'The She-Hulk Diaries' Author Marta Acosta Writes Hilarious Fiction Motivated by Comedy
This article is part of Palabras, the Latin Post Latino Author Series.
Marta Acosta, author of "The She-Hulk Diaries" and "Dark Companion," is not the Latina Terry McMillian. Nor is she able/willing to perpetuate stereotypes or preconceptions regarding what it means to be a female writer, a Latina writer, or a woman of color. However, the humorist is able/willing to astonish with compelling fiction, which addresses everything from vampirism to the blue-collar chip on her shoulder.
The San Francisco Bay area has always been home to Acosta, who was raised in a male-dominated, blue-collar Mexican-American household. With three brothers, she often turned to books for female companionship and insights, and read voraciously. From the moment she first learned to read, she valued what each page offered, and eventually learned that the best preparation for becoming a writer was to love books, the written word and writing... all the of the time.
"I think there's a difference between people who want to be a writer and people who write. With one, you have this glamorous idea in your mind of what being a writer is and you write, and that's best done with a trust-fund. The other is a compulsion to write, and the need to write to express self-worth," Acosta told Latin Post. "I wasn't good at anything else. There are things I would have liked to have done. I would have liked to be good at drawing and singing -- and I was terrible at both. Writing is a way of day dreaming, you put your day dreams down on paper, and if you're a day-dreaming person, you're going to be unfit for most jobs."
Her influences as a writer involve comedy, stand-up comedy, absurdist comedy and theater... likely comedic theater. She fell in love with community theater, but couldn't act, so she studied and reviewed theater. In addition to comedy, the need to rant and communicate her annoyances forced her pen; and she often uses sarcasm and satire to address issues and communicate her unique viewpoint.
"I use satire as a way to address issues and show non-Latinos things from a different perspective without alienating them, because no one wants to hear an angry Chicana," said Acosta. "Once, I was watching movies, and noticed that these female vampires were jumping around in jumpsuits in the future, and they were all white. I was like, are there no Mexican vampires in the future? I thought, why can't there be Chicana vampires? And that was the inspiration behind 'Happy Hour at Casa Dracula: Casa Dracula.'"
The four-part paranormal screwball comedy series, which began with "Happy Hour at Casa Dracula: Casa Dracula," showcases a haphazard young woman, who is bright, naïve, self-delusional, enthusiastic and aimless.
"Milagro (de Los Santos) wants to do good in the world but she doesn't know how or what her role is. I wanted her to be an everyday girl, but I also wanted her to be a girl of color, because I wanted others to say, 'look at our common humanity,'" said Acosta. "You can identify with this girl, whether you're Latina, a grandma, a teenager or in a different country. What she seeks, in that book, is a family. She also deals with the feeling of being outside of things. She wants to be normal and accepted, but she will never be accepted or normal in the way that some people are."
The author designed the the book to be funny and to entertain, and with each stroke of the pen, she refrained from talking down to readers, instead elevating them to her way of thinking. With that said, some readers approached the book expecting a romance novel, and when it did not meet those particular expectations, they were disappointed. Furthermore, as a Latina novelist, she found that many readers looked at her name and expected a particular type of book.
As a humorist, she yet again felt pigeonholed. Because Acosta's humor can be aggressive or dark, it's often encountered with apprehension. Also, as a woman humorist, she's found that comedy is far more complex and confusing thing because biases in the comedy world exaggerate the belief that women aren't funny.
"As a woman of color, you're dealing with editors who have a limited scope of the world; they want and expect something of you. They have preconceptions because they want to market you by your last name," said Acosta. "Also, they go, this doesn't sound Hispanic enough. To that, I ask, what the hell do you know about being Hispanic?
Also, I get called Maria. If you Goggle Maria Acosta, you'll see that many reviewers will refer to me as Maria Acosta, and they'll comment, 'Si, this book was muy caliente...spicy' or compare me to Isabel Allende. But, would you do that to an Irish American writer? Do you compare every Irish writer to James Joyce? So, why do you expect all Hispanic writers to do magical realism?"
Acosta also commented on the white-washing and manipulation of her book covers, which made her books to look like they were romance novels or had white protagonists when that wasn't the case. The manipulation of covers aligned with editor's hopes that Acosta would be able to cross barriers and gain broad readership, which hasn't happened yet.
The author's next book is a contemporary novel, set in northern California, like many of her books. The soon-to-be-named novel is in the process of being rewritten before being handed over to her agent. While she looks forward to the new book hitting the shelves, she recognizes that many people, particularly Latinos, aren't buying books anymore.
"Latino readers don't buy books, they borrow books. They're very big on borrowing books from one another; it's a different readership. I have Latino readers who say, 'this is just like me, this is just like my cousin or sister,' but they weren't buying books, they're borrowing them from grandma," said Acosta with a laugh.