Interview

Terrence Jon: An Interview

by Julia Stewart

Making art with words, and words into art

Terrence Jon recently returned from his second artist residency gig in the impossibly beautiful Caribbean island of Anguilla. The Canadian born multidisciplinary artist is heavily influenced by his world travels and recently by his life in Merida, Mexico where he has had his primary residence over the past 7.5 years and where he established his own art gallery called La Clinica.

In line with his nomadic nature, his choice of medium moves freely among drawing, painting, photography, sculpture and installations. Terrence Jon likes to blur the boundaries between art and our everyday environment. His interpretation of the human condition is expressed through color- rich, multi-layered, often glossy forms, illuminating contemporary culture in an entirely original fashion. His works are part of international art collections in Canada, United States, Spain, France, Portugal, Holland, Germany and Mexico.

And Terrence likes to take art even further – often presenting his work in a conceptual, multi-media form that weaves in live performances of poetry, song and video.

Below we have a chat with the free-spirited artist.

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Q: How and when did you get started in painting and visual art?

A: I think true artists are born as artists. I was born ‘that way’.  I was always extremely visually creative; at the age of five, I illustrated my own book Alfie the Elephantjajaja – 50 pages in full color in kindergarten! There are many paths one can follow to educate and develop their artistic practice. Although, I do have a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Western Ontario, my path has not been very typical or conventional. And perhaps more than any particular art school or mentor, my greatest learning has sprung from travelling and experiencing cultures first hand on the street – in your face – so to speak.

Mexico, in particular, has had a massive imprint on me and I work well in Latin environs and with the old energy that lingers in these parts. While at university in the late 80s/early 90s, I opened an ’afterhours club‘ with my roommates who were DJ’s, and so I had this vast space – it was an old bank building with a vault! – that I could use as my art studio. I would spend hours roaming around downtown finding materials to paint on, then I would exhibit the finished product each weekend inside the club. I guess in some ways it was my first art gallery/installation. I would encourage patrons of the club to draw and write their poetry on the walls inside the vault. I found gigantic pieces of Styrofoam and plastic and would make large scale paintings and a new sign for the club each weekend – which would also get stolen each weekend! – but I considered that a compliment somehow (my first collectors!). That probably was when I realized that art would be my life.

Q: In the vein of Picasso’s blue period, do you go through particular artistic ‘periods’ in your life, and what are/were they?

A:  Absolutely. I have already moved through many periods, but in one sense they never quite end. I can always dip back into one and evolve it more. Early in my career, I started out making a lot of line drawings in India Ink with fabric dyes and pastels and oil paintings on canvas. Then I moved into a Copper Period, during which I made mixed media sculptural paintings and relief panels, working the metal from both sides with blow torches, natural pigments and embossing the surfaces with found objects. This is when words first began to appear in my paintings, as I pounded the metal letters (found antique metal letters from an old printing press) with a hammer.

Next, came a Resin Wood Period: I started to paint on wood by layering coatings of industrial epoxy resins, resulting in my first big art project, called SecondNature:2N:SegundaNatura.  This started when I was staying at a hacienda near Merida in the year 2000 on my first trip to the Yucatan; my studio was actually in old henequén tanks. This project became a defining moment in my career, because one of my large scale paintings was selected to be part of the Paris Salon in 2003, which then resulted in my first solo show in Paris, then group shows in Berlin, and later solo shows in Toronto, Montreal, and San Miguel de Allende and my first museum show at Museo de Arte in Queretaro, Mexico in 2005.

The last eight years I have been in my cULTUREgLU Period: in which I am further developing my multi-disciplinary art practice creating a mix of paintings, installations, sculptures, videos and performances in Mexico, Spain, Canada, Holland, the United States and Anguilla.

Q: You created dozens of works while in Anguilla; was this the most prolific period of your life yet? How many works of art did you create and where are they now?

A: My time spent as artist-in-residence in Anguilla certainly was a very prolific. Yet, I am always streaming with new ideas for installations, paintings, sculptures…always experimenting with new mediums…making new work. What was good for me in Anguilla is that it provided me with a very remote, different, rather isolated place to focus on my work without the typical distractions of city life. It also challenged me to use new materials and processes, as the 50+ works I created there where made entirely out of objects and materials I found on the island. The art works are all still in Anguilla as the gallery plans to exhibit the work there, and hopefully the entire collection will be presented at an international museum in the future.

 Q: Your work in Anguilla is part of your cULTUREgLU concept. Can you expound on this concept?

A: cULTUREgLU is the essential element I am always searching for when I arrive in a new place. Investigating local customs and beliefs, observing through an intense process to arrive at a ‘culture-specific’ discovery…those unique bits within a community or country that I play with and reflect upon, projecting them back as a vital layer within the overall context of my work. The process of searching for something reveals a wide perspective on the local culture, both the history and the ‘now’. I try to select objects and materials with the story of the country or the city or the people locked-in—old or new, used or natural, discarded or lost debris. I look for key materials or often languagisms – phrases that people say, words that resonate, that speak to me about the culture, and then I use those as the building blocks in my paintings, sculptures, installations and performances.

Q: You mention using lots of ‘found’ items to make your art. In Anguilla you created with found driftwood, crayfish claws, rocks, coconuts, glass bottles, marine resins and old boat rope; can you describe how you integrated these items into your work? Do you plan to continue along these lines?

A: As a multi-disciplinary artist my main goal is to express an idea or concept that I am passionate about in the deepest most complete way. In that spirit, I see my studio as an open laboratory and if I can tackle a new medium or material, I will utilize it to express myself within many layers. I tend to experiment and invent techniques and explore with unusual and unconventional materials, often appropriating them, tweaking and transforming them into new objects of art. Lately, I have been exploring making Yucatan landscape paintings out of the most-loved drinks of locals – Horchata, Jamaica, Tamarindo, Tequila – to provide the sabor (flavour) of life here.

Q: While many art savvy people in Merida are aware that you are a pioneer in the downtown art scene, some do not know about your past influence at all. Tell us more about that?

A: Yes, I guess I can be in turns extremely extroverted (that’s my alter ego tACHOtALK) and also a complete shut-in.  During 2006 – 2008, my art gallery La Clinica was an amazing, avant-garde space, with a focus on combining international and Mexican contemporary art projects. At that time there was not really anything like that happening in Merida’s centro historico.  So I think we attracted a lot of interest and attention from younger artists and the cultural community in Merida looking for something hip and current. We presented some provocative high-level exhibitions, installations and performances over those years. With very talented collaborators:  painters, sculptures, musicians, dancers, VJs and curators.  It was a creative hub of sorts. The local press and even the Jumex Foundation in Mexico City took note [editor’s note: Jumex has the largest private contemporary art collection in Latin America].  It was a special moment in time I think for Merida, perhaps the first wave in what now has become the Santa Ana arts district in the historic center.  As I have become more mobile over the past few years, and travel frequently for my own art exhibitions and residencies in other countries, La Clinica now serves more as my art studio space when I am in Merida, with doors open on the first Sunday of each month as a participant in the Merida Circuito Galerias’. Of course, works can also be viewed by appointment.

 Q:  How has living in Merida influenced your art and your life in general?

A: The ancient Maya energy here, the people – their simpatico nature, their smiles, the crumbling temples, along with the  haciendas, the cenotes, the nearby coast, the hodgepodge eclectic nature of the architecture, the way the city teams with people and characters, the language and way people speak and dress, the over-all Casta:Divina:Yuca:Cantina:Culture – all of this has made a very large imprint on me. I have developed a way of talking/writing/expressing, often in SpangLish, via my alter ego tACHOtALK. My name Terrence does not exist in Mayan, and thus my sobrenombre nickname ‘TACHO’ was born in Mexico and immediately embraced by locals.

Q: You once built a Maya pyramid out of beer cans. Where was that piece exhibited and how was it received? Did you personally drink all the beer used in the exhibit?

A: It was titled :EQUINOCCIO. I created a multi-media intervention utilizing 1,200 beer bottles and cans to reconstruct a Maya temple – specifically Dzibilchaltun’s temple of seven dolls. The goal was to recreate the equinox experience in the historic center of the city, playing with dates, timing, and location. I placed the intervention at the exact mid-point between the spring and fall equinox and brought a ‘make believe’, illusionary impossible summer equinox, to life.

The installation included 1,200 beer bottles and cans, found rocks, photography, a banner with original text, singing and video projection. It was curated by the Yucatan Institute of Culture and presented at the Centro de Artes Visuales (CAV) in Merida.

Funny story, I received a sponsorship from Cervecería Modelo and was able to select the beer brands I wanted – I used Modelo Especial cans and Coronita bottles. All the bottles were full and after the exhibition the Instituto Cultural Yucatan delivered the temple back my studio where I reconstructed it and invited artist friends to drink the templo poco a poco. It constantly changed forms (becoming a real ruin); then there was a knock at the door like a month later and a Modelo Corona Giant Truck appeared in front of my studio. They were there to reclaim the beers! Oops! So I think they got back all the cases and 300 or so full beers and all the emptiesJ. Fortunately, as beer is a big part of Yucatecan culture, they were somewhat understanding.

Q: What do you believe is your mission in life?

A: ::Make:ART:Make:Love:ART:Make:Art:Love::

Q: You have said that you are infusing ‘livingwords’ and ‘languagisms’ in your art, both words of which are made up. What is another of your favorite words you have fabricated in the process of making art, and can you use it in a sentence?

A: “ :homoMEXual:” No sentence required.

Q: You have often used poetry and song to accompany your artwork. Why do you add these elements?

A: Although painting is deep in my basic core, my poetry and my Wordz are not just accompaniment or add-ons, they are fundamental elements of my expression. I write them, draw them, paint them, speak them and often sing and vocalize them as part of a very essential layer of my overall project.

Q: You are known to have a fetish for chocolate.  Will you ever really do a chocolate art installation and how would it work?

A:  wow! U have outted me, mi weaknezz, I would say the great dream of the ‘ChocoLICK’ performance will one day be realized —- it will be a shockingly sweet + delicious art happening!

 Q:  What would you consider the pinnacle of success for yourself?

A: To have a deep sense of peace that I have understood my time.

 Q: What is the most interesting new thing that you have learned lately?

A:  A salsa dance move called el pato. Watch this…

You can learn more about Terrence and his work at:

Web: www.terrencejon.com

Email: terrencejon@live.ca

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Interview, theater

An Interview with Grant Cogswell

A life fit for the big screen

by Julia Stewart

Grant Cogswell lives life large. So large, so outrageously at times, that a movie was made about him. Released last year, the movie recounts Grant’s underdog run for city council in Seattle, Washington, where he remains a folk hero. Grant has been at turns a cab driver, civic crusader, music reviewer, poet, novelist, journalist, movie writer, movie subject, and now small business owner.

These days, we find Grant quietly running a bookstore upstairs in the American Legion building in the hip Condesa district of Mexico City. However, things may start heating up a bit again for Grant. Last year saw the release of his book The Dream of the Cold War: Poems 1998-2008. This year, his bookstore has been listed in the 2013 edition of the Lonely Planet travel guide. And an interview with Grant just appeared in the June issue of Forbes Mexico.

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Q: You are quite well known in Seattle, Washington, first for co-spearheading a successful monorail referendum in 1997 (which later was defeated) and then running for City Council in 2001 (and losing by a respectably small margin). Does this fame translate at all to Mexico City?
Customers from Seattle remember me. Nobody else knows or cares or even have context for what happened in Seattle, which is a blessing of the highest order.

Q: In the recent Forbes Mexico article, it says that Mexico saved your life. In what way?
The great vibe of people here, the climate, the healthier lifestyle (if you stay away from panques and refrescos*). So generous and open and engaged in living. When you’ve had childhood trauma, and ‘issues’ and come from a relatively ‘cold’ country, these things are completely necessary.

[*pound cake and soft drinks.]

Q: It’s not very often that Hollywood makes a movie with A-list actors about a part of a person’s
life. The 2012 film Grassroots was made about part of your life. How was it received? What did your family think about someone making a movie about you? Do you think you’ll ever do anything again that someone would make into a film?
The movie sank like a stone. I don’t exactly have family in the States, per se; my brother and my partner and her folks kind of just stared, openmouthed. Like my best friend, they know me, and they weren’t overly impressed, which is the appropriate reaction, I think.

What I’m doing now isn’t exactly dramatic. I think if 9/11 hadn’t happened right before the election I lost, there’d be no movie, I’d still be in Seattle politics and wondering what the hell happened to my life. All is for the best.

Q: In one interview you stated that you felt like you “trashed your youth” and that time spent as an activist in Seattle “wasn’t any fun at all.” The campaign manager for your Seattle city council race and the author of the book on which the movie was made, Phil Campbell, said nothing was accomplished by the campaign. With such an outcome, what would you advise other young activists to do differently?
I should just shut up in front of young activists, because the cynicism and false progressive stance of Seattle burnt out my hope for that place. Young activists need to have hope to do what they can do. Nothing was accomplished by the campaign except it ended up putting about a hundred grand in publishing and movie rights in Phil Campbell’s pocket, so you’d think he’d be the last to say nothing came of it! The real winner here is him.

Q: Your city council campaign was underscored by the belief that public transport could “set a city apart.” You were driven by the belief that Seattle had a chance to avert some of the more unattractive configurations and growth patterns of many other large American cities. On the public transport and livability scale, how do you see Mexico City faring? What makes it work (if you think it does)?
Mexico City is a splendid place to live. The public transit is overcrowded, but incredibly efficient. It seems higher density would help eliminate some of the horrifically long commutes many people have to endure, but this is a city still understandably nervous in tall buildings.

Q: If you could make a set of five rules for all cities to live by, what would they be?
1. Build for people, not cars. 2. Don’t make hoops to jump through for small businesses. If someone wants to sell sandwiches grantbthey made on a blanket, don’t shut that down with a bunch of paperwork. Let it thrive or fail. 3. Ban liability. You break your neck on a step, it was your fault for not looking where you put your feet. The city can’t be built to make your life perfectly safe. 4. Plant trees everywhere possible. 5. Don’t sell naming rights to corporations. That’s really the death of the connection between place and culture.

Q: There is a great mini-clip about the movie Grassroots with you and the real-life city council incumbent Richard McIver in which you say: “I’m here to make art, make friends, make love, and let other people handle policy.” (To which McIver laughs and replies: “All right!”) What are you in Mexico for?
All of the above.

Q: One magazine article on you is titled “The Man Who Loved Seattle Too Much.” Do you have any such feelings for Mexico City, or any other place in the world for that matter?
I think I love Mexico City far more deeply than I ever did Seattle, because I love it for what it really is instead of a dream of what I can make it into.

Q: Did you really ever run around Seattle in a polar bear costume, as seen in the movie? Have you ever considered a costume for Mexico, like a big taco or something, and what would make you threaten to wear it?
A big taco? I would never dress up as a big taco. I woolgathered out loud at meetings of the transportation committee about wearing a polar bear costume if I won until they stopped making policy that advanced climate change. I should make shit up out loud more often, I guess, because that polar bear ended up on a movie poster.

Q: You co-wrote the screenplay for a 2007 horror film Cthulhu, based on the 1926 short story “The Call of Cthulhu” by American writer H. P. Lovecraft. Do you have plans to write more screenplays, and if yes, what about?
I actually have two more completed screenplays I’d love to see made. One about Ukrainian internet brides, the other about the last year of John Keats’ life, set in the contemporary U.S. I love screenwriting; it’s just so hard to ‘finish’, that is, to get the movie made. If one of those got produced or if I had the chance to work with my brother on something – he’s a way better screenwriter than I ever was – I might get back into it. Right now I’m surprising myself by writing fiction for the first time in almost twenty years.

Q: Tori Spelling was in Cthulhu, Jason Biggs (American Pie) was in Grassroots, as was Joel David Moore (Avatar), Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother), Cedric the Entertainer, Tom Arnold, and others. Did you get to meet any of these actors?
I met them all, but got to know Tori best. She’s an amazing woman, extremely intelligent and funny with a great heart, and completely in on the joke that is her fame.

Q: You were a populist activist two decades prior to the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Do you still believe that one person can change the system? Can you point to any good examples of this in Mexico (or America)?
One person, if they are visionary enough, and ready for – or forced into – total self-sacrifice, can do a lot. I think Julian Assange and Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden have really done some things we won’t see the end of soon, and been great heroes for truth against power. I’m pretty impressed with ex-Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard and the way he just pushed forward environmental initiatives without putting his finger to the wind. That guy will be president someday. I met him at a party, actually. Unfortunately the party had an open tequila bar and I was falling-down drunk.

Q: In several photos, you are wearing a white or black cowboy hat. What is the significance behind this?
I started wearing a hat with a brim because I was extremely sensitive to sun – because I was living in Seattle and Portland and wasn’t getting enough of it. I also kind of had to dress up to deal with the shame of hustling for money to make my silly, silly movie (Cthulhu, not Grassroots). I kind of look at that fat, coked-up fool with the goatee now and shake my head. Not my best period.

Q: Your bookstore is called Under the Volcano Books after a twentieth-century literary masterpiece of the same name by Malcolm Lowry. You have the pleasure of living within miles of the two volcanos featured in that book – Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl. Have you climbed either of these, and do you feel they are part of your present life?
Have I climbed them? Popo is erupting multiple times a day right now. The city is high and cold enough for me. I lack any desire to be at a higher altitude, so, no. They are pretty. Popo, from where I live, uncannily looks exactly like Rainier from downtown Seattle. A coincidence as meaningless and perfect as the world itself.

Q: You currently are the owner of the only all English-language bookstore in Mexico City, a metropolis creeping up on 20 million people, and the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world. What’s a day like at the Under the Volcano Books in DF?
Kind of quiet, with people coming in and out throughout the day. I don’t sell a lot of books, but enough to keep us going and get by. My mission is twofold, to give the city the resource of the books, and to open up writing time for myself. Sometimes, even, the second of these happens.

Q: You have noted that one of your goals with the bookstore is for Mexicans and Americans to learn about each other’s cultures beyond stereotypes; you have also found that the majority of your clients are Mexicans who want to read in English. If you were to recommend three books to these clients that you think would best help them to comprehend the modern American psyche , what would they be?
Hoo! Now we’re talking. Well, I think Cormac McCarthy’s recent work is nearly without parallel. My friend Daniel Gildark said he really considers Blood Meridian, No Country for Old Men and The Road a trilogy about the past, present and future of violence. Are they about Americans more than anyone else? A little, so I’ll throw those up there. I think Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is a good map of where the American psyche is right now, the part that doesn’t make the sad headlines. I gave that to my partner’s dad, and told him if he didn’t like the people in it, then he could rest assured that he really did not like gringos. I don’t think you can even talk about America without talking about the legacy of slavery, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved is probably the best book on that topic, as well as one of the very best books by anyone in English, ever.

Q: Do you still have the seal of Seattle tattooed on your arm? Do you have any other tattoos?
I’m not going to get a tattoo the size of my hand removed just because Seattle is full of idiots. That would hurt like hell. I have no other tattoos that I can talk about.

Q: Mexico Review, your international literary journal is reportedly being launching this year. When can we expect it? What will the format be, and will we be competing with you for magazine submissions?!
Mexico Review has been cancelled. This isn’t yet the capital of American literature in exile. I think it will be. I think in a decade you won’t be able to walk a half a block without hearing an American accent. But it’s still being discovered, for gringos. I find that writing – and reading – are solitary acts and that I do not enjoy attempts at ‘community’ in the context of a literary community that are other than the very most casual. Writers are difficult people, and of course they always want you to tell them you like their work. Most of what is written is bad. I don’t have any interest anymore in being the filter who has to pass that judgment to people. Self-published books are terrible, too. Have you ever read a good one? Leave me out of it, grumble, grumble. Life is short and I have too many books to read, and write.

To learn more about Grant’s store, check out: http://www.underthevolcanobooks.com

 

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diane grondin 5

Photo by: Diane Grondin

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Fiction, Interview

An Interview with Grant Spradling: The story must go on

 

by Julia Stewart

 

 

Grant Spradling’s second novel is about to be released and he says he is just getting started. Palenque Murder brings back the same three bumbling detectives who solved the crime in his first thriller Maya Sacrifice, which took place in and around Merida. This time the detectives move from Key West, Florida, to various places in Mexico – Xalapa, Tlacotalpan, Villahermosa and Palenque – in search of the killer of an eccentric writer named Rage Stone.

 

Grant has taken full advantage of his eight decades to become accomplished in a variety of fields, and he isn’t stopping. Grant began his career as a minister, has performed in Broadway musicals, sings opera, and writes fiction, among other endeavors.

 

Grant’s collection of short stories From High in the Mulberry Tree explores his youth in western Oklahoma. He combined his theology and writing background to co-author two volumes of Imaging the Word: An Arts and Lectionary Resource, a collection of fine art and literature that follows the Christian church calendar.

 

Below we chat with the multi-faceted, indomitable Grant.

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Q: In your lifetime you have seen incredible advances in technology in the way people write (among other things) – from the invention of the ball point pen to computers able to access more information than one can use in a lifetime that are only the size of a pad of paper. In what ways has this affected your writing?

 

A: The computer, the cyber age and the help of friends have opened a whole new world in my later life. I’m severely dyslexic. The computer, spell check and grammar check are like brain prostheses. I still need a lot of editing, for even in correcting myself, I add mistakes.

 

Q: What made you change course from being a minister to a singer?

 

A: Oh, my! Do you want the short or long version? Well, I have always sung. While an associate minister in the Congregational Church in Cambridge, I was recruited to do a lot of solo work. I hate bad singing, even when I am doing it, so I took vocal lessons at the Longy School of Music

near my church and Harvard. Leaving my position in Cambridge, I vagabonded around the world for a while, running a bar in Saint Thomas, in the Virgin Islands, getting lost in Africa, attending the World Council of Churches assembly in New Delhi India, and falling in love with Japan. The head of our church’s world board said that I was exasperating, but the kind of person the church should keep in its fold and agreed for me to go back to Japan and become an ethnologist. I knew the Western style of singing was popular in Japan, so I resumed voice lessons, at which point the teacher told me I could have a singing career. I was thirty two. An age Gail Sheehy described in 1976 in her bestselling psychology book, Passages, as the Deadline Decade when “time starts to squeeze.” I gave myself ten years to try. It was a brief but not stellar career.

 

Q: What training did you have in singing, and when was the last time you performed?

 

A: We were a singing family. My smart older brother listened to the Saturday Met broadcasts. I was always singing. Out on the tractor I imitated the screaming sopranos, but I sang off-key. At my parents urging I used my fifty cents per week allowance to pay our choir director for voice lessons. I later won a lot of awards and received voice scholarships in college.

 

My last performance was as a soloist singing Broadway tunes and operatic arias in the Felipe Carrillo Puerto auditorium here in Merida about fifteen years ago.

 

Q: Tell us about your time on Broadway; in what musicals did you appear and who did you work with?

 

A: I performed in four Broadway Shows as a singer/dancer and had a few understudy parts. I worked alongside such luminaries as Ethel Merman, Alfred Drake Melina Mercouri and Giorgio Tozzi and sang opera with Beverly Sills. As a tenor soloist with the Metropolitan Opera Studio, I sang in small towns all over the country—as far as Minot, North Dakota. I remember singing the tenor solos in John La Montaine’s ‘Wonder Tidings.’

 

I also appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show with Ethel Merman and the cast of Annie Get Your Gun. Another act that night was a group of beautiful black women—I was very naïve, in terms of ’show business.’ All the other members of the cast were wild about the women’s group – called the Supremes – and said they were really going places.

 

I got a job as soloist with the Camerata Choral who were invited to sing at the White House. I’m a little embarrassed to brag about that, because it was when Nixon was in office, still I have to say that he was extremely pleasant. We were invited to a lavish reception for the president of

Norway. My most lasting memory of the occasion is that it seemed to me that nearly all the women had had plastic surgery and had champagne colored hair.

 

Q: Which creative person that you met has left the biggest impression on you?

 

A: That’s hard! Every one of them had ’star power‘and they were all nice to the cast. Ethel threw parties for us—an intimate gathering at her favorite restaurant, Goldie’s, for just us and Irving Berlin and Richard Rodgers. Georgio Tozzi [an operatic bass who featured at the Met for many years]–my partner and I lived in his garage; I officiated at his marriage and baptized his children.

 

But it would be my Russian voice teacher, Madam Olga Avorino, who told me I could have a career. She regaled me with stories of singing for the Tsar. During the 1917 Russian Revolution, Rachmaninoff rescued her and her husband and daughter, who escaped across Siberia. Her debut at Carnegie Hall, Rachmaninoff as her accompanist, was the night the stock market crashed.

 

Q: What inspired you to start writing fiction and specifically murder mysteries?

 

A: The second part of your question is easy. I write mystery in hopes folks will stay with me to the end of the story and to entertain.

 

The first part of your question is more difficult. I chose fiction, because I think fiction often hones closer to the truth than fact. I write because there is something inside that needs to get out. Once, and only once, when I was singing, the song seemed to pass through me as if I were a mere instrument, a flute, perhaps. It was an ecstatic moment, no ego. The applause was a yes to the song, not congratulations to me. I long for that experience when I write. I quote from Michel Cunningham’s novel, The Hours in ‘Chico: A Dog’s Tail,’ a story in my collection From High in the Mulberry Tree. “If she were religious, she would call it soul,” Cunningham writes about Virginia Wolf. “It is more than the sum of her intellect and her emotions, more than the sum of her experience though it runs like veins of brilliant metal through all three. It is an inner factuality that recognizes the animating mystery of the world because it is made of the same substance, and when she is very fortunate she is able to write through that faculty.”

 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t pretend to be anywhere near the level of Wolf. Yet when I go to the beach for solitude to write, sometimes, for just a moment, the story flows through and that is worth thousands of hours of scribbling in hope.

 

Ego? Of course I have plenty of that, but it is dangerous. Ego can stand in the way of art. I’m a story teller. I told a friend that if I didn’t write I would become a loquacious old man. I have discovered one can do both.

 

 

Q: You lived in Key West, Florida for twenty years and worked for the Fine Arts Council three of those years. Do you find any comparisons in the fine arts scene between Key West and Merida?

 

A: Oh, yes! I find a liberal, live and let live atmosphere here similar to Key West and the influx of expatriates adds to that feeling as newcomers did to Key West. Restorers and artists had already found Key West before my partner and I arrived there. Hemmingway and Robert Frost were gone but John Hersey, James Merrill, Philip Caputo, Ann Beattie and Joy Williams, to name only a few, were there. (A few years ago, I managed to get Joy to come to Merida to give a workshop.) Though none of the authors I know here in Merida are famous, there is a rich burgeoning community. There are writers groups and a Writer’s Gathering. It was my ambition, when I was president of the Merida English Library, and still is, that someday our library would rival the library in Key West which sponsored a hugely successful annual writer’s seminar.

 

Q: Have the places you lived affected your writing?

 

A: Surely! When I lived in New York, if I told someone I was a writer, they’d ask, “Have you got any books published?” In Key West, they’d say, “Great, how’s it going?” Just as subtropical light encourages the visual arts, a liberal, accepting atmosphere nurtures writing. Here in Merida I have a writing buddy and friends who help with editing, and I need a lot of help. Still, the grit of red Oklahoma dirt is in my soul. No matter how long I may live in Boston, New York, Key West or even Merida, as welcoming as it is, I’m an interloper. I’ll never forget where I come from.

 

Q: Did you travel to all of the Mexican locations in this novel? Was this an important part of the writing process?

 

A: Yes. As I travel, especially in Mexico, places start to speak to me. The divisions between present, past and feature blur and I hear things.

 

Q: Which mystery writers do you enjoy reading the most (and a few words why)?

 

A: Elmore Leonard. His dialogue is perfect. He is spare. His characters are believable if wacky.

Carl Hiaasen. He’s outrageous and funny and writes about places I know. Margaret Truman. She knew her location. Her books were clean and well crafted.

 

Q: Which other writers have influenced your writing?

 

Alice Munro has influenced my writing. The news that Munro won the Nobel Prize in literature this year brought a rush of memories. I was saddened to read she announced she is finished writing. She’s only 82. I’m older and just getting started! Munro is quoted as saying: “I would really hope that this would make people see the short story as an important art, not something you play around with until you got a novel written.”

 

In my case, I am eager to complete the novels I’ve had in the hopper for a long time in order to return to short story writing. In short story writing, I think we may skim closer to transcendent truth.

 

Other writers who have influenced me? I admire greatly the lyricism of Truman Capote. I first saw his play, The Grass Harp, and then read the book and just fell in love with his style.

 

Joy Williams. As a teacher and as a writer, she beckons one to strike out into uncharted seas, forget formula. She said to a workshop participant who defended what he had written as fact, “We are not after the facts; we’re after art.” To which he replied, “Well, isn’t life art?” She responded, “Not enough!”

 

Q: Do you have more plans for your three detectives?

 

A: Actually I’m backing up to when David, the protagonist in all my novels, first meets Quincy. It is a walk-on part for Quincy. David must solve a murder in order to banish nightmares that are connected with his youth. It is both a mystery and about growing up homosexual in the Dustbowl and the Great Depression.

 

 

 

In addition to the novel, three of Grant’s short stories will appear in an upcoming anthology of Merida writers, Our Yucatan, published by Hamaca Press (hamacapress.com/readers-praise-our-yucatan/).

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Grant Spalding

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