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Segue 9: Fall 2010  ||  g. martinez cabrera


about the author


g. martinez cabrera currently lives in San Francisco with his wife and her cat. He holds degrees from Columbia and Harvard Divinity School and has had journalism published in The San Francisco Bay Guardian, The Columbia Observer, and other on-line publications. His short fiction was featured on the public radio show, Voices, and has appeared in The Externalist, Verbsap, Cantarraville, The Broome Review, and Drunken Boat. Currently, he is working on a collection of short stories and a novel. He lives, electronically, at www.g-martinezcabrera.com and occasionally blogs at www.taoofboo.com.

Contrary to common belief, he is not a grumpy old man—YET.


about the work


I used to drive I-5 between LA and San Francisco a lot when I was in my 20s, and like a lot of city dwellers, I never gave much thought to the people who lived in all the tiny towns in between. Sometimes I would get out and eat at some fast food place at a rest stop, and maybe there was an attractive girl behind the counter who caught my eye, but I never chatted because I was shy and because, sadly, she wasn’t real to me. I was too busy moving through, and she was standing still, a part of a community that I was too blind to see.

This blindness on my part was the first spark for “The Squirrel Man.” In the story, I wanted to think about the kind of town that many of us don’t think about at all, and I wanted to give the people who live there a voice and a person to listen to that voice. What I ended up with was a mysterious visitor paying attention to a town of people who had grown accustomed to being ignored.

I chose to write the story from the townspeople’s point of view because I wanted to explore how people—all people—come to be addicted to attention. I think a lot of us dismiss celebrity culture as unserious and ridiculous. But if you look at it in a different way and see all those reality show stars as more extreme versions of ourselves and our need to feel listened to, then celebrities become a little less removed from us and a lot less silly.

As for the style of the story, I was reading a lot of Steven Millhauser at the time, and I was purposely copying aspects of his technique: the unnamed narrator speaking for a group of people is one of the things Millhauser does often and well. I still am not sure why this voice gives me the creeps, but it does, and I thought it would be a good way to tell this story, which attempts to blend the fantastical with the real.

The only thing I would add here is a comment about the role of the fantastical in fiction. For some reason I find myself sometimes struggling with whether or not this kind of fiction is as valid artistically as fiction that deals with reality in a more straightforward way. In a world where “based on a true story” is a selling point, and where non-fiction often sells better than novels, the message seems to be that people don’t go to fiction to help them understand their world because they want “real” and “true to life” narratives. Fiction, so the argument goes, is play and imagination, and who has time for that with all the problems we face on a regular basis?

Now, if that’s true for “realist fiction,” then it would seem that stories that show something fantastical are even more out of touch with what people want and need. All of which leads me to want to make a case for fiction, and specifically for non-realist fiction that deals with what I will call the magical. Magic, here, should not be confused with Harry Potter or fantasy stories (though I like both). No, what I want in my stories is for a type of magic that is more subtle and internal. I want the fiction I read and write to create situations in which very typical, very human characters face something a little off from reality. The goal is to show how people truly are, and I would say that good fiction of this type might do this better than even the most reality-based book of non-fiction.

Reading fantastical fiction, when done well, should make a reader see things in her own world that she may have missed or taken for granted. The experience is akin to the person who almost dies in an accident and as a result, looks at the world anew. The extraordinary experience teaches us how to understand the ordinary day-to-day stuff of our lives. Admitting this might be dangerous for a writer with literary ambitions, but in a way I am trying to write stories that return the reader to another time when miracles were real. I don’t mean to say that they happened. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t, but the belief that miracles could happen at any moment made miracles part of people’s reality, and that openness made people more receptive to those experiences in their lives that may not be miraculous but that are extraordinary all the same. That’s the kind of logic I want as the foundation to my stories.

I’m not a religious person, but I believe that people are better off when they see their lives in terms that go beyond the mere physical and rational. It makes people more open and, arguably, more human. In short, I just want to write stories that make readers enter worlds that are not limited by what we usually call the “real.” You can call this kind of thinking spiritual. But I like magical better. As for my stories, you can call them anything you like.


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