Photo by Victor Jeffreys II
What is your earliest memory of writing?
I remember making lil comics in 3rd grade that I would pass around for my classmates to read. They revolved around Twik, a five-pointed star guy with a wand who would go around saving the day and fighting bad guys. No critical acclaim for Twik beyond that classroom in northern Mexico, but one can always hope the reboot will do better.
What is your writing process like?
I tend to build from details. One time I was driving from Austin to Baton Rogue and I saw a billboard for Lion’s Den, an adult store. This was one of those two-ads-side-by-side billboards, and next to the silhouetted sexy time lion was an ad for Jesus (yes, the Christian Christ). That juxtaposition gave me the idea for a short film called Forbidden Fruit, where a young dude in Austin finds out one of the greatest benefactors of his church owns a sex shop, and the rest of the film explores that confrontation. Whether it’s comedy fiction or silly blogs or serious documentary work I tend to build narratives that dive into those kinds of juxtapositions.
You are a multi-disciplinary artist: writer, performer, filmmaker, and photographer. How does writing inform all your work?
There’s a structure to every narrative, no matter what medium you use, or how long the end product is. So I’ll come up with the emotional core of something and then go back to structure it into a cohesive story. At least that’s what I try to do.
How difficult (or easy) is it to move from one medium to another, and how do you juggle it all?
I think it was tougher early on because I was thinking too hard about doing everything very, very well. But over time I’ve learned to surrender to the practice and roll with the process in a way that is liberating and that produces better work in the end. It’s sometimes hard to manage time well enough to be able to do it all—make time for rehearsals, shows, sitting at the computer and plot, edit, write, shoot. And especially during the pandemic, it’s been hard to prioritize given all of the energy that the world’s events seem intent to zap out of us on a daily basis. But I’m lucky that I at least get to incorporate some of these different disciplines into my current gig, so I can exercise my various types of storytelling during work hours. And a good shortcut is when I combine everything together. I’ll write a concept and I’ll shoot videos where I’m performing and then I’ll go edit it. I’m very fortunate to have nursed all of these skills, which at one point seemed discombobulated but now give me more agency in doing what I’d like to do, albeit within my means.
What makes a good story, and what kinds of stories are you drawn to?
Ooo, I like so many different things. I tend to like stuff that plays with form, stuff that has comedy somewhere in there, and stuff that plays with our expectations to some extent. I also like it when you can tell the author had fun, that’s usually contagious. Beyond that, I like to think I’m a story omnivore.
Tell us some of your favorite books, movies, TV shows.
For books, Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue and basically all of George Saunders’ stories come to mind. I also love reading Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. In movies, I go for Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Ringses, Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not To Be. Recently, I had a lot of fun watching Alonso Ruizpalacios’ Museo, and the spark of Julie Dash’s Illusions joined a fire raging in me. On TV, I think Barry is so much fun, and I just watched Ted Lasso and I liked it very much.
Tell us about mentoring in WGI workshops.
I’ve mentored two sessions of the United We Dream Workshops and I love doing it. I usually get shaken up by the sheer talent of the people taking the workshop, and then I do my best to help the mentees make use of that talent in ways that allow them to explore their voice and creativity as they best see fit. I find it nourishing, too. I’ll usually go home at the end of the weekend with enough energy to chop down a tree. I don’t do it, of course, I consider myself a friend to trees everywhere, but again Jorge scholars might disagree below.
What is the most surprising thing you have learned from writing?
I’m embarrassed to admit that I did not know Charros are the original cowboys! The word “chaps” comes from the charro equivalent in Spanish, “chaparreras”. They don’t remind you of that in your average western story.
Do you have a writing “quirk” – if so, what is it?
I can only write while a Guy Fieri impersonator yells “honky donkey sauce toss” at me in two-minute intervals. This used to be a whole operation to orchestrate every time I wanted to write, but with apps like Cameo it’s a lot easier to accomplish now. The bad thing is that because it’s so easy now, I have less incentive to actually arrange for it. Strange how that works, but they say 90% of writing is not writing!
Any advice, guidance, or tips about writing?
The only advice that I think is universal is: make the time for it. Whatever works for you, but sit there for an allotted, focused time and think, and then put some thoughts on a recording tool somewhere. Also: Do not copy my writing quirk.