Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Gwendolyn Zepeda has published three critically acclaimed novels through Hachette, four award-winning children’s books through Arte Publico Press, a short-story collection, and two books of poems.
She was born in Houston, Texas and attended the University of Texas at Austin. She was the first Latina blogger and began her writing career on the web in 1997 as one of the founding writers of entertainment site Television Without Pity.
She was also Houston’s very first poet laureate, serving a two-year term from 2013 to 2015.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
I’d been writing since I was a teenager. It the late nineties, I started blogging (called “online journaling” back then) and that really helped me find my voice and indicated there were readers who’d like my work. People hired me to write for other websites and I gained the courage to start submitting my work to publishers. Eventually, a publisher was interested.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
My second poetry collection, Monsters, Zombies and Addicts, just came out this year.
I’m always writing poems, of course, and right now I’m also finishing up my first YA novel.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
I have an office area that gets filled up with clutter and craft supplies. Usually I end up writing in my car, parked someplace where I can see people but no one’s likely to bother me, with good music on.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
I always have a day job, so I write evenings and weekends. If I’m trying to finish a book, I’ll write during my lunch hour and for an hour or two before my workday.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
It’s evolved somewhat over time. Most recently, I’ve been trying this technique where I write the most exciting parts of a story first. (Meaning, the parts that are on my mind most—that I can’t wait to get to.) Doing that usually makes other, necessary parts of the book become exciting. So I keep doing that until I have all the parts down, then connect them as necessary. Then comes revising, which I actually like and will do several times before I consider the book done.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
In real life—at parties or at lunch with friends—I like to tell stories that affect people emotionally. I write fiction when the story I want to tell takes too long for one sitting.
Poetry is different—I write it when something impacts me emotionally and I want to try to capture that feeling.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
It’s difficult to say. Like Jonathan Franzen said a while back, most writers/artists have ideas all the time, and the hard part is decided which one to use. I guess I’m mostly inspired by real-life events that upset me or affect me strongly. That, and people with interesting habits or quirks.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
It’s hard to persevere with a writing project when you feel like it might not be worth doing—you might not get paid for it, or maybe no one will like it except you. Some people say they write for themselves, only, but I can’t do that. I have to believe my work will be of value to some reader, somewhere. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that happening, at the beginning of a book, and that keeps me from starting it or working on it as hard as I could.
WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU HAD KNOWN WHEN YOU STARTED?
That the publishing industry would change so much and therefore writing can rarely be a full-time gig for anyone. If I’d known that, I might’ve been more relaxed about it and avoided some unnecessary angst.
WHAT IS YOUR ARTISTIC OR PROFESSIONAL VISION?
It makes me happy if I can write from perspectives that aren’t too well represented in American literature and have my work resonate with people who typically don’t seek out those perspectives.
I would like to see fiction about women become “mainstream.” It’s ridiculous that there are still people using the labels fiction and then “women’s fiction” and “Latina fiction,” where plain fiction is defined as books about men. That attitude does us all (women, men, everyone) a disservice.
As for other changes I’d like to see in the publishing industry: I don’t know. I think the book-buying public shapes whatever’s to come, and there’s no use wishing for that to be any particular thing.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE AUTHORS?
Sandra Cisneros, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Louise Gluck, Jane Austen, Ursula K. LeGuin, Judy Blume
WHICH FEMALE AUTHORS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Robyn Davidson, Elina Petrova, Zane, Diane Gonzalez Bertrand
Thank you, Gwendolyn Zepeda!
— Nicole Melanson
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