Scribendi interviewed Diane Chavez, a creative writer and student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She is the author of this year’s WRHC Fiction Award Winner, “The Caves.” Here are some of her answers concerning the creation of “The Caves.”
What inspired you to write “The Caves”?
I was inspired to write this particular short story when my cousin made a Facebook status about the yearly pilgrimage the people in their town made to an old mountain. The caves I wrote about are an actual landmark on that mountain; a place I visited when I was around eight years old. When I saw that they were returning there, I remembered those caves and the terror I felt about the legend surrounding it, which inspired me to write about them.
Are there any parts of the piece that are more ‘nonfiction’ that fiction?
The characters are all fictitious, but the landmarks are not. The mountain, the road leading to the mountain, the field where the characters talk about the legend, even the marketplace where Fanny sells her juice, are all real. Everything I wrote about the feelings of being there, like the light mist that falls when it starts to rain and the darkness that seems to press in on you while you’re driving up the mountain, are things I’ve experienced first hand. The story of the caves and the town’s settlement history are rooted in the village my mother was born in. I visited the town frequently growing up.
What made you fall in love with writing?
I fell in love with writing when I was a teenager, and it was because language felt like art to me. I’d always been entranced by the beautiful things artists made like music, sculptures, and paintings, and I realized I could do the same with words. Crafting my writing into the narratives I’ve created is not only something I enjoy, but I feel like it’s my own way of contributing to the beautiful things that already exist in the universe.
There are very fluid, subtle transitions between the past and current time arc of the story. Why did you make that narrative decision?
By transitioning between the past and present time arc in the story, I hoped to create a mystery that had an inevitable end. It places the ending at the beginning as something unavoidable, because it has already happened. But the reader has to follow the main character through her own quest to find the truth both physically and mentally. As a reader, you get to see the mistakes they made and the desperation the main character experiences trying to prove their actions were not mistakes.
Were there aspects of incorporating code-switching that made writing this piece more difficult?
Yes, the code-switching, although one of my favorite things to do in my writing, can be difficult at times. I use it to convey attitudes that a normal translation cannot live up to. In this particular story, most of the code-switching is in dialogue. While I’m always concerned that something will not be understood because of the language shift, it was more challenging in this story because the code-switching is a big part of the characters’ personalities. Most of what I know about being Mexican is through language, and the way you use our language to communicate your thoughts. The Spanish I used in this story is mostly Mexican slang. I worried that this slang hindered clarity in the story, but I think the meaning can be understood through context.