Welcome to the blog, Donna! Could you tell us a little bit about your novel?
Thanks, Rachel. The novel concerns the emotionally disconnected de la Cruzes, a Filipino-Mexican-American family living in one of the overlooked and unimposing little cities south of San Diego and north of Tijuana. It’s a place where Johnny de la Cruz, a reluctant immigrant, fulfilled his dream of owning a home. Now, sick with cancer and faced with the possibility of dying, he feels deeply the lack of a son. It is a lack that his wife has shared to some extent and which over the years has distanced them from their daughters. A young man, Winston Piña, whose mother has recently died and whose father had earlier abandoned him, enters the lives of the de la Cruz family. He brings polish and charm and a sense of accomplishment, perhaps completion, to the family whose relationships have long been fragile. The story explores a couple of questions: How does one deal with regrets as the end of life nears? Where and how do we belong in terms of family, community, and even the world?
What led you to write this novel?
Long before I was ready to write a novel, I wrote a first chapter as an exercise for a writing class I was taking. I started the chapter as I waited for a flight from Seattle to San Diego to attend my father’s funeral. Though the novel isn’t about my father, losing him prompted questions about his life that I wanted to apply to a fictional character. I wanted to explore the emotional ambivalence that must come with leaving one’s homeland to make a life in another country. I wanted to consider how ignoring or suppressing feelings of loss at what has been left behind can impair a sense of self that can unmoor an entire family.
How do you convey the tangled emotions that are so crucial to a good novel in this genre?
I’ve learned that scene is foremost in constructing a world and conveying feeling. When I first started writing, I was all about exposition. Exposition is easy. Creating scene is harder. Charles Baxter says in The Art of Subtext that “creating scene is the staging of desire.” It’s “making a darkness visible and dramatic.” I tried to keep the words “desire” and “visible” in mind as I wrote my scenes. At the same time, I tried not to be obvious about “staging.” I wanted the reader to be pulled into the scene and into the lives of the de la Cruz family, not observe them and their world from afar.
Did you always know how your story would end, or did you find out along the way?
I had a vague sense of the ending, but I had to do some discovery along the way. The story is told from multiple points of view, though Johnny de la Cruz’s POV dominates. Winston Piña is a critical secondary perspective. I also bring in the POVs of other family members at various juncture in the story. In choreographing these different viewpoints, I was able to resolve some of the issues of plot and arrive at an ending that seemed to me to be true and organic to the characters and their situation.
What is your best advice on writing?
Push through the ugly first drafts. It’s not writer’s block that’s keeping the words from filling the page or screen. It’s fear and doubt that what you’re doing is not any good, that you’ll never get it right, that what you’re striving for is impossible to reach. Push through it all and get the first draft down. Then be willing to change everything to get to your goal.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Donna!
Donna Miscolta’s fiction has appeared in Calyx, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, New Millennium Writings, and other journals. Her unpublished short story collection, Natalie Wood's Fake Puerto Rican Accent, was a finalist for the 2010 Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction. One of the stories in this collection appears in the current issue of Connecticut Review. She has received a number of literary awards including the 2008 Bread Loaf/Rona Jaffe Foundation award in fiction. She's been an artist-in-residence at Anderson Center, Atlantic Center for the Arts, and Hedgebrook, and was recently awarded an NEA-sponsored residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She grew up in National City, CA and lives in Seattle, WA.
Donna Miscolta can be found on Facebook and her website, www.donnamiscolta.com.
When the de la Cruz Family Danced is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, and Powell’s.
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