Kathleen Alcalá was born in Compton and raised in the wilds of San Bernardino, California. Attracted to words at an early age, she went on to write five books of fiction and nonfiction. A 2007 Artist Trust Fellow, Kathleen is a member of Seattle7, Los Norteños and ConTinta. She teaches at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts on Whidbey Island. She agreed to be interviewed for Intermittent Visitors.


1. What is your writing process?

My process is to sit in my office until I am so very, very bored I cannot stand it. Then I begin to write, and it is horrible. I save the horrible writing and the next day, it looks as though it holds possibilities—a word here, a sentence there that could possibly be less than horrible if I rewrite them. I do. This goes on until I have a book or a short story. I probably rewrite each and every thing about a dozen times. And this is down from about fifteen times.


2. What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

Ursula K. LeGuin once said, don’t write about what you know, write about what you care about. (Only she probably said it more elegantly.) Really, we know so very little. But if we care enough about something, we will learn what we need to know. I spend a lot of time researching my work, both fiction and nonfiction.


3. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalist?

      Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalist is my first collection of short stories, now available as an e-book (www.calyxpress.org).

It was inspired by the stories my aunts and uncles used to tell at family gatherings. The stories were full of intimations, partial or non-existent endings, impossible or mysterious goings-on. This was how I learned my family history.

Later, once I began to write, I was told that I was writing magic realism. Magic realism is often associated with writing from Latin America, and my family is from Mexico. But it is a type of writing that can be found all over the world, especially in places where it is prudent to speak truth indirectly to power. It also reflects a world view that does not privilege technology over intuition or experience. As a result, these worlds have many dimensions, and there are many ways to solve problems that might not, on the surface, appear to be logical.


4. Do you think writing helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a writer more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

Writing is my way of interacting with the world, which I continue to find wonderful and mysterious. It is a way of explaining the world to myself, both the visible and the invisible. If others find it useful or entertaining, all the better. I have heard from many readers over the years, and I came to realize that each reader is reading a different book that may or may not have much to do with what I think I wrote. We each bring our own backgrounds and experiences with us when we enter the world of a book.


This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.

Related Posts