Name: Kathryn Ferguson
Age: Still here after a lot of living.
Where are you from:
I am from the Arizona/Sonora desert, an exquisite mix of cultures, flora and fauna near the US/Mexico border. Tucson, Arizona is home.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I just learned that The Haunting of the Mexican Border was awarded by the International Latino Book Awards. The award celebrates books in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Awardees are from across the USA and 17 countries outside the USA. I am very honored to receive this. But I also wonder about the idea of awards. I know so many great writers that never receive an award. How do we judge the arts – music, dance, painting, writing? Judgment is a mysterious process.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I was about 8 years old and wrote in invisible ink. It was fresh lemon juice. When it dried on paper, it was invisible. I carried the tome to a friend. When she held it over a flame, the lemon juice turned brown and she could read it. It was all 15th century intrigue. Then at the university I wrote. Later, I wrote for documentary films I made. I never expected to be a writer.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
“Writer” is an honorable title. Since I’m working on my third book, I might call myself a writer. But I have friends who can write circles around me and have not been published. So I don’t think that being published makes you a writer. That’s a hard question.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
People, politics, deaths.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I am not sure how to describe it. In a book review for “The Haunting of the Mexican Border,” the reviewer from the Santa Fe New Mexican Pasatiempo said, “Ferguson was a dance performer. She brings the same theatricality to her narrative style, and her prose is marked by a deep kinetic awareness of how her physical presence as an American, a woman, and a traveler affects people during her filming expeditions.” Another reviewer from the Santa Fe Reporter said, “Ferguson’s prose is transcendent, effortless, lifting off the page with the eye of a smart filmmaker who finds just enough detail to tell the imagination where to go but leaves off before layering on so much as to drown out that self-steered vision.”
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
While I was writing the book, I called it Phantom because I thought it was about culturally invisible people. The publisher, University of New Mexico Press, didn’t think the title fit the book. So I came up with The Haunting of the Mexican Border which in my mind is about phantoms at the US/Mexico border, the haunting of the arroyos where people hide, and the haunting of our national conscience which will never rest because of our conflicting notions of immigration and control of the “other.”
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
I read everything and am always influenced. Two books that often I reread are West with the Night by Beryl Markham, and Tracks by Robyn Davidson. Both are nonfiction, and the authors are fallible women who do courageous things, and by accident, write beautifully. I love Cormac McCarthy’s trilogy with All the Pretty Horses. Another influence is J.P.S. Brown’s Forests of the Night about a man in Mexico’s Sierra Madre. I was mesmerized by poet Sherwin’s Bitsui’s Shapeshift. In these books, the language is unpredictable and jumps off the page. The authors are highly original. These people write from their most interior self.
Fiona: Who was a mentor?
The most influential person in my life has been my Dad who taught me how to laugh, and John Fife, a brilliant speaker and pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church (a hard-hitting social justice church in Tucson, Arizona) who taught me how to look outward. Like a good hunter, he taught me how to be still and listen to what surrounds me. Just what I need when I am hunting a book, a notion, or a word.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I don’t have a favorite author but my attention was definitely grabbed by a young spoken word artist, G Yamazawa. His work about mixed cultures is original, sensitive and powerful. I am so struck by it that I listen to his spoken word presentation, and write it down word for word. He is clear, humble, and a bridge across personal, political, and imagined cultural differences. I also loved the book, “H is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald, a memoir on grief and falconry. I couldn’t put the book down. I am not crazy to read books about grief but the surprises in her writing, and her relationship with a hawk, is something I cannot forget. I loved the originality of concept. As I read her book, I felt so connected to her that I thought she was me.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Yes, if I combine those skinny author paychecks with other skinny paychecks from my dance career.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
From my new book (nonfiction):
“Bones from the graveyard float in front of the gate. The woman from town says the wolves have come in. They walk the streets. Their frozen path, the hard ground they have always walked on, is now water. The Tundra is melting. There are wolves at the door. And the woman is scared. Grab the garlic and throw it around your neck, she says. It is the year 2014.”
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Pretty much all of it. I have to force myself to write a beginning because it is never really the beginning. Organization changes several times before a book is finished.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Yes. I am working on another book that requires international travel. I love going out into the world and I love getting home. For both dance and writing, I have been in many countries including Mexico, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, Egypt, Malta, and Morocco. I wish I were Anthony Bourdain and would get paid to be in dozens of countries. And get paid to eat.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
That I need another pair of eyes to read what I wrote, and tell me if it works or not. That EVERYTHING will need to be rewritten many times.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead.
If they made The Haunting of the Mexican Border into a film, it would require a Rarámuri Indian actor and I don’t know which actors they have.. And it would require two Latino actors and one Anglo female. So maybe Demién Bichir and Damian Alcázar from Mexico, and maybe Mia Wasikowska.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you, thank you to the readers! And please buy books from local booksellers. If you buy from other outlets, please purchase new, not used, books. It is hard for writers to put food on the table. But most of all, it is an honor to have strangers and friends take time to read what I write.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I read several books at once. Isabella – The Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey, Silence on the Mountain by Daniel Wilkinson, Otero Mesa by Gregory McNamee, and a mystery for bedtime reading, The Devil’s Cave by Martin Walker.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Yes, it was about a nopal cactus that kept flopping over and couldn’t stand upright because there was no rain on the desert. Finally, the sacred rain arrived and it stood tall. Mostly I remember the great paintings in the book. It probably had few words because it was a children’s book. There were people in the book with black hair tied in buns and leather shoes wrapped up the thigh and long skirts. I don’t remember the name of the book or the author, but every time I look at cacti in my yard, I think of the book.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Kathryn: Pretty much everything.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I’m crazy about movies! White Material by Claire Denis, Wim Wender’s Der Himmel Uber Berlin (Enlish title is Wings of Desire), The Wild Bunch by Sam Pekinpah, The Conformist by Bertolucci, Blade Runner by Ridley Scott, Dead Man by Jim Jarmusch, Ground Hog Day by Harold Ramis, Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson, The Hurt Locker by Kathryn Bigelow, Last Tango in Paris, and nowadays, anything with comedian Melissa McCarthy.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
It is more like what would I want to be. I would like to be something other than a human. Probably everyone wants to be a jaguar, but frankly, I would like be a horned toad, Phrynosoma platyrhinos, and live in a spot of cool shade. Enough of being human.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?