Have you ever wondered how trials and hardships in life can shape and strengthen your creativity? Join us as we share an intimate conversation with Liz DeJesus, a Puerto Rican author whose journey from a literature-deprived childhood to becoming a 2023 emerging individual artist fellow in the field of literature creative nonfiction is nothing short of inspiring. Marvel at her audacious decision to pen her first novel at 18, her transformative move to Delaware, and her shift from fiction to nonfiction spurred by personal loss. Liz's resilient spirit and relentless pursuit of her passion for writing are sure to stir emotions deep within you.
Finding the equilibrium between creative endeavors, family commitments, and a day job can be a challenging feat, yet Liz DeJesus does it with grace and tenacity. She shares the indispensable role of online platforms in nurturing creativity and providing solace during the pandemic and her exciting journey leading to the publication of her first children's book 11 years in the making. Liz's tales of personal struggles with fear and anxiety and her unique approach to success pepper the air with palpable authenticity. Her sage advice on embracing vulnerability and taking risks in the quest for creative goals will leave you feeling empowered and ready to conquer your own creative mountains. Join us for this riveting exploration into Liz's life, the courage fuelling her creativity, and her incredibly inspiring journey to success.
The Delaware Division of the Arts, a branch of the Delaware Department of State, is committed to supporting the arts and cultivating creativity to enhance the quality of life in Delaware. Together with its advisory body, the Delaware State Arts Council, the Division administers grants and programs that support arts programming, educate the public, increase awareness of the arts, and integrate the arts into all facets of Delaware life. Learn more at Arts.Delaware.Gov.
Delaware State of the Arts is a weekly podcast that presents interviews with arts organizations and leaders who contribute to the cultural vibrancy of communities throughout Delaware. Delaware State of the Arts is provided as a service of the Division of the Arts, in partnership with NEWSRADIO 1450 WILM and 1410 WDOV.
For Delaware State of the Arts, I'm Andy Truscott. My guest today is Liz DeJesus, who is a Delaware-based author and a 2023 emerging individual artist fellow in the field of literature creative nonfiction. Liz grew up in Puerto Rico, where her love of books, art journaling and poetry allowed her to feel fearless, like she could roar like the mighty wind. Liz, thank you so much for joining me today. As we kick off, I wonder if you can tell us a little bit about your childhood in Puerto Rico, how it influenced your passion for writing and what you think really led to your real lean into the field.Liz DeJesus:
Oh my gosh, thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited and I also want to take a moment and thank the DDOA for the grant. This has been life-changing and so validating for me as a writer. And you were asking me about my childhood. I really started writing when I was eight. I started journaling and I realized that I just really enjoyed the process of writing and I felt like I could escape. And then I started writing poetry when I was 13. And then I just kind of crash landed onto. I just decided when I was 18, I was going to write a novel. I had never written a novel before, but you know, when you're 18, you feel like you can kind of do anything. So I just decided what's up with the novel?Andy Truscott:
Your location on Puerto Rico. I know we spoke a little bit before. The interview really provided a few challenges as it related to access to books, access to literature. How did you find your family, or even yourself, kind of overcoming those boundaries?Liz DeJesus:
When I was 12, my family moved to a place called Las Piedras, which literally translates to the rocks, and we were living up in the mountains and anytime I wanted books, and at the time I wanted to write books in English. So my mom, she would drive me and my brother to Old San Juan and we would go to either the mall or to some of the bookstores there and even though the choices were limited, I was just so happy that I had some access to it. I really gravitated toward fairy tales, any kind of fairy tales, you know, like the brother's house, Christian Anderson, Charles Perot, all those kinds of things, and also Sweet Valley High. Those are my favorites.Andy Truscott:
Did you find that the lack of books, the lack of literature on the island was something isolated to that area in Las Piedras, or was it kind of a more island based thing that you noticed in your youth?Liz DeJesus:
Well, for me it felt like it was just for where I was at the time and this was before Amazon, before, you know, like the internet pretty much. So it felt pretty difficult. I remember my dad moved to Delaware in 1998. You know, he relocated for a job and I was 17 at the time and we were talking one day and I was nervous about moving because that was all I knew was Puerto Rico and I remember my dad telling me about this place called Borders. I know some of the listeners will remember Borders Books and Music and I really thought he was lying to me because I thought he was making me feel better about leaving the island and when I finally saw it with my own eyes, I just I could not believe it. I had never seen so many books in one place in my life and I actually ended up getting a job at that specific board is the one that used to be.Andy Truscott:
As you moved into Delaware, as books and literature became more easily accessible via libraries or stores, did you find that it affected your reading habits, your writing habits?Liz DeJesus:
Yes, I read everything I could get my hands on and I'm still catching up. There's still so many books and still so many of the classics that I haven't read but that I pretty much devoured everything I could get my hands on. And it was great that I was working at that Borders at the time was because I was able to kind of get first dibs on all the good stuff I read so many how to write books, like how to write characters, how to write scenery, how to write sci-fi, everything I could I just kind of read. And it was mostly through trial and error, because I was just 18 with this dream that I would write a book. And the great thing was that my parents were so supportive. There wasn't really anybody that was telling me like, oh, you can't do that, like that's impossible, like it was just like, oh, that's nice, I'm just kind of keep going. And everybody was so supportive. I do come from a family of creative people, like my mom she paints and she writes as well. My father, he's a singer-songwriter. My grandmother wrote poetry. So I kind of come from a creative family. What they didn't expect was how far I'd go or how seriously I'd take it as a career.Andy Truscott:
You had mentioned, the books that you really gravitated to when you were in Puerto Rico was those of fairy tales, those of fiction kind of stories, right, obviously. Today we're looking at you receiving a fellowship in the world of creative nonfiction. So a bit of the other side. How? Do you see those two kind of like joining hands right, Does that make sense?Liz DeJesus:
Yeah, I spent a lot of my life writing fiction, but there was always parts of my actual life woven into my stories. Now, what changed was my best friend, kristen, passed away four years ago and that really kind of just changed everything about me and it changed how I wrote. I didn't really want to write fiction anymore. I wanted to write actual things about my life and I really wanted to explore how I was feeling and why I was feeling this way. And the story that I submitted for the grant was actually a story no one was ever supposed to read, which is pretty ironic. I had a friend who was helping me with the application process because I was unsure what I was going to submit, and I had submitted a couple of fiction stories and she just kept going, no, this is not good. No, don't submit this, it's not. And on a lark I was like, well, how about this story? And I kind of wanted to take it back because it was again one of those stories that no one was ever supposed to read. And she was like this one and I was like, oh no, what have I done? Mostly because it was a story that I wrote when I was in a really dark place in my life at that time.Andy Truscott:
Do you think to the emotions that go into writing a piece like the piece that you submitted? Did you find that writing at that moment was a catalyst for you in dealing with some of the emotions that maybe you didn't feel comfortable talking about? Or was it just a moment of I want to do something, I want to be creative, just to get moving, and that was the byproduct of kind of that moment?Liz DeJesus:
A little bit of both, I want to say, but mostly it was because I had all these feelings of grief and I was in a really dark place at the time, and writing has always been a life-saving thing for me. Like any time that I'm sad or depressed or anxious, I like to take that energy because even though it's negative energy, it's still something that bubbles up and percolates and it's there and that's kind of been my superpower, so to speak, and it's something that I've just. I'm just going to take all this negative stuff and I'm just going to put it in here. So that's how I end up with certain villains in stories, or how I write certain emotions for some of my characters. So that's pretty much what I do.Andy Truscott:
In some of your recent work, you mentioned writing stories about people who have gone through complex issues or difficult situations. What draws you to explore those themes and how do you hope your writing will resonate with readers?Liz DeJesus:
It's something that I struggle with every day. It always surprises people when I tell them this, but I have depression and anxiety. Thankfully, I've been going to therapy. I pray, I meditate. There's a lot of things that I do to kind of process these feelings, and writing is definitely one of them.Andy Truscott:
Can you tell us a little bit more about the experience you had connecting with others online in person during that pandemic and how that became a bit of a lifeline for you?Liz DeJesus:
Oh my gosh. Being able to work online with my friend, amber Amber Davis, who's the illustrator for my latest children's book, and working with my publisher, jodi Jackala, being able to use all the means that we had available to us, whether it was Zoom or FaceTime email so being able to to still work was amazing, because it kind of kept that little spark of creativity alive throughout that time.Andy Truscott:
Did you find yourself utilizing, like writer's chat groups, other open houses for writers to kind of share your work during that time?Liz DeJesus:
I did create a little Facebook group on my Facebook page with some of my author friends and mostly I started it to kind of support people throughout NaNoWriMo, which is National Novel Writing Month, which it happens on the month of November, and it was mostly hey, yeah, you can do it Just kind of cheering each other on and I thought it would just kind of just end after November, but it just kept on going. So that's nice to be able to have that little bit of support.Andy Truscott:
I think something a lot of new writers or even just younger writers struggle with is kind of finding that balance right Between your creative writing, your creative time, and then your family time, your day job, the other things that you've got to do as an adult. What works for you? What do you find to be a successful balance between those two things?Liz DeJesus:
I work part-time and I'm also a full-time mom. I have two boys with special needs. They're both in the spectrum, they have autism. So what I usually do is I write at night after everybody's gone to bed. I have a notebook, I scribble some notes. I usually stay up late, way past my bedtime, and I just write as much as I can. Even if it's just a sentence, I'm doing something. I think that a lot of writers focus on word count and they focus on how much they write on a single day or a single week. And, to be completely honest, I think that, as long as you're doing a little bit and you're happy with what you're writing, or you're happy with what you're doing, just be gentle with yourself. I think that people just need to be a little kinder to themselves and a little more gentle with themselves, especially when they're doing something that they enjoy, which is the writing. And if they're putting so much pressure on themselves to not have to write X amount or failing or what like, I don't think you need that much pressure.Andy Truscott:
You're not the first writer we've spoken to that said something akin to that, right, which is just be kind, be gentle with yourself. So many of us see books on shelves or see the final product of a writer's work, right? Which is that final project. How much of your work do you feel like ends up on the floor in the trash can? Right? Because I think that so many of us writing for you may be an exercise, maybe a practice, right? And then it ends up in a final product, and so we may not see the stacks and stacks and stacks of unused manuscripts that go into a person's creative practice.Liz DeJesus:
Oh man, that is a great question. I have so many works in progress that I haven't even touched, and it's harder for me now. In the before time I used to be able to crank stuff out once a year like it was nothing, like it was fine, like, oh yeah, book a year, no problem. After losing my friend and after the pandemic, everything just kind of, I had to refocus what was important, what really mattered. So I kind of had to learn to fall in love with writing all over again. I don't know my priorities have changed and now, instead of how many books I'm cranking out or how many stories I'm cranking out, I'm focusing on the quality.Andy Truscott:
And while we're talking about your product, I'd love to talk about the book that is just coming out, or just came out last year. I wonder if you could tell us more about your first published children's book.Liz DeJesus:
Oh my gosh, it's so exciting. I wrote this book 11 years ago and to finally see it in my hands is it's quite amazing. So it's ABC's with the Veggantes and it's a children's book and my friend Amber Davis did all of the illustrations. It's like a party, it's a parade right here in your hands. It talks about the Veggantes, the Fiestas de Santiago de la Poston. It talks a little bit about what the masks are and it's bilingual. So you get like here. It says the first Veggante who walked down the street has a costume that is blue, like the Puerto Rican sky, and then it says Azul, and then you have a blue Veggante, and then it just kind of goes on like that. So it's a bilingual book and it's great for anybody that wants to learn about Puerto Rico. I want to learn a little bit of Spanish. It's just, it's so beautiful, it's so beautifully illustrated. I just I love it.Andy Truscott:
And it's won a number of awards.Liz DeJesus:
yes, yes, it just won first place for nonfiction from the Delaware Press Association, and I'm still waiting to hear about the National Federation of Press Women, because apparently it won an award, but I haven't heard which one.Andy Truscott:
Writing, though not your only thing that you've dug into right. We've spoken on and I've seen postcards galore on one of the Comic-Cons coming shortly over at Claymont Community Center. Tell us how you got involved in this idea that is Comic-Con and what makes you excited about stuff like that.Liz DeJesus:
My gosh. I've been going to Comic-Cons for the past 10 years and I have made so many amazing friends. I don't just sell my books, I make these little figurines and I sell these at different Comic-Cons. I used to have an event called Anime Day with the Art Studio and that sadly got canceled because of the pandemic. So I decided to do something a little smaller, so called the Bento-Con, and I was looking for a place to hold the event and thankfully the Claymont Community Center came through, and so that's where it's gonna be. It's gonna happen on August 26th from 10 am to 3 pm, and we're gonna have so many amazing vendors and artists and authors. There's gonna be a cosplay contest. The Delaware Anime Society is gonna be there having a little anime screening.Andy Truscott:
How has your work been impacted or what opportunities do you feel like you've gained through receiving the fellowship from the DDOA?Liz DeJesus:
I have no words, there really are no words to describe how life-changing this has been for me, because it has validated everything, all the work that I've done for the past 20 years, because that's how long I've been doing this 20 years it's humbling that's all I can say, and I'm just looking forward to continue to write.Andy Truscott:
If you were to look back on younger you or a younger writer and could give them one piece of advice from the grave right Approaching art, approaching literary arts, approaching being a mother, being an adult in the creative field. What do you think is the most important lesson you've learned amongst your journey here?Liz DeJesus:
Don't give up. That's really the one thing that I would say to my younger self and to any young writer Don't give up, keep going. I can't tell you how many times I got rejected. I got rejected so many times. And to try new things learn how to write short stories, learn how to write poetry, learn how to write a haiku, read everything you can get your hands on. If I had had the access to some of the libraries that are within driving distance, god only knows what I would have been able to do. And to not be afraid to ask questions. There's so many times that I've been given opportunities just because I asked just a standard question, and there's so many times that people just kind of bulk at that and I'm like what's the worst thing that they can say? The worst thing they can say is no, okay, cool. Moving on, I also learned how to write comic books. I didn't know how to write comic book scripts, but I grabbed every single book on comic books that I could get my hands on and I learned. I figured it out. Fear is really is the enemy of creativity. So really, just don't be afraid. Don't be afraid to ask questions, don't be afraid to put yourself out there, and this is coming from someone with anxiety. You know there's just no way to know what can happen unless you really just try and make an effort.Andy Truscott:
And as we wrap up here, kind of the question I like to ask everyone, as we wrap up, for you, in yourself as a writer, as an artist, sitting here today what does success look like to you?Liz DeJesus:
Success, being happy, just being happy with what you're doing, with what you've accomplished, being happy with yourself and being kind. There's so many things that have come my way just because I was kind. That really just does open so many doors.Andy Truscott:
Liz, thank you so much for joining me today. If you'd like to learn more about Liz's upcoming work her books that are out there and on sale now everywhere feel free to visit lizdehazuscom and I'll see you in a minute. And let's get straight up to the devils. Exists from Africa. Spain acted together as a regional framework for the world. Department of State is committed to supporting the arts and cultivating creativity to enhance the quality of life in Delaware. Together with its advisory body, the Delaware State Arts Council, the Division administers grants and programs that support arts programming, educate the public, increase awareness of the arts and integrate the arts into all facets of Delaware life. To find out more about the Division, visit artsdellawaregov.