Episode Five: Interview with Nancy Zigler, author of ‘Museums in the Sky.’
Teresa Douglas 00:09
Welcome to Latin x audio. I’m your host, Teresa Douglas. In today’s episode, we’re going to get a behind-the-scenes look at Museums in the Sky by Nancy Ziegler. Nancy was born the Year of the Dragon. [sings] Deep in the heart of Texas.[Stops singing] I just had to say it that way. Her favourite things include her son, Houston skies, glitter, avocado, Pluto, pizza, angora bunnies, and magic. You can find more of her work at ascentosreview.com. Welcome, Nancy.
Nancy Zigler 00:41
Thanks, Teresa. Thanks for having me.
Teresa Douglas 00:44
It’s nice to have you here. And I have to say, Museums in the Sky, I told you this, but the listeners don’t know. I read it and it was so beautiful, it almost just hurt me a little bit. It was just it’s such a lovely piece. So so sad and beautiful. And I feel like one of the best examples of in some ways what it means to be Latinx–we tend to find beauty in the pain, beauty in other things to not just pain. But anyway, I read it and it just it knocked my socks off. So thank you for submitting it. One of the other things I wanted to talk about now that I’ve I’ve said all of that, is to give our listeners a little bit more about you, the person who wrote this lovely piece. Can you tell our listeners just a little bit extra about yourself, for example, how long you’ve been writing?
Nancy Zigler 01:38
Yeah, thank you so much. And I really appreciate your shout-out to my piece. It’s one that I hold very close to my heart. And I do tend to put a lot of myself and my experiences, especially as a Latin American woman in my writing. And so I really appreciate you being able to see me, even though we’re, you know, some distance apart. And so that really meant so much to me. So I appreciate that. And I’m so happy to tell you a little bit more about myself because I’m a little bit of a mover, so I’m all over the place. Yeah, so I am actually originally from North Texas, a small suburb called Dallas. Sorry, I messed that up. I’m from a small suburb of Dallas called McKinney. And I am currently 33 years old. So I like threes right now. I currently live in North Hampton, Massachusetts. I have a three-and-a-half-year-old son. And I’ve been married to my husband Jake for five years. I originally began writing when I was a sophomore in college. And so I had to do the math. So that’s 14 to 15 years to get us to today. And so yeah, that’s a little bit more about me.
Teresa Douglas 02:55
Well, nice. So I know you say you started writing in college, was it? Did you start with fiction? Were you dabbling in poetry? Was it nonfiction? Just what sorts of things do you like to write?
Nancy Zigler 03:08
Yeah, thanks so much for asking. So when I started writing, I actually always loved writing, even when I was in high school, my whole senior year, I had a fantastic teacher that allowed me to only read Sandra Cisneros. So that’s all I did. And it was great. I was definitely always a reader first before I was a writer. And I remember that I started really just getting excited about writing when I was in high school, but I did so much better in my math and science, AP exams and all of that, that I was like, Oh, I guess, you know, I guess my work isn’t meant to be. So I kind of let it go when I started college. But I felt so lost. And I felt so adrift. I was at a big state school called Texas A&M, and it’s a research institution. And it was there that I met Angie Cruz, who’s also a writer whose book Dominicana came out not too long ago. And she literally gave me this magic that I was able to carry throughout college. As you know, I studied chemistry and I also have a degree in finance, which just gave me this little kind of sparkle of hope that one day, I could kind of afford to do the things that I wanted for me and not for everybody else. And so in her class, I mostly focused on fiction. But I was so green–like not a joke, when I applied for my MFA, I don’t even think I knew what nonfiction was. I was like, Oh, I love reading fiction. So that’s what I’m writing. I realized all this journaling I was doing and all of the stories that I wrote really came from a place of nonfiction and so I’ve been trying to lean into that a little bit more. But yeah, it’s funny just to think back. I tend to actually be more prolific in nonfiction though fiction is very, very close to my heart.
Teresa Douglas 04:53
Yeah, it’s funny though, especially when you’re thinking about creative nonfiction which uses a lot of the same sort of techniques. I mean, you’re letting people see the dialogue and descriptions, it can feel like you’re writing fiction, even if the things are true.
Nancy Zigler 05:09
Definitely. And I found that to be so helpful, I actually really appreciate that my thesis, my master’s degree was on the fiction track because I definitely feel that it helped me develop more of those techniques that I apply now towards my nonfiction writing. Overall, I’m a happy customer.
Teresa Douglas 05:27
Yeah, it’s good to have the tools because then you know how to use them. And then you can do what you want. So let’s talk a little bit about Museums in the Sky, you had said that you drafted this quite a bit. Do you normally do that many drafts, you had said something around 40? Is that regular for you? Is that part of your process? Or was this piece a little bit different?
Nancy Zigler 05:55
Yeah, this please, this piece was so so hard. And so I began writing it six years ago when I included it in the collection of stories that I wrote for my master’s thesis on my MFA. I wrote a short story collection and this was a piece that was included in there. I typically do not write that many drafts, I do tend to have more of an elongated process, I’m more of the type of person that I make a big mess and then I clean it up as I go along, I don’t get it right the first time. And this piece just really really mattered to me and it was so hard because I have faced so much rejection in the light of this piece. So I did submit it several times other versions of it, and I would receive really hard feedback mostly from people that weren’t bipoc folks and so it really kind of stung a little bit when I was reading some of their editorial comments. But you know, I don’t tend to have a lot of confidence in general but I really believed in this piece and just something in me something kind of like that I didn’t even know I had just told me to keep writing because this is striking a chord for you so it may for other readers and so I kept going.
Teresa Douglas 07:04
Yeah and I for one I’m glad you did and I know our readers will be. The language in here is beautiful (you’re going to hear some rustling listeners as I move through the 10 pages of the piece that I’m holding.) And there are pieces of it like at–when you’re speaking with the character of the love interest. And there’s this one section where it says “your characters smoke too much and never spoken dialogue. Then the twist when the dusk the velvet curtains painted the tile floors pink and it made you want to cry” and I could feel that. I felt I could see the ostriches on the crackling out of the gray shells of the wallpaper and it was just so lovely. And there’s so much about this piece. I mean Cielo first of all is so ethereal and yet… the pieces so grounded in these textural details of peeling red paint and the–and I’m getting ahead of myself but anyway they’re just some lovely pieces and you keep bringing back this idea of the universe and looking for signs. And there’s the recurrent like black hole that happens where Cielo says she wishes she’d been named black hole and then there’s the black hole of the mother’s death and then there’s again reference to that toward the end “the black hole October when she died blew me right open like a kite” and ended with “a lifetime of me waiting for the train to come.” And I think anybody who has suffered loss even if it isn’t as profound as this character has had can identify with that idea of waiting, of waiting for signs, of waiting for things and it’s just so tightly tied together and anyway so this is lovely just the imagery in it was exactly the sort of thing that it matters every single piece of this piece matters to itself and you couldn’t take it out without really shortchanging the whole thing so yeah it’s an amazing piece just very dreamy and I’m gushing and I just don’t know how to stop myself from gushing right now but it’s gorgeous.
Nancy Zigler 09:21
Thank you for your close read of that and I again I just really appreciate that you got it. Like you said, I tinkered down, you know, to the very sentence and then the word level and then things just kept exiting and then entering the piece again. And yeah, it’s something that just hit really close to home for me because I wanted to write about gray space because so much of our world is in black and white right now. I wanted to write about vulnerability and also about a Latina narrator who was much more than just her ethnic background and that is much more than just her name. So as a kind of personal detail, I used to work for NASA, that was one of my first jobs outside of college. So I have a very soft spot for anything space. So that’s where a lot of those details came from. I was just collecting them, and I wanted to use them one day, so they were just kind of in my back pocket. And I also am a university educator, right now I work and I teach at Smith College. And I’m always stunned by this whole heart that students have. And it’s hard to express, like, in real words, so I’ll try. But oftentimes, when I enter a classroom, I know that there’s, you know, this power dynamic between teacher and student. But I also know that I feel very much the most vulnerable person in the room, especially in a space that feels very white oftentimes. And so that’s something that I wanted to kind of play with in this piece. And as another kind of aside, I love this piece by Vladimir Nabokov, Signs and Symbols. And so that’s something that I was also kind of playing with is like, what does it mean to have these things that don’t necessarily correlate, but you really, really want them to, in the kind of dream space of grief and love, which to me, when it’s tied together, it makes the other so much more profound.
Teresa Douglas 11:18
It is profound, and it’s fraught, I mean, at the ending, when they meet each other, again, this idea that she had nothing to offer, but her sadness at that time. But that now she has this other space, and maybe it’s okay, that they’re, they were just meteors passing by each other. And it’s, truly a vulnerable thing. And as we think right now, about some of the social reckonings that have been going on, and what that power dynamic is, like, in universities in specific, it feels like a very timely piece for right now.
Nancy Zigler 11:54
Yeah, it’s something that I’ve been digging really deeply into lots of narratives, mostly nonfiction, about the university space, and really trying to carve my place out there. But yes, it’s definitely something that feels very omnipresent in the classroom, especially now when all I see are little eyes in the audience, you know, behind, their masks. Just trying to forge those connections really, really matters to me. And so I’m, you know, this is a work of fiction. But I do I really just appreciate this whole-heartedness of people that are younger than I in the classroom because they’ve given me so much hope. And so I definitely wanted to kind of close off the piece with a little bit of a note of hope, as if there’s, there’s something beyond all of this. And now we’re entering the springtime of the narrator’s life, and she’s able to open her eyes and actually notice things that are dislocated if that makes sense.
Teresa Douglas 12:51
Yeah, and I like that not only is she hopeful at the end, but even from the beginning, she’s not sorry, right. And grief, we shouldn’t have to apologize for grief. She had this period. And it was part of her life. And there are other things now that she also sees, so I really did appreciate that. That ending and the question I had is–you talked a little bit about that–but what other feelings, if any, or thoughts do you want the reader to come away with after having listened to this piece?
Nancy Zigler 13:32
I feel as a Mexican American woman, I’m always apologizing, like, I just enter a room and I’m like, sorry, sorry, sorry, I exist. I just don’t want people to apologize anymore. And it’s something that I noticed now that I’m a little older, I’m like, why do I still do that? Is this the child in me? Is this the 11 year old, that still feels very out of place, everywhere I go? And I also, I, I love the Latin American canon. I host a book club in western Massachusetts, and I’m trying to dig a little deeper. Oftentimes, I really do feel like especially when I was younger, and growing up, I didn’t see any narrator’s that had this deep tie to space and astronomy and STEM and all that. And so I I’m really drawn to the poetics and the beauty of science teaching you about poetry, and poetry teaching you about the technicalities of the universe in life. And so I just hate these like harsh divides that we see within the Academy, where it seems unrealistic for a scientist to be a dreamer, or for you know, a poet to have like this razor sharp precision, but they exist and those are the people that are able to change the world. In my opinion, like when I worked at NASA, it was definitely the dreamers that got us into space, and they’re the ones that are going to get us into Mars. And so I really admire that and I just want to show people especially younger writers that are starting out, you know, that also includes myself, because I haven’t been published very often. But I just said that it’s possible. And just like, I think this imagination will create waves and will create social change. And those are the types of ways that we need to be thinking in order to get out of this kind of conundrum that like our life and our environment. And the racial reckoning we’re going through, we’re going to need that imagination to get through all of this. And, it’s a long time coming. So there’s a lot to process. And I just want to encourage other writers that feel kind of othered to find their space, especially you know, so many out there are so intelligent and have so much to give, but just have this fear of holding back. And this is a piece where I didn’t hold back. And I typically do, I tend to write very kind of like on the cusp of something, but here I just kind of like, dove straight in and I don’t regret it. Like, I feel like whenever I introduced this piece I’m always like, like having to defend it. But I really love it. And I was telling my husband, I was like, I just love this piece so much. And he was like, “Can I read it?” and I was like, ooh… my husband’s also a writer and a wonderful supporter. So I’m just excited to get it out there and to have others just kind of be able to find their space as well.
Teresa Douglas 16:24
Well said, and I will say as also a writer, my husband sometimes doesn’t read things until after they’re published, he has to read them with the strangers. Because you know, the piece is vulnerable, where you say, I’m not sure my family should read this.
Nancy Zigler 16:41
Like my therapist wants to read it. There are lots of individuals that are asking a lot of questions, but I’m okay with that. Because, again, this piece, I worked so hard on it, and I’m just so glad to see it. And you know what’s so interesting is that I actually wrote it in a way that, I wanted to read it out loud. And I was always the MFA [student] that refused to read at our readings because I was too shy, but I was like, No, I’m gonna write this in a way that’s meant to have the poetics of needing to be read out loud to access that extra kind of dimension to it. And so I’m just so proud and excited that you found me we found each other and we’re here.
Teresa Douglas 17:20
Well, listeners, you’re in for a treat. If you haven’t listened to the recording of Museums in the Sky yet, you should go do that right now. Because it’s a treat. And thank you. Thank you so much again, Nancy, for stopping by, you know, on the internet, and chatting with us about this piece. Thank you. Oh, and before I forget, how can our listeners find you if they want to see what you’re writing next, or catch up on all the Nancy gossip?
Nancy Zigler 17:55
Yeah, so I’ve got lots of Nancy gossip. So I post on estapluma.com, where I’m working on my current writing project, which is writing a letter to my three and a half year old son every day. And so you’ll see those posts. Yeah, you’ll see those posts on my website. And I also manage a book club called sobremesa, which is a group of powerful Latin American folks that come together to read only Latin American women. And so that’s been really special to me to be a part of that group and shepherd the effort. And so you’ll find that information on my website as well as how to join the book discussions.
Teresa Douglas 18:34
And for those listeners who are not close to a pen, pencil or other writing device, his websites will be listed in the show notes. Once again, thanks for coming, Nancy.