The Sweetest Debut: Mauro Javier Cardenas Tells People His Book is About Alien Chickens, Writes Žižek Fanfiction


Welcome to the Sweetest Debut, a new and regular installment in which we reach out to debut (or near-debut, we’re flexible!) fiction, poetry and nonfiction authors working with presses of all sizes and find out about their pop culture diets, their writing habits, and their fan-fiction fantasies.

Mauro Javier Cardenas’ The Revolutionaries Try Again, out from Coffee House Press, is an “exuberant, cacophonous debut novel [which] profiles a group of Ecuadorians trying, some harder than others, to change the political situation in their country,” per PW. Cardenas tells us about how he handles the “what’s your book about?” question, his influences and icons, and offers us a little meta-fiction about Slavoj Žižek.

What is your elevator pitch to folks in the industry describing your book?

The first time a so-called industry person asked me about The Revolutionaries Try Again, a novel of voices in an altered state of recollection, I said it was about alien chickens. Somewhere in the clouds the ghost of Gombrowicz nodded in approval. Somewhere in Minnesota my editor is nodding in disapproval.

What you tell your relatives it’s about?

That it’s about them and their friends and their enemies. Remember how mean you were to my mom in the ’90s, Doña Aguirre? Your name in The Revolutionaries Try Again is Tanya Esteros. Don’t worry. Tanya Esteros is what the Americans call “a likable character.”

How long was this project marinating in a draft or in your head before it became a book deal?

For 14 years, but I subtracted two years due to the waywardness of youth.

Name a canonical book you think is totally overrated.

The Collected Works of Mafalda. Just kidding; you are my heart and soul, Mafalda! Lechugita?

What’s a book you’ve read more than two times?

I read By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño and Austerliz by W.G. Sebald once a year.

Name a book or other piece of art that influenced your writing for this particular project?

The video installations of Bill Viola, Carnations by Pina Bausch, Last Year at Marienbad, the novels of Antonio Lobo Antunes, the erasures of DeKooning, the goddamn birds in Oliver Messiaen’s opera about Saint Francis.

What’s your favorite show to binge watch when you’re not writing?


What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?

The Lobster (a lobster, incidentally, is an excellent choice).

Who you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what kind?

While I’m writing, my headphones stream Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and Arvo Part.

Who is your fashion icon?

Rick Owens.

If you could buy a second home to be your writing-only retreat anywhere in the universe, where would it be?

I dream of living in Berlin / Barcelona / New York so I can write in the morning, read in the afternoon, and attend performances that don’t compute in the evenings.

Do you prefer working in a buzzing coffee shop or silent library?

Libraries are for dreaming about books, coffee shops are for dreaming about writing.

A desk, bed or couch?

For what? For stretching out my banged-up body after playing soccer? Desk.

Do you tend towards writing it all out in one big messy draft and then editing, or perfecting as you go (or something in between)?

A mess to be spreadsheeted later.

How do you pay the bills, if not solely by your pen and your wit?

By managing a team of people who like to argue about multicollinearity and (hidden) Markov models .

What is your trick to finding time to write your book while also doing the above?

San Francisco – December 18, 2015Portraits of author Mauro Javier Cardenas at home, in a cafe and around the Opera hall.Photo Credit: Victoria Smith

My trick was finding a mother who, when I was in elementary school, wouldn’t allow me to sleep unless I answered all the quiz questions correctly.

If you could write fanfiction about any pop culture character, real or imagined, who would it be?

Slavoj Žižek.

Care to give us a few sentences of micro-fiction about that character?

The brutal truth about this so-called Ecuadorian novelist with a penchant for alien fowl surfaced on Periscope as he embarrassed himself by imitating the charming accent of a Slovenian superstar pseudo-communist who sweats profusely, Slavoj Žižek wrote.