Dini Karasik

dini karasik

“Writing is one way of finding my place in the world, of exploring my fragmented identity. But I also see it as an opportunity to challenge perceptions about otherness. My family does not resemble the stereotypes of Latinos I see in popular culture.”

I met Dini last May at the 10th Annual National Latino Writer’s Conference where we were both participants, and we bonded over our shared interest in writing about issues of biculturalism and border life, and because we’re both mamas at the early stages of our writing careers. Now, a year later, she is one of my dearest amigas, a major source of encouragement and support as we both journey forward toward our publishing goals.

Dini is a Mexican-American writer and lawyer. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crack the Spine,The Más Tequila Review,Red Savina Review, and Kweli Journal. She works as a freelance writer, is co-founder of the Mexican food and culture blog www.dosgildas.com, and is currently writing her first novel.

Below, Dini shares her experience with coming to the realization that being a working writer means… well… work! 🙂

INTERVIEW WITH DINI:

1. When did you start writing?

I don’t think the act of writing appealed to me until second or third grade when I started keeping a diary. I journaled off and on throughout the years but didn’t start writing stories and poems until college. I had some great professors who challenged me to keep going, but I didn’t have the confidence to commit to a life of writing. I look back now and regret that I didn’t start sooner.

Later, instead of getting an MFA, I decided to go to law school. I wrote here and there but never submitted work anywhere. I figured I’d have more time after law school, after I got married, after I had kids. I put it off partly because I was afraid to try but also because I didn’t have the discipline.

I didn’t write while pregnant or when the kids were infants. I can’t imagine I would have had the time, energy, or focus. But I did start writing again when they were a little older, though I still wasn’t disciplined about it. I was working and taking care of my family and I didn’t think I had time for it. But then I turned 40 and I became more focused on what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing: writing. Now, I write just about every day.

2. How does your identity as a Latina inform your writing?

 My mother is from Mexico and my dad is an Irish-American guy from Detroit. My mom didn’t speak English when she came to the States and really struggled to lift herself up out of poverty. This was also at a time when many immigrants felt a pressure to assimilate in order to succeed, so she never spoke Spanish to me or focused on preserving cultural traditions.

My parents divorced when I was very young and I lived with my mom until I was 13. When I was 16, I moved to the East Coast to live with my dad and stepmom. I also spent time living with my maternal grandmother for different periods of time during those years. She is the one who taught me to speak Spanish and instilled in me an appreciation for my heritage. I think it’s really because of her that I identify so strongly with my Mexican side.

My cultural identity is further complicated by having lived in both a low-income barrio on the Texas border but also in an affluent neighborhood of Washington, D.C. These sorts of contrasting experiences can really undermine a person’s sense of belonging. I don’t belong in either world but I’m a product of both worlds. It’s a ridiculous contradiction. I think this is a fairly predictable and universal conflict that most biracial/bicultural people feel.

Writing is one way of finding my place in the world, of exploring my fragmented identity. But I also see it as an opportunity to challenge perceptions about otherness. My family does not resemble the stereotypes of Latinos I see in popular culture. They are neither maids nor landscapers nor sex pots. They are complicated people involved in dysfunctional relationships, just like everybody else, and that’s what I want to write about. This is not to say that I’m writing my family’s stories, necessarily, but the characters who populate my stories are not very stereotypical. At least, I don’t think so. When people read my work, I want them to see that Latinos are multifaceted and our stories are more than about, say, the immigrant experience, which is an important story to tell but it’s not the only story to tell.

3.  As a Latina writer and mother, do you ever feel that you are breaking any barriers? Can you share any experiences you have with this?

My mother was the oldest of seven kids and I was my grandmother’s first grandchild. (Here’s a picture of most of us after my grandmother’s funeral last year.)

dini and familyI’m not sure that I’ve broken any barriers, but I was the first woman in the family to get a college and then a graduate degree. I do hope that for some of my cousins, especially the girls/women/mothers, I’ve been a good role model. I’m much older than most of them and we don’t see each other often, but I hope they know that I think they’re beautiful and talented. I hope, at the very least, that I inspire each of them to dream big.

4.  How do you find the balance between mothering and writing? Do you ever find the lines crossing in interesting ways?

 Well, family and writing are the two main priorities in my life and I just find a way to make it work. I tend to write when the kids are sleeping or at school or off playing with their dad. I don’t need total quiet but I tend to get distracted if they’re around. Though, if I’m really focused I can write while they play in the next room. Also, if it weren’t for my husband and his unwavering support, I’d never be able to do what I do. He not only takes the kids so I have time to write but he’s also supported me in every aspect of my career shift from lawyer to writer.

5. Was being a mother always a goal/desire for you, and was being a writer always a goal/desire for you? How does the reality of being a mother-writer compare with your expectations?

 Yes, being a mother was always a goal for me. At least I think so. It wasn’t that I thought about it very concretely when I was younger, but I knew I wanted to have a family one day.

I wanted to be a writer for many years. I talked about it a lot, wrote many first drafts of stories, sketched characters in my notebook, but that was not enough, obviously. I think maybe I wasn’t mature enough to appreciate what is means to be a working writer.

As far as being both a mother and a writer, I think I tend to compartmentalize these two important parts of my life. I don’t really write about my kids, for instance. My writing can be a little dark. And my kids are nothing but pure light. So, it makes sense that they don’t feature in my writing at this time. On the other hand, I have written some stories about mothers and I know that these stories are very much influenced by how I see myself as a parent.

6. You write poetry and prose. Is this literary ambidexterity a blessing or a curse?

 A blessing, for sure. The more you can stretch yourself as a writer the better. I have a feeling that poets are more adept at tapping into the subconscious. This ability is crucial for fiction writers, too. I don’t really think of myself as a poet. I think of myself as someone who writes stories. When I write, I’m somewhere else, deep in my imagination but somehow the process of writing poetry helps me access my imagination with more facility.

7. Have you ever felt that your work might not be taken seriously if it explored issues of motherhood and/or the Latina experience?

dini and laptopI do find myself worrying about whether journals and publishers will take me seriously if my work seems too “cultural.” Or maybe it’s that I worry that my stories won’t fit anywhere. But this is the same critical voice I hear when I’m writing sometimes, when I’m undermining my own success. One of my best friends, who’s also a writer, once told me to turn the volume up on that voice, let it say all the insulting things it’s going to say, and then turn the volume all the way down and get to work.  I think, in the end, if the writing is compelling and strong, it’ll be taken seriously.

8. What obstacles have you had to overcome in order to become a writer?

 I think the biggest obstacle in my path has been me. For many years, I didn’t fully appreciate how much work and discipline writing required. How much writing and re-writing there is. And thinking! You’ve got to think about your work and what it’s trying to tell you. It takes perseverance. It really does. When I was younger, I thought there was some magic to it or maybe that all it took was talent. I know now it takes more than talent. It’s an art form like any other and you have to work at it, make mistakes, and work at it some more. Even when you finish a piece and/or publish a piece, the satisfaction is fleeting because you know you’ve got to write something new.

9. What advice can you share with mother-writers who may be struggling to continue their craft or to find the path toward publication?

There are a lot of demands on a mother’s time but in order to be a writer, you’ve got to write. Consistently. Most days of the week. So, you have to make the time, just as you would for any other priority. Then you must write and re-write until your eyes burn.

Criticism and rejection is also a large part of becoming a strong writer. Don’t let it faze you, just keep going.

Work with other writers. Find a writing coach or a mentor to help you stay on track. Enter contests and submit your work to a wide range of publications, both in print and online.

And, finally, when you’re not writing, read. Read everything you can get your hands on.

You can visit Dini at her blog: http://dkwritings.wordpress.com/

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Have you met Dini Karasik? | Jennifer Givhan, Poet & Novelist

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