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Author Features

MEET: Melissa Coss Aquino author of “Carmen and Grace”

Melissa loves a good hat, a tight dance move and Orchard Beach in the Bronx.

Last Updated on May 18, 2023 by BiblioLifestyle

author Melissa Coss Aquino
Carmen and Grace by Melissa Coss Aquino

What was the last book that you read that you’d now recommend?

What Happened To Ruthy Ramirez? By Claire Jimenez.  I lost sleep, and it felt original and vibrant. Now I’m reading The House in the Pines by Ana Reyes.

Have you read any classics lately that you were reading for the first time?

None for the first time, but I am re-reading Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maughm, which I have not read since high school. I remember it having made a big impact on me and my desire to write, so post-publication I got a big urge to see it again with new eyes.

Do you re-read books   And if yes, what was your last re-read?

Yes, not often, but I do. My recent re-read is above, but my last one was The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison for a reading club called One Book One Bronx. It was really astonishing to re-read. I remembered a lot of it, but some parts of it really felt painful and contemporary in terrible ways. Such a beautiful book about so much pain is really hard to fathom.

What are your go-to genres?

Literary fiction, some thrillers and mysteries, and a strong helping of spiritual work across cultures and practices.

What is your favorite childhood book?

Ludell by Brenda K Wilkinson.

What books are on your bedside table right now?

The House in the Pines by Ana Reyes, Pause, Rest, Be: Stillness Practices for Courage in Times of Change by Octavia F. Raheem, and The Making of Yolanda La Bruja by Lorraine Avilla.

Do you bookmark or dogear your page in a book?

Both. I also make my own bookmarks sometimes.

What is your ideal reading setting?

By a window, cozy couch, or chair, but I do a lot of reading in bed.

Tell us about your favorite indie bookstore?

Hard question because I have a few, but we will focus on The Lit. Bar in the Bronx.  It is beautiful, has wine, and the book selection is incredibly well-curated.  Also, the staff is amazing.  I was lucky enough to have my launch event there, and it is really a dream spot.  That said, I love Book Culture on 112th Street as an old haunt going back decades, and McNally Jackson near Rockefeller Plaza is a new haunt; I’ve only been there once, but it is spacious and feels like old New York independent bookstores.

Melissa Coss Aquino's favorite bookstore

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I was in the fourth grade and remembered in great detail the expansive feeling of self-recognition and permission I experienced sitting on the ledge by the fire escape reading Ludell by Brenda Wilkinson.  Ludell made the impact it did because it took me to Waycross, Georgia, where a young African American girl was living a life so familiar to me we could have been neighbors in the Bronx.  Ludell is a young girl being raised by her grandmother while her mother goes off to figure herself out.  The book does not give too much on the mother.  This worked well for me since I was not interested in the mother.  I was a young girl being raised by my grandmother while my mother failed to figure herself out.   Ludell was the first girl, who was not an orphan, who knew and understood the space of the motherless daughter that I had ever met, in person or in a book.  

The impact of this is hard to express.  It was a chest opening, a load lifting, a clearing of the weeds that were choking my young emotional life.  It was a comfort and a joy that released long-built pressures.  In fact, before re-reading the book as an adult, what I most remembered was the scene when her grandmother rubbed vapors on her chest and sat by her bed when she was sick.  It was something my grandmother had often done for me, and even the smell lingered attached to the memory of the scene.  

I also remembered the scene when the grandmother saved money for the first television in the neighborhood.  My own grandmother had saved money to buy me a stereo because I was obsessed with a plastic record player I would use to listen to my dead grandfather’s old records.  In my memory, I thought I loved Ludell because the book had helped me recognize that it was ok to be loved by a grandmother in the absence of a mother and that being poor did not really mean you had nothing at all.  This was my memory of the book in broad strokes when it popped up in my novel.  Then I read the book again as an adult and discovered that, in fact, Brenda Wilkinson had given me permission to write.

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

None come to mind specifically though I am going on one in May to meet none other than the author of Ludell, Brenda K Wilkinson, who I reached out to and am now going to meet in person in Georgia!!  I can honestly say this is one of the highlights of my literary life.  I’m going to try not to cry, but I can’t promise.

Where do you get most of your writing and editing done?

At home.  I had an office on the top floor of my house for about 15 years, and in the last three have moved to the lower level in a former kitchen space, and I’m loving it there.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Both.  Writing when I want, how I want, about what I want gives me energy.  Deadlines can energize but also exhaust.  Deeply emotional writing is often very draining.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

I have two projects mid way or so ( Both are non fiction and involve research) I have my “first novel” which I used to finish my MFA but had written in parts before even starting the program, it fell apart in my hands, but I did finish it.  Then I have about 60 pages of very rough draft for my next novel.

Do you read your book reviews?  How do you deal with bad or good ones?

Too soon to tell on this.  I have read a few mixed, and good.  I don’t think I have had enough to have a rule about them.  I think I will never take them too much to heart, good or bad, because reading and opinions are so subjective.  I don’t believe in absolute good or bad for art.  It is just not possible.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Keep going.  Reading and writing give you much more than publication.  It gives order, joy, and meaning to your whole life.  Which is, I think, the advice I followed.

When you’re not reading or writing, what are you doing?

Walking, biking, dancing, yoga,  or hanging out with my husband watching nature shows or documentaries, or odd movies.

What are your three favorite things right now?

Lilac everything, Afro Flow Yoga, stickers of all kinds.

What is your favorite travel destination and why?

Probably, Puerto Rico, with the Dominican Republic a close second.  We get family, culture and beaches all wrapped into one.  We are also big fans of the Bahamas.  The only islands we have gone to twice other than our own.  I’m a beach girl.

What’s your favorite meal and go-to drink order?

Low budget: Plain McChicken sandwich, small fries, and a small coke.

High brow: Fried red snapper, tostones, and a pina colada.

Melissa Coss Aquino's favorite food to eat

What six people, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party?

I laugh at this question because I hate dinner parties.  I like dinner and I like parties, but separate.  So any six people willing to eat and then dance without too much talking in between.

If a movie was made of your life, what genre would it be, and who would play you?

I would prefer a comedy, but it might be dramedy and I would pick Salma Hayek, because why not look hot and be smart?

What’s the last TV show or movie you watched that was really good?

Nope was a very good movie I saw only recently. I really enjoyed Peaky Blinders, and most recently I rewatched Kate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth, and loved it all over again.

You have to sing karaoke; what song do you pick?

Wanted Dead or Alive by Bon Jovi or Gracias a La Vida by Mercedes Sosa.

If you were being taken to a deserted island and could only bring one book, what would it be?

Woman Who Run With the Wolves by Dr. Clariss Pinkola Estes. Literally every story you will ever need to survive.

Carmen and Grace

Buy Carmen and Grace by Melissa Coss Aquino from: AMAZON / BOOKSHOP

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