The bestselling children’s book author Daniel José Older—the Shadowshaper Cypher YA series, the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy YA series, and the middle grade historical fantasy Dactyl Hill Squad—is stepping out of his comfort zone with his first literary adult novel, The Book of Lost Saints (Imprint, Nov.). He was inspired by his mother’s stories about her life in Cuba, which were quite a contrast to his growing up in Boston. “That difference really jumped out at me,” says Older. “The Book of Lost Saints is about that difference—what it’s like to live now, but have the lineage of what it was like to live then, to inherit those stories.”
The book features a modern-day Cuban-American living in New Jersey, who is haunted by his ancestor’s spirit, a woman who vanished during the Cuban revolution. “This one feels different rhythmically, and that’s how I knew it was a literary novel rather than a genre novel. A couple years ago, two Duke Ellington albums were released: one was called Piano in the Foreground and one was called Piano in the Background, and they’re both amazing. And that’s how I think of literary vs. genre. With genre there is a lot more plot in the foreground driving the story constantly forward, and with literary, it’s about plot stepping back a little. Things move fast in a lot of ways, but it’s a different rhythm, and in the midst of it people are living their lives.”
Another thing Older, who now writes full-time, can’t forget is what it was like to work as a paramedic when he first began his writing career. “I would go in the back of the ambulance between calls, lay down on a stretcher, and get in as many words as I could before we got another call. So to have the luxury of being able to wake up, walk my dogs, have breakfast, and then write at a desk—without being suddenly needed to help someone having a heart attack—even six years later it feels like ‘Wow!’ ”
Older is excited about bringing the Cuban-American experience to the forefront at a time of literary social energy. “Because of the literary activism of writers, particularly writers of color in the past couple of years, I think we’re seeing a great change. You’re finding more and more people, including myself, finding ourselves in books, and finding our stories being told, and I think that’s so exciting. I love being part of this literary moment and movement, because there is great change and it always propels me forward.”
Today, 10–11 a.m. Daniel José Older will sign ARCs at Table 14.