Wednesday, March 23, 2016

An Interview with Author Carlos Allende

Nineteen-year-old Josie García is torn between true love with a down-and-out poet and the monetary stability that only a rich husband can provide. She owes rent—two months—and while her little landlady is docile enough to pretend that she has forgotten about the money, she’s also a self-taught witch, planning to chop Josie’s head off and use it as the main ingredient in a potion to recover her lost youth and become the beautiful woman she never was.
Creepy, campy, and yet incredibly lyrical, Love, or the Witches of Windward Circle is a wildly imaginative tale that spans five decades, connecting the otherworldly occult to the out-of-this-world bohemia of fifties Venice Beach.
To learn more about the book, and how to purchase a copy, please visit this link! The author, Carlos Allende, will be a panelist at the LA Festival of Books on April 10, if you will be attending! And now, an interview with the author himself!
You stated that your characters are not actually gay, but instead, they are an allegory of what it means to grow up gay. How did this idea come to you?

The allegory came up unconsciously. I wanted to write about witches, inspired by the Malleus Maleficarum, a treatise on the prosecution of witches from the 15th Century, and bring it to modern times. I was working in Venice at the time so I ended up bringing the story to Venice in the late 1950s. The two main characters are an old and nameless little woman that dreams of becoming young again, and her chosen victim, Josie García, a 19-year-old that longs to catch a good husband. What both really want is to be loved and accepted. One thinks she only needs to be beautiful to succeed, and the other that being beautiful is all she should need. The nameless little woman suffers through all of her life because she’s different: she’s clumsy and unattractive, and cannot be what she was supposed to be, a beautiful witch like her sisters. 

Thus, she spends her life living in the shadows, growing bitterer and bitterer as the years pass by, just like a closeted gay person. The visit to the Sabbath represents a young man’s first visit to a gay bar. She’s excited, yet terrified about something she sees as utterly corrupted. Josie, on the other hand, is like a young and immature gay man that has accepted his sexuality and is conscious of his own good looks but is confused and damaged because of growing up in a society that rejects his kind. She’s selfish and self-centered, says hurtful things and does not realize that to be accepted one must accept others first. 

How would you describe your novel Love, or the Witches of Windward Circle to someone who does not know you?

Witches and beatniks. A horror farce set in Venice, California, throughout the first half of the 20th Century. It’s a fantasy for those that don’t necessarily like fantasy or horror. The novel is written in two levels: In the superficial one, it’s a campy dark comedy, full of eccentric characters and over-the-top situations. In the deeper one is about the need to belong. The Love in the title is not so much about romantic love, but fraternal love or bonding, the satisfaction that comes from membership to a group.

Are you currently working on anything else that you hope to publish?

Yes: “Coffee, Shopping, Murder, Love” a dark comedy / psychological thriller about a closeted gay Indian bookkeeper that starts killing his coworkers. He and his tormented southern boyfriend embark on a road trip to get rid of the bodies. Natural Born Killers meets Little Miss Sunshine meets John Waters? It is about living in shame, jealousy, envy, white and heterosexual privilege, and again, our need to belong.

What LGBT+ books or authors would you recommend?

Alan Bennett! He’s my favorite author and not because he’s gay but because he’s an incredibly good story-teller. His novels are not action packed but emotion-packed, yet only pleasant and extravagant emotions. Reading his work is like floating in a lazy river that crosses the jungle while you admire the scenery around you: oh, there’s a jaguar, and is that a python snake in that tree? He points to the absurdities of life with elegance, subtle irony, and wit.

Were you afraid that people would reject your characters’ unpleasant features?

I was, but my goal was to make inherently unlikable characters likable, and I didn’t want to chicken out. The little nameless woman becomes a serial murderer and a devil worshipper; Josie says awfully racist and hurtful things. I wanted to play with the readers’ emotions and instead of making them just passive observers of the heroines' journey, make them cringe with their every step but still care for them. Based on the feedback I’ve got so far, I think I succeeded. Most feel sorry for the little woman:  “Despite going out of her way to perform some downright evil deeds the little woman is the character I felt the most for during the course of the book.” (Walker, 2016) And Josie’s immaturity is precisely what makes her human. She represents the prejudice and ignorance that are far too common among young latino women—the novel is too a social critique. Literature is full of heroines that set a good example: they’re brave, passionate, have high moral standards, and always fight for social justice. 

Life is nothing like that! It wasn’t at all the 1950s. Josie is a product of the times she lived. She sets the example of what not to do: She lies, she cheats, she steals, she says mean things intending to hurt, but not because she’s evil, but because she’s immature and jealous. Still, the journey can be a fun one if you can enjoy the twisted sense of humor. Josie’s love rival is Eva, a Polish holocaust survivor. While I was doing research for the novel I learned that many had relocated to Venice in the 1950s, and I was shocked to learn how much rejection they still suffered, even after the horrors of the war had become known by Americans. Josie’s unjustified jealousy and animosity towards Eva exemplifies the absurdity of such rejection. Josie hates Eva not because Eva is Jewish but because she’s jealous of Eva’s good looks, yet Josie chooses to attack Eva based in her ethnicity, while Josie herself is too a victim of racism. The challenge was to make the readers laugh at the irony and still feel for Josie. I purposely chose Jewish editors to see if I had gone too far. They understood the joke.

Find more from the author at the following places:


Lisa Mandina said...

Wow, the author really thought a lot about the allegory and how it would relate to what they were trying to say. It's interesting to hear an author talk that way, because I always wondered if the things they teach in English class about "themes" of stories were really what an author meant. Great interview!

Verushka said...

That cover is completely epic, btw. The author is amazing, and I love learning everything behind this book and how it came to be. His next book sounds amazing too -- I think I might enjoy his sense of humour immensely!