The Salvadoran writer, Carlos Ancheta, won this year’s Hispanic-American Floral Games in Quetzaltenango in the Short Story branch with his story “The Lost Walker.” In it, Ancheta narrates the ill-fated journey of Ramiro van Delft, a young Salvadoran-Dutchman who, on his way to Saint Petersburg, from his native Netherlands, stops on the island of Rügen, in Germany, only to find himself inexplicably framed. in the murder of a 3-year-old girl.
Narration with police overtones where features of absurdist literature are also combined and where echoes of German mythology resonate, “The Lost Walker” surprises with a cyclical structure and an open ending that lends itself to multiple outlets.
The author, who is not unknown in said contest, since in 2018 he won in the Novel category with his work “The Princes”, reveals in this interview that his story is actually part of a novel that, like much of his work, is still unpublished. Ancheta also highlights the “good health” of Salvadoran literature, but deplores the eternal debt of editorial production in the country.
You tell me that this story is a part of something you conceived as a novel. Why did you decide to adapt it in the end as a story?
Well, for the number of pages (required in the contest). Always the stories that I work do not exceed 10-15 pages. Here I needed many more. And that’s why I said to myself: “In the end, the other parts of the novel also have that cyclical condition, that I can use them for contests that require a high number of pages.” So it was because of that: because I needed pages and because I thought that part could work as a story. And works. Many stories remain open. This may be too open, but it works.
“The Lost Walker” is a story where there is a murder, but it is not really a police story. It is a story where supernatural elements are suggested, but it is not entirely a fantastic story either. There are elements of the absurd, but again, it doesn’t quite fit into that category either. How would you define it?
Perhaps realistic. And when he is already (integrated) as part of the novel, he becomes a police officer. Because Ramiro Van Delft is the one who finally discovers the murderer. I built this character to use later in other stories. That is why he is very young. I have the possibility of working on it in other stages of his life. So it’s my first experience in the noir genre and in the fantasy part too, because The Nibelungs and German myths are mentioned. But in general terms it can be said that it is a story of the noir genre with realistic overtones.
The fact that you have participated with this part and that you have won the contest in the format of a story does not truncate your idea that this is part of a novel?
It’s possible. For example, in a novel contest I could no longer participate. Because I would have to include this part and almost always in contests novels are required to be completely unpublished. That influences. But I have other novels from which I have taken stories and in the end I have also obtained satisfactory results. I have always played with it. I like it, perhaps because of the influences I’ve had, like Faulkner’s. Faulkner liked that game with his stories. Sometimes his stories appeared in magazines and later he developed them as a novel. It’s a bit playful.
Or is your idea maintained that it be part of a novel?
Of course. My idea is to publish it. Too bad that editing here is very difficult, but for me I would have edited it long ago. Maybe I wouldn’t even have competed because it was already edited.
Unlike other stories of yours, this is not a Salvadoran story. In fact, Salvadoran identity is barely present in the main character. How did you come up with that setting and that story, what was the gestation process?
Most, maybe 70% of the narrative that I’ve worked on is not set in the country. “The Princes” is a story that I wanted to happen with a completely Salvadoran character. This story (“The lost walker”) is born without looking for it, spontaneously. Suddenly the idea of setting the novel in that part of the world was born. One only sees a situation, sometimes a character, a place, and from there the other things emerge. So I only saw someone who was going on vacation to St. Petersburg and went a bit to that island where the action takes place and there he was arrested for the murder of a girl. I was building there. The stories come without asking or looking for them. And I like it because I haven’t been to those places, so the research becomes more attractive. It’s a fun part, because it challenges me as an author, and by researching I know those places.
This is also a story that abounds in literary references (Kafka, Goethe, Houellebecq, Sábato), which helps the story’s aspiration for universality.
Sure, that’s where the author’s readings and tastes come in. For example, Caravaggio is also mentioned. Caravaggio is a painter who has greatly influenced me with his chiaroscuro technique. I have tried to make some descriptions based on his paintings. But in the story I also do not mention Hindu philosophers or things that people do not know. I believe that the names mentioned are familiar to someone moderately read. So I think there will be no problem about it.
In “The Princes” there is a merciless criticism of Salvadorans using the topic of soccer as an excuse. Is that type of theme and setting minimal then in your work?
Not so minimal. What happens is that the authors who influenced me at the beginning are Anglos, like Poe, Lovecraft. So I started to imitate them, and it took me a while to detach myself from those influences. For example my first two storybooks have those influences. Already the third that I am going to edit with the guys from EquiZZero, who won an award, from Ipso Facto, the 10 stories are set here and their characters are women. I like that duality. Before, I used to work a lot on setting them abroad, but now I like to play with things from here and from abroad.
And in the new stories set in El Salvador, how much do you return to that critical theme?
Very little. In this case they are female voices from different points of view. The freedom that the narrator of “The Princes” gave me was absolute. That’s why I took a lot of licenses, perhaps to make those kinds of incisions in Salvadoran society. There is another novel that I have unpublished, which is like a kind of manual for writing a novel. That’s where I come back again with the criticism. The narrator fights those who make up the parliament today, let alone who governs us. Perhaps if it were published, maybe I would have to find a country to exile myself (laughs). In that novel, the narrators also give the writers a couple of stings. You knew about Moya’s case, right? Moya made up that they wanted to hit him, and that they just let him get on the plane in ’97. That was a big lie. Because here the people who want to give you a dick don’t read books. At most, those of us who read what we can say is: “Ah, this zero.” But until there. And him, what did he get with that? He left, residency in Germany, in Mexico. And Tusquets automatically signed him. I’m not saying he’s a bad storyteller. On the contrary. But he used that ruse to get into the market. Another case was Galán, who invented that they wanted to kill him around November. Another big lie. He got many things, even an award. And then no one spoke. Here he is very calm, working for the government, by the way. So the narrators of my novel tell the one who has bought that manual, that he does not commit those blunders, that he does not make those mistakes. It’s like a pang for authors who want to skip several steps at the same time.
The protagonist of “The Lost Walker” is accused almost absurdly of the murder of a minor. The police chief insists on his guilt and keeps him in custody even though he knows that it is unlikely that he committed the crime. Did you write the story before or after the entry into force of the emergency regime in the country?
No, long before. This novel is from the beginning of 2018. It was not seen on the horizon that this was going to happen.
In any case, it is surprising that the theme coincides with…
…Because of the arbitrary capture?
Now that you mention it, yes. He hadn’t seen that part, but yes. It becomes a bit like what is happening to many people in the country who are arbitrarily detained and who will be there. The character leaves. But luck is not smiling on others around here. But no, when I wrote it there was not this conjuncture.
And do you think that this situation gives a new life to the story?
It is probable. It is a reading that can be done to the piece. As you know, there are many readings of a text. And one of them can be that.
How do you keep producing in such an arid country for literary production?
With courage. There’s no other option. Luckily now I’m getting into the part of scripts. Lots of screenwriting opportunities are coming up. And I pretty much survive on it. Because I dedicate myself to this completely. I have no other job, I dedicate myself to writing. Sometimes I come out afloat, sometimes I’m in agony, but someone or something always comes and pulls me out again and gives me a glass of water and I breathe again.
There are other young writers who have also stood out in recent years at a Central American level in narrative production. Do you think there has been a consistent response from the State to encourage the generation of new writers?
No, neither of this government nor of the previous ones. There has been no push. Not enough work has been done. There is a good generation, not only mine, which is one of those born in the 80s, but there is also a generation from the 90s, even from the 2000s, who are working on narrative pieces of value. I have read stories that have a great value, a good technique. But unfortunately, what is necessary is not done so that these voices are known, distributed and that there is a better development. The truth is that there is good health in literature, there always has been. Unfortunately not everything that is produced is published, it does not come to light in a formal way. So that’s the debt. The debt is already editorial production. Because there is talent.
Which is a problem because if they are not published, eventually all those productions are lost.
Of course. It has happened in many cases. There are even recently deceased authors, such as Ricardo Lindo who left a vast unpublished work, according to his friends. And no one has been interested, not even the DPI, to say the least, in going to the family and publishing the complete work of Ricardo, who is one of the great national authors. Imagine that happens with one of the most painted, how is that not going to happen with bugs and those of us who are not so bugs.