Friday, October 01, 2010

Interview with A.E. Roman

I welcome back the always entertaining A.E. Roman, a writer out of the Bronx whose debut novel, Chinatown Angel, excited the masses and the critics. I interviewed A.E. back in 2009, click here for that interview. Now, with his second novel, The Superman Project, we visit again to talk about writing, sophomore jitters, and the continuing adventures of his wise-guy private eye, Chico Santana.

Here's the publisher's blurb about the new book:

After a series of low-paying jobs, Chico Santana, PI, is living in his tiny office on 149th Street in the Bronx. He’s in an absolutely foul mood when Pablo Sanchez and his mother drop in, seeking help for one of Chico’s old childhood pals----the handsome and charismatic Joey Ventura. Chico has not seen Joey since Joey disappeared from St. Mary's Home for Boys, headed for Tahiti. He ended up, instead, on the island of TSP---The Superman Project.

The Superman Project peddles German philosophy, Hinduism, and American comic book mythology as a method toward self-improvement, but its members are hiding more than a few secrets. The leader of TSP is a man named Father Ravi. One of his daughters, Gabby, who is also Joey’s wife, is missing. Joey was accused by the TSP leaders of killing Gabby and has fled the police. Pablo and his mother insist he is innocent.

Compelled to believe in his old friend, and by the promised payment of a very valuable Superman comic, Chico investigates the competing interests in the organization, falling for a beautiful suspect and trying to look out for a friend’s troubled niece in the process.

The book is much better than that blurb, take it from me.

OK, sit back and enjoy my conversation with A.E. Roman.

1. Your second book, The Superman Project, was released in August and immediately received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Publishers Weekly’s adjectives included “excellent” and “endearing,” and the comment that you kept the “action moving.” The book continues the adventures of the hero from your debut, Chinatown Angel, which also got raves. Was the experience of writing and then publishing this second novel markedly different from what you went through with your first book? More difficult or easier?

Writing the second book was a continuation of writing and publishing the first book, following Chico through another story, another journey. Each time I sit down to work on another book, it feels different, not necessarily harder or easier. In a way, I always feel as if I’m starting all over again with each book, from scratch, not really knowing where I’ll end up. Each book has its own set of problems and pleasures. But as I’m working on the series, the familiarities of the characters and their relationships and the various settings are like old friends that I get to visit again, whether they want me to visit or not--just like in real life. (Rosemary, I’ll be over for flan at six.)

2. You have friends who make you flan? You are a lucky man. Any lessons you learned from the experience of this second book about writing, publishing, or editing that you’d like to pass on to our readers?

All of the lessons I’ve learned about writing, editing, and publishing feel so personal and almost worthless to anyone else’s experience. This never stopped anyone from sharing their experience, so here goes. Rewriting is important, but I already knew that before the first book. I learned that from other writers a long time ago, many of them dead--which goes to show that it’s never too late to go into teaching. I tried not to get stuck on a sentence or a paragraph or a chapter during the first draft, knowing that if I kept reworking as I wrote, I would never finish. I tried to get those first drafts out and gave myself plenty of time after for rewrites. I also learned that you should get up off your chair as often as possible or your butt will dry up and fall off. Writers, beware.

3. I’ll assume that many of your friends and family saw bits and pieces of themselves in Chinatown Angel. What was their reaction? Are you hero or goat?

It’s all fiction. That’s what I tell my friends and family. That’s what I’ll tell them until the day I die. The Bronx is a fictional place. Chico is not based on anyone I know. Neither is Nicky or Ramona or Willow. No, she’s not based on your mother or what your sister did that summer. Any similarity to fathers or brothers or piragua men either living or dead is totally coincidental. Also, I am and always have been a goat to my friends and family. It’s not money or fame that I seek. I am driven by my lust for wild sage grass and candy corn.

4. Good thing you're a writer. At the center of the story in your second novel is a power struggle for control of The Superman Project, described on your book jacket as an organization that “peddles German philosophy, Hinduism, and American comic-book mythology as a method toward self-improvement.” A cult, in other words. Where did that idea come from?

The short answer is, my imagination. The long answer: Comic books, religion, philosophy, and cults have interested me for a very long time. Cults are everywhere. Some of them are thousands of years old. More than a few cults have tried to recruit me over the years before discovering that my credit was bad. Cults profit from other people’s unhappiness every day, and I’m not immune. I also desire fast answers, quick fixes, easy alleviation of my discomfort, a simple antidote for my human suffering, a quick-acting balm for my weary soul, when milk and cookies are not enough. TSP sprung out of that desire. Also, there’s a lot of money to be made by cults… Maybe The Superman Project novel is repurposed notes from my failed attempt at trying to start my own cult--we’ll never really know.

5. The Superman Project has much of what I liked about Chinatown Angel, including a tricky plot, unconventional characters, in-your-face humor, and, of course, the wise-cracking Chico Santana, Bronx PI with a huge chip on his shoulder. Personally, I think writing humor is one of the most difficult tasks a writer can set for him or herself. But in The Superman Project, the jokes, clever retorts, and general fast-talking come at a rapid clip; at times I could see a young Groucho Marx in the movie role of Chico, and I mean that as a compliment. What’s your approach to humor? Does it just come to you, as though you were in the middle of a conversation with one of your friends, or do you have to plan out each gag and punch line to keep within your story?

The chip that Chico has on his shoulder is chocolate, bitter but sweet. And all praise be to Groucho Marx. I am not worthy. But thank you. Humor is as important to me as oxygen or ketchup, my favorite vegetable, or George Bush, also my favorite vegetable. Is it too late for Bush jokes? I’ll work on some Obama bits for the third Chico book, Unfinished Moon. Anyway, humor is like this interview, a conversation, joking with friends. There is so much in this world (the greed, the wars, the economy) to cry about, and like Chico, (fictional) I (nonfictional), laugh to keep from crying so much of the time. Humor saves.

6. Ah, another book in the works. Great. Chico certainly has his quirks and a bit of an attitude. What can you tell us about how that character came to be – how did you develop him and what do you think is in store for Chico in the future?

Chico would say, “What do you mean, I got an attitude? Quirks? I’ll show you quirks.” As the story of each book develops, so does Chico, bitter but sweet. Changing circumstances in Unfinished Moon will force him to look at himself, his choices, and the character of Officer Samantha Rodriguez in ways that he’d rather not. His evolving relationship with Samantha will force him to do things and behave in ways that put him in unknown territory. Although the unknown is not always fun to live, it’s fun to write.

7. Readers often are curious about a writer’s research or methodology. In the interest of accuracy, did you join a cult for this book? Spend time in the Indian (from India) community? Enjoy ale in The Ginger Man pub? Or maybe you simply sat in front of your computer and let the story go wherever it wanted?

As I mentioned earlier, in the past, perhaps because of my terrible scores during Scrabble games, I have been approached as a prime candidate by numerous cults. I wish that I could claim to have attended cult meetings over the years in the name of research, but I’m not that calculating; it was merely honest curiosity. (You do what with a chicken?) The life comes first, then the writing. I have been known to spend some time with nefarious characters from many different communities, though, including Indian, and perhaps I was spotted once or twice tossing back a Ginger Man Ale with some desi from Queens, but I am not at liberty to reveal my sauces. I will confess that after gathering life experiences, sitting with my pen and paper or my computer and letting the story, or stew, flow where it wants is a whole lot tastier.

8. Tell us something about your writing life in New York City – do you hang around with other Big Apple writers; have a favorite place in the city where you do your writing; or do you have to escape the city to get any writing done?

Chekhov said that writers should hang around with bakers and stay away from other writers, and most Big Apple writers seem to do their best to live up to Chekhov’s edict when it comes to me. And so my writing life in New York City is spent working and hanging around with friends and family. If they’re writers, it’s purely coincidental. And each book, like each friend, has its own rhythm, its own flavor, and each requires its own process. Sometimes I write at night, sometimes during the day, sometimes in solitude, sometimes in a cafe. I don’t escape the city to get the writing done. I love the city. My writing and the city are one, like a banana peel and a banana, slippery and delicious.

9. I think it’s interesting to learn about the reading habits of writers. Who are your favorites? Do you stay with crime fiction, or avoid it, or read just about anything? Anything new that blew you away recently, and that you’d recommend to our readers?

I’m addicted to reading. I will read anything and everything, from a comic book to James Baldwin, from the Daily News to Don Quixote. Of course, I read crime and mystery fiction, but mostly old stuff. I also read new stuff by writers like Charlie Huston, Charlotte Hughes, Holly Kennedy, J.A. Konrath, and Robert J. Randisi. I’d recommend all these writers. They each blow me away for different reasons. And I’d highly recommend your readers pick up a copy of King of the Chicanos by Manuel Ramos and The Superman Project by A.E. Roman. If they only have enough money to purchase one book, they should go out and buy The Superman Project, because this is my interview.

10. Thanks, dude - the check's in the mail. If you don’t mind, what else is going on with you in addition to your Santana novels? I know you maintain a blog ( and it looks like you are into photography. Is that right? What else keeps A.E. Roman occupied when he’s not digging up dirt about Chico Santana?

There is so much going on with me that this interview can’t possibly fix… but I’m sure you’re just talking about my writing life, so I’ll save my troubled talk for my therapist (also known as Ginger Man Ale) and stick to writing. I’m working on Unfinished Moon and a slew of other projects. I collaborated with my buddy Emily Adler on a YA book, Sweet 15 (, which Kirkus review called a “charming, fresh and funny coming-of-age novel.” I have to agree with Kirkus on that one. And yes, I love photography. The photos you see on my blog are by one of my closest friends in the whole world, Carol Mangis. In other words, when I’m not living la vida Chico, I’m getting by with a lot of help from my friends. I thank and love you all, no joke.


Great to have you around again, Chico, I mean A.E. -- come back and thanks for the interview. I'm eagerly waiting for Unfinished Moon. The title alone is enough to grab my attention.



Anonymous said...

"The chip that Chico has on his shoulder is chocolate, bitter but sweet."
"My writing and the city are one, like a banana peel and a banana, slippery and delicious."
A.E.'s got a slick way with words. Thx Ramos for an interview that makes me want to read the vato. You did good.

Lora said...

an excellent interview with an amazing author.

I thorougly enjoyed Chinatown Angel. So much that it is still being passed around among my friends as a must-read and I bought it the first day it was available.

I can't wait to fall in love with Chico Santana all over again.