Julian Randall is the debut author of the blockbuster middle grade fantasy, Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa. The Land of Stories meets Dominican myths and legends in a new duology for fans of Tristan Strong and The Storm Runner.
Julian shares more about his inspiration for the story and his advice for young writers here! Plus, request a digital review copy of Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa on NetGalley!
When describing Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa, what’s your elevator pitch?
Julian Randall: A 12 year old Black Dominicana filmmaker trying to discover the secret of her cousin’s disappearance during the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic 50 years ago, falls through a portal to a world of Dominican mythos and magic. It’s a story about finding your history, your power and your way home!
What inspired you to write Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa?
Julian: Growing up there weren’t many books that tried to answer questions of what happened during the Trujillato and while many of the books I read and loved gravitated towards magic, no magic in the books was like the magic of my mother and her sisters. I wanted to make a book that tried to answer some of those questions that are natural for third generation kids trying to answer histories their families aren’t always comfortable speaking about.
Do you have a favorite character in your book or one that you relate to most?
Julian: Oh, this is so tough!! Pilar is like a little sister to me, we’re from the same block after all. Honorable mention to La Bruja, who’s based a little on Toph from Avatar and her sarcastic dialogue is some of the most fun to write!
What’s your favorite Dominican dish?
Julian: Ok, so a lot of this depends on the cook! I throw down on a Pernil, my mom does Maduros better than anyone and I’m very settled on this hill!! I also had a pescado frito in Boca Chica that was maybe top 5 things I’ve ever eaten!
What do you hope young readers will learn or take away from this story?
Julian: What you remember might be painful; it’s ok to let that hurt, but there’s power in memory; there’s power, always, in you.
Tell us about a librarian or educator who made an impact on you.
Julian: There are so many, I’ve been incredibly blessed! Let’s go with a teacher I know will likely be teaching this book soon, David Fuder! He was my 8th grade English teacher and is still doing incredible work to this day! By 8th grade I was growing more and more frustrated with how books were taught and treated in class, I didn’t love that references or frames I brought in to try and understand weren’t held in equal value and it made me want to stop participating. Fuder was the person who opened his room during lunch and would talk with us about unassigned books, music he liked, make some connections to what we were doing in class, it made me feel more comfortable to bring a more full version of myself and by 9th grade I had gotten the hang of it. The first teacher who ever insisted I was bound to be an author someday came Freshman year, Ms. Dilg who was also amazing, but I don’t think I would have been as fun of a student to have if Fuder hadn’t helped me find my footing in 8th grade.
What is the first step in your creative process?
Julian: Taking the central question I think I have and calling my best friend who is way smarter than me to stretch and stretch it together until it breaks into many smaller questions. I used to think I was writing to state something, but I find the more curiosity I can have surrounding me heading into a question the more effective the writing is!
What advice would you give to young writers?
Julian: Stay friends with your drafts. Something that didn’t work the way you wanted it to may just be a situation where your curiosity and vision exceeded your skill and experience at the time. Coming back to talk to the drafts every once in a while may teach you something still, plus feeling our drafts ‘failed’ is a great environment to grow shame and that chokes out more great writing than anything in the world.
What was your favorite book when you were 10 years old?
Julian: Artemis Fowl, I loved the remix of all the mythos and wanted to do something similar for the magic and monsters I grew up with, only took 18 years to pull it off and I couldn’t be happier with the journey!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Julian Randall is a Living Queer Black poet from Chicago. His poetry and essays are published in the New York Times Magazine, POETRY, The Atlantic, and Vibe. He is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize. Julian holds an MFA in Poetry from Ole Miss. His first book, Refuse, won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. He was also a contributor to the #1 New York Times-bestseller Black Boy Joy. Julian has previously worked as a youth mentor, teaching writing workshops to children on house arrest. Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa is his debut children’s novel. Follow him on Twitter.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa by Julian Randall
On Sale March 1, 2022
The Land of Stories meets Dominican myths and legends come to life in Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa, a blockbuster contemporary middle-grade fantasy duology starter from Julian Randall. Fans of Tristan Strong and The Storm Runner, here is your next obsession.
Twelve-year-old Pilar Violeta “Purp” Ramirez’s world is changing, and she doesn’t care for it one bit. Her Chicago neighborhood is gentrifying and her chores have doubled since her sister, Lorena, left for college. The only constant is Abuela and Mami’s code of silence around her cousin Natasha—who vanished in the Dominican Republic fifty years ago during the Trujillo dictatorship.
When Pilar hears that Lorena’s professor studies such disappearances, she hops on the next train to dig deeper into her family’s mystery. After snooping around the professor’s empty office, she discovers a folder with her cousin’s name on it . . . and gets sucked into the blank page within.
She lands on Zafa, an island swarming with coconut-shaped demons, butterfly shapeshifters, and a sinister magical prison where her cousin is being held captive. Pilar will have to go toe-to-toe with the fearsome Dominican boogeyman, El Cuco, if she has any hope of freeing Natasha and getting back home.
Praise for Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa:
“A breathtaking journey through a world teeming with fantasy and history—readers better hold on tight as Pilar swings into her next adventure.”
—Kwame Mbalia, New York Times bestselling author of the Tristan Strong series
“Randall takes history and myth and weaves a tight fantasy that is as funny as it is poignant. This novel is sure to delight and awe.”
—Elizabeth Acevedo, National Book Award Winner
“I love this book so much. Julian Randall is a brilliant, refreshing new voice in young people’s literature and he has imbued this story with a whole mountain of love, humor, honesty, and adventure. ¡Pa’lante!”
—Daniel José Older, New York Times bestselling author
“Incredible voice that jumps right off the page. Pilar is the hilarious hero we need right now. My Dominican heart BURST reading this story, but in the best way.”
—Claribel A. Ortega, author of Ghost Squad