Francisco Cantú on Star Wars, mezcal & his 14-foot workspace

Francisco Cantú stops by BookPeople Monday, February 12 at 7 p.m. to discuss The Line Becomes a River, his memoir about working for the United States Border Patrol. We’re big believers in this book! Purchase a copy and we’ll donate a portion of the proceeds to Casa Marianella, a local non-profit that provides food, shelter and other services to homeless immigrants. In the meantime, check out our interview with Francisco below. 

francisco cantu


BP: What are you reading these days?

FC: I’m just finishing Javier Zamora’s Unaccompanied, a book of poetry that has impacted me deeply. I’ve also been reading a variety of botanical studies about the agaves of Arizona and Sonora—I’m a big mezcal nerd.


BP: What books did you love as a child?

FC: As a child I loved fantasy and SciFi—I remember my mom reading The Chronicles of Narnia to me at my bedside, and later I got into the Star Wars expanded universe novels, Lord of the Rings, all that good stuff.


BP: What’s the hardest thing about writing?

FC: For me, the hardest thing about writing is the sheer amount of time and solace it takes me to write. Carving out that time away from the demands of everyday life is always a challenge.


BP: What’s the best thing about writing?

FC: The clarity of mind that comes from having time and solace.


BP: What’s your favorite word?

FC: Dang, I can’t really say—that’s a bit like asking a builder to choose their favorite nail.


BP: What’s a sentence you’ve loved and remembered from a book?

FC: The opening sentence to Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo: “Vine a Comalá, porque me dijeron que acá vivía mi padre, un tal Pedro Páramo.” In English, it’s only slightly less evocative: “I came to Comalá because I was told that my father, a man called Pedro Paramo, was living there.” To me, that simple sentence somehow holds all the tragedy and ghostliness of Rulfo’s entire novel.


BP: Do you have any weird writing habits?

FC: I don’t know that it’s necessarily weird, but every two hours or so, I’ve got to take a break from writing to eat, make coffee, or go on a walk. I like having my dog around when I write, because he encourages me to take those breaks and to take him outside. I think it’s important not to lose touch with the landscape around you when you’re writing, even if it’s just your city block at home.


BP: Who are your literary influences?

FC: In college I was really impacted by Juan Rulfo, who I quoted above. The first thing I read by him was a short story from El llano en llamas called “Es que somos muy pobres.” It was moving and visceral, and I remember wanting to be able to write like that someday. I was also influenced in subsequent years by Robert Bolaño and W.G. Sebald.

More recently, I’ve been really influenced by Cristina Rivera Garza’s Dolerse, a lyrical essay collection about the psychological effects of the drug war on modern Mexican society. It’s being translated but is still unavailable in English. Sara Uribe’s Antígona González, a long-form documentary poem translated into English by John Pluecker, has also really impacted me, and changed the ways I think about bodies and the violence of disappearance on both sides of the border.


BP: What’s your favorite place to write?

FC: I have a tiny 14-foot trailer parked on some land my mom owns in Northern Arizona, sort of in the middle of nowhere. The land is in piñon-juniper country at the edge of Mogollon rim, and I’m able to take breaks and walk through this agave-filled canyon near the trailer, down to a stream that holds water most of the year. It’s far from where I live, but it’s an amazing place to write and well worth the drive.


BP: What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?

FC: Right now, if I wasn’t a writer, I think I’d disappear to the land I mentioned above and become a moonshiner, making mezcal out of the agaves that grow in that canyon.

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