An Interview With Manuel Muñoz [Interview]

by Caleb True

Hi, Manuel. Great to have you at ODU for the 38th Annual Literary Festival: A Place to Stand. Your reading on Wednesday was fantastic, and I hope you got to see the photos from the reading. Now that the literary festival is over, I have to ask: Did you have any favorite parts, favorite moments?

My favorite part was attending the reading given by A. Van Jordan.  I have not been as attentive to poetry as I used to be, so to discover his book The Cineaste was also to discover a kindred spirit in our love for film.  With my novel, I’ve felt that I’ve had to justify my interest in Hitchcock, as if Chicano/a literature can hold only so many interests or is bound by limited concerns.  To see another writer—especially another writer of color—respond so deeply to this art form was gratifying and empowering.  I loved his reading and feel very lucky to have met him.

The story you read for us was quite haunting – perhaps, for me, one of the most memorable readings (or stories) of Litfest. What’s more, you said it was a “true story.” Could you talk about the truth in that story – how it is true, and how it is fiction.

The moment with the red hand emerging from the ground is true.  It happened when I was about five years old.  My grandmother and my religious upbringing are also true aspects, but that is where I took my liberties (though I won’t say how here).  The story was my way of returning to autobiographical moments and trying to figure out not just what happened, but what they might mean.  The title story in my first book Zigzagger deals with the same subject matter, so it really isn’t a departure.  Also, I break a big rule by using dreams in some of my stories, most especially for the ways in which they reveal anxiety and fear.  So, in a way, I’ve been writing that story for a lot longer than I think I have.

You mentioned you’re working on a new collection of stories, and that the story you read last Wednesday might possibly be a part of that collection. Do the stories revolve around a theme? What’s been the process of drafting these stories? And, do you conceive of stories individually, before conceiving of a collection, or vice versa? (Or is there some blend of the two?)

I haven’t yet figured out what will make the book come together.  In my second collection, the intertwined stories of various people in a specific neighborhood helped me shape it and I might do that again with this one.  Right now, the connections are still slim, and all I’ve got so far are close time frames:  the stories take place in the late 1970s to early 1980s, though I don’t explicitly state that.  I’m using cultural time markers instead and they might not always be obvious:  a mention of the NBC reporter Jessica Savitch, for example, or Evelyn “Champagne” King playing on the radio, or a Mexican movie starring a popular singer at the time, Rigo Tovar.

Now for some rapid-fire stuff. If you can, answer these questions as fast as you can.

a. What’s an important book from your childhood?

The Wizard of Oz

b. When you think of Dinuba, CA., what is the first thing you see?

My mom!

c. What is the last book you read?

Phil Klay’s Redeployment (one of my current undergrads is a vet and asked that we read it together).

d. What is the last poem you read?

A. Van Jordan’s “M,” after the Fritz Lang film.

e. What is the last (hard) drink you drank?

Moscow Mule

5) Finally, I am a big fan of What You See In The Dark, your novel. Will you write another novel some day?

Maybe.  Some day.  Maybe…



Manuel Muñoz is the author of two collections of short stories,Zigzagger (Northwestern University Press, 2003) and The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2007), which was shortlisted for the 2007 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. His first novel, What You See in the Dark, was published in 2011.

Caleb True is the managing editor for Barely South Review. His short fiction has appeared in The Sonora Review, Faultline, The Madison Review, and many other journals. Find him online