Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Author Interview: Samantha Mabry on Being Unique & All the Wind in the World

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Samantha Mabry is the author of All the Wind in the World (Algonguin Young Readers, 2017). It was longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. From the promotional copy:

Sarah Jac Crow and James Holt have fallen in love working in the endless fields that span a near-future, bone-dry Southwest, a land that’s a little bit magical, deeply dangerous, and bursting with secrets. 

To protect themselves, they’ve learned to work hard and—above all—keep their love hidden from the people who might use it against them. Then, just when Sarah Jac and James have settled in and begun saving money for the home they dream of near the coast, a horrible accident sends them on the run. 

With no choice but to start over on a new, possibly cursed ranch, the delicate balance of their lives begins to give way—and they may have to pay a frighteningly high price for their love.

All The Wind In The World is so lush with atmosphere. Do you have a personal connection to the southwest settings in the novel?

I do! My husband and I both teach college, so we have summers off. For the last five years, we’ve spent a good chunk of those summers out in Marfa, Texas, which is about an eight-hour drive west from where we live in Dallas. I love it out there, but it’s hard to describe exactly why.



It’s very dry and quiet and windy. There are mountains in the distance, and trains that roll through (breaking the silence). I spend a lot time outside, on walks or reading in a hammock. I always knew I wanted to set a story there because I hoped to explore the layers beneath that quiet and seemingly simple landscape. 


You touch on complex social issues, like marginalized communities and the balance of power in societies and relationships. What drew you to those topics?

While A Fierce and Subtle Poison (Algonquin, 2016) was my book about culture, I wanted All the Wind in the World to be my book about class. 

And yeah, I wanted to explore power imbalances –from the way the ranch owner and higher-ups manipulate their workers to the way a young couple’s relationships starts to teeter and tilt. These power imbalances cause ranch life to unravel.

Natural phenomena meld with mutinies; people start to look for answers in the supernatural. There’s a lot to mine in a system and a setting that’s unfair.

I didn’t want to make this world too much of a dystopia, though. Even though it’s set in the future, I wanted to make it as reflective of working conditions in the past and present as I could.

I can’t really say what drew me to these topics. I studied Marxist theory all throughout college and graduate school, and thus have always been keen on viewing texts and stories in terms of what’s happening with power dynamics and economics and how those aspects affect everything else.

As a member of a community under-represented in youth literature, what did your diverse perspective bring to your story?

I just always try to look at people (and characters) as being full of complexities. 

My mother is Mexican American, and my dad is half-Puerto Rican and half-white. So, I’ve always generally been interested in (and will probably always be interested in) people who are of mixed heritage and how those people both shape and are shaped by their identities. 

In A Fierce and Subtle Poison, culture and identity were very front and center –the characters spoke often about their heritage. It was such a central part of that novel. 

In All the Wind in the World, the main character is often defined by others (she’s referred to as having “mixed blood” on a couple of occasions), but her bloodline is not something she thinks about often. She’s not reflective in that way.

I’ll probably always explore the shades of Latinidad and try to show that there are myriad authentic ways to be Latinx.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

I didn’t become a writer until I was in my late twenties because I was intimidated and had no idea how to even start. It took me a long time to realize what kind of writer I wanted to be and how I fit in.

I try to encourage beginning writers to figure out where they fit in a tradition. Like, are they wanting to write thrillers like Author X or horror novels like Author Y? Or are they wanting to do some hybrid genre, inspired by both Author X and Author Y? 

Then, with their favorite, most inspirational authors as touchstones, I’d ask these beginning writers how they are going to be different. Like, how are they going to fit in with the tradition without being derivative or copycats? 

I’m a huge fan of honoring tradition and wearing my influences on my sleeve, but I also think an author needs to consider how their contribution is going to be unique and different, not just in terms of writing a different kind of story, but in approaching a genre with fresh eyes, a new point of view, and/or a new stylistic angle.

Cynsations Notes

Samantha by Laura Burlton Photography
Booklist gave All the Wind in the World a starred review and wrote, "In aching, luminous prose, Mabry crafts a story impossible to forget, infused with southwestern folklore and magical realism. The harsh desert is exquisitely, painfully rendered, and the characters are flawed and wholly real. A gripping, fablelike story of a love ferocious enough to destroy and a world prepared to burn..."

Samantha Mabry grew up in Texas playing bass guitar along to vinyl records, writing fan letters to rock stars, and reading big, big books. 

She credits her tendency toward magical thinking to her Grandmother Garcia, who would wash money in the kitchen sink to rinse off bad spirits. 

She teaches writing and Latino literature at a community college in Dallas, Texas, where she lives with her husband, a historian, and her pets, including a cat named Mouse. 

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