced the writing of this book. So I’m still trying to get the word out. We’re in the very beginning of putting it out there and I hope the more people who read it are able to spread the word.
Who do you think will deeply connect with the book?
I would say, first and foremost, I think everybody who is interested in reading stories about people with struggles who are trying to overcome them and are looking towards doing that in a positive way. I think people who are looking for uplifting stories about hope and change would be interested in reading it. I think young people–my character starts out at 15 years old and she ages to 16 in this book–I think young people who are interested in reading about teens who are struggling and trying to find their place in the world would be interested in reading the book. And also I really think people who read Anne of Green Gables and are fans of it are a big market for this book because I think this is the first time that there has been a published book that’s a modernization of the original. And Penguin, who also publishes classic books, is very lucky that they wanted to publish this because they’re also marketing it along with Anne. So you can actually buy my book and then Anne of Green Gables, and then compare them side-by-side. But I think Anne of Green Gables fans would like it because there are similarities between the two but also really big differences. And I made sure to try and do my best to honor the legacy of the original book while also writing something completely different and new. So I don’t think you have to be a fan of the original at all to read this. It stands alone as its own. But hopefully people who haven’t read it will read my book and then want to go back and read the original book, which was written over 100 years ago.
Was it hard leaving El Paso and going from place to place in the U.S.?
Yes. Because I was leaving my home that I had grown up in. I was born and raised in El Paso. So going away to college, it was tough leaving home, just like I think it is for anybody because El Paso is, regardless of what part of town you live in, you live in a really tight community. And family is important to everybody, and I think in El Paso, I was just sad leaving some of my favorite places there. There was a coffee shop (Dolce Vita) I used to go to all the time by the university that isn’t there anymore where I met a lot of friends. And just even going to basketball games and football games at UTEP was something that we did as a family. Going hiking in Hueco Tanks was something we did. I was really sad to leave that and to leave Mexican food–really good Mexican food. And not just my grandma’s cooking but places like Casa Jurado on the west side (old Cincinnati Street location, now on Doniphan) where I grew up growing up from a very early age. But moving to Austin was great. It was really nice to stay in Texas, number one. And there were so many other people from El Paso who had moved there too. So we still kind of had our community intact. But I really always wanted to explore other places in the world, especially as a writer. When I decided to move to New York that was an even bigger move because it was even further away. So coming home was always such a treat, because I had been so far away from home. But I don’t think I ever stopped having El Paso in my heart. The longer I was away in New York, the more I wanted to move back to the western part of the United States. I actually came out to LA because of work. But it’s nice to be back on this side of the country because I’m able to go back to El Paso much more often and see my family.
Are there any places that you miss going to on a regular basis?
Gosh, some of them aren’t there anymore. But I really miss Casa Jurado. I miss their salsa the most. They have the best salsa in the world. I missed downtown El Paso, which I’ve always really enjoyed. And it’s so amazing to see how much it’s change. I loved going to the Tap (Bar and Restaurant) down there, which is an amazing bar that’s still intact. And just in terms of back then some of the places I used to go to aren’t even there anymore. Just hiking as well. I mean we spent a lot of time up either out in Hueco Tanks or in the mountains right in the middle of the city, doing hikes and walks up there. And I always miss being in the desert and seeing such an expansive sky and smelling a thunderstorm when it rolled in because it’s so beautiful. But I’m also really glad when I come back into town there’s been… there are new places that I really enjoy going to. I love Hope and Anchor, and all of the places that Jim Ward has built. Bowie Feathers downtown. It’s really great to see so many new places sprouting out that are really exciting. I love Crave restaurants and Ripe, which is on the west side. So many local restaurants like that that have blossomed in the last few years are such a treat to go home to. Those are my new places that I miss when I come back to L.A. And I also would say that I miss driving around in the Lower Valley where my grandparents used to live. That was always such a treat. We would go down there and drive around and go to bakeries and buy tortillas and just sit around, eating and hanging out, running around my grandparents’ neighborhood down there. I really miss going down and enjoying that. And I miss Western Playland being in the Lower Valley. It’s moved to the west side of town but I grew up going there all the time. And I loved it. We had such a good time as kids going to Western Playland in the Lower Valley. It was the best. We’d go there every summer. We’d be there all the time. It was so much fun. There were trees. It was such a blast. Even in high school you’d go and meet all your friends or meet other people. You’d go to like meet people. It was the same as going to a football game at UTEP. And all the teenagers–like no one would really watch the game we would just walk around and around and around. And I always thought that was really fun to… you’d go out to places like that and meet people from other schools and hang out. And it was really fun. So I guess I really miss that.
Possible book signing and reading in El Paso?
It’s not official but I’m still wanting to come home and do a book reading and signing. (possible event in September)