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by Virginia Cueto, AARP VIVA, Spring 2008
She’s a perfectionist yet down to earth, in love with love and with life. Crowned with some of the world’s most renowned literary prizes—and with her first novel being adapted for the silver screen—Ángeles Mastretta reaffirms her place as reigning queen of Mexican literature with a new short story collection, Maridos. From her home in Mexico City, the author opens up to AARP Segunda Juventud Online and reveals her obsessions.
Q. The women in Maridos are strong and independent, yet you present them in terms of their relationships with the men in their lives. Why?
A. Well, that is one of my very particular obsessions. I believe that there is an important part of every human being that is defined in terms of their significant other: how we choose our partner, and how we behave when we are with them. And that is the part that interests me. How that part of the personality is forged doesn’t just interest me, it fascinates me. I am curious about it, intrigued…It also sometimes hurts, or makes me happy. The book is the result of all those emotions.
Q. Destiny also plays an important part in many of these stories.
A. Without a doubt. I believe in fate the same way others believe in God. I do believe in fate. My characters…are very aware that destiny has placed them at this particular junction. Yes, I do believe that. That’s why they are so often also disposed to accept catastrophe when it strikes.
Q. For whom do you write these stories?
A. Look, there are many people who say, “I write for myself.” I think that if you write and publish, then you write for your readers, not just for yourself. Many writers say that they write to be loved. I place myself among those writers. I do write to be loved; I speak so that I am loved; I work for love; I live with others so that they may love me, and so that I can love them. For me, this is very important, and many, or all, of my relationships are based on that.
Q. In this context the relationship with the reader becomes…
A. Yes, for me the relationship with the reader acquires a tremendous importance. But one cannot imagine their readers. It’s not true that you write a book and tell yourself, “Oh, I know I will write a bestseller! Surely I have millions of readers who will flock to buy it.” Not true. Rather, one writes a book and always at the back of your mind you think, “Maybe no one will buy it.”
Q. Does the book acquire a different feel, do you see it differently once it is printed?
A. No, I feel that it sees me differently because it no longer has a connection to me. It’s terrible because it is too late to change anything. And I open it and say, “Uuuy, this comma doesn’t go here. Uuuy, I missed an adjective there.” And I can’t do anything about it anymore!
Q. You use a very interesting technique in opening the book with the first half of a story, yet we don’t get to read the second half until the end of the book, almost like bookends.
A. The idea is that there is this woman who is telling the stories, almost like a reflection of her own relationship with the man who is, or was, her third lover. That is what makes this fun—that we don’t know if he is or was or will be her third lover. But she defines her relationship to him in the process of telling him the stories of these other very many relationships.
She herself doesn’t know how it will end, or if it is even beginning, or anything. Or, what’s more crucial, if their story merits a novel or a series of short stories. I’ve been thinking that I should make up the story of those two.
Q. Are you working on that?
A. I’m thinking about it, I’m thinking about it. And at the same time I have two other stories—and that one tugs at me, that story about that woman—but I would have to make it up from beginning to end. The other is…an attempt to write the story of my father [journalist Carlos Mastretta]. He was half Mexican and half Italian, and I never understood his Italian half. That story would be an attempt to get to know who he really was and yet knowing that most probably I will never find out, and so the story would end up being about who I think he was.…Curiously, I just turned 58 this year, the same age my father was when he died.
Q. What advantages, in your professional and personal lives, would you say come with being 58?
A. It would have been really good before to have the emotional strength I have now, but it could not be. The same way that it would be impossible for me now to have breasts that don’t sag or a flat stomach—wouldn’t that be marvelous! And yet it’s an impossibility.
You do gain serenity. In my case, yes, I’ve gained serenity. I don’t think everyone who ages gains it, you know. I do think you need to work at it. And I want to live a long, long time because I do so enjoy this world. I love it. I love it.
Q. You were awarded the 1985 Mazatlán Prize for Literature for Best Book of the Year for your first novel, Árrancame la vida (Tear This Heart Out). Now it is being made into a film.
A. The film is a tremendous joy and an immense surprise. I did not expect it. It is being filmed here in Mexico and in Spain.
Q. Did you contribute to the script?
A. My contract clearly states that the writer sells all rights and will not be sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong. And the director is free to choose the actors he wants and the scenes he wants; he can do them any way he wants. But it turns out that the director, Mexican director Roberto Schneider, has been very generous. He wrote the script, but he wrote it with me.
Q. How exciting!
A. Very exciting! If he gives a press conference, I also go and take questions, just like him, and of course, since the book has been around awhile…Árrancame la vida was not a book that immediately won the respect of intellectuals or journalists. No, this book made its own way, all on its own. So now it turns out that journalists come and ask the director if he will respect the content of the book. And I think, how funny! No one had ever—I didn’t think the book was so well respected. I thought there were people who felt a certain affection for it, but as for respecting its content…And he says yes, he is—and he is.
Q. What words of advice do you offer young writers?
A. Write at least three lines every day. If you write 10 or 12 or 24, even better. But write a little something every day. I ask myself, “Why didn’t I start doing that at 14? It would make great reading now!”
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