We eat your words

INTERVIEW: Gabino Iglesias, Author of ‘Zero Saints’

Gabino Iglesias is certainly doing the right things at the moment. His latest book, Zero Saints ended last year on many top lists, including ours. On top of that, we reviewed (and loved) Zero Saints. Gabino even answered a few questions of ours so we could get insight into that mind that doesn’t stop making wonderful things.

How much did you feel like Fernando when you came to the United States?
I think anyone who’s on the “wrong” side of Otherness has felt like Fernando at some point. Minorities live a different reality, and when thrown into a different culture/country, those differences are amplified. I’ve been asked if I’m eligible to work in this country at least once every six months since I moved here. I’ve been asked where my accent is from. Folks have asked me if I’m comfortable writing in English. My first year at UT, they offered me a job because I was the best candidate for that position, but they called me in first to discuss the fact that I was going to have to stand in front of a class and teach them in English. Did I have enough skills to pull that off? Was I comfortable with that? The list goes on and on. Women, homosexuals, brown folks, black folks; we’re all on the same boat.

I’m curious about how you managed to write the action scenes in Zero Saints. They always seemed so necessary, never gratuitous or violent for the sake of violent. How did you manage to find the balance?
The only secret to writing anything better is this: read like a motherfucker and then sit down and write until your fingers bleed. You want to write action? Read John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow, for example. Want to know how you can navigate time and drop some Spanish in there? Read Rios de la Luz. I could go on and on. The point is that I have read enough to know what works, or at least what works for me. A lot of crime narratives read like a celebration of violence. I have nothing against them, but in my experience, violence is an ever-present thing within a larger context. I could write about a sicario going on jobs, but that’d be more of a hardcore horror novel than a crime novel. Too many authors focus on just one element of criminals and end up with a book full of one-dimensional characters. I don’t want my work to be that way. I will give you a decapitation and plenty of death, but I’m going to try to make it serve the narrative, not the other way around.

Similarly, lots of people struggle about writing with religion in their work. You did this and showed the faith of a character that typical anglo-christians may not recognise. Was it difficult to be true to your character?
I don’t believe you should write what you know. That would mean no one should explore new areas. Also, a few authors are dull as fuck in person and write great fiction. However, when it came to religion, I just decided to pull from my own experiences. I know that there are probably very few Fidencistas in the US and most of them are brown folks from Texas, but I don’t care. I also know that the idea of voodoo that many people in this country have comes from movies, but I’m willing to go against that. Religion is a huge part of life for many people, and only a percentage of the people I’ve crossed paths with pray to pretty, white, blonde, green-eyed Jesus. I’m here to write about the rest. Folks seem to have enjoyed going along for the ride.

Zero Saints dives right in, and a lot of action actually happens for Fernando before the novel is set. What made you include such interesting events as backstory rather than the main plot of the novel?Backstories are awesome and a pain. They can add a lot to a narrative or bog it down to the point that you stop reading. I wanted readers to know a bit more about Fernando and to understand the circumstances that lead to him being what/when/where he was. I also wanted to talk about la frontera, to bring that pain and loss and fear to the page and smack people with it at a time when a dangerous asshole is talking about building a wall to keep folks from all over Latin America out of a country that was stolen from brown Indians and built by stolen black folks, among others. That being said, no one outside of academia wants to read another book about the immigrant experience. My work will always deal with Otherness, displacement, sexism, and the like, but I will bust my chops to make sure that readers also get entertained and come back for more.

Let’s talk language, literally. It would be unfair to Fernando for the novel to be exclusively in English, as his culture is a huge part of his life. How did you decide what parts to keep in Spanish and others be in English?
This was the easiest novel for me in terms of dialogue. I just let it flow. This is how I talk with my Latinos in Austin. That’s how a lot of reaggateon and Latin hip-hop flows. I didn’t really have to make many choices because it was just there
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Outside of Zero Saints, you do a lot of stuff. Review prolifically, have other books out and are involved with academia. What’s the secret, how many hours do you have in a day?
I get up at 6:00am and take care of a lot of stuff. I’m clocking in at 8:00am and my day is shut until 5:00pm (I just figured out how to read while working, so my hours there will be more productive and go by faster now). I get home, have a meal, do family stuff, check the mail, answer email, etc. I’m usually getting to the gym at 10:00pm. Add another meal, a shower, and some more computer time and I end up with about 3-4 hours of sleep every day. If I can find time to do some writing in there, I’m good. I sneak writing time at work. I escape to the library once in a while. I sit at the kitchen at 1:00am and type away until I’m too damn tired to go on. Same goes for reviewing. I wish I could get to everything, but sitting down to write a review is a challenge some weeks.

Another thing that struck me with Zero Saints is the inclusion of the supernatural, but also other characters who believe there’s nothing more than good and evil. I’m trying to steal the knowledge how you write. Is this a conflict in agenda and beliefs that interest you in your writing?
It sure does. I think it’s crucial when it comes to crime fiction. Selling drugs because you need money is one thing, but murdering someone because you think they embody evil is something much more powerful. If you can combine those two, I’m reading that book. That’s what I want to do from now on. If you want straightforward crime, I can give you a list of names of authors that are doing absolutely fucking amazing work. Me? I’m keeping it weird, religious, surreal.

So you also released Gutmouth and Hungry Darkness. Are there any genres you’re excited to explore or stay away from?
Romance is not in my future. Hah. I don’t know. I’m thinking about a nonfiction book that’s almost done and I have an alien book I want to write once I get a few projects off the plate. Obviously, I want to deliver something else to J David Osborne because working with him and BRB is a dream come true and I want to do it all over again. Writing is writing and I’m learning to think about it that way and forget about genre.

In Zero Saints there’s no active love story. Hints, maybe. Was this an intention?
Absolutely. I didn’t need one more layer clouding things up. I’m not entirely sure it worked, but the thing is already out there, so whatever. I like that a lot of crime fiction is moving away from cliché narratives and the list of sine qua non elements of the genre. You can have crime without guns. You can write a noir with no femme fatale. Pulp doesn’t have to follow rules. This is something that bizarro taught and that I plan to do with all the crime I write.

What are the future plans for Gabino Iglesias?
I need to go get some groceries. It’s Saturday, so reading, writing, groceries, laundry, writing, and listening to a lot of great music while eating tacos.

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