The main purpose of this series of author interviews is to provide inspiration to other aspiring authors, as well as to seasoned veterans. Edification blends easily with entertainment when you’re conversing with Gabino Iglesias.
This guy wrote the book on setting standards for social networking within the literary community. Like, literally. He achieved this stature simply by being true to himself, as well as being honest and respectful to his peers, which sounds easy, but can be challenging if you’re too consumed with conforming to genre or industry norms.
At the same time, he knows how to play the game. You can’t break the rules and get away with it unless you know them first, inside and out. Then you can start making your own. It’s takes a cutting edge to carve a niche.
Case in point:
Do you identify as a “Latino writer," and whether yes or no, how significant is one’s heritage/culture as an author vis a vis artistic and/or social responsibility?
I started writing in Spanish years ago and my first publications happened back home, so there was no need for me to identify as a Latino writer. When I moved here, that changed. It also changed because I started conducting academic work about identity and positionality became huge for me. I don’t think someone with my name who is writing barrio noir in Spanglish has to identify as a Latino writer for readers to figure it out, but I do it to make it clear, to let readers know where I’m coming from and what things I care about.
I love purely entertaining pulp fiction, but I also want to write books that deal with politics, injustice, multiculturalism, identity, and syncretism, and the best way to go about that, as well as the best way to make it authentic, is by letting folks know who I am and where I come from. In that regard, your culture is huge. Look at your life and the life of your father and then look at your fiction and you’ll notice there are strings connecting those things. Your past, culture, life experiences, and sociocultural realities matter. At least they matter to me.
Your fiction is largely a hybrid of different genres. Why is that?
I grew up on a steady diet of horror. My late childhood/early teens were spent reading Stephen King, Richard Laymon, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, and Bentley Little instead of comics. Then I discovered crime fiction and fell in love, but never let horror go. From time to time, I’d read science fiction and, about nine years ago, discovered bizarro fiction and immediately knew that the lack of rules in bizarro was one of the best things happening in contemporary fiction. Why pick one when I can have it all? Writing for me is like a good plate of barbecue, and I want ribs, pulled pork, peppered turkey, lean brisket, potato salad, jalapeño sausage, cornbread, and beans. A lot of us are mixing things up and keeping it (hopefully!) fresh and exciting, so having it all is the way I want to go.
In addition to your own work, you maintain a high profile as a very respected columnist and reviewer in the indie lit field. What motivates your passionate and tireless dedication to this medium, coming at it from both sides of the “fence”?
Thanks for the respected thing, man! I love books. I love most writers. I love a plethora of genres. For me, writing about books is a lot of fun, so it’s easy to sit down and review books, conduct interviews, and pitch columns. I like to share the great things happening in indie lit with the world. I’d be hustling just as hard if all of it were going up on my blog and two people read it, but I’ve been very lucky to find outstanding editors and venues that dig what I do and let me have fun with it. Tobias Carroll at Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Joshua Chaplinsky and the rest of the crew at LitReactor, Michael J. Seidlinger at Electric Literature, Leza Cantoral and Christoph Paul at CLASH, Steve Pattee at HorrorTalk…the list goes on and on. Working with them is great. Even better, people like Janice Lee at Entropy Magazine and Chris Campanioni at PANK Magazine who have trusted me enough to let me take on editor duties for those amazing venues. It’s a lot of fun. As for the both sides of the fence, I guess I just wanted to see if all literary critics were just frustrated novelists. Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you the answer…
What are some of your influences, literary or otherwise?
Literary influences are weird. I grew up reading Laymon and learned a lot from him, so I’d say there is a “primary level” to influences. Stephen King, Poe, Lovecraft, Little, Cervantes, and Jules Verne are all in there. The “secondary level” would be authors I read later on and that somehow pushed me to write or changed the way I saw the written word. That list is ridiculously long. James Ellroy, Bukowski, Julia de Burgos, Barry Gifford, Harry Crews, and Joe Lansdale all fall in there, along with many others. The “tertiary level” is folks I call friends or at least contemporaries (regardless of age!), folks who are with Big Five or with indie publishers but whose work ethic, personality, and writing I dig on many levels.
Some on that list: Benjamin Whitmer, Carlton Mellick III, Tiffany Scandal, David Joy, Laura Lee Bahr, CV Hunt, Andersen Prunty, Jeremy Robert Johnson, Juliet Escoria, Scott McClanahan, Nik Korpon, John Skipp, Stephen Graham Jones, Brian Keene, Paul Tremblay. D. Foy, Rios de la Luz…I’ll stop there because I could go and on. Then there’s the rest of the creative forces that inspire me or make me want to write or shake me out of stagnant phases: Junji Ito, Max Ernst, Etta James, Stanley Kubrick, Miles Davis, Paco de Lucia, John Coltrane, Tom Waits, M.C. Escher, Janis Joplin, and many more.
What’s next for you?
This week I started what I’m calling the Self-imposed Yarborough Library Writing Residency. As most poor folks, I don’t have an office, so I head to the library for good wifi, AC, a decent working space, and great conversations with the homeless folks who use the place to hide from the blistering Texas heat. I’m working on two novels at once because sanity is overrated. One is for Broken River Books and the other for whoever can match the amazingness that is Broken River Books. We’ll see. The hustle never sleeps.
PHOTO: GABINO IGLESIAS