Getting to know: Jesus Angel Garcia.
Jesus Angel Garcia‘s novel, Badbadbad is noir to the bone. The book juggles kinky sex, religion and one of the most unreliable narrators in recent memory with punishingly strong results. Reminiscent of Jim Thompson at his most poetic and psychologically probing, Badbadbad has been one of the happiest surprises of the 2011 reading year for us.
To top it all off, Garcia also directed a film and recorded a soundtrack to accompany the book.
We had a quick chat with the book’s multimedia captain
The style of BBB is equally beautiful and brutal. Reminding me at times of the raw humanity of Harry Crews or the fire-in-the-pants pace of James Ellroy.
What has your development as a writer been?
When I was a kid I used to tell myself strange little stories while drawing strange little pictures, which were really mazes with no beginning or end, all while listening to bad music on AM radio. This was long before the Internet. Then I found FM, and record shops, and the Doors, and the Morrison biography “No One Here Gets Out Alive,” which led to Blake and Rimbaud and Camus and Sartre and Nietzsche and the Beats and Dylan Thomas. This was eighth grade. I doubt I understood much of what I read at this time, but I got into the energy and the music of the language. This is when I also started writing poetry and songs.
In senior year of high school, I submitted a manuscript of a hundred poems to a local university and received a poetry scholarship. I think they wanted to keep me off the streets. In college, I finally learned to write complete sentences. That’s when I launched my freelance “career” as a music and arts critic. All these magazine and altweekly editors kicked my ass about writing with clarity, yet even while I did this, I couldn’t wrench the poetry from my phrasing or my working process. It would take me hours to write a few paragraphs as I agonized over the sound of every word, every sentence. I was an “artist,” though, so it was alright.
By the time I graduated, I was done with poetry. I wanted to be read by readers who weren’t always other writers, so I continued with the journalism, leaning more and more toward the avant-garde, creative improvisation and genre mashups. I liked bringing outsider ideas to mainstream publications. I also wanted to focus on the band, man. Then the band broke up and I moved to San Francisco with a girl.
Fast-forward ten years: I’m now writing a “literary novel” based, in part, on Northern California history. It’s an episodic existential meditation on mortality that combines all kinds of narrative forms, from poetry to letters to epitaphs. It’s got this sprawling time-shifting structure sort of inspired by T.S. Elliot and Dos Passos. While still very much in-progress, the book is briefly serialized online before the dotcom bust. When the new web editors cut the serial, I keep at it, writing and editing for another five years. In the end, a couple of agents tell me the work is “too literary” for the marketplace and no publishers are interested. The current indie lit scene has not yet been born. My reaction to this reception after years of word-by-word effort is to essentially fuck the machine. I quit my job, write the first draft of “badbadbad” in thirteen weeks—trying to approach the writing “non-literarily”—then I drive around the country for four months and revise for another year or two after I return.
I’ve never read Harry Crews or James Ellroy. I’m barely freelancing and I’ve begun “final revisions” of that first novel, now called “Down in a Hole.” I’m starting another band. I’ve been reading (and writing) poetry again. I think I need help.
The experiences in the book are a fascinating glimpse into the underworld of online sex hunting. How much of this book’s detail is drawn from personal experience, how much from research, and how much from pure imagination?
It’s kind of impossible to quantify this stuff now that everything’s been blended into the world of the book. Basically, I spent a couple of years “researching” the topic of intimacy in e-culture (via OKCupid and Craig’s List personals) by taking detailed notes on my experiences and the stories I heard or read. I collected other research from various media, like NYTimes and Nerve articles. The topics included e-dating but also things like the psychology of self-destruction and Christian politics. Then I slotted all this info into folders corresponding to chapters outlined on a storyboard I drew on butcher paper. I wanted to create a specific kind of pacing, alternating the darkness and the light in the narrative, and as I recall, there were also a couple of overlapping structures going on at the same time. So before the actual writing there was a lot of preparation, which did include putting myself into intimate situations I wouldn’t have gotten into otherwise, so I could understand what non-judgment really meant in the most extreme or challenging circumstances. I wouldn’t call it “sex hunting.” I think it’s more about the desperate reaching out for connection in an increasingly atomized/electronicized world. But I guess the short answer to your question is everything—everything—in the book is “true.” Some of it I experienced first-hand and some I read or heard about. How it’s all put together was an act of imaginative amalgamation, let’s say. I mean, that’s fiction, right? Composite characters and settings and all that. Finally, it’s important to note that despite sharing the same name, the protagonist, the “author” and myself are not one and the same. Every character in this “badbadbad” story is fictional. It’s a novel, not a memoir.
The multimedia components to the book are awesome. How did all this come together? What is your experience as a flimmaker and musician?
Thanks, Patrick. I think originally the idea was simply to write some songs and shoot video for a book trailer or a small creative offshoot or something to promote the book through different channels to try to reach different audiences. But once I started coming up with the tunes and gathering documentary footage, I realized there was a full album and film there. The music is mostly based on stories in the book and the documentary is derived from the novel’s themes, just me asking people on the street about the ideas explored in the book. I hope the multimedia complements the story. I like the idea of three distinct art projects that can stand alone but also are interrelated. Most interesting to me is how what people said in the documentary made me rethink how I was interpreting some of the issues in the book. That was an unexpected upside.
In terms of experience, I’ve been playing music as long as I’ve been writing, but I never worked with film or video before this project. I just happened to get my first digital camera (via a new girlfriend) and one thing led to another, which I guess is both a kind of naïve and natural way to do something. I tried to use my writing and music/recording experience in the video editing. For me, everything always goes back to sound.