Details accrue quietly in Tara Isabel Zambrano’s debut collection — in the click-clack of a neighbor’s stilettos, in yolk that clings to the fractured shell of a broken egg, in the color-coded AC/DC signals of a monitor display. The smallness of moments fireworks into fuller versions of the stories they inhabit, enlarging our understanding of their emotional scope, intimating a world bigger than the one we’ve gotten to know.
Both dark and playful, Death, Desire, and Other Destinations is an unsettlingly powerful collection of flash fiction that buzzes with each successive story.
Below, I speak to the author about her narratorial instincts, publishing journey, and the process of selecting stories for this collection.
Hi, Tara! Thanks so much for taking the time out to chat with me! Where are you writing from, and how are you holding up?
Thank you for having me here! Greetings from McKinney, TX. It’s scorching hot here, and given the uncertain times, it gets harder, but mostly I am okay, taking a day at a time.
Your debut collection Death, Desire, and Other Destinations comes out this September via OKAY Donkey Press! Congratulations! How does it feel, to have your first tangible collection of prose coming out in the world?
Thank you so much, Gauraa. It’s been a bittersweet feeling to have my debut collection out when the world, at times, seems to be falling apart, and yet, art is something a lot of us are holding on to, to guide us, carry us through this difficult phase. I believe, I am incredibly fortunate to have a book out with a great publisher like OKAY Donkey Press, to have so many readers and reviewers showing interest and posting positive, encouraging words. I am indebted to the literary community forever.
What did the selection process for this collection look like for you? Did you compile the stories based on their connective tissue? Were there some you were sad to leave out?
In the beginning, when I was thinking of a title, Death and Desire, quickly came to mind and that’s how I started picking up my stories to be a part of this collection. There were some that are close to my heart, but I chose the ones that are more relevant to the title, the best I can offer to the readers. It’s an objective decision for me, not so much of an emotional one. And I am really hoping that the readers connect with most of my work.
How do you find lockdown has impacted your work? Do you have less or more time to spend with your words? Are you leaning into any different directions with your prose?
I have been able to write quite a bit during this lockdown. You can say, it’s how I have distracted myself to stay productive, to stay hopeful. I have written a bunch of micro prose, a few of them breathless paragraphs, because that’s how I feel the story piling up inside me, these days.
Some days, however, it seems like I am writing about the same thing, that sadness , that boredom, that anxiety that’s creeping in all of us these days, but on a rare occasion, I see something sparkling on the horizon, if only for a moment, and it makes me optimistic until the next wave of news comes along.
Do you have a ritual when it comes to writing—a specific time, or day, or perhaps a particular space where you sit down and write?
No, not really. I am a very instinctive, a no-ritual type of writer. I think it’s almost a divine intervention when a certain phrase or an image strikes me and thereafter it’s a flow of words, a lot of which do not end up in the final draft but are like the columns beneath the ground, supporting the structure of my story.
I am also a very impatient writer, so I want to finish a story extremely fast. I am working on the impatient part, and I would like to think, I have improved some by not submitting a story the day it’s written. It’s a slow, arduous process to change a habit.
You’ve mentioned before that you’ve been writing since you were nine, but you hadn’t started submitting your work until 2014. Could you tell us a little bit about your journey in publishing, and finding an audience for flash?
I started writing poems in Hindi/Urdu when I was nine. It was only after I came to the United States, I felt confident about writing in English. Even then it was a blog, which led to more audience who connected with my work. This boosted my spirit to continue writing in English and thereafter, I joined a fiction workshop site, Fictionaut, where I was introduced to the short-short form. I found the form and its precision appealing and challenging and wrote a few pieces that were received very well. I also found a few mentors who gave constructive feedback and helped me grow as a writer. Since then, I found the courage to submit and never looked back.
Your fiction is often very tactile. “Mumtaz in Burhanpur”, for example, has this exquisite line: “She’s twenty. Bananas and history in her teeth.” Could you speak a little bit about collecting and placing detail in your prose?
I remember writing this short piece for Bat City Short Prose contest where the word limit was 400 words. It’s interesting you picked this line, Gauraa, because it is my favorite. I had this image of a girl who is a guide and is rushing to her work, and there is some food stuck in her teeth. So, I added “history” and “banana” to convey the image in least number of words. Compression has always been my goal and to some extent, my strength, but sometimes it doesn’t work, no matter how hard I try.
One of the other details is the “rain falling like loose change” in this short story, “Piecing”. In my head falling rain always sounded like metals rubbing together. And that’s how I arrived at that detail.
The narrator in your story “Cubes” talks about revelation between lines of code: “Every day I go through a new segment of code, line by line, and fix bugs. In between, I have revelations.” Could you speak a little about the overlap between your job as a semiconductor chip engineer and your fiction? How do the two influence each other?
My job as an Electrical Engineer has trained me to look for logical flaws or sequences that do not follow the natural course of cause and effect in my fiction. It gives me the connection between my thoughts/ideas to concrete imagery. It has also enabled me to be objective about my work: to look at rejections, improve and move on. On the other hand, while debugging a circuit in a lab, being hit by a phrase or an image that becomes the opening line for a story, gives my rational mind a whiff of relief.
Queerness and sexuality play quite an important and deliberate role in so many of your stories. “Lunar Love” and “Silent Spaces” are a couple that come immediately to mind—sex is often the hardest subject to write well, and your execution is so neat, seamless. Could you tell us a little bit about your approach to writing sex and sexuality?
I write about sex fondly, with all my senses engaged, with every detail in my head, with every emotion it brings to me. It helps building normalcy with a ring of fascination around it. Re: sexuality, I keep it the way as the story comes to me. “Silent Spaces” arrived in my head as a tale between two girls, same goes for “Lunar Love”. In “Moons of Jupiter”, I don’t explicitly convey the information about the narrator because I felt there was no need to.
What have you been reading lately?
Kimberly King Parsons’ Black Light, Sejal Shah’s This is One Way to Dance. Both exquisite in their prose and depth. From time to time, I pick up Sabrina Orah Mark’s Wild Milk, it’s a beautiful vacation with several worlds at once. Also, I read a lot of flash fiction posted online, daily.
Is there an indie bookstore you’d like to recommend to our readers?
In the past I have ordered books online from Split Lip Press, Bull City Press, Bottlecap Press. I also order books directly from the authors with a personal note if possible. And of course, there’s OKAY Donkey Press, Mason Jar Press, and several other wonderful venues.
Thanks so much for taking the time out to answer these, Tara!
Thank you Gauraa, for taking the time and giving me the opportunity.
Death, Desire, and Other Destinations will be released September, 2020 via OKAY Donkey Press. Click here to pre-order the book.