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Interview with Silvio Sirias, author of 'The Saint of Santa Fe'

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Silvio Sirias is the author of Bernardo and the Virgin (2005) and Meet Me under the Ceiba (2009), winner of the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize for Best Novel, and most recently The Saint of Santa Fe. A native of Los Angeles, he spent his adolescence in Nicaragua and currently lives in Panama. In 2010, Silvio was named one of the “Top Ten New Latino Authors to Watch (and Read).” He has a doctorate in Spanish from the University of Arizona. He has also published academic books on Julia Alvarez, Rudolfo Anaya, and the poet Salomon de la Selva. In addition, he has a collection of essays titled Love Made Visible: Reflections on Writing, Teaching, and Other Distractions. The Routledge Companion to Latino/a Literature lists him among the handful of authors who are introducing Central American themes into the U.S. literary landscape. For more information, visit his website at www.silviosirias.com.

Q: Welcome to Latino Books Examiner, Silvio. Tell us, what’s inside the mind of a literary fiction author?

A: What’s in my mind is to produce a story that touches the reader’s heart and is told in an artful, engaging manner.

Q: Why do you write?

A: There is something that the Spanish writer Miguel de Unamuno, one of my literary heroes, replied when asked the same question. He answered, “I write so that people remember that I was here.” That has become my writer’s mantra. I work very hard to write something that a reader wouldn’t mind picking up years from now.

Q: How picky are you with language?

A: I’m very, very picky. Words are the elementary tools of the writing trade. They must be used with precision and clarity. I agree completely with Mark Twain when he says, ‘'The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Any writer who is careless with words will risk losing the reader’s interest.

Q: Do you get the feeling you’re playing God when you write fiction?

A: The Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro, who started the avant-garde movement in Spanish, says, “El poeta es un pequeño dios”—that is, “The poet is a small god.” So, yes, I do feel as if I’m the god of the tiny, tiny universe I created.

Q: When you write, do you sometimes feel as though you were being manipulated from afar?

A: Yes, but not often. The handful of times it has happened the feeling is magical. When I write, however, the conscious mind is pretty much in control. Where I feel that the story sometimes dictates itself is during the planning stage, when I’m working on the preliminary outline of a novel.

Q: What is your worst time as a writer?

A: Those periods that prevent me from having extended writing time. In other words, when the reality of earning a living gets in the way. Fortunately, this is bearable because I teach literature and writing—so at least I get to talk about my passion all day with impressionable, young students.

Q: Your best?

A: When I’m working on the last chapter during the final revision. That’s a golden moment when I at last emerge from the tunnel.

Q: Is there anything that would stop you from writing?

A: Illness—physical or mental. That would be like driving a stake through my heart.

Q: What’s the happiest moment you’ve lived as an author?

A: When I won the Chicano/Latino Award for Best Novel for Meet Me under the Ceiba. That validation came at a crucial time in my career.

Q: Is writing an obsession to you?

A: Not really. It’s my craft, what I do best, and what I love to do. But it’s not an obsession. In my mind, an obsession can be unhealthy, like anything done in binges. Writing is simply what I’m meant to do.

Q: Are the stories you create connected with you in some way?

A: Definitely! They come from my years living in Central America—especially from the memories of my adolescence. Although the act of writing is not an obsession with me, I do write about my healthy obsession with this beautiful, wondrous region of the world.

About Sirias' novel, The Saint of Santa Fe:

The Saint of Santa Fe: In 1968, a young, recently ordained Colombian priest leaves behind everything to start a new parish in the jungles of Panama. Father Héctor Gallego soon discovers that his parishioners live as indentured servants. Inspired by liberation theology, he sets into motion a plan to liberate them. Father Gallegos is successful, but his work places him on a collision course with General Omar Torrijos, the nation's absolute ruler. On January 9, 1971, military operatives abduct the priest. He is never seen or heard from again, but he remains very much alive in the minds of Panamanians who, still today, clamor for his case to be brought to justice. Although The Saint of Santa Fe is a work of fiction, the novel is based on the real-life experiences of Héctor Gallego and the campesinos who worked alongside him to create a just society. This sweeping novel tells many stories, including that of Edilma, the priest's sister who since age eleven has been searching for the meaning of his death. The Saint of Santa Fe is a story of faith, heroism, and sacrifice that's reminiscent of Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory and Miguel de Unamuno's San Manuel Bueno, mártir.

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