Writing, Memory, and Mental Health: An Interview with Portland Writer Emilly Prado

Her new book, Funeral for Flaca, hits shelves July 1.

By Nick Campigli June 6, 2021

Content warning: This article contains mentions of sexual assault.

Growing up is hard. Healing from trauma and navigating the complexities of identity only adds to the stressEmilly Prado’s new book of essays, Funeral for Flaca (out July 1 from local small press Future Tense Books), chronicles her experience growing up Chicana in the Bay Area’s mostly white suburbsthe emergence of her bipolar disorder, the fallout from her parents’ separation, and surviving and healing from sexual assault. Prado’s writing has previously appeared on NPR and in Bitch Media, Portland Mercury, and Portland Monthly.  

We asked Prado about her writing process, the role of memory in Funeral for Flaca, and how she’s feeling about the book’s release. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.) 

Memory plays a huge role in Funeral for Flaca. It was interesting how you would interject sometimes to discuss someone remembering a conversation differently. Why did you decide to include those interjections in the book?  

One of the hardest things about writing memoir, and also one of the questions that people ask, is, "How do you remember everything?" There's definitely a creative crafting that happens with scenes, and you're using your best judgment with your own memory and maybe context clues.  

With some of the memories, I could easily rewrite it based on other people's experiences and say, "OK, that was probably what happened." But also thought it was important to highlight that memory isn’t perfect, and also memoir isn’t perfect. The way that memory works out is that things get blurred over time. As a person with PTSD and other mental health diagnoses that I talked about in the bookthe ability to remember things is even harder than it already is. I wanted to be honest with readers that I was doing my best, and also that sometimes I might get it wrong.  

When you were writing these essays, did you sit down and think, I want to write about this topic specifically in this chapter? Or did these topics come out organically as you were writing?  

At first, I was going to these different moments and writing them out and seeing what would happen. As I started to form a collection, I always imagined that my first book would be a more traditional narrative memoir. I think in the [Independent Publishing Resource Center’s certificate program I saw] examples of what we call linked essays. It really helped me see genre and a different way of memoir, and from there, I knew that if I wanted it to be organized chronologically in some way, and that being a thing that ties them together, as opposed to being a collection tied to one specific theme.  

Then there were a couple places where there are gaps, and having folks read the collection early on was helpful because they would help me see gaps that I wasn't seeing or think of topics that I was avoiding. It was definitely a combination of growing organically but also knowing that there are certain experiences that I needed to also include that maybe I was initially avoiding.  

Why did you choose a chronological structure for the bookrather a central theme to link the essays? 

I think there's a lot of pressure to speak to only one theme. And I think the reality is that our experiences are multilayered. It would feel disingenuous to me to not talk about other things. I don’t know how to separate my struggles with identity or my struggles with authority from resisting the legal system. There’s a lot of things that are tied together, that don’t initially seem like they’re connected, but I feel like all of them inform each other.  

What do you want readers to take away from Funeral for Flaca?  

I think what readers take away from the book will be specific to their own experiences. We come to reading with our own experiences of the world. What I want first and foremost, if folks are struggling with mental health, or feeling insecure about different things that they've experienced, I hope that this collection helps people know that other people have gone through difficult things. It isn't always a linear process to healing and things aren't black and white.  

What I like to explore in the collection is the grayness of experiences. If someone has experienced something that was hard, it's OK that it's not going to maybe feel completely resolved 100 percent of the time. I think with grief, for example, another theme in the book, there's this expectation that things are moved past, sort of an archive. The reality is that we carry everything with us, and maybe sometimes things trigger something to be more prominent in our day-to-day, or they don't. I mostly want people to understand the complexity of what some people experience, and ultimately hope that folks empathize not only with themselves as readers, but with other folks that they encounter.  

How are you feeling about the release of the book? 

I'm really excited and nervous, I've never done this before. With writers who are releasing books on small presses, I feel like we're a little bit of small fish in a pond. It really takes community and folks spreading the word and joining in to support the launch in a way that I think is true to my DIY ethos. It feels like the right avenue for my book release. And I'm really excited and grateful for all the folks who I get to work with at Future Tense 

Funeral for Flaca hits shelves July 1. You can read a preview of the book at Ofrenda Magazine. 

Filed under