Thursday, September 15, 2016

Chicanonautica: Martian Mariachi Confidential

I had a great time on vacation – watch for the travelogues coming at Mondo Ernesto – and I made a few decisions about what to do next. The most important is that instead of dabbling around my multi-ring circus of unfinished projects, I need to pick one, and finish it, then go on to another. The lucky project is my novel about Paco Cohen that, if I can get away with it, will be called Paco Cohen is Alive and Well and Living on Mars.

And of course, there's a long complicated story behind it . . .

It started when Emily and I were talking to this junkie who claimed to have Hollywood connections and who wanted to start a production company. While taking walks in the mountain preserve behind our house, and thinking about out-of-work cowboy stuntmen, visions of a terraformed Mars spaghetti western danced through my head. The production company failed to materialize; I shoved the visions back into my subconscious.

Then my writing career crashed and burned; Nueva York wouldn't touch me with a ten foot pole (and still treats me like a talented leper). Em and I found ourselves working as housekeepers and school custodians. I got depressed.

The mad dream of writing, getting published, and earning money from it still had its fangs in me. My subconscious kept chewing on my ideas. My terraformed Mars grew into something more than an idea for a low budget rip-off. Maybe I could make a kind of Flash Gordon/Edgar Rice Burroughs type of thing out of it . . .

Unfortunately, my confidence was at an all-time low. The only people who wanted to publish me existed on the edge of a crumbling counterculture, and they couldn't pay doodly-squat. People were giving advice on how the publishing world was going. Like a fool, I listened to them.

“Ya see, kid, publishing is big business now. We can't afford to mess around with penny-ante pulp crap that nobody understands anymore. We gotta keep our corporate masters happy. You gotta write big, sci-fi epics that can be packaged as fat, expensive hardcover monsters that our nerd readers can lose themselves in so they don't care that they don't have lives. And then you provide sequels up the ying-yang until they're too old to give a damn about anything.”

I tried my ass off. I studied bestsellers and commercial fiction. The problem is, like I've said before, that stuff bores me. Big deal sci-fi blockbusters leave me ice cold. I'd write fragments that had good stuff in them, but they were blotted out by all the garbage that was supposed to make it commercial. After a while, I wasn't writing the sample chapters and synopsis; my wife was taking down my mumblings and struggling to make them into something.

I don't blame all the publishers who rejected it. It was a pile of shit. To this day, I can't make myself look at it.

But then, as I slaved away cleaning toilets and pushing around vacuum cleaners, Paco Cohen crawled out of my throbbing subconscious. He lived on the Mars I created, but was more of a guy like me, a Chicano. A character through which I could tell the story of a world being taken over and transformed by corporations. No epic pretensions. A surrealistic trainwreck of random pieces. Like life.

The result was The Rise and Fall of Paco Cohen and Mariachis of Mars, published in the April 2001 Analog, and later made into a podcast.

Paco still kept coming at me, and Death and Dancing in New LasVegas appeared in the July/August 2011 Analog.

Then when I told Ben Bova that I wanted to do a novel about Paco, he made me promise that I'd do it.

It's been a struggle, but a prequel, Flying Under the Texas Radar with Paco and Los Freetails will be in Latino@ Rising: An Anthology of Latino@ Science Fiction and Fantasy in January of 2017.

The next section needs work. And these stories demand a lot out of me. But it's worth it.

Maybe someday I'll write the simple adventure story that I originally imagined . . .

Ernest Hogan is alive and well and living in Aztlán. Any resemblance between him and his characters is purely coincidental. Sort of.

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