While working full time as a CNN special projects producer, Mayra Cuevas persevered in writing a young adult novel with a Latina as the protagonist. She hopes the story will spread a message of empowerment to young girls.

Cuevas was born and raised in Puerto Rico and now lives in Norcross. She said some of her upbringing as a Latina, as well as her experiences with her grandparents and then her parents’ divorce inspired scenes in the novel, which is titled “Salty, Bitter, Sweet.” It will be released March 3.

The novel is about 17-year-old Isabella Fields who is an inspiring chef and comes from a mixed background – her mother is French and her father is Cuban-American. Her “abuela,” or grandmother in Spanish, is her culinary muse.

However, when Isabella’s abuela passes away she has to overcome difficult family dynamics as she also explores female friendships with other career-driven girls. All the while, a love interest enters the story to “spice” things up, Cuevas said.

“I love romantic comedies,” she said. “They’re fun and hopeful and always have a way of uplifting you when you’re having a hard time. But it’s very rare to find a Latina protagonist in romantic comedy. I wanted the opportunity to tell Latina girls you can be the hero of your own story. You don’t have to be relegated to the side rules that are always given to Latina characters of the maid or landscaper’s daughter.”

Cuevas said that at her job at CNN she strictly writes feature stories. She recently wrote a series of profiles on people who have done outstanding things, but who have dealt with difficult moments in life. She said writing feature stories is basically the same as writing a novel, but in a much shorter medium.

“I’m a storyteller at the end of the day,” she said. “At CNN, that’s what I do, but obviously I tell stories from the nonfiction perspective and I try to empower the message of whatever person or character I’m interviewing.”

This is Cuevas’ third manuscript. It took about six years to get to where it is today. Cuevas said, laughing, that her first manuscript was rejected about 200 times, and no one bought the second manuscript.

“But when you believe in what you’re doing and you believe in yourself and in the power of your dreams, you keep going,” she said. “Sure, there’s going to be rejection along the way, but ultimately I knew there were girls out there that were waiting for these stories. There are girls who want to see themselves in books, especially Latina girls.”

Even for readers who don’t identify as Latinos, Cuevas said the novel, at the end of the day, is a story about love – love between families, between friends and romantic love.

“It’s a story about forgiveness and the power that forgiveness has to heal our families and help us move past moments of pain, and those are universal experiences,” she said. “… For me, it’s so important that girls have role models that are strong and transcending difficult situations and are finding their place in their world on their own terms.”

Cuevas will celebrate the release of “Salty, Bitter, Sweet” with two local events. On Feb. 29 at 5 p.m. there will be a launch party at the Decatur Library. It will feature conversation with Atlanta author Kimberly Jones.

The second event on March 8 at 3 p.m. will be held at Norcross Community Center. As a special International Women’s Day celebration, Cuevas will be in conversation with Marie Marquardt, a young adult author and Emory University scholar-in-residence. CNN anchor and women’s advocate Christi Paul will moderate the conversation.

Both events are free and open to the public. If interested in the event on March 8, RSVP at www.mayracuevas.com/events/international-womens-day-at-the-city-of-norcross-ga. Cuevas will also hold a series of talks at local high schools, including in Duluth, Norcross and North Gwinnett. The novel will be available wherever books are sold.

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