Gonzalo C. Garcia’s debut novel is coming out very soon indeed. Published by the wildly successful Galley Beggar Press, We Are The End describes some members of the millennial generation: Tomás and his girlfriend to mention just two. Set in Chile, it will also appeal to gamers, as Tomás is a game designer. Intrigued? We certainly were, and we caught up with Gonzalo at the start of a busy academic year.
ZR: Gonzalo, can you tell us why you write?
Gonzalo: As is usual when trying to find a reason for the things we do the most, or the things that are most present in our lives, it is easier understand their importance by thinking about their absence. I think I write because if I didn’t, I would feel disconnected. I’ve been writing for a long time and it always felt like I had this secret moment to connect dots. I like looking for patterns – which, in narrative terms, is looking for causes and consequences: if person A does this to person B, person B will do this to person A… or person C. It was like, for a moment, because I was writing, I had to notice things that go largely ignored.
I started writing by cutting up magazines in my school library and writing about pictures that I thought were meaningful. Then I ‘borrowed’ a copy of Les Fleurs du Mal. I learnt you could turn sadness – and more importantly – other people’s sadness, into an image. An image, which, like the pictures in the magazines, could more easily communicate states of being which were literally not you, but could be you, could be others. I write, in that sense, to attempt to make instances of connection, and to present people with a non-judgemental view of our pain, loss, hope, and love. The focus for me has always been openness and the depth of shared experiences.
ZR: I spend a lot of time in Switzerland, as you have. Is it as dull as it looks? What is the best hidden gem?
Gonzalo: Switzerland reminds me of good relationships gone sour. Like, you can get used to beauty, and then it isn’t exciting anymore. And it isn’t anywhere you’d like to be in. Switzerland is really only dull once its initial beauty wears off. In my experience, it did just that. Suddenly the lake was just this grey body that wasn’t an ocean. And I stopped celebrating that little moment where the mountains become visible again after all that time veiled in fog and clouds. I used to go down by the lakeside in Vevey and take the pedal boats. We used to gather up with friends from high school and busk with our guitars. Like we would scream Nine Inch Nails songs and Nirvana – Hurt and Lithium. There was no shame. We went to a park by an arts college that always smelled of weed. And we used to jump in the lake and feel really young. And then, one day, that became normal too. So now the lake was boring. The mountains, boring. The busking, guitars, noise and parks – all of it boring. We started hitting up the bars – any that would let us in would do – and then that became boring too. And expensive. And so, really, it’s like anywhere else. It depends on people, not the place or situation. All places become dull, in my experience. It might sound negative, ignorant even, if you aren’t bored of wherever you happen to live or have lived. But people, on the other hand, can be eternally awesome (stress on the ‘can be’).
But, in terms of hidden gems, in the lakeside in La-Tour-De-Peilz, there’s this games museum. Honestly, go there if you’re a horror fan. It’s one of the creepiest places I’ve ever visited. It’s like freaking Fort Boyard, which I always thought was horrifying. I spent a lot of time there (in the games museum, not Fort Boyard). Oh, and the bar we always went to was called Captain Cook. They do Happy Hours. And they’ve had their license revoked in the past for serving minors.
ZR: I love your description of Switzerland! We Are The End has ‘millennial’ written all over it. Is this a positive label, and do you identify with it?
Gonzalo: You know, I’m still coming to terms with this part of the book’s identity. I never wrote it with that tag in mind. In fact, when I started it, I hadn’t even come across that word. By myself – and to myself – I never use millennial to describe it. It feels negative, if only because it presupposes success in representing those around me. I can’t do that. Then again, isn’t this unwillingness to fit into categories the most millennial thing in the world? I think the one thing I do identify with in respect to generational concerns are certain questions. Like, where are we going as a species? How will we be when we get there? Why is adult life so sad, so hard? Why can’t work be more like fun, but fun not turn into work? Why are virtual worlds so hellish? And then, next day, how did we ever live without these amazing virtual spaces? Is pleasure, is happiness always equated to guilt? Can we simplify some conflict? Can we complicate others? Are we relevant? Is anyone relevant? But you see, the questions are pretty much infinite. If anyone, no matter the age, jots down lists of questions, I’m sure a lot of the same concerns appear. But yes, I guess I do identify with parts of the label, especially those that concern more material contextual issues (like the job market situation, or the fact that I’m 31 and only like 2 friends have a stable place to live in and we all have jobs). Also, how I fit into generational labels is really limited to what I may or may not specifically share with others. It is limited, therefore, by my understanding of the people around me. And this can never be as absolute as a label.
ZR: Chile (and much of South America) can slip under the radar for many complex reasons here. Would you recommend it as a tourist destination today?
Gonzalo: You know, I can recommend it. I think Chile can be a cool place if you like long drives and if you really love dogs you don’t own (it’s full of stray dogs). I recommend going to the extreme North to the Atacama Desert. Yes, you will see a lot of new age people doing new age things like reading runes to you, and they never wear shoes and it all creates this heavy sensation of being a tourist. Or you might not encounter anyone at all. That’s fine and all, but really, the surroundings are overwhelmingly beautiful. I have never experienced anything like the stars in the desert. I love Santiago too. And people who’ve lived there for ages would come up with a thousand things to see. In my experience, Chileans have this secret country-wide competition as to who knows the most underground place, the place farthest from a simple Line 1 metro. Hopefully a club which requires danger to get there. I would really never win it. For me, it’s the bridges. The dirty river. And the popular nights out in party streets like Bellavista. It’s trashy, so noisy, so filled with people. And fashions are really noticeable. On one side of the street you’ll have goths waiting to get into a club, then post-punks going to another. And then you have people dancing in a drum circle, next to some old tourists having ceviche. It’s pretty mental. But then as tourists point out, the inequality is hard to ignore – and tourism is built on ignoring the realities of places. So, in that sense, Santiago might be your last destination. There are, of course, touristy places that are beautiful though, like Torres del Paine, and any place ever near Puerto Varas. It’s so touristy it might bother you. But I like it. You hear other languages. And I still celebrate the mountains over there, cloudy or not, because some of them are volcanos. Also, German colonies nearby means there’s always good beer.
ZR: Nearly there! Please tell us something we probably won’t already know about this book.
Gonzalo: Things you may not know – the scenes where Tomás sleeps under his desk are based on the fact that I had my postgrad office in a university library. This little office didn’t have a wall on one side. It was this sort of open balcony that gave onto a large study area below me. I slept under the desk so that people studying below wouldn’t see me sleep. I even brought pillows in my backpack. There was chewing gum stuck under my desk from people there before me.