Meet Isabel Ibañez, The Voice of a New Generation of Latinx Authors

Isabel Ibanez BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Isabel Ibañez

Our Latinx community is full of talent. From musicians to writers, and everything in between, Latinx are creative minds that continue thriving in their spaces while opening paths to their audiences to do the same. 

It is a fruitful cycle that will only continue to ignite our upcoming talents — and in this case, we see it exemplified through the experience of Florida-born and Bolivian author Isabel Ibañez.

Ibañez made her debut in the publishing world last year, with her book Woven in Moonlight, which TIME categorized 100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time, praising “every detail is rich with meaning and nuance.” 

The wave of praise she received for her second book, Written in Starlight, which just came out this month, is much more than anticipated. As a result, we had to dig into Ibañez’s mind to see what and how this author embraces in her Latinx roots, what inspirations she gives to upcoming authors, and of course, how she is staying creative during this pandemic. 

Here’s what she had to say!

Tell us about yourself and how your Bolivian roots inspired you both as a writer and in your newest work, Written in Starlight.

Both my books draw from my personal experience of growing up in Bolivia, where most of my family lives. To me, Bolivia is a vibrant and colorful place, with delicious food and incredible art, deeply rooted in artisanal crafting and weaving. Writing about a place I love so much felt natural to me — because my upbringing really shaped me to embrace all aspects of my heritage. 

This story is particularly special to me, as it’s primarily inspired by my father and where he was born and raised — the Bolivian Amazon. This book is filled with the foods he ate, what his home looked like, even the bamboo stalks he slept on. It has the river that runs like veins through his pueblo, and where he traveled by canoe. 

Written In Starlight also features a lost city — Paititi — that was once thought to be in Bolivia. I’ve always been fascinated by this legend, and I think the last known explorer to go searching for it went into the Bolivian Amazon in 1997, and he never came back out. I don’t know if this city will ever be found and where, but it felt like the perfect home for the Illari, who were largely inspired by Andean peoples in the Bolivian region who were conquered and displaced by the Incas.  

As a Latina, what advice/inspiration you’d like to give those Latinx who are looking to navigate a similar career like yours?

I’d say to lean into what you love about writing and be persistent, especially on days when the words won’t come or the time just isn’t there. Make writing a priority and finish the work you start because you can’t revise or edit what’s not on paper. It took me years to get published, but it helped to remember that my voice matters and that there is room for my stories on bookshelves. The same is true for all of you. 

What steps did you take to become an author?

I actually majored in Creative Writing in college, but I truly learned most of what I know about writing and finishing a book and publishing through my own proactive research. I learned about different Twitter contests and made friends with people on the same journey. There is a wealth of information available on the Internet about writing the perfect query letter and agents. Once I learned as much as I could, I also threw my hat in the ring for Pitch Wars, and my manuscript got picked. During that process, I learned how to revise a manuscript and felt comfortable querying agents. From there, it was a waiting game of when an editor might actually be interested in buying one of my stories!  

What inspired you to be an author?

Since I was little, I always loved books and movies and plays, I couldn’t get enough. And writing was an outlet for me, and so I diligently wrote in my journal and tried writing stories as I got older. Writing is an itch, a massive pull for me. I’ve always known that this is what I want to do. 

Tell us about Written in Starlight – how did this story come to be? Where was the inspiration from, and how long did it take to express it in words?

Written In Starlight came from a desire to continue the story of Woven In Moonlight. I desperately wanted to see what would happen to one of the characters who didn’t get the ending she quite hoped for. I also wanted to write about the Bolivian Amazon as I grew up hearing so many stories about my father’s childhood. Suddenly, I had an idea for this character’s journey — one that would be as emotional as it was physically taxing. With the idea in mind, it took me only about two to three months to draft the story.  

What is your personal motivation to create your books, and how do you find it in everyday life? Where do you find your discipline to keep moving forward in these pandemic times?

In many ways, writing is as much an escape for me as it is my full-time job. Getting lost in a world, dreaming of that perfect scene, or coming up with the perfect conclusions — all of that helped to distract me from the horrifying reality of the pandemic. I also want to say that I’m very ambitious, and while I know that’s not often a word most women have been taught to embrace, it’s a word that really describes my motivation and drive. I have goals that I want to meet, stories I need to put down to paper. 

What are some challenges as a Latina in the publishing world?

I personally think writing from your personal experience can have some drawbacks — worth the risk, but good to mindful that there will be readers and reviewers who will have expectations about the representation of your world. But I am not every Boliviana, and we all don’t have the same experiences, and that’s okay! In fact, it only makes me realize how much space there is for everyone to write about works imbued with their unique perspective. How absolutely necessary it is, actually.  

You’ve often said on social media that one of your goals is to stay away from the digital world to focus on your life. What tips can you give to those who would like to do the same? What has been the outcome, and how have you been feeling since?

Great question. Anything will have your soul if you let it. In an age where knowledge is everywhere and literally at your fingertips, I’ve learned the hard way that perhaps I really ought not to know everything that’s being said about me or my books, even if it’s within easy reach. Social media is a wonderful tool, but it also means offering some of your life up to public commentary, and that was quite a shock to me initially. I LOVE to connect with readers and hope to have some measure of balance. For me, that meant pulling back from Bookstagram, unfollowing all of the bookish hashtags and the majority of the accounts dedicated to reviewing books. Because I made room, my Instagram now only has friends and family and other authors I follow, along with accounts specializing in my interests and hobbies. I’m not bracing myself every time I open up the app. Twitter is something I will never regularly go back to, and the same for Facebook. I’m feeling MUCH better about how I interact with Instagram, and it’s made a difference in my confidence and creativity. 

As for advice, I’d say this: protect your creativity and your goals. Fill up your well with what inspires you and cut out the things that rob you from pursuing your dreams. 

Anything else you’d like to share with our audience? We are all very fond of your work and your career! It’s inspirational. Thank you!

Thank you so much for the questions! I’ll add this: Having people in your corner who believe in you and support your dreams is so important. There are so many ways to connect with other writers, and I highly recommend the effort. Writing can sometimes feel lonely and isolating, but having other people walk in that space with you is huge.