New Mexico Writers Member Interview

By Debra Hughes | May 10, 2023

Member Interview: Debra Hughes


This month, we’re kicking off a new feature: an interview with a member of NM Writers. Our inaugural interview is with Debra Hughes, and next month’s subject is Loretta Hall, who has written several books about spaceflight.


Debra’s bio:


A native of New Mexico, my writing touches on the region’s land and people, for which I received an International Regional Magazine Award. Image Journal recently published a novel excerpt from my novel-in-progress and other short fiction has appeared in Tierra: Short Fiction of New Mexico, Walking the Twilight: Women Writers of the Southwest, New Letters, Blue Mesa, and New Mexico Humanities Review. Author of Albuquerque in Our Time (Museum of New Mexico Press), my nonfiction has appeared in Narrative Magazine, Huffington Post, New Mexico Magazine, El Palacio, USA Today, the Dallas Times Herald, and others. I hold a Master of Arts degree in American literature and creative writing from The Ohio State University and have served on the founding advisory board of Narrative Magazine.


What is your current project and at what stage is it?


For the past nine years, I have been working on my first novel, The Geology of Secrets, which I envision completing this summer. By then, the title will probably have changed a time or two.


Does New Mexico geography or culture play a role in your work? If so, how?


Eudora Welty, in her mesmerizing short story, “No Place for You, My Love,” presents the natural world of Louisiana as a character seeming to hitch a ride with two strangers on a drive south of New Orleans. I love this. It is a palpable and ancient disturbance that this natural-world character radiates exacerbating the tension and mystery already present between the man and woman. For me, the technique is very powerful, for New Mexico’s terrain, its wildlife and plant-life, play in my life in a similar fashion: they are with me, sometimes as close as a dear friend, and always talking, troubled or not so. In my novel, the same premise holds. Boulders stocked with fossilized snails, sweeping vistas, the wind become one, a character hovering, whispering near the men and women of this story.


If you will, the culture of our region is the girdle of my work. Beliefs, ritual, values act as the struts against which my characters react. Because a wild meadow in a high desert valley is at the heart of my story, land ownership and use have different interpretations to the naturalist and conservation-minded protagonist than for the woman whose family has claimed the same valley for more than 100 years. There is tenderness and conflict amiss as these two and other characters navigate possession, when in the end, they find it is the land that possesses them.


What has been your most satisfying moment as a writer? Most frustrating?


I guess those two go hand in hand. At draft number four, I thought my novel was done and I queried agents. After some very encouraging responses, I sent out the requested entire manuscript only to be told that the characters didn’t jump off the page. Sorry, but no go.


Taking the responses to heart, during the pandemic, I set off on a reading frenzy to study character and their journeys. The more I read, the more I realized that I needed to dismantle my novel’s construct and eliminate a few characters. What I gathered, too, is that I needed to remove the shield I had erected between me and my characters and write not only from my head, but from other places, so I turned to my body and soul. Once those gates were open, I began to see my characters take on a life of their own and the action within the book began to flow more easily for them and me. Satisfying? I’d say!


What do you read for pleasure and/or inspiration? Who are some of your favorite writers?


I have been on an Irish fiction-writer jag for the past few years. These authors offer a great deal of inspiration: John Banville, Elizabeth Bowen, Claire Keegan, Iris Murdoch, Edna O’Brien, and William Trevor. I can’t stop rereading his work. And, though he’s not Irish, Michael Ondaatje. I reread The English Patient every few years.


William Trevor, Eudora Welty, and William Faulkner top my list of favorites because they write of their region so fluidly.

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