How I Write – Raul Palma


When/how/where do you write?

I have a small desk in my bedroom with a computer and a lamp and a stack of books, and my three-year-old daughter has a desk too, only hers is covered in toys, stickers, marked-up with crayons. On her desk there’s a picture of the two of us from the 4th of July; this was her addition. It’s because we work in that space that I can get anything done. She’ll tug at me when she’s done, insist I play Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, and then she’ll hold my hands and jump on the bed and demand that I watch her fall again and again. I remember when I was an undergraduate; I had to lock myself in a room, put on some headphones, block out the world. Sometimes I think it’s a miracle I can write anything at all in this PhD program, teaching, with a toddler at home. I have a 90,000 word novel I’m revising, getting ready to send out into the world, and Olivia’s been there the whole time, watching me pound away at the keys, or climbing up on top of me, pushing my head back and saying, “No, Daddy. Don’t. Don’t be busy anymore.”

Do you eat while you write? If so, what?

I don’t eat while I write, but I cook. Actually, I step away when I’m exhausted and I try not to think about writing. In the colder months I make chicken soup with mushrooms and basil leaves and ginger and miso in place of chicken broth. I’ll sit Olivia on the kitchen counter and let her pour these ingredients into the soup (this way she’s invested and she eats). It’s nice to step away for moment and work on something that can be completed and enjoyed in just a few hours. Sometimes when I’m lost, I need that time.

Do you play music while you write? If so, what?

Some of the films I really admire inspire and influence my work through their soundtracks, movies such as: Synecdoche, New York; Baaria; The Tree of Life. But I listen to Afro-Cuban jazz too, and anything that I can put on repeat.

What are you reading right now?

Right now I’m reading Theodore Wheeler’s debut collection Bad Faith. It’s a strong collection, put out by Queen’s Ferry Press. Ted is a father too, and it’s a real inspiration to see a parent produce strong work. Joy Castro’s How Winter Began is a book I’m returning to again; it’s one of the most powerful collections of flash I’ve read; each protagonist in her collection is a woman of color, and the stories themselves explore those intersections between power and resistance, economies and family. I’m also reading Giorgio Agamben’s The Coming Community and thinking about narrative, and what his theories mean about the shapes of stories.