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Author Discussions > August 17 Author Q&A with Daniel Alarcón

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Welcome! A special thanks to the thoughtful and talented Daniel Alarcón for taking the time to chat with us all.

Daniel Alarcón

We've selected Daniel's book Lost City Radio as part of our California Reads program this year. The program is part of our larger Searching for Democracy initiative, a statewide effort designed to animate public conversation on the very nature of democracy through a wide range of public programs leading into the 2012 elections and beyond. To find events happening in your area, click here.

Daniel will be popping in from time to time on Friday, August 17 to answer your questions. Be sure to ask your questions before 3 p.m. PST.

Please introduce yourself and ask away!


Sebastian Uribe (unperroromantico) | 1 comments Hola Daniel. Soy Sebastián desde Lima, PErú. Primero Felicitaciones por tu novela. Lo leí hace 3 meses y me impresionó mucho que un joven como tú aborde ´temas tan complejos con una prosa realmente muy ágil y de maravillosa calidad. Tienes un gran futuro y un genial presente. Tengo varias preguntas.¿Crees que la violencia en nuestra sociedad es un mal a la que el individuo termina resignandose y por eso se vuelve un estilo de vida? ¿Que tanta relación hay entre los problemas de comunicación y los males de la sociedad?¿Latinoamérica está empeorando en ese sentido?¿A pesar que tácitamente se refleja lo que pasó en el Perú, crees que esto siga pasando en otros países de la región, resultando ser una cuestión endemica? ¿Que autores te inspiraron con sus obras para inspirarte?.¿Cual crees que debes ser el rol de los jóvenes hoy en día, con tantas revoluciones?Seguir el perfil de Norma?¿O el idealismo solo termina muriendo con nuestras ilusiones? Tengo muchas más pero son algunas. Otra vez felicitaciones, estoy tratando de difundir la iniciativa de RAdio Ambulante. Tengo un blog y escribi dos post relacionados con el tema 1.- http://zebaztian77.blogspot.com/2011/... y 2.- http://zebaztian77.blogspot.com/2012/... . No se si los puedas revisar. Un abrazo.


Will Murphy | 3 comments Hi Daniel.
I am Will Murphy and currently teach in Lima. I am a great fan of your writing and the work you do with Radio Ambulante.
What role do you think Lima has on changing the feeling of nationalism (or Peruvianism) on the provincial characters in your work? Many of you characters arrive to the grey and brooding concrete of Lima with so much naivete, but end up assimilating and becoming part of the whole system. How does the city itself play into the expansion of the idea that there is a world beyond their village/town/province?

note: Today is unseasonably sunny and everyone is very happy today.


Ka.esvil | 2 comments Buenos días Daniel, mucho gusto. Mi nombre es Karla y tenía un par de preguntas respecto al libro (obviamente). Ver la película "Solos en la Madrugada" de José Luis Garci, cuyo personaje principal es un locutor de radio que, se podría decir, narra su propia problemática a la par de la de compatriotas de su generación, me hizo preguntarme, entre otras cosas, por qué una voz femenina para Radio Ciudad Perdida? Hay motivos específicos detrás de esta selección? Y, de ser así, de qué naturaleza o carácter?
Gracias de antemano, te deseo muchísimos más éxitos y felicitaciones por el artículo de Lurigancho.


Daniel Alarcón | 15 comments Yes, a friend sent me a photo of sunny Lima on the news! How funny.

Saludos a todos! I'll be answering these questions in the next hour or so...
thanks


Daniel Alarcón | 15 comments Hi everyone, I'm going to grab questions from these posts, and set them in one post.

.¿Crees que la violencia en nuestra sociedad es un mal a la que el individuo termina resignandose y por eso se vuelve un estilo de vida? / Do you think that violence in our society is an evil that individuals are resigned to, and in this why it becomes a lifestyle?


English:

You know I've thought about this quite a bit, Sebastián. I don't think there's ever been a time in human history without horrific violence, so one must conclude that it's within us, something we take with us across cultures and times. Individual acts of violence are always surprising however, in the sense that they seem (and often are) so senseless. I'm more perturbed by broader discourses that are used to justify violence. These seem most corrosive, ethically careless, and least excusable.

SPANISH:
Gracias por tu pregunta, Sebastián. Es algo que he pensado mucho, y que temo que sí, es parte de nuestra herencia cultural como ser humanos. Nos resignamos, claro. Si miras la historia, no existe una época sin violencia, y aunque uno rechace actos individuales los patrones de violencia persisten. Lo que a mi me preocupa, y me perturba, es la violencia retórica, es decir, los discursos que se utilizan para fomentar o justificar violencia.


Daniel Alarcón | 15 comments What role do you think Lima has on changing the feeling of nationalism (or Peruvianism) on the provincial characters in your work? / Cual es el papel de Lima en esa sensación de nationalismo que tiene los personages provincianos en tu obra?

ENGLISH:
Interesting question, Will. Lima, as I see it, is just the most exaggerated symptom of a very strange condition. Peru was and continues to be governed for the benefit of the capital. At various stages this has been more or less explicit, but as a general tendency, it's present throughout. Having said that, it's also the place where Peruvian identity -- so variegated in origin, so diverse -- can become real, or can approach some sort of reality. I think of 10 de Octubre, the neighborhood where I lived in San Juan de Lurigancho, had folks living there who hailed from all the regions of the country. Families from the sierra or the jungle, for example, living next door to each other. Their children were creating an inclusive version of criollo culture that included elements of all cultures that make up the country. So yes, folks "join the system", but they also transform it, by their mere presence within it.

SPANISH:
Interesante, Will. Yo veo a Lima como una síntoma exageradad de una condición muy rara. Perú sigue siendo gobernado para el beneficio de la capital. En diferentes etapas de nuestra historia, esta tendencia se pronunciado un poco más o un poco menos, pero siempre ha sido así. Sin embargo, como laboratorio de identidad peruana, no hay ningún lugar como Lima. Es donde nuestros pueblos conviven, y juntos van creando un versión más inclusiva de la cultura popular peruana. Me acuerdo de 10 de Octubre, el barrio donde viví en San Juan De Lurigancho, hace una década ya (cómo pasa el tiempo!) Hijos de gente de la sierra y otros de la selva se criaban juntos en un mismo barrio, y lograban transformar la cultura.


Daniel Alarcón | 15 comments Por qué una voz femenina para Radio Ciudad Perdida? Hay motivos específicos detrás de esta selección? Y, de ser así, de qué naturaleza o carácter? / Why a female voice in Lost City Radio? Were there specific intent behind that choice? And if so, what was it?

ENGLISH:
Hi Karla, I love this question, because there's a funny story behind this. The first protagonist of the novel was a character named Len. Don't remember him? That's because he appears at the very beginning of the book: he's Elmer's assistant, he grabs a glass of water for Victor, and that's it. Nothing more. I began with him, though, because he was like me, demographically speaking. We were the same gender, the same age, and I found it easy to write in his voice. I also found it very boring, and the more I wrote, the more I was drawn to Norma, drawn to her world view, and the particular nuance of her story. Her maternal instinct, I think, was essential to the plot of the novel, her connection to Victor depended on that. Once I'd decided that she was my character, I erased almost every trace of Len.

But it often comes up that folks want to know if I was concerned about writing in the voice of a woman. It was a choice, but once that choice was made, I didn't analyze it. I don't think a writer should be concerned about writing in the voice of someone who is unlike him or herself. That's what we do. Ventriloquism. If a writer is afraid to impersonate the voice of someone who is another gender, race, age, class, sexual orientation, politics, then they should either a) get over it or b) not be a writer.

SPANISH:
Hola Karla, me encanta esta pregunta porque hay un historia chistosa detrás ella. El primer protagonista de la novela era un personaje llamado Len. No te acuerdas de él? Claro, que no, es que lo fui quitando, hasta que ahora solo queda un escena, al comienzo. Es el chico que es asistente de Elmer, y se limita a regalarle un vaso de agua a Victor. Y punto. Comencé con él por que se me hacía fácil: era de mi género, de mi edad, y lo sentía muy natural escribir en su voz. Pequeño problema: aunque era fácil escribir Len, era muy aburrido, y cada vez me sentía más atraído por Norma y su voz. Su instinto maternal, creo, era esencial para el desarrollo de la novela, y para la relación entre ella y Víctor.

Tomada la decisión, no lo dudé ni lo pensé demasiado, la verdad. Añado esto, aunque no fue parte de tu pregunta, porque es una duda que la gente siempre me comparte: si me sentí incómodo escribiendo en la voz de una mujer. La respuesta es que no. Me parece obvio que un escritor debe lanzarse a escribir voces que no son las suyas, a retratar personajes que son de otro género, otra raza, otra edad, otra clase social, otra preferencia sexual, otra visión política. Si a un escritor le da miedo, o le preocupa esto, pues, hay dos opciones: a) superarlo o b) no ser escritor.


Carlos T. | 1 comments Daniel, you've written articles about soccer, and you've even interviewed, in my eyes, the current greatest soccer player in the world, Leo Messi. Have you ever thought about writting a book about the most popular sport in the world, and what challenges would this pose for you?


Daniel Alarcón | 15 comments ¿Que autores te inspiraron con sus obras para inspirarte? / What author inspire you?

That's easy. And very long / Respuesta fácil y larga.

Borges, Dostoyevsky, Didion, Chekhov, Sacco, Bruno Schultz, Borowski, Kapuscinski, Rulfo, Cheever, Vargas Llosa, Zambra, Bellatin, Joseph Roth (el mejor de los Roths / the best of the Roths), Heinrich Boll, Studs Terkel, García Marquez, Hemon, Guillermoprieto, Villoro, Toni Morrison, Faulkner, George Saunders, Zadie Smith, Francisco Goldman, Babel, Edward P. Jones, Bolaño, Bolaño, Bolaño.

ENGLISH:
But I'm as inspired these days by music, film, radio and art as I am by novels. I love Teju Cole's twitter feed, "Small Fates", for example. Just the ordinary and crushing poetry of it is admirable, as is the ability to do a lot with very little.

ESPANOL:
Pero me inspiro tanto (o más) en música, cine, radio, y artes plástica que en novelas. Me encanta, por ejemplo, el Twitter de Teju Cole, "Pequeñas Muertes". Es una poesía simple, y a la vez, abrumadora, admirable lo que logra con tan pocos caracteres.


Daniel Alarcón | 15 comments ok folks i'll be back this afternoon. ya amigos, vuelvo por la tarde. abrazos, d


Earnest Booklover (BeingEarnest) | 1 comments Daniel--thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today.

The value of fiction has been a topic of much debate lately within my circle of friends and I'm curious to hear your take. I keep reading articles about how U.S. readers are increasingly interested in non-fiction and biographies rather than fiction (at least in book form) and this worries me, although I'm still not completely sure why. Does it worry you?

Jonathan Gottschall's recent article, "Why Fiction is Good for You" (http://articles.boston.com/2012-04-29...) raises lots of points about how fiction shapes us morally, ethically, emotionally, and talks about how the beliefs of readers of fiction can shift to adhere to ideas expressed in fiction moreso than those expressed in nonfiction. Creativity, imagination, and empathy are all part of this, but I suppose we need "facts" and too, when and wherever we can find them these days. Thoughts?


Will Murphy | 3 comments Additionally, when will you have an event in Lima? My students and I would love to attend.


Cal | 2 comments Hi everyone--feel free to keep submitting questions and comments! Daniel will be back to pick up the conversation this afternoon.


Will Murphy | 3 comments I am going to dovetail Earnest in thanking you and ask about fiction as well. What role do you suppose reading fiction could have on education (both US and Peru)? With greater emphasis on standards and testing, what are we missing?


Biffpow | 1 comments Daniel, Thank you for taking time to respond today with such thoughtful answers : )
Like Will, I'm going to ride on Earnest's coattails a bit with my question--As you are someone who has a clear appreciation for both fiction and nonfiction (as a writer and reader), which do you enjoy more as a reader and as a writer? How about poetry?


Daniel Alarcón | 15 comments i'm back, caffeinated, and will start getting to more of your questions very soon.


Ka.esvil | 2 comments Gracias por tus respuestas Daniel :D Tengo curiosidad respecto a por qué la ciudad de Radio Ciudad Pérdida no tiene nombre. En el Q&A del libro dices que los autores tienen derecho a crear su universo, su mundo, como el Macondo de García Márquez. Qué es el anonimato de esa ciudad, que creo que alguna forma también reflejan sus distritos con códigos en vez de nombres?


Daniel Alarcón | 15 comments Carlos wrote: "Daniel, you've written articles about soccer, and you've even interviewed, in my eyes, the current greatest soccer player in the world, Leo Messi. Have you ever thought about writting a book about ..." / "Alguna vez has pensado escribir un libro sobre fútbol? "

ENGLISH:
My love of soccer is infinite and borders on obsession, but I haven't had as much luck writing about the sport, as say Aleksandar Hemon or Juan Villoro. It's not easy to transform that love into words. My experience with Leo Messi was farcical really, a long plane flight to Barcelona for the privilege of sitting around the FCB training camp, dying of thirst, and having only 20 minutes with a tired and bored athlete. It did not diminish my admiration of his skills, but certainly cured me of the notion of ever doing a celebrity profile ever again.

For my project Radio Ambulante, we're working on a soccer episode, and this has allowed me to delve into the topic even more than usual. Also, for US readers/soccer obsessives there's a great new magazine coming out in a few months called The Howler, which you should all look for.

ESPANOL:
Mi amor por el fútbol es casi infinito, casi obsesión, pero no he tenido mucha suerte cuando se trata de escribir sobre el tema. Escritores como Aleksandar Hemon o Juan Villoro han logrado mucho más. No es fácil poner mi amor por el deporte en palabras. Mi experiencia con Messi fue realmente absurdo: un vuelo largo por el privilegio de estar sentado como un huevón en la Ciudad Deportiva del Barca, muerte de sed por horas. Luego 20 minutos con el "crack", cansado, pos-entrenamiento, aburrido. No es que lo admiro menos, solo que me confirmó que no vale la pena hacer perfiles a celebridades.

Para mi proyecto Radio Ambulante, estamos elaborando un episodio sobre fútbol, lo cual me da un excusa para ver partidos como si fuera mi trabajo. Ah, y para los lectores en inglés, hay una nueva revista de fútbol que quiero recomendar: se llama The Howler, y va estar buenísma.


Daniel Alarcón | 15 comments Will wrote: "Additionally, when will you have an event in Lima? My students and I would love to attend." / "Cuando tendrás un evento en Lima?"

English:
I'll be in Lima doing an event at the PUCP on Nov 2-7. Not every day, just don't know the exact date yet. You can always see my events here:

http://www.danielalarcon.com/events

Spanish:
Estaré en Lima para un evento en La Católica (o como se llame ahora...) en la primera semana de Noviembre. Aun no tengo la fecha exacta, pero siempre se puede ver mis eventos aquí:

http://www.danielalarcon.com/events


Daniel Alarcón | 15 comments Earnest wrote: "I keep reading articles about how U.S. readers are increasingly interested in non-fiction and biographies rather than fiction (at least in book form) and this worries me, although I'm still not completely sure why. Does it worry you?" / "Constantemente leo artículos argumentando que los lectores estadounidenses están más interesados en noficción y biografías que en ficción. Te preocupa?"

ENGLISH:
In the abstract, yes, though I'm happy with what I can get. I'm less concerned with the form or the medium, than I am with narrative. Storytelling and story consumption is what I value, and I don't fetishize the book itself. This is why I'm working in radio a lot these days, and why I've written lots of nonfiction myself.

ESPANOL:
En teoría, sí, me preocupa, aunque la verdad me contento con el espacio que tengo. No me importa tanto el medio o la forma, sino la narrativa. Valoro la historia en sí, y no tanto el libro. Es por eso que estoy trabajando en radio mucho estos días, y también sigo haciendo no-ficción para diferentes revistas.


Daniel Alarcón | 15 comments Biffpow wrote: "As you are someone who has a clear appreciation for both fiction and nonfiction (as a writer and reader), which do you enjoy more as a reader and as a writer? How about poetry?" / "Qué género prefers, ficción o no-ficción? Y poesía?"

ENGLISH:
That's a good question. Both have their pleasures, that's for certain. (And I'd make sub-categories, which are so different and unique they are almost genres unto themselves. The short story and the novel, for example, are both fiction, but sooooo different. And the radio script vs. the long form narrative non-fiction piece, etc.) I just finished a novel (last week) so right now the thought of writing fiction feels irrelevant. I have no urgency to do it, because I left it all on the page to get this manuscript done. My next project (apart from Radio Ambulante) is to do a book length literary ethnography of Lurigancho prison in Lima, a place I've been visiting for five years. I like nonfiction because it places you in unexpected situations, and you are challenged in a very unique way. There's no feeling quite like being somewhere you shouldn't be, and disappearing into the background, observing.

ESPANOL:
Buena pregunta. Ambos tienen su encanto, sin duda. (Añadaría un par de subcategorías, por ejemplo el cuento y la novela son ficción, pero taaaan diferentes. Y el guión de radio vs. una crónica...). Acabo de terminar una novela la semana pasada, y por lo tanto en este momento, no me atrae mucho la idea de escribir ficción, la verdad. Dejé todo lo que tenía que decir en ese manuscrito. Mi próximo proyecto (aparte de Radio Ambulante) es un etnografía literaria del penal de Lurigancho en Lima, un lugar que he visitado muchísimas veces en los últimos cinco años. Me gusta la crónica porque terminas en situaciones insólitas, y los retos son muy especiales. Me encanta estar dónde no debería estar, observar en silencio.


Daniel Alarcón | 15 comments Ka.esvil wrote: "Por qué la ciudad de Radio Ciudad Pérdida no tiene nombre?" / "Why is the city in Lost City Radio unnamed?"

ENGLISH:
This is a question I get a lot, and it's really quite simple. I never wanted to be tied down in any way to actual history, to events one could read about in history books about contemporary Peru. I wanted to reflect the events, without being bogged down in the details. I wanted to change the geography of the city and the country at my whim, and it was all purely a matter of maintaining artistic liberty. Because I knew I was wading into very fraught territory, I wanted to have all my narrative options available without bumping into any roadblocks.

ESPANOL
Esta es una pregunta constante, pero la verdad es que es muy simple. Nunca quise sentirme atado a la historia real, a los hechos reales. Hay buenísimos libros de historia contemporánia del Perú al que cualquier lector se puede referir. Para mi, lo esencial era mantener esa libertad narrativa, quería guardarme el derecho de cambiar la geografía del país o de la ciudad cuando me convenía. Sabía que al escribir sobre el conflicto interno en Perú, me estaba metiendo en algo muy complicado, y necesitaba todas mis opciones narrativas para lograrlo.


Daniel Alarcón | 15 comments Will wrote: "What role do you suppose reading fiction could have on education (both US and Peru)? With greater emphasis on standards and testing, what are we missing?"/ "Cual es el rol de la lectura de ficción en la educación (tanto en USA como en Perú)? Con tanto énfasis en examenes, qué estamos perdiendo?'

ENGLISH:
I've said this before, but of course there's something only a novel can do, a special kind of thinking and feeling and understanding that can only be achieved by communing with a text over a long period of time. It's magical. And it doesn't always happen. And, well, this is obvious, but it doesn't always happen with the books we're made to read in school -- but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be teaching novels. I visit schools all the time, and I used to be a public school teacher, so this is definitely something I feel strongly about. I worry about standardized testing, of course. Is preparing for the SAT ever going to teach you as much about the world as reading Anna Karenina?

ESPANOL:
Lo he dicho antes, pero claro, hay ciertas cosas que solo se logran con una novela. Es algo muy especial, una manera de pensar, de sentir, de comprender que solo se logra cuando uno se acerca a un texto, y convive con él. Es magia, simplemente. Y no siempre sucede. Y -- bueno, quizá sea obvio, pero vale la pena decirlo -- no siempre sucede con las novelas que leemos en el cole. Pero eso no significa que debemos dejar de enseñar las novelas, al contrario. Yo trabajé años como profesor en colegios públicos, y por supuesto que esto es un tema que me toca profundamente. Me preocupan los examenes estandardizados. Preparar para un examen nunca te va enseñar tanto como leer Anna Karenina.


Daniel Alarcón | 15 comments ok, folks, thanks to all of you for your questions. Hope you've enjoyed it. I'm on twitter @DanielGAlarcon and my Spanish language narrative radio project is at http://radioambulante.org

Have a nice weekend!
d


Daniel Alarcón | 15 comments Ok amigos, gracias a todos por las preguntas. Espero que lo disfrutaron.

Estoy en Twitter: @DanielGAlarcon y mi proyecto de radio narrativa en Español está aquí: http://radioambulante.org

que tengan un buen fin de semana
d


Cal | 2 comments You can also find more info about upcoming California Reads events featuring Daniel and other authors--and more about California Reads/Searching for Democracy programming in general--on our website at www.calhum.org.

Thanks Daniel...and happy reading, all!


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