Cuentos con agua y jabón / Carmen Victoria Méndez

Short Stories with Soap and Water

[Photo: Saúl Uzcátegui for Tal Cual]

Salvador Fleján studied Literature in his youth, but in order to become a fiction writer he had to spend a season washing cars in Miami. Sponge in hand, the author discovered that topics like immigration and Venezuelan identity were there to be told from the perspective of fiction.

His first book of short stories is called Intriga en el Car Wash (Random House Mondadori, 2007). The book has sold one thousand copies in six months, a very high number for a first-time author.

– What made you write Intriga en el Car Wash [Intrigue at the Car Wash]?
– It all began with that shaking of the tree the government called the “Cultural Revolution.” About four years ago I worked in the department of publications for the Museo de Bellas Artes, but changes occurred within cultural politics and I was left without a job. I decided to move to Miami. There I worked all types of jobs. I washed many cars, until I was left with a lesion on my back. I returned and things got better, but I wanted to create a sort of tribute to those days by writing that story, which provides the title for my first book.

– Was the topic of the Venezuelan as immigrant unexplored within contemporary fiction?
– The topic of immigration hadn’t been exploited as I wanted to read it: in short fiction. That first story has to do with the attack against the twin towers and two Venezuelans stuck in that mess. It’s very autobiographical, because I wanted to speak of the things that happened to me and what I heard in Miami.

– Are you interested in decadent characters?
– I wouldn’t say they’re decadent; they’re just beat up by life. It’s about a couple 40-something year olds who are always looking for an exit that might not be the best one but, mind you, I don’t want to be edifying or moralizing. I’m just motivated by the telling of the story. When I embarked on this literary project I wanted to make a plan and I said: “This book will be about Venezuelan icons.” Those classic characters are the baseball player, the beauty queen, the salsa singer, the horse race announcer and the emigrant to Miami.

– Are you writing a second book?
– Yes. It already has a title: Televisión confidencial. It’s fiction based on television, in other words, all the stories will be propelled by that apparatus. In fact, one of the stories in that book is “La cuchara de Uri Heller.” That story won Urbe Bikini magazine’s Erotic Story Contest, and it reflects a girl’s sexual experience while watching a TV program with this famous psychic.

– What do you see as the cause of the editorial boom the country is experiencing right now?
– People have talked a lot about the boom, about a new air in Venezuelan fiction, but it’s a bit exaggerated. What’s actually happened is that the editorial market for imports was constrained. Few novelties arrive from abroad nowadays. And what the local editors did was look for people who were doing something new in order to launch them. By chance, what was being written was new, alluring and broke slightly from the aesthetic that came from the 70s and 80s. It’s safe to say that between the late 90s and today a large number of very good, unpublished writers has emerged. But the boom is a market matter.

– Is that why your work was unpublished for several years?
– I’m 40 years old and I began to write at 35. I knew how to wait. I told myself that when I had something truly important and entertaining to say that I’d do it.

– You studied Literature many years ago. Why did you repress your desire to write fiction?
– I was very young when I came out of the university. And desire has nothing to do with one’s capacity to write. I really want to be a millionaire, but that’s not enough. In order to write, there has to be a conjunction of things like talent, passion and a lot of effort. When I sat down to write I finished three or four stories at once. I submitted them to contests like the SACVEN [Sociedad de Autores y Compositores de Venezuela] and Colombia’s Literature Biennial and they won. That surprised me. I said to myself: I like what I’m doing, this is what I’ll do. That was the beginning.

– Is writing short stories a risk?
– The risk is not in the story but within whoever writes them. There are many bad writers, that has nothing to do with the genre. Every person who can write using syntax thinks he has the talent to put together a story, create characters, profile scenes, and that’s not easy.

{ Carmen Victoria Méndez, Tal Cual, 14 April 2008 }

No comments: