Been busy with Ruin and Resolve, but don’t think I’ve forgotten Usok ! I’m still in need of stories for our second issue, so if you have a speculative fiction tale in search of a home, you can check Usok’s submission guidelines here.
Here’s the second of my interviews with several of our Usok authors (to get some insight as to their lives as writers in general, and their stories in Usok in particular), this time with chiles samaniego, author of The Saint of Elsewhere: A Mystery. chiles (yes the small caps and small pronoun “i” are intentional) is also one of the authors who generously donated a story to Ruin and Resolve.
Tell us a bit about how you came up with the idea for your story.
As with many (maybe even most) things for someone of my temperament, it started with a girl. Though that, obviously, is as simplistic/reductive as it is concise as a summary of my particular creative process—at least for this story. Of course, after that, in the writing, it grew into something both more and, substantially, less than what that beginning suggests.
What aspect of the story gave you the most difficulty?
The Elsewhere itself—the thing itself and the ‘theory’ behind it—which, between this version and the original version published by Q [Ed. Note: Kenneth Yu of the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, where the story was first published], took me years of not-actually-writing-or-even-thinking-about-the-story to get ‘right’—i.e., get it to the point at which it’s a fairly workable approximation of what i wanted or what i now think i wanted it to be.
Do you remember the first short story you ever wrote? What was it about?
No, i don’t remember. i’ve got a shit memory. To be fair, it’s hard to imagine a ‘first’ when i must have made hundreds of false starts over the years, little abortive/nascent bits of story floating around somewhere in the universe—exponentially more of those than actual finished product. Personally i don’t quite see the point of ‘firsts’, it all seems pretty arbitrary to me, like alphabetizing things—on the one hand the apparent progression gives you the illusion of some imposed order but, on the other, what does it really mean, starting with ‘a’ and ending with ‘z’?—though of course illusions of the sort can provide us with a way to do things we might not otherwise think to do, or think we can do—walking on water, say, or shifting planetary orbits—and pretty much sums up what we do–or, to be precise, what i think we do–with this thing called literature. Or one of the things, anyway. Not that i have any idea what literature is ‘for’.
Does your cultural background influence how you write, or what you write?
How could it not? Though that’s not to say i’ve ever been the type most people would call ‘engaged’ with what they would most likely identify as ‘my cultural background’. Then again, maybe what matters is the form that engagement takes—maybe it’s the form (or maybe the engagement itself) that exerts ‘influence’, not the cultural background per se. i don’t really know. i really haven’t given it much thought. Which is to say—to be unabashedly wishy-washy about it—i suspect it must do, whether i’m conscious of it or not.
What was the best piece of writing advice you ever read or received?
“At the end of the day, if you can do anything else—telemarketing, pharmaceutical sales, ditch-digging, or being a major league ump—I suggest doing that. Because being a writer blows. It’s like having homework, every day, for the rest of your life.”
As an aside, i can maybe think of one other thing i can do. But, until they make it legal, i guess i’m stuck with the homework.
(Ed. Note: chiles’ answer to the last question surprised me, so I sent him a follow-up question via email to try to clarify what he meant. I’m including his reply here because I think it sheds more light on the answer, and because I always find his thought process interesting. )
i do, actually, believe that ‘being a writer blows’. that does not, of course, preclude the occasional hair-raising, mind-blowing, pure-orgasmic pleasure to be had from crafting the occasional well-turned phrase or from an elegant act of punctuation, though these pleasures are of the few-and-far-between variety, and are at any rate so fundamentally meaningless in the so-called Grand Scheme of Things as to be nothing short of plain absurd.
now, the fact that you even have to ask implies that, no, a simple ‘yes’ would not, in fact, suffice, but to properly expound on why i think ‘being a writer blows’ (beyond the ‘it’s like having homework every single day of your life’ argument) entails writing a lengthy, footnote-and-bibliographed intensive essay on literature, or Literature, which i am not, in fact, equipped to deliver. i will, however, suggest here that i find it impossible for anyone who truly understands literature–with or without the pretentious cap–what it so-called means and what it so-called does, and loves it with the fatal passion it demands, or has even just a fraction of that understanding, that love, i don’t see how such a writer can think otherwise, if for no other reason than because not only is Literature the evilest, bitchiest of evil bitch lovers, inclined to love you less (if you’re a writer) the more you love it, but that also being a writer is the ultimate expression of the absurdity that is the so-called human condition, ie: that being a writer forces you to define ‘self’, your ‘selfhood’, as it were, by and against something that is essentially, despite its alleged value as the Most Important Thing In The World/That Which Defines Our Basic Humanity/That Cry Against The Indifference Of The Infinite, judge and weigh yourself constantly by and against something that despite these lofty (and true!) allegations is nonetheless universally, fatally *inconsequential*. A writer, f’rinstance, is forced to define himself with such meaningless/pointless/inconsequential terms as ‘good’ versus ‘bad writing’–and *Writing is Dangerous* in precisely this sense (among others) of self-negation, ie, of constantly putting yourself on the human-sacrificial-altar that is the receptacle for the blood price that is demanded by literature…that the ‘typical’ writer (if there is such a thing) also tends to be exterior to that so-called human condition is just icing on the cake: that to chronicle life, or a perception of life, or an imagined perception of life, or an invention that to some (God help ‘em) is itself a kind of life, except for the gifted few, is necessarily to stand outside and apart from the so-called real thing. this is why i believe a sense of humor, that most basic component of wit, is absolutely necessary to the survival of the fatally self-aware writer, and is so essential to so-called greatness in literature (whatever that means), and why our great comic writers, our writers of the absurd–Bolaño, Foster Wallace, Kafka are some of who i mean, just as a f’rinstance–are They Who Know Where It’s At, and therefore bear the greatest moral weight…and why i present none of this with the po-faced lack of humor my tone and name-dropping might imply. ie, what i mean to say is, yes, go ahead; and include all this babble by way of explicating my position if you feel you must, because, really, no one should listen to anything i say anyway: ie, it’s all nonsense, really.