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This week on BOOKCHAT we feature novelist and short story writer Daniel Chacón. Daniel, who directs the Bilingual MFA at UTEP, is the recipient of numerous awards for his work, including the American Book Award, the Hudson Prize and the PEN Oakland Award. He’s a SWFWW regular and a member of our esteemed Advisory Board. He’s also a new Dad! A busy man indeed.

Daniel Chacón

When were you happiest?

When I decided to completely avoid this first question.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

Doing interviews.

What’s the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Over thinking.

My mother used to warn me, You think too much.

And she was right. In my teens and well into my 20s and 30s, I thought so much, over analyzed things, read too much into what other people said or how they said it or their gestures, and it used to drive me nuts. I was always worried about something. Now that I am an older man, I know the difference between mindfulness and thought and how to use the latter to achieve what I want or need.

Also, a writer has to think at some point in the creative process.

I love playing with ideas.

I think about fun things and enjoy my solitude.

I think in the mornings. In the afternoons I act and interact with others. I try not to think too much then. I especially avoid thinking at night as I’m lying in bed in the dark ready to sleep. I clear my mind of thought.

What’s the trait you most deplore in others?

(Insert generic but important list of deplorable traits in others:) Racism, misogyny, intolerance. The refusal to think about ideas. The inability to laugh at yourself. And mostly, the tendency for some people not to read my books.

What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?

Take care of your brain. I first encountered this idea from Ecclesiastes, when the preacher basically says, Rejoice in your youth. But remember your Maker. That is to say, Do what you will, but God is watching and will judge you.

Isn’t this the same thing as saying take care of your brain?

When you’re young, you have a young body, a brain that’s still developing and making new connections, taking you into a labyrinth of intellectual and metaphysical places. Everything is new and exciting. You enter into new cities and want to look around. You want to explore limits. You use your body to delight in so many things, from frivolous sex to eating a cheeseburger at three a.m. to rock climbing in the mountains. I say, enjoy yourself! Enjoy your body. If you want to do a couple of shots of vodka with your friends, even if you have to work the next day, do it. You’re young, you’ll wake up with the strength of a lion. But remember, you will be judged by God.

Who is God?

Elohim?

The laws of physics?

The laws that govern your physiology?

Everybody has an opinion about who or what is God, but pretty much everybody agrees that our brains allow us to think and make connections, and our brains are the source of who we think we are, and maybe consciousness itself.

We don’t know if there is such a thing as consciousness (at least according to the Hard Problem of neuroscience) but what we do know is that without our brains, we wouldn’t be able to function or understand a fraction of reality. Our sense of “self” is made up of stuff stored in our brains.

Take care of that brain.

Don’t do too many lines of coke at the club.

What book(s) are you reading now?

The Nag Hammadi. It’s a lot of fun!

 What books might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

A book called You Can, You Will by Joel Osteen. I don’t know how it got there, and I’ve never read it, but nonetheless, it’s there on the shelf. Occasionally, as I am browsing my books, I won’t recognize the cover, and I’ll pull it out and there’s Osteen’s smiling face and his eyes looking right at me, telling me, You can do it, Chacón! 

I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to get rid of the book, as his cultural value system is associated with so many of the attributes that I avoid about pop-American culture, but I leave it there. Who knows, maybe someday, I’ll pull it out, read a passage, and have an A-ha! moment. Something like, OH! SO OSTEEN’S IDEAS ARE CONNECTED TO AMERICAN NEW THOUGHT PHILOSOPHY! HE’S RE-ARTICULATING THINK AND GROW RICH, THE SECRET, THE LAW OF ATTRACTION, ETC, AND HE WRAPS IT TIGHTLY IN A WHITE, EVANGELICAL CHRISTIAN CLOAK! BUT NONETHELESS, IT’S THE SAME IDEA, THAT YOU CAN MANIPULATE MATTER WITH INTENTION! YOU CAN GET RICH! JOEL OSTEEN IS A SORCERER!

But like I said, I never opened it, so I have not had that particular A-ha! moment.

Which writers working today do you admire most? Why?

I admire any writer working today. It’s so hard to be a writer today, with so many books coming out, 2.2 million published worldwide each year.  That’s a staggering but true number!

In the United States on September 3, 2020 six hundred books came out in one day. Can you imagine being one of those writers on September 3, 2020? Finally, after years of sweat and intense sacrifice, your book comes out, but there are 599 other books released that same day that will get more attention than yours. It could be devastating.

Anyone who remains a writer has my admiration. It’s hard work and mostly thankless. If you’re still writing after the first book, it’s because you have to. It’s because you can’t NOT write. I admire that commitment.

Which genres do you read? Which do you avoid? Why?

I don’t avoid genres, I avoid bad writing.

What book(s) “should” you have read but haven’t, or what “classic” couldn’t you finish?

I trust that I have chosen to read the right books throughout my life, those that have shaped me intellectually and creatively; and I trust that I will continue to choose the best ones in the future.

I believe the right books know how and when to find me.

As for unfinished books: When I was at the university, I took a Joyce class, and we were supposed to read Ulysses, but I never finished it. I enjoyed reading the passages that I had time to read, but in class discussion I either faked it or remained silent.

As a writer, I have to say that I was inspired by Joyce, and perhaps he encouraged me to use my language more playfully. There are scenes in Ulysses that amaze me. But I’ve never “read it” read it and probably never will.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

Alejandra Pizarnik, Sandra Cisneros, and Julio Cortázar.

I wouldn’t invite Borges, because I’m afraid he’d be a bore and want to do ALL the talking. I’d rather just take a walk with him. Besides, he doesn’t drink and wouldn’t appreciate the good wine I provide. 

I think the others would be fun. I’ve actually had the privilege of being at a few dinner parties with Cisneros, and she’s a hoot! Generous and funny. Great conversationalist.

Tell us about your latest book in no more than 50 words.

It’s called Kafka in a Skirt: Stories from the Wall, and it’s really good. (See here for a review.)

Where can we find this book?

Anywhere good books (and bad) are sold. But if you want a signed copy you can buy it at Literarity Bookshop in El Paso. They’ll ship it anywhere in the world. Email books@literarity.com or call 915.307.4760

Disclaimer:
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Southwest Word Fiesta™ or its steering committee.

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