The ÄLPHÄ Interview
With Marcela Huerta
Tell us about where you grew up.
I grew up in Victoria, sort of near the suburbs (the neighbourhood is called Royal Oak), in co-op housing. Lots of “wacky neighbours” and inter-neighbour drama. Lots of hearing your neighbours fight. I got into a brawl with a fourteen-year-old once when I was ten because he called my mom a slur. It was my first and only physical fight! Back then I hated being so far away from downtown, all my friends, and the seawall, but now I’m just excited that when The Big One comes, my mom will be at a high enough altitude that she’ll be fine if there’s a tsunami.
Tell us about where you live right now—or—Describe your usual writing environment—or—describe the environment(s) in which you wrote Tropico.
I live in the Mile End in Montreal. My writing environment tends to be my living room. I like to sit on a pillow on the ground and write at my coffee table until my back hurts, which is usually a few hours in. This is probably why I don’t write that much… Though lately I’ve been writing a lot while I walk around, on my lil phone! It’s been lovely. I never used to do it, but I love not feeling like I’m missing out on a “moment of inspiration” and being able to take a pause on my walk to do something that feels good, because writing—when it’s coming naturally like that—always feels good to me.
Tell us about where you would like to live.
I would like to live in a tall but little house with many floors, like Neruda of course. I would like my mom to live 20 minutes away. Not too far but not too close! I’d like to be able to go to the homes of everyone I love within 20 minutes, actually. I’d like a small backyard. I’d like everything organized, perpetually, no matter how much I undo it. I’d like walls I can actually drill shelves into, so I can display all the crystals my dad bought me over the course of my life. I’d like an infinity pool. Just kidding.
Tell us about your favourite sensory experiences.
I love the smell of a bougie-ass candle and/or a bougie-ass perfume, the kind that smells like Vancouver and/or mushrooms. When I met my whole family in Chile, I remember the taste of the fruits my cousin’s girlfriend put in this amazing cake we ate for Christmas as being life-altering. The avocadoes and lemons my uncle would grab from the trees on their land in Pirque. The snow at midnight in the Parc St-Viateur fountain. Additionally: smoking a joint outside in the middle of winter. Nina Simone’s voice (she was my second childhood crush, after Kevin Kline). The taste of sopaipillas when it’s raining (they just taste better when it’s raining!). This bus stop outside my high school, it was attached to a Lumber Yard so it had a pebbled sort of storage thing all around it, and when it rained on those pebbles the sound of it just made my day.
Tell us about the aesthetic, the ~scape, of your writing. How do you think it feels? How do you want it to feel?
With most of my writing, I want to envelop you in the feeling of overflow. I want it to feel like too much, with sentences that are too long, or too short, or that use repetition so often that you lose your place. I want violence and trauma to interact with humour and survival. I want to create a sense of longing and of loss, of too many feelings happening at once inside of you. That’s what I hope I’m doing, who knows if it’s happening.
Who do you consider to be your aesthetic kin and why? What, in your reading or your background, led you to write the way you do write? Where do you think your style of writing came from? Was it a gradual accumulation, out of your character? Or does it have literary antecedents?
I long to write like Lynda Barry. I wish I could infuse both memoir and fiction with that sense of place, that accuracy of emotion. Also Lina Meruane, even though our writing styles are very different. The drama and extravagant surrealism of the Latin American + Spanish authors I read and movies I watched in my free time outside of school (Isabel Allende, Pablo Neruda, Almodóvar movies, María Ripoll’s 'Tortilla Soup') were directly opposed to the white canon I had to read, so it was a slow journey to writing in a way that felt more natural to me. I used to force a lot of context, translation, and explanation into my writing, which I’ve grown out of. I’ve always longed to tell people how I feel, and I sometimes go a little overboard, so growing out of that explanatory style of writing has helped me feel more like I can tell stories without giving too much of myself away.
What is your dream of happiness?
To make it so my mother never feels arthritic pain or vertigo, and to be able to get her a little house I can come visit within twenty minutes, as previously stated, haha. Maybe getting to teach her how to ride a bike? 70 seems like a good age to learn. To have the government abolish student debt so I can breathe easily about money for quite possibly the first time ever. To stop saying yes to things I don’t want to say yes to. To write spec scripts for TV-show pilots. Honestly, this sounds hedonistic as fuck but I would love to never work again. I feel like I would sleep for a hundred days, and then find myself a new form of work that doesn’t feel like work.
How does a piece of writing start for you?
Usually it starts with a memory or a reflection on an interaction. I’ll think about it and what I wish I had said, or what I didn’t know, and I’ll start to ask myself questions about those feelings. Then from those questions I find that I’ll get into a groove and ask more questions, and start posing possible answers, or not so much answers as my interpretation of what I believe would be someone else’s answers. And then it goes from there.
Do you ever suppress anything from entering your writing?
I always feel like I’m being too extra in my written emotional outbursts. In pieces I’ve written that are more in line with memoir, I do go in after I’ve finished my first drafts and take things out that are unfair to the people involved to talk about. I’ve suppressed a lot of feelings about my sexual assault from my writing, but last month in the depths of news-related anxiety about it, I started expressing it more. That’s made me happy.
Do you have a secret hobby?
Yes >:) But it must remain secret. My not so secret hobby is reading every issue of Bon Appetit cover to cover and making elaborate and overly expensive meals or desserts from it.
What writers/books do you most frequently recommend to people?
Clarice Lispector’s Complete Stories, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Elena Ferrante’s 'Neopolitan Quartet', John Updike’s Rabbit Run (this was my constant recommendation for my friends going through hateful break-ups with shitty men), and manga (Tadao Tsuge’s Trash Market and Osamu Tezuka’s Message to Adolph are my main suggestions, as well as Yeon-sik Hong’s Uncomfortably Happily).
What are you reading right now?
The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington by Leonora Carrington as well as The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt.
Marcela Huerta is the author of Tropico,
which was released by us in the fall of 2018.