Our guest on this week’s BOOKCHAT is novelist, short story writer and essayist Sergio Troncoso. The son of Mexican immigrants, Sergio was born and grew up in El Paso, Texas. Much of his work is about border issues. Sergio has won numerous awards for his writing and literary activism, and has a library named after him in El Paso.
When were you happiest?
I am happiest whenever I am deep at work on a novel or a story. I love to lose myself in trying different possibilities for character and story, and of course when I get something ‘right,’ whatever that means in the context of the story, that’s when I feel deeply satisfied. Happy.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
My guiltiest pleasure this summer was to reread The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I hadn’t read it in many years, and I just wanted to lose myself in a story that had once meant so much to me. I marvelled again at J.R.R. Tolkien’s creative storytelling, where the literary and linguistic inventions never cease. I also lost myself in the TV show Parks and Recreation. My wife kept encouraging me to watch it, and I finally treated myself to binge-watching it at night as we sequestered ourselves during the pandemic.
What’s the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I have a bad temper, and I never forget a slight. Ever. I can be very vengeful with this temper, and like Sun Tzu I wait until I can pick the right battlefield for a counterattack.
What’s the trait you most deplore in others?
Egoism. Not doing enough for others or for the benefit of the community. I think it’s important to help others when you can and to do whatever is necessary to keep a good family or good organization going. Even if it means sacrificing your personal needs now and then.
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
To persevere and to improve yourself as you persevere. So it’s not enough to be ‘there.’ You need to improve while you are ‘there,’ so that you can move your project forward, to improve your writing, for example. So you have to persevere, but you also have to be critical of yourself so that you improve your work whenever you get another chance.
What book(s) are you reading now?
I have been reading Heretics by Leonardo Padura and Tortuga by Rudolfo Anaya.
What books might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
I read a lot of poetry, but I have never written a poem in my life. I like studying the lines of different poems and diving deep into their constructions, rhythms, and metaphors.
Which writers working today do you admire most?
Luis Alberto Urrea, Rigoberto González, Reyna Grande, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Rosa Alcalá, Eduardo Corral, Ada Limón, José Antonio Rodríguez.
Which genres do you read? Which do you avoid? Why?
I stumble on to a lot of books. I tend to read a lot of literary fiction, but I also read historical fiction, thrillers, philosophy, poetry, even horror now and then. It really depends on my mood and on serendipity. Of course, I’m talking about reading for pleasure here. But when I am trying to work on an issue of craft, I tend to target my reading to find out what others have done, or haven’t done, in literary fiction.
What book(s) “should” you have read but haven’t, or what “classic” couldn’t you finish?
I tend to finish my books, even ones I don’t particularly like. I don’t remember the last book I abandoned. I know how difficult it is to write a book. So I want to give the author I’m reading my attention. But if I don’t like the book, I probably won’t read more work from that author.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
We would have to be drinking, so we may or may not be eating. I would have James Joyce, Friedrich Nietzsche (we might need a translator who also serves drinks), and Virginia Woolf. They probably wouldn’t like each other, but in this imaginary drinking fest I could get them to have a drink or two (or three) and we could talk about literary ideas for at least a few hours. Then before the fistfights began I’d get them an Uber and tell them to get the hell out of my house.
Tell us about your latest book in no more than 50 words.
A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s Son (Cinco Puntos Press) is a collection of linked short stories on immigrants beyond the border. That’s the content. The craft of the collection is focused on perspectivism and time: characters appear in one story only to reappear from a different angle in another story.
Where can we find this book?
You can buy A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s Son from any independent bookstore. That’s what I prefer. You can also buy it from Amazon.