Publishing a novel, through an ASU alum's eyes
Studying political science, teaching and writing multicultural fiction keeps mom of 2 busy
When someone sets out on a path of political science, becoming a teacher and then a published novelist is not usually where they would expect that path to lead — but in this case it's a perfect fit.
Hailey Alcaraz Hershkowitz, an Arizona State University alum and current member of the School of Politics and Global Studies’ Council of Friends, published a novel titled “Up in Flames,” which is available for pre-order now, with an official release date of Oct. 3.
Alcaraz chose ASU for its diverse environment. She attended as a Barrett, The Honors College student majoring in political science and global studies with the School of Politics and Global Studies.
Publishing process includes waiting, rejection
Alcaraz started writing fiction when she was very young, and always knew that she wanted to write. She considers herself very lucky that both her parents and her teachers supported her in finding opportunities to write, publish and explore that passion.
Alcaraz started drafting “Up in Flames” as a contemporary retelling of “Gone with the Wind.”
“I love retellings of classic literature, especially when they can help us critically analyze the world portrayed in the original," she says. "I knew I wanted my main character to be a biracial Mexican-American girl, like myself, and I drew inspiration for the conflict surrounding wildfires from my husband, who is a firefighter. Many of the locations, including my main character's hometown and her college experiences, also come from my own life.”
Alcaraz enjoys writing characters with multicultural Latina backgrounds.
“I identify as a white Latina, which is a term I discovered in my 20s. For most of my life, I knew I was Mexican, but I didn't feel like I was Mexican ‘enough’ to count as Mexican — if that makes sense.
“There are definitely a lot of privileges that come with being a white person of Latin descent, but there's also a lot of confusion, too, so I wanted to write a story that spoke to that. People learn so much about the world and their place in it through books, so if my characters can help another person make sense of their biracial identity, I think that's great.”
There are a lot of challenges in getting published, which are predominantly the long waiting periods and receiving rejections, according to Alcaraz. It can take anywhere from two weeks to six months for agents to get back to prospective authors, and it took Alacaraz around 40 tries before finding her agent. Then the process starts over again as the agent sends the manuscript to different publishing houses.
Alcaraz noted that one of the most surprising parts of the publishing process was how many times she had to read and revise her book, saying she has read it from cover to cover at least 30 times.
When she finally got the news that “Up In Flames” had been bought by a publisher, she was thrilled.
“I remember I was standing in my school's library making copies before school started when my agent called, and trying not to scream or cry — and then I had to just go about my day.”
To those who are trying to balance a career, personal life, writing and school, Alacaraz emphasizes the importance of routine, and how different that routine can look from person to person.
“A lot of people say you have to write every day, but I don't think that's true for everyone. You can't force creativity, unfortunately. Some days, it's just not going to happen. Try to find a rhythm and habits that work for you, and understand they may change. I used to write on my lunch break at school a lot, and on the weekends. Now that I'm home with two small children, I wake up early and do most of my writing then.”
From political science to teaching
“I’ve always been interested in public service, and kind of fell into political science after loving my AP Government class in high school. I added global studies as a major because I was interested in the internship abroad component. I traveled to Ghana with a health education outreach program," Alcaraz says.
“I’ve worked on a couple campaigns, but ultimately found my degree as a solid foundation for activism, critical thinking and social awareness more than a pathway into politics specifically.”
While at ASU, Alcaraz was a member of Pi Beta Phi, an on-campus sorority, and served as the health and wellness director for the Undergraduate Student Government.
“Planning our campus's One Glove event for World AIDS Day, where we distributed free condoms and free STI testing on Hayden Mall, continues to be one of my life's greatest achievements.”
After she graduated in 2013, Alcaraz spent time working for Teach For America as she identified strongly with their mission and it was important to her to do something that felt meaningful. She continued teaching until last year.
“It's hard to think of anything more impactful than teaching," she says. "Every day I felt like I was tackling challenges that made a direct impact on other people. Additionally, it was a great learning experience for me. I continue to be interested in policy, and having a ground-level understanding of our educational system is an incredible asset that guides a lot of my decision-making, as a voter, as a parent and as a writer."
Alcaraz felt prepared for the job market through the vast array of opportunities and experiences the university provides.
“No matter what you're interested in, there is likely a person or organization available that can help you explore that passion,” she says.
She also earned a master’s degree in education policy from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College in 2020 while teaching at ASU Prep.
“My interest in policy and civic engagement is perhaps one of the very few common denominators in my professional life, which is why I chose this program.
“I ended up studying a lot about culturally responsive teaching, which is one of my huge passions. It made me a better teacher and teacher leader, undoubtedly, but it's also something I think about as I write books for young people. So much of the required reading in schools is not reflective of the lived experiences of students, and I hope my works give young people a chance to see themselves in books they hopefully like.”
Alcaraz currently lives in Scottsdale and grew up in Gilbert. She taught in Phoenix for five years.
“Teaching is inherently a challenging job, and our current educational climate makes it practically impossible. I commend so many of my peers for staying in the classroom, and also stand in solidarity with so many more who have had to leave,” Alcaraz says.
“Teachers make so many sacrifices — financially, emotionally, physically — and not enough is done to address it. I miss being in the classroom, but it was not sustainable for me with both my family, my writing career and the high-stakes chaos that has come since COVID. Both our students and our teachers deserve so much better.”
Giving back to ASU
Alcaraz is currently serving on the School of Politics and Global Studies’ Council of Friends, as she believes it's important to share her experiences and answer student questions.
“Getting a book published is a long and daunting process, and I was able to navigate it because I had other writers in my life who shared their experiences and answered my questions. If I can be that for some other future writers, that would be amazing,“ she says.
For more information about "Up In Flames," as well as Alcaraz's other upcoming novels, follow her on Instagram account @alcarazbooks.