As the author of multiple bestselling series, co-director of YALLFest, co-founder of YALLWest, and head of an eponymous imprint in collaboration with Disney Publishing, Melissa de la Cruz possesses a wealth of publishing knowledge and experience. Now, in a career first, de la Cruz draws from her Filipino heritage to craft her latest YA fantasy novel, The Encanto’s Daughter. Half human and half Encanto, MJ Rodriguez has grown up in hiding, roaming around the human world with her mother, but never settling in one place for too long. When the Encanto king dies, MJ—his only child—must return to the world of the Encantos. But she has much to learn of the beguiling fairies’ ways, and as she settles into her royal role and spends time among the magical nobility, it becomes apparent that dark forces are plotting against her. In a conversation with PW, de la Cruz spoke about her connection to her culture and how it informs her writing.

Why did you decide that now was the time to write a Filipino–inspired fantasy?

I grew up with a very superstitious background. My grandfather practiced this Philippine superstition called anting-anting, which involves having something of a good luck charm. It’s a native tradition that all Filipinos kind of know about, from before the Philippines were converted to Christianity. It’s still practiced by certain people and is often looked down upon by those who don’t. Most people practice it in secret, but my grandfather was one of the ones who was like, “This is just what we do.” So, I grew up with stories about the duende, which are like little elves that are mischievous household spirits.

It’s crazy that it’s taken me this long. For a while I thought, “Is it too esoteric? Is it something that’s not for everyone?” But then, as I was starting to write this story, I thought, “Isn’t this just like everything else?” I had all these doubts and fears about tapping into mythologies that most people who have grown up in America wouldn’t know, until it finally felt like the right time.

Did growing up with a “very superstitious background” influence your own fantastical works?

Absolutely. I was brought up by people who believed in magic. I was brought up to believe that there were things that couldn’t be explained and that was okay. My family was also staunchly Catholic, so even knowing that mythology informed a lot of Blue Bloods, for example. I don’t think I would be a fantasy writer if I didn’t come from the background I did.

Did writing The Encanto’s Daughter feel different from your previous fantasy novels?

I was very moved by being able to do it. I feel really proud of the book, and of having the Tagalog words and the food and the culture in it. Even the names that are in it are very Filipino. I was like, “Oh, wow, this is okay now. Filipinos are part of Western media now.” It did feel a bit profound to me.

You’ve published several books a year throughout your career. Can you describe your process of developing so many books in tandem?

I think it’s how I deal with writer’s block. When I feel stuck on a project, I just start another one. I have a lot of stories to tell, and I like juggling a lot of things concurrently. It’s just fun for me.

When I’m writing first drafts and outlines and proposals, I can work on a lot of projects at the same time. It’s only when I get to the final draft that I have to set time aside to concentrate on just one project. That’s when I’m in the writing cave; I move all my calls, all my Zooms. I don’t even talk to my agent [Richard Abate at 3Arts Entertainment].

What inspires your stories and how do you prioritize which one to tackle first?

I talked about writing The Encanto’s Daughter for many years before I actually did it. I need to have a very clear idea of a story in my mind before I move forward with it. So, when I decided, “What if I wrote the fairy book using the Filipino mythology I grew up with,” that was when it crystallized.

Being interested in and optimistic about the world, being committed to always questioning and always educating yourself—always following the rabbit hole, so to speak—that’s kind of how I operate. I find things that I’m interested in, I figure out how to actually make them books, and then I figure out how to sell them—you know, see what the market is. There are certainly some ideas that my agent and I have tried to make but it just doesn’t always happen. So, I just have to go on and find something else. The more you’re interested in the world around you, the more ideas you have.

I don’t think I would be a fantasy writer if I didn’t come from the background I did.

What are some challenges you’ve encountered while writing across age ranges?

I like working in a lot of different age ranges and genres. Sometimes I need a little break in between books. When I’m writing a middle grade, I’m being very silly and then when I transfer to a very romantic adult book, I like having the opportunity to reset my brain, kind of like washing out my palate.

Sometimes it’s a little hard for me to remember what’s adult and what’s young adult. I think some of my adult books maybe skew a little younger, or my YA books might read more similarly to a middle grade. So, maybe the lines blur a little sometimes because what’s been termed a young adult book now is so different from when I started writing them 25 years ago. I just make sure to read what’s being published currently. I gotta keep up!

How do you balance your partnership with Disney Publishing and coordinating YALLFest and YALLWest on top of maintaining your publishing schedule?

I don’t know. I just know that it’s going to happen because it has to happen. You gotta work weekends, sometimes, but I think having a great festival staff and really good partners in life and in publishing has been the most helpful in balancing everything. My agent and I have been together for more than 20 years, and I’ve been with several of my editors for just as long. I think loyalty has always been a big part of it. Publishing is a very supportive community, one that I’ve raised my kid in. I remember going on tour with a three-month-old and my publisher making sure that we had a big enough room because I was traveling with my nanny or my mom.

When you started writing, did you imagine that you would be in the positions that you are now?

It’s hard to even think about. I started writing 25 years ago, but because I’m just in it, and because I’m dealing with things day by day or year by year, I didn’t even notice the time passing. Everything ramped up so fast that it was hard to see the forest for the trees. I think when I was starting out, I felt like I had made it when I sold my first book. That’s all I needed for validation. I wanted to know that I was the kind of writer who could publish a book that was in bookstores. Once that happened, I felt that I had already accomplished what I set out to do. And then when I was selling my second book I thought, “I’d really like to make a living out of this.”

I was just thinking about how some authors don’t remember when YA wasn’t a huge thing. I would go to festivals and feel like an outsider. So, we created these festivals to celebrate our YA authors, and to make people feel special in a way that was really kind of unheard of 15 years ago. It was important to us to make sure that all the participating authors felt taken care of. It was also important to us to bus in kids from Title 1 schools and make sure they were able to see the panels and leave with books. We’re 10 years in L.A., and 14 years in Charleston, and suddenly, I’m looking back and I’m like, “Oh, wow. I did that.”

I don’t think I ever had a big picture plan. It has always been just one foot in front of the other.

What are some upcoming projects from Melissa de la Cruz Studio that you’re excited about?

We have a middle grade graphic novel series by Primo Gallanosa that’s kind of like a Baby-Sitters Club, but for pets, called The Pet Placement Society, which is slated for spring 2025. And then we have a Filipino picture book called The Gobbling Goblins by Maika Llaneza and Ara Villena that’s based on the duende, which is also coming out in spring 2025.

We’re also publishing a historical fiction YA about the Fox sisters, who were psychics in the 1800s. People completely believed that they could communicate with supernatural beings but, in real life, they turned out to be frauds. But this book asks, “What if they were real? What if they actually could speak to the dead?”

What are you working on next?

I have an adult book that’s publishing from Red Tower in September that’s not announced yet, but I’m very excited about it. It’s one of those 20-year-old book ideas that I’ve always wanted to do.

The Encanto’s Daughter by Melissa de la Cruz. Putnam, $19.99 Mar. 5 ISBN 978-0-593-53308-6