I thoroughly enjoyed this powerful story about the nature of fear, family, and a hunger so great it eats away at your soul. What is the inspiration behind “Crave”?
Back in 2013, my sister and I became obsessed with the Puerto Rican traditional art of lace-making called mundillo. We met with one of the leading artists, Rosa Elena Egipiciaco, and she told us how mundillo was a dying art form. I kept thinking how this art form, employed mostly by women on the island, would no longer be around. It also bought up questions of who would be able to truly enjoy this beautiful piece of lace, how class plays a role in the making of art and beauty. This meeting became the impetus of my story.
You begin “Crave” with a number of distinct sensory impressions: Coco’s cold, wet nose; matted sticky fur; “the falling red petals of the tree”; the musical clinking of wooden bobbins. What is it about providing strong sensory descriptions that appeal to readers?
It’s been close to eight years since I last visited Puerto Rico. Since then, so much has changed, including the destruction that occurred because of Hurricane Maria. I’ve had so many conversations with my father regarding places that have disappeared, plazas completely missing because of the hurricane. When I was writing “Crave” I wanted to try to remember the smells of the island on my first visit at five years old. The island was in so many ways a magical place for me, so outside of the concrete jungle I grew up in in the Bronx, New York.
To me, the true horrors of this story are the cage of gender expectations that imprison Taina and how she is punished for stealing from La Caridad by losing something that was uniquely hers. In your experience as a writer, have you found that the expectations and expressions of horror differ between men and women as much as they do between individuals?
I’m always looking at the world through the eyes of a Latina who comes from a long history of colonization. Puerto Rico first dealt with being invaded by the Spaniards and then the United States. Women on the island, as well as the women who migrated to the United States, have always been subject to medical experimentations that still occurs to this day. The real horror story can be found in history. The stories I find myself writing again and again always gravitates towards people of color battling the supposed roles forced on them by society and by those in power.
La Caridad resembles other supernatural creatures that shed their skin or body such as the Malaysian Penanggalan, the Japanese Nukekubi, and the Filipino Manananggal. Why do you think it is that similar stories can grow out of seemingly disparate cultures? Is it the cross pollination that comes with cultural exchange or conquest, or is it possible that humanity shares an unconscious fascination with certain common story elements?
I love how the story of the soucouyant, a shape-shifting folklore character from the Caribbean, can be found across the world. I wrote a whole novel on the legend (one that has never been published) that moves the soucouyant to modern-day Los Angeles. I’m obsessed with the idea of a creature holding sway over a community. Doesn’t it bring to mind Frankenstein, one of the first science fiction stories written by a woman? Even further than that, I’m blessed with legends and folktales from my own community. It’s exciting to see how these tales are reimagined. The common elements make the stories universal—the death of innocence, who has power—which revolves around the same questions about voice and class.
The publishing world continues to struggle with #ownvoices, the concept of a given culture writing their own stories rather than standing to the side as others appropriate cultural elements that are not their own. If you could speak about such things to the young writers seeking their way in the grand world of words, what would you say to them?
Writing is such a revolutionary act. If you follow history you will see how writers, poets, and teachers are ones who are usually imprisoned for their words. For me to force my way into an industry that is predominately white is an act of faith and determination. I believe that there are so many voices out there waiting to be heard. If I could speak to young writers, I would say that persistence is key. I may not be the strongest writer, but I am a person who refuses to quit. I believe my voice is needed, and as a young writer, you need to believe that too, despite what the industry or others say.
Not only are you a prolific and talented writer, you work spans a range of both subjects and styles. What’s next for Lilliam Rivera? What can eager fans look forward to in 2018?
Thank you! I’ve taken my first, and I hope not my last, step into comic books. Lion Forge Press is publishing Puerto Rico Story, (bit.ly/2qNTC5s) an anthology benefiting the island. My story combines my love of Puerto Rican history and horror in a way I hope will educate people. This will be out in March and is available for pre-order now. My debut novel The Education of Margot Sanchez will also be out in paperback in March. I’m also hoping to publish more short stories with a fantastical bent to them.
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