Questions for Contributors: Leo Ríos

Leo Ríos’s story “Vagabond” appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of The Georgia Review. Ríos lives in Tucson, Arizona, and holds an MFA in fiction from Cornell University. His short story “Dirty Dishes” won The Arkansas International’s Emerging Writer’s Prize. Here, he discusses his experience of working with our editors to prepare “Vagabond” for publication.

GR: Tell us a little bit about your publication in The Georgia Review.  Is it a part of a larger project or practice?

Leo Ríos (LR): I started writing “Vagabond” on the back of a cardboard pizza box. This was during a writing retreat I created for myself in my apartment. For six whole weeks, I became a full-time writer. “Vagabond” was part of that experience.

Initially, I thought it was going to be a novel. After a few years of anxious anticipation, like waiting for Jesus to return, I abandoned the novel idea. The story shed scenes, a lot of pretense, exaggerated things. Eventually, it settled into the story that’s now published. My only regret is not including the coda, which is still in my computer somewhere. Alas.

GR: Was there a moment in your editorial exchange with Georgia Review editors during which you felt like the story started to do something new?

LR: During the editorial exchange, I was teaching online and guiding my six-year-old son through the first grade, which was also online. I felt excited every time an email from Doug or C.J. came through. These moments were opportunities to neglect my duties and edit the story.

I don’t think the story started to do anything new, but at one point I had to think about the use of Spanish. I remember scanning the story and deciding on a case-by-case basis whether or not to translate. In the end, I changed some things that Doug and C.J. alerted me to but not many. I should say that they didn’t press me to translate, which I’m grateful for.

Interesting fact: when I was first writing the story, there were moments when I was typing and a typo would appear. Just for fun, I would delete the typo and switch into Spanish.

GR: Since this publication, what other Georgia Review piece(s) have you enjoyed?  How has your experience with TGR helped you think about your future writing and reading?

The one that comes to mind is “Come with Me” by Nishanth Injam from the summer issue. I will never forget that bathroom scene.

As far as future writing and reading goes, editing the story with TGR got me thinking about work. After all, the story is about a boy who begins his first job. He has an interesting tutor—his madrina. He also has his uncle’s example. So he’s trying to find his own way through a type of family work culture.

Similarly, I’m looking for my way. I’ve resigned from two jobs in the past couple of months, and that feels weird to me. My dad has worked as a manual laborer his whole life and my mom has worked as a medical records clerk in the same clinic for twenty-five years now. Me? I yearn to find a way to make this writing thing work. I’m currently working on my first book, not knowing what I’m doing, but trying to press the right buttons. Echándole ganas. That’s something from my own family work culture, something ubiquitous and untranslatable. Ganas.