Rodrigo Blanco Calderón is the author of three collections of short stories: Una larga fila de hombres, Los invencibles, and most recently, Las rayas. Blanco Calderón participated in the 2007 Hay Festival Bogota as one of “Latin America’s 39 Most Exciting Authors Under 39.” He is the founder of the publishing house and bookstore Lugar Común, and he teaches literature at the Universidad Central de Venezuela.
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?
RODRIGO BLANCO CALDERÓN: “Emunctories” was, in part, inspired by a story a friend told me when I went to visit him in prison. The only thing I really did was fill in some gaps in the narrative with a few things that happened to me, when I tried to visit him for the first time and wasn’t able to. Otherwise, I didn’t really approach the writing of this story differently than I would have any other.
McSWEENEY’S: We asked you for a story set in Venezuela. How much did you think about that, as you were working on this? Do you think a story like this can tell us something about a particular place, or a particular country?
RODRIGO BLANCO CALDERÓN: Yes. In this case, I really wanted to convey a sense of where this story takes place—the Helicoide, a very strange building in Caracas whose history says a lot about the ambitions and failures of those in power here. I think that certain aspects of my story will perhaps stand out for foreign readers: more than anything, the way in which crimes in Venezuela are committed casually, and with total impunity.
McSWEENEY’S: Is there a Venezuelan author, or a particular Venezuelan book, or even a movie or a TV show, that you think takes on the genre particularly well?
RODRIGO BLANCO CALDERÓN: There is a book of stories by Lucas García called Payback that is a great example of a crime story "Venezuela-style.”
McSWEENEY’S: The Helicoide you mentioned is an abandoned mall in Caracas; your protagonist, an ex-pat writer, is detained by the state police there while attempting to visit a friend who turns out to be imprisoned somewhere else.
RODRIGO BLANCO CALDERÓN: As I said, the story is, in part, real. I have a friend who was arrested and held as a political prisoner by the government for three years. They had told me that he was being kept in the Helicoide, so I went to visit him. But the police there told me that my friend didn’t want to receive visitors, and then they took all of the gifts I had brought for him. Afterward, I figured out that my friend was not being held in the Helicoide at all, but in some other place. When I was finally able to visit him, he told me a story about this party that had happened while he was imprisoned, and that was the basis for the party I describe in my story. What I did was combine both stories, inventing a little bit here, exaggerating a little over there. That’s why I dedicated the story to my friend.
McSWEENEY’S: Even before he’s thrown into prison, your main character is deeply ambivalent about being back home. At one point, while eating a pastry and a chocolate drink, he thinks that “this cachito and this Riko-Malt are the only things that justify the existence of a country as miserable as Venezuela.” How common is that attitude, do you think?
RODRIGO BLANCO CALDERÓN: Very common. The years lived under El Chavismo have provoked in many Venezuelans a great weariness, sometimes a nausea. It has been terrible to watch the country transform into this vulgar monster, this killer.