Recently, a high school student from East Leyden High School in Illinois asked me for an interview for a class assignment. I loved her questions so much I thought I would post them here.
1. What were you like in school?
In elementary school I was mostly a shy, frightened kid, trying to figure out how to navigate this country and learn the language. In middle school I was still a shy kid, and as a went through puberty I began to develop an obsession with boys and what they thought about me. Because my father paid no attention to me at home and was very abusive, I guess I began to look for that attention and love outside of home. This need to be loved and wanted I carried all the way through college. High school was tough for me. Because of my shyness, girls were mean to me. They misinterpreted my shyness and called me conceited. This angered me a lot, to be accused of something I was not, and I became a rebel. All through high school girls hated me. Boys thought I was easy. I was considered the “least likely to succeed.” But it was all a mask. That wasn’t the real me. I am glad I’ll never have to go to high school again!
2. When did you realize that you wanted to be a writer?
When I was at Pasadena City College my teacher gave me books written by Latina writers. It was then when I discovered that I could turn my life experiences into art. That I could share these stories with the world and through the pages of a book be able to connect with other people who might be going through the same things.
3. Why do you write?
I write so that I don’t have to carry all that pain and hurt inside of me. I put it on the page. I write so that I can understand why things happen, so that I can find meaning and be able to know that the things I’ve gone through were for a reason. I write so that others can learn about me and my culture and realize that we are human beings and that our stories matter.
4. Which writers inspired you?
Sandra Cisneros, Khalil Gibran, Ayn Rand, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Jamaica Kinkaid, Leila Lalami, Gina Nahai, Laura Esquivel, Juan Rulfo, Juan Bosch… and many more!
5. What have you written?
I have written many short-stories that I have not published because I wrote them when I was a beginning writer and they are not very good! Then I switched over to writing books and I wrote Across a Hundred Mountains, Dancing with Butterflies, and The Distance Between Us. Those three books I did publish! After writing so much for many years I finally wrote books that were worthy of publication.
6. Which book that you have written is your favorite?
All three of my books are my favorite. I love my first book because it taught me that yes, I do have it in me to write–and finish–a whole book. My second book I love because it was a very difficult book to write. It has four main characters and I had to learn to juggle multiple points of view, multiple story lines, and there was a time when I thought I couldn’t do it, that I didn’t have it in me. And then I did. The third book I love because it was nonfiction and it was my first time writing nonfiction. It was scary to write about my own story, to put myself out there in the world like that, so exposed, so vulnerable. And when I finished it I felt so much better and happier.
7. Do you write full time or part time?
Well, I mostly write full time. I am lucky to be able to work while my kids are at school. However, I also have many trips. I go and travel the country to speak about my books. When I travel I don’t have as much time to write. But I only travel half of the year and the other half I get to be home all day and write. I am very lucky and I love my job!
8. What do you use to write? (laptop, pencil and paper or a tablet)
My handwriting is quite awful. So I never handwrite. I am a very fast typist and I love to write on the computer because my hands can keep up with my brain, my thoughts. And everything is kept nice and neat and I can cut and paste and move things around without making a big mess on the page. Thank God for computers!
9. Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
Usually I just see where the idea takes me. I start with a character in mind and then I discover things about this character as I go. But there comes a point when I do have to have some kind of outline, even just a basic one, so that I can have a sense of where the story is going to end up, what the major plot points are, what the arc of the story is.
10. How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
Well I’ve come a long way as a writer. When I was young and learning the craft I used to write a lot of cliches in my work. My stories were cheesy at times. My characters underdeveloped. Now I am very good at not having cliches and I know how to develop characters and I know how to identify the problems in my stories so that I can fix them. I have grown with each book I’ve written. I think I am a better write now than I was ten years ago when I first published my first book. Well, at least I hope I am!
11.What is the hardest thing about writing?
Sitting down and doing it.
12. What is the easiest thing about writing?
Using your imagination.
13. How long on average does it take you to write a book?
14. Do you ever get writers block?
That’s another word for laziness. Yes, I get lazy. I get frustrated and scared. There are times when I say to myself–Reyna, who are you kidding? you can’t do this. You have no talent. Your writing sucks. But that’s just fear speaking. Fear keeps your imagination from doing what it’s supposed to do. So if I can overcome my fear and my laziness then I have no writer’s block.
15. Any tips on how to get through writers block?
Remind yourself that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Failure is not putting anything down on the page. Just write–and revise, write and revise, write and revise, and little by little you will get there. Another trick I have is to read my favorite books. When I revisit the House on Mango Street, The Prophet, The Mists of Avalon, Girl With Pearl Earring, I remember why I love to write. And then I go and do it!