Melissa de la Cruz: On Being the New Girl and Writing Fiction

By Elena Epstein

melissa de la cruz

Melissa de la Cruz, shown here with her husband, Michael Johnston, and their daughter, Mattie Johnston, wrote her first book of poems at age 8. PHOTO COURTESY MELISSA DE LA CRUZ

Bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz recalls ninth grade as the worst year of her life. That’s the year her family immigrated to San Francisco from Manila, Philippines. She spoke English, but the culture shock of moving to another country in the middle of her teens was a “weird adventure.” De la Cruz now lives in L.A. with her husband and 10-year-old daughter. She has written more than 40 books, many topping the bestseller lists. Her books for young readers include the New York Times bestselling “Descendants” series and “Alex & Eliza,” the romance of young Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler. Her YA contemporary novel, “Something in Between,” was inspired by her own immigrant journey. Her novels for adults include the “Witches of East End” series and “Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe,” a new Christmas novel that comes out this month.

In addition to her literary work, de la Cruz is the co-founder of YALLWEST, an annual teen book festival in Santa Monica. She is also on the advisory board of Facing History, which reaches five million school children nationwide with a curriculum devoted to teaching empathy and social justice.

Tell us more about ninth grade.

I came from a sheltered, very conservative family and culture. San Francisco was really a different world. I wasn’t allowed to have sleepovers; other kids would ask me if I lived in trees in the Philippines. So many of them had no concept of life outside of America. It was a hard year trying to find my way.

Did your immigrant experience affect your writing?

I still feel like I’m 14 years old in many ways. I have a lot of empathy for teens trying to find their way. That age is my soul.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I wrote my first book of poems for my mom when I was 8 years old. I have always loved writing. My work is a big part of who I am. I’m a storyteller. Ideas come to me from everywhere. I’m always watching everything and everyone around me, and people and ideas fascinate me. I’m reading a lot of cooking memoirs now. I don’t cook, but I love living through these authors.

How has motherhood affected your writing?

I feel a lot more responsible. I write a lot less naughty. I also had to change my writing pattern. I did a lot of writing at night, from 5 p.m.–midnight. But after having my daughter, I had to try to get some sleep at night and work during normal hours.

Do you ever feel mommy guilt when you’re on a book tour or a tight deadline?

I don’t have any guilt when working. My mom was a successful banker. She worked a lot and we all turned out fine. There is this idea of perfection in American culture. We don’t have that in the Filipino culture. I want my daughter to see me work and have my own life.

How are you nurturing the love of words in your daughter?

We let her read whatever she wants. We give her a lot of free time. That’s where creativity comes from – when you have to entertain yourself.  Having quiet time to sketch, read, write – that’s very much a part of our family time.

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