and the shadows took him is my first novel (although not my first book), and this one is important to me as a writer, not because it’s from a trade press and the advance allowed me to take a year leave-of-absence from my university (without pay) and spend the year in Buenos Aires where many weird things happened, including walking around the city with a dead woman, but also because Joey Molina, the protagonist is a character that wouldn’t leave me alone.
When I didn’t want to write about him he would assert himself. I remember one time I was in a department meeting, and he whispered to me “Write this down, Danny.”
I had my pen and pad ready just in case something at the meeting would be worth writing down, so I used them to transcribe what Joey Molina was whispering to me.
Some of it ended up in the novel. Some didn’t.
When the poet Andrés Montoya was dying in the hospital, when he knew he had very little time left, he called me into his room, because, he said, he had a favor to ask of me.
I probably would’ve done anything he asked, as he was not only one of my closest friends, and a great poet, but he was one of the most gentle spirits I have ever met. When you looked into his eyes you saw the light of God.
He asked me to be responsible for everything he’s written, all of his poetry, his notebooks, every single file on every single floppy disk.
“Do what you think is right with it,” he said.
Over 10 years after his death, I published a jury of trees, a posthumous collection of his poetry.
He’s a lovely man, and this is a lovely book.
Hotel Juárez, Stories, Rooms, and Loops.
This is my most critically acclaimed book, a collection of stories and loops mostly taking place in the twin cities of Ciudad Juaréz and El Paso, during the first decade of the 2000s, when the drug violence was going on, and Juárez was considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world. It was positively reviewed by Alan Chuese on NPR, Publishers Weekly, Texas Review of Books and others.
One time, Dr. Mimi Gladstein and I were siting next to each other at dinner for a visiting writer, and she leaned over and asked me what I have been working on.
I told her about the novel I was writing, some other projects, and I said, “But what I would really like to do is a collected works of Burciaga.
“Let’s do it!” she said.
“Coeditors?” I asked, and she said yes.
“That’s a great idea!” I said, not thinking much more about it until the next day when I got an email from her saying, “Let’s get started.”
We worked very well together, and we both loved the work and the man of José Antonio Burciaga.
She was close friends with his widow, Cecilia Burciaga, who invited us to their house on the California coast. We stayed there two nights, and she gave us access to all of his work, multiple boxes of his art, poetry, essays, images he drew on napkins while out with friends.
We took what we thought the best of his lifetime of work.
This book is the only posthumous collection of his work, and Mimi and I were very happy that it won the American book Award.
Unending Rooms was a milestone for me in my development as a writer, because it was the first book I wrote wherein I completely ignored the idea of an “ideal reader,” and, taking the advice of one of my mentors, I wrote the kind of stories I would like to read. Some of the stories turned out a bit weird, I guess you could say “irreal,” not because I set out to write weird stories, but because the way I see reality is weird.
After spending years on writing the stories, I was surprised one morning to check my email and find out that it had won the Hudson Prize.
“Cool,” I thought.
This was my first book, so of course it will always remain special to me.
A few years after getting my MFA, my writing was going nowhere, and I had lost faith. I was working full-time at a community college, with a huge teaching and service load, and I believed I didn’t have enough time to write.
One Sunday afternoon I was riding my bike and I passed by a church with one of those signboards where they post uplifting messages like, “Seven days without prayer makes one weak.”
It was Father’s Day, so the sign said, “Be like your heavenly father, not like your earthly father.”
I thought about my father, who worked so hard, 40, 50 hours a week, but he was ambitious, and when he got home from work all he wanted to do was go into the garage and work on his inventions, which he was sure would make him rich. However, he would give up on one invention after another, because by the time he got home, he was too tired to think.
Rather than resurrecting an old project, he would only start again when something inspired him.
This is what I was doing as a writer. I was starting stories, novels, plays, and working on them for a few weeks straight, until my job bogged me down and I quit writing, and after month or so, I might get another idea and start writing that.
That Sunday morning on my bike ride, I knew I had to change the way I see my writing.
I had to not be like my father, who gave up one million-dollar idea after another, but like my Heavenly Father, who is faithful to complete a good work.
I peddled home as fast as I could, and sat at my desk to finish my first book of stories. After six months, I was finished, and I sent it to my first-choice in publishers, and I thought I would wait to hear from them before I sent it to another.
A few months later the book contract arrived.