An Indies Introduce Q&A With Celia C. Pérez

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Celia C. Pérez is the author of The First Rule of Punk (Viking Books for Young Readers), a debut middle-grade novel selected for the Summer/Fall 2017 Indies Introduce program and an Autumn 2017 Kids’ Indie Next List pick.

“Malú (short for María Louisa) straddles two worlds: punk music and record stores on her dad’s side, and academic achievement and Mexican culture on her mother’s side,” said Laura Delaney of Rediscovered Books in Boise, Idaho, who was a member of the panel that selected the book for Indies Introduce. “When she lands at Posada Middle School, she finds herself on the outside again and takes on the school’s culture by starting her own punk band. I loved this blend of music, art, and family.”

Pérez is a second-generation Cuban-Mexican-American who grew up in Miami and currently works as a community college librarian in Chicago. She loves punk music and making her own zines, themes that feature prominently in her book. Her work has been included in El Andar, The Horn Book Magazine, Latina, Venus Zine, and elsewhere, and in 2014 she served on the Pura Belpré Award Committee.

Here, Delaney and Pérez discuss the author’s passion for art, music, and writing and how she worked these themes into Malú’s story.

Laura Delaney: My favorite things in the world are music and story, and The First Rule of Punk combines music, story, and cartoons in a way that I love. What inspired you to bring all of these elements together?

Cecilia C. Perez, author of The First Rule of PunkCelia Pérez: Those are some of my favorite things in the world, too, so it was it wasn’t especially difficult figuring out how to weave them all into this story. Malú is a girl who gets a lot of her sense of identity from her dad and their shared connection to music, specifically punk music. Zines have always been a part of punk, so it was a natural fit. I wanted her to have creative ways to express herself, and I wanted readers to be able to get into her mind and learn more about her. Having her express herself through zines and music made perfect sense.

LD: Who are the zine and cartoon creators that influenced your work in The First Rule of Punk?

CP: I’ve been making and reading zines for a long time, so a lot of the influence came from my own experiences as a zine maker and a zine reader. One of the great things about zine-making is that the process can be as simple or as complicated as the creator desires. Over the past few years, my own zine-making process has become pretty simple in that I have been hand-writing and drawing a lot of what goes into my zines as opposed to typing text up on a computer and relying heavily on clip art. I think this basic process is probably also the most accessible to a 12-year-old making a zine. A lot of the influence as far as materials used to create the zines came from what was around me and what I had access to. As far as other actual zines go, I would probably credit all the girl-created and riot grrrl zines that came out in the ’90s. These were often handwritten or typed, used old ads or magazine cut-outs for graphics, and funky fonts or cut-out letters for text. I honestly can’t name a cartoon influence because while there are a number of hand-drawn images, there’s only one zine that comes close to being a comic zine (and I’m not sure I was even thinking of it as a comic zine when I made it!).

LD: Music is such a big part of this book. How did you select the playlist that Malú hears throughout the book? What songs were left out that you wanted to include?

The First Rule of Punk by Cecilia C. PerezCP: I was initially creating individual playlists for each zine in the book, but it made more sense to have a sort of overarching playlist that follows Malú’s musical interests from where she is at the start of the book, when she’s into the more recognized bands her dad is into, like The Smiths, The Clash, The Ramones, to learning about the role of Mexican-American musicians in the history of punk and becoming interested in those bands, like the Plugz and The Brat. As far as songs I wanted to include but left out, there were many once I cut the individual playlists. Some bands that come to mind include The Bags (their singer, Alice Bag, who is Mexican-American, was an influential part of the L.A. punk scene in the late ’70s), Sleater Kinney, even Vicente Fernandez. There’s a playlist on my website and a link to some of the other playlists I created for the book, including one Malú’s dad makes for her.

LD: You were a member of the 2014 Pura Belpré Awards Committee. How did that experience change your writing?

CP: I served on the committee as a librarian, and it was one of the most rewarding professional experiences of my life. Serving on the committee really opened my eyes to many of the challenges Latinos and other underrepresented groups face in publishing, from lack of representation in general to the need for more diverse representations within what does get published. It also inspired and challenged me to create what I didn’t see. While we may fall under this umbrella term of Latinos, we have so many unique stories to tell. There is room for all of them, and children, Latino or not, need to see these varied representations.

LD: Malú is so relatable and realistic. Is she based on real people?

CP: Malú is not an autobiographical character, but there is a lot of me in her. We’re both kind of cranky outsiders who resent being squeezed into molds. She’s definitely more outspoken than I ever was at that age, but then again, she’s not the child of strict, old-fashioned immigrant parents so her upbringing differs from my own. Her identity struggles are very much based on my own as a bicultural person often feeling like I didn’t really fit into either parent’s cultures and trying to figure out how to make all these different identities fit together.

LD: Are there hidden secrets in the text, songs, or illustrations that readers should look for? Can you give any hints?

CP: I love this question (and I love these types of details in books)! Here are a few of my book secrets:

  • The dog pictured in the first zine, Martí, is my family’s dog. Her name is Mister Bagel!
  • Originally, I had a picture of Spanish moss in the first zine, but it was hard to make out so I asked my sister, who lives in Miami, to mail me some clippings. See? You can use any and all materials for zine making!
  • I went to college in Gainesville, Florida. Malú’s house, pictured in the first zine, is the last house I lived in before moving away from Gainesville.
  • I think most of the Wizard of Oz references are pretty obvious, but I wove a number of those into the book. Readers might have fun picking those out.
  • My family creates an ofrenda for el Día de los Muertos every year. The photo of the ofrenda in the Calavera zine is the altar we put together last year. You can make out a photo of my dad, my husband’s grandfather, my sister, and my father-in-law.
  • For some reason, coming up with character names is tough! Kind of like naming a baby. I borrowed a few names from people I know. One character has my son’s middle name. I just realized three characters’ names are all librarian friends!

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez (Viking Books for Young Readers, Hardcover, $16.99, 9780425290408) On Sale Date: August 22, 2017.

Find out more about the author at

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