LSQ: Beyond the sweet facade of Vó Úrsula’s house lies a world in turmoil. But instead of focusing on the bad events happening outside, the story takes place solely inside the house. Why did you make this choice?
Victoria: It wasn’t something I had in mind when I began to write the story! I wanted to explore the idea of how important a tight community is during hard times, and I decided to do that by focusing on a small group of characters. It’s important to read and write about important historical events — and, in today’s Brazil, more than ever, to remember what happened during the military dictatorship — but I wanted to explore how ordinary lives are affected by them. So the outside world wasn’t exactly my focus, even if it plays a crucial part in the story.
As the plot began to develop, I noticed that what brought all of these very different people together was the safety and comfort they found in Úrsula’s figure, in different ways. It was an almost automatic decision for the action to take place inside her house. I’ve always been drawn to stories in which the setting is, depending on how you see it, a character, so that might have had an influence on how it is presented throughout the story. I also had a lot of fun imagining its details, especially the magical shop.
LSQ: Vó Úrsula’s house feels so cozy and peaceful. Where did you find the inspiration for this character and her magical home?
Victoria: It came from two places. The first one is the figure of the typical Brazilian grandmother: a kind figure with a big heart who knows how to be stern from time to time, and who brings the family together. They usually have a miraculous recipe or ritual that they swear by, and that’s where the idea for Vó Úrsula being an unconventional witch came from — I believe all grandmothers are, at some degree, magical.
The second source of ideas was my own family. I didn’t write the story with my experiences in mind, but I’m sure that there was a lot of personal input. I’m lucky enough to be able to spend time with both of my grandmothers, who are strong and loving women, and to have heard their stories as I grew up. The inspiration for Úrsula’s house certainly came from their apartments, filled with little secrets and memories. Also, the room for the grandchildren exists, and it had the magical property of fitting nine loud cousins during Christmas gatherings.
LSQ: Aside from an amazing setting, your characters are all relatable and dynamic. What are your tips for creating characters that feel real?
Victoria: Oh, I’m so happy to hear that! I don’t have any specific method I follow to create characters — actually, my creative process consists of messy notebooks, lots of revisions, and ranting to my friends, so I’m not the best person to give advice. Besides, this was my first published short story, so I’ve still got a lot to learn, too.
I’ve always been interested in history, and one of my favorite discussions is how easy it is to forget that the major events were lived by common people. One of my favorite writers, Svetlana Aleksiévitch, says that it’s more difficult to understand a human soul than the “big history” itself. Thinking about that changed how I view the world — and, I believe, how I see my characters. Humans are complex! We all have different motivations, contradictions and beliefs: we’re not flat people who have only one purpose. Allowing a little bit of that complexity into the people that move your story is an interesting way to make them feel more real.
LSQ: Are there any other projects you’re currently working on? If so, could you tell us a bit about them?
Victoria: I’m currently working on writing down some ideas, and in exploring different formats to tell stories. For example, I’m a huge fan of reading and writing letters, and I’m rewriting a story that’s told through correspondence. It centers on the themes of memories and exile, and there are ghosts — as a good Brazilian, I can’t resist a good ghostlore. I’ve also got some smaller projects at different stages, but I’m still not sure what I want to do with them. Having my first story published has been a great surprise: I’ve always been very private about my writing, and seeing it out in the world was an amazing experience. I can’t wait to see what comes next!
Also, I’m a blogger for Luna Station Quarterly, so I’m always thinking about themes for my column.