Christopher Louis Romaguera is a Cuban-American writer who was born in Miami, Florida. Chris attended Florida International University, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in English and Philosophy in 2010. After graduating, he moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he wrote for Where Y’at Magazine. In the summer of 2011, he moved to Oakland, California. There, he wrote for various blogs and reviewed poetry slams for the online magazine, Synchronized Chaos. Chris is currently back in New Orleans, where he is writing a book with Lionel Lombard Jr., recounting Mr. Lombard’s experiences in Dubai, where he was imprisoned.
In this interview with MG editor Dariel Suarez, Christopher talks about the creative need to leave home, about the influence of culture, and about Saints and music.
DS: I met you when we were both attending FIU. Like myself, you were taking creative writing courses. How did that experience impact you as a writer and person?
CR: My experiences in FIU had a profound effect on me. As a person, I met many people who are still very dear to me. And it also reinvigorated my love for telling stories, which I have always had a love for, but which I hadn’t actualized into my writing at that point.
As a writer, it really opened my eyes to the discipline that I need in order to hone in my passion and turn it into a craft. Up until that point, I would only write when I found myself with time or some “great inspiration” or “epiphany”, but I learned to make time, be more regimental with my routine. Up until that point, my writings were scribbled on more bar naps than notebooks.
DS: What prompted you to leave South Florida? How has your experience been in the places you’ve lived since leaving and how has South Florida remained with you?
CR: Well you can’t stay home all your life. I just saw an episode of ‘Louie’ where David Lynch tells him that, “You gotta go to be able to come back.” Before I left, I would make the reference of a Tempurpedic mattress. How comfort forms around you and you end up never getting out of bed and going to work. After graduating I definitely found myself in a rut creatively, personally, spiritually, every which way imaginable. Moving around and experiencing different things allowed me to jumpstart myself, as well as experience things outside of my niche.
When I would tell people over in New Orleans that I left Miami, they would all be completely baffled that I would leave Miami. Everyone takes for granted what they’ve seen all their life. Leaving Miami definitely helped rekindle my love for the city I grew up in.
Since leaving South Florida I’ve learned so much about this country. I have driven from Miami to New Orleans, from New Orleans, to Oakland, CA, Oakland to Portland. You realize how big this country is, and how different the people in it are. You can watch all the Treme you want, you don’t know what a second line is until you’re there banging on an empty beer bottle and singing till you’re hoarse.
As for South Florida, there is still so much that stays with me, both of my home and my heritage. A lot of what I draw upon for my stories come from my childhood, and Miami is a city with such a character, that it lives and breathes in my memories, and in the stories that I tell. It is very similar to how people have described writing about New Orleans. Living in Miami and New Orleans, has kind of been like living in a writing exercise on setting. These cities breathe, and you can see it on everything, from the trees to the buildings and houses, to the people.
DS: A lot of your work is in different genres. Do you have a preference? Do you see yourself more as a fiction writer, poet, or journalist?
CR: Can I get away with calling myself a story-teller? Most things I write start off very lyrical, as in a poem, a flash of writing when I see a scene. I slowly expand it to the format I feel fits the rhythm of what I pictured in my head best. In my mind, some things sing better as a poem, the next thing works better as a journalistic endeavor, the next a minimalist screenplay, the next lyrical prose. To me, it’s all about telling the story I feel like telling, and finding the genre that makes it sing the most.
All that being said, prose has been what I keep going back to more and more. It is the most satisfying way into the reader’s mind for me, and the most satisfying for me to write.
DS: A lot of what you’ve published so far has to do with sports and music. How do these venues influence your writing? Do they ever find their way into fiction and poetry?
CR: In a town like New Orleans, Saints and music sells. The main publication I write for in New Orleans is Where Y’at Magazine, which is an alt-monthly periodical that is printed and placed across the city. Where Y’at tries to keep a finger on the pulse of culture in New Orleans, and by working with this magazine, I’ve been able to contribute stories to the diaspora of this town via a first-hand account of a transplant.
And sports and music usually find a way into my work. Basketball was my first love, and I played guitar and bass for a few years as well. As a child and teenager, some of my happiest moments, came while playing music or sports with friends and feeling everything just synch up. How the struggle to get to those moments felt so good when you could crack open a soda or a beer afterwards and feel drained mentally and physically. There are still friends who when I go back home, I can play a game with them, and know exactly how they’re going to roll after setting a pick for me, and it’s a thing of beauty feeling that connection with people you love even after all these years. All these things coming to that beautiful moment, is so much like writing, where you draw up all these characters who have this climatic moment together or simultaneously. Those moments of beauty are so similar and pleasing to me, that it only makes sense for me when I find a way to draw those connections when writing.
DS: What would you say are your main literary influences? If you had to pick one book to carry under your arm for the rest of your life, which would it be?
CR: I’d say Infinite Jest, since it would also count as a workout since I’d be lugging around a 1,000 page book with me everywhere.
As for my influences, I read Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius during a dark time in my life, and it really helped me cope, as well as help ignite the idea that I would start to write again. It also was the book that showed me how to reread something, as I would read it in a calmer time in my life, as well as under the tutelage of Professor Luscyznska in FIU, and every time I would get something different. Besides that, I’ve been loving Junot Diaz of late, and truly enjoy seeing someone else play with Spanish phrases and historical references unapologetically (and do it much better than I have, obviously.)
Paul Auster’s genre work, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s surrealism, Italo Calvino’s everything, Rian Johnson’s films, Neruda’s silkiness, all inspire and influence me greatly. I’d love to take the best of all these people and make it into my own.
DS: How has your cultural background played a part in developing your outlook in life and your work.
CR: Its interesting, because one of the themes that keeps popping its head in my book in the effect of prior generations on a person’s outlook and philosophy. Living in New Orleans helps with this idea for it’s a town that basks in its own nostalgia. For me, my dad being a Cuban immigrant who traveled the United States so young, and without any support, and being my first hero, meant a lot to me. The pride and drive that my family carries, from what they had on the island, to what they’ve rebuilt here, is something I try to hang onto. And my background is prevalent to anyone who looks at me or my work. We all know the Faulkner line “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
DS: What projects are you working on at the moment? Where can readers find your writing?
CR: I am currently working on my first novel, a work of fiction set in New Orleans about two people who deal with a conflict in their life, while looking at where and how they were raised, their families, and the myths they were told as children. It has been very stressful, but I am hoping to have it finished by the end of next year.
I also have been playing around with some screenplays, and one of them has gotten some legs that I’m pretty excited about, though it’s still early in the process to get in-depth about that.
Besides writing for Where Y’at Magazine and some other freelance work I’ve picked up in New Orleans and the Bay Area, I’ve also steadily written for the alternative-basketball blog Not Your Father’s Water Cooler. All my published work, as well as the occasional musing, can be found on my website.
DS: Where do you see yourself in the coming years?
CR: It’s hard to say. Part of me misses home, part of me misses the school environment and being surrounded by people focused on the same craft as you. But part of me yearns to explore more, to live outside the country for a bit, to speak a language besides English every day. And all that to say, underestimating the lure of New Orleans would be a mistake. I’m expecting to still be in New Orleans by the time this comes out.