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The Conquered Sits at the Bus Stop, Waiting: An Interview with Veronica Montes

January 23, 2022

Interviewed by Tyler Massey and Eliza Souers

We interviewed Veronica Montes about her collection of flash fiction, The Conquered Sits at the Bus Stop, Waiting, published in 2020. Expertly put together with thoughtful and poetic prose, The Conquered Sits at the Bus Stop, Waiting represents Montes’ hope for safety, security, and the “power that exists within all women.”

Could you tell us a bit about your growing up and your path to becoming a writer?

I was born in San Francisco and raised twenty minutes south in Daly City, where Filipinos make up 35% of the population—the highest density in the country. My grandparents lived two houses away, and nearly every weekend family and extended family would gather on our street, moving between the two houses, eating, singing, gossiping, playing mahjong. I was surrounded by playmates in the form of cousins who were always arranging and re-arranging themselves according to age or interest or activity (Chinese jump rope, anyone?). I spent a lot of time being shooed away from the grown-ups and their conversations, and this was maddening to me. Why were they speaking in low tones? Why, now, the sudden silence? And then the explosion of laughter? Why wasn’t I allowed to know? My early stories were fictional answers to these questions, a way to satisfy my curiosity and explore the hold that our families have on our lives and imaginations. Even now I often return to this headspace; there’s still so much to excavate.

In On Being a Writer, Ann Kroeker and Charity Singleton Craig advise writers to “notice and capture” everyday things, which might end up in a story later on. They also explain that some people notice the tiny details of life, while others focus on the bigger picture. What are your noticing and capturing methods, and what do you find yourself focusing on the most?

I’m on Team Tiny Details. It’s the little things like body language and gesture, coffee vs. tea vs. Red Bull, the chosen book, the earrings, that give my brain what it needs to build imagined histories and futures. If I’m in a public place I play the role of discreet observer and rarely, if ever, interact with the people who catch my eye. I once watched a woman in line at a food stand communicate silently for several minutes with her boyfriend who was sitting at a table fifty feet away. Gold! I always have a notebook on-hand, but I usually turn to my notes app for the initial capture. Until recently I was remarkably disorganized with these bits and pieces, but I’ve finally created a digital, cross-referenced system that works for me. How To Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens was helpful for this.

There is a theme of safety, defense, and protection in these stories, from the narrator’s idea in “Lint Trap” of “using the lint from the dryer to create kneepads and headbands to protect her… children” to the mother’s lack of protection of her daughter in “Ruby,” to the unsafe situation in “The 38 Geary Express.” How do the varying events in these stories work together? Is there a connection between less protection for children and less safety later in life?

We live in a society rife with violence against women, so like most people who identify as women, I’ve been concerned with safety and security since childhood. When my three daughters entered the picture, that concern was often all-consuming, and so it became a theme that I explore in my writing—certainly in many of the pieces in this collection. My characters can appear defeated by their fears, but I hope readers can sense strength at their cores. For me, the character in “Madaling Araw” represents the power
I imagine exists — that I want to believe exists — in all the women in these stories.

You have attributed the opening sentence of “The Conquered Sits at the Bus Stop, Waiting” to a line from the poem “GI Baby” by Bino A. Realuyo. Has other literature inspired your stories? Could you talk about turning to other writers for inspiration?

To clarify, the first published version of “The Conquered Sits at the Bus Stop, Waiting” had Realuyo’s line as its first sentence; the version in my chapbook does not. Here is the line: “All is memory, its guise in grass tufts, stone piles and low voices.” It inspired everything about my piece from tone to character to subject matter. Simply put, my story exists because I read Bino’s poem. When my children were very young, finding a free 30 minutes here or there wasn’t the problem. The problem was that much of that time was spent trying to drop into that dreamy state that makes physical writing possible. I needed a way to find my flow quickly, and random lines of poetry made the perfect launching pad. Imagery, beautiful language, rhythm—it’s all there. I turn to Filipinx and Asian American poets for this, as their work resonates deeply with me. I also find inspiration in paintings and archaeological objects.

The theme of women being silenced is prevalent in many stories in the chapbook, most notably in “The Sound of Her Voice,” where the main character is literally silenced in her domestic life. How does this theme play into the portrayal of a woman’s life in the chapbook as a whole, and what does the inclusion of silence contribute to this flash in particular?

“The Sound of Her Voice” was written in specific response to the routine silencing and gaslighting of women that took place during the Trump administration, and I thought it would be interesting to just strip away metaphorical silence and make it literal. Some of the other types of silencing I explore in the chapbook are perhaps even more insidious because they are less obvious. In “Lint Trap,” for example, the character’s silence is a result of being trapped in her domestic sphere, her feelings of isolation, her squandered talents.

Tears are found in both “Interlude: The Ocean of Tears” and “The Man Who Came from an Island Where Everyone Knows How to Sing.” What role do tears play in these two stories and in the chapbook as a whole?

Tears arrive when we can’t figure out how to say what it is that we’re desperate to communicate. When the titular man in “The Man Who Came From an Island Where Everyone Knows How to Sing” begins to cry, he’s underscoring the sincerity of his apology, and when the main character licks those tears it’s meant to convey a level of closeness between the two—I wanted the gesture to be more intimate than simply wiping his tears away. In “The Ocean of Tears,” the feelings the protagonist is trying to express are no longer indulged by the people who were close to her. Now she’s surrounded by strangers who offer help in their own ways, but who also express a level of annoyance with her tears. This abundance of tears, combined with the character’s loneliness, was a way for me to show that the journey through grief is ultimately one we have to take alone.

The Conquered Sits at the Bust Stop Waiting (18 pages) is available from Black Lawrence Press.

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Tyler Massey is a senior English writing major at Lee University. He is from Cleveland, Tennessee and focuses his work on screenwriting and other creative fiction.

Eliza Souers is from Cleveland, Ohio, but resides in Cleveland, Tennessee during the school year, where she is a senior English writing major at Lee University. Her writing tends to focus on the small, overlooked, beautiful little things of life. She has been published in Whale Road Review and Still: The Journal.

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