Daniel José Older
By Daniel A. Olivas
In recent years, Latino/a science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative genres have gained a higher profile with the help of scholars, bloggers, and the authors themselves. Writers as diverse as Junot Díaz, Kathleen Alcalá, Ernest Hogan, Ana Castillo, Junot Díaz, Rudy Ch. Garcia, and Alejandro Morales have helped shape and, indeed, transform “genre” literature into something that is not only enjoyed for exciting and inventive narratives but also respected for addressing issues (not often acknowledged by other writers) such as bigotry, cultural colonialism, and economic disparities.
Add Daniel José Older to the mix who has just launched an urban fantasy series published by the Penguin Group’s science fiction and fantasy imprint, ROC. Half-Resurrection Blues: A Bone Street Rumba Novel is more than a thrill ride: Older’s urban fantasy introduces us to a supernatural world that is as racked with violence, bigotry, and a little bit of hope similar what we see in the natural world it is bumping up against. Through it all, Older imbues his characters with a three dimensionality that keeps his novel from being a mere time killer. This is an exciting start to what promises to be one of the best urban fantasy series to hit the shelves.
I am not alone in my assessment. As National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward put it: “Half-Resurrection Blues is so many things at once: a mystery, a suspense, a supernatural thriller. The world Older builds is familiar and alien, and it’s so vividly imagined and rendered that the reader believes the contradictions, embraces them, loves this world of ghosts, demons, magic workers, and half-alive men and women. This is a fantastic beginning to what will surely be a fantastic series.”
Q: Half-Resurrection Blues: A Bone Street Rumba Novel is the first in the series that has at its center Carlos Delacruz, an agent of the New York Council of the Dead who is an “inbetweener”—someone who is partially resurrected and assigned to help keep the balance between the worlds of the living and the dead. What was your inspiration for the creation of this urban fantasy and Agent Delacruz?
A: I wrote some of Half-Resurrection Blues in the back of an ambulance I was working graveyard shifts on in the Bronx—literally knocking out chapters between heart attacks and gunshots (and plenty of mundane nonsense). So a lot of Carlos’ journey to find that uneasy balance on the thin line between life and death comes from my own process walking that line as someone who dealt with it on a regular basis. As a medic, you are a part of so many moments of crisis, you stand on this uneasy borderlands and maneuver through medicine, humanity, healing, bureaucracy, politics...and of course traffic. It’s ripe for literary exploration.
Q: You introduce us to a wonderfully strange array of characters—both supernatural and natural—but one of my favorites is the “house ghost” known as Mama Esther. Can you talk a little about this nurturing spirit?
A: My teacher Sheree Renée Thomas, who edited the fantastic Dark Matter anthologies and is an amazing writer, asked me to write a story about a house ghost. Not a ghost that was haunting a house, a ghost that actually was a house. Mama Esther came from that conversation. Of course, she had to have a library in the place. I really wanted to her to be complicated as well, so while she heals Carlos and helps him with his investigations, she also has her own complexities and tribulations, her tensions and doubts, that she has to contend with.
Q: New York’s neighborhoods and Brooklyn in particular play important roles in your narrative. Indeed, you even include a Brooklyn map with key landmarks in the first pages of the novel. In this way, you’ve grounded your strange narrative in a world we can recognize. Is this a New York novel as much as it is a supernatural thriller?
A: I love that map! And yes, I think of it that way. We say a lot that settings are best when they’re as alive as the characters, and that’s part of it. But more than that, I think of setting in terms of crisis and conflict. Every city is a crossroads, and they offer up competing mythologies about power and oppression, the movement of people and culture, humanity on full display in all its painful, hilarious, heartbreaking richness. Brooklyn is where I’ve lived for the past decade and when I walk her streets, the stories are impossible to miss. I think of the Bone Street Rumba series as a kind of lovesong to Brooklyn.