Oscar Casares received a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2001 and is now the director of The New Writers Project, the Creative Writing program in the Department of English at The University of Texas at Austin. He’s also the award-winning author of Brownsville, a collection of short stories, and the novel Amigoland. He has published other works in The Iowa Review, Colorado Review, Northwest Review, Threepenny Review, Texas Monthly, and other publications.
Oscar recently sat down with The Austin Review to talk about his approach to writing and how he left a successful career in advertising to become a full-time writer and professor.
The Austin Review: What do you try to accomplish as you edit your own work?
Oscar Casares: I think there are a lot of things that are going on. But really when I’m going back through a story, I’m asking myself is this something I want to read. There is an old adage that you write the kind of book that you want to read. And, for me, having started off as a non literary person, a non reader, there has to be something that compels me to sit down and not walk away from a book. So that’s a constant. I’ve got to be engaged by the material, not just writing it, but as a reader somewhere down the road.
TAR: In some of your other interviews, you compare your writing style with the art of verbal storytelling. Can you explain that process?
OC: It doesn’t particularly matter if the reader picks up on this, but, for instance, in my novel, and a good part of my story collection, the characters in my mind as I’m writing are actually speaking in Spanish. Now, as I hear them in Spanish, I’m obviously writing them to an English speaking audience, and in many cases a monolingual audience. So there’s a little bit of Spanish in there. It’s in there when there is no other word that I find that would work as well and that’s appropriate.
I hate when somebody just throws Spanish in a work just to buy some street cred or whatever. I absolutely detest that. But, so I’m hearing it in Spanish, and I’m writing it in English, and somewhere between those two I have to negotiate the bridge. Am I being true to the way it was said? The syntax and all? And does it read well? If I do that—if I transcribe what I’m hearing—does it read well? In some cases it does, and in some cases it’s a little bit awkward, and in some cases I’ll say, “Well, that’s fine.”