An Interview with Monique Quintana: The Central Valley's Moonchild

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Interview conducted by Elizabeth Bolanos.

We are so glad you decided to share your time with us Monique, it is truly a pleasure.

Elizabeth, thank you so much for inviting me to partake! I love to interview writers/artists and it’s fun to be on the other side of things now.

1. Can you share with us what your writing space looks like? Is there more than one?

Yes, more than one. This makes me think of how Gloria Anzaldua critiqued Virginia Woolf’s argument that women needed a space of their own to write. I love Wolf and the metaphor she creates, but I appreciate how Anzaldua points out that the sentiment comes from a place of privilege. I do believe that we as women can create small spaces in our home, but it can be challenging.  As a mother, as a returning college student, as a graduate student, as an adjunct instructor with an ever-changing schedule, I have always had to write in different places. In the school library, in tea shops, on my couch when my boyfriend is watching Sci-fi movies, on my porch. Being able to buy my own laptop was important for me. It gave me the autonomy to write wherever I wanted or needed to. I also keep a notebook with me at all times. So I’d say my writing space is always transient.

2. So I just want to bring up something that has always been a personal interest of mine, your short stories, especially Flesh Puzzle: A Xicana Watches Slasher Films and Ponders Divination which was published online in CLASH in 2017, and dream recall: a train of dogs which was posted on your website last year in May. Flesh Puzzle always stuck with me most because I assumed it entailed inspiration for you as an artist while also opening an understanding of racial divisions. The history in there is so rich in detail it almost feels tangible as you read it so I have to ask: was the film in that story the earliest of an artistic awakening for you or had you already been exposed to that genre even before the age of 9?

I wrote “Flesh Puzzle” to be a non-fiction piece, but now I view it and many of my other prose pieces as hybrids. The entire time I was in the MFA program, I never took any non-fiction courses, mostly because I was terrified that it would fuck too much with my fiction, especially since my fiction can veer towards the autobiographical. I feel like my lack of education about non-fiction has helped me to approach it in a way that feels organic for me. I’d love to learn more about the genre but simply haven’t set aside the time to do so. I have friends that have been teaching me things along the way and I value their input, always.

Growing up, I always loved horror and the Gothic as a genre. I also love camp. I used to spend the night at my aunt’s house and we’d rent the lowest budget slasher films we could find or watch decadent monster movies like Interview with the Vampire and Coppola’s Dracula. I have always had a penchant for trash glamour. I had a big imagination, as most little girls do, but I didn’t realize what I wanted to do artistically with these aesthetics until as of very recently, the past three years or so, I’d say.

When I was a kid in the 90s, I had this big fantasy about being a fashion designer. I sewed the same baby doll dress pattern in several different kinds of prints, and I watched VH1'S House of Style religiously. I also learned that my small motor skills suck, so no fashion designing and seaming for me.

Once I started writing and revising my work, I realized how similar writing a story is to making those baby doll dresses. I sew lines, I add things, I cut things away. I think this is where my love of horror, terror, the sublime, the grotesque, all of that, comes to play. I’m always invested in the intersections of sex, violence, the way we fashion ourselves on a daily basis, and that comes out in my pieces and speaks to the hybridity of them, be it form or something else.

3. There is one character that continues to be present in nearly all of your stories and that’s the moon. Somehow you always manage to sew it in somewhere and it seems to watch the stories unfold like a living bystander. There are moments where you describe the moonlight, the moon itself, it’s in the title of your blog Blood Moon, and (my personal favorite) “She saw that each had their own moon” an excerpt from Triptych in Moonchild Magazine. Why? You explain the important cultural significance of a blood moon in your blog but why as a whole do you have such a loyalty for the moon?

The moon is immense because it’s a symbol for the transient nature of being, but it’s also a functional part of our being. This brings me comfort, especially as someone who’s in an academic field where things often feel so bleak and uncertain. For me, the image of the moon reassures me that as hectic as things may get, there are always constants, negative energies will be phased out, and knowing that they’ll eventually return again, helps me to protect myself. The moon functions as a sort of talisman for the stories I write. Mediating on these cycles helps me to pace the lines, the narrative so that each piece helps me to generate ideas for new pieces. I’m always thinking about the symbiotic nature of my pieces. I’m always thinking about the next piece and how all the pieces are connected.

4. One of the most enjoyable elements of your work is the imagery you use. I bet you could teach a whole lecture dedicated on how to use descriptions to the best of their potential.  The symbolism embedded in the imagery isn’t always obvious though, sometimes it hides secrets we can only uncover using clues from the rest of the stories. Can you tell me what the process of creating and incorporating imagery is like for you?

I’ve always been interested in the lyricism of the sentence. I believe most of my imagery comes about because I think a particular word sounds good. For example, in one of my pieces, I was writing about a palm tree, which is not the most interesting image. I wanted to texturize the tree. I recalled that rats and mice often live in palm trees, but when I wrote “rat”, I wasn’t very interested. So then I decided to use “white flies” because I thought it sounded more interesting and more beautiful. So the image was really a byproduct of my impulse to sound.

I also find that I’m purging images from my current rituals, as mundane as those might be. If I’ve burned a lot of candles in my house that week, I’m going to write a lot about smoke. I do believe that I can use too much imagery at times, and that’s something I need to work on.

5. As an alumna of the MFA program at Fresno State how would you say it’s helped shape you as a writer, were there any particularly difficult challenges you faced? What resources did you use?

My workshop experience was pretty intense, especially with my cohorts in my first year. I hope I learned how to get give and receive feedback in a respectful way. My writing needed and still needs a lot of work, and my peers helped me to recognize that. I also learned how to have convictions about writing. Over time you learn what advice to take and what not to take. For example, people have critiqued my long sentences or grammatical inconsistencies, but I own those and believe in those moves because those are innately part of my aesthetic. Also, the politics of my writing is very important to me. For example, I’ve been critiqued a few times for my young female characters speaking too eloquently. I’d more often than not reject those sort of criticisms because they’re often rooted in ignorance about brown women. I’ve yet to hear one person question the intelligence of Huckleberry Finn. He’s applauded as a little philosopher, right? So, I learned to stand by my aesthetic and the integrity of my characters.

The MFA program helped me to learn more about the business side of writing. I think it’s a big mistake when people tell new writers to not become invested in the business side of writing. Of course, writers often write for free, but there are opportunities for writers to prosper financially from their writing. It’s important for new writers to learn about the different pathways to publication, marketing, publicity, grants, fellowships, honorariums, teaching opportunities, etc. I learned a lot about these things from my professors and from taking advantage of the professional development opportunities that the program offers, such as editing for department sponsored journals and tabling at the AWP conference.

Learning the business side of writing also helped me to become aware of some of the negative aspects of the writing world. For example, there were a few writers that were really rude to me when I was tabling for The Normal School at the AWP Conference. As a WOC, I began to learn how to navigate these situations. These situations are inevitable and we have to be prepared for them, especially when your POC.  

6. Being Senior Beauty Editor of Luna Luna Magazine can you tell us a bit about your interest in that section because it’s clear you have a signature look yourself.

As a Senior Editor of Luna Luna Magazine, I primarily focus on writing about beauty, fashion, and wellness. I have always derived a lot of my confidence from how I dress myself up. What I wore was very important for me when I was growing up. My mother tells this story that before I would talk, she noticed that I would cry on certain days and be cheerful on others. She realized that I cried on the day that she dressed me in clothes I didn’t like.

Getting dressed and putting make-up on is a ritual for me. I grew up with a lot of privilege, but after I had my son when I was nineteen, I moved away from my family home and have struggled financially ever since. Sometimes where you’re broke and barely getting by, your style is all you have. Not having very much money has helped me to be creative with how I put myself together and it helps me to appreciate the things I do have. When I got my first job teaching, I bought my first pair of Doc Martins and it felt good to do that. My favorite prints are leopard, polka dots, and stripes. I can find those in any kind of store and get a lot of looks from them.  I love it when people tell stories with their fashion and when they can project power in their aesthetic, whatever that may be.

7. Your most recent work, Cenote City is a novella published from Clash Books, which is something you’ve never released before. It’s already receiving bouquets of praise for its unique qualities but why a novella this time? What compelled you to take this story further?

My copy hasn’t come in yet but after reading a couple of excerpts from Clash’s website I got the sense that this engrossing tale is about more than the fantastical mechanisms laced within but about what it means to live as a woman and as a person of color. Would you say my interpretations are correct?

I had been writing for Clash’s online magazine for about a year, essays about looking at horror, violence, and creating art from a Xicana perspective. Leza Cantoral, who is the Editor-in-Chief of Clash Books asked me if I would be interested in pitching a brand new book-length project for the press. At the time, she was in the late stages of putting together their anthology, Tragedy Queens: Stories Inspired by Lana Del Rey and Sylvia Plath, which includes my short story, “sad girl”. Leza was interested in editing another book that spoke to themes in that book. Since we both have Mexican roots, we saw La Llorona as the ultimate “sad girl” and wanted to put a new mark on her narrative. I immediately thought to write the book as a novella because I felt the form would be a happy medium for me, as I am most comfortable writing flash fiction, but wary of writing short stories and novels.

Starting out, I wrote a narrative arc for Cenote City and character sketches for all the primary players.  While I was at Sundress Academy of the Arts in the summer of 2017, I created a map for the book, writing down what I wanted to happen in each section of the book. From that point on, I approached the writing of the book, the way I would when I write flash fiction pieces, the major difference was that I had a backdrop and resonating conflicts that were in a sense, the pulse of the book. A few people have read the book as a collection, but we call it a novella because many of the sections simply wouldn’t work without that pulse.

I’ve seen the book tagged as Magical Realism, Horror, and Science-Fiction. I welcome all of this. At some point in the process, Leza and I began to play with the idea that the book is a novella and also a novella because it has elements that you see in Latin American soap operas--grotesque violence, hospital drama, outlandish happenings, love, sex, glamour, and decadence. I love the camp and horror in novelas, but first and foremost, wanted to create interesting characters, which telenovelas do well. Telenovelas also end pretty quickly, which is what novellas as a literary form do. It’s the defining aspect of the form. Some readers have shared that they finished Cenote City in a single evening and I love that, the immediacy of it.

Thank you so much for your time Monique, we wish you the best in your future life chapters.

Thank you for asking me these questions and doing the hard work of publishing a new magazine. J

 

Monique Quintana is a Xicana writer and the author of the novella, Cenote City (Clash Books, 2019). She is an Associate Editor at Luna Luna Magazine, Fiction Editor at Five 2 One Magazine, and a pop culture contributor at Clash Books. She has received fellowships from the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, the Sundress Academy of the Arts, and has been nominated for Best of the Net. Her work has appeared in Queen Mob's Tea House, Winter Tangerine, Grimoire, Dream Pop, Bordersenses, and the Acentos Review, among other publications. You can find her at moniquequintana.com

You can order Monique Quintana’s novella Cenote City on Amazon and Clash’s website. Follow her on Instagram @quintanadarkling, Twitter @quintanagothic, and read her blog BloodMoonBlog.com

SJR Online in association with the 559 Review Zine and The San Joaquin Review Journal

Elizabeth Bolanos