“For Dominicans born and raised in the Dominican Republic, I am American. But for Americans, I am not. I am something else. Other. And being in that middle space is tiring. It’s this constant state where I feel like I don’t belong anywhere.
Yaffa S. Santos is a Dominican American author, born and raised in New Jersey. She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, mother of two and author of A taste of sage (2020). His new book, A touch of moonlighttells the story of Larimar Cintrón, a young woman trying to live a normal life while hiding that every full moon she transforms into a ciguapa, a Dominican mythological figure with long, straight hair and backward-facing feet .
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
To start up: “My writing happens from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. If I leave it for the rest of the day, it’s not the same. Either it doesn’t happen or it happens, among other things, because I have two children and I’m also a graduate student to become a therapist. I’m doing an internship in a clinic working with clients. So in the morning, [after I write] I take my kids to school, then I go to work, then I come home and I cook. I love to cook and I love to write about cooking.
Culinary influences in his books: “I wrote [A Touch of Moonlight] in 2020. I was home [in the Dominican Republic] with my children at the start of the pandemic, and we had fun cooking every day. And personally, I like to add alcohol to baked goods, like rum or whiskey. So that’s where the idea for Borrachitos came from, which in the book is Ray’s bakery specializing in alcohol-infused cupcakes.
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Inspiration for A touch of moonlight: “When I was living in the Dominican Republic during the pandemic, I would ask my grandparents and great aunts and uncles if they had ever seen a ciguapa. More [said] they had, and it made me curious. The stories they told me got me thinking about intersectionality and what it’s like to have an identity [with which] you evolve in different spheres: you feel accepted in some, but you know that if people knew more about you, you would not be [accepted]. That feeling, for me, was reflected in the form of Larimar, who in the book transforms into a ciguapa and is supposed to go back and forth, run around town and then back into the forest. He is someone on the fringes.
“The inspiration for this comes from my own intersectionality. For Dominicans born and raised in the Dominican Republic, I’m American. But for Americans, I’m not. I’m something else. Other. And being in that in-between space is tiring. It’s this constant state where I feel like I don’t belong anywhere.
On writer’s block: “I had times when I felt stuck [while writing]. What helped me was just putting the manuscript aside for a few weeks. Because the more I struggle, the more I feel like I’m skating. When I go back, I see things differently.
And after: “I’m not sure I’ll go all the way, but I’m thinking of doing a book that focuses on mental health, specifically eating disorders in the Dominican and Latino community. We don’t talk about it as much as it should, and there’s a lot of guilt and shame.”—SS