Interview with Lizz Huerta

It’s another Monday, and this time, we’re interviewing author Lizz Huerta!

Thanks for being such an awesome person, and thank you for the interview. Let’s get right to it!

1) What is your favorite part about being a writer?

I love the act of writing, of disappearing into a story, of the characters taking me over. I get completely invested in what I’m writing and am swallowed by it. I pace while figuring things out. I laugh, I cry. Writing infuses my being in a way that is impossible to find somewhere else. I’m thrilled when others relate to and enjoy my work but the real love is in the act of writing and creating itself.

2) How has your cultural background influenced your writing? Do you write many Latinx characters?

I had a good writing teacher once tell me that good fiction is good gossip. And stories in my family tend to spread like wildfire. I can mention something to my sister in the morning and that afternoon my grandma in Mexico will be gossiping about it to someone in her village and a cousin from the ranch will send me a message about it. My Mexi-Rican is made of storytellers, gossips, myth-keepers. When we get together (pretty often as we all live near each other) we try to out-story each other, layering tales, flaws, the stories grow with each telling. I learned how to write from my family, not because they’re writers but because they know how to engage with story, build tension, add humor. My cradle tales were filled with warnings about greed and flawed characters.. The bruja-ish magical realism I tend to write in is because that’s the world I experienced. Ghost stories, stories about cursed ancestors, the kidnapping of my grandmother. These were normal to me, I was taught to witness and experience the world in multiple layers.

Almost all of my characters are latinx. I write for myself and therefore for us, our community.. All of my writing is a love letter to my family, living and ancestral, sometimes tough love but always love.

3) As someone who comes from a diverse background, did you have any experience in publishing that put that in a negative light?

I’ve had a few annoying conversations with folks who have told me that it’ll be easy to publish because I’m brown. Ha. Ha ha. I publish mostly in small journals and anthologies and have had really good experiences. A couple of times parts of my stories or characters confused editors because they were unaware of the cultural context but it was cleared up easily. A lot of the places where I’ve submitted and published my work have had editors of color who are looking for writer of color, so that has helped a lot too. We’ll see what it looks like when I start trying to sell my short story collection and fantasy novel. But I have faith in my writing, the stories that choose me as their teller..

4) How important do you think diversity is in publishing, especially regarding Latinx representation?

It is vital, necessary, huge. I grew up as a voracious reader in the eighties and nineties and I never saw myself in the stories I loved. Whenever I imagined myself into these tales I had to change everything about myself, my skin color, my hair, my heritage. When you don’t see yourself, or only see negative portrayals of you/your community, it plants a seed that you don’t matter. Invisibility hurts. I remember in ninth grade when we read “the House on Mango Street’ By Sandra Cisneros I was pissed. I went to my English teacher, a Latina, and I threw the book on her desk and said “I didn’t know we were allowed to write about ourselves.” I had never seen anyone even close to me in the books I’d known. That beautiful English teacher, she hugged me and then took me a bookstore and bought me an armful books of Latin American lit; Garcia-Marquez, Isabel Allende. I forget who else. But that’s when I started thinking that my stories, the stories of my family mattered.

I’ve done a solid amount of work with a local literary non-profit, teaching creative writing workshops in local high schools and shelters. We’re in San Diego so there is a significant latinx student population. I love them, I see that they are SO much braver than I was at their age; they’re browner, queerer, more political. Then I look at their bookshelves and there is SUCH a lack of diversity. Where do they see themselves? How can they know the stories they are living are worthy, important and interesting if they aren’t reflected in the books on their shelves? We need our stories, to sustain us, to remind us of how incredible we are, in the struggles, the laughter, the wildness and contemplation. Our ancestors survived some shit, we are proof and our survival and thriving is the greatest gift we can give to those who came before us.

5) As a young writer, what books influenced you? Did any come from your own background?

I was a lonely, isolated kid because of the religion I grew up in. I wasn’t allowed to have friends outside our church so the characters in books became my friends. I was crazy about Laura Ingalls Wilder books, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the Babysitter’s Club series. I loved these books and the characters in them. I was obsessed with immigration books, covered wagon books, Ellis Island tales. I think a part of me was seeking out books that in small ways, showed me immigrants and pioneers. I was looking for fragments or reminders of my my own family story but I never really found them. My favorite-favorite books were the Emily of New Moon books by L.M. Montgomery. Emily was the character I related to most because she was a writer and an outsider and most of all, she had this bruja sense to her living, an imagination that saw beyond the world as it was. I’ve been writing since I was a young kid, in those early days the books I read inspired me, then my teen writing was angsty poetry based on Tori Amos lyrics, then I came back to fiction in my early twenties.

6) Where do you get inspiration for your books?

Inspiration shows up for me in the wildest of places. The scent of a pool hall, a song from my Tijuana party days, my dreams. I write down my dreams each morning and the seeds for a ton of my short stories have started in Dreaming, it’s my sacred place. I follow my curiosity. Sometimes it goes nowhere, sometimes I’m surprised at what comes out. I also mine my own history. I’m pretty non-traditional,  a community college dropout. I work in skilled labor, but still on construction sites. I spent a lot of my twenties traveling, living in Mexico, hustling my way into experiences that have shaped me. Saying yes to adventures that had the family elders praying for me. I screwed up a lot and I’m glad I did. It taught me to forgive myself and when I write I come to flawed characters with empathy and love.

7) Any good advice for Latinx and POC writers out there?

There isn’t one path or one way to be a writer. There are plenty of people out there telling how to do it. Listen to them and learn what you can, then do it your own way. Sometimes magic happens. Trust that is can happen to you. Read, write, observe, listen, daydream, ask. Follow your curiosity. Find a community of other Latinx/POC writers, online or IRL and BUILD your community. Support writers of color, buy their books, share their writing. Let yourself have bad days, because there will be PLENTY of bad days; days when you think you’re a terrible writer, days of jealousy, days of desperation, days of fear. Have your bad day(s) then keep going. Forgive yourself, forgive the mistakes and missteps you will make along the path and do better. Writing, storytelling is a sacred act. We are the keepers of Story, the creators and passers down of wisdom, warning, history, imagination, possibility,love. Take breaks for self-care. Learn that sometimes the dark places are necessary, but when you come back from them, you bring something with you.Surrender is just that, letting go and allowing. You’re better than you realize. Go offline. Journal. Acknowledge and honor the progress you make. At night, before you fall asleep remind yourself of the little daily accomplishments: Today I sent out a story, Today I edited a sentence to make it stronger, Today I changed a file name to make it easier to find. The little victories and satisfactions add up. This is a long game, take care of yourself and play well. Take what you want, if anything, from this advice then do it your own way.

  • Food: grandma’s shrimp tacos
  • Book: Someplace to be Flying by Charles de Lint
  • Place in the world: the hammock hanging from the Jacaranda tree at my childhood home
  • Superhero: my ancestors
  • Harry Potter house: Slytherin, I want to speak parseltongue
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Lizz Huerta is working class Mex-Rican writer living in San Diego. She writers bruja-mythic fiction. Her work has appeared in ZYZZYVA, The Portland Review, Lumina, Duende, The Miami Rail, Rabble Lit and other journals She is currently finishing up a short story collection and fantasy novel informed by pre-contact mesomerican mythology. You can follow her on twitter @lizzhuerta
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