Robert Loss: What was your process for writing this story? Did it come to you quickly?
Sophia Reza: The idea came about because Madison Banks [another CCAD student], her middle name is Rachel. And I heard from her that our friend Marcy always called her “Middle Name Rachel.” And I just liked how it sounded—”Middle Name Rachel”—and I wanted to do something with that. So, I just started with the title. And I started with the [first] sentence, “Rachel sat on the cold stone steps….” And like all of my writing, it was just kind of as I went, start with a sentence and keep going. I didn’t really plan anything around it other than what you forced us to in class. (laughs)
RL: (laughs) Clarify that! What did I force you all to do?
SR: You know, “think about the middle and end.” So I probably wrote a couple sentences, like “This happens.” And then, scratch that out. “Then this happens.” Scratch that out. Did it come to me quickly? No. It took me the whole class to get it to where I wanted it to be.
RL: Could you say a little bit about folklórico? And what was it about that form of dance that appealed to you as a writer?
SR: Sure. Folklórico is basically a type of dance from different regions of Mexico and other Latin American countries, but in Mexico there’s tons of different branches. The one Rachel dances is Jalisco. I really love it because the dresses are beautiful, it’s such a rhythmic dancing, it’s so reliant on the steps and the sounds, the drum beats that are made by their feet. Everyone is involved in it. And I really liked how it’s built on synchronization and teamwork, which if you remember from my horse-girl drama, Descanso, those are other themes—unity and teamwork—that I was drawn to, that they can create such a beautiful fluid movement with their skirts and with these colors together. I’m just really drawn to that as an idea and an art form. It’s fascinating.
RL: If I remember correctly, in workshop we talked a lot about the dynamic between Rachel and Sally. How did you arrive at that surprising and touching final image and moment for the two characters? I remember asking if there was supposed to be a romantic tension between them or not? And you were like, “No.”
SR: I wanted it to be largely from Rachel’s perspective. She doesn’t think of Sally that way. He might think of her in that way, or he just sees her as another girl to tease. That’s the type of teenage boy he is, the one that bothers everyone. But for her, the evolution of their relationship is groundbreaking for her because at this point all she knows about him is that he’s annoying, that she doesn’t like him. It’s in there: she kind of struggles with people. She doesn’t really talk about having other friends. This whole teamwork thing, this dance she does that is so largely based on other people, is something she’s struggling with because of her identity and her culture. So I think in that way, their relationship is important for her. It’s not so much about do they love each other, do they want to be together. She’s grown in that way, that she can dig into the complexity of a person. And then for Sally to let in someone, in that way, without being obnoxious….
RL: You can feel in the story that being obnoxious is creating a wall, a way of protecting himself. Which usually is what that way of acting is for?
SR: I think so.
RL: Are either of them based on people you know?
SR: Sally is somewhat based on what I remember people in high school being like. I mean, there were probably a ton of boys in my high school who were just obnoxious, mean to girls, didn’t really know how to flirt with them or be nice to them, and just kind of played with them, but who in reality were probably very nice. You know? Could be sweet. They just needed to grow up a little bit. And as for Rachel, I took parts of myself and memories from being younger. I tried to distance myself from her, as a writer, like a writing exercise.
RL: You won your first Creative Writing Award for a short screenplay, Descanso, and your second for a short story called “Half Bunny, Half Unicorn.” Now “Middle Name.” Do you see any commonalities in the three works, or in your writing overall?
SR: In these pieces, there’s always a girl, a woman, who’s outside of her community in some way. Lina [Descanso] is headstrong and success-driven to a fault, to the point where it makes it hard for her to connect to others and actually ruins relationships for her. Nicole from “Half-Bunny” is socially awkward, a college dropout. And Rachel tries her hardest and still can’t find that connection, the sweet spot where everything makes sense for her, whether it’s her peers at school, her dance team, or her parents and her culture being the sort of culmination of all of that. And then there’s the point where everything starts to change for them. When they let their control slip and let someone in. Love, a lie, a lesson. They kind of stop questioning themselves and it shows in how they are with other people. It’s kind of about needing people, but I guess not in the way you think you do.