YEM Author Interview: R. M. Romero chats about how maintaining a Jewish cemetery in Europe inspired The Ghosts of Rose Hill

R. M. Romero is the author of The Ghosts of Rose Hill. The Ghosts of Rose Hill follows Ilana Lopez, a biracial Jewish girl, who finds herself torn between her dream of becoming a violinist and her immigrant parents’ desire for her to pursue a more stable career. The book explores history and the experiences of immigrant families.  YEM was able to speak with R.M. about what it means to be able to write a love letter to Latin Americans and Jewish, What she hopes her readers can take away from The Ghosts of Rose Hill, and what your favorite reaction to her book that she has gotten.

Young Entertainment Mag: How exciting is it to have The Ghosts of Rose Hill out?

R. M. Romero: Extremely! The positive reception the book has received has been beyond my wildest dreams.

YEM: Did you go into writing your book knowing you wanted to write something inspired by the summers you spent in Europe helping to maintain a Jewish cemetery?

R.M.: I did! The cemeteries I’ve worked in always feel haunted to some extent, by the echoes of the history there and perhaps even literally. It felt natural to write a ghost story that took place in one.

YEM: What are three words that best describe your book?

R.M.: Folkloric, melodic, wistful.

YEM: What does it mean to you to be able to write a love letter to Latin Americans and Jewish?

R.M.: I didn’t intend for my heroine’s heritage to mirror mine so closely, but the deeper into the novel I got, the more I realized it had to. As a Jew and a Latina, Ilana is a cultural outsider—so of course she connected to the ultimate outsiders: the dead. Speaking about her background helped me voice my thoughts about my own.

YEM: What was your writing process for your book like?

R.M.: Very scattered! I wrote it out of order for the most part. I always knew who the main characters were, how it began, and how it ended. But I discovered what came between along the way as I was drafting. Music was also an important part of my process; both my heroine and the villain are obsessed with it, so finding the right songs to accompany me as I wrote was vital.

YEM: How long did it take for you to write The Ghosts of Rose Hill?

R.M.: About 4 months in total. It took longer than any book I’ve ever written, even though it’s the shortest of my novels.

YEM: What is a book that made you fall in love with literature?

R.M.: Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block .

YEM: What do you hope your readers can take away from The Ghosts of Rose Hill?

R.M.: That the dead deserve to be honored and remembered.

YEM: What is your favorite thing about writing for a young adult audience?

R.M.: The enthusiasm of my readers! Young people are so passionate about their interests and what they love, and being having readers who become so immersed in my stories is always wonderful.

YEM: What is your favorite reaction to your book that you have gotten?

R.M.: Any time someone expresses love for my soft ghost boy Benjamin, my heart grows three sizes.

YEM: Who is usually the first to read your work when it is finished?

R.M.: My best friend, Jacob. Who is, incidentally, the model for Benjamin and the person who helped me write about what it’s like to play the violin accurately.

YEM: What is in your future in terms of writing?

R.M.: My next YA in verse, a queer retelling of Swan Lake that takes place at King Ludwig II’s fairy tale castle and draws from German and Jewish folklore, comes out in July! It has a non-binary love interest, a fierce heroine, and (of course!) some ghosts. It’s called A Warning About Swans. My next Middle Grade novel, Tale of the Flying Forest, will be released in the fall of 2024. It’s my “Jewish Narnia” story about a girl who goes to magical flying forest to rescue her long-lost twin brother—and his broken heart.

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