By Elizabeth Jordan
Darlene Campos was born in October 1991 to Ecuadorian immigrants. She wrote her first poem when she was 10. It was later published in the anthology A Celebration of Young Poets. Her short story “Don’t Go Back to Stoneville” was published in 2010 in The Four Cornered Universe and later reappeared in The Collegiate Scholar. Her poem titled, fittingly, “The Napkin Poem” appears in the spring 2012 issue of The Aletheia.
Currently, Darlene is an English major with a minor in Medicine and Society. She was admitted to the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program this past spring and is very excited to take her prose a step further. She is currently working on a novel titled Thunderclap of the Ridge.
While reading Darlene’s submissions for the upcoming chapbook, I was struck by her intriguing and diverse narratives. We discussed her work in a brief interview.
[Note: This interview makes reference to Darlene’s stories “Lost Angeles” and “The Bar Mitzvah of Soloman Robatzi,” both of which will appear on this site in the coming weeks. “Lost Angeles” is excerpted in the fall 2012 issue.]
In “Lost Angeles” and “The Bar Mitzvah of Solomon Robatzi,” you exercise a vast knowledge of two very different cultures. What inspired these perspectives? How has your personal background shaped these narratives, if at all?
“Lost Angeles” and “The Bar Mitzvah of Solomon Robatzki” deal with themes that are totally out of my background. I’m not Native American or Jewish. “Write what you know” is not bad advice, but I can be a rebel when it comes to writing. For a time, I did write only what I knew and I bored myself to tears. The point of writing is to be creative and to have freedom, not to be restricted to certain areas. Of course, I do extensive research before writing a multicultural work in order to avoid stereotypes and other problems. I come across people who say “Darlene, you’re from Ecuador, shouldn’t you write about being Ecuadorian?” and all I can think is “Why? I’m not just Ecuadorian. I’m a person too.” Likewise, you don’t have to be Jewish to write about Jews and you don’t have to be Ecuadorian to write about Ecuadorians. If you want to write outside of what you know, all you need is admiration for the unknown and a story idea.
In your featured story “Lost Angeles,” Geranimo and Ate work in Hollywood exploiting their traditional Sioux background for tourist’s money. Yet they still practice their culture’s tradition by attending the grass dances and using their native vernacular. Was there a struggle in writing that delicate balance? You’re characters come off so modern with a traditional twist that it may speak to many audiences today about attending to their own culture’s roots; was that a forethought when writing this piece?
Seeing how Geronimo is a grass dancer and that his parents participate in the Los Angeles Pow Wow shows how close the Thunderclap family is to their culture. Though Geronimo and Ate dress in their regalia to impress tourists for money, they’re only doing so because they really want to go home. While “Lost Angeles” can be called a Native American story, it’s much more than that. Ate wants to go home because he misses his wife. Geronimo wants to go home because he feels he doesn’t have a purpose in Los Angeles, especially since Cindy, his ex-girlfriend, is now engaged. At the end of the story, Geronimo is still conflicted with being back on the reservation since he’s been away for so long. It isn’t until weeks later that he feels comfortable. The moment Geronimo feels “home” is when he sees his parents being affectionate towards each other. The Thunderclaps are a Sioux family from the reservation, but they’re also a typical loving family and they can’t stand being away from each other.
Short story writing is a less common form used in today’s wide literary circles. How do you feel this literary structure benefits or frees you? How does it help you convey the stories you wish to write?
In my opinion, it is much harder to write a short story than to write a novel. With a novel, there is space to expand, but in short stories, space is precious. I admire those who write flash fiction of 1,000 words or less. But, short stories allow for stories which are not novel length to be told. Take Shirley Jackson’s classic short story “The Lottery”– it’s a moving story which didn’t need to be a novel. “The Bar Mitzvah of Solomon Robatzki” is one of the shortest stories I’ve ever written, but I felt it got to the point. “Lost Angeles” is actually somewhat of a sequel to an unpublished novel I wrote titled Thunderclap of the Ridge. In the novel, Geronimo is a newborn baby and later a small toddler with limited dialogue. I’m not sure if one day Geronimo will have a novel length story, but for now, I feel he was perfect for “Lost Angeles.” Short stories are essential to the literary world since they are able to provide a full story within a limited amount of words.