Exploring the Mark of Noba
“Sistas are doin’ it for themselves.” This could be the mantra of Afro-Latinx twins Libertad and Guinevere Tomas, who read, review, write, and publish inclusive YA lit. Their second book, The Unforgettables, is slated for release on September 12th. After reading their impressive debut, The Mark of Noba, I had some questions for these inspiring young women and Libertad kindly took the time to respond:
A call of souls. Union of power. Transcendent of time.
Sterling Wayfairer has one goal for his senior year: make his mark. But things don’t go as planned when he starts to encounter his mysterious classmate Tetra. Tetra not only has answers to the recent disappearances, but Sterling will soon find that making his mark isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sterling discovers he shares a spiritual bond with Tetra,and that only their power has the ability to stop the malevolent evil they face. They must work together or risk the destruction of their world.
I’m really interested in your publishing process–have you started your own imprint?
We have started our own imprint. It was something we knew from the start we wanted to do since we have a ton of books in us. It was just best to “brand” ourselves from the very beginning. My sister and I have had this one idea in our head that’s sort of like an Afro-futuristic dystopia where the leaders of the world are based on Valkyries. When we first thought of Valkyries, we sort of thought of them as “good guys” so in this particular story we made them villains or Rebellious Valkyries. I think we connected to that term because we felt like it described the two of us when it comes to the message we try to put out there. We try to be original and break free from the mold of what everyone else is doing. The name just sort of stuck after that.
How do you develop ideas and co-write?
Well, in terms of developing ideas, currently none of our ideas are really new. They’re just ideas that have been in our heads for years that we just managed to fine tune before the published product. I think the unique thing about our development process is that, for the most part, we don’t come up with ideas jointly. An idea comes to [Guinevere] and she sits on it for a little while before approaching me with it. The same goes for me. We tend to develop the ideas that have the most to work with. The Mark of Noba
was Guinevere’s initial idea (my sister is a bigger speculative fiction fan than I am) so when she presented me with it, we figured out ways we could both contribute. Usually that means streamlining an outline and then assigning each other chapters to work on. It probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but it works for us. We have an advantage being twins. She barely has to explain anything to me before I understand the picture and message she’s trying to convey. It’s a twin thing, lol.
With our next project being YA contemporary (much more my preference to work on), I have to admit, it was my initial idea and it had been floating inside my head for almost eleven years. I wasn’t even interested in bringing it to the masses until my sister stumbled across an ancient draft that had to be like seven years old and convinced me to rework it. I’m sure if she hadn’t, it’d still be sitting in our own little slush pile. For that reason it’s great to have a writing partner. Many times we push each other and since we’re close, we’re not afraid to admit to each other when something isn’t working.
Do you use Wattpad or other digital platforms to preview your novels?
For The Mark of Noba
we did. Wattpad
was the only platform we were super consistent with. Inkitt
was another one but Wattpad worked the best because it has the most engagement. People are constantly leaving comments and providing feedback, especially teenagers. And applying to have your story featured makes people more aware of your work. I wouldn’t waste my time on Inkitt, or at least not over Wattpad. It was awesome to get feedback from teen readers since, for the most part, they formed the majority of the readers that loved and commented on the book. I’d definitely do it again for a future book. Speculative fiction definitely does the best on there!
How do you square the #ownvoices mandate with your decision to have a white male protagonist?
When we first came up with this project, the #ownvoices call to action didn’t exist at the time and when the initial idea came to Guinevere, Sterling and Tetra had equal storytelling roles in the book. But we realized that Tetra, our heroine, revealed too much information that would be uncovered in later books. We decided to make Sterling the main storyteller since he’s what most would refer to as “The Dummy,” the one who questions everything and knows little of what’s about to happen.
I’m sort of at a loss when it comes to #ownvoices. I deeply respect the reasoning for it and it makes sense that if you aren’t qualified to be writing from a POV other than your own, then you shouldn’t be. But all that leaves me with are characters of my own background, and I feel limited in that because I’m Afro-Latinx. I’m not the average black narrative in the country I live in and my whole life I’ve been immersed in African American culture, especially Hip-Hop culture. So for the most part, I feel like I’ve been around enough African Americans to emulate them, so it feels strange for me to feel like I can’t write from that POV.
Our next heroine is Haitian American, we are not. Our next hero is half Japanese and half Welsh on his mom’s side. Again, we are not. What I can say is that we never walk into a project without the right team of helpers. If we don’t have anyone close to us to consult about cultures we don’t readily identify with, then it won’t happen. We care too much about good representation to write whatever we darn well choose.
You said online somewhere that you were “self-published and proud.” How do you respond to the prevailing stigma and exclusion of indie authors?
Well, it’s tough. I know that there is some stigma for being an indie author. There are actually a lot of things we’ve learned since publishing last year that we had to fall face first to learn–like that your book’s cover has to convey genre. That took us ages to figure out. After being mentored, we learned that our first cover read as middle grade, since it was illustrated and that’s more of a common practice for MG titles. Growing pains, lol.
We’ve always been super confused by the exclusion since before we realized it, we’d had several Indie books on our shelves that we loved and enjoyed and didn’t know there was a difference at the time (the authors clearly put a lot of time into their craft).
We didn’t care who’d published a story, just that it was a great story and that it was available to us. The only way we attempt to combat stigma is to write the stories we wished we had when we were much younger.
Does it feel like a “new day” in publishing from where you’re standing?
I wouldn’t say it feels like a “new day,” but I do think my sister and I focus more on pushing digital titles since that’s where we see the most success. It is a bit of a challenge since as Indie authors, it’s a ton of work to get into libraries. But it is our dream to be in libraries someday, we’re working on that now and hope to accomplish that goal by the end of the year.
I think the most beneficial part of being indie is that our readers have known where to find us. And by “readers” we mean girls that are missing from books. Darker-skinned, kinky-haired black girls who almost always find themselves missing in mainstream books because in our media, black is synonymous with the bi-racial aesthetic, which is also important. But there are young ladies who can not pass, or feel as though being “only” black isn’t good enough, and those are who we write our stories for. When something comes to us we don’t think, “Oh, I hope this is mainstream enough.” The only thought that passes through our heads is that there’s a young girl who’s got this big hair, or non-European features, or even this name that is hard to pronounce (like ours are). When she comes across a description of our female characters, she can’t help but squee a little when she realizes our main character talks like her, even if it’s that vernacular they teach you to avoid. Or how she can navigate more than one world, hers and the one she doesn’t always feel like she belongs in.
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That’s the only thing we’re interested in when it comes to publishing. We just want the people our books are meant for to finally have what they’ve been searching for. So perhaps it is a new day. A new day where we aren’t solely depending on publishing houses to tell us when our stories are finally good enough to reach larger audiences.
Guinevere and Libertad go by many superhero aliases. Whether you know them by G.L. Tomas, the Twinjas, or the Rebellious Valkyries, their mission is always the same: spreading awareness of diversity in books. Oh, and trying to figure out the use for pocketless pants! They host other allies and champions of diversity in their secret lair in Connecticut.