The Sweetest Debut: Samanta Schweblin On Her Eco-Horror Novel and “Westworld” Fan-Fic

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Welcome to The Sweetest Debut, a regular installment in which we reach out to debut (or near-debut, we’re flexible!) fiction, poetry and nonfiction authors working with presses of all sizes and find out about their pop culture diets, their writing habits, and their fan-fiction fantasies.
Samanta Schweblin’s “eco-horror” literary novel, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell,  is “an exceptional example of the short-and-creepy form,” says NPR’s Lily Meyer. “This is the power of the short novel: Stripped down to its essentials, her story all but glows.” She offered Flavorwire some delightful answers a

What is your elevator pitch to folks in the industry describing your book?

I could never do that! That’s why I am a writer, I need a minimum of 150 pages to explain any idea.

What you tell your relatives it’s about?

I would say something like “a young mom and her 3-year-old daughter are staying at an old summer house in the Argentinian countryside when a terrible accident leaves them trapped in a nightmare.” If I said what it was really about they would read it, and I would prefer that they didn’t.

How long was this project marinating in a draft or in your head before it became a book deal?

I started thinking about it in 2011 -taking notes, trying to get to know the characters’ voices. I wrote twelve different beginnings. But it was not until 2013 that I heart David’s voice for the first time and really started to work on it, and once I had started it took me about seven months to finish it.

Name a canonical book you think is totally overrated.

They are canonical books for a reason. Even if I don’t like them they earned their place for a reason, or they were great books for that moment, but get older in a bad way. Like Rayuela by Cortázar, or Ulysses by Joyce. Two great authors that I love, but also two books that I could never finish.

Is there a book you’ve read more than two times?

Too Far From Home by Paul Bowles. Five times up so far, and still it traps me like a deep existential lullaby.

What about a book or other piece of art that influenced your writing for this particular project?

Maybe The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien but in a very general way. I don’t think Fever Dream has anything to do with it in mood or atmosphere.

What’s your favorite show to binge watch when you’re not writing?

I have so many: The AO, True Detective, River, Stranger Things, Westworld. But there was nothing, nothing like Olive Kitteridge. I am still thinking and thinking about it. If you like literature and good series you have to see it!

What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?

Oh, it is a movie I feel very ashamed and repentant about going to see. I would prefer to talk about the penultimate movie I saw, The Witch by Robert Eggers. A great mystery-terror movie that reminded me many times the psychological and real horror of The Shining.

Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what kind?

No! The text should be able to say everything. If I listened to music, it would be hard for me to trust in the text. But sometimes I take long walks to think about what I am writing. I call it “take notes with my feet”. That’s when music works to me. Sometimes just one song on repeat. Yesterday, for example, it was 40 minutes of “La Grande Cascade” by René Aubry.

Who is your fashion icon?

Frida Khalo, but I am not so brave as she was. I am still trying to get the courage to make those two buns over my head.

If you could buy a house anywhere in the world just to write in, where would it be?

Can I buy two? It would be a perfect solution: I would spend summer here, in Berlin, and the rest of the year near my sister, at the end of the world in Lago Puelo, Argentina. Oh, what you have done! Now I won’t be able to think about anything else but living like this!

What did you initially want to be when you grew up?

When I was a child I said I would be “The guy who chooses the music for the The Twilight Zone.”

Did you have a new years resolution for 2017? If so, what?

Stop procrastinating. I have been working on that since 2001.

What freaks you out the most about four years of Trump as US President?

Our future?

Do you prefer a buzzing coffee shop or silent library?

To get ideas, a buzzing coffee shop. For serious writing, a silent library.

Do you write at a desk, bed or couch?

70% percent desk, 20% percent couch, 10% on my feet taking notes on the refrigerator.

Is morning writing or late-night writing your go-to-time?

Mornings and nights are the best time for me to write. I really don’t know what to do with my life in between.

Do you tend towards writing it all out in one big messy draft and then editing, or perfecting as you go (or something in between)?

Something in between. I like to know where I am going before start to writing, but if I know too much, I get boring. So I need a plan, but also I always take the result of a day’s work as a mere draft.

How do you pay the bills, if not solely by your pen and your wit?

I give literary workshops to Spanish speakers. It was a surprise to me how many people write fiction in Spanish here in Berlin, and how seriously they take it.

What is your trick to finding time to write your book while also doing the above?

When I lived in Buenos Aires it was almost impossible, because buying free time is one of the most expensive things in my country. But now in Berlin I can live off my workshops and still have half the week just for writing.

If you could write fan-fiction about any pop culture character, real or imagined, who would it be?

It would be about Dolores from Westworld.

Care to give us a few sentences of micro-fiction about that character?

She would not talk like a naïve girl anymore. She would be dressed like Lara Croft and would spend her time killing the rest of Westworld’s characters one by one.