Well, Bonnie, there are a lot of different people’s versions of chupacabras, which means goat suckers in Spanish. Some even think they’re extraterrestrial. I tend to go with the story that says they were first spotted in Puerto Rico, then moved into South America and Mexico, and more recently have been seen in southern parts of the United States. They’re part wolf and part dog, and yet can jump like kangaroos. They’re missing a lot of hair.
But why in your book, Bonnie? I always had you pegged as a realistic.
I know, but they’re just such fascinating creatures, and I had so much fun writing about him. I hope to write more magical realism in the future. I think a goat sucker feels disgusting to most, and yet he represents something wild and unnamable in all of us.
I heard—from you, I think it was—that you live right beside the spot that PSA Flight 182 crashed into North Park in 1978. Is that true?
It is. And I lived in the North Park area of San Diego at the time, too, before a long stint in New York City and then moving back here. I was going to San Diego State one morning as an undergraduate, looked out from my porch and saw an enormous surge of black smoke racing up to the sky on the other side of North Park. I’m an old timer in San Diego, and many people talk about what they were doing at the time of the crash.
What happened is that a Cessna got in the flight pattern of a 727 jetliner, an air traffic controller asked the 727 if it had a visual on the Cessna. They pilot said they did, but the Cessna had moved under the jet and out of pilots’ line of vision. The Cessna crashed and burned in one part of North Park, the jet in another. The impact was devastating. It’s still the worst airline disaster there has ever been in California.
Why write about it now, thirty years later?
It’s part of our history in this area. Just like some neighborhoods might have a house where someone was murdered and folks will forever associate that with the place, this crash severely affected the entire community, wiped out homes built in the 20s and 30s, which were rebuilt in the 70s and will always look different. It so decimated the neighborhood that when the 30th anniversary came up, many felt the crash had never been fully dealt with. At the time of the crash, everything was in emergency mode: freezer trucks to put body parts in, bodies laid out in an elementary school auditorium, people had nowhere to live, and the neighborhood had police tape wrapped around its perimeters to keep gawkers away. There was no time to properly mourn. By the time the thirtieth anniversary arrived, people had had more time and wanted to commemorate it in some way. Now that it’s been thirty-six years, there is a movement to finally put up a memorial, which many felt the community couldn’t have handled at the time. You can find more information about that here.
Is the entire collection What Happened Here: a novella and stories about the crash?
No. The book is about the neighborhood of North Park and the modern-day people who live there. These fictional characters deal with their own issues in a neighborhood I find special because of having such diversity. North Park is quite a mix of working and middle class, different colors, ages, sexual preferences, and a large arts community.
The collection starts with the title novella in which a man’s emotional crash parallels the 727’s dissent into the earth. Both suddenly spin out of control and fall. The timing is the thirtieth anniversary in North Park where the man lives. The neighbors are gathered to honor the memory of PSA Flight 182, the people who lost their lives and the first responders who were on duty that day. Just like the man who must deal with the ghosts of his past so they won’t continue to haunt him, the memorial honors all the people who were affected that day. Many of the neighbors who have their own stories in the collection are introduced here. The crash comes up here and there in the other linked tales, as do characters from other stories, and while it helps inform some of the issues going through their own lives, the stories aren’t about the accident.
What are the other stories about and how are they linked?
Besides the chupacabra story? There’s a story, “Movement in the Wire,” about an older war vet the neighbors call Cat Man because he feeds all the neighborhood strays. He has PTSD, and when some boys try to hassle him one night, he thinks the backfiring of their car is the sound of more bombing, and he falls on his stomach and squirms through the underbrush. The neighbors come together and protect him.
In “People Scream” a young woman can’t decide who she really is and temporarily here and there fashions herself to be the woman that a potential boyfriend might want. She works at a center full of Anonymous meetings—Alcoholics, Debtors, Rageaholics, and so on—and keeps hearing someone screaming but can’t figure out which Anonymous meeting it’s coming from.
In “Rocks,” a woman has escaped her abusive husband in the red-hued rocks of Sedona, Arizona, and camouflages herself as a tour-guide bus driver.
In “Uncle Rempt,” a weirdo uncle with a bald-spot shaped like a yin yang symbol helps free his niece from his uptight brother (with a bald pattern that looks like the bars of a jail cell). They drive off to a little piece of heaven in Southern California called North Park, where they plan to sell air.
The man in one couple of the neighborhood has AIDS, and the two buy an old trailer to travel and enjoy of the time they have left and camp up by the “radioactive books” at San Onofre State Park.
Why is there a picture of a macaw on the cover?
I knew you were going to ask that, Bonnie. So many questions. There is an escapee flock of macaws that live in North Park. I may have exaggerated it a little. They’ve soared away from the San Diego Zoo which is nearby, from the homes of people who’ve left the door open a little too long, from smugglers stealing them across the Mexican-American border. They’re light-hearted and playful and fly through the different stories.
So would you say the theme of the book, then, is overcoming that which oppresses you, attaining your own personal freedom?
You’re so perceptive, Bonnie.
BONNIE ZOBELL’s linked Collection, What Happened Here is on pre-release and available only on her website until May 3rd, 2014, when it will also become available at Press 53, Amazon, and other sources. Her fiction chapbook The Whack-Job Girls was published by Monkey Puzzle Press in March 2013. She has received an National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in fiction, the Capricorn Novel Award, and a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Potomac Review, Night Train, PANK New Plains Review, and elsewhere, and she has held resident fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, VCCA, and Dorland. She received an MFA from Columbia University on fellowship and currently teaches at San Diego Mesa College. Visit her at www.bonniezobell.com.