Antonio, congratulations on your recently published novel Barefoot Dogs!
Thank you! It’s not a novel, though. It’s a collection of short stories.
Oh. I was told your book tells the story of a single family in exile, so.
Yes, Barefoot Dogs revolves around the Arteagas, an affluent family from Mexico City who must flee the country after their patriarch is kidnapped. But their saga is told through short stories–each one from the perspective of a different member of the family, or some of the housekeepers who worked for them back in Mexico, as they face exile.
It’s not a novel then.
That’s a bummer, man. We’ll keep this short, then. Haha.
Fine by me.
You said that this family you talk about in your book–let’s call it that–is wealthy. Wouldn’t it be easier to write sympathetic characters if they’d come from a disadvantaged background?
Writing sympathetic characters is not a priority for me. My ambition is that the characters in my stories hopefully will make readers feel something–anything—not that they necessarily sympathize with them. In the case of the Arteagas, they may come from a pampered background but they experience the loss of a loved one out of a disappearance, they end up becoming war refugees of sorts, and they can’t go back to their home country. They go through a series of traumatic experiences that many people may relate to regardless of background. I enjoyed the challenge of revealing the humanity of a group of people who you’d think at first have everything, who you’d assume are shielded from peril just because of their social and economic status.
Is there a lot of violence in Barefoot Dogs? Do we get to read too many gory scenes about kidnappings, drug lords executing their victims–things like that?
The book is partly inspired by the wave of violence Mexico has been through for almost two decades now as a result of the drug war. Thousands of people have been killed and disappeared in recent years in my home country, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced as they’ve tried to run away from violence. I didn’t want to focus on the violence itself, though, but rather on its emotional and personal consequences, on how those drug war-related news you hear or read about impact people on a daily basis. So, no, no drug lords.
Barefoot Dogs is a strange title for a book with a theme such as the one you’re describing. What other unexpected elements may we find in it?
Well, a bear takes over a McDonald’s, a middle-aged woman and her younger lover crawl into a tumble dryer, and an old lady from the Lower East Side of Manhattan teaches a couple of teenagers how to exterminate a rat with a meat fork.
Of all the comments you’ve received about Barefoot Dogs so far, which one has fulfilled you the most?
That for all the tragedies that haunt the protagonists, it’s a funny book; that you get to laugh quite a bit while reading it.
Antonio, I also heard that before delving into fiction you worked as a journalist for many years?
That is correct.
Yikes. That doesn’t make you exactly young.
I’m forty-two now. Are you really going there?
I’ll leave it at that. What are the main differences between being a fiction writer and a journalist?
In fiction you’re allowed, even expected, to twist reality in order to tell a greater truth–you can get away with a lot of made-up stuff and yet make a point. And in journalism you don’t get requests for self-interviews.
That’s got to be depressing, man.
It’s actually nice. You get to ask the questions, not to answer them. You’re not the center of attention–unless you work for TV.
You may get this question a lot, but I’m curious. English is your second language. Is it hard to write in English
Yes, I do get that question a lot. Next question please.
Do you dream of eñes and tildes chirping on your shoulder?
I used to. Now I dream of hyphens bickering with semicolons, they yell at each other words I can never find in the Webster’s.
Can you name three influences on your work that we wouldn’t see coming?
The films of Sofia Coppola, the sculptures of Richard Serra and Martin Puryear, and the lyrics of Spanish band Love of Lesbian.
That’s random. May I ask why?
I aspire to create in my writing what they do in their art–something that defies reason and yet delivers a punch of emotion, something you don’t get to understand but stays with you for a long time.
Okay, before we go, what’s your biggest fear as a writer?
ANTONIO RUIZ-CAMACHO has worked as a journalist in Mexico, Europe, and the United States. A 2009 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University and a 2014 Dobie Paisano Fellow in Fiction, Ruiz-Camacho earned his MFA from the New Writers Project at the University of Texas at Austin. He is from Toluca, Mexico, and lives in Austin, Texas, with his family.