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Setting Foot in Strange Worlds: An Exclusive Q&A with Domingo Martinez, Terese Marie Mailhot, and Margaret Malone

Posted Thu, 5/09/2019 - 9:50am by  |  Category: , ,

On Friday, May 24, Domingo Martinez, Terese Marie Mailhot, and Margaret Malone will channel their inner strangers. In a recent email exchange, each offered up a hint of what they’re writing for the Lit Series; a look into the superpower they’d like their writing to bestow upon their readers; and the piece of advice that keeps them coming back to the writing desk, day after day.

Find out more about the upcoming Literary Series and buy tickets.

Domingo Martinez

Q: What, if anything, can you tell us about your Lit Series piece?

The piece I’ll be reading is an excerpt from my new book, In the Mean Time, which is my first fiction novel, and fairly terrifying to me. I’m writing what I’m hoping feels like “magical hyper-realism,” as a sort of update to the old form, especially when you consider everything we previously read out of Latin America (A Thousand Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera, House of the Spirits, all of Borges) was translation. That part floored me, when I realized it: how could a translation of the original Spanish read so wonderfully in English? So in this book, I am skipping a step: the first half especially is written at a pace and in a voice that mimics the translation into English, and it also demands a level of suspended disbelief when you enter this world. The second part is in a much more present tense and slightly different language, enough to set it apart from the beginning, which is all a family history. Or hysteria.

Q: Your Lit Series takes its theme from Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, about a human raised as a Martian who returns to Earth. In the book, knowledge of the Martian language unlocks previously dormant psychic abilities in humans, including telekinesis. Tell us: If your use of language as a writer could give you and your readers a superpower, what would it be?

The idea of being able to transmit a complicated thought or feeling by simply putting it down into words, on a page, and it gets beamed—all or in part—to another person, for me, is superpower enough. No need to complicate it further.

Q: What’s one piece of advice that keeps you going when the writing gets tough?

Someone much smarter and lovelier than me once told me the best piece of advice which I’ve always carried and have been eager to share, because of its simple wisdom: Even if you feel you just can’t do it that day, get to your desk, open your document (or, if you’re more of the analog set: get to your pen and paper, or typewriter) and just write one more sentence. Just one more sentence, so you can say you did something that day.

This tiny bit of motivation has sparked anything from a 20-word day to a 3,000-word day for me, and quite often. It’s simply minimizing the terror of the feat in front of you to something small and manageable, which it is: it always is. You just have to make it to the desk with minimized objectives, and then you can surprise yourself afterward. I’ll never forgive her for that.

 

Terese Marie Mailhot

Q: What, if anything, can you tell us about your Lit Series piece?

I’m far removed from my people. Success does that to a lot of Natives. Some of us have had to leave our communities to succeed in the wider world. I’m a professor, living in Indiana, land of the Indians. And we’re about 0.5% of the population now, post Indian Removal Act. There are monuments to the slaughter of Native people, the death marches, the confederacies that were defeated, and the prophets who only wanted a safe home for their people. It’s a strange place to raise two Native boys. It’s home for me, though. I’ve found success here, where it wasn’t back home.

Q: Your Lit Series takes its theme from Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, about a human raised as a Martian who returns to Earth. In the book, knowledge of the Martian language unlocks previously dormant psychic abilities in humans, including telekinesis. Tell us: If your use of language as a writer could give you and your readers a superpower, what would it be?

I’d like to give readers the ability to retrieve things missing from their histories. I would like to see letters my mother never sent. I’d like to see her drawings as a toddler. I’d like to see her little hands. I’d like to see my ancestors, the women from my nation, knee-deep in a river, laughing at the white men in their boats. I’d like to see, even before that, before origin stories. I’d like to see a white bear before it became a sign of thunder and grace. I’d like to see the power of my people. I want to see when the first story about a mountain was being cultivated by a woman, strong like me, with the same blood. I’d like us to see our histories, to know our gifts better. I wish we could look back and find every woman’s story.

Q: What’s one piece of advice that keeps you going when the writing gets tough?

Nobody is watching. I always feel like I have to prove I can do something, but who the fuck is even asking me to do that besides myself? Nobody. Imagining I could quit is sometimes what keeps me going. So, I imagine quitting, and the more I fantasize, the more miserable it seems. So, I don’t quit.

 

Margaret Malone

Q: What, if anything, can you tell us about your Lit Series piece?

I’ve been working on finishing up my second story collection, and the Lit Series provided me the focus to find a way through one of the final stories that had been a funny start with with some hefty depths but no “there” tying it together. The theme of this month’s series (Stranger in a Strange Land) incredibly fit the story and felt like a thunderbolt of a gift. I’m still working on the structure and rhythm of the piece, but the “there” is mostly there now, and I can’t wait to share it on the 24th.

Q: Your Lit Series takes its theme from Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, about a human raised as a Martian who returns to Earth. In the book, knowledge of the Martian language unlocks previously dormant psychic abilities in humans, including telekinesis. Tell us: If your use of language as a writer could give you and your readers a superpower, what would it be?

Two days ago, while staying at a friend’s house, I discovered a book from 1952 called How To Talk With People by Irving J. Lee. I came to it blind, without any knowledge, history, or received perception of the book, and it struck me as profound. It’s essentially a manual for how to interact with other human beings in a group, and though I figure it was written to be used in the male-dominated boardrooms of the 1950s, it struck me as filled with gobs of essential tools for being a person in the world, and as especially useful for being an American citizen in this particular moment of history. Ideally, if able to grant superpowers, I’d like it if every person alive could read it or have it read to them this week. But if I had to winnow it down, if my use of language could give me and my readers a superpower, it would be the power to not assume we know the minds of others. It’s not sexy, and it would make an awkward and likely unpopular superhero, but in terms of the betterment of myself and a populace as a whole, I think it would be revolutionary.

Q: What’s one piece of advice that keeps you going when the writing gets tough?

On repeat into infinity: Don’t compare yourself to others.

Learn more about the upcoming Literary Series »