What inspired you to write this book?

In 2020, my
Abuela’s health declined, as she started to lose her battle with cancer. Due to
the pandemic, I couldn’t visit Colombia and say goodbye. My worst fear had
happened, and I was left with immense grief.


My Abuela,
and her stories, were central to my life and shaped my vision of the world. For
me, she represented home and although I had left Colombia, it remained in my


The idea for
a novel started to take shape during that year as I reflected on how my
relationship to my Abuela and her memory would live on.


After she
died, I was left with the idea of her as a ghost. Not in the classic sense, but
she remained someone with whom I constantly spoke. I would wonder what she
would do or how she would react to a situation, and sometimes I could sense her
by my side.


I wanted
this book to embody that idea, that you always carry your ancestors with you,
and even if you can’t see them, they’re still rooting for you.


I also knew
in my bones I wanted this book to be inspired by the stories of the women in my
family, and I wanted it to be centered around my interests and what I knew.
Like Toni Morrison said, I wanted to write the book I wanted to read.


So, I
started writing about a family of women, food, cooking, Barranquilla and New
York. This is what I knew.


I also
wanted to write about what scared me, and the feeling that my two lives were
growing farther away from each other and the repercussions of this pull.
There’s an immense amount of sacrifice with the decision of choosing one life
instead of the other.


Violeta came
to me because I wanted to create a sensitive character grappling with the
realities of leading an artistic life. Additionally, it was vital to me that
this character was a Latina, brown Colombian woman because that was something
that I didn’t grow up seeing in books.


What exactly is it about and who is it written for?

This book is about Vi Sanoguera, a
28-year-old woman who, after the death of her Abuela, travels to Colombia for
the funeral and learns she has inherited the family restaurant, the place her
Abuela told her to run from her whole life.
The Waves Take You Home has
elements of magical realism, and it’s written for people who wonder where to
call home.


3. What do you hope
readers will get out of reading your book?

I hope readers will learn about Colombia
and fall in love with Vi’s story as she finds her place in the world. I haven’t
read many books set on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia, so I wanted to show the
complexities and rhythms of life in this part of the world.


How did you decide on your book’s title and cover

The amazing cover design was done by the
Raxenne Maniquiz. She is an incredible
designer from the Philippines. She is known for her colorful flowers, and she
did such an outstanding job from bringing elements from the book like shells
and flowers innate from the Caribbean to life.


The title
was a collaboration with my editor, Melissa Valentine. I learned that it is
common in publishing for a manuscript to have many titles before it lands on
the definitive one. There were many iterations before arriving at The Waves
Take You Home


I love this
title so much! It’s evocative and full of longing, two elements that are a big
part of the novel. I also love how it talks about the setting of this novel:
the beach and the Caribbean, and it also refers to the journey of
self-discovery that this character experiences, and the importance of home.


What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow
writers – other than run!?

To know that it is not a straight line.
There are so many ups and downs in this line of work! But just because you’re
down one moment doesn’t mean that you’ll be down forever. For me, what matters
is to keep close to your heart the reasons why you write and why you want to
put books out in the world. If you know your reasons, you’ll be able to keep
going because you’ll know your why.


What trends in the book world do you see — and where
do you think the book publishing industry is heading?

I do see an effort toward publishing more
diverse books. I am grateful to everyone in the industry (editors, agents,
publicists, organizations, bookstagramers, marketers, etc) that are working
very hard to make this happen and that are behind these efforts. I am hopeful
that we can continue uplifting diverse and marginalized voices even more in
years to come.


Were there experiences in your personal life or
career that came in handy when writing this book?

This book is a love letter to my
upbringing. I grew up in the Caribbean, very close to my Abuela, and the way of
life where women are the ones that decide everything and drive family life. I
wanted to highlight that, and present the complex intergenerational bonds that
develop in these types of matriarch families.


How would you describe your writing style? Which
writers or books is your writing similar to?

I love magical realism and Latin American
writers who write in this tradition. If you enjoy Isabel Allende, Chanel
Cleeton, Laura Esquivel, this book will be for you!


What challenges did you overcome in the writing of
this book?

 I think due to the
personal nature of this book, there were a lot of challenges.
The Waves Take You Home was written in
2020, when my Abuela was battling cancer, and because of the pandemic, I
couldn’t go to Colombia to say goodbye. It was a time of mourning and grief for
me, and I needed to put it somewhere. I wrote this book inspired by her
stories, the matriarchal family system, and the Caribbean. There was a lot of
self-doubt when I was writing this book. I questioned whether I could do the
story justice or even if I could write a story that was worthy of her. Impostor
syndrome was my biggest enemy that year, but I could also say it was my most
prominent teacher.


It was a lesson worth learning: You don’t have to feel good to
write. Sometimes, you must also write through the tears and heartbreak. I don’t
know if I would have written The Waves
Take You Home
if it wasn’t for all the things that were happening in my
life— it was very meaningful for me to create something in the middle of a
personal storm.


10.  If people can buy or
read one book this week or month, why should it be yours?

This book is for everyone who after a
family loss has been forced to reflect on their family history, the cycles in
their family and how to make a life that is authentically theirs while also
honoring their ancestors. If you ever wondered about these themes, you should
The Waves Take You Home!

About The Author: María Alejandra Barrios Vélez is
a writer born in Barranquilla, Colombia. She has an MA in creative writing from
the University of Manchester and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and scruffy
dog, Gus. She was the 2020 SmokeLong Flash Fiction Fellow, and her stories have
been published in Shenandoah Literary, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, El Malpensante,
Fractured Lit, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Offing
, and more. Her work has been
supported by organizations such as Vermont Studio Center, Caldera Arts, and the
New Orleans Writers’ Residency. 
Learn more about María Alejandra Barrios Vélez


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