Hey, Varian, thanks for stopping by my blog for your release day.
Thanks for having me, Ben!
I’d love to ask you a few questions about your new book, The God of Jazz: Fugue, Concord, and in my usual style, I say we get right down to it!
I’ve read many works by you, and loved all of them. Bad Things was dark and disturbing, and Trasmundo: Escape was angsty. The God of Jazz is probably the cuddliest of your works I’ve read; I felt bathed in sunshine. Why is this book so lighthearted?
Oh yeah, The God of Jazz is by far the lightest and fluffiest thing I’ve ever written. You mention Bad Things and Trasmundo, and they are the reason this book is so lighthearted. I’ve been working on the Trasmundo sequel for about a year, and although it’s a love story at its core, it’s also set in the context of a civil war, ethnic cleaning and exile. So, working on those three books almost non-stop for the last two years was taking a toll on my emotional well-being. Writing The God of Jazz was my happy break. And actually, sunny as it is, it turned out to be a fair bit more serious and heavy in places than I’d originally planned. But still a feel-good read, I think.
The setting of the story takes place in and around Barcelona. Tell me about how living in the city influenced this work.
A lot! I’ve been wanting to set a story here ever since I moved to Barcelona two years ago, and that was the first thing I knew about this novel. Basically Godard’s perspective reflects my own experience, coming here the first time—noticing all the cultural differences, the vastly different architecture and city layout (compared to the west coast of the U.S.), but also the striking similarity of ambience Barcelona shares with L.A. because both cities share the same Mediterranean climate and also have that beach city vibe, as well as the fact that so much California architecture still reflects the Spanish influence.
A break up and moving abroad—is there any part of this story that is autobiographical?
Actually, yes. When I first moved to Europe about five years ago, that relocation was supposed to be my fresh start after separating from my husband. We ended up deciding to try to work things out, and moved to Europe together. Then when we still couldn’t make it work, and finally separated, I moved on my own to Spain.
There’s definitely a good side and a bad side to such a big move in the wake of a breakup. It does make for a nice, clean break, and a feeling of starting fresh, with lots of possibilities open ahead. But it also means going through all the icky mental and emotional aftermath somewhat alone, if you’re in a new place without your drinking buddies—uhm, I mean support network—around to carry you through the mud.
I could relate wholeheartedly to Godard’s overwhelming sense of worry and insecurity, and how cautious he was concerning his heart. But there are also many points in the story where he throws caution into the wind. Care to talk a bit about the development of his character?
Of all the characters of all the novels I’ve written, Godard is the most like me, and maybe especially on this point. Really, I didn’t plan out his strengths and weaknesses, his hopes and fears on a big spreadsheet or anything. But as soon as I started writing, he just sprang to life and took over and did his thing. His big gambles and leaps of faith spring up from the cracks between everything he’s already lost, so he feels there’s nothing left to lose, and his persistent hope that, despite the metaphorical train wreck he’s just walked away from, he’s still going to get to where he’s going.
Ángel is a fascinating and alluring character: calm, open, warm, and virile. I’d love to know a bit more about how you constructed him. Specifically, was he inspired by a real person, and can I have their number?
Haha, if I knew a real Ángel Cardona, hopefully I wouldn’t have the time or energy left over to write so many books.
Well, I’m not gonna lie—basically Ángel is the fictional incarnation of my ideal partner. I identify a lot with Godard, and if I was coming from where he’s at, when this story begins, Ángel would be just what I’d need. He’s hands down the least damaged, sanest protagonist I’ve ever written. He’s got history, but he’s come through his own ups and downs strong, centered, and utterly at ease in his own skin. He’s open to the possible joys in life, but he’s not the least bit needy. So he’s perfectly equipped to handle Godard’s skittishness without his own ego adding to the potential for turmoil. He’s also basically sex on legs (I mean, what’s sexier than a Spanish musician?). But he’s got a playful side, and a sense of humor.
Something about your work that has always impressed me, is your willingness to be open to diversity. What do you think is the importance of representing other sexualities and diversity in gay fiction?
I believe diversity in literature is hugely important. Fiction is many things, and one is a kind of magical looking glass where we can see aspects of the world that are hidden from us in our own, narrow day-to-day existence. And that looking glass does two important things: first, it lets readers visit and get to know and empathize with people and cultures different from their own. Growing up in a very white, very conservative city, reading books like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Native Son by Richard Wright, and then in college, reading books like Stone Butch Blues, as well as fiction from Mexico, Russia, Nigeria, the Caribbean and other parts of the world opened my eyes to a vast breadth of experiences and cultures different from mine, and made me empathetic to challenges and hardships I’d never had to experience. Second, this fictional looking glass also helps people who feel different, isolated, and rejected slip into another world where there are other people like them, with experiences they can identify with, and, crucially, shows that there are places where they can find acceptance and belonging.
In gay fiction, I think it’s just as important that there be diversity of representation. In my own novels, I try not to get too didactic, but the conflicts my characters go through are always inspired by the struggles and pain I see people suffering because their identity and selfhood is in conflict with a vocal and sometimes belligerent faction of society. By far, the majority of private comments and emails I get from readers are from people who are excited to find bisexual characters in my novels, and the discussions that arise between characters about bisexuality. I write those characters and those stories in every novel I create because I’m personally extremely drawn to sexually fluid people, and have a kind of utopian yearning for fluidity (and polyamory—but that’s a whole other dissertation-worthy topic), and suspect that as acceptance grows, we’ll see that far more people identify as bi, fluid, and pan than it seems in the current climate of limited acceptance and understanding of anything beyond the confines of a gay/straight binary. I believe one of the most beautiful things about LGBT books that include diverse characters and experiences is that each one helps, little by little, to combat the erasure of parts of the broad spectrum of the human sexual experience.
What led to you to choose trust as a major theme for this book?
That was not at all pre-meditated, it just percolated to the surface as the story unfolded. Not surprisingly, after what he goes through at the start of the book, Godard has his guard up when he first meets Ángel, and especially as things get more serious between them. But the thing that caught me by surprise was the theme of trust in friendship that became such a big part of the story.
Music is another theme in the novel, specifically jazz. Do you have any musical inspiration you’d like to share?
Well, I have zero musical ability, but I’m utterly depended on music to get through my day. I have playlists for academic work, playlists for working out, for waking up and getting ready. I create a new playlist each time I start writing a new novel; actually, I often make two—one for each of the main characters. And if the plan is a night on the town, hands down my favorite thing to do is go to a cozy bar and take in some live jazz music. Those experiences always send me into a kind of transcendental state, and my brain goes into creative overdrive, feeding on the stimulation of the music.
What’s next? What are you working on?
Trasmundo: Exile! The sequel to Trasmundo: Escape. And I’m in the scheming stage for that mystery thriller you and I chatted about a while back.
Thanks for coming by, Varian, and good luck! I’m looking forward to whatever you cook up next.
Thanks for having me over, Ben!
Growing up near Los Angeles, I spent much of my time frolicking in the Pacific and penning angst-twisted poetry. Now I’m living in sunny Spain writing pathos-riddled fiction. Ironically, two of my favorite things are traveling, and swimming in the ocean, despite increasingly intense phobias of sharks and flying.
I’ve always loved the music and substance of words, always loved writing in well-worn notebooks by hand, tapping at the keys of the computer, and, of course, conjuring up stories.
When I’m not writing, I’m probably messing around with my camera, either having fun making cover images with the sexy models of Barcelona, or just wandering the streets, snapping the wildly varied architecture and amusing humans. Or I might be riding my bike, swimming in the sea (no sharks in Barcelona!), going on a hike somewhere in the local mountain ranges, or working on my PhD thesis.
The God of Jazz: Fugue, Concord Blurb
After years struggling to realize his dream of directing a feature film, on the final night of his fundraising campaign Godard is on the cusp of having everything he ever wanted. The man he loves is upstairs waiting for him, and he’s just a few dollars short of his GoFundYourself goal.
Then everything falls apart.
His personal and professional life in ruins, when his old nemesis from film school offers to fund his dream project if he’s willing to shoot it in Spain, Godard knows it’s a deal with the devil. But he also has nothing left to lose.
Among the labyrinthine streets of Barcelona’s Barrio Góthico, the city’s vibrant music scene, and the sun-gilt beaches of the Costa Brava, Godard begins making shooting his dream project and putting his life back together, largely under the domineering gaze and deft touch of Ángel, the god of jazz.
But Ángel is keeping a secret, and a deal with the devil always comes at a price.