#YourNextBeachRead is continuing into July as a way to introduce you to a new author and their works in the hopes that you’ll find the next book you want to take with you to the beach, the pool, or the comforts of air conditioning.
Today’s featured author is Christopher David Rosales, author of Word Is Bone.
What’s your name (or pen name) and where are you from?
My name is Christopher David Rosales, and I’m from Paramount, California. Paramount is a small city sharing the L.A. river with Compton, and is the setting for several of my books though I call it Clearwater.
How long have you been writing? How did you start?
I’ve been writing fiction since I was in elementary school, but I would say I began writing in earnest pursuing my BA at Cal State University, Long Beach. I had worked several jobs, worked as a musician, done a stint in the Marine Corps, and would go on to pursue more education, but the one constant in my life was always reading and writing every moment that I could.
Who are some of your influences?
That’s always a tough question to answer, because I think there are a lot of ways to be influenced. Plus, I love trying out different voices in different genres. So, it’s a smattering of musicians with gritty or surreal imagery like Tom Waits, Joanna Newsom, and Van Morrison. Directors obsessed with the streets, too, like Scorcese and Spike Lee. Then there are the authors like Toni Morrison, whose dialogue is fabulous, Raymond Chandler for style, and Roger Zelazny for sci-fi/fantasy that feels real, witty, and has heart. Finally, southern gothic writers really shaped the American grit, gothic, and noir sensibility, like Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, and in the west someone like Thomas McGuane who is funny as hell too.
What is your book about?
It’s 1999. Ex-con June returns to Los Angeles to bury his father, and in the process brings violence and mayhem to everyone he encounters. Low-rent gangsters fight dogs and pistols shoot quiet through potato silencers, and at the center of this sweltering California Gothic and its surreal and colorful cast of characters is the love story of Kiddy and June, two wild young people separated by circumstance and time, trying not to love each other against their better instincts.
Where did you get the idea?
Since several voices from around the community narrate Word is Bone, so many of the stories are scraps I remember overhearing in the park or at house-parties when I was a teenager. Then, one time later, when I was working for the forest service in northern Arizona, a coworker told me he took the job to get as far from home as possible. He couldn’t stop loving a girl who had moved on to another man who lived just down the street, and I thought, now I have the arc to hang all these neighborhood stories on. A desperate love story can bear the weight of crime, comedy, tragedy, you name it.
How long did it take you to finish it?
I wrote Word is Bone in the first year of my MFA program at CU Boulder, handwriting in those black and white Mead composition books on the bus between classes. My mentor at the time issued challenges like that, “write a book in a year,” and sometimes, “in a semester.” But as with any writing project, every time I looked back at it I had to chip away, polish, tweak, to get it to where it is now.
Is this your first book, or have you written more than one?
Funny enough, Word is Bone, winner of an International Latino Book Award for popular fiction in 2019, was first written in 2007-2008, and is the first complete novel I’ve written that I’ll ever let anyone see, but it’s my third published novel.
My first novel is a dystopian political commentary called Silence the Bird, Silence the Keeper, which won the Center of the American West’s writing award and the McNamara Creative Arts grant in 2010 (published in 2015). My second novel was a lot of fun, called Gods on the Lam, and is a SciFi/Western/Detective mash-up published by Perpetual Motion Machine in 2017.
We all like to write about people we know, even if we never name them. Who are some people who inspired characters or situations?
I don’t have specific people in mind when I write characters, because I usually pull from several people at once to make one character. Those people come from my own memories. But, one thing people don’t expect is that whatever the character trait I pull from a real person to give to a character, it’s always one I admire. Even people we have run-ins with, there’s always something they do well, and a character in a book has to be vibrant that way. So it’s not just the main characters that I hand all of the positive traits to (on the contrary, it’s often important to give them some of the worst flaws). It’s often the “villains” (though you probably can’t call anyone that in the type of fiction I write), who I give very positive, even enviable, traits.
What’s your favorite scene in the book?
One of my favorite scenes in the book is near the end, when the main character has come to the drive-in theater with nobody but his pet rooster, to watch an old movie and find himself at peace with the way his life has unfolded. So many rumors about him have spread around town, and he finally embraces his own ideas about himself while conceding that we’re all made up of the stuff of other peoples’ stories, and those stories are perhaps a way to live many more lives than the one we have. It’s nostalgic and hopeful, the way I think of drive-in theaters now, and since there’s a lot of suspense in the book, that’s probably just about all I can give away.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever got?
Once, I asked the author Rafael Zepeda, at California State University, Long Beach, if I should wait to begin writing seriously until I’d collected more life experience. He said, “Son, you are going to get all the experience life can hand you, all the experience you need. If you are going to be a writer, that’s your work, so write.”
What’s the worst?
I think the answer to that relates back to the best advice I received, mentioned above. There are two important points to what Zepeda said, and the first is that it’s naïve to think that writers need some special type of life experience to write. Life is the experience, and it will happen too quickly to wait around before writing it down. Second, is the idea that writing is work, and that the best way to get better at writing is simply to do that work as much as possible. So the worst advice would be anything that tries to over-romanticize the writing, anything that builds in mystique as an excuse to wait for the muse or inspiration.
Where can we buy your book?
Word is Bone is available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and at many local booksellers.
Christopher David Rosales is from Paramount, CA. Since 2007 he has taught literature and creative writing at CU Boulder, where he earned his MFA, and the University of Denver, where he earned his PhD, and at MSU-Denver. His first novel, Silence the Bird, Silence the Keeper, won him the McNamara Creative Arts Grant. His third novel, Word is Bone, a noir about southern California in the 1990’s out now from Broken River Books, is a 2019 winner of the International Latino Book Award.