Thursday, October 4, 2012

Guest Post: Valentina Goldman's Immaculate Confusion

Author of Valentina Goldman’s Immaculate Confusion

About the book:
Set against the backdrop of contemporary Venezuela and the United States, Valentina Goldman’s Immaculate Confusion explores issues of identity, clashes and reconciliations universal to us all. The novel is an eccentric and witty exploration of the immigrant life in the United States.

Q What is Valentina Goldman’s Immaculate Confusion about?
Speaking broadly, this is a humorous story about the life of a sassy Latina in the United States. More specifically the book explores issues of identity, of what it means to straddle two cultures while trying to figure out where home is. Like so many of us, Valentina ends up getting a life she never imagined.

Q What is Valentina confused about?
For starters, Valentina is desperate to assimilate, to blend in. But given how opinionated and eccentric she is, this is next to impossible. In the process of trying to adapt to her adopted country she does crazy things: getting blue contact lenses, then green, dying her hair, changing her name, moving, changing jobs, changing careers. In fact, her favorite saying is: “The secret to happiness is to keep moving.” But while she’s bent on hiding her plight with humor, deep down, Valentina feels like a fugitive on the run. She has no idea where she belongs.

Q In her offbeat way, Valentina paints us a picture of both: her life in the States and in her native Venezuela, complete with details of the whacky lives of the family she left behind. There are roosters involved, eight uncles, mistresses, bows and arrows and a hamster who commits suicide. Do any of her experiences mirror your own life?
When my first book came out people asked me if that was my life. Now you’re asking me the same question. (Laughs).

I think all the stories we tell are like reflections -- angles that shed light on some part of us. I say reflections because they are not the reality itself. For instance, Valentina can’t cook to save her life, whereas I am a chef by training. In order to buck the stereotype that all Latinas have abuelitas who taught them to how to cook, I made Valentina’s first husband -- Jean-Pierre -- the food connoisseur instead. I have worked with many great French chefs and I speak French, so the character of Jean-Pierre came practically fully formed.

I think good fiction cannot be a copy of reality, but rather a sharp observation of reality which you then mold in the service of telling a memorable story.

Q Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Not at all. As a child, I dreamt of being a painter. My high school notebooks are full of renderings of various objects and cartoon characters. The year I turned twelve, my art teacher called my parents to tell them they should not encourage me to pursue painting. As proof, he showed them my oil painting of a seagull which was too large for the rest of the scene, and told them I had no perspective. Almost overnight my parents enrolled me in piano lessons, which I hated.

I don’t know if my decision later in life to pursue an MBA had anything to do with my oversized seagull being rejected. But that’s what I did. After my MBA, I went to work for Citibank in New York. But whenever I went inside the bank building I would stare at all the art on the walls. To this day, if I see art on a wall, any wall, I walk up to it. In fact, one of my favorite scenes in Valentina Goldman takes place at MoMA when she believes she looks like Jackie Kennedy and goes there for an audition.

Q Your first novel, The Lady, The Chef, and The Courtesan, was received to wide acclaim. Where you surprised at how successful it became? How did your life change after that?
The short answer is that my hands and mind became paralyzed. Odd as this might seem, good reviews can be crippling. As the days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months I realized that I was terrified of putting another word to paper. I was so unnerved by the expectations of the second novel that I enrolled in writers’ workshops and attended writers’ conferences.
Most unsettling of all were the constant requests for interviews, talks and public appearances. I have always been a very private person. I remember this particular television interview in L.A. where two reporters from Univision were asking me questions at the same time. I couldn’t even keep up with the answers I was giving them. I was going back and forth from Spanish to English, not knowing if I was making any sense. Afterwards, I felt like a clown. I went back to my hotel and cried myself to sleep. What’s most vivid about that time was how emotionally charged it was. In the end -- probably subconsciously -- I enrolled in culinary school to escape writing altogether. Being a chef has given me distance and perspective. It’s a pressure-filled job, but it is never as terrifying as facing a blank piece of paper. As a chef, you always have ingredients at hand. I can’t say the same of being a writer.

Q What comes first to you, a voice or a story?
I don’t know for other writers, but for me it is the voice that inhabits me first. I say inhabit because I can be happily going about my day when a voice gets inside my head and it won’t let me go until I come up with a story for it.

Q Is that how Valentina Goldman came about?
Almost. I heard Valentina’s voice in my head one day when I was working as a chef in Istanbul. But it took years to get to that point, to allow myself to hear her voice, any voice for that matter.

At the risk of sounding like a schizophrenic who “hears voices,” let me explain. Before I could write again I had to go through a painful re-alignment of priorities. It took many years to come to the understanding that I like writing for the fun of it -- whether it gets good reviews, bad reviews, or no reviews.
It wasn’t until I left the chaos, the pressures, and the unrealistic expectations that come with being a writer that I was able to create someone as eccentric, as flawed, as offbeat as Valentina. That may be why everyone who reads her story says that her voice is very fresh.
Despite other people’s opinions, despite the ups and downs of the publishing business, despite what is and isn’t popular right now, whenever I think of Valentina, I smile. After all those years fumbling in the dark, it’s good to be able to smile again.

About Marisol Murano:
A native of Venezuela, Marisol Murano is the best-selling author of The Lady, The Chef, and The Courtesan (Harper Collins), set in 1950’s Venezuela and modern-day Chicago. The novel won numerous awards, was selected as an Original Voices from Border’s, was picked as a BookSense selection and was has been translated into several languages. Valentina Goldman’s Immaculate Confusion is Murano’s second novel. She is also the author of a cookbook, Deliciously Doable Small Plates from Around the World, based on stories and recipes she collected during her travels as an international chef.
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  1. Great post!
    Sounds pretty good.
    Valentina is my daughter's name.

  2. The story sounds kind of awesome. I'm usually a little weary of Latin characters but Valentina sounds like she hits the right notes.
    I'm going to try to check out this book!

    1. I agree. Why are you weary of Latin characters though?

    2. Because I'm Latin/Mexican myself and I rarely find an accurate representation. It's either way over the top or people think throwing a "Dios Mio" and "Mija" every once in a while counts as characterization. Most people I know don't even use those words often.

    3. You know what, I had no idea. When you do find one that is an accurate representation, let me know because I want to be able to tell the difference.

  3. I don't know that I've read a book with a Latin character in a while. I'll have to check this author out further. And boo to her art teacher discouraging her in her painting and drawing.

    1. I haven't either. Books with diverse characters don't land in my lap like others.

  4. It does sound fun and I like that title :D

  5. This really sounds very very interesting. I love the Q&As and the main character is very interesting, even though I've never read of anyone like Valentina. Thanks for sharing! :)

    1. I haven't either but I love discovering something new in characters.

  6. Great interview. I think the blending of cultures and adjusting to change like that is something that can speak to all readers.


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