I recently had the opportunity to chat with Toni Margarita Plummer, an editor who I had met many years ago at a writing festival. Besides being a fabulous editor, Toni has recently published a collection of stories titled The Bolero of Andi Rowe: Stories. Toni is here to share with us her journey from editor to debut and award-winning author.
When did you publish your first book?
This is my first book. I’ve been working on these stories for years and to finally see them in print is just thrilling.
What genre is your current release and what made you decide to write in this genre?
The stories aren’t genre fiction, so I would call them literary. Growing up and throughout college that’s pretty much all that I read. I really liked Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles and I read some Arthur Conan Doyle, but that was pretty much the extent of my genre fiction reading. It wasn’t until I started working in publishing that I learned about crime fiction and now I acquire mostly mysteries. In this book, I wanted to tell the stories of ordinary people. I wanted to write about the Latino experience, as I knew it, and this seemed to be the best way to do it.
I understand the stories in the collection are connected. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
The stories in the collection are interrelated. You’ll see recurring characters throughout—sometimes they’re the main character, sometimes they just have a cameo. Most of the stories are about this one family, the Rowe’s. In one, we go back in time to 1970 to see how the parents first met. The collection as a whole is really about family, how it’s created and how it evolves, even breaks down. But they’re ultimately uplifting stories, I hope.
Andi Rowe sounds like a fascinating heroine. What is she like?
Andi Rowe, the titular character, is an architecture student in New York who grew up in South El Monte, a small city outside of Los Angeles. Her mother is from Mexico and her father is Irish-American—she takes after her mother. In the first story, we see her back at home for the summer, and her interaction with an elderly neighbor she’s known all her life. Though very different, each woman is currently unsure of her place in the world and they’re able to really connect for the first time because of that.
Where is your story set and does that influence the plot lines and characters in your stories?
The stories are set mostly in the San Gabriel Valley, in Los Angeles. This is where I grew up. One of my main reasons for writing these stories was to write about my neighborhood and about characters dealing with some of the issues that occur in that community. For example, in one we see a lonely woman hire a day laborer, and how that plays out in an unexpected way.
You have a full time job as an editor and also write. Do you have a writing schedule that you follow?
I wish I had one! The authors I work with in my role as an editor are so disciplined. And you really need to be in order to keep putting out quality material. Everyone’s busy but I think that’s why having a schedule is so important. When people have so many other obligations, you have to make time for writing or else it won’t happen.
Do you belong to any writing groups and if so, do you find them beneficial?
I joined a writing group for the first time a few years ago and it has been incredibly helpful. I really benefit from having deadlines. Just knowing that people are expecting to see work from me is a big help in motivating me to get something done! It’s also invaluable to have people whom I trust read my work, especially when I’m not sure where it’s going yet or whether it’s working. We’ve recently been having our meetings over beer and pizza. You can’t get any better than that!
What writers have influenced your novel or writing style?
Flannery O’Connor, Evelyn Waugh, Andre Dubus, Graham Greene, and David Schickler have been interested in Catholic themes, and I deal with those. I love the humor of Mark Twain and the style of Ernest Hemingway and Jack Kerouac. I deeply admire Julia Alvarez and Lorraine López for how they’ve captured the Latina experience. And Michael Jaime-Becerra is close to my heart because he writes so beautifully and honestly about El Monte—it’s like being home! I suppose it’s no coincidence that several of these authors are skilled short story writers.
Thank you so much for sharing this information, Toni. It’s truly exciting to share the happiness of a debut author and I wish you much success with your writing.