Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Q&A with Reyna Grande

Reyna Grande, photo by Crystal Birns
Reyna Grande is the author of the new memoir A Dream Called Home. Her other books include the memoir The Distance Between Us and the novel Across a Hundred Mountains. She lives in Woodland, California.

Q: Why did you decide to write a second volume of memoirs, following your story beyond The Distance Between Us?

A: For the last six years, I have been traveling all over the country giving talks about The Distance Between Us for common read programs at universities and communities, and my readers always wanted to know what happened next! So I would tell them stories about me and my family.

I realized at some point that I had been writing another memoir--but orally. Two years ago when Trump got elected, I felt an urgency to start writing this book, and I put aside a novel I was working on to write A Dream Called Home. It is the fastest book I've every written--in less than a year.

It really helped that I had been talking so much about my experiences for the last six years because I never disconnected from the world and the characters, so it made it easier to dive into this new memoir. I just picked up where I left off with The Distance Between Us.

Q: In our previous interview, you talked about how emotionally difficult it was to write The Distance Between Us. Was your experience similar with this book?

A: Yes, it was difficult, though nowhere near what I went through to write The Distance Between Us. This new book was challenging in that I was writing about my adulthood (and my siblings') and I was no longer writing about the trials and mistakes of a child.

Now, I was exposing the mistakes and yes, I'll say it--dumb choices--that I made in my 20s as I was trying to figure out how to be an adult. There were things I regretted and felt ashamed about, and it was hard to write about those moments because I worried about what my readers would say, of how I would be judged.

In the end though, like I always do, I just stuck to being honest and vulnerable. I don't write memoirs to pat myself on the back about how great I am. No, I write memoirs so that I can find meaning and make sense of the chaos of my life, to find a way to understand and forgive (others but especially myself).

This book is a celebration of the young naive girl I used to be, and how all those experiences shaped me into the woman I am today.

The one difficult thing I had when writing this particular book is that this is my first book that I wrote under contract. That meant I had very strict deadlines and I had my editor's expectations to worry about.

Usually I try to write the book first (or most of it) before I seek a contract so that I can write at my own pace and not worry about anyone's expectations but my own. With this book, because of the very tight deadlines, I was putting in 10-hour writing days at times and was very stressed throughout the whole process.

However, this summer when I wanted to work on my novel with no deadlines hanging over me, all I managed to write was a measly five pages. So I think I'm going to have to go back to the deadlines after all, no matter how stressful. 

Q: Throughout the book, you discuss the concept of "home." How was the book's title chosen, and how would you define "home"?

A: When both of my parents immigrated to the U.S. when I was a little girl and left me behind in Mexico, they destroyed my home. They were never able to build me a home again, and so since I was five years old I had been longing for a home.

In A Dream Called Home I write about my search for a home and a place to belong. I write about the realization that nobody was ever going to build me a home--I was going to have to build it myself with whatever I had at my disposal--words and dreams. 

The original title was The Home I Carry, taken from Gloria Anzaldua's quote: “I am a turtle. Wherever I go, I carry home on my back.” At some point I realized that if I didn't want to be “homeless,” I would have to learn to be like a turtle.

But when I googled my title there were many articles about "home carry," which is a law that permits people to have guns at home. I didn't want my book to be associated with guns so I changed the title and my agent helped me to come up with A Dream Called Home.

Q: Immigration, particularly across the U.S.-Mexico border, became a major topic in this year's election. What do you hope readers take away from your book?

A: I really dislike how immigrants are often talked about in terms of numbers and statistics, and so in my books, I rarely mention numbers and statistics.

I write very personal stories about immigration as a reminder to people that when we talk about immigration we are talking about human beings--mothers, fathers, children--entire families whose lives and futures are at stake and at the mercy of the whims of our political leaders.

I hope that people can be more supportive and compassionate toward the immigrants living in their communities, and that they speak up for us and use their voting power to send a message to our government that we want this country to be inclusive and welcoming to all.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I've been writing a lot of essays nowadays about immigration and other topics, but what I really want to work on is the novel I put aside to write A Dream Called Home. I have 200 pages of this novel and I haven't had a chance to write anymore due to my crazy book tour! 

It is a novel set during the Mexican-American War and it's told in three points of view: An Irish soldier who deserts the U.S. Army and switches to fight for Mexico (he is a real historical figure); the wife he left behind in Ireland during the famine; and the Mexican army nurse he falls in love with.  

Reyna Grande at UC Santa Cruz
The Mexican-American War fascinates me. It is probably the most important war in U.S. history--though here we talk so much about the Civil War.

Yes, the Civil War was important, but the Mexican-American War was more important in that it was that war when the idea of  “manifest destiny” was born, and a national identity, when the greed of Americans forced them to attack and steal almost half of Mexico's territory, and when many Mexican families--living in these lands--suddenly saw the border cross them. 

Yes, it's true. Not every Mexican you see crossed the border. Some of them have been here for generations!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I would like to share a few of the essays I have written recently. Essays are very hard for me and I avoided them like the plague, but I am finally getting the hang of them. I also like the idea that when I have something to say--I can say it quickly and share it with my readers quickly. (Unlike writing books!)

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Reyna Grande.

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