May 14, 2021 at 11:00 AM EDT
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The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado
Credit: Penguin Books

It's a cliched adage, but The Rock Eaters really has everything. Brenda Peynado's new story collection, out now, is about class, immigration, and xenophobia. To tackle those topics, she uses narratives like a suburban family dealing with angels living on their roof, children quite literally floating away from their families (the book's title comes from their anti-levitation coping mechanism), and a highly prescient tale about a pandemic that requires people to live inside of boxes attended to by robots. Just how did she come to a place of such creativity? Peynado tells us, here, all about her process.

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What is the first thing — ever — that you remember writing?

It's either a story about a unicorn named Prancie who escapes her cage or a detention essay promising not to misbehave again — totally fiction — in second grade.

What is the last book that made you cry?

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn.

Which book is at the top of your current To-Read list?

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse and Waiting for the Night Song by Julie Carrick Dalton.

Where do you write?

Anywhere I can. I've moved three times during the pandemic, and I've written in hotel beds, couches, and parks when I no longer had my own office.

Which book made you a forever reader?

My parents subscribed me to a mail book club in second grade, and my best days were when that mail parcel arrived. The first book that truly floored me was Bridge to Terebithia. I wept for an entire Saturday afternoon and relished that hopeful sorrow. That's what I crave from books and my own writing.

What is a snack you couldn't write without?

Chocolate and nut bars of any kind, as long as they can be eaten with one hand without me getting up from the computer to wash my hands of stickiness.

If you could change one thing about your book, what would it be?

I would have had all the characters in The Rock Eaters meet each other. Aliens, basement ghosts, Latin American superheroes, flying prodigals, and people adorned by tumorous sorrows would make for a wondrous and unpredictable neighborhood block party.

What is your favorite part of The Rock Eaters?

Each story captures a different part of my heart, but "The Touches" is probably my favorite right now. Though I wrote it before the pandemic, it's about a future where people live alone in quarantine boxes attended by robots because of the sicknesses ravaging outside and meet in virtual reality instead. The main character has to grapple with how far she's willing to go to touch another human, and what that legacy means for the baby she's about to welcome home in VR. Now, in the pandemic and as a mother of a newborn, I find myself thinking about that story often.  

What was the hardest plot point or character to write?

I must have re-written "The Stones of Sorrow Lake" eight times before the tumorous sorrow stones appeared, and suddenly I was able to get at the family histories of the small town instead of the previous plots I'd drafted getting in the way.

Write a movie poster tag line.

A wild romp through multiple dimensions of space and time, discovering what it means to love across boundaries.

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