Please welcome my special guest, award-winning Cuban playwright and novelist Teresa Dovalpage. She’s here today to talk about her novel, Habanera.
Teresa has a Ph.D. in Latin American Literature and is the author of five novels, three in Spanish and two in English, and a collection of short stories in Spanish. Her plays has been staged in Chicago by Aguijon Theater and in small theaters in Miami. Her articles, reviews and short stories have appeared in Rosebud, Latino Today, Afro-Hispanic Review, Baquiana, La Peregrina, Letras Femeninas, El Nuevo Herald and other publications. She currently works as a freelancer for The Taos News and the bilingual paper Mas New Mexico. Visit her website at www.dovalpage.com.
Teresa presently lives in Taos, New Mexico, where she teaches Spanish and Spanish Literature at UNM-Taos. Her blog in Spanish, that complements her narrative workshop, is dovalpage.wordpress.com and her blog in English, where some of her articles are posted, is teredovalpage.wordpress.com.
Q: Thanks for this interview, Teresa! When did you decide you wanted to become a writer?
A: Thank you, chica! Now that I think of it, I probably decided to become a writer when I was a teenager. I grew up in Havana during the ’80s and entertainment options were quite limited then — camping out in rustic settings or going to Saturday night parties. I was never the cheez boom bah type (in fact, I was a nerd) and was afraid of snakes so I stayed home in the company of books. After reading thousands of pages, there came a time when I thought, “Hey, I bet I can write one too.” And I began to write… some really awful stories, according to my mother.
Q: Did anyone in your family write or have creative interests?
A: My grandfather used to have long conversations with himself and he often wrote them down. He transcribed them carefully, in dialogues between two characters “Yo” and “Mí mismo” (I and Myself). I don’t know if this counts as creativity, though… I tried to depict a few of his eccentricities in Ponciano, the main character’s grandfather in my novel Habanera, a Portrait of a Cuban Family.
Q: Did you have any struggles or difficulties when you started writing?
A: While I lived in Cuba I didn’t think there would be any opportunity for me to publish my books so I just keep writing for the love of it, por amor al arte. But I knew I would eventually leave the island, which happened in 1996. Once I came to “La Yuma,” as we call the United States, it was quite a smooth road. I didn’t even have an agent when I began, just sent the manuscript of A Girl like Che Guevara to as many publishing houses as I could think of. “Someone is going to pick it up, someday,” I figured.
Q: Did you have any mentors?
A: Pues claro! There are two writers that I greatly admire and consider my mentors, mis maestras. One is Lorraine Lopez, author of The Gifted Gabaldón Sisters and a finalist of the 2010 PEN /Faulkner Award. I always learn a lot about plot development and structure from reading her books. And my fellow Cuban Ana Cabrera Vivanco, currently living in Spain and author of Las Horas del Alma, a brilliant novel that I expect to see translated into English soon.
Q: Let’s talk now about your novel, Habanera, which has garnered some rave reviews. What is it about and what was your inspiration for it?
A: It started as a memoir, but at a given moment I realized I had reinvented history too much. After some prodding from my mother, who called me a liar among other things, I decided to turn it into fiction. It is loosely based on my own family, though I added many events that never happened in reality. (There was no ghost at home, at least that I knew of.) But the characters are inspired in my parents and grandparents who were — and are — a weird and motley crew.
Q: Habanera combines quirky humor with compelling drama. How do you decide when to incorporate humor in this type of novel? Is it a conscious decision or does it come natural?