Inside the Mind of the Author
Question and Answer with Francisco Muniz
How did your path to become a writer start?
My path started in my late teens, but it was strongly influenced by my childhood. It’s funny because I never imagined becoming a writer when I was a kid. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t like to read and write much then. I did like to draw a lot. My mother used to say that I would end up working on animated films. At the time, I used to create stories for the characters I drew. Unfortunately, I only kept the stories in my head; I never wrote any of them down. It wasn’t until shortly after high school that I really got into reading a lot—and for pleasure. I guess it was because I got tired of watching too much TV, the same cartoons, the same movies. By then, a big bookstore had opened near where I lived, and the curiosity of what it offered led me to give books a chance. Next thing I knew, I was reading Harry Potter, The Neverending Story, the Star Wars: Jedi Apprentice series, among many other books. That eventually led me to think, “Hmm, what if I could create a good book too?” So I decided to answer that question by trying writing, and I began coming up with ideas from some of the drawings that I had done when I was younger. I liked it because I was creating again, and I wasn’t doing it just for myself. I was creating stories to share them in the future too. And so the writer in me was born.
What inspired you to write Keithan Quintero and the Sky Phantoms?
I have always been fascinated with the idea of flying even though I’m not a pilot, nor I plan to become one … at least for now. For a long time, I wanted to create a story about a boy who could fly, but I didn’t want to go for the Peter Pan approach, which I like a lot, but it’s already been done. I wanted to create something new, something fresh and take my initial idea to another level. That’s how I came up with the idea of a young pilot. More than that, of a young pilot who with his effort and the help of his friends would get to build his own aircraft and use it to study in the hopes of becoming a great air racer.
What was the most challenging thing about writing the book?
I would have to say showing a positive and fun vision of a future that’s still imperfect but not dystopian. I wanted to create a future that readers would really like to look forward to, especially because of technological advancements, and that they might find hard to see in the real world today. Part of the idea was actually inspired by the hopes and vision of the future Walt Disney talked about when he designed the first Tomorrowland park at Disneyland, which opened in 1955.
What led you to set the story in Puerto Rico?
I remember I spent several months wondering where in the world I could set the story. Then, one day, I asked myself, “why not in Puerto Rico?” I grew up there, and I remember listening to stories about UFO sightings in different parts of the Caribbean island. Whether they were true or not, I was still intrigued by those stories while I was growing up, especially about how people made the whole UFO sightings a phenomenon. And as a science-fiction enthusiast, I found the stories very entertaining. Also, Puerto Rico has some very interesting locations that gave me a lot of ideas for the story. So I brainstormed with that because I wanted to include settings from the island that enriched the plot. I think I accomplished that with Mona Island and, of course, Ramey Airport (which is known today as the Rafael Hernández International Airport) in the city of Aguadilla. There are more interesting locations readers will get to enjoy about Puerto Rico in the upcoming sequel like the Arecibo Radio Telescope and Lajas Valley, to name a few.
Keithan’s best friend Fernando, who is in a wheelchair, is a type of character that unfortunately is rarely represented in fiction. Was there a motivation or inspiration to create him?
The very lack of representation of characters with disabilities in fiction was exactly what motivated me to create Fernando. However, I wanted him to stand out as a character through his great qualities. Fernando is an inventive and dedicated aeroengineer student. He loves to build things and solve problems. Everything he does by himself and with Keithan shows how intelligent and creative he is. His customized powered wheelchair is proof of that too. So I figured that going into details about his disability, whatever it may be, wasn’t relevant to the story; his strengths and talents are.
Is Keithan Quintero a reflection of yourself?
Oh, I have mixed feelings about that. [Chuckles] In some ways, I have to admit Keithan is a lot like me. I mean, Keithan’s cocky, and I guess I like to be like that too—but sometimes! And only in a playful way, not to be annoyingly arrogant. In Keithan’s defense, he’s cocky in a similar way, but being an air racing pilot student, he has to be because he needs to rely a lot on his confidence when he flies and races. Keithan is also very daring like me, I think, and like me, he finds it very hard to say no to a big challenge when he knows what he wants and what he needs to do to accomplish things. Whether we succeed or not, we both do our best, always. Another thing Keithan seems to reflect about me is how important he considers his best friends in his life. Yes, Keithan wishes for fame as an air racer, but when it comes to friendships, he doesn’t care about having lots of friends. His two best friends, Fernando and Marianna, are more than enough for him, and I guess he relies on them a bit to make sure they remind him to be humble. That’s something I have appreciated from a few close friends of mine, and I wanted to show that in the relationship Keithan has with Fernando and Marianna.
What about a difference between you and Keithan? Is there one?
Oh, yeah. There’s one big difference between Keithan and me: he’s extremely competitive. I’m not.
In the author’s biography, it’s mentioned that your becoming best friends with an eccentric inventor was a big influence for the book. Would you tell us about that person?
That eccentric inventor is a very cool architect I used to work with during my twenties. He’s my best friend. He’s a huge science-fiction enthusiast too, and his designs and inventions show that, which is why I consider him eccentric. I learned so much from him. Our friendship always reminds me of the relationship between Marty McFly and Doc Brown from the Back to the Future films. The guy even has a DeLorean! I’m not kidding. One of the other things that I find very cool about him is his office and his workshop. They are full of collectible spaceships, robots, and aliens, among many other things. He even built the entrance of his conference area like the doorway from one of the spaceships from Star Wars. All that stuff about him was such an influence for me while I was developing the story that the character of Mr. Aramis ended up being a mirror image of my friend.
What do you wish readers gain from your book?
Pleasure first and foremost. Pleasure from reading it. I would also like them to gain motivation from the book to dare to follow their dreams, kind of like how the character of Keithan dares to follow his. I remember I reflected about that a few months after the first edition of the book came out. I’ve always believed the book has the potential to entice our inner child’s desire to be daring sometimes to accomplish our goals, and I hope many readers can experience that when they read the book.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Write what you want. Write the stories or songs you would like to read and hear and that no one has created. There are no limitations when it comes to creative writing. If you aren’t sure how to begin, just ask yourself “What if …?” and complete the question, then answer it. Another advice I would like to share to aspiring writers is to read as much as you can. Read stories like the ones you would like to write and don’t limit yourself to that. Read about other things that you like and intrigue you. Also, write as much as you want whenever you can. Keep a journal with you or write your ideas on your phone, your computer, anywhere you can keep working on them. More importantly, determine yourself to finish what you write. I always say that there will always be room for a new story—including yours. And there will always be someone out there who would like to read it.