Q. Did your parents and grandparents read your novels?
A. All my grandparents were both gone by the mid-1950s, and my mother tried to read Mambo Kings, but she thought it was muy sucio [very dirty]. I wrote a character based on my mother's friend, where she's always coming down and modeling lingerie and I remembered her as a complete babe. When my mother read my first novel, she said, "Olga is going to be really angry with you." And then, when I ran into Olga, she said, "That was so nice what you wrote about me." My mother tried to read Our House in the Last World, but it was hard for her because it was my truth on our family's hard upbringing.
Q. What are you currently working on?
A. It's a memoir called Thoughts Without Cigarettes. It's about how I came up in the world and runs parallel to my first novel, Our House in the Last World. But it's more accurate, the way things really happened as opposed to the way I imagined that they happened. I've been an on-and-off smoker since I was 10 years old, and I'm still walking around, which amazes me. It's about relationships with things, and it's really about how one finds one's way and how I became a writer and how various addictions—including cigarettes, alcohol, love, passion, and work—can crop up without us being really aware of them.