This is the first installment in what I hope will be a long and fruitful set of discussions with writers who are are engaged in the wonderful yet daunting process of writing their first books. My first interviewee is Gina Balibrera, a writer of fiction and nonfiction, who is at work on her first novel, The Volcano-Daughters.
“Many of us feel that our experience of being bicultural, tricultural, or simply growing up between continents and cultures has given us a kind of double-vision. I think of this as being a kind of third eye in which to see others, and in particular to see ‘otherness.'”
“I think the idea that writing makes people feel better is usually mistaken. Finishing a book, or a story, or an article, is an accomplishment and that should bring a measure of joy and/or relief, but I think when people set out to write about painful experiences they delude themselves when they claim that they will feel better at the end of the experience. They might feel better by virtue of finishing the book or the story, but I don’t think that means they will feel better about whatever was ailing them when they started out. I just don’t think writing cures despair. Melville says as much in his diaries, and so does Shakespeare’s speaker at the end of the Sonnets: ‘Love’s fire heats water, water cools not love.'”
“For each essay, I would set myself up as though I were allowed to make a collage using last Wednesday’s newspaper, a 1996 issue of Art Forum, and the notes I took while on layover at the Minneapolis/St Paul airport. And the reason for each particular assemblage was not random: there was always some hunch that I was trying to articulate in the gathering. Race, place and art are ongoing themes.”
“I’m very slow when it comes to taking in content. I’ll find a writer I like, usually someone who is dead because their books are used and cheap, and then I’m very loyal to them, re-reading, searching for more of their work, hijacking their style for a few months or years. In Stockholm there are a few good places to find used books in English. Larry’s Corner, where I have a little office in the back. Alpha Books near the city center and lots of the thrift stores. One nice thing about looking for English books in a foreign country is that you’re forced to read what is there and go outside of your snobby box a bit.”