December 23, 2015

Interview with Julia Ortega

This is the time of Desde Londres con glamour bilogy author Julia Ortega (Barcelona, 1971). She has thoroughly answered questions dealing with a variety of topics such as feminism, homophobia, current affairs, science fiction, the importance of music in creation or—Prince Charming! Wish the reader will be pleased with her amusing, unusual, somehow controversial, non-filtered pouring speech.

SPANISH GAY FICTION: How important is Desde Londres con glamour bilogy for you in your work up to date?

JULIA ORTEGA: This marks a milestone in my career. Caprichos del destino (the 1st part) came after a seven-year hiatus, and from the very beginning this was a very personal, intimate, almost necessary project in an emotional viewpoint. This has been an awesome project for me.

SGF: Did you conceive the project as a bilogy since the beginning, or the second part came later?

JO: Caprichos del destino was supposed to be a stand-alone novel at first. But several readers went enthusiastic about Gillian, and that encouraged me to dive deep into her story. I also was sure that I wanted to produce a situation comedy to balance all the dramatic content of Caprichos del destino—I anticipate that this is a total weeper—. Since 2014 I seriously started to think of this pair of novels as a whole, but it has not been too long since I have finally understood the concept as a bilogy and given a special, exclusive name to it: Desde Londres con glamour.

SGF: Although there are also male characters, in both novels women have the power. Both Judith and Debbie are the ones who call the shots in their corresponding relationships with Josh, as a sort of matriarchal society; the same happens with Saffron’s and Sam’s mothers. Would you say that this depiction has been a way to highlight the power of women currently, or the power that you would want women to hold in the future? Is it a reflection of what you have experienced in your family environment?

JO: Right now I openly say that I am an ardent feminist—in the best sense of the term, okay? Some people are not clear about this thing called feminism—. But the women in my fiction do usually have a strong personality and rule over men. Not old-fashioned men, but those who do not feel superior and treat women as equals (unlike my grandmother’s days).
Regarding my family environment, it is just the opposite. I belong to a family of very submissive, male chauvinist women. I want no thing alike at all in my novels—at least in those set in the 21st century. Entirely different when historical fiction is concerned, where women act submissively in accordance with old times’ fashion. But in Desde Londres con glamour I look to the future; this is futurist, though not in a dystopian, sci-fi way. I am an incurable optimist, and I am certain that future will bring great achievements to women. We have already reaped great success for long, but this is just the beginning. We have a long way ahead, and it is very important that women must fight together.

SGF: Women are so predominant (and men are so small) in both novels—no wonder several lesbian relationships occur throughout their pages. Apart from real-life psychological explanations, can it be seen as a literary symbol of the lack of men at the height of these women, as if love between women could be their only understanding comfort?

JO: This does not arise from feminist thoughts or inquisitiveness. Caprichos del destino is certainly based on true facts, and that lesbian triangle did happen time ago. From that point on I have written a story of women for women, though, curiously enough, men like it more than initially imagined. I see it as a very positive attitude, telling the evolution from the macho values towards a new behavior, more tolerant and appropriate to the century we live in now. Yes, it really could be said that my babes do not find men who make the grade—at least intellectually and emotionally. In the case of Judith, Josh is a trophy husband that she can socially boast about; actually, he is a weak alcoholic man whose weakness too much highlights the strength of the leading lady in Caprichos del destino. Regarding Gill and Alex—especially Gill—, I could really say that this is a sheltering love—But I will not say a word.

SGF: The heterosexual male type is anyhow redeemed in Sam, who is a kind of sensitive, understanding straight boyfriend, with a pinch of enthusiastic madness. Did you create Sam with your own personal idea of the perfect boyfriend type in mind?

JO: [Laughs.] Yes, probably when I was a child (like every little girl), I have dreamed of my incredibly idealized Prince Charming; that knight in shining armor, holding firmly his lethal sword, who rescues the maiden from the usual evil villain’s clutches so as to live in eternal love with her. Sam really is that knight, though adapted to the 21st century circumstances. He is a modern, urban knight; a bit nuts and too absent-minded. But he makes himself loveable—Or that is what some female readers have claimed.

SGF: Although there are women who love other women in your bilogy, you also describe inflamed detestations. I refer to Michelle’s towards Judith in Caprichos del destino, or Olimpia’s towards Gillian in Nuestro lugar en el mundo. Would you say that your novels support the old saying that women are their own worst enemies? To what extent do you agree with this statement in real life, beyond fiction?

JO: Absolutely, you have hit the nail on the head. There is something you can call hate, and in both cases you can talk about the binary jealousy/fear. Both women are exaggeratedly possessive, and dreadfully scared of losing what they do not own, but mainly they are afraid of being on the shelf, as my grandmother used to say. Yes, as I said before women must stay together since there is still a long thorny way ahead. Women facing women, either straight or gay, do feminism a disservice. Though this may sound quite old-fashioned, quite suffragette, I am sorry to say that just a few things have really changed since 1915 up to 2015, and you only need to see the news to realize that, like it or not, women and men still do not compete on equal terms. In my personal viewpoint, I only say that we all are humans, we all have passions and impulses, and from that undeniable fact on, everything is possible.

SGF: From the whole list of characters, which is the one you can call Julia Ortega’s alter ego?

JO: Judith, period.[1] People who know me well see me behind this character. Anyway, Judith and I do not always go hand in hand, or share the same opinions, or react the same way under the same circumstances. Because there is a time (I will not go into detail) when Judith separates from any preconceived notion at all and goes it alone. Judith is bigger than life: indomitable, rebellious—a free, wild Amazon.

SGF: Is there any character which is not necessarily similar to you, but you would like to be akin to?

JO: They have asked me this question before [Laughs.], but I will answer the same, no matter how many years go by: Alex. Alex. Alex. It is not only that she is red-haired, or turquoise-eyed, which is something that I go crazy for; it is almost everything—Anyway, Alex is a totally invented character, and that may be why I have endowed her with all those divine and human features that I have always missed in me. Buy I do not think that I am the only author who does this sort of things, so I do not regret or find pleasant that this could be held against me.

SGF: In your bilogy you quote pop song lyrics, both Spanish and international. How important is music for Julia Ortega when writing? They all are sung by female artists—

JO: Inevitable. Music is everything to me. I am incredibly sensitive to music; I do not think I could live without music for more than a day, I mean it! As Caprichos del destino is concerned, every life has their music score, and that is, of course, Judith’s case. And in Nuestro lugar en el mundo music puts Saffron’s life in motion; she lives and breathes for and because of music. She can sacrifice everything except her singing career. And if she had to give up music and public life as an artist, she would never stop singing in the shower. There are some male singers amongst my favorites, but it is undeniable that women win by an overwhelmingly wide margin when I am creating a playlist for any of my novels.

SGF: Your bilogy is set in the future, but it is clear that you rejected the idea of depicting a world full of inventive devices and fabrications since the very beginning. Was it a response to this tendency to romanticize about the coming future beyond any realistic boundary, so usual in futuristic fiction? What is your opinion about this genre?

JO: The truth is that I feel that they took the 60’s and 70’s younger generations for a ride through sci-fi movies, and then we all became disillusioned when 2001 (the space odyssey year) came and nothing happened. At least nothing that took place in the outer space and concerned each and every one of us. Well, I had my own 2001 odyssey, but it had nothing to do with space, and I did not leave the planet Earth or even my place. And the same happens with New Yorkers after 9/11. Disasters? Yes, but they are all earthly and human. Also I openly admit my lack of imagination to create this kind of dystopian societies like The Hunger Games (by the way, I do love it!). Anyway, the future that I have created for that particular universe in which my babes live in is for the next 25 years more or less; I honestly do not believe that a post-apocalyptic society or civilization could take place in so little time.

SGF: To continue with the future topic, you present Catalonia as totally emancipated from Spain. The characters are too critical of this independence. What is your opinion about this issue now that this is breaking news in any Spanish TV bulletin?

JO: Jeez!!! I am talking about this on September, 27.[2] I wrote that part relating to a hypothetical independent Catalonia at the beginning of 2014; it should be February more or less, and you could perfectly see that a commotion would take place, though nobody knew (and nobody still knows, actually) how it is going to end. I do not think that Ruth, who lives and works in California nine or ten months a year, is worried; and the same happens with Gillian, who visits Barcelona as a tourist and does not give a damn whether Catalonia is independent—unless this would be somewhat detrimental to her. Judith might have been more controversial about this, but by then she had already assimilated London lifestyle, and whatever happened to the Spanish or the Catalonian—she found it irrelevant.

SGF: According to your novels, in two decades’ time homophobia will be still present in the Western world. Do you think that this tendency is so difficult to eradicate?

JO: My grandmother used to say: “Te mastico pero no te trago.”[3]  That is to say: people are beginning to tolerate homosexuality, but they are light years away from accepting it naturally. Great achievements have been made on paper, and we all are used to applaud when celebrities come out, but this is just for show. When in small groups, with family, at home, with reliable friends—then people openly speak their mind and admit they do not like gay people, as they feel that gays are disgusting or unnatural—. I can even state that I still experience it myself today. We are still far away from a total tolerance, and I am not sure up to what point gay pride marches or any other flamboyant mass celebrations of the same kind may help the cause—

SGF: Judith Ordóñez is killed by an Islamic terrorist group. You describe Judith as an outspoken feminist. Do you think Islamism is nowadays a menace to all the rights that women have achieved after centuries of struggle in the Western society, and then a menace to the Western culture in general?

JO: Radicalism is shocking. So is fanaticism. Judith struggles against fanaticism. And it is a fact that now in the 21st century, religious fanaticism comes from the Middle East. I am sure that people will say that Christian fanaticism does also exist. And I do not question it; Protestantism, especially in the USA, can reach a high level of fanaticism, actually. I mean what I say: I have lived among them for seven years and I know well their weak points. However, I am much more worried about Islamic fanaticism, since it is absolutely unfavorable towards women. Furthermore, the LGBT community is also enduring their homophobic attacks. I know that they will always defend themselves, claiming that this is not true, that we the Western people are manipulating reality to show them as the bad guys. I will not enter into debates—this would be a never-ending interview otherwise. I only say that the facts that I was describing in 2009 have unfortunately become much more prophetic than I would have expected.[4]

SGF: I admit to have a soft spot for villains in fiction since ever. According to this, you can well understand that my favorite character is Michelle. I enjoyed her depiction as a twisted, hopelessly mean bitch so much that I missed her in Nuestro lugar en el mundo. In fact, you played with the presence of Bárbara here—and then you never tell what happened to her. Why did you get rid of these characters so easily in the second part, when they had been so significant in Caprichos del destino?

JO: I confess that I am more into villains than heroes. They are more human, less self-righteous, more believable and quite much appealing. You may be missing Michelle in Nuestro lugar en el mundo, but you should be OK with me when I say that, once Judith is dead, the presence of Michelle cannot be justified at all. So I had to come up with another bad girl, and then Olimpia was born. Saffron’s mother could have played a much more important role, though I decided to leave the Gone with the Wind theme as a mere funny remark, without further ado.
Regarding Bárbara, she could have been more prominent in the second part—But we are back into the same thing; neither Judith, nor Michelle, nor Bárbara have any business in Nuestro lugar en el mundo, mostly because they are not together anymore. I felt that adding Bárbara in the plot could mess it up, therefore I decided that this character was not worth it.

SGF: In Caprichos del destino you defend two awarded Spanish female authors. On one hand, Lucía Etxebarria and the reference to her Nadal Prize for Beatriz y los cuerpos celestes (“Beatriz and the Heavenly Bodies”); on the other hand, Maria de la Pau Janer and her Planeta Prize-winning novel Pasiones romanas (“Roman Passions”),[5] on which critics were really harsh. Why did you want to sing their praises? Was it just a literature issue, or is there anything else behind? Do you think these authors are/have been injured more than they deserved?

JO: I liked Lucía much more when I was younger, and I just wanted—needed—to mirror an author’s manners. I read Pasiones romanas in 2007, and I loved it; when I heard that this book had received so much negative criticism, it really shocked me. And as I was intensely working on the novel by then, I decided to make a mention. But this is just another mention, another anecdote. Caprichos del destino is a novel knitted on old remnants from the storehouse of memory. This is nothing but a simple literature remark, as well as Judith’s criticism, since she is an over judgemental woman.

SGF: Have you thought about what is going to happen in the life of little Maerwyn? She represents the future of woman—

JO: Do not even mention it. At the present time, I flatly refuse to write a trilogy. Believe me, I have more than ten projects waiting for the go-ahead; I imagine that any story may get sequels or spin-offs if the author is determined and readers are longing for. But I really mean that I have too many projects to be held up embroiling a thing that looks good just the way it is now. I actually have fantasized about it, that is true; but this is just fantasy, a dream. “Que toda la vida es sueño / y los sueños, sueños son,”[6] as Calderón said.

SGF: What are you working on now? What are your next steps?

JO: Now I am involved in several things, and I do not know pretty well which one must go first: a historical saga, another new adult saga, a love triangle drama (I am really keen on these issues, as you can see), a couple of weepers with a touch of historical facts—So much to do, so little time. Horreur!!!!

[1] Julia Ortega / Judith Ordóñez. Note they both share same initials. This way, the author makes obvious this affective connection to her creation.
[2] This day pro-independence parties won the regional elections in Catalonia, and this administration consequently organized a popular vote on November 9, in which people expressed whether they wanted to break away from the Spanish nation. This referendum has not been considered legal, and ongoing political and judicial proceedings on this matter are being carried out at present.
[3] The more or less literal translation would be: I chew but cannot swallow you. It is used to express you can hardly get on with someone but never be friends with. I do not know any equivalent expression in English. Perhaps cannot stomach something or somebody, but this expression sounds to me a bit more categorical than the Spanish one.
[4] Even more, as this interview was made months before the terrorist attacks in Paris last November. In addition to the Catalonian independence issue abovementioned, Ortega’s novels have undoubtedly achieved a trending dimension.
[5] Nadal and Planeta literary awards are extremely popular in Spain, so their presence in mass media is nationwide. Some of the most outstanding Spanish (and Latin American) authors have won these awards. Regarding the Planeta, two Nobel Prize-winning authors (Camilo José Cela and Mario Vargas Llosa) are on the list of past winners.
Etxebarria’s novel is about the story of love/friendship between two teen girls and its progression over time, somehow similar to Ortega’s creations Alex and Gill’s. I still have not read Pasiones romanas, but according to several references, this is also a romance novel dealing with non corresponding love stories—a predominant topic in Ortega’s bilogy.
[6] Since one’s whole life is a dream, / and dreams are dreams themselves. Well-remembered last lines in Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s play Life is a Dream (Original title: La vida es sueño); a total classic from the Spanish Golden Age literature.

December 16, 2015

Babes’ New World

On Julia Ortega’s bilogy Desde Londres con glamour (“From London with Glamour”):
vCaprichos del destino (“Whims of Fate”), and
v Nuestro lugar en el mundo (“Our Place in the World”)

Sorry so much for the dreamiest, most expectant fans of futurology, but in the not too distant tomorrow (two decades’ time) our planet will definitely not be chock-full of flying cars or any other puzzling, astonishing pieces of junk—At least that is what Julia Ortega puts forward in her recently released couple of novels: a world where people is still texting via WhatsApp through iPhones (Apple Inc. staff may easily relax: their business has a long life ahead); there is also a craze for the same current trendy clothing labels; in political terms, the Western world is still enduring Islamic terrorist attacks, and Israel is the same battleground as we all know it—there is only a significant political change: in Spain, the territory of Catalonia has finally gotten independence. But this is just the background of what the author wants to tell—

In her bilogy, Julia Ortega portrays an unconventional family saga in which women rule at best. Judith Ordóñez, the most rebellious of them all (the most individualistic as well), will face the risky, horrifying effects of free speech firsthand. Judith is a Spanish writer/journalist who settles in London due to the whims of fate. She leaves behind the grievous memories of an impossible love story with another woman, malleable Bárbara, who eventually marries a girlfriend of Judith’s, Michelle. In Caprichos del destino we find out that Michelle’s motives for this marriage are so sick and twisted that she embodies a striking combination between Amanda Woodward and Dr. Kimberly Shaw. That is to say, she is a total soap opera bitch.

In contrast to Judith, her daughter Gillian is a much smoother character, far away from the roar of wars and conflicts. Even her girlfriend and then stepsister Alex(andra) tends to be more spirited than her.

Despite what the first lines of Caprichos del destino may suggest, the truth is that this is not an overt political manifesto. The powerful voice of Judith, role model of feminist, self-sufficient, politically committed, self-made woman, will be silenced all of a sudden, and a dark menacing shadow hovers over the rest of the characters, particularly Gillian. Anyway, this situation will not be the main point in Ortega’s narration; she seems to be more interested in the sentimental side of the story. Thus, in Nuestro lugar en el mundo she focuses on the troublesome romance between Alex and Gillian.

First pally-wally schoolmates, later teen lovers—Alex and Gillian make the perfect lesbian match, getting through hard circumstances, such as family opposition (Josh, Gillian’s alcoholic, former budding film star father, disagrees in the most aggressive way), or the awkward situation of becoming stepsisters when Josh marries Alex’s mother—However, Alex and Gillian’s affective ties are quite weaker than imagined: Alex goes to New York for a wonderful job opportunity, and this forced separation opens this so-happy-so-far couple’s eyes to new horizons—

On one hand, Gillian feels tempted by Sam—a male colleague teacher engaged to Olimpia, a bossy hag—, who falls for her the very first moment that he looks at Gill in her astonishing Prada costume. On the other hand, Alex wins the heart of Saffron Adams, an American pop star whose sexual identity has never been revealed to the public—not even to her scary, conservative mother, who suspiciously resembles any of those arrogant Belles of the South fanning themselves proudly (how else?) in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Out of sight, out of mind—so Sam and Gill unexpectedly get pregnant, while Alex experiences a little hell in her life because of Saffron’s bad-influence friends—though happily recovers from an almost fatal overdose in the end.

Despite disregard, treachery, and deception, Alex and Gill finally make peace, and Alex expresses her wish to see Sam and Gill’s daughter Maerwyn grow up. After all, she is the baby’s auntie.

And if you are missing the ineludible presence in any proper chick lit piece (i.e., the heroine’s gay friend)—then let me introduce Saffron’s friends Eric and Rowan; as charming as pleasant, with a pinch of superficiality, they accurately personify the stereotypical gay couple who is there in the bad times to comfort.

As narrative style is concerned, Ortega’s speech is interestingly delivered: in each chapter, one of the characters tells the story from their viewpoint. This device is especially hilarious when it is Gill’s turn; her debates with her own conscience are foolishly insane.

Feminism, lesbianism, committed literature, politics, family troubles, romance, sex, alcoholism, notoriety, drug abuse, assault, pregnancy, terrorism, situation comedy, soapy plots—each and every single issue, significant or small talk, is present in this funny mixed-up two-volume patchwork set in a future where the woman is the boss—and all the men are merely supporting players.

November 16, 2015

The Girlfriendless Dream-Boy Mystery

On Andreu Martín and Jaume Ribera’s El diario rojo de Flanagan (“Flanagan’s Red Notebook”)

In 1987 a new hero showed up in the world of Spanish young-adult fiction: Juan Anguera, commonly known by his nickname, Flanagan. A high-school amateur detective, his investigations usually start in his own school or in his working class neighborhood in Barcelona, and then lead the way to actual hardboiled adventures. Despite his youth, Flanagan stoically endures punches and beatings from the typical sour-faced villains, as well as he lives impossible romances in a series of hugely entertaining mystery books.

However, in 2004 Martín and Ribera got their creation embarked on a quest for something different; El diario rojo de Flanagan means quite a personal, intimate adventure for our teen sleuth. After a misunderstanding with Carlota, a young girl whose wallet Flanagan gets recovered in an attempted robbery in the subway, they both will experience a feverish infatuation (like dogs in heat, if I may say so), taking them to explore the always fascinating territory of sex.

Hope the reader is not now thinking of the novel as an erotic book—The approach by these two brainy, thoughtful teenagers will be done from the researcher’s perspective. They purchase a red notebook each[1] where they will take down anything related to the world of sexuality: statistical data (such as teen pregnancy annual rate), explanations on sexual organs functions, mixed feelings experienced by adolescents in their first sexual intercourse. . .Nonetheless, this is not all a cold chain of listed data; as I have previously noted in my canine & meteorological expression, Flanagan and Carlota live a passionate romance which will reach its highest point in their first sexual relationship. A relationship full of doubts, surprises, curiosities, insecurities, and—no wonder—some dissatisfaction.

In the meantime Flanagan is (as usual) undertaking one of his high school investigations. Classmate Jorge Castells is consumingly jealous of Jenny Gómez, who does not seem to be interested at all in him but has it bad for Guillermo Mira (a.k.a. El Mirage, a nickname given by his naughty female classmates, implying he is so tall that looking at his face is just as looking at a plane up in the sky, as well as a reference to his distant attitude towards them all; quite a snub, as we are talking about the most sought-after hot guy in the whole school). Apparently, Mira seems to want nothing but a simple friendship from Jenny. But Flanagan—at suspicious Castells’s request—tails Mira through the city of Barcelona, and finds out that he usually visits trendy restaurant owner Yolanda Cabanach’s apartment at night.

Flanagan gets shocked at first that Mirage may have an affair with a woman older than him (a funny teen remark, don’t you think?). Eventually, Mirage’s object of affection does not happen to be Mrs. Cabanach, but her son. Flanagan catches Mira hooking up with Cabanach Jr. at their surprise (not only Mira and his partner’s, but also the teen detective’s). Then Mira asks his spying classmate to keep it a secret; a promise Flanagan will certainly fulfill.

How come a 21st century European young citizen anxiously wishes to keep his sexual orientation a secret from his fellow classmates—this really is a thought-provoking question.[2]

This wonderfully written novel is not only a good, delightful reference book for all those teenagers curious about sexuality, but also a helpful tool for parents to talk openly and honestly about sex with their children. As educational as enjoyable. Flanagan hits the target once again.

[1] Carlota’s own view on this same story is told in Gemma Lienas’s novel El diario rojo de Carlota (“Carlota’s Red Notebook”). Carlota, as Flanagan, leads her own literary saga: a series of books where Carlota writes down her experience and reflections on various topics—particularly women’s— in notebooks, a different color each. Needless to say that the obvious inspiration of Lienas’s creation is Anna Wulf, the unforgettable protagonist of Nobel Prize-winning Doris Lessing’s 1962 novel The Golden Notebook.
[2] In the abovementioned Lienas’s book, Carlota also has a homosexual classmate, Gabi. As opposed to El Mirage’s case, Gabi’s male classmates make fun of him because of his mild, unmanly attitude—Let’s say Gabi’s homosexuality is an open secret—. Anyway, when he admits it to Carlota, he will ask her to keep it a secret as well.

August 6, 2015

Interview with Rosana Briel offers the reader an interview with “Como un torrente” author Rosana Briel (Barcelona, 1966). Universal topics such as love, sex, masculinity, literary creation, the art of narration, or the role of the author are discussed in Briel’s amusing, enjoyable conversation. Sure the reader will think so.

SPANISH GAY FICTION: When did you write “Como un torrente”? Do you remember what led you to write a story of love and sex between two men?

ROSANA BRIEL: I remember this perfectly: a challenge. This must be 7 or 8 years ago, and I was discussing with a couple of friends whether a novel series author would make up her mind and tell the homosexual story that she was suggesting in every novel; then one of my friends (a very nice one indeed) defied me with the typical challenge: Would you dare?…The truth is that I just cannot be bothered with this kind of challenges, but this one attracted me right away, so I wrote the first line the very next day, and then, for whatever reason, all the rest sprang forth just the way you can read it. I think that this is the fastest piece I have ever produced; Seth and James were born just in two days.

SGF: Did you write the story with intent to post it on a literature forum or blog? The reaction of the readers in those media is immediate. What was the response?

RB: As I said before, I wrote it for my friends, just for fun; but one day the same friend who defied me—hi, sweetie! I love you lots!! [laughs]— encouraged me to post it on the romance fiction forum we belonged to, claiming that I was selfish if I did not share the babes—as she called them—, that I needed to show all the others my writing, and bla-bla-bla…In short, I followed her suggestion and posted it, and guess what…I was really shocked by their response: They loved it all!

SGF: Although nowhere specified throughout the story, the names of the characters (Seth, Aidan, James) suggest an English-speaking environment. Why did a Spanish writer want to impose that foreign touch to her story? May it be a nod to the American M/M erotic literature written by female heterosexual romantic authors, very popular in the USA, as a model for your story?

RB: What you say about American literature is true, but there is nothing about it in this case. I chose Seth because I like it, I love its taste; Aidan, just because I loved it alongside Seth, and my friend chose James. All of them were chosen with no specific location, origin or whatever else in mind—just the feeling that they were the proper names for them.

SGF: The feature which might make “Como un torrente” so unique is that the main character, Seth, is constantly attracting his muses' attention. Besides the fact that this is a direct, enjoyable technique to get the reader’s complicity, did you have in mind that women would be, mainly or solely, the target audience when you wrote it? To what extent can be said that “Como un torrente” is a story about gay men for a straight female audience?

RB: I guess Seth somehow wanted to involve my friends at first. Later, when the story was published, it turned out that the character’s calling attention spread out to each and every reader, making them Seth’s mates. And of course, this was aimed at a female audience; after all, women are the main audience in romance fiction.

SGF: The description of Seth as a lonely man, a kind of rough, with uncertain background and a long dark hair, reminds me of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. What was your source of inspiration for Seth? Would you say that he represents the physical description of your ideal man, tattoo and shaved skin included?

RB: To be honest, and at the expense of seeming a kind of nuts, sometimes I also wonder where some characters come from, since I am positive that I really do not know where Seth does come from. He just did it, period. And I love the way he is—By the way, I also love Heathcliff, he is an extraordinary character.

SGF: In the story there is a funny comment about the fake six-pack abs that the actors of a popular film about Spartans exhibit thanks to the magic of cinema.[1] Seth also describes himself as well-built with no need for gym workout. And, according to the description, it could be said that Seth’s and James’s clothes are very basic, simple and traditionally masculine. Can your story be understood as a defense of the natural, genuine man, far from false impressions, affectation or up-to-date fashion trends?

RB: They themselves decided the way they are; if they feel easy in jeans and T-shirts, I will not be the one who opposes.

SGF: There is a moment in the story in which Seth notes about James: “It is curious that there is so much tenderness concealed behind such a masculine man.” Is masculinity a synonym for tough self-sufficiency lacking of tenderness as for Rosana Briel too?

RB: Rosana Briel is pissed off at macho men acting thug, so she was pleased when she realized that Seth felt that about James as something positive. He shows that masculinity does not need to be at odds with tenderness.

SGF: It was Aidan who instilled in Seth the notion of being strong and independent, as nobody would care about him; and it is James the man who eventually gives him affection, tenderness, and love. Could it be said that, as for Rosana Briel, Aidan added to James equals the formula of the perfect man, that “toughness + tenderness” pattern of the previous question?

RB: This worked with Seth and James, so it must be a good combination. [laughs]

SGF: Regarding Seth’s melodramatic past, did you need that his story with James were something more than a one-night stand, as a way to redeem him and mend his broken heart? Just as if something deep inside made you give your character a happy ending?

RB: Well, romance genre structure somehow comes into play here, which means: a happy ending, no matter what. However, they went their way. I just watched them and, though it might seem a bit weird that a feeling could just come out of nowhere, that is what really happened. As far as I know, they still do well together. [laughs]

SGF: The way these two strangers who have just met fall in love is while having sexual intercourse, what seems to be their starting point as a couple. I find this a very romantic idea but, do you think that such a thing can come true in fiction only, or in real life as well? Let me be a bit nosy: this situation, has Rosana Briel herself experienced it?

RB: No, Rosana herself has not experienced it, but I do think that this can actually happen in real life. Love just shows up without notice or permission, and in spite of your shortcomings many times.

SGF: Why did you remember Casablanca at the end of the story? Do you feel there is a gay subtext in the fact that Bogart lets Ingrid Bergman fly away and stays beside the gendarme with mustache instead?

RB: No, the final scene in Casablanca is perfect, nobody change it! I just tried to introduce a touch of fun at the end of the story and that sentence seems spectacular to me, so I allowed myself to use it regarding Seth’s love for movies by the way.

SGF: Now let me criticize the characters...I do not understand why Seth and James use a condom when playing anal...if they ejaculate in each other’s mouth when playing oral. In this age of prevention of sexually transmitted diseases campaigns, I invite you to use this opportunity to defend your artistic choice.

RB: Oral sex undoubtedly implies certain risks at different levels, and I believe fiction can also be another way of education and information but, as this is fiction and at the risk of being simplistic—Should I have denied such a very intimate moment to Seth and James?

SGF: In my review of “Como un torrente” I praised your narrative art, as you are constantly playing with the reader expectations. There are so many tone changes that seems to be several stories within the story, making it a rich, varied, and entertaining read. Is this a recurring feature in the rest of your work?

RB: Every time I face up to a new story it seems as if everything previous does not exist. I start over, and just the very story and its characters trace the path that I try to follow. This is like a very sane insanity.

SGF: Concerning your only novel so far, Sin remisión (“Hopeless”), this seems to be an erotic novel peppered with BDSM elements. It was published in 2010, just one year before Fifty Shades of Grey. Could it be said that you were on the cutting edge earlier than E.L. James? Or, including BDSM elements in romance books, was it usual before the Fifty Shades trilogy super-hit?

RB: When Sin remisión was born in my mind I had no idea about how this was going to flow out; I was just moved by the stimulus to tell the story of two people who find love in a BDSM background. The only thing that I know is that I needed to write it whatever happened, with all the flaws, achievements, uncertainty, inexperience, emotions—It was awesome to get in touch with people from that world and find out their trait, being well aware that it would be impossible to reflect just the slightest part of what this entails, and in the frame of romance fiction by a long shot.

SGF: What are you working on now? What are your most immediate projects?

RB: My head is plenty of people that I try to keep at bay in order that they grow up and think over along with me, though sometimes I have no idea where things spring from—That is nonsense, isn’t it? Every story is different. I need time and so do they—the last thing I have produced has took me two years of research as my knowledge on the topic was very superficial and I had to find out many things, from simple (people’s treatment) to complex (an eye drops recipe)—, so I go step by step. There will soon be news, but I still cannot speak about it.

[1] If you still have not guessed the name of the film, do not worry. In the meanwhile, you can keep yourself entertained by trying to solve the following arithmetic operation: [(7 + 8) / 5] x [(49 - 24) + (15 x 5)] = …

July 22, 2015

The Lonely Heart Is a Hungry Hunter

On Rosana Briel’s “Como un torrente” (“Like a Torrent”)

Months ago, during an interview with Bésame y vente conmigo author Olivia Ardey, she stated that one of her favorite Spanish M/M romance fictions is this short story by Rosana Briel. Once you have read it you can surely agree.

Seth, an orphan, self-sufficient guy on his 28th birthday, recalls his life so far. Very wild in his teens, his past can be summed up as a constant moving from foster families back to orphanage over and over again. He only could find peace in his sole friend Aidan, another orphan. Painfully, a lethal leukemia took him away from his side too soon. Aidan was not only the love of his life, but also his big brother, his mate, the one who taught him the most important lesson: Nobody cares about you, so do it yourself.

Years went by and Seth could make his living. Now he is a successful professional illustrator, as well as a 6’3”, long wavy dark-haired, amazing green-eyed lone wolf who is sure of one thing: he will never ever love again—

This unsatisfying exposition could make the reader feel we are dealing with a sad story…By no means! From this moment on, Seth is keeping a conversation throughout the story with a group of women (his “muses,” as he calls them) that he is agitating, teasing, joking with..., while they—together with the reader—are playing the role of witnesses in his vivid account of his birthday celebration. A hot celebration, indeed.

Instead of a pleasant party with friends (if any), our stand-alone hero plans to club tonight to have some fun, probably to wipe away those sad memories from the past. That is why he turns down an invitation from a mild guy who looks like an absent-minded teacher. No way. Tonight he really needs an extra-challenging stimulation. And Seth the hunter will eventually find it close to the bar.

There, an irresistible wave of Davidoff’s “Cool Water” invades his nostrils. A picture of the scented prey, you ask? Dark eyes. Thick lips. Short hazel hair. Strong arms. Powerful thighs in tight blue jeans. A hunky trunk wrapped up in a raw lumberjack shirt. The name: James. Or, the perfect chance for a sex & drugs & alcohol night in a hotel room.

By now, you are presumably expecting a swinging series of meticulously described sex sessions starred by this charming pair who do not believe in underclothing. Well, you are truly right—and will be overwhelmingly satisfied! Anyway, what the reader might not imagine is that tonight will turn crucial in Seth’s destiny.

Like Scheherazade in Arabian Nights, we find unarguably true that Rosana Briel is an amazingly skillful storyteller. Reading “Como un torrente” is like being on a rollercoaster: The first paragraphs make us think of a weepy, heartbreaking narration; all of a sudden, the whole thing becomes a light ironic comedy—until the plot slides into the realms of eroticism…But Briel has kept an ace up her sleeve, and what could be another witty-but-idle story about two horny beefcakes enjoying a big time turns into something deeper. Love at first (torrential) ejaculation, could be said? Paraphrasing Warner Bros. all-time screen classic Casablanca, though changing the last word (as Briel does at the end of her story): “This is the beginning of a beautiful love.”

You can read the original text in Spanish here.

January 24, 2015

Interview with Javier Sedano

Javier Sedano (Torrelavega, Cantabria, 1961) has talked to about his first novel, Tras las puertas del corazón. The reader will find in this interview the pleasure of a contentful conversation, discussing issues such as nudism, sexuality, protest theatre, lack of values, hippie-style life, the historical development differences between Spain and the USA—Hope the reader enjoys Sedano’s speech as much as I’ve done.

SPANISH GAY FICTION: Tras las puertas del corazón has many speeches. But perhaps one of the most obvious is its defense of naturism. Up to what point nudism is important in your life? Do you think that it tends to be misunderstood? Many people—especially gay people—view nudist locations as strictly sexual meeting places.

JAVIER SEDANO: Nudism is a way of living in harmony with your environment, and that is the way I enjoy it whenever I can. It makes me feel alive and free, and of course those who have not been in contact with nudism tend to think that this is a way to be provocative and show off—far from reality, indeed.
And your last statement is true. Many gays find in nudist areas another place for sexual encounters, something that cannot be prevented. That was one of the reasons that led me to write Tras las puertas del corazón among many other motives: showing nudism as a normal thing that has nothing to do with sexuality.

SGF: If I am not wrong, Tras las puertas del corazón was your first novel. How was the experience not only to write it, but also to find a publisher?

JS: It was my first published book, but I had already four books completed and was writing the second part, Preguntas sin respuesta (“Unanswered Questions”). The experience was exciting, as I was facing a long, major story for the first time. The idea of publication came from my friend Raúl, who was the first one that read the novel and told me keenly that I had to send it to a publisher.
Odisea[1] answered before a month’s time. They found the story very interesting, and some months later the novel showed up in bookstores.

SGF: Your full name is Francisco Javier García Sedano. Some of your novels are published under the name of ‘Javier Sedano,’ and others by ‘Frank García.’ What are the reasons of choosing one name or another?

JS: Let us say that those books by Javier Sedano are more conventional, more romantic; novels where I immerse the characters in historic moments of our society, and the language is more precise. On the other hand, those by Frank García are more erotic and sassier as style is concerned.

SGF: Alex is a Spanish guy who travels to the USA in the mid-1960s, and lives through a series of experiences certainly impossible for him if he had remained in Spain. How much of your experience is there in Alex’s story? And how much of fantasy about the way you would like your life should have been is there in the life of Alex?

JS: I gave to my characters—not only Alex—the best of me. There are many true moments of my life and the lives of people who have surrounded me in the best moments of my existence. I gave to every one of them a part of my personality and then, of course, the freedom of fantasy that enriches all the characters even more. Regarding situations that I would have liked to live, they would not be Alex’s precisely, but Ray’s. Ray enjoys that restless spirit in me. The freedom to do whatever he wants and offer all his best to the others—I have never achieved that, nor even got closer to this.

SGF: Would you say that the hippie movement in the USA is for you the closest thing to an earthly paradise in contemporary history? Do you think that this philosophy is still alive in our times?

JS: The hippie movement as such was not so idyllic. They sought to live in harmony with life, with nature, with the environment wherever they were in and, above all, respect to your neighbor and the cause of peace. Anyway, as I see it, there was one problem: drugs. And in answer to your second question, I feel that this philosophy of life could be perfect and, in fact, there are some colonies and small towns recovered where many young people are living this way. The return to Nature…It would be perfect to live all together, creating a community without drugs, since I believe that they do well to no one.  

SGF: If I had to criticize the plot of the novel, it would be in relation to Ray’s and Alex’s roles as fathers. I still have reservations about the reasons why they kept themselves in the shadow of the lives of their children. It is just astonishing that two guys that give off so much love moved away from their own children. Use this moment to defend their motives, Javier...

JS: Neither of them is proud of this separation, this distance, but it was a way to show the readers how many mistakes you can make just by saying, “I will be there tomorrow…,” “Next week by all means we will meet…,” and so many other things over your life. If you realize, in this novel there is much criticism on social conventions and even situations we all have gone through or seen others making mistakes easy to solve if we take our time for ourselves.

SGF: I find curious that in your descriptions of open relationships jealousy rises up never. To what extent do you think that this is viable beyond fiction? Do you think that an open relationship where jealousy never arises is possible? Have you ever lived such a relationship?

JS: I am the sort of person who thinks that there is no room for jealousy if there is sincerity from both sides in a relationship. Jealousy is caused by mistrust and lack of self-confidence from oneself. If a half of the couple hides a situation, whatever it may be, from the other—in the novel this is also taken into account—, it must be done what I believe it is fair between two reasonable people: find the moment and talk about it. (It happens between Ray and Alex in one scene by the lake). And yes, I have lived a similar situation and it worked; the problem was that we had to break up for reasons that had nothing to do with jealousy. Today we are great friends.

SGF: Speaking of the sexuality issue…Ray and Alex are bisexual. Some people take for sure that bisexuality does not exist: you are straight or gay, but never both at the same time. The truth is that, though Ray and Alex can love women, they never love women as much as they love each other. Do you think that one can love with the same intensity both a man and a woman? And do you think it is possible a communal living as Ray and Alex making up a foursome with their wives who, by the way, love each other as well?

JS: In this novel I had the problem of trying to picture all kind of feelings and emotions that human beings can ever feel, as well as our ethical and moral codes. According to many readers, I achieved this. That was the main goal, and bisexuality—so punished by straight and gay people—had to be highlighted, just to show that love has nothing to do with labels, and you can certainly love a man just like a woman, or even love a man and a woman at the same time. Why not? I knew a relationship similar to Alex and Ray’s some years ago.

SGF: Alex’s story is clearly divided into two parts: the first one happens in the USA and the second is set in Spain. Both seem to work like the yin yang theory. It is obvious that the positive events take place in the first part, and the reader bumps into the most dramatic side of the story in the second part. Alex himself finds out his dark side as well. Did you have in mind this yin yang philosophy when considering the two-part construction of the novel? Could the reader consider a political reading of your choice?

JS: I feel that my characters live hard situations in both parts of the novel. We must bear in mind that the reason why they pack their bags and go to Spain is, in my opinion, one of the most shocking moments of the whole novel, though it is true that they will face the greatest difficulties in Spain. These are social and mainly emotional clashes. If you stop to think, you will realize nothing happens for the hell of it and, on the contrary, their lives will be in constant struggle with everything around them. They are two very lively beings, living day-to-day. But as I said before, I wanted to show all the human feelings, good and bad, and among the bad ones there are anger and hate, which blind Alex in a particular moment.

SGF: What do you remember of Spain in the Transición period?

JS: I was very young, but I remember some crazier years when everything taught as wrong in the past was viewed as something natural then. Many people were afraid of this. It was a vivid cultural, social, and political time. As Alex says, the winds of freedom blowing in Spain were the same as the ones they had got to know in the USA years before.

SGF: One of the aspects that I find most remarkable is that a great part of the narrative is based on conversation, which is unhurried, thoughtful, and respectful. Did you do this as an example of what should happen in real life, as a way of defending a positive attitude in the exchange of opinions in a world where this feature does not seem to be in vogue precisely?

JS: Yes, in my novels I want to give a great importance to conversations, as each and every one can express the way they are, think and feel. As you say, most of today’s problems actually arise out of the fact that people do not talk; they do not sit down and speak calmly and, worst of all, they do not listen to the others when they are speaking.
We could say we live in the Age of Individualism, something that has been very stealthily instilled in us and we are unaware of this. We can see people who are not speaking but yelling everyday on TV. Politicians do not listen, but even insult each other. Courtesy, greetings…all that is rot in oblivion. Everyone wants to impose their law and way of thinking, and even people on the streets or terraces do not chat, but text message.

SGF: You can also guess some didactic intention in many of these conversations. Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Have you ever considered that Tras las puertas del corazón may change the reader’s life philosophy?

JS: It was unintentional, though other people have told me the same. Tras las puertas del corazón is a novel straight to the heart of the reader’s brains. I sought to make flesh and blood creations, not ink and paper ones. I wanted to show the reader positive values that we are losing in favor of pointless criticisms, desire for power, unachievable ambition, contempt for contempt’s sake, despising what is surrounding us…Above all, human beings are able to achieve their goals without needing to step on anyone; on the contrary, the point is sharing.

SGF: It is quite odd that a gay couple does not endure homophobic attacks throughout their relationship during the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s…Homophobia appears occasionally in two moments of the novel: the mention of the Stonewall riots, and as a feature in the character of Laura. Keeping Ray and Alex’s love story clear of homophobic conflicts, was it a voluntary choice from you? If that is so, why? 

JS: I did not delve into the issue of homophobia as I did not feel it was necessary in the story, though it is subtly mentioned. I was sure that the time for a deep treatment in a stark, shocking novel would come up someday, as it happened when completing the trilogy with Corazones en libertad (“Free Hearts”), where the main topic is homophobia.

SGF: Ray and especially Alex are really committed to the theatre world during their stay in both San Francisco and Barcelona. Long time ago, theatre was a means of making the audience socially aware, protesting against abuses of power, breaking the social mold. What is your relationship with theatre? Do you think that there is still this sort of theatre, or is it pretty light in our time?

JS: I discovered theatre when I was a child, along with my mother, through  “Estudio 1” on TVE;[2] I later had my amateur efforts when I lived in my hometown, directing short plays by me or some friend. This is one of those passions, together with cinema, that I am always willing to live intensely whenever I can.
And in answer to your second question…Yes, that independent drama defending a theatre closer to the audience, created by small companies and performed in small theaters, is back. The economic crisis has stimulated imagination again, and today there is no need for a big theater to see a good play. There are wonderful plays in small theaters.

SGF: What are you working on now? What are your most immediate projects?

JS: Now I am promoting my new novel, Al filo de la pasión (“On the Edge of Passion”) an erotic novel. The female protagonist, high class thirtysomething Carmen, a passionate, intelligent, beautiful woman, meets León, a 20-year-old boy anxious to discover sexuality in full. The two of them will live the most intense sexual experiences, with continuous surprises throughout the story. It is published through Amazon, and under the pen name of Javier Sedano. [You can buy the novel here.]
In a few days Macho Alfa (“Alpha Male”), a gay erotic novel, will also be published—through Amazon as well—under the pen name of Frank García in this case.
Apart from that, I am working on a play, and very soon I will start a series project shared with a friend, an extremely modern comedy.

[1] Odisea Editorial: Spanish publisher devoted to LGBT-themed literature.
[2] TVE: Televisión Española (“Spanish Television”): this is the public national TV channel in Spain; “Estudio 1”: a very popular TV series, showing from 1964 to 1984, in which a celebrated play—national or international—was performed in each episode (e.g., Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men, José Zorrilla’s Don Juan Tenorio…). This program format was recovered in modern times, though unsuccessfully.