When Maritza Moulite isn’t studying, she’s probably writing.
A first-year doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, the 30-year-old Moulite just published her second young-adult novel, One of the Good Ones. Like the first one, it was written with her sister, Maika Moulite, 32, a doctoral student in communications at Howard University.
One of the Good Ones (Inkyard Press, $18.99) tells the story of Kezi Smith, a young activist whose death in police custody after a protest makes national headlines. To honor Kezi, her two sisters embark on a road trip to complete her passion project, following a route laid out with the help of the old Green Book guide for Black travelers. Inspired by the deaths of Trayvon Martin and others, the novel ultimately challenges the idea that some victims of racial injustice are more worthy of notice than others.
The authors grew up in Miami as the oldest of four sisters. Their parents emigrated from Haiti. Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, an epistolary novel composed of emails, articles, transcripts, and more, made NPR’s list of the best books of 2019, and Kirkus Reviews calls One of the Good Ones, which was published on Tuesday, “close to perfection.”
In a recent interview, here edited and condensed, the sisters talked about how they accommodate their different styles to write with one voice, balance school and fiction, and why they choose to write for young adults.
What made you start writing together?
Maritza: We have always been really big writers. That sprang from being really huge readers growing up. We always thought of writing a book, but we weren’t able to successfully do it until we came together a few years ago and were like, “What if we tried this together?” And it actually worked, surprisingly.
“One of the Good Ones” is told from different points of view. What’s your writing process like? Did you each, for instance, pick a sister?
Maika: We create a really extensive outline, because I am a pantser [a writer who flies by the seat of her pants] and Maritza is a plotter. So I had to adopt the plotter lifestyle.
Before we even get started writing, we know what needs to happen to move the story along, but we leave space open so that the spirit can move us. We didn’t split it up by character. Sometimes I would say, “I want to write the scene,” and then Maritza would say, “I want to write the next one.” Sometimes it might be I wrote a full chapter and she wrote the next. Then to make sure that it’s consistent, we’ll go back and read the other person’s writing and make our own edits.
Do you work over email, or are you together?
Maritza: We use Google Docs a lot. We’ll send each other little insults while we’re typing.
If we’re in the same place we’ll just hunker down and talk through things together, but I usually like to wake up pretty early and Maika likes to work deep into the night, so we have to let go of doing things at the same time.
You’re both working on your doctorates — where do you find the time to write novels?
Maika: For One of the Good Ones, we were mostly finished with the bulk of our edits before we started our programs. But, honestly, we have to make the time. I like writing, whether it’s for school or for a book. We’re still in the early phases of [the next book], but we’re really excited.
We have a calendar that we share so that we can know what needs to be done by what date, and we just have to stay on top of it. Sometimes that might mean that I’m [going to sleep] very, very late that night, but I’ll just catch up on that sleep later on in the week.
Maritza: We wanted to be authors our whole lives. So the fact that we actually get to do that now is just so mind-boggling and exciting. I have papers due for class and stuff, and is that stressing me out? Yes, I feel crazy. But I’m also really excited to be able to talk about this hard work that we’ve done that is actually going out into the world.
Young adult fiction often seems to me to be quite adult — certainly this is, even if the main characters are young. What does the term mean to you, and why do you choose to write for this audience?
Maritza: Young adult literature was such a major part of our lives, maybe because we grew up in a strict Haitian household and very often couldn’t do anything. And we were able to live full lives and experience what other teens out there are doing through these books.
And also part of why we write YA is because we love those characters but so rarely are they like us, you know, like Black or Haitian. ... We always were able to identify in some way with different characters, but it’s still something exciting to see yourself on a cover or read about your specific experience or background in the pages of a book.
Maika: And I would say that young Black people in America are forced to grow up much more rapidly than some of our non-Black counterparts. So there is this idea that books that talk about certain things, whether it’s sexuality or race or whatever the topic might be, that this is too adult, this can’t be discussed with a young person. In reality, young people are having these conversations amongst themselves. So we might as well make sure that we’re doing our part to hop into this conversation in a way that can hopefully allow for more nuances in that discussion.
I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s a twist in this story I didn’t see coming. Did you set out to write a thriller, or is that just where the story took you?
Maritza: I think it got more thrilling as we continued to write. We knew that we wanted to take care to write a story that would be different than what you were expecting. Because so often in books that are published by Black authors or about Black characters, it’s a very specific type of story. It’s full of tragedy, and heaviness. And those stories matter, obviously, and are important. We felt drawn to be a part of that conversation, but we wanted to come at it from a different perspective.
Maika: I hope that readers look at themselves and kind of figure out what it means to them when a story twists the way that it does. I would say, too, that Maritza and I have this tendency to blend genres. Of course, we’ve only written two books. We’ll see what happens with the third.