If I ever get nervous around a person, it’s either because I’m impressed by their talent, or they have the authority to write me a ticket. Luckily, I was nervous due to the enormous talent of author, editor and composer Daniel José Older.
Older is the author of Salsa Nocturna, a collection of short stories, co-editor of the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, and Half-Resurrection Blues, coming January 2015 from Penguin’s Roc imprint. His young adult book, Shadowshaper, will be released summer of 2015 by Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine imprint, the same people responsible for bring Harry Potter to the United States. Needless to say, Older is on his way to becoming a force in his genre, and literature as a whole. His essays and short stories can be found in TOR.com, Salon, Buzzfeed and many more.
Last week we spoke about his work, problems facing the publishing industry, issues with scifi and the importance of challenging ourselves as artists. Enjoy.
Do you have a favorite Long Hidden story?
That’s a good question. I don’t. I will say I liked the first story [Ogres of East Africa] and the last story [The Dance of White Demons] because they provided perfect bookends to the book. They speak to what it’s about on a level that’s all-encompassing but at the same time very specific. Which is what I love about all the stories. They’re set in a specific place and time, but they speak about these larger things using really strong characters.
Given the positive reviews, Would you do another anthology and/or a sequel to Long Hidden?
There’s talks to do a sequel. I think they’re [publisher Crossed Genres] going to do it. I don’t think I’m going to edit. I might, but I don’t think I will because I’m really focused on being a writer. I love doing it, but my main time is for writing. I hope they do it. I’d support it with everything I had.
What do you hope happens with your novel “Half Resurrection Blues”? Movie? The next Harry Potter?
It’s part of a trilogy called the Bone Street Rumba Series, which is a prequel to Salsa Nocturna. Salsa Nocturna is a collection of short stories centered around a half-dead guy named Carlos. He goes around trying to solve problems for this bureaucracy of the dead called the Council of the Dead. Half Resurrection Blues is his origin story. I would love to see them as a series on HBO. Right now television is doing things that movies can’t do. In the sense of having the freedom of expanding the narrative. A book doesn’t really fit into a movie. It can, but you either have to squash it or do like Lord of the Rings and have these three hour things. I’m just focused on writing but I keep hearing people in my ear ‘oh you should make it into a movie,’ I think it’ll happen.
The Book of Lost Saints…are you still working on that?
The first draft is done, my agent has it. That is coming down the line after I finish doing these revisions. It’s my foray into “literary fiction.” It jumps between Cuba during the revolution and right now in Jersey. There are spirits in it but it’s different than anything else I’ve ever written. It’s still speculative but it’s more about people going about their everyday lives and dealing with the consequences of history and trauma. It’s horror but it’s also about the immigrant experience, diaspora and this whole idea of history.That’s what’s so fascinating about ghosts to me, is history still being present on some level in a very human way instead of a statue or a book.
Due to the internet, a lot of writers are slowly leveling the playing field in publishing by interacting directly with fans and not needing the approval of big publishing houses. Do you think this will help put more pressure on publishers to evolve and create more diversity? Or will it allow publishers to tell people to do it themselves?
Publishers feel that pressure. They realize that public relations is more wily beast now. All it takes is one retweet and you can get really dragged. On the other hand you’re right, one answer you hear a lot in response to diverse books is ‘oh well go through an independent publisher!’ or ‘Self-publish! yay!’ Independent publishers are really important and they’re a part of the story but we can’t just end the conversation by saying we can publish through independent publishers. We can’t live Kickstarter to Kickstarter. It’s not a sustainable method of surviving. As much as they do good work, we need it from all angles. We need worldwide access, we need millions of dollars of marketing money behind us, and we need to be telling our stories to as many people as possible, in as true a voice as possible.
You’re a former paramedic, you do activism workshops, you’re a musician, and a writer. How has working with your different talents influenced your writing?
Very much so. I was a medic for ten years and that was the number one awesome writers job. What you’re not just doing is watching shit happen. There’s a danger for writers and artists to be in that witnessing seat. I don’t want to denigrate it, but there’s a power in knowing you’re an active participant. That’s a part of healing and carries into any art and activism. Did you participate or did you sit back and let it traumatize you. If you sit back, you’re still gonna get burnt. So what are you gonna do?
What makes you a FanBro? How do you define yourself?
I’ve always loved sci-fi. I think Return of the Jedi is probably one of my number one movies ever. I love my people and my culture and one doesn’t negate the other. I write science fiction, noire and weird shit and ghost stories. None of that makes me less Latino. The problem is we have these categories and they’re code. Oh, urban equals black. Mind you my genre, urban fantasy, is almost all white. How come when you throw in the word ‘fantasy’ it suddenly becomes all white people?
In the same vein, in the FanBros Junot Diaz episode, Diaz said that X-Men wouldn’t be possible without the history of people of color. The concepts of discrimination and injustice wouldn’t be possible without our history. Avatar wouldn’t be possible without the history of indigenous people. Given that, another point can be made that it’s interesting that the beings deemed as the understood “other” aren’t representative of real life marginalized people. What are your thoughts?
I wrote a piece about this once. Avatar is a great example. It’s an amazing movie to me in a lot of ways and it’s really fucked up. There’s so many levels to it. On one level, there’s erasure. There’s nothing funny about that. There’s a huge lack of us being protagonists and especially Black protagonists. On an artistic level, you’ve let go of the opportunity to tell a deeper and truer story because you relied on this old trite bullshit of white savior. You failed as an artist.
I remember having a conversation that superheroes fight villains, or prevent events from happening. But they don’t attack the root causes of how these things are possible. Do you agree and would you like to see more super heroes that fight against systemic injustice rather than instances of injustice?
I agree. I understand why. As a writer you want to wrap it up nicely. Even if you end with some ambiguity, you still want to hit that one target so you can kill all the other bad guys. But again that’s another missed opportunity. We tell deeper stories when we challenge ourselves as writers. The Wire is a really good example. The Wire tells the story of people fighting against an inhumane bureaucracy that is inhumane because of the human beings that are a part of it. It can be done. It makes the story better. We’ve been watching superheroes destroy the bad guy with one final punch in the last second for the past few centuries. Let’s get to that next level.
Many stories are labeled “mythology” because they are based on non-Abrahamic religions. They are not taken seriously even though these religions are still practiced today, i.e. Voodoo. Is there a way to honor the people who still practice?
I’m a priest. I’m a santero. It’s [Santeria] different from Voodoo but related in that it’s an African diasporic religion that has come through the Caribbean and thrives in cultures of color. It is also very much maligned and misrepresented. It can be done well. Tropic of Night is an example. The characters that are santeros are very vivid and complex.
What’s your least favorite scifi/fantasy film?
Wicker Man. It’s a male fear of women being empowered fantasy. I’ve blocked it out. I think it was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in my entire fucking life.
What are your favorite cartoons?
Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Clone Wars.
What comic book or video game would you like to see on screen/movie?
SAGA. I’m not really into video games. I’m a different kind of nerd.
If you could create yourself as a superhero and create a villain for yourself, what would the name and powers be? weaknesses?
I would be Hurricane Machete. My superpower would be that I could fly up in a hurricane and chop things from all different angles and directions. The bad guy would be The Monolith. He would be this big stupid block, just plain and boring. And he would walk around and crush cities and just be dull. His weakness is that he’s slow as fuck. He’s big but he doesn’t have as much arm reach. My weakness is he could just crush my head if I get too cocky.
Star Trek/Star Wars
Who was the better Catwoman? Eartha Kitt/Michelle Pfeiffer
Power Rangers/Captain Planet
The Addams Family/The Munsters
The Addams Family