It is no secret that Cristina Jurado is our favorite collaborator, here at Sense of Wonder. Thus, it is always a pleasure when she interviews (or her blog does it, in fact) such as renowned author as Eduardo Vaquerizo. You can also read this interview in Spanish at Más Ficción Que Ciencia. Hope you enjoy it!
Alternate-history: Old is the new modern in Eduardo Vaquerizo's Chronicles of Darkness
History does not write itself, contrary to what many believe. It is forged by its main characters: each human being represents one life. Sometimes, it is possible to change the path of that History. Eduardo Vaquerizo has done it and I suspect he will continue for a long time. I'm the blog, by the way, not Cristina Jurado, and I really hope so: he cannot write Dance of Darkness and Memory of Darkness (Danza de Tinieblas and Memoria de Tinieblas) leaving me with the expectation of more new inventions in the alternate-history he proposes.
When I hear nonsense like “fantastic literature in Spain is not up to the Anglo-Saxon one”, I feel my blood boiling. Whoever says that, doesn't know Vaquerizo's books. After reading them, a change of opinion is mandatory. Inventing fantasies is not incompatible with a solid argument, built with a resonant and convincing prose. Curious enough, the freshness of the Chronicles of Darkness -about a past that never happened- is based in a language that reclaims archaic terms and forgotten words. The old becomes the new thanks to a glossary solidly crafted, carefully coupled with a story line filled with coherent adventures and invented scenes. Spain's History is rewritten to glorify an Empire aiming to become a vast beast, a strangely anarchic monarchy in decadence, specially in Memory of Darkness. Madness leads the steps of the main character –Alonso Castañeda-, a sort of Castilian James Bond, even though Eduardo says about him: “Castañeda is not Bond, or maybe he is, but without disguising his mental illness with an impeccable and patriotic super-hero. Almost always, the majority of heroes are simply villains and madmen, from a different point of view.”
I have heard that the Jurado girl has complained about the open end. What does she know about those things? If the finale fits in the story line, why is it matter if questions multiply? Readers are not passive creatures. Sometimes, they even think and draw their own conclusions. Vaquerizo respectfully aims for this type of reader, and he delivers. Memory of Darkness is a high quality literary work, fantasy was never incompatible with quality, even though if the Jurado girl does not totally agree. Vaquerizo's Darkness is not enough… that's the only objection I have. I hope I'm among the many –human and virtual beings- who ask him to continue the series, in order to expand the story's universe.
I will not stretch this introduction with a detailed review because I was lucky enough to meet the author through the social media and, after few imploring messages, I succeeded in convincing him to answer some questions. This is the result of our conversation. I would like to thank him for opening his mind to me and for allowing me to share my discoveries.
Blog: How do you face the creation process of a story? Some authors write outlines, some produce profile cards for each character and others do both… Can you share your method, if there is one, with us?
Eduardo Vaquerizo: Quoting author Javier Marías, I was and still am a “compass's writer”, somebody who faces the text with a grammar machete in the hand, always thirsty for adventures. That formula has worked for me in the past in my short stories. In novels, it is hard to do the same, at least not in all their extension –and not in the novels I'm interested in-. Everybody understands Marías' novels, which don't have a particularly clear structure. They are very interesting “walks”, but ones without a clear objective. In long texts is mandatory to have an outline, a map –even a concise one- to prevent getting lost. In regard to the characters, I must confess I use intuition instead of deduction. Characters arise from a dialogue between the story and an initial seed, and they get refined in the first chapters of the book. That is the reason why, in the beginning, I'm a slow writer, only 500 words each writing session. In that instance I'm challenging the story, the scenes and the characters, and later things pick up and events start happening. The consequence of this form of working: I have to go back often and use my machete in a bloody and brutal manner with my own text, something that always saddens me.
Blog: Do you feel related to any authors, Spanish of foreigners?
EV: Contemporary authors? It is a difficult question, because it's easy to confuse “feeling related” with “loving to write like”. I feel related to Cotrina, in some aspects to Aguilera, Daniel Mares and even Javier Marías, because I like their narrative style, which is very fluid, like a river. I also like Reverte, especially in the past when he was more about adventures, and also because I would love to use some of his narrative techniques. Santi Eximeno has similar ways of dealing with themes and Sergio Parra has an imagination very close to mine. Foreigners? I like China Miéville because he is exuberant and twisted, Stross and Watts also, because they are so “hard”. Right now, I can't think of anybody else. Well, some others, but they are much older.
Blog: You describe yourself as a more intuitive than deductive author in terms of character's development. To me, it is vital to give each character his/her own voice. How do you face this challenge?
EV: To begin with, it is important to state what means “own voice”. I understand it us a way to make the character independent from the author. When a character has his own voice, you can easily distinguish him from the rest and also from the author. In my opinion, this can be achieved through psychological coherence, using a deductive method –to understand somebody's reaction thanks to the deep knowledge of his personality-. It is the method used by English actors: to learn the technique behind the laughter, for example, in order to be able to reproduce it. I follow Stanislavsky, trying to feel like the character and to laugh when he does. Both ways have their advantages and drawbacks. The first one implies more hard work and, if you fail just a little bit, the character becomes cold, unreal and overdone. The second method is more direct, following unconscious working processes, although it is difficult to put it into practice: you have to be very focused and really sure about what you are doing.
Very often, watching the news, I surprise myself trying to think like assassins, rapists, megalomaniacs, politicians and pedophiles. The problem is that, frequently, I succeed and that scares me. The saying “I can't imagine how people can do that” does not apply to writers, I'm afraid.
Blog: In Dance of Darkness and Memory of Darkness you narrate an alternative history in which technology takes a different path. How do you come up with those inventions? What I mean is, which postulates do you follow to invent gadgets like “volateros”, “autocoche”, “teletrópico”, etc?
EV: It's easy. Technology is just a way to apply scientific discoveries. Many times there is no other, and the way to maximum efficiency is revealed. I can give as an example the convergent evolution of dolphins and fishes towards aerodynamic shapes. In other instances, there are paths taken by History depending on the circumstances. To me, that is the interesting part and there is where I insert variations. In Chronicles of Darkness, there are no horses because they all die due to a terrible plague. This situation provokes an early appearance of combustion engines. The engines in the uchronia don't use steam or gasoline but coal powder, a type of technology used in the early stages of internal combustion engines which was dismissed due to the abundance of oil. In the Spanish Empire, oil did not appear easily in the beginning. Engines based on coal extraction and pulverization proliferated, because there was plenty of that minerals. In Memory of Darkness, a novel in which the Empire has grown considerably, there is the need for more efficient and powerful engines (to propel the “volateros”). New engines of benzene are developed. “Volateros” are another example. In Chronicles of Darkness materials have not evolved as much as in our days, and planes are heavier than air. They are built out of wood and fabric, like the ones in World War I. What is the evolution of technology in this universe? I opted to reinforce the minimum power of the engines and the fragility of the structure with helium or hydrogen. I describe small “volateros”, capable of stopping in the air, and the big ones are like zeppelins but with aerodynamic shapes, hollow and big planes (called “galeones”) weighting very little because of the use of helium or hydrogen and because of their contours. In this domain, Chronicles of Darkness is more advanced than us. It is a technology in development right now but full of interesting ideas from the point of view of fuel efficiency. I could continue talking about information technology (cabalistic), the techniques for extinguish fires (”sopleros’) etc, but I would go on and on forever.
Blog: About imprinting the characters with their own voice (a subject that obsesses me) let me tell you that often, when I read a book I feel like characters speak the same way, expressing themselves almost identically. I would like to know what do you do to prevent that: changing the sentence's structure? Different accents?
EV: If I were a less intuitive writer I would try to use different structures for each character, but I'm not, so I leave it to the characters' development. Both ways are viable to prevent characters from being too flat. Using a slight accent or interjection is useful, as well as forcing dialectal or idiomatic forms, but it is vital to do it well so it does not sound funny.
Something curious happened to me with the dialogues. At the beginning, my texts were mainly narrative. I love to narrate, to describe, and to build scenes bigger than life. There was little room for characters and dialogues. When it was pointed out to me, I tried to improve it, focusing in the way people speak. I internalized it and reflected in my texts. I was told that my dialogues had become incomprehensible, confuse and unclear. I studied them I came to the conclusion that I have done it too well: my dialogues were too realistic, mimicking hesitations, constant repetitions, and tag lines from a given conversation: dialogues were too authentic, so they were unliterary. I have to arrive to a compromise. As always, reality is not literary, and oral language –with the exemption of certain poets or professors- cannot be directly reproduced in a text.
Blog: In the Chronicles of Darkness, you chose to change certain events to give way to the alternate History. Which criteria do you follow to make your choices?
EV: There is a lot of debate about what Jonbar points (defined by professor Geoffrey Hawthorne from Cambridge University, a Jonbar point is a typing point that determines a change in some events, which evolve differently that real history) create better or worse uchronias. History is a about big tides, not small streams. Even though avalanches start with one snowflake, each snowflake is different, and any of them is enough to trigger the catastrophe.
In the Chronicles of Darkness there is not only one Jonbar point, but many. The main one, the more literary at least, is the survival of the bastard brother of Phillip II. I chose it to build an empire less prude and catholic than the real one, less inclined to maintain privileges and more oriented to an industrial and middle-class revolution. Those ideas forced me to shape a protestant Spain as well as many other things… the avalanche. But this is not the only uchronic factor. There is also the no expulsion of Jewish and Muslims, the extinction of horses and some other things I have up my sleeve when I'll write the next book of the series.
Blog: I ask the following question to every author I interview: what do you think about the new editorial initiatives (crowdfunding, self-publishing, co-publishing)? I would also know your opinion about the fandom, not only in Spain but also in the world.
EV: Those initiatives have still to mature. I always said that the problem in Spain's literary editing and publishing, in particular in science fiction and fantasy, is about the quantity of readers. That quantity is not enough to maintain almost anybody at a professional level. If they were more readers or the market grew to include all Spanish-speaking countries, things would be different.
Sales in this genre have conditions that clash with the commercialization parameters of literary production: small amount of explosive sales and long living of continuous purchases (“the long tail” as known by Anglo-Saxons, which refers to sales charts and the long but constant sales in a minor scale). This is the opposite model to the one that traditional publishing companies look for, but it is ideal for e-commerce. Just take a look at Amazon. If the model matures, you will obtain benefits from publishing various books, with some sales and repercussion among the new fans, and becoming a must for the long-lasting fans.
Crowdfunding, self-publishing and co-publishing are only ways to access the market, but they don't resolve anything by themselves. They have democratized publishing and allow people, who believe in their products and have no support from a publishing company, to sale their books. The unresolved problem is what I mentioned before: how does the reader select the text?. The way to access the books is not important. The vital thing is to get decent products, good quality ones in terms of editing and literary quality. Another question is to implement a selective and filtering system to connect interested audiences with the product. The problems are in this second point. In time, there will be a system for this, but right now there isn't one. In one hand, specialized critics are almost non-existent and fans are not reliable to select books (no impartiality, no perseverance, etc).
About fandom, I could say very little or a lot, depending. As a writer, I already have said that the fandom is like a very caring mother. When you are starting, it's very easy on you: there are sites to publish, enthusiastic fans that comment mistakes and virtues, etc. The problem is that fandom is like possessive mothers: when you grow up, it is difficult to liberate from their embrace. After certain level, fandom is not going to serve you to improve as a writer, you'll have to find new ways to progress. At least, fandom should not be your only reference. You should be able to look outside and face other ways of writing, other sensibilities. All that is enriching and does not devalue the fandom. In other words, genre nationalism is not good, the best is “to travel” from time to time.
Blog: Can you share with us your new projects? Are you going to continue the Darkness Chronicles or would it be just a trilogy?
EV: Projects? I have pending the publication of a new novel with Saco de Huesos, a mix of terror, noir and science fiction with bloodsuckers. I have another novel in a science-fiction-meets-fantasy-and-realism note, being considered in various publishing companies, which does not mean much. There is also another young adult novel, about magic and a bunch of youngsters, in which I have my confidence placed in. It is my attempt to write for the YA audience. Right now, I'm in the process of putting together the argument for a science fiction novel “five minutes into the future” mixed with cyberpunk. If everything goes well, it will be finish for the beginning of next year.
About continuing the Chronicles of Darkness, I'm considering it. And, as always happens, to start thinking about it means that I already have an idea about the scenario: I would like to write the succession war that enthroned John of Austria. It would be a prequel and the technology would be very old, something like steam-steam, to make happy the Steampunk purists.
About the interviewer
Cristina Jurado Marcos writes the sci-fi blog Más ficción que ciencia. Having a degree in Advertising and Public Relations by Universidad de Seville and a Masters in Rhetoric by Northwestern University (USA), she currently studies Philosophy for fun. She considers herself a globetrotter after living in Edinburgh, Chicago, Paris or Dubai. Her short stories have appeared in several sci-fi online magazines and anthologies. Her first novel From Orange to Blue was published in 2012.