Interview with author Raquel I. Penzo

Hello! Please welcome Raquel I. Penzo  author, event planner, literary person of many talents. It’s been my pleasure watching her growth in creativity and accomplishments these last several years. I do think she’d be a great stand up comic. But that’s another blog for another day. Enjoy!

What are your genre and your intended audience?

I write fictional stories because that’s where I’m most comfortable. I don’t write about pretty things and I use tons of foul language. I include a lot of dysfunction and unhappiness even though my own life has been relatively normal and uneventful and charmed and privileged.

But I suppose I should also acknowledge that I have a blog (TheJadedNYer.net, est. 2006) where I write very personal things about myself on an almost-daily basis (1800+ posts and counting). When folks ask if I’ll ever right a memoir I can just point them to that URL.

As for an audience? I’ve never had anyone other than my younger sister Mari in mind when I write. Before it was “Is this story age appropriate for Mari?” or “Will she like this?” But once she entered her 20s I was really able to let go, both in my stories and on my blog, although I still try to not shock or offend her. Not sure how successful I’ve been with that, though!

What are you currently writing?

I don’t have just one thing I’m working on because my brain can’t function like that right now. First, I have a group of short stories inspired by a recent trip to visit my family in the Dominican Republic. My Tia Iris took me to La Descubierta, a small town along the southern region (25 miles from the Haitian border) where my mother’s parents—Candelario Acosta Perez y Rafaela Bermudez Ortiz—met. My mom and Titi Gloris grew up there with my grandmother, great-grandmother Ramona, and a slew of aunts, uncles, and cousins. It was almost surreal to see this magical place I’d always heard about but never knew. It truly inspired me to write—I have five stories drafted from that trip alone! It also inspired me to move there, but that’s a story for another day.

I’m also working on a poem that just burst onto the page from nowhere. I’ve never been good with poetry; for the most part I don’t get it and it confuses me a lot. But I was looking out of the window while riding the F-train, saw the Kent Textiles sign that’s visible when the train is above ground in Park Slope, and <poof!> a poem was born. Obviously it’s about Brooklyn!

In addition to those two projects, I’m editing an anthology for the reading series I curate (the New Voices Reading Series), ghostwriting a book for a client and reading a memoir manuscript for a friend. I consider all of that “writing” because it influences where my ideas come from. The anthology features pieces from writers and poets who’ve participated in the reading series in the past five years, and some of those pieces are amazing! Very indicative of the talent I’ve seen cross the stage at my events. The memoir I’m reading tells such a captivation story of the author’s search for love that it’s making me see my friend in a whole new light. And the book I’m working on for a client is such a departure from what I normally write that it’s comical. I can’t discuss the project but if anyone knew I was writing this they’d laugh heartily!

When do you make time to write?

I am an insomniac and a chronic procrastinator, so I mostly write at night when I should be in bed (think: 3 a.m.), or at work when I should be editing articles or working on a campaign.  Something about only having T-30 seconds to meet a deadline gives me such a rush, and I’m addicted to that feeling. I swear it makes me more productive and creative, but in reality it’s probably just setting me up for a stroke!

What would you have done differently in your writing life? If anything at all?

I would have taken it more seriously earlier than I did. I began my academic career studying engineering and environmental science because I was taught to get a practical job, and that the arts didn’t pay. And while I enjoyed everything I learned in the sciences (it’s still a huge interest of mine) I can’t help but think about all the time I wasted not writing.

Tell us about your marketing strategy.

You would think that someone with nearly eight years of working in marketing and public relations would have a plan, but I don’t. I come up with ideas for events or stories or books and then just go balls to the wall with it. If people get on board, great. If they don’t then I have an excuse to eat my feelings and pout, one of my favorite pastimes.

I definitely see the importance of publishing and getting exposure for your work, and of course monetary compensation never hurt anyone. But I’m of the school of “art should be free,” so if something I wrote, curated or produced touched just one person, but I didn’t make a dime from it, I still feel like I’ve done a good thing.

Does your spiritual or political life influence your writing? If so, how?

I’ve dubbed myself a Recovering Catholic, meaning I was raised in the Catholic faith and then ran screaming from Christianity as soon as I gathered up the courage to do so. I’d be a fool to think this doesn’t influence my work! Just think of all the doubt, self-loathing, repression, and insecurities that have made the cut in all of my stories—that’s definitely latent Catholicism at its best!

As for politics, I’m a little vague on what that means here. I’ve always turned a blind eye to political happenings but one can only do that for so long. I know this white-washed Brooklyn of today influences my writing and my desire to creating a literary community for writers of color. I know that my racial/ethnic/cultural background influences the characters I create, the artists with whom I choose to associate, and the causes I choose to support. And I especially acknowledge that the tumultuous past (and present!) in the Dominican Republic affects what I do and write, too. It’s not something I can escape.

What would you like to see in your literary community?

I truly enjoyed the sense of community I felt while earning my MFA at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and I’d like to recreate that without charging someone $40,000. I loved the workshops, living on campus, sharing meals with other writers, taking day trips, sitting in on panels and lectures, meeting new writers as well as old favorites, trying my hand at a new genre—I fell in love with all of it.

Currently I’m running an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for La Pluma y La Tinta, an organization I co-founded in order to curate and host literary events and provide support to up-and-coming writers and poets. The event everyone knows and loves—the New Voices Reading Series, which features new artists living in and around NYC—is in its fifth year, and that made me want to help this thing I started evolve into something more.

I envision low-cost writing workshops run by talented teaching artists; book clubs that seek out interesting tomes from a variety of authors and not just those displayed in bookstore windows; literary readings for a lively audience; programs for young readers that enhance the school curriculum; a literary magazine; and even a residency in a beautiful international setting. I’ve been called a hippie for having this dream, but that’s fine. A commune of talented writers doesn’t sound too shabby to me at all!

 

BIO: Raquel I. Penzo is a Brooklyn, NY native who has carved a career for herself as a writer, editor and literary event curator, hosting the New Voices Reading Series each quarter in NYC and working in the Marketing & Communications Department of Brooklyn Public Library. Penzo has authored the self-published My Ego Likes the Compliments…And Other Musings on Writing, and the short stories, “Grey Matter,” published online at Blue Lake Review, and “On a Blue Day,” in the zine You Should Be Here.

Visit her online at http://RaquelPenzo.com and the Indiegogo campaign! http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/la-pluma-y-la-tinta-a-home-for-writers

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