Inteview with Angel Uriel Perales, author of The Acadians
The writer who can successfully drop you into a world of her/his own creation, with no explanations, or preparation, is a writer to be reckoned with, particularly with Angel Uriel Perales’ new novella, The Acadians ( © 2017 Rum Razor Press).
The Acadians, as its name suggests, is a wandering, loosely woven narrative of the modern day descendents of Acadia, the 17th century French immigrants who settled in eastern Canada (Quebec, and Nova Scotia). Over the course of two centuries, due to threats of deportation, they migrated down the eastern seaboard of the United States, where one group settled in Louisiana. Perales’ Acadians are as defiant and stubborn as their ancient counterparts, but with limited financial and cultural resources, which makes them mean, desperate, frustrated, and always trying to stay one step ahead of rampant poverty.
There are a handful of characters who are tied together by geography, as well as cultural identity, and Perales does not spare his creations any kindness as he introduces each Acadian through an arc of misfortune.
For the record, Perales and I have been friends for many years, and in my opinion, Perales is one of the finest writers of our generation. As a poet, he continues to break new ground, and now, as a novelist, he continues to do so. The Acadians intrigued me, and Perales was kind enough to answer my questions about his new work, as well as his writing process.
PD: What inspired you to write The Acadians, and why a novella, instead of a novel?
AUP: A few things, works, and incidents are part of the inspiration which prompted me to write this tale. When I was younger and more adventurous I traveled to the area a few times.
I went to Mardi Gras for five years in a row from 1989 to 1994. On one trip my friends and I didn't even make it into the city and stayed at an RV park and partied with some people we met. I have always been fascinated with the locale, in particular the weird rural parishes north of New Orleans otherwise known as Cajun Country or Acadiana. The food is nonpareil.
Another inspiration is the memory of a girlfriend who is from that area. She was a bit of a traveler and gypsy type and the inspiration for both Seraphine and Evangeline. A few years ago she knocked unannounced at my door here in LA and overstayed her welcome by a few weeks but that is another story for another time. Of course, the epic poem, "Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a huge inspiration. In fact, I first started to write an epic poem in the same vein and only after outlining my idea did I realize that I had too many colorful characters and that maybe writing this tale in prose would be better. I wanted to write a story of modern Acadians who traveled back to Nova Scotia for different reasons. After all was said and written only one character returns to Canada and that character is not of Acadian descent.
PD: You're primarily known as a journalist, and a poet. How did the process of writing a novella differ from writing poetry, or news? Do you like it better, and why/why not?
AUP: Writing daily news professionally, whether that is headline news, or public interest stories, or even obituaries, plays havoc with my personal creative input.
For years, after a long day at work, all I could manage to write was a few poems a month, all topics taken from the news headlines of the day. After about a decade I got burnt out and effectively quit writing poetry for a spell. Then I moved over into the technical aspect of news broadcasting. And this was when I began experimenting with an enhanced poetic style and began writing more short prose and began to enjoy myself again when I sat down to write at home.
I developed my prose slowly over a few years. This is actually my 6th finished book, after five poetry chapbooks, where the last two chapbooks are actually half poems and half short stories and a strange mixture of the two, what I like to call lyrical prose.
The Acadians is my first sustained prose novella and I would like to think that the prose is musical and instinctively lyrical after writing poetry for the last 25 years. How do the two differ? Not much in the laying down the bones. Both require the discipline to sit down and write on the story or on the poem daily while fresh in your mind until the project is complete with a first draft. They differ more in the rewriting. Poetry rewriting is clarifying metaphors and substituting phrases with a perfect word and rewriting the lines and stanzas to create cadence and music. This could mean expanding on the poem if need be. Prose, I found, is tightening up sentences, to make them terse, and leave no waste, no extemporaneous words, or redundancies.
I have a few personal rules which I apply to all my writing: Rewrite any sentence which begins with it is or there are, for example. Another writing pass is to make all my verbs active unless the passage is a recollection or a memory. Cut back on too many adjectives. Go through and take out or replace the words very and more and actually and literally and stuff like that. Which do I like better? I enjoy both. Writing is difficult for me though. English is my second language. Im horrible with comma splices.
I'm at a loss if a comma goes inside the quotation marks or outside. I tend to rewrite the entire sentence if the sentence looks funny to me. I keep writing could care less instead of couldn't care less. My Spanish sometimes trips me up and I make subtle mistakes such as sit on the chair instead of sit in the chair and other assorted little personal writing discrepancies which I have to correct every time.
PD: Your characters in The Acadians come off as real people, albeit, the kind of people that have become marginalized by polite society, through lack of opportunity, or through life's misfortunes, and also, through the machinations of others they're close to, i.e., Grady being denied his creature comforts by his wife, Evie. What made you decide to fashion a cast of characters who are, in your words, unlikable, and why?
AUP: One fact I learned from the Victorians, the Bronté sisters, Jane Austen, and their contemporaries, is that polite society as a virtue is a myth and, more often than not, is oppressive and used as a cudgel and a weapon for those who do not measure up to standards - Standards which most of the time are completely arbitrary and relative to the culture which produces the so-called polite society.
I'm also suspicious of virtue-signalers and, in fact, detest them wholesale for they usually turn out to be the most oppressive and fascist of them all. The societal puritans who purport to fight for social justice are mere exploiters of justice and pirates of culture and do so for their own nefarious means and gains. They practice a philosophy of resentment and act out replacement theory. They need to define who they consider to be the oppressors and the oppressed victims in order to attempt to mold society detrimentally into what they consider to be their own utopia, with them at the top doing the oppression and their supposedly former oppressors now being the oppressed. They are, in short, regressive and actually want to rule authoritatively over others.
The people who are marginalized and have suffered misfortune in their personal lives or, for a lack of a better term, been unlucky in life for any reason, dont care for politicians and activists speaking on their behalf. They are too busy surviving day to day, living hand to mouth, and paycheck to paycheck, to worry about identity issues or stupid little micro-aggressions. They are worried about having enough time to keep the house clean and their car filled up with gas and paying the cell phone bill. They worry about working enough hours at work and keeping their family safe and fed. They worry about finishing a degree or keeping a business afloat or moving to the next level in their professional lives.
These are the characters I am drawn to and whom I want to write about and explore.They are consumed by their needs, wants, fears, lusts, and greed. In their personal relationships they make terrible mistakes and hurt each other deeply. And most of the time they think they are doing the right thing for themselves and for others. Some understand the pressures society imposes upon them. Some are more realistic and practical than others. But they all navigate their worlds to the best of their abilities. Regret, resentment, disappointment, betrayal, these realities happen to everybody and we all must choose how to deal with these realities. No matter your station in life, somebody will always seem to be over you on top unfairly and somebody else will also seem to be under you on the bottom justifiably.
Everybody views themselves stuck somewhere within that spectrum. Take Dottie, she wants to desperately get away from her overbearing sister. She thinks Ernie is the man to help her achieve what she thinks is freedom from her sisters oppression. The Mademoiselle, thinking she was romancing a fit rugged man, actually used Ernie because he made her life easier. He fixed the crumbling house falling down around them and alleviated her life by mowing the lawn, replacing the plumbing, and other chores. Ernie was happy to live with them and horny enough to get intimate with both sisters, until the situation got out of hand, and then he experienced regret.
Evie and Grady tried living up to societal standards, they went to church, got married, wanted to have children. But how do you deal with a husbands porn addiction and suspected infidelities? And then when Evie was ready to walk out on him Grady has his accident and now society dictates that a good wife must take care of an invalid husband. She tries but her resentment is such that she does a horrible job. Grady for his part is living with some childhood demons and cant maintain a job. He forges checks. Images in his mind drive him to look at porn which creates problems within his marriage. Seraphine, his mistress, doesn't care about his porn habit, this is why she is his mistress. She has a different habit of her own. When Grady can't supply her drug habit anymore she leaves and only after she leaves does she slowly realize she loved him because he took care of her in a way that she needed to keep her from returning to her troubled past.
Do these characters end up being despicable to each other? Do they seem like I plucked them all out from a basket of deplorables? Yes. Do they try their best to do right by the people whom they love? Some do. Some don't. Some try and fail. Oscar Wilde wrote, Yet each man kills the thing he loves, By each let this be heard, Some do it with a bitter look, Some with a flattering word, The coward does it with a kiss, The brave man with a sword! Some kill their love when they are young, And some when they are old; Some strangle with the hands of Lust, Some with the hands of Gold: The kindest use a knife, because The dead so soon grow cold. Some love too little, some too long, Some sell, and others buy; Some do the deed with many tears, And some without a sigh: For each man kills the thing he loves,Yet each man does not die.
The kindest character in The Acadians by Western standards is the priest, Father Noé-Cyr, and he evokes the greatest pity of all because he has imposed the worst kind of oppression upon himself because he thinks suppressing his natural wants and desires is the correct action to take before God. His kindness and virtue, which he demonstrates on others, is also his own type of self-oppression and his greatest vice. I think the characters seem real because not all of them succeed and some come out to a bitter end.
Dr. Afridi, smart and pragmatic, we assume succeeds because he moves to Canada ostensibly to begin his medical practice. He left because he knew from the beginning that his residency at Deerpants Hospital was a means to an end and he could never stay in Acadiana and achieve a thriving career without some cultural acrimony. Evie succeeds in part because she escaped her situation. The same can be said of Seraphine but her price was high and she paid with the pain of facial disfigurement. Father Noé-Cyr experienced little change in his situation but we understand he will continue to live sad and lonely and the cliché of a Beatles song. The rest of the characters, for good or bad, do not overcome their respective tragedies.
PD: What was the best part, for you, about writing The Acadians? The worst?
AUP: The best part is probably the dark humor or, rather, what I think is funny, which is mostly dark and ironic. I was laughing while writing and amusing myself. For instance, one character dies while listening to Hells Bells by AC/DC. I also tried to come up with the longest most ridiculous French sounding Cajun names I could imagine. In 1989, I was in Lafayette, LA during Mardi Gras and I looked up a number in a phone book and those long names in the phone book impressed me and stayed with me.
The worst part? This being my first novella length work and, me being insecure me, I thought I had to prepare before writing word one and before attempting my transition from poetry to prose. To that end I read exclusively short stories and novellas for over a year before I started on The Acadians. I read some great works but I also read some dreck. I read some really exalting prose by Jack London, Truman Capote, Willa Cather, Flannery OConnor, etc… but I also forced myself to read a lot of crap because I believe that I can grow as a writer by discerning what works and also what does not work. My favorite short stories I have been sharing on my Facebook account.
PD: Throughout The Acadians, there are assertions, almost with the certainty of a Greek chorus, that religion, karma, and all spiritual practices are useless, usually after the performance of action by an Acadian. Why did you include this to the narrative, and why is it important for it to be there?
AUP: My answer to this question follows the previous question where I stated that in preparing to write this novella I read many subpar narratives. Allow me posit here that the current trend of activist social justice literature is the absolute worst kind of writing, in my opinion. These activist writers don't write a story, they simply preach a missive. Almost all of their stories must include key words which serve as a sort of dog whistle: White Privilege, Patriarchy, Racism, Sexism, Xenophobia, Islamaphobia, Cis-Genderism, Homophobia, Transphobia, on and on.
Many of their stories simply make vacuous assertions, such as, Whiteness means my yellow skin makes me invisible and crap like that, virtuous platitudes just thrown up into the ether of a narrative which serves nothing and doesn't propel a story forwards. Once I asked one of these activists, What exactly is whiteness? and the response was white people being white which I thought was an extremely racist answer. If I wanted to read a sermon from a religious cult, Id go to their church. So I included Shakespearean theatre asides to show how these types of ideological assertions can be weaved successfully into a narrative while at the same time augmenting the story, adding metaphor, irony, or humor, and propelling the story forwards.
On one aside I write that Karma is coincidence given too much importance but then we see Grady ironically get his comeuppance relative to Evie. On another aside I claim that Islam is also bullshit but this is immediately following a chapter which shows how the religion is important in Dr. Afridis life and an indelible part of his personality. The ideological assertions don't matter, they really don't. Any writer can claim any ideology as being good or bad, important or otherwise, toxic or virtuous.
What matters is how the ideology affects and molds the stories and characters. A writer claiming that masculinity is toxic doesnt move me, the claim means nothing to me, whether I agree with the claim or not. The writer could claim this empty claim a thousand times in a story and I would not care. But show me in the story how masculinity is toxic, how the characters are affected in some way by toxic masculinity, how toxic masculinity affects their choices and personality, and I might begin to think more and deeply about the assertion. I was very careful to omit and exclude the new social justice activist dog whistle terms out The Acadians. I had some sections in the book which portrayed fat shaming and racism, and I addressed all the other -isms and -phobias which concern social justice activists, but I grounded each incident and portrayals in character choices, character histories, and personal actions. Show don't tell and, whatever happens, do not self-righteously preach.
Once I established the asides and how they worked within the narrative concerning the big questions of life, I then used them to greater effect later in the story by inserting objective factoids which added humor, irony, or gravitas.
PD: Do you consider The Acadians to be a moral tale? Why/why not?
AUP: Moral in the sense that morality is relative and subjective to character and context, if I can call that a moral of the story. White Knights dont exist in my tales and neither do Black Hats. What I learned growing up in a religious household is that everybody is a sinner. What I learned by living life is that everybody is also hypocritical douche bag, on occasion, on top of being a sinner.
The Golden Rule is a social contract with others and we are defined as to how we react when the Golden Rule is broken or ignored. Some of the worst atrocities in history were perpetrated by good people thinking they were doing good things. And everybody is also capable of redemption in somebody elses eyes. The wisest among us know that human nature resides somewhere in the precipice of a grey nebulous morality.
The best we can do is to not fall off the cliff into the abyss which could happen at any time. Remy Rotgut Gautrot is probably the most morally compromised character in The Acadians by Western standards. But from his point-of-view, he doesn't believe he is doing anything evil. He is protecting his turf and living by the unspoken code of the streets. He believes his savagery is necessary to protect his girls and his business. He blames those he victimizes for their fate. Of course, his morality clashes with the morality of the Travelers who live in Delacroix and they extract their own warped sense of justice.
Who is right and who is wrong in this scenario? Both are right and wrong. The ying-yang of opposite and complimentary morality is explored in all the interconnected relationships found within the narrative, with the moral compass swinging one way or the other depending on the nature of the relationship in context.
PD: What do you hope your readers will take away once they have finished reading The Acadians?
AUP: Life is hard and we all must cope in our personal way. Life is hard for the rich. Life is harder for the poor. Everybody has some type of privilege over another. Everybody lacks some type of privilege over another. This is true of every dynamic of any person relative to every other person. Babies are helpless but have their entire life ahead of them. Octogenarians are old and about to die but they have lived a long life and have seen and experienced many things. Fat Jenny may be rich and live in a fancy house with a pool and two Cadillacs but she is fat and homely and a widow with six kids. Evie may be young and beautiful and achieving her dreams of becoming a nurse but her husband is addicted to porn and is not faithful to her marriage and the parents of her new beaux scorn her for their own reasons. Dr. Afridi may be smart and clever and on his way to becoming wealthy but he is seen in a suspicious light by many Americans because of his religion. Grady may be paralyzed but he had two gorgeous women fall in love with him in their own way and he no longer has to worry about making a living because the state now will take care of his basic needs. All anybody can do is learn how to deal and survive anything that life may throw their way.
The Acadians, (c) 2017 Rum Razor Press, 80 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1544683706, $9.99