December 15, 2020 by The Citron Review
Death, Desire, and Other Destinations
Tara Isabel Zambrano
(Okay Donkey, 2020)
The Citron Review is excited to bring together two beloved contributors for this candid conversation. Esteemed editor and writer, Charlotte Hamrick is a long-time reader of Tara Isabel Zambrano’s work. Digging deep into craft and inspiration, this interview explores Tara’s experience as an immigrant writer in America, and the journey to her first collection which hit shelves to rave reviews in September 2020.
Charlotte Hamrick: How would you describe your writing style?
Tara Isabel Zambrano: Charlotte, thank you for taking the time. My writing style is quick and messy, I am usually impatient to put all my thoughts down. Then move the sentences, the words around, tear apart the POV and get some structure in place, make sure it has a heartbeat.
Charlotte: Do you have a favorite writing spot or do you scribble thoughts on bits of paper like I do?
Tara: Not really. I end up writing either at my office desk, or in my backyard, sometimes in my living room while watching TV. I almost never write on paper, it’s usually on my iPhone Notes or my laptop screen. So, regardless of the location, if a story has decided to sprout and bloom, it will, no matter where I am.
Charlotte: Do you come from a family of storytellers? If so or not, how did that influence your interest in writing?
Tara: My grandfather was fond of telling stories. I remember listening about his life in Multan, British India (modern day Pakistan). How he fled after partition in 1947, how he and everyone in the family lived in a refugee camp in Old Delhi for a while. It was sad and devastating, but he always added humor and hope, to keep it light. It was an inspiration, one of the important lessons to listen to him. As a result, I tend to bring a bit of light in my otherwise sad stories. I hope that readers feel compassion for my characters who are suffering, because that is the highlight of our human connection.
Charlotte: I agree that hearing family stories and passing them along is so important to knowing who you are and where you come from. I’m fascinated and humbled to hear about your grandfather’s experiences. Have bits of his stories made their way into yours? What do you think he would think of your writing?
Tara: I think, his suffering, his perseverance, his faith in humanity has seeped into my stories. If I were to show my work to him, he might like it because it resonates with his experiences, but he’d also suggest adding more lightness to it, more hope and light. He might say something like, Reality is good to keep your feet at ground, but occasionally or more often, you need to look at the sky if you wish to fly.
Charlotte: What were your impressions after your immigration to the U.S.?
Tara: Initially, it was bit of a culture shock, for the first three months, I was at home because it took some time for the work visa to arrive. It was winter and I couldn’t connect with the weather, the food, the accent, the daytime television, you name it. My perception changed once I started working, meeting people, realizing they were/are just like me. It was like a rebirth, relearning, reassessing a lot of stuff and not all of it was overwhelming, some of it was exciting.
Charlotte: Do you think your experiences as an immigrant here influences your writing in a way living in your native country wouldn’t?
Tara: I feel that the writing is a product of experience and imagination and those are influenced by geography. However, it’s not possible to know how my writing would have been different have I stayed back in India. It’s possible it would have covered more ground on the issues prevalent in my home country, but then at human level, our issues and anxieties are the same: inequality, injustice. We are all seeking answers to the same questions, Why? Why is it like this? How can we change this? And where do I fit in that process, that change?
Charlotte: I love how deeply you explore relationships in your stories, how you expose the hidden parts of the human experience with such a deft hand. It tells me you are a keen observer. Are there any topics that you defer from writing about and why?
Tara: Thank you, Charlotte. I don’t think I have tried to avoid any subject in my writing, everything about life and death and in between, interests me, makes me curious. However, I am not good at writing humor or funny stories. I wish I were, and that’s the only thing I can think of, that is out of my comfort zone.
Charlotte: What was your first published piece and what gave you the push to submit?
Tara: My first published piece was in Prime Number Magazine back in 2014. It was one of the first pieces I decided to submit, and I was fortunate to have an acceptance so early. As you know, I used to post stories at Fictionaut, and a few writers always read my work with interest and offered feedback. It was then and there I felt I should submit, the worse that could happen was a rejection.
Charlotte: Do you think your thought processes as an engineer have enhanced or inhibited your fiction writing and how so?
Tara: Oh, it has enhanced my writing, my creative thinking and my objectivity towards my art. It has helped me to develop a logic flow in my surreal stories, made them credible.
Charlotte: Apparently, we agree that even surreal stories should be credible or make some kind of sense. In that vein, what’s your opinion of arc and plot in a flash or micro fiction story? Do you think they are necessary?
Tara: I have read vignettes without much of a plot/arc that I thought were well done. While, as a reader, I look for a story in a piece, I try to keep an open mind when I read a piece, that’s rich in language, feeling and not grasping a sense into things, but just catching them as they are, without an expectation or a past, and sometimes I think, that’s one of the most beautiful thing I have encountered in art.
Charlotte: You’ve recently begun writing creative nonfiction, isn’t that right? What made you decide to go in that direction?
Tara: When I started posting on my blog, it was mostly poetry and some day-to-day ramblings. I found it easier. Gradually, as I ventured into the fiction territory, it took over my imagination, my creative process. Until I wrote about my father’s illness and his death. Those pieces helped me channel my grief into an expression. And since then, I have written a bunch of creative nonfiction drafts that I wasn’t sure about publishing. Over time, I have gathered courage and audience who can connect with my writing and I feel more confident about sharing writing that is highly personal.
CH: I think creative nonfiction definitely demands a willingness to be openly vulnerable in a way that’s often hidden in fiction. I also think blogging, although often scorned, is a great way to ease into the scariness of opening yourself up with CNF. Do you still blog?
Tara: I must give credit to blogging to open my stories and essays to other readers and writers. It did build my courage, opened my mind to accept criticism and improve my work. To answer your question, I haven’t blogged in a while and I intend to get back to it at some point.
Charlotte: Your debut book of Flash Fiction, Death, Desire and Other Destinations, was released September 15. How does it feel to be a published author?
Tara: I am elated to be a published author, the reality is still sinking in. However, on a day-to-day basis, I write, I submit, I get rejected. And I love the excitement of writing a new story, the grounding which arrives with a rejection, the far and in-between acceptances, the opportunity to share my art and connect with everyone else. It’s a constant reminder of why I write.
Here’s Tara Isabel Zambrano’s microfiction for The Citron Review, Enfold.
Tara Isabel Zambrano is the author of Death, Desire And Other Destinations, a full-length flash collection by OKAY Donkey Press. Her work has won the first prize in The Southampton Review Short Short Fiction Contest 2019, been a Finalist in Bat City Review 2018 Short Prose Contest and Mid-American Review Fineline 2018 Contest, been published in The Best Micro Fiction 2019, 2020 Anthology. Her stories have been nominated for The Best of the Net, The Best of Small Fictions and The Pushcart. She lives in Texas.
Here’s Charlotte Hamrick’s micro creative nonfiction for The Citron Review, Polaroid.
Charlotte Hamrick’s creative work has been published in numerous online and print journals, most recently including The Citron Review, Flash Frontier, and Emerge Journal. She was a Finalist in Micro Madness 2020, a Finalist for the 15th Glass Woman Prize, and has had nominations for the Pushcart Prize. She reads for Fractured Lit and was the former Creative Nonfiction Editor for Barren Magazine. She lives in New Orleans with her husband and a menagerie of rescued pets.