Bismarck Martinez: You mention in your bio that “Moonlight Sonata” is inspired by your real-life experience spending sleepless nights in a noisy college dorm. Are Grace and Seth inspired by real people? If so, did you feel obligated to represent them honestly in your work or did you feel comfortable adjusting their characters for the sake of fiction?
Tessa Yang: Yes, that’s right. I remember lying awake one night when the first line, “My roommate and I are insomniacs,” just sort of floated into my head. But as for Grace and Seth, no, I can’t say they’re based on anyone in particular (though I did borrow Grace’s distinctive hairstyle from a former classmate). In general, my fiction strays quite far from my personal reality. I might draw a plot out of something I experienced or something I saw on the news, but characters almost never have intentional real-world models.
BM: Were there any challenges that you faced while writing this story?
TY: The hardest part about “Moonlight Sonata” was giving Lola a sense of agency. She’s clearly being taken advantage of here, and she’s struggling with some issues that are out of her control, but at the same time, I’m not interested in writing about passive people to whom things “just happen.” I wanted it to come through that Lola is ultimately responsible for her actions, that the biggest obstacle to her recovery is not in fact Seth, but Lola’s own capacity for self-deceit.
BM: What is your revision process like? How much revising did you go through for this story?
TY: “Moonlight Sonata” was part of my college honors project, so I was fortunate enough to have an advisor, Dr. Pedro Ponce, with whom to discuss possible edits. One major plot point I ended up discarding was Lola’s sexual assault; this was originally construed as the source of her insomnia, but my advisor and I agreed that it wasn’t coming through clearly and was too much for “Moonlight Sonata” to handle along with everything else. I also had to cut about 800 words to meet r.kv.r.y.’s word limit. This turned out to be great for the story, as it forced me to be really selective with my details.
BM: Lola gets caught up in the nocturnal world led by the charismatic figurehead, Seth. At the end, Lola appropriates Seth’s line when offering sleeping pills to Grace. In your mind, what does this mean for Lola and Grace?
TY: The way I intended it, that lines showcases the limits to Lola’s growth as a character. Although she does stand up to Seth in an earlier scene, the irony is that she effectively becomes Seth, despite genuinely good intentions, when she offers Grace the pills. So again, it goes back to her agency as a character. Lola is in a position of power in that last scene, yet there’s something corrupt about her new status. And as for Grace, well, I hope she’d have the good sense not to take the pills, but who really knows?
BM: Do you write every day? Do you have specific goals for how much you should write in a given amount of time, or do you write only when you feel inspired?
TY: As I mentioned above, this story was part of an honors project, and for that I was writing every day, every morning before class. I was amazingly productive, and I hope I can develop a similar daily routine for grad school. Without a hard deadline, I definitely do not write each day. As you say, it’s about when I’m feeling inspired, which might be just a couple of times a week, if that.
BM: When and how did you start writing? How has your writing changed since then?
TY: I began typing stories on the computer around age nine. Apart from the fact that my actual writing ability has (I would hope) improved a lot since then, a big change is that I write mainly realistic fiction now, whereas when I was younger, I wrote fantasy. It’s not that I’ve abandoned fantasy or anything, but I do think, growing up, you start to realize that reality can be as weird and fascinating as any imaginary universe.
BM: As a young writer, where do you see your writing going from here? Are there any genres that you haven’t explored that you would like to? Do you plan to endeavor upon a novel or a collection of short stories?
TY: I’m thinking a short story collection for my grad school thesis. I’ve gotten really comfortable with short-form fiction over the past few years, and I just don’t have any one idea that seems like it could sustain itself over a novel. As for genres, yes, absolutely, there are many I would like to explore! Recently I’ve become interested in flash fiction; it’s so different from the long stories I usually write, and I’ve come to appreciate how word count restraints can really energize the prose. l have a similar feeling about poetry, though I’m slightly intimidated by it, and this is also something I’d like to work on. I think forays outside your “home genre” can only help you grow as a writer.
Bismarck Martinez is a native of Queens, New York and a reluctant migrant to Long Island. He is a student at John Jay College in NYC where he also works as a writing tutor and serves as editor-in-chief of the student creative writing journal, The Quill. His work can be found at The Monarch Review, Drunk Monkeys, and Poetry Quarterly.