Behind the Scenes with Tomas Moniz author of ‘The King of Aloe Vera’
A full transcript is below.
Teresa Douglas, Tomas Moniz
Teresa Douglas 00:10
Welcome listeners to this week’s behind the scenes episode with Latin X lit audio mag. I’m your host Teresa Douglas. And today we’re going to be talking to Tomas Moniz, the author of The King of Aloe Vera. Moniz’s debut novel, ‘Big Familia,’ was a finalist for the 2020 PEN/Hemingway, the LAMBDA, and the Foreward Indies Awards. He edited the popular Rad Dad and Rad Families anthologies. He’s a 2020 Artist Affiliate for Headlands Center for Arts. He has stuff on the internet but loves penpals: PO Box 3555, Berkeley CA 94703. He promises to write back. Welcome Tomas!
Tomas Moniz 00:54
Thank you so much for having me. And I appreciate you reading my PO box because I love letters.
Teresa Douglas 00:59
Oh, and we’re fully going to put that in the show notes so that any listener who takes you up on that offer can easily find it. So maybe we’ll have a whole flood of pen pals coming soon.
Tomas Moniz 01:10
That would be wonderful. I’ve got a few that, you know, I put it in my book as well at the end. And I would get these letters from random strangers who checked out my book from the library in Des Moines, Iowa and telling me what they thought was wonderful.
Teresa Douglas 01:22
That’s nice. Well, we are going to talk about this wonderful excerpt but before we do, we’re going to take an off topic question here for just a moment. Because it is sort of like you’re sitting in my metaphorical house, at my metaphorical table, and I would offer you, I guess it would have to be metaphorical food at this point. But if I were to offer you something to eat, I would love to know what you like. So what is your favorite comfort food?
Tomas Moniz 01:51
That’s a tricky question. It’s interesting. I thought about that when I looked over the pre notes. I would say immediately coffee, although that’s not a food, but coffee certainly makes me feel comfortable, relaxed, like I’m in a safe space. So you know that really resonates with me. But if I had to go with food, I’d have to do like, you know, some tortillas and eggs.
Teresa Douglas 02:14
That’s sounds like we would be having a nice brunch somewhere.
Teresa Douglas 02:17
There you go! That sounds nice.
Teresa Douglas 02:19
Have a coffee. Have your eggs and tortillas with a little salt on the side. Ah, so good.
Tomas Moniz 02:26
So now I do know what my comfort food is: brunch.
Teresa Douglas 02:30
It’s a whole thing, right? Because especially coffee is just the stuff of life. We’ll just throw it in there. Everybody needs their caffeine at any point in the day.
Teresa Douglas 02:41
So thank you, I would I would definitely want to serve you some coffee and make some tortillas with you. Sounds wonderful. Well, the king of Aloe Vera. So this, this is an excerpt that you sent. And it’s lovely because it was so interesting. It’s intriguing. And I’m getting ahead of myself. I get so excited when I get to talk to authors about their stories. Before we do that, let’s talk a little bit about you and your background. And I would love to know, how long have you been writing?
Tomas Moniz 02:41
Tomas Moniz 03:12
Um, that’s an interesting question as well. I think I’ve been writing, um, kind of as long as I can remember, I used to listen to albums, and they’d have like, they used to always put one instrumental song on an album. And for some reason I hated that there were no lyrics, I would be writing lyrics to the instrumental songs on any album, that were there, me and my brothers. But I think I took seriously writing in college. I was a real young parent at 20. And I think I also came into the kind of community of zines and kind of activism and so I noticed that there were a lot of self published DIY zines on every topic you could imagine. Except what I was really interested in which was like parenting, how to be a parent, how to raise my son in ways that I wasn’t raised. And so kind of the ethos of that community was like, well, I’ll just start one myself and so that really was the beginning of my writing career–creating the zine Rad Dad and asking other parents to write about what it was like to parent in non traditional or non mainstream ways.
Teresa Douglas 04:25
That’s amazing. And as someone who started a podcast I am 100% two thumbs up about starting something if you don’t see what you want out there. So way to go, way to go for that. And then I was just reading through your your excerpt here. Is fiction your first love? Do you write other things? Are there other secret loves of writing that you have? Tell me all about that.
Tomas Moniz 04:49
I love the process of writing multi genre–that’s what I like to think of myself, right multicultural multi genre. I mean, I started obviously with creative nonfiction essays like how, how do we parent? Right? How do I talk to my son about, drugs and the environment and things like that. And then, of course, my daughters. It was a decade long project. But I find myself, using flash fiction or prose poetry to, to kind of write about very particular moments or ideas or thoughts. And then I would use that as material to kind of generate longer prose pieces. So I find myself using the specific genres to build up to longer prose. And that’s really what I’m doing now is I’m, I’m finding a lot of pleasure in that difficult space of sitting down and working on something that I’m not gonna be able to finish in a day or a week, but something I’m gonna have to kind of meander through for the course of six months, eight months, a year. So that’s, both the pleasure and pain in the writing process.
Teresa Douglas 05:59
It’s an interesting thing that you say that, because it seems both sort of organized and intuitive, this idea of starting with something shorter, and then just sort of working your way to longer that’s like, the writer version of a couch to 5k, really.
Tomas Moniz 06:17
As someone who would never run, I would not know, but I get it.
Teresa Douglas 06:23
Listeners, if you’re thinking of writing a novel, this might work for you, if you’re getting a little stuck, you can do like Tomas does, and you could start smaller and shorter. And so sort of, it’s like running a marathon for the novel.
Tomas Moniz 06:37
And so it’s been really nice, if I’m stuck, bored, don’t know where to go in my longer pieces, I’ll just turn to, like playful stuff. Usually, my shorter stuff is kind of playful, funny, little dirty, you know, whatever. It’s just meant to be pleasurable in the writing, and also the reading of it. And that then inspires me to get back into my longer work, which is sometimes less pleasurable, because you’re kind of writing these longer scenes and stuff like that. So yeah, they really feed off of each other.
Teresa Douglas 07:11
It’s, like the potato chips of writing. You have these little flash pieces, just consume a little bit and then move back to the–what would that make the novel then? If short stories are potato chips…?
Tomas Moniz 07:23
Baked potato? I don’t know what metaphors to go to.
Teresa Douglas 07:28
And maybe I should stop thinking about food and–
Tomas Moniz 07:30
Yeah you’re making me hungry. There’s a scene in the excerpt, which I wrote as one of these little flash pieces that had nothing to do with the character or the idea. But once I wrote it, I realized, oh, this fits perfectly with the character trait I’m trying to work with, with the main character. So I put this random scene that I wrote for nothing into the book, and I think it works very well. And that’s the scene where, you know, he’s messing with the kid who’s pushing buttons in the elevator.
Teresa Douglas 08:05
This whole excerpt feels, I don’t know if saying gleeful is really the right adjective. You’re gonna hear rustling here, listeners, because I have the excerpt printed out. There’s just so many moments in here, where I just love Ray, first of all, because he’s such a personality, like a genuine human being. I could see this guy at the library, pushing the cart, I feel like I almost know him in the way that the details are coming out. He’s pushing the cart, he’s telling the kid to push all the buttons, nobody’s here; his multiple requests to get a proper broom. And deciding that he’s going to stick it to the man and the library establishment. I just love the way he thinks. And he’s going to do all these things. And just, it hints at that wider world of lived experience. I believe this guy has been on the earth for 70 years, because he has a lot of opinions. And he isn’t just this character that exists in this moment, without any depth. He has depth, I guess, is the better way to put it in. And there are so many points where I’m just laughing at him. And and I love that there’s ageism that gets thrown into here. And the way he deals with it. Again, I’m getting ahead of myself. Can we talk about how you decided on this idea? What’s the process? So first of all–there are many firsts, and you can take this in any order you like–is this novel done? Is this something you’re working on? Just tell me tell me all the details about your writing process.
Tomas Moniz 09:49
Right. Well, thank you for that. I love the description of gleeful because I do think that’s really what I wanted to capture, this joy and vulnerability. I was really trying to capture a character that survived. I think that was really important to me. When I was thinking about this project, like, what does it mean to survive, because a lot of my writing before this manuscript was focused on, people in their 30s and 40s, sometimes their 20s. And it was all this kind of like, angst in a certain way. And I kind of wanted to imagine that, because I’m getting older as well, like, what did we do, to continue to maintain ourselves to stay committed and involved? Because I think that’s also the struggle that Ray goes through, as you’re reading this book. Where does he belong? Where do elders belong in our society in general? It’s funny, because early on in my writing process, I’ve worked on children and really advocating that children need to be involved in all facets of our lives, for the most part. And I feel like, the same thing could be said, for our elders. Where do we welcome them in? And how do we kind of benefit from their presence in our everyday lives. So that’s the idea that I was trying to go for, but I wanted humor, I wanted a little bit of politics in it. The manuscript is done. And in fact, it’s out on submission with my agent. We’re hoping we’re that it will get published in the next year or so. We’ll see.
Teresa Douglas 11:25
Yeah, I would I just read this, and I told you in an email after I had read it, that Ray just intrigues me. The fact that he has a very definite date when he wants to tie up all his loose ends. We won’t reveal anything that needs to be revealed later. But I was hooked. Here he is, tying things up. And I love again, I love this idea that he hates, first ofdoes the coddling from the librarian, but he will use it if he has to. That was so poignant, because it’s something that many marginalized people have to contend with. There’s this box that people want to stuff you into and you’re, living your life, trying not to be in that box. And when’s the moment when you just kind of have to use it-.
Tomas Moniz 12:22
Teresa Douglas 12:23
-just get something done. I mean, Ray just wants a broom, okay, and to organize books by color. And so maybe in our lives, those, those things we need to do are less or less fun (than Ray’s needs), but it’s absolutely something that a marginalized person would identify with. This idea of, well, the box is there. And you can’t get away from it all the way. So when do you use it? When is the greater good? It’s just beautiful. And so there was that, there’s the cigarette butt bandit and I love that. Ray has this was girl who lives near him. And he didn’t quite recognize her because she’s part of the unhomed community, and how he’s dealing with that and going to tell tell Alma there’s someone smoking in the non smoking zone. I love how lightly he he talks about that. I love the way that you are dealing with so many issues that are sort of up front. And in some ways, they’re unflinching, but yet told with humor, so we can get into this world and see it without, I guess getting overburdened? That’s probably not a great way to phrase it, but it’s deftly done.
Tomas Moniz 14:01
Right. I hear what you’re getting at, because I struggle with that. And it’s a fear of, I think, not just mine, but lots of writers–or artists I should say. How do we talk about something important without being overbearing, or didactic, right? We want to address these issues that we are all seeing on an everyday basis, experiencing in our families. But at the same time, we know that how we present the stories we tell, impacts how they are received. And so there’s that fine line, or that balancing act that we’re trying to make. I think I think I learned a lot of that early on talking about parenting because because I hated as a reader to read anyone who says this is how you should do it.
Tomas Moniz 14:51
Yeah. Also any time someone sounded like I’m a wonderful parent or I’m the you know. Even with Rad Dad I struggled with the name. It’s not about being a cool dad, it’s about being open to talking about the failures as parents, and what we can learn from them. And I think I learned that struggle there. And now, I feel like it’s benefited me as I’m trying to talk about issues in fiction, while at the same time trying to be humorous and creating characters that I love and that are irritating, right? That you can maybe watch them grow or fail.
Teresa Douglas 14:51
Teresa Douglas 15:28
And the fact that you’re walking that line, I believe, helps people see them because we’ve we’ve all had those experiences, where you’re walking past a homeless encampment, or you’re walking past something, and you don’t look, or you’re trying not to see because it hurts you to look at it in some ways. And we need to look at it. And because of the way you’re writing, it’s easier to see like the Cigarette Butt Bandit is a human being. And we’re going to see her I would imagine in the rest of the book. She’s interacting, she has her own agency, she has things that she’s doing, she’s her own person. And I loved how human everybody is in this. And how, again, I think that’s a very big portion of why we’re able to sort of engage with some of the issues that you’re you’re clearly bringing up here.
Tomas Moniz 16:31
You will definitely see more of her. She’s one of my favorite characters.
Teresa Douglas 16:36
Can we can we talk a little bit about–I think we’ve hit on some of it already, but just the sorts of impressions that you would love a reader, or in in this case, a podcast listener to be left with after they hear your story?
Tomas Moniz 16:52
That’s a good one. What I would like to have readers leave the story or the world or the character with is just the sense of vulnerability. And at the same time, this need to connect with other people. That’s really what I want, in this particular novel, to explore. How we create community now between not just a biological family, but the people on our street, the neighbors we have. A thread in the novel that doesn’t really come up in this excerpt is, what we leave behind, like legacy. Ray is struggling with what he has been left from parents, and at the same time, what he is going to be leaving behind. Themes I would love people to leave with is like vulnerability, community, and at the same time, kind of their sense of humor and playfulness, because Ray is meant to be kind of a funny character. And I wanted to try it.
Teresa Douglas 18:02
He is! I just love that he’s a whole person. He moves between being sort of grumpy, and not being grumpy and being sort of radical when he talks about the establishment and the fact that he’s not looking away from the homeless encampments. He knows the people there, so he’s a person who has some some moral fiber to him. That image just comes out very, very well. I know I want to see more of this story in its novel form, and I’m sure other people will as well. Do you have a place where people can follow you and see where your next things come out?
Tomas Moniz 18:46
Generally, I mean, yes, Twitter would be an easy one. I use that primarily for my writing work. I do have an Instagram and a Facebook and I balance that with my personal life. I have a brand new story out on catapult.com, which is a really great story about a rescue dog and friendship in the pandemic. With Ray actually, this is one of the few manuscripts that I didn’t really submit excerpts from. This is actually the very first time Ray’s been released into the wild.
Tomas Moniz 19:24
Awesome! I’m his first person to see him!
Tomas Moniz 19:26
Yeah, it really is. And so it’s been nice thinking about how he will be received because yeah, with other manuscripts I tend to put out excerpts here and there, you know, I write like we initially talked about–these like smaller stories that then get expanded into longer stories. But with Ray I kind of knew right away what I was doing, and that was a different kind of process with that story. So yeah, Twitter would be the best place I just have a brand new story out that I think I really like and hopefully Ray will be out as a complete book, you know, sometime next year.
Teresa Douglas 19:59
Awesome. And listeners, if you check the show notes, you’re going to see some links to some of these different things, including the catapult story. Check it out, because I think you’re going to enjoy them as much as this story. I love Ray. I just cannot wait to see him out in the wild in novel form and find out what happens to him, too. Thank you for coming Tomas to this podcast. I really enjoyed having you here.
Tomas Moniz 20:30
I appreciate you having me here as well. This is really a great experience to think about right in this context. So thank you.