For the essays in Planes Flying over a Monster (Catapult, Aug.), Daniel Saldaña París travels from Montreal to Mexico City to explore how place shapes the self.

How did you approach these essays stylistically?

When I write fiction, I tend to concentrate more on form and structure, while in poetry, I’m fixated on getting the right words, the right order, and the sound of the text aligned with the meaning. But for these essays, I decided to try to be as direct and transparent as possible. So, I forgot a little about structure and language to convey the intensity of the emotional experiences.

What are some of the challenges of writing about yourself?

It’s tricky because I want to share personal things, but I also want people to connect with what I write. And so there’s a way in which you’re writing about yourself, but you’re also writing against yourself writing. It’s not about my personal life experiences as much as how I analyze those experiences. I try to keep a sense of humor and see my own life with some kind of levity that allows the reader to enter the text and view it from a different angle.

Can you talk about the book’s preoccupation with cities?

For me, cities are structured like texts. You have all of these layers, and you can read and experience them like walking through a book. There’s a superficial level, the main touristy streets, and then you go deeper and explore the underlying meanings, the smaller side streets and the far-off neighborhoods. This multilayered aspect of the city—it’s very, very stimulating. It’s also distracting, and it can be destructive. But that’s part of the appeal as well. It can completely derail your life. That intensity and stimulus is just impossible to fight.

Your essays are marked by a sense of discovery and disillusionment. How do you navigate between the two in your work?

There’s a phrase by Marxist writer Antoni Gramsci about maintaining a pessimism of the intellect and an optimism of the will. I’m a very optimistic person, in the sense that I am willing to feel this anticipation, when I discover something, a new city, a new author, a new language, a new person. But then you have to maintain a certain level of pessimism of the intellect, to distrust some of the ease and naivete of the first encounter, and I think that happens in the book a lot with cities and characters. I think humor comes from the contrast between the two. There’s something very comedic about mixing discovery and disillusionment—working between these two realms, the possibilities of a new place, and then the falling out of grace with that place.