Originally published in Spanish in http://letras.s5.com/cvil170816.html
Publicado originalmente en español en http://letras.s5.com/cvil170816.html
Translation by Carlos Villacorta
From a new promotion of Peruvian writers, highlights the work of Christian Solano, who with two books published Almanac (2014) and Patterns of Force Majeure (2015), has been settled in the Peruvian media from the short story genre. In this interview, Solano tells us about his themes, creative process, relationship with the short story and poetry as well as a brief comment on his next book.
Carlos Villacorta: In your two books Almanac (2014) and Patterns of Force Majeure (2015), there is a concern on the subject of relationships, either during the infatuation stage or engagements, marriages, post-divorce, etc. This is significant because in another interview you mentioned this sense of everyday life of your stories.
Christian Solano: Of course, there is nothing left to chance or coincidence when one writes, the worst thing a writer can do is finish a text and sit and watch what happens, what others find. When you write all the time should be aware of the interrelationship between what was you’re writing and what has already been written or what you have read. It is true that there is much burden of everyday situations in what I write, that’s not free. When I started writing I had a very romantic idea of the subject and my first versions of the texts have an innocent air that ended up changing to irony, looking for anticlimax in anodyne situations, taking advantage of everyday routines in family, labor relations, working situations specifically for anyone to feel identified, giving them a universal character without losing the individual. This makes it easy to be understood everywhere and this is obvious in the second book because in the editing work with the Chilean publishing house I had some qualms in some titles but not in the content, things like changing the title of a story it was called “Soap Opera” because it isn’t called like that in Chile, or change “pork” for “pig” or “dirty”. But back to the issue of the everyday in my stories, after making the decision to dig into these situations, I started at home, i.e. initially there were personal situations, then others not personal, because ultimately there is now research, with issues such as divorce, for example, not only I experienced, but suffered, and then I read a lot about the issue of how this affects the children, of how the processes of adaptation or overcoming; I also read many reports about domestic violence, about the impact on children, because it was something that I went through, and it overwhelmed me, I could not see my youngest daughter for eight months; all of which at the end finishes in stories. I did not want to do what everyone had been doing, I did not want to do more of the same, I do not think at this point to be discovering anything new. Before me there are Arreola, Avilés Fabila, Denevi, Brasca, Cortázar, Monterroso, they all have some similar text; in other words, not all they did was to surprise people, but obviously that is what has been most anthologized, most quoted, and most remembered. Many of the micro stories (as we like to call since critics do not agree) I read when I was in the university and later when I researched its theory was fantastic stories, versions of fables, mythologies and even famous short-stories, not to mention the prequels or sequels of famous texts. And I do not disown it, in fact, in my books there are some texts that speak to that tradition but I think I can count them with my fingers. Now that I think, it could be like those masterful moves the soccer players make in a match with the score in their favor, just to please the fans, or like commercial songs that bands have to include in their first albums by imposition of the market. But I dare say that my books have had the acceptance precisely because of the everyday life that they have most of the time.
CV: Is political issue a personal concern as a writer? I think that because in recent years the issue of political violence has been a hot topic fictionalized by Peruvian writers. However, this is almost absent in your stories.
CS: I would not let my political position interfere in what I write. I can say without affectation that I am openly left, new left, young left, which does not continue linked to the struggles of the past, which is not necessarily anti-capitalist, the left that understands that this is no longer a country of workers and peasants; but we could say that when I write I am politically correct. I think when a writer shows their positions and political interests in writing, problems begin, because the boundary between that and pamphleteer or advocacy is delicate, there are many great writers that I like better in his most vehement moments activism or political participation, like the first Vargas Llosa, for instance. I am talking about The War of the End of the World’s Vargas Llosa, when there was a lot of nerve in his books, his passion was obvious. At the other extreme is Borges, which in his most leftist moment wrote a very unfortunate poetry. And so, the history of literature is full of cases, politics in literature makes sense when it is part of the narrative conflict, when characters have a vision not biased, but confronted, when the universe is constructed within a story or when novel takes into account the political, not otherwise. That is obviously also writer’s work; this differentiation is part of the work one must do when you sit down to write. We are no longer in the sixties, in times of revolution, where it was almost an imposition for writers and intellectuals to take sides or take up arms, even. Obviously, I do not say you have to be indifferent to the issue, to answer the last part of your question, but I do not think that a text has additional value because it addresses political violence or armed conflict. There is a story in my first book on the massacre of peasants during the Peruvian Conflict (1980-2000), in which I showed the indifference many in Lima and the country related to the subject. I did not try to draw attention or make a complaint; in fact, if you read it you will notice that there is a treatment of the ending not to go in that direction. Again, I repeat, that the writer’s work is what is all about. There is a treatment to memory that one should do when writing, I mean not necessarily the autobiographical type, but the collective since our environment affects us, everything that happens around us, in our time, influences us in some way or another and that must be present in what we write; in fact, there is much material to write on the political situation or political conflicts in each country. In the case of micro story, this issue is much more noticeable in countries like Chile, which suffered the Pinochet dictatorship; or in places like Central America or Colombia where armed conflict has lasted much longer and has been much bloodier. But I feel that in such cases the character is more of a denunciation. We could talk about the projects or collectives against gender violence, another conflict which we deal with every day, like the project Basta: 100 micro stories against violence, which began as a project with woman writers to make visible violence against women in Chile and now it has editions in Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina and Peru, and not just violence against women but also violence against children, and these projects or collectives have issues written by women and men. In our country we can cite a book that is my age, published in 1976, I am talking about Social Tales of Science Fiction by Juan Rivera Saavedra, which is an emblematic book of short fiction and it loaded politically, by the conflict, not only local but universal.
CV: Can you talk about your creative process? Was there any difference between writing the first book and the second book?
CS: I’ll start by answering your second question. I think yes and it is because the first book I wrote since I was in college until a couple of years before publication. It took me a long time to publish it, which as you know is counterproductive sometimes because it might mean your voice will need more work to be validated, in other words, you are no longer a young writer among your own generation, who already have published some books, and still you are the new kid on the block. On the other hand, for the book there is a more solid voice and not a shy voice in training. I did not write the stories of the first book thinking it would be a book. Almanac has a thematic structure designed from the idea of reuniting them in a book. I dismissed many for that book. I eliminated others. For Reasons of Force Majeure I already had some texts I wrote after publishing the first book and only I put it together as a book when a Chilean publisher was interested in my work and asked me to publish my next book, just then I realized I should write new texts for it. I think in the second book there is already strong evidence of everyday situations and in addition work with texts which, I confess, I did not have when publishing the first. I felt there was a greater responsibility in the fact of publishing a book abroad and that optimized both my attention when writing and my sensitivity to face the text. There is a growth that is noticeable when reading both books together. I like it is this way. Publishing later allowed me this growth, but somehow is like going to school for the first time to first grade, when one has been a teenager and studied for years at home. Recently I heard an interview with a writer of my generation who is getting media success and sales, just married, say something like: “I consider I have consolidated my voice after this novel, a voice that I did not have, now I wanted to have a child to know how it feels to write after that event”. I found it absurd as soon as I heard it but my second reaction was to think that it’s true, that children change your life, that’s a truism, but in my case it was there, almost since I started writing when I was in college, I already had a son and published my first book when my first child was fifteen and my youngest daughter was six. I remember that during those college days I commented to a friend that I regretted not having time others had to read, to write or even go out with them more often, because I had to work and get home to my family who was waiting for me, but he said to me “that is not stupid”, and he envied me because I was living things that he would not experience until many years later, that I had to use it because I was going to use it to write, and I think that defines very well what I’ve been doing: use what I’ve lived to write. Now that I am divorced and I have a girlfriend who I warn all the time that unfortunately I’m a writer and that everything she says or does can be used in my writing. It is commonplace but true. Everything I see, I hear, I think what I write down (and now I start talking about my creative process), whenever I have an idea I try to take note in my notebook. I am not of those who write with discipline because I have to work. I mentioned that I have two children, and in a country like ours, we cannot make a living only by literature unfortunately, so I write whenever I want, I try it during the mornings, because I was already used to it. During my marriage I had constant problems because my ex-wife did not agree with my time devoted to write or read, that’s why I had to write when everybody was sleeping. I pay now the consequences by writing only in the mornings because I cannot write anything at any other time of day; of course, I correct, revise, annotate, but not write. This is good, all things considered, since in the morning no one can call you, find you and there is a lot of silence, obviously. When I write, I turn off the phone and disconnect myself from the Internet. I do not think there’s a writer who can write connected to the Internet, there’s no need to be hypocrites.
CV: The short story has always had an emphasis on brevity and the use of language. The latter is about poetry. How does poetry intervene, if it happens at all, in your creative process?
CS: I agree with you that the short story wanders the boundaries of poetry. Actually, the advantage of this genre is its hybridity, for that matter, we can say that the advantage of short story is not only poetry, but also other short stories, novels, essays, actually, all kinds of writing, even aphorisms, ads advertising, and songs to name a few. And I mean both the form and substance. Recently, I recommended for a literary blog in Spain an unclassifiable text of the book Exorcisms of Style by Guillermo Cabrera Infante, which reads:
¡Ay, José, así no se puede!
¡Ay, José, así no sé!
¡Ay, José, así no!
¡Ay, José, así!
Oh, Joseph, I cannot!
Oh, Joseph, I can!
Oh, Joseph, I!
Oh, Joseph. Ay!
It is close to poetry or songs but this other poem by Peruvian writer Victor Ruiz Velasco, make me clear that short stories have a close conversation with poetry:
REFLECTION ON BLIND LOVE
The day that Mary ordered things
of my room
I knew it was over.
Regarding the importance of language, it is the key in a micro story. There is no time for the baroque style here, one cannot make descriptions unless the conflict is in those same descriptions, because there is no place to extend or stop there, language plays a key role. In a micro story never should a word be missed, much less be repeated, we must look for the word that fits what we want to say, which does not involve itself preciousness as much as accuracy. For my part, I do not usually use words or convoluted terms but I think that does not undermine the quality of the text as it requires more structural and aesthetic work. I do not know if you understand, but what I mean is that we should get rid of the idea that micro stories are simple and that they don’t have rules nor standards like other short stories, poems or novels. On the other hand, I am a bad reader of poetry, I confess, that is, I do not read it as much as I should. I will not speak of the bad poetry I wrote in my teens, only for some amorous conquest, and many of those were clumsy attempts that failed even to meet the objective for which they were conceived. I read, yes, much more poetry in college, I think when I was in the classroom, poetry was more important. I do not know if I’m wrong but if I remember correctly “Immanencia” was the last poetic group that had strength in my formative years. After them I do not think there has been any other. There is now a greater number of conferences and poetry recitals, but we are talking about individuals, it is more dispersed than the narrative medium. I welcome the example of Celecanto editorial that not only publishes local poetry (which is already a merit, in an environment like ours) but they do so and in order to promote the copies are given away for free, including its first book of short-stories under this modality. That is something good for the market and gets poetry close to other readers.
CV: Is the reader a character that worries you when you write?
CS: No, actually, I think I do not care much at the time of writing, but it is true that one writes for a reader, if it’s an ideal reader is not important. Nobody writes texts to keep it locked away. And this is tied to the ideal of the writer, if what you want is to write you can do it without publishing. You can write and post it on Facebook or other social medias platforms, now there are even websites where you can upload what you write in installments, that I think it has replaced blogs, or keeping a journal or a collection of anecdotes or write his memoirs, but if what you want is to be a writer you have to write thinking that someone will read it, and not so doing for recognition but rather that someone will read and he or she has the right to reply or question the work. I write for me, this may sound naive, but I usually read it aloud to myself and that helps me, it works for me. That is, one could say that my first reader is me or someone like me. This is something that many authors of the Boom had played with, from their existentialist readings, remember the same Cortázar, political in his Book of Manuel, he who wrote to lay a readable bridge for the reader to cross it by reading it, but that bridge will be a bridge just as long as it is crossed, therefore the writer only has confirmation of such when the reader reads it. On the other hand, I can tell you about my experience with readers: it is gratifying when readers, those who do not know you and have read your work and come up to you and discuss your reading, beyond the fact of whether it is good or bad what they say about it. I am not talking about the readers you have, the first readers, that is, that close circle between your best friends or your partner to whom one gives what one writes with the hope of being impartial, those who are able to tell you the truth if what they read is pure crap disguised as literature. One should always have someone one completely trusts, if that someone is also his editor, that would be great, but that’s the ideal scenario. Finally, I can talk about my personal experience in fiction workshops, because in them you have a diverse group of readers with immediate feedback, which one cannot have when one writes in his home and sends his manuscript to the publisher, as when you publish no one will come to tell you just to read what you think of your book, in the workshops all participants tell you what they think after the first reading and that is helpful because you have different types of readers gathered there specifically for anthropological literary purposes, it’s like a focus group only for your text.
CV: I know your new project called An Apparent Calm will soon be published in Lima. This time you don’t bet on the micro-story but a regular short-story. Why the change?
CS: Yes, this is my first short-story book An Apparent Calm as you well mention. It is a project that I worked for many years alongside Almanac, but it is not that I have taken many years writing and correcting but it is linked to the time I have devoted to them. As I said, during my marriage (just over 15 years) I wrote very sporadically and I did it only in workshops that I took during that time, so the process between story and story had its above average degree of maturation. That is why there are many versions of some of the stories, but the most recent have some years of being written. Perhaps, it is a book that should have been published long before Almanac, then it would have had another reception, or would have gone unnoticed, perhaps this is the best time to do it. What is certain is that it is a book that will not keep you comfortable: there are stories that anyone could ask after reading them what I’m missing here, what’s happening in the story. While it is not a theme book, I wanted it to be a structural book, with a subtle link, something that gives unity to the book. I think that the voice we were talking about before that is present in my first micro stories can be felt in An Apparent Calm. It also has that title because in many of the stories it seems like nothing happens, or that there is not much action but what happens inside the characters is stormy, there is a lot affecting them.
Lima, Perú-Bangor, Maine, August 2016
©Photograph of Christian Solano by Rose Nicho