Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Manuel Gonzales at an event thrown by his publisher, Riverhead. Manuel was in town from Austin to promote his buzzy debut collection, The Miniature Wife. Manuel’s surrealist short stories range in subject from a composer who talks through his ears to a man who accidentally shrinks his wife. Many have raved about Manuel’s work, though the coolest praise may be from the NYT, who called the tales: “Delightful freakishness.”
Manuel had some great stories to share in person, so I knew I had to BookStalk him immediately. Click on the jump for some tales about Manuel’s most memorable reading, the question he always gets asked, and the most unforgettable event he’s attended.
- What’s one of the most memorable readings you’ve given and why?
The most memorable reading I’ve given happened recently in Greenpoint, at WORD Bookstore. It was memorable because it involved a lot of old friends of mine — who I’d known since before I decided to become a writer and who I’d known since going to graduate school to learn what to do as a writer — and it felt, even though I’d not lived in New York for nine, almost ten years, like a homecoming of sorts. And so regardless of how the night went, it was already primed to be one of the more memorable.
But then, on top of all of that, my friend Emily Raw, a photographer in New York and my accomplice in (and actually the brains behind) the Tumblr, whatstheworth.com, is good friends with the crew at WORD. They together crafted a scheme that would highlight not just the book and myself but the Tumblr as well. For a year, Emily has sent me photographs, three a week, and I’m free to choose one or more, and then write a short story around whichever I choose. It’s been a fun game and a great exercise and has allowed me to tap into reserves of creative energy that do not get tapped into often enough. Emily is a photographer and also an artist. For the event, she designed a multi-media video and crafted set decorations out of paper, including a paper skull, and it looked so beautiful and special and not at all like a typical reading event that it was even more memorable.
But then, on top of all of that, one of the photographs I wrote a story to was of an actual musician, Ellia Bisker, who then wrote a song based on the story I’d written based on the photo of her. (There’s even more to that, but it gets confusing and is more eloquently explained here.) She came out as well, with her ukelele and a bandmate, and she played two songs, including the one she wrote based on the story I wrote, all before I even stepped up to the podium.
And so even if I read horribly, even if no one liked what I read, it would be okay because we’d already provided visual and musical entertainment. That’s often my fear when reading, that there’s so little else going on but the reading that even a good reading might feel thin because there’s nothing else to it. WORD even provided Peter Pan donuts, which is standard issue for them. Emily’s husband, a musician and good friend of mine, Bryan Dunn, baked a Mexican Chocolate pie based on my recipe, which I wrote about and published a couple of years before in the anthology, Man with a Pan.
And on top of all of that, Rosie Schaap, whose book, Drinking With Men, came out only a couple of weeks after my own, had created a drink for me based on the book, which she called “Perpetual Oil” and which we served and served and served all night long. Really, it was a fantastic night, and would have been so even if I hadn’t been reading, or if I read and flummoxed the whole thing, which I didn’t, but even if I had, who would have cared, what with the art and the music and the drink and the pies?
- Any particularly intriguing (or conversely, awkward) audience questions that have stuck with you?
A lot of times people have asked where a particular story has come from, what inspired it — the stories themselves are somewhat dark and strange, bringing mystical or horrific things into otherwise ordinary lives — and it’s a little awkward for me, this question, because I feel my answers can seem rather banal when compared to the stories themselves. Also, I think about it in terms of how I’d answer a creative writing student, and so my first impulse is to give a very craft-specific answer — I got the idea for story x because of y and then did these things to the idea to make it work. But I don’t think that’s what audiences are necessarily interested in hearing when they ask the question.
Whatever inspired you to write a story about a unicorn and how it upends the relationship between two old friends should be as compelling as the story itself, except the initial idea or what gave you the initial idea is rarely as interesting as the end result, or so you’d hope. Along these same lines, one woman, a neighbor of my parents, who saw me read in Plano, did ask me which drugs I happened to be using when writing these stories, only half-jokingly, I think. And again, sadly (because it’s so dull), the answer to that is: none.
- What’s a reading that you’ve attended that you’ll never forget?
A year ago, in Austin, the Austin Public Library and Austin Bat Cave and another, now closed, writing center, Badgerdog, pulled together a group of writers for the New Fiction Confab, a two-day affair. The last event of the weekend featured readings from Peter Orner, Ben Marcus, Heidi Julavits, and Walter Kirn, all of whom read and did so quite well. But what I remember most from that was the interaction between them after they’d finished reading — they read one after the other and then sat to answer questions.
The moderator asked a few questions but he didn’t have to ask very many for the four of them to start long, interesting discussions about fiction, the direction of fiction in an ever-more digitized industry, the ever-expanding possibilities of the form, the fears and frustrations and heartaches and surprises and successes of their own careers. They are all smart and fabulously well-read writers, each with his or her own style, and, again, this exchange between them made the reading feel like something more than just work read by its author.