FQ: The Lost Princess of Alicante ruminates on history, especially on the complexity of reclaiming lost homeland and family stories; plus, there is the process of making amends with enemies. Can writing and reading novels about such themes help us heal from the wounds of our real, lived history?
PADILLA: Reading about characters in novels allows the reader to see them as if on stage or in a panorama, to share their dilemmas that are similar to one’s own, but from a distance, so that it’s possible to analyze both the person and the situation. Studying other characters’ behavior helps to formulate ways of interacting with them in a more productive way. Seeing characters in situations that create sadness or discomfort often reflect one’s own negative experiences, which helps to minimize the pain and view it as manageable when compared with situations beyond one’s control.
FQ: What are some cultural sensitivities and understandings that you gained or sharpened through writing about these characters and the islands of the Caribbean?
PADILLA: Living as I did in a diverse population (in New Mexico, with its blend of many cultures) helped me to understand how people of different cultures viewed situations from unique perspectives, to appreciate these perspectives and to respect the right of the people to their own views, as long as they do not conflict with universal standards. While all may not share the same standards of what is ethical or unethical, the majority in my own experience do hold universal ideals.
FQ: What do you enjoy writing about more: political unrest, family drama, romance, class issues, etc.? Did you find one harder than the others to write about? Which topic did you find most enjoyable, or interesting?
PADILLA: Romance was the most involving experience, but all the other classifications intrigued me as well, forcing me to make objective judgements about controversial views. As an English major, I took equal pleasure in studies of history, politics and human behavior.
FQ: One theme confronted in this novel is the fulfillment or failure of utopian visions or dreams of leaders/colonizers. Can you discuss the fulfillment of utopian dreams and what that means in other historical or contemporary contexts?
PADILLA: People naturally have different and sometimes conflicting ideas about the perfect society. Culture and ethnic varieties affect attitudes about what makes life more enjoyable and brings about a feeling of fulfillment of people’s dreams, of fairness and freedom from oppression. History has demonstrated the rise of civilizations, their successes and their failures. We can only hope to avoid the mistakes of those that did not survive.
FQ: Were Don Román Valasquez and Salomón Montemares based on real political figures?
PADILLA: The character of Don Román was based on a family member who was a businessman and community leader. A person honored for his fairness and integrity. Salomón Montemares was inspired by different individuals who seemed harsh and even cruel on the surface while demonstrating compassion and great affection for those who had difficult trials in their lives.
FQ: What was your research process for this novel? Can you tell us about your own personal connection to the Caribbean?
PADILLA: A visit to Puerto Rico years ago left me with enduring memories of climate, vegetation and people. Through the years since, reading literature and news accounts of that region kept me aware of the fact that societies don’t remain static but evolve with the times.
FQ: Are you a writer who carefully plans out the plot with an outline, or do you write “by the seat of your pants” as they say?
PADILLA: Starting with a general idea or plan, I start and re-start, revising as I go. Fresh ideas pop up so that means more revisions. Sometimes characters present themselves while I am writing, so that means additional revisions. By some miracle the finished manuscript is born.
FQ: Are you working on a new novel? Are there other parts of the world, other historical contexts, you would like to write a novel about?
PADILLA: I have worked on a YA novel inspired by stories passed down through the years about a young girl growing up in America of the early 1900s. Older readers might enjoy it as well as it could bring back memories of their own families’ stories.
FQ: Thank you for taking the time to talk with Feathered Quill! We appreciate your work.