September 22, 2023

NCS Author Ambassador, Julian Vaca on his Creative Journey and the Importance of NPL

In anticipation of our September book club meetup, the Next Chapter Society took some time to chat with author of The Memory Index, Julian R. Vaca. Julian is our NCS Author Ambassador and an enthusiastic supporter of the Nashville Public Library System (and library systems in general, but you catch the drift!). We’re excited to share that he will be joining us for our discussion of The Memory Index, Part 1 of his YA duology. We asked Julian to share a bit of his library story and what supporting NPL means to him.

Julian’s journey into creativity is strongly influenced by his multicultural background and his formative experiences. Born and raised in Long Beach, California, he moved to Tennessee at the age of 13. As a first-generation Mexican American, Julian’s parents emphasized exclusive English-speaking, which made him feel disconnected from his Mexican heritage, especially in a predominantly white rural community. This sense of disconnection drove him towards the world of books and writing, serving as a sanctuary to process his emotions and insecurities. Julian’s parents enthusiastically encouraged his creative writing pursuits, providing him with a North Star to find his voice as an author.

His educational journey included graduation from the Nashville School of the Arts, where he interacted with the NPL during a youth film festival. Notably, the encouragement of individuals like Nashville’s beloved news anchor Demetria Kalomodos – a staunch advocate for empowering young creatives – and recognition from the NPL youth film festival, played pivotal roles in Julian’s creative development. Subsequently, he graduated from Watkins College, all while maintaining a deep connection to creative writing and reading as integral elements of his life story.

Now, Julian has a family of his own, with four children. His appreciation for Nashville Public Library deepened as he began to introduce his children to the library system post-pandemic to participate in various activities and explore its vast collection of picture books and children’s literature. He hopes to instill a generational love for reading and a fondness for the local library in his children, and during the summer, they visit the library at least twice a week. Recently, Julian brought the children to their branch on a “weekly visit,” and they got to spend time in the kids’ section, get all their books, and witness their dad participating in his civic duty of voting! The magic of everyday experiences in the library has been a driving force behind his motivation to represent NCS.

“Anyone can go somewhere and get something out of the library – it is representative of all of the different cultures in our country as a melting pot!” – Julian R Vaca

When Julian connected with the Next Chapter Society, his commitment to championing the public library and its resources felt like a no-brainer. The long-standing role of the library in his everyday life combined and dedication to fostering a similar passion in his children exemplify his drive to be an outspoken advocate for our local public library system.

We asked Julian to share what he’d like readers to know about The Memory Index as we look forward to his upcoming appearance at book club.

From Julian:

This book was a planned trilogy – it was sold to the publisher on spec, only 15K words and an outline – so the creative challenge was taking 3 books and distilling it into two!

When I wrote the first draft and handed it over, the main character was actually an African American girl. The editor suggested getting into the hands of a sensitivity reader to review for stereotypes and examples of tokenism and it was an amazing learning moment for me. My sister is married to a Liberian man who was adopted in early childhood, and I wanted to have some representation in the book for my niece and nephew. There was a “look in the mirror” moment where I realized I was kind of forcing the representation and it realized was an opportunity to change course and write from a place of authenticity. I can only tell the story I want to tell by writing from my personal experience – these experiences are woven into Freya’s character arc! The experience was humbling and critical to the success of the story. We have a responsibility as creatives to be true to our own voices and our own selves and to empower and champion other diverse writers instead of trying to force something, because authenticity is so important in your work.

Just for fun, we also asked Julian which authors or books have significantly influenced his writing, and if so, how they’ve impacted his work!

From Julian:

This answer changes with the seasons I’m in or the books that I’m working on, but I think the answer to this is what I am currently reading:
            Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention – And How to Think Deeply Again  by Johann Hari. We’ve forgotten how to be bored and how to let our minds wander! This book has been interesting!

            All That’s Left To Say by Emery Lord. Since I primarily write YA, I’m always reading YA! This is a cool, page-turning mystery about a girl dealing with grief from losing her best friend to an unexpected opioid overdose.

Make plans to join Julian and the Next Chapter Society at 6:30 PM next Tuesday, September 26th at Monday Night Preservation Company to discuss his book, The Memory Index! We will see you there

by Lessie Alderman, Next Chapter Society Member

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