Thursday, February 16, 2012

JAMES CARLOS BLAKE: WHAT GQ FORGOT

James Carlos Blake by Maura Anne Wahl

Certainly you know GQ (aka Gentleman’s Quarterly), that swanky high-dollar magazine that keeps men (and women) strutting their glamorous, stylish selves into the 21st Century. Well, GQ.com published a wonderful interview with James Carlos Blake to celebrate his new book Country of the Bad Wolfes (Cinco Puntos, January). Stayton Bonner of GQ did the honors as interviewer. We are excited that JCB and his novel are getting this kind of attention. But, in comparing the published version with JCB’s original draft, we realized that the editor at GQ slipped some very interesting parts onto the cutting-room floor.

Not to worry. We’ve retrieved them and are publishing them here. James Carlos talks about the habits of the writing life, his reasoning for choosing an independent press like Cinco Puntos for publishing his new novel, being an outsider and a borderlander (aka fronterizo), daydreaming a life on a desert island with the sublime Penelope Cruz, and other interesting tidbits of a fine writer’s imagination.

By the way, the only misstep Mr. Bonner took in the interview is by referring to Cinco Puntos as “a mom-&-pop operation.” Not that he’s wrong. We are “mom-&-pop” and proud of it, as are so many other independent presses in the U.S.—publishing companies that are stirring and heating the brew that is American culture, right alongside our counterparts, the NYC conglomerates.

But “mom-&-pop” is a dismissive adjective that diminishes the importance of what independent presses do.

Sure, we don’t have the financial resources as the Big Boys, but we are nimble in our ability to make decisions, to put a book out quickly and with hands-on accountability at all levels of editing production. Besides, publishing with an independent press can be an intimate process compared with the big houses. Here we collaborate with our authors in publishing his or her book, and we love and care for a book because it’s an important piece of our business, not simply another line item on a accounting form.

And we do very well getting the word out nationally. Country of the Bad Wolfes, in this instance, has received excellent reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, Texas Monthly, Texas Observer, and a variety of dailies. The fervent booklover, reviewer and blogger Robert Birnbaum—aka Our Man in Boston—also did a fine review while giving the New York Times a backhanded slap for not doing the same.

Consortium Book Sales and Distribution—one of the best and most respected in the business—distributes our book to the trade. Our relationship with CBSD gives us the muscle to level the playing field in the marketplace. You can find our books in your bookstores or wherever you buy books and e-books.

Enough said. We are proud to have published James Carlos Blake’s Country of the Bad Wolfes. Enjoy the rest of his GQ interview.


GQ: What's your writing routine?

JCB: I try to get to work no later than 9 AM, but sometimes that most fundamental rule of writing -- Put Your Ass in the Chair -- can be tough to obey. At noon or so I take a break for indoor exercise and then get back to work till around three. Then it's a run, and then it's ale o'clock. At the beginning of every new book, I tell myself I'm not going to work on one day of the week, but I can never fully abstain.

GQ: Favorite drink?

JCB: I'm an ale and beer man with a preference for Fat Tire and Sam Adams Boston Lager but will never turn down a Margarita (rocks, salt).

GQ: In your L.A. Times essay “The Outsider”, you write that you’ve always felt like an outsider. Why?

JCB: I don't really know. It isn't simply a matter of growing up in one culture and learning a certain language and then having to switch to another culture and language. There are countless people of that general description and experience who, so far as I can tell, don't feel at all like outsiders. One's own nature probably has as much to do with the effect of such a transformation as anything else. And of course some people who have never been twenty miles from home can feel like outsiders. For a fact, though, I've never felt as much at home anywhere else as I felt when I was a grade school kid in Brownsville. When I was moving easily between two cultures and was fluent in two languages. It's as though my only sense of belonging came from not belonging to solely one group. Maybe a lot of borderlanders feel that way, I don't know.

GQ: Your fictional violence is rooted in a historic remote time—a time when mannered cultural order still persisted despite man’s perhaps innate violence. Now, with Internet and loss of community, it seems the 21st century is without a moral compass. How do you think the current culture affects/shapes violence?

JCB: One might argue that today's consensual "moral compass" is called "political correctness," which is so sure of its correctness that it has no compunction about punishing all forms of speech or ideas that don't adhere to its own. It's the sort of moral compass that has pointed the way to such things as speech codes on campus. One might also argue that the internet itself has become a kind of "community" that dwarfs all others, and that in many ways it has become one more tool for the promotion of violent action. All this reminds me of something a young woman said to me about youth gangs today fighting over mostly "imaginary turf." It took me a while to understand how very perceptive that is.

GQ: Your work seems well suited for the screen. Have you ever thought about writing a screenplay or collaborating in that medium?

JCB: I have. May soon act on that thought.

GQ: Spend much time in Hollywood?

JCB: No. But I've enjoyed the brief visits I've made there.

GQ: If you were stuck on a desert island with one musical album, what would it be?

Penelope Cruz listening to Bach's The Art of the Fugue
JCB: The Art of the Fugue, by the great J. S. Bach, arranged for string quartet and performed by the Emerson String Quartet. And delivered to me by the sublime Penelope Cruz, who would no doubt be enchanted beyond utterance by a handsome older man with superior musical taste and a deep understanding of her Spanish soul -- and would immediately send word to Javier that "Como dicen los gringos, tu y yo somos historia."


GQ: What is the best western movie ever made?

JCB: "The Wild Bunch" or "Unforgiven." Ask me tomorrow and I'll give you a different answer.

GQ: Your last books were published by Harper Collins. For Country of the Bad Wolfes, you went with Cinco Puntos Press—a mom-and-pop operation in El Paso. Why?

JCB: At the time that I was finishing Country of the Bad Wolfes, word was that the NY Houses were shying from large historical novels, and that those they were publishing were not going to get much priority. My agent tested the waters and said it was so, and when I heard that the estimable John Sayles was having trouble selling his big new historical (I think he finally placed with Dave Eggers' little press), I figured the thing to do was try a small house that might give Bad Wolfes the sort of attention and care a NY publisher was unlikely to. It so happened that Cinco Puntos had recently queried me to see if I might be interested in reissuing my first two novels, which had gone out of print, and so I tried them first. They loved the manuscript and that was that. They're a very savvy bunch with more than 25 years of experience, and I'm very pleased with what they've done with the book. Any writer out there who's thinking he might prefer to try his luck with an independent house than with one of the bigs might do well to query Cinco Puntos.

GQ: What do you do for fun?

JCB: I like the outdoors. I'm a runner, a biker. I miss swimming in the Florida seas. I cook. I'm ever enlarging my classical music library. We have a bunch of cats, and as the Japanese say, a house with cats needs no artwork.

GQ: What author or book made you want to become a writer?

JCB: From Here to Eternity, by James Jones, and Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck.

GQ: Who’s your pick for the Super Bowl?

JCB: Brady and Company, in a walk...

[Note to James Carlos: You should have talked to me before making your pick! bb]

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