Kirstin Valdez Quade: How I Write

The writer has gained much attention and praise for her short story collection, Night at the Fiestas.
By Allison Futterman | Published: April 21, 2017


Kirstin Valdez Quade

Photo: Maggie Shipstead

 

Night at the FiestasKirstin Valdez Quade has gained much attention and praise for her short story collection, Night at the Fiestas. Although it may seem like she’s an overnight success, Quade actually worked on the book for nearly a decade.

After all that time, she’s found it exciting to “have it be an actual object in the world, something outside of me.”

Quade has taught at several universities and will be teaching at Princeton later this year. She enjoys engaging with students just as she also appreciates interacting with those who have read her work. “I’m always thrilled when a reader tells me my book has resonated with them.”

Although she says she’s “superstitious about talking about work in progress,” she did share that she’s working on a novel. Anyone who has enjoyed Quade’s compelling writing in Night at the Fiestas will certainly look forward to her future work.

 

Characters

What excites me most about writing fiction is the opportunity to inhabit characters who are unlike me. I start a story because I’m curious about my characters and the situations they find themselves in. We get to know our characters the way we get to know the other people in our lives: by spending time with them, by seeing how they interact with others and how they function under pressure, by learning how they see themselves and how they want to be seen. If a character is difficult for me to get a handle on, then I know I need to spend more time with him or her on the page.

 

Importance of location

For a long time, I didn’t decide consciously to write about New Mexico. The stories that came to me just happened to be set there.

When I read, if I don’t know where a story is set, I always feel unmoored. The same is true for my writing: Until I place my story in a specific place, I can’t get my footing in the world. The landscape and history of New Mexico is particularly compelling to me, and I’m still trying to understand what it means to me. Because of the long history of conquest and re-conquest, it’s still feels very much like a contested land, which makes it fertile terrain for fiction.

 

Why short story?

I love the short story: I love its flexibility, its distillation of language, the pressure it exerts on the moment. A story demands that the reader look closely. And yet, despite the intensity and constraints, a story can be surprisingly capacious. Alice Munro has a metaphor I love: “A story is…like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows.” That’s exactly how I feel when reading a Munro story.

 

Creating depth and poignancy

The stories by writers I admire most – Alice Munro among them – are incredibly textured; it’s a cliché, but you get the sense that their characters live beyond the boundaries of the page.

The process of writing for me is akin to archeology, revising again and again to uncover layer after layer of a character’s experience. The closer you look at a character, the more there is to see: Complications and contradictions are constantly revealing themselves.

The drawback, of course, is that it takes me a very long time to finish a story! There’s always more I want to discover.

 

Method

When I first began these stories, I wasn’t thinking – except in the most distant and abstract way – about a book. I just wrote the stories that felt urgent and interesting to me. I was exploring my material and learning how to write a story.

After a while, it became clear to me that certain themes were linking the stories – family, the pressure exerted by the past on the present moment, identity and, of course, place.

 

Allison Futterman is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

 

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