Beth Alvarado Shares Dark Tales for Red Dragon Reading Series

Beth Alvarado for SUNY Oneonta Red Dragon Reading

Hannah Lonergan, Staff Writer |

The second Red Dragon Reading of the Fall 2020 series kicked off on Wednesday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. on Microsoft Teams. Featured writer Beth Alvarado live-streamed from her own home in Arizona to share her recently published collection of short stories, “Jillian in the Borderlands.”

Dr. Roger Hecht started off the reading with a “thank you” to the many supporters of the series, including the SUNY Oneonta Office of the President, Public Events, the English Department and Damascene Book Cellar. 

Professor Hecht also informed the virtual audience on etiquette for the event. Noting that the online “menu” requires a few different behavioral requirements. Typically at a Red Dragon Reading, the audience members are reminded to silence their cellphones, but now all participants are advised to turn off their cameras and mute their microphones until after the reading. Audience members would be allowed to unmute themselves for the question and answer portion of the event. 

Introducing Alvarado, Professor Hecht recalled their interactions with each other in school for their Masters, which they were both attending for creative writing. Although in different writing genre groups, Beth was able to transcend the barriers that lay between the poetry and the fiction folk. 

Alvarado shared sections from her newest release “Jillian in the Borderlands.” The book is a cycle of “rather dark tales” that does not have a continuous narrative. Each story within the collection is a stand-alone narrative, but some characters are reoccurring. These ‘main’ characters are the key to tying each piece together, according to Alvarado. 

The collection centers around Jillian, a young mute girl who can see spirits. Starting with Jillian as a child, the collection ends with her in her 20’s while she is pregnant with twins. One story, in particular, follows her actions as she is lost in the desert on the border between the United States and Mexico. 

The stories not only go beyond a regular timeline, but they also vary in perspectives. In the section where Jillian is lost in the desert, the point of view turns to the twins in utero and their understanding of the world as Jillian is helping migrants find their future. 

After the reading, Alvarado discussed how the concept for “Jillian in the Borderlands” originated from a self-imposed challenge. Teaching creative writing, Alvarado had challenged her students to use multiple author’s styles to create their own story. Using this prompt, Alvarado took inspiration from Grace Paley, George Saunders, Flannery O’Connor and Denis Johnson. With the basis set for the collection, Alvarado had to make sure there was a general feeling of anxiety and a magical element throughout. 

Since a majority of the stories take place in the “Borderlands,” it makes sense for the book to have multiple voices taking the reader through the adventure. The language varies within each story moving between Spanish and English, reproducing the theme of multiple perspectives and the nature of being caught between multiple identities and realities. 

When asked about publishing advice, Alvarado says to just keep writing and sending your content out to editors to see what bites. Alvarado suggests looking at what companies have produced your favorite stories, “to get a sense of where your writing might be published.”

To handle writer’s block, Alvarado suggests giving yourself writing assignments and constraints, like the one that inspired “Jillian in the Borderlands,” or writing about things that annoy you. To conclude, she says to “trust the material in your life” and to explore what it has to offer. She explains that writer’s block comes from not trusting yourself, so one should pursue what they find curious about the world.

“Jillian in the Borderlands” can be purchased at Black Lawrence Press, to support the authors directly from the publishers rather than through secondary sources such as Amazon. 

The next reading of the series will take place on Microsoft teams on Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m. The next featured writer will be Jaimee Wriston Colbert reading from the story collection “Wild Things.”

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