Ashley Lister talks with C. Sanchez-Garcia


Some writers are capable of creating vivid descriptions. Others can forge exotic, erotic sex scenes that bristle beyond the page. There are others who can weave incredibly tight plots which maintain a perfect balance between entanglement and enlightenment. And then there are those who can make your eyes grow wide as you marvel over the insight within the text.

Not many authors can claim to have all those talents. But, the work of C. Sanchez Garcia exemplifies all those positive attributes – and more. Chris is the short story writer responsible for the collection Mortal Engines and the Color of the Moon. His work has appeared in several anthologies, as well as the ERWA treasure chests, and can soon be found in the forthcoming collection: Mammoth Best New Erotica 10.

Chris kindly took time from his schedule to talk with us here at ERWA about his fiction.

Ashley Lister: You seem to favor the short story as the main medium for your talent. What is it about the dynamic of short fiction that you find so appealing?

C. Sanchez-Garcia: I think a lot of it is just in my head. I don’t think I have the attention span just yet for writing a novel, although I’d like to try. I rarely finish the novels that I start to read, let alone write, because my attention jumps around like a butterfly. But also I really like short stories. They’re a very compact form like poetry. It’s a creative challenge to see how much you can accomplish gracefully in a short space. The problem is that short fiction has fallen out of fashion. These days if you’re not a novelist it’s like you’re not considered a writer. This is a change from the past, when most of the major writers were known for their short stories more than their novels. That was back in the days of print media, when people got their stories from the pulp magazines and the slicks. When you rode on the bus, or ate your lunch in the factory break room, or sat on your porch with a beer in the evening, you read a magazine. When you broke open a copy of “Weird Tales” you expected to hear a ripping good story, one that would take you out of the world of whatever was bugging you, and if it was a meaningful story even better. I like to be associated with that tradition, with trying or aspiring to tell a good story-story that has soul under the surface. I don’t say I do it well, I’m not making any claims for myself, but it’s what I’m trying to do.

There were writers back then who earned a meager living just by writing short stories. Now that’s not even possible. What I’ve seen though is that the old pulps, like dinosaurs evolving into birds, the old pulps have evolved into anthologies. Instead of pulp magazines, you see things like “The Mammoth Book of Whatever It is” or the series of “Coming together” anthologies and so on. These are the children of the pulps. My literary heroes include many of the oldpulp writers like Ray Bradbury and Robert E Howard. To write for the pulps you had to be a story teller first.

Ashley Lister: I reviewed Mortal Engines And The Color Of The Moon: Stories Of Strange Love at the end of 2008. Even though it’s now halfway through 2010 there are still elements of those stories that have stayed with me. Is it your intention when creating a short story to make your words linger with the reader?

C. Sanchez-Garcia: I would love to have the words linger with the reader, but what I’m sure of is they have to linger with me first. I’ve come to think that if something doesn’t knock me out it won’t knock anybody else out. I think, whether people admit it or not, when a writer enters that world he’s creating, he or she is writing for themselves first. In the end, we try to write the kind of story we would like to read if someone else had written it. There should be something in your own stuff that speaks to you, makes you laugh or tears you up, words that linger in your head. Hemingway was always going on about writing truly, but that’s what he meant. You know you’re probably doing it right when your own stuff sticks in your head. It’s not going to stick in everybody’s head, and you can’t help that. Writers like Stephanie Myers or J K Rowling are doubly blessed because what they write rings true to enough people to earn them a good living. But I don’t believe for two seconds when they close the door and they’re alone at the keyboard that they’re writing for their fans. They’re writing as truly as they can within the limits of the worlds they create to work in, but they’re writing for themselves first and the fans follow when it rings true. They’re just very fortunate to create worlds that reach so far and resound with so many readers. That’s a real gift. I would love to have that gift someday. But I think you have to find some inner truth to explore first. It helps if you’re screwed up inside.

You know the most erotic thing I ever read? Something that lingered in my head for about ten years? I’m going to tell you. Here it is.

There was this forum, a kind of chat room, years ago before Facebook, kind of like the ERWA Parlor where people would just pop in out of the cold and post crazy stuff. What ever was going on. Listen.

This young man maybe just out of high school. There was an old family friend, a friend of his mothers for years. Someone he grew up with. They’d always get together to watch TV and hang around, because they just liked each other’s company. They’d been sitting on the sofa one night watching TV and they were bored with the show and they started talking about their birthmarks. That was all. I’ve got a birth mark here. Look. Hey, I’ve got one like that over here, can you see it? Things got weird, clothes began falling to show off the next birthmark and suddenly she’s whispering in his ear “I think we’d better stop.” But he doesn’t want to stop and a little while later he finds himself in the bathroom washing his cock off in the sink and totally shook up like he’s been hit by lightning, and she’s laying there naked and all hot and sweaty on the bed, and calling out to him “Are you okay? Are you all right?” because she’s scared he’s going to freak out and tell his mom what they just did. They’re both like “What did we just do? What the hell just happened to us? We were supposed to be watching TV.” I love that. I never forgot that. And it was real. The last thing the kid said was “I feel like I fucked my grandmother.” It was so raw. It was powerful. Linger in your head? Shit. That was ten years ago, and that plaintive confused little forum post still lingers in my head. Whatever became of that kid? That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about erotica. To me, that kind of earthy life changing event defines good erotica. But also keep in mind, that was just me. People’s buttons are very different, and what turns me on wouldn’t turn on someone else.

Ashley Lister: In the “Lady and the Unicorn” you relate an exhilarating story that comes across as a contemporary version of an erotic fairytale. Do you deliberately aim to explore new genres within erotica, going from science-fiction to fairytales? Or do you simply consider these as alternate facets of an overall fantasy genre?

C. Sanchez-Garcia: My natural home is erotica, but really what I’m trying to do is write the kind of stories I would like to read. I think this is what most writers do. I think because of marketing needs editors tend to limit what they think of as erotica. They think erotica should be a romantic fantasy, especially a woman’s fantasy which is in many ways different from a man’s fantasy, something like that. Boy meets girl, girl fucks boy, girl gets boy. I don’t write that way, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not what nails my feet to the floor.

When I’m writing well, what I’m doing is setting up a human situation in which the act of sex is a catalyst to bringing something out of the characters. Like the story “An Early Winter Train”, where a man spends most of the story changing his wife’s diaper, because she has Alzheimer’s. How sexy is that? Yuck. But her body still turns him on because he still loves her, and he wants to have her back like she was before she became ill. The desire and the sex is a means to an end, it’s really about remembering who she was and who they were to each other. It’s a human story and the sex is just the detonator for what’s lurking under the surface. Like that kid who accidentally fucked his mother’s friend. Who would ever publish that? But to me that’s worth reading because there is truth in it. The truth is not that they got on her bed and had intercourse. No. That is incidental. The truth is what happened after. Are you all right? No, I’m not all right, I feel like I just fucked my grandmother. You won’t tell, will you? That’s the truth. Erotica is about exploring human nature. It’s about human life and why we do what we do, and the things we do to mess ourselves up. It’s everywhere. The genre in the end doesn’t matter unless you’re doing it for money, and if you’re doing it for money you’re a monkey. What matters is using a genre as a tool in a toolbox to write something you want to say.

I think the ultimate would be to do what writers like Robert E Howard, or Tolkien, or J K Rowling have done, which is to invent a new genre, one which had never existed before. That would be the ultimate.

The “Lady and the Unicorn” is the kind of story I aspire to write, and it represents the best I’m capable of at this time in my life. I’m competing against myself. The next story in that series I write, I want it to be better than that one, because that’s a really good story. Pushing against that barrier is the kind of thing that makes me want to reach higher and explore new forms of expression. Once in a while on a lucky day, if you try and try and try you eventually pull a good one off and it gives you the gumption to keep on trying to reach higher. But there’s no magic. The “Lady and the Unicorn” is a good story, because I worked really hard on it and because Lisabet gave me good advice and I listened to her. There’s no magic. You just have to pay your dues at the keyboard the way everybody else did and wait for your time. You have to show up at the keyboard every day. You think about poets. A poet writes and writes and writes. He might get a couple of hundred poems out there, but maybe he writes one really outstanding poem, a poem for the ages. Now he’s called one of the “Great Poets.” But it’s just one poem. But he had to slog away and write hundreds just to get to that one. You don’t just haul off and write a great poem. That’s how it is.

Let’s talk about the Oh Get a Grip blog for a minute. I’ve been on there for about a year now. I’m using this blog; I’m using it to learn discipline. I’ve never had any formal education. The Oh Get a Grip is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a creative writing course. I have to show up every Wednesday. Every Wednesday I have to come up with something that people will want to read and comment on. The topic changes every week, it’s usually chosen by someone else, and it’s usually a topic I’ve never ever given any thought to at all, but I still have to come with something. Not only that, but I want to write something original. The nice thing about a little blog like Oh Get a Grip is that it’s a small supportive audience. It’s the equivalent of a little rock band playing in a small club when they’re starting out, learning their sound, getting some fans together. It’s not a big deal, there’s not much at stake so you can take risks and if it works it works and if it flops it’s not a big deal. I wrote a Dr. Seuss parody – “The 500 Dildoes of Sweet Granny Franny” – and it was fun to write and people liked it. I didn’t know it was so much fun to write like Dr. Seuss. I wrote a sonnet. I wrote a steam punk fairy tale. Some autobiographical stuff. I keep trying to find ways to surprise myself and to play around with different narrative forms in front of a live audience. There’s a friendly audience and I feel free to take risks. If I fall on my face, who cares, it’s a little blog. If it’s good – I’ve discovered something I can keep. The anthology of my short stories coming out this summer, many of those stories started out as experimental blog posts that were worth fixing up.

Ashley Lister: In previous discussions I’ve seen you list influences as diverse as Ray Bradbury, Chuck Palahniuk, Raymond Chandler and H P Lovecraft. Clearly you believe it’s important for good writers to discover a broad range of authors. What other advice would you pass on to aspiring authors?

C. Sanchez-Garcia: Advice for aspiring writers? Hell, I’ve got so much advice, because I’m an aspiring writer myself. I’m just starting out. But I’ll tell anybody reading this what I’m doing right now, today, to overcome my immense ignorance, and you can pick out what works for you. Listen.

Writing exists on at least three levels. Imagination, elements of story telling, and rhetoric. An aspiring writer should find strategies for improving all of those.

There’s no magic. But that’s what’s so good about writing, compared to other art forms. If you have a lot of talent it’s nice, but even if you only have a little, if you work hard at learning the craft of story telling, you can make yourself good. You can pull yourself up. It’s something that can be learned, and the learning is endless. That’s my advice for aspiring writers. Treat this like a craft, something you can spend a lifetime learning on ever expanding levels. Don’t worry about being published if you’re not doing this for a living. Study craftsmanship. Feel what a carpenter feels when he looks at a really good table he’s made. Once you’ve mastered a level of craftsmanship, publication may take care of itself. So much of this is just luck anyway.

There’s an expression in Buddhism called “beginner’s mind”. This is the mind that is eager to learn, whose cup is empty and ready to be filled. You should have that mind. You should feel like you want to learn from everybody around you. You should feel like you’re the most ignorant person alive and everybody knows something you don’t.
Imagination is partly a gift, but also it’s something you develop by feeding your head and allowing your mind time to wander. Do what you did when you were a kid. Daydream. Play with your fantasies.

Most of the big names in writing and poetry agree on one single thing – you have to read a lot. A lot. Feed your head. Especially in the forms in which you want to write. If you want to write novels, read novels. If you want to write short stories, read short stories, poetry, poetry. Read good writers in the forms you want to write. Get an ear for when it’s done right. When you read something, a sentence or a paragraph that knocks you on your ass, stop and study it. I’ll come back to this in a minute.

Read all the craft books you can get that explain the mechanics of dialogue, and plot and characterization. Treat writing like a craft, like wood working or boat building. A musician has to learn his scales first, and how to read music and practice playing every day. Why shouldn’t a writer? Learn your craft. Be a good apprentice. I find that I learn the most from people who write on my own level of skill. That’s why it’s good to do critiques for your peers. It helps you learn how to read effectively and how to apply the concepts you’re studying. Study how it works in theory, even if it seems stiff at first, then read the writers who are known for being strong at something you’re studying. Stephen King is a master plotter and story teller. You can learn a lot about pacing from him. He started out by writing short stories for the pulps and porno slicks, where you have to tell a breathless page turning story or you’re out. When you’re ready to study dialogue, read your craft book and then study the dialogue from tough talking guys like Elmore Leonard and Chuck Palahniuk. Listen to Quentin Tarrentino’s stylish dialogue in his movies “Pulp Fiction” and “Inglorious Basterds” or Diablo Cody’s dialogue in “Jennifer’s Body” and “Juno”. When you’re ready to study characters, study the complex character interaction in movies like “American Beauty” and “Magnolia”. Watch the first ten minutes of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” for the amazing way the main characters are introduced, especially the Sundance Kid.

I always check out the book reviews on, for NPR radio. The reviewers are always saying specific things like “his muscular prose”, or “her fascinating characters” or “his wonderful, improbable plot twists”, things that ring bells for a particular craft element you might be studying.

Now, to make this interview different, let’s talk about something you almost never hear anybody talk about anymore – hard core rhetoric. Word craft. Rhetoric is like this stern old school teacher looking to whack you on your knuckles with a ruler. It’s the kind of thing that’s fallen out of fashion. But the best writers are masters of rhetoric. I’ve read stories that were structurally weak but were still a pleasure to read because the writer had such a sweet touch. Learn to love words. Love the sound of words. When I’m getting close to my final draft, I always take it off somewhere alone and I read it to myself out loud. That’s how you weed out klutzy language. It’s amazing what that simple thing can do for you, hearing your own words read out loud.

There’s this other thing I learned from Stephen King’s book “On Writing”, it’s called “Pastiche”. Practice pastiche. This was something they made kids do in school a long time back to learn rhetoric, and it’s really good. Pastiche. Kids had to hand copy out a sentence, and then play around with the sentence form, writing it in different ways. For instance, an Inverted Sentence form is “Ovid was immoral, but he had high standards in art.” (Gilbert Highet “Poets in a Landscape”) You could rewrite that as”Nixie was a killer, but her understanding of human nature ran deep.” That’s pastiche practice. One day you read something amazing – and you stop. Get a notebook and hand copy that sentence or paragraph word for word. Word for word, I’m telling you. With a pen, not a keyboard. You write it word for word and try to feel in your head how it feels to write those words, try to feel what the writer felt when he or she was writing them. Try to feel the soul of those words, like music.

Writing craft exists on many levels. Beginner’s always think they need a style or a voice. You acquire voice by writing a lot and learning rhetoric. Read poetry. Study how poets use sound. Listen to the subtle way words knock against each other to create an effect. Hand copy poems out in a notebook and carry it around. Read poems out loud. Read the ways different writer’s use language. Angela Carter uses language gorgeously, she writes beautiful, startling sentences. Gabriel Garcia-Marquez writes enchanting ironical sentences. Ray Bradbury, even though he gets carried away, uses language is intense powerful ways. In “Fahrenheit 451” there’s this part I love, it’s fantastic what he does with a series of simple punchy sentences. Look at this, how he uses the second sentence to set up the third sentence:

They turned, their faces blanched meat, streaming sweat’ he beat their heads, knocking off their helmets, and bringing them down on themselves. They fell and lay without moving.

The blowing of a single autumn leaf.

He turned and the Mechanical Hound was there.

It’s not much by itself here. But if you’ve been reading the whole novel up to that point, and you get to those two lines “The blowing of a single autumn leaf. He turned and the Mechanical Hound was there.” it knocks you right on your silly. You’ll just jump out of your goddamn seat. Holy Shit, Boy Wonder! The motherfucking Mechanical Hound! It’s there! Wow! It’s the Hound! And then what happened??

And that my friend, is good story telling.

I totally stole that rhetoric style in “The Color of the Moon” in the big battle scene when Lady Dainagon confronts Ichinori the exorcist. I studied Bradbury, read him out loud, and then I wrote that whole scene starting with:

The lamplight quivered and rocked. A sad feeling, like a noxious wind, filled the air, stirring forgotten memories in him.

He turned to look back at the oil lamp.

She was standing in the path.

That’s me doing Ray Bradbury. Simple, punchy, ominous sentences. That’s what pastiche practice is about.

I always try to write everyday, and if there’s nothing going on I do writing exercises, which are like Oh Get a Grip in miniature. You assign yourself something, or you do a pastiche from somebody good, or you do free writing where you let yourself ramble and exercise your imagination. Hemingway always carried a pocket notebook everywhere he went and scribbled down anything useful that came to him that he might want later. You don’t know when something interesting will come to you, so you have to be ready to grab it out of the air before it gets away. Sometimes I write “stubs” when I get an idea, a kind of bare bones sketch to lay out the story before it gets away and then starting fleshing it out later into scenes. I write asynchronously, out of order, and I write first drafts that look like a gory road accident. But because I know I’ll re-write everything many times I’m free to do that. Which is another thing.


The falling of a single wooden pencil.

He turned, and the Second Draft was there.

You have to rewrite. Good writing is 90 percent rewriting. I really believe that. It’s true for me at least. Rewriting is freedom. Rewriting will set you free to write really badly, really awful stuff, and not feel depressed about it, because you know as you keep going over it you’ll get to understand what it really means and you’ll make it better. Dostoyevsky rewrote “The Idiot” five times right from scratch, writing longhand in notebooks, and that was a whole novel. The fifth draft didn’t look anything like the first draft. Hemingway was known to rewrite a short story as often as 40 times using just a pencil. That’s what you have to be willing to do if you want to get it good. I rewrote “The Lady and the Unicorn” three times from scratch, lazy by Hemingway standards, then showed it to Lisabet and rewrote the whole middle part from scratch again after discussing it with her. That’s what you do. Also, find yourself a First Reader. Somebody good. Somebody who knows how to read well and knows story telling. When you find someone like that, that is so precious.

Ashley Lister: One of the titles you’re due to be releasing soon is Coming Together Presents: C. Sanchez-Garcia. For those who are unfamiliar with this altruistic venture, the Coming Together series benefit charities. Can you tell us anything about the stories readers can expect from this collection when it’s released?

C. Sanchez-Garcia: I was really honored that anyone would want a collection of my stuff to publish. So first, thank you to Alessio Brio if she reads this for giving a hungry guy a shot. Thank you. Thanks to you for this interview too.

These stories represent my style over the last couple of years. I think I write from a more male style, although I’m not aware of it unless it’s pointed out to me. I think these stories will be different from what people are used to thinking of as erotica. These are not boy meets girl stories. These are not one handed “he fucked her ass good” stories. Each one of these stories has a soul. Each one of these stories is about an interesting idea or theme. I guarantee it. I guarantee it because I’m hungry and I’ve been learning from very good people. I’ve been doing my job as an apprentice. I tried to write the stories that would knock me on my ass if someone else had written them. I don’t guarantee you’ll like them, some of them you will definitely not like, and that’s just tough, but I guarantee you won’t be bored. My job isn’t to please my reader. My job is to make sure my reader is never bored, because I’m a pulp writer. There’s some really weird shit in that book, and some of it is painful to read, but none of it is boring. I promise. There are some pretty funny stories in there. There are some pretty dark stories in there. There’s erotic science fiction. Erotic horror. Erotic fantasy. Mainstream with sex. There’s a couple of poems. There’s one nut job story in there that doesn’t even fit any genre you can name.

Ashley Lister: What are you currently working on?

C. Sanchez-Garcia: Along with the Oh Get a Grip blog, I’m trying to finish the final story of a vampire novel. This is an episodic novel, centering around a character that has appeared in several of my stories, including “The Lady and the Unicorn” which is in the ERWA’s Treasure Chest, for anyone reading this interview and it was picked up for the upcoming “Mammoth Best New Erotica VOL 10”.

An episodic novel is a series of stories, that when put together in order become one larger story. This is the story of Nixie, a vampire girl, originally from Germany. I wrote this novel backwards.

The last story, “The Dying Light” was one of the first Nixie stories I wrote. Then “The Moth and the Flame” and then “Singing in the Dark” and then “The Lady and the Unicorn”. Together they make a single continuous narrative, but the first, the origin story, is the one I’m trying to write now. It’s all I’m thinking of. This is a vampire story, but it’s different. I set aside all the popular genre conventions and rethought the whole concept from scratch. I’ve tried to imagine what it would be like to be an actual vampire, one who lives in the world as we find it. Not an alternate world. What would your limitations be? What would your problems be? What are the spiritual implications of your existence? How would you find your way in this world? How would you interact with a human lover, and what would be the emotional and moral complexities of a relationship like this? It has romantic elements, but at its core this is a spiritual journey of a lost soul trying to claw her way back to the light. There are elements of my own life in that story, that’s why it’s so hard to write. I want to get this one right.

Ashley Lister
August 2010

“Between the Lines” © 2010 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

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