“Activism and art are different things”

The Colombian writer has just published “Tajo a tajo”, the story of Adam and Amanda, two people who inhabit a male body in a relentless society that leads to destruction.

Juan Sebastián Gaviria's novels are

© Provided by El Espectador
Juan Sebastián Gaviria’s novels are “Broken Compasses”, “La venta”, “Explicit content” and “Prophet”. / Camilo Ponce de León

Was the transformation arc of the central character of “Tajo a tajo” planned before sitting down to write or did it come out organically?

The only thing that was planned from the beginning was the collapse of the main character, the way the world would come to destroy him. The way Adam deals with this was something that came up on the fly, as he needed to know where the pieces were landing before he started picking them up.

(Read also: Ángela Anzola: “Being a girl in Colombia is a challenge”)

Who or who is Adam inspired by?

It is fiction, but it is worth clarifying that the stories of many transgender people in real life far exceed the degree of violence to which our character is subjected.

Am I wrong if I think that “Tajo a tajo” has something from Cormac McCarthy, the series “Breaking Bad” and Roberto Bolaño in 2666?

I love “Breaking Bad”, and with McCarthy and Bolaño I have love and hate relationships, but the authors who influence my work most powerfully are the brave dogs of literature such as William Blake, Nietzsche, Kundera, Georges Bataille, Louis Ferdinand Celine , John Fante … This list (which could be extended a lot) today is headed by the Russians Dostoevsky and Nikolai Gogol: I think that the rigor and crudeness of the Russian classics is something that is worth recovering, especially now that contemporary literature succumbs under hypocritical moral pretensions.

(We recommend: Laura Peñuela: “This character brought out the best in me”)

Did you use any bibliography to write the novel?

I read many medical articles to get a deep understanding of the sex reassignment surgery process, as well as some manuals on different knife fighting techniques. Also some reports on truck robberies. Otherwise, I never read other authors during the process of writing a novel.

What risks did you face when writing “Tajo a tajo”?

When writing about a transgender person, it is inevitable to be faced with the risk of adopting political tones: nowadays, when minorities are mentioned, whether they are members of the Afro community, LGTBIQ or immigrants, they usually appeal to tones of claim that end up becoming works into sermons. But activism and art are different things, and sometimes irreconcilable. It was always clear to me that Tajo … is a novel about an individual facing the whole world. If I was successful, nobody will be able to distill morals from this novel. My ambition was to leave a flavor of individualism and rebellion in the minds of readers.

(Read also: Manolo Castro: moving from saying to fact)

How did the idea for this novel come to you?

Cut by cut was born out of my particular friction with a culture that demands a complacent attitude from people. It seems that everyone’s liking you has become a general goal. Sure, today we talk about “being ourselves”, but in a hypocritical and superficial way. The transformation of individuals willing to change will always be a colorful spectacle: there is blood and pain, and old shocks and wounds that open.

How is the writing ritual of Juan Sebastián Gaviria?

I write in the morning, when I have all my energies intact. I am helped by alarming amounts of nicotine and caffeine. I do it in a study where only my daughter enters to remind me that there are many reasons to contradict a society built on pillars of hypocrisy.

(What’s more: Johana Bahamón, champion of change)

What are you looking for with your novels?

Own life. A book that does not bark and bite is a dead letter. My novels must awaken strong positive or negative reactions in the readers, that is secondary. The idea is not that my books lead people to think about the world, but to feel the world. But above all, I publish my books when they feel funny, even if what is fun for some is traumatic for others.

Did the publisher ask you to rethink some scenes for their explicit content or did you 100% respect the manuscript?

He respected the manuscript 100%. My editor, Juan David Correa, is someone who fully understands what I intend to do with my work, and I am fortunate to have found in him the best of accomplices. Because that is what literature in its wild state needs most. Not editors or agents or readers, but accomplices …

(Too: Sylvia Zuloaga, from the functional to the emotional)

What’s next for Juan Sebastián Gaviria?

I am editing a novel to publish next year. Readers can be sure that if it goes through the printing press, it is because I consider it equal to or better than Tajo a tajo.

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