Author Reyna Grande is visiting Central Library this Saturday for a special reading from her memoir, The Distance Between Us. To get to know her better, we asked Reyna 5 questions. A big thank you to Reyna for answering our questions!
1. What inspired you to become a writer?
Stories have always been a way for me to understand the world around me. When I was a little girl in Mexico, we didn't have a television, but we had a radio, and in the evenings I would listen to story time. Usually, the stories were fairy tales, and I remember how much those fairy tales helped me to make sense of what was going on around me. For example, while I was in Mexico as a little girl, my parents were in the U.S. working, trying to make enough money to build us a brick house in Mexico. For a long time I didn't understand why my parents were 2,000 miles away from me just because they wanted to build us a brick house. But then I heard the story of the Three Little Pigs in the radio one day, and I remember how much it impacted me. You see, the first two pigs that got eaten by the big, bad wolf were the ones that lived in shacks made of sticks, like the one I lived in. But the pig that survived the big, bad wolf was the one that lived in a brick house. It was then when I understood my parents' dream, and what that house actually meant for them.
I started writing when I was 13 years old, and I have never stopped writing since. Writing has been my salvation. Writing has been my way of expressing the way I feel about issues that are important to me, such as immigration. Through the stories I tell, I want to help others understand the world around them.
2. Can you tell us about your writing process? How do you approach writing a novel?
I am the kind of writer that doesn't have a routine. I write when I want to, whenever I want to, wherever I want to. Because I travel so much, I have learned to write just about anywhere at any time. I write at airports, airplanes, hotel rooms. I write when my kids are at school. I write when my kids are asleep. As a mother, it is hard to juggle my career with my family life but I do the best I can. The way I approach my novels is this: If I have an interesting character with an interesting premise, I start writing. I don't need to know how it's going to end. I don't need to know what the middle section is going to be. I just need to know what the basic idea is and I throw myself into the writing. I discover my characters as I go. And most of the time the idea I start out with isn't the final idea I end up writing about. I discover the story as I go along. Sometimes my character wants to go in another direction and I follow her. Because I am a perfectionist, I do many, many drafts of my book before I'm satisfied.
Even once the book is going through the publication process, I will still make changes, rewrite, cut and delete sentences, paragraphs, scenes, etc... When I write I give 100 percent of myself to my story. Which means that a lot of times I don't know what's going on in the "real" world because I am so immersed in the world that I am creating it's hard for me to pull out of it. That can be a good thing and a bad thing!
3. Who are some of your favorite authors? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
I like all kinds of books. but I especially love books with beautiful lyrical writing, such as The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, Caspian Rain by Gina B. Nahai, Mother Tongue by Demetria Martinez, The Autobiography of my Mother by Jamaica Kincaid, A Country Called Home by Kim Barnes, among others.
4. Your first two books were works of fiction, but your most recent, The Distance Between Us, is a memoir. When and why did you decide to write The Distance Between Us? What was it like to write about your past?
My fiction is very autobiographical, but because it is fiction, it is easier to write. I write about very painful stuff, and in fiction I get to create a character to stand in for me, so when the writing gets tough, I tell myself, "this is happening to my character, not to me," and that helps me to break through that wall of pain. When I wrote the memoir, I obviously couldn't do that. I was writing about myself, and every time I sat down to write it was the equivalent of cutting my wrists opened and bleeding all over my computer. There were many times when I almost gave up on the memoir. But when I finished I felt so free, so liberated from all the emotional baggage I had been carrying inside me for years and years.
I decided to write The Distance Between Us because I wanted people who don't know much about immigration to see how complex immigration is and how it affects the entire family unit, not just the immigrants who come here but the family that stays behind. My story puts a human face on an issue that most of the time people see it only as political.
5. What's next for you?
I am writing a young adult novel and I'm a fourth of the way into a novel for adults. They both deal with the immigrant experience in a way, though that isn't the focus of the story. I would love to say what the books are about, but because my stories tend to change as I write them I won't know what they are really going to be about until I finish them!