This interview originally appeared in the March/April 2017 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Spring Publishers’ Preview, a semiannual advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.
The fortunes — indeed the lives — of friends Arturo and Faustino depend upon Arturo’s skill with cards. But will that be enough? Saint Death brings readers to Ciudad Juárez, whose position on the Mexico–U.S. border offers both hope and danger.
1. You a gambling man?
No, I am very risk-averse in general. About once a year I have a flutter on a soccer game. One of the differences between the States and the UK is that betting is ubiquitous in Britain, and most people there don’t consider it to be a particularly evil vice.
2. Were you nervous about “getting it right” when writing about Mexican culture?
I’m nervous about “getting it right” with anything I write. With every book, I try to figure out what I’m going to have to do to make it work — to do the right research and get the right help. Among other things, I had the help of a Mexican friend who is a writer and academic, and I could be sure her guidance was good.
3. Do you pay attention to portents?
I tell myself I don’t, but sometimes I still do. When I was a teenager I lived by portents, each and every day — this will mean school is bad today; if that happens, I’ll be okay, and so on. Generally the only omens that arrest me now are runs of coincidences, which my logical mind tells me are just clustering, but which part of me still feels must have some sort of significance.
4. Why the Spanish punctuation (and the eschewal of quotation marks)?
The Spanish punctuation is a subtle conceit to hint to English-speaking readers that they are actually “reading” a different language. Paradoxically, yet for the same reason, we did not italicize Spanish words in the text, so readers know they are reading “in” Spanish.
5. Do you think Trump will get his Wall? What effect might it have?
Well, he already has about a third of his “Wall,” though what that means on the ground varies enormously. I strongly doubt that we’ll ever see the 2000-mile-long wall that he envisages, but the stretches of fence that do exist already have powerful effects. The stated purpose of the fences of Operations Hold the Line and Gatekeeper was to deter migrants from attempting to cross through El Paso and San Diego, instead funneling migrants into the desert at a terrible cost to human life. Ultimately walls always fail.