From Telling Stories at a Bar to Writing Books

An interview with Oscar Casares, author of the just-released Amigoland

By Mayra Calvani
Published on LatinoLA: August 28, 2009

From Telling Stories at a Bar to Writing Books

A native of Brownsville, Texas, Oscar Casares is the author of two noted books, a collection of stories and a new novel, which have earned him fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Copernicus Society of America, and the Texas Institute of Letters. His short story collection, Brownsville, was selected by American Library Association as a Notable Book of 2004, and earned rave praise from such publications as The New York Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and Entertainment Weekly. Casares currently teaches creative writing at the University of Texas in Austin, where he lives with his wife and two young children.

Q: Would you tell us a little about your background and how you started writing?

A: I grew up on the U.S.-Mexico border in Brownsville, and didn't start writing until I moved away and was in my early thirties. At the time I was working as copywriter for an advertising agency in Austin. I started writing because I was curious as to whether I could write a story I'd been telling some friends in a bar the night before. I enjoyed the process enough that I wrote a second one, and third one, and a fourth one, and by the fifth one, which was a few months later, I walked in and quit my job.

Q: Were you an avid reader as a child?

A: Absolutely not. In fact, I avoided it all costs. What I did have were these two uncles who would come over to the house and tell these amazing stories. I didn't know it at the time, but this would be my first literary experience. I became an avid reader only when I decided to start writing some of these stories.

Q: Your novel, Amigoland, has just been released. Is this your first published novel? How does it feel to hold that first book in your hands.

A: It feels wonderful and a little surreal since I spent five years working on it and at times wondered if it would ever see the light of day.

Q: In a nutshell, what's Amigoland about? What inspired you to write it?

A: Amigoland is about an old man who lives in a nursing home and his struggle to regain some control of how he lives his life. With the help of his slightly younger brother, they travel down into Mexico to uncover the mystery of how their family came to this country. The story was inspired somewhat by my own father's time in a nursing home and our family legend of how my great-great-grandfather arrived in this country, which became the story within the larger story.

Q: Who is your target audience?

A: Everyone. I believe this is a story that touches on several universal issues that we are all bound to encounter at some point: aging; how we take care of our elderly; how we would want to be taken care of; what it means to really have control of your final days; what it means to active and vital; what it means to lose someone close to you; what it means to regain love and know on some level that it is fleeting at best.

Q: Describe your working environment. Is your desk tidy or messy?

A: I have two desks. My sit down desk is a total mess with stacks upon stacks of papers that I keep promising myself I'll get to you. My stand-up desk is remarkably clean, in part because there is only room for a keyboard and monitor. Fortunately, I do most of work at the stand-up desk.

Q: What about your writing habits? Are you disciplined?

A: I try to write 3-4 hours every morning. I'd like to think I'm fairly disciplined, even if my word count doesn't always reflect this.

Q: What was your road to publication like? Did you first get an agent?

A: A friend referred his agent to me when I was still in graduate school. We had an early conversation, but I didn't send him any work for nearly a year. He took a few days reading the manuscript, then sent it out to several publishing houses and a week later he asked me to fly up to New York to meet with several editors.

Q: What has been the most thrilling part of the publishing process? the most frustrating?

A: Most thrilling: Sending off the final manuscript and waiting for a reaction from my editor.

Most frustrating: The year that passes between sending out of the final manuscript and the time the actual book comes out.

Q: Do you have a website and/or blog?


Q: Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?

A: I hope you enjoy the trip down to Mexico.

Thanks, Oscar, and my best wishes for success!

About Mayra Calvani:
Mayra Calvani loves writing fiction and nonfiction for children and adults. Her book, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, won a ForeWord Best Book of the Year Award.
Author's website

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