Behind the Scenes: Abram Valdez Talks about The Facilities Are for Mourners Only

SPEAKERS

Teresa Douglas, Abram Valdez

Teresa Douglas  00:10

Welcome listeners to this week’s behind the scenes episode of Latinx Lit audio mag. I’m your host Teresa Douglas. Today we’re talking to Abram Valdez. Abram is a Chicano author from Denton County, Texas, where he and his partner Marissa are raising four children. As a first generation college graduate, his father was both proud and horrified at Abrams plans to attend graduate school at the University of Arkansas MFA program for creative writing, with an emphasis and poetry, he would have preferred Abram go to a computer sciences and not write for greeting cards. Abrams work has been featured in Had, Eunoia Review, 14 Hills, Complete Sentence, Bridge Eight and the Daily Drunk. Welcome Abram.

Abram Valdez  00:58

Hey, Teresa, thanks for having me.

Teresa Douglas  01:01

It’s nice to have you here. And I don’t know if this is gonna be a great introduction to this particular piece, but we are going to talk about food before we talk about the piece which I loved, even though I was eating at the time that I first read it. But when you’re eating, and you need some comfort food, what is your favorite comfort?

Abram Valdez  01:24

Yeah, I’ve been struggling with this. I knew the question was coming in. And it’s a really difficult question. Because one, I’m like a big guy. So I can eat a lot. And I like food a lot. And I found as I kept going over it, I was like, well, the foods that bring me the most comfort are the ones that are like the worst for me. So I have to like pick and choose my comfort. How much comfort I can have during the year.

Teresa Douglas  01:58

Let’s be honest here, nobody’s last meal is kale.

Abram Valdez  02:03

Right? I could probably stand to use more kale though than, like, menudo. Right. 

Teresa Douglas  02:10

We all could. But menudo cures the common cold, so, you know…

Abram Valdez  02:15

Right. And that’s probably at the top of my list. Because like I can have that real good bowl of menudo, and I have that ratatouille experience where the food critic tastes and he immediately goes back. But then I’m also feeling really guilty about it like 10 minutes later, oh, man, there goes the blood pressure like, Oh, it’s so much sodium. So yeah, I find that that the older I get the the foods that bring me the most comfort are also the ones that make me the most uncomfortable as well. 

Teresa Douglas  02:55

We save them, we try to save them for when we need them. Right. That’s the purpose. And I have to say I was once asked to turn in what my last meal would be if I had to have a last meal. I did not know that these things were gonna go up on a projector in front of all of the departments at work. And everybody else had like, oh, I’ll have these tacos or have these enchiladas. My list was an eight course meal. And none of them matched itself. It was just things I’ve had in my life in different parts of the world. 

Abram Valdez  03:17

Oh, yeah. 

Teresa Douglas  03:32

From that point on. I was like that person. They’re like, Oh, you’re the one that’s gonna die of a heart attack. I’m like, Look, it’s my last meal. I’m already going.

Abram Valdez  03:41

That’s funny. Cuz See, I would have been the person asking you and where was this? Exactly? Yeah, I would have also wanted to know. I gotta get on that as well. Yeah, eight courses? Absolutely. Yeah. 

Teresa Douglas  03:52

Look, you haven’t lived if your list of ‘Must Eat Foods’ is not long. I’m just gonna, I’m just gonna go with that. You know, food is important. And even even though we’re gonna be talking about a piece and listeners, this piece made me laugh very hard. But warning, don’t eat anything while you’re eating it. Because apparently, I also have the humor of a 13 year old because it is really funny. And, I would love to just talk a little bit about that. But before we do, I keep I keep saying before we do before we do. You mentioned in your bio that that you went to school for poetry. You gave us a comedy piece. Do you have a first love? Do you love all of the things you write equally? What’s your situation?

Abram Valdez  04:45

I yeah, I I started out writing poetry like real serious poetry in college, and, I was lucky enough to have a couple of professors who were really supportive and were like, Hey, you should definitely see how far this can take you. You could definitely do grad school. And I was like, Oh, that’s great. So that’s how I got into the poetry lane so to speak. But I’ve been writing since the second grade. I used to talk a whole lot in class and my second grade teacher got tired of hearing me, so she sat me out in the hallway and gave me a stack of papers the size of a tree stump. And on each piece of paper was a, an outline of like an animal. And inside, there was a bunch of different words. So there would be like a beaver. And then there would be words like, broken and, furry Brown. And then she said, I want you to write a story about that animal with all those words. And so I got about halfway through Noah’s Ark, going through all the different animals that she gave me. And then school was done. And at that point, I think that’s when my love for writing started. I didn’t really get serious about it until, college though.

Teresa Douglas  06:16

Can I just say your teacher gave you your first MFA experience? Because those were writing prompts.

Abram Valdez  06:25

Right, right. She got tired of hearing me tell stories verbally and was like, just put it on paper. And it’s pretty much a refrain I’ve heard all my life, just write it down. I don’t need to hear it. Just write it down. So yeah, yeah, I would say, I’ve been writing for a while. And I try to I write a little bit of everything. But it’s only probably within the last year that I got into flash fiction, where I was like, Oh, this kind of takes the best of both worlds. I like storytelling. But at times, my poetry can seem too prosaic. But I can use the economy language and put the peanut butter in the chocolate with flash fiction. And so that’s what I’ve been plying my at trading for the last year.

Teresa Douglas  07:17

It’s magic. I came to flash fiction probably around the same time, about a year or so ago. It sounds like you were trying to tell oral stories, you probably heard them, just like I did, just floating around your family. And having that moment where you’re telling this oral story if it takes too long people leave. Its like, Man, that’s it. And flash fiction it can it can feel like home.

Abram Valdez  07:53

Yeah, absolutely. I completely agree. Like, it’s, it’s one of those things where, I feel like if I’m lucky enough to get somebody’s attention, that they’re going to read something that I’ve written, I want to make sure that it’s worth their while. And right now everybody’s attention can be pulled in so many different ways, especially online. If I can write something that cuts through really quickly and deeply, then I feel, you know, mission accomplished. So yeah, so I’ve been kind of gravitating towards that lately.

Teresa Douglas  08:28

Well, I would definitely call this piece that you wrote, it’s comedic, it’s flash, you said in your email before–and honestly, if this going to get you in trouble with your family, you can go ahead and say, I don’t want to talk about it–but you said that there’s a real world story sort of behind it. Would you talk us through either that or, or focus more safely on your process? Just tell us a bit.

Abram Valdez  08:54

No, it’s cool. My family is very used to me at this point, kind of exposing family stuff, so it’s fine. The piece is kind of based on a true story. So back in 2017, my father passed away kind of unexpectedly, after a very aggressive illness that kind of came and took him. And in that time period, where you know, someone passes you’re making plans and arrangements and all these people were coming in. I wasn’t really thinking about any of those the people that were coming in, but yet it was family. It was friends, it was, friends of the family and people that we hadn’t talked to in years, all these people would come in. And to a person they all said the same thing. Sorry for your loss. He’s in a better place. You need anything. It just kind of became a cliche. After a while you become numb to it. But you know, this one friend of the family that my mom’s known for years came by. And I think what drew me to want to write this was how cavalier he was, and just like not a care in the world. [As if] he didn’t know that my dad passed. He was really excited to tell some somebody about the story of his stomachache, and how it affected them. I think he knew I’ve got a captured audience here with the widow and her son and my sister, you know, his daughter, and they can’t go anywhere. They’re just gonna have to sit here, listen to me. So that’s where that’s where the genesis came from. 

Abram Valdez  10:42

The other part to the story, the kind of escape part, came about, as I was thinking about this interview that Toby Hooper did. Toby Hooper’s the director of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He had mentioned in this interview that he was stuck in a department store like Sears during the Christmas season, and there was like, hundreds of people. He was in the hardware section, and he started getting really nervous. Like if I had to leave right now. What’s the fastest way I can get through all these people. And that’s when he saw the chainsaws on display. And that always made me crack up. And so I kind of thought about it that way, because my mom is way too nice of a person to ever just say, hey, stop talking man, you’re being gross and get out of here. She would never do that. She’s just such a kind patient person. And clearly, I didn’t get any of that from her. 

Abram Valdez  11:42

But in the piece, I tried to write it as if I had been in my mom’s position. What would I’ve done? I thought, the answer is to feign this nosebleed so that the guy would at least, you know, stop talking long enough and she could get away. So that’s kind of where the genesis of it came from. Part of it’s true the other part’s fiction. I really exaggerated the story, because I think the gentleman in question, who’s a dear family friend, realized pretty quickly like, oh maybe talking about it is to, two pitstops is enough, I don’t need to make this like an extended Lord of the Rings, extended ending of my bathroom experiences between New Mexico and Arizona and back again. So, yeah.

Teresa Douglas  12:47

So did you start with this idea–hings come to us in many different ways. Like, it sounds like you had this actual, this actual event that happened. Did you work from there to add the fiction to it? Or, or did it sort of come in your brain at once? And you  wrote it down? And then edited after?

Abram Valdez  13:09

No, I think, obviously, the real world experience started first, like that was always what anchored everything. Um, but then once you start writing about that, where do you go beyond just the humor in these stories, and that’s what I wanted to try and ground it in, in the middle of what’s happening in the story. There is still these characters that are going through this grieving process. And they may not even see it, because they’re too close to it at the time. And I definitely know I was. But, I came to realize much later that, in the real experience, as I sat there listening to this guy kind of going through this, I had the same reaction as the character in the story, which was man, how can you be saying this man? Don’t don’t you see what you’re saying? Can you hear yourself? But as I get some distance from it, I’m like, that was the best thing anybody could have said, in all honesty, because for whatever time it was, I wasn’t thinking about, Well, how am I feeling now? Yeah, what do I need to do now? Is my mom, okay, is my sister okay? Like, I was just thinking about what that guy was saying. I mean, to his credit, it was a great story, too. So I took that and then just kind of changed it up, really exaggerated it. And that’s what ultimately kind of helped me. Like, as soon as I got some distance from it, I was like, that’s where the story is. It’s not necessarily what he’s recounting. It’s everybody’s reaction. And that’s what I was hoping for, I think after the fact is, you know, in the middle of grief, you can allow for a little bit of room of humor, a little bit of room for hope or, you know, despair. There’s room for all of it because you’re gonna be dealing with it for a while. You’re gonna carry it for a while. And so I think there’s room for all of those things to happen at once.

Teresa Douglas  15:08

And there, there are such poignant moments in there where the mother goes and sees a movie. She she pops out away from from looking at caskets to buy some ramen. And then she has Jordans. And then the character is thinking, maybe I should do that at the end. Right? It was a lovely sort of counterpoint to this story, which was was funny, it’s very [full of] bodily humor. It’s very much grounded in reality. And it’s almost like, the characters are finding, as you said, finding some room for other things. Even as they have their grief, and they’re not really shying away from it. They’re just sort of breathing in the middle of it.

Abram Valdez  16:00

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think. I also think it for the character. In the story, this is where I think the real fiction kind of comes into play is for the character in the story. She kind of sees her mom finally in a different way, like, wow, okay, she can be clever. And then she’s her own person. And maybe I don’t need to be kind of like helicoptering around, making sure she’s okay. She’s actually her own person, and she’s dealing with it in her way. I need to make room for that. Because I obviously am not dealing with it just yet. But I’ve always been in awe of my mom, so that, you know, unlike the character, I was just like, I know, my mom’s gonna be great. You know, she’s gonna be okay.

Teresa Douglas  16:48

Is that the impression then that you would like to leave with folks? Is it more about survival? What is it?

Abram Valdez  16:58

Yeah, I think that’s another thing I’ve been trying to really think about. And I don’t really know what I want to leave with anybody except that I’m hoping, one, that they were entertained. But yeah, I think if if they leave with anything, hopefully, it’s that there is room for everything that you’re feeling in the middle of what it is you’re going through in that grief. Grief is is big. And it’s scary. And it feels like it doesn’t go away, but there are things that are happening. You’re just too close to it now to kind of see it. And it’s, I know, I understand it’s a cliche, everybody’s gonna grieve their own way. But that process, you know, they talk about those steps for a reason. I think I just wanted to kind of clear the stage to say, you know, outside of [those steps], there is room for these other things to be to be taking place at the same time that you’re grieving, and that’s okay, too.

Teresa Douglas  17:57

And it was nice that the character at the end really sort of came to that. So she moved through it and, and is still grieving obviously and has to work through that, but, but she’s thinking about what she can do too and it’s a lovely place to to leave the story.

Abram Valdez  18:15

Thanks. I appreciate that.

Teresa Douglas  18:18

Well, you write a lot of different things. And I’m sure our listeners are going to enjoy this piece as much as I did. If they want to follow you and read other things that you write or see when things are coming out for you, how would they do that?

Abram Valdez  18:34

So probably the best place is you have a website Abram Valdez dot com, and I just kind of put everything up there that gets published when it gets published. It just links to it. So that’s probably the best place. I have a Twitter account. But it’s all about very specific things. So it’s like really weird stuff. My Twitter account is like a middle school boys like book cover, right? It’s got monsters and basketball and pro wrestling and pan dulce, it’s all things

Teresa Douglas  19:16

Hey, pan dulce. I’m in. There we go.

Abram Valdez  19:21

So yeah, I do have a Twitter and I do use it mostly for shameless self promotion, but also to kind of engage with people about monsters and that sort of thing that that I like, but yeah, my Twitter handle is Abram Valdez C S.

Teresa Douglas  19:40

Oh, great. Well, listeners if you don’t have a pen or paper handy, I will put these links in the show notes so you can click on it. You can read some of Abrams other work, talk about monsters, or find out his favorite pan dulce. This is very important, I have to say. Thank you so much, Abram for coming on the show and for giving us more about your work.

Abram Valdez  20:03

Absolutely Teresa, thank you for having me and for giving a home to my piece

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