Spotlight: David Pena

  • Oct 18, 2019
  • 9 minute read

Welcome to the Salt and Sage Books Spotlight series! We believe that by honoring each other’s voices, we’re able to turn creativity into community, and change the world through story.

In this spotlight series, we welcome you into our creative community by inviting you to meet our editors and expert readers, and to hear a little of their own story, in their own words.

David Pena

David Pena

Born and raised in Madrid, Spain, David (he/him) is an editor and writer with a background in Psychology who loves books as much as he loves people. You can find him behind his laptop and second coffee or walking around his hometown buying more and more books, always ready to listen and trade stories.

What do you do with Salt and Sage?

I work as a Sensitivity (or Authenticity) Reader, and hopefully one day I can also work as editor, mainly in Spanish.

What do you love about sensitivity reading?

I love that, as a SR, I get to dive in books that are not yet published and love the characters, plot and rhythm close to the author. I feel it is not only a chance to help them with the realism of their characters but also to be invited to the marvelous world the author is creating. It’s like being an uncle to a baby you love as much as your own children.

Where do you live?

I grew up in Madrid. I’ve lived in Amsterdam for almost a year, and I do love the Netherlands, but I grew up here in Spain.

I live in the same city I was born and raised, Madrid (Spain). Weather is dry and we have lots of sun, even in the fall and winter season. We might not be as diverse as other big cities, but there’s somewhere new and nice you can go, people here are pretty open and fun and we have tons of museums. If we were to have a beach and the ocean, this city would be just perfect - but we can’t have it all!

Where do you wish you could live?

If you had asked me this six months ago I’d say the Netherlands but, the truth is I really like Spain and it has the potential to be a great and open country - if only we had better politics and politicians… So I’d say maybe half the year in the north of Spain or the Netherlands, and the other half in Madrid.

What drew you to Salt and Sage?

When their twitter account followed me, I checked their social media and, to be honest, I really liked how they design everything: how every detail was swift and assertive, yet careful and loving. I messaged them and every conversation had a great vibe. I knew I wanted to be part of this team.

How does writing and editing figure into your daily life?

I wake up between 8:30 and 9am, take a shower, make some coffee and get in front of my laptop before 10am.

I like working up until 2pm - usual lunch hour here - and I usually work for a few hours in the book I’m writing, then write some book reviews for a blog I’m running and try not to lose much time on Twitter (spoiler: it’s hard).

When I have SR or editing (so far for friends in Spanish) to do, I do it first thing in the morning and leave my personal projects for late evening hours. Some afternoons I have classes (master) and some other I just go grab a bite with my friends. I usually go to bed late (around 1am/2am) because I write better when it’s dark outside.

What was the first moment you wanted to be a writer?

Funny thing is that I knew since little, and it was mostly because of two reasons:

  1. My grandma was always reading and I was so curious I started picking up books quite early just to know what all the fuss was about, and
  2. My favorite anime character was a novelist, and I wanted to be like him - it was the only logical path for me.

But I never truly believed I’d have something to tell until recently, when I just decided to follow this life dream. Along the way I also became a psychologist, so it isn’t that bad.

What’s your writing process like?

I’m quite the pantser and it often gives me massive headaches. I plan the general structure of the main conflicts and I usually have in mind the last scene, but the whole middle is… blood and sweat (I find it hard to cry). My characters have their own voice and tend to change things along the way, it is stressful yet nice to see what they do. But I’d love to be a little bit more of a plotter, honestly.

What scares you about writing?

It scares me to not be able to find the right words for the feelings I want to express, to leave my characters and stories flat and unrealistic. That is my main struggle, to make them seem as real as they are to me, as I want people to meet them.

What do you love about writing?

I love writing inner dialogues and I mostly write in first person because of this. What I adore is to be able to show you snippets of lives that could be happening right now, somewhere, or that have happened to me. It is quite cathartic, and it also allows me to go places, psychologically speaking, I wouldn’t explore in real life.

What are your strategies for managing writing and editing deadlines?

I work well with deadlines and I often set them myself because, otherwise, some days it’s hard to find focus. I love playlists and the closer the deadline is, the more I listen to videogame’s soundtracks. I try to make a plan of what I should write each day and every Sunday/Monday I plan all I have to write that week.

What’s your favorite resource for editing?

So far I can only talk about SR: I keep up with LGBTQ+ activism in Spain and as many countries I can, reading blogs and books written by other queer people. I like using social media as a tool for learning about other’s lives and experiences, and I love researching online, reading research after research of issues and themes that are being studied nowadays - or have been studied for decades.

What is one thing about writing and sensitivity writing that you do not want to have to say to someone, but that you feel people need to know?

The view we have on the world and our experiences with it is limited, and that’s not bad. But this means that if you want to write there will be stories that are not yours to tell and, if someone relies on you to tell them, you will have to hire people so your story is authentic. That is not bad, because there are still thousands of stories that you can still write for the world.

Writing is a political act and it has to be taken seriously, even if your goal is only to entertain.

What do you hope is the next big change or awesome trend in the writing/ editing/ publishing industry?

I recently found out about the distinction between Young Adult and New Adult and I’m IN for lots of different genres being mixed with NA with diverse casts. Give me some NA terror, some NA fantasy with some erotica, all the NA. And of course, more politically charged stories in any kind of genre.

What change or trend are you enjoying or disliking?

I still see lots of books following the same cishet toxic pattern and it is just so disheartening. I’m not saying we have to stop writing cis and straight love stories, but that we can write them BETTER and show our children and mostly, our teens, that love doesn’t have to hurt, that you don’t have to be in a relationship to be someone, and that friendships are as important as romantic feelings.

What would you love to do to make that awesome change happen?

Write and write and edit and help those love stories being published, the good kind. It isn’t that one can’t write about toxic relationships, the thing is to write them as the bad thing they are, with flags obvious enough for people to learn what to avoid in real life.

What are you passionate about, that you wish more people knew about?

All I can think about is how much I need Hannibal’s season 4 to be a thing.

But on a more serious note, climate change and the rise of fascism all around the world are important issues that need to be addressed, and more books, writers and campaigns need to be about these issues.

Culture is a reflection on what happens in our societies and it has to be critical and helpful. To write like all these things aren’t happening is to avoid the hard truth and look away while there are people killing our planet, our brothers, sisters and siblings.

Books and media are sometimes the first glimpse at narratives that are “othered” by corrupt politics. Our stories have to matter.

Tell me what you love about one of your favorite books.

I’m a fan of YA and NA, and if I had to pick one favorite right now it’d be “The Inexplicable Logic Of My Life” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. What I love is how not only the teens are dimensional but also the parents (Vicente best dad ever), how he writes as life was a poem yet not always a happy one - not usually, with Ben. Maybe because we are both Hispanic I can relate to family being important, for better or worse, and how he writes coming of age stories and characters that are trying to figure out how they truly feel. His stories just feel as real as my friends.

What’s your favorite quote?

There are many quotes in my head, some are even inked on my skin but there is one, from Aristoteles and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (by Benjamin Alire Sáenz) that just hit me quite hard:

Boys like me belong to the rain.

And on a darker note, and just because the script is so delightful, one from Hannibal (TV Show):

To the truth, and all its consequences.

Read more from David in this review: