Q&A: Alex Temblador, author of “Half Outlaw”
In his debut novel for adults, Alex Temblador offers readers an immersive look at a dangerous subculture at the end of an era, and a powerful, heartfelt story that explores self-knowledge, acceptance, and a sense of family.
We chat with Alex about his new release, plus writing, book recommendations, and more!
Hi Alex! Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
I am a 32 year old mixed Latina (half Mexican, half white) female who was born and raised in Texas. I currently live in Dallas in a beautiful 102 year old haunted house. A year after earning a Masters in Creative Writing, I became an award-winning freelance writer on travel, arts, and culture. My work has appeared in major outlets like Travel + Leisure, The Daily Beast and National Geographic. I became an author in 2018, with the publication of my first novel, Secrets of Casa Rosada. I am still in shock at the success of my first book and am very grateful for the recognition it has received.
When did you discover your love for writing?
I was that kid who loved when teachers gave essays. However, I didn’t start writing creatively beyond schoolwork until I was in ninth grade and started writing a book based on a fantasy dream I had. As a girl who walked between classes with her nose in an open book, it only made sense that I ultimately wanted to be the one telling the story.
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: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle
The book that made me want to become an author: There isn’t a single book that stands out, but when I googled all the authors I read as a kid, I found that I read a lot of stories with problematic story lines and characters written by privileged authors. So that’s nice…
The book I can’t stop thinking about: New people by Danzy Senna and The flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
your new novel, half outlaw, is out now! If you could only describe it in five words, what would they be?
Mixed woman, motorcycles, magic realism
What can readers expect?
half outlaw is the story of Raqi, a half-Mexican, half-white woman who was raised by her white uncle, Dodge, after her parents died when she was four. Dodge has a drug addiction problem and is part of an outlaw motorcycle club called Lawless. The story begins in the current setting of 1990, when Raqi receives a phone call from Billy, the leader of the Lawless, who tells her that Dodge is dead and that he wants her to take a ride across the country according to the latest. Dodge’s wishes. A successful lawyer who wants nothing to do with her past, Raqi refuses until Billy tells her that if she goes, she’ll get the address of her Mexican grandfather she didn’t know existed.
So Raqi goes on a motorcycle ride, reunites with people from her past and meets new ones on the road who tell her things about Dodge she never expected. half outlaw is a magical realism novel that alternates between the present (1990) and Raqi’s childhood, offering readers an idea of what Raqi went through growing up as a dark-skinned girl in a violent, racist motorcycle club. and sexist who sold drugs and sold weapons across the country.
Readers can expect a realistic and magical tale that confronts the real issues of race, gender and class among families and examines how the past affects their present. By balancing tough characters with tender moments, half outlaw will stay with you long after you finish the novel.
Where does the inspiration come from? half outlaw comes from?
Even before having had the idea of half outlaw, I knew I wanted to write a character who was a mixed-race woman and immerse myself in the complex and sometimes gritty experiences that mixed-race people, like me, often have with family members and friends. In 2014, my uncle called me a “half outlaw”, which my brain immediately connected to my mixed identity. People constantly ask me questions about my racial and ethnic identity and I respond with “mixed” or “half Mexican, half white”. So I saw this connection to the phrase “half outlaw” and wondered, “What does that mean?” »
I looked at my uncle, who is white and now 70 years old. We are very different people with different backgrounds, beliefs and behaviors. I wondered what it would do for a white man who had been in the Vietnam War to raise a brown-skinned mixed-race girl. And because my uncle rode motorcycles, I was inspired to put Dodge in an outlaw motorcycle club, which made the situation even more complex.
Beyond the initial inspiration my uncle provided, the story took on a life of its own. Some of the interactions Raqi has with the white men who raised her are similar to things I have experienced with some family members or friends, but for the sake of fiction these personal experiences have been twisted, exaggerated or distorted. to better fit the story.
Can you tell us a bit about the challenges you faced while writing and how you managed to overcome them?
There are two types of writers: “trousers” and “plotters”. For this book, I was pants, that is, I wrote it without a plan, following the story wherever it went. Because I “panted” this novel, I had great difficulty understanding the plot, especially the climax of the story. After three drafts, my literary agent pointed me in the right direction, and I finally found the “big moment,” but it was hard to get there.
The other challenge I faced was in the editing phase I underwent with my editor. I had to complete the edits provided by the editor within two weeks, then I had a two week break, before doing another round of two week edits. The editor’s suggested revisions weren’t too difficult and I finished them fairly quickly. But I had also taken it upon myself at the time to carefully re-examine my portrayal of many characters, especially those who had identities different from mine (there are many).
A little after half outlaw was sold, I started teaching writers how to write characters with diverse identities. When the editing phase came around, I had learned so much about this subject and wanted to apply it to my own novel. I insisted on missing a stereotype or cliché and deciding if certain words or moments in the book were “too much” for the reader. My jaw hurt from gritting my teeth 24 hours a day and I was exhausted with worry going through the book with a fine-toothed comb, but I did my best and hope it shows .
Are there any favorite moments or characters that you really enjoyed writing or exploring?
Although my main character, Raqi, meets a lot of different people on the cross-country course, I really enjoyed writing scenes where Raqi has to interact with Dodge or the Lawless. I never really knew what would come out of either character’s mouth – or worse, what outrageous thing they might do. Raqi has such a complicated relationship with these men that is full of love, kindness, pain and trauma, and it was exhilarating trying to convey that in their words, mannerisms, body language and behaviors.
Writing this story in the magic realism genre was extremely enjoyable. When we came out in submission with the novel in 2019, the magical realism (minus one chapter) was very subtle. After receiving feedback from a handful of editors, my agent and I decided it was best for me to increase the magic realism, and I’m so glad I did. It gives the story an extra layer that it lacked before. With magical realism, I was able to be very artistic and sometimes poetic in the way I approached the scenes. This style of writing was also a way for me to remind readers of Raqi’s Latin heritage and give them another opportunity to see how his experiences with the Lawless really affected his perception of the world around him.
What motivates you when it comes to writing?
For the most part, I don’t need much motivation to write. Sure, “talking shop” with other writers at literary events is very inspiring, but for me, writing is exciting, almost intoxicating, and I can’t wait to get to the point in my process where I put pen to paper. I have to explain that I don’t write creatively every day and it’s not for lack of motivation. For me, I need to work out the story in my head before I start writing, and so I can take a few months off to do that, before creating a plan or at least discussing the idea. with my agent. People are also surprised that I only write 15 minutes a day when I’m working on a novel – and again, it’s not for lack of motivation. It’s so that I don’t overwhelm myself and have a chance to think about where I want the scene to go. I’m a fast guy, so that helps too.
What’s next for you?
When half outlaw releases, I will be busy with events. I will be doing a virtual launch party with WritingWorkshops.com and Interabang Books on July 12, 2022. For this event, my literary agent and I will discuss our working relationship and how half outlaw has been published. Then on July 13, there’s an in-person launch party hosted by Whose Books at Oak Cliff Brewing Company in Dallas, Texas. I’m also selected as the featured writer for the Inner Moonlight event on August 10 at The Wild Detectives.
After that, I hope that some books I worked on will be acquired by publishers. The first is a novel that explores the idea of the autonomy of a mythical woman over her own story. My other project is a non-fiction writing craft book. I can’t wait to start a new novel in August. I toyed with the idea of writing a literary love story.
Finally, do you have any 2022 book recommendations for our readers?
I tend to read books that were written a year or two ago, so I’m surprised I can offer a few recommendations. Olga dies dreaming by Xóchitl González is part love story, part Puerto Rican independence movement, and part family trauma. Not only was it a very enjoyable story that I couldn’t put down, but it gave me some perspective I needed at the time.
I would also like to recommend Wahala by Nikki May. I’m always on the lookout for books that feature mixed main characters and this one has four. There’s a gritty, dark undertone to this book that surprised me in a good way.
Recently I found myself on a modern romantic reading kick, which is why I picked up Kamila knows best by Farah Heron. I may or may not (okay, I can) relate to the main character thinking “I know better” (sometimes). It was fun (and reassuring) to watch a strong-willed brunette fall in love with a partner who was the perfect fit for her.