Friday, June 16, 2017

Awesome Author Interview: Jennifer Torres!

It's my pleasure for this post to interview author Jennifer Torres. Ms. Torres is the author of the stellar 2017 debut, STEF SOTO, TACO QUEEN, one of my favorite middle grade books so far this year. If you haven't read it yet, you should slide it to the top of your list. Here's the official blurb:

Estefania “Stef” Soto is itching to shake off the onion-and-cilantro embrace of Tía Perla, her family’s taco truck. She wants nothing more than for Papi to get a normal job and for Tía Perla to be a distant memory. Then maybe everyone at school will stop seeing her as the Taco Queen.

But when her family’s livelihood is threatened, and it looks like her wish will finally come true, Stef surprises everyone (including herself) by becoming the truck’s unlikely champion. In this fun and heartfelt novel, Stef will discover what matters most and ultimately embrace an identity that even includes old Tía Perla.

Here are links to where you can grab STEF SOTO, TACO QUEEN:


DG: STEF SOTO is such a fun, fresh story. What was your inspiration for Stef, her family, and of course Tia Perla the taco truck?

JT: Thanks! Much of the story was inspired by my own Mexican-American childhood. Just like Stef, I grew up speaking and hearing a mix of English and Spanish, and just like Stef (and like many of us, whatever our backgrounds) food is one of the ways my family shares love and tradition. Food brings us back “home,” wherever we are. Stef and I have the same comfort food, too: a warm tortilla with melting butter.
The book and its characters also were inspired by the many first-generation students I spent time with while working as an education reporter, especially one third grader whose dad drove an ice cream truck. She was so proud of him. He had such big, bright ambitions for her. They were this terrific team — and I started to wonder how their dynamic would change as the girl got a little older. Three years later, would she still smile the same when he came to pick her up?

DG: What's your writing background? What made you choose to write middle grade lit?

JT: My writing career began in journalism. I spent almost ten years working as a newspaper reporter, covering education and immigration in California’s Central Valley, and still do some freelance magazine writing. I loved local news because it was a chance to hear and share the often-extraordinary stories of ordinary people. In fact, some of my favorite pieces to write have been obituaries. Obits have taught me that even the most seemingly unremarkable lives are filled with surprising turns and triumphs and truths, and it’s a privilege to be invited into them.
I am still drawn to stories about ordinary people, and still love finding the universal in the particular. I think that’s why I write middle grade. Not all of us have parents who speak Spanish or drive taco trucks, but probably a lot of us have struggled to sort out where we fit in our families and where we fit in our world.

DG: Give us some insight into your writing process: are you an outliner, or a pantser? Why do you think your process works for you, and what is the hardest part for you?

JT: Oh, an outliner, for sure. I am someone who can’t write a second sentence until I have written a first, and outlines help me sketch out a direction. I don’t necessarily need to know what’s going to happen, scene by scene, but having at least a sense of key moments keeps unanswered plot questions from nagging so much I can’t move forward. 
I would love to get better at writing without deadline pressure.

DG: A great MG story, like a great taco, has a satisfying combination of different flavors and components. What do you think are the essential ingredients to a delicious MG read?

JT: Ha! Well, I love characters who are brave in unexpected ways. I love a voice I can hear in my head. I love relationships that are strong even though they are difficult. And I love a setting that leaves me with a sense of place, like I’ve been there for a visit.

DG: If you were going to give an aspiring MG writer a list of must-read MG novels they should read, what would be on the list?

JT: This kind of question is always so tough because I am certain to leave something essential out, so I’ll just list the first three (of many) to come to mind: Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan, The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, and Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson.

DG: Books aren't really "about" their plot; the plot is kind of just a device the author uses to share the truth they want to talk about. What would you say the story of STEF SOTO is really "about?"

JT: I love this question. I ask it every time I sit down to write something new, whether it’s a news article or a novel: What is this story really about? What makes it more than a list of facts or a collection of scenes? I think STEF SOTO is about identity. In some ways, I think it’s about community too, in that being part of a community – whether a school community, or a family, or a group of food truck operators – means supporting one another and speaking up even when it’s uncomfortable.

DG: What's coming up next for you? Any more awesome books in the pipeline?

JT: I am working on a picture book and revising another middle grade novel. This one is set at a county fair, and the main characters are a rising ranchera star and the daughter of the petting zoo owner. It’s fun!

DG: Last question. I'm assuming that you, like myself, are a real-life lover of taco truck cuisine. What is your go-to taco truck order? 

JT: YES, definitely. My favorite truck is Tacos Manzanillo in Downtown Stockton – I used to go there at least once a week. I’ll take carne asada tacos with lots of cilantro, pico de gallo and a lime wedge.

DG: Thanks, Jennifer!


  1. Great interview! Loved Stefanie Soto!

  2. My library displayed this book, and I grabbed it! As a Latina, I was excited to see a book with this perspective. Loved Stef and her whole familia!