South Beach. Jennifer Lopez. Entrepreneurial teens. What do they have in common? They're all themes in the fresh teen book series, Amigas. Written by esteemed Latina author Veronica Chambers, the series was created by Jane Startz and inspired by veritable entertainment giant Lopez. A cross between Jane Startz Productions and J. Lo's own Nuyorican Productions, the series chronicles the adventures (and misadventures) of four Latina teens in Miami. You may have already seen the first volume, Amigas: Fifteen Candles, and the second installment, Amigas: Lights, Camera, Quince!, hits shelves on tomorrow.
Here's the low-down on Lights, Camera, Quince!: 15-year-old protagonist Alicia Cruz tools around South Beach with her amigos mejores, Jamie Sosa, Carmen Ramirez-Ruben, and Gaspar "Gaz" Colón. Upon meeting a 14-year-old chica, Sarita at her summer internship, the ambitious and business-minded Alicia volunteers her friends to organize Sarita's quinceañera. Alicia and co. take on the project as their first endeavor for Amigas, Inc., a quince-planning business. Budget problems, inter-friend romances, and a stress-induced quince-zilla Alicia incite mayhem, and adventure ensues.
We caught up with co-creator Startz, whose previous projects include the production of The Babysitters’ Club, Tuck Everlasting and Ella Enchanted, and asked her why she thought to create books for this audience, and how Jennifer Lopez became a fan of (and a force behind) the project.
Which came first, the idea for the series Amigas or the Jennifer Lopez involvement?
The series. I developed the series and had been thinking of who I would like to involve who was Latina, who was a really good role model, and who was particularly entrepreneurial and interested in the audience. So I contacted Jennifer.
Why do you think that there is a need for books like this that target young Latinas?
I think that it’s a really big and growing audience in this country that is seemingly underserved. There are a lot of really interesting things about Latin culture and I thought it would be interesting to tell personal stories that presented Latina girls as really strong, positive role models. Also I think that South Beach, Miami is so multicultural and so diverse that is seemed to be a really great setting for this story. We’re hoping that everybody reads these—those who know about the culture or who are Latina, fantastic; and for those who don’t it would be great if they could find out something. This is a country made of immigrants. Everybody is first-, second-, or third-generation and has a story to tell.
Speaking of immigration, what do you think of all that’s going on in Arizona and with immigration and everything right now?
I think they’re insane! You know, I’m primarily a filmmaker, and I’m very drawn to stories about immigrant cultures. We’re a strong country because we’ve opened our arms to people. That’s what’s made us survive. I really don’t understand harsh anti-immigration policies and I’m very, very against them.
Back to the books, how do you think Amigas will compete with other novels for readers of this age? Why do you think they would be drawn to those characters, that story?
I think [Veronica Chambers] has created universal characters that have very strong personalities. There’s a certain wish fulfillment that I think teenagers are interested in – wouldn’t it be great to have your own business? And if you could have a business, wouldn’t it be great to plan parties and actually get paid for that? I think they’re fun-loving and they’re sensitive, and they seem like—they are—real girls.
How does the dynamic between you and Veronica and Jennifer work? How do you three influence the series together?
I had come up with the main idea, we all talk about the direction of the stories, what we want to accomplish in the stories. So it’s really a collaboration. Every book has questions and answers that I’ve done with Jennifer to get her opinion on things, so it’s been great!
Why did you decide to give Carmen the Jewish roots twist for the second book, and have the quinceañera-bat mitzvah? Where did that idea come from?
Growing up in New York, everybody is a little bit of everything, so I thought it was important to show that. That’s why, from my point of view, being prejudiced is such a bad thing, because we all come from the same place! We’re all blended in some way or another. I think that basically, once again, [all rites of passage] are very similar. The intention, joy, and the sense of accomplishment are all very similar, so I thought it was a nice parallel to draw.