June 01, 2011
I started and finished Jesus Angel Garcia’s new book, badbadbad, on a flight from Baltimore to California. In those six hours, I read more sex scenes than I’ve read in the past five years. It’s one of those books that will keep you from putting on your headphones and watching the lamely re-edited in-flight movie (something I’d never even heard of was playing on this flight). Music runs through the novel (go to www.badbadbad.net for the playlist) in a way that makes the book feel like a loud, thrilling, invigorating concert. A concert about sex, religion, music and violence.
Here are Six Sex Questions for Jesus Angel Garcia:
Do you remember the first sex scene you ever read? Do you think it had any influence on how you write?
I know you’re supposed to remember your first, but I don’t think I do. I’d like to say it was something in Sexing the Cherry, or Tropic of Capricorn, or Delta of Venus, or Story of the Eye, or Torture Garden-all impressionable experiences at different times in my reading sex life, but none my first.
Now that I’m thinking on it, I see this hot book being passed around the 7th or 8th grade St. Anthony’s classroom. Not Judy Blume or Lord of the Rings, though Frodo does sound like an exotic sex act, no? Something with dogs and Belgian monks, I think. The Hunger. That’s the title. I don’t recall a specific scene, but it must have been savage and steamy. Amazon says it’s a vampire novel with “explicit sex” where “love and death go hand in hand.” Did this influence my writing? Not consciously, but… I do know the books I’m interested in writing are about sex, death and love.
I’m fascinated by how you mixed sex with music, religion and violence. Is this how you see the world-are these elements intertwined for you?
That’s a tough question. Everything is intertwined for me. Not just intertwined but one and the same. So sure, sex and music and religion and violence come from the same place, maybe, which is what? An ecstatic place? A place of pain? Is there a difference?
I’m drawn to how we as individuals express our personalities-personal histories combined with in-the-moment needs and wants-through sexual behaviors, choices, idiosyncrasies, acting up, acting out, action or reaction not just to our partner(s) but also to the culture and politics we feed on (live in) every day. I don’t think we can disconnect our sex lives from the media around us, which for many of us include a lifeline to music: our personal soundtrack, right? Especially in the Deep South, where the book is set, but all across the U.S., I’d argue, religion still plays a crucial role in shaping attitudes toward, let’s say, sexual morality. And violence is pervasive, from War Without End to the language we use in our most intimate activities. Then of course there’s a glut of violence in religion, and Jane’s Addiction reminds us that sex is violent, so I guess sex-music-religion-violence clearly is one!
Your protagonist is so full of love and generosity that he doesn’t want to judge or criticize anyone and so he has sex even with women he consciously finds unattractive (and then he finds the beauty within them). Additionally, he is there to serve these women, whatever their needs-they are in control, to some degree. There’s something sort of feminist about all this. Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Naomi Wolf once said something about how being a feminist today is not about labels but a way of life. I believe that, and I try not to label myself. I’m just living, breathing, being. I do what I do. I try not to call myself anything, except when necessary, like in bio tags or whatever, where I guess it makes marketplace sense to say “writer, musician and filmmaker, blah blah.” Still though, to my mind, labels are by definition limiting and also a false representation, despite how we might want to think of ourselves.
I just am. We just are. Does that make sense? I do try to be present or tuned in to what’s going on around me. Is that feminist? I seem to be able to feel or soak up a lot of the energy and emotion of the people and space around me, like a dog or a sponge. Do you remember the sponge birth-control? Are sponges feminist? Reproductive choice is. Am I still on topic?
I think what’s most striking about the narrator and his “selfless aim to please” is not how he services others’ needs as a magnanimous feminist gesture, but how he does so at great cost to his own well-being. This gets into the whole messiah/martyr self-identification (label!) he adopts and how “roleplay is a dangerous game when you don’t know who you are.” In the end, I’m pretty sure that’s all less about how he hands over control than how he sacrifices himself on this altar because his identity’s been shattered and all the traditional support systems-family, friends, church, school, government, the media and the mall-have failed him, so he can’t conceive of any other way to give his life meaning.
So I have to ask, is there a reason you named the narrator after yourself? Is this nonfiction disguised as fiction?!
Jesus Angel Garcia, the author, should not be confused with Jesus Angel Garcia (JAG), the protagonist of badbadbad, despite the first-person POV of the story. That’s just narrative construct. Nothing in this book is about Jesus Angel Garcia, the author, even though all of the sex scenes and relationship issues and hungry profiles and much of the dialogue between the hookup partners are derived from personal research. By that I mean the individual heartache and longing to connect and struggles with identity and ways of trying to communicate needs and wants all come from what I’ve read or heard or experienced, often on online “dating” sites or (ahem) social networks. And yet I think the extreme efforts the characters make to intimately connect are kind of universal, at least in the twenty-first century United States. So yeah, there’s JAG and then there’s “JAG,” and the double quote marks.
I love that much of the sex he has goes off track; it’s never Hollywood (or San Fernando Valley) movie-smooth. For example when he’s with the woman who has breasts so big that he can’t get two hands around a single one, he grows slightly frustrated. He enjoys performing oral sex on her at first, but then finds that her pubic hair is growing out from the last wax so that, “kissing her there, and dipping inside, was like sucking on a cactus, fucking a briar patch.” Do you find that these kinds of scenes are better at illustrating the internal life of the character than when things are going smoothly?
Of course! I hope they’re comic and tragic and painful and real with moments of hotness and an unhealthy dose of conflicted feeling. I think all of that makes for a more memorable-and unfulfilling-experience than a smooth ride. And it’s the lack that drives JAG forward, right? His need to fill the holes in his heart and head by “doing right,” by “being of service,” by trying to fill others’ holes-literally and metaphorically. He believes such actions will anchor him. But the boy don’t know himself, so.
This story’s a ride, but it’s far from smooth. There are no multi-orgasmic rainbows and puppies and ice cream and happily ever afters. For JAG, there aren’t even any money shots, as I recall, in almost the last two-thirds of the book. I guess that’s the price of selfless giving.
I have to admit that the final sex act was a little hard for me take emotionally. It was like a scene in a movie where I might shut my eyes and tell my husband to let me know when it’s over. Was it hard to write? Is there anything that’s off limits for you? Or do you think that, as a writer, you could go anywhere sexually?
A lot of the novel was hard to write because the main character descends into a deep dark hole where he’s completely lost touch with himself and his moral compass is severely bent. I don’t think of that last act as a sex act. To me, it’s about JAG’s psychic break. What’s a “messiah” (or well-meaning yet delusional individual) capable of when the blinders finally tear away, yet instead of watershed clarity, he now functions through an even darker dirtier lens?
There were a few things I designated off-limits at the outset. I wanted to stay away from mundane depictions of BDSM. That scene has been explored extensively since… Marquis de Sade? At least since Mary Gaitskill. And to my mind, it almost seems mainstream at this point. Plus, and most importantly, I didn’t feel like I’d have anything new to offer. I also wasn’t going to bring kids or animals into the mix. With badbadbad, I wanted to explore the thorny psycho-sexual world of mutual consent, non-judgment and acceptance of extreme desires. Kids and animals? That’s non-consensual, abusive, criminal. And I personally have zero tolerance for child abuse in any form.
Of course, I have no problem with what some people might call sick or twisted. So sure, as a writer, I like to think I’d go anywhere sexually if going there opens up some kind of window into the emotional or psychological state of a character or the complexities of desire.