#WritersRead -- María Dueñas

Article by annalia

Before her first novel, THE TIME IN BETWEEN, became an international bestseller, María Dueñas was like many of us: a writer with a homeless manuscript, armed with nothing but the vague hope her story would be good enough. But with her unpretentious language, globetrotting narratives, and complex leading ladies, Dueñas makes herself easy to love.

In her second novel, THE HEART HAS ITS REASONS, she gives us Blanca Perea, a professor in Madrid who takes to distant California when some unexpected news demands a change of scenery. With her husband gone and her sons fully grown, Perea’s time in a foreign land allows her to discover the solitude in independence and the joy of searching.

We talked to Dueñas about the research process, international audiences, and fantasies of bookselling in this installment of #WritersRead.

Brazos Bookstore: As in your first novel THE TIME IN BETWEEN, THE HEART HAS ITS REASONS has strong links to Spanish history. What type of research do you do when constructing your novels?

María Dueñas: The research process of a novel is something that fascinates me. Sometimes I even have to force myself to stop; that's when I say, "Enough, my dear. You are writing fiction, not a PhD dissertation." While researching, I'm like a vampire; I manage to suck information from all possible sources. I use the most orthodox channels: books, academic journals, period newspapers. I also watch films and documentaries, and search for all type of images: old photographs, paintings… I talk to people connected with the moments or the scenarios I'm going to use. And I listen to music: old songs are wonderful tools to create atmospheres. Once I have a sound knowledge of the real times and places, I start building my fiction on top of it.

BB: How has having an international audience shaped the stories you tell?

MD: When I wrote THE TIME IN BETWEEN, I was unable to think about any audience at all. I didn't even know if I was going to be able to get my novel published. To my huge surprise (and unexpected satisfaction), the legendary word-of-mouth phenomenon made my novel become a wonderful success in Spain and, after that, international publishers started showing their interest. It ended up being translated into twenty-something languages, and I have been invited to many different countries to talk about it. From Sweden to China, from Italy to Taiwan. And to the U.S., of course. And, to my astonishment, readers of fully divergent cultures, ages, interests and backgrounds, enjoyed my book equally. So my guess is that if you have a good story that reaches the readers' soul, it can be equally appreciated globally regardless of where it comes from.

As for my second novel, THE HEART HAS ITS REASONS (in Spanish, originally titled MISIÓN OLVIDO), it's a story that crosses decades and geographies (1999, the fifties, the US, Spain...), but again it talks about human feelings and hopes and frustrations and passions. And once again, it's being appreciated by divergent readers all over the world.

BB: What Spanish language authors would you recommend?

MD: A lot, dead and alive, from Latin America and from Spain. Unfortunately, not all of them have been translated into English. But among the ones who are available in translation, I would start with the big names--Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa--and continue with some younger ones: Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Javier Cercas, Javier Sierra, Rosa Montero…

BB: What are some of your fondest memories of bookstores?

MD: I adore bookstores. I've always envied booksellers, among whom I have great friends. I have even fantasized with my sisters and with friends about embarking on the adventure of owning one. I love the whole variety, from tiny corner stores in which you can buy newspapers and candy--very common in Spain--to huge chains expanded all over a country. But I very particularly love those ones run by brave, inspirational, knowledgeable individuals who appreciate good books and contribute to create good readers.

BB: You have no idea whom we'll talk to for the next Brazos Q&A, but never mind that: What should we ask him/her?

MD: I'm very curious about other writers' lives and work, so I'd have an enormous list of questions. Starting with, “Why do you write--and where, and how…?” and ending with questions about little details and tricks.

BB: Speaking of which, Gary Shteyngart wants to know: How do you keep your hair so beautiful?

MD: Are you sure this question is for me? I would give you all the talent I have as a writer if you could get me a wonderful, thick, shiny mane of hair.


María Dueñas reads and signs her novel THE HEART HAS ITS REASONS Wednesday, November 12 at 7PM. Reserve your copy here!

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