November 4, 2016

Q&A WITH LA CASITA GRANDE’S JONATHAN MARCANTONI



The Latina Book Club congratulates Jonathan Marcantoni on the launch of La Casita Grande, 
a new publishing house specializing in Latino and Caribbean literature.


Latina Book Club, La Casia Grande, Jonathan Marcantoni, Latino Authors, Read Latino

WRITING TIP:  If you want to stand out as an artist, be true to your visions and push yourself creatively, without worrying about the marketability of your stories. --- Jonathan Marcantoni




Latina Book Club, Read Latino

LA CASITA GRANDE
An imprint of Black Rose Writing



Q: For years, we've been hearing the lament of editors and agents that they can't find any Latino authors.  And when one attends Book Expo America (BEA), all the editors keep asking for more diverse books, more Latino works.  Yet, the majority of the publishing booths at BEA this year had little to no diversity. It seems we have the editors' ears, but not the sales and marketing staff.  Did you see this too?  Where do you think Latinos are in publishing?

JONATHAN MARCANTONI This question can be its own article, to be honest. There are several factors at work here. (A) Most editors and agents are not Latino/a. No matter their political persuasion, I mean, they can be the hippiest-hipster-tree hugging-white guilt-ridden liberal in the world, and yet when they say they want diverse works, they are still looking for books that fit into what they have been taught is “marketable”. This often means having a white character, or a white-passing character (such as someone who fervently expresses their love of the United States and U.S. culture), or having a story arc that glorifies the U.S., or fits a stereotype, like poor Latinos or criminal Latinos who are reformed in some way or another. This also means a book touching on hot topic issues like immigration. These are all plots that white editors and agents, some of whom have never encountered Latinos or have only done so at a distance, and others who went to predominantly white schools where maybe they met Latinos but they were upper class ones, can relate to and feel comfortable with. Whether they realize it or not, that comfort gets in the way of appreciating artistically challenging works, or genre works by Latino authors that may not even address ethnicity or race—I know a lot of writers of color and myself included have heard from an agent or editor the question, “Why don’t you have more about immigration? Or race relations? Why don’t you talk about Day of the Dead or Cinco de Mayo?” Never mind that we have a lot more we can talk about than those subjects, and that Mexican holidays like Day of the Dead are not practiced by non-Mexicans.

(B) The best way I can sum this up as is what psychologists call “Confirmation bias”, which in this case means editors and agents deny the existence of Latino literature that does not conform to their preconceived notions of what Latino literature is.   The Latino label itself creates a sense of a gentrified, homogenous group when in reality it is a moniker that, depending on your definition, includes all 20 countries of Latin America, or any country where a Latin-based language is spoken; we cannot make much progress within such a group since one culture is going to dominate over all the others. For now, that culture is Mexican, and if these agents and editors were honest, they’d admit that once you get away from Mexican issues, they are frankly pretty ignorant about the various nationalities that make up Latinos (and for as much as they may know about Mexico, it is not that much better). That generalization limits the kinds of stories they’re willing to consider for publication, because they already have it in their minds that stories with Latinos have limited marketing potential.

(C) This factor I’ll call “The problem of limited quality”, which is to say, the age we live in is one where people of any discipline can produce an absurd amount of any given product, and when you have an abundance of a product, it gives the impression that there is a huge number of producers who are good or excellent at what they do. The reality, however, is that the abundance of the product covers up the fact that most producers are bad at what they do, and most products suck. Put another way, the book market is awash with books, most of which were released via self-publishing companies and vanity presses who do not practice quality control. There is an inordinate amount of poorly-written, poorly-edited, poorly-assembled books on the market, and this creates the impression that there are tens of millions of writers for agents and editors to pick and choose from. Agents and editors, unlike the self-publishing realm, DO care about quality and will not publish just any book that is sent their way. These professionals often have very high standards, because when you read hundreds of manuscripts a year, you develop preferences. You become very select and set in your ways in terms of what you consider as quality. So for the sake of this argument, let us say that the tens of millions of writers is made up of 90% terrible writers who have no business putting pen to paper, let alone exposing their awful stories to the public. That leaves 10% of writers whose work is good enough to qualify for publication through a traditional publisher, no matter the size. Within that 10%, let’s say 6% in the United States are white. That leaves 1% for Asian, 1% for non-Latino Blacks, 1% for Native Americans, and 1% for Latinos. That 1% is maybe 4,000 people. And those 4,000 writers do not all have completed manuscripts, some are playwrights, screenwriters, others are poets and journalists and others are strictly novelists or short story writers. Once you break it down like that, the number decreases significantly in terms of how many books are being submitted that meet industry standards of quality, outside of any other considerations concerning content. On a quality level, the number of books worthy of publication is minuscule.   

I did see these problems, and others, especially in the realm of preparedness that writers have when they are published to actually hit the pavement and sell their books on a variety of platforms. Those were all inspirations for creating La Casita Grande.


Q: La Casita Grande seems to be an answer to this call for and lack of Latino writers.  Tell us about your new endeavor.  Tell us what the mission is.

JM:  The challenges facing writers today is not only a matter of supply and demand, of competition from other media or from social disinterest in books. These issues have been around for a long time and the solution given to us from Big Literature—which is not only comprised of the major New York houses but also the writer’s conference circuit, MFA programs, and an industry of self-help books for writers—is to produce more, to spend more money attending conferences and schmoozing with industry “insiders” and buying their books, and when all else fails, to attend a MFA program, and if that doesn’t get your book published, to teach at a MFA program.

This system has been in place for decades and not only has it created an atmosphere where writing is seen as an antagonistic, anxiety-inducing practice, where writers compete over neurosis and misery, it also most benefits upper- and middle-class whites who can afford to buy those books and attend those conferences and work unpaid internships in order to get a foot in the door. We live in a world that is increasingly conscious of cultural diversity where audiences want characters who not only represent them, they also want narratives that capture the world in new and exciting ways. The old narrative structures are increasingly being shunned, and the best way to combat this is not only to grant opportunities to ethnically diverse writers, but to also change the way in which those writers approach their art.


Our mission is to find those books that fall under the radar because they do not fit an established mold, either in technical and stylistic terms, or in relation to their content, and to develop those writers on a professional and a creative path toward realizing their potential as artists.


Q:  La Casita Grande launched with a call for submissions.  What genres are you looking for?  Are you accepting manuscripts in English and Spanish? And how polished do you want the author/ manuscript to be?  

JM:  WHAT WE WANT
1. Literature from writers in and from Latin America and the Caribbean, to include the Lesser Antilles, Haiti, Jamaica, and the Bahamas. 
2. Genre and literary fiction. Genres we are most interested in are science fiction, crime, romance, experimental/avante garde, and horror.
3. Creative nonfiction, especially travel, historical, scientific, and pop culture books.
4. Submissions can be in English, Spanish, and Spanglish.
5. We are a LGBTQ friendly publisher and would be very interested in LGBTQ stories of all genres.
6. Generally, we do want authors with previous publishing credits, but it is not a requirement.

WHAT WE DON'T WANT
1. We are not interested in immigration or identity narratives or memoirs.
2. We are not interested in children's literature and most YA books. We will make an exception to a YA book that is especially compelling to us.


Q:   We understand LCG is looking for Caribbean and Latino writers, specifically women.  Why just Latino writers? What about a non-Latino writer with Latino characters and setting? 

JM:  There are already publishers who cater to non-Latinos, yet for Latinos, their options are incredibly limited. Outside the U.S., presses that are not in Mexico City, Madrid, or Buenos Aires often charge their authors for services or they have extremely limited distribution. Latino-run presses in the U.S., like Arte Publico or Cinco Puntos, are Mexican-run and lean more toward Mexican or Central American literature and themes. I don’t fault them for that, I lean more toward Caribbean literature because that is where I am from, I will be open and honest about that bias. Also, the Latino-run presses are not specifically promoting genre books and literary novels that veer away from immigration and identity themes, which our press refuses. There are non-Latino presses who occasionally publish unorthodox or experimental fiction from Latino authors, including Black Rose Writing, our parent company, which published my book Kings of 7th Avenue. However, no matter how well-meaning our non-Latino advocates are, they do not know the culture from the inside. We are providing a space for Latino authors to feel at home and not have to explain themselves, or justify their stylistic choices that may alienate non-Latino audiences. As for non-Latinos who include Latino characters, they have no problem finding a home for their stories, since they most often include white savior storylines, and mainstream presses love those.   


Q: When can we expect to see the first books from La Casita Grande? What books are you launching with? when? How will they be distributed -- print, digital, both? and on what platforms?

JM: Our first book is by London-based Argentinean author Fernando Sdrigotti, who has written a comedic short story collection entitled Dysfunctional Males. We will release that book in March 2017. Our second book will be a poetry collection by New York-based actor A.B. Lugo entitled Spanish Coffee/Black, No Sugar, and we are planning on releasing it Summer 2017. Our books will be available in print, Kindle, and Nook. They will be distributed via Baker & Taylor and Ingram, and available at bookstores large and small, universities, and libraries.


Q: The LCG Lounge sounds like hard work but fun.  Tell us more about it.  Can anyone join?

JM: The LCG Lounge is a blog on our website that will publish short stories, poetry, and novel excerpts. The author’s chosen to be featured on the blog will then be mentored by us with the goal of having them publish their finished manuscripts through us or our parent company, Black Rose Writing. We are limiting submissions to writers of color.


Q:  What advice would you give to today's Latino writers? what books would you recommend reading?

JM: Don’t fall into trends, and don’t limit yourself. If you want to stand out as an artist, be true to your visions and push yourself creatively, without worrying about the marketability of your stories. I recommend Jorge Luis Borges’ Fictions (Ficciones), Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch (Rayuela), Juan Jose Saer’s The Witness (El entenado), the poetry of Julia de Burgos, and The United States of Banana by Giannina Braschi.


Q:  Now let's talk about you.  You are an author, editor, teacher, father, husband and now publisher.  When are you going to find time to do it all? What happens to YouNiversity? 

JM:  Luckily, I have a very supportive spouse. I just make the time, one way or the other, if that means spending every evening working instead of relaxing, then that is what I do. The YouNiversity Project now forms the basis of La Casita Grande’s business model, wherein our authors are contractually obligated to complete the program by setting up a social media base, arranging interviews, reviews, events, and conducting networking and community engagement. We also offer YNP 2.0, which is a paid service for self-published authors or authors whose publishers have not given them much support in promotion and building a brand for their work. For more on these programs, visit http://www.lcgeditores.com/the-youniversity-project/. 


Latina Book Club, Read Latino
Q:  When can we expect your new book? what is it about?

JM:  TRISTIANA, my first Spanish novel and the first visualist novel (wherein I employ a style that mimics painting and film), comes out in Fall 2017 under the LCG label. The book is about a group of artists in a fictional country who become embroiled in a Marxist rebellion against their country’s U.S.-backed, pro-corporate government.

This November, I begin writing Cerro Maravilla, a fictional account of the notorious 1978 Cerro Maravilla murders in Puerto Rico, which involved a group of police officers ambushing a pair of independentista activists. My account focuses on the mother of one of the victims, the undercover cop who orchestrated the murders, and his wife. My goal is to have that book released in 2018, the 40th anniversary of the crime. 


Q: Share with us how your fans can learn more about you, and how can we learn more about La Casita Grande?  

JM:  To learn more about La Casita Grande and myself, visit http://www.lcgeditores.com/. Follow us on Twitter @LCGEditores and like our Facebook Page.


GOOD LUCK TO LA CASITA GRANDE!

READ LATINO LIT!