“Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls” by Kaela Rivera, follows the story of a girl, Cece, who is off to save her sister from the antagonist, El Sombrerón. Along the way, she becomes friends with a spirit, Coyote, who helps her on her journey.
Rivera talked with BYU-Idaho Radio about what inspired her to write the book.
“I’m half-Mexican, and my mom is from Britain, so I’ve had an interesting upbringing with lots of different cultures,” she said. “But I didn’t have a lot of connection with my Mexican side, because my father never talked about it.”
This changed, though, when Rivera visited her grandfather over winter break in-between semesters at BYU-Idaho.
“He started to talk to me about what it was like to live in Northern Mexico. He told me so many different stories, and I finally started to feel more connected to that part of me,” Rivera said.
As such, Rivera wanted to bring that Mexican heritage to life. So, Cece Rios was born. Rivera said this book’s goal is more than just teaching readers about her Mexican culture, but it also has several other underlying messages.
“I wrote this story of Cece to explore healthy relationships, love, and my own culture,” she said. “I believe that a lot of the problems we see today stem from others not having enough empathy.”
This is why Rivera loves books so much. She said that being able to jump into a new world and experience what the characters are going through helps the reader understand the feelings they convey. She draws a lot of inspiration from authors like Markus Zusak and Guadalupe Garcia McCall.
Growing up, Rivera also read a lot of fantasy novels, one of the biggest inspirations behind the setting of “Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls.” With these fantasy novels and her influence of other authors, Rivera learned how to use her own voice when writing.
“I’ve been writing since I was 10, and when I was a sophomore in high school, I knew I had a good grasp on grammar, structure, characterization, and things like that. But I started to think about my pieces and asked myself, ‘How do I want to say this as much as myself as possible?’ That thought process completely changed the experience, and that’s what led to the creation of Cece,” Rivera said.
Knowing how to put her own voice on the pages, Rivera started to really connect with the characters she was creating.
“I like to say that Cece is who I want to be when I grow up,” she said. “She ends up becoming an anthem of myself as well as my mother, and even the pain Cece went through. I see myself in every character, but they’re all different parts of me.”
“Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls” is Rivera’s first published work. While going through the motions of getting the book published, she learned a lot about what she wants to do for future books.
“I love fantasy. I feel like I have so much more room when I strip reality away, and it really lets me expand my influence on what each character goes through. I feel like I found a really good niche writing fantasy, especially for middle schooler’s,” Rivera said.
Now that she’s a published author, Rivera is excited to see where she’ll go from here.
“It feels surreal, and yet it feels natural. I’ve said since I was 14 that I wanted to be a published author, and so I feel like it’s so natural, and yet I also can’t believe this is happening,” she said.
You can buy “Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls” starting April 13 nationwide. You can find the book for sale at harpercollins.com, or at a bookstore near you.