Three to Tango: Inside the Literary Mind of Branka Cubrilo

Real drama takes place on the dance floor, emotions fly high, characters are definitely flamboyant, artistic, child-like, egocentric.

Branka Cubrilo has recently published yet another collection of short stories. In her first collection, The Lonely Poet and Other Stories, the main protagonist who featured in almost all the stories was a poet, a lonely creature, a sad misanthrope, a Kafkian prototype with a gloomy outlook on the world or Sartre’s perfect portrait of bad luck.

 Branka’s new collection is called Three to Tango and Other Tales, and there is no place for loneliness and gloominess as flamboyant, outgoing, well-spoken, and vivacious characters take the lead on the dance floor.


Q: Branka, after a few years and a few more novels, you are back with a collection of short stories. You are a novelist but obvious is your love for this literary form. Tell us, why another collection of short stories and why – Tango?


BC I am a novelist. That’s how I see myself. I dedicate my time to the historical research of a chosen time, and I write stories that were real or possible, with characters who were protagonists of a certain era, or they echoed stories from the past. I insert events and characters that I had known, or I had dreamt of, and mix them all into, usually complex, interpersonal relationships, and I give more than a hundred percent of my time, my dedication, my energy, my emotions in order to get the most out of them.

They are demanding of me, I am demanding of them, and the writing process is usually a difficult time where I don’t have time for anything else except for my inner inhabitants. It is a painful process. My latest novel “Dethroned” was a longish, solitary, demanding and exhausting work. It left me with little energy for daily activities, it left me with zero interest in life around me. It consumed me completely, it used, not only all of my energy but my zest for daily interaction with life.

It exhausted my daughter as well as she felt like her mother had gone somewhere else, to a place she didn’t want me to go, with people she didn’t want me to mingle with. “Dethroned” is a war drama.

To get back to myself, to regain my level of ‘normalcy’ after each demanding novel, for a period of time, I write short stories. They are my way of having fun. Writing a novel is a long and tedious process, whilst writing a short story can be an hour-long affair. Characters are not that demanding, they usually stay for only one episode and are not as pressing and deep. A short story is like a page torn from a book, a little window into someone’s life, a short episode, an argument, a day affair in the park …

Tango came along without any research. It just appeared, and as I was dried out from a long novel, I wanted to do something fun. I found fun and inspiration without expecting it. Tango is a great arena for extreme emotions, believe me. Real drama takes place on the dance floor, emotions fly high, characters are definitely flamboyant, artistic, child-like, egocentric. From the simple wish to experience something different and to have a fun after many hours spent sitting and writing, I arrived at the perfect opportunity to participate in this scene as much more than a dancer.


Q: Who are the protagonists of the collection. Is it based on real people, are the stories authentic?

BC: Oh, no, no they are not. I got inspired by Milongas and milongueros, but none of the people that I met through tango are in my stories, nor are any of the stories real, it is all pure fiction just inspired by the dance itself. The tango studio in the collection is in Manhattan, it is set in the heart of New York, the characters are New Yorkers, a famous writer Bartolomeo del Duca and his best friend Maxwell Darby, and their 40-year-long friendship comes into question as they fall for the same woman, a Russian opera diva who performs at the Metropolitan Opera.

Then we have a loose Sydney man-chaser desperate for attention as she starts to notice the deterioration of her youth and beauty, and some other characters, like Lilian Liola, who has just become aware that she is the ‘spitting image of Eva Ruiz Alonso’ the most famous Tango dancer and the most beautiful inhabitant of her town, and decides to get the most out of this new revelation.

To compare it once again as we mentioned earlier – just like in The Lonely Poet and Other Stories, this collection is made of two parts, or shall I rather say it is divided thematically: stories about Tango and as the title suggests, it has some other tales as well: a story about a cunning lawyer who met his equal and experiences injustice for the first time, a tale about young cult escapees running into an uncertain future or the serendipitous nature of synchronicity to mention few.

When I have a little bit of fun with my short stories, and I replenish my soul and my energy in such way, I am ready for a new novel.


Q: And are you ready? What is it now that you are working on?


BC: I had two projects last year. Two new books came out. Three to Tango and Other Tales was published in the States in December 2020, with my long-standing publisher Speaking Volumes. As I am multilingual, I have published my books in the other countries and languages. I wrote and published a novel, Requiem for Barbara, a melancholic but warm story about lost love and the lost life of a young woman, Barbara, whose daughter tries to find out more about her mother through the letters she was writing to her father Ted, in order to understand who her mother really was, a mysterious writer that only a few knew who she really was. It is a story of an unusual friendship between daughter and mother, about loss and the mystery of love itself.

As the plot in most of my novels is situated in several countries or on two different continents, so is this one. I published this novel in 2000 in Croatia, and after many years of it being quite popular in this country, a publisher from Serbia picked it up and published it last December in Belgrade. Finally, I decided to translate this novel in English and I am currently working on the editing of my first draft in English. There are some other projects that are happening in Europe, the translation of Dethroned with yet another European publisher, but I will say little about it now, as we have some plans by the end of the year, still some time to go.


Q: What are your expectation with “Three to Tango and Other Tales”?

BC: This is always hard to say or to know. My expectations are probably that the book and its’ stories and characters find their right audience, that they are liked and read with interest and joy. And of course, to sell the book, to translate it into other languages … and what else?

Please click HERE to find Three to Tango on Amazon.

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