Wednesday 19 October 2016

Interview with Ernest Hogan

This week we’re joined by TFF old friend Ernest Hogan (who had a story in WSaDF, a mini-sequel in our ten year anniversary blog campaign, and has blogged for or about us a couple times before), to talk about his work, a forthcoming novel, art show, and the end of the world.

East L.A.-born Ernest Hogan is the author of Cortez on Jupiter, High Aztech, and Smoking Mirror Blues, which have given him the reputation as the Father of Chicano Science Fiction. His short fiction has appeared in Amazing Stories, Analog, Science Fiction Age, and many anthologies. His “Chicanonautica Manifesto” appeared in Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies. His is also an artist. He blogs at and His is married to the author Emily Devenport, and they live in Arizona.

We asked him a few questions:

The Future Fire: You wrote a mini-sequel to your story “Pancho Villa’s Flying Circus” from We See a Different Frontier, titled “Xiomara’s Flying Circus.” Have you written, or do you plan to write, any other stories set in this postcolonial steampunk universe?

Ernest Hogan: That whole universe started with the title “Pancho Villa’s Flying Circus.” I thought it up, laughed, wrote it down, and years went by before random historical details about pilots who flew for Villa and how Raoul Walsh went down and shot scenes of a silent film with him. My alternate universes tend to be something I encounter and they grow in weird ways. I had trouble getting into the story until I started thinking of it as a spaghetti western. It would be fun to expand both stories into sprawling novel like Ishmael Reed’s Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down or Mumbo Jumbo, but genre publishers like their novels to be slam-blang action adventures that nerdy teenaged girls can relate to, which makes it hard for sixty year-old Chicano writer. I may go back to the universe if an opportunity arises, which could happen.

TFF: You also inspired the We See a Different Frontier campaign with your coining the term “recombocultural.” Can you tell us a bit about this concept, and why you think it’s important to speculative and postcolonial fiction?

EH: I was influenced by Ishmael Reed (uh-oh, I evoked him again) in his pioneering use of the term “multi-cultural” in an essay about artist using material from different cultures. I saw it as a natural for science fiction and fantasy (in fact, fantasy was multicultural before it became a commercial genre package in the seventies). Then I started getting flak from right-wing sci-fi types who were afraid I was trying to oppress them with political correctness—even though I ain’t never been politically correct. I realized that what I was doing was more than multiculturalism. I started using recomboculturalism to explain myself. Recombo as in recombinant DNA, mixing stuff up from all over, coming up with something different, with the whole being more than the sum of the parts. Chicanos have the term rasquache that overlaps with the concept. Maybe it’s more than a concept or style. It’s more like a way of seeing, and a way of living. It scared some folks. Then there are those who like the idea of recombozoid monsters running amok, transforming the landscape. And then again, some of us are recombozoid monsters.

TFF: You’re working on a new edition of your Chicano cyberpunk novel Smoking Mirror Blues at the moment. How much will you rewrite or revise from the first edition?

EH: Actually, this will be the third edition of Smoking Mirror Blues. The first was in 2001 from Wordcraft of Oregon. In 2012, I did a self-published ebook. I went over it with a fine-toothed comb, and did some minor changes—changed a few technical terms that have become dated, and such, but I essentially left it the way it was originally published. I will be doing a new introduction that will tell the long, twisted tale of where the book came from, and how it came to be written, and eventually published. It’ll also tell of how my career crashed and burned and my life went off in an unexpected direction.

TFF: What is the most amusing, surreal or unexpected writing prompt that reality ever gave to you?

EH: My relationship with reality is all tied in to my creative process that these things happen on a day to day basis. I go through life, and the interaction spawns art and writing, like the wreckage left behind after a kaju monster attacks. It makes my life pretty surreal. Like the homeless schizophrenic who bristled like he wanted to fight and told me, “I’m watching you, CLOSELY!” a little while ago. Maybe he wanted me to write about him.

TFF: Have you ever found or left a message in a bottle? Would you like to?

EH: Being a writer is like putting messages in bottles all the time. I find them when ever I find something I enjoy that’s not a product of the multinational corporate entertainment industry. Communication is often one way, or takes a long time. Navigating timespace can be a bitch, but it’s worth it.

TFF: What ancient divinity would you like to meet and what would you ask them?

EH: I do hear Tezcatlipoca whispering in my ear from time to time. It’s where my wilder ideas come from. I try to talk to him, but he doesn’t listen, just goes around causing trouble. Life would be so dull without him. Or maybe it’s just my bad attitude.

TFF: One day you open the door to go to the grocery store and a holographic version of yourself at the kerbside yells at you, “No time to explain—get into the car!” What do you do?

EH: Get on of course. Actually, this is similar to an unfinished story about my alter-ego, that’s titled, “Bring Me the Brain Of Victor Theremin.”

TFF: You’re a writer and a visual artist. What’s the relationship between your stories and your drawings? Do you have characters hopping from pages to sketchbooks and vice versa?

EH: I started out wanting to be a cartoonist, like a lot of writers of my generation. I never could manage to land a good, paying cartooning gig. Also, society doesn’t like people who can do too many different things. “Make up your mind! This is the age of specialization!” they would tell me, so, for the sake of professionalism, I tried to keep my writing and drawing separate, but the artificial barrier keeps breaking down. I recently wrote a story—actually, more like a novella—about the Calacanaut, the skull in a space helmet that I use as a personal icon, that will be published soon in a yet-to-be-titled anthology. Another border breaking down…

TFF: Can you tell us anything about the upcoming art gallery show you’re involved with?

EH: It’s evolving and mutating as I type this… After I published some covers of some of my old sketchbooks in Chicanonautica, my column for La Bloga, it caught the attention of Josh Rios, an academic/artist. He used the word “dadaistic.” We started corresponding, and he included some of my drawings in a installation/performance he did at Sector 2337, in Chicago, and some of my drawings even sold. Since then he’s used some of my drawings—and writing—in another show, we keep corresponding, and things develop… This latest “show” or whatever the proper word is, will take place in Mexico, so I’m in the process of getting a passport, because they’re supposed to pay for expenses, and all that good stuff. At this point, I don’t feel that the details are solid enough to reveal in a public forum. Thing change in the talking stage. I’ve been through this before, and it’s best to wait for things to get settled, but once they do, I’ll be ready to go full-throttle self-promotional.

TFF: What would be the most important thing for you to hold onto if civilization started to break down in your city?

EH: My city? Some people think it’s already happened here in Glendale, Arizona, the Detroit of the Southwest. My wife and I find it just fine, though we may choose to retire in some other town. If things got bad here, we’d probably just move. If we had to leave forever, in a hurry, I’d probably grab artwork and sketchbooks, and maybe some books that I want to read. My writing is backed up online, but maybe copies of my books would come in handy. Oh yeah, our electronic gadgets, if they still worked.

TFF: You mentioned that you’re currently looking at some unfinished novels, to see which you want to write next, which can have shorter pieces cannibalized from, etc. Can you give us any sneak previews?

EH: All of my unfinished novels have bits that could probably be cannibalized for sneak previews. I could look through them, if you’re interested…

Thanks for joining us, Ernest. We’d love to take you up on that sneak preview some day!

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