Alumni Interview Series: Reyna Grande

What was something memorable about the Creative Writing program at UCSC?

My first semester in the program I had a teacher who kept trying to get me to stop killing my characters at the end of my stories. She challenged me to write one story where no one died. I wrote it and I thought it was the most boring thing I'd ever written.  In Across a Hundred Mountains, I continued my killing spree (I even killed the baby). Then when I decided to write Dancing with Butterflies I thought about that teacher at UCSC and decided to challenge myself to not kill any of my characters. I succeeded, for the most part. This time, I only killed the minor (very minor) characters!  Now I'm writing a memoir. No one dies. Unfortunately, the limitations of non-fiction are such that you can't kill your characters if they did not, in fact, die.

What are you reading right now?

I have been asked to judge the El Premio Aztlan Literary Award. The box of books I am to judge arrived today. That's what I'll be reading from today on.

What are you doing now professionally?

I am writing a memoir and my third novel. I am also teaching English as a Second Language for LAUSD (part-time) and teaching a creative writing workshop in my community. I do presentations once in a while at author luncheons, schools, conferences, and literary festivals. I stay very busy.

Do you still write, and if so how do you find the time?

I try to write as much as I can. Funny enough, it is when I am busy that I do more writing. Usually when I am not busy and have all the time to write, I don't because I say to myself "I have lots of time to do it," so I do other stuff like garden or clean the house, do laundry. Then when I look at the clock I realize that I don't have as much time anymore to write because the day has gone by too fast. When I am busy, I know that I will have exactly two hours to write that day. I don't procrastinate then because I know that every minute counts.

Earnest Hemingway has been described as a master of brevity. Let's one-up him. Could you describe your favorite written work (written by you) in a single word?

Depressing (I think it takes a certain amount of talent to make a reader cry within the first few pages.)

Your least favorite?

Depressing  (Okay, I admit, I wasn't born with a sense of humor. I am envious of writers who write funny. One of my favorites is The End of the World Book. It's hilarious.)

And finally, do you have any words of advice for Creative Writing majors, or for people who are interested in applying?

My advice is to not be afraid to kill your characters. You see, some writers, I think, get too attached to their characters and don't want to hurt them the tiniest bit. In my opinion, being overly attached to characters could hurt the story-telling as much as killing them off for whatever reasons (my teacher never told me THAT).  I would also encourage students to not stop writing at page 100 just because that is the number of pages you need to write for your senior project. In 1999 stopped at page 100 of Across a Hundred Mountains, turned it in, graduated, and then it took me three years before I was able to go back and start writing from page 101.  I lost momentum, in other words. Graduate. Celebrate. Continue writing the very next day.