Interview: Jennifer Torres, Author of Vega’s Piece Of The Sky

Please Note: I received a digital review copy of Vega’s Piece Of The Sky and was monetarily compensated in exchange for composing and hosting an interview with the author. This compensation in no way affected my opinions.

Title Vega’s Piece of the Sky
Author Jennifer Torres
Intended Target Audience Middle Grade
Genre Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Publication Date June 11th 2024 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Find It On GoodreadsAmazonChaptersBlackwell’sBarnes & NobleIndieBound

A meteorite comes crashing down on the lives of three middle schoolers changing everything they know about family, friendships, and community in this charming and heartfelt novel with a light STEM touch.

The space rock is just the latest thing to land, uninvited, in Vega Lucero’s road-stop hometown. But when she discovers how much a chunk of the meteorite might be worth, she realizes it’s exactly the treasure she’s been hoping to find — and maybe a way to convince her mom not to sell the family store to big city developers to help pay for her grandpa Tata’s medical expenses.

Determined to find more pieces of the sky somewhere in the perilous desert wilderness, stubbornly independent Vega must set aside her distrust of outsiders to team up with Jasper, a would-be rival — and her own tagalong cousin Mila — on an overnight adventure to find more meteorites before the professional hunters who have descended on Date City do. But along the way, she realizes that she’s not the only one with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Jasper and Mila have secrets and worries of their own that has brought them on this journey.

Together, this ragtag group will battle against coyotes, a flood, and scorpions. But what they will ultimately discover is that no treasure is big enough to prevent unwelcome change. Only family and friends can help weather the unexpected that life brings.

Jennifer Torres

Jennifer Torres is the award-winning author of Stef Soto, Taco Queen, the Bad Princesses series, the upcoming Vega’s Piece of the Sky, and other books for young readers. She writes stories about home, friendship, and unexpected courage inspired by her Mexican-American heritage. Jennifer started her career as a newspaper reporter, and even though she writes fiction now, she hopes her stories still have some truth in them. She lives with her family in Southern California

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramGoodreads

1. You have written a number of special and beloved books for middle grade readers including The Do-Over, the Catalina Incognito series, the Bad Princesses series, and now, Vega’s Piece of the Sky! What do you like most about writing for this age group? Are there any particular challenges you face when writing for a middle grade audience?

I count myself incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to write for middle grade readers. Thinking back to my own childhood, the middle grade years were a time when I started to think of myself as a reader, to learn what I loved in stories and what I didn’t so much. I know I’m not alone in that experience, and it feels really amazing to be able to connect back to it as an author. Even more than that, though, the middle grade years are a time when the world gets bigger. When readers are discovering so much about themselves, about their communities, and about the people they care about. When they are stepping outside the familiar and imagining new possibilities. That’s exciting and electric! But scary too, and sometimes lonely. It’s so, so, special to have the chance to meet readers in that moment. (Middle grade readers also ask the most insightful and interesting questions).

As far as challenges, I know that the young people I am writing for have so many other important things to do and think about — sports, the arts, school, friendships, family, and lots more. So it is always an honor to know they have chosen to spend some of their time with one of my books.

2. As I mentioned in my last question, you have a fascinating back catalogue of books featuring unique characters with a variety of different personalities and backgrounds! Is there a one character you’ve felt closest to and/or to whom you related to most? Was there a character whose story was the most fun to write?

I love this question so much! Thank you! I am a slow writer, so by the time I’ve finished writing a book I’ve spent a lot of time with — and gotten pretty attached to — the characters. Although I write mostly fiction now, I hope that all of my books have truth at their core. All of them are inspired, in one way or another, by real things I’ve felt or experienced, even if I don’t realize it at first. For example, in Flor and Miranda Steal the Show, one of the main characters, Flor, has a lot worry about leaving the carnival community that has been her home for most of her life. I’ve never worked or lived on a carnival, so I didn’t relate to Flor in that specific way. But when I was writing the book, my family and I were in the midst of a big move, so those nervous, wistful feelings were very close to the surface.

In Vega’s Piece of the Sky, Mila, a stargazer and Vega’s skittish younger cousin, is very close to my heart. I could relate to her anxiety and her yearning for the bravery that seems to come so easily to others and that she’s still learning to find in herself. One of the most fun characters to write has been Catalina Castañeda from the Catalina Incognito stories. Although I didn’t have this in common with her when I was growing up, I love her self-assuredness (and the creative ways she thinks up to use a magic sewing kit!) It was also a joy to write the multigenerational relationship between Catalina and her retired telenovela star great-aunt, whom she knows as Tía Abuela.

3. The cozy warmth and comfort of the Lone Star, Vega’s family’s store, was palpable and I loved the glimpses we were given into it. Was there anywhere that felt like a special, safe second home to you when you were younger?

The Lone Star is – or was — a real place! When my great-grandparents, Albert and Clara Sandoval, first came to California, they built a home in Calexico (the name of the city tells where it is: on the border of California and Mexico) and opened a market, the Lone Star. Writing this book, I spent a lot of time reading through old newspaper clippings to get a sense of the place — what my great-grandparents sold, who they were in their community. I learned they sometimes hosted dances outside the market – with live bands!

The Lone Star is long-closed. I never stepped inside it. But the family the store supported — whose dreams it made possible — is that place of comfort to me. Like Vega, I grew up with cousins. Lots more than her, though! My summers were spent running around with them, sleeping over at one tía’s house and then another’s. And thinking about those times, I think of adventure, but I also think of warmth.

4. One of my favourite aspects of the book was Vega’s quest for “treasure”, as she searches for lost or discarded items like keys, paint cans and water-bottles and repurposes them into wind chimes and other folk art with Tata, her grandfather. I love the idea of finding beauty and purpose in something that others might dismiss as trash. Is there anything in your own life that you hold dear, even though it may not hold monetary or material value for someone else?

I really enjoyed writing about Vega’s treasure-hunting. I feel like it comes from a place of love and hope (treasure could be anywhere, just waiting to be discovered!) And of course, creativity.

A treasure I have in my own life is a collection of some of my grandmother’s old sewing patterns. She taught me to sew and was the inspiration for the Catalina Incognito series, which we mentioned earlier. The patterns are dresses and tops and jackets and vests and things, mainly from the 70s, and I love thinking about who she was when she picked them out. What fabrics did she choose? Did she have an occasion in mind? I also love knowing that I can sew up those same patterns and be connected to her in a way, even now that she’s gone.

5. Mila is passionate about astronomy and I loved learning from her about some of the constellations and the stories told about them throughout history. Was this a subject you were already knowledgeable and interested in prior to writing the novel? Were there any interesting astronomy stories or facts that you discovered that didn’t make it into the book?

My mom was interested in astronomy when I was young, and one year for Christmas, we got a telescope. I’ve been inspired by the stars for a long time, but I’m not an expert. For the science of the book, I was grateful for the generosity of a number of researchers — Cameron Hummels, of Caltech, and Jorge Moreno Soto, of Pomona College, on astronomy; Linda Welzenbach, of Rice University, on meteorites; and my younger brother, Mark Torres, also of Rice, on Earth science — who helped me learn and understand.

I’m most familiar with the Ancient Greek traditions, but people all over the world have looked up at the sky and found different stories there. I read many of them when I was writing Vega, and wish I could have included more in the book. For anyone who is interested, a lovely place to start is Star Stories: Constellation Tales From Around the World, by Anita Ganeri and illustrated by Andy Wilx.

Another fascinating detail I learned but didn’t find a way to weave into the story is that the star Vega — with which main character Vega shares a name — was once, many many thousands of years ago, our North Star. (Today, that’s Polaris). And sometime around the year 13,700, it will be the North Star again. To me, that’s amazing to think about.

6. The concept of history and stories are found throughout the novel, whether it be in the form of the songs Vega hears in the wind chimes she builds with her grandfather, the stars and constellations Mila admires in the sky, or the lost treasures Vega collects. As a prolific author yourself, what inspires the stories that you write? Have you ever found the basis for one of the stories you’ve written in an unexpected place?

Thank you so much. In this book I was very interested in stories and what we carry with us — and what we leave behind — and it’s so good to know that those threads pulled through for you. And, definitely, just like Vega, I often find inspiration in unexpected places.

The first spark of an idea for this book came all the way back in 2012 (!) when a meteor blazed through Earth’s atmosphere and broke apart over Sutter’s Mill, close to the place the California Gold Rush had started more than 150 years before. So many people came to search for fragments of it — scientists, professional meteorite hunters, curious locals — and I was interested in all the different passions that had brought them to the same place. As I learned more about the meteorite’s age, the vast distances it had traveled, and the secrets of the early solar system it carried with it, I was even more inspired. It took a while, though, to figure out the story I really wanted to tell.

7. Many of the characters in the novel, particularly Vega and Jasper, face and struggle with uncertainty in their lives – Jasper, because of his father’s nomadic, unpredictable lifestyle, and Vega because of the uncertain future of the family’s store, the Lone Star, and her grandfather’s health and whether he’ll need the assistance of professional care in the future. What would you say to a young reader who might be struggling with upheaval or uncertainty in their own life?

I know it’s hard. I know it’s unfair. And I’m thinking about you and hoping you’ll find strength in the people and places that help you feel a little more grounded, a littler braver, and a little less alone (Maybe you’ll discover some of them in books — I know I did). And I hope you remember that, despite the chaos and questions that might be swirling around you, your voice and your story endure and are so, so important.

8. I’ve loved survival stories since reading Hatchet as a child, so I was intrigued when the novel takes an exciting and harrowing turn in the latter half! When Vega, Mila and Jasper venture out into the desert in the middle of the night to search for pieces of a fallen meteorite, they encounter a number of obstacles and dangers including coyotes, scorpions, injuries and inclement weather – My heart was racing for them! How do you think you would fare in a similar situation? Do you enjoy reading survival stories and, if so, what are some of your favourites?

I loved Hatchet too, but I am a pretty cautious person by nature, and I discovered it was a stretch for me to put the characters in actual, physical danger during some of the more suspenseful scenes in Vega’s Piece of the Sky! One special thing about survival stories is the way they give young readers — or, really, all readers — a safe place to imagine how they would respond in the face of dire circumstances. And, more importantly, to imagine themselves finding the courage and resourcefulness to push forward. One powerful story of survival that has stayed with me a long time — and is based on real events — is Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna by Alda P. Dobbs. I also loved Across the Desert by Dusti Bowling.

9. Do you think there is an underlying theme or message that runs throughout the art you create? If so, what is it?

I think I write a lot about courage that doesn’t look the way we typically expect it to. In The Fresh, New Face of Griselda, for example, courage means finding hope and beauty even in difficult times. And in the Bad Princesses series, main characters Dalia and Dominga have the courage to stay true to themselves and to trust in their new friendship. In Vega’s Piece of the Sky, I think Vega is bravest, not when she marches off into the desert at night, but when she allows herself to be vulnerable and accepts support from the people who care about her. Similarly, late in the novel, Jasper has a moment of quiet, personal bravery that I think is profounder than anything he survives on the meteorite hunt.

My books will also always draw on my Mexican-American heritage, which has shaped my voice and the way I see the world.

10. Is there anything you have ever wanted to be asked or to talk about as an author but have never been given the chance?

It’s still in my bio, but not something I talk a ton about, especially as that part of my career becomes a little more distant, but my writing journey started in local journalism. And that experience has shaped who I am in a writer in so many ways. Working as a reporter taught me to be attentive to telling details and to listen for voice. It helped me build curiosity as a discipline. Most importantly it taught me to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. Some of my favorite pieces to work on were obituaries for the precious opportunity they represented to glimpse a life and what made it meaningful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hi! I’m Jen! I’m a thirty-something introvert who loves nothing more than the cozy comfort of home and snuggling my two rescue cats, Pepper and Pancakes. I also enjoy running, jigsaw puzzles, baking and everything Disney. Few things bring me more joy than helping a reader find the right book for them!