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Writer vs, Writer Interview: Manny Torres

Manny Torres is back everyone with another amazing book "Cabrones Perros". We had previously chatted over his previous book that you can read here. Manny is an author, filmmaker, photographer, and painter originally hailing from Brooklyn, New York, and currently based in Atlanta, Georgia. He has published two works of road-noir, Dead Dogs and Father Was a Rat King, and has written and directed a variety of documentaries and music videos, including The Trespasser, Unendangered Species, and The Abby Go-Go Christmas Special. Torres spent 15 years as a programmer and co-conspirator on the WMNF 88.5FM radio show Step Outside: The Strange and Beautiful Music program in Florida. Currently, he is working on a series of crime novels, adding to his impressive portfolio of artistic endeavors.

Welcome back Manny,

1. You hooked me with Kika's character and her journey of vengeance. Tell me more about your inspiration behind your latest release, Cabrones Perros? Can’t wait to read it.

I wanted to write a homage to Elmore Leonard’s Florida crime novels. I wanted something less dark than Perras Malas, and I wanted it to be funny and even nostalgic. It pays homage to my own Hispanic heritage and the melting pot of ethnicities in Florida. Cabrones Perros came out of the ashes of a novel I started when I moved to Atlanta in 2014. Having gone through the unpleasantness that comes with all things personal, moving to a new city, going into a sabbatical/semi-retirement, experiencing all sorts of miserable shit, I started to write a very personal book that was not about crime at all. And because that book sucked, I changed it up, carried over characters from my first book, Dead Dogs, added humor and characters based on people I grew up around. Now it’s this book about heartache, redemption, fentanyl, and crimes in Central Florida. But I’m selling it as a comedy.

2. Your novella, Perras Malas, made it to the LGBTQ+ crime bestseller's list. How important is it for you to incorporate diversity and representation in your writing?

I come from a diverse family. I’m originally from Brooklyn, New York which is truly the melting pot of the world. When you’re from there, you’re part of all those diverse groups by default. Being around people of color, people who speak multiple languages, non-binary folks, and LGBTQ+ should be normalized because that’s our world. I come from a minority group. I know what disenfranchisement is. We live in a diverse society and some people choose to live under a rock. You don’t have to like everybody, but we share space on this rock, so better to get along and enjoy the diversity of neighbors we have. My characters come from all walks of life, because that’s how I view this world. There are plenty of books out there that aren’t inclusive, so I wanted to bring that to the conversation. America isn’t black and white, or straight. I want to remind people of that.

3. After a little bit of stalking, I realized you love strong female characters in books. Can you elaborate on what draws you to writing about these types of characters?

You could have just asked, not stalked. Ha ha. I think it was mostly by accident, not design, that I wrote these strong female characters in a few of my books. Seems that my female characters usually come to save the day at the end. I grew up around strong women, raised by a single mom, and have always admired the strength and resilience of all women. I love the idea that the hero doesn’t have to be an alpha male. The women I write about are women I’ve known. Women close to me, women I admire and respect. Sometimes they’ve been battered and burned, have had to fight against male oppressors, so they retaliate. It is a female instinct to create and to nurture, but I believe the full line goes, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned” (William Congreve). Well-written, strong female leads are hard to find these days in books and movies, although we’ve always had female heroes in all cultures and tribes, throughout history. We tend to forget they are there and are as powerful as any man.

4. As someone who has lived in various cities, how has your environment influenced your writing? Tell me about your novella "Dead Dogs" is inspired by your time living in East Atlanta Village. Can you tell us about the craziest experience you had while living there?

I want to one day write about the time I lived in North Shaolin, nee Staten Island, New York. There are plenty of stories there. When I turned 41, I moved to Atlanta, in particular East Atlanta Village where I had family and friends. Before gentrification killed this neighborhood, the Village had a diverse collective of eccentric artists and musicians. I met some wonderful individuals while living and working there. Characters whom I wound up putting in my books and stories. Working at a coffee shop there I met the people who went on to populate Dead Dogs. My friend Derek told me stories about living on the streets, time in jail, busking, living like a hobo. He was proud of that. I’ve met some wonderful, fulfilling people there as well. I’ve seen people come and go, die from drugs or accidents, or move away. The neighborhood is always being used in films, so I’ve come across has-been TV actors. You can randomly run into members of OutKast or Mastodon on any given day. I think I once made coffee for an actress from Game of Thrones.

My weirdest experience there was being treated like shit by supposed liberal, white, “woke” folks who don’t know how to tip or respect local artists. They moved in because it was where the cool kids (and drug dealers) lived. Rents went up, and these folks were less supportive of the things that were happening. There was a gross overtaking of culture and some white folks assimilated black culture so they could show the world that they’re not racist. That was weird because as a brown person myself, I encountered this weird kind of racism I’d never seen before. Like, they didn’t even acknowledge me as a minority, so any would-be altruism they perpetuated was strictly performative.

That was weird because it seemed unreal. Also, all the random drug use and drug dealing in the street. When I worked at the coffee shop, I watched an OTP person (a person who lives outside of Atlanta perimeter—outside the perimeter) just slumming it and lighting up her crack pipe right there in front of the shop, while sitting on the sidewalk. A lot of the scenes of East Atlanta I wrote about in Dead Dogs are real.

Also, there was an afterhours bottle club that would open on Sunday nights because the liquor laws in Atlanta close the bars at midnight on Sundays. I’d never seen people lined up for the bathroom just to inhale rails of cocaine. I christened that hellhole “Club Cocaine”. It’s boarded up now but I’m sure the culture is still prevalent.

5. You've been a photographer for over 30 years, how has that artistic medium influenced your writing process?

My writing is very visual. I want to put into words what I want the reader to see. I had to learn what words and phrases to use to establish images. I don’t know if I can write a scene that is like a black and white photo, but I will try. I’m fascinated by landscapes, and they are also an important character in the story. I suppose all my characters travel through a wasteland of sorts, whether internal or external. Panoramas that I write about are about recreating visuals I absorb as a photographer.

6. Seems you’re a real artist as I found out that you enjoy abstract painting inspired by Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. If you could collaborate with any artist, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you create together?

Writers are grumpy drunks, musicians are big crybabies, and painters are perverts. The only collaboration I could see myself doing is sitting with any of my favorite artists and having afternoon tea or beers or getting day drunk with them. I’ve collaborated with a lot of musicians. I am a musician myself, but I’ve filmed videos and documentaries for artists like Sara Rachelle, Spirits and the Melchizedek Children, Little Rituals, A Drug Called Tradition, Love Letter, and W8ing4UFOs. I’ve done photography, artwork, flyers, videos, etc. for them. I’d love to film more documentaries and videos for bands. As a painter, I’d probably collaborate with R.Land, Atlanta’s resident artist, inventor of Loss Cat and the Pray for Atl. logo. He’s been a mentor to me, and we’ve stayed in touch on and off over the years. A collab with him would be tops.

7. Can you discuss your experiences co-conspiring on the WMNF 88.5FM radio program and how that experience has influenced your writing?

This was a very important part of my life. I was a fan of an earlier incarnation of a radio show called Sonic Irritations before it became Step Outside. In contrast to easy listening, this show in its infancy was about difficult listening. Challenging music. I befriended the great and wonderful hosts Rayzilla and Peter Tush, who were the hosts of Step Outside. Ray was a Tampa stalwart of the local music and radio scene and was the leader of several world music fusion bands. Peter is a curator at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. I was invited to join and became the third leg of the bunch. Our radio show presented experimental music and music from the outside, from all over the world. We featured everyone from Captain Beefheart to King Crimson, Fred Frith, Amy Denio, Music in Opposition, Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, Diamanda Galas, Zeuhl, prog rock, Indian raga, ethnic fusion, compositional music, noise, musique concrete, etc. The show has been around close to 30 years now. It’s still going, Sunday nights from 10pm-12am on 88.5FM in Tampa, Florida. We had guests ranging from members of Frank Zappa’s band, collaborators of Albert Aysler, and composer Maurice Jarre, most famous for composing the score for Dr. Zhivago.

The years I spent programming the show were a learning experience I could never have gotten elsewhere. Our Halloween and Xmas specials were things of legend. Those two gentlemen were mentors to me, and I got to share all the music that I love with the world. If anything, programming the show taught me clarity and how to present a program and give lectures on classical music and composers. It gave me a voice. Forced me to be succinct and precise.

8. Your novella, Father Was a Rat King, was based on your experiences growing up in pre-gentrification New York City. How did your upbringing shape your perspective on the world, and how does that translate into your writing?

Well, I guess trauma shapes our narrative. I saw some shit, lived through some shit, and I survived to talk about it. I started out writing sci-fi and horror as a teenager; the sci-fi was because I could escape into a fake utopian world of my creation. Horror, because I was revealing the horrors of the world, horror for things I’d seen in the world. Horrible people, horrible situations. They often translated into monsters in my early works. I’m not cynical, but I don’t trust a lot of things. Disenfranchisement showed me that not everything had a silver lining. And I grew up around an awful lot of drug dealers, petty thieves, and crackheads, so those types of characters tend to populate my books.

9. I’m curious. If your life was turned into a movie, who would you want to play you and why?

For the last ten years I’ve joked that a movie has already been made about my life called Bill, starring Mickey Rooney, from the early 80’s. Bill is an intellectually disabled man who learns to live on his own (thus the sequel, Bill: On His Own). I say that because for the first time in a long time I had to do a lot of things on my own, and I definitely felt an intellectual deficit.

But in all seriousness, Oscar Isaac is better looking so he could play me, but then perhaps he already has in the film Inside Llewellyn Davis, which paralleled what my life was like ten years ago. Any other actors I would pick are either dead or too debonair so they would outclass me any day.

10. Lastly, the most important question from a cat mom like me. You mentioned looking after several cats. Can you tell cat owner authors how to deal with distraction these furry friends cause?

I have three outside cats, and two of their offspring plus one kitten living inside. My advice is to keep lots of comfortable seats and cushions around you. They like to be in the room near you, wherever you are in your home. They’re going to climb on your desk and all, but if you keep comfy chairs around, they’re more likely to nap regularly while keeping you company.

If you wanna know more about Manny check out his amazon page here

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