Author Interview: Claribel Ortega

Hello, little foxes! Today I’d like to introduce you to Claribel Ortega, author of the upcoming Ghost Squad coming from Scholastic next year!

Coco meets Stranger Things in Claribel Ortega’s middle grade debut. Ghost Squad based on Dominican folklore in which 12-year-old girl Lucely Luna must save the ghosts of her lost loved ones, living as fireflies, with the help of her best friend Syd and her witch grandmother Babette, before evil spirits haunting St. Augustine destroy them and the only home she’s ever known.

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As well as being an author, you’re an entrepreneur and all-around jack of all trades. What inspired you to start GifGrrl? Then shortly after that, you started Write or Die as well. Why did you move from a graphic design business to a podcast?

I started making gifs for fun just to celebrate book releases and show my excitement for things going on online. Eventually, people started asking if I made graphics for promo and I was getting so many asks I decided to offer it as a service on my website. It grew a lot in just a year since I started GifGrrl and now I have a dedicated website and t-shirt line too.

I think a lot of authors don’t know how much marketing and hard work it takes to get the word out about your book until they have to do it, so being able to help provide graphics authors could afford became super important to me. I just wanted to use my skills and contribute, especially with so many new authors of color getting published. It’s a great thing, but also our books need to do well! And if you don’t have the support of your publisher, it can be challenging to get the word out. So, I suppose it just happened organically. I’ve always loved video/graphic design, and I love books so why not merge the two worlds?

As far as Write or Die, I’d been hearing so many stories of authors being discouraged when they didn’t sell right away or feeling like since something didn’t happen by a specific time it meant they were never going to succeed as authors and I wanted to show people that wasn’t true. Particularly new authors.

There is SO MUCH to learn about publishing it can be seriously overwhelming, and I feel by creating a platform for authors to share their stories and how much of a struggle it is to get published and find success, I could help encourage people who felt hopeless. Really, I just love books, and I want to support writers in any way I can. We already have so much working against us; I feel we should do our best to support and uplift one another. Which also includes letting people know when they’ve messed up, of course, but part of that is education. Not everyone is willing to do that which is their right. But I want to try my best to show people how hard it is for authors to break into publishing, especially marginalized authors.

If you could have any guest on Write or Die, who would it be?

I mean, J.K. Rowling I’m trying to get those sponsorships ads. But I would also love to have Leigh Bardugo or Angie Thomas on the show.

Some authors on Twitter don’t interact with upcoming writers. It may be because their following is so big, that we fall through the cracks. But you’re very open and welcoming to new writers, myself included. What inspired you to be a part of the Twitter welcome wagon?

I think this is a lot more complicated than people realize, and I’ll tell you why. When I was new on Twitter and had like seventeen followers, I would talk to myself all the time. Authors never responded to me, and I always felt a little dejected about it. But as my following has grown, which honestly, it’s not like I even have tons of followers, but even now I see why authors are guarded. For one it’s tough to keep up with mentions, and the more people who follow you, the harder it gets. Twitter is also a toxic place sometimes and the more time you spend on there, the worse it can be for your mental health. Not everyone is considerate and kind, a lot of people expect more and more from you the nicer you are so in that respect I get it.

That’s one thing that’s happened to me a lot already and which is part of the reason I’ve taken most of the summer off from Twitter. People become super entitled about your time. They will DM me about drama that I’m in no way a part of to try and get my take or have me jump in, ask me for things constantly, unload trauma into my DMs and I try my best to be there for everyone but as someone who already deals with depression and anxiety it’s a lot. It would be a lot for anyone.

In terms of being part of the welcome wagon, I’m not Beyoncé, so I’m not gonna sit here and ignore people’s comments lol. I might miss one or two because I’m busy, but I do my best to write back whenever I can. If my following increases it might become harder to do, but I know how rough it was for me starting out and feeling ignored or unwelcome. I never want to make someone feel like that.

When I looked over some of your projects, I noticed we have something in common. You and I both like witches. But what specifically do you like about them?

I don’t just like witches – I am obsessed with them. I think the thing that draws me in the most is the fact that witches weren’t evil, to begin with, they were the town doctors, and then men got super cranky about it and started making things up to scare the general population. It never stops happening; this is how women are always treated. Real people died because of this, but the fact that the word witch is being used to represent empowerment and strength now makes me happy. So, I love powerful, badass witches. Evil witches too, I love them all. They deserve their revenge. Right now, I’m reading THESE WITCHES DON’T BURN by Isabel Sterling, and it’s so good! Can’t wait for everyone else to read it next year.

Can you tell us about any other projects your working on?

Of course, my focus right now is my middle grade GHOST SQUAD which is coming from Scholastic next year. But I’m also revising a young adult historical fantasy. I have a Sims inspired book that I’m done drafting and will be revising soon, as well as another contemporary fantasy (also witches) which I’m in the early stages of drafting. Hopefully lots of exciting things to come, but who knows. Publishing is a wild ride.