Seeking More Subtantial Fare Than the Usual Beach Book?
A Q&A with Iris Gomez, author of Try to Remember
Have more books than time in which to read them? Take advantage of summer's (relatively) slower pace and make it a priority to squeeze in a little extra reading time every day--during commutes, over lunch, before bedtime. For those of you seeking more substantial fare than the usual beach book, I recommend Iris Gomez's Try to Remember, a page-turner which grapples with the clash between a young girl's duty to her family and her budding feminism. Read this month's Q&A to
Published on LatinoLA: July 12, 2010
Iris Gomez's debut novel, Try to Remember, has been selected by the AAP for its Recommended Latino Books List as well as by Las Comadres book group for its July book. Gomez is the author of two poetry collections, Housicwhissick Blue and When Comets Rained, and her work has been widely published in literary periodicals, in addition to winning a national literary prize. For more information, visit http://irisgomez.com
Q: Which author or book inspires you, and why?
A: I've loved so many, many books that I've tried to repay a little of my debt of gratitude to some of my all-time favorites by sprinkling their titles across the trajectory of my own novel--although the time frame of my book limited me to what had already been published. Let me single out one novel for special attention: Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. This book helped me to see into the lives of another marginalized community in this society whose experiences I
hadn't had much opportunity to read about before; at the same time, Janie's story renewed my faith in the power of love and human resilience. I will never forget the experience of reading the hurricane scene--a sense of having been lifted straight out of my own life into something more powerful than my own words could express. For me,
that was an encounter with great literature.
Q: How does your experience and training as an attorney influence your creative writing?
A: The kind of lawyer I've become--one who advocates for the rights of disempowered people--shares something in common with poets, novelists, and others in the artistic realm: a spirit of idealism. You have to be an idealist to believe in what doesn't exist, whether it's the imaginary world of a novel's characters or the imagined society of a future in which all people are treated equally and with the dignity they deserve.
My professional experience as a lawyer in the immigrant rights field has also given me an exposure to aspects of the immigrant experience that are not well understood by the public at large. Try to Remember, for example, illustrates how a relatively minor or unintended criminal act,
such as that committed by Gabi's father during one of his mental breaks, can result in punishment that goes far beyond the ordinary consequences of crime. For an immigrant, it may additionally result in the loss of a "green card" and possible deportation--and the destruction of a family. As a writer, I tried to explore how this vulnerability to expulsion, after one has been permitted to live here
"permanently," shaped Gabi's coming of age experience in the novel as she struggled to determine not only who she was in relation to her family, but where she belonged in the world.
Q: Who is your agent and how did you meet him/her?
A: My agent is St?®phanie Abou. We met at the Muse and the Marketplace, Grub Street Inc.'s annual conference, where writers are paired with agents and editors after submitting an excerpt
from a manuscript. I submitted a chapter from my novel and then attended a one-on-one meeting with her, where she gave me some feedback and invited me to send her the entire manuscript.
That later resulted in a representation agreement.
I feel fortunate to have had the privilege of working with her, in part because she reads and speaks Spanish beautifully and understood my aesthetic objectives when introducing Spanish words and phrases in my novel; she also has a rich cross-cultural background that gave her great insight into the actions and motivations of my immigrant characters.
Q: What is your writing ritual?
A: One of my rituals is to keep a journal. This is closer to meditation than to formal writing because I don't expect it to turn into creativework product, even though it does inspire images and ideas for my writing projects. I do it mostly to clear my mind and heart, and I think that helps me become more receptive to creative impulses. I try to write in the journal first thing in the morning whenever possible.
My formal writing and revision usually occurs on a planned schedule. I have to block out writing days, vacations, or sabbaticals from my professional "day" job, and I try to plan what I'm going to do with these scheduled writing periods. I have to be disciplined, but sometimes, I admit, I expect more of myself than I can realistically produce.
If the inspiration strikes, I also write spontaneously--inspired writing is such a gift and I want to honor it, even if that means sacrificing time for other things.
Q: Other than honing their craft, what advice would you give to Latino writers looking to land a book deal?
A: Two concrete things that have helped me are: (1) becoming part of a writing community, whether it's a nonprofit center like Grub Street Inc., an online network, or forming a writing group of your own--where you can not only improve your craft but also collect and share useful information about the publishing world and be buddies to each other through the ups and downs of a writing life; and (2) testing the literary waters by submitting work to journals, contests, and in other venues repeatedly, even though rejection is a tough part of that process.
Ultimately, I believe that staying on course with my own writing mission is the one thing that has served me well over time.
Marcela Landres is the author of the e-book How Editors Think. She is an Editorial Consultant who specializes in helping Latinos get published and was formerly an editor at Simon & Schuster.
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