It’s hard to believe that most writers still work by the same rules that William Shakespeare perfected in the 16th century. Alana Quintana Albertson, however, is more than willing to acknowledge this fact.
“He’s the basis of everything,” says Albertson, who has written dozens of romance and thriller novels over the past 15 years. “But for me, I kept coming back to what is the crux of the plot? What are the main conflicts, both internal and external?
Albertson, speaking from her home in Poway, asks these questions about Shakespeare’s most beloved play, “Romeo and Juliet.” These are also questions she asked herself while writing “Ramón and Julieta,” a modern take on the classic romance set in San Diego and featuring Latinx protagonists. For Albertson, it wasn’t enough to simply retread the same material that others tried to update, but rather wanted to incorporate contemporary issues that loom large in the Latinx community.
“‘Romeo and Juliet’ doesn’t deal a lot with class issues, but ‘West Side Story’ does, but that narrative doesn’t deal with race issues, so I wanted to incorporate some of that into there too,” says Albertson.
“Ramón and Julieta” takes a few liberties with the original story, but it’s one that should appeal to San Diego readers. Combining elements of romance and young adult fiction, along with her love of telenovelas and classic literature, Albertson taps into something that, while familiar, doesn’t feel forced or appropriate.
“I just wanted to portray Latin joy,” says Albertson, who adds that, like many, she was disturbed by books such as “American Dirt” and how it portrayed Mexican culture. “I wanted something that was a fun and festive display of our culture and through food and love. I’m sure I could get some criticism for not dealing with heavy dark themes, but I really wanted it to be a celebration of Mexican culture and San Diego.
While Albertson grew up in Marin County, she has lived in various San Diego neighborhoods since the late 90s. She first moved to San Diego after competing in a ballroom dancing competition and returned after completing his master’s degree at Harvard. Once here, she briefly started her own test prep business, and although she took fiction classes in college, she didn’t start writing until she starts reading “girls’ bed” novels such as “The Dirty Girls Social Club”. » series by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez. She says she first wrote a “totally awful version of ‘Dancing With the Stars'”, but she went on and has since published several series of romance novels and thrillers.
“I just threw myself into it. I started learning the craft and got hooked on it,” Albertson recalls. “When my third book did well, it occurred to me, ‘Oh my God, this is my career. I can live and write. So I just started pumping all these love books I loved the community, but I always had this fantasy of this book I wanted to write and that’s “Ramón and Julieta”.
Albertson calls “Ramón and Julieta” his “love letter to San Diego,” and it’s clear from the get-go. The first page of the novel opens with Ramón Montez considering the purchase of a block of Barrio Logan real estate near Chicano Park. From the comfortable confines of his La Jolla office, he has reservations about the purchase, but feels obligated since he is now in charge of his father’s fast food company. Of course, it’s in this same block of Barrio Logan that Julieta Campos runs Las Pescas, her family’s table-side seafood taquería. The two star-crossed lovers end up meeting at a Día de los Muertos party in Old Town, where Ramón hopes to hit on local politicians and Julieta is there to serve special-edition fish tacos and honor her late father.
Readers familiar with the source material can probably guess how the story unfolds from there, but what separates “Ramón and Julieta” from other modern tales is Albertson’s skillful handling of issues of race, machismo, class and, perhaps most pressing, the issues of gentrification and gentification. The latter term is a relatively new word referring to gentrification by people who are of the same ethnic background or, in some cases, people who are native to or familiar with the neighborhood. Albertson admits that she sympathizes with Ramón’s character. While Albertson’s mother is Mexican, the author says she often felt like an outsider among her mother’s relatives.
“I can conjugate any verb and read the original ‘Don Quixote’ in Spanish, but when I order a burrito I almost have a panic attack because I think people are going to laugh at me,” said Albertson. “And they’ll answer me in English and I’ll explain to them, ‘I speak Spanish. I am Mexican.’ Ramón is Mexican, but he has some of that struggle.
“Even with that, I almost didn’t want to sell the book, because there’s this fear,” Albertson continues. “Let people think, ‘She’s not Mexican enough. She doesn’t deserve to write that.
But writing it, she did, and hopes readers will embrace her take on the classic tale. Hollywood already seems to have adopted it. “Ramón and Julieta” was recently chosen for a television series produced by Gina Rodriguez and Kristen Campo. And Albertson already has a Latinx version of “Taming of the Shrew” (“Taming the Señorita”) and a revamp of “The Merchant of Venice” (“Merchant of the Barrio”) coming soon. The hope is that she can write six Shakespearean novels and, perhaps, more after that.
“It was definitely something that was always on my mind,” Albertson says. “I like to take the elements that I love from the story and make them modern and fun.”
“Ramon and Julieta”, by Alana Quintana Albertson (Berkley, 2022; 304 pages)
Combs is a freelance writer.