Interview on THE MALADJUSTED, by CUNY Humanities Alliance Fellow Rojo Robles
By Jenn Polish
JP: First thing I need to know – because I have a copy of your beautiful book in front of me right now – is who created this gorgeous cover art?
RR: My dear panita and constant collaborator, Félix Adorno created it with a little help from Adriana Adorno, his sister, chef and also illustrator. Félix is a graphic designer, musician, and programmer from Puerto Rico- now based in Miami. What I love about his work is that he is a deep thinker. Part of the process with him is to have philosophical conversations, constant debrief on metaphors and allegories and U.S.S.R poster design appreciation sessions -his passion-. In the case of The Maladjusted, we researched and got into in-depth discussions on real and figurative black holes.
JP: The book is structured almost as a series of discrete, yet skillfully connected, snapshot-like scenes from Paliedemes’ life. How did these scenes come to you? Did you write them in order, or stitch them together? A combination?
RR: It was a combination. One of the most important premises of the novella is that after getting struck by lighting, Paliedemes’ mind starts to work chaotically. The structure of the book mirrors Paliedemes thought processes. The borders between memories, events, written materials, and coma dreams are very porous. The fragmentation also permitted me to incorporate different styles of writing I was working at the time. I put everything together using a montage technique, but once the book was getting a more definitive structure, I started to work in orderly sequences.
JP: What was it like working with Tania (Molina) and David (Skeist) to make sure that your distinct narrative style remained consistent throughout? What things would you want people reading THE MALADJUSTED in English to know about what might have been lost in translation?
RR: Tania is my life partner and the mother of my daughter Micaela, so she knows me very well and understands my ways and personal expressions. She is Puerto Rican as well, so she is also very knowledgeable on the slang used in the original. She did the first draft. Her goal was to keep the unique rhythms and to some extent my syntaxis. David is a U.S. American, so his task was first, to revise Tania’s version and, second, to work with us adapting particular, hard to translate expressions. It was a gratifying process because our sessions were like advance translation classes in which we will get into the complexities and contradictions of both languages. Because of that, it took us a lot of time to finish the translation. We were getting sidetracked all the time. Of course, some words or expressions probably got “lost” but I feel that, although faithful, the English version is its own thing. I don’t have significant concerns over it.
JP: You write such incisive lines, sometimes within a mere paragraph of a segment. One moment that particularly struck me was: “[My father] has scars that look like they’re from vampires or desert cacti. My life goes on peacefully.” The stark contrast between these lines is a beautiful gut punch. As a writer and a thinker, how do you know when to deploy such blunt yet beautiful contrasts?
RR: In the case of that line, I was trying to reproduce the writing of a younger, teenage Paliedemes. Sabatar, his father, is a Vietnam veteran probably with what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and very real scars from the violence he experienced. Paliedemes is trying to understand the circumstances that led to these mental and physical scars. Also, he is tracing a line between his father and himself. He grew up on the island, far from the war zone and he knows, even at his age, that there is no way he could understand what his father went through. As a writer, I wanted to foster these contrasts. The novella is full of disasters and dark mindscapes, but among it, there are recurrent beautiful moments.
JP: Talk to me, if you don’t mind, about Marcia. It is she, alone, who stands in the storm at the end of the novel: what would you want your readers to know about her that didn’t make it into the novel?
RR: Marcia is a brave, passionate but she is ultimately lost. The novella is full of people taking the wrong turn. All the characters are experiencing the storm alone in some way. Paliedemes is in his car heading towards Marcia to join her in the kidnapping of Galíndez. Meanwhile, Marcia is anxious looking at the storm through the window trying to get a hold of the unknown. The novella has an open ending like most current series on TV. I love the idea of finishing with the crossroad: the multiple possibilities of action. I already wrote and published a sequel to The Maladjusted. It is called “Los ajustes” as of now it is not translated into English yet, but all there is to know about the whereabouts and backstories of these characters and all the loose ends that the first novel left -on purpose- is there.