My Memory, My Stories, My Journey: Rebecca Carvalho
Memory: the process of the brain by which data or information is encoded, stored, and retrieved when needed. It is the retention of information over time for the purpose of influencing future actions.
What is the relationship of memory to storytelling? How much does the thrill of a first kiss, the sorrow of loss, or the lingering euphoria of a big achievement influence the life and emotion we inject into our stories? Is it intentional? Unintentional? And just how much do we share in an industry that seems to demand your life story served at an all-you-can-eat buffet?
Maybe it's a little. Maybe it's a lot.
But whatever YOU decide to share...
Keep on reading (and make sure you have a snack in hand because this one will make you hungry!) for author Rebecca Carvalho's writing journey!
1. Welp, the first question is the one all in the writing community love to know! What’s the story of your publication journey (writing the words-querying-agent- published book)?
This journey officially started around June 2011.
I started using Twitter more often and met other writers. I learned about querying,
QueryTracker, literary agencies, and editors from them. I connected with beta readers
and critique partners. Finding a community online definitely encouraged me to start
writing YA and MG in English (until then I had been writing in Portuguese). I wrote many
stories in so many different genres, participated in Twitter pitch events, queried, and got
a world of rejections.
My first yes came in 2015. That’s when I signed with one agency briefly. We went on
sub with one of my projects, but there wasn’t a lot of interest. Working with that agency
didn’t work out and we parted ways amicably in 2016.
That year was really hard. My mom passed away in December 2015 and I spent 2016 in
mourning. I often relied heavily on writing during difficult times, but I couldn’t make
myself write. I had the worst writer’s block. So, I stopped forcing it.
When I was ready to write again, I was also ready to write about home. That’s
interesting because I’d always been terrified to write about the things I knew, people and
places close to my heart. I think it was fear of not doing them justice. But when I sat
down to write again, all I wanted was to write a story that transported me back home
and helped me reconnect with those childhood memories and my life in Brazil. It was
my way to process grief, celebrate my mom and my hometown. That’s how SALT AND
SUGAR was born.
I felt my book was too personal and I really didn’t know if I could get it published, but I
knew this time I had to be extra careful during the querying process. This time, I looked
for my dream agents and I was so happy to see that Thao Le (someone I’d admired for
years) had wished for a book that almost perfectly fit the way I described mine… but
she was closed to queries. So I waited. When she reopened, I sent her SALT AND
On April 18, 2018 (three days after my birthday!) I got an email from her asking if we
could have a phone call to chat about SALT AND SUGAR. That phone call went so well
and her vision for my book—and my career—matched mine. I signed with her and what
followed was a lot of editing and revising until my book was ready to go on sub. I believe
it happened early in 2020, and there was so much uncertainty around the beginning of
the pandemic. We had a few passes and took a break to regroup. Honestly, it was a bit
of a crossroads moment, because I was feeling burned out and I didn’t know if I should
revise my book again or if I should rewrite it or just shelf it. Thao was extremely
supportive throughout it all.
I was putting together a synopsis to consider writing an adult version of SALT AND
SUGAR, when I heard about LatinxPitch. It was a Twitter pitch event for Latinx writers
and they’d opened the opportunity to agented writers, too, to consider pitching to
editors. I talked about it with Thao and we discussed the next plan for SALT AND
SUGAR. She encouraged me to participate in the LatinxPitch event to see if it
generated interest (she helped me tweak my pitch).
I participated in LatinxPitch on Sep 15, 2020. I couldn’t believe it, but many editors
showed interested and Thao reached out to them. On Sep 28, 2020, the first editor
emailed Thao asking to chat with me. Having such strong interest from an amazing
editor so quickly was mind blowing. I honestly still can’t believe it.
Other incredible editors asked to chat with me, too, and were interested in my book, and
so SALT AND SUGAR went to auction and my life changed forever. Rebecca Kuss, who
was at Inkyard Press at the time (my current editor is Claire Stetzer), acquired my book
and the rest is history.
I still have a hard time processing how it all went from being an impossible dream to
being a dream that will come true on November 1, 2022, when the book releases, but
this journey wouldn’t have been possible without a lot of stubbornness, persistence, a
dose of good timing, and the guidance of so many supportive, brilliant people. I was so
tired and tempted to give it up—this story, at least—in 2020, but one moment later the
book went to auction. I guess there’s a life lesson there.
2. Your debut, SALT AND SUGAR, is categorized as a YA rom-com— a genre that sometimes is perceived as fluff or not “serious”. However, you have mentioned that this novel was inspired by memories of your childhood. Was this always intentional, or did this become something woven in throughout the drafting process?
People can have different opinions on what is (or isn't) considered serious. It's also
absolutely okay to write and enjoy stories that you don't consider serious.
Like you said, there are people who perceive rom-coms as not serious. They’re usually
readers who only value stories that are part of a literary canon. But there are many rom-
coms that go on to become the focal point of school debates and college syllabus, so,
again, considering any story serious or not is extremely subjective.
There are reader who just don’t like rom-coms. That’s perfectly fine. Not all books are
for everyone. But it becomes problematic when their literary criticism is just hiding
behind prejudice against fiction that teens enjoy and misogyny against women reading
and writing rom-coms.
There are so many misconceptions around the merit of rom-coms or what to expect
from rom-coms, too. There are people who still assume the stories aren't well developed because they see it as a sign the plot is one-dimensional. That's such a big sign
someone hasn't read enough rom-coms to know they actually deal with many heavy topics and societal fears. The brilliant thing about fiction is that there is conflict at the heart of every story, no matter the category or genre. It's up to the reader to decide what literary medium better suits them to explore that conflict.
I personally view rom-com as an empowering literary medium, and although I didn’t set
out to write a rom-com story when I first had the idea for SALT AND SUGAR, the genre
allowed me the safe space I needed to address my own grief and I’m grateful for it.
All I knew at first is that I wanted to write about rival bakeries—they’re iconic in every
Brazilian neighborhood. I wanted to work with old childhood (and adult) memories. And I
wanted to address my own grief and undo some of those knots through fiction.
I didn’t even know the main characters’ romance would be at the heart of everything. I
didn’t know it would have a bit of a Romeo and Juliet appeal. I just wanted to write
about characters dealing with recent grief, family expectations, and having to unpack
layers and more layers of generational misconceptions between their rival bakeries.
But the more I got to know my main character, the more I saw rom-com elements taking
shape. My main character is a disaster in the kitchen. She’s definitely the clumsiest
foodie, and her attempt at discovering her place in the world at such a scary, confusing
moment in her life was filled with comedic moments (that she wouldn’t have initially
thought were funny, but more like a curse she didn’t know how to break).
So, yeah, the “fluff” happened naturally with every new draft as I revised and unpacked
my own feelings, usually in moments when I personally needed a breath of fresh air
while dealing with heavier subjects like mourning a loved one.
3. SALT AND SUGAR takes place in Olinda, Brazil. Is this home for you? With most books distributed by American publishing companies taking place in America, how did you approach writing this setting in a way where it felt more organic rather than like a tourist guide?
I see Olinda as my hometown’s sister city. Not a twin, but a close sister. I’m from Recife,
and in many ways it’s hard to talk about one city without talking about the other. They’re
that entwined both through conurbation and culturally, too. Both cities influence and
celebrate the other, residents daily commute between them to go to work, and they
even share the same March 12th anniversary.
Olinda was a very strong presence in my childhood and it always had a grounding effect
for me any time I had to travel away from my state—last goodbyes and farewells
happened there. It was the last place I saw to remind myself of who I was. I had family
living nearby, too, and I spent many weekends there.
I feel a lot of pressure in doing Olinda justice, and I hope I succeeded at it. It’s easy to
go down a more romanticized, eager path to share how much I love it, but when I wrote
SALT AND SUGAR I tried to stray from a vacation destination, and focused on writing my characters living their best lives in their city. Lari and Pedro are residents, born and raised in Olinda. They’re not tourists. I tried my best to write in a way that shows them navigating their neighborhood in a way that allows for moments of appreciation of the things they love about their city—the times they intentionally stop and observe how the neighborhood has changed—but also allowed for moments when they take things for granted.
4. As the premise of your book centers around two teens working in competing bakeries, I am assuming that your novel contains yummy food! As a writer, this probably requires a good bit of description? What tips would you give to writers when inserting book elements that touch upon the senses? Or books that involve major food elements?
Yes, there’s a lot of food in SALT AND SUGAR! I’d love for readers to connect with the
food and I hope it will encourage them to try more Brazilian dishes.
As an immigrant, food has always been important to me. Eating Brazilian food is the
way I reconnect with my culture and how I deal with saudades. It sends me straight
back to my childhood and to a time when my grandparents, my mom, my uncle were
alive. I’d say food plays a strong psychological role in my life and that’s how I write about it.
It’s all about memories. I try to combine aromas, textures, and flavors to the way a
character feels at the moment they’re eating. Do they feel so safe and relaxed while
eating they take extra long savoring the moment? Are they so anxious, their stomach so
knotted with worries that they can’t make themselves eat? Are they eating together or
alone? I think food tastes different depending on the situation and the character’s
feelings, even when it comes from the same batch, and so writing should reflect it.
5. Is there any significance in your title: Salt and Sugar? Was that always your
Yes, it’s always been this title. Although Brazilian cuisine has many flavors, growing up I
felt like bakeries had two menus, one for doces (sweets) and one for salgados (salty /
savory baked goods), and so I often asked my cousins and friends what type of person
they were. Were they a ‘doces’ person? Or a ‘salgados’ person?
When I had the idea to write about rival bakeries, I thought it would be fun to play with
this rivalry I invented as a child between customers who preferred one menu over the
other. In my book, each bakery only sticks with that “flavor group” when they’re selling
The tile is also a reference to what we call in Brazil a ‘Romeo and Juliet recipe’ (guava
and cheese). That salty and sweet dish inspired the idea of two bakeries complementing each other so well if only they combined their flagship recipes.
6. Can you tell us what other WIPS we might see from you in the future?
I hope I’ll get the chance to write and publish more YA (and MG!) stories set in Brazil.
There’s just so much I still want to explore. I wrote a Brazilian folklore retelling in the
past and I’d love to revise it and try to publish it, too. I featured Recife only briefly in
SALT AND SUGAR, so my hometown will definitely have a more central role in my next
7. Do you know when you’re at risk of burnout? What’s your form of self-care?
Yes. It’s different for everyone, but I think for me burnout usually comes after a long
period of making my life so much about one single activity. So, in my case, it helps me a
lot to fill my day with different activities. Anything that helps pull me out of a single-
minded approach to my day.
It’s unhealthy for me to stay hyper-focused on one goal, particularly when it’s my writing,
so I use Trello lists to literally remind me to mindfully do other things like cooking,
cleaning, going for walks, and playing games. Things I enjoy. It makes me feel good to
see immediate results—things that I can start and finish in one hour or two—so cooking
and cleaning are serotonin boosts.
I’ve been practicing meditation almost daily for two years now, and that’s helped me a
Ok, now it’s time for the ‘fun’ questions!
8. Your publisher is celebrating your book birthday with a small soiree. They are letting you choose the menu. What Brazilian treats and sweets are your must-haves?
I’m a foodie, so that’s such a hard question. There are so many delicious options, but I’d
say anything and everything you find in Brazilian bakeries! Catupiry coxinhas, carne
pastéis, pão de queijo, sfihas drizzled with lime juice, cream-filled sonhos, traditional
bolo de rolo, and many more sweet and savory baked and deep-fried goods. It’d be a
must to have corn-based dishes, too, because SALT AND SUGAR takes place around
St. John’s Day, so canjica, corn cake, and mugunzá, too.
9. Unpopular book or writing opinion?
I feel like more and more people are starting to say this, so I don’t think it’s an unpopular
opinion anymore, but I’d say writers don’t have to write every day. Ten years ago, when I was starting to query, there was such a big emphasis on keeping a strict writing routine that involved daily writing sessions and reaching super specific word counts. I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to always be inspired (an impossible task) and to produce as much writing as my fellow writers.
I even felt like I couldn’t call myself a writer if I took breaks from writing to recharge my
creativity. That’s so hard on anyone’s mental health, so, no, you don’t need to write
every day to be a writer.
Creativity can flow away from the desk, too, and day-dreaming does count as writing.
10. The best Star Trek character arc is?
I love this question. Deep Space Nine is my favorite Star Trek series, and Nog is my
favorite character—a Ferengi boy who’s the nephew of the main bar owner at DS-9.
I don’t want to give away too much, in case you haven’t watched the show, but Nog has
the most developed and complex character arc in the whole series. We get a chance to
see him befriend other species, question and celebrate certain aspects of his own
upbringing, make big life decisions for himself, go through trauma and inspiring
moments, and in the end you feel like you just witnessed someone grow up.
I liked his character arc so much it made me want to write for Star Trek. Writing for TV is
definitely different than writing novels, but that’s another dream I hope will come true
one day. I’d love to write episodes set at Starfleet Academy.
So, CBS, if you’re reading this, hire me!
Rebecca Carvalho is a Recifense writer based in Berkeley, California. She loves crafting stories filled with close-knit neighborhoods, Brazilian food, and telenovela-esque settings. When she is not writing, you can find her with her camera, gaming with her husband, or watching Star Trek for the hundredth time.
Rebecca has a bachelor’s
degree in English from Lawrence University. Salt and Sugar is her debut novel, and it was inspired by her life in northeastern Brazil.
SALT AND SUGAR preorder links: https://www.harlequintradepublishing.com/shop/books/9781335454331_salt-and-sugar.html
SALT AND SUGAR on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57814701-