Tex-Mex Mythos: Traci Interviews Fernando A. Flores

This Sunday afternoon I nestled in with a cup of coffee, my own mechanical typewriter resting quietly nearby, and hopped on a call with Fernando A. Flores, author of Tears of the Trufflepig, a novel birthed from the keys of an Olivetti Underwood Lettera 32 in Austin, Tx. Hammered out in a four month fever dream, Flores wrote Trufflepig in late 2014, but his mythical depiction of the Texas-Mexican border is filled with details and insight that read like prophecy.

Mexican born, South Texas raised, Fernando A. Flores writes pure, psychedelic mythos, served on a Tex-Mex platter. His debut novel Tears of the Trufflepig unfolds along a near-future border town. We follow protagonist Esteban Bellacosa whose quiet life is turned on its head when he meets a wiley young journalist who invites him to an illegal underground dinner serving up the new contraband-- “filtered” animals. It is at this dinner that Bellacosa encounters the mythological Trufflepig and is pulled deeper and deeper into the psychedelic and surreal.

I dial the number and after a few rings, Flores answers the phone warmly. He is tired. He just got back from a tour stop in Chicago, but he is as open and humble as they come. I am a ball of energy bouncing at a wooden desk, having devoured his novel like a plate of chilaquiles, the pages still stuck in my teeth. Before I dive into the main dish, I bring up the appetizer.

Traci Lavois Thiebaud: You have a short story collection that predates this novel, Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas. And Tears of the Trufflepig is accompanied by a nine song Spotify playlist. So I have to ask-- were you in a band?

Fernando A. Flores: I haven’t really been in bands, but small musical experiments here and there. I am, however, the product of several music scenes, from South, and Central Texas, so these musical connections come up perhaps largely influenced by that.

T: I love that you invite the audience into this multi-media experience of your novel with the playlist. It’s quite theatrical-- like you are scoring the story.

F: Thank you, it was an opportunity offered to me by my editor, to put together this playlist. Writing this project was very much an experience influenced largely by some of these songs, they offered me the mood I was trying to access during the progression of the story.

T: And the audio book is great.

F: Yes, thank you, I’m so lucky my friend, the actor Raúl Castillo was able to do it. He’s from South Texas, and really captured the flavor of the language and the characters in the book. It’s incredible what he did with it, I’m astonished at his every delivery. It’s wild that an audiobook is pretty much just somebody performing the entire book.

T: I’ve read up a bit on your process of working on this novel-- that you wrote the entire story in a few months on a mechanical typewriter, how you really seemed to let the story become what it wanted to be, that you listened more than you dictated. In the novel you say this about Paco Herbert, a journalist investigating these illegal “filtered” animal dinners along the border, “Paco Herbert felt like he was on to a big story now, not quite waving his hat in the air as he rode on the wild beast of it, but almost.” Is this how you felt when writing this story?

F: Yes, perhaps, you know, one of the things I really appreciate about writing on a typewriter is how physical the entire thing is, feels like a production getting everything going. Before I begin writing, there’s this little screwdriver I have to bust out, because there’s a little screw that likes to loosen up now and then, and I have to make sure the ink spools aren’t getting loose either, so nothing gets in the way of the rhythm when I get moving forward. I’m sure perhaps the process itself seeps into the stories we tell now and then.

T: Yeah you’re bent over this little machine, hammering out the story. It’s very performative and active--the story moves through you physically as you create it. Speaking of theatrics I would love to see your work on a stage or screen.

F: Haha Thank you.

I am interested in the performative process of storytelling and structure. I’m still experimenting with this. I’m working on new writing now and sometimes I just stand over my typewriter and just get a whole paragraph out this way-- it can’t be good for my posture-- but I’m always trying to do something slightly different in the process, I can’t write stories the same way every time. And I think with Tears of the Trufflepig, this story wouldn’t have the same energy if it was written any other way. And I hope that the energy I felt generating while writing it comes through when reading it.

T: It absolutely does. I love that notion. That the way in which a piece of art or a story is made, that process somehow imbues the finished product with a particular essence. It’s a very romantic idea. But I also think there’s a lot of validity to it.

F: To be honest, the romantic notions of writing on a typewriter are sort of gone for me. I’ve been doing it since 2004/05, so this is just the process, how I get anything done.

You know I would love to see this kind of art/thought experiment-- even though it’s probably impossible-- but it would be amazing to have three writers write the exact same story, but one of them would handwrite it, one of them would use a typewriter, and the other would use a computer. And see if you can feel the energy of each story, and analyze the ways in which they’re all different.  

I’m still experimenting with the process.

T: Your hero, Bellacosa comes alive as he is pulled further into this story. Through the wild journey of the Trufflepig he is able to process his grief-- for the loss of his wife and daughter, his estranged brother, while at the same time, acknowledging and grieving the decline of humanity. Can you talk to me a bit about this.

F: One of my original intentions was to write a story that would be more like a giant puzzle, one like a painting you could mount and hang on a wall. By the end all the little pieces, characters, scenes, will come together to form this painting, almost like one by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, while also dealing with issues of grief, dreams, and the subconscious.  

T: I really love the idea of this story as a painting-- filled with rich details you can only see up close, and the bizarre, broader picture that comes together when you step back. It’s hard not to notice how politics color the landscape of this “painting.”

F: Yes, everything political in the book was unavoidable, yet I didn’t approach any of it intentionally. To write about the border any other way would have been a lie, however, even then, it was written in late 2014.

T: You have a line that punched me in the gut and split my heart wide open, “I am a Mexican, Bellacosa thought. Which means I am only human, and I’ve had enough.”

F: Thank you.

T: I should mention that I love Bellacosa’s connection and reverence for the women in the book. Your work really seems to honor the insight of women in particular. Ximena is this sagely, old world seer of sorts. She has this incredible earthy wisdom and is a bit of a spiritual mentor for Bellacosa. And you have Colleen Rae who for one is a punk rock badass, but she also has some of the most insightful dialogue on humanity, reality, and the state of existence in the entire novel. Can you talk to me about how women have influenced you as a writer and how this affects the way you portray these characters in your work-- as almost the wisest and most tuned in?

F: Thank you, you know, writing this book was very taxing on me emotionally, because I was dealing with a world that had been destroyed by the corruption of men. And while the men are busy dealing with this world they have destroyed, the women are building a new world from right under them. Secondary characters are never that to me, they always have lives of their own that have little or nothing to do with our protagonists, so the women here are very central to the story and hold it all together.

T: The young woman at the dinner party with the Trufflepig-- she calls the Trufflepig a “she.”

So even this mythological symbol, guiding Bellacosa on this journey is a feminine entity.

F: It’s impossible, for me, to be a writer from Texas without being really affected by the femicide in and around Ciudad Juarez, and the violence against women that escalated with the war on drugs. Bellacosa is somebody who suffered great losses, lost his daughter and his wife, so a character who had lost the feminine figures in his life along the border was the necessary protagonist. And, you’re right, he is guided by feminine figures throughout the narrative, I hadn’t paid too much attention to that.

T: Yeah and it’s almost as though the memories of Bellacosa’s daughter and wife act as guides on his journey too.

F: Definitely.

T: You’ve created this wonderful psychedelic mythos around the Trufflepig which you describe at one point in the novel as a “Tex-mex platypus.” The story is both deeply surreal while also deeply cultural. Can you talk about this.

F: I was very drawn to the idea of a project where it’s history, mythology, and cultures were entirely fictitious from the ground up, while remaining as close to my world as possible. I wanted to try to access these unwritten stories that have existed untold and in silence along the border, to push my abilities as a writer, and to have some kind of dialogue with what we call art and literature.

T: Well you’ve done that. You’ve absolutely done that. You’ve created a Tex-Mex mythos with Bellacosa and the Trufflepig. How did you create this incredible creature?

F: I became interested in these creatures that exist only in our imagination, the most popular example being a dragon. How a dragon is a creature our imagination conflated out of a lion, serpent, and an eagle, and I became interested in a creature that would represent all creatures and life along the border. But the Trufflepig was the one to come to me, almost like it wanted to be discovered. It was finally ready to be written about. I am forever grateful it chose me.

T: Have you tried to draw the Trufflepig, even just for yourself?

F: No. It was very important for me that the Trufflepig not be drawn or represented on the cover or any publicity material for the book. I like the idea of the Trufflepig emerging from the public imagination as organically as possible. I remembered, also, the story of when the Metamorphosis was going to be printed and Kafka didn’t want the insect, or cockroach, drawn anywhere in the book, and I took the same approach.

T: Well you know people are going to begin drawing the Trufflepig now. They’re absolutely going to. Are you curious to see those renderings?

F: It would be amazing to see people’s renditions of what the Trufflepig looks like. I’d lose my mind if I ever saw one.

Fernando A. Flores will be in-store Friday, May 24th at 7pm for a reading and book signing.

You can find out more about Fernando (or send him your own Trufflepig drawing) on his website here, or follow him on social media: @f.a.flores


Staff Pick Badge
Tears of the Trufflepig: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374538330
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: MCD x FSG Originals - May 14th, 2019

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