It’s a great pleasure to interview Chris who is a fellow author at Aignos Publishing!
Welcome, Chris! Tell us a bit about your background.
I was born in New York City to a Cuban father and a Polish mother, and I was raised in New Jersey. I wrote a trilogy of novels about media, communication, tourism, and terrorism, which are now being published by Aignos Publishing (Going Down, my most recent novel, is the first). I worked as a journalist–as a reporter and a copy editor–at the Star-Ledger, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Bergen Record, and at the same time, found work as an actor and model, spending the morning on location photo shoots and the evening on deadlines, putting out one of the largest daily newspapers in the country. I just received my Master’s in English literature at Fordham University and this past spring, was awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize for 2013. I am sending out query letters for my first poetry book, In Conversation, now.
Congratulations on your award, Chris. What is your genre and your intended audience?
Because of my cultural background and the characters and settings in the novel, I think there is a strong Latino crossover. Readers who gravitate toward coming-of-age, multicultural, contemporary, and literary genres are among my target audience, as well as readers who are interested in celebrity culture and the world of fashion. I have had discussions with university professors in various English literature programs, and I very much look forward to the possibility of my work being included in their future syllabi.
That prospect sounds so exciting! What are you currently writing?
I am right now finishing the revisions on my second novel, Fashion of the Seasons. This story, which is a companion to Going Down, is divided into five books that correspond with the seasons of the year. I take the normal conception of temporal order and invert it; the narrative is linear in terms of the seasons but non-linear in terms of time. The illusion that the fashion industry wishes to engender about constant change is also turned on its head. Each season’s chapters move from various points in the characters’ lives, hopscotching years while staying in the same season until we reach the end of the Winter—the end of the world, really—and discover “Out of Season”—a book that exists in dead time, a collapse of memory and events that manifests in fragments.
The polyphonic narrative is told from a variety of perspectives that diverge and collide. Fashion is used both literally and metaphorically; the stories revolve around a fashioning of the self, and how we fashion others in our gaze. Identity and contact—physical or otherwise—is what converges the various plots.
When I was initially workshopping Fashion, a number of people suggested I include the fashion industry in every chapter and associate it with every character, and I was disappointed, because I felt as if my whole point had been lost in translation. I already wrote a novel about the fashion industry; it’s called Going Down … but by calling this novel Fashion and setting it in the “everyday” world, I believe I am forcing people to look at the implicit processes of the fashion industry, and how this cultural production affects our day-to-day lives, almost on the unconscious level.
When do you make time to write?
I mostly write during my commute. A lot of that means eventually typing out the notes and fragments I have recorded on my cell phone, and sometimes, in my old reporter’s notebook—like the one Chris Selden is always carrying with him in Going Down.
What would you have done differently in your writing life? If anything at all?
It sounds trite, but I really do believe everything happens for a reason. I don’t think I would have changed anything. One of the most valuable lessons that came out of my experience in the Master’s of English program at Fordham University was the discovery of certain cultural and literary traditions that I saw in my own writing. It gave me a theoretical grounding I did not have before, and ironically, helped me understand my own work long after I had written it. Also, I do believe the best editor is time, and any good story—or any good stories—need that necessary time to simmer, especially since the material I drew from, at least in this trilogy, was very autobiographical.
Does your spiritual or political life influence your writing? If so, how?
I think the influence of spiritual and political elements are unavoidable for any writer. There is a segment in my third novel, Tourist Trap, in which an interview with the author interrupts the narrative (the chapter, “What Else He Said”) and perhaps the best way to answer your question is to quote the author’s answer to the interviewer’s question, “So you’re a political writer?”:
“To be a writer and political is a dangerous thing. To be a writer and apolitical is even more dangerous. Art is right, left; in truth, it has only one direction and that is forward.”
I think that notion of progress, of moving forward, is our responsibility as artists.
Do you have a particular theoretical foundation that keeps you afloat?
Without simply repeating what you wrote in your excellent piece on Latino themes, I would only add this: Latin America is so far-reaching, and so diverse, that there are innumerable “Latino themes”—so many that the very idea of Latino themes becomes irrelevant, if not also dangerously reductive. I would only say that I believe the reverberating, ever-present Latino theme is one of displacement, because that is our history. How do I react to this in my own work? With the iteration of scenes, stories, the lines themselves; by a love of words that manifests in double entendres; through narratives that are inherently fragmented and re-fashioned; and with interruptions and mistranslations that become revelatory—a dosplacement of language—narrative space as utopic possibility.
In my work—as well as in my own life—there can never be binaries, positive and negative relationships, either/or; there is only possibility, imagination, truth, which is always multiple, contradictory, and open-ended.
When I Googled my name, I discovered that people who have read my work have associated me with Latin American neo-Surrealism (what is Latin American neo-Surrealism? I ask myself) and the Dada movement in the early twentieth century. I am very hesitant—and generally averse—to allow my self or my work to be categorized, but I find a lot more in common with the neo-Baroque—also known as the American Baroque—Cuban writers like Lezama Lima, Sarduy, and especially, Cabrera Infante, whom all took language to its threshold, and did not discover content, but rather, a form devoid of content. They found ellipsis, the space between words, the blank space, which is not death, but the possibility of life. This is what I try to reenact in my work to date. The text has become organic; the moment one reads Going Down is the moment I am writing it.
In terms of other themes that I think pervade my work, there is the fixation on memory and a recovery of the past, the sensual pleasures of food, an emphasis on the body, and the euphoria of music. Is it Cuban? Is it human? I have no conception of how to categorize these themes, but I also think it’s important–and I know we have discussed this together before–to always be cognizant of never consciously writing about anything, except the story you are creating on the page. That sounds almost paradoxical, but it’s not. The moment you are aware of an aesthetic is the moment that aesthetic escapes you.
Writing should always—at its most fundamental level—be a means of pleasure. Sensibilities, aesthetics, academics, money—all of these things must remain suppressed during the creative process of the work of art. Another Cuban artist at Aignos Publishing, Carlos Aleman, understands and emphasizes this point very well, I think.
Go check out Chris’ website and learn more about his writing and projects at http://chriscampanioni.co
Thanks for visiting, Chris!