THC: What were the challenges of writing within the genre?
IA: For a crime novel, I’ve been told, the author has to have a very neat plan and be very logical, and start from the end of the story. My mind doesn’t work that way. I never have a plan: I sit down on January 8 and just open a vein. Day by day, the story somehow unfolds, the characters appear, and become people. I live their lives. The story started to happen, and then I had to go back and plant the clues and write in the characters I needed. It’s not a very logical way to write the story. But it’s the only way I can do it.
THC: You’re acclaimed for carrying on the magical realist tradition of Borges and García Márquez. Are there elements of so-called magical realism in this novel?
IA: The mother in the novel is a healer: she does crystals, meditation, aromatherapy. Whenever things like that happen in Latin America, it’s called magical realism. If they happen in California, it’s holistic medicine, or whatever. I think that magical realism has become a label for everything Latin American, but you find the same stuff everywhere.
THC: Can you tell me about your infamous encounter with Chilean poet Pablo Neruda?
IA: Neruda called the place I was working, a magazine, and said he wanted me to visit him. I thought, “If the Nobel Prize winner calls me, I must be the best journalist in the country!” So I bought a new tape recorder and drove all the way to the beach. It was windy and rainy and gross. We had lunch, and then I asked to interview him. He said, “I will never be interviewed by you. You are the worst journalist in the country! You lie all the time, you make things up, you are never objective. Why don’t you switch to literature, where all of your defects become virtues?”
I didn’t pay any attention then: that was ’73 and I wrote my first novel in ’81. But I realized that he was right. I was a lousy journalist.
THC: Do you have any advice for college writers?
IA: Write a bad novel. If you try to sit down and write the great American novel, you will never get anything done. Like sports, writing needs discipline and work, but also joy and playfulness. You need to love the craft and the process.
—Staff writer Andrew R. Chow can be reached at email@example.com.