Behind the Scenes: with Victoria Buitron, writer of 1 Star Review for the Cordless Electric Chainsaw

The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Teresa Douglas 0:10
Welcome listeners to another behind-the-scenes episode of Latinx Lit Audio Mag. I’m your host Teresa Douglas. Today we’re going to do a behind-the-scenes interview with Victoria Buitron and her piece One Star Review for the Cordless Electric Chainsaw. Victoria Buitron is a writer and translator who hails from Ecuador, and resides in Connecticut. She received an MFA in creative writing from Fairfield University. She writes about the intersection of identity and place, family history, and the moments her hippocampus refuses to forget. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lost Balloon, Xray Lit mag, Revolute lit, Bending Genres and other literary magazines. Her debut memoir in essays, A Body Across Two Hemispheres, is the 2021 Fairfield Book Prize winner and will be available in spring 2022. By Woodhall press. Welcome, Victoria.

Victoria Buitron 1:10
Thank you so much for having me, Teresa.

Teresa Douglas 1:13
It’s so much fun having you here. And I will just say to listeners that if you haven’t listened to this piece, and you’re listening to this behind the scenes, I’m not sure what you’re doing here. But please, go listen to the piece, it’s so funny. There are some places in it, of course, that are endearing, with a marital–Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. But the point is, this is a wonderful piece. Especially, I have to tell you, Victoria, that the ending got me every time. I was just listening again to the recording, and I was laughing because it’s such a wonderful way to end this piece. But before we get into that, we have to start with the question that I ask everybody, because this podcast is you and I talking like we’re at my kitchen table. And if you were at my kitchen table, I would of course offer you something to eat. Which makes me wonder, what is your favorite comfort food?

Victoria Buitron 2:14
My favorite comfort food, the first thing that comes to mind, is ramen. I associate ramen with so much comfort and warmth. And it’s something that you can have any time of the year. And I love it so much. So that is definitely my comfort food. It’s also the food that I always have to celebrate things when I don’t want to splurge. I’m like oh, that’s what I’m gonna go eat, especially some spicy miso ramen. I love it.

Teresa Douglas 2:57
Oh, I love ramen. It is also my daughter’s favorite food. It’s her comfort food. There’s something about those noodles, that that just fix everything, in some ways. Yes. If we were sitting at my kitchen table, we would probably get up from my kitchen table and go have ramen. So that’s great. That’s amazing.

Victoria Buitron 3:23
And also, thank you so much for your comment about my piece and the ending.

Teresa Douglas 3:28
Well, it’s it just the cherry on top of the sundae, even though the ending was at the bottom of the piece. So I’m not sure how that works literally speaking, but I think you understand. So I gotta ask, just before we talk about that piece, how long have you been writing?

Victoria Buitron 3:47
Well, I’ve been writing since I was a kid, right? Because that’s when they force you to write. And I wrote for fun a lot for basically, my adolescence and my young adult years. And when I say for fun, I kind of felt during that time that I wasn’t ready to submit my work out there, to submit it to lit mags so I just said you know, I’m going to write for myself. I’m going to kind of hone my craft. And I wrote a lot but I kept it inside my journals inside of my computer. And it really wasn’t until around 2016 2017. I got my bachelor’s in 2015. And about a year two years later, I started thinking about whether I wanted to get an MFA, which felt like a very selfish decision, or whether I wanted to do something practical. So I think that a lot of people go through that like Oh, should I do what I really really want or should I do something, thinking about how much money I’m going to be able to make from this in a year to three years after I graduate.

Teresa Douglas 5:03
As someone who also got an MFA, I feel that. It’s not like you get an MFA, and you’re going to sign with a company and make $100,000 a year. That’s not what happened.

Victoria Buitron 5:14
Exactly. And I kind of knew that, in the year or two before I applied to the MFA. And then it was just like, I feel like I have this memoir in me that I really want to focus on. And, I want to do that in a program because I really don’t know how to do it by myself. I have essays here and there. I’ve worked on things over the years. But I really don’t know where to go from here. So that’s why I applied to the MFA. And it was one of the best things that I’ve ever done in my life. And yeah, that’s when it all started. I started working with professors and workshop leaders during that time, and it was a Colombian writer, her name is Adriana Paramo, who was the first person that said, this piece that you wrote is ready, you should send it out. And when she said that, I was like, Wait, isn’t it too soon? Like, are you sure I’m ready? Like I wasn’t really. So I actually had to have other people kind of believe in me and push me. And then I was like, Okay, I’ll submit. Right? Because you submit not just your work, but it’s kind of like you submit who you are into these words, whether they’re fiction or nonfiction. So that’s when I really started to send out my work, back in 2018. I was initially just an essay, memoir writer, and it hasn’t been until 2021, which just past that I began working on fiction. So this is a fiction piece, of course, this review of the chainsaw. So I would say I’ve been working about a year and a half really focused on fiction and flash fiction, and kind of like getting into a little bit of satire and all that. But I would consider myself primarily and essayist, and nonfiction writer.

Teresa Douglas 7:27
So that that brings an interesting question, because there’s that whole idea in some circles, you should stick to one thing and specialize. Do you do you feel that there are tie ins between writing more a memoir essay and writing fiction or satire in your work?

Victoria Buitron 7:49
I love to write a little bit of everything. And that is not something I would have said two years ago, to be honest. Up until 2020, I really thought that I would never venture into fiction or into poetry. But in 2020, and 2021, I had a lot of time on my hands, like many other people around the world. And I said, Why don’t I try something different? Something that I wouldn’t say that I was afraid to do. But I’ve kind of was never like, Oh, let me try. Because I was like, Oh, how can people make things up? So you just think about a world or you think about a scene and you just lie on the page? Like I just couldn’t, my brain couldn’t comprehend it. Because I was like, No, I read about things that happen to me, and in my life. So you know, it’s already there. It already existed. I’m just putting it on the page. So it was very difficult, in a sense to go from that nonfiction mindset, to this fiction mindset of making a different, you know, making people living that are not living and breathing, but they are living and breathing on the page. So I started off really with flash fiction, because it was a way to get my feet wet, I would say. So yes, I’m going from there. It’s a lot of fun. I always tell people that. If you write and you like to write, the best thing that you can do is have fun. And that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m just having fun.

Teresa Douglas 9:26
And we need some fun. There should be some fun at this time. And yes, and I really feel like it’s nice to sort of in some ways escape into fiction, even though fiction can be very serious. But of course, it can deal with heavy things. But to make things up is in some ways an escape even if you’re going to still be talking about different subject matters that are heavy. One star review is not heavy at all. But it’s superbly crafted. It’s one of the things–in fact, let’s talk about One Star Review. Can we just talk a little bit about how you wrote this, just walk us through your process on how you came up with it?

Victoria Buitron 10:11
Sure. So this is a very interesting process for this specific piece. I wouldn’t say that this is what I do all the time. Definitely not. But I took–some time in April or May 2021– something called a hermit crab workshop. So hermit crab is another way if people have heard this, for the first time ever, I’ll just give a little summary. Hermit crab is a different way to say that you get this weird, different kind of compartment to tell a story. So it can be a list, it can be a prescription, it can be a manual, and you use that to tell a specific story. So I took this hermit crab workshop with Sheryl Papas. And in it, the prompt was a generative prompt. It said, write a review about something, about anything, and tell a story about someone through that. And so that was the prompt and I didn’t know at that moment, what to pick, and you have only like, I don’t know, like 15 or 20 minutes, because obviously, these are generative prompts, and they’re timed. And then if you feel fine you can share them with other people in the workshop. And I just came up with like, what’s the weirdest thing someone can use for review? Like, who was going to review like a mower or whatever. And then I was like, Oh, a chainsaw? That sounds so interesting. So I wrote something really quickly in that moment, like I said, many months ago, and we shared it, we talked about it, I got some feedback at that moment. And that I let it sleep for months, I would say about six, seven months. And then I looked at it again, having forgotten about it. And I was like, Oh, this is interesting. There’s something here and then I kept editing, editing it. So I let it sleep for a long time, which is what I usually recommend you do with all your work in general. And yes, then I kept on editing it. And I was like, oh, what I want? What are the visuals that I want to show the reader? How can I say something interesting in a different way? How can people relate to this person that’s doing the review? And how can I end with a bang?

Teresa Douglas 12:48
Yeah, it’s amazing what having a constraint can do for a story because this idea, because I’d heard of Hermit crab, but I hadn’t actually used it. So this was a lovely, a lovely introduction to that. But having that small space, can in some ways get us out of ruts, really, so that you’re thinking about something different. And if we want to plug the the hermit crab workshop–this is something you said Cheryl Papa’s does. So it sounds like you would not give the workshop a one star review at all?

Victoria Buitron 13:22
No, she’s great. If you look, go to her website, her name is Cheryl Papas. She holds these workshops often. They get full pretty quickly, let me tell you, but yes, I’ve gotten a few drafts from there. And I still have drafts in my computer. And I love going back to them after some months and say, Oh, this is what I think about this. Now how can I change it? And like I said earlier, for me writing, a lot of it is about having fun. And I had fun when I wrote it and had fun when I edited as well.

Teresa Douglas 14:00
So do you think you had more fun editing it because you let it sleep for a while? I know there are some people who let things sleep for a little bit. And there are others that edit and edit right away. Why do you personally think that letting things sleep is good for your writing?

Victoria Buitron 14:16
That’s a great question. Um, I would say that sometimes you write something because it was a generative prompt. I’d never thought about giving a review to chainsaw in my life. And all of a sudden, this story about a woman and her marriage, and her husband comes out to through this weird form. And so in this particular case, I think that I let it sleep because there were just so many other things going on in my life. But I think it’s always a good idea just to go back to something that you wrote a month ago. Three months ago, or a year ago, maybe. And then, once time has passed, sometimes in that timeframe, when you go back to it, it’s like, okay, I know where this is going. I didn’t know it then but I’ve now decided where I want it to go to. And I think that that’s why I like letting my work sleep. Not all the time. But I would say most of the time, because when I go back to it, it’s like looking at it with a different pair of eyes. They’re still yours. But time has passed. And it’s kind of like you’ve changed as well. And then you decide, this is what I want to do with this particular piece.

Teresa Douglas 15:42
Yeah, and it’s a wonderful technique. And I should say, for anybody who doesn’t know what a generative workshop is, that’s where you show up to a place, whether online or in person, or whatever. And the idea is just to write stuff down. So you’re not trying to make things perfect, you’re trying to make things. And so you’ll have that draft. And the idea is that you do several of these in a short period of time, so that you can leave and then later on you can work on something without looking at that blank page. You have a thing. And speaking of having a thing, I’m going to be rustling here because I have One Star Review on a paper here in front of me. Let’s talk a little bit about that. Because you have some lovely, lovely images, from the Paisley pink and luminous yellow of the flowers on the little free library. There’s the cherry red bridge, and some wonderful sounds like the gulp of the river swallowing the first chainsaw whole. And just in fact, that whole idea of the chainsaw on the river, hot yoga class, parked on the cherry-colored bridge, there just so many senses there. I feel like when you read that, you can just see this woman. It’s funny because it’s almost committing a crime, right? Instead of throwing a body in the river. You’re throwing a chainsaw in the river, well, not you, but the person is, just to save their sanity. And, I just love this idea of this woman, long-suffering hearing this chainsaw and like I’m just so tired of the sound of this chainsaw! Can we just not hear this anymore. It’s so so well done. Because you start with that, that idea of oh, this is interesting, chainsaw review. And then she’s killing the chainsaw, but the chainsaw multiplies and we have Chase the chainsaw that comes and then suddenly, we have all of these names for the chainsaws. And who knows where it’s going to end. I even love this idea of a Winnie the Pooh mask. Like it’s such a unique idea to think of this large man wearing a–and this is all in my mind, of course–this big burly guy wearing this wooden Winnie the Pooh mask that he made out of wood. It’s just it’s so lovely. And then ending on that suburban Chainsaw Massacre. Oh my gosh, I just, I still laugh. It’s just so nice. There’s just so much going on in that story. And, I love it because the problem isn’t that her marriage is ending. It’s that her sanity can’t take this chainsaw anymore. It’s developing a personality and a name. And it’s just like, you get so much in such a short story. Such a little flash, it’s really a wonderful example of flash fiction at its finest. Really.

Victoria Buitron 18:55
Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. And I really appreciate the analysis as well.

Teresa Douglas 19:01
It’s just lovely. And I guess the question I ask folks, and you’ve talked about this a little bit, but is there an impression you would hope that the reader takes when they’re listening to the story? Because we often or I should say nearly always, we send our things out. And people read them or they interact with them without us. But here’s your moment. If you could tell someone what you were hoping for, if you could give them a hint of what you would hope they take from it, what would that be?

Victoria Buitron 19:39
What I would hope that someone takes away from this piece is that they would remember someone that they love, but also something annoying that they did. And what I mean by that is that you know the thing about flash like that you have to tell this bigger story within such a short time. And I would like them to read it and think I exactly know how this woman feels. Even though I don’t know her. I’ve been through that, or I’ve been through something similar. And being in a relationship, sometimes in people having these quirks, or something that they focus on, or something that they obsess over. And you as the spouse, or as their lover have to kind of either accept it, or say no, and whether you have to act or not. And in this particular case, this woman, instead of being honest, and going to her husband and saying, Hey, I have a problem with this, can we solve that? Or can we come to this type of agreement, she doesn’t go that route, right? She’s like, I’m just gonna try and end this my own way, without having any problems or telling him anything. And I do feel like sometimes we’ll do that, or like, you know, what, I’m not going to make a big deal about this. I’m going to solve this in my own way. But in this particular case, it’s just so funny, because it’s a chainsaw. And you know, so yes, that’s what I do want people to identify with this woman in a certain way.

Teresa Douglas 21:24
Yeah. And it’s a funny thing, because you can say, point of view character, throwing your problems in the river, is not really going to solve them. He can buy more chainsaws. And yet, even in our own lives, we might do that. Like you say, I’m just gonna ignore that. And I’m sure it’ll go away. Or we’ll just tell them we lost it. Like, I like that whole idea of Oh, yeah, I was going for firewood and it broke. It magically fell into the river hat’s however many miles away. But we all do that. Right. We do something like it. The thing I would love to end on, you have a book coming out, which is amazing.

Victoria Buitron 22:13
Yes, I do. Thank you.

Teresa Douglas 22:16
Where can people hear the second that comes out? If they want to grab it? Do you have social media do you have? Where can they find you and find your work?

Victoria Buitron 22:27
Sure. So if you go to my website, which is my name, Victoria Buitron dot com, you’ll be able to find information about the book there. It’s my debut memoir, it’s called The Body Across Two Hemispheres. And you can also go to Wood Hall press; the book is already available for pre order. So if you prefer to buy it directly from the press, you can do that you can buy from a bookshop, which is a great way to support indie presses and books in bookstores as well. And obviously, through Barnes and Noble and Amazon and all the other stores, you can preorder it, and it will come out in March. I’m very excited. Thank you so much. This was, like I said, a few moments ago, I wanted to write about my life a few years ago. The goal was always to write a book. The other goal is not just to write it, but to publish it.

Teresa Douglas 23:29
And both are happening, like you wrote it, and now it’s coming out.

Victoria Buitron 23:33
Exactly. So it just feels like a dream. It still feels like I’m dreaming a little bit. So I’m very excited. And thank you so much for the support.

Teresa Douglas 23:43
And what you didn’t say and I’m going to just plug a little bit for readers is that if you buy it on pre order, that helps out because then that means they should probably print more. So I will even push that. If this memoir sounds even the tiniest bit interesting, you should just preorder it and then you will have the book. And that will help get even more works by people of color out in the popular masses. So please, please go out and look at that and do that. Well, Victoria, this has been lovely. It has been so nice to have you here on podcast. It’s been wonderful to read your work, and I’m looking forward to seeing what you do next.

Victoria Buitron 24:28
Thank you so much for having me. This was a wonderful interview. I’m so glad that you enjoyed my review about the chainsaw. And I’m astounded by the support. Thank you so much.

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