Today, I embrace the soil. “I’m working outside,” I tell my wife. I kneel in submission, remembering Abuela’s botanical cathedral. Lemon, cacti, and tomatoes bear fruit to all I took for granted, desperate to fit in. Wasteful youth. Oakland Teen Serves Time. I miss her kitchen, her breath. “Muy bien, hijo,” the corn says. I smile, and the peppers smile back. I crane my neck to the sun. “See, hijo. The veins of the leaves make the sign of the cross.” The spade grips my hand in hers, willing me to love God. I see, Abuela. I see.
—Alicia Luna lives in Sacramento, California, with her husband, two daughters, and miniature Golden Retriever. She has 20 years of experience working as a marriage and family therapist and loves the healing power of words on the mind and heart. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, decoupage, and daydreaming about a writing nook to call her own in Buckingham Palace.
Interview with Alicia Luna
What was your writing and revision process like for “Perennial?”
I often receive The Writer emails with contest opportunities, and this one had been on my mind for a couple of weeks. One morning, I was inspired by the sunlight sifting through a Japanese Maple in our backyard. That was the day I wrote and entered “Perennial.” Oddly, it came together in one sitting. Before submitting, I asked my husband to read it to make sure it was coherent and to see if he had any editing suggestions. I had struggled to put into words this character who was feeling many things at once. Grief in missing his abuela, regret with how his life impacted her, valuable time he missed when she was living, and gratitude. I knew who I wanted the character to be: a life redeemed. People make mistakes, but life goes on, and the world lies open in front of a young person even if they have regrets. Placing him in the setting was the fun part. I enjoyed him interacting with the serene garden as if he was conversing with God and his abuela together. It wasn’t until I was submitting the piece that the line finally came, Oakland Teen Serves Time. It said just what I needed in the telling of his past.
What was the biggest challenge of writing a narrative in just 100 words?
There is a saying that emotions are like a fast-moving weather system. They happen, and we just have to deal with them. I felt that “umbrella-like” urgency to represent emotion and meaning in only 100 words. Each sentence needed to unveil another piece of the story, and the description details were the vehicle. For example, describing the garden as a cathedral was the truth of our family’s beloved Abuela Socorro’s garden combined with her love for God and devotion to her church. She has passed away now, but the 5-foot, 90-pound woman walked every day to church in Oakland, California, and was the choir director. She was a persevering, wise lady and was certainly on my mind and the heart behind Perennial. It was a challenge to give the reader a sense of this woman’s influence and impact on others with limited words.
We felt the title, “Perennial,” was especially strong and well-suited for this narrative. Did you know the title right from the beginning, or did it come to you later in the process? How did you know you had landed on the perfect title?
The title came after “Perennial” was written. Nothing seemed quite right. I placed a lot of expectations on the title, which was probably unfair. I asked myself, “What was I after? What was this story about?” I wanted to represent the betwixt emotions of grief and loss as well as hope, redemption, and the character’s renewed relationship with God. I imagined the main character was raised by his Abuela. He was missing her but also wished she could see his life now. Also, I wanted a title that represented the ongoing opportunity to live a new life. “Perennial” represented Abuela living in the character’s heart and mind. She is that ongoing voice of wisdom, grounding him to heaven and earth. This title also represents the “choose each day what your life will be” mentality that I envision he has. Perhaps he has been in a 12-step program, perhaps he daily battles addiction. Whatever his struggle, he has hope and drive to not give up and keep growing.
What’s your best advice for fellow flash writers?
I am a marriage and family therapist by day and have much to learn as a writer. I admire seasoned, skilled writers and editors. My best posture at this stage is one of student. As for flash writing, in this instance, I was helped by thinking of my character, his history, and the setting. Although words were carefully chosen, it was each sentence which communicated another line of “dialogue,” so to speak, and that gave depth and meaning for the telling of the story.