Kathie: Hi Victor! Welcome to Fast Forward Friday, where we learn a bit about a debut middle-grade author and their upcoming release each Friday. TIME VILLAINS comes out on July 6th from Sourcebooks Young Readers. Can you give us a brief synopsis of it, please?
Victor: Hi Kathie! Thanks so much for having me. I’d love to. The book/series is inspired by the classic question, “If you could invite any three people to dinner, living or dead, who would you invite?” It centers around a mysterious table that actually summons any guest (from history or fiction) right into your dining room.
Javi Santiago, a sixth grade Puerto Rican sandwichéaste (think cinéaste but for sandwiches) accidentally summons Blackbeard the pirate, and then has to stop him from wreaking havoc on his town. Everything seems hopeless when Javi and his friends realize that their school is full of teachers who don’t quite seem like they’re from around here…
I like to describe the series as a time-hopping, reality-busting escapade starring all of your favorite characters from history and fiction.
Kathie: Can you tell us the idea that inspired the book?
Victor: It was a combination of a few things. The first was stumbling on an enchanted forest fifteen years ago. My brother and I were in France, we were completely lost, and we ended up in a historic forest believed to be magical. It was dusk when we arrived and we scrambled through it until nightfall. The experience was as mystical as you’d expect—one that stayed with me.
The idea for the table came over a decade later. I’m not much of a talker, but I do love asking questions—I used to be a documentary filmmaker and interviews were my favorite part of the job. One day I was mulling over classic questions when the “invite any three people to dinner” floated into my consciousness, and the idea of a magical table popped into my head. I loved the excuse to populate a book with characters from history and fiction, but a magical table sounded pretty lame without an epic backstory. Then I remembered the forest.
Kathie: The first question that popped into my mind as I read your story was how did you choose the individuals that Javi and Wiki invite to dinner, and who would you invite if you had the chance?
Victor: One of the main reasons I wrote this book was because of my original answer to the “invite anyone to dinner” question/homework as a kid. My list included Columbus, Edison and Cortés. As a Puerto Rican who was new to the US, that’s a pretty atrocious list! TIME VILLAINS is a reaction to that list, and to the curriculum that would lead me to create that list. A big focus of this series is exploring characters more representative of the world’s history and fiction, because I’m hoping this book is ultimately a gateway to other books, characters and historical figures for kids to explore. Of course, I also picked my favorite fictional characters and historical figures—especially those that would make interesting combinations.
My personal picks for guests change constantly, but the ones I want to invite most often are Walt Whitman, Julia de Burgos and Galadriel. I’m a poetry fiend and a Tolkien nerd.
Kathie: There’s a lot of humour that happens amid the mayhem. Why did you choose to tell this story through that lens, and what do you personally enjoy about reading funny stories?
Victor: At its core, TIME VILLAINS is about first-generation Puerto Rican siblings, and Boricua culture infuses many aspects of the book. Humor is such an intrinsic part of our culture that I wanted it very present in this book. (An overly serious kids book wouldn’t feel very Puerto Rican to me!) A lot of the humor also came from discovering Javi’s voice. He’s silly but also has a melodramatic streak, and I had so much fun playing into that duality.
Another reason I wanted to lean into the humor was my experience with funny middle grade books–not only as a kid devouring them but as a third grade teacher reading them aloud to my class. My favorite books to read aloud to my students were Half Magic, Sideways Stories From Wayside School and other books that balanced humor and story. It always made performing the books fun for the kids.
Kathie: What has your debut publishing journey been like?
Victor: Becoming a published author has been my goal since I was five, so it’s been an extremely long journey! Part of me is bummed that it took me decades to silence my inner critic long enough to write novels, but I’m mostly grateful that I’ve been able to try on so many other hats in the meantime. I’ve been a teacher, a documentary filmmaker, the voice of Skittles and YouTube, a toy and game designer for Hasbro—it’s been a fun journey!
The more recent publishing journey has been a surprisingly positive one, due entirely to my incredible agent and editor, and the wonderful folks at Sourcebooks. It’s been a complete joy and honor to work with them.
Kathie: Is there something unique about you or your story that you’d like to share with our readers?
Victor: I’m excited for readers to uncover the Easter Eggs I planted throughout the book. I wanted to give adult readers and curious kids something fun to puzzle over as they read the story, so I peppered it with mysterious literary and historical characters whose identities I never reveal (though I drop a few hints). It might take a little research to uncover their identities, but that’s all part of the fun. Heck, an astute reader could figure out the backstory to the entire series if they follow the clues…
Kathie: Where can we go to find out more about you and your writing?
Victor: I’m at victorpineiro.com and I’m starting a (very sporadic) newsletter for those who’d like to find out when the next books drop.
Kathie: Thank you so much for spending some time with me today, Victor. I hope TIME VILLAINS has a very successful release.
Victor: Thanks so much, Kathie!
Victor Piñeiro is a creative director and content strategist who’s managed @YouTube and launched @Skittles, creating its award-winning zany voice. He’s also designed games for Hasbro, written/produced a documentary on virtual worlds, and taught third graders. Time Villains is his first novel.