Saturday, August 14, 2010

Interview 2 - Ernest Hogan Charla with the most-unknown Chicano author

Last week's post began the Charla-Interview with Ernest Hogan, an internationally renowned sci-fi writer practically unknown to Chicano readers. The purpose of this is not to tell Chicanos they should read his sci-fi; the purpose is to introduce this vato and explain why you might like checking out his work, because confining our literary experience to predominately "ethnic works" and avoiding vampiro detective or reincarnated Aztec god spec fiction might be the flip side of Anglos who shun Chicano novels.

But in fact, Hogan's works are "ethnic." The sociological, political, cultural backstories to his futuristic novels make them so. I'm still amazed he succeeded in getting them published, given how Chicano they are.

For instance, his third novel Smoking Mirror Blues is a blast of avalanching prose about protagonist Beto Orozco who gets caught up in his artificial-intelligence creation of the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca, set in future El Lay. It's not the Hollywood Blvd. we know; it's not the Chicano community you grew up in. But Hogan drapes his stories with elements of our world and herein lies the "ethnicity" that appeals, at least to this Chicano.

Smoking Mirror Blues has a Black President. Okay, that's not sci-fi anymore, but when it was published in 2001 it was. High Aztech features a U.S. government gone Christian-extreme, to the point of burning heretics on the White House lawn. Almost where G. Bush Jr. wanted to take us or Palin would have. With that, Hogan's taking the reader maybe more into the horror genre than sci-fi, but point is, his treatment of issues we face today proves the relevancy created in this genre.

El Texto

RG: With that intro, Ernesto, one of the common themes in all three of your novels is immigration. In Cortez, your graffiti-art hero emigrates to Jupiter for a better life; you've got the U.S. building the Tortilla Curtain on the border; and in High Aztech you give us a renamed Mexico City--Tenochtítlan--as the capital of a country U.S. gringos emigrate to because La Amerika failed as a superpower. I know you live in Arizona, but do you think you might have overdone it with the Migra issue? And why'd you think it'd make it past the slush piles?

EH: When you put it that way, I look like an obsessed, militant vato loco, but truth is, I tend to write about immigration because I can’t escape the issue. I just noticed that some the art I sent you for this interview is about the Migra, and was drawn long before the current firestorm. To be a Chicano is to be a stranger in a strange land, even if you were born here. And like I’ve said, Chicano is a science fiction state of being.

Migration is a big theme in science fiction; maybe that’s what attracted me to it. I emigrated from East L.A to West Covina to Arizona. Males in my family have tended to live far from where they were born and we’ve changed races and continents over the centuries. This all creates conflicts that make for good stories. Sometimes they don’t make it past the slush pile. I’ve got a huge collection of rejection letters saying that “the audience” won’t relate . . . One called Burrito Meltdown was finally published in England. I just sold Radiation is Groovy, Kill the Pigs, featuring mayhem and radioactive marijuana crisscrossing the Border, and am waiting to hear from an editor about another of my Paco Cohen, Martian Mariachi stories. Suddenly, this is something people want to read about. Maybe I need to thank Jan Brewer, Russell Pearce, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio for helping my career.

RG: An aside--any possibility your mom's (Garcia) related to my family who emigrated via Chihuahua?

EH: Good thing I had the eulogy may Aunt Christina wrote for Grandma Charlotte-Carlotta Chairez Garcia in my computer. My grandmother was born in Clovis, California, her parents came from Gomez Palacio, Durango, Mexico. Her father’s father, Feliciano, was a curandero, who “was often called upon by Pancho Villa to help with his wounded.” Feliciano was my great-great-great grandfather--the “great” thing keeps getting confused, by both me and people who repeat the story. Yeah, I’ve got a Villaista heritage. If we really want to get confused, we can always try to sort out my dad’s side of the family. Grandpa Hogan always said that the New Mexico church with his birth certificate burned down . . . Ay! These Wild West/Aztlán people can’t seem to keep records!

RG: I got a bummer for you, Ernesto; you weren't the first published sci-fi Chicano author. Donaldo Urioste left a comment to last week's post that he'd done a brief review of Arthur Tenorio's sci-fi novel Blessing From Above (1971, self-published?) in the pub, Chicano Perspectives in Literature (1976). Googling that, I also found a reference to Isabella Ríos's Victuum (1976), maybe also a sci-fi novel. Dude, you probably weren't the first. That make you wanna fall on your obsidian?

EH: Actually, it’s a relief. I wasn’t really comfortable with being the Neil Armstrong of Chicano sci-fi. “One small step for a vato, one giant leap for La Raza.” Science fiction in Spanish goes way back, and connects with the Arab storytelling tradition. The Ebony Horse in the Arabian Nights sure looks like sci-fi to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chicano science fiction was as old as Chicanos, and that shortly after the signing of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, someone published a dime novel about being invaded and aliens taking over their world. Hmmm. Maybe that would make a good steampunkish story.

RG: Speaking of steampunk, Mario Acevedo of Denver says he likes your take in High Aztech and asks: "Does Hogan have any new words to describe the current political situation? Maybe a word for a political dumbass becoming regarded as a true leader, for example una Palin-mosca. Or someone glued to their iPhone/iPad?" Palin-mosca sounds too cute to me, but then, Mario believes in vampiros. Your suggestions?

EH: I don’t really see anything new in our current political situation, the same old desmadreization dressed up to tacky new fashions--a corpse in a plastic wedding dress clutching a cell phone. Some petty empires got threatened, so strings get pulled and the world is thrown into turmoil--I’ve seen it all before. Still, I can provide some brave new words: for a dumbass ruler--tontotecuhtli (foolish lord), and for someone stuck on their iPhone/iPad--xixacabeza (shithead). Though, I have to admit I had to consult the Aztec Gods app on my iPod--the next best thing until someone comes up with a good Náhuatl dictionary. The tontoecuhtlis are up to a whole lot of xixacabezaization; just remember the Egyptian Books of the Dead’s warning about never eating feces offered to you by a demon. Ticomotraspasarhuililis!

RG: Ticomotra--. I still don't get that one, but it reminds me I gotta ask something else. Where's your PC? Has Arizona's intolerant climate affected your brain testosterone levels? Or are you just a throwback to the machismo days? What I mean is, all three of your novels feature a young Chicano male que se hace loco con las mujeres, hops into sexual escapades and is an iconoclast about church, state and most standards of community morality. Didn't you learn anything from the 60s, 70s and are you just an unrepentant macho? IOW, did you expect to attract ChicanAs readers with all that mujerismo?

EH: My PC? It crashed and I got a Mac last year--

RG: I ever tell you how deprived my kids grew up? They'd abandon the home PC and go to their rich cousin's to stare at a Mac. No--not that PC!

EH: Oh, you mean political correctness as pioneered in Chairman Mao’s People’s Republic of China? When American academics started fooling around with it back in the Eighties, I thought it was a bad idea. “Just watch,” I said, “they’re going to turn it around and use it against guys like me.” I’m all for civility, but attempting to alter reality by restricting what can be said or shown, only leads to dystopia, 1984, Alphaville.

Censorship is always a tool of oppression. As far as I know, my testosterone levels are normal. Though I see nothing wrong with machismo, macho being Spanish for male--wouldn’t that make it a word equivalent to feminism? I learned my iconoclastics in the Sixties and Seventies, and my attitude comes out of my heritage. What was it Emiliano Zapata said about “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees?” How else do you think I survive in Arizona? I’ve been called a nigger by people who really believe in the word. I’m not intimidated by politicas who have panic attacks if they step out of a full-service consumer environment. I actually find it amusing when their fiercest attacks are that I’m not following their party line. Why should I care? Besides, there are women--even Chicanas--who like my work, and my characters, even find them sexy.

RG: Even ChicanAs, eh? Okay, we'll leave it at that. But has anybody ever called you to task for getting demasiado with your "brave new words?" There were points in your first novel Cortez on Jupiter when maybe it got a little thick. Like, your Spanglish there--assumedly invented?--roomicito, wordito, drinkicito, previewcito y hilariousisisimo. If I'd been in your writers' group, I'da chopped you down, liberally.

EH: I’ve always made up words. A new situation comes along and old ones don't work, I come up with something that does. Sometimes my wife will use these, forgetting that I made them up, and people give her funny looks. In Cortez, I tried to push it as far as I could, while being understandable to a non-Spanish literate reader. Yeah, I got silly, because I could get away with it. There was a review in Locus condemning my “atrocious style.” I’m always trying to see if I can get away with things, and with my writing, I’ve gotten away with some serious xixaóna and am proud of it. I know writers’ groups don’t go for this, which is why I gave them up decades ago--just before I started selling novels--they make people conservative and anal-retentive, and I have an easier time getting published than they do. Go wild on the page--that’s my advice to wannabe writers!

RG: Okay, I'll try that and see if does any good with my novels-nobody-pubs, but, now tell us about your favorite Latino authors.

EH: Though he’s primarily a performance artist, Guillermo Gómez-Peña is the Latino author closest to me in what he’s doing.

RG: I love that dude! I see some of him in Pablo Cortez. Coincidence?

EH: I had seen some of Guillermo’s work before, but wasn’t really aware of him until his book Warrior for Gringostroika, published in 1993, long after Cortez on Jupiter. But if my life was a little different I could have ended up being like those vatos. I’ll read something of his to my wife, and she’ll say, “He sounds like you.” I check with him to see if I'm in tune with the whole global Chicanoization enchilada--and I usually am. He also sent me a copy of his Dangerous Border Crossers, inscribed: “You’re one of my favorite writers, Ese.”

The Latino literary figure I have the most in common with is Oscar Zeta Acosta. His books, and association with Hunter S. Thompson, define Chicanismo as I live it. Paul T. Riddell cast me as a Dr. Gonzo type in his book Squashed Armadillocon. Though, Sheriff Joe, take note--I gave up drugs shortly after I gave up writers’ groups. My kind of gonzo requires a brain in top running condition. Like a writer I was talking to recently (name withheld on the advice of my attorney) remarked, “It’s different with writers--we do it because we want something interesting to write about.”

Victor Hernández Cruz’s poetry was a direct influence on Cortez on Jupiter. I think I’ll take his books off the shelf and read them again.

Assuming that being born in Chile and living for a time in Mexico trumps genetics, I am in constant awe of Alejandro Jodorowsky. El Topo is one of my all-time favorite movies. “Too much perfection is a mistake.” His writing is also brilliant.

Paco Ignacio Taibo II’s detective novels are wonderful, and he has written some science fiction.

I also like Ernesto Quiñonez’s books, though he writes as if there’s a barbwire fence and National Guard troops keeping Puerto Ricans in Spanish Harlem. I guess out West we think of such barriers differently.

Juan José Arreola's imaginative work gets science fictional at times, needs to be known better in the Anglo world. I practically lived his story El Guardagujas (The Switchman) while traveling by train through Mexico.

I guess I should mention Jorge Luis Borges, but then just about everybody else does . . .

RG: Okay Ernesto, I won't hold it against you for leaving out Gabriel Garcia.

EH: I enjoy Garcia Marquez, but didn’t feel it necessary to bring him up because the whole World Literature community (I wonder how many of them there are?) recognizes him. Besides, I stopped trying to be “literary” (whatever that really means) years ago. These days I’m more influenced by vatos like Polo Jasso--does the kick-ass comic strip El Cerdotado at

RG: Moving on, you've got chingos of azteca lore, and other indigenes, in your works. Por qué?

EH: I consider it to be my heritage. And it’s a fascinating lost world to explore and uncover. It’s also a tezcalipoca, a smoking mirror to hold up to the madness of the real world so that maybe, in between the laughs and weird entertainment, somebody may get a glimpse of something real. It’s something that other writers keep getting wrong, or screw up in the name of some kind of snake oil.

RG: Speaking of the reptilian, your art on the pages of this interview is . . . distinctive. What do you use? Presidente or agavero?

EH: Alcohol tends mess up my hand/eye coordination. My wife describes my drawing style as Aztec Expressionist. These days I scan sketchbook pages into my Mac and play with it in GIMP, trying to combine the high tech with my primitive impulses. And being an artist saves me the expense of having to hire one.

RG: Okay, I gotta go back to last week, where you mentioned your "experience of being looked down on by academics", including Chicanos. I don't need to defend them, but some of those academic-literary types were Chicano Movimiento activists and in some cases, continue their involvement through their careers or community work. What do you tell your kids when they say, "What did you do during the 60s-70s, Dad?" And besides including such issues in your writing, are you using your literary notoriety to actively support any causas?

EH: I don’t have any kids; my niece and nephews don’t seem to be aware of history yet. I remember disagreeing with Chicano militants that I knew, but back then they tended to be stoned. I spent a lot of time educating myself about Chicano history and mythology, and trying to tell others about it--often they got disturbed, axolotl tamales aren’t for everyone. Being a Chicano science fiction writer doesn’t pay much--I’ve done a lot illegal alien jobs that don’t leave time for activism. And I tend to like (Groucho) Marx: “I refuse to be a part of any organization that would have someone like me as a member.” As for “literary notoriety”--it may just be Arizona, but does anybody care what a writer thinks? Besides, I’m always way ahead of my time: the world isn’t ready for LEGALIZE COCKFIGHTING or LEGALIZE BULLFIGHTING T-shirts.

RG: For La Bloga readers unfamiliar with, or uncertain of, your work, here's a taste from Cortez on Jupiter, with examples of literary elements we've discussed. The artist Pablo Cortez has just tuned his art into communicating with the planet Jupiter's gaseous alien Sirens:

"There was no space or time--Omeyocan all the way with superimposed flashes of stuff that wasn't quite tuned right so my nervous system could process it into any kind of information or imagery, but I gave it a good honest try and--ay! I heard the big beat of whales and dolphins in perfect sync with songs of sentient stars and the Sirens that toy robots and jude Betty Boops joyously danced to in endless halls that were covered with animated hieroglyphs that joined in the Futuro-Afro-pre-Colombian-Trans-Spacetime-Quantum Musical Comedy! "And no, no, no, I don't know what it all is and where it comes from--zapware dreamtime. I don't know! I was just there and real as anything you could plug into with your senses. First, just a scrambloso jumble like reality snapcracklepopping before my very eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and all those nervicito endings all over my brown skin. Made me feel like I was going to fall apart into a cloud of loose atoms, but I held on with all I was and tried to paint it all in the image lab behind my eyes. Then it started changing into things. . ."

EH: Guao! How did I do that?

RG: From your lengthy answer, I see this interview's almost done. Anyway, I see the Acosta in you in passages like that one. Sometimes when I read your stuff, I set the belt on loose, try not to hold on, and then just let your rollercoaster take me. But Ernesto, what some readers might want to know is, how much of this did you compose under the influence of 'shrooms?

EH: I never tried the magic mushroom. My drug use in the bad old days tended to take a toke off the funny cigarette that was circulating in a party. I deluded myself that drugs made people more open-minded to my far-out ideas. After a while I realized that they just dumbed me down to their level. I don’t go to those kinds of parties anymore. It’s a way I avoid boredom.

RG: Let's get to the nasty stuff, Ernesto. Why was your third book Smoking Mirror Blues published by a small press instead of Nueva York? You had a chance to break into the big-time; so what happened after that?

EH: Now it can be told! The whole sordid story. . . I was flying high there for awhile, all set up to be another William Gibson. My wife told me not to be so quick to turn down those offers from Hollywood (I laughed). High Aztech came out, and things turned odd.

The ad in Locus had no text, just the cover. There were no reviews. Later I kept hearing, “Your book is out? We got the box from Tor, but it wasn’t in it.” People had to call them and cuss them out to get review copies. I did my best to promote it, doing bookstore signings until I was informed, “We don’t have any more copies in the warehouse.” When my agent called to ask if they were going to print more, she was told that, “No, because it didn’t sell.” When the Mexican science fiction magazine Umbrales did a positive review, I sent letters to my editor and the publisher, telling them to make sure it was stocked along the Border. Both letters came back unopened, stamped “Address Unknown.” I checked the address with my agent, I had it right. “Gremlins?” she pondered when I asked what could have happened. After all that, they rejected the proposal for Smoking Mirror Blues, which no other Nueva York publisher would touch. I haven’t been able to sell anything to Nueva York book publishers since.

RG: Sounds like somebody realized they'd accidentally published a Chicano novel. So what did Bova say about all this? I woulda thought he'd have turned all-Orion over that mierda, protecting, nurturing his Discoveries. And when's the last time Tor released something Chicanoish? You think they're ripe for one?

EH: The folks at Tor did not realize that they were publishing a Chicano novel. Then they thought that I was this brave Anglo, unafraid of writing about minorities. "Could you use a partially Hispanic pseudonym?" Bova, being an Italian-American, was quite sympathetic. The plug got pulled on the Discoveries shortly after High Aztech; I have no way of knowing if it was because of me. I keep hearing from the Nueva York crowd that I'm not commercial--mierda! Tor is considered the more creative of American science fiction publishers, but I don't think they've done anything Chicanoish. Sci-fi these days likes to use Spanish names for their sexy characters, but they're just wet dreams for nerds. Short fiction editors seem to be responding to my Chicano stories, but I don't expect Tor, Nueva York, "big time publishing" to do so before it all crashes and burns.

RG: So, what's next from Hogan? You've gotten recent short stories accepted and I hear from another interview that you're gonna try something mainstream.

EH: Since I started blogging and got on Facebook, I’ve been selling stories faster than ever--not always for much money, if any, but at least people won’t think I’m dead. I spent most of the last decade writing a mainstream (another word I have serious doubts about) novel, Walter Quixote or Love in the Time of Terrorism that has been rejected all over Nueva York. I’ll probably have to publish it myself, which I’m learning how to do.

I also have an Arizona Chicano Private Eye novel called That Zapotec Thing, and my pre-Cortez on Jupiter science fiction effort, Nwatta- Nwatta-Nwatta, (a sort of a cross between Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy & Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) that are still orphans. And if anybody is interested in a collection of my short stories, I like to do my Futuro-Chicano stuff while the issue is still hot. If not, I'll just publish them myself, my way without any corporate or industry restraints, which will probably result in artistic and political turmoil that the world may not recover from. . .

RG: Okay, I swear--last question. You see any change in Nueva York accepting more Chicano or Latino sci-fi authors?

EH: I hate to be one to tell you, but Nueva York and publishing as we know it are dying. From my perspective of working as a bookstore clerk and a struggling writer, I see it all crumbling, and it will come crashing down around 2012, if not sooner. It’s a combination of insane corporate management and the coming of new technology. The hardcover and paperback formats are going the way of the dinosaur. Latino/Chicano authors need to learn about the new media, and migrate there. It’s just another border to cross--no big deal. Create the new literary Barrio Electrico. Come up with amazing things that people--all people--will get swept up in. Ticomotraspasarhuililis!

RG: I lied: one more. You got any messages for anybody special in Colorado? Oh, and, what's your favorite musical note?

EH: Hi to my cousin Yvonne. And Ed Bryant. And the folks at Flying Pen Press. I don’t have favorite musical note or a favorite color, like in a bullfight, you use what moment calls for.
fin parte II
all drawings by Ernest Hogan

Today we announce who won an autographed copy of his first novel Cortez on Jupiter and how you can win his second novel High Aztech. And the winner is: David Lee Summers. Now, to win Aztech, create one of Hogan's language-twisters: either a new Spanglish term or a recombo-Náhuatl-Spanish term and send it to me in an Email [rDOTchDOTgarcia@cyboxDOTcom]. Ernesto has graciously volunteered to judge which is the most original, funny or outlandish entry. But if you want to leave comments about this Charla/Interview, please do so here.

Es todo, hoy


Tom Miller said...

An earlier Hispano science-fiction writer: Miguel de Cervantes. See "Don Quixote," part 2, chapter 23, when the Don describes his adventures in the Cave of Montesinos. This was published in 1615. Can anyone come up with a prior Hispano science-fiction writer?

Ernest Hogan said...

Now that you've got me thinking about it, yeah, Cervantes pioneered virtual reality. Don Quixote was a cyberpunk. I think we need to follow this historical track as far as it goes . . .

msedano said...

an absochingaolutely xlnt pair of interviews, vatos.


Anonymous said...

Hi Rudy,
Great interview and thank you for introducing me to Ernest Hogan.
Melinda Palacio

Anonymous said...

You did great, RudyG. An interviewee should be roasted a bit. You brought out things other interviewers missed, and gave me the chance to say things that needed to be said.

Spanglish is best done in conversation with someone who also has the knack for it--I have fond memories of listening to my father and grandfather talking . . . You also have me Españahuatlizing again, which will probably scare some folks.

'Nesto (Hogan)

Dan Thomas said...

Rudy, your interview with Ernest Hogan was one flesh-and-blood gem, and a real shot-in-the-arm for a struggling writer like myself. Hogan's advice to "go crazy on the page" was potent. I'm not much of a scifi fan as you know, but I am going to pick up a used copy of "Cortez on Jupiter." I'd say edit your interview down and sent it to "Locus," but it sounds like you'd get a cold shoulder there.