Flash Fiction: for writers, readers, editors, publishers, & fans

Friday

Interview: Noel Straight Talks Flash With Marisella Veiga

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Marisella Veiga was born in Cuba and raised in the United States. She has pub­lished in lit­er­ary and com­mer­cial pub­li­ca­tions. Often, her writ­ing focuses on the His­panic expe­ri­ence in the U.S. and in the Span­ish Caribbean. She lives, writes and teaches in St. Augustine, Florida. 

Photo by Luis Veiga.


What do you enjoy about writ­ing flash fic­tion? What does it bring out of your writ­ing that another form may not? What other things do you enjoy writ­ing (poetry, nov­els etc.)?

Flash fic­tion, the short story, and even the news brief—these forms allow writ­ers to tell impor­tant sto­ries quickly and pow­er­fully. They require atten­tion to craft, lan­guage, con­flict, and major play­ers. In addi­tion, the news brief con­tains facts. When I lack long stretches of time to get into the rhythm required by a novel or longer work of non­fic­tion, these shorter forms are help­ful. Actu­ally, the flash forms, fic­tion or non­fic­tion, resem­ble the oral sto­ry­telling that goes on daily in Cuban and Cuban Amer­i­can house­holds. Some­one will say, Cuen­tame algo, which means, tell me a story. Most peo­ple will quickly have a story to tell. My poetry, fic­tion and non­fic­tion have been pub­lished in lit­er­ary and com­mer­cial pub­li­ca­tions.


Your story “Fresh Fruit” deals specif­i­cally with Latino cul­ture (or at least the char­ac­ters in the story are Latino). Are there par­tic­u­lar details/underlining mes­sages in this story that you think a per­son who does not come from this back­ground might miss?

Read­ers should keep in mind that Latino cul­tures are com­mu­nal in nature. It is nor­mal for the nar­ra­tor in “Fresh Fruit” to be watch­ing the move­ments of the younger and pos­si­bly “more lib­er­ated” neigh­bor across the street. She is not being nosey. I have lived in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Domini­can Repub­lic. Depend­ing on where you live—urban areas or smaller towns or near the sea—air con­di­tion­ing is not avail­able; it is often not nec­es­sary. This trans­lates to open win­dows, floor or ceil­ing fans, and a lot more infor­ma­tion about your neigh­bors or the nat­u­ral world or street life. It also leads, I think, to a big­ger under­stand­ing of peo­ple and their bro­ken nature. It fos­ters both argu­ments and com­mu­nity. In our huge nation, espe­cially in met­ro­pol­i­tan areas, we have less account­abil­ity to oth­ers. Our indi­vid­u­al­ity is prized. We can hide our fail­ings and dodge peo­ple when we don’t want to deal with their weak­nesses or losses so we don’t have to look at our own. The dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion has increased the num­ber of ways to com­mu­ni­cate as well as devel­oped our avoid­ance tac­tics.


I read your story “Fresh Fruit” as deeply psy­cho­log­i­cal. As a writer, I have often found it chal­leng­ing to go deep into the minds of my char­ac­ters. What inspired you to write this story and was it chal­leng­ing to make your narrator’s inter­nal life feel authen­tic and deep?

I appre­ci­ate your insights on the nar­ra­tor in “Fresh Fruit.” Many Latino house­holds are multi-gen­er­a­tional; a child has the chance to live with one’s elders and see his or her own future. It was true in my fam­ily. Apart from hav­ing my mater­nal grand­mother in the house and our great aunt and uncle nearby, every Sun­day after­noon we vis­ited my pater­nal grand­par­ents in NW Miami. As a result, I have a good under­stand­ing of famil­ial traits from both mater­nal and pater­nal lines. I know the mem­bers inti­mately and can see parts of them in myself. This “know­ing” can be trans­ferred to cre­at­ing authen­tic­ity in char­ac­ter. I wanted to give voice to a par­tic­u­lar older woman in Puerto Rico, where the story is set. How­ever, she is not meant to speak for all older women in the Span­ish Caribbean. Mar­i­tal infi­delity is not cul­tur­ally approved, no mat­ter how often it occurs. It may be known more eas­ily in a com­mu­nal cul­ture when com­pared to an indi­vid­u­al­is­tic one where doors are eas­ily closed, but that’s all.


I am cur­rently work­ing on a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries and kind of obsessed with the con­cept of home. How does your Cuban back­ground and dis­tance from that place of origin influ­ence your writ­ing?

An exile’s deep­est long­ing is a desire for home, no mat­ter how much the per­son loves and appre­ci­ates the adopted coun­try. The exile is dif­fer­ent from the immi­grant. When a per­son goes into exile or is forced to do so, the break with the home coun­try is trau­matic. The Cuban exile com­mu­nity has lived with fluc­tu­at­ing access to the home­land, much of it due to polit­i­cal restric­tions. Huge men­tal and emo­tional courage is needed to phys­i­cally return to the island. I waited 50 years to visit. Cuba remains one of my great­est sor­rows and biggest joys. The con­tem­po­rary need for instant grat­i­fi­ca­tion, our insis­tence on imme­di­ate responses to our ques­tions or post­ings, well, this need makes it dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to under­stand a 50-year-wait to go home.


What are your per­sonal thoughts on the exis­tence of machismo and how dif­fer­ent women han­dle it from one gen­er­a­tion to the next? Have you or do you plan to write any­more on the topic?

Machismo flour­ishes and not solely in Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries. What is not well known is that Cuban women had equal rights in Cuba’s 1940 Con­sti­tu­tion. We have yet to achieve that here. Some peo­ple may know a woman did not change her fam­ily last name when she mar­ried. She merely added “de” and the husband’s fam­ily name. I would be Marisella Veiga de Ret­tig, for exam­ple. In that way she hon­ored her mater­nal line and her iden­tity. So did their chil­dren.


What are you writ­ing at the moment?

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with Rub­ber Tree Books, San Juan, Puerto Rico, I am pub­lish­ing a small cook­book CUBAN RICE CLASSICS. The need for it arose dur­ing a cook­ing demon­stra­tion and cul­tural con­ver­sa­tion I gave at the Gulf Coast Folk­life Cen­ter in Tar­pon Springs, Florida. Cuban cul­tural his­tory and fusion can be taught eas­ily and taste­fully! The book should be ready in Decem­ber. I am hav­ing fun telling sto­ries and his­to­ries while teach­ing peo­ple to make par­tic­u­lar dishes. It’s a nat­u­ral match. 

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About the Author

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Noel Straight writes, dances, and works in Philadel­phia, PA. She teaches Span­ish and ESOL to stu­dents in Cen­ter City, takes all the dance/yoga classes she can at West Philadelphia’s CEC, and when Noel is not writ­ing, teach­ing, or danc­ing she is kick­ing it with her room­mates at K & A. Cur­rently, Noel is work­ing on a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries and plans to com­plete an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing at Rose­mont Col­lege in May 2014. 

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