Monday, August 20, 2018

Interview of Ernest Hogan

Interview of Ernest Hogan
by Xánath Caraza

Ernest Hogan is the author of High Aztech, Smoking Mirror Blues, and Cortez on Jupiter. Those novels, along with his short fiction have won him the reputation of being the Father of Chicano Science Fiction. His mother’s maiden name is Garcia, he was born in East L.A., and has been called the n-word many, many times over the years. His work has appeared in Amazing Stories, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies, and other magazines and anthologies.

Who is Ernest Hogan? 

Damn good question! I’m actually too busy to think much about it. Too busy being it, whatever it is. I’m not to be confused with Ernest Hogan, the Father of Ragtime, but since he’s been dead for over a century, it shouldn’t be hard. As for defining myself as a writer, I seem to be stuck in the science fiction category because most of the publications willing to run my work have that genre’s name as part of the title, and there isn’t really any viable market for the gonzoid surrealistic stuff I do when not playing sci-fiista. The literary and corporate worlds tend to cringe in horror at my vulgarity and rasquache. It hasn’t been lucrative, but I can’t seem to stop, and some people enjoy it.

As a child, who first introduced you to reading?  Who guided you through your first readings? 

It’s all my parents’ fault. Dad always was reading something. He and my mom had books and all kinds of magazines all over the house. They encouraged our reading. I found it a great alternative to most of dull stuff on television. They also didn’t mind when I found weird stuff and brought it home.

How did you first become a writer?  Where were your first short stories written?

Reading was actually difficult for me at first. Dyslexia. (Did I spell it right?) Then I discovered comic books, and there was no stopping me. Since I was lousy at math, becoming a mad scientist was out of the question, so I decided to take advantage of my grotesquely overactive imagination and write. Especially after a teacher showed The Story of a Writer, a documentary about Ray Bradbury. I thought, “Yeah, I could do that.” Then my parents got me a typewriter to do my homework on, and started writing. My first publication was a letter in a comic book—I was hooked. From my typewriter to comic book racks all more the country, and before the Internet! This was in West Covina, California.

Do you have any favorite short story by other authors?  Could you share some lines along with your reflection of what drew you toward that short story?

Lately (I keep changing my mind about these things) I’ve been telling people “I See a Man Sitting on a Chair, and the Chair is Biting His Leg” by Robert Sheckley and Harlan Ellison. It was way ahead of its time—postcyberpunk back in the Sixties—and one of the first time I encountered what I like to do in my writing, which is throw around ideas, and create a volatile mix that seems to take on a life of its own before the reader’s eyes. It’s wild, crazy, fun, and gets you thinking about hey, what the hell’s the world coming to? It’s also a great example of a story that came from writers interacting with the world, and each other, which I believe is the way the imagination works best, rather than contemplating your navel in a dark, quiet room.

What is a day of creative writing like for you?

I’d love to just get up, and start plugging away on the latest project after breakfast/checking email/Facebook/Twitter, but my life is just too complicated. I’ve learned get used to being interrupted—the phone rings, the dog barks, email demands immediate attention, were those gunshots or firecrackers? Long hours at the computer don’t seem to happen, especially when you have a day job. I’ve also learned to write on the run. I used to use little notebooks, but in the last few years have been using an iTouch and Google Drive so I can work just about anywhere. Most of I’ve written recently was typed with one finger in the breakroom of the Cholla branch of the Phoenix Public Library. A real writer finds a way, no matter what the situation.

When do you know when a text is ready to be read? 

About the time I get tired of working on it. I also don’t consider a piece of writing to be finished until it’s been published and read, which of course can be a long, twisted road. Then after it’s published, you can see things that need changing, or you just plain changed your mind.

Could you describe your activities as writer?

Mostly, it the usual, writing, finding markets. I’m lucky in that since I have a reputation, they often come looking for me. Most of my short story sales from the last decade have come from answering email. I really should send things to more markets more often, but my career seems to do things on its own.


Could you comment on your life as a cultural activist?

Sometimes life forces you into the role of a cultural activist. What I started writing, I didn’t think my ethnicity would be an issue, but it turns out that the publishing industry, even though they won’t come out and admit it, believes that books, and culture in general, are a white people thing, and get nervous when people like me write about people that they don’t fit into their stereotypical visions of their audience. Yeah, times are changing, but it’s a slow and painful process. New York still won’t touch me with a ten-foot pole, but then that’s probably a good thing, because I’m writing what I want instead of beating myself bloody trying to create a “bestseller.” My showing up—or just existing—causes controversy. Since I’m not giving up, the world has no choice but to change.

What project/s are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on one of the novels I’d like to finish before I die (I’m getting old), Zyx, Or; Bring Me The Brain of Victor Theremin, a slapstick comedy about the Singularity starring my literary alter ego. And thinking about my first story collection. I’m also planning an art project, a temporary mural, for the library where I work (Did I mention that I’m also an artist?)

What advice do you have for other writers?

Way back in the Seventies, in a Creative Writing class, the teacher said, “If we’re lucky, one person in this room will get published.” Guess it was me. I didn’t give up. And I also probably wanted to be a writer more than the others. I have made sacrifices, as my Aztec ancestors have taught me. And don’t give up. Also, don’t be a snob. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Be prepared to change your definition of success.

What else would you like to share?

Buy Medusa Uploaded by Emily Devenport, because a rich wife can come in handy. I will be judging the First Annual Somos en escrito Extra-Fiction Writing Contest 2018 for Somos en escrito: The Latino Literary Online Magazine (deadline for entries is September 30). And an anthology I contributed to, Altermundos: Latin@ Speculative Literature, Film, and Pop Culture has just won the American Book Award.

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