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Alex Castro: A liberal, libertarian and libertine Brazilian blogger

1041855_6e71e07381Behind one of the most popular Brazilian blogs, Liberal Libertário Libertino [liberal, libertarian and libertine, pt], there is an independent writer, a passionate academic and a free thinker. During this chat, just before the launch of the first offline edition of his first novel, a project that only came true because of the sponsorship an army of readers of his blog [pt] – the Blogosphere Patrons – Alex Castro talks about blogs, the prisons which enslave the human soul how he escaped them to live as a libertarian, and of course, about his first novel, Mulher de Um Homem só [One Man Women, currently available in Portuguese only] – an already very popular e-book, downloaded over 30,000 times, which has just been launched in paper.

Who is Alex Castro?

Alex Castro is a barefaced shameless liar, as all fiction writers. Never trust a single word he says.

In his flickr profile, Alex Castro defines himself: Hedonist, novelist, atheist, foot fetishist.

In his flickr profile, Alex Castro defines himself: Hedonist, novelist, atheist, foot fetishist.

The Liberal, Libertário, Libertino [LLL] has been online since 2003 and you are now one of the most popular Brazilian bloggers. How did you get into it?

Several reasons. When I created the blog, I had never read a blog before, I didn't even know what it was. My friend Isabel (to whom “Mulher de Um Homem Só” is dedicated) was the one who kept bugging me, telling me that blogs were the best new tool for a writer to promote his art – and she was right, as she usually is, but let's not tell her that. Moreover, I was then working on a series of texts called “The Prisons”, trying to catalog the several “chains” that still hold back humans beings, such as heterosexuality, monogamy, religion, truth, shame, humbleness, ambition, obedience, etc, and I thought it would be nice to get some real time feedback on this controversial material. And, indeed, the Prisons have been received pretty well. Besides, I had just gotten in touch again with a high school friend, Andreia, who had turned dominatrix in Australia, and also had an open marriage, and she lived her life pretty much as I did, in a more libertine and libertarian way, and I thought that those values Andreia and I practiced deserved to be properly and publicly articulated, they had to lived out in public. Actually, she made me feel embarrassed of how private my life was. So, the blog was also a very political forum in which to discuss publicly such vital issues as free love, polyamory, jealousy, monogamy, open relationships, etc. And thus I became a blogger.

The LLL is a blog about the so called prisons that enslave humanity [pt] – fear, shame, religion, patriotism, happiness, monogamy, heterosexuality, among others. How did you manage to escape them?

All it takes is willpower. Self control is everything in life. We control very few things except for ourselves, how we react to outside stimuli, how we position ourselves regarding the world. Having this in mind, little by little, one day at a time, I became less humble, less shy, less square, less fearful, less worried about other people's opinions, that sort of thing. But it's a conscious effort. Everything in the world pushes us to conform. Being yourself is not something that comes naturally to anyone, but a daily struggle. You have to ask yourself everyday: “have I been the person I want to be?”

Smoking on the Porch, With Oliver on my Legs

"Smoking on the Porch, With Oliver on my Legs"

[LLL is] a blog about rebellion, contemplation and slutty, seasoned with a large dose of literature and humor.

But you told me not to believe in anything you say. Is the hedonist Alex Castro, after all, a fictional character?

I have a better question: so what if he is? Half the things I said in this interview are false. But which half? Actually, I was lying just now, everything I said was true. Or not. So what? The truth is that there is a novel called “Mulher de Um Homem Só” and it's worthless or not regardless of having being written by a man or by a woman, by a white person or by a black person, by a teenager or by a senior citizen. The message of the Prisons is valid (or not) regardless even of my sincere belief in them. Maybe I wrote it all ironically, but someone else may read it at face value and it may change their life anyway. The text is real. That is the only thing that matters. My lies, my truths, my intentions, myself even, we are all utterly irrelevant. The Truth is the worst prison of all, this childish need we have of questioning the truthfulness of every single thing we come in touch with. I'm a fiction writer: my job is to implode the Truth. Fiction is a lie that, if well-told, can be more truthful than several truths out there.

What is the reaction of your readers to this “more libertarian, more libertine life”, considering that it breaks acceptable standards of behavior in a sexist country like Brazil? There is even a campaign “I hate the LLL,” with your own endorsement.

The “I hate LLL” campaign was actually created and promoted by me. I don't see any reason why only my fans should link to me. My enemies also have the right to promote my work. But seriously now, the point of the campaign was to make fun of that kind of reader that says he or she hates me, disagrees with everything I say but keeps coming back for more every single day,making obsessive comments, that sort of thing. Those readers amuse me immensely, but sadly they are a minority and they soon get tired of heckling me and move to greener pastures.

Usually, the message of the Prison series resonates more with two kinds of people: on the one hand, teenagers and young adults of both genders who are in the process of growing up, becoming more mature, more independent. One of my friends makes fun of me saying that my MSN activity makes me look like a new Socrates on the agora, corrupting the young. And, on the other hand, 30-something women who suddenly find themselves in loveless marriages and just want to break free and live life a little. Those two groups represent a disproportionally large share of the readers who come to me, and I can only conclude that my message of personal freedom is specially relevant to people in these types of situation.

Photo: Roberto Rivera: robertorivera.com/portfolio.htm

Photo: Roberto Rivera: robertorivera.com/portfolio.htm

Changing the subject to Literature on the Web, are there any good literary blogs? What can we find in your blogroll?

You see, I must confess I have never been a big fan of blogs and, for a long time now, I have kicked out all of them. Now I read very few blogs, and most of them only from close friends, just to know how they're doing. A handful of good contemporary writers blog, but writing in a blog is always different from writing fiction. It is difficult to create fiction in a blog. So blogging becomes a tool for the writer to refine his writing skills and to build a circle of readers that he'd, eventually, give or sell the book to. I honestly think that there are really good literary blogs in Brazil, but for my own lack of knowledge, I do not know any.

You were one of the pioneers in paid e-books in Brazil. To what extent, in your opinion, the Internet helps independent writers and artists in general?

The Internet is essential because it allows the artist to keep in touch with their readers, a contact that a while back depended on middlemen: labels, publishers, newspapers, etc. A new paradigm is growing in art, and it sort of works like this: you share your art work for free so you can build an audience; after that you sell limited, rare, exclusive versions of the product, etc. to them. Somehow I'm doing that with “Mulher de Um Homem Só”, that had more than 30 thousand downloads for free and was sold in a limited and numbered edition in which the readers who paid more for it acquired the lowest number versions. The 001 copy was bought by a reader from Turkey who paid R$200 [$110 approximately] for it.

For me, the benefits include raising more money than I would if I published the book like a newbie ugly duckling of a traditional publisher and keeping in better touch with my audience. The great disadvantage of not being in the traditional way of publishing is the lack of visibility and prestige. I write literature and own a blog, but people call me a blogger. The guy who publishes in Rocco (even if no one ever read his book) and has a blog, is a writer – who also happens to have a blog. But that outlook is already changing.

Patron of just one book, reads the bookmark special for those readers who ordered the book before the launch.

"Patron of just one book", reads the bookmark special for those readers who ordered the book before the launch.

How did you come up with the idea of the “Patrons of the blogosphere” to turn the ebook “Mulher de um Homem Só” into a paper book?

“Mulher de Um Homem Só” was available for free download during four years, from 2002 to 2006, and was downloaded more than 30,000 times. After that, I hired a literary agent to try and sell my book to the publishers but she (the agent) didn't succeed. In the meantime, I published many ebooks – you know, ebooks cost nothing – and I kept selling them; but people often asked me: “oh, isn't there a paper version of the book? I hate to read in the screen!” etc. The point is, with no publisher support, printing becomes expensive once I have to pay for the editing for my and arrange everything for my own. Then I thought: “well, if readers want paper books so much, why can't they pay for it then? I'll set the book in pre-order and when I raise enough for printing the books, I'll do it; otherwise I just return the money”. It was a great success, “Mulher de Um Homem Só” sold 150 copies during pre-ordering and the amount of money raised could cover the cost for 700 copies.

Does this closer contact with readers change in any way the way you write, or even the plot of your stories, since you will also know the public and what they want better? Or do you like keeping some distance to produce exactly what you think you should, with no influence of the reader in your work?

Yes, it changes. But not exactly the way you pointed. It doesn't actually exist such thing as to give what people seek for. I'm not a clerk that asks the client what he is looking for, get it and give it to him. In literature, the client is almost always has no reason. The spirit of literature is that of complexity. A good book takes to places that you didn't want to be, teaches you things you didn't want to know, shows you that the world, people and stuff, are more complex than you ever imagined. At the time the writer of fiction is keen to give the readers what they want, he abdicates one of the basic prerogatives of art.

Actually, perhaps this is one of those really sought after boundaries between literature-art and the so called literature-entertainment: in the second one, you try to entertain and give to the reader whatever he wants. In the first, it is not quite like that. Of course, in literature, you may well give readers what they wants, but this may not be the fundamental criteria of making art. by the way: I am not setting here any hierarchy relation between them. Anyone of Nero Wolfe's crime novels is much better than 90% of the literature-art itself. What remains is the fact that both types of literature have a very different goal and reader relationship.

And, answering your question, yes, the contact with readers changes everything, but for a different reason. It is because the author always writes with an ideal reader in mind, and seeks to create an effect in them. The contact with the reader allows your to measure whether you are reaching your goals and adjust them accordingly. There are a number of examples. Once, a reader told me that a scene of a story made she go back to a less complicated time, more idyllic, that she feel like she was in Manet's Breakfast in the Open Air picture, making a bucolic picnic in a forest on the edge of the Seine in the nineteenth century… And I thanked her for her view, and of course the reader was not wrong at all, each reading is valid, but I rewrote the scene, putting a mobile phone in her pocket and a delta wing flying in the sky, just to cut that effect, which was not what I sought. But you see, the internet has nothing to do with that. This kind of thing happened since literature exists.

As you are based in the United States, what is your view on the differences between the Brazilian and U.S. editorial markets? (question from Twitter user @emanuelcampos)

I do not know. I live in the United States in a very strange way. I'm there physically, but within the university bubble, which is like another world. I study and lecture in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Most of my colleagues, all my students, almost all of my social circle not only speak Portuguese fluently but also have a strong interest in Brazil. My research is about Brazil. My readings, my fiction, my blog, I write my academic production in Portuguese. My girlfriend, my family, my readers are in Brazil. I publish in Brazil. That is to say, all my outlook is towards Brazil. I do not follow, study or watch the American market.

Are there any plans to get your books translated into English or another language?

A couple of translators, he is Brazilian and she is from Argentina, have offered to translate “Mulher de Um Homem Só” into Spanish. I want to get this version done and show it around. I have some contacts from the Cuban editorial circles and I would love to be read over there. There is a great market for literature in Spanish in the United States that I can seek – and that I know nothing about! A Spanish version, the second most widely spoken Western language, would open many possibilities. By the way, the Brazilian guy in the couple translating it is no other than Emanuel, who sent the above question.

So, let's make our English readers taste your book for now. Can you translate your favorite paragraph of Mulher de um Homem Só?

I am not sure this is the one I like better, but I think this is a good representative bit of the book:

“Not even all those lunches were enough to satisfy Julia's craving for Murilo. While I saw myself as her rehab, she had actually made me into her black market supplier: Julia came to me and snorted every line of Murilo she could find. And I did the same, because I'm not all that different. She sucked the present out of me, but I sucked her dry of past. Julia knew everything about Murilo, they had grown up together, they had never not known one another. And I pictured Julia doing the same with his second wife, visiting, telling stories from the past while sucking the future. But Murilo's made the oath with me, I'm his wife!”

Friends, at the Mulher de Um Homem Só book launch in São Paulo

Friends, at the Mulher de Um Homem Só book launch in São Paulo, some of them "Patrons"

Book signing:

After launching Mulher de Um Homem Só in São Paulo last weekend, Alex Castro will have a book signing this Friday, August 7, in Rio de Janeiro. Check the invitation here. To buy Mulher de Um Homem Só in Portuguese, check this link. Te check other books by Alex Castro, click here.

Diego Casaes helped with the translation of this post.

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