I first met Sandra in 2020 at a tennis court. I still remember that moment — a friendly match, introduced by our mutual coach. Sandra didn’t know me and I didn’t know her, but she wanted to win, and so did I. It’s a tennis thing, okay? So we hit balls back and forth, forehand and backhand and volley. It was a great workout. Then, the coach said I was a writer, and what a surprise, so was she.
When her debut Mortal Sight was released last year, I bought the book, read it, and recommended it to my daughter. Now that the paperback has come out, I can’t wait to introduce Sandra to all of you.
You can read BookTrib’s review of Mortal Sight here.
Q&A WITH SANDRA FERNANDEZ RHOADS
Q: Could you tell readers about yourself and your family?
A: I’m a Cuban-Colombian, first-generation American, born in Queens. Our family moved from New York to Houston when I was in elementary school, so I’ve lived in Texas almost all my life, but I don’t have much of a southern accent (at least I don’t think so!). I live in North Dallas with my husband, four kids, and a rowdy pup named Ellie.
Q: Do you think your personal experiences have helped shape your life as a fiction writer?
A: Absolutely. I had a difficult childhood in an alcoholic home, so writing, reading and daydreaming were my escape. I penned story after story in spiral notebooks, but never let anyone read a word. I was a melancholy teen with a Mohawk and shocking red hair who loved reading the late Romantic poets instead of on-trend authors. Growing up underprivileged, I always felt like an outsider. I think these life experiences built my resilience and gave me empathy for the underdog that deepens my characters and writing.
Q: How would you describe your first year as a published author during the pandemic?
A: While I’m disappointed I didn’t get a “real” launch, I was able to flex into something new and still celebrate. I redirected the money budgeted for the launch and started a fund with Art House Dallas to help artists all over the U.S. whose income had been affected by the Covid shut down. AHD was able to assist over 21 artists in various disciplines pay for groceries, rent and medical costs. I’m thankful that my book came out when it did.
Q: How long did it take you to write this book?
A: The original draft was written in nine months and was 180k words. The rewrite took me three years. I had to create an entirely new story, develop the mythology, deepen characters, and hone the plot for both Mortal Sight and the squeal, Realms of Light.
Q: Mortal Sight puts a new twist on the popular “teenage girl saves the world” theme. How did you come up with the idea of a girl who must restore the peace of her world by decoding the messages hidden in works of art and classic literature?
A: I knew the story was about a misfit, a girl who doesn’t feel as if she belongs, but I had to dig deep to determine the elements relevant to our everyday world and how that realm is reflected in real life. The idea came from developing the story’s mythology and antagonist’s backstory. I had to discover where/when the war started and why. How long had it been going on? Etc.
Q: Milton! Why? I loved Paradise Lost in graduate school and I still read it for enjoyment whenever I can. Could you tell us when your love affair with Milton began? Did you face any challenges with weaving Milton in your novel?
A: I love hearing others love Milton. His similes and use of language are quite beautiful. I was fascinated not only by Milton’s personal life story, but also how he crafted language, images, and broke all conventions for his day — a rebel at heart.
As I began developing the mythology, Milton immediately leapt to mind. The key verse was “that I may see and tell of things invisible to Mortal Sight,” which is where the title comes from. As I weaved Milton into the manuscript, the verses fit perfectly. Honestly, I never struggled with incorporating the poem into the text.
Q: Do you think high school and middle school teachers should introduce your book to students?
A: I do! I feel honored to be included on the TLA Tayshas Reading List for 2021. The novel is also being taught at Purdue University and has been described as “accessible,” which blows my mind. I think the introduction of classical literature in a unique way gives younger readers a chance to dip into classics they might not ever pick up and read.