Given everything that’s going on in the world right now, writing is the last thing on many people’s minds. Amidst the uncertainty, anxiety, and grief, many of our writing projects have taken a back seat to other more pressing demands.
But what if we approach writing not as a solitary distraction or a productivity demand but rather as a vital source of social support? How might the bonds forged through collaboratively writing with another sustain us through this incredibly difficult time?
Our guests for today’s episode, Juana María Rodríguez and Emma Pérez, have published six books between them and are working on two more. But as they explain in our conversation, they approach writing not just as an individual obligation to publish but as a daily craft, a cultivated practice built on queer intimacy and mutual support. As long-term writing partners, Juana and Emma show us what it means to truly trust someone else with our words and what it means to hold space for another over time, distance, and radical change.
In episode 110 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach interviews queer feminist Chicanx novelist and scholar Emma Pérez and queer feminist Latinx studies scholar Juana María Rodríguez about the changes COVID-19 has brought to their daily writing routines, how to harness the unsexy parts of writing when inspiration seems hard to come by, building long-term writing partnerships that offer life support as much as writing support, and the vitality of queer friendship as a way to imagine otherwise.
Guest: Juana María Rodríguez
Juana María Rodríguez is a professor of ethnic studies and performance studies at the University of California, Berkeley and is one of the foundational voices in the interdisciplinary fields of queer of color critique and queer transnational feminist cultural studies.
Her research focuses on racialized sexuality and gender, queer of color theory and activism, affect and aesthetics, technology and media arts, law and critical race theory, and Latinx and Caribbean literatures and cultures.
Juana is the author of two books, Queer Latinidad: Identity Practices, Discursive Spaces (NYU Press, 2003) and Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures, and Other Latina Longings (NYU Press, 2014), which won the Alan Bray Memorial Book Prize at the Modern Language Association and was a Lambda Literary Foundation Finalist for LGBT Studies.
In addition to her academic publications, her work has been featured in Aperture, NPR’s Latino USA, NBC, the Canadian News Network, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Cosmopolitan for Latinas.
Guest: Emma Pérez
Born in El Campo, Texas, Emma Pérez is the author of The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History (1999), a foundational text of decolonial studies and queer of color critique.
Her first novel, Gulf Dreams, was published in 1996 and is considered one of the first Chicana lesbian novels in print. Her novel Forgetting the Alamo, or Blood Memory (2009) is a Chicana lesbian western that challenges the whiteness and maleness of the genre and won the Christopher Isherwood Writing Grant (2009) as well as the National Association for Chicana/Chicano Studies Regional Book Award for fiction (2011). Emma’s latest novel, Electra’s Complex (2015), is an erotic, academic murder mystery.
Emma earned her PhD in history from the University of California, Los Angeles and has chaired departments at the University of Texas, El Paso and the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is currently a social research scientist and professor at the University of Arizona with the Southwest Center and Department of Gender and Women’s Studies.
We chatted about
- Writing routines during a pandemic (1:53)
- Building a collaborative morning writing routine (4:56)
- Managing guilt over not writing (9:37)
- Using the unsexy parts of writing to move forward when lacking inspiration (15:09)
- Juana and Emma’s journey into becoming writing partners (19:12)
- How to ask for what you need from your writing partner (26:40)
- Working with independent publishers versus university presses (34:24)
- Imagining otherwise (38:16)
Juana and Emma’s morning writing routine
What we do is Emma and I write together. What we do is, I wake up, I’m laying in bed, I’m tweeting. At some point I’ll send Emma a text and say, “Are you writing?” And Emma will say, “Okay, I’m getting my coffee.” We get our coffee together. Then at some point, “You ready?” “Sure.” Somebody sets a timer, and we write for 30 minutes. It’s kind of become our morning routine.—Juana María Rodríguez
Writing for yourself, not others
At this point, I’m not really doing this for anyone else. I’m not disappointing anyone if I don’t write. No one’s expecting this. It doesn’t impact my career. It’s not going to get me more money. It’s not going to change my status in the world. It’s for me….We both define ourselves as writers. We’re both academics and they pay our bills. But I think we both think of ourselves as, first and foremost, writers. When the job is over, the writing will still be there. It’s not just for the institution, it’s for something else.—Juana María Rodríguez
The joy of daily writing
The joy of writing daily—it’s such a privilege and such a luxury. But it’s also work and the work sometimes is really difficult. But you’ve got to put the time in. Like anything else, you’ve got to put the time in. It’s a craft. Sometimes that craft is just kicking your butt, but you got to stay with it.—Emma Pérez
Not waiting for a muse
Who was it, James Baldwin, who would talk about how the characters weren’t talking to him today and his frustrations over that? So yeah, I mean you don’t wait around for a muse. You just do it. I think that’s something that we all have to be aware of, well, most writers are aware of. It’s a craft like any other. You develop it and you only develop it by putting in the time. And sometimes, you write some pretty shitty sentences.—Emma Pérez
Juana imagining otherwise
I have been thinking a lot about friendship. What would it mean to treat each other from an ethics of friendship? Like how you would treat a friend? To think of the ways in which we’re interconnected, interrelated, and in community?…It’s that sense of taking care of each other, being present for one another, paying attention to what our needs are, and trying to help us imagine a world where our needs are met—not just our physical needs but our needs for connection, community, love, touch, and care.—Juana María Rodríguez
Emma imagining otherwise
What I’m trying to show, in Forgetting the Alamo and The Decolonial Imaginary, is how do we think differently? How are we going to permit ourselves to take a leap and to think differently so that we free ourselves up from these boundaries and rigidities that don’t allow for differences, for people to express their differences in ways that are freeing?—Emma Pérez
More from Juana María Rodríguez and Emma Pérez
- Juana’s book Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures, and Other Latina Longings
- Juana’s book Queer Latinidad: Identity Practices, Discursive Spaces
- Juana on Instagram
- Juana on Twitter
- Emma’s book Gulf Dreams
- Emma’s book The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History
- Emma’s book Forgetting the Alamo, or Blood Memory
- Emma’s book Electra’s Complex
- Emma on Twitter
People and projects discussed
- James Baldwin
- Duke University Press
- Aunt Lute Books
- Third Woman Press
- University of Texas Press
- Gloría Anzaldúa’s book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza
- Crip studies/crip theory
About Imagine Otherwise
Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds.
Imagine Otherwise is hosted by Cathy Hannabach and produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.
Cathy Hannabach (00:03):
Welcome to Imagine Otherwise, the podcast about the people and projects, bridging art, activism and academia to build a better worlds. Episodes offer in depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty gritty work of imagining otherwise. I’m your host, Cathy Hannabach.
Cathy Hannabach (00:23):
Given everything that’s going on in the world right now, writing is the last thing on many people’s minds. Amidst the uncertainty, anxiety and grief, many of our writing projects have taken a back seat to other more pressing demands. But what if we approach writing not as a solitary distraction or productivity demand, but rather as a vital source of social support? How might the bonds forge through collaborative writing with another, sustain us through this incredibly difficult time?
Cathy Hannabach (00:52):
My guests for today’s episode, Juana María Rodríguez and Emma Pérez, have published six books between them, and are working on two more. But as they explained in our conversation, they approach writing not just as an individual obligation to publish, but as a daily craft, a cultivated practice built on queer intimacy and mutual support. As long-term writing partners, Juana and Emma show us what it means to truly trust someone else with our words, and what it means to hold space for another over time, distance and radical change.
Cathy Hannabach (01:26):
In our interview we discuss the changes that COVID-19 has brought to their daily writing routines, how to harness the unsexy parts of writing when inspiration seems hard to come by, building long-term writing partnerships that offer life support as much as writing support and the vitality of queer friendship as a way to Imagine Otherwise.
Cathy Hannabach (01:47):
Thank you so much, for being with us today.
Juana María Rodríguez (01:49):
Thank you, for having us.
Emma Pérez (01:51):
Yes, thank you so much Cathy.
Cathy Hannabach (01:53):
Like a lot of writers and scholars in this age of a global pandemic, we are all working under very different circumstances than we normally do. I would love to talk to you two about your writing routines broadly, how you approach writing and your writing goals when you’re writing projects, under normal circumstances as well but also how you’ve been navigating that in our current moment.
Cathy Hannabach (02:20):
How have your writing routines or practices changed in these recent times, and how are you navigating some of those changes?
Juana María Rodríguez (02:29):
Well, one of the things is, I think I had a pretty healthy writing practice before all of this happened. I’m on this great group Writing Every Day. My goal is generally to try to write a little something every day, even if it’s just half an hour, and build that up every day.
Juana María Rodríguez (02:54):
For me, initially, there was just a lot disruption. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t get centered. But now, I’m getting back to that normal. So I get to pretend, in my normal writing day, that this is just a normal day. I’m just doing what I always do. So it’s trying to reach for that sense of normal. I think my writing routine really helps, me more than anything else, feel okay.
Cathy Hannabach (03:30):
Emma, do you also have that feeling of writing being something that grounds you or makes you feel a little bit more normal?
Emma Pérez (03:36):
Absolutely. Absolutely. But, like Juana María, I’ve had a writing routine for a long career as a professor as well. The thing about writing, and Juana María and I talk about this a lot too, is that when we get sabbaticals, when we get extended time away from the university and all of the demands…because I’ve chaired before, and I know how Juana María’s doing that right now. I know how demanding that can be, the committee work and all of that stuff.
Emma Pérez (04:11):
So, selfishly, I feel really guilty right now because I have this time. I’m one of the lucky ones that can focus on my writing, and I’m happy that I finally have some time. And it’s a horrible time to for so many people. I do get depressed though, believe me, if I read the news too much. Then I go into deep denial for the afternoon and I bury myself inside my writing project. But without the writing….Like Juana María, I try to be pretty disciplined, and I think that getting up in the morning and writing immediately helps me tremendously, and then it will determine whether I have a good day or not.
Juana María Rodríguez (04:56):
That’s so true. What we do is Emma and I write together. What we do is, I wake up, I’m laying in bed, I’m tweeting. At some point I’ll send Emma a text and say, “Are you writing?” And Emma will say, “Okay, I’m getting my coffee.” We get our coffee together. Then at some point, “You ready?” “Sure.” Somebody sets a timer, and we write for 30 minutes. It’s kind of become our morning routine.
Juana María Rodríguez (05:36):
Before I answer any emails, before I look at anything else, I might poke around in the news. But really, the first thing that I do every day is write. And doing that with just…the commitment is just 30 minutes. So for the most part, I think Emma, we honor at least 30 minutes a day.
Emma Pérez (06:00):
Yeah. A minimum. But we do go on. A lot of the time, we do 90 minutes easy. The reasons we have to stop is Juana María’s chairing so she goes off to meetings. Sometimes I have email from work and different things to do, FaceTime with my daughter so we can do her homework, things like that. I just really relish the mornings, when I know that I’m going to get a text, or I’ll send a text and say, “Hey, let’s do this.”
Emma Pérez (06:33):
It’s a way of really encouraging you to get there, and to get to the computer without checking my horoscope, and checking all the email, and checking the latest news about whatever. So, yeah, it’s helpful that it’s helpful to check in with someone, even if we don’t always share the writing immediately.
Cathy Hannabach (06:59):
It seems too that it’s a way to get the writing done before the world impinges, like before the news starts becoming real, before the email gets opened, before the life stuff, both good and bad, starts to become more prominent. It’s writing first.
Emma Pérez (07:18):
Juana María Rodríguez (07:21):
I remember when all of the COVID stuff started, it was just so hard to get back to that routine. It was like, “Okay, I’m just going to do a half hour. I’m just going to do a half hour.” It seemed like even if I’m just kind of moving those words around on a screen for half an hour, it was a little something. If I can commit to that half hour, if I’ve been away from it for a while, I’m writing every day. A couple of times I’ve thrown out these 10-day challenges.
Juana María Rodríguez (07:59):
I find that if I do 30 minutes a day, maybe the first day or the second day, nothing really happens. I’m just staring at my screen. I’m frustrated, whatever. But by day three or four, I’m excited to get back to it. I think having the commitment be really small, really manageable, makes it possible. Like I say, I’m chairing in the middle of a goddamn pandemic.
Juana María Rodríguez (08:28):
I’m not teaching so I don’t really have a lot of intellectual stimulation. Even just having that little half hour where I feel like a writer, where I feel like I’m in the realm of ideas, makes the drudgery of emails and reports and spreadsheets possible.
Cathy Hannabach (08:54):
One of the things that I talk a lot with clients is people’s guilt over not writing or not writing enough or not writing for long enough or not writing in the way that they wanted to, or not fill in the blanks. Everybody has their own personalized version of that guilt or anxiety.
Cathy Hannabach (09:14):
I’m curious how you two set boundaries on your writing or give yourself permission to not feel guilty when you don’t write or you can’t write? When life impinges, because it always does, and the writing is just not going to happen today. How do you set those kinds of boundaries or navigate those feelings of guilt?
Juana María Rodríguez (09:37):
It’s funny because sometimes I feel guilty because I’m writing, not the other way around. Because I should be doing this other thing. So there’s a little bit of flipping that. Not writing, if I can’t do it, I just don’t do it. I don’t have that guilt because, I don’t have…Emma and I have talked about this. At this point, I’m not really doing this for anyone else. I’m not disappointing anyone if I don’t write. No one’s expecting this. It doesn’t impact my career. It’s not going to get me more money. It’s not going to change my status in the world. It’s for me.
Juana María Rodríguez (10:27):
Every now and then I do have an early meeting, or I have something, it’s like, “Okay, I can’t do it today.” It’s like, “Sorry, Emma, I’m not writing today. I have this to do.” That actually just feels okay.
Emma Pérez (10:41):
Yeah, Juana María’s healthier than I am because I do punish myself. For example, yesterday, I think I wrote 22 words. I feel lousy for the rest of the day because I pressure myself a lot. I’m working on fiction right now. I go back and forth between the fiction and the academic work but the fiction is what feeds my soul and my heart. It’s harder for me to do the fiction because it takes so long to get the novel the way that I want it.
Emma Pérez (11:17):
I’m towards the end of this one. I’m on part three. So I’ve been mulling ideas a lot, and I’ve been looking at the draft a lot and I now I’m dreaming the characters. It’s a good place to be and it’s because I haven’t been interrupted with other stuff. Although I do feel guilty because I’m not doing the work that I need to do for my program as quickly as I should be doing it, and people have to harangue me. I have to let go of that, and say, “Okay, I will get to it. I’ll make time for it in the afternoon, when I’ve done my writing.”
Emma Pérez (11:52):
But yeah, I do tend to pressure myself too much. Is it going to be good enough? And like Juana María, though, it’s not as if it’s going to transform my life or transform my career. What it does though is feed my soul. If I’m able to write for and reach the people I love, my friends and family, and if they like something I’ve written or they’re moved by it, then it brings me a lot of a lot of happiness.
Emma Pérez (12:25):
The joy of writing daily—it’s such a privilege and such a luxury. But it’s also work and the work sometimes is really difficult. But you got to put the time in. Like anything else, you got to put the time in. It’s a craft. Sometimes that craft is just kicking your butt, and you got to stay with it. Sometimes you can’t because there’s work. I don’t get paid to write my fiction. I write the fiction because I love it. I get paid to be an academic. [crosstalk 00:13:02] I’m sorry, go on.
Cathy Hannabach (13:04):
I was just going to ask do you find that you approach the fiction differently in terms of a writing routine or practice than the scholarship? Or is it pretty similar for you?
Emma Pérez (13:15):
It’s similar in many ways because you still need to be disciplined about it no matter what. It’s its own craft, it’s its own language. It’s really just about finding the different voices. With academic work, for it to be seamless, and Juana María knows that because she’s working on this really beautiful academic book right now, you need to stay with it daily in order for it to be seamless. The same thing goes for fiction. I think that when I have long periods of time, the characters are more consistent and I’m able to define the inconsistencies in the story.
Emma Pérez (13:54):
The same for an academic article or chapter or a book. Where are the inconsistencies in that? Does it flow well enough? Are the arguments consistent? But for me, it is a matter of thinking about the voice differently. If I’m deep in the fiction the way I’m now, when I pick up something academic, I’m like, “What? I wrote that? I don’t remember that voice at all.” And it happens the other way around too, when I’m deep in academic stuff I don’t believe I’ve written that book, that novel.
Cathy Hannabach (14:26):
Emma Pérez (14:29):
Yeah. It’s kind of kind of weird. It’s like getting to know that other part again.
Juana María Rodríguez (14:35):
I think the dailiness, this the sense of…when I sit down to write, the first thing I’m doing is reading what I wrote yesterday. Some of these sentences are revised six times before I can move on. I think there’s something about what the practice does to things like flow that really matter.
Juana María Rodríguez (15:09):
That said, I was really depressed maybe about a year and a half, two years ago. I felt my writing was flat and boring and it didn’t have life or sparkle. I was in a funky place and my writing reflected that. But because I was still writing every day, some of the pieces of the project, maybe the biography of the photographer or maybe the historical elements of the period I was writing about, I still had to write those.
Juana María Rodríguez (15:50):
Then when that period of depression started to lift, I had prose that I could go back to and view it with another kind of spirit or energy or vitality that was missing the first time around. Sometimes when you’re inundated with these other kinds of pressures, you just don’t have the joy in the writing. But you can still move it forward.
Juana María Rodríguez (16:21):
I guess I just want to talk about that, mention that too. We’re not always in this inspired place. But the practice is you’re moving forward. Just the movement of it unblocks things, opens up other possibilities.
Emma Pérez (16:45):
I agree. Absolutely. Who was it, James Baldwin, who would talk about how the characters weren’t talking to him today and his frustrations over that? So yeah, I mean you don’t wait around from muse, you just do it. I think that’s something that we all have to be aware of, well, most writers are aware of. It’s a craft like any. You develop it and you only develop it by putting in the time. And sometimes, you write some pretty shitty sentences.
Cathy Hannabach (17:15):
And you have to write those. It’s not like you can skip over the bad stuff to get directly to the good stuff. The good stuff only happens through the bad stuff.
Emma Pérez (17:27):
Absolutely. When I was dissertating, I had a Post-it right next to my computer that said “I’m giving myself permission to write shit.” I had to, because so much of it, the first draft, second draft, even third, is still shitty. It takes a while to get to the kind of prose that you are willing to have other people see.
Cathy Hannabach (17:59):
I really liked both of your points about how there are deeply unsexy parts of writing that still have to get done. Whether it’s just the pure description of, literally, this is the historical period and this who the leaders are, whatever it is you’re describing that’s not particularly compelling. Or citations or formatting stuff—the deeply unsexy parts of any manuscript.
Cathy Hannabach (18:25):
I’m a big fan of tackling those when you have really low energy, for exactly that reason. You can mess around with the commas. You can fix the citation formatting here even if you can’t come up with a brilliant idea about how to explain that character or how to explain that idea. I think that’s really smart.
Cathy Hannabach (18:45):
One of the reasons why I was so excited to interview you together is because of your collaboration relationship. I know you both support each other’s work in a whole host of ways. As you described, you write together, you cheer each other on as you work through your various projects. What’s the story of how you two started working together in this way?
Juana María Rodríguez (19:07):
Emma Pérez (19:08):
I’ll let you go first, Juana María.
Juana María Rodríguez (19:12):
Emma and I dated. We dated, and I think it’s this kind of great way in which queer sociality allows itself to transform into other things. Even though we didn’t really work as partners, we’re really great writing buddies. It really just started like that. It grew out of our friendship. Our friendship grew out of our dating, and our writing grew out of our friendship.
Juana María Rodríguez (19:50):
I think all of these things were kind of connected in this really interesting way. Literally, I talk to Emma almost every day or we’re in touch almost every day. It has just become a really, a kind of partner for me, someone who I just really value in my life and who I imagine a futurity with. Hopefully there’ll be a next project. I imagine us writing together into the future.
Emma Pérez (20:26):
It’s kind of funny because yeah, we did date. What was it, a couple years ago, I guess?
Juana María Rodríguez (20:31):
Emma Pérez (20:32):
I guess it was a couple years ago, and it was it was brief. I think we both realized pretty quickly that we made better friends than that kind of intimate partner. But as friends, we have a really special intimacy. I was really pleased that we could transform and translate that intimacy into a friendship where we trust each other. It takes a lot to share writing with someone because you really have to trust that person. And it takes a lot for me to do that. I have to have a draft that’s quite nearly perfect. Juana María, there are times when she says to me, “Just send it. It’s okay. Send it.” So yeah, I do.
Emma Pérez (21:20):
Our friendship is incredibly important to me, and I love the way that we encourage each other with the writing but in other parts of our lives as well. Just day-to-day, often. Especially, in these COVID times. It’s funny, because we don’t see each other often anyway. But when we do, it’s kind of like, “Really? I haven’t seen you in a year? That’s weird. Because I feel like I see you every day.”
Emma Pérez (21:49):
So, this is keeping in touch with someone who you have that kind of friendship with. It is so important. And yeah, futurity, absolutely. I have so many other projects on the back burner. For me, again, it’s like pressuring myself. I’ve got to finish this dystopian novel that I’ve had on the back burner for 10 years now. Of course, this is the moment when it makes sense to finish it so I can get back to some academic articles that I want to write as well.
Emma Pérez (22:21):
I don’t think Juana María’s going to stop anytime soon because she is becoming an incredible researcher of the archive. She, before my eyes, is becoming an historian. I have a PhD in history and hers is in ethnic studies. I’m familiar with her first two books. Her second book, I remember, when I first…I just need to say this, because I remember this was many years before we became friends. Although we knew about each other. I was going to teach it in one of my grad classes, the Sexual Futures book.
Emma Pérez (22:59):
I remember reading the introduction, and I just immediately fell into this crush with this woman because I thought, “Oh my God, she writes this kind of prose in an academic book?” This is an incredible voice, and she’s doing some amazing work, Sexual Futures. And Queer Latinidad, too. It’s a foundational work. Sexual Futures is so beautifully written and so insightful and pushes the envelope.
Emma Pérez (23:26):
This is what I love about working with Juana María: she’s willing to push the envelope and to go beyond the parameters of what is so imposed in academe.
Juana María Rodríguez (23:39):
I love the fact that Emma also writes fiction. I remember pouring through all three of her novels within the span of two weeks. Just because the writing in each was so different. I think there’s a way in which we both define ourselves as writers. We’re both academics and they pay our bills. But I think we both think of ourselves as, first and foremost, writers. When the job is over, the writing will still be there. It’s not just for the institution, it’s for something else.
Emma Pérez (24:27):
Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.
Juana María Rodríguez (24:29):
It changes it because then you have a different relationship to the institution. The writing comes first. We’re fortunate. I’m very fortunate. I’m at a point in my life finally, it’s taken this long, to get to a point in my life where I can prioritize the writing, more so than other things. I still have the other stuff, I still have committee work. I still have so many letters to write, promotion letters. That’s the service work that has to be done.
Juana María Rodríguez (25:01):
But I can prioritize the writing in ways that I didn’t get to for at least 30 years, unless I was on sabbatical, or had a year leave or something.
Cathy Hannabach (25:14):
Your relationship is fascinating and how you two support each other, often on really different kinds of projects. Especially if, Emma, you’re working on a novel right now. Juana, you’re working on a scholarly text. These are very different genres and have very different tones to them and voices and contexts. And yet, you find ways to give feedback to each other on what is most useful for that person in this moment in that genre.
Cathy Hannabach (25:47):
It’s clear that you draw on your personal relationship, your deep friendship, to know what exactly the other person needs from you and your feedback on this. I would love to hear more about how you develop that. When you do exchange work and you read each other’s work, how do you figure out, first of all, how to explain to the other person what you need from their feedback? “Just ignore the hideous comma situation, that’s not what I’m focusing on right now. Please give me feedback on this other thing,” or whatever it might be.
Cathy Hannabach (26:21):
But also, how do you read that in the other person? Someone has trusted you to share this piece of a draft. Maybe it’s a version they don’t feel as good enough to share but they’ve gifted you with this. How do you learn how to figure out how to give them what they need?
Juana María Rodríguez (26:40):
It might be important to say that both Emma and I, when we share things, we’re sharing things that are pretty done. It doesn’t mean that there’s not more to do, there’s always more to do. But I think some of that has to do with a kind of confidence that just develops over the years. It has been really important for me. As I’ve been working through these historical chapters, my anxiety is like…Thanks, Emma, for saying I’m passing as someone that knows about historical writing. But there’s kind of particular things. And then, there’s the craft.
Juana María Rodríguez (27:35):
A lot of, I think, the support that we do is both about helping each other get to that desk. And then, sometimes just figuring out…both Emma and I, we’re full professors. The kinds of demands on our time, on our energy, the things we get asked to do, are pretty similar. So a lot of the support is like, “I was asked to do this. Should I do this?” Talking through projects that maybe we shouldn’t sign on to. Or, “How should I handle the situation?”
Juana María Rodríguez (28:19):
So, there’s also this other level of professional support that we do for and with each other that is about trusting our ethics as scholars and as professors. Understanding workflow and commitments and maybe what you can say no to and what you really might be able to turn into something that you might want to do. I think those things have just evolved a little bit over time.
Juana María Rodríguez (28:59):
In terms of the writing, it’s, yeah, I’m giving you questions, but I’m also just like, “What do you think? Just give me what you have.” But we don’t exchange work that often.
Emma Pérez (29:13):
Yeah. The other thing I want to add to that is, Juana María’s a Virgo. Like a triple Virgo, quadruple.
Juana María Rodríguez (29:19):
Five planets in Virgo. Five planets, yeah.
Emma Pérez (29:23):
I’m very familiar, having grown up with a father, a brother, a sister, and then having another ex who’s a Virgo, I’m very familiar with Virgos. I rely on their minds that are so detailed. They’re perfectionists. So often, when Juana María hands me something of hers to read, she knows exactly what she wants. She’s like, “Okay, I need you to look at this, this, and this. And don’t bother about this.” I’m like, “Okay, I can do that. No worries.”
Emma Pérez (29:56):
I’m a little more general. For me it’s more like, “Okay, is it working? Are you picking up any the intensity I’m trying to give to the characters? Is it flowing? Is it seamless yet?” That kind of thing. Or, if it’s an academic thing that she’s read, especially if I’m doing something that’s not historical and it’s more theoretical, because I respect the way that she does so much theory, then I just want to know, “Is this working? Does it make sense to you?”
Emma Pérez (30:30):
But yeah, I do check in. At this level, when you’re a full professor and you’re one of the few Latinx full professors, who can also do queer, bisexual, trans reviews and critiques, you get called on a lot. So we check in with each other. I do check in with her, and say, “Hey, do I need to do this? I really don’t feel like I want to do it.” And she’s like, “If you don’t feel like you want to do it, don’t do it. Save yourself for the things that you do want to do.”
Emma Pérez (31:03):
Usually we can tell, but it’s good to have a sounding board. It’s good to go to someone who goes through the same thing and gets the same kind of requests. But yeah, I do emphasize that having a writing partner who’s a Virgo does push her butt a little more.
Cathy Hannabach (31:23):
For sure. For sure. Both of you work on long-term projects, whether they be novels, scholarly books, or research projects more broadly. These are things that take many years to produce and a lot changes in that time, even under normal circumstances. We’re certainly dealing with the more extreme version of that,right now. How do you two plan for and make progress on those kinds of long-term projects, knowing that there will be radical changes to it in the future?
Juana María Rodríguez (31:58):
I’ve written about issues that are evolving. I remember writing about, it first came out as “Sodomy and Sovereignty” about the situation in Puerto Rico. This was this evolving situation that I was writing into. Every day, there was new things coming out about it. I’m not quite there now. But I think in terms of the long term, again, it’s kind of about that practice. It’s about doing the unsexy things, it’s about just moving forward a little bit. Then, when you have a little more time, you have a little more time. Giving the project room to grow.
Juana María Rodríguez (32:53):
This is my third book and unlike Sexual Futures where, at some point, I had different kinds of writing that then I found an arc for. For this project, I started with a very clear sense of the archive. There’s not so much an argument as there is a feeling and just kind of moving. As long as I keep moving, I was yeah, just moving forward. So, the energy behind it has felt really different.
Juana María Rodríguez (33:33):
This one has just kind of been easy. I saw it from the beginning, and now I’m just trying to actualize it. It’s under contract for Duke University Press, so I’m hoping Duke University Press will still be standing after all of this.
Juana María Rodríguez (33:50):
In fact, I’ve been actually having those little fantasies, trying to remember that moment of finishing. Trying to remember that moment where you’re working on your acknowledgements, where you see the whole thing. I’ve printed it out a couple of times. It just feels closer. But that’s a feeling that I’m starting to feel now. The last three or four years have just been kind of trudging along on a lot of unsexy things.
Emma Pérez (34:21):
Cathy Hannabach (34:21):
Do you have a similar kind of approach, Emma?
Emma Pérez (34:24):
Well, long-term publishing projects, novels for me, the academic book that I wrote, yeah, they take a long time for me. I’m a slow thinker, a slow writer, because I really want to process stuff. I think the fiction is different because I don’t have an agent so I don’t have someone placing my stuff. I usually go looking myself for who I think would be a good match, and it’s usually the independent presses, with the exception of Forgetting the Alamo, the second novel, which was published by University of Texas Press.
Emma Pérez (34:57):
University presses are usually a little easier to deal with because I’m familiar with them. Will they still be around? Hopefully they will continue to be around. I don’t know what’s going to happen with some of the small presses right now.
Emma Pérez (35:21):
For the kind of work that I do, I mean my first novel was published by Third Woman Press, which is now defunct. It got reprinted by Aunt Lute, which is still around. It’s the press that published Gloría Anzaldúa’s Borderlands. In fact, I remember Gloría saying to me that it was Borderlands that was keeping them afloat because they sold so many of them internationally. Aunt Lute is still around.
Emma Pérez (35:49):
For me, it’s these small independent presses that I like so much because they don’t edit my work the way in which, say, a bigger press would. I always know what I want. Readers can often think that they want it to take a different direction. But once I have the project the way I want it, I don’t want people messing with it that much.
Emma Pérez (36:17):
Yes, I take criticism if it’s not working. But I don’t want them saying, “Oh no, your characters should really be doing this or that.” That really happened with Forgetting the Alamo. I think people thought I was supposed to be writing the story about the Alamo. I was like, “Okay, did you pay attention to the title?” There’s a reason for that title. We’re looking at a whole other community that has not been written about during that time period.
Emma Pérez (36:46):
What worries me is how hard hit some of the presses will be. It’s become difficult for presses. I think that’s why so many have turned to eBooks, as well. I think some of my novels now are available electronically and I think that’s great as well. But, I’m old fashioned. I’m very nineteenth century. I like to hold something in my hand.
Emma Pérez (37:17):
One of the differences too, in the way that Juana María and I write, is that she uses Scrivener and she keeps encouraging me. I’m like, “No, I need notebooks. I need fountain pens, journals that are a particular kind of cotton blend. I need different colored ink for my fountain pens.” I’m old fashioned that way, and it just helps me process in a different kind of way. For people who can use something else, I think Scrivener probably expedites work in a different way.
Cathy Hannabach (37:49):
This brings me to my favorite question that I get to ask folks, which really gets at the heart of why you approach writing the way that you do and why you write the amazing work that you do, both fiction and scholarship and everything in between. That’s that version of a better world that you’re working towards when you write your novels, when you teach your classes, when you serve on committees, even, when you create the work that you do in the universe.
Cathy Hannabach (38:16):
So, I will ask you this giant question that really is at the heart of this podcast. What’s the world that you’re working toward? What kind of world do you want?
Emma Pérez (38:27):
That’s a great question. I can answer the way that Miss America always answers: world peace. We all want world peace. When I think back to when I started my first novel, it was when I began dissertating too. I started the dissertation and my first novel at the same time. I started that novel back in the 1990s because I had grown up at a time through the 1970s, and I came out in the 1970s, and there weren’t that many queer novels around, aside from things like The Well of Loneliness and the pulp fiction. I wanted a Chicanx, queer, lesbian novel. And so, I wrote one. There hadn’t been any before.
Emma Pérez (39:20):
Then while I was writing, I thought, “Okay, who am I writing for?” I’m writing for an audience that can identify with these kinds of things, with issues of not just coming out but also sexual abuse, trauma, historical trauma around race, class, racism, gender oppression, etc. All of those things. For me, it’s always going to be there in the writing.
Emma Pérez (39:45):
What I’m trying to show, even in Forgetting the Alamo and the academic book The Decolonial Imaginary, is how do we think differently. How are we going to permit ourselves to take a leap and to think differently so that we free ourselves up from these boundaries and rigidities that don’t allow for differences, for people to express their differences, in ways that are freeing?
Emma Pérez (40:19):
Certainly, when we look at queer scholars, queer theory, trans scholars, the work that trans of color are doing, it opens up different kinds of avenues to the way we think. The latest work, the crip studies work. There’s so much. There’s so much to dedicate ourselves to so we can transform into an equitable society that listens to each other.
Emma Pérez (40:46):
I err on the side of hope. I am hoping that we’ll make it out of this crisis that we’re in, to a better spiritual space. So that people begin to think about, “Okay, what is it that’s really important for us?” Certainly not the material things. Certainly not the greed that we see expressed now in the oligarchy that’s running the country—running the globe, actually.
Emma Pérez (41:16):
So yeah, it’s about transformation to a better, more equitable world. Why do you do what you do, Cathy? Imagine Otherwise is such a great title. I love the title of your podcast. It is about imagining a different, better, healthier space for everyone.
Juana María Rodríguez (41:37):
I think, particularly in this moment, I have been thinking a lot about friendship. What would it mean to treat each other from this ethics of friendship? Of how you would treat a friend? To think of the ways in which we’re interconnected, interrelated, and community? Writing Every Day is a community that feels so important to me and is so important to my writing. But it’s also a place of mentorship and of friendship.
Juana María Rodríguez (42:19):
This morning on Twitter, I posted a photograph and asked for words because I was running out of words. People on Twitter responded and gave me great, fabulous words. I think these are also spaces of sharing, of community. It’s that sense of taking care of each other, of being present for one another, of paying attention to what our needs are and trying to help us imagine a world where our needs are met. Not just our physical needs but our needs for connection, and community, and love, and touch and care.
Cathy Hannabach (43:20):
Absolutely. Well, I just want to say thank you both so very much for being here and sharing all of these ways that you imagine otherwise.
Juana María Rodríguez (43:30):
Thank you, Cathy.
Emma Pérez (43:33):
Yes, thank you, Cathy. It’s been a pleasure. It really has. Thank you for the work you do.
Cathy Hannabach (43:43):
Thanks for listening to another episode of Imagine Otherwise. Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire, and this episode was created by me, Cathy Hannabach.
Cathy Hannabach (43:52):
You can check out the show notes for this episode on our website, at ideasonfire.net, where you can also read about our fabulous guests as well as find links to the people and projects we discussed on the show.