Mayra Calvani, who has dropped by to chat about her new book Sunstruck a book described as "Salvador Dali meets Terry Gilliam". Who could resist that combination!
Tell me about the origins of Sunstruck – where did the idea for the novel come from; what was the impetus?
The conception of this book stemmed from two factors: my personal observations of Puerto Rican artists when I was a teen and my love for satiric writing, a taste I developed in college. My mother was—and still is—an artist, and although she’s retired now, back in the early eighties she was an active painter in San Juan, showing her works at art exhibits and galleries regularly. She took me everywhere with her, so I attended all these shows and activities and I observed. Let me tell you something, the art scene can be extremely interesting and that is because so many artists are eccentric, unconventional people. And there’s so much jealousy and gossip!
I guess all these experiences must have made an impression on me. When the time came to write my book, I knew these were the people and situations I wanted to write about. I decided I would make the book a parody, this way I could keep it light and have the freedom to exaggerate to the point of being ridiculous. I decided an upbeat, sharp, satiric, darkly humorous approach would be perfect for In the Time of Dinosaurs, so that’s the style I went for. There are a lot of absurd situations in the book. For instance, one of the characters dresses as Zorro and slashes women’s behinds; another starts a hotel where people can share a room with the animal of their choice; another, a nun, rides in a motorcycle wearing cool black glasses and carrying a six pack; another uses fresh human blood to keep her skin looking young. There’s a lot of crazy stuff like that. Ultimately, though, is about a confused young woman looking for meaning among chaos.
Tell me a bit about your protagonist, Daniella.
Daniella is in her mid twenties and already divorced. She’s trying to complete her architecture degree. She’s closest to her mom and her overweight Turkish cat. She doesn’t study as much as she should and drinks a lot more than she should. She’s naive and a bit scattered and keeps falling for the wrong kind of guy—the good-looking, irresponsible, bohemian artist type. She’s a nice girl, but she needs some serious reality check if she’s going to take control of her life. When she starts working at her ex-husband’s animal lovers hotel, she begins to realize there’s something very bizarre going on. At the same time, she’s trying to support her talented, crazy jealous boyfriend Tony, whose ego makes him blind and who doesn’t care about anybody but himself. Then something happens that changes Daniella’s life forever.
Your narrative style is an unusual one. Talk to me a bit about the point of view you chose and the structure and why it fit your characters.
I chose first person, present tense, and multiple points of view separated by chapters. So in each chapter the reader gets in the head of a different character. To be honest, I didn’t choose this consciously, it just happened automatically as I began to write. I should mention, though, that I wrote this book in my early twenties, so my writing style has changed a lot during the years. I first self published the book in Puerto Rico in the late eighties. Only 500 copies which, surprisingly, I managed to sell at local bookstores. Eventually the manuscript went through various edits until I decided to submit it to an American publisher. The editor at Zumaya Publications liked it and offered me a contract.
But to go back to your question, I think the style fits the tone and the story and gave me the freedom to explore the bizarre psychology and motivation of the characters.
What’s next for you? Are you working on a new book or do you have a wish list of projects that you’re hoping to get to soon.
Gosh, I have so many things going on at the moment. I’m a multi-tasker kind of person (sometimes I think this is a curse). I’m working on a YA novel, a MG nonfiction book, and various children’s books in different stages of development. At the same time I’m trying to find a home for a horror novel, an MG novel, and about 15 picture book manuscripts already completed. My friends don’t call me a busy bee for nothing.