Natasha Stagg: How long have you been writing?
Carib Guerra: I dropped out of school in the 7th grade. My mother allowed this with the requirement that I continue reading a great deal of books, and also writing responses to the books as well as stories and poems they inspired. So I had a lot of free time to choose my life, but also I gained a huge respect for writing as a way of thinking through problems. Because my friends were in school most of the day I would sit alone for hours at different spots near my house in South Austin. I’d pick a group of objects like a patch of grass, a puddle, and a rock wall and pretend that I was a very small human living in that terrain, then I’d write stories about the adventures I had there. Writing’s always been an exploration for me of reality as I’d rather see it. So, yeah. I started writing seriously when I was around twelve.
NS: Do you write every day?
CG: No. That sounds horrible. I imagine hours alone pacing around my stuffy dark room beating myself up for not being constantly on point. If by writing every day, I could really be saying: going on walks, taking naps, listening to music, smoking cigarettes, editing old stuff, and staring at the wall–all while taking brief scrawly notes–then yes, I do write every day.
NS: What are your thoughts on “writing on writing?” Ever read the advice other authors give?
CG: I love reading people’s thoughts on their business. It’s either really insightful or really pretentious and embarrassing. One of my favorites is On Writing Well by William Zinsser. He kind of does both. I’m very interested in seeing how other people conceptualize their writing and then force themselves to do it. Everybody has different formulas and tricks to get the stuff out. I wish the ‘secret to things’ was more wild, like, hold one ounce of gold in your mouth while petting a shark. Then you’ll be a real writer.
NS: Do you have some advice to give?
CG: I used to write really awful poetry, and my stories were poorly structured and predictable. I had no sense of character or plot, and I used flowery verbiage and cliches hand over fist. If I had realized how horrible my writing was I would have thrown it all away. The fact that I had this stubborn bloated self-confidence in my writing drove me to continue, and eventually I reached a skill level that naturally follows practice and routine. I’m probably still overconfident in my work, but my arrogance has proved beneficial over time so I’ll stick with it. My advice would be: Always think that you’re better than you are, leave the judgement for retrospect, and put every stupid idea you have down on paper. Oh, and edit mercilessly.
NS: Who is your favorite author of the moment, and what should we read by them?
CG: Italo Calvino. Invisible Cities is my favorite.
NS: What is a book that kind of blew your mind, that we’d be surprised by?
Steven Jesse Bernstein’s I am Secretly an Important Man. I don’t know if that’s surprising. I think he’s a really intimate and exciting author. Also, Sartre’s Nausea but all the kids are reading that these days. You should be cool and read Bernstein.