June 15, 2012
REVIEW: TRAVELER’S REST by Jonathan Marcantoni (plus, A Chat With The Author)
The Latina Book Club is happy to review this new collection from a talented author. Our review is below, followed by a “chat” with the author. TRAVELER’S REST will be available for purchase on June 28. Mark your calendars! ---mcf
By Jonathan Marcantoni
June 28, 2012
You get the life you work for. –Gustavo, exile
Marcantoni is a gifted literary voice. TRAVELER’S REST is at once bold, passionate and tragic. Readers will identify with the endless quest for home, for love, for family. And, appreciate the realization that we are all ultimately defined by the choices we make, so we can either live with them or change them; not always an easy task, but one worth striving for.
TRAVELER’S REST is a collection of short stories centered around Tony, a former drug addict. Like the other characters populating this book, Tony is a lost soul caught in a purgatory of despair and violence. There’s the friend searching for a home; the brother looking for direction; the exile longing for peace; the writer eager for a happy ending; the hurricane survivor desperate for refuge. As Tony journeys from Baltimore to Denver to Mexico, he finally learns to be “defiant against suffering;” he learns that coming to the U.S. from Puerto Rico killed his family’s spirit and only by returning to the island paradise can he find peace, warmth and identity.
A CHAT WITH JONATHAN MARCANTONI
Q: You wrote that your book was an ode to Jack Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD and Che Guevara’s THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES. How is Tony's quest different from theirs? The same?
Both Kerouac and Guevara began their journeys with a sense of adventure, a desire to push themselves to experience something new. Kerouac was primarily interested in having a good time, but he was also seeking answers to greater truths. I feel Kerouac's journey was highly internal rather than external. He wasn't seeking to change the world, but rather to find how the world affected him. In that sense, his journey was very similar to the one Tony and Charlie embark on initially. The world for them is no more than a reflection of their desires and internal conflicts, rather than being something separate. Guevara wasn't seeking to change the world, but he wasn't using his experiences to bolster how he already felt about himself. He also wasn't looking for a good time, per se, seeking drugs and women the way Kerouac in ON THE ROAD and Charlie in TRAVELER'S REST do. Guevara wanted to learn from the world, he wanted to grow with the world, and be a reflection of it rather than the other way around. That mindset is what Tony eventually comes to, but he has to get away from Charlie and the U.S. in order to do that.
Perhaps the biggest difference in my character's journey and either book is the battle with addiction. Guevara was never a drug addict, but Kerouac certainly was an alcoholic, and his book in many ways glamorizes addiction. My book is on the opposite side of that spectrum. Addiction is a monster and much of Tony's journey is figuring out how to fight it, let alone how to defeat it. If his journey is self-involved at first, it is because addiction is self-involved. Tony's reasons for doing drugs was to transcend his insecurities and self-hatred, but instead the addiction made them worse. He sees the world as reflecting all of his weaknesses, and only when he starts to see reality, that he is of the world but not beholden to it, that he begins to be able to fight back.
Q: You mentioned on your blog that some of the themes in your book are immigration and assimilation. Do you see assimilation as survival or betrayal?
I think assimilation to a point is necessary to survive in a new place, whether that is a new city or a new country. It's inevitable, but there is no reason to completely lose the culture you left behind. If you look at cultures like the Kurds, the Armenians, the Jews, the Basques, they all lived under subjugation of foreign rule at one time or another, but they kept their communities in tact. They passed on their languages, their customs, their traditions, their history. They might migrate elsewhere, but they never stopped being members of their culture, unlike what you see with many immigrants in the U.S., not just Latin Americans. Two generations in and the kids don't have a clue about their heritage. In the U.S., it is expected of you to deny the previous culture you were in, to fully embrace the American way of doing things, and for many people they don't even have to be forced. They do it willingly, even bashing their former culture on top of abandoning it, and in my eyes that is a betrayal.
Q: Tony is lost and his quests leads him through the U.S. and Mexico, where he comes to the realization that he needs to go live in Puerto Rico and connect with his roots. Is PR a Paradise to be reclaimed?
Puerto Rico is home. Its not an issue of being paradise--its natural beauty is undeniable--but rather an issue of how we approach the island. For many Puerto Ricans in the States, it is no more than a vacation destination. There are too many of us who regard the island much like a tourist who never leaves the resort. For many others, Puerto Rico is nothing more than its problems, and viewing the island as just a paradise promotes that disenfranchisement. The natural beauty is a hindrance really, because people look at it and say, 'Oh, this is paradise, nothing could be wrong here'. If you have that attitude toward the island, then when you get a glimpse at the poverty, the corruption, the crime, it can make a person bitter, but only because their view wasn't realistic to begin with.
So what we should want to reclaim is dignity and pride. The fact that so many Puerto Ricans rely on Federal funds for their lively hood and buy into the belief that we can't really govern ourselves in spite of the fact that Puerto Rico is the most heavily industrialized island in the Caribbean, and the fact that there are people, far too many, who would say that Haitians and Somalians can have a country but we aren't capable of the task, is a blatant display of self-hatred and a sort of reverse racism caused by colonialism. 'If only we could be more like the whites, then we could govern ourselves'. If you listen to the Statehooders on the island, that's more or less their message. Our dependency is an insult to our capabilities as human beings let alone as a society. To demand that self-respect, to build it up in our own communities and push ourselves to be more than what we are given, whether that's poverty or riches, we can always be more, and that should be our goal. We obviously have the talent, the intelligence, and the means to improve our society, we just need the collective will, because that desire is broken up right now.
Q: You started TRAVELER'S REST as a collection of short stories about people who were "slaves" to their choices. In the book, Charlie has this view, and most of the characters don't ever get free, except Tony. Is hope the goal then? The reward?
Hope is certainly part of it. Hope isn't just blind optimism. Hope should be discerning, it is optimism that faces the reality of a situation and makes the conscious choice to improve that reality rather than to flee it. My next book is about life on the Puerto Rican black market, and as a result it spends most of its time in some pretty horrific situations--exploited workers, the drug trade, sex slavery, corrupt politicians and police--and its all based on newspaper articles and real events in the last three years on the island. I let a friend on the island read what I had written and while he loved it, he also felt like it gave Puerto Rico a bad rap, that people would read it and think poorly of us. My response was to say that we can't love a place if all we talk about are its good qualities, and we can't fix a problem unless that problem is confronted head on. The main character in that book comes to the conclusion that in spite of all that he has seen, he has to hold on to the hope that we as a people can and will come together to conquer these problems, that he won't allow himself to give up on our nation. For all the bad he has seen, he has also seen compassion, love and endurance in his people, and that convinces him that a better Puerto Rico is possible. That is the kind of hope that sets a person free, because it is based on reality, rather than wishful thinking.
But hope is just the tip of the iceberg. The other characters who free themselves in TRAVELER'S REST share another trait in common: The conscious decision to take control over their own lives. To look at your life and say, 'This is not me, I can do better. I am worth more than this', that is the ultimate freedom, because you can confront anything. You may not always succeed, but it will be on your terms. When you succeed, it will be on your terms. Confidence can be faked, heroism can be accidental, but faith in yourself and knowing your worth and acting in accordance to that worth, that is a strength that cannot be taken away from you. But to do that you also must know yourself, inside and out. Much like Evelyn in the book, we too often define ourselves based on those around us, rather than based on our true tastes and preferences. Once we confront who we really are, and embrace all of our strengths and weaknesses, then we can make our own way. That is the reward and ultimately the point of the whole book.
Q: You worked on film scripts before this. How is fiction different from television? And now that you’ve done both, which do you prefer?
There is no competition, writing books is far better than writing scripts. For one thing, you can write a book any way you feel like it. There isn't a structure or style that one must adhere to. There are books, like KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, that are more or less plays. There are books that incorporate script formatting or mimic radio announcers or even books that try to resemble jazz songs.* Chapters can be whatever length you feel like, and if you want to be like Julio Cortazar, you can write a book that acts like a hopscotch game, where you can skip around to different chapters that give alternate perspectives or analysis of a scene or a character, and then go back to the original chapter you were on. The other great thing about books is that even on a collaboration, like the one I did with Jean Blasiar (COMMUNION), you can build the story up in the way you want to do it, and when it is published, there won't be someone dictating whether you did it the right way or not. Yes, you have an editor who tweeks the story a bit, but a good publisher will respect your vision as the author and not make you rewrite the whole book just to fit a marketing plan.
On the other hand, writing scripts can be a lot of fun, much like poetry. There is a strict formatting style and page limits and industry limits that force you to be innovative in different ways. You also have to deal with producers who you are beholden to because without them your script won't see the light of day. Right now Jean and I are working on a TV script and a play with a producer in L.A. and while he's a good producer, his vision trumps our vision of the work. And he is a good producer, by the way. Even after compromising, the producer will likely end up happier than the writers will be, and that's just the nature of the industry. I have had to make bigger compromises on film projects than I ever have on book projects. Given, oftentimes those compromises have yielded a better product, but when they don't, man it's a real burn to your ego. The writer's vision is not the most important thing when writing a script, because that script is going to be funneled through not only the producer, but also the director and the actors, and by the end of it you may hardly recognize the script you wrote. I know for a writer that sounds horrible but believe it or not, the process can still be fulfilling.
Just not as fulfilling as writing a book.
*HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS by Dave Eggers, LA GUARACHA DEL MACHO CAMACHO by Luis Rafael Sanchez, and JAZZ by Toni Morrison.
Q: What authors have influenced your writing?
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Hubert Selby Jr., Jose Saramago, Luis Rafael Sanchez, Juan Jose Saer, Miguel de Unamuno, Fernando Pessoa, and Julio Cortazar.
Q: You are now Editor-in-Chief of Aignos Publishing. What kind of books are you looking for? Can published authors submit work as well, or are you only working with new authors?
At Aignos Publishing we are looking for innovative authors of experimental and unconventional literature. We want writers who push boundaries not only in style and content, but in their world views as well. We seek books in the following genres: Crime, Science Fiction/Fantasy, General Nonfiction, World Literature, and Literary Fiction. At this time, we publish only English and Spanish books. Being Editor in Chief, I am extremely interested in helping my fellow Puerto Rican writers, both those based in the States and those on the island. We'd like to publish in other languages in the future.
While unpublished authors are welcome to submit, we are actively seeking experienced, published authors. Our first book is due out in August and is entitled THE DARK SIDE OF SUNSHINE by Paul Guzzo, an award winning journalist and filmmaker. The book is a criminal history of Tampa, Florida, that profiles twelve of the city's most notorious residents to show the depths of corruption and chaos that has haunted the city since its founding.
Our first Spanish book is called EL DIARIO DE BETANCES by Puerto Rican author German William Cabassa, and is due out early next year.
Q: What advice can you give to new writers?
Be persistent and be educated. You will get a lot of rejection and a lot of flak from people, and the only way to get through it is to not take it personal and learn from each experience, both good and bad, and move forward. Never stop working and never stop submitting, no matter what gets thrown at you. Then, of course, you need to know what you're getting into as a writer. Don't just take jobs blindly, research and be as knowledgeable as possible. Learn about your options, learn what are the best avenues are to make a living, because writing books and scripts won't bring in the big bucks in the short term. I'd highly recommend honing your editing skills, because even though it can take a while to build up a customer base, you can eventually make good money as an editor. There are a ton of resources on learning about the business side of being a writer, take advantage of them. When you are starting off, you will likely work for free, but once you have three or four jobs under your belt, don't work for free any more. Know when to be humble and when to stand your ground, and more than anything else, know your worth. If you have two years of professional experience, don't let some jerkoff treat you like a kid fresh out of high school. Be knowledgeable of this business and its expectations and requirements and you will get far. The work is where the joy is at. When you are writing your stories, articles, essays, what have you, that joy you feel is why you do it. Not to become famous or renowned or respected, but just the sheer joy of creating something, of putting your ideas onto paper. That is why you write. The business stuff is what you have to do to make a living. To do so, you have to be persistent, even annoying in your determination, and more than that you have to know what you're getting into, and how you are going to make this work available to the public, so that your ideas don't die with you. So that others may relate and even find joy in your creations. And if you are able to make a living out of it, then that's just icing on the cake.
Q: Where can your fans learn more about your work? Are you on Facebook? Twitter?
I have a Facebook page for TRAVELER'S REST (https://www.facebook.com/groups/359370240794612/) and also a Facebook account (https://www.facebook.com/jonathan.marcantoni). My blog is http://www.newerawriters.blogspot.com/, which has advice on writing as well as excerpts from TRAVELER'S REST. Both this book and COMMUNION (with Jean Blasiar) are available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Also, to submit to Aignos Publishing, visit http://www.aignospublishing.com/ to see our submission guidelines. I am also happy to give writers personalized advice and tips, and for that you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.###