Five Questions with Alexandra Regalado

Moira McAvoy: Your piece, “Runs in My Veins,” is one of my favorites from NANO Fiction’s issue 9.1. I particularly loved your fresh take on the “young girl struggling with sexuality” motif, and the humor. This piece has such a raw sense of teenage stubbornness, and darkness, and confusion. What was your inspiration for this story?

Alexandra Regalado: In El Salvador they call the preteen limbo the “edad del chucho” or the “mutt stage.” And that phrase perfectly defines that street-dog feeling of those years: ugly, angry, afraid, and unlovable, camping out in a place only to have to pack it up the next day and head back out into the unknown. My oldest son just turned 13 and so I’ve been revisiting this part of my life. In the afternoons I used to accompany my mother on errands, top 40 playing on the car radio, and as I listened to what sounded like crying and whining, I asked her, “Why is every single song about love? Can’t they find anything else to write about?” This story is a mishmash of those moments, some of them mine, others reinvented. Maybe it was the cover of Bunnicula on my son’s bedside table that tipped off the memories.

MM: A good deal of your work, such as your book Café de El Salvador, Land of Coffee deal specifically El Salvador. Is there something to be said for the placeless-ness of this story?

AR: I define myself as Salvadoran-Miamian. I was born in El Sal, but the civil war brought us to Miami where I lived for twenty-four years. Then, when I got married I moved back to El Salvador and I’ve lived here for the past fifteen years with my husband and three kids. And yes, while most of my work focuses on place, much of my concerns are not focused on belonging, rather they’re about straddling two places and whether those identities can be bridged or not. So, this piece fits right in with my obsessive Alexandra Lytton Regalado phototheme. This short short is set within a much tighter nucleus. It’s centered on the body and the onion-skin layers of our selves radiating out to include only home and school (which is the whole world to a girl of 12, don’t you think?) Back then I had no idea how to live in my own body, much less what my place in the world might be. Everything depended on superstition and prayers. Imagined fears and actual dangers got all mixed up. So while we might have had real reasons to be afraid—in our case, hearing our parents discuss the war in El Salvador while the Miami news reported the kidnapping and murder of Adam Walsh—we were still more afraid of the unknown, and sex, of course, was at the heart of the mystery.

MM: You have an MFA in poetry, and are currently pursuing another in fiction. What does genre mean to you? Do you think about it when first drafting a piece?

AR: I completed my MFA in fiction at Pacific University in June of 2014. It was reenergizing to return to the literary world after a decade of motherhood and editing other people’s work. Now, what does genre mean to me? I think of it as a vessel. For me, the impulse is just to write. I don’t sit down and say, “And now I will write a poem.” The form defines itself along the way. Usually it’s an image, a memory, a phrase that sets me off and I write it all in one gush into my notebook with no punctuation. At a certain point a story clearly asserts itself while poems or short shorts morph in and out of each other. Depending on the length or the complexity, I pour the writing into different containers until I find the form it’s best suited for. For some time this particular piece was a poem in long CK Williams-like lines. I find I usually like reading fiction writers that are also poets.

MM: You’re the co-founder of Kalina Press. Has your experience on the production side of publishing impacted the way you send your work into the world?

AR: As an editor, I understand the work that goes into producing a publication and I read a lot of literary journals to try to understand their modus operandi. As a writer, I’ve become more patient about how long it takes an editor to make a decision and more conscious of the selection process. There is nothing personal about acceptance or rejection so there’s not much use in puffing oneself up or weeping. It’s about the work and you have to just keep churning it out. I try to have twenty submissions circulating all the time. For every one struck down, I launch another candidate.

MM: What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

AR: More poems and stories, which I’ll continue to submit along with my full-length poetry manuscript and chapbook. I’m currently co-editing a bilingual anthology of Salvadoran prose that Kalina will be publishing in 2016 and I’m also translating some of the stories. But what I’m most looking forward to is earning my black belt in Kenpo Karate this December!

Alexandra Lytton Regalado, co-founder of Kalina press, is author, editor, and/or translator of ten Central American-themed books, most recently the bilingual Salvadoran poetry anthology Theatre Under My Skin (2014). Her poetry manuscript was runner-up for the Stan and Tom Wick Prize and finalist for the 2014 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. Her poetry chapbook, La Lotería, won Honorable Mention in the 2013 Center for Book Arts Competition. She holds an MFA in poetry from Florida International University and an MFA in fiction from Pacific University. Nominated for Best New Poets 2012, her poems and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in MiPOesias, Narrative, Notre Dame Review, OCHO, Phoebe, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere.