Andrés Felipe Solano is the author of the novels Sálvame, Joe Louis, and Los hermanos Cuervo. His work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Words Without Borders, and Anew. He was selected as one of the Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists by Granta. He currently lives in Seoul, South Korea.
McSWEENEY’S: So how did you approach the idea of writing a crime story? Did you start with a character, or a particular situation, or something else?
ANDRÉS FELIPE SOLANO: I’ve written two novels and a fistful of stories, and I can say that, in all of them, if there isn’t a crime, there are at least two things that I associate with crime fiction, or what we refer to in Spain and Latin American as the novela negra: there’s someone who is desperately searching for something, and there’s the sensation that, at any moment, a violent situation might erupt. In this story, "White Flamingo,” I chose protagonists that lead—or have led—a life of crime, but what I was more interested in was the moments in their lives when they didn’t have a weapon in their hands. So, in that sense, this story is not that different from other stories I’ve written.
McSWEENEY’S: “White Flamingo" focuses on Colombian characters who have found themselves in Miami. How did you decide to set the story there, rather than in Colombia itself?
ANDRÉS FELIPE SOLANO: For a while I’ve had this idea for a story about what two gangsters do before or after a job—how they pass that downtime. After I watched the documentary Cocaine Cowboys, which is about the savage years of cocaine in Miami, and how Colombians were involved in the first wave of crime related to drug trafficking there, back at the beginning of the 1980s, it occurred to me that the city was an ideal setting for my story. At the same time, I wanted to reproduce a couple of scenes that I’d experienced while I was in Miami myself—I’ve been there twice. The first time was in 1983, when I was five years old. I was there with my parents, and we went to visit Disney World.
I was there a second time, much later, when I worked as a journalist. It must have been 2003 or 2004. That time it was because I had been invited to a launch for a new brand of printers. Don’t ask me why. They put me up in the Ritz-Carlton, the same hotel chosen by the protagonist of my story.
Apart from all that, I chose Miami because, despite the fact that Colombia and Florida have long been connected, there is still very little fiction, at least fiction written by Colombian writers, that speaks to this relationship. To a certain extent, I wanted to fill that absence.
McSWEENEY’S: Is there an Colombian author, or a particular Colombian book, or even a movie or a TV show, that you think takes on the crime genre particularly well?
ANDRÉS FELIPE SOLANO: It’s a little strange, because despite being such a violent country—or at least, a country with so many violent stories—crime fiction has not been a popular genre among Colombian writers. The tendency has been to explain our country’s violence in historical or psychological terms. There are very few stories that focus principally on the violent action itself, on the crime as such and the motivations of the criminal. There are perhaps two recent novels that could be called the exception: Perder es cuestión de método, by Santiago Gamboa, and La lectora, by Sergio Álvarez. But no, we don’t have anyone like Rubem Fonseca of Brazil or Vazquez Montalbán of Spain.
McSWEENEY’S: The center of your story involves a visit to Epcot Center, which one of your protagonists, an assassin, feels a strange kind of connection to. He feels alienated from almost everything else (“He hated tea, hot mornings, weeping old folk, and many other things,” you tell us at one point), but he loves that theme park, and the Ray Bradbury story that visitors hear inside the sphere. How did you come up with that idea?
ANDRÉS FELIPE SOLANO: I wanted to break the stereotype of the gangster who just lies in bed in his hotel room, waiting for his moment to enter the action. And then something happened that perhaps explains why I got into writing, why it makes sense to spend so much solitary time in front of a screen—I started to remember my own trip to the Epcot Center, and how that metal globe made such an impression on me, a much greater impression than the mountains and castles and characters we saw elsewhere. As I said, I was five years old at the time, and I remember being next to my younger brother, looking at that astounding thing, and later, after walking through it, thinking that we had been to the future for a couple of minutes. So I decided to give that sensation—of powerful attraction, or even veneration, nearly—to a man who finds almost everything else intolerable.
McSWEENEY’S: You live in South Korea now, yourself. Could you imagine writing a crime story set there?
ANDRÉS FELIPE SOLANO: After writing “White Flamingo,” I’m no longer afraid of setting stories in places other than Colombia. I think that this probably has something to do with the fact that I’ve been living abroad for a couple of years, now. Recently, I wrote a story about an aspiring Colombian writer who meets a Korean detective, on a ferry going from Busan to Osaka. It’s a trip that I made myself, a little while ago. The story is called "Pig Skin”—it was published for the first time in a Japanese edition of Granta, and I think it will be in the English edition, as well. Sometimes I think that Park Bong—that’s the name of the detective—is a character I could return to. Park is from Busan, a coastal town where a lot of destinies are intertwined—it’s a place where it’s easy to encounter Russian sailors, Filipino prostitutes, Korean gangsters, and American soldiers. We’ll see what happens.