Fernando Flores on Writing, Music, and the Surreal South Texas Border
By Christina Miranda
Fernando Flores’s newly released novel takes a surreal yet honest approach to life along the South Texas border in Tears of the Trufflepig. In a parallel southern universe where narcotics have become legalized, scientists have begun the resurrection of extinct animal species and the ability to shrink human heads for the black market, which have been taken over by ex-drug cartels. The novel follows Esteban Bellacosa in his search for his missing brother as he is pulled into an exclusive world of extravagant dinners, mystical trufflepigs, and a once vanished Aranaña Indian tribe. Flores recently sat down with me to discuss his new and highly recommended novel, music, and life along the border. Below is an excerpt of our conversation.
Where did the idea of resurrecting extinct species for the sole purpose of consumption come from?
As I moved the narrative forward, I became interested with the idea of contraband. One day they’re going to legalize drugs, but there’s still going to be some kind of contraband. And I always liked the idea of how contraband has evolved. Before it was spices thousands of years ago, or green tea, things that you smuggle from one region to another. That idea has evolved throughout the centuries. I think I was interested in concepts and ideas more than actual concrete things. And eventually the idea of slavery was tied into the whole thing.
How does one come up with a Trufflepig?
I was interested in the mythology and the idea of creatures that exist in our imaginations that are the amalgam of other creatures. For example, a dragon is an amalgam of a lion, a serpent, and an eagle. It’s just a creature that exists in our imaginations, and I became interested in creatures that exist only in our imaginations. For as long as people have been around, this imaginary creature existed. And the idea of a creature like the platypus, too. Thinking about the Southwest Texas region, the predominant animals in these regions are lizards, hooved animals, and animals with beaks. The Trufflepig is an amalgam of these things. I tried, also, to take into consideration mythological concepts. There's a mythological route to all these things within the book and that was really important to me. Everything in it is rooted in something in mythology or history.
You’ve given this novel a soundtrack both in and out of this book. How does music play into your writing?
I'm the product of various music scenes from South Texas and here in Austin, so I'm really interested in mythology within songs. I [discovered] songs recorded here in the 1920s and 30s, from immigrants that ended up infusing what we now call Tejano.
That was really important for me on the literary level, and I tried to transfer that kind of mentality towards literature like writers from Czechoslovakia and writers from Germany. And, bohemian writers, thinking about what they were writing, their culture of surrealism. Then, thinking about what would happen if these writers would move here. What would they observe? Like, if Kafka hadn't died in the early twenties, and if he had to escape all this anti-semitism in the Czech Republic by moving to Texas like a lot of Czech people did around that time. What type of literature would have possibly existed?
What music artists or genres to you listen to while writing?
I'm always trying to catch up with the 20th century. I'm always down to listen to the earliest recordings of anything—the people who were first recording live musicians, what they were trying to do. Because they weren't trying to sell records, they didn’t know yet about hit singles. I read somewhere, 75% or something of the silent films films made were lost forever because people didn't have an idea of archiving. They didn’t have the idea of film as a historical document. It was still an emerging thing, and so was the recording of music. I don’t really stick to any specific kind of genre, I listen to anything. I'm always down to listen to any kind of record, really, to be honest, you know, and I always have like a list of composers. There's this Norwegian composer named Jenny Hval, she has this album called Blood Bitch that is astounding. I always just seem to be attracted to the strange, avant garde. I like to listen to some pop too, you know.
What does your writing process look like?
I think it changes from project to project. The way I write the project has to do also with the project. I can't write them all the same way that I wrote this book. I'll probably never write a book like the way I wrote this book.
So how close to the future is this story?
I think I was just writing it more like a present day story, really. But I can see it’s more like a parallel universe. When my dad read it… afterwards he said, maybe to the Americans this is an alternate reality, but to us in the border this is the real thing. This is the way life is down here.
In this version of South Texas, you have two border walls with the possibility of a third, and that’s kind of what’s happening right now. What would you want to say to those who would want more borders?
I don't know if there’s anything that I can say to these people. Everybody seems already decided in their minds. But what you can do is you can try to smuggle these concepts in some kind of way, like I tried with this [book]. I think that's the power of fairy tales or even speculative fiction, where you can use these stories to smuggle in themes of immigration or racism or complete control. But when I wrote this I knew that any society absurd enough to build one border wall would be absurd enough to build two or three. Like, why stop at one, you know, especially since when you build one it's not gonna work… If you're gonna be absurd enough to say build a wall, you know, build five. Even five border walls are not going to do anything. Why build something that's not going to do the job? I think there lies the power of absurdism.
Tears of the Trufflepig is available now from FSG Originals.