Salsa Nocturna: Daniel Jose Older’s Brilliant Debut

10 Jul 2012

written by Carolyn


Confession: I suck at interviews.

A few weeks ago, I set up an interview with the immensely talented Daniel José Older, author of the short story collection Salsa Nocturna: Stories. I’ve been a long-time fan of Older’s writing through his blog View From the Crossroads of Life and Death. Older is an EMT medic and his blog chronicles his hilarious, profound, sobering experiences in the interstitial space between life and death, a space much longer and less definite than we fully living persons imagine. I was anxiously awaiting his debut collection, and it did not disappoint. Older was not only kind enough to send me an advanced copy of the book, he made time in  his extremely busy schedule for an interview. The day we met, Older was getting ready to leave New York City to attend his MFA program at Antioch University in Los Angeles.

As fate – or ignorance, or maybe even just a rookie mistake – would have it, I brought everything to the interview but a tape recorder. I had a notepad and a pen, but quickly got so caught up in conversation – and laughter – with Older that I forgot to take notes. Older told me I asked terrific questions. I am certain that was flattery. He’s an extremely handsome, charming man, to whom flattery seems to come as naturally as breathing. Problem was, not only did I fail to write down even one of my supposedly terrific questions – much worse, I forgot to write down any of his answers.

We came to the end of the interview – which felt much more like a few hours hanging out with a friend than any type of interview – and I said, “Oh shit, I don’t have any notes.”

He laughed. “I noticed that. I wondered how you were going to handle that. You can always call me and ask me follow-up questions, if you want.”

I couldn’t ask follow-up questions. The whole damn thing would have been a flawed attempt at recreating a wonderful moment, disguised as a series of follow-up questions. Plus – in case you hadn’t noticed, I hate failing, and I felt like I failed Interviewing 101. Ugh.

Perhaps Daniel José Older will give me a break and another chance at a proper interview, provided I bring a working recording device with me. Even if he does not, I enthusiastically recommend his book, Salsa Nocturna: Stories.  Salsa Nocturna is a collection of connected, though separate stories, most of which are told through the eyes of the most engaging half-dead guy in modern literature, Carlos. In the collection’s first story, “Tenderfoot,” Carlos describes himself: “My heart barely beats at all. My complexion is a dull brownish gray. Medically speaking, I’m all but dead – a partially resurrected, gimp-legged, half-wraith.” Carlos’s identification of himself as “half” – half-alive, half-dead, half-here, half-there -  is a stirring metaphor for all types of mixed identities.

The genius of Older’s book is that is can be read as both pulp fiction and literature: as detective noir with a ghost twist, or as an allegorical commentary on issues ranging from gentrification to cultural appropriation. Though Carlos does most of the heavy lifting, both in terms of narration and as the stories’ central character, he is supported by a fascinating cast of characters.  I could easily see Carlos as a main character in an HBO series based on Older’s “Salsa Nocturna.” Let’s make that happen.

Please join me, along with writers like dream hampton and Tananarive Due, in supporting Daniel José Older’s “Salsa Nocturna: Stories,” which is available now on Amazon.

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