In Miami during the '90s, when kids would "quote their favorite television shows like the Simpsons," Haitian-American authors and sisters Maika and Maritza Moulite say they did not watch television — instead finding themselves uncovering different worlds and characters at the library.
And while they enjoyed reading about different mystical worlds and lives, something that became painfully apparent, was the lack of characters who looked like them. This led the sister duo to work together and write their debut young adult novel, “Dear Haiti, Love Alaine,” which is this month’s Sundial Book Club pick.
The novel follows the story of 17-year-old Alaine Bouleparnt, who attends a preparatory school and lives with her father in Miami. “It’s a story of when keeping it real goes wrong,” co-author Maritza Moulite says.
In the book, the main character Alaine throws a prank at school in retaliation to classmates for making fun of her mother, a famous television journalist. Alaine is then sent to Haiti for a “spring volunteer immersion project.” The YA novel is a compilation of tweets, diary entries, emails and texts. It hits topics like Haiti's history, the women of the Haitian Revolution and Vodou.
Sundial host Luis Hernandez sat down with the Moulite sisters and talked about their writing process, young adult novels and how writing the book helped teach them about their own background.
This has been edited lightly for clarity.
What was the writing process like? How did both of you write this together?
MAIKA: I was a panther, which means writing by the seat of my pants when the spirit is moving me. And you know, it's a perfect way to never finish writing anything. So Maritza is a plotter and likes to know what's going to happen in the story.
In order for us to know what we're working on, we have to know what the other person is working on. So we made a very extensive outline about 30 pages long. Then we started writing. I might write a paragraph and she will write three. I might write a whole chapter and she'll write two. Then we just go back and edit what the other person wrote.
WLRN: Take me to one part of the story where this happened.
MAIKA: How we started the book, to begin with, was a point of contention. We were just going to write it as a regular novel, with prose, and Maritza said, 'I have an amazing idea. Let's write in an epistolary novel.’ An epistolary is just a fancy way of saying that your book is comprised of different forms of media. So for 'Dear Haiti, Love Alaine' it has tweets, diary entries, police reports, black Twitter makes an appearance and all kinds of things.
How did you do it? How do you convince her, Maritza?
MARITZA: I said that it would be a different type of story. We just wanted to show that side of people of ourselves, because a lot of times people of color — black girls — don't really get to see that part of themselves in the media. So we were happy to show that. I think it goes back to the idea of wanting to make sure to be reflected in the work that you read. I don't see us ever deviating from writing about people of color. I want to be able to have that experience I had as an adult to give that to a younger person and let them read and see themselves and feel like, 'Wow, I'm really seen.'
WATCH: The Moulite sisters join host Luis Hernandez on the WLRN roof to discuss the Sundial Book Club on Facebook Live.
NOT PART OF THE SUNDIAL BOOK CLUB? YOU CAN JOIN HERE.