Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Q&A with Ruthie Marlenée



Ruthie Marlenée is the author of the new novel Agave Blues. She also has written the novel Curse of the Ninth. She lives in Los Angeles and the Coachella Valley.


Q: What inspired you to write Agave Blues, and how did you create your character Maya?


A: The story came to me as I remembered the favorite part of my childhood was when we vacationed in Mexico. When the seed was first planted it took the shape of a screenplay which I later adapted into a novel. I’d visualized the gorgeous landscape and remembered everything as if I were watching a movie. Maya is a combination of all of the strong women in my family.

It was 2006 when I first came across the saying la sangre atrae, “the blood calls you back.” Both my daughters asked me to move down. They were out of the house (one in college studying in Cholula, Mexico, the other working as a journalist in Guadalajara, Mexico) so I was an empty nester with a second marriage straight out of Dante’s Inferno.


My oldest daughter recommended I read The Mastery of Love: A Practical Guide to the Art of Relationship: A Toltec Wisdom Book by Don Miguel Ruiz. Desperate for answers, I didn’t hesitate to read, “When you are aware that no one else can make you happy, and that happiness is the result of your love, this becomes the greatest mastery of the Toltec: the Mastery of Love.”


I ended up devouring the rest of Ruiz’s books and came up with a concept for my own story. Soon, even my protagonist Maya spoke to me telling me to return. I’d sit with her day and night having conversations.


I was afraid to return, afraid to turn over control. But by writing this story, I was able to transfer my fears and pain over to Maya. I knew that when my ancestors/muses were talking to me, I’d better listen. I was being given a gift.


Not to sound cliché, but writing was definitely cathartic and I found a way to take the toro by the horns and point this story in a new trajectory.


Finally, I did return to my roots to visit and after researching more, including the Toltecs, Tequila, and agave, I was able to write the rest of my story filled with a little more love and compassion for all of my characters (still working on it for myself).

Q: The author Rob Samborn said of the book, "In the footsteps and spirit of Latin American magic realism masters, Ruthie Marlenée's Agave Blues transports readers on a journey of self-discovery." What do you think of that description? Do you see your writing as part of that magical realism tradition?


A: I love it! I am humbled and honored by that description and just recently Publishers Weekly even said, “Marlenee’s fanciful yarn has more than a whiff of Cervantes, as Maya uncovers rich aspects of her heritage at every way station.”


And I also love this quote in Kelp Journal by A.E. Santana, “An ode to magic realism and the storytelling that permeates Latin American culture, Agave Blues tackles complicated themes wrapped up in family, faith, and healing.”


Writing can be terrifying and for me writing magic realism is easier and more inspiring. There are no set rules. I get to color outside the lines with loud brilliant colors and get a nothing-less-than-magical piece of art.

Besides, I do really love the magic realism way of writing. I grew up loving fairy tales.


In this crazy complicated or sometimes even mundane world we live in, why not have some fun? Why not take our seemingly impossible painful situations and create a new life full of possibility for meaningful relationships and love and then while you’re at it, why not go ahead and throw in some magic. Why not act as if magic exists?


“Believe in the magic that can set you free.” – The Lovin’ Spoonful.

Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?

A: I like to say the story wrote itself. I was hoping for some sort of magical unfolding and so listened for answers, making changes as I wrote. I finished the first draft with one ending (spoiler alert) and let my husband read it. He said, “No, you have to change it!” So now I might have just left the reader hooked for another sequel.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I’d like the readers to know there’s hope and answers out there if you ask. Even with everyday obstacles, there are answers to what your heart desires. But you must stop, look and listen. And then take the steps you need to get there.


Sometimes it’s too painful to look back. It might seem easier to bury the past, throw the baby out with the bathwater, but then you also end up losing your truth.

Maya shows us that the journey to love isn’t always easy, but the road to get there is full of surprises and magical moments, depending on your outlook. In nature, or through a stranger, or even in the heart of an agave plant -- you never know where the answers will reveal themselves.


In Agave Blues, Maya sets out on a journey of drink, pray, love. She returns to the roots of her family, the roots of the agave, where she rediscovers pure, unadulterated love and kindness.


Whether or not she’d set out to find the truth, by walking the agave fields and observing nature, she remembers certain facts and all the possibilities life has to offer, including the magic.


She remembers that the piña (literally means “pineapple” in Spanish because it resembles a pineapple) is the heart of the agave. She remembers that when we’re born our hearts are open to everything.


And the answer is love, but for some, it might seem impossible to ever find it again. I say again because we are all born in love.


I love quoting Don Miguel Ruiz, “Humans are made for love…Humans are born in truth, but we grow up believing in lies. One of the biggest lies in the story of humanity is the lie of our imperfection.” And so we start covering up, closing ourselves off, building a wall around our heart for protection.


But only by tearing down that wall and reopening the piña will we get to taste the sweet juice of the agave, the sweet nectar of life. It may sound cliché to say that once you learn to love yourself, it becomes a little easier to find it in others.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on a sequel to Curse of The Ninth and editing another novel I fleshed out a couple of years ago during NaNoWriMo. I’m also working on a couple of short stories for submission to a couple of literary magazines.

Q: Anything else we should know?


A: As a writer, I suffer from imposter syndrome. Also, as someone who is only half Mexican, I’ve never felt like I fit in anywhere. I was always so proud of my Mexican roots, but I also envied my Mexican cousins who were 100 percent.


I’m like a mixto, any spirit that isn’t 100 percent Blue Weber agave from outside the region of Jalisco, Mexico (my roots), and therefore not legally Tequila.


When I was around 10, I met some of my family members in Los Altos region of Jalisco and felt an instant connection. I was blown away by how much we even looked alike. I imagined I must have been given up for adoption as a child.


So in later years when writing my fictional character Maya, I made her 100 percent pure like the agave from Jalisco.


I suppose this is also a father/daughter story. If not for my white father, who had Viva Mexico tattooed on his arm, I might not have truly appreciated my roots in an era where we were to bury our Spanish.


He’s the one who insisted we speak Spanish at home. He’s the one who first drove us down to meet my mother’s family in Mexico. He thought it was all pretty cool. He also wanted to belong somewhere (and that’s a plug for my previous novel, Curse of the Ninth).


Thank you for the opportunity to share a bit about my story.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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