Henríquez’s stories have been published in The
Yorker, Glimmer Train, Ploughshares,
and AGNI. She earned her undergraduate degree from
Northwestern University and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers'
Workshop. She lives with her husband in Chicago.
with Cristina Henriquez
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Cristina Henriquez: The
earliest story in the book, Mercury, was
written when I was a
sophomore in college (although the version that appears is extensively
revised from that one) and the newest, Ashes, was written
years after that. I was working on other things in between, but I
guess you could say five years from start to finish.
TSR: Did you
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
CH: Not at all. Not
at the beginning, anyway. I was primarily just
trying to get through each story, make it work, figure it out. It
wasn't until I had about four solid stories written that I started
thinking they might work together as a collection.
TSR: How did
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
was never any question about which stories to include. It
wasn't like I had fifteen good stories and needed to whittle it down
to a collection from that. I only had nine pieces that really worked,
so those nine went in. The order was mostly up to my editor, although
I knew I wanted the novella last and I thought i wanted the first
story to be one with a first line I liked. When I go to bookstores, I
read the first line of books and, for better or worse, make some kind
of decision about whether to read further based on that. I liked the
first line of Yanina--"Yanina
has asked me to marry her forty-five
times"--so I think I may have suggested that as the first story. But
after that it was more about creating balance so that the book felt
even all the way through.
TSR: What does the word "story"
mean to you?
CH: To me
it just means a telling. It might have a classic beginning,
middle, end. It might not. It might be fictional. It might not. It
might be oral or visual or written. I don't know. I just think of it
as a telling, with entertainment as its core--though certainly not
TSR: Do you
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
remember when I started taking writing classes and my teachers would
say things about how we should think of the sort of reader we were
writing for, but I was never able to do that for myself. If I start
thinking about readers, I get too anxious about what I'm writing and
freeze up or at the very least don't write as fluidly as I could.
Honestly, I can't tell you what I'm thinking about when I'm writing
beyond the words, the story, the task at hand. When things are going
well, that part of it is so totally absorbing that there isn't room
for much else.
TSR: Is there
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your
anything at all?
I always want to ask Panamanians whether the way I've rendered their
country is authentic. That's something I worry about a lot; I work
really hard to make sure that the details I include in my stories are
true to Panama and a native Panamanian's experience. I feel a huge
self-imposed responsibility to get that stuff right.
TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
It feels ridiculous and great and surprising and terrifying. I still
can't believe it sometimes. And then I have little moments where I
freak out that people are not only buying it, but reading it, which
means that I and my writing ultimately can and will be judged. Scary!
But I'm thankful, of course. It's amazing that I get to do this as a
TSR: What are
you working on now?
I just finished writing a novel called The World in Half,
be published next year. But almost the day after I turned it in, I
started a new story. I can't help myself. Short stories are my true,
TSR: What are
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
CH: Yes, Yes, Cherries by Mary Otis;
Blood Pudding by Art Corriveau;
Migration Patterns by Gary Schanbacher