Special guest interview with Luigi A. Juarez, who speaks to the YouNiversity about his new book, Covered Paces!
Jonathan Marcantoni: How would you describe your style? What is the story behind this book?
Luigi A. Juarez: My writing style leans literary (that is, away from the style of most genre fiction). I teach and study canonical works of literature as a career so I think that makes me subconsciously prefer the freshness of language (phrases and descriptions) over making sure I hit all the watchwords that plot the perfect action scene.
It’s funny, I was at a point where I was writing three short stories at once. The first was a Hollywood satire, the second was a fantastical tale, and the third, a domestic dispute, visceral and ultra-realistic. There was a woman in each of those, and I quickly realized that they could all just be the same person. And so, Linette Velazco came to life as a failed Hollywood actress who’s had her head in the clouds but needs to come back down. It then took me over four years to create a constellation of characters that make sure that happens, as she moves back East to pick up the pieces of her life.
JM: You mention how your style leans literary but that you are also a student and teacher of literary canons. Reading the synopsis I was struck how it reads very much like a traditional romance novel as far as the plot points go, but that the text itself is much more emotionally involved and complex than the usual romantic drama. Is it fair to say that genre tropes are a difficult thing to avoid even as you mold them to your own uses?
LJ: I would say that it was never about me wanting to “subvert” genre. It’s not like I had the romance genre in mind and tried to subvert it. Rather, my subject matter here happens to be the girl meets/loses/what-have-you story which also happens to be a perfect template for category romance, but I approached this with a preference for introspection, as more of a character study, as it were.
The literary writing style also, I believe, lends itself well to creating a timeless piece. I have these modern settings and youthful characters, but the language of introspection has a fundamental classic quality to it. One last thing: writing good genre fiction may be a different beast but in many ways it’s even tougher. There’s definitely an art to crafting the perfect romance or the perfect thriller.
JM: What was your methodology in figuring out what to keep and what to excise while you wrote the book?
LJ: Edits are always difficult but always necessary. My process is I edit things as I go (for better or worse time-wise), but whatever you do has to be in service of the story. So in the case of the Hollywood satire inclusion, I toned that part down considerably to where it’s more about Linette leaving Hollywood but not so much about any kind of satire. Satirizing Hollywood adds nothing to the overall arc of the love story, really. This is just one example.
JM: What about your background or personality allowed you to enter the mind of Linette? Did you seek guidance for writing a female character or what or whom did you model her after?
LJ: No guidance, actually (although I did grow up in a very loud house of sisters and aunts). Linette happens to be a woman but the story I wanted to tell was all about how you can shove love off to the side but it has this way of always boomeranging back to you, especially when you least expect it.
JM: What emotional experience do you intend the reader to go through in this story?
LJ: I hope readers experience a whole range of emotions, actually. Linette’s journey is often sad, often funny (I’m thinking very much about Valeria and Paul’s interactions in the book), but there’s plenty of happy moments, too. Hopefully, I made it so that readers feel they are right beside her as she makes strides to get her life on a path where she assumes complete and total agency.
JM: Have you evolved as a writer during the course of writing and editing this book and if yes, how so?
LJ: Yes. I’ve evolved in this sense that I feel comfortable writing book-length stories now. Like many writers I know, I started out just writing short stories. Then, I got to the point where I had written enough that I said, “Let me try my hand at a novel.” From here on out, actually, I’d like to write novels.
JM: I think writers who try to do novels first miss out on the fun of short works, which really allow you to find your voice in large part because that lack of intimacy allows you to be more playful. A novel is very much about consistency in tone, character, pacing, etc. which is especially hard to maintain over a long period of time. How did your life, while writing Covered Paces, reflect on Linette’s journey and vice versa?
LJ: I think the important thing is not just to keep writing until you find your voice but also to have enough life experience. And there are some who might disagree, but this especially involves meeting people from parts of the world outside your hometown/city. In my case, I moved up north for college, and then again for grad school. But the point I’m making is that you don’t need to pursue degrees to replicate those things. It’s about making the journey itself, which is what Linette does. Whether you decide to live halfway across the country or accept a new job somewhere else or even just take a few road trips, you need to interact with different kinds of people in different kinds of places to be able to hone your voice.
JM: What drives you as a writer and how did that relate to this book?
LJ: I’m constantly thinking of original ways to express what I observe. That’s definitely the driver, because you feel gratified whenever you’re able to stand behind what you’ve expressed precisely because it’s your voice that did so. In this book’s case, I wanted to create a modern love story, I wanted it to be told in a classic way, I wanted to render big city life (LA, Miami, Boston) in an accurate way, etc., and all those things combined became my voice.
JM: What themes in your work stand out to you as particularly important?
LJ: As I’ve stated, love often finds you when you aren’t even looking for it. And that makes other aspects of your life a lot more complicated. This is especially true of your 20’s, which I’ve mentioned in the Press Release for the book (that it’s this weird time in your life where there’s a lot up in the air but you definitely know better about a lot of things). Finally, I do have to mention that it’s important that this be considered a Latino book as well. Like myself, Linette is a Panamanian-American, the first generation in her family to be born in the United States. And like I did, Linette definitely faces some of the burdens of the immigrant child: upward mobility at all costs, and financial-striving over emotional satisfaction. We all know there’s not a lot of money to be made being a writer, and when I told my parents that that’s what I wanted to be, it didn’t go over too well (but they eventually came around).
JM: I like that you brought up your heritage and the immigrant experience, particularly coming from a sub-group of Latinos (Panamanians) which not only Americans but many Latinos do not know much about aside from infamous figures like Noriega or the Panama Canal. What about your culture and your people’s history do you want others to learn from your stories, not just this book, but future ones as well?
LJ: It’s interesting, I grew up in the Hialeah area of Miami which as many people know is predominantly Cuban. Being Panamanian-American, I’m technically a considered a minority there! So I’ve encountered weird but true Spanish-language differences all my life like how, what my family and Panamá calls “patacones” is what Cubans and many others call “tostones.” This is just one example of many word differences. So I do feel a responsibility to filter my unique experience moving about not just other groups but other sub-groups as well, while still staying true to my own proper heritage and customs.
JM: Do you have plans to write stories set in Panama? Do you feel responsibility to be a voice for your community, and if so, what message would you like to convey?
LJ: I’d definitely like to eventually be associated to the literary tradition of Panamá. I kind of “announce” this when I use verses from writer Rogelio Sinán as my novel’s epigraph. Like you mention, not a lot of the country has had the opportunity to voice itself out of common identifiers like the Canal, so I’d like to do so. Currently, the only other Panamanian-American writer who does this is Cristina Henríquez (check out The World in Half, by the way, as it’s pretty awesome). I currently have plans to set my next book entirely in Panamá. I actually test-drive this perspective at the end of Covered Paces, with a chapter that sends several of the characters there briefly.
For more on Luigi and how to purchase Covered Paces, visit his website http://www.luigiajuarez.com
For more on his publisher, Editorial Trance, visit http://www.editorialtrance.com/