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October 11, 2018 at 04:50 PM EDT

On a sweltering three days in Denver in July, the “4 Chicas” are making their IRL (in-real-life) debut as the Romance Writers of America converge on the city for their annual conference.

The ladies, romance authors Priscilla Oliveras, Alexis Daria, Sabrina Sol, and Mia Sosa, have been maintaining the 4 Chicas Chat joint brand for nearly a year, but despite numerous online group chats, launching the #Latinxrom hashtag, and more, some of them are meeting in person for the first time this week. It’s a testament to their easy sense of connection and devotion to all things romance that it feels like they’ve been friends for years when I sit down to chat with them.

Daria, who won a 2018 RITA Award for her novel Take the Lead, says it has been like this from the beginning. “We got this sense very early on that we trusted each other with having a joint brand,” she explains. “None of us were going to go off and do something harebrained. We feel like we have a similar sense of responsibility and tone online. We could trust each other to lift each other up.”

For the Chicas, their venture is about more than promoting their books. “A lot of people perceive [Facebook groups] as being about an author trying to communicate with their readers, and for us, we really want this to be a conversation,” says Sosa. Oliveras explains that they frequently refer to their Facebook group as the casa, in reference to the warm space they want readers to hang out in.

Part of creating that welcoming home is offering a platform to discuss everything from issues of the day to trending reality TV to the royal wedding. Sol explains that they are eager to discuss a lot more than issues of inclusion and Latinx representation (though that certainly comes into play as well): “We make a conscious decision to not be talking about just Latinx issues. We’re talking about romance and more than romance — TV, books, and movies.”

“We have much more to offer than just talk about diversity, which is important to us,” adds Oliveras.

The group also wants to stress their diverse array of representation within the group (Puerto Rican, Mexican American, Brazilian, and Afro-Latina) to reflect the variety of experiences that fall under the banner of Latinx. “With all our four different backgrounds, we also offer a different perspective,” says Sol. “A Latinx perspective that we’re not all the same. We have totally different upbringings, different backgrounds, different cultures, and we’re trying to promote that as well.”

In a wide-ranging conversation with the Chicas, they talked about everything from the the last pop culture experience that moved them to evolutions they’re seeing in romance.

Tom Smarch Photography

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did the four of you come together?
Daria: Pris approached the three of us about doing a joint interview.
Oliveras: We all knew [of] each other from writing so we were all already connected. It started off with doing that interview and just talking about our writing and our goals, and recognizing that we have a lot in common.
Daria: From there, it was a natural step to do the Facebook group. Between deadlines it took a little while to get that going. From there, it was like well now we have a joint brand…
Oliveras: It’s grown from just the four of us. We have a list, any Latina and Latinx romance authors, that would like to be a part of that — we’ve created it so we can better know what others are doing to help signal boost each other.
Sosa: A lot of times people would be on Twitter and say “Who are the Latinx romance authors?” and a lightbulb went off, like Oh people are looking for this and we need to be able to have that information quickly. We found that was a really organic way for us to continue this joint brand.

One thing any non-white author often comes up against is being expected to speak to issues for diversity and be advocates for an entire group of people. That means you’re often not asked basic questions about your work? How do you strike that balance as a group between advocating and also wanting to discuss other things?
Sol: It is a challenge for us to balance. We want to reach Latinx readers — but we also want to reach all writers. It’s definitely something we’re all still learning as we go.
Oliveras: If we’re asked to speak somewhere, it’s saying, “Sure I’d love to come and speak with your group and here are the variety of topics I can speak on.”
Sol: We didn’t want to do another diversity panel [at RWA]. We wanted to do a career-focused topic.
Sosa: We make ourselves accessible to readers, and through us chatting with them, they realize we’re not just about diverse romance. We’re romance writers and you can talk to us about anything. Our books are going to be like any other romance you’re going to read, they just may have some Latinx flavor.

Kensington

The romance genre is grappling with issues of inclusion on a broader stage. Have you all seen an evolution since you first became engaged with the community?
Oliveras: There are maybe more people who are willing to admit that they don’t know what they don’t know. There are more conversations being had, whether it’s between authors, but also with publishers and other industry professionals.
Sol: I’ve seen a change also along the lines of more authors not being afraid to call out the problems that they’re seeing rather than just maybe talking about it amongst themselves. They’re being vocal about it; they’re being public about it.
Sosa: In past years, it was always the onus of authors of colors to discuss the issues. It feels more like this is a common goal. That makes it easier for us to do what we want to do, which is write and not spend all of our time working on diversity issues. It can be a burden to be the person asked these questions all the time or to feel uncomfortable by something that happens and then wonder How do I approach this? What do I say? It feels like there’s more of a shared energy to it — I’m not expending all of my time doing this because there are other people who are willing to step in and say something as well.
Daria: I’ve heard that change in this industry is like trying to turn a cruise ship. It’s slow, but I do see an effort. There are missteps as well. They’re having a conversation and actually taking steps now, whereas when I started in RWA a few years ago there was conversation and no action. People are holding them accountable and saying, “What are you actually going to do?”
Sosa:  I definitely get this different energy that the folks who are on the fringes are the folks who don’t want inclusivity and don’t want change. And that, if you are that person, it’s no longer acceptable.

Macmillan

In relation to own voices and how you feel your book represents or promotes certain aspects of your culture, are those things you try to call specific attention to within your work? Do you hope others do more of the same?
Oliveras: For each of my books, I have a bookmark that has the book cover on the front, but on the back is a recipe for something that they made [in the book]. I write with a lot of family themes, so a lot of it is from mi casa to your casa.
Daria: I really have no business giving anyone recipes. That’s not one I’ll be doing. [Laughs]. But in the books, part of writing own voices for a wider audience is including some of those things where if I had no mention or Spanish or arroz con rulos in my books, I would still see Gina [in Take the Lead] is Puerto Rican. That would still be clear to me because of how she carries herself, how she relates to her friends and family, but for other readers, you have to sprinkle in those things so they get it and they’re like, “Oh there’s culture there.” I try to do it in a mindful way where I’m like At what point would this show up in a story?
Sosa: In my experience it’s not only the food and little pieces of the culture, it’s also thematic. A lot of times what I’m thinking about are my own experiences with my parents and things I know are particular to them…The thematic issues are things people can understand generally, but make it also feel tied to culture.
Oliveras: If another Puerto Rican or another Latina is reading it, she or he feels that touch in the book but a non-Latina will hopefully feel at the end of the book that they’ve learned a little bit about our culture. It’s not the book, but it adds another texture to the book…Many of our stories happen to feature a Latino element, but that’s just one aspect of who our characters are.
Daria: It doesn’t always have to be about the struggle. Every book doesn’t have to be an issues book.
Sol: Once there’s more books like ours, then it does become normalized and there’s not this pressure on authors to be everything to everybody.
Sosa: My hope it that, slowly but surely, people who are writing romance create worlds that don’t erase us. That doesn’t mean you have to have a Latina heroine in your book, but you create a world where we exist. We’re part of the story in a positive way. All you have to do is view us as people and include us in your world and that could be the funny friend or whatever, but just don’t erase us.

St. Martin's Press

What’s the last pop culture experience that moved you?
Oliveras: I cried in the movie theater watching Coco — to see that celebration of that culture on the big screen at a time when we really need to be celebrating that culture in our country. The abuela reminded me of my abuela. As a Latina, I loved seeing that. As someone who misses her abuela, I just wanted to crawl up there and hug Coco.
Sol: When Gina Rodriguez won the Golden Globe. I remember sitting in my bedroom crying.
Daria: I saw Hamilton with the original cast. Seeing Lin-Manuel Miranda up there and knowing this is a New York Puerto Rican guy. Seeing this person who is so close and similar to me in that way and what he had accomplished and what he was doing, playing one of America’s founding fathers and getting a diverse cast to play these roles in such a well-received and beautifully done way, it was so powerful and overwhelming.
Sosa: My current obsession is Vida. I’m seeing this representation of a Mexican American family and being like I understand so much about this, I am connecting to so much of this, and it just reinforces the notion that there is no one experience, but there are these common threads that bring us all together. That’s why we make sense because when we talk, we’re like, “Oh we don’t have the same experience, but we understand a lot of the things we’ve all had growing up.”

Avon Impulse

And what’s next for you all?
Oliveras: I have a novella, “Holiday Home Run,”  that will come out Oct. 30. It’s in the Fern Michaels anthology, A Season to Celebrate. And then the very next month is book three in my matched to perfection series, it’s Their Perfect Melody and it comes out Nov. 27.
Sol: One Night More: a Hotel Arroyo Novella  is out Dec. 29.
Daria: I’m working on the third Dance-Off book. Dance All Night: A Dance Off Novella comes out Dec. 11.
Sosa: I have the third book in the Love on Cue series, Crashing Into Her that will be coming out Feb. 19.

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