Interview with Gene Bell-Villada

What do you think has changed on college campuses since you wrote The Carlos Chadwick Mystery?
The Cold-War liberalism that was once dominant on campuses is now past history, given that the anti-communist crusade is over for now. One no longer hears the notion, the tortuous rationalization, that America is in the business of “defending free speech” all over the world. Moreover, the faculty people who used to represent that argument are now retired or have passed away. A somewhat different 60s and 70s generation has entered the professoriate and shifted the dialogue somewhat.

Nevertheless, similar battles and disputes did emerge in the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003, especially among students, some of whom argued for the invasion, as did a few faculty. So the same comparisons between Saddam and Hitler were in the air as we once used to hear about the Soviets and the Nazis.

At my school, at least, students are culturally liberal. They’re viscerally, broadly anti-racist, anti-sexist, and pro-gay rights, and will demonstrate for those causes from time to time. It’s the era. On the other hand, aside from an ideal of tolerance, there is not anything like a broad vision of society, and hardly a grass-roots, student political left. The only politically articulate students are probably the libertarians.
What do you think has changed in the media since you wrote The Carlos Chadwick Mystery?
The media are a different matter. Fox News even has the term “balance” in its motto. (I like to feel as if my novel prophecied that self-characterization.) The underlying idea that there’s no truth, only perspectives, and that there are many sides to all questions—that is the overriding dogma. So the media will claim that there is a “controversy” over, say, global warming and thus “show both sides,” even though one “side” may be long discredited and mistaken. In this regard, my CARLOS CHADWICK MYSTERY remains as relevant as ever. Though set in a college, it’s really about American relativism and how mind control is exercised via that sort of mentality across the nation. You can keep a population brainwashed as much by confusion as by sloganry.

In a larger, ideological context, since the 80s we’ve seen the rise of Libertarian conservatism, with its notion that government can’t do anything right, that only the Market really works. In the public arena, political backrooms, and the media, there is an unstated, long-range goal of dismantling the New Deal and getting rid of all government-sponsored social programs, reducing the state to strictly military and judicial functions. Except for certain venues such as the Economics departments of Chicago and George Mason Universities, few academics hold these views. But they are what drive the GOP and Fox News and are inescapable.
Why do you write about Ayn Rand?
I have two reasons, one political and cultural, the other personal.

First, the fact is that Ayn Rand is by far the most influential writer in this country. She is a primordial, underlying presence in the ever-rising libertarian tide. Her books sell in the hundreds of thousands year after year. For every fan of Milton Friedman, there are dozens, even hundreds for Ayn Rand. She brought schlock drama and torrid sex to the libertarian idea, something that a mere economist such as Friedman or von Hayek could not do. Among Rand's well-placed true believers, I might note, are Alan Greenspan, Paul Ryan, Clarence Thomas, Ron Paul, and Ted Cruz. Hence, in my case, in writing about Ayn Rand, I’m dissecting a major ideological force in the U.S., showing it in action, depicting its consequences. Her stuff is trash, but it's trash that has seduced millions.

The personal reason for my writing about her has to do with my father, a man who, without ever having read any Ayn Rand, was himself something of a “Randian." He was obsessed with making money at the expense of all else, and was completely indifferent to his children. For ol’ Rand, who frankly believed that “living for others” was immoral, my father’s life would have constituted an upright and highly moral existence. In the process, my businessman dad came fairly close to destroying my mother, my two siblings, and me. So, in some fundamental way, when I write about Rand, deep down I’m writing about my father. I grew up with the “Randian” dream in the flesh, right at home, and learned from experience the terrible human void and damage that it can create.
Do you find that readers and even reviewers don't always "get" your satire?
Oh, it has happened numerous times! Not always, but on enough occasions, there have been people who've read the book, and don’t realize that the whole thing is a joke! (This has happened even with left-wing readers.) So they might actually adjudge Carlos a rabid fanatic, yet fail to realize that my two narrators who relay his story are dogmatic and closed-minded indeed! On the other hand, foreign readers do tend to "get it" much better. I remember a Russian emigre woman, a colleague in sociology at Williams, who realized exactly what the book was about; commenting once on why Americans might be oblivious to my satire, she observed to me, "The fish doesn’t realize it’s swimming in water!"
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in three Latin American countries—Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Venezuela. Even though I had American parents, I didn’t live in the US until I was well into my 17th year. I thus bring an outsider’s perspective onto US life. In addition, my father was a classic American imperialist, albeit a small-time one. That fact has inevitably shaped my vision of the United States and its actions abroad.
When did you first start writing?
I first wrote humorous plays when I was in 7th and 8th grade, and had them produced for Christmas parties and end-of-year festivities at my middle school in Puerto Rico. I trace my initial writing impulse to those moments.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
My first and greatest joy in writing is the feeling of bringing the larger world, its issues and experiences, onto my pages and into my prose. A more specialized joy is that of having a sentence or a paragraph take on shape, of being able to craft words into something that has rhythm, melody, and form. I’m a musician at heart, and so, for me, writing prose is somewhat akin to composing music or playing on a musical instrument. (In some way I turned to writing because I couldn’t be a musician full-time.)
What are you working on next?
I've been approached by a small publisher to gather a retrospective collection of essays on Gabriel Garcia Marquez. My introductory book on him, GARCIA MARQUEZ: THE MAN AND HIS WORK (1990; second ed., 2010) is, if I may say so myself, something of a standard item that has sold over ten thousand copies, is used in some high schools, and has been translated into Spanish and Turkish. (It has even prompted occasional fan mail from doctors, lawyers, and teachers!) In its wake, I've put together two previous, commissioned compilations on GGM, and this one will be a third such.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I do have a regular college teaching job, hence much of my non-writing time is taken up with academic duties, which I believe in and enjoy. Otherwise I go to movies or concerts, play piano, see friends and siblings, swim every morning for 35 minutes, and the like. Having been widowed not too long ago, I need to fill up my non-working hours as much as possible.
What is your writing process?
I write almost every morning, or if not, I read in preparation for writing. I'll first write out an an entire essay or story, or a chapter, or even an entire book, in long hand, in fine-lined notebooks. (The technical term for the latter item in the troubled stationery business is "chemistry notebooks" - don’t ask why!) That process is the toughest part; I'll struggle with every new line, procrastinate by looking out the window, going for a sip of water, taking a pee, whatever. Once I have a full draft, I’ll go back and work on it, paragraph by paragraph, redoing each one four, five, even more times, until it feels right - all this in longhand, on yellow, fine-lined paper. This phase is something I can get involved with obsessively, for hours at a stretch. Only when that polishing task seems done with do I put it on the computer. And even after that, there is still more revising to do!
Published 2015-10-16.
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Books by This Author

The Carlos Chadwick Mystery: A Novel of College Life and Political Terror
Price: $8.99 USD. Words: 82,760. Language: English. Published: December 1, 2015 by Amador Publishers, LLC. Categories: Fiction » Humor & comedy » Satire, Fiction » Literature » Literary
How and why does a college kid become a radical, possibly a terrorist, in the early 1970s? The mystery is why the mainstream media narrators fail to understand their own story. This wild tale predicts the pseudo-debate about political correctness. A marvelous spoof of Gothics, Harlequins, college life and the way the American mind works, or doesn't work.
The Pianist Who Liked Ayn Rand, A Novella & 13 Stories
Price: $8.99 USD. Words: 79,610. Language: English. Published: November 1, 2015 by Amador Publishers, LLC. Categories: Fiction » Anthologies » Short stories - single author, Fiction » Humor & comedy » Satire
Childhood overseas. Trying to find oneself as an artist. Growing up Latino. Music, musicians, and an eccentric musicologist. A statue, a cigarette, a moustache. A nightmarish piano recital. Abortive romances. Loneliness, silence. The problem of fascism. These are among the subjects evoked in this collection of fourteen pieces, both "straight," realistic stories and more "experimental" narratives.