In Rudy Ch. Garcia's debut novel, The Closet of Discarded Dreams, a man awakens in a strange, surreal world made up of dreams -- his own, and everyone else's. In this bizarre place, Che Guevara and Marilyn Monroe debate philosophy and no one ever dies, but not everything is as wonderful as it seems. As pleasant as it may be to live in a world of dreams, the man finds himself fighting not just to escape, but to help the friends he makes along the way.
Before Garcia's book-release party and signing, set for 5 p.m. this Sunday, September 16, at Su Teatro, we talked to Garcia about his strange fantasy world, its Chicano protagonist and how the book came to be.
Westword: Would you describe The Closet of Discarded Dreams as a fantasy novel? Rudy Ch. Garcia: Yeah, it's listed as a dark fantasy. Genres are all over the place and interpreted all kinds of ways. This also falls into the category of an alternate world tale. Fantasy, I suppose, is fine. I don't consider it sci-fi, in the sense that most people have the idea that sci-fi is really hard science -- it's not that. It's more along the lines of an imaginary world with its own physics and temporal logic and its own magic.
I got a sense of it being almost something like Philip K. Dick, or even something like Kurt Vonnegut's more fantastical work. Is that way off base? What you would you compare it to?
I've never thought about comparing it to something else. I used to be in the Northern Colorado Writer's Workshop, Ed Bryant's group, and people have said that some of my writing reminds them of Neil Gaiman. And maybe some of my worlds are like that, too.
Can you give us an idea of what to expect from the book?
Well, the story starts out with the Chicano waking up and realizing that he's not only in his own bed, he's not even in his own world. He will go through all the stages of people discovering that some major tragedy has overcome them, like cancer or a death in the family. So he goes through the same sort of stages, of being lost, of depression, not understanding why he's been condemned to this place. In the end he rebels against it, because it's supposed to be a wonderful place, where everyone's dreams -- abandoned dreams but everyone's dreams -- reside, but he's anything but happy there. Eventually he becomes a rebel, and once he understands the laws and the rules of this place he formulates his own plan.
His major thing through most of the novel is to escape, but then come some moments of epiphany when he begins to identify with the dream people of that world. He's no longer selfishly concerned only about his own entrapment. He develops friendships and after a while cares about these people. Something is going to happen in this world and he will have to basically decide consider whether his own life is something he will sacrifice for the sake of the dream people.
What can you tell us about this dream world the book takes place in?
This is a pretty tough world. For instance, this world is a box -- a humongously long box, something along the lines of the things you roll under your bed, the plastic containers or whatever. It's ... like 360-some odd sectors, each sector is literally square miles. It's laid out like a nice grid. I'll have an illustration on the book website where people can go and see places relative to the trek that the protagonist takes across this expanse. Everywhere throughout the place there are signs with -- the place doesn't have rules, it has suggestions [Laughs].
Everything that's there comes through the door. That's why there's a door on the cover. It doesn't matter if it's a swimming pool or a person, it has to go through that door, there's no other entrance. No one can go close to the door -- there's reasons. The suggestion say, "Don't go to the door, there's no one to answer." The suggestions just go on and on. I don't list them all in the book, but there's a decent number of them. The suggestions are more or less, not a moral code or a behavior code, they're advice. This is supposed to be a nice place.
There's no day and night like we have. The ceiling is a flat ceiling that just sparkles with stars. There's no floor, because all of the articles, goods, merchandise, the scenarios from people's dreams, have filled the place. You're constantly walking on bars and boxes of Cohiba cigars and mink stoles and Oscars and whatever. There are some people who live underneath all of this stuff, who are very strange -- the nesters. Even further down there are the deep downers. There are rules, physical [rules] -- not our physics, but there's the physics of the Closet itself about how they can survive under there and travel and everything.
No one can die there. No one can get sick, no one can get injured. If anything happens to anyone, they get healed, but that becomes a two-edged sword for some people. That's just a little teaser -- why wouldn't it be paradise if you could never die and never hungered ... never thirsted? You don't even have to breathe.
How much of this was worked out before you sat down to write the book? Did you have it all figured out before you wrote it, or did it work itself out in the process of writing the story?
The best way to answer that is to tell you the history of the story. I've always hated dream scenes in fiction. I skip them. A lot of times I think they're boring and to try to communicate the scenario of a dream to someone else -- all you can do is talk about incidents that took place, activities. Anyway, the verisimilitude of dreams has always kind of bored me. I started thinking, well, what if there was a world made of dreams? I like to give myself challenges, and this was a challenge because I don't like dreams in fiction. I went from there and said, well, if there was this world, what would be going on? and then I took a leap to, well, what if you found yourself there and didn't want to be there? On top of that, what if you didn't even have your own dreams? What would you do and how would you react?
This was when I was active in the Northern Colorado Writer's Workshop. At the workshop where we discussed it, Ed Bryant gave me a really great compliment. I don't remember his exact words, but it was something about how I'd written a story that was in the vein of Borges. It just so happened that the following month the group agreed on a challenge [to] write a novel in a month, which is kind of common now. I went into it and it took me 45 days for the first draft, but I made this short story into a novella. Then after that it was years of revising it. So what came first? The only answer is the description I gave you of going from not liking dream scenes to creating my own challenge of writing a good book about dreams.
You mentioned that your protagonist is Chicano. Is that a big part of the story?
Well, I took a risk ... a double risk, actually. Because fantasy, that's called ethnic fantasy, for the Spanish-surnamed audience, is usually about our rural or our native American past. Things about La Llorona or calaveras or whatever. Right there was a risk, expecting a Spanish-surnamed audience to like and buy a book like this, that's out of the realm of usual ethnic novels. I also took a risk by him being a Chicano. I could have made him an Anglo, and had a lot better shot at appealing to a mainstream audience that reads fantasy, but I sort of took the challenge, made myself do it the hard way.
The character is not a monolingual. he understands and speaks a lot of Spanish, but he speaks primarily English. he cusses quite a bit in Spanish, like we tend to do. I know there's going be some reviewers that will take this book as a parody of life in the United States for Chicanos. As a matter of fact, a couple of the author reviewers, the author blurbs, mention that. But I didn't intend to write it, and I didn't mean to write it, as a parody. Whatever looks that way is just how my character dealt with his environment in the closet.
It includes some very strange parallels. When you're done reading the book, one question that might come into your head is, really, which world is stranger -- the one that he's in, or the one that we're in? He draws parallels between his memories of his time in the United States and how they are reflected by things that happen to him in the closet.
So that element of parody sort of emerged organically? Going back and looking at it now, is that a valid element of the book?
I deliberately tried to avoid putting too much politics or sociological issues into it. I don't go for proselytizing. But at the same time, there's a tradition in Latin America, and the influence extends into the Southwestern United States at least, that fiction writers traditionally have challenged the systems in their countries. That goes for Latin American poets, authors, novelists, the great ones. My family wound up in this country because my grandfather on my mother's side wrote something that he shouldn't have written and had to leave so he wouldn't be offed by the sheriff.
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The tradition is that we don't consider it to be irrelevant or extraneous to fiction to have novels that speak about our own condition or other people's condition. There's some ideas in there that some people might call political or whatever, but I don't think the contents therein are going to feel anything like that. They're primarily funny, hilarious, outrageous. Some of them are pretty disgusting if you think about them too much. I think it's a good fictional setting for a lot of ideas.