Dear Chinese reader

Dear Chinese Reader,

I am aware of your existence. From time to time you just show up in this blog that nobody reads, always through a Baidu search. You don’t linger long or click on anything. You are probably a bot cruising through the magical world of Western Internet to assess the availability of the domain. But still, I decided to think you are human. You are the Chinese person who is interested in what I have to say. That’s it, there’s nothing you can say to change that. Not that you are going to say anything. You are probably just a bot.

I wish you could say something in the comment session. I wish we could talk. I adore the culture of your country. I want to learn Mandarin someday (started taking classes a while ago but had to quit due to clash with my work schedule). I lived in Vancouver for a while, a city with a huge, thriving Chinese population. I used to eat at a small eatery of homemade Chinese food near the train station. I would eat there every time I was in the area because it was so damn good and cheap. My eyes would water when the food was too spicy – I’m a wimp when it’s up to spicy food -, but I would just chug down some water and get going, because the cuisine of your country (in this case, in the regional Cantonese homemade tradition) is so damn good. I wonder what you would think of Brazilian cuisine, especially from Central Brazil (where I’m from). You’d probably find it bland. That’s fine. It is kind of bland and you need to grow up eating it to appreciate how the rice-and-beans repetitive combo in all its glorious monotony.

I finished yesterday the vomit draft of a short story inspired by your country. Not the beautiful things, I’m afraid. It was inspired by the current situation faced by the Uighurs in the area your government calls Xinjian. But also the one endured by other Latin-Americans like me in the country where I live right now (the US), where the government recently forced sterilization procedures on women locked in a concentration camp near the city of Atlanta. A little like your government is doing with Uighurs.

I wonder if the mention to these ongoing acts of genocide will make my blog blacklisted by the Great Firewall, what may prevent you from coming over from time to time. I’m a Science-Fiction writer and China is becoming a huge market for literature, movies and TV shows in this genre, although you guys have great homemade fare and don’t need Western content. Some would consider the mere mention to Xinjiang unwise. Apparently if one mentions Tibet they can get in a lot of trouble as well. But see, I’m not known for my wisdom, that’s the first thing you’d learn if we ever met.

I wish we could meet someday. I wish we could be friends. But you are probably just a bot, and I happen to be a human prone to reckless behavior.

再见,

I.F.

A couple of updates

There was a little delay in terms of the availability of my debut novel Terminal 3’s print version, but that’s over. Feel free to order it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

The other update is that I will be a panelist during the very first Fiyahcon, a convention celebrating BIPOC+ persons in speculative fiction. My panel is called “Yes, representation is actually fun” and it will happen on October 18 at 6pm.

Terminal 3 is out, or why do you need some Catharsis in your life right now

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That’s right, the ebook version is out. The print version is slightly delayed due to issues to Ingram Spark that may or may not be related to the pos-Covid printing market issues (short version: big printing facilities closed doors and Ingram started getting huge assignments they were not designed for, what means delays for Indy published novels like mine).

The main point of this post, however, is not to talk about the book per se. You can read a summary on the Amazon link above (or here, if you don’t want to go back). You can see this review published on Tor.com a few weeks ago. You can see the reasons how and why I wrote this novel on Latinx Heritage Month Book Fest Instagram. What you are not going to find anywhere is why should you bother to read a dark satire when we are going through a historic moment that feels like a dark satire. Wouldn’t that be a downer and exhaust you emotionally when you already have so little emotional energy to spare? A little like being asked to play with a toy garbage truck when you are currently trapped in the crammed container of an actual garbage truck, as you try to stay afloat amid all the filth while, at the same time, you are giving your best to not allow the trash compactor within the container to turn you into mush.

Well, there is the thing: reading satire when the world is burning isn’t redundant. Think about how successful Jordan Peele’s Get Out was just after the Orange Fuckturd got elected, or, if you are old enough, the success of 9 to 5 back in the1980s, just before the Reagan administration started, or, if you are really, really old like Charlize Theron in The Old Guard, Aristophanes’ Lysistrata during the pinnacle of the Peloponnesian war. What these two films and one play have in common? They provide the viewer with a sense of catharsis, as you can release, through the investments in the narrative, your restrained emotions and let them burn and explode. Because shielding your mental health against a morally warped power structure in place that is deliberately trying to corrode your mind through social gaslighting can only get you so far. You need a release: satire, which is not a Carnival mirror labyrinth reflection of a social problems. Satire is the antidote. It conveys truths, perspectives and angles that you probably didn’t consider before as satire – or at least a good satire -, is counter-intuitive.

Note on Comedy #3

Narrow ravine: Big Loop Trail, Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona

This is an old insight of mine, from the years I wasted writing screenplays. As it is the case now with prose, some of my screenplays were comedies, some not. As I received rejection after rejection, I noticed a certain pattern: some of the rejections recurrently suggested that the readers found the screenplay too raucous and pedestrian for their expectations, while a second group of rejections suggested that the readers found the screenplay too sophisticated, hence not marketable enough for the masses.

I realized with that the world of comedy, at least as we know it today, is composed by two boulders separated by a rift. Let’s call one of the boulders the Snob Rock. That’s where highbrow comedy and the likes of Wes Anderson dwell and thrive. The other boulder is called Slob Rock. That’s the den governed by lowbrow comedy and every film Adam Sandler made after 50 First Dates and before his Netflix deal. Snobs hate Slobs. Slobs hate Snobs. There is only one thing they hate more than each other: anything that is in the rift in between them. There used to be a bridge connecting the two rocks. They burned it. It’s a shame, because at some point there wasn’t a bridge for the simple reason it was not necessary. There was no rift. Comedy works with a harmonic combination of low brow and highbrow comedy were the norm.

One day the boulders will crumble and the pebbles will cascade toward the rift, filling it. On that day I, a dweller of the depths of this rift, will ascend. I just need some matchsticks. It’s dark in here, but I’m pretty sure I found some TNT in this hole.

Note on Comedy #2

Off the Shelf Inspiration: Science Fiction Paperbacks | Horror book covers,  Fantasy book covers, Science fiction
How many Ayn Rand fans bought this book based solely on the cover?

I’m writing a story that involves a space elevator and a fart. The title: The Fizzles of Paradise. My spouse hated the concept so much that he said he wouldn’t even take a look at it nor do the initial proofreading that has been an essential part of my writing being viable in the anglophone market. I had to get some confidence fuel from my online buddy Jordan Chase-Young to continue writing it.

I’m almost done with the vomit draft of this story. Like the Arthut C. Clarke novel that I reference in the title, it has three POVs and maybe that’s where the similarities end. The story was very contaminated by issues going on in my life (I quit my day job this week after I realized that my supervisor was asking me to put myself in more situations of potential exposure to COVID 19 than my non-Latino colleagues, but that’s not what I want to talk about here).

I don’t remember if it was Alex Shvartsman or Ira Nayman, during an online panel on comedy and SFF earlier this year during Amazing Con, who said that if you write comedy, you don’t get respect, but you get love. That reminded me of movie I watched during a film festival in Mexico. It was called La Delgada Linea Amarilla (The Thin Yellow Line) and it was a beautiful, even solemn tale of a man with a crew hired to paint in a very rustic way the yellow line in the center of a new road. The movie was not a comedy, but it had one minor character that was a comedy relief – a very mild one. For some reason every time he would show up in the screen the audience would laugh their asses off, even when the scene had nothing funny. Someone explained to me that the actor was one of the greatest comedians in Mexico. The mere sight of him summoned all the skits he performed.

The Fizzles of Paradise is a comedy with a social commentary. It was deeply influenced by the professional struggles I went through this week. Anybody who reads my stuff knows that gallows humor is my lane. Can one love someone who writes gallows humor, though? Will I ever get the love that the chubby Mexican actor – or Pratchett -, used to get from people who appreciated their humor?

Do I want to be loved?

*fizzle*

I would still have a job if I were respected.

I kinda of needed that job.

COVID 19 wasn’t an acceptable trade off for employment.

Nor was the double-standard or the condescension.

Did I want that job?

*fizzle*

I wish I could make a living out of writing.

No, not that type of writing.

Nor that.

Fuck you too.

*fizzle*

Can satire, especially a dark, unforgiving one, change the world, by ridiculing power structures and vicious social dynamics?

If yes , that’s a quite respectable thing to do.

*fizzle*

I mean, it sounds respectable.

*fizzle*

I mean, it’s worth trying.

Note on Comedy #1

I never liked the dogma that comedy is subjective. Yes, there are things that make me laugh and wouldn’t make a child or an elderly person amused. Comedy does rely on having access to a framework of knowledge and experiences (or lack of those, what explains why slapstick works so well with children). It IS subjective at its rudimentary core. But as we move away from such core, towards grounds where, ideally, the intellectual field is leveled and anyone could, in principle, get a joke, what would the make a set up, the subsequent punchline and the narrow interstice between them appealing to all or at least most? What would give it (a relative) universality?

The interstice between a set up and a punchline, assuming that Adam and/or God have ticklish fingers.

There is no reasonable answer to that question, which is usually phrased as “Is this funny?”, tout court. As creators of humor it is only natural that we seek what’s funny, it’s a tautology to state that. Yet, it’s a necessary tautology as I assume that it is the wrong approach. Yes, we summon humor and put it on paper. That’s the work of creating comedy. But when it’s up to labeling it as good or bad or not-comedy-you-are-not funny-never-write-again-kill-yourself-your-hack, then the the approach should be, in my opinion, the opposite. We should ask not what makes us laugh, chuckle, etcetera, but what doesn’t.

I suggest a very simple exercise: think about a piece of comedy you read or watched that not only failed at amuse you in any way, but made you either sad or angry. It doesn’t matter the source of that emotion, it could be that the comedy piece made you triggered due to personal experiences (e.g.: a cancer joke after you lost a loved on to cancer), to social affinities (a racist joke when you happen to not be a racist scumbag), a joke that was just plain weak, cliche, that made you frustrated with the fact that someone got paid big money to create it while you are having instant noodles for dinner.

In my case I could give examples from pretty much any Wes Anderson movie I forced myself to watch, or from a Adam Sandler movie produced in the period after he gave up and just used the loyalty of his fanbase to shoot weak ass movies to make cash and before he got that juicy netflix deal and started giving a fuck again. I will keep it simple, though. There is an animated TV show called Brickleberry about park rangers. I watched 2 episodes of that show before giving up because it was just plain bad. But there is a joke that was particularly bad and I will never forget. A character needed an organ transplant and the doctor told him “Mr. Whatever, we have a liver available right now, but we can’t give it to you because it is reserved for an illegal immigrant”.

The thing that frustrated me the most about the joke I mentioned wasn’t the cheap shot at immigrants, but the fact that it was not even remotely based on a fact. Immigrants are not a hindrance to the health system and they certainly don’t have privileged access to organs. That’s when I realized: comedy needs to be based on truth. You can distort it to make the caricature work, but it still needs to be a product of tangible experiences accessible or at least conceivable by us in a reality that has rules and social dynamics. That’s the first step to make a joke funny, one that most comedy writers don’t consciously take. Sometimes they land in comedy gold without being aware of that, but that’s still a step they took. And their next joke can incur in a misstep.

Nutella is truth, although I would totally have filled that jar with another brown colored substance if I were God.

The Non-Linear path to become a Science Fiction aficionado when you are born in a 3rd World Country (epilogue)

I started writing these posts with the intent of talking about how my itinerary as a reader of Science Fiction was unique, but the last posts became detours, as I got distracted from my original goal and talked about writing instead of reading. But the fact is that I would not be able to summarize my reads in science fiction in the last 15 years or identify in them a pattern that took me to where I am right now as my previous reads did.

My original point stands, and I can now give it some depth by including my main motivation in writing this series of posts: in the last years when I moved to the US, and particularly last year, I had the chance to meet Science Fiction aficionados. The men and women who once were kids that had good access to good libraries and book shops and didn’t have a language obstacle The people who once were teens who connected to other teens with a similar mindset and an appetite for science fiction, and had important forums to gather, exchange, exist, such as conventions.

Last year I attended the Nebula convention in LA and Worldcon in Dublin (the last only possible thanks to a grant that funded by flight). I struggled in both events to connect with people and make the most for it. In my life I had a weird alternation of moments of popularity (middle school, college) and of social retraction (high school, professional settings). My social retraction trend has been lasting for several years now, and the fact that I have a thick accent, that I’m an immigrant, doesn’t help. But mostly, I feel that my experience has been different. You have the old school of science fiction readers who are very brash about how the “new generation” doesn’t read Asimov, Heinlein, Vance etcetera. And then you have the “new generation” that is all about authors that have been publishing in the last 10 years, while my reads tended to focus either on the ones I perceive as being in between (Le Guin, Bradbury, Adams, etcetera), or the ones before Science Fiction was a genre. Not that I haven’t read novels from the writers of the so-called golden age of science fiction, but I know who my influences are. I still believe, for example, that is more pertinent to read L’Isle-Adam than Vonnegut if you want to write humorous science fiction.

Am I really part of a community if I don’t partake on what is mainstream for them? I was talking to a recent acquaintance, the brilliant Jordan Chase-Young, about how a recent story of mine where I frame my premise intellectually before moving on to the narrative (like Douglas Adams used to do sometimes when starting a new chapter) was perceived as meandering and unfocused by some readers who just wanted the action to happen ASAP.

I got to where I am now – releasing my debut novel and my first pro-market short story -, by being different, and that difference was a product of my sui generis process of becoming a science fiction enthusiast. I’m not sure where I’m headed to. Terminal 3 may flop and I might never sell a short story again, what probably will steer me to return to my origins, where science fiction was a solitary hobby. And I think I will be okay if that happens. There are worse ways to crash and burn.

The Non-Linear path to become a Science Fiction aficionado when you are born in a 3rd World Country (part 5)

It’s December the 10th of 2016. It’s a sunny morning as I disembark from the airplane in my final destination: Pittsburgh, which is partially covered in snow. The man I was going to officially marry was waiting for me by the conveyor belts. We hugged, we kissed, we went to our home to start our lives together.

Jim was an enthusiast of my screenplays, he read all of them. He is pretty much a champion of my writing until today, proofreading all my fiction before I start sending it out. We decided that maybe I should give a shot at one of them, called “Too Big for You”, a superhero comedy, which I could maybe try to turn into a graphic novel. After working with 2 different artists I realized that I didn’t have the knack as a storyteller for graphic novels. I just couldn’t cram my long, snappy dialogues in that medium.

One thing that I didn’t mention in my last post was that after college I wrote a second novel. Inspired by a friend. I showed that novel to that friend to see if she was okay with me publishing it. She stopped talking to me and showed the novel to everybody else in our shared social network. Lots of people stopped talking to me. Well, at least I was read… But that made me stop writing prose for years. That’s the other reason why I tried my hand at screenwriting besides the one I gave in my last post. Now that screenwriting didn’t pay off and writing for comics was clearly not my thing, I decided that maybe it was time to get back to writing prose.

I wrote a novel called “Serpentine”, a very dark science fiction noir. Too dark. No sales, not representation (although an expanded version of the first chapter was sold as a story to Hybrid Fiction). That’s when I decided to use a teleplay I had written some years ago and did well in a TV writing competition for my next novel: Terminal 3.

Terminal 3 was supposed to be a sitcom about the security staff of a spaceport terminal in the early 22nd century. With my novel it went much beyond that. This novel was sold to a small publisher and, if things go as planned, it will be released in September.