Interviewee: Renata Carlos Daou
Interviewer, Editor, Graphic Designer: Pat Sevikul
My name is Renata Carlos Daou, and I am originally from Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil. I am 20 years-old and I study international politics and journalism with a minor in creative writing at the Pennsylvania State University! I love reading and writing, learning new languages, and taking pictures for fun.
What was your story growing up and how did that lead you to publishing a book of your own?
When I was a kid, my dad really wanted me to pick up the habit of reading. Every time he traveled for work he would bring me a new book and that was something I started to look forward to when he came back from each trip. I guess I just became interested in the stories I was reading but there was always something missing. There’s a quote by Toni Morrison that says “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” That is basically what I started doing.
Tell us about your book!
My book is called Friendship, Memories and Make-Believe. The book is a collection of stories both made up or exaggerated from real life. I have written short stories since I can remember and I just stored them in multiple notebooks that I filled over the years. However, there were some stories that stayed in my mind that I knew were better than others. When I was 16 I did a creative writing summer program at Boston University and the professor told me that my work was just as good as college-level kids. That’s when I decided to look back at the stories I had written over the years and compile the best ones. There were also new additions and the book was self-published when I was 18 by Sejamos Luz, in Manaus.
What inspired the stories in your book and how did you choose the themes in them?
The inspiration came from real-life events or just stories that I wanted to read myself. A few of the stories are about fun times at my friend’s farm; trips made with friends and family that created fond memories; made up of places I’ve wanted to go; stories that just popped up in my mind.
What was the creative process of writing your book like and how long did it take?
I couldn't point out how long it took to write the book because it was a process that happened over years. However, for each short story, I wrote a first draft that I basically jotted the words down without thinking. After that, I rewrote each story, fixing the grammar mistakes and plot holes until I got to a final version that I was satisfied with.
What challenges did you face writing and publishing your book?
My first language is Portuguese and the book is in English. That was definitely the biggest challenge because most of the stories were originally in Portuguese, so I had to translate them. Adding to that, this book was the first project I ever had in English so the editing process was extensive to make sure that everything was correct.
What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
I just hope they have fun while reading it! It is a really light book with funny little scenes that I hope will entertain whoever is reading it. I just want people to feel a little lighter after reading the book.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned from writing a book?
The most surprising thing I learned is that you will never are satisfied. You will always want to change something and you will always feel like the book could be better. At some point, you just need to put the pen down and call it a day.
After you released your book what did you learn, how did this impact you and how was the reception? What were you most proud of in the end?
What I am most proud of is that I actually did it! I honestly expected more judgment from people but everyone was extremely supportive. The biggest impact I felt was knowing that from this point on, my writing could only get better and it was the push I needed to minor in creative writing in college.
What do you love most about literature and what do you think makes a good story?
What I love the most is the ability literature has to bring people from different cultures, languages, and ethnic backgrounds together. For example, many young girls out there can relate to Annabeth Chase from the Percy Jackson series. I am a girl from Brazil and I relate to her approach to studying and solving things logically. I am sure that many girls all around the world relate to her for the same reason. To me, a good story is one that can emotionally involve the readers and that relates to them.
Why do you think literature and representation in literature is so important in today’s world?
I truly believe that representation in the media has paramount importance in a kid’s development. There were many times growing up that I just studied hard thinking “I want to be as smart as Hermione,” and other times that I spoke up because I wanted to be as brave as Annabeth. It is extremely important for girls to have someone to look up to and that is one of the most powerful things literature can do. Representation is everything and having strong role models can change a person’s life.
Representation is everything and having strong role models can change a person’s life.
- Reneta Carlos Daou
Did you have any representations in literature that you could look up to growing up?
The two biggest representations I had were Annabeth from Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Laleh from Arabian Nights (Radish).
I always identified with Annabeth because I always had big projects and I loved reading, so her drive was something that I always looked up to as a kid.
With Laleh, it was a bit different. I read Arabian Nights when I was in high school so she mostly influenced me on how I could handle the adversities thrown at me. Laleh is a very strong character with many bad things happening to her. She deals with everything with grace, and without ever losing her fire. Though throughout the entire book, we get to see a very cute, heart-melting, slow-burn romance, Laleh still never puts her love life before her dreams. She makes sure she is happy with herself first and she is putting her big plans in full motion before diving into a relationship.
How have representations changed over the years? What progress has been made and what could the media still improve on?
Compared to at the beginning of the 2000s, I feel like there are more books with POC and LGBTQ+ main characters. However, over 80% of book authors are straight and over 70% are white so the publishing industry still has a long way to go to achieve equality.
What do you think is the biggest barrier that prevents young girls from pursuing literature?
I feel like the biggest barrier is one that I also had: fear of judgment. For me, this was the fear of being judged for the topic of my book, and the feeling that I wasn't good enough compared to other people. Sometimes when I write about romance, I am scared of being made fun of my “girly themes,” and when I write about politics I get scared of being judged for my views. My advice is just to ignore the fear and write about what you like, without worrying about the reception. If you are interested in the topic, I can assure you that there are at least ten other girls also interested in the same topic and are dying to read what you wrote.
My advice is just to ignore the fear and write about what you like, without worrying about the reception.
If you are interested in the topic, I can assure you that there are at least ten other girls also interested in the same topic and are dying to read what you wrote.
- Reneta Carlos Daou
How do we encourage young girls to get involved in literature?
I believe that we can encourage young girls by showing them that there are people who are willing to read what they write. By showing girls that there are other people who share their interests and background, as well as support them, we can get many young girls to write their thoughts and stories.
What advice would you give to young authors and girls who are just starting?
Always carry a small notebook in your bag and write down any idea that comes to your mind. You never know what might become a story. Also, don’t be afraid of the haters. There will always be someone who will criticize you no matter what you do, so it’s better to learn how to differentiate constructive criticism from hate.
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