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Bewildering Stories interviews...

Carmen Ruggero

You write vividly in both English and Spanish, and probably in other languages too. Do you always think fully in those individual languages as you’re composing a work? Or do you sometimes think of a line or a sentence in Spanish and then translate it mentally, or even after writing an initial Spanish version?

I think fully in the individual language. But I also think it is important to focus on the culture, because unique expression and usage make it a different language..

Carmen, you came to the United States in 1959 and began writing in 2001. Your love of reading began when you were a child. What seems most memorable from your early reading? What would you recommend to someone who is learning the Spanish language and would like something interesting to read?

When my maternal grandfather migrated from Spain to Argentina, he brought along a first edition of Cervantes’ Don Quijote. I was very young — eight to ten years old when I started reading the adventures of Quijote and Sancho, and the evil windmills. I became fascinated by the characters and their adventures and as I read the work, portions at a time, I began to develop a taste for the absurd and life’s ironic twists and the understanding that nothing is ever what it appears to be.

Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer was my earliest poetic influence. I still have that book.

To someone learning a foreign language, I would advise picking something that illustrates that culture. The language comes easily once we understand the people who speak it. “Martín Fierro," by José Hernandez, is a good example of pioneer life in Argentina. My favorite contemporary Argentine writer is Jorge Luis Borges — love his poetry.

I’d like to know more about your experiences with your theater group and other cultural activities in Los Angeles. I regret that we were unable to meet when you were still in LA.

My participation in a children’s theater group, created by Margo Albert, was an experience that would later become a powerful tool in the creation and development of a literary character. We took stories and legends from both North and South American cultures, and utilizing both English and Spanish languages improvised upon such stories. These improvisations were taped, transcribed, and then scripted into thirty-minute shows to be performed through the Los Angeles Community Schools.

In “The Tortoise and The Hare,” I was the hare, of course. “I’m so swift I’m so cool... I’m a winner, I ain’t no fool...” I know how that line felt when it was improvised, it got bigger when I read it on the page, and when it was performed, it was real. I follow the same procedure when I create a character on the page.

Your paternal grandfather was an actor. Are any of his films preserved? Perhaps on DVD in Argentina?

Yes, some were preserved. But many years ago, a fire destroyed much of the museum of Argentine films, and many old films were lost. That happened after my family moved to the U.S. I believe some tapes of his films are in the possession of my family in Argentina. Some of us have tapes with parts of his films.

You quote Hemingway and Shakespeare on your home page. Are they major influences or are there other writers you would mention in this connection?

Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Ibsen were my early introduction to the performing arts. The classics were studied in depth. They help to establish a solid background. Shakespeare was also my first influence in sonnet writing and the same principle applies. Knowing the form is not a limitation; on the contrary, it is a frame of reference and when we break away from it, we do so with purpose.

I read many of Hemingway’s works. What appeals to me is his active narration and vivid characters. He gets me inside his words, and that’s where I found the link between performing and writing. It is vivid, active and present. Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Harper Lee were my beginning guiding light.

What made you want to start writing, and when did you start?

In the year 2000, I read a story by RD Larson. I wrote to her and told her how much I enjoyed her work. She wrote back, thanked me, and then said: “Great! Let’s be friends.” RD was a strong influence. She’s the one who got me thinking about writing.

Shortly after that, I spoke to my girlfriend in Argentina. She seemed to remember things I’d forgotten. Her house was under construction and there was a sandpile on her sidewalk. In the evenings, she and I would meet at the sandpile, and chit-chat — mostly about boys. But she remembers that I was always bringing her a poem I’d written.

Apparently, that sandpile is something we both remember — I didn’t know until then that she also remembered my poems. She asked me to write about the sandpile. And so I started writing. My first flash story was “Christmas in Tinsel Town” and the first full short was “Gold Through My Toes” — the sandpile.

Where do you get your ideas?

Life is a good place to start. It’s full of happenings. I like stories based on real life. Sometimes a news item, or something I read. Most of my ideas come from my own life experience.

What’s the last book, other than your own, that you read and really enjoyed?

Well... the last book I read and really enjoyed was Observation Three, by Michael E. Lloyd.

What qualities do you look for in a poem?

I like it to stir my emotions. John Stocks has sent me screaming, and so has Rebecca Lu Kiernan. Her poem “Inside My Hot House Orchid” was brilliant. Our friend Michael E. Lloyd did it with “History.” Note that all three of these writers have a strong knowledge of the application of language. In Rebecca’s “Inside My Hot House Orchid,” the way she breaks that last line definitely shows her knowledge of how form and, in this case the breaking of established rhythm, affect the meaning.

Where and when do you write? Do you have a schedule, or do you write as the mood moves you?

When working on a project, I write to a schedule. Otherwise, when the mood moves me, and when the mood isn’t there, I read.

If you could invite any other writer to dinner who would you ask and why?

I’d love to dine with Stephen King and listen to him talk about the discipline and perseverance required to succeed. I’d also love to dine with RD Larson and Mike Lloyd. Over the years, they’ve been a very positive influence. I’d love to fix them my special lasagna.

Do you use the Internet or the library to check facts?


Do you ever have a problem with writer’s block? If so, do you have any advice on ways to deal with it?

I think writer’s block is a myth. Sometimes we’re overworked, loaded with problems. Sometimes we don’t feel good. Sometimes we simply need a break. Just let it ride, but write something every day; a couple of words if nothing else.

What is the most important advice you would give to any writer?

Be real. Be truthful. Create pictures with every word. We think in images, not words. When we read, we remember the images the words created. Also, even when writing a fantasy, give the reader a point of reality to reference.

You’ve written poems, essays and short stories: which are your favorites?

Poems and short stories. I’d probably like my novel if I ever finished it.

What would you say is the strangest thing you’ve ever written?

It was a murder mystery. The main character turned so evil I couldn’t believe it was coming from my own imagination. It surprised me that I could even think some of the things I wrote. It had started to be a short story, but a character like that cannot be treated in the space of a short story.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I read, I work on my balcony garden, and I take walks with my border collie. I walk two miles a day both with and without the dog. Also, I go to the gym three times a week for a cardiac workout on the treadmill. I run three and a half miles per hour for fifteen minutes. I’m learning to paint with water colors, and yes... I love to invent food.

Bewildering Stories publishes a wide range of prose in both non-fiction and fiction, including mainstream and genre literature such as science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc. Do you recall any particular prose works that you’d recommend to others?

There are many good pieces of work and, certainly, many good writers. And some pieces have stayed with me. I joined Bewildering Stories at the time Jack Alcott’s Grim Legion came out. I would definitely recommend that impressive piece of work. “Drop to Drink” by Mike Lloyd stirred my imagination to no end. So much so, I can still see the images he created. His trilogy, Observations One, Two, and Three, is definitely worth reading.

Also in my memory are Will Gray’s “It Was Near Curtains” and “Bail Out.” I read them a long time ago, but still remember them. Bewildering Stories has many good writers, and a lot of good work.

Some writers say that they have to write a certain amount of words every day. Do you do this?

I don’t write a given number of words, but I write daily.

How is your own writing going these days? What are you working on?

I’m working on a poetry collection and doing research on a piece I abandoned a long time ago.

What was it like to be a member of the Bewildering Stories Review Board?

It was a wonderful learning experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There were times when I was left with the feeling that the best of intentions weren’t enough to make a difference. But that’s part of the job, and something I needed to learn to accept.

What were your favorite and least favorite parts of the Review Editor’s job? What would you suggest for Bewildering Stories’ future?

My favorite parts were our discussions. They were fruitful, and I learned a lot from them, and if the outcome of such discussions helped the author improve his work, I really liked it. My least favorite part of the job was having to reject a piece of work.

What I’d like to see for Bewildering Stories in the future is the development of a beginning writers’ workshop. The work can be posted to an assigned section of the forum and receive positive and constructive critique. I suggest that the workshop be monitored by a qualified person. The development of such a workshop could only improve the quality of submissions.

Now that you are semi-retired from your duties at Bewildering Stories, do you miss us as much as we miss you?

You bet I do. I miss you all and at times, I wish I were still there. But my own writing somehow fell apart and I need to put it back together. Maybe we can leave the door ajar.

Copyright © 2009 by Carmen Ruggero

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