From a Newtown Literary contributor: Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez
Writer Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez’s work was featured in issue #13 of Newtown Literary. We interviewed her about her writing and her answers are below. For more from Sonia, check out her blog, Chula Writes. You can also follow her on Twitter @mariposachula8.
When you think of Queens, what first comes to mind?
Home. Sunnyside has been my only home in New York City since I moved from Chicago three years ago. I’ve enjoyed the diversity in the community—it makes me feel safe. A few weeks ago, I saw a sign on a storefront that read “We Will Not Allow Hate in Queens” and it was the best thing ever. Without romanticizing the diversity of this large city, I feel a little bit better about our political climate by being in a neighborhood that doesn’t tolerate hate. This doesn’t mean I haven’t seen my share of ignorance and discrimination but I have also seen folks stand up against this kind of hate and those actions give me hope. Sunnyside is also the home I share with my partner. The rent prices have definitely been an adjustment and we have our share of NYC roommate stories but we now have a tiny space to call our own and we’ve filled it with so much love and so many plants. I also teach in Queens and most of my students are from Queens. My students’ determination and passion are inspiring. They’re my favorite part of the job.
How does Queens influence your writing?
I’ve never lived in a neighborhood with so many people and so many different kinds of people. When I first moved to Sunnyside, I went grocery shopping at Fresh & Save at 2 a.m. because 24-hour grocery stores are not a thing in the different places I’ve lived. I was astounded to learn that even at 2 a.m., there’s a long line at a grocery store. I now see stories everywhere, in everyone. Who is at a grocery store at 2 a.m.? Why is someone buying fish and diapers at 2 a.m.? How did the customers get there? Where are they headed afterwards? You can do this anywhere because everyone has a story but the overwhelming nature of Queens has made it so that everywhere I go I am intrigued by the possibility of endless stories. My first story set in Sunnyside is a flash fiction piece where a five-year-old girl cracks the earth open in front of that Fresh & Save (you can find that story on Hispanecdotes). Because I’m always hungry for community, I try to plant roots wherever I live. I see Queens becoming a central part of my writing in the coming years.
What is the last piece of writing you read that made you laugh or cry (or just especially moved you)?
I can’t stop thinking about Melissa Febos’ memoir, Abandon Me. Her story highlights her relationship with love, desire, and need as it relates to the self, her family, and her lovers. Febos’ writing is mesmerizing—like, legit spellbinding. I wanted to read more and learn more about her and her relationship to love. There was so much pain and hope in Febos’ story. I felt so seen. I felt so hurt. I loved it.
What inspires you?
My family and my community are big inspirations for me. I write a lot of stories that center Latinx voices because that’s what’s both familiar and unknown to me—after all, Latinx identity is not a monolith. Writing is a major aspect of my own healing process. I write to tell stories about what was, what wasn’t, and what can be. I hope to one day be a writer with immense talent to imagine new worlds not rooted in my limited experiences. But right now, the characters in my head are young people like me, with pain like mine, in need of hope like I did. I write to capture this complexity in hope my specific voice will add to a larger, louder collective one.
What does your writing process/routine look like?
I spend a lot of time in my head before I actually write anything. I tend to obsess about an idea for a story—I imagine the story in my mind and play “what if:” What if my character looked like this or that? What if my character wanted that? What if my character had to do this? What if the worst/best thing imaginable happened to them? What if my character failed at the end? What if they succeed? I eventually then create an outline for my story and take it scene by scene until I finish a draft. Revision is probably the most difficult part of the process for me. I don’t like reading my writing so it takes me a little bit longer to get through drafts. I read my drafts aloud and handwrite as I edit or revise. I then send the polished draft to trusted readers. Once I get feedback, I revise again and send it in for submission. With this process, I have been able to write short stories in a matter of weeks and sometimes it takes me years.
For writing personal essay, my process is a bit more chaotic. It’s harder for me to write personal essay because it’s more emotional and I’m not as removed from the story. I journal and handwrite a lot more when working on creative non-fiction. I eventually type it out and I edit as I go. I tend to cry a lot more when writing about my life so I usually need some way to decompress afterwards.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?
When I’m not writing, I like to binge watch TV. I like to switch between shows. Right now, I’m watching Pose, Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, One Day at a Time (again), Game of Thrones, and Steven Universe. I love TV.
I’m also a voracious reader. I read a lot of young adult and children’s literature by writers of color—my bookstagram is @latinxkidlit. I also like to sprinkle in some creative non-fiction—usually memoirs and collections of personal essays.
What writing project(s) are you currently working on?
My major project right now is my first novel titled Valentina Unafraid about a Mexican, undocuqueer, eighth grader named Valentina Suarez. The story takes place in Chicago at the height of President Barack Obama’s mass deportations during the Secure Communities program. I’ve been working on this first novel for a few years and hope to finish it in the next year or two (whatever that really means).
I also write flash fiction and short stories. These stories usually center young, powerful, and complicated women. A short story I’m currently revising (and have been revising for what feels like forever) is a time-travel story of a young girl who goes back in time to separate her parents because she thinks that’ll stop the domestic violence she witnesses in her present. My fiction stories highlight mental health issues, sexuality, trauma, and healing. I tend to write contemporary fiction but I aspire to write speculative fiction and historical fiction.
I also write personal essays. These essays focus on my family most of the time. They’re the most difficult to write because they hurt the most and that’s not as fun. But writing isn’t always fun and it needs to get done anyway.
What should I have asked you that I didn't?
What are you reading now? I’m currently reading Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine and I highly recommend it. It’s a beautiful and powerful short story collection.