Sunday, May 2, 2021

Sofía Segovia

Sofía Segovia was born in Monterrey, Mexico. She studied communications at Universidad de Monterrey, mistakenly thinking that she would be a journalist. But fiction is her first love. A creative writing teacher, she has also been a ghostwriter and communications director for local political campaigns and has written several plays for local theater. The Spanish edition of her bestselling El murmullo de las abejas (The Murmur of Bees) was an Audie Award winner and named novel of the year by iTunes, and the English translation by Simon Bruni and narrated by Xe Sands and Angelo Di Loreto was one of Audible’s Top 10 of 2019 and a Voice Arts Award winner. She is also the author of Peregrinos (Tears of Amber), Noche de huracán (Night of the Hurricane), and Huracán (Hurricane).

My Q&A with Segovia:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The original title in Spanish is Peregrinos — Pilgrims— in honor of the oldest and most shared human story of exodus and migration. It didn’t work in English, especially in the US because of the foundational story, and so it had to change. I love the title Tears of Amber because it shows the subtle fantastical element of the story, but it also directly connects the stories of Arno and Ilse. I chose both (Spanish and English titles) in the hope to intrigue, but I know they are still on the abstract side of things. In other words, they don’t give the story away from the get go, but I hope they become clear in the process and still resonate strongly when the reader reaches the end and closes the book.

What's in a name?

I do believe names are crucial. In The Murmur of Bees, Simonopio became what the root of his name signifies —the one who listens—, and I didn’t even know the meaning until after publication. For Tears of Amber it was a bit different: the names Arno and Ilse are the names in real life of my characters, and in honor of their struggle I kept them. For some others, real or imagined, I had to consult the encyclopedia of German or Polish names. My requisite was simple: I had to be able to pronounce them! Having said that, I couldn’t dismiss my past experience with Simonopio. I chose the name Janusz for a character in Tears of Amber because to me, it sounded melodic and benign. Janusz turned out to be as endearing as his name and a favorite character, not only for me, but for most readers.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I like to think that my teenage self would love to read Tears of Amber, and that the characters would give her an important insight into the human condition and the human experience. Although, she would be surprised to learn that she was the author, because my teenage self — as much as she loved reading and writing — didn’t believe in herself, so she didn’t even dare dream. Yet.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

To each its own. In previous novels I’ve known the ending — even to the precise wording— before starting. In Tears of Amber I found the ending to be the biggest challenge to date. From the start I wanted to underscore the continuation of Arno’s and Ilse’s journey —the Mexican connection— but I knew I shouldn’t extend the story even further. I did have to rewrite until I found the perfect approach and the perfect “amberine” solution.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Writing myself in my characters would be boring! I love becoming and feeling “other”, a superpower we, as willing readers, acquire through good fiction. As a writer I make an even more pronounced effort to leave my sense of self behind. Having said that, as I write, I do build an undeniable connection to my characters, whomever they may be. I learn through them. In that exercise, I’ve been old and newborn, of diverse nationalities, evil and good, man and woman, and even bee (in The Murmur of Bees) and dog (in Tears of Amber). I do create them, but I know they transform me. I get back to myself with new insight.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Even when I leave my sense of self behind, current events and politics are ever present in the themes of my novels. The anguish provoked by the daily news moves me. In the paper, every day, one can read the universality of gender violence, the eternal war between good and evil, or the constant rise and fall of totalitarians, for example. I’ve found that they are concepts better analyzed, absorbed, and comprehended through fiction. I take the cold hard facts and figures of the news as inspiration to change the telling of them. The characters in all my novels are common folk like us, like me: people who live and suffer their own current news or circumstances without much say in the matter. In other words, just statistics found in the news. Through fiction, characters can become more real than people in reality, in a way, because they tell of the human experience and condition, something mere statistics can never do.

Also, as I write, I realize that I am combining the cinematic language with the literary, which results in what I feel are some strong cinematic scenes expressed through written language.
Visit Sofía Segovia's website.

The Page 69 Test: Tears of Amber.

--Marshal Zeringue