Behind the Scenes with Katherine Quevedo, author of Sonnet of the South American Sphinx

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Teresa Douglas 0:10
Welcome, listeners to this week’s behind the scenes episode of Latinx Lit Audio Mag. I’m your host, Teresa Douglas. And today we’re interviewing Katherine Quevedo, who was born and raised just outside of Portland, Oregon, where she works as an analyst and lives with her husband and two sons. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in Fireside magazine, Coffin Bell, Triangulation: Habitats, Factor Four magazine, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Best Indie speculative fiction, Volumes three and four. And elsewhere. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys watching movies, singing, playing old school video games, belly dancing and making spreadsheets. Find her at Katherine Welcome, Katherine.

Katherine Quevedo 0:59
Thank you so much for having me.

Teresa Douglas 1:01
It’s so nice to have you here. And I have to say, before we jump into the nitty-gritty of talking about your sonnet, I have to ask you a very important question. Because this podcast is like you are sitting at my kitchen table. And of course, if you were at my house, I would want to offer you something that you would like to eat. And so I would love to know, what is your favorite comfort food?

Katherine Quevedo 1:30
I am picturing it now and salivating. That would be chocolate chip cookies. Especially my mom’s. I have a very, very strong sweet tooth.

Teresa Douglas 1:40
Well, I would hope that we could eat those and still remain friends because I love chocolate chip cookies. And I might have to arm wrestle you for them.

Katherine Quevedo 1:49
Oh, no, we need to have enough for everyone. One big cookie, and we can split it.

Teresa Douglas 1:54
I love that idea. All right, then I would definitely do that. Because we shouldn’t have bloodshed from having the cookies. That’s lovely. And another thing that’s lovely, of course, is this beautiful sonnet that you sent in. I would just I want to say one thing. That’s my favorite thing. And then I’m going to not talk so much and ask you some questions about you. When this came in, I was intrigued by the title, and I knew it had to be sort of speculative-y if that’s a word. But if I’m wrong and there are actually historical sphinxes, or sphinx-i, I would love to be corrected about that. But the thing I loved about this was just the tight imagery, just this idea of ‘talismanic liquid copper eyes.’ I just saw that image bloom in my brain when I read that. A Jaguar body. And just this thirst. It was just so lovely to see that put all together. And so thank you for sending this in so that I can read it.

Katherine Quevedo 3:11
Thank you. I had so much fun writing it. And yeah, just putting the creature together and trying to find the right words and putting it in the right beats. It just was a really fun project for me.

Teresa Douglas 3:26
And this piece seems to be pretty popular. I knew when we were talking a little bit on email, you were nominated for an award. But what award was that?

Katherine Quevedo 3:34
Yeah I received notice that it was nominated for the Rising Award for Best Short Poem. So that’s offered through the science fiction and fantasy poetry association. So that was just a huge, pleasant surprise. And I’m really honored. I’ve never been nominated for that before. And there’s really talented poets in that group. So I’m just really honored.

Teresa Douglas 3:57
Well, congratulations on that. And so listeners, if you haven’t yet listened to this sonnet, first of all, I don’t know why you’re here, but you should know this is now also an award-nominated sonnet. And I think you will see, once you listen, why this was nominated for that award. Well, the one thing I always ask people is whether or not the format that they send to me so if it’s a poem, or a piece of fiction is their first love. I know you write a couple of things, at least from your bio. So would you say that poetry is your first love? Do you love poetry and fiction or nonfiction equally? What’s your deal?

Katherine Quevedo 4:39
Oh, I hope you’re not trying to make me choose favorites.

Teresa Douglas 4:41
We love all our children.

Katherine Quevedo 4:43
Exactly. I really do love both. I can’t pick but you know if you want to get really technical, I started with short stories. From childhood I mean, from the first time I could hold a pencil I was putting little looks together. And then in grade school, that’s where I started learning about poetry and just really enjoyed the wordplay and the rhyming. So I’ve been writing both in tandem for most of my life. I do focus on fantasy, horror and science fiction for my short stories. And then for my poems, it was really, I started off writing more non-speculative, and I’ve more recently gotten into speculative. I wanted to share one quick story speaking of sphinx poems, because so the one I’ve read here is my second sphinx poem. The first one I ever wrote, because I really love sphinxes, I wrote back in high school. That’s how much I love sphinxes. And it actually won a contest where I got to go attend the Willamette writers annual conference here in Portland. And that opened my eyes to the world of writing, where suddenly I learned that there was this whole industry behind it, this community of writers, and I was completely hooked. So it was a poem that was my gateway into making writing a really serious life goal for me.

Teresa Douglas 6:10
So sphinx poems are your gateway drug is what you’re telling me. I also think this means you should write another sphinx poem, because so far in the whole awards department, you’re two for two.

Katherine Quevedo 6:25
Maybe there’s a chapbook in here somewhere.

Teresa Douglas 6:28
I mean, who doesn’t love Sphinx? They’re just so–there’s the mystique of them. And the silent things that were created or built long, long ago. Everything about it is fascinating. So it sounds like you were writing poetry first. And then came to fiction? What do you think that does for your writing? Just out of curiosity do you feel like they inform each other, or give you some some added benefit, because you do both.

Katherine Quevedo 7:06
I do think that they sort of talk to each other, if you will. And the order is an interesting one. Because I I started off kind of fiddling around with both through school, grade school, high school, middle school, high school. And then when I was in the university, I decided to, I was getting an English degree and wanted to get a creative writing emphasis. And I was considering, should I do the fiction track or the poetry track. I did end up on the poetry track at that time, due to a variety of reasons. And once I graduated, I thought, you know, I really want to up my game in fiction, and felt like I needed to really focus there. So I spent years just studying short stories, especially fantasy, science fiction, horror, I basically put poetry on hold for years. And then once I finally was having some success with the speculative fiction, it was one of my two sisters who actually reached out to me and just reminded me how much I had also enjoyed writing poems, and how much she had loved reading them. And so that rekindled that interest again. And now, I’m trying to find a balance between the two, because I really do love both. And then, on top of that, a lot of my poetry had been non-speculative. So now I’m trying to bring the speculative into it, because I just love those genres. And I think really looking at the level of language that I use in my stories, and trying to think and sometimes pause and say, if I were writing this as my poet self, what language would I be using for these key parts that I really want to highlight? And then my poems similarly, sometimes thinking, can I put a bit of a narrative arc into some of this?

Teresa Douglas 8:53
Well, that’s, that’s fascinating. It makes you wonder why there aren’t a lot of places where you can say, Can I do a bit of both fiction and poetry, just, you know, attend a few classes here and there. But if those decision-makers on university courses and degrees are listening, it would be nice if we could have a dual degree without spending 100 years getting it.

Katherine Quevedo 9:26
It would be nice.

Teresa Douglas 9:29
It would be nice. I would definitely have taken that. I when I did my MFA it was for fiction. But I was around so many poets. I was joking that I was being led into bad habits, looking at more poetry and it just, it’s a fascinating thing. It’s just a fascinating thing to do, the way you have to describe things so efficiently for the maximum punch. And there are a lot of other things obviously I have not studied poetry to the degree that you have. So I’m like, my vocabulary is limited. And I’m talking too much now, why don’t we back up and talk about you and your piece. Can you walk us through the process? You talked a little bit that it took you a while, but can you just walk us through the process of how you came up with the idea. Did it just organically bloom in your mind? How did that happen?

Katherine Quevedo 10:32
Sure. The first step that led to the creation of this poem was I saw a call for submissions from Honeyguide literary magazine. And they were putting together an issue themed around mythical creatures. And I thought, well, that’s a cool theme. And on top of that, I saw that they support animal shelters. And to me that was just a win win. So I put a couple poems together that appeared in that issue. But when I was trying to come up with what to send to them, I had recently written a story that’s called Song of the Balsa wood bird. And that actually came out earlier this year in Fireside magazine. And that was where I had combined some of my favorite Ecuadorian animals because I’m half Ecuadorian, and so I’d taken these different animals and combined them into a mythical creature for that story. And that was so much fun that I thought I want to do that again. So this time, I thought, well, what would a sphinx from South America be like, and that’s where I took the lion and the eagle parts and replaced them with a Jaguar and a condor, and just started going from there. And I do like writing sonnets. And so when I was trying to think of what kind of Title I might put to this, what popped into my head was sonnet of the South American Sphinx. I thought, oh, there’s some alliteration there. And so it started taking shape. And when it came time to write that volta, you know, that final turn that comes in the last stanza, I was thinking, Well, okay, I’ve introduced this creature of riddles. So what kind of riddle can I propose in the poem? And I was thinking about, I’m really fascinated by the ancient Inca culture. And I was thinking, they didn’t really have this established system of writing, they used this elaborate, complex system of tying knots into string called Kiku. And I thought, well, here’s my riddle, it’s right there, people still don’t know how to decipher it fully.

Teresa Douglas 12:31
That’s amazing. And you’re right, we have that lasting mystery of language in knots. And what is a riddle, but its own kind of a mental knot? And that’s a wonderful thing to sort of put together and get in that turn because I hadn’t even thought of the Incas string language, until this poem for I don’t know, like years. I mean, we learn about it in school. But yeah, it’s a fascinating thing, thinking of someone who came up with a language that you can do in knots. I just, I love your poem. I fan girl sigh every time I look at. Pick me for the dance! I want to go. When we send our work into the world, it stands alone–as it should–on its own two feet. But we’re never often able to tell people what impressions we would like them to leave with when they they read it or listen to it. Is there a specific impression you would like the reader to come away with after reading this piece?

Katherine Quevedo 12:48
That is a great question. I think that anytime that you’re dealing with a Sphinx, it’s all about the wonderment and mystery and perplexity. So in that sense, hopefully, this isn’t a total cop-out answer. But I think different readers will come away with different things. And that’s a good thing like that, in of itself plays into the poem. But if I have to try to pick something, maybe a sense of connection to, to multiple things to the natural environment, because there’s aspects of that in the poem, to this ancient part of civilization, and ultimately, for any poem, and this one included, for me, it’s really about connection to each other. And in this case, we’re all experiencing a world where there’s always something that is unknown to us in some way. And that just builds into that whole mystery aspect. And then frankly, I do really like casting a spotlight on a part of the world that I have a direct and you know, a connection to that’s very near and dear to my heart and it is part of the world I would love to see represented more in speculative fiction and poetry.

Teresa Douglas 15:06
Yes, because we’ve definitely done the Western European sword and sorcery to death. We don’t need more JRR Tolkien, although really, it’s fun to read that. But it would be nice to go to a different part of the world and look at stories and read things from there. So I heartily agree.

Katherine Quevedo 15:30
Exactly. Variety.

Teresa Douglas 15:32
Yes, variety. And what better image of that then the Sphinx.

Katherine Quevedo 15:38
Right? Exactly. Yeah, it’s a mix of things. It’s an amalgamation. And the result is really pretty stunning. More so than just you know, it’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Teresa Douglas 15:50
Exactly. Well, this has been lovely. And you obviously write many things and are in other places. I’m sure there are many people who are going to want to follow what you do. And I know we said this at the beginning, but would you mind giving listeners again, your website or any social media handles where you post about your writing so that they can follow you?

Katherine Quevedo 16:16
Sure. So not to disappoint anyone, I don’t really do a lot of social media. Pretty much just my website. It’s at Katherine If people like they can subscribe there, get updates to my blog. And that happens very sporadically. But that really is the best way to see what I’m up to.

Teresa Douglas 16:36
So in other words, instead of being on social media you write.

Katherine Quevedo 16:41
It’s true. I work a full-time job. Besides, you know, besides the writing, I have a day job. I have two school-aged kids. And I want to create new content for folks. So yeah, you got to make some trade-offs, right.

Teresa Douglas 16:59
Yes, and we only have a certain amount of minutes every day. So thank you for using them for writing. It’s been lovely having you on the show. Thank you so much for coming. This has been wonderful.

Unknown Speaker 17:11
Thank you so much.


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