Epiphany: William Trevor began his adult life as a sculptor and later described his writing as chipping away at a block of marble. Are you a chipper or a builder? In other words do you chip away at a block of writing, or are you more methodical, building up the block brick by brick?
Luis Jaramillo: I’m a little-bit-everyday kind of writer. I recently came across an article about the discovery of manganese nodules on the sea floor, 18,000 feet below the surface of the ocean: “Nodule formation is an incredibly painstaking process. Manganese hydroxide (and other metals including zinc, copper, iron, and cobalt) crystallizes around small fragments of deep-sea bone, rock, or fossils, and it can take millions of years to even add a centimeter onto the nodule’s diameter.” That’s what my writing feels like, as though I’m building the structure layer by layer, so slowly that it looks—and sometimes feels—like nothing is happening. I’ve become resigned to this process. I will never write a sprawling novel.
What was your first publication?
“Jack and the Rotarians,” a short story, was published in Open City.
Five books you are reading or thinking about now?
Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. Also, Autobiography of a Yogi and The Indian in the Cupboard. This last one I’m thinking about for an essay I’m writing, but I’m not reading it. It’s funny how well I remember the books from my childhood, and how easily the details of any new book I read now immediately fly out of my head.
If you had to inhabit a fictional world, what would it be (i.e., the environment of which novel or short story or poem)?
This is a hard question. I tore through Ferrante’s books because I wanted to be close to that narrator, who I love. Reading the books was kind of like listening to the juiciest gossip told by a real expert at the craft of gossiping. But I wouldn’t want to live in that world. I think I have to go far back in my reading history to find a place I’d actually like to be in, like Narnia.
Most interesting day job you've had (from the perspective of a writer)?
I was a secretary in a writing program for about six years. I saw all sorts of people over the course of the day—students, the copy machine repairman, famous writers, crazy writers, wise writers, the people from the mailroom, the wine deliveryman, the AV people, various friends in different departments. Everyone had a story.
Novels? Short stories? Which do you prefer to write?
Novels. To write a story you have do much of the same initial work as for a novel—coming up with characters, a setting, the idea for the narrative, etc.—but when you’re done all you have is 10-15 pages and you have to start the process all over again. The last short story I wrote took a year and a half to finish.
One sentence of advice regarding writing?
This is a hard lesson to learn: write every day. (Poets—for whatever reason—are exempted from this rule.)
Your book title: was it your first choice?
I always knew the book was going to be called The Doctor’s Wife. Thankfully, everyone involved in the publication of the book agreed.
In a nutshell, what are you working on now?
I am working on a novel set in El Paso, Texas. Nena Gonzalez, the 90-year-old main character, is telling the story of her life. There are three time periods in the book: the present, during World War II, and in 1820. I am writing about magic and witches, god help me. Also, time travel, class, ethnicity, and nation building.
What's an interview question you've never been asked that you wish had been?
If you could have another career, what would it be? Answer: I would be a doctor. Or a cult leader. That could be really fun.
LUIS JARAMILLO is the author of The Doctor’s Wife, winner of the Dzanc Books Short Story Collection Contest, an Oprah Book of the Week, and one of NPR’s Best Books of 2012. His work has also appeared in Open City, Gamers (Soft Skull Press), Tin House Magazine, H.O.W. Journal, and the Chattahoochee Review, among other publications. He is the director of the Creative Writing Program at The New School, where he teaches fiction and is the co-editor of The Inquisitive Eater: New School Food.