July 28, 2014
The moment I finished Air Carnation, I felt I had to email Argentine author Guadalupe Muro questions regarding her book, since I had scribbled enough notes and comments in the margins. Muro was gracious enough to respond, even as she was in the process of traveling to Mexico. Along with her responses, Muro has also attached a photo of herself in Cucao National Park, in Chile.
1. On page 19, you wrote this phrase: “The first thing I wrote in my notebook was my name. Then I turned the page and…wrote the word “DREAMS,” and under that title I started a list.” Do you keep lists? And if so, what dreams do you currently have on them?
Yes, I do keep lists, but there is nothing whimsical in them today, such as: answer BookThug interview, write letters, buy stamps, find a way to get funds for the French translation of the book, find a publisher for the book in Argentina…Occasionally, there is also a “be a better person” item or “Guadalupe stop doing that thing you do all the time, please” and a lot of “eat well”. I don´t think I have “dreams” anymore, I prefer to have projects. This is the last list I wrote on the plane coming to México:
- -transcribe the letters from the project “Las Cartas de Guadalupe”
- -think of a prologue for the book (read again “las migajas de todo un año” Dylan Thomas)
- -think about another person to write the prologue
- -start looking for new possible artist residencies
- -work on the translation to Spanish for Air Carnation, find out if it really works or not
- -write and say thanks to Argentinean Cultural Affairs
- -get a bike
- -get a job
- -get a room of my own/a little tiny house close to the beach
- -find a public library
- -read all the classics I know I have to read that I haven’t read
- -continue working on the soundtrack of the book
- -finish with the letter writing
- -organize days to write e-mails and days to work/ only a weekly e-mail to X. so it won´t take all my energy.
- -do some exercise
(I recently came across the magazine The Eighty-Eight (Volume I) curated by Jamie Cullum and found a charming story called “Sleeve Notes” by Duncan Macmillan. It´s about a boy watching his mother give up on life and how he began writing a list for her, under the title “Every Brilliant Thing.” I was very moved by it for many reasons, it´s clever, it´s well written, it´s funny, its simple. I recommend it to anyone, read it if you have the chance.)
2. You have written: “I found out there is no Papa Noel but I’ve decided to keep on believing” (20). What do you continue to believe in, on principle?
I believe in compassion.
3. We understand that there is an interesting story behind the cover of your book. Would you care to share a little bit about that? But also, how does it feel to know that your book is being carried by strangers on trains, buses, and other places–and knowing it’s your image?
From the moment I saw that drawing, I knew I wanted to write a book for that cover. I had no idea what that book would be, or if I ever was going to write another book. I watched the drawing on my wall during the first few months of writing, and in a way that image pushed me to write. The way I conceive my work is very holistic. I conceive each of my works as a device of meaning, every aspect of them are on service of meaning and are related in a net of significance where everything is interconnected. And I love to play with clues. There are many clues in the book to reveal the story behind the drawing.
I like the idea of people reading the book in public spaces and other people eying the naked girl in the cover. Actually I´m delighted thinking about that and what situations that can create. I wonder if the people reading the book feel shy about it. I posed for that drawing and it was my decision to be naked, but it´s just a drawing, it’s not me hanging around naked in public spaces. I like the drawing because it’s very raw, and that can be disturbing. The girl is naked, her breasts have different sizes, she has a round belly, she is just sitting there, there´s no sexual energy in the drawing. Her naked body is facing the artist but she is not looking at the artist, her eyes are looking outside of the drawing, she is somewhere else. She is very exposed, very present, and at the same time, distant. I wasn´t conscious about that at that time, but now I can see how it made sense. I was portraying a part of my life and myself in that book, and I was exploring honesty and boundaries. I think it’s a good portrait of the book itself. I don´t think there can be another cover. It’s also an important element in the book and in the question about what we consider fiction and what we don´t, that runs through the whole book. I thought a lot about what elements or aesthetic resources that we use, which can give one impression or the other. Is that drawing a portrait of the author? Who is the artist? Is the drawing referred to in the story? So if the drawing is referred to in the story, the story must be true, but what if it’s not? Those are the kinds of thoughts I had when I composed the book. Look for the clues, they are all over the book…
4. On page 27, you wrote: “I have found that animals are the best story hook for kids, and that telling about animals works better if you also make their sounds.” And on page 136, you wrote “No story should end with the phrase, She woke up. It is a betrayal of the reader.” What are some of the best story hooks for you, for adults in general? What other rules of writing do you believe that writers should follow?
The same that are there for kids: embody the story you are telling or/and appear naked in the cover of your book…Speaking of story hooks, when it comes to writing, it sounds too tricky for me, and I think there are really no story hooks that one can isolate from the rest of a piece, and then use it identically on another piece. Or maybe I should say, every writer knows when she or he is hooking the reader, and for me, it´s a feeling, it happens when my own writing has an effect on me. I mean, if you’re getting bored of your writing and deliberately skipping to read some other part of your manuscript repeatedly, then be sure that your reader will get bored and maybe skip that part too. What you should do is go back there and work as hard as you can, if still doesn´t work, it’s better if you take it out. If you take it out and then find that your story is limping, then you’re in trouble. You won´t be able to escape the hard work. Hit your head to the manuscript a couple of times and start rewriting.
I´m not talking about honesty in terms of writing autobiographies all the time, or writing poems about what you had for breakfast, I´m talking about the work, and good work is the kind of thing that my grandfather, who was florist all his life (and his generation) would appreciate and be proud of. Something that works and will last because if it’s something that is “well done,” whatever it is, then “you’ve earned your plate of food today.”
A writer friend of mine told me once that when she is writing, and she gets to write something good, to solve something in her story that was troubling her; she immediately needs to go to the bathroom and shit, that´s the truth. That´s someone who is compromised to the guts with her writing. I like that example. Lately I´ve been reading so many writers that say nothing, where nothing is happening. Writers that are not taking any kind of risk, nothing is happening to them with their writing. I like artists and writers that are taken by their work or their ideas, writers that have crossed the line outside commodities, not measuring consequences in their researching. Writing shouldn´t be something convenient.
For me honesty and originality come together, that´s what hooks me into a story. Singularities. To see that the writer really walked the path with his or her own feet, thinking with his or her own mind and watching everything with his or her own eyes. Each one of us is unique. If knowing and understanding ourselves is difficult, then trying to understand others is impossible. I think that if you try to get to know yourself very well, and to write with honesty, with vulnerability, the result is going to be original, singular and alive, you will be doing your job. Nobody can write like you, so don´t try to write like other people (what´s the point of that?!), try to find out what it is that the writers that you admire are doing and why you like it, and what they move in you, and write with questions in your head. Learn how to use the tools by watching others doing it, and be sure that you learn well, so then you can use them freely, and then you can take the risk of writing yourself.
Write only about what you’re interested in finding out about, explore, get to the bottom of things, go as far as you can go. Do whatever you need to do. Know the reasons why you do what you do, make sure those are the right reasons. Work on behalf of the story and never on behalf of yourself. Work on behalf of language above all. Don´t be too self-conscious, don´t hold the reins too tight, let your story surprise you, have fun, don’t underestimate your reader. Get first-hand information. Listen carefully, learn and train yourself in listening, talk with people, ask the right questions, listen to the complete answer. Don´t cheat. Remember that the ideas that survive are not the fastest, nor even the most intelligent, or stronger, but the ones that adapt to change. Look for your answers in literature, everything is there. Know who your predecessors are. Respect the tradition of literature. Take your time. Really take your time, there is no rush, there are plenty of books in the world. Honor as a writer, the reader you also are. Sit at your desk and write a book, then ask yourself this question that I´m answering right now, and take your own conclusions, and do it each time you write a book. Don´t write if you smoked weed, it makes you feel conceited. This is what I’ve learned so far, and except for the last one, that was advice that I’ve gotten from my father.
5. You have written, “Nothing lasts forever. There are no exceptions, and, to be happy, that’s the only thing you need to know about life” (116). What are some other words of wisdom that you’ve been given, that you feel have been important to you?
When I was twenty-five years old, my good friend said to me “Start making decisions” and that completely changed the course of my life. When it comes to giving advice, I´m very skeptical, because it doesn´t matter how wise the words can be, they’re worth nothing if someone is not ready to listen to them. In my case, it was not only good advice, but it came at the perfect time. Another piece of advice I got was from a Canadian poet, and she said to me, speaking very close to my face “Guadalupe you can decide to lick asses or kick asses, just choose one, but never be sorry about it.” Again, it was perfect timing. But maybe the most valuable words of wisdom someone has given to me, the ones that always work are the following, which my father used to leave for me on notes on the kitchen table when he went to work: “Good morning! Make your bed, cook your own food, feed the birds, watch the birds. Have a good day.” Yes, especially, make your own food.
6. On page 129, you wrote: “Rita knew by experience that the most interesting migratory routes are not determined by climate. They are set by love. She also knew that if birds were guided by love, entire species would go extinct every year.” Describe to us this feeling of maps, borders, returns, traveling and countries. Do these feelings, thoughts, and questions still continue to stay with you in your writing?
Yes, I’m fascinated with distances, not physical distance but cultural distances, even emotional distances. How we can feel very close to someone and in the next minute, we live in different galaxies. I´m fascinated with intimacy. Distance and intimacy is the main subject of my work. There is something about our perception of time and space, and ourselves and the others involved in those two aspects, that still obsesses me. Something about communication and everything that is lost in translation. Traveling keeps me awake and aware of the illusions in which we live. It relieves my mind and my heart. Someday I wish to be wise enough so I don´t need to be moving around all the time to feel that I´m free, but for now, this is how I´m learning. Something changed recently for me, regarding traveling, and it’s that after three years of writing in Bariloche, in my town in Patagonia, I discovered that everything I need is already at home, everything I need is a place where to write. So now I travel without running away from something or chasing something, I just enjoy myself during my travels, enjoy the ride. And sometimes I miss home, something that I’ve never allowed myself to do while traveling before. I write always inside a stash, wherever I decide it is, and from whoever or whatever I’ve decided that I´m hiding from this time. I need to feel that I will be unreachable there, right now I´m setting up my new stash in México. I´m stealthy by nature, and in my writing too, and one of the most frequent discussions and laughter I share with Stan while editing is about giving too much information. That will drive me crazy, and I will say to him “why do we have to explain everything all the time?” “we are spoiling the fun!” and he´ll say “we are not explaining everything all the time, this is English! if you don´t add those two words, nobody will understand the sentence!” and he was right, Spanish is much more suggestive than English, that was the only thing I missed from Spanish, the “dispensing the doubt skill” in Spanish that I can write walking around leaving all windows open to all kinds of different and even contradictory meanings, and then hide behind the sofa and watch people looking for me and wondering, through which of those windows can I escape from, and when they start looking inside the house I will open the door and leave the place.
7. The idea of love runs throughout your book, such as in this part, “ ‘What do you mean by the word ‘love’ ‘? Rita looked at her manuscript. Daniel had marked the word ‘love’ each time it appeared, and the pages now seemed to be infected with chickenpox. She couldn’t answer…’My dear Rita, you can’t answer because love, love is a wild card’ ” (145). What are your personal thoughts about love, and is love a wild card for you?
Well, no, I don´t think that love is a wild card. We use the word “love” as a wild card, we say “love” when we are meaning for example “fear to be alone”; we can do really mean things in the name of love. But that´s not love: that´s desire, ego, and possession, whatever. I´m afraid of what people can do in the name of love, people hurt each other and themselves in the name of love. I think we should aim to be dynamos of love: the more you love, the more you love. The more you smile, the more you smile! Loving or smiling, it’s a win-win situation. And love also has many kinds of manifestations, there is fraternal love, there is friendship, romantic love… I think that love takes a lot of courage, because in the first place it involves knowing and loving yourself, be aware, deal with your own shit, and accept that we, every one of us is alone, and those are things that scare us. When it comes to relationships I think that love is a work in progress, it’s never completely done, because we are changing all the time, it’s beautiful to see two people willing to do that, and willing to be kind to each other, two people working on themselves. This morning I called my grandmother and she told me “true love is the one that makes you and others feel free” And again, freedom involves knowing yourself and what you want and take responsibility for that. Yes, again, we can never escape the hard work…
The views expressed in this BookThug blog entry are held by the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of BookThug.
Puneet Dutt is a MA candidate in the Literatures of Modernity program at Ryerson University and currently works as an intern for BookThug. She has completed a marathon, and when she is not working, running, or doing coursework, she tastes the words of great poets on her tongue. Her poems have been published in Canadian Literature, the White Wall Review, and the League of Canadian Poets published “The Lonesome Lunch” for the 2013 National Poetry Month’s New Poet Selection. She resides in Toronto with her husband. (Follow her on Twitter: @Puneet_Dutt.)