What are the odds that out of the two interviews I’ve conducted that both would include the word “milpa”? Read on to find out more about The Cenote by Chelsea Dyreng – a Mesoamerican mystery filled with love, secrets and corn.
Firstly, it is always nice to meet the voice behind the words. Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Sure! I am a mother of five, I live in North Carolina, and I love anything that has to do with the outdoors. I even love gardening–even though everything I plant dies. 🙁 I have been involved in music my entire life and I enjoy singing and playing the piano. I love traveling to other countries. But mostly I love being with my husband and my kids.
What is your book about?
My book is about a simple, indigenous village that has a very complicated problem that no one in the village wants to talk about because it is taboo. It centers around one family, and how this family copes with the situation.
The book is about communicating with the ones we love. It is about strong women. It is about courage, bravery and the power of forgiveness.
Why should we read it?
You should read it because it will enhance the love you have for the people around you. It will make you feel that you have the power to make a difference in your family. It might help you see a side of yourself that you have never noticed before . . . and it is also very funny and a quick read. 😉
Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?
I wrote a story when I was 10 about a dam that broke and a young boy who raced his horse down the canyon to warn the people in his town. It made my little 10-year-old heart beat very fast and was quite thrilling to write. 🙂
Each character has quite a symbolic name. Did you decide on the characters’ names before or after you created them?
Yes. I wanted their names to not only reflect their natural environment, but also to sum up their personality/goals/identity in one word. Jade is beautiful but jealous. Stone is immovable, a foundation for the community. Lark is endearingly optimistic. It is only Sandpiper’s name that doesn’t seem to fit, which is something that bothers her throughout the book. But it works perfectly because she confused about what she really wants and it isn’t until the end that she is finally satisfied. Sometimes we just have to love what we are given.
You said that the idea for this story came from a game your children were playing. What was it?
I overheard them saying “Let’s pretend that this group of people can hear something, but this other group of people can’t.” I thought that was an intriguing idea. How could one group of people be able to hear something and another group couldn’t? And what is it that they can hear? And what if what they hear is harming them? How could the “deaf” people help if they didn’t understand what is happening? Oh, there were all kinds of wonderful possibilities with this idea!
In the acknowledgments you write that your husband “is the inspiration of everything that is good about this novel.” I’m assuming that means much of Lark is based on your husband. Is that correct? What is your favourite trait that they share?
Ha,ha, that is funny that you say that because I think my husband would rather be Stone. 🙂 Stone and Lark have opposite personalities and their own unique weaknesses, but both are trying their best to bring honor to their families. At first I made them competitive, but I found it much more satisfying to make them protective and loyal to each other. My husband definitely shares some of their characteristics: he has a great sense of duty and integrity (like Stone) and he also has a charming, self-deprecating, like-able honesty for his own imperfections (like Lark).
Does the legend of the cenote have a real-world basis? Or was it purely invented for this book?
There are real cenotes in Mexico–many, in fact, and they are truly wonderful to swim around in, provided there is a way to get out. 🙂 In ancient times, during the dry season, the cenotes were the only place to get fresh water. This vital quality made it a perfect fit into the allegory I wanted to achieve.
The legend of the cenote, however, is purely out of my own imagination.
What was your favourite thing to research for this book?
Summer happened, which meant that my kids were home from school for three months and I had to stop writing for a while. But this turned out to be a very good thing because it gave me a chance to plant my own “milpa.” I learned how to make a “Three Sisters” garden made up of corn, beans and squash (you plant them in a mound and they grow together, helping each other, just like Honeybee, Sandpiper and Jade helped each other in the story). But, of course, my corn died, which means I would have been a very hungry (or dead) Native American! For me this garden was a good break from writing, yet it kept my mind and heart engaged in a very experiential way. It inspired with many ideas and symbols that went into the subsequent drafts that I would have not gained had I simply tried to “make it all up” or be satisfied with only research from books and Google. I also went to Mexico for research and swam around in a real cenote. Very fun, and highly recommended!
How long was your journey from first idea to holding a copy in your hands?
Five years! It probably wouldn’t have taken so long, but I had a baby during that time so I put my writing aside for a while. Totally worth it, of course. 🙂
If people only take one thing from your book, what would you want it to be?
That we all are all strong and we are all weak.
What’s a question you’ve never been asked about your book, but have been dying to answer?
No one has ever asked me about the Kissing Contest. I did not make it up! But it is not something that the Mayans or Native Americans did, either. When I was researching about corn I found a lot of interesting practices among Native Americans when it came to growing, harvesting, eating and cooking corn. But I also found an interesting story about pioneers: to give the young men an incentive to shuck as much corn as possible they would have a “Kissing Contest.” They would have a great pile of corn and have all the young men pull off the husks and whomever found the red ear of corn would get to kiss the maiden of his choice! Sometimes truth is more interesting than fiction. And you are the first person I have told! Thanks for asking.
Where can we find you?
Quillable’s tagline is “For all things noteworthy.”
Could you share something noteworthy you have come across recently?
I came across a list of funny book dedications and one of them said this: “To my wife and my children: without whom this book would have been finished three years earlier.” I thought this was very funny and true. My family definitely takes priority over my writing. There was a time when this bothered me, but I have learned that if I didn’t have my family around, to annoy me, to interrupt me, to listen to me, to support me, to love me…well, I wouldn’t have anything to write about. So while my kids are young the writing process is slow. But it is rich!
Check in later this week for my review of The Cenote!