This month, Chin Music Press sat down with Carla Crujido, author of the forthcoming story collection The Strange Beautiful, to talk about process, influences, and what she's working on now!
Chin Music Press: Carla, congratulations on The Strange Beautiful! Tell us a little about your vision for the book.
Carla Crujido:The Strange Beautiful is a love letter to the city of Spokane—past and present. In writing this collection, it was important for me to pay homage to the places (hotels, restaurants, stores, etc.) that no longer exist, so that they will not be erased from memory. And while only a handful of characters were inspired by actual people, it surprised me, at collection’s end, how real each had become to me. I like to think they inhabit an alternative reality that we can enter (and return to again and again) when we read their stories.
"It was important for me to pay homage to the places that no longer exist, so that they will not be erased from memory."
How did this project start for you?
The tale that started it all, “The Mirror,” is based partly in truth (which part, I won’t say), and while it was started years ago—2016 to be exact—it was the last story to be completed. In the summer of that year, my Auntie Debbie had a stroke, and my mom and I flew to Spokane to visit her at Sacred Heart Hospital. We were there during Hoopfest, and it was nearly impossible to book a last minute room, so we hotel hopped for ten straight days, up and down First Avenue. It was during this time that the seeds for future stories were planted. The hotels all held their own tales—one was haunted by the ghost of the worker who died across the street at the Fox Theater, one was built on the footprint of the original Lincoln Hotel, one was across the street from the epicenter of the Great Spokane Fire of 1889. The street is deeply etched with the city’s early history and as we walked each day to get coffee or a glass of wine or slept (if the ghosts allowed) in these rooms, the stories of the past whispered, or screamed, in my ear.
"[Spokane's First Avenue] is deeply etched with the city's early history and as we walked each day to get coffee or a glass of wine or slept ... in these rooms, the stories of the past whispered, or screamed, in my ear."
So much of this book is based in a Spokane of the past. It's filled with historical details of places that no longer exist. What was your research process?
I recreated the past by poring over out-of-print books and old articles from the Spokesman Review and deep-diving the photo archives of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. I also learned that the Polk Directory is a writer’s best resource to make sure the small details presented are historically accurate. Bringing history to life, even in small ways, brought me an inordinate amount of joy when I read the finished collection.
Thanks so much for chatting, Carla, and congrats on the collection! Last question: What's something that you've read/watched/seen/listened to lately that you're loving?
The Shore by Katie Runde hits me like a craving for a boardwalk slice and a bottle of birch beer in the depths of winter. I'm listening to Brooks Neilsen’s solo project One Match Left on repeat. And, watching season two of The Bear (another thing readers should know about me, I am food-obsessed).
Coming in September 2023!
The Strange Beautiful was recently featured on the Independent Book Review’s Fall 2023 List of Most Anticipated Books!
Preorder it here or wherever you get your books!