Crafting a Story Collection with Christopher Gonzalez

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Show Notes

Christopher Gonzalez discusses his debut story collection, I’m Not Hungry But I Could Eat, as well as his writing process, flash fiction techniques, literary magazine editing, literary Twitter, the art of putting together a story collection, small press publishing vs. the Big 5, revision, reality TV, leaning into your own weirdness as a writer, and more.

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Transcript

Laura Maylene Walter (00:02):
Welcome to Page Count presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. This podcast celebrates authors, illustrators, librarians, booksellers, literary advocates, and readers in and from the state of Ohio.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:21):
I'm your host, Laura Maylene Walter, the Ohio Center for the Book Fellow and author of the novel BODY OF STARS. Today, we're speaking with Christopher Gonzalez, author of the short story collection. I'm not hungry, but I could eat, which was just published in December by the Santa Fe Writers' project. Gonzalez is a NYSCA/NYFA artist fellow in fiction for the New York Foundation of the Arts, a fiction editor at Barrelhouse and his writing appears in the Nation, Catapult, the Millions, the Forge, Lunch Ticket, Best Small Fictions and elsewhere. I’M NOT HUNGRY BUT I COULD EAT is his debut story collection. Chris, welcome to the podcast. Thank

Christopher Gonzalez (00:56):
You for having me. I'm so excited to be here.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:58):
Congratulations on your first book, which I'm sure will be the first of many. I always start by asking my guests about their Ohio connection. So I'm hoping you could start just by telling us where you're from and where you ended up.

Christopher Gonzalez (01:11):
Yeah. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio from the age of five to 18. When I left for college, I went to BA college, but my family is still in Ohio. So I go back multiple times a year at this point. And they're in the Parma area, Brook Park area, but you know, former Clevelander.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:28):
Well, we're glad to claim you and I didn't grow up here, but I live here now. So I feel like we just missed each other. And I also noticed by the way that the protagonist in better than all that works at Cleveland public library. So thank you for the library shout out, love to see it. Appreciate that. But again, congratulations on this collection, which I just adored. It's a collection of 15 stories about friendship and loneliness and alienation and hunger and how food ties into all of that sometimes. And so it's just really complex and beautiful. So I was hoping you could give us an review of the collection, you know, tell us a bit about it and also let us know your journey to creating it. You know, how long did you work on it? When did you know that you were working on a collection versus individual stories?

Christopher Gonzalez (02:14):
I started writing the first story in the collection, I would say, 2014, 2015. The oldest story in the collection is called "Half Hearted" and then spent, you know, about five years, I think, truly writing and publishing most of the stories in the collection. It wasn't until about two years in two or three years in that I figured out I was working towards a collection, right. I had a much stronger sense of, you know, my voice as a writer, the themes that I was interested in. And as you mentioned, friendship and relationships and sort of this intimacy between male characters as well and hunger and desire both in like a romantic sexual sense, but also in like a food and craving sense. And that was becoming clearer to me as I wrote more and more of these stories. So I guess when I had about half of the collection together, I knew it was a collection and that sort of intentionality helped me finalize the vision for the book and finish those last few stories.

Christopher Gonzalez (03:12):
And then in 2020, I, you know, I was putting the manuscript together, my editor at Santa Fe Wrtiters Project, Monica Prince, reached out to me and I had known her for about a year and a half, two years. She's a phenomenal choreo poet. And I gotten to know her through Barrelhouse connection. You know, she's participated in the conference. I met her through that. We sat on a panel together right over the time talking and sharing our work. And when she was in a position to acquire for Santa Fe, she reached out to me and that's sort of like where it went. So I signed that contract in August 2020, and the book came out December 2021, which feels like a pretty quick turnaround. It was mostly done. I, before I sent her the final manuscript, I wrote two more stories that are unpublished, but for the most part, everything else in the collection had been published at other literary journals. Yeah. That's a very abridged version of what happened, I guess.

Laura Maylene Walter (04:04):
Yes. I would love to later talk a bit about publishing individual stories and sort of your philosophy on submitting to journals and publishing, but to return to the collection, the front matter of the collection. So first of all, you have this really glorious epigraph about chicken tenders from a Helen Rosner essay, which I can link to in the show notes, in case someone out there hasn't actually read it yet. You need to read this. So you have that. And you also included a brief author's note. And so correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel that you've said you originally proposed, including that author's note almost as a joke until you realized or decided no, this actually serves a real purpose for the book. So I was wondering if you could talk to us about that author's note and why it is meaningful to include?

Christopher Gonzalez (04:49):
You are correct. I did originally posit it as a joke on Twitter. So for those who haven't read the book, the author's note is please note every narrator and protagonist in this collection is a bisexual Puerto Rican cub with the exception of one in that story, the narrator is gay, and it was important to me that there was no question about who these characters were for readers. I think in publishing, especially, you know, the whiteness is sort of the dominant and the default straightness, you know, unless it specifically claimed in any way. And I think not every story has a moment where the narrator is like I'm Puerto Rican or I'm bisexual. Right? But it was very important to me that a reader sort of enters these stories, understanding who these narrators were, what backgrounds they had, how they move through the world in terms of like physical they're all men of size, to an extent, and talking it over with my editor, I included it in the manuscript, but we both arrived at the point that these stories are ultimately about characters, wanting people to understand them, wanting to feel there's frustration with feeling like misunderstood.

Christopher Gonzalez (05:55):
And so it's almost like the book is participating in that as well. Just saying, this is who I am. It's not something I would ever do for another book. I don't think. But ultimately I think for this book, it was important.

Laura Maylene Walter (06:07):
I also was struck by how the book is diverse in tone, I would say, but in a way that really works well together, it can be really bittersweet sometimes or melancholy, but it can also be really funny, and you have joy and love and friendship and community and all of those things in the book. So I was kind of curious about that when you were thinking about the tone of each individual story and the collection as a whole, how did you think about that? Or how did that come together for you?

Christopher Gonzalez (06:34):
Thank you honestly, for, for saying all of that, because I was trying to not be too sentimental. I think as writers, we're a little critical of our work and I felt for me, I had a tendency to maybe become a little too like melancholy or sentimental, which are there in the book and humor is my ultimate goal. So hearing that it lands always makes me happy. Um, cuz you never know if it's gonna work out. It was very important to me to sort of reflect the emotional arc of these characters, right? They're frustrated, they're lonely, they're heartbroken, they're sad. They also are consumed by this quiet rage at times. And I think for me, rage is like an interesting access point to humor, whether it's coming out in like judgmental quips about people around them or just having these like very strong opinions about ordering fries at happy hour.

Christopher Gonzalez (07:28):
Right. If I did my job correctly, that story is like incredibly funny, but also sort of revealing this heavier thought about like moving through the world and having a physical body and what it means and sort of how we overthink as a person who has been bigger for most of my life. Right? Like how I think about moving through space, but using humor to sort of shed light on that. So it was definitely all, you know, intentional as far as the individual stories and some of them sort of falling more into one category tonally versus is another, I just felt like I had to follow the narrator or the character and allow their emotional truth to come across. If a reader feels that a story might not be that funny, you know, it's because humor wasn't called for. So I was trying to listen to those impulses and as I was writing the stories and then putting them together, hoping that all those different threads came through.

Laura Maylene Walter (08:20):
Yes, they definitely did. And I'm glad you mentioned "Ordering Fries at Happy Hour: because I love that story so much. And it's so short and so complex with all of those emotions that you mentioned. I really think it's the best stream-of-consciousness story about desire and resentment and restraint and hunger and potatoes, all wrapped up into one. So I'll encourage listeners to look at that story. And Chris and I were mentioning before we started recording that we haven't had lunch yet and we're very hungry. So I need to move on from the fries from now. But another one of my favorite stories is the title story, "I'm Not Hungry, but I Could Eat." And in this story, the narrator is already really full, but his friend is upset and needs to talk and they meet at a diner where he eats to keep pace with her. I would say emotionally more so than physically, I'll read one line from the opening of this story. The narrator is saying: "For friends, I make time. For best friends. I make room in my stomach," which I think is really beautiful and touching. Can you talk a bit about that story, the inspiration for it, and also how you came to select it as the title story for the collection?

Christopher Gonzalez (09:30):
It's so funny because at this point, now readers will hear that title story and almost instinctually are like, "oh, mood," or saying, you know, "wow, I get this." And to an extent, that is part of it. I think for most of my life, that phrase, I'm not hungry, but I could eat—which, advice to titling a book...I hear it a lot now in like regular conversation and I get whiplash, they're not talking about the book—but it just encapsulated something that felt true about sort of how I navigated life. And I think the intention with that story of trying to keep pace with a friend as you put it, because the connection is so important to you that you almost downplay your own emotional needs or like physical needs for others. So it's sort of, he's there for his friend, but at the same time, he's harming himself.

Christopher Gonzalez (10:17):
And I think that just came together sort of looking back on my own friendships, especially in my earlier twenties and quite literally, you know, in college going to like the dining hall with your friend group as a freshman is sort of a big deal. And I remember eating like a second dinner to just like be with my friends, like, oh, he got out of practice later. I already had dinner. I guess I can go eat dinner. Like it's just another meal swipe, but looking back it's like that probably wasn't the best. Right. I could have went and didn't need to eat like another two servings of anything. So I was really focusing in on that sort of dynamic in that story and like how you can be there for someone, but what can you miss about yourself? Or like ignore about yourself in trying to be the caretaker of somebody else's emotions, right.

Christopher Gonzalez (11:04):
As for picking it for the collection, I almost, there was a time when I almost picked "Here's the situation" as the flagship story. And I think they do something similarly in terms of analyzing a very close friendship that is emotionally complicated, but I landed on "I'm Not Hungry" because it really drew attention to the themes of hunger and desire, which I think the last couple months have proven that it reads as kind of funny. And then you read that title story, and I hope for readers, it's a little more nuanced than that. So I like the idea of introducing readers to this phrase and then giving them a deeper understanding of it and changing their relationship to it as they read the book. It's ultimately why I landed on it.

Laura Maylene Walter (11:45):
And you mentioned "Here's the Situation," which I really like the form of that piece. It's a departure in form from the other stories. And it seemed to come at a perfect time and it was really engaging. So I don't know if you would like to just describe that story a bit and also tell us about your process for working on that story's form and, and how you fit it into the collection.

Christopher Gonzalez (12:06):
So "Here's the Situation" is about two friends who live together. One friend is based tasked with the responsibility of ending his friend's relationships for him. So his friend is sleeping around hooking up and he leaves his roommate to handle the dirty work, the form of it, it's broken up into these smaller vignettes, right? So it's, here's the situation or here's what I remember. And it jumps in time, bringing us to a present moment where the narrators tasked yet again with sort of ending things, except the person he's developed a closeness with him. I think as you do, when like someone is in your life and in your circle, even if like they're not, you know, your partner, but they are a familiar presence. And so he sort of reflected on that. When I first wrote the story or first attempted the story, I tried a more traditional format.

Christopher Gonzalez (12:59):
I tried just sort of like seen by scene by scene in chronological events. And it wasn't working for me. I got maybe 2,000, 2,500 words in and it just, it felt dead. I was interested in the premise, but fleshing it out into a fuller narrative. Wasn't interesting to me, the current form took shape after I sort of borrowed a writing exercise from a professor in college where he used as sort of a character study. It was like, here's the situation, but you did it three times. So it was present past and future and you would just drop into that same character's life. So I kind of took it to its fullest form in that way and just said, you know, what, if I keep returning back to it and reflecting on like the past and filling in a narrative with these vignettes without going too much into depth of them and like what can vignettes do when they're combined? And you know, those are the things that I found interesting because I think that's how memory works, right? It's never just like a long pan to this long memory, long backstory. It comes in these fits and spurts for me anyway. Right? So I wanted to replicate that on the page as well.

Laura Maylene Walter (14:04):
Many of the stories, not all of them, but many of them are works of flash fiction. As someone who tends to write too long—it might be because I've been working more on novels in recent years—but when I write a story, now it seems to come out at six or 7,000 words. And so I need help, I need to rein it in. But can you give us some of your, your thoughts on flash fiction, general tips? Like, do the stories come to you in that form or are you doing a lot of cutting? Just love to hear a bit of your process and some of your magic for flash fiction.

Christopher Gonzalez (14:34):
First of all, I gotta say, can we switch problems? I can't write a longer narrative. I mean, I would love to at least for like a story or two, be able to crank out seven, 8,000 words,

Laura Maylene Walter (14:45):
Literary magazines don't love it though. In general.

Christopher Gonzalez (14:48):
That's true. Barrelhouse does, a little plug, Barrelhouse does, but no, I think it's an interesting question. I came to flash. It was both like seeing all these calls for flash fiction or like if it wasn't identified as flash, it was just like short stories under a thousand words. When I started submitting and I had all these like just very poor, poor attempts at writing longer stories. So they were coming out at 2000 words. Maybe I could get up to 3,000, but they felt flabby. And so for me, the fun of it was okay, there are all these 1,000-word submission calls, how do I get my stories to work like that? And I started just cutting, cutting and cutting. You know, I asked myself, what's the central theme I'm trying to explore. What's the most interesting piece of this. And I just cut it down to the bone.

Christopher Gonzalez (15:37):
Right. And a lot of the stories became so much stronger that way. So that was sort of my first introduction to flash. And also my recommendation. What happens if you just start hacking away at a draft and isolating certain scenes or allowing yourself that freedom and like maybe it should be a longer story and you'll know that more confidently now, or maybe you'll have something interesting that's different from what you first envisioned when you started writing. And that's what would happen to me, the story and the collection unplucked. I think I intended it as a flash, but where it ended up is not at all, what I thought was going to happen, but I think trying to be very precise language and which details to include, which is always important, but in flash it's even more so. And also like what can you leave off the page for the reader to sort of fill in with their own ideas, experiences. Those are the important questions I have when I'm revising.

Laura Maylene Walter (16:27):
So speaking of revision, was there a story in this collection that stands out to you as presenting maybe the most challenging revision process for you? And if so, what do you think it was that was making it a challenge?

Christopher Gonzalez (16:41):
So the longest story in the collection better than all, that was the toughest to revise for the reason that it was long. But even beyond that, I had the ending in mind before I finished it before I even started it. I knew I wanted to write toward that ending. And I think for me as a writer, when it's so fixed, like that it's even harder to get there. I don't want it to feel too easy. I don't want the ending to feel cheap. And so I'm constantly doubting what I'm doing and like, am I laying the groundwork so that it still feels pleasantly shock for the reader, but if they look back, did I do enough to leave them there? So that it's the only logical ending. Those were hard questions to answer while working on that story, but everything else, you know, I think for flash stories, it's sometimes hard for me to just get a first draft. I have a lot of false starts. I sort of get bored with my own premise two sentences in, so by the time I finally finish one of those drafts, it's as close to done as possible versus the longer stories. That's just so much more planning and plotting. And I do think the flash and my collection have plot. It's just not at all the same, like trying to write a 6,400 word story.

Laura Maylene Walter (17:53):
Yeah.

Christopher Gonzalez (17:54):
You know.

Laura Maylene Walter (17:56):
I do know. <laughs> Is your focus primarily on stories at this stage? Are you working on a novel, and if so, how have you been navigating that big difference in form?

Christopher Gonzalez (18:08):
I am. I feel this is a safe space. I am working on a novel and it's been hard, but I think I'm trying to borrow the tools I have from writing stories. And I think what makes it less scary, you know, when I was building towards the collection, it got easier when I stopped thinking about it as like, oh, these separate stories, but rather a project. And I'm just trying to remind myself that, like what you're building towards is a project. I think I've been inspired by the different shapes novels can take now novels and flash are more of a thing, novels in flash novels, you know, in verse, but they're still novels and what makes them novels. So I'm trying to be easy with myself and not pressure myself into necessarily writing so differently from how I approach writing while also challenging myself to do something different. If that makes sense.

Laura Maylene Walter (18:59):
It definitely makes sense. And I agree, anyone out there working on a novel needs to try to go easy on themselves. And so, yeah, this is a safe space. I can't imagine anyone who would be more sympathetic to the anxieties and frustrations and difficulties of writing a novel. So I will send good novel vibes your way for sure.

Christopher Gonzalez (19:20):
Thank you.

Laura Maylene Walter (19:21):
Can we talk a bit about Barrelhouse? You mentioned it a few times. You're a fiction editor there. Barrelhouse is a fabulous publication and also does events and also of good things. Can you just tell us a bit, describe your role there, what you do, how long you've been working with them, and also give us a sense for how that might have influenced your own way of submitting to journals or how you look at your own writing.

Christopher Gonzalez (19:43):
I've been with Barrelhouse since spring 2016, I believe I started just reading slush, you know, and then after about the year and a half, I was invited to be a full-time editor. So that means I get to participate and have conversations about, you know, overall direction of Barrelhouse in our different projects. Barrelhouse has a writer camp in the summer that we usually have twice outside of state college. We do the conference that you mentioned conversations and connections, which before the pandemic was in pit and DC, and we've done it virtual in this interim period. And then of course the journal. So there are four of us who are fiction editors, and usually two of us lead a cycle at best. We try to open for submissions twice a year, but that sometimes doesn't work out. As far as fiction editor, I read through the slush. Barrelhouse can get slammed with a thousand stories if we open for a week, and we don't really have a length cutoff or a minimum.

Christopher Gonzalez (20:38):
So sometimes they're like very meaty stories and submissions. And we work with our assistant editors to read through the queue and get to four or five stories that we wanna publish per issue. So that's a little bit about what I do, but it is interesting. I was writing this book while working with Barrelhouse and as far as my own submission process, I think of course, reading submissions sort of clued me into things that maybe I was doing that I didn't particularly like what kind of stories do I like to read? What things don't appeal to me and like, am I doing that in my own work? And also it made me understand a little bit more like, oh, a no is not an insult against the writer. Sometimes stories can be perfectly good, but not a right fit for the journal. And I think that was something I really needed to hear early on in my writing career that, oh, okay.

Christopher Gonzalez (21:24):
My story is fine. It just wasn't a match for this journal or that journal. It made me more intentional about where I was submitting my work as well. I am on Twitter and I follow a lot of journals, but I follow a lot of the editors and getting to see what their tastes are as well helps me tailor my submission. Like, oh, I think this would be a great story for, you know, Megan Phillips at Third Point Press to publish, which is what happened to the story, "What You Missed while I was Watching Your Cat" in the collection, right. I was just very intentional. And then working with Barrelhouse allowed me to sort of really lean into my own weirdness and or the things that I was obsessed with. And it felt like my work was validated even though, you know, I wasn't submitting to Barrelhouse, but I think just the community vibe and that we really do care about. Right. And we really do believe sometimes all a writer needs to get going is to be told that they should keep going and all of that messaging, I internalized myself. So that was deeply helpful.

Laura Maylene Walter (22:19):
Yeah. I think that's really smart. And hearing you talk about how Barrelhouse can get a thousand submissions in a week and you end up picking five. I also have worked with a lot of literary journals and I edit one right now. And we also narrow down our whole submission pool at the end to maybe five pieces of prose, five or six. And I mean, when you just think about those numbers, it helps as a writer to take your own rejections less personally as well, because it's not that we didn't have more than five really amazing stories in the queue that we could have published, but it just comes down to so many factors and luck and taste and just what is kind of hitting with the editors at the moment. So I think that's really, that's a smart strategy, and I'll often look at my own work, I'll open it up and I'll try to pretend I'm an overworked, tired lit mag editor opening it in Submittable. And that is like the harshest lens to view your work through. So I think that hopefully helps me to just be real with myself of, well, it's not that this is bad, but is it special enough or is it ready yet? You know, so I find that helpful.

Christopher Gonzalez (23:23):
Absolutely. And I also just to add onto that, find that a lot of stories in the queue could be cut by two pages. Right? A lot of people, they're throat clearing, if that's what you are gonna call it, but definitely helps me more critical of my work. Like, am I starting as close to the action as possible?

Laura Maylene Walter (23:40):
Yeah. That's a really good point. Yeah. So your day job is in publishing. If I'm correct, you work for a big publisher on the production side with ebooks. I listened to another interview with you where you talked a bit about that. And you mentioned that at one point you made a conscious choice to not pursue the editorial side of that work, but to instead go to the production side, which I thought was a really wise decision in part to be able to protect your own writing. So I was wondering if you could talk about that a bit, maybe first for our listeners, you could explain what the difference is. If you work for a publisher on the editorial side or the production side, and also how you came to that work and how you ultimately made that choice.

Christopher Gonzalez (24:22):
So I have been at a big five publisher, the same one for almost seven years now. And I've been in ebook production that entire time. I had previously interned in editorial at another house. I think the summer before my senior year of college, I also interned in production at that same house. So I got a little bit into like a peak behind the curtain for both types of roles. And I found editorial to be just a much more demanding. You know, you really have to love the work and love to work with authors and like build a book with them. Right. I think that's a huge part of it. It requires so much outside reading that I already feel overwhelmed by my day to day in terms of trying to write my own stuff. I didn't feel like I could do that as the full-time job in ebook production. It's very much a nine to five, which is I'm very grateful and fortunate to have. And it's so removed from the book. You know, I'm dealing with metadata and like prices and working with retailers, making sure the actual like files are working correctly and being distributed, hitting their on sale dates without any like actual or regard for the material of those books. So it's very much, you know, a technical job, which is nice to have it doesn't require so much creativity from me. I can use some of that energy in my own writing.

Laura Maylene Walter (25:38):
Yeah. I think that's really smart. And I think that might be something we don't talk about a lot as writers, which is in order to protect your writing time or energy for the long haul. If you want to be a writer, who's giving it a go throughout a whole career, sometimes you have to make certain choices with your day job and your career. Maybe sometimes it might be sacrifices. Other times it might just be choices that lead you down a path you might not have taken if you weren't a writer. I think about that for myself, about different jobs I've held in my career. And I know for a fact that would all look very different if I weren't trying to write novels and short stories and essays around those jobs, for sure. But because you work with a big five publisher, your collection is published by a small press. You're an editor with a literary magazine. I feel like you have a foot in all of these different aspects of the publishing world. So I'm wondering if you could tell us how that different work has informed, how you see the publishing world at large, what has that taught you? And what does that make you think about for your own career?

Christopher Gonzalez (26:43):
It's interesting because before working and publishing, I had no idea what small press or indie press was. I knew about literary journals, of course, as I started writing and trying to submit to them, but the small press world really didn't exist in my mind. And now several years into working in publishing and being a writer. And I don't say this us because I was published small press, but I do feel like some of the most interesting work is being published by smaller and independent presses. The reason for that may vary, you know, I think with big publishing, it is very much a business, all publishing is really, and there's a concern for making that advance back. There's a concern for books that sell in bigger publishing, right? And I think independent presses, smaller presses are willing to publish riskier work. It's awful because the funding isn't always there and editors are a lot of the time doing this as a labor of love. And you kind of wish it didn't work out that way, but I think there's not as much pressure for a book to sell within the indie small as there is in the Big Five world. And that's one of the biggest differences I've noticed.

Laura Maylene Walter (27:48):
I did also want to quickly mention another one of your stories that does not appear in the collection, but readers can find it online at Catapult. I'll link to it in the show notes. You know what I'm talking about, it's called "And Another and Another and Another Glass of Rose." And it is about the classic American reality show The Bachelorette. So you're pretty open about liking trash TV because I mean, who doesn't. I'd love to hear maybe some background about that story, how it came to be, and also more generally just what are some shows that you're watching right now? Anything you can recommend, any comments on how TV does or does not have a place in your creative life, aside from this one specific story, which I love.

Christopher Gonzalez (28:30):
Well, I thank you. I really enjoyed writing that story before the pandemic had like a weekly viewing party with friends as sort of the framing device of that story. This person with friends watching the Bachelorette, but in the story, it's the season that he sort of auditioned to be on and did not get to. And it's a commentary about race and the Bachelorette/Bachelor franchise, which is so very white. And it's gotten a little better the last few years, but what do you do with this franchise that was overwhelmingly white is supposed to appeal to white people in like quote unquote, middle America. And what happens when you start throwing people of color into this? It sort of feels like you're hanging them out to dry, or at least that's been my experience watching it. And yet I still love the franchise. We could probably have a whole separate podcast about the Bachelorette, but I love the idea that love is something, I don't know....

Christopher Gonzalez (29:19):
It's like the way capitalism comes into play and this like narrative that gets fed to people that like, if they trust the process, it'll work. But the process is like one person choosing from like 30 people. So all those things are interesting to me. And I was interested in writing a Puerto Rican character into this space and what happens to a person of color and like what ways, like the editing sort of reinforcing certain negative stereotypes and all of that, not to give too much away, but I also have drafts of other stories I'm working on sort of writing into like reality television space. Cause I think it's so fascinating. And I watch a lot of terrible reality television. I binge the Real Housewives of Potomac. I've watched a lot of Real Housewives of New York. Most recently. Love is Blind has really been the one. Yeah.

Laura Maylene Walter (30:08):
I've been watching that these last few days too. Yeah.

Christopher Gonzalez (30:11):
It's pretty awful. And yet I can't look away.

Laura Maylene Walter (30:14):
It's terrible. Yeah.

Christopher Gonzalez (30:15):
It's pretty incredible. And I mean, Netflix has been kicking it with a lot of their reality program. Everything from like Marriage or Mortgage to Too Hot to Handle to The Circle. I love this form of reality television where it's a competition and it's like, so overly stylized my personal favorite, which I feel like doesn't get enough love: Dating Around.

Laura Maylene Walter (30:39):
Oh, I think I saw that. Is that the one with one person goes on four identical dates or three and then picks someone? Yes. Yeah. Okay. I, I think I had seen that. I did enjoy that.

Christopher Gonzalez (30:50):
It's interesting because it's almost like a documentary style where they're just letting it happen, and they're editing it. So it's all spliced together. So it's like you see the same date four or five times.

Laura Maylene Walter (30:59):
Yeah. And no talking heads, right? You just get to experience it with them. Yeah.

Christopher Gonzalez (31:04):
Yes. Yeah. And it sort of flows seamlessly, but what's fascinating to me about that show is there's no high stakes. It's just like, who are they interested in? Like going on a second date with one couple from the second season is still together, which is interesting. I mean, I follow them on Instagram, but I'm just, I think reality television, I sort of love how like it's just so insincere and toxic and presents itself as like not being those things. And I think I just love people. So when you put people together in a space, what are they gonna do? And maybe that's how I approach fiction writing. What made me feel valid about my love of reality television. I remember Nafissa Thompson-Spires who wrote Heads of the Colored People, which is a phenomenal short story collection, had said in the interview that like sometimes she writes while there's like Real Housewives or something happening in the background, sort of like, what does that energy do? I'm fascinated by.

Laura Maylene Walter (31:57):
Yeah. It does feel like there's so much territory to cover and discuss as writers watching these shows. I talk with writing friends about some of these reality shows all the time and it, on one hand the shows are pretty vapid. But on the other hand, we seem to have plenty that we could talk about. And I remember years ago when Roxane Gay would talk about the Bachelor or the Bachelorette and to me, at least, that was the first time I was seeing a writer talk about these shows in this way. And so it can be a lot of fun and speaking of fun or maybe not fun, I don't know. I would like to talk about Twitter really quickly, which I really enjoy your Twitter presence. You seem to have fun with it. Twitter's just this place. I mean, we all know it can make you feel really terrible and it can be just toxic and just seething with everything that's wrong in the world. But I would just like to hear your thoughts on Twitter, you know, how you experience it. If you have tips for any of us who start to use it and get depressed. You know, a lot of writers are on Twitter. There's a really thriving literary community on there as well. And so how does literary Twitter fact into your larger writing community?

Christopher Gonzalez (33:02):
God, I do love Twitter and I really am having a good time. Even like those days where people are being infuriated. I mean, there's always like a main character of the day, right. Or who tweeted the thought that's like problematic or sometimes problematic like harmless, but gets blown out of proportion. And like now you have a hundred people quote-tweeting and dunking on. And like, so it's an interesting social experiment as well. In some cases I think what keeps me sane, cuz I think with literary Twitter, it's a lot of seeing people be open about successes and that's exciting. And I know depending on where you are in your process, that can also be a little demoralizing. In order to balance it, I don't treat Twitter as a professional tool, for better or worse. Yes, I tell people I'm an editor. Yes, I promote events and like share my work and share the work of other writers I love.

Christopher Gonzalez (33:49):
But like I'm also just sort of letting my random thoughts dis spewing them and like letting that be true too. I think some people might curate the space more so that it's very much writerly and I might have tried to do that eight years ago, but I think allowing myself, I'm not gonna hold back opinions or I'm not going to like, of course don't share everything about my life on Twitter, but I'm just there to have a good time. And I've truly made some of my best friends through Twitter and having that support through the writing process, having that support when something emotionally or like terrible happens in your day-to-day life. It's nice to know that. Especially during the pandemic that like, even if friends aren't within reach physically, that we can communicate with each other virtually in the DMs. For me, it feels like this community hub for better or worse where like I get to see the people

Christopher Gonzalez (34:39):
I love. Occasionally annoying things happen, but my advice really is just, if you absolutely hate it, you do not have to be there. I think there is a pressure for writers to feel like they have to get on Twitter or like the latest pressure is you have to get on TikTok. No, you don't have to do anything. It does mean, you know, if you're not, how do you form community? It's just one option, but it's not the only option, it just happened to be the one I gravitated to. And I would also say because of that, so many opportunities writing-wise have come along everything from seeing calls for openings, which is how I got the Barrelhouse role. They tweeted it out, but also forming relationships and being in the DMs and people just asking me, you know, like, Hey, would you like to submit something to this? Those things have happened organically just by being in that space. So it's kind of everything.

Laura Maylene Walter (35:28):
Yeah. I'm not on a ton, but when I go on Twitter and I'll see a call for pitches or submissions or some kind of opportunity, and it's very fleeting, these calls go up and then they come down and if I'm lucky enough to see them, it makes me realize how vast that network can be and how much information you can get as a writer, trying to find a place and find different ways they can try to connect to the community. So I think that is really useful. Well, I want to make sure we respect your time and don't take up too much more of your time. And since we're both hungry as well, we need to go eat lunch soon. But my last question, I read an interview where you had described I’M NOT HUNGRY BUT I COULD EAT as a love letter to your twenties, which I really liked. And so my last question is a combination of how would you discuss what that means to you having a book that in part is maybe a love letter to this time in your life. And also what might your next love letter of a book be? Do you have anything you can share about what you're working on or what you might hope it could become if that's even knowable at this stage?

Christopher Gonzalez (36:31):
I love that question. Yeah. Thank you. So the collection, I think I've also referred to it. Like it's not auto fiction necessarily, but like emotionally it's very much pulling from my life. And so when I said it's a love letter to my twenties, I think through writing this collection, I just made space for the loneliness and the frustration and the sadness that I carried with me, especially in my early twenties. And before I came out as queer and sort of navigated dating and like everything, you know, I'm almost 30 now. So it does feel like the collection was like a nice way to sort of like document those sort of things, emotions and stories that I felt like I couldn't share. So that's very much what I meant by the book is a love letter. It just by making space for all of those feelings and I felt like this wasn't the, but through writing it and sort of taking a step back, I do recognize the way I shifted, whether my thinking or personal growth there has been growth. So that's kind of been nice to be like, I am not that chaotic 23-year-old anymore. And as for next project, I think this book was about me, but about friendships and I'm kind of interested in family and that's probably all I'll say about the next project as much as I know right now, but I just love exploring dynamics between people. And so how does that change when I'm looking at a family unit?

Laura Maylene Walter (37:51):
I thought we could end with an excerpt from one of the blurbs on your collection. This is from author Raven Leilani who said about I’M NOT HUNGRY BUT I COULD EAT: "You feel the hunger in the text, a deference to the carnal that refuses easy categorization or shame after you finish, you will need to eat." So I think that's a perfect note to end on Chris. Thank you so much for your time today and everyone listening. I hope you will go and read this collection and then go have something to, or share a meal with a friend or just feed yourselves in some way that matters. So Chris, thanks so much for being here.

Christopher Gonzalez (38:26):
Thank you, Laura. It's been great.

Laura Maylene Walter (38:30):
Thank you so much to Christopher Gonzalez. Follow him on Twitter @livesinpages and buy I’M NOT HUNGRY BUT I COULD EAT anywhere books are sold, but preferably an indie bookshop, Bookshop.org or Cafe con Libros. Page Count is presented by the Ohio Center of the Book at Cleveland Public Library. Learn more online at ohiocenterforthebook.org. Follow us on Twitter @cplocfb, or find us on Facebook. If you'd like to get in touch, email ohiocenterforthebook@cpl.org and put podcast in the subject line. Finally, follow me on Twitter and Instagram @LauraMaylene. Thanks for listening, and we'll be back in two weeks for another chapter of Page Count.

				

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