Anna-Marie McLemore is no stranger to capturing complex family dynamics. Her debut, The Weight of Feathers, chronicled the feud between rival performers, the Palomas and the Corbeaus, while her follow-up When the Moon Was Ours, delved into the tale of the notoriously mysterious Bonner sisters.
And with Wild Beauty, her upcoming novel, she’s poised to do the same. Only this time the family at the heart of her latest tale is the Nomeolvides, generations of whom have tended the estate gardens of La Pradera. In particular, the novel focuses on the relationship between the teenage Estrella and the mysterious Fel, who doesn’t know where he comes from, or how he ended up in the gardens. As they try to figure his past, they begin to uncover secrets about the Nomeolvides themselves.
Below McLemore reveals her influences and inspirations and how she goes about writing magical realism. Also, get an exclusive look at the cover of Wild Beauty.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: All three of your books draw on magical realism. What are some of your influences?
MCLEMORE: I’ve really love Isabel Allende, Nicaraguan poet and novelist Giaconda Belli, and the poetry of Neruda. The poetry and plays of Lorca are [also] a big influence. His plays especially, with how magical realism comes into them, particularly his plays about groups of women, is just something that sort of stayed with me.
Your books really delve into familial feuds and relationships, especially between sisters. What is it about those themes that really speaks to you?
My family made me who I am. Our families make all of us, for better or for worse. You go with the person your family taught you to be, or you push against it depending on what you believe and where you are in your life. It’s a big part of our lives in general, and a big part of the growing up experience when you’re figuring out who you are in the world. I’ve been obsessed with sisters for a long time because in a way I’m outside that experience. I have five brothers, and my cousins and my sisters-in-law have become my sisters. The generation I’m focusing on, they’re all cousins. But they all act as sisters to each other. So “sisters” is a big theme for me. Especially who becomes our sisters when we don’t have strictly biological sisters.
What are you most excited about in terms of readers meeting these characters?
Writing this whole generation of Latina girls who are all some form of queer. I love looking into the magic of all these relationships between women—both the literal magic of these women and the alchemy of how they live together and support and push against each other. The main character falls in love with this boy who appears in these gardens, so part of what I’m excited, but also nervous, about is having a book that looks at bisexuality and is part of this discussion about identity politics when you’re bisexual. The world declares you a certain thing if you’re bi and fall in love with a woman, and another thing if you fall in love with a guy. So this has been something that has been on my mind as a queer woman who’s in a relationship with a transgender guy. My husband is very open about being trans, except in certain situations where it wouldn’t be safe—and unfortunately, there are a lot of situations where it wouldn’t be.
Magical realism is an interesting way to discuss a topic like this. A lot of times the books that deal with this are more contemporary.
I love reading contemporary books that talk about these topics, but I’m also not sure I would know how to do it in a contemporary way. It almost feels like a different language to me, talking about it that way, free from folklore and magical realism. It’s a different way of doing it. In Moon, I didn’t use the word “transgender” until the author’s note, and I don’t use the word “bisexuality” in Wild Beauty even though it’s pretty clear that these girls are bisexual. So part of what’s really valuable in contemporary stories is having those actual words on a page. Not that we need to label ourselves if we don’t want to. But it’s tremendously valuable for readers who are looking for those words to have them. In the same way, I think it’s valuable to see ourselves, whether we’re of color or queer in stories that have magic.
Do you think you’ll keep writing within the magical realism genre?
I would really like to. I imagine at some point, I’ll get some idea that’s outside of that worldview. But that really does feel like my literary home, because of the culture I come from. It’s a very important literary tradition in Latinx tradition. Also, I think the world we live in right now is something that makes me go back to it too. There’s been a lot of progress made, and obviously it’s a lot better for me and my husband living now than it would have been for us 50 years ago, but there’s still that idea of holding on to and finding magic in the midst of oppression that keeps calling to me and drawing me back. So there’s that aspect of it.
Wild Beauty will be released Sept. 26. Order it here.