On 26 January, at a bookstore in Austin, Texas, was presented Three
Messages and a Warning. Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic,
an anthology that brings together the stories of 34 Mexican writers,
some well-known within the Mexican fantasy literature, as Amparo Davila,
Alberto Chimal or Bernardo Fernandez BEF; and other authors identified
as occasional and famous in other specialties, including Agustin Cadena,
Oscar de la Borbolla or Claudia Guillen.
Published by Small Beer Press, owned by the authors of American fantasy and science
fiction, Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, Three to Warning Messages and a Warning had
two editors: Eduardo Jimenez-May and Chris N. Brown. We interviewed Chris to
know how these stories have managed to cross the border and cause dreams, delusions
and nightmares in the English-speaking readers.
Tell us about your work as a writer. What do you like to write
and why you do it?
I became a writer of fantastic fiction because it was the most effective
way to express what it feels like to be alive today, when the narratives
fed into our heads by screens and headphones define our consciousness as
much as our tactile experience of “reality.” I am especially
interested in using the tools of genre as instruments of semiotic experimentation
in that vein—pulp fiction for smart people.
What was your first contact with fantasy literature
in general and Mexican fantasy literature in particular?
Fantastic literature has pervaded my life since childhood, starting with
my German mother’s tales of Struwwelpeter, who chased thumbsuckers
with his giant scissors and wild hair. Like a lot of literary gringos,
I discovered the South American fantastic in my twenties. The Mexican
fantastic entered my life much later, in 2009, when I was fortunate to
be invited to speak at the symposium on “Mundos Paralelos” at
the Festival de Mexico en El Centro Historico. I returned to the States
more excited about the young Mexican writers I met there than I was about
the famous Anglo-American writers with whom I shared the podium.
How do you experience Latin American literature? Do you read
it in Spanish or do you prefer translations?
There is no substitute for being able to read in the original language. I
first read Borges in English, in the famous translation by Professor Donald
Yates of the University of Texas at Austin. When I later read my
favorite story, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” in Spanish
for the first time, I realized the translation was much more academic than
the Spanish—emphasizing Borges the logician. Other translations
overemphasize the romantic and fantastic qualities. More recently,
I read Bolaño’s Los Detectives Salvajes in Spanish
after first reading it in English, and was delighted at how much more enjoyable
it was in the original—all the rhythm and humor that is encoded in
the composition of the sentence. I only wish I had more mastery
of other languages to be able to read more widely—and more quickly.
Was your experience as a reader an influence in your decision of translating
After meeting several young writers of Mexican literature of the fantastic,
and reading their work, I felt that it was important to bring their fiction
to the attention of English-language readers. I believe Anglo-American
science fiction has become very insular, and opening channels across borders
and languages is can help fertilize new thinking on both sides. I
am excited to see I am not the only one pursuing the exposure of more international
Tell us a little bit about your work as a publisher in Small
Beer Press and how is it like working with Kelly Link and Gavin Grant,
figures admired by quite a few Mexicans...
This project happened entirely because of Gavin’s vision, when my
co-editor Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and I approached Gavin with essentially
the same idea, and he decided it was meant to happen. He and Kelly
are amazing to work with. Their success at creating their own small
press to publish work they care about, and ensure that it is treated so
well by critics and readers, is astonishing. Publishing an anthology
of short fiction in translation is a brave thing for a publisher to take
on, and Gavin trusted his intuition and made it real.
As a reader of the genre, I guess you celebrate the appearance
of a book like Three Messages and a Warning. As a publisher, what does
it mean to you?
It is very rewarding to have the book completed, and to bring Mexican
authors I care about to an English-language audience. I had no idea
how much work would be involved in putting together a 34-author anthology
of foreign writers and dealing with their agents and publishers and contract
requirements—a challenging exercise in “cat herding.”
What stories or authors do you think revealed a sense
of "Mexican" (new or traditional, but with a clear hallmark)?
I think all of the stories are both totally Mexican, and totally globalized. I
tried to avoid stories that contained folkloric tropes that play to gringo
ideas of the Mexican fantastic, seeking instead stories that reflect a
more technologically-mediated society that is part of 21st century global
culture. We even had a vigorous editorial debate about whether it was desirable
to include Dia de los Muertos images on the cover (I backed down, because
the design was so good).
Do you spot, so to speak, a “Mexican literary
I suppose. I see a literature that shares with our own a concern
with the condition of alienation that characterizes contemporary society. Of
course it is uniquely Mexican, especially in its frustrated power paradigms,
both political and domestic, but to me it is really just a Mexican take
on expressing the experience of contemporary globalized culture.
Several women participate in this anthology. Tell us about
the similarities or contrasts that you find with Anglo-Saxon female
writers of literature of the fantastic.
Editing this anthology showed me aspects of Mexican gender culture I had
not really perceived clearly before. I was astonished at how hard it was
to get male writers to recommend female writers. I was disappointed
at how many otherwise wonderful stories by men contained gratuitous misogynies
that made me put the story down. And my eyes were opened by the gothic
darkness conveyed by many of the women writers’ depictions of masculine
power in a Mexican context. I think Mexican women writers have cultural
challenges to deal with that gringas could not imagine—and in those
challenges must lie great opportunities for the use of literature as an
instrument of change.
What role do you think American literature plays in the production
of Mexican literature of the fantastic?
I think the influence of US literature on Mexican literary culture is
oblique—Mexican writers digest influences from many corners, and
do an amazing job of letting those influences percolate through a purely
Mexican filter. Mexican writers are quite competent to curate their
What about cinema?
Movies (and televisión) probably play a bigger role. I think
movies and television colonized the human imagination in the twentieth
century, confusing our own perspectives with narratives manufactured by
advertising salesmen. An important task of the literature of any
country is to break down and expose this phenomenon, and thereby liberate
our lives from a superimposed Hollywood daydream.
From the Mexican perspective, American literature of the fantastic
industry seems to be in good health. Could we apply any of you processes
to strenghten ours?
I think the main difference comes from commercial factors. It is
much harder for American writers to get a book published, and when they
do it is more likely to get printed in large enough numbers, and to get
really marketed to likely readers. So American fantasy is more commercial—which
is both a good thing and a bad thing. Socially, American writers of fantastic
literature also have access to highly developed collegial communities,
both online and at conventions, that help provide access to mentoring and
peerage that promotes success.
Tell us what you discovered about Mexico in the reading of
I think young American writers and artists should be migrating to Mexico
to see the atemporal future. I think there are already some advance scouts
of the twenty-first century beatniks I expect will see Mexico City as their
answer to the Paris of the 1920s.
From the outside, Mexico appears to be one of those places
where everything is possible, like the already hackneyed Artaud´s
expression "is a surrealist country" echoes endlessly. During your visits
to Mexico or your relationship with Mexican authors, including the
development of this anthology, what was the weirdest thing that ever
happened to you?
Driving from Tijuana into the desert with two cyberpunks and an old pacheco
Baja poet, through the whispering mountains of la Rumorosa, past the ravines
littered with the crashed cars of the 1970s, through a tiny section of
Hell, past the narco highway, into the surreal Chinese-Mexican border town
of Mexicali, all to give a reading of arid American surrealism in a puteria that
required the writer to compete with the sound of Norteño blasting
from the jukebox.—among other distractions.