the writing disorder
the writing disorder logo




manuel gonzales


A Conversation with MANUEL GONZALES

Author of The Miniature Wife

the miniature wife

Manuel Gonzales is the author of the recently published book, The Miniature Wife. It has been extremely well received by the public, and praised by the critics as well. That’s quite an achievement, since this is his first one. But Manuel has been working at his craft for many years. What may seem like an overnight success story, is more like a well-planned journey. He has paid his dues. His work has been published by numerous literary journals including McSweeney’s and The Believer. When he’s not writing, Manuel devotes his time and energy to a worthwhile organization called the Austin Batcave, a nonprofit that provides children and teenagers with the opportunity to develop their creative writing skills. He also makes time for his wife and two children. Now that's a busy life.


The Writing Disorder: Congratulations on your first book, The Miniature Wife (and other stories). It’s a great collection of fantastic stories. How has life been since its publication?

Manuel Gonzales: Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Life has been good since its publication. I mean, nothing earth shattering has changed about life. I’m a little more tired because I’m traveling a lot recently, and that’s different, and in good ways, mostly—the travel, meeting people, seeing old friends. But my day-to-day is pretty much the same. I get my daughter to school, make lunches, help around the house, occassionally shrink my wife down to the size of a coffee mug. You know, business as usual. What’s been interesting and new since publication, though, is the level of response the stories are receiving. Not many people had read most of these stories until the book came out, and it’s fascinating and thrilling to see the different interpretations I hear or read about the stories, how disparate each person’s reading is from another reader’s, how disparate from my own.

The Writing Disorder: Has it been a long process to this point of now being a published author?

Manuel Gonzales: Yes, in fact. I first got the notion to write in my sophomore year of college, 18 years ago, and have been trying to figure out what that means — being a writer — ever since. I went to graduate school from 2000 to 2003 and then spent that time working on stories or on a novel that didn’t work out, have navigated through two different agents until landing at Janklow & Nesbit, where I am now and where I’m thrilled to be, a lot of writing into what seemed like a vacuum, a lot of crises of faith during which I briefly considered giving up the goal of becoming a working author (though I couldn’t give up writing, regardless) in order to become a computer programmer, or a grants administrator, or a pie baker full time. It has seemed a very long process but now that it’s here, the time seems also now compressed and edifying.

The Writing Disorder: How has it changed your life?

Manuel Gonzales: A lot of work I’ve done in the past has been chosen specifically because I wanted a job that would pay bills but that wouldn’t interfere with writing, and for a long time, I worked jobs that weren’t very interesting or challenging, that didn’t pay that well, all because I was devoted to this idea of leaving myself energy at the end of the day for the creative work. Now, though, I work in a job that is very challenging and fulfilling, but I’ve developed a writing habit that’s strong enough that there’s still time and energy for me to work on whatever new project I’ve got in my head.

The Writing Disorder: Where did you grow up? What was your family life like?

Manuel Gonzales: I grew up in Plano, Texas, just north of Dallas, and my family life was fairly idyllic. Nice, smart, supportive parents who were very loving — to each other, to my sister and me — in a safe and clean suburb. It was embarrassingly tame, my family life and growing up.

The Writing Disorder: What was your youth like, and what made you want to be a writer?

Manuel Gonzales: My father had harbored notions of writing, had obtained a journalism degree, and some of my desire to become a writer stems from that, I’m sure, but as a kid, I was more interested in becoming a lawyer, and for a brief period, a priest (lady problems).

The Writing Disorder: When did you begin to think of yourself as a writer?

Manuel Gonzales: It’s funny because when I first started writing, I thought of myself as a writer, but didn’t know what that meant, didn’t know how to go about it, what to write, though I wrote plenty of little stories, some better than others but all not that very good. And then I called myself a writer, quit my job, became hugely in debt, and then decided, Oh, well, I can call myself a writer but I still need a job. Not until I got into graduate school did I become wary of calling myself a writer, and then in the years after, when I seemed unable to finish anything and ran into agent issues, I always told people what my job was whenever people asked what I did, and my wife pressed me to tell people I was a writer. She’s the one who eventually got me to start thinking of myself as a writer first again, and that’s now been a few years.

The Writing Disorder: What did you do for money?

Manuel Gonzales: I’ve always worked. In high school, at the grocery store, and in college, part-time jobs here and there. Even when I quit my job to become a “writer” I tried to keep working, freelance gigs fact-checking Social Studies textbooks or grading standardized third grade student essays. I’ve run a pie company and taught at after-school workshops and worked in admissions offices, as the assistant to the chair of the economics department, as a courier for a law firm. There’s only been one longish stretch when I didn’t have a job (or wasn’t in school full-time with a work-study job), when my wife and I moved into my parents’ house with our one-year-old daughter and I collected unemployment for about four months trying to finish a fourth or fifth rewrite on a novel I could never pull together.

The Writing Disorder: What does your family think of your work and success? Do you ever get their input on your writing?

Manuel Gonzales: My father just finished reading the collection the other night, in fact. He said he liked them a lot. I mean. He said more than that, but that’s the gist. He’d read versions of a couple of the stories, but not many. They’re happy and proud and I think now that the book is here, it's a physical thing, they’re as excited for me as they can be, which is a lot excited. My sister has been planning a stealth move of taking all the copies of my book at the bookstore and moving them to the front. They’ve always been supportive but there’s a tangible difference in their support now that it’s something you can touch, that they can point to.

The Writing Disorder: Who influenced your work early on? What books, authors did you read growing up? Who do you like to read now?

Manuel Gonzales: Growing up, I read the Dragonlance books, not all of them, but a lot of them, and Pier Anthony’s Xanth series, and then also books like The Three Muskateers and The Godfather, and The Once and Future King. I didn’t read what I was supposed to in school — except Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which killed me how that one ended — but dug around and picked up whatever I wanted to read instead. The first book I remember reading and feeling transported by was a YA novel, Dragon’s Blood, by Jane Yolen, a book too young for me when I read it, but still, I loved it and then decided I loved reading. Then, in high school, I read Go Down, Moses, which floored me, the way it was structured as short stories, except they became a novel because of one inscrutable section buried deep in the heart of the longest story in the book, and that’s been an idea I haven’t been able to let go of since.

The Writing Disorder: Did you read any comics or graphic novels growing up? Name some titles that stood out.

Manuel Gonzales: I read a lot of Marvel comics — X-Men. The Mutant Massacre was when I came into it. The Peter Parker titles and the Amazing Spider-Man. I read The Watchmen, but never picked up The Sandman, even though a lot of my friends read it. Not sure why. I like Gaiman’s books a lot. I had pretty mundane tastes. I liked the original black and white Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comics, and the Cerebus (the aardvark) titles. The Tick started picking up steam just as I started losing interest in comics, but I dug the issues I found and read. Now I’m reading through the 8th and 9th seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which are pretty good.

The Writing Disorder: Where do your stories start?

Manuel Gonzales: Usually a very specific “what-if” moment. What if I were really on a plane forever (after having been on a plane for what seemed like forever)? What if I owned a unicorn I named Sabre Bitch? What if I were a zombie? (I’d still be the kind of guy hopelessly in love with what is out of reach, obviously. Also, I’d eat human flesh.) What if clowns, which creep me out, had once been a race of people? (They’d have overlarge feet, eerily pale skin, and weird empathy abilities derived from physical comedy skits, I figure.) Etc, etc. That’s where they start, but then the thing that makes them feel more than exercises, I think, is that I manage to intrude upon these ideas with things that trouble me in my actual life. Relationships, friendships that have gone astray, grudges, regrets. Things I’ve said I wish I hadn’t, and vice versa. Because I can’t help but write about myself, but if I’m going to write about myself, I can’t help but couch all of that in something someone else — anyone else — might also like to read.

The Writing Disorder: When did you first get published?

Manuel Gonzales: Technically, my first essay to be published appeared in an English Rhetoric supplemental textbook, an essay about being and not being Mexican, back in my junior year of college. But my first piece of fiction was published in 2001, some various forms of the meritorious lives from the collection, one of which was accepted by McSweeney’s first, but a couple of others published by a now defunct little journal, The American Journal of Print, before the McSweeney’s was released.

The Writing Disorder: Describe what happens when you write a story.

Manuel Gonzales: Inventing, for a story or for a novel, is really fun for me. I know a number of writers who like to have written more than they like writing, but I like writing most of all. Even now, as I’m promoting this collection and waiting to hear back about a novel I turned in to my agent, I’m trawling around for something new to start working on. And so it’s a fun process, usually, though not always, but it’s also an intuitive process. I don’t outline, I don’t character sketch. I have an idea and maybe a couple of images that go with it, or a person in mind to navigate through it, or I’ve had an idea for a long time and now I feel ready to play around with it, and then I glom onto whatever scene seems most vivid in my mind, or whatever voice I hear loudest in my head, and go from there. Not necessarily the most helpful description, but it’s how I work.

The Writing Disorder: Do you write poetry?

Manuel Gonzales: No.

The Writing Disorder: How much of what you write do you throw away?

Manuel Gonzales: I’ve quit working on a few stories, but I don’t usually throw much stuff away. I’ll set it aside and hold on to it, not often for the reasons I had originally thought, but because I feel like that writing, or some semblance of it, might one day fit nicely into something else I’m working on. I’m a pretty heartless scavenger of my own failed work. That’s on the larger-scale idea side of it, though. I’m pretty free with the red pen or the delete button, though, when reading through a draft of something, and so there are probably books worth of sentences or words that I’ve cut and thrown out.

The Writing Disorder: You use humor in your work. And many of your stories are quite touching as well. How do you balance a piece so it’s not too silly or too sentimental?

Manuel Gonzales: It’s kind of an old saw, the idea that comedy and tragedy are best paired together, but that’s what I work from, the idea that nothing is ever just completely funny without having hints of cruelty or tragedy thrown in, and that tragedy cannot be sustained on its own without some comedy to heighten the sense of the tragic. Plus, it just is, life is often that way. Bad news, good news, mixed in and complicated and made, simply, news. As for keeping things less sentimental, it’s my default position as a writer and I’m often asked in rewrites to put more onto the page because I’m often holding too much back. I should learn to do the opposite — put too much on the page — because I think it’d be easier to cut back and then add more emotion and heart to a thing, but I haven’t figured out yet how to do that.

The Writing Disorder: What are you working on now?

Manuel Gonzales: I just finished and turned into my agent a novel that I can’t describe very well without making it seem like a flummoxy mess, other than to say that it includes a woman who has a mechanical arm that might or might not be mechanical.

The Writing Disorder: What do you do when you’re not writing? What do you do for fun?

Manuel Gonzales: I watch TV. Too much TV. I cook and bake. I play with my kids and hang out with my wife — hikes and running around and the like. There’s a lot to do in Austin, especially when the weather’s nice. I read and screw around on the internet. But a lot of the time, too, when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing.

The Writing Disorder: What are some of the challenges of being a writer today?

Manuel Gonzales: I think there are fewer challenges to being a writer than there are to being an author. Being a writer is easy. You write and write and write, and if it’s only for you and your own eyes, you’re still a writer, in my mind. An author, though, faces an oversaturated market, a host of distractions (to him or herself while trying to write, and then to any audience out there who would rather entertain themselves in any of the fascinating and enjoyable means available to them that are not books). It’s harder to make a living as a writer, a writer of short stories, especially, because there are fewer venues for short stories. But those challenges aren’t particular to now. Maybe there are degrees to which these obstacles are bigger than they have been in the past, but there are also other ways in which becoming a writer is easier — all the really great and inventive small presses, self-publishing, using the internet as your publisher. I had a professor who impressed upon me that while writing can be difficult work, you shouldn’t confuse that with hard work. Diggings ditches, working in the fields, which were things my parents did for long stretches of their lives: that’s hard work.

The Writing Disorder: Are there limits to how far a writer can depart from the real world?

Manuel Gonzales: No, I don’t think so. It’s a matter of creating a world that feels real and whole and managing the reader’s expectations and knowing the rules of the world you’ve created and hewing to those rules, or, if you break them as a writer, you do so deliberately. When teaching, I like to say that I only believe there is one rule in writing fiction: if it works, it works, and if it doesn’t, you find a way to make it work or you cut it, the trick being that it takes time and good readers and trust in your own voice as a writer to know when something doesn’t work.

The Writing Disorder: Where do you write? Describe the space?

Manuel Gonzales: I write at coffee shops a lot. Sometimes I write at home but at home there are a lot of obligations and other things that I could do that wouldn’t be writing. So I usually leave the house, generally very early in the morning, and write at a coffee place. I use the internet disabling software, and then I’m trapped with just my work and a cup of coffee and a sense of other people also at work.

The Writing Disorder: When do you usually write?

Manuel Gonzales: In the mornings, generally. If I can, early, say 5:00 or 5:30 a.m.-ish, so I can get that work done but also get my job work done and also spend time with my family.

The Writing Disorder: Does anyone else in your family write?

Manuel Gonzales: My father used to write and sometimes still does, I think, but I’m really the only one right now.

The Writing Disorder: Was writing encouraged at home?

Manuel Gonzales: My parents grew up very poor and part of very large families. My mom didn’t finish ninth grade. My dad didn’t finish college, not at first, and so they both had these very strong opinions about my sister and I and school and higher education, and so while writing itself wasn’t really hyper-encouraged, all things educational were a focus of my family.

The Writing Disorder: How do you feel about turning people you’ve known into characters in your stories?

Manuel Gonzales: Since I find myself turning myself — or the worst version of myself — into characters in my own stories, and since I usually make whatever worst traits of my own stand out above and beyond most of the other characters’ traits, I don’t feel too bad about it. Also, there’s rarely — or maybe even never — one character who can be traced back to any one person. I composite people and cherrypick traits and add traits that I think make the character more believable as part of this story.

austin batcave

The Writing Disorder: Talk about your work with the Austin Bat Cave. How long has it been around. It sounds like a great, rewarding program for everyone involved.

Manuel Gonzales: Austin Bat Cave is a non-profit writing and tutoring center for kids, based on the Dave Eggers concern, 826 National. We host after-school programs and also we run in-school workshops for kids ages six to eighteen. We also started recently working with slightly older students who are part of the juvenile detention systems in Central Texas, or who are out of juvenile detention and are in halfway houses. The organization was founded in 2007 and I’ve been its director since 2010. Working with my staff and the volunteers and the teachers and these kids is pretty amazing. The work the students can produce, the emotional depth or the humor or the deeply personal accounting they offer of their lives, is astounding. What’s nice about the job for me is that it hits all manner of skills that I have but haven’t had to employ before, as well as a host of other skills — accounting and office management — that I don’t have and that I’ve had to figure out along the way. I’m proud of the work we do and am excited for our next moves forward. We’re set to open our own permanent writing and tutoring center with a whimsical kind of storefront in east Austin by the end of spring, beginning of summer, which will open us up more to the community and also allow us to expand our programming, which is all free, exponentially.

The Writing Disorder: That's sounds great and very rewarding. Have you written any novels (published or not)?

Manuel Gonzales: I’ve written and rewritten some eight or nine times a novel that never came together, and I’ve just recently finished the third draft of a novel that does feel like a novel and one that I like and really enjoyed writing.

The Writing Disorder: How much research do you do before you begin a new project?

Manuel Gonzales: Hardly any research. I don’t know how to research a thing without the research taking over the original idea I had about the thing I want to write about.

The Writing Disorder: Once you have the basic story written, is the editing process longer than the initial writing?

Manuel Gonzales: Always.

The Writing Disorder: Do you have other creative talents — music, art, etc.?

Manuel Gonzales: I bake really good pies. But that’s more a craft than a creative talent. But they’re good damn pies.

The Writing Disorder: Mmmm. What music did you listen to growing up? What do you listen to now?

Manuel Gonzales: I listened to a lot of classical music when growing up, including sound tracks to movies like E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark, the John Williams ouvre. Now I borrow music from friends who have good taste in music and listen to whatever they’re listening to. Indie New York pop-rock bands to old Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, to old-school hip-hop (A Tribe Called Quest, etc). But I never remember who it is I’m listening to when I’m listening to it or if I hear it and want to tell someone about it later.

The Writing Disorder: What is a typical writing day for you?

Manuel Gonzales: Summers offer me my most ideal writing day because I don’t have to take my daughter to school and so I can wake up at 5:00 and leave home and write for two or three hours and still have time to come back home, have breakfast with the family, and then go to work. During the school year, it’s more catch-as-catch-can because I’d have to wake up too early in order to write for a couple of hours before getting her ready for school. So then I write whenever I a) get an idea and have to write it down or b) I have twenty or forty minutes, or even an hour to myself.

The Writing Disorder: Do you spend a lot of time on the internet? What do you do, what sites do you visit most often?

Manuel Gonzales: I do and the sites I visit are pretty generic. Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Beast, the New Yorker site, Slate, Salon, FiveChapters, tumblr, the Rumpus, the Awl, various other book blogs — bookslut, bookstalker, etc. But when I’m at the computer to write, then I shut my internet off for an hour to two hours at a time so I don’t get distracted.

The Writing Disorder: How do you find time to write with a wife and two children? Would you like your children to be writers, too?

Manuel Gonzales: I want my kids to be whatever they’re into. I got that from my own parents, the follow-your-path ideal, and it’s not always been easy or felt successful, but I’ve been pushed along not just by encouragement of friends and family but with the idea that I get to devote some part of my life to this strange thing that makes me inordinately happy, and if they become writers and that’s what makes them inordinately happy, great, but also great if organic chemistry or quilting makes them inordinately happy and that’s what they do. My hope though is that they find that thing or those things that do make them inordinately happy because I feel lucky in that I know this thing is the thing I always want to do, and not everyone knows what that thing is.

The Writing Disorder: Thank you very much, we appreciate your time.

To follow Manuel Gonzales on Twitter, visit: Twitter

To learn more about the Austin Batcave, visit: Austin Batcave

COMMENT        HOME       BLOG


More Nonfiction

with Author
Manuel Gonzales

Rachael Goetzke

Christine Ritenis

Isis Aquarian

R.R. Gwaltney

Laura Callanan

with poet
Sarah Sarai


By accessing this site, you accept these Terms and Conditions.
Copyright © 2010-2013 ™ — All rights reserved