Friday, June 15, 2012

Benjamin Alire Saenz Interview (2012 Blog Blast Tour)

Welcome to the final day of the SBBT. I've been a fan of Benjamin Alire Saenz since I read Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood. With each  new book Saenz confirms that he is one of the best YA authors out. His most recent novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe has been very well received including two starred reviews.

Hi Benjamin, bienveindo. Can you tell us a little about Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe?

The story follows the implications of the title. The Universe and fifteen years old boys seem so insignificant--and yet they must find their place in the universe--they must discover it. And how do boys discover the universe, anyway? So many mysteries and secrets to be solved. There are the mysteries and secrets of parents. Their are the mysteries and secrets of the body and how it changes in boys and how it changes them. Ari is lost and miserable. Dante, too is lost, but he isn't miserable. He throws himself into the universe and feels a part of it. Ari does not. And yet no boy, can face the world alone. When Ari and Dante meet, the biggest secret of the universe becomes their friendship, their deep and profound love--though they do not understand just how deep and profound that love is. This a love a love story, but not just between two boys. It is a love between boys and their parents, and that love is the most profound love of all.

Who spoke to you first Aristotle or Dante?

Definitely Ari. He's lost and has to find himself. Not everybody has an easy time discovering who they are. I was such a boy. In a way, he's kind of a stand in for me. And yet, gregarious, likeable, intellectual Dante, in some ways I was more him on the outside. These two boys, they're different versions of me. I am a contradiction. I am both an extrovert and an introvert. It wasn't difficult for me to create these characters. It was as if I was giving myself a gift when I wrote this book. I wish to hell that I had come to terms with my identity when I was boy. It would have made my life so much less complicated.

In this coming of age story Dante is the talker and not afraid to share his emotions yet the story is narrated by Aristotle.  Why did you decide to allow readers to see everything through the eyes of Aristotle, the one of few words?

Because part of Ari's journey is to discover the words he has inside him. It is Dante that teaches him a new language, a new way of looking at the world. Ari must learn how to articulate himself if he is to survive, so it had to be told from his point of view. It's painful to put yourself into words. Ari tried to make himself invulnerable--but he wasn't. He was just another vulnerable kid in the world who didn't know how to be in the world. It would have been a much less interesting book if it had been told from Dante's point of view.

Both sets of parents add another wonderful layer something I've come to expect from your stories. How do you think the parents were changed by the journey of their sons?

Good parents are always changed by their children's lives. Ari's father, particularly was changed by his son's journey. In many ways, Ari and his father's journey are parallel. Ari's father has learn to talk to his son. Ari thinks his father's aloof--but he isn't. He just keeps the things he sees to himself. But, as he watches his son, he knows what's going on with his son. But, he has to learn to share those insights with his son. In addition, there is a bond between Dante's mother and Ari. Ari changes Dante's mother somehow. When they come back from being away for a year, Dante's mother says, "Dane isn't the only one who missed you." She sees something beautiful in Ari and it moves her and it changes her.

Your writing has a poetic sensibility, with a fluid light touch that I love. When writing a novel do the poet and writer in you ever disagree about what the next line will be ?

 No. Not really. All I can say is that I would have never become a novelist if I hadn't been a poet first. Writing poetry made me a more introspective and thothoughtful writer. Some of my critics say that my characters are too insightful, that no fifteen year old, or sixteen year old, or seventeen year old can have the insights I attribute to them. In effect, the criticism is that I am more in love with my own lyricism and not concerned enough with writing credible characters. Obviously, I disagree. I was a very introspective teenager. And I knew many others. Just because we enjoyed cussing, didn't mean we were incapable of reading books, and thinking about the world around us. I don't know, I think sometimes, poetry can simply be an ordinary but important insight. Sometimes, a sentence can be beautiful, not so much because of the writing, but because it says something that is true--maybe that's the light touch you're talking about.

There are many beautiful moments throughout but heart is Aristotle and Dante's relationship

Were you ever surprised by their actions or was the outcome a forgone conclusion?

I confess this one fact. I always have the last line of my novel in my head when I write it. That doesn't mean, that I'm not surprised by the things that I write sometimes. For instance, I hadn't really planned on the accident and what happened afterwards. I was surprised by the scene when Dante shaves Ari because Ari can't do it for himself. I think it's the most tender moments in the novel--because it's so raw and so difficult for Ari. I didn't know I was going to write that scene. But it seemed so right. Just because I know how the novel was going to end, doesn't mean I always knew how I was going to get there. Some blogger said the ending was predictable. Maybe so. But, for me, it's the journey that matters. We take a trip with two boys and, in the end, we feel we know them. We feel that they were real. And they are real. Boys fall in love with each other sometimes. Sometimes they don't even know that's what's happening. That love can be painful. Every kind of love can be painful. But that doesn't mean, the novel has to end in tragedy, does it? If I'd have written this as an adult novel, I would have given it a different ending. But I wrote this book for boys and their parents. I wanted my readers to understand that love between boys is fragile and tender and lovely--and difficult--but also possible.

Be sure to check out the other two SBBT interviews today

Jennifer Miller @Bildungsroman

Ashley Hope Perez @ Crazy Quilts

Full SBBT Round Up


Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoy Aristotle and Dante and am so glad to have had this opportunity to get to know the book's author and characters a little bit more!
Predictable ending?? Maybe I didn't see it coming because I was so caught in the symbolism and the layers of meaning they brought to the story. Nothing was carelessly placed in the book!
I really liked Dante and somewhat hate to hear you don't think his story would have been as interesting. I guess it doesn't matter, the story as written was excellent to me.

Ashley Hope Pérez said...

Hey, it's great to find one of my favorite writers here... I remember thinking, "Yes! Yes!" as I listened to Sammy & Juliana. What I envy most about BAS is how incredibly prolific he is! Could you please send some of that awesomeness to help me finish up novel #3? Or maybe I need to move back to El Paso... Thank you, too, for Words on a Wire.

Doret said...

What I love most about these answers is that they reflect the beauty of Alire Saenz's writing.

The author also mentions two of my favorite scenes

When Aristotle's has a moment with Dante's mother in the hospital. There was something about that stuck out for me.

And when Dante shave's Aristotle.

tanita davis said...

I am really always so pleased to be introduced to another authors whose books haven't yet crossed my radar - inasmuch as I love poets, and the poetic sensibility really sometimes just MAKES a work, I know I want to get my hands on these books - they sound wonderful.

Mayra Lazara Dole said...

i haven't read any of your other interviews in the Blog Blast Tour and have started with Saenz's. His responses are the most fascinating i've ever read. i can't help but feel proud whenever i hear that a gay Latino/a has been published by the Big Six. I know the feeling but in these times, it's practically unheard of. And a double-starred book! Congratulations Saenz! i'm dying to read Aristotle and Dante discover the Secrets of the Universe. Thanks Doret for this interview. i will pass it on to everyone i know.