In Conversation: Brian Centrone and Rose Yndigoyen
Author: Brian Centrone
October 26, 2013
When New Lit Salon Press opened a call for our Southern Gothic anthology we knew to expect the unexpected. As the stories rolled in, the level of talent our call was attracting became clear. One of the most unexpected stories was from recent Lambda Literary Fellow Rose Yndigoyen. Not only was her story evocative of the Southern Gothic genre, it was a sweet lesbian love story at that. Fresh off her fellowship, NLSP decided to sit down with Rose and discuss her first piece of published fiction, “Long Gone Girls,” what brought her to Lambda, and how she’s living the American dream. This smart, talented, and insightful emerging writer will never be “long gone” herself.
Rose, your story “Long Gone Girls” focuses on “forbidden love.” Can you discuss how that fits into the Southern Gothic genre, and how, as a gay writer, that theme is important, or prevalent to you?
Southern Gothic, to me, has a lot to do with alienation – somehow aspects of whole personhood being pushed down or pushed under or aside – which I think creates a lot of the haunting feelings that are prevalent in the genre. You have pieces of people floating everywhere within a very structured society. In my story, those pieces of people find each other, and it becomes a strange love. Maybe not exactly forbidden, but not really sanctioned either.
That kind of liminal space where things are known but unspoken, or seen but not identified– a kind of shared secret space–is very important to me personally and in my writing. I feel like as a queer kid, at least growing up when I did, you come of age in secret, in a way. For example, there were actually quite a few other kids in my high school who turned out to identify as gay or lesbian. We were all there together, and we were even friends, but we didn’t talk about what we were each going through, at all. For myself, I know I didn’t have the language I needed to even have those conversations. So now looking back, I feel like I did share a coming of age, coming out with those kids, but it was just unknown to us at the time. That fascinates me. In one way, as an out, confident adult I’m like, “Teen Rose, you should have just kissed some girls!” But in another way, I honor and love the experience I did have, even if it was a sort of ghostly one. And I think that informs all of my writing.
Gay fiction is often set apart as its own genre. But in this anthology Southern Gothic is the genre, and your story is just one among many. Do you feel, as a gay writer, that you have a certain responsibility to represent your community in the literary world? How does that motivate you to write?
I really just work to represent myself. I am motivated to write the things I want to read, because there are not enough stories about/by people like me (brown person, lesbian, nerd…) yet. So I need to put some out and maybe some other people will too and we’ll connect and build the history of ourselves together.
I can only think of it that way, because I can’t, myself, presume to define some massive “community” that I represent. Among many other things, I identify as a lesbian, and as Hispanic. But lots of lesbians aren’t like me; lots of Hispanic people aren’t like me. I can only be myself, and anyone who sees something of themselves in what I put out, I’m honored to connect. I will say, a lot of times, straight women have expressed interest in what I write, maybe because there’s a sort of active feminine sexuality in my writing that they enjoy and maybe don’t see a lot. I don’t know what it is, but I’m glad if anyone feels I’m writing something they can relate to.
This happens to be a big year for you. In addition to the publication of your first piece of fiction, you were also a Lambda Literary Fellow this year. Congratulations! Tell us a little bit about what brought you to Lambda?
I decided this year that I really needed to push myself out as a writer. So I was looking for opportunities to submit my work, and ways to connect with working writers and just be more public with a “writer” identity for myself. Applying to the Lambda retreat was more of an aspirational, motivational tool in that effort than anything else. I figured I’d apply, get rejected, and try again next year. I was shocked when I got the news that I was selected for the YA/genre workshop. And thrilled of course!
We are definitely excited you did push yourself. Since your focus is on Young Adult fiction, why do you think it is important to have LGBT voices represented in literature for young people?
YA is the best! The most interesting, strange stories are YA. It’s that liminal space again. Adolescents are constantly changing and open to all kinds of odd influences that adults would like to think they are above, and the literature reflects that, bringing in supernatural elements, sci-fi elements, or just strange experiences in everyday life. And it’s important to have LGBT voices in literature for young people, because it’s important to have LGBT voices in everything. Representation is crucial, if certain identities aren’t represented in literature, television, film, science, whatever, it’s like they don’t exist.
Speaking of representation, you have a wife and children! How does it feel to be living the “American Dream?”
Ha! It’s true, in a lot of ways we are somewhat traditional. My wife and I have always felt that was part of our connection, that we had similar values about family togetherness. My own family has always enacted those values in a way that is truly loving and inclusive, and I definitely want to pass that on.
We became foster parents last year. I think people often wonder why we didn’t try to adopt or follow some other path to a “forever family.” But that’s not the priority for us at the moment, the priority is sharing the love and resources and knowledge that we have with the children who need it, right now. And we have amazing, amazing kids, and are having a very positive experience as foster parents. And these experiences with our kids will be with us forever, even if the foster placement is temporary.
I think of us as an updated version of the American Dream, more multicolored and queerer in many ways than what that phrase meant in the past. I actually want to get a tattoo of an illustration from Little House on the Prairie, which is a story that I think is very connected with popular ideas of American identity. The Ingalls had their American destiny, I have mine, but we have more connections than you’d think. I think it’ll be fitting to have this tattoo, with my skin showing through their faces.
Also, I have to say, my wife is the most loving, brilliant, beautiful human being, and she’s my real dream come true.
“Long Gone Girl” can be categorized as a ghost story. Have you ever had any ghostly experiences?
I wish. When I was about ten, I was really into ghosts and supernatural things. My best friend and I would go to the library and get out all these books on ESP and haunting and try to conjure up some excitement. But nothing otherworldly ever materialized.
Nothing otherworldly may have materialized, but your talent for the written word certainly has. As an emerging writing, will you share with us your hopes for your future?
I just plan to keep writing and keep putting my work out there. Right now I’m focused on my YA novel, which I workshopped at the Lambda retreat. I hope to have that finished by this winter and move on to a project I’ve been thinking about for so long, a historical romance about women in the armed forces during WWII. I just feel like I have so many stories that I want to dig into and play with and enjoy for myself, my hope is to do it well enough that other people want to share them with me.