Three Questions for Lizz Huerta Regarding Her Debut Novel “The Lost Dreamer”
By Daniel A. OlivasSeptember 24, 2022
The Lost Dreamer by Lizz Huerta
Based in San Diego, Huerta is a widely admired writer who calls herself a Mexi-Rican in honor of her mixed heritage. She writes short stories, poems, and essays that have been published in many literary journals and magazines, including Lightspeed, The Cut, The Portland Review, The Rumpus, and Miami Rail, to name a few. Huerta was a 2018 Bread Loaf Fellow and has been a five-time VONA Fellow. In selecting Huerta as the winner of the LUMINA fiction contest, judge Roxane Gay called her writing “a menacing inescapable seduction.” She has been a guest on C-SPAN’s Book TV to discuss the erasure of Mexican American Studies in Arizona, and has taught creative writing to unhoused youth through the San Diego nonprofit So Say We All.
And now we have a debut novel from Huerta. The Lost Dreamer, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in March 2022, is a young-adult fantasy that follows the lives of two women with special powers. There is Indir — known as a “Dreamer” — who has the gift of seeing beyond reality by entering the Dream world. Until the death of the king who respected her gift, Indir’s ability was honored, but the heir to the throne has little patience for such supernatural doings. And then there’s Saya, who is also gifted but known as a “Seer” because she has never been formally trained as a Dreamer. Her powers are exploited by her mother, who travels from village to village passing her daughter’s gift off as her own. The paths of Indir and Saya collide in a dazzling fantasy world drawn from Mesoamerican culture.
Huerta’s breathtaking world-building is rich in detail, bringing to life a compelling coming-of-age story of two young women who grapple with powers and identities that others do not fully appreciate. The Lost Dreamer is a stunning debut novel by a writer who is in total control.
Lizz Huerta kindly agreed to take some time away from a frenetic book tour to answer a few questions for LARB about her book.
DANIEL A. OLIVAS: Creating a whole new world for your novel must have taken a tremendous amount of thought, research, and planning. Could you talk a bit about that process, especially with regard to both the difficult and the joyful aspects of this undertaking?
LIZZ HUERTA: I did a bit of research but at the end of the day decided to go full on imagining. I didn’t want to take anything directly from any living or transitioned culture. I wanted to create a world that felt like ancient Mesoamerica but fantastical, with the types of characters I’ve wanted to see in literature. I struggled for years, wondering if I could pull it off, but the story and characters wouldn’t leave me alone. I decided to trust myself and, more importantly, trust the story that was choosing to emerge through me. There was so much joy when I surrendered to the story and let it pull me in. Writing, at times, can be bliss, rapture, ecstatic. And there are times when it can be a grind. I accept both, knowing that both are part of not just being a writer but having a human experience.
Indir and Saya each come with very different histories and backgrounds. They are, in some ways, opposites. What inspired you to create them, and which one would you rather spend time with if they were real people?
Indir and Saya are both born with the same gift — they’re Dreamers, women who can enter another dimension while they sleep and bring back information to their communities. Indir was born into a family of Dreamers who live in a temple in the city of Alcanzeh, where there are long traditions, ceremonies, and protections built around the gift of Dreaming. Saya was born far away and had no training or guidance in how to use her gift; her abusive mother exploits her gift for her own benefit. I wanted to explore how gifts manifest within and outside of tradition and practice. I think it’s a question many of us have; we come from these long, often broken lineages that have wisdoms we’re trying to reintegrate into our lives. Do our gifts and abilities live within us? What are the gifts of living within handed-down traditions, and what are the challenges? Can we inhabit and use these gifts even if we have no training or guidance? What does that look like, and is it safe? I’d probably spend time with Indir, but as she is at the end of the book, not at the beginning.
Though you’ve created a fantasy world, the desires and conflicts of your characters resemble those we see in the real world. Why did you choose fantasy to explore very human struggles and emotions?
I wanted to play and have fun. Which isn’t to say that isn’t possible in contemporary fiction, but I love fantasy, I love secondary worlds, and I wanted to write within one that felt like it was part of my own lineage. Fantasy allowed me to explore the trials and graces of these human lives while also being able to incorporate elemental magics/gifts that allow the humans to be in integration with the living world around them, showing how they (and we) are all interconnected.
Daniel A. Olivas is a playwright, book critic, editor, and author of 10 books, including How to Date a Flying Mexican: New and Collected Stories (University of Nevada Press, 2022). He has written for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Alta Journal, and La Bloga. Follow him on Twitter: @olivasdan.
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