Maria E. AndreuMix an “illegal” immigrant and a soccer mom and you get me.  Here’s how you go from crossing the Mexican border undocumented to published writer (and, rest assured, totally “legal” citizen).

  • Hey, you’re getting published! How’d that happen? (aka, what was your path to publication)

When I was 12 I wrote in my diary, “most of all I want to be a writer.”  But I was this poor, undocumented kid whose family had their electricity cut off all the time.  What business did I have being a writer?  Writers were fabulous and independently wealthy and just… not me.  I always loved the written word and I had a lot of fitful attempts at publication, but had a hard time finding my voice.  Ironically it was my most awful secret – my “illegal” past – that finally got me my dream.  I had done everything I could to put my big secret behind me.  But one day I was driving and listening to an angry pundit say horrible things about immigrants.  I remember the exact spot where I was on the Palisades Parkway when it occurred to me that when people said immigrants (documented and not) do bad things for the U.S. that they were talking about me.  And that I should talk back.  It took five years after that realization, but when I finally understood that my book wanted to be a YA novel, I got the first agency I pitched (the wonderful Writers House) and they sold my book in a multiple offers situation in the first round out.  So… it was a circuitous road to “overnight success.”

What’s your debut book about? Can you share any cool details with us?

M.T., THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY’s protagonist, is undocumented (or, as the news calls it, “illegal”).  She is starting her senior year in high school knowing this is her last chance at schooling, which is a bummer because she (geek alert) kind of loves it.  Without a social security number, she’s got no shot at a job, a college education, a driver’s license… pretty much everything she needs and wants.  As the year goes on and she sees more and more options shutting down around her, she will have to make choices that could change her future… and that of everyone around her.

Cool details, let’s see:  one of my favorite scenes is the one in which she meets her senior year boyfriend in a “slow speed chase,” hanging out at the local strip.  It closely mirrors the way I met my high school boyfriend and it was fun to draw on that experience when writing that scene.

What inspires you to write?

Lately I’m finding that reading about other writers’ process gets me in front of the keyboard.  Writing is so solitary that at times I feel like I’m the only person feeling lazy or stuck.  I have a great book called Why We Write with chapters by many of my favorite authors – gets me juiced up every time.  I also find that I’m great at reacting to stuff – the latest meme or day’s event.  I am loving the discipline of posting (almost!) daily on my blog.  It’s almost like Julia Cameron’s morning pages… once I get the writing flowing it keeps coming.

What are you most excited about in the debut process?

Wow… what’s not to be excited about?  This is like a dream come true for me.  I grew up thinking that every day might be the day I’d get kicked out of the only country I’d ever called home.  The fact that I’m here at all feels like a miracle.  Add to that that I live in a house I love with my awesome children in my favorite place in the world AND I have a book being published in March… I need to pinch myself daily.

I guess I am really excited about hearing what other people see in my book.  I’ve noticed this when people react to the essays I’ve published or even pieces on my blog – readers see things you didn’t even realize you were putting in there.  It’s so exciting and instructive.  I’m looking forward to that.


Mix a (former) illegal immigrant and a soccer mom and you get Maria Andreu. At the age of 12, an undocumented girl with an uncertain future, she wrote in her diary, “Most of all, I want to be a writer.” With her debut YA novel, THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY (an intimate glimpse of what it’s like to be American everywhere but on paper) she has made her dream come true. TSSoE debuts March, 2014.

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