Writing In Color 2021 Retreat Preview: Q&A with Manuel Aragon

Editor's Note: In advance of the 2021 Writing In Color Retreat, we've asked the Faculty for a preview of their workshop style, what they're reading, and more.

What books/movies/tv shows/music have fired you up lately?

I added music to the selection because I tend to move between all of these things; it’s just how my brain works. I’ve recently been watching and enjoying Dave on FX, as well as Snowfall. I absolutely loved Plan B. 

In terms of music, I find myself drawn to my favorite sadboy reggaetonero, Bad Bunny. His songs are exciting and sad, and all of those things at once. 

In terms of books, I’m currently reading a wonderful essay collection by Emilly Prado, Funeral for Flaca, as well as a great short story collection by Chris Stuck, Give My Love To the Savages

What are you working/currently trying to work on these days?

I am working on a few things, mostly in the writing world, but also photo and video projects. The pandemic gave me a chance to write and rewrite and dream of new things. I’ve been working on a short story collection, Norteñas, since 2015 or so. It’s finally taking shape. Norteñas is a speculative fiction short story collection that spans from the beginning of time until the end of time.  The stories of friendship and love, and exploitation of people and land, are all centered in one neighborhood, the place that I still call home, the Northside. It’s an attempt to tell these stories that my grandmother and grandfather told us about growing up and being on the move across a country and finally a place that you call home, even though other people don’t want you around. 

I also wrote the first draft of a novel during the pandemic that takes place in the same world as Norteñas. It’s a mix of satire and near-future speculative fiction about gentrification, racism, big business, globalization, and worker exploitation. This is my ode to hood chisme, and the stories that we tell, these tall tales that make their way through a neighborhood that sometimes turn out to be true. 

I’m also working on a few film projects. One of the nice things about making films is that it tends to be a much different process than writing. In terms of music videos, it’s a quicker process. You come up with a concept, pitch the idea, get approval, create a mood board, shot list, cast, shoot the project, and edit. The last video I filmed was somewhere between 7-8 weeks from idea to finished product, which can be really freeing, especially when you’ve been working on a novel and a short story for five years. 

How would you describe your workshop style?

My focus is on support. How can this group of amazing writers who are coming together for a week support you on your writing journey? What can this room help you work through from a plot perspective, POV, etc, and how can you put those things into action, if that’s what you’re looking for. I think my own disdain for the workshop model comes from my experiences at film school, which tends to operate in much the same way. You create this thing, share it with the class, and a number of your classmates tear apart this work that you’re already uncomfortable with sharing. I went to school with a number of amazing filmmakers and I think about how unstoppable we all would have been if we’d been taught to support and uplift one another rather than punch holes in one another’s work. 

Are we living in a simulation or no?

If it is, at times it’s beautiful and at times it’s terrible, sometimes at the same time. 

Manuel Aragon is teaching Writing in Color Retreat: Short Forms Intensive. Learn more here.