Rookie Report: Claudia Zuluaga
What will sixteen dollars buy her? That is all that Ida has left, and two of those dollars are in the form of nickels, dimes, and quarters. The food ran out the day before yesterday. It lasted twelve days instead of fourteen, because eating was the only way she could help the time to pass. A whole day without food was the only thing that finally motivated her to stand up, put on her shoes, and open the door into the sunlight. She stayed inside for three days in a row, barely moving, the tip of her tongue resting in her gum, where her tooth had been. Once the food ran out, she saw the whole thing the way that Mr. Brinks must have seen it: he got it on with a dumb teenager. Probably only cost him, when she broke it down, fifty bucks a screw. So Ida had been a cheap hooker. Linda would laugh at that, and Linda’s laughing would make her laugh, too, but Linda isn’t here.
—excerpt from Fort Starlight
Late Night Library: Summarize your book in 10 words or fewer.
Claudia Zuluaga: There’s no escaping the pain of real change.
LNL: If this book were the lovechild of two others, who are its parents?
CZ: Mountains of the Moon by I.J. Kay and She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Both are coming of age/get a hold of your life stories, and Fort Starlight is right in the middle of the spectrum, in terms of how dark it is.
LNL: What ingredients go into the recipe of your writing style?
CZ: Circling around, hoping to figure it out when I make the next approach. Keep starting over until it heads in a place that rings right. In early drafting, I toss in a whole lot of back story, and then, once it is all there and I really get it, when it all makes sense to me, I take all that information dump out, hoping that some essence of motivation and history is left behind. I always have to remind myself, when editing, to stay in scene whenever possible. For Fort Starlight, I probably wrote six or seven hundred pages that I ended up trashing. Nobody wants to read a hundred pages of backstory, as satisfying as it can be to write it.
LNL: Name one book you wish you could read again for the first time.
CZ: Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood. This book is perfection. I read it in 1998, before grad school, before really studying fiction. I’ve read it every two years or so since, and have bought it for a few people. It is perfectly-crafted, but also feels so organic.
LNL: Answer a question you wish people would ask you about writing.
CZ: Is the main character of Fort Starlight really just you?
No. No no no no no no no. Yes, I was very young at one point, and yes I was insecure and conflicted and wanted more than I knew how to get, but isn’t that the case for everyone, at some point? I am just as much Ida Overdorff, the struggling, scrappy survivor, as I am Peter, the naturalist who lives in the treehouse, or Ryan and Lloyd, who are struggling in their relationship. I think that all characters in our stories and books are a part of who we are, so our story people are really our fragmented selves.
Get a copy of Fort Starlight from Indiebound
Claudia Zuluaga was born in White Plains, NY, grew up both there and Port St. Lucie, Florida, and now lives in New Jersey. Her fiction has appeared in Narrative Magazine, JMWW, and Lost Magazine, and was included in Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web series. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best American Short Stories. Claudia is a full time Lecturer in the English department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.