"Even now, when I return to visit Brazil, I don't stay with my father or with my family. I stay with her."
"How did you end up in Madison?"
"I got an academic assistantship that allowed me to go to graduate school and get my MFA while working part-time. It was ideal, because it gave me time to write as well."
"How was that first winter?"
"It was so difficult. But, it was also almost mystical in a way. You hear about the cold and you hear about snow, but until you experience it, you don't realize how powerful it is. If you're outside for more than a half hour without proper clothing, you can die.
"My first year I was a typical student. I didn't have a car, and I didn't really have any money, so I was taking the bus. I didn't know how to dress, so I would put on a T-shirt and then just put a jacket on over it. My feet would freeze, and I didn't wear a hat or gloves."
"You said people in Brazil are marvelous storytellers. Is that where your stories come from?"
"Most of the stories in my book are ones I heard growing up, or on trips back to Brazil after I moved here. The Antonio De Juvita story came from a child's birthday party. While all the children were outside playing, the adults were sitting around indoors. One of the guys started telling a story about this guy named Antonio De Juvita, who lived in this little town and was running for office and was accused of burning down his opponent's business. It was a wonderful story, and I couldn't let it pass."
I tell Luana that another of her short stories, "Curado," is a favorite of mine because I am terrified of snakes and it involves a man who was cured from a snakebite as a child and has been sworn to protect snakes for the remainder of his life.
"My father is a very good storyteller, too. That story is his, and a lot of it is true. A snake bit him while he was chasing his horse. He woke up and the curandero (healer) was standing over him with a pair of dark sunglasses on. The curandero said, 'You are a curado now. You can never kill a snake for as long as you live."
"Your writing sounds like the work of a much older person. Are you an old soul?"
"Growing up I was always very interested in older people. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and her friends, and I always seemed to gravitate toward people who were much older than me.
"I also have certain spiritual beliefs, and I believe that the human soul is in a long process of evolution. I suppose I feel like I've been here many times before."
"Why is it that many Latin American writers choose magical realism as the genre for their tale telling?"
"In Latin America they believe in magic and the supernatural in the same way that we believe in bacteria and black holes. Gabriel García Marquez put it well once. He said, 'Everything I write is rooted in truth. The only problem is that Latin American truth represents the wildest imagination.'
"On top of that, in Brazil we have a mixture of Catholicism, African spiritualism, and the native Brazilian traditions. It's as if people of one faith pray to the gods of the other faiths just so that they have all their bases covered."
"In other interviews you've said that you are a very disciplined person. You wake at 4:00 in the morning and meditate for an hour, then you write from 5:00 to 7:00, then you go to work. Do you leave your stories at home, or do you carry them with you throughout the day?"
"A lot of times I do take the story to work with me. I'll take a paper or a book to write in, and if something pops into my head, I'll write it down for later. That's one of the reasons I like the discipline of writing in the morning. That way the story is always there and it's always fresh in my mind. Much writing takes place when you aren't in front of the computer."
"What have the students in school made of your book and the fact that you have been in People magazine?"
"Kids think that books are just written by some ungodly being. They wonder why authors keep writing them, anyway. Some kids think that books proliferate on their own. So, when my book came out and the other teachers told the kids that I had written it, they wouldn't believe it. One kid looked at the picture and said, 'Oh, that's not her.'
"But, they were very interested. One amazing thing that started happening was that kids started writing their own stories and showing them to me. And these kids have very interesting stories. For instance, one kid is a Berber from Morocco. That's very different from a Moroccan who speaks Arabic. Normally, he was the kind of kid that would just whine and whine if asked to pick up a pencil and copy something from the board, but then he wrote down ten pages of his own story and turned it in to me."
I comment to Ms. Monteiro that her district is fortunate to have a published author who is also a second-language learner, who is also a teacher. Then, I wonder about teachers who do not have her background. "What do regular classroom teachers need to know and be able to do to best support students who are just learning English and are in the school system?"
"I don't think a lot of teachers realize that some students sound like they know more language than they really do. They have playground English but not content-area English. It's a matter of being more patient with those kids. Also, allowing people like me to come take students out of the classroom and work with them one on one. Some teachers feel like students use people who do my job as a sort of crutch and that we're holding them back instead of helping them. For some, it quickly becomes a political issue. They think, 'You are here, you should be speaking English right now.'"