Author Journeys: Writing YA with Samantha Picaro

Welcome to Author Journeys, an interview series focused on overcoming rejection and other struggles in order to get published, self-publish, or secure literary representation. If you’ve ever felt held back, lost, or stressed out by the path to publication, this series is here to inspire and motivate you, no matter the route you want to take. I’ll be interviewing a range of authors, from self-publishing authors to traditionally published.

Interview with YA author Samantha Picaro

In this interview, I’m welcoming Samantha Picaro, an indie author who writes funny, heartfelt YA with themes of friendship, family and chasing your dreams. Her debut novel Limitless Roads Café is out now, and follows an autistic teen with anxiety as she plans an event to prevent the closure of a café that hires teens with developmental and physical disabilities.

You can find her at her website or on Facebook and Instagram.

Kinsey Fontana relies on lists to navigate the world as an autistic teen. #Goals list: win her dream event planning internship (she knows it’s an ironic dream); master the art of masking; and gain Mom’s approval. Instead, she works at a café hiring teens with disabilities. Although she loves the café and discounted macchiatos, she dreams of more than planning open mic nights.

She has an opportunity to shine by throwing a fundraiser to save the café. The catch: allow her ex-best friend Melissa Castillo to be her assistant and pretend they are friends again so Melissa’s parents respect her.

To-do list: plan the fundraiser with zero fundraising experience; work with the intimidating hotel planner who rejected her for the internship; and use every masking technique to charm rather than repel people from sponsors to a boy band. Although she needs unhealthy amounts of caffeine to handle autistic burnout, Kinsey reconsiders her #Goals list and realizes self-doubt belongs down the drain like incorrect orders. 

Limitless Roads Café blurb

Welcome, Samantha! Your debut novel, Limitless Roads Café, has just been released. Tell us a little bit about what drew you to writing for a YA audience!

YA isn’t just for young adults, so I feel like I’m writing for both teens and adults. Many adults I know love YA, myself included. YA shows readers that they are not alone with certain issues, and I’ve found that YA reminds me to hold on to my ideals rather than become jaded, and to keep pursuing dreams.

You’re exploring some really important topics in your work, incorporating your own #ActuallyAutistic identity. You also aim for your books to be heartfelt and funny – I think that’s a great approach to making these topics more accessible to readers who might have a limited understanding of them. Did you hit any particular challenges while writing this type of content?

The challenge is to balance the warmth and humor with the serious aspects. I do my best to avoid treating serious topics with disrespect or making them less serious than they are. I incorporate both seriousness and lightheartedness because that’s what real life is like. For every problem or worry, there is hope and joy.

When writing about autism or disability in general, I had to figure out how to explain certain concepts or terms without too much infodumping or having the novel read like a dictionary. I tried to sprinkle the information throughout the novel.

Your book features a café that hires teens with developmental and physical disabilities. Was there a real-life inspiration for the café?

There are many cafés like this across the United States, and throughout the world. These cafés often focus on employing individuals with developmental disabilities. I wanted to create a place, even if it was fictional, where any teen with any type of disability could work and find belonging. I can’t name any specific café that inspired Limitless Roads Café in particular. The concept in general inspired me.

What made you decide to self-publish your work rather than traditionally publish?

I tried the traditional route. After a ton of rejections, I decided to self-publish. It would have been easier to go the traditional route but self-publishing has taught me a lot of skills and showed me the positives of self-publishing, like total control. I can choose my own deadlines, for example.

I’ve seen so many self-published authors online, and many find success and happiness. That really inspired me.

What have been your major hurdles when it comes to finishing a manuscript, and getting it out of the door and published?

I have perfectionist tendencies, so I had different editors look at it. I kept going back and adding or taking out certain elements to make it its best. Finally, I had to force myself to stop doing that.

Technical and physical aspects like book formatting are hard. I had to watch a lot of online tutorials and read online articles to learn how to format a paperback or ebook manuscript. It took me some time to become decent at it, if not an expert.

What’s your favourite thing about writing YA?

I like encouraging teens to chase a dream or be true to themselves, and to remind adults not to lose their optimism and hope.

You have a master’s degree in social work, which is what led you to incorporate your #ActuallyAutistc identity into your writing. How did your degree encourage you to explore this in your work?

Graduate school educated me on social issues, and the importance of representation in the nonprofit sector and any sector. I was encouraged to write autistic characters after learning about concepts like empowerment, focusing on strengths, and self-determination. These concepts were mostly discussed in relation to services like counselling or case management but I feel they can be applied to any aspect of life. All too often, someone with a disability is not asked what their goals are or what their strengths are. Empowerment for my characters was crucial to me. In fact, empowerment is the theme I want readers to take away from the book.

Do you have any advice for writers who are struggling to decide whether they should self-publish in the YA sphere?

There is a LOT of work involved in self-publishing. You have to be everything: writer, marketer, etc. But it’s worth it to see your dream come true, and you learn a lot of valuable skills.

What’s next in the works on your publishing journey?

I have another book I’m almost done writing. I will continue self-publishing, and I would like to submit articles to magazines, though I don’t know what type of articles I’ll write, or which magazines, yet. Anything is possible with writing.

Visit Samantha’s website

Thanks again to author Samantha Picaro for joining me on the blog! You can buy Limitless Roads Café over on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble!

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