Jesús Cañadas has just published his second novel, Los nombres muertos, which I recently reviewed (in Spanish) on this very same blog. This interview with the author, conducted by Cristina Jurado, was first published in the miNatura magazine, where you can read it both in English and in Spanish. You can also read it in Spanish at Cristina's blog, Más ficción que ciencia. I thank Jesús, Cristina and miNatura for the chance of reprinting it here. Hope you enjoy it!
Cristina Jurado: Before starting, I would like to thank you for accepting being interviewed in an unorthodox way. I believe conversations are more productive than aseptic questionnaires, although I have nothing against them either… some times they are the only way to interact usefully.
You are from Andalusia, more specifically Cadiz, and you live far away from your country. My theory about the talent of our land (I´m also Andalusian in my father side) is related to its people´s frame of mind facing life: always trying to prevent circumstances from controlling us. I also believe that we have a mestizo sensibility and a self-deprecating attitude, clearly reflected not only in our sense of humor but also in many examples of artistry. I am not going to be so indiscreet as to ask you why do you write but, why fantasy? Did you choose it or did it choose you? Is it as persistent genre as they say?
Jesús Cañadas: Fantasy is very persistent and stubborn genre. You cannot get rid of the craving of writing. In a more serious note, the best answer to that question that I´ve ever hear was by Oscar Gual in FantastiCS of Castellón: “I write because I have the time and the hunger.”
For me, it´s like that. I feel like writing. Sometimes, even if I don´t feel like it, I know what it´s waiting for me and I dive into it. I love fantasy because I´m a super-freak, I can´t help it. Since I was little I´ve devoured fantastic literature and I don´t think that will change now. It´s not the only type of literature I read, but it´s the one I enjoyed the most. The majority of my ideas are always related to this genre. If somebody wishes to fill the complaint form about it, they should contact whoever plants those ideas in my brain.
CJ: I´m interested in the writer´s craft, its secrets, the underground tunnels of the trade… I think you know what I mean. I would like to know how you face the development of a novel: if you prepare outlines, if you keep characters´ files (I don´t know, perhaps you give some of your characters the physic of somebody you have met), if you edit a lot of not so much… Tell me as much as you feel comfortable telling.
JC: It really depends on what the story asks. I´m still learning, so I´m not in a position to theorize about my own stuff. I have a seed of an idea almost always, a handful of scenes, and a final one very clearly in my mind. The pain, and the difficulty, is to build the path that connects them.
In my first novel, El baile de los secretos, I played by the ear or, at least, that´s how I felt. I was twenty-seven and had no idea if I was going to be able to finish it. But I did it and now, when I read it, I discover that it has a very clear structure and obvious steps marking the rhythm, even though I didn´t realize it at the time.
Los nombres muertos is my second novel and I had to think about it quite a lot. I did not use an outline, because I don´t like to measure everything. What I can tell you is that the documentation phase was intense and long, and I had to go back and forth about the story.
I can tell you a silly anecdote: I wrote most of the novel in the London tube. I´m not talking about actually “writing” it but just taking notes and creating something closer to an outline that I have ever wrote. Part of Los nombres muertos takes place in the British Museum and, in 2010, I went there to do some research. It was one of the most absurd trips of my life, but that´s a completely different story… While I was taking notes on my way to High Gate, where I also wanted a scene to take place, I had an epiphany. I started to write many things about the story and then I arrived to the final stop of the line. If you don´t know the London tube, I can tell you that arriving at the end of the line means at least an hour an a half of extra time to go to your destination. The good news is that I had plenty of time to keep on writing and I didn´t get a fine.
My third novel, that I´m working on right now, it´s been somehow different. I´ve tried to build an outline but I ended up destroying it. Why? Because I get bored if I know what it is going to happen. If you get bored writing something, then the reader is going to also get bored reading it.
My working process is very sloppy: I go out to work, then I do some sports, I think about what I´m going to do, I return home, I write, I read, I do some editing… That´s an ideal working day, which means that my girlfriend doesn´t call me, that I don´t have to go to the supermarket, that I don´t have to clean the kitchen…
I also try to dedicate the same amount of time every day to reading than to writing, around two hours for each activity. I would love to have more time but I like to eat hot meals every day and, for that, one needs to work.
CJ: What does it mean to be a super-freak? In one of your previous answers you implied that to be a fantasy fan you also have to be a little freak…
JC: A friend of mine that writes comic books doesn´t call them “comics”. He prefers the name “sequential art”. I have another friend who dislikes the word “freak”. He believes it has negative connotations. He says, instead, “collector”.
I like to speak clearly. I consume fantasy products in multiple formats, from short movies to role games, from comic books to novels. I dedicate time to search for new stuff, even in other languages, I compare, and I read reviews. I spend lots of money to go to fantasy conventions and other meetings. I wear t-shirts with meta-lingual messages. I engage in absurd conversations in social media: I criticize what I dislike and I praise what I love. On top of all that, I have a creative side that forces me to rake my brain in order to write my own stories so, if I´m lucky, somebody can criticize them, love them or hate them, but essentially consume them. Sometimes I´m fortunate enough and a blog interviews me. You can call it being a “super-freak” or a “John X” but that it´s what I am. What we are: genre fans.
CJ: Why Lovecraft? What is it in his biography, his works, and his legacy that attracts so many authors and fans years after his death? Where do you think it started the myth associated to him?
JC: This is a very complicated topic. The question I keep on asking in my talks is: how is it possible to go from an unknown guy who died of pancreatic cancer at 47 and who almost nobody had heard of, to buy t-shirts with the message “Cthulhu for President” today?
I have discussed this matter in many conventions; exchange e-mails with people who talk in this documentary; read numerous biographies, articles and essays about Lovecraft and I don´t have a clear answer. I have ideas that point towards one direction, but not a definitive theory that explains everything. As I´ve discussed with my own editors even today, every story that includes a Lovecraftian element, gets high marks. Lovecraft was a master of reference. That is what started the mystery around the Necronomicon. His friend Howard succeeded in having other writers mentioning his works so simply it became a phenomenon too big to be ignored. The very first librarian in writing an index card of the Necronomicon didn´t know what kind of a monster was creating.
Reading The shop by Stephen King I realized that there is a scene in which one character gives cocaine to another one. When questioned about the origin of the drug, the first character answers: “It´s from Leng´s Plateau”. You see? The author just expanded his novel universe with something bigger than a simple paranormal story about neighbors’ envy. That´s the secret of Lovecraft´s success. It´s the reason why we all embrace the Myths: they rock! We can discuss endlessly about it, to make it sound more like “high literature” but, essentially, Lovecraft is cool. Cthulhu for president!
JC: Félix Palma defined it a little while ago in his blog: a frenetic story indebted to Moore in the way it unites an extraordinary league of writers in an adventure with many nods to their novels. There is nothing more to add, really. It´s the story of the misfortunes of three fantasy writers in a trip through three continents. The writers are Howard Phillips, Lovecraft, Frank Belknap Long and Robert E. Howard. The continents are America, Europe and Asia. The reason for the trip is the Necronomicon. And that is as much as I can reveal. The rest, in October.
CJ: I´ve read El baile de los secretos and, to me, it´s clear that you need to experiment with language, deepen in the meaning, and join them together in powerful images. Your descriptions can become very dense in rhetoric figures. What would you say to those who criticize this way of writing?
JC: I would tell them: thanks for reading my stuff, I take your criticism into account and I hope to improve for the next book. I wouldn´t say that it was a need but a conscious choice, something that the story demanded. It was also demanded by my readings of Bradbury, Pennac, Palahniuk, Lovecraft, King, and Gaiman. My first novel helped me to know what to do and not to do, how far can I go, and what to avoid. I learnt with it. Let´s see what I learn with Los nombres muertos. Criticism is always welcome and, the more direct and constructive, the better.
CJ: Then Los nombres muertos, is it a speculative novel about traveling and literature?
JC: Once I read a very nice thought in César Mallorquí´s blog. It was a sort of message to his younger self, the writer who has something to tell to the world. The message said something like “Don´t bother, young one. The world doesn´t need you to come to tell it anything. It knows lots of things by itself. Be happy if you can tell a good story, the most honest one you can come up with.” I couldn´t agree more. I can´t tell you what is a speculative novel about traveling and literature. I´m nobody to speculate about anything. The idea behind Los nombres muertos is to recreate a certain style, a type of novel that I love to read, and to be able to get close to a character that fascinates me. And it´s about having fun writing it, nothing more.
It´s true that the story plays around with the codes of pulp literature, weird menaces and classical adventure novels. It is filled with nods to that period of time, to the characters and to Lovecraft´s legacy. But it´s like that because I enjoy those things. We don´t need to play the reference game if you don´t want to. You can seat in your couch and read it as an adventure novel about a time between the two World Wars.
In the first sentences, when I was plotting what would happen later, I spoke to my good friend Albo López. I told him: “I´m working on a novel in which the main character is Lovecraft, as if everything he wrote was real”. He rolled his eyes and said: “Wow. Be careful Jesús. That´s original!” I cursed his mother first but then I realized he was right: there are hundreds of Lovecraft pastiches. And I wanted to do something different. I was “somebody from the lot that didn´t want to be in the lot”, as Quino used to say. So I took another direction. Where? In October I will tell you.
CJ: What it is your opinion about fantasy in Spain?
JC: We love to say that everything is great and I´m the first to state it but, lately, I think this attitude is counter-productive. It´s like saying “at least I have a job” even though they are giving you 800 euros gross and you have to pay your own social security.
Fortunate or unfortunately, I live outside of my country, where there´s a lot of very active people. There is some of this in Spain too, but I feel fantasy is very close to resignation in our country. “At least, we have quality”. Sure… Bullshit! We should have more of it, and more promotion, and more print runs, and more readers. As long as people laughs at you when they know you are writing fantasy, the genre will not get better.
I´m going to speak louder: I want a Spaniard to be nominated to the Hugo Awards. That´s it! Sorry for Saladin Ahmed and Aliette de Bodard. Just now, it´s about us we have to feel sorry for. Despite all this, I refuse to say that the situation is bad. There are projects fighting hard to launch decent things. When I was little, in the end of the eighties and beginning of the nineties, I used to go to Librería Jaime in Cádiz and they only had Dragonlance and Tolkien. We can argue about quality all you want, but you cannot deny that now there is variety. Why would it be bad? If you dislike zombies, don´t buy books about them, but don´t get angry if many people do. And don´t hate Albert Espinosa because he sells a lot. People who read Espinosa will vomit over the first page of your book. Sorry to break you the news!
There is ambition, and that shouldn´t be judged. There´s a lot of enthusiastic people. Sometimes, that feeling points towards arriving to the top of the sales chart before anybody else or before you. Santiago García-Clairac said to me that this was invigorating: a competitiveness that generates creativity. I totally agree with him.
To sum up, I believe fantasy in Spain is progressing but we need to continue saying that it´s going bad and it should improve. We are trying to push it together but we must continue to work in three fronts: authors, publishing companies and readers. How do you get good quality authors, publishing companies that bet on them and an audience that supports all of it? I don´t know… me, I just try to write the most honest stories I can.
CJ: How do you feel about new publishing methods like crowfunding, self-publishing and co-publishing?
JC: Chuck Wendig, a writer I love, says that you don´t have to place all eggs in the same basket. If you visit his web www.terribleminds.com you will notice he has crowfunded books, some self-published novels in Amazon and Kobo, novels published by Angry Robot and many other things. I respect that but I personally have a problem with those new models: I´m extremely lazy. Wendig has to wake up, write for three hours and, after that, he has to spend all day in Twitter, Facebook and God knows where to promote himself. I don´t like that or, I should rephrase this statement: It´s not so much that I dislike it, it´s that I´m lazy to do it. Call me sluggish but I´m not lying to anybody: I like to be taking care of, to be pampered, to have somebody doing the layout of the book for me, and to correct the grammar and call the blogs to get reviews done.
In the mean time, I work to eat and write to live. What can I do? I don´t want to learn how to lay out a book, I feel more like improving my writing. Some time ago I share a panel about self-publishing with Fernando Trujillo and I thought he was a jerk: an anti-writer. He tries to invent ways to sell his books in Amazon changing the cover, changing the synopsis, adding I don´t know what and subtracting I don´t know what else. I´m really sorry, but I´m incapable of respecting this way of working, because I feel it´s the antithesis of what a writer must do.
Toni Hill, a smart guy, told me once a big truth: “Where in hell has anybody seen a writer trying to sell his book? That´s the publishing company´s work. Writers, do write.” You can tell me that things are changing and intermediaries have been removed… we can talk about how good or bad publishing companies treat authors… I agree with you but, as I said, I´m lazy and I prefer to get everything done by someone else.
CJ: Lately many people in the social media speak about the big or small influence of fandom in the editorial market (I say “market” because the effect of fandom only seems to count when talking about sales). What do you think about fandom in Spain?
JC: There are so many fandoms, that I don´t know where to start. Which one should I speak about? The one that becomes crazy about any book their friend´s publishing company launches? The really old ones, which say that everything was better before and all it´s published now is shit? Fandom by the girls who read fantasy and also Blue Jeans but they don´t know Salto de Página? The fandom by El Fantascopio? The people who go to Semana Negra of Gijón and don´t feel like going to any other meeting because they believe the rest is shit? All of the above have coincidental points and irreconcilable ones.
In the end, we are all fandom, everybody has a group of authors that he or she follows and believes that the rest is bullshit. Quoting Albert Einstein: “Fantastic literature is what my balls say it is”. I´m not really sure Einstein said it, but let´s accept he did.
I don´t know in which blogs you have read those conversations about the influence of specialized critics in sales, and with this statement I think I answer your question. Don´t get offended but, in El Fantascopio, there are only comments of the same five people. Ok… maybe you are eight. But eight readers that read among themselves don´t save a print run, not even half of it… I admit I may be wrong, but until you don’t show me a sales chart where I can see that influence of specialized critics, I would not buy it.
JC: This is related somehow to the previous question: fragmentation. Maybe Salto de Página will continue having diehard fans; Blue Jeans also, and in thirty years from now you will continue discussing in El Fantascopio about which are the best five science fiction novels of the last thirty years. Maybe no. Perhaps my children will grow up believing that fantasy is a genre like any other. If I could ask for one thing, I would like to continue writing. If I cannot, there is something I need even more: to keep reading fantasy.
CJ: This is the moment in which we finish up with a round of quick questions that require also quick answers. Star Wars or Star Trek?
JC: Star Wars, no doubt. Star Trek arrived late to my life and it never thrilled me like the former.
CJ: Fast food or home made food?
JC: Home made and, if you let me cook, even better.
CJ: If you had to choose to be a character from a movie, which one would it be?
JC: The starring role of a decent adaptation of Lovecraft.
CJ: Can you tell as the worst book you ever read?
JC: I can tell you that I don´t connect with anything written by Juan Manuel de Prada. Does this work for you?
CJ: And the best book you ever read?
JC: It´s still to come.
CJ: Which type of music you like to listen?
JC: In order to write, I like film soundtracks, background music and progressive rock. Balkan music and ska, to dance. To savor it, ethnic or African music, Hebrew music and Flamenco…
CJ: 3D cinema, yes or not?
JC: No. Films, better in Avenida Cinema in Cádiz, that old one with a red carpet and uncomfortable seats.
CJ: If you had to choose to have a super-power, which one would it be?
JC: It´s not a super-power but I would like to be able to read entire books in five minutes, like that American editor, whose name I don´t want to remember.
About Cristina Jurado: Cristina Jurado Marcos writes the sci-fi blog Más ficción que ciencia. Having a degree in Advertising and Public Relations by Universidad de Seville and a Masters in Rhetoric by Northwestern University (USA), she currently studies Philosophy for fun. She considers herself a globetrotter after living in Edinburgh, Chicago, Paris or Dubai. Her short stories have appeared in several sci-fi online magazines and anthologies. Her first novel From Orange to Blue was published in 2012.