Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Novel, My Spoon In June: Lorna Dee Cervantes Interview w/ Jennie Dorris Last November NaNoWriMo

I've decided to turn June into another private NaNoWriMo and I'll be trying to crank out a big chunk of this novel this month. I was interviewed by Jennie Dorris of the Daily Camera for Dirt magazine here in Boulder on National Novel Writing Month. She used a snippet and the opening paragraph back in December (I think) which was published in The Dirt. (keep clicking, I'll stick a link in here when I find it) So I guess it's okay to post the full responses. In case anyone wants to join me in a case of 50,000 words, I start June 1.

1. So this is your first year -- how did you hear about it? Have you wanted to do it in the past?

I heard about it last year, probably via the net. I thought about doing it then, but was finishing a big book of poetry (5 books in one, really) and teaching creative writing and literature at CU-Boulder. I'm on sabbatical this year. I found out about it via some blog or another, so signed up.

2. You're doing this on sabbatical, which I can imagine affords you a bit more time to write than if you were working full-time. What is your writing schedule currently? How early are you getting up? How long do you stay in your bathrobe?

I work sporadically. I've always been a when-the-Spirit-moves-me kind of writer. And, a vicious procrastinator. This is the procrastinator's dream. I've been staying up late, getting up early (around 7); I lost track of the date at one point. I don't really have a bathrobe, it just sounds funny -- more like the same clothes you throw down by the bed when you crash and pick up and put on the next day. Too many days in a row to tell you about. I have a family, so to procrastinate I bake breads & cakes. I make enchiladas. I convince myself it's time to wash the dishes. I mop the floor at 2 a.m. while I'm waiting for my yerba mate tea to brew. I think I feel guilty when I write. It feels that luxurious, feels like doing it must be doing something wrong.
3. Could you imagine doing this on a full-time work schedule?

In a way, I do. Since I've been blogging, I've been writing a lot everyday. That's helped a lot. I don't think I would have started it otherwise.
4. Did you already have a novel idea going into the process?

I've had the novel for 20 years. My ex-husband used to tell me not to "prostitute my talent by writing a mediocre novel" -- he meant, and included, "when you could be writing great poetry." But, still. I've been hearing it in my head that long, have walked it through the plot; I know the characters (even though they surprise me and act up and out) and what, eventually, happens to them -- so I decided to go back to it. To start there. To finally finish it. I once got 86 pages into it; then decided I needed to deal with "The Sentence" so went back to college & then grad school, studying literary theory & power, and, as you witness, I know no more about "The Sentence" than when I started out. So, figured, I might as well do it. I don't even know where those pages are, I haven't seen them in that long. I've kept only the first sentence. It's a different kind of voice that talks to me than poetry. I think, too, a different timespace; in (traditional) fiction, it ought to be seamless, whereas poetry is more intertextual.
5. What has your book ended up being about? Have there been parts that came up that surprised you?

I don't think I like to tell what it's about; it's a superstition I inherited from other novelists I admire. It's set in California, the Bay Area, in the early 80's, late 70's. I ended up using the NaNoWriMo structure, so the novel takes place in a month, each chapter is a date, although some are titled. I think of it as lyrical fiction, the point of view shifts among characters but follows one in particular, Magdalena Mora, who has one of those Chicano names that switch like a character in a Russian novel: Maggie, Marge, Margaret, Mary, Magda, Lena. . . . There's murder, a suicide, corrupt cops, many rapes, a snuff film ring, a brief history of the San Jose cannery workers strike & union, a true account of a police brutality case and subsequent large march in protest and, I hope, lots of sex. Every word's a surprise. I think I thought I could do this while working on my screenplay last summer; while writing a description of the action my main character started acting on her own -- and created a whole world apart from me. It was neat. It's neat when that happens and it doesn't happen with poetry, not like that.
6. Obviously you're already a writer -- what about this program appealed to you? Did you like the support system, the deadlines?

All of it. This is a great program. I love it. Bravo, Baty! I love how this helps me deal with my own fears of failure. In the middle of it I wrote a book of poetry in a weekend; it spilled over into that. A book of poetry in a week, a novel in a month. This is really fun. This makes it fun, creative play. Though, I'm way behind. Yep, devout procrastinator, that's me.
7. Could you send me the working title (if you have one) of your book, as well as a 100-200 word excerpt? We're going to be including this information on our Web site.

(Here's the opening:)


Day One — November 1

He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen.

Outside the bus the Santa Cruz mountains were still ablaze. Rich smoke crested the fallen pines, the burned bald mounts looked like the black butch-topped heads of grunts bowing for inspection. Highway 17 had just been reopened after remaining closed all week. Rita, her housemate, had likened them all to mice unable to get back to the stove. She couldn't miss that much work. Her boss, Fern, was okay about it, but printshop work required hands and a bent back, not phone calls. She'd be backed up until March if she didn't get to the proofs.

Magdalena saw her face in the flames that still continued to hop the highway lines, running out horses, popular red setters off the clipped lawns, scorching the white pickets into old toothpicks and char. She positioned the red glow over her forehead, in the center between the stare: her fiery third eye in the window. Her gaze looked out over the smoke and backed up stall, a livid Hindu mark of redemption she thought. Fire down the hole.

{the first & last sentence is in italics}


Lorna Dee

On Nov 21, 2005, at 1:17 PM, Jennie Dorris wrote:

Hello there!
Thanks so much for getting back to me, I'd love to do an interview with you. I'll just keep it over email, so if you could type your answers back to me in the next week (think of it as a sanctioned writing break!) -- by Nov. 28 -- that'd be great.
1. So this is your first year -- how did you hear about it? Have you wanted to do it in the past? (... )



Anonymous Noemi said...

I had no idea NaNoWriMo was so widely known.

30/5/06 10:45  

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