Interview of Lucrecia Guerrero
by Xánath Caraza
Lucrecia Guerrero's short works have appeared in numerous literary journals, including The Antioch Review. She has been anthologized in Fantasmas, Best of the West, and most recently Not Like the Rest of Us. She was one of a collaboration of writers on the drama Finding Home, produced by the Indiana Repertory Theater of Indianapolis. Chasing Shadows, her linked collection of short stories, was published by Chronicle Books. Bilingual Press at Arizona State University published her first novel Tree of Sighs, awarded a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship and the Premio Aztlán Literary Award. She recently completed a novel, Rosa Linda & Donnie Ray. She teaches Creative Writing part-time at Purdue University's Northwest campus.
Xánath Caraza (XC): As a child, who first introduced you to reading? Who guided you through your first readings?
Lucrecia Guerrero (LG): My mother used to read to us children when we were children. I can remember at a time when we lived in Ciudad Obregón, where my father had his business office, she would take us to the magazine stand and pick out children’s publications in English that she could read to us. She also sang to us at bedtime: old English and Irish ballads, that always told sad stories that made us cry—and that we always begged for her to sing again.
After we moved to Nogales, Arizona, my mom took us kids to the library regularly. Somewhere in junior high or high school, I lost interest in what we read. I wasn’t relating. Then, as a teenager I lived, for several months, with my grandmother in Mexico City. Hector Cabrera Guerrero, cousin that I hadn’t seen since childhood, was shocked at how poorly read I was. At student at the University, he brought me books from the school’s library. In the Spanish translation, I read a number of Russian writers, but most importantly, I read Herman Hesse. After reading the books, we—Hector, his best friend Paco, and I would discuss what I’d read). It was a life-changer. I couldn’t believe that, through a book, I became friends with a middle-aged, German man, whom I would never meet in person. I wasn’t as alone in this world as I had imagined!
XC: How did you first become a writer?
LG: I took only one creative writing class as an undergraduate, and my professor was so encouraging that he made me think that maybe I had some talent. Life happened though, and writing was on a back burner. Even when I did my master’s in was in philology. Still, the seed of being a writer had been planted by Dr. Baker.
In the 90s, I lived in Ohio near a small city called Yellow Springs that hosts the well-established Antioch Writers’ Workshop. Although I had no manuscript to take, I signed up for the intensive one-week workshop/conference. I was hooked by the community of writers. I felt like I’d found home without knowing I was looking for it. The next year I took a story to be critiqued. It would come in second place in the Dayton newspaper’s fiction contest and was published there. I believe there were nine hundred entries that year. That story was “The Girdle,” which would eventually become one in my collection of linked short stories Chasing Shadows.
Along with attending the Workshop every year, I studied books on reading, and taught myself to write with my short stories. Although I wanted to write novels, I would have been overwhelmed with the rewriting—and because I am a slow writer! I began with the stories. Although I’d lived in the Midwest for years, I found that each story kept winding up on the border. And so, that first collection is, indeed, set in the fictional twin cities of Mesquite, very similar to the twin cities of Nogales, where I grew up.
Several of the stories were published, and I met my then agent at the Antioch Workshop, and she suggested I add a few more stories to the ones I had and to link them together by more than location. I did, and she sold the collection on the first send-out to Chronicle Books.
XC: Do you have any favorite paragraph by other authors? Could you share some lines along with your reflection of what drew you toward that paragraph?
LG: Wow. My first thought was of passages in The Great Gatsby. I love so much of that book, not the least his haunting descriptions. For your question, I opened the book at a random page, and came open this: “Sometimes a shadow moved against a dressing-room blind above, gave way to another shadow, an indefinite procession of shadows, that rouged and powdered in an invisible glass.” The image is beautiful and the verbs so effective—and then there is that something that, like music, touches the soul is some way that cannot be truly articulated.
Another book with haunting descriptions is Edith Wharton’s Ethan Fromme.
I know that some writing instructors will tell you that you should not bring attention to your writing, that it might stop the reader, pull her from the story. I don’t agree. I love it when I’m reading along, and suddenly a passage is so profound or so beautiful, I simply must stop and reread it just for the joy of the language. If this doesn’t happen for me, I probably won’t remember much about the book.
XC: Could you describe your activities as a writer?
LG: I write in the morning, saving afternoons for revisions. Although I’m not keen on public speaking, I do enjoy teaching writing classes either at university or writing workshops/conferences. My husband Jerry Holt is a writer, professor of English, and an avid reader, so we share a love for things literary.
XC: What projects are you working on now?
LG: I recently completed a novel Rosa Linda & Donnie Ray and am now “shopping” it. So, wish me luck on finding it a good home. I’m anxious to get started on a new project. Having just completed a novel, I’m now open to shorter works, perhaps a series of stories. I would like it if they start working out into being linked short stories, but we’ll see.
Photo by Barry Photography in Valparaiso.