I’m excited to welcome Anika Fajardo back to the blog today to talk about her new MG novel Meet Me Halfway, which releases on September 13 from Simon & Schuster. Anika was born in Colombia and
raised in Minnesota and is the author of a book about that experience: Magical Realism for Non-Believers: A Memoir of Finding Family. Her books for middle-grade readers include the award-winning What If a Fish, Meet Me Halfway, and the Disney tie-in novel Encanto: A Tale of Three Sisters.
Karen: Thanks for joining us today, Anika! Can you tell us about your new book?
Anika: Meet Me Halfway is the story of seventh-graders Mattie Gomez and Mercedes Miller. Despite looking alike, they have nothing in common, and finding out that they’re half-sisters, doesn’t help them get along. But when they discover that their Colombian father—whom neither has met—is a visiting professor at a nearby college, they have to figure out how to work together as they embark on a road trip/adventure to find him.
Karen: What was your inspiration for this story?
Anika: I’m endlessly fascinated by non-traditional families and the search for identity, but I also wanted to write a book for kids that had fun, adventure, and hijinks. I loved From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler when I was a kid, and I wanted to write a story that took readers someplace unexpected. I spent many years as an academic librarian at a liberal arts college, so setting the adventure at a college was really fun. During my years as a librarian, I also saw many first-generation college students, and I wanted to write a story that inspired kids to pursue higher education—especially for kids whose families might not be familiar with college life.
Karen: Oh, that book was the inspiration for this blog! How interesting! So, many of your stories seem to center around being displaced, with characters separated from their original culture or family. Can you tell me what drives you to write about this theme?
Anika: I first wrote about this in my memoir, Magical Realism for Non-Believers: A Memoir of Finding Family (University of Minnesota Press, 2019). That book is about my own experience as the only child of a Colombian father and American mother. When my parents got divorced when I was a toddler, I was separated from my birthplace in Colombia and my father, and we didn’t meet again until I was a young adult. Although not everyone has such a dramatic family background, I think the theme of lost and found family resonates with many readers.
Karen: What pieces of the characters are reflections of yourself?
Anika: Both Mattie and Mercedes have quirks that reflect my experience. Like me, Mattie struggles with anxiety, and Mercedes has a quick temper like I did when I was a child.
Karen: What message or idea do you hope readers will take away from Meet Me Halfway?
Anika: First, I really hope readers have fun reading about the girls’ adventure! I also hope readers see how families—and friendships—can look different and still be positive. Last, I hope that kids get a picture of what college might be like and that the story inspires kids who might not have been thinking about college to explore that option in the future.
Karen: We all know it can be a long path to becoming a published author. Can you tell us about your path to publication?
Anika: I always wanted to be a writer, but I took a few detours, first as an elementary teacher and then as a librarian. I started writing seriously about 15 years ago, taking classes and joining writing groups. My first full manuscript was a chick lit novel that luckily no one will ever read. But the exercise of writing a book length work helped when I was writing my memoir. My first publications were essays in literary magazines. Thanks to some awards and grant funding, I was able to stretch and learn. I published my first book, my memoir, almost a decade after I wrote the first pages. The manuscript of my middle-grade debut, What If a Fish, was chosen for #PitchWars (an online mentoring program) and helped me land my agent.
Karen: What are your top three pieces of writing advice for our Mixed-Up Files readers who’d like become published someday?
Anika: 1) Write like crazy. Write the best book you can and then work on it some more! 2) Be part of the writing community. Whether that means going to in-person readings or volunteering in your community or meeting other writers online, be open to connecting with people. 3) Persevere. Publishing is not in the writer’s control, so you have to be patient. If you’ve worked hard and written the best book you can, sometimes you just have to work and wait until it’s your turn.
Karen: Great advice, Anika. Can you tell us about the books Mixed-Up Files readers can expect to see from you in the future?
Anika: I’m currently working on both a middle-grade novel and a novel for adult readers.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Anika! Be sure to check out Anika’s new book, Meet Me Halfway, which launches next month!