Manuel Gonzales gave up a successful Austin, Tex., pie company to write. The Miniature Wife and Other Stories, a collection of short stories, is his debut.
There's quite a cast of horror characters in the book—zombies, werewolves, swamp monsters. Does this stem from a love of the genre?
My dad has always been a fan of old horror films, the old black and whites. He has really bad taste in old monster movies. I also just really like monsters, and the horror genre. But I was really deathly afraid of actual scary movies when I was a kid.
Are the monster stories supposed to be allegorical?
Well, I always write it as straight as I can. I never write with that intention. When I first thought of the [zombie office romance] idea, I thought it would be interesting to tell the story from the point of view of the zombie, because usually they’re acting upon the protagonist, not acting out their own story. I feel like they deserve at least one story. I also thought it would be funny to have him work in an office and nobody realizes that he is what he is.
Robert Louis Stevenson saw his stories acted out while he was sleeping in his “dream theater.” Much of your work seems to embrace the chronology and tone of a dream, like in “Capra II.” Do dreams influence your writing?
It’s usually daydreams. I’ll be at work or in a meeting—I’m very bad at paying attention—and my mind wanders. The Capra story started that way: I remember I was stuck trying to write something else. I couldn’t get it to work and was getting frustrated. This ridiculous swamp-monsters-and-robots premise had nothing to do with what I was working on at the time, and I thought it was funny, so I wrote some paragraphs, but didn’t know where it was going. Then I started thinking, where would this exist? I realized it would exist in first-person shooter games. I was like, “What if there was an actual person in there? What’s that guy like?” So I started writing about that guy. He comes awake, and he’s like, “Why am I holding this gun? Where the hell am I? Why can’t I remember anything?”
You’ve said before you don’t consider yourself to be a magic realist, but your work certainly rides the line between reality and fantasy.
I really like reading magical realism. I just always think that when people see something that’s like this, then they automatically think that’s what you’re trafficking in. I like just playing with it: what would it be like, really, to have this moment that you think is going to be magical and wondrous and then you are brought back to earth by the daily rigmarole of dealing with a spouse, a child, a job. Sometimes the presence of the unreal isn’t going to do anybody any good, you know, there’s still all of the daily stuff you have to push through, and just because you bought a mystical beast at a flea market doesn’t mean that your life is going to automatically get better. And in some cases it might get worse.