A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Thea Prieto

theaprieto.com, @TheaPrietoWrites on Facebook, @thea_prieto on Twitter, and a good link for my book is https://redhen.org/book/from-the-caves/

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Thea: I first started writing when I was a child. I had been listening to a lot of different music on headphones and I was slowly creating narratives in my mind, like mental film strips, that matched certain songs and albums. At some point, I remember I was listening to music at night and I realized I was forcing myself to stay awake, because the album I was listening to hadn’t finished yet and I didn’t want to forget the end of the story I had imagined the night before. So the next day I sat down, took out an old notebook from school, and filled up all the remaining blank pages with notes. Then I filled up the margins of that notebook, and I filled another notebook and another before switching to a word processor — I wrote hundreds and hundreds of pages around that time. Mostly I wrote lists, noting plot movements, when the story would shift perspective, bits of dialogue, so I wouldn’t forget the details and I could free up my mind to create new stories. So my first influence, I’d say, was music. Many of my stories were sounds and visuals before they were written down.

Q2: What were your biggest influences when you were writing From the Caves?

Thea: It’s hard to name just a few, but if I had to group the inspirations that brought about From the Caves into a simple Venn diagram, one sphere would describe my interests in mythologies from different cultures, and the other sphere would describe my grief for recently passed family members. In that overlap of both spheres lies a lot of questions and resources and texts specifically concerned with life and death, endings and beginnings, for individuals, cultures, and the planet. One of those texts that comes immediately to mind is Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From, which I found fascinating. Like From the Caves, her novel explores the idea of motherhood at the end of the world, but more so through flood mythologies, investigating the ways water can represent both creation and destruction. I actually had the opportunity to discuss The End We Start From with Megan Hunter at Propeller Magazine, and her writing continues to be an inspiration in my creative practice.

Q3: Was there a pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Thea: As I mentioned earlier, I sort of came upon writing by accident. Many of the stories I imagined when I was young were prompted by music and were very visual in nature. Back then, I would have told you I was creating animations rather than written stories, but the day I woke up determined to write my ideas down, so I wouldn’t be holding all the details aloft in my memory anymore, a pen and paper were the most immediate, available tools. At that moment, I suppose my life could have gone a different direction, if I had reached out and found another form of expression that day. I knew I wanted to continue writing, though, once I found out how deceptively simple a pen and paper can seem. They are such elementary tools, especially in comparison to the complicated depth words can achieve on the page.

Q4: Who helped you most with writing “From the Caves”?

Thea:

I’m lucky to have had a magnificent amount of help while writing From the Caves. The first two chapters were developed in a Tin House summer workshop, the first half of the manuscript was my graduate thesis at Portland State University, and a number of fellow writers, friends, and family members discussed the final manuscript, in classrooms, living rooms, and online. I think it was especially important for From the Caves that conversations were a part of the writing and revision process; since the characters in From the Caves create and discuss their own oral storytelling tradition, it felt meaningful whenever I had the opportunity to build creative conversations around my own writing practice. I am very thankful for all of the readers, writers, instructors, and mentors who read my early pages and gave me insightful feedback and various ways forward.

Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing?

Thea: From the Caves is heavily influenced by my home state of California and the many environmental concerns the state faces today. I grew up in a rural part of Northern California and then lived for ten years in Berkeley and Oakland, and the setting of From the Caves is modeled after a California Bay Area that has been devastated by wildfires, drought, rising oceans, and other apocalyptic scenarios that are unfortunately becoming every day less than far-fetched. The changing landscape of my home was one of the main factors that led me to write From the Caves, to examine human endurance in the context of cataclysmic change.

Q6: What do you consider to be your most meaningful writing project?

Thea: I suppose my most meaningful writing project is the one I feel most drawn to commit to paper at any given moment. It’s difficult to write, even in the most ideal surroundings, and one of the first things I learned as a young writer was that I didn’t need to “eat my vegetables first” when it came to writing. I discovered pretty quickly that forcing myself to write will have me folding laundry or leaving the house or doing anything else that isn’t writing. It turns out stories don’t need to be chronological, and neither do they need to be drafted chronologically; if I’m excited to write Chapter 6 even though I haven’t yet written Chapter 5, then I skip ahead to Chapter 6 and cut right to dessert. This approach has inevitably taught me about the narratives and scenes I enjoy writing the most, and has lent more awareness and meaning to my creative practices.

Q7: Favorite activities to relax?

Thea: Listening to music is still my go-to when it comes to relaxing, and sometimes it still proves to be the think-tank for new writing projects. These days amid the pandemic, I find it difficult to drop into that mental place where I can listen to whole albums on repeat and create novel-length story ideas, but I can still find that place sometimes, especially while I’m driving. It reminds me that much of my creative process exists within but also around and outside of the act of writing, and this allows me to be inspired and create regardless of where I am in my day.

Q8: Do you have a favorite part of your novella?

Thea: I think it would have to be the opening paragraphs, mostly because revision often feels like the process of evolving my stories from monologues to dialogues for the sake of my reader, and in this way, revision sort of detaches me from my stories, so I can create something less individual and more communal. And so the most heavily revised parts of my writing often feel like cells that have already divided from me, floating independently, and as a result I feel most personally engaged with my newest writing. I also tend to know how my stories will end before I know how they will begin, so the opening paragraphs of From the Caves, since they are the newest addition to the manuscript, still feel closest to me.

Q9: Any recent projects you’d like to promote?

Thea: If you would like to learn more about what went into writing From the Caves, my article “On From the Caves and Reframing Mythologies” recently appeared at The Kenyon Review blog. I am also the editor-in-chief of The Gravity of the Thing, and now that my novella is out in the world I look forward to diving into our next project, Stranged Writing: A Literary Taxonomy, which is a print anthology dedicated to defamiliarized writing. Submissions open on September 1st.

By davidlonan1

David writes poetry, short stories, and writings that'll make you think or laugh, provoking you to examine images in your mind. To submit poetry, photography, art, please send to feversofthemind@gmail.com. Twitter: @davidLOnan1 + @feversof Facebook: DavidLONan1

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