Victor David Giron is the son of immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala. He's a CPA, bar owner, and runs Curbside Splendor Publishing, a small press that showcases art and literature celebrating urbanism. In addition to publishing works by local writers, he puts on literary events and sell books by Chicago-based publishers and authors at the Logan Square Farmers Market. His work has appeared in Rougarou, Umbrella Factory Magazine, Jersey Devil Press, and Diverse Voices Quarterly, among others, and his first novel Sophomoric Philosophy came out in November 2010. He lives in Chicago.
Your protagonist, Alex, seems to have lived a pretty average, middle-America, Mid-Western life. As a young man he seemed preoccupied with the same things that all of us are; music, girls, beer, and being cool. He then chose a stable career path through a Big Ten university and settled into his life as an accountant where his interests haven’t changed much from that of his youth. What do you see as the primary correlation between Alex’s middle of the road life path and his desire to be an artist / philosopher?
Alex is a hyper-contemplative person, highly aware of his surroundings to a point where it drives his insecurity. And though this is only touched on briefly in the novel, his parents are originally illegal immigrants from Mexico. Alex initially grows up in a predominantly Latino area of Chicago and his parents work hard to move their family to a middle-America suburb so that he and his sister live an ordinary life. To their parents this is success. Although Alex embraces this, and indeed cherishes the things living in a middle-American suburb affords, he also discovers he has interests that his immediate friends don’t—reading books, writing, really listening to music, drawing. Or rather, they might share them, but being hyper-aware, Alex begins to see these interests in his friends are disappearing as they get older and start to be consumed by the hardships that their indulgences bring them. So he feels this pull to not let go of these interests, because it scares him, the idea of completely letting go. But he’s also pulled back because he knows his parents worked so hard to allow him to indulge in every day comforts, something they themselves never had. It’s the tipping point of this struggle that fuels him to want to be some sort of artist.
What does it mean to you to "become an artist?"
In my opinion, to be an artist is simply to be that. To create. Whatever it is you like to create. Essentially (and here is the sophomoric philosopher in me), to be human. I’m a firm believer that our best quality is our desire to express ourselves creatively and we’re at our worst when this creative energy is suffocated and the energy that is lost is released in a much more destructive fashion (i.e. intolerance, frustration, boredom). I’m sort of a late bloomer when it comes to being creative. Like the character Alex, I’ve struggled with navigating the need to be secure and the yearning to create. I’ve always been attracted to folks that are outwardly artistic because I admire their ability to be so. Most of my ‘artistic’ friends, however, tend to believe that to truly be artistic one must always strive to create something ‘unique.’ While I appreciate that drive, to me there are various forms of art, and I’m of the opinion that to be artful and to be unique are not mutually exclusive, and again, the act of creating alone is artful and if it happens to be unique, then great (but I’m also not really convinced how ‘unique’ anything can really be).
Sophomoric Philosophy is told non-chronologically. Alex leaps from youth to adulthood then back again and back and again and back and… At times there seems to be a method to the madness and at other times it seems he is relating the facts to the reader as he is remembering them. What does the reader need to know or what should the reader know about the order of events? Is there a hidden meaning or message in the way he arranged his life for us? Are events listed in order of importance/significance? Like so much of Alex’s day to day thinking, is the arrangement musical?
The funny thing is the first drafts of SP were much more scattered. Thanks to my editor R.A. Miller who really guided me in rearranging chapters, deleting some, writing new ones, the final order of SP does have a rhyme and reason. The first chapter starts in the present, establishing that Alex is telling his story in the present (or really in the middle 00’s), and it then proceeds to flash back to his youth growing up in Chicago and his family moving to Des Plaines, a blue-collar suburb of Chicago. The chapters go on from there following Alex grow as a youth and as an adult. The back and forth is mostly between Alex as a youth and as an adult, mostly at a whim, as the memories hit him, but I it as his comparing and contrasting himself, his troubles he’s having with relationships and identity as an adult versus how he handled similar problems as a youth, and how there’s some troubling similarities. In the end Alex focuses more on his late teenage years, almost forgetting some of the adult problems he was having that drove to want to write his story because he kind of stumbles on something that, in the end, provides him with the energy to go forward as an adult. Other aspects of Alex sprinkled in throughout is that of him being Mexican-American and his relationship with his abusive father. You can see it’s something he’s thinking about but not quite ready to fully explore (more because I as an author wasn’t quite ready to delve fully into that). Your question about whether the arrangement is musical is interesting as it’s been asked a few times. I reference over 70-something songs in SP, and that’s because I’m interested in how music plays a role in our development (and I just really like music). I’ve had people try to decipher whether there was some kind of arrangement of the songs, or have had people remark that I was just really writing about songs (like each chapter was supposed to be an interpretation of a song or set of songs). Truth is there was no such arrangement or purpose – at least not intentional.
Alex seems to have some pretty great insights into Generation X and what it meant to be young and alive during the 80s and 90s. He understands complicated social networks that high school and popularity, socioeconomic status, and beauty inevitably create for us. He also understands music and film and the way they create social groups that bind us to our peers. It isn’t necessarily easy to decipher form the text itself, so I have to ask; are those insights that Alex was able to perceive as a young man, while he was experiencing them in real time, or is that Alex speaking in hindsight as a little-bit-older and a little-bit-wiser thirty-something?
As I explained before, Alex is this hyper-aware individual who’s always analyzing his status in social circles, friends, what he’s into and what he’s not into. So the perceptions are ones that Alex as a youth was aware of, but certainly they’re now refined or acute from his perspective as adult, even more so because Alex is aware that these same sort of social cliques exist, and in certain cases are stronger among adults. Because of this he’s a person who’s drifting between different groups, always weary of being too immersed in any one of them, like he’s always worried about not completely fitting in so he doesn’t totally try. Therefore he looks very middle of the road, ordinary, and so you’d never know that he’s listening to something like death metal or techno at the present, you know?
As keen as Alex’s observations into Generation X seem, he implies that ther is a generation gap that exists between his generation and the youth of today that makes it hard for him to understand them, collectively. What do you think causes a generation gap like that, and what do you see as the primary difference between Generation X and the youth of today? What are some of their similarities? After all, don’t all boys from all generations just want bong hits and blow jobs while listening to their favorite albums? Or there something else that sets today’s youth apart from their predecessors?
Growing up, I was always interested in how adults would complain that we were not like them when they were young, that the music was so much better when they were growing up, etc. I would tell myself they believed that because they had just lost touched, weren’t really listening to Motley Cru or Guns N’ Roses like we were and therefore just didn’t get how kickass they were. So I promised myself that I would not lose touch like that. I like to think that I do well in terms of keeping up with music and trends, but I know that I am beginning to lose touch with today’s youth. The biggest driver behind that is technology. Also, as an adult, you just don’t have the same kind of time to get immersed in such things (at least for most adults). As a child I had access to telephone, cars, cable television, all which now seems outdated but back then was really new to my parents. And now my children will grow up with small devices much more powerful than our “smart-phones” where they can access all the information they need, at some point the devices will probably be ingrained them. They’ll not know books or albums how I did, but what they’ll be into will be so much more different than what I experienced that I can’t say whether it will be better or worse. In the book Alex misses how when he was young he and his friends would be able to scream out loud the verses to their favorite songs, how they loved entire albums. I think today’s youth still do that, but just in different ways.
Alex’s high school AP English teacher say that “the purpose of all different forms of writing is ultimately the same – to make sense of our existence.” I always thought of the written language in a less romantic sense. I believe the primary function of writing is to communicate. How would you answer that question? What is the primary purpose of writing?
Well, writing certainly is a form of communication, I agree, but it’s one of many forms of communication, as is speech, audio / visual recording and sharing. I think what’s different about writing is that it’s not just a form of communication, but it’s a form of documentation. And that’s an important difference to me. We communicate by talking to each other or through physical gestures, etc., but when we want to communicate something in a way that it can be shared with others because we want it to be a historical record, an artistic statement, a fact to be analyzed in business or social settings, we write it down (or now record it somehow). So what the teacher in SP was getting at is that the act of writing a history, a story, a philosophy, the reason we want to do any of that at all, is to try and document our histories, perspectives, capture our imaginations, ultimately for the purpose of making sense of our existence. It’s like we’re these self-aware beings, we know we are doing things, but not always immediately sure why or whether what we’re doing is ‘right’. And so we are driven to document our actions, almost so others after us can try and make sense of what happened. So yes, the basic form of writing or communication facilitates are interactions socially, but the act of writing to document a story or history or a law, I think, is to try and convey with others what the hell is happening.
How much of your own life and experience and philosophy do we find in your protagonist Alejandro “Alex” Lopez?
A lot, most of it, well more like 60% of it based on real people and events, and the rest made-up or based on real people and events but embellished. The idea of who Alex is, though, for sure is all me (for better or worse).