For Colored Girls Book Club + the Moulite Sisters

 

Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite are the authors of the amazing debut, Dear Haiti, Love Alaine. This story follows Alaine, a funny, if unfocused, Haitian-American teenager who is sent to Haiti as punishment for butchering her school presentation. She spends her time in Haiti working at her aunt’s non-profit and learning more about the women in Haiti’s history, as well as the secrets that bind them to a shared fate.

This book is witty, sharp, and fun. Told using letters, news articles, and diary entries, Dear Haiti, Love Alaine has a consistent voice and a clear point of view, the achievement of which is all the more remarkable given that the book is dual-authored. We loved it so much, we decided to make it our October read for 2019!

We caught up with the Moulite sisters via Skype and talked about how they kept the voice consistent, storytelling as a means of healing intergenerational trauma, and how their discovery of women in Haiti’s history paralleled Alaine’s.

 
Maika Moulite (left) and Maritza Moulite (right), authors of  Dear Haiti, Love Alaine.

Maika Moulite (left) and Maritza Moulite (right), authors of Dear Haiti, Love Alaine.

 

FOR COLORED GIRLS BOOK CLUB:

I’m in love with Dear Haiti, Love Alaine. It took me out of a wicked reading slump, and there's something about this story and the way it was told that gave Stella her groove back. So, tell me more about the two authors behind this book.

MAIKA:

I'm Maika Moulite. I am the eldest of four women and Maritza's my sister. We co-wrote Dear Haiti, Love Alaine together. We weren't really in the publishing scene before Dear Haiti, Love Alaine came to be so we're very much newbies. For my day job, I handle social media for Miami's Tourism Bureau so I work with accounts in the UK, Germany, and Brazil, and LATAM and yeah. So that's the day job. And I guess... I'm like what else can I say. I went to Florida State University for my undergrad and then I graduated from the University of Miami with my MBA in finance and marketing.

MARITZA:

I'm Maritza Moulite, and I am the second sister of four. I was born in Boston which I like to point out because all my other sisters were born in Miami, but I was raised in Miami so it doesn't really matter. Anyway, so I went to the University of Florida for undergrad and got my Bachelor’s in women’s studies. Then I went to the University of Southern California for my master’s in journalism, and after I graduated, I started working as a news associate at NBC. Right now, I deferred graduate school for a year.

FCGBC:

So, how did the idea for writing this book come about and then how did you get the idea to write it together?

MARITZA:

Okay, so... can I say what really happened, Maika?

MAIKA:

Man, all right. We're about to give you a scoop here.

FCGBC:

I love a scoop.

MARITZA:

So what had happened was, we've always wanted to write a book. We never actually finished anything or got anywhere near to finishing any type of story but we decided randomly to just do it and our character, Alaine, just came to both of us fully formed. Her sensibilities, her personality, the way that she kind of experienced the world was the exact same for both of us. The next thing we had to do was try to figure out what type of shenanigans a character like Alaine would get into. We participated in a Twitter pitch competition, DVpit. But, you know how you have to have a book to pitch? So, we didn't have a book we just pitched our idea.

MAIKA:

See, now I gotta interject because she's going to make us look kind of terrible. We had the bulk of it finished, but we were still trying to figure out the ending because there was a lot of magical realism in it and we didn’t know if it was going to work. But Maritza was like, let's just pitch, like no one's going to see it. And I was like, Maritza, I think this is a very bad idea, we're going to besmirch our family name, and Maritza's like no, no, it's all cool. Literally did it, we got like 50 likes from people who wanted to see it. I was like oh, dammit Maritza!

So, in the time that Hurricane Matthew was coming to Miami, Maritza and I wrote nonstop for 48 hours to get the book done. Then we sent it out and we had some bites and some conversations with some agents and they ended up not signing with us, which was fine. But we got really, really great feedback and we were like all right, let's do this the right way and pitch our dream agent. Eventually, we were introduced to our agent JL Sterner with New Leaf Literary, it clicked so well. She’s amazing. I told Maritza we weren't going to share the story with the world, but here we are recorded, so thanks, Maritza.

MARITZA:

Sorry!

FCGBC:

Let’s talk about Alaine. Alaine's voice is so strong and so consistent. She is hilarious, I want to be her friend. How did you manage to keep the voice so consistent with two authors?

MAIKA:

Before we even started writing, we had a 30 page outline of everything that needed to happen in the book. We didn't separate it by character, we would just start writing. So if I wrote four parts then Maritza would write the next three, or if she wrote one section, I wrote the next, and we would comb over each other's writing so it made the voice sound like one person, because we were going back and editing each other's writing the entire way through.

FCGBC:

That was really well done. Were there any plot points that you guys disagreed on?

MARITZA:

We were in agreement for most of the story, but I really like twins for some reason, so I have to fight to get some twins in the story because I just wanted the twin—

MAIKA:

If it was up to her, Alaine would be a twin, her mom would be a twin, the dad would be a twin. I'm like, Maritza, this doesn't make sense.

MARITZA:

Whenever we do have some type of disagreement, we each state our cases and whoever is more passionate wins.

FCGBC:

Okay, so it's a democratic process.

MAIKA:

Yeah, what is it in the Bible? When King Solomon had those two women come up to him and be like, this is my baby but I will split it in half, and the real mom was like, no, no, I'll give the child.

MARITZA:

It's like the opposite of that.

MAIKA:

Right, exactly.

 
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FCGBC:

I think of Dear Haiti, Love Alaine as an intergenerational story, with each generation learning from the other. What would you say is the role of storytelling when it comes to the healing of intergenerational trauma within your story?

MAIKA:

Storytelling plays a huge role in our book because very much in like Haitian culture and Caribbean culture, and just people from the African Diaspora, histories were passed on through speech. A lot of times we didn't have the ability to learn to read, so we would tell each other stories through word of mouth. And even growing up, my mom and my grandma wouldn't send letters back to Haiti. They would literally get a cassette, record themselves talking, and they would ship the cassette to our family members who would reply [the same way]. Also, a lot of times the histories and the stories that are shared over and over exclude certain people, often women and people of color, black people specifically. So for Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, we decided to tell the story about Haiti's revolution, focusing on some of the women who played an instrumental part within the revolution. When we were researching we couldn't find anything and we ended up coming across this site called Kreyolicious and used the site to just get a lot of insight into women in Haitian history because they weren't celebrated in the way that they should have been. Even when you look at the Haitian revolution and we talk about the ceremony that happened at Bois Caïman, we all know about Boukman, but we don’t know about the Haitian woman, the voodoo priestess who was also there. So we very much were trying to tell the story of Haitian history, but trying to elevate the women who were a part of that Maritza is looking at me like, yes, girl, you talk too much.

FCGBC:

Was there any interesting piece of information that you found while you were doing research on this book about Haiti's matriarchs that maybe didn't make it into the book, but you said you didn't find much about her. So maybe.

MARITZA:

The parts about the Haitian matriarchs that we found very interesting made it into the story, like Marie-Madeleine Lachenais. We had never heard of her before and we learned that she was the mistress of one former president and then when he died, she ended up marrying another president. I had heard of her two husbands because they were presidents but I had never heard of her. So we wanted to give her more agency in the story so other people could be familiar with her name. So even though there wasn't that much information about her out there, we wanted to give an idea of what type of woman this person would be and the choices and moves she would make in her roles.

FCGBC:

It sounds like Alaine's trajectory of learning about the important women in her history is a lot like you both also discovering the role of women in Haiti's history. Would that be an accurate?

MAIKA:

Definitely. The way that Dear Haiti, Love Alaine is set up, Alaine gets suspended from school and has to do a report about a Latin American country's history. Alaine is a little self-centered, so she thinks, what better family to showcase than my own since we are descendants of the first and only king of Haiti, and her family history is very intertwined with the history of Haiti in general. Over the course of her having to create this report, Maritza and I were finding out so much, and it wasn't always just about Haitian history. Like, we've never driven a boat – is it driving a boat or directing a boat? Whichever, we had to learn how to dock a boat so that way we could describe it properly in the book. So there was a lot of research that we didn't anticipate having to do but one it made the story stronger and we learned a lot along the way, and you know, if there's every an emergency on a cruise, maybe Maritza and I can save the day.

FCGBC:

When you both talk, I hear Alaine. I hear her voice, her humor. It feels like I'm talking to her, which is great because I really want to be Alaine's friend. Tell me about your choice to utilize different information sources as the story. What influenced your decision to tell the story that way rather than with a straightforward narrative?

MARITZA:

So that definitely falls into the category of someone had to fight passionately about something and then they won out and it improved the story.

MAIKA:

Maritza is like, I'm saying all of this because it was me who fought for it and won.

MARITZA:

So, yes, it’s true. ‘Twas I. But I am obsessed with Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple. It was so funny and I loved the different formats. I am a sucker for an epistolary novel anyway, so when we were getting our act together to write this book, I asked Maika what she thought about making the novel epistolary. We could put all of the pieces of media together and there would be some gaps that the readers would have to fill in for themselves—

MAIKA:

At first I was like, naw. Next idea.

MARITZA:

I just loved the idea of having all of these different pieces come together to make one cohesive story. It was fun to read what Maika was coming up with and the different snarky articles that we were writing in the story. Reading a book like Where'd You Go Bernadette made me really want to see a story like that featuring women of color because you don't really get that type of wacky, zany story of lots of really funny things happening. And it's not like its unimportant or they're not talking about things that matter as well, but we wanted to show that we, too, contain multitudes and we can laugh and we can cry.

MAIKA:

You did good, kid.

FCGBC:

Shout out to Toni Morrison. You wrote the book you wanted to read. So when this book was first picked up, it was called This Just In? Why’d you change it, and what other significant changes occurred between the drafting and publishing of this book?

MAIKA:

I feel like titles are not our strong suit. It just takes us a really long time to figure out like what's a title that encapsulates everything that we want to talk about. So we called it This Just In because Alaine is a budding journalism and her mother is a very high profile journalist herself, but we knew that it would probably have to change; I work in digital marketing and I was thinking that for search engine optimization purposes, this is going to get buried. This Just In is something that people say in their regular speech, like our book will never surface and also the fact that people won't know how to spell our name. But our editor’s former assistant (shout out to Gabby) came up with the title Dear Haiti, Love Alaine in a dream. I was like girl, the Haitian ancestors literally came to you and they said this is what the title of the book is going to be. And it ended up working because in Creole, we always say Ayiti Chéri which means Dear Haiti.

When we first wrote this book, we wanted it to have magical realism. We sprinkled it throughout but there were certain parts that weren’t working the way that we wanted it to. We realized that we were trying to make magical realism so mystical, but it's very much intertwined into our culture. There's a lot of superstitions in Haitian culture: if the palm of your hand is itchy, then that means you're getting money—

MARITZA:

Don't step over children, because they'll get short. Don't sweep your feet or you won't ever get married.

MAIKA:

Who says magical realism has to be the way it is always written in other books? Magical realism doesn’t separate the mundane from the mystical. So for Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, because Alaine hadn't grown up around a lot of Haitian American people and she was going to this fancy shmancy private school and she wasn't going to church which is actually one of the three L's, Lekòl, Legliz, Lakay, which means school, church, home. Like that's all you can do in the Haitian household, and she had a very different upbringing so we were able to incorporate that and that's something that Alaine ends up having to cope with when she travels to Haiti, is learning that this is a part of the culture and you will be swept away in it if you allow yourself to be.

 
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FCGBC:

What is one thing that you want readers to take away from this book?

MAIKA:

I think the one thing that we would really want people to take away from this story is that there is universality even within the specific. Sometimes people feel that they can't read a book about someone whose culture doesn't necessarily reflect theirs. But I don’t think that that is the right way to look at it. Yes, this book centers Haitian culture, but it's something that everyone can enjoy because we all have these moments of trying to identify exactly where our place is in this world, especially when it's wrapped up into our families and what it means to have that legacy later on.

FCGBC:

Now let’s talk about your reading habits. So who are your favorite authors, who do you read regularly or who have you read recently?

MARITZA:

So, recently, I read and loved The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe. He's hilarious and the book is hilarious. It's just another example of a black main character with a normal teenage upbringing, just trying to make his way through the world. I have been obsessed with The Three Dark Crowns series by Kendare Blake. I love it, I think about it all the time. Also When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon.

MAIKA:

I also read a lot of YA, so once in a while I will completely just focus into YA fantasy. I recently read An Ember in the Ashes series by Sabaa Tahir, which I absolutely love. I picked up Akata Warrior [by Nnedi Okorafor] recently because I read Akata Witch and I was just like yo, this book is amazing and it's so different. I say it was different, but that’s not the right word. Whenever we have books that focus on ourselves or our cultures, because there are so few of [them], we say it’s different when we compare it to the bulk of fantasy books. But that only serves to make our stories feel othered. People say oh, that’s different, but there are millions of people who have this culture.

 Also, I’ve never felt more see then when I read The Poet X [by Elizabeth Acevedo]. When I finished that book, we were actually on a family trip to Haiti. We went to vacation in the northern part of Haiti where our family is from and I teared up because of everything that happened, like the fact that she grew up in a super strict, religious household, she's trying to figure out what does it mean to grow up in this religious household while coming into her own as a woman. I'm really looking forward to reading With The Fire on High. I haven't been able to read it yet because we're working on our second book and we're getting ready for tour, but as soon as I have some downtime, I'm going to read it.

FCGBC:

Well, that brings me to my last question, we got a second book? Is the second book also co-authored?

MAIKA:

Yes.

FCGBC:

Can you give us like a little preview of what it’ll be about?

MARITZA:

All right, we've been trying to get our spiel down, we're working on it. If I just start stuttering through it, take over, Maika. Seventeen year old Happi Smith is still reeling from the death of her older sister Kezi Smith who was arrested at a social justice rally. Happi and Kezi's oldest sister, Genny, decide to go on a road trip. Eventually, Happi agrees and decides that this is something that she really does need to do in order to grieve her sister properly. Interspersed throughout the book are flashbacks from back from the 1930's to today of different people who have used the Green Book since it has been published, and readers will be able to see that there have been huge strides that have been made but things haven't completely changed either. And his has been an interesting story for us to write because even though we had to do a ton of research for Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, a lot of it was kind of gut-level decisions about what we were doing or things that we could immediately ask our grandmother about. But for this, we had to really dig in and do research to know exactly what was going on throughout the different decades and how people were living. How'd I do, Maika?

MAIKA:

Good. You did good.