Monday Original Content: Interview with Jacques Barcia
This week, Charles Tan interviews Brazilian writer Jacques Barcia.
Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did you first become acquainted with speculative fiction? What’s the appeal of the genre for you?
Thank you, Charles. It’s a pleasure and an honor, really.
Well, I usually tell this story: I was 13 and ended up reading a Wolverine story in which he refuses to join the X-Men to become an S.H.I.E.L.D. special agent. A year later I borrowed a copy of Frank Herbert’s Dune from a friend. And that absolutely blew my mind. It really changed my life. I remember walking the school’s corridors with that 600+ pages tome, skipping classes just to finish another chapter. I was educated in a catholic school, so you can imagine how Herbert’s opinions on power and religion had an impact on me. That and the worldbuilding, the big ideas and the strength of those characters. I read the rest of the series in the following year.
The cool thing about genre is that it has everything non-genre literature has plus dragons, or artificial intelligences, or mushroom people, sentient cities, evil angels, ruthless detectives, etc. Big ideas, high contrasts. To me, genre offers much more than simply Earth. It gives me the chance, as a reader and writer, to meditate on mundane life displayed on a big, multicolored, hyper-symbolic picture. It lets me explore future/past/parallel human conditions that mimetic fiction cannot express.
What made you decide to become a writer?
Sheer necessity, pleasure, ego and self-hatred. I mean, you have all those cool ideas and you have to put them out. It’s a great feeling when you write down that beautiful metaphor, or when a character reveals itself to you and you know his story is great. It’s wonderful when people like your story. It’s pure pleasure. The problem is that sometimes (maybe most of the time) you do it wrong. That cool idea doesn’t work, or you didn’t work it well enough. And that hurts. A lot. But you keep on writing until an editor likes your story and publishes it.
Besides, I’m terrible at soccer.
How has roleplaying games influenced (or not influenced) you as a writer?
Deeply. Gaming was my first experience with storytelling. At first I was afraid with the position of storyteller/game master. I was positive I had no talent for that. Tried once, thought it was disastrous, but my friends insisted that I had done good and encouraged me. Guess the other GM was tired and needed a substitute. Anyway, I finally got to like it and I keep GMing even to this day.
Now, RPGs have not influenced my writing, nor did it have any influence on my themes, or the settings in which I tell my stories. Gaming and literature are two completely different media, not to say completely different experiences. But RPGs did teach me some things about delivering fun, working pace and character creation. I remember the first time I read about theme and mood was in Vampire: The Masquerade.
And finally, most gaming books come with lists of authors and novels that have influenced the setting. Those lists proved to be invaluable, since most of those SF/F/H authors were absolutely obscure to me.
What made you decide to write in English? What are the challenges when it comes to writing in English?
First, Brazilian genre market is very small. It’s growing fast, but it’s still very modest. So I wanted to reach a wider audience and I thought I had enough skill to write in English. And I may be wrong, but it seems that the Anglophone market is opening itself to writers from outside the English-speaking world. It seems readers and editors are looking for stories with non-Eurocentric perspectives. This possibility really encouraged me.
The biggest challenge to writing in English is to think in English in order to write better and faster sentences. Sometimes I have to translate my thoughts to express the exact thing I want and It’s frustration, no to say infuriating when I want say X, but I just don’t know the exact word in English for it.
What are the hurdles in getting published?
Finding the right editor/publisher. Heard that some days ago, from Jetse de Vries. And he’s absolutely right. You have to find an editor that likes your story as much as you do, or an editor which is interested in spending some time polishing that raw material. And you have to submit to a publisher interested in the kind of story you’re telling.
What’s the science fiction and fantasy field like in Brazil?
Like I said, Brazilian SF/F is small, but it’s growing fast. So far, there’re four small publishers dedicated to genre with several anthologies and some novels by Brazilian authors coming out every year. We’re also experiencing a growing interest in steampunk, with a themed anthology already out (Larry “Of Blog of the Fallen” Nolen, read and liked it. This one has one of my stories), a social network fully dedicated to this sub-genre and very well organized groups of steamers all across the country.
But there’s a lot to do. The quality and quantity of fiction produced here isn’t stable yet. In the short story field, most books have both awesome and terrible fiction because, in the first place, there aren’t enough submissions, not to say good enough stories, for editors to choose from. So, editors work with whatever comes into their inboxes. And when it comes to novels, then things get even worse. But still, I feel things are improving.
Do you think your country’s writers leans more towards fantasy or science fiction?
Science fiction, definitely. Can’t say why. Though the newest generation has shown a lot more interest in fantasy, SF still leads the show. But following what happens in the rest of the world, vampire fiction reigns supreme here.
What do you feel when foreign writers like Ian McDonald appropriate South America for their own stories?
I think it’s awesome. It adds diversity to the genre. Besides, it indirectly opens the way to “foreign” writers to reach the Anglophone market. But when using non-Anglophone cultures in semi-realistic settings (contemporary or near-future SF, historical fantasy, etc), one should pay some attention to geography, behavior, religion and history, as to not commit any gross mistakes. And one should never write caricatures.
That being said, I love cultural mashups and I think they work great especially in less realistic settings. Want to put some semi-naked, six-armed mulatas covered in blood dancing samba to Shiva? Go for it!
And I should say I’m a big fan of Ian McDonald. I loved both Brasyl and River of Gods (and I’m looking forward to The Dervish House).
What’s your opinion when it comes to the term magic-realism?
All I should say is that in the Library of Babel, Vellum is on the Magic-Realism section. And in Lucien’s library, there’s a mass-market paperback of A Hundred Years of Solitude, with a cover by John Picacio.