The Internet and its social networks have a peculiar way of introducing new distractions to our timelines. Reading the constant stream of status updates and tweets generated by friends, strangers, and peers can be similar to the experience of channel surfing. Too much information, not much of it particularly useful or striking.
Then something catches your eye and opens up new worlds to explore. Such was the case when I spotted a couple of Twitter users talking about Reyerta TV [es] (Brawl TV), a short story collection written by Puerto Rican writer and blogger Juanluis Ramos. I had met Juanluis thanks to our passion for music (we both run our own music blogs, his is “El Cassette Grabao” [es] or “The Mixtape”) and had even collaborated on some blog posts, as well as appeared in local radio as part of a music panel together. But I didn't know about his book before that tweet, and it was just a few days after it caught my eye that I sat down and read it.
A wonderful collection of grainy, technicolored, pop-culture inspired windows into fully realized worlds that revel in television's classic tropes. Juanluis imbues his stories with the heavy heart of a child that has taken everything in without having the chance to sort it all out: a town's sanity rests on the secret identity of its butcher, the most hated wrestler known to the sport; a woman with no cooking skills lives out the plot of a telenovela, trying to win a man's heart with a single meal; a retired detective becomes his nemesis's closest ally as his world view unravels. CLICK-CLICK-CLICK. Each story a satisfying slice of literary fiction bent on reworking our memories from sitting in front of the TV.
Intrigued with what I had just experienced, I sent Juanluis a few questions about Reyerta TV and his experience publishing the book.
GV: I just finished Reyerta TV a few days ago. So… How do I subscribe to this? Is it like Cable TV or more like Netflix? Tell us a bit about what it is and how it works.
Juanluis Ramos: Sometimes you'd wake up on a Saturday morning, there was only one television set in the house, so you couldn't turn on the Nintendo. On top of that, it was pouring outside, so you couldn't go out and ride your bike either. The only option was to sit down in front of the television and watch whatever your dad was watching.
He was nice and would let you watch Ninja Turtles, and would even watch them with you, but once that show was over and a soap opera would begin (I don't know why local channels always have to broadcast soap operas) – then it was your mother who sat down to watch. Once that was over, it was the wresting superstars that everyone in the family sat down to watch. And afterwards a movie with karate or guns – and you would get really pumped because you loved to see some kicking and shooting. Then the news, and you'd watch even if you didn't know much about what was going on. Your mother would call you for dinner and after you'd eaten, then you could turn on the Nintendo.
That's more or less Reyerta TV. But in the end, it is just a book.
GV: The collection was published first in 2010 and now enjoys a second edition. It is not only surprising that it exists, but that its design shows great care in what must have clearly been a labor of love. When did you decide to publish Reyerta TV and how many people did the process involve?
JR: The idea to publish the book came after an earlier version of it came in second place in a literary competition sponsored by the University of Puerto Rico. Several publishers expressed interest in publishing the book, but nothing came out of it. Until a new publisher Libros AC [es] (AC Books) was born, offering Reyerta TV as one of its first two titles.
And yes, it is a labor of love. It is so because it was made between friends. It was designed by Samuel Medina with artwork by Cristian Guzmán Cardona.
GV: You also received the National Story Award handed out by Puerto Rico's PEN Club. What's been the general reaction to Reyerta TV?
JR: Overall it has been good. I was reviewed in a couple of local newspapers, various blogs, a few radio shows with a focus on culture, and it even showed up in Venezuela's national television just the other day. Also, several University of Puerto Rico professors have assigned the book to their students, and tell me that they enjoy it, plus they send me essays they've made in school about my book. Sometimes these teachers invite me to class so I can talk with their students and their reaction has always been positive – they have shown much interest.
GV: Which one's your favorite story within Reyerta TV?
JR: I'm not really sure, but the one I have most affection for is the chronicle that ends the book, “Ficción Aparte: Boletín de Última Hora” (Fiction Aside: Breaking News). Why? Because everything in that text happened to me. It's really intense, to have been robbed in front of your house, for someone to hold a gun to your head and steal your computer – with the book's manuscript in it. They stole the book weeks before I took it to the press. Then, I had to do it all again.
GV: Since we both met through our music blogs, and could very well be considered music geeks, I wanted to ask you: What's the soundtrack to Reyerta TV?
JR: A difficult question! It's something I've thought about since the book came out and I've never been able to come close to a satisfying answer – but let's see…
Black Flag – TV Party
The Minutemen – This Ain’t No Picnic
Mima – Como en un anuncio [es] (Like in an advertisement)
Alexander Ebert – Truth
Pedro Piedra – Vacaciones en el más allá [es] (Far Away Vacations)
What do you think? Which songs would you add?
GV: Excellent. I would add “De mí enamórate” [es] (Fall in love with me), written by Juan Gabriel and sung by Daniela Romo, and “Watching the Detectives” by Elvis Costello & The Attractions. I think we just might have made one of the greatest literary mixtapes ever.
This interview is edited for length and context. The full interview was published (in Spanish) in PuertoRicoIndie.com and can be read here.