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Interview: Ana Hurtado on “Madre Nuestra, Que Estás en Maracaibo”

Ana HurtadoF&SF: How do you describe this story to people?

AH: It’s a short story about redemption, about an unlikely hero, and about how pagan it seems that some Catholics pray to the souls of purgatory. Yesenia, the main character, has failed at her job and at her marriage. She is forced to move back home with her parents. Yesenia fails to move forward with her adult and is now doing what she used to do as a teenager—all of the chores. In the end, she ends up saving her grandmother’s life; the souls Abuela Juana prayed to have come back for her, and Yesenia fights them off.

F&SF: What inspired this story?

AH: According to my aunt who still resides back in Venezuela, my great-grandmother Juana used to pray to the souls stuck in purgatory. I liked imagining these souls manifesting in real life as zombies. The Caribbean is extremely magical, from its environment to its deep colonial history. There’s an unacknowledged wicked side to Catholicism that is brought out with magical realism, and I loved highlighting this in my story. The souls Abuela Juana constantly prayed to are now preying on her; they are monsters who have come back to haunt her. I often think of this religion as monstrous, the way that it was used as a veil for imperialism in Latin America.

F&SF: How is this story personal for you?

AH: The characters of these stories are named after my family back in Venezuela: Matilde after my maternal grandmother, Joaquin after my maternal grandfather from Portugal, and Juana, my maternal great-grandmother. The main character is named Yesenia, after my neighbor in Maracaibo, Venezuela. We are the same age and used to hang out a lot during summers.

It’s a personal story, too, because it’s my way of honoring those little stories that get told while we’re having lunch, or prepping lunch, or washing dishes after lunch—we’re definitely a food-centered culture—and that can be easily glanced over. But the second I heard that my great-grandmother prayed to the dead, I knew there was a story to tell. Like, how creepy and wonderful is that?!

F&SF: We’ve heard that you’ve recently finished a novel based on this story. How did that come about and what does it expand on?

AH: Yes — I have finished now the second draft of my young adult magical realism novel! I’m looking forward to wrapping up the third, and hopefully final draft, and sending it out on queries soon. After finishing this short story, I knew there was so much more I could do with the elements of the Caribbean and the purgatory souls turned zombies. I also wanted to write a book that my little sister, Francis, could’ve enjoyed back when she was in high school.

My novel tells the story of Yesenia (I love that name), a teenage immigrant from Venezuela who now resides in Ecuador, and her first love: a girl named Maria Jose, a ghost who has been roaming around Quito since 1662. The novel interweaves the history of an oppressive hacienda in Ecuador and Caribbean tales of magic to tell the story of a young and impossible first love set in 2007 Quito, Ecuador.

F&SF: Does your writing process vary between short stories and novels?

AH: My MFA thesis was a collection of short stories that explore the pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial history of Ecuador, so I’ve always thought of short stories as a way to encapsulate multiple narratives. It just never occurred to me that I could make the big leap from short story writer to novelist. To be honest, I was petrified. How do people do this.

F&SF: What are you working on right now?

AH: Revising, revising, revising. This is such a colossal project to take on. And the craziest thing is I’m drawing out plans for a retelling of a Greek myth that has been on my mind over the course of the summer; I’m thinking it could be a young adult fantasy novel as well.

You can find Ana Hurtado at these places…

Twitter: @ponciovicario

“Madre Nuestra, Que Estás en Maracaibo” appears in the July/August 2020 issue of F&SF.

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