We’re celebrating today’s release of Accidental by Alex Richards, with a few of the author’s favorite thins about Santa Fe, New Mexico — the setting of her debut novel!
ACCIDENTAL, and the Land of Enchantment
I have been writing YA for a long time. So incredibly long, that my early works include half-finished manuscripts eerily similar to The Babysitters Club and episodes of Saved By The Bell. Growing up in a house full of writers (both my parents are novelists), I used to hate the advice “write what you know.” Because, what the hell did I know when I was ten?! How boring was my freaking life?! So, instead, I wrote about girl rockstars, Parisian supermodels, and counselors at a ritzy summer camp in LA–none of which I had any actual first-hand knowledge of. But it was fun, and it solidified the realization that I wanted to be a writer.
As I got older (and continue to!), I realize that writing what you know can be good advice, but it doesn’t have to be taken in the most literal sense. Writing what you know shouldn’t confine you to writing about your day-to-day existence. So I personalize each character with traits of my own or people I know; I build worlds that only I can describe. Setting my stories in a familiar landscape was one of the best ways to bring me closer to my story and characters.
Something clicked in me when I started using my hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico, as a backdrop. Santa Fe is a truly unique place to grow up. I mean, the same can be said for many cities, but New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment. Literally, that’s our state motto, and it is enchanting. As soon as I started writing about Santa Fe, something clicked into place. I instantly felt a much deeper connection to my protagonist. It was like being transported back to high school, back to the land of green chile and low riders and desert heat.
My novel, Accidental, did not need to take place in New Mexico. The devastating reality that Johanna faces is something that happens to children all over America, but I loved having the story take place in my “city different.” Here are a few of my favorite things about Santa Fe, some of which made it into the novel!
New Mexican’s are very territorial about food. We love our green chile. We also love our Frito Pie, a delish dish that is featured in one of the first meet-cute scenes between Johanna and her love interest, Milo. Although many people and states claim to have invented Frito Pie, I firmly believe the notion that it originated in New Mexico. PS–sadly, this Baja location is no longer around, but I had to write about it!
Otherwise known as luminarios, farolitos are paper lunch bags filled with sand and a small votive candle. On Christmas Eve, in downtown Santa Fe surrounding Canyon Road, you can see sidewalks, walls and rooftops lined with glowing farolitos. Locals (and, okay, about a million tourists) walk the blocked-off streets amid a thousand glowing paper lanterns while singing Christmas carols. It’s magic.
Food-pride is a big part of what makes New Mexicans who we are, and you can’t talk about Santa Fe without talking about Tomasitas, the restaurant where there’s an hour wait anytime after 4pm. It’s the first place I ever had a stuffed sopapilla, killer guac, and the best blue corn chicken enchiladas with Christmas (that’s the way we ask for both red and green chile). Órale!!!
Johanna has had more than enough trauma in her life. She lost her mom in a car accident, and her father went AWOL when Johanna was just a baby. At sixteen, live is steady, boring . . . maybe even stifling, since she’s being raised by her grandparents who never talk about their daughter, her mother Mandy.
Then he comes back: Robert Newton, Johanna’s father, bringing memories and pictures of Mandy. But that’s not all he shares.
A tragic car accident didn’t kill Mandy—it was Johanna, who at two years old, accidentally shot her own mother with an unsecured gun.
Now Johanna has to sort through it all—the return of her absentee father, her grandparents lies, her part in her mother’s death. But no one, neither her loyal best friends nor her sweet new boyfriend, can help her forgive them. Most of all, can she ever find a way to forgive herself?
In a searing, ultimately uplifting story, author Alex Richards tackles a different side of the important issue that has galvanized teens across our country.
Alex Richards has been writing young adult fiction since the age of ten, with stacks of spiral notebooks to prove it. Also a freelance magazine contributor, Alex enjoys making no-budget horror movies, taking photographs, and crafting. Raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Alex lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two very silly kids.