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1. First, congratulations on Daughters of
the Air. I found it tremendously compelling, simultaneously a page
turner and a challenging read. You broke a mold in situating a young girl (not
boy) alone in New York city. How did you conceive the plot? I’m interested in
how you assembled the pieces. Do you have a personal connection with
Argentine's dirty war?
Thank you so much! I do not
have a personal connection to Argentina or the Dirty War. When I first learned
of that history, in 2003 or so, I was very troubled by it, in part because it
sounded like the Holocaust. I was in college and so perhaps naive, but I'd
thought: hadn't we learned from the Holocaust already? How does history repeat
itself? I suppose the personal connection here is that I'm the granddaughter of
Around that same time period, I kept picturing a strange girl alone
in the industrial neighborhood of Gowanus, Brooklyn. It's a mysterious place,
with odd buildings and a long, terribly polluted canal with all sorts of
flotsam in it: anything could be at the bottom of that canal. I decided the
Dirty War was to be her history, and then I had to put those two pieces
2. You write lushly, as vividly as author I’ve read. What role do you
believe texture and sense of place play in your story?
Place is enormously important
to the story. It is the inspiration for it. I am interested in
psychogeography--how we associate place with history, emotion, our internal
lives. As Pluta wanders New York City, the ghostly memory of her father and her
experiences back home in Buenos Aires follow her. This is also why the story is
not told chronologically but in chapters alternating between 1980 and 1978,
eventually converging. I'm also interested in the feeling that anything could
be around the corner; there's a kind of magic to that, both treacherous and
3, You deftly weave mostly
two points of view, but actually four sometimes in the same chapter, sometimes
on the same page. What is your own rule of thumb for point of view?
Yes--there are four points of view: mother and
daughter, mostly, but also father and aunt. Each story or novel should have its
own rule of thumb for point of view. In this case, I wanted to be able to
access the minds of any of the family members that happened to be in a scene. A
mentor suggested I create discrete chapters for each character, but that
wouldn't accomplish what I'm getting after. I want the family to be a unit.
When Pluta or Isabel are alone, their isolation should feel that much sharper
given the absence of other family members' internal lives.
4, What was most difficult
for you in writing this book? What were some changes you made as you reached
The first draft was really hard; it took me
years to finish, with lots of uncertainty. I decided going to graduate school
and making the second draft my thesis might help. The biggest change occurred
between those first and second drafts. The summer before my second (and last)
year of the MFA program, I threw out several characters and changed the
structure of the book from a linear, chronological story to the alternating
timelines. This required starting from scratch, rewriting without looking back
at the old version. I believe made it a stronger book. Later in the process I
cut out a section that was beyond the current ending, a dreamier sequence that
some trusted readers thought softened the end too much. I agreed with them;
sometimes you don't want an ending to go on too long. I'm definitely a
less-is-more kind of reader and writer.
5. What advice do you have for
Read widely; read for courage; don't be afraid to experiment. And
persist! All writers face rejection. Talent only goes so far if you don't work
at it and keep trying.
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