Writer vs. Writer Interview: Riya Anne Polcastro

Sexy, quite strange as she says, finding beauty in tragedy seems, Riya Anne Polcastro to be the right person for this interview series. In this post, we will know more about Riya, an author of numerous books including Jane, Dentata, and the forthcoming Spanglish young adult novel Popcorn 4 Dinner. Let's dig in!

Well, Riya, could you tell us about yourself? Who is real Riya?


Um well… I am quite strange. I enjoy taking pictures of dead things and graves—finding beauty in tragedy or something. My life goal is to be a vagabond and once my kids are grown I will probably bounce around to different countries for the rest of my time on this planet. First stop—Vanuatu.


I would really like to break into screenwriting and have written a hilarious dramedy pilot that got a teeny tiny bit of attention from a Hollywood producer. Does anyone want to pretend to be my agent and sell it for me? No? Darn.


I feel you. Well, I see your perspective toward the writing of a more transgressive view. So may I know when did you decide to become a writer in such a genre as I see this is normally a genre mainly male dominant.


I wouldn’t say that I really set out to write in the Transgressive genre, it just sort of happened that way. On the surface, transgressive literature is definitely a male-dominated genre, but there is so much to unpack there—both personally and in general. So for me, I would say that I tend to have traits that are considered by society to be more masculine at this point in human history, so it makes sense for me to align with a more masculine genre. There is also a limit to how much control a writer has over their stories because oftentimes it is less about creating something of my own and more about vomiting up something that is trapped inside of me.

But at the same time, I think it is important to challenge what is really considered transgressive literature.


And while I do feel that my writing aligns more with the likes of Chuck Palahniuk and Kurt Vonnegut and the like, there is a whole world of women writers out there, particularly Black women, who have given us amazing transgressive stories that are not necessarily recognized as such. I am thinking specifically of novels like Toni Morrison’s Paradise, Beloved, Sula, and so on. Jesmyn Ward’s Bois Sauvage trilogy also comes to mind. These authors don’t fit the traditional mold for transgressive and I could never pretend to follow in their footsteps. They write the type of stories that, in addition to having very transgressive characters, also rip your heart out in a way that I have just never experienced from the typical sort of white male transgressive writer. So I would argue really that like most things in life, it is not that men dominate the genre, but rather that they just are given the most recognition.


What about Transgressive Genre attracts you?


I have always been attracted to stories that recognize that good people do bad things and bad people also do good things and that one’s choices are representative of what is available to them. Fluffy characters with minor flaws are boring and incapable of exposing society’s gray areas.


What do you think makes a good story?


The type of writing that draws you in and lets you experience the story as opposed to reading it. If I can’t forget where and who I am or that I am reading, I probably won’t finish it.


When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? And as a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?


I always wanted to be a writer, even as young as kindergarten. I wrote my first full-length novel when I was eleven or twelve. It was rather silly looking back, but even then there were transgressive elements.


We've got something in common. How long does it take you to write a book?


That really depends. Anywhere from a month to a year.


Do you have any writing routines? What is your work schedule like when you're writing?


Writing basically takes up all of my free time. It is a bit of compulsion at this point—definitely unhealthy.


Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?


My primary motivation is a lot of childhood trauma from being raised in evangelical Christianity. Jane. deals with this, also Dentata. And my next book, Popcorn 4 Dinner; Traff’kd @ Midnight (Palomitas para Cena; Traficado en la Madrugada) has its roots in the so-called missionary work done by the church as it attempts to take over control of the cultural hegemony in the global south. Both Jane. and Dentata was also heavily influenced by the rape trope that has become so common in both Hollywood and transgressive fiction. So these novels were pushbacks to this lazy writing and they are also revenge stories for all the times I have wanted to put a hole through a screen or burn a book because some (not always but usually) CIS white male writer is too lazy to come up with any other way to convince readers to hate their antagonist.


Which author inspires you the most and why?


Morrison and Ward inspire me in the way they make you feel the story deep in your bones, though I can never even dream of being on their level. Palahniuk inspires me to not give a fuck about offending people. Bernice McFadden inspires me to find love even in the darkest places. Sandra Cisneros inspires me to embrace my place between cultures and to use Spanish words where English fails. Tolstoy inspires me to find the vein we all share.


What does your family think of your writing?


My family is very supportive. I doubt they’re surprised by the themes.


What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?


Do I really want to put my naïveté on blast like that? Here goes I guess. My first pitch for Jane. was with an agent who specialized in women’s fiction and I thought it was just such a great fit because I was writing about strong female characters and the themes are really about how society destroys women, blah blah blah. Well, it turns out women’s fiction is fluffy crap. The agent’s face as she listened to my pitch (this was at a conference), and then explained to me what women’s fiction actually is, was priceless. I’m pretty sure she was actually afraid of me. Lesson learned.


Wow. Interesting. How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?


Ten-ish, depending on how you count. One is a novella and another is a compilation of shorts. Two have not been published yet. I am hoping to have Popcorn 4 Dinner out sometime in 2022. My favorite is Jane. because I have been told by a lot of readers that it has a very strong psychological effect on them—that they actually feel like they may be going crazy while reading it. So much so that readers have reported having to put it down because they couldn’t handle it. Which to me feels like a sort of accomplishment, like I am flirting with the power that authors like Morrison have even if I will never actually attain it.


Do you have any suggestions to help others to become better writers? If so, what are they?


Read—everything. Seek out different voices. Don’t rely on the classics and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t like them. There can be a lot more to learn from an author who has lived real-life versus some old dead dude that lived on an estate (though I do love me some Tolstoy). Don’t be lazy with your storylines and characters. Don’t rely on tired tropes to make your bad guy, actually develop their character and make people dislike them for who they are not just what they do.