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Writer vs. Writre: Nathan Castellanos

We had Nathan Castellanos as guest in another post, and now we delve deeper into the themes of gentrification and cultural appropriation with Nathan that are central to his novels. Nathan approaches these issues not only from a base level conscious reaction method but also from a holistic approach to the analysis of social phenomena. Nathan discusses how supplemental themes such as Jungian psychology, pop-culture, and even the occult relate to the issues of gentrification and cultural appropriation in her novels. He also talks about the challenges he has faced in getting his work out into society at large, such as when placing his titles in bookstores or showcasing his work at public events. Let's dig in and learn more about Nathan.

1. I realize that the primary themes in your novels are gentrification and cultural appropriation, as we had discussed this in the previous interview. That said, what are some of the supplemental themes and/or ideas utilized in your series, and how do you feel that they relate to the issues of gentrification and cultural appropriation?

I have too many hobbies! That is probably the best way to start on that subject……….hahahaha………one of them being the study of the theories of a writer named Arthur Koestler who believed in an inter-discipline holistic approach to the analysis of social phenomena. That said, I approach gentrification and cultural appropriation not only from a base level conscious reaction method, AKA getting mad as fuck during confrontation with gentrifiers and cultural entryists, but also by taking a look at what’s going on via themes as various as Jungian psychology, pop-culture, and even the occult. That said, I’m not just aimlessly grafting these interests into my narrative for the sole purpose of displaying my passions; I utilize them because I feel they are highly relevant to my story. Identity crisis and craving social relevance, for example; I’ve noticed time and time again that gentry love to pretend to be “one of the people”, because they either instinctively understand that their privilege is a stigma, and they want to gain exemption from this by association with the very people who would scrutinize them, or, in worst case scenarios, they have been acting out the role of the downtrodden working class bohemian revolutionary for so long that they actually believe their own bullshit. My point, and the connection to my supplemental themes becomes apparent when you see how gentry initiate their entryism and/or persona graft. The ways they do this include, but are not limited to, joining anti-gentrification grassroots movements, and/or feigning an interest in pop culture movements, political activism and specialized interests (tenants unions, punk rock culture, otaku culture, public protests, gamer culture, politically charged art, the occult, etc) as a means to boost their social relevance in public, and their “influencer value” in social media. Los Angeles, for example, is littered with thematic eateries like punk rock pizzerias, metal head burger joints, and anime art galleries, most of which are run by entrepreneurs with no real interest in any of these cultures, who hire marketing consultants that teach them how to utilize culture as a theme to infiltrate the wallets and trust of those who genuinely are a part of these cultures. As far as the political side of their infiltration tactics goes, I’ve seen numerous gentry nationwide who pretend to be low income and in need of legal protection from their landlord. Or worse than this, I’ve seen those who own up to their economic privilege approach grassroots organizations as “saviors” who “understand” their role in the problem, who want to help heal the damage, only to use the clout and street cred they gain from this as weapon or badge of prestige once they’ve gained a position in these organizations. I apologize if this all sounds a bit cryptic, but the minutiae is so varied and detailed that it would take a whole book to frame it properly.

2. Given the straight forward language and heavy scenarios that you tend to use in your style, have you run into any issues getting your work out into society at large, such as when you place your titles in bookstores, or showcase your work at public events?

Yes and no. Some art galleries, event organizers and bookstores seem to get my message by osmosis, automatically understanding everything I’m saying in my work because they have the life experience to grasp the situations I present in my writing. Others however, namely those run by gentry who want a slice of the growing magnetism involved with hating gentrification; galleries and bookstores like this tend to grill me with elitist snobbery before they’re willing to carry my books or throw events with me…..if at all. This usually comes in the form of them questioning the necessity of what they perceive to be my “harsh language”, “overly graphic” sex scenes, and the heavy invective I use against the wealthy. Living a soft-handed existence their whole lives, these gentry simple don’t get the fact that so-called “people of the hood”, as they perceive us, are not over educated stoic orators who want to write in sterile fashion. I for one write with emotion, and this requires a no filters tactic that I will not compromise on! I often wonder how the irony of this escapes them, that they so badly want to “join the club”, so to speak, by pretending that they are low income working class revolutionaries, yet they perpetually question and police the way people who actually come from this society express themselves.

3. You’ve mentioned often in your social media that you love to watch your characters evolve in unexpected ways; can you elaborate on this with a few possible examples custom to specific characters?

I’d love to! My characters are like my peers or family, in the sense that I love watching them grow and evolve, struggle and triumph, face pain and enjoy pleasure, etc. A bit of preamble on this is the fact that I cannot stand the flawless hero or unredeemable villain archetype that we (as readers and writers) have seen a million fucking times all our lives. That sort of thing gets redundant, especially when a well lived life indicates that we all have our ups and downs. Take Miguel and Baroness Victoria Kain for instance. Miguel begins as an opiate addicted Los Angeles local who has lost total faith in life, whose only driving force is to hate gentrifiers with all his heart and soul. Victoria Kain, one of my culture eating, undead gentry demon characters, was introduced as a villainous wealthy infiltrator from New York who came to Los Angeles for the sole purpose of consuming and capitalizing on the local culture. That said, both Miguel and Victoria find themselves micro-gradually becoming their polar opposites in my two recent installments, Salted Plastic: Tales of Gentrification books five and six. Miguel begins to gain confidence and awareness of his larger potential through a series of spiritual awakenings. These “epiphanies” are initiated through psychedelic drug use and participation in a decadent sex magick orgy at the behest of Salted Plastic’s femme fatale/red woman character, Dagmar Askenazic. During the orgy, he begins to individuate, gaining mastery over specific chakras with each successive sex partner until he realizes he’s vastly underestimated his potential his whole life. And then there’s Victoria Kain, my two-millennia-old undead gentrifier character, a villain who spent her introduction feeding on the “cultural value” of an LA local’s ethnic-culinary tradition to regain her human appearance. On the verge of death, looking like a rotten corpse, she absorbed the humanity and soul of the girl’s family recipe for pozole like a psychic vampire, thereby allowing her to revert back to a fresh and youthful appearance, while leaving the poor girl she had fed on in a state of pochafication, hypnotized and talking like a white-washed gentry…….a side effect of being fed on by a Baron demon. Victoria’s demonic beginnings are certainly a stark contrast to what comes next; in books 5 and 6 we find her discovering a sort of lost spiritual tradition of her people, the undead culture farming/real estate controlling demons known as Barons. Victoria, in an act of genuine empathy towards a human being in distress, finds out that being caring and empathetic towards humans, instead of using them as a cultural feeder bar, is key to her and the other Barons regaining their lost humanity.

4. Salted Plastic: Tales of Gentrification seemingly started with this inferred idea that Miguel Lyons was the protagonist, but delving deeper into each book, there are often micro-vignettes, mostly a chapter or two here and there, that insinuate that there are many stars in the drama of the story. Would you say that this was consciously done on your part, or are these side stories mainly supplemental filler?

I’m going to be honest and say that, although I had originally intended the entire story to be a Bukowski-esque diatribe against gentrifiers, with Miguel at the fore of the narrative, that the story micro-gradually evolved into something else. The side stories, originally meant as examples of how ridiculous and/or venomous the behavior of gentrifiers seems to me, eventually became a cohesive mythology of a tribe of proto-humans who see human culture as nothing but a resource to be used for their pleasure and sustenance. The stories were analogies for how culturally and economically disinherited gentry left me and people like me feeling as they came into the neighborhoods we grew up in. After a while, seeing that these side stories sort of created a coalition of evil of a tribe of demons that were banded by their common cause, I realized that Miguel needed allies, people of similar struggle that would balance out their/his side of the story. This realization is what led to my creation of the off grid group of rebels known as Sisters, Others and Brothers, a sort of underground worldwide network of social outcasts who “see the writing on the wall” in a way reminiscent of the rebellious factions in such stories as Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, John Carpenter’s They Live, and Grant Morrison’s Invisibles. First there was Jasmine Filth Creature, a young Cambodian lesbian assassin from Long Beach, who in rogue-like fashion systematically murders gentry after seducing them or promising them fame in the entertainment business. Then there was Adrik Saturn, an Afro-Cuban punk rocker from East LA, my wise ass joker-type character, who is hopelessly in love with a girl who is an avatar of the Aztec deity Tlaloc. Little by little, these characters/side stories built a history spanning mythology about an ongoing shadow war between the oligarchy and socio-cultural manipulation of the Baron’s, and the fight for autonomy and cultural reverence being championed by Sisters, Others and Brothers.

5. Would you say that you have adapted your style or subject matter as society has become increasingly sensitive to particular forms of artistic expression?

Yes, but not in the sense that I’m attempting to placate those in society who want to edit free expression, but more so in my conscious effort to display the behavior of people who want to exploit social justice movements as a badge or a weapon. What I mean is that there is a great need for many social reforms in society, but that those who seek to co-op the suffering of those in need of these social reforms often weaponize the plight of the people they propose to represent and champion. When this happens I find myself dealing with a lot of tyrannical editing from people who have missed the mark and meaning of what they pretend to care about in their quest for social prestige. To clarify I’ll give an example. I was personally priced out of my home town by gentrification back in 2017, a major catalyst to me writing Salted Plastic. About a week ago I wrote a lengthy diatribe on the power structure of gentrifier influence, namely their connections in real estate, politics, academia, arts and entertainment. In response to this, I received a backlash from some gentry entryist who attempted to lecture me on the style of my rhetoric, telling me that I need to change my tone. This is a prime example of how advocates to a cause, that haven’t felt the firsthand effects of the issues, attempt to police the tone of the people who speak up that are actually dealing with the issue. Large preamble to my point, I realize, but my point is this; experiencing this, I use it to create micro-stories in my books that show how petty and ridiculous these gentry (with their savior syndrome) appear when they hijack social justice movements solely for the purpose of gaining social relevance and becoming the loudest voice in the room.

6. You mention often in your posts and stories that gentrification has snowballed into a hot topic in recent years, and that this has led to a lot of co-oping of the magnetism of anti-gentrification efforts by the very people in society that are responsible for the problem. Can you please elaborate on that?

I believe I have shown what I mean by this in my responses to the above questions, but I’m never short of material in this regard….hahahaha… I’ll give a few more examples. I mean, in essence, the subtext of my story is that cultural graft and identity crisis is a root of (if not THEE ROOT of) the problem of cultural appropriation, and that cultural appropriation is a big part of why gentry want to live in a low income working class neighborhood, this being a big part of their over the top personality graft, AKA the identity crisis that comes from them not wanting to admit that mommy and daddy have been financially wiping their ass their entire lives. Take these so called edgy, punk rock, splatter punk, irreverent fiction, “hard hitting”, horror thriller, “subversive” writers and publishers for instance, that claim to be so irreverent that they don’t care if society wants to edit them. I’ve learned time and time again, attempting to network with them, that they are just trust fund kids who migrated to Los Angeles to “reinvent” themselves as edgy weirdos, and that the rebellious chip on their shoulder is just a part of their personality/business branding. I mean, there are soooooo many of these little indie presses that want to claim that they don’t edit, that they want to “fuck the system”, that they’re tired of oppression and fakeness, that they’re “crazy and irreverent”, yet when you take a look at their submission rules there is ALWAYS a huge list of what they won’t accept because its “too offensive” for them. After a while it just becomes apparent that they’re just using the whole “I’m crazy and I don’t care!” tactic as nothing but a branding technique. It’s all very insulting and ingenuine, and it creates a standard that drowns out the remaining legit people in writing and publishing that honestly want a no filters medium.

And that’s just the art world; more obvious examples are prevalent in political circles. I’ve seen, within the last three months alone, a charity gala for the housing crisis in Los Angeles, where many of the key attendees were politicians who ran on a pro-gentrification campaign in years past. Bookstores that formerly gave me the cold shoulder for speaking against gentrification are now hitting me up to stock my work because they want the clout that comes with working with an anti-gentrification artist, because they believe this will prevent protestors from showing up at their door. Gentrifiers have shown up to tenants union meetings asking for support against their landlord now that people with even more money than them are moving into the neighborhood. They come to protest rallies to fight the problem they started. They start or infiltrate anti-gentrification pages on social media to spy or gain street cred. The biggest slap in the face (at least for me) came about three months ago, when I saw another gentrification horror story published by a gentry professor from Ohio who moved into East LA; this right here is a prime example of how people who are a part of the problem now feel like they have every right to bandwagon on the magnetism, and pretend like they are part of the solution to the shitstorm they started. I can go on and on, but my point really is this, that I really hope the legit subversive elements in society, both in art and politics, come to the fore and wash all the fakes away……because I’m tired of them playing gatekeeper in cultures that they have no respect for other than as a means to upgrade their lack of social prestige.

Thanks Nathan for joining us.

If you'd interested to know more about Nathan check out the following links:

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