Who is La Vieja? When writer Deena Metzger first began to receive “inexplicable communications” from La Vieja, she knew very little about her. Over time it became clear that the old woman was a seer, seemingly real, but spirit-like, who had taken permanent residence in a fire lookout tower in the Sierras of California. Her watch there took on a great significance in this time of climate destruction, pandemic, and the possibility of the extinction of the natural world. There, La Vieja’s senses began to sharpen, turning toward a greater connection with the intelligence of the natural world, including the bears and the surrounding trees. Two other characters emerged from this contact: Lucas, a doctor who also loves to retreat to a little-used fire tower, and Léonie, a librarian/stonemason who has a lifelong dreaming connection to the Bears. The two meet and fall in love, and retreat to a similar forest world as their story becomes entwined with the world of La Vieja in an overlapping of realities. Part dream, part real, part memoir, Metzger’s La Vieja blurs the boundaries between human consciousness and animal consciousness, of imagination and reality, to create a “Journal of Fire,” a recording of the process of living with the constant threat of the destruction of the natural world. And yet, it finds hope by making new connections that lead us toward a liberation from human domination, toward renewal and a vision of the future where humans and the natural world are integral parts of a whole, intermingling and interdependent, where human nature and animal nature are inclusive of each other.
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I lived in Sea Gate, at the tip end of Coney Island, a peninsula only several blocks wide and long which allowed me to walk around it each night. Nightly, I walked along the ocean and the bay, later and later each year. When I began, I had the belief that walking would teach me to write, and it turned out to be true. From walking, I learned focus, attention, observation and gained deep appreciation of the natural world. Later, I wrote a series of poems, Walking with Neruda, (Ruin and Beauty: New and Selected Poems, Red Hen Press, 2009,) which brought poetry and walking together. At 21, I moved to Los Angeles. At first, I lived by the ocean, and for the last 40 years I have lived at the end of the road at the boundary of the Santa Monica State Park. My companions are coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions and myriad birds. It has been a great joy to walk these trails for so many years. In this time, there has been 20 books, 3 plays and countless essays and writing projects. [https://deenametzger.wordpress.com/
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
La Vieja: A Journal of Fire, emerged out of the earth of our time. Living at the park boundary, I am increasingly on a fire watch. June begins fire season which used to end in September, and now might go into the new year. Climate dissolution is of deep concern to me. This would not have been sufficient to begin a book, but one day, La Vieja, the character, appeared, in my mind and as a deep presence. She said she was going to take up residence in the Sierras in a Fire Lookout and she wanted me to chronicle her story. From then on it was a wild ride.
How do you create your characters?
Much of the time, I don’t create my characters, they appear. When I finished writing La Negra y Blanca, (Hand to Hand Press, 2011, Oakland PEN Award for Literature), I was wondering about the next book. Hiking in Joshua State Park, CA, I heard an inner voice say, “You know her name is Sandra Birdswell, and she is a climatologist.” My task from that moment on was to discover her and learn her field well enough to write her authentically. She came to life in A Rain of Night Birds, Hand to Hand Press, 2011. As in another instance, I had to learn astrophysics to write Daniella Stonebrook Blue, (The Other Hand, Red Hen Books, 2000,) who, it turned out, was an astronomer. Personal and historical research, then, is a given when a character appears, and a book is hovering on the horizon.
What inspires and what got your started in writing?
Writing is an on-going way of life. I must have started when I began those walks. I always wanted to be a writer, imagined what such a life might be, but also feared I wouldn’t be good enough. So, I told myself I had to write a novel by the time I was twenty-five, or I would never be a writer, and sat down dutifully at twenty-four and began writing. Waterwall – never published, but a good exercise, was the first book. It is important to know that I was married, maintained a household, had a baby, was pregnant with another, and was in graduate school then. An impossible schedule that had to be possible and so it was. There are four books in the drawer preceding my first published book, Skin:Shadows/Silence, (West Coast Poetry Review, 1976).
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
I live alone now so I write anywhere. The laptop is on my lap now as I sit in the living room with my eyes on the row of eucalyptus trees or the fire in the wood stove. But I could as easily be outside on the patio, where I write all summer, at a desk in my writing studio or sitting on the bed. Having a laptop has made life more accommodating. What I need to write, is a place of beauty, is the vitality of the natural world upon which to cast my eye.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
I am always thinking about the world, our future, the earth and the ideas flow. Engaged travel has also been important to me and the books are influenced by it. I spent time in Latin America and La Negra y Blanca emerges from those experiences and involvement. A Rain of Night Birds, incorporates many visits to the Four Corners Reservation in Arizona as well as a pilgrimage to the Columbia River, the Hanford Nuclear Site, a decommissioned nuclear production facility, one of the ten most toxic sites in the world and the Yakama Reservation, both in Washington Site. I believe a writer needs to understand place and history.
What do you like to read?
My interest is in Literary fiction and non-fiction that explores the edges we need to understand to restore the natural world and to prevent extinction and the global descent into political and social violence and chaos. Because my writing classes are master classes and so many of the writers who work with me are publishing or published, I read their books, in addition to what they write in class. (I have been teaching for 50 years and love my students’ and colleagues’ work.)When I have the time, I seek out Native American Literature which I find particularly brilliant and essential for our times, and the work that informs me about these times.
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regard to writing?
If you are an aspiring writer or an author, then read and read and read and write and write and write. Further, a writer has a moral and ethical responsibility to consider the impact of his/her/their words and ideas and to scrutinize the work on behalf of a future for all.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I have been developing The Literature of Restoration. http://deenametzger.net/the-language-literature-of-restoration/?preview=true. Here are the first lines …
“The Literature of Restoration actively seeks through form and language, content and focus, to create and inspire a cultural shift, developing a body of literature that radically seeks the restoration and vitality of the natural world. It is concerned with the climate crisis, environmental destruction, extinction, the factors creating global, social chaos….”
You can read further on my website: deenametzger.net
Thank you all.