a window on their lives and work
I had barely arrived in Oaxaca, Mexico, when I discovered Fernando Lobo’s new novel, Latinas candentes 6 (Red Hot Latinas 6), a satiric romp through the Los Angeles porn industry. His Mexican-American protagonist, Edi Montoya, is a porn impresario with the big idea of a film that would lay out “the hidden laws of desire.” This is capitalism American-style, a fictional spectacle of the ideas Lobo explores in his new essay collection, Sentido común, simulación y paranoia (Common Sense, Simulation and Paranoia). I came across both books in Oaxaca bookstores, and one thing led to another until we eventually met after a writing workshop he was teaching. His teaching style, he told me as we walked laughing down a street that was waking up to the night, is “stand-up comedian.” Over beer and mescal with his students at a bar, we spoke in Spanish with a few words in English here and there. I’ve translated it into English (or you can read it in Spanish here).– Carol Polsgrove, February 2014
Why did you set your novel Latinas candentes 6 [Red Hot Latinas 6] in Los Angeles?
Because in Mexico the pornography business is almost clandestine, almost prohibited. It’s very low budget. Well, as a novelist one can make the mega-production that he wants – I had the opportunity of being the big production company and maintaining identity thanks to our migrant relationship. I could have Edi Montoya [the protagonist]. I can identify with him because of his Mexican origins, but on the other hand he is all gringo. I liked that. I don’t know Los Angeles.
It’s a fantasy?
It’s a documented fantasy. I asked a lot of questions.
You did research?
Yes, at least Google maps, but I talked with friends who live there.
It’s very convincing. Do you prefer writing novels or essays or both?
I come from the novel. The essay that you read [Sentido común/Common Sense] is my first attempt at essay. I want to write more essays, I felt comfortable, it was a good experience, but I go on with the novel as the genre I can identify with and, above all, work most quickly in.
In a big “rush.’
Yes, an essay comes out in little drops.
How did the idea for Latinas candentes 6 come to you?
I was watching pornography. I was looking for a subject, a central theme of a book that would permit me to talk about screens: television screens, movie screens – and about montage and the relation that has with reality, how we interpret reality, our realities, our relations, starting from what we see on the screens – drawing a little from Guy Debord’s approach in The Society of the Spectacle – society presented as an accumulation of spectacles, but also from the perspective of Walter Benjamin – the “aura” of reproduced art…
Those are my theoretical bases, but the truth is that one day I was watching pornography, and I saw a Spanish site, and the commentators, the spectators, were complaining about the moans of the actress, a Japanese actress.”It seems like she’s crying, it seems like she’s yelling, she’s not moaning with pleasure, she’s moaning as if she’s crying.” Then another commentator finally observed, “You guys are ignorant. In Japan, porn and sex are understood from another perspective. Educate yourselves, ignoramuses.” That set off sparks that made me write a book. I decided to change the whole project I had underway, and I took myself off to pornography. In one day.
I expect it was necessary to watch a lot of pornography.
Oh, I watched a lot of pornography. But now when my wife sees me watching pornography, she does not see a pervert watching filth, she sees an intellectual doing research.
But she didn’t take off?
No, she’s here, she’s here. But she told me in the beginning, “Let me see what you’re seeing. I want to share it with you. “Fine.” No? She sat down. Two minutes. And she was terrified, she said that the next day she still had the images in her head. Hard- core American porn, no? Hardcore, San Fernando Valley-style, a thing obscene, violent, vulgar.
Is it easy to get?
It’s on the Internet! That’s more than half the Internet – hardcore American porn.
Do you have problems with bookstores [because of the sexual content of your book]?
And journals? Are there reviews of the book that –
Nobody has been indignant about anything moral. Nobody. And I was hoping for something, even a little, someone from Querétaro, no? It’s like our Utah, the most moral people, the most puritan people in Mexico. Querétaro, Michoacán. I hoped for some scandal. No, nothing. Nobody is scandalized. Not in Oaxaca where I live, which is a very liberal society, and the District Federal is also a very liberal society in comparison with the rest of the country. No. Zero. No censure. I would like something. For the market, censure is good.
Can you talk about the difficulties that you have as a writer in Oaxaca, which is not a city in the center of the world?
It is the center of the world. It’s the metropolis.
Yes, but it’s not Mexico City. Are there problems in being here as a writer?
The same problems as in Mexico City. Not enough money.
There’s no difference?
Yes. Let’s say that for publishing articles in the national reviews, it is easier to live in the Federal District (DF). To be invited to Tijuana or Guadalajara, it’s easier to live in the DF, it’s a shorter flight. There are a lot of writers in the DF. Yes, then, in some way I live in certain marginality. On the other hand, my editors are here. The book fair in which I feel comfortable is the one here.
Is there a community of writers here?
Yes. The cultural life of Oaxaca has exploded in the last ten, fifteen years. Enormously.
Many factors. The economic development. The “boom” of Oaxacan painting . Oaxaca’s libraries, galleries, academic work, and other things – those are very important. There’s a cultural boom in Oaxaca, which makes Oaxaca a very special place in terms of cultural life. There’s no city in Mexico this size with the cultural life that Oaxaca has, not even remotely.
I believe that you, like other writers, need to have other work in order to earn a living.
Everyone. Practically all writers in Mexico. Two, three writers live from their royalties and the rest of us have to find jobs.
You have more opportunities here in Oaxaca, true? For example, your workshops?
Because there are many cultural centers.
But more than –
More than before. And more than in other places. My work is a foundation of a millionaire who decided to dedicate himself to cultural philanthropy. Alfredo Harp. He pays my salary.
He pays for the workshops.
Yes. It’s free.
I was surprised by the number of [literary] journals in Oaxaca.
Just a few.
Another that has a calendar of events but also essays, articles.
Jolgorio. That’s Foundation Harp. Those two. And Lunaceta every six months. What else? [One of the students who has been listening says, “Cantera verde.”] Oh, it’s been so long. Cantera verde is a classic. But I haven’t seen an issue of Cantera verde in ages. That’s three. But before there were not even that many. This is new.
Is it very difficult for a writer to obtain the attention of publishers in Oaxaca?
Yes. They don’t read. Editors don’t read. They don’t read manuscripts.
How do you attract their attention?
They have to know you. If they don’t know you, they don’t publish you. It’s a vicious circle.
What do you need to do to attract the attention of a publisher in Oaxaca?
What I tell students is first to self-publish and take advantage of the new technologies, blogs, electronic publishers. You need a stroke of luck or, well, show yourself. Promote yourself. Make yourself. Make your book. Your first book. And then look for editors. But don’t hand in your manuscript to Planeta. Or to Almadía. That is a waste of time because publishers don’t actually read manuscripts. Nobody’s.
In your case, your first publisher was –
Was my brother-in-law. Relative.
How did you attract the attention of Random House?
In the book fair. The book fair of Guadalajara. Here the book fairs are important.
You took the manuscript to the book fair?
No, no, but you talk with people. And the Random editor was my friend of many years. It’s a circle. You have to socialize, and for that there are the book fairs, for meeting people. I see no other way. You have to do your own public relations. There’s more – if you want to stay in this business in Mexico, you have to have an agent.
Do you have an agent?
No, that’s why I don’t have translations, that’s why my contracts are slave contracts.
I sold my rights, all my world rights. I can do nothing with my titles.
The publishers have all your rights for –
Yes, for the world.
It seems to me that both Latinas candentes 6 and Sentido común would interest readers of other countries. Are there plans to sell them in other countries or are they sold there now?
For Latinas candentes 6, I signed the contract for world rights. Almadía [a Oaxaca publisher] is to be in charge. But Almadía plans to sell the book mainly in Latin America, which is interesting to me because in general, Mexican writers have to publish in Spain order to be known in Argentina or Chile. A publisher is very attractive, then, that offers to take your work to Colombia, Chile, Argentina – without having to publish through Anagrama, through the big transnational Spanish publishing corporations.
Almadía has the ability to put your book in stores in all these countries?
We are going to see, because it takes a big effort, and the big corporative monsters don’t exactly like this kind of effort, no? And with Sur + [the Oaxacan publisher of the essays Commún sentido, simulation, y paranoia] – we’re looking to enter the United States in Spanish.
In Spanish only or also in English?
It interests me a lot to enter the United States in Spanish. Obviously also in English. But it appears to me that there’s a Hispanic market – Mexicans in the United States.
Why not in a bilingual edition?
Bilingual is very expensive, and I believe there are two markets: the big North American market that is the biggest market of the global publishing industry – the big dessert for any writer – and on the other hand the market that I believe I can get access to, which is the market in Spanish.
There are a lot of Americans who like Noam Chomsky, and I believe they would like Sentido común.
Chomsky’s readers are going to buy Sentido común? Man, thanks. I like Chomsky, although he’s no humorist.
I’m interested in the way in which books and idea move from one country to another. How do you discover writers from other countries who you want to read? How do you discover writers from Peru, from Colombia?
That is what we want – to read Peruvians, Colombians, Ecuadorians, and we can’t. There’s a colonial circuit with Spanish publishers. If they don’t publish with Anagrama or Tusquets, we can’t read them in Mexico, and the reverse. We as authors, in order to be read in Peru or in Colombia, have to publish with a Spanish publisher. It’s vicious.
It’s the same in all countries that were part of an empire. For example, I lived in Africa in my childhood, and in Africa the lines of transport, commerce go to England or France.
Exactly. It’s colonial.
There’s not enough trade between countries. It’s a problem for writers in Costa Rica; apparently they have problems in selling their books in other Latin American countries. It’s a potential market, clearly.
There are many small publishers that are looking for those bridges because the big companies that buy medium-sized publishers leave a big market in the hands of the new independent publishers. It’s an enormous market. Interesting.
There are a lot of small bookstores in all those countries. Do they have a tendency to accept only books from the big companies?
Yes, clearly, clearly. Of course. Yes. The big problem for a small publisher is distribution. It’s getting a big bookstore to accept you and exhibit you, display you. That is really difficult for a small publisher.
Is it common to use the Internet to sell books in Mexico?
There aren’t sites like Amazon?
Yes, there are. There’s Amazon, every type and those that read use it, but in general it’s the bookstore and the big market. The Mexican public buys two books a year.
That’s not many.
They buy books on adolescent vampires. They buy bestsellers. They buy Harry Potter.
It’s a big subject – how to increase the numbers of readers.
I’m writing about that. I believe there is a lot of impatience over this affair of numbers, indexes of reading. I believe that literature does not need promoters. Literature has its own seduction, seduction, seduction. If you want to seduce others – you must be a person seduced, one must be seduced by literature. You have be seduced by literature.
For more on Oaxaca’s literary scene, see Oaxaca’s libraries.
Write to Fernando Lobo or Carol Polsgrove