June 16, 2016

My second book

As we continue to work on the upcoming Meddling Kids or, as I descibe it to friends, the one with Michelle Rodriguez, Weimaraners, and amphibian monsters, I realize that for many of my readers this will be my second book. Only it won't.

As many of you know, The Supernatural Enhancements was only my English debut; previous to that, I had authored two novels in Catalan. In fact, my second book came out five years ago this week. Whereas my first, Dormir amb Winona Ryder, received awards and considerable academic attention, you're unlikely to ever read about my second (not to mention read it, pending your learning a language with scant job prospects, or my American publishers suffering a major head injury). So today I'd like to show you my second book.

This was the cover. I know: it's awesome. Well, actually this was my proposal for it; the real thing kept the art, but toned down the comic-book style. But the art was mine! You wouldn't believe how many weeks it took me. Here's the first sketch:

Vallvi was set in an alternate-history Vallvidrera, a real suburb of Barcelona, and most of the geography was real. I drew this Tolkien-inspired map to help foreigners keep up.

But that wasn't all. One of my beta-readers was my frequent collaborator Jordi March. One element in the plot was a fan-made comic-book that related some Vallvidreran backstory, and Jordi suggested that the actual comic could be featured in my book. So I wrote it, he drew it, and boom! said the vocabulary-boasting author.

There were eight pages of this!

I'm not going to tell you much of the plot, because it might be funnier out of context, but let's just say there was a lot going on. And I had much fun writing it. Really; it's not my memory idealizing the past: much of the process was actually recorded on my Fotolog (yes, it was 2010 and I was still using Fotolog, oh em gee lol), and I look happy there.

From my Fotolog archives: The fuel of champions.

This is the plot board. Not very enlightening, but it looked cool on the wall.

(Warning: spoilers for Catalan readers!)

And these are some photos I took during my frequent hikes to Vallvidrera, on the mountains north of Barcelona. Many spots were incorporated into the book, but where the real Vallvi is a peaceful little village, mine had become a lawless punk dystopia taken over by backpackers, gangsters and wild ravers.

I had to write at home, but I used to take notes on the field. I'm very proud of this crucial passage, which made it to the book verbatim.

The main character was this young hipster author Edgar Cantero with a promising career in the highbrow Barcelona sceneuntil he visits Vallvidrera and his leitmotifs are ruined by punks, car chases and supervillains. Those things are hard to write in Catalan, which is a language suitable for 19th century rural dramas, not psychedelic trips and action sequences. This difficulty was somewhat overcome by inventing a Vallvi slang, borrowing words from English and French. A five-page appendix provided some assistance, and I later designed these "Learn Vallvi" cards with some definitions.

And to top it all, since I'd ended up with a bunch of sexy colorful badass characters, I came up with some stickers! Looking back, I made for Vallvi the most sophisticated art in my life.

So, what did all this result in? Well, Vallvi came out in June 2011. To this day it has sold no more than 500 copies. It got little media attention; very few reviews appeared. The one I liked most, after attempting to summarize the overpopulated plot, ended with, "You will likely think it's all excessive, crazy, and overwhelming. It is, and that's why it's funny." I never got published in my country again. If you asked now any of the critics who in the late 00s referred to me as a "promising" author, the few who remember would tell you I never delivered.

Second books come with their own set of concerns and anxieties: living up to expectations and all that stuff. I despise that cliché, but damn, it was so real for me! Vallvi was so greatly shaped up by that "second book syndrome", it turned into a fuck-the-second-book-syndrome book. It told critics and academics that calling someone "promising" is not flattery; at best, it's condescension; it undervalues the work you've done. Vallvi said, almost in as many words, "fuck literature, I will live here in the mountains, get drunk, and keep dreaming with Winona Rydersthe one in America, and the two new ones I fell in love with while writing this. And all my effort will be aimed toward impressing them, not anyone else; all my skill to try to pour into words the beauty they inspire me."

It's a guideline I still abide by, as you'll see in Meddling Kids. Which will be awesome. :)