Reprinted here is a recent interview of Alfredo Véa, the author of a much-anticipated novel set for a June publication. The Mexican Flyboy has already been described as "a rollicking tale of magical realism and science fiction, historical acuity and human truths" (Rilla Askew, author of Fire in Beulah and Kind of Kin), and a "hallucinatory fantasy that reads like a blend of John Steinbeck and Robert A.Heinlein ... a dizzying novel that combines Véa’s solid prose style with a vivid imagination and an authentic cultural brio" (Kirkus Reviews). Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, said that the "vividly fanciful and intensely passionate story grapples memorably with the long history of human violence and the need to escape or redeem it. Véa ... argues vigorously in favor of hope, and his powerful feeling makes this history lesson come to life."
The publisher (University of Oklahoma Press) touts the book with intriguing questions: "What if we could travel back in time to save our heroes from painful deaths? What if we could rewrite history to protect and reward the innocent victims of injustice? In Alfredo Véa's daring new novel, one man does just that, taking readers on a series of remarkable journeys."
In this interview, the author sheds light on the inspiration and process he used to write the book. Thanks to Sandy See at the University of Oklahoma Press
Q How did the idea to rewrite history in this imaginative novel come to you?
Véa The idea didn’t come to me; it grew in me. While my pre- and post-pubescent friends were having rescue fantasies about saving Marilyn Monroe from herself or rescuing the head cheerleader from a swarthy masher, I was off to the early fifth century -- off to Alexandria, Egypt, to save Hypatia from that righteous mob. I eventually learned that I could not rescue her without accurately visualizing her death. So I learned how she died -- the time, the place, the how and why -- the longitude and latitude. In time I began to understand that I was honoring her by doing this. It was my grandparents who put Joan of Arc’s suffering into my head. They talked about Ethel Rosenberg and Emmett Till. As I listened I could hardly bear the suffering of those people, but I soon came to the question: why do these things keep happening generation after generation? Soon I realized that in learning how Emmett died; how Archimedes died; how the slaves on board the Zong were killed, I was not rewriting history by intervening in those sad events -- I was discovering the fact that history had already been re-written by the so-called victors. As a boy I formed the idea that I -- and we -- could rescue people who had suffered and are now suffering. And that we could rescue ourselves from our own miasma of dazzling, deafening mythologies that have destroyed any semblance of public discourse and any real self-knowledge of who we are as a people.
Q What influenced your selection of the different time periods and historical figures that the main character Simon Vegas visits?
Véa My grandparents, a Yaqui Indian man and a Spanish woman, told me stories to illustrate how humans are in order to teach me how not to be. They taught me how to step out of line, how to fall out of a rank and a file. My grandmother was a Catholic who became a curandera -- a healer -- who smoked marijuana and mashed dead scorpions into her potions. She cried at what her church had done to the maid of Orleans -- what it had done to Giordano Bruno and Galileo. Grandpa had a religion that was not exceptionalist -- it had no male gods and did not subscribe to war. His religion did not require believers. At the center of his cosmos was a tree that sang the universe into existence. I can still hear and see the two of them arguing over my soul like a gentle Ahab and a kindly Starbuck.
Q How is your cultural heritage reflected in combining realism and fantasy in your writing?
Véa That part of my culture that is pre-Spanish does not see being and nonbeing as distinct concepts. Death is present in life and life is present in death. However, I am also a modern man, as encumbered as anyone with modern, western ideas. I am enslaved by the present -- believing that I live in the best time in history; that my standard of living is the best that ever was -- that the world was dreary until there was television and social media. It is a myth. It is a prison. I want to be free of these things; to make a decision untrammeled by the modern template that is my time and culture. In a way, it is a combination of realism and fantasy. This blend allows me to tell a story that carries myself and my reader away. It would bore us all to tears if it was written as scientific fact or as cold, historical commentary or in comic book form.
Q How does your writing draw from your personal experiences in terms of characters and setting?
Véa I saw a woman fall from the sky and into a vineyard when I was a boy. As she breathed her last breath I named her Sophia after the Gnostic angel. I was a soldier in a hundred helicopters in Viet Nam, a soldier who longed to reverse the horrors I was seeing and creating. Today I am a criminal defense attorney. Every day I study the things that people do to one another. I face juries that would rather believe than know. I have stored a thousand tragedies and regrets in my brain. I have squeezed them, fermented them, and aged them until they have become a full bodied wine; an elixir from my own terroir and from my own world. Now I drink that wine, and then I write while under its influence.
About the Author [from the publisher]
Véa grew up in the barrio near Phoenix, Arizona, where he lived with his Mexican grandparents, who passed on to him their Spanish and Yaqui heritages. The small-town environment where Véa lived was multicultural and multilingual. He luxuriated in the myriad tongues, the foods, and the songs of the people. His mother, who had left him with his grandparents, returned when he was ten years old to take him with her to her new family in California where he worked as a migrant farmworker.
After high school, Véa attended the University of California, Berkeley, and spent some time living among the Yaqui in Sonora, Mexico. He was drafted into the Army and served in the Vietnam War. He returned to Berkeley, where he received undergraduate degrees in English and Physics as well as his law degree. For several years he worked as a public defender in San Francisco before entering private practice.
Véa incorporates his personal experiences as a Vietnam veteran, his legal work, and his family heritage into his writing. His literary work also influences his legal work, where he utilizes his storytelling skills in the courtroom.
Alfredo Véa is a criminal defense lawyer in San Francisco and the author of three other novels, La Maravilla, The Silver Cloud Café, and Gods Go Begging.
Manuel Ramos is the author of several novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction books and articles. His collection of short stories, The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories, is a finalist for the 2016 Colorado Book Award. My Bad: A Mile High Noir is scheduled for publication by Arte Público Press in September, 2016.