Things to tell Mick Jagger: interview with young Cuban female writer and rock fan Yeney de Armas

by: Caiman


Yeney de Armas has sneaked like a goblin through the world of Cuban literature during the last couple of years. She has already won several awards and moves with equal precision in the world of adult stories (so far a Calendar Award for the book ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and the Eduardo Galeano award for the story ‘Find the twelve differences’) and children’s literature (she received the Giving Scholarship for the book project ‘A world out there’ and the Eliécer Lazo award for the story ‘Primos’).
Young Cuban arts magazine Caiman Barbudo interviewed Yeney in February this year.

How’s the thing going? And I mean your writing.
The thing … well, the thing has four legs and the head upside down. At least, that’s how I see it. I don’t know what to say about the thing, but when I think about it, my legs tremble. Imagine, a book published and another in process and everything in less than a year. That’s not counting all the ones I have lined up to read.

What do you prefer: pork, calf or strawberry ice cream? In other words, what literary genre do you prefer: Children’s stories, scriptwriting or adult fiction? Please also say what attracts you to children’s literature, scriptwriting and strawberry ice cream.
Now that you talk about food, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else. But I will try. The genres are like recipes: sometimes it is better to bake and other times to fry. When a story arrives, the genres allow me to find the best way to tell them. Writing for theatre turns the text into action, it dynamizes it. With children’s literature I try to shorten gaps in communication between the now and the I that I am leaving behind. Do you know what rice with mango is like? Sometimes that happens to me. Because there are dishes that need to be baked and then be cooked in hot oil. Let’s leave it there so the strawberry ice cream melts.

When you dream at night, do you do it in colours or in black and white? I mean, when you come up with a story, do you think of it all and sit down to write it, or does it come to you in parts and you wait for it to be completed to write it? Do you keep it three months in a drawer and then review it or not?
Some writers advise to embed the stories and then review and revise. Partly I agree and partly not (not everything can be strawberry ice cream). I do not believe in decoy, but I do believe in reviewing. There are stories that I feel should be read at the time, so they do not lose meaning. I do not think (John) Lennon, before releasing ‘Instant Karma’, wondered if he should keep it locked up. What would have happened if he had launched it into the market after following this rule after ‘Imagine’? On the other hand, haste cannot make the work. Often, an idea because of its complexity does not come out the first time, or it lacks some element, a verb, an image, a dialogue, something that gives the spirit or the closure we want. Then it must wait wherever we put it. In the end, all these processes are alien to the reader. When they see the story, they don’t wonder how long the ideas were gathering dust or how many additions and subtractions were made to the story. The readers move to another rhythm. So it seems to me that the thing is more of personal complacency.

Your book that won the Calendar Award is titled ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, like the song by Queen. But there is also a novel by Sergio Cevedo with that name. Queen or Sergio Cevedo? Put another way: What authors or artists have influenced you to become Yeney de Armas, the writer? What songs do you listen to to inspire you and what do you listen to when you are sad? What movies and /or plays do you like?
Hey, now you ask me five things at once. Do you know what it’s like to talk like crazy people? I’ll see if I can answer you coherently. One: The Book. I listened to Queen before coming across Sergito. They gave me that background of metals and powerful lyrics. After Sergito gave me those unforgettable classes in the Onelio and although I could not read his Bohemian Rhapsody, his book of stories ‘The night of a difficult day’ made me rediscover rock and misfits. So Queen and Sergio Cevedo. Both of them.
Two: The influences. Before, I used to read everything, I went to the theatre constantly and was always listening to music on my earphones. But with less time I have been more selective. When I discover an author I try to read several of his texts. I do not know why, but if I like it a lot with one of his books, it’s not enough for me. In general, you must tell me something, not only because of the story but because of the way you tell it. I love to disarm the text as I did as a child with toys. I need to decipher how you got there or the solution found to say something specific. I also do that with music, movies and especially theatre. I can’t make a list, because they are too many.

Do you consider yourself part of a literary group, or something similar to a generation? In case you think you are not part of anything, would you like to belong to a literary group, a music group or a theatre group? What instrument would you play? And since I ask that, do you write by hand or directly on the keyboard of a PC, typewriter or Iphone of the latest brand? Do you have any specific time you write?
I write in what there is at the time, but just in case, I always carry a pen and a notebook, in case my mobile battery is dead or in the house there is no electricity to turn on the PC. I do not consider myself part of any literary group. It seems to me that there is now a kind of generational vacuum. Outside of the chronology part (date of birth, age), there is nothing more that unites us to the young people that are emerging now. For me it is a pity, because Cuban literary history has had very good literary groups that have contributed a lot. I would have loved for example to belong to the Novisimos. I enjoy that sense of creative responsibility that I observe when reading things about those authors. It’s like finding an extra element to the creation. I also identify myself with the texts of some writers of Generation zero. That carelessness in the way of narrating and the inclusion of codes of other languages such as music, film or video games is very attractive to me. But I was late for that too. So, since I do not belong to anything, I will probably follow your advice and audition to be the leading voice of a metal (rock) group!

What topics do you like to explore in your stories? What do not you like?
I don’t like ‘ they lived happily ever after’. There are many ways to live happily and no one has the right to impose an ideal of happiness. The creators have the advantage of, through their work, breaching communicative boundaries that sometimes is difficult between people. So, I think that advantage should be used to talk about what sometimes hurts or bothers us, but it is there. I’m not talking about depressive, pessimistic or fatalistic works. Not at all. I speak of another kind of literature that is not at all complacent, that is more like real life, like ‘The Fight Club’ by Palahniuk, ‘Misfortune’ by Coetzee or ‘New York Trilogy’ by Auster, among others.

You won a grant in the genre of children/teenage fiction, could you say what that project ‘ A world out there’ is about? And what is ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ about?
‘A world out there’ tries to recreate the life of a semi-adolescent girl, if that term exists. It is that difficult age in which childhood is being abandoned but adolescence is not yet assumed. The challenge for me has meant telling the story from the point of view of the girl herself, without falling into the literary clichés that are commonly used. To narrate the relationship that forms between her and her platonic love (an older boy), her authoritarian mother and her absent father without losing poetic flight.
On the other hand, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ explores other pastures. It goes in search of a polyphony of voices or (at least) of themes. Loneliness, abandonment, old age, loss and especially frustrations. The characters, mostly women, constantly struggle with this desire to do and not to be able or, in trying to do, ending up doing something else. Does it sound like a tongue twister? I can tell you that the two books do not have much in common, although the public will already give their own opinion.

What do you feel when you win a contest? Why compete? Do you think there are many literary competitions in Cuba or are they really very few?
I won’t tell you what I feel. I have already said that at the time of each award and to repeat it now would be to emphasize it mechanically. I have thought about the purpose of competing. Sometimes, as soon as I finish writing a story, I wonder if it will be “competitive” and, sometimes, if I’m not too tired, I’ll give it another reading, putting myself in the position of a possible jury. This is because the contests can give you great advantages. For example, the Calendar prize makes it possible for my work to be published in a year for the public to read. Also, it raises my profile as a writer within the literary world. This type of contest that supports creation (especially, if it is like in this case, that encourages the artist), I think are very good. Now, what I do not think is healthy is that this is the quickest and most efficient way for an author to get published and read. It seems to me that, in the long run, it can create distortions. For whom we wrote then, could be the question; for the general public or for other writers and members of a jury. I know that these issues are already being debated and that makes me happy. The creator must always question and rethink; if you do not stop creating and start playing.

This is the part where I ask you if you have advice for people who are just starting writing or a guide to winning contests. Or maybe a kind of writers decalogue, a top ten of something or gastronomic preferences?
I have nothing at all. Just note that I prefer strawberry to chocolate. I do not like “they lived happily ever after”. There are many ways to live happily and no one has the right to impose an ideal of happiness.

What would you say to Mick Jagger if you met him in Havana? Would you tell him about your upcoming projects, for example?
There are always many projects and, in general, to continue writing is always one; be it a story, a novel or a play. I saw Mick Jagger from afar (when he was in Havana) and we did not have time to talk. He danced and sang ‘Sympathy for the devil’ while I hummed it a few metres from the stage. But, for his next visit to Havana, I may already be the leader of a rock group and may be the opening act of his concert, or simply open the show with a story prepared for the occasion.

Link to original interview on Caiman Barbudo in Spanish