Interviewed by Sarah Starr Murphy
Read Tara Isabel Zambrano’s fiction piece, One Milky Window
Sarah: Delhi comes alive in this piece through direct personification and fabulous details like the koels and the brake lights of the traffic jam. The city stands in for emotions that the narrator may not be able to claim for herself. In the beginning, the city is suffocating, isolated, frosty. Sunlight peeks in, and then the electricity of a storm, full of lust. Finally, the bazaar mirrors the changes in the narrator’s body—wild, resplendent with colors and life. It’s fascinating to watch a character’s emotions play out not in their thoughts, but in the surrounding environment. How important is setting to you as a writer? Do you think of setting first, before plot and character?
Tara: I am always mindful of surrounding environment as a writer. To me, atmosphere is a mirror of a character and his/her perception/mood. To say whether I think of it before plot and character, not really. Usually, I start any story with an image and that image a wholesome moment in terms of the character, the conflict, the setting. From that point on, I build all three and see where it takes me.
One of the things I love about this piece is how it captures the surreal nature of trying to conceive, especially with methods like IVF. It seems that this couple has been struggling with infertility for a while, but we only get a glimpse of it here. What made you decide to start the story where you did?
I started with an image of a wife, feeling lonely, waiting for her husband. Which is to say, a commonplace. So I had to write the beginning several times, to make it something that I liked when I read it over and again.
At the end, it’s clear the narrator is pregnant. Yet it doesn’t feel triumphant: she’s still in the uncertain early days of her pregnancy, and although the couple’s relationship has evolved it’s not tremendously improved. How did you know that you’d found the right ending?
People take a while to change, if at all. This story has a streak of hopefulness in the character that if she has a child, her husband might be less distant. But as the story progresses, it reveals itself as an image that is sad and realistic, flawed yet as humans we don’t give up hope, we can’t. And I will take that mess every time than having a clean table.
Most writers have at least one day job, but your bio stands out. How does working in such a radically different field affect your writing? How do these very different pursuits complement each other?
Yes, being an engineer who designs/architects semiconductor circuits, may seem like a far away world from creating fiction, but they intersect in interesting ways. Both require keen observation and attention to details. Of finding out the root cause in case things don’t work. While the world of logic and mathematics is deterministic, sometimes I arrive at the conclusion earlier because of intuition and not rationale. And while writing is purely creative, I use logic to make my stories work, a sequence of cause and effect, if that makes sense.
What are you reading at the moment? Or, what was the last book you read that you really loved?
I am about to start Dustin Hoffman‘s “No Good for Digging.” I have just finished Sabrina Orah Mark’s “Wild Milk,” and Carmen Maria Machado’s “In the Dream House.” I loved the fragmented structure in Carmen’s book, which is something I relate to a lot, because I am a flash fiction writer. The sensual, aching descriptions in her story like a pinch of potent, my mother-in-law’s home made garam masala in my Indian food, just right. “Wild Milk” has muscular details, the writing is seamless. It occupies a different mind space.
Congratulations, and thank you for doing this interview!
Thank you for giving me this opportunity.