Concha Alborg PhD is the author of two collections of short stories: Una noche en casa (Madrid, 1995) and Beyond Jet-Lag (New Jersey, 2000) and a novel, American in Translation: A Novel in Three Novellas (Indiana, 2011). She is a longtime supporter of Philadelphia Stories and was kind enough to sit down and discuss her experiences with the magazine over the last ten years, as well as offering some insightful details into her process and craft.
1. Congratulations on the recent publication of your memoir, Divorce After Death: A Widow’s Memoir. The material dealt with in the book, covering your late husband’s passing from esophageal cancer and your subsequent realization of his prior affairs, is to say the least, extremely personal. While writing the book, did you find that re-living the tragedy was cathartic, or painful, or both?
Thank you so much. Writing the book was very therapeutic. From the moment I wrote the letter to my late husband that titles the book and I saw myself on the page, I started to heal. Lately, with the actual publication of the book, I’m re-living some of the events and I have contrasting feelings. On one hand I feel liberated because I’m no longer wearing a mask, but at the same time, I feel somewhat exposed.
2. When conceiving a new project, do you have a place where you tend to start? E.g., with a character, a theme, or an image you wish to express?
Usually I envision the narrative arc first. I’m a structure-type of writer and I love titles. One of the first things I do is make a titled list of the book’s components.
3. How does your childhood in Spain and cultural heritage affect your writing?
My bi-cultural condition is one of the most significant markers of my life and my writing. Although I’m perfectly comfortable in both cultures, a tell-tale accent marks my speech as well as my writing.
4. Have you and your family lived in Philadelphia since emigrating from Spain?
No, my father was a well-known writer and a scholar and we came to this country under the auspices of the Fulbright Program during my last year of high school. I came to Philadelphia years later to attend graduate school. I received my PhD from Temple University and stayed here since then.
5. Were you writing yet at this point in your life?
I was too preoccupied with my academic career at Saint Joseph’s University at first, although I had published extensively on contemporary women writers and Spanish film. I began writing short stories in the early nineties.
6. What made you want to become a writer?
I’m a born story teller and I was conscious of the unusual facets of my background. Most of my fiction has autobiographical references.
7. For some time, you’ve been a major supporter of Philadelphia Stories Magazine, as well as a participant in the magazine’s sponsored workshops. Has your experience with Philadelphia Stories, through workshops etc., affected your writing?
Very much so. I don’t subscribe to the concept that being a writer is a solitary occupation. I thrive on being part of a community of writers and Philadelphia Stories has been crucial in fostering this. I like to work with writers’ groups and attend writers’ conferences. I remember very well the workshop by Steve Almond, “Humor the New Deep.” I wasn’t sure about the tone of my memoir on widowhood at that time and after working with him, I decided that I would use humor to make this topic more palatable.
8. What role, would you say, does Philadelphia Stories play in the local arts culture?
Philadelphia Stories is a wonderful resource for writers. The publication itself is beautiful. I love the way it incorporates the visual arts and poetry. In addition, the Push to Publish yearly conference is one of the best in the city. It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet agents and publishers. I met Donna Cavanagh, of Shorehouse Books, my current publisher, at the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference-another local venue. She was there teaching a workshop on humor that I attended and I ended up pitching my book to her.
9. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?
Yes, two years ago, while I was going through my father’s books after his death, I found over eight hundred letters between my parents during the Spanish Civil War. I’m presenting them as an on-going project at a symposium to honor my father in the centenary of his birth next month in Spain. After the sad discovery when my late husband died, this has been such an extraordinary gift for a writer like me. Right now I believe in poetic justice. I’m hoping it will become another memoir. Besides, I already have a list of titled chapters written up-a very good sign.