I'm very excited to to have Marta Merajver-Kurlat on my blog today. She is a world-traveling, widely-read author who does what many only dream of. She writes in not one language, but two: Spanish and English.
JK: How did you come to write in both languages? Do you draw from the literature of both traditions?
MMK: I draw from the world’s literature, not just from these two traditions. I read in Spanish, English, Italian, French, German, and Portuguese. When it comes to Russian, Japanese, Hungarian, or other literatures, I prefer to read English translations. Writing in both languages is second nature to me. The interesting thing is that, in full agreement with Saussure, I believe that language shapes thought rather than the other way about, so my style accompanies the language of choice.
JK: I find that to be true, too. Did your background growing up encourage your international focus?
MMK: I was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After graduating as a translator, I spent a couple of years studying and working in Europe and the U.S. Having earned a degree in English Language and Literature, I traveled extensively until I decided to start a teaching career in my city of origin. When my son began primary school, I enrolled at the School of Psychology, University of Buenos Aires, and was soon engulfed by the psychoanalytic bias that was then predominant. My interests and studies are multifaceted: I have a passion for myth and history among other things and, already retired from institutional teaching and teacher training activities, I conduct private seminars and courses for lovers of literature and for psychoanalytic institutions.
JK: What kinds of books do you write, and who are they for?
MMK: I have published fiction and non-fiction. My novels are intended for an audience interested in the darker aspects of human nature. My non-fiction includes a series called Bibliotreatment, which targets any John, Dick, and Harry in need of practical solutions to psychological problems. Although it might be called a self-help series, the radical difference between these books and others of the same genre lies in the fact that I do not propose perfect bliss through hackneyed recipes. Thus it would be fair to say that Bibliotreatment seeks an intelligent audience willing to find out what is ailing them and unafraid to come across deep psychic wounds that need healing.
JK: Does this interest in psychology extend to your fiction?
MMK: All of my fiction is based on real life. Just Toss the Ashes, the English version of Gracias por la muerte, deals with suicide. Los gloriosos sesenta y después tells the story of a multinational chamber orchestra touring the world under the sponsorship of an Argentinian military dictatorship. My point in this book was to show that not every youngster in the 1960s was either a hippy or a guerrilla. There were millions of others involved in living, learning, dreaming, and pursuing goals. No one seems to have written about them, so I took the challenge. El tramo final narrates life in an old people’s home, showing the inter and intrarelationships among inmates, their families, and their caregivers. In each case, the atmosphere and language are unique and suited to the story. The characters, though fictionalized, are based on real people.
JK: The dreaded question for every author: What is your favorite book?
MMK: This is a tough question. I have lots of favorite books, but if I must choose one, the answer is definitely Tolkien’s Silmarillion. Not that it has influenced my writing, since I have not created a cosmogony… yet.
JK: Ah, so we have something to look forward to! What else influences your work?
MMK: I guess that, in an unconscious manner, every book I’ve read influences my work in some way or other. My own life experience is a strong influence as well. Early exposure to so many different cultures, lifestyles, and experiences has undoubtedly marked me in a very special way.
JK: In general, what is your inspiration? What was the specific inspiration for your most recent project?
MMK: My inspiration is the world around me, a world that may prove so unlikely that I sometimes discard ideas for fear that they might sound overly artificial. Reality beats fiction more often than one is ready to admit. My most recent project, in fact, a work in progress, is a novel about a woman and the men in her life. It was specifically inspired by the gender issues that are so much discussed nowadays, and by my perception that not all feminists practice what they preach.
JK: Do you have a favorite word?
MMK: I do, but it’s not a word I use often in my writing: compassion. I expect this word to come to the reader’s mind naturally, through a process of empathy with the story and characters.
JK: How do you use language to differentiate your characters?
MMK: Like real people, my characters have an idiolect, to which I stick so that they are recognizable even when they are not named. Regarding the settings, because I’m well acquainted with the ones I choose, I use descriptive language sparsely, so as to provide a clear picture with the utmost economy. It’s in the narrative and descriptive parts that I sometimes indulge in metaphor, metonymy, or other tropes. But I hate linguistic “fluff,” so I don’t inflict it on my readers.
JK: How much time a day do you devote to fiction writing? What is your work area like? Do you have any methods that might seem unusual or inspiring to other writers?
MMK: The time I devote to my fiction is rather erratic. When I’m not involved in translation projects, I am glued to my computer and don’t keep count of the hours as long as the writing flows. But I also write in snatches, sitting at a café in the sun, between classes, whenever something comes to my mind and I don’t want to lose it. This shows that I’m not methodic. If I may inspire other writers, it will be through the finished product, for my writing process is rather chaotic!
JK: When and why did you get started writing? What characteristics from your first efforts survive today?
MMK: I started writing in my teens, but it was a game then, although my mother, an extraordinary writer herself, encouraged me to take it seriously. The reason was an attraction to language as I saw it deployed in the books I read and in my mother’s works. I found that the written word was so much more forceful than verbal exchanges. I took it seriously in my early thirties, when I published a series of children’s stories that my husband and I devised to amuse our child. I never stopped, but when my publisher was closed down by one of our military dictatorships, I made no further efforts to publish until 2005, when Just Toss the Ashes was finished. I’d say that the only characteristic that survived was the passion.
JK: What kind of feedback do you get? Are your family and friends supportive?
MMK: Very positive feedback, particularly from my publisher, unknown readers who write to me, and colleagues from my writing groups. I don’t think I have a fan base, probably because I have done practically nothing in that respect. Until very recently, I didn’t have a website, never visited my FB page, and had not requested an Amazon author page. I must thank my colleagues for insisting that I needed visibility. They were right, of course, but it took a while to overcome my resistance. My very small family is extremely supportive, and so are my friends. In all truth, these are my fans.
JK: Thank you so much for sharing your work with us today.
Find out more about Marta's books at her website and blog.
Or check out her latest book, Reading for Personal Development.