The story Chisme concerns a few people I knew in Parlier, the town in California I’m from. A man who lived in a rundown building next door and went out each morning in search of cans. The town itself is predominantly 99.9 percent Latino and so I choose to write about people I know within the context of culture and economics. Which are what interests me being a cultural anthropologist by training.
How does this published piece fit in with the larger thematic concerns that you see in your overall work?
As I mentioned above, I am interested in class and culture. In a sense, the story and many things I write are ruminations about people caught within the limits of their social circumstances and their voice, their behaviors are cultural creations. It is their weapon, their power, that which orders the world that may feel is out of control for them. Or a world that one must struggle daily to just survive.
What are you influenced by?
The notion of Art. That we are creative at our hearts and this is a human condition. I also want to play. The world as I see it, the people I have known, the injustice and the joy of life that I have witnessed. All these things are great influences. Other writers who I feel have touched on these kinds of influences like DH Lawrence, Marquez, Juan Rulfo. Also, my kids, Andres, Tomas and Elena. They are great influences in as much as they given me so many moments of pure illumination. Finally, my mother Maria and her sister, my aunt Beatrice who told me stories of Mexico as a child in California.
What does your typical writing schedule look like? What aspects of working do you look forward to? What aspects frustrate you?
I try writing every day in the morning when I can focus most directly. My mind seems clearest at that time, the earlier the better. I’ll rewrite if I am stuck on something new, which is often. I’ll pick up on something I had temporarily given up on.
I like when I have ideas and I can slot them into the work. I like thinking on how to improve the story, to make it say what I want in a way that is both powerful and subtle.
I am frustrated when nothing comes or when what is coming out sounds dead and cliché. I hate that. The feeling that there is no life, no vividness to the words you’re putting down, to the voices and to the settings and behaviors of your characters and the worlds you can imagine.
For fun, if you could pick one meal that matches the piece we published, what would it be and why?
A partially burnt flan and a bottle of lukewarm Mexican beer. All consumed while Rancheria music is playing on a jukebox that hasn’t been serviced since 1976.
Because that is where I’d like to be at the moment.
MARIO J. GONZALES was born in Fresno, CA and raised in Parlier, CA, a rural Mexican-American farmworker community in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley. His parents were agricultural workers and his grandparents migrated from Mexico in 1915. A first-generation college student, he received his BA from CSU Fresno and an MA from New Mexico Highlands University. Since the early 2000’s he has worked as a professor of cultural anthropology in Texas and then New Mexico. His doctorate from Washington State University in cultural anthropology was based on research conducted in rural Oaxaca, Mexico among the indigenous peoples of the region.
His short fiction can be found in the New England Review, Blue Mesa Review, Rio Grande Review, Sonora Review, Drunken Boat, decomP magazine, Cossack Review, and other literary journals. In 2012, he was awarded the Hispanic Writers fellowship by the Taos Summer Writers’ conference and was a general contributor at the 2016 Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Vermont. He recently was accepted to this summer’s Tin House Writer’s Workshop at Reed College. Currently he teaches at New Mexico Highlands University.